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Comment Re:Insurance (Score 1) 299

What you say is true in the aggregate, but an insurer's book of business spans across many risk pools. Some are cash cows, and they subsidize losers. The insurers don't want the worst risks to forego insurance, they want these people paying as high a premium as can reasonably be collected, while the difference is allocated to other risk pools. To do otherwise is to invite the government to step in and offer to insure the worst risks, with the long-term effect of government taking over the insurance market altogether.

Remember also that the ratio of premiums to claims is artificially kept as close to 1:1 as possible, for a variety of reasons. This is easily accomplished by manipulating loss reserves. It comes in handy when it's time to hide profits from the IRS or to convince state insurance regulators that premiums need to increase because the insurers will go bankrupt otherwise.

Comment Short selling (Score 4, Interesting) 111

Years ago, I developed a system to analyze stock option prices in real time for the purpose of automated trading. The algorithm was designed to detect overbought and oversold options, and trade ahead of the inevitable market correction.

Although the system worked, it occasionally lost scary amounts of (simulated) money. It seems that some people traded high volumes against the market, buying into options that were already overbought, selling even when the option was oversold. It seemed as if these traders knew something that everyone else didn't. Sure enough, the company would report something surprising, and the market would move in favor of the people who traded ahead of the news.

Ultimately, I abandoned the notition of automated options trading, but not before discovering how well the system could detect insider trading. The options market is subject to all sorts of shenanigans, but it's a pretty good advance indicator of the underlying stock. The more insider trading a company has, the better the algorithm works.

If these Anonymous people are conducting research and detecting public reporting anomalies, the path of maximum profit is to short sell the stock, knowing that the price will fall when the truth finally emerges. Using this method, you instruct your broker to " short sell" 1000 shares of XYZ Corp. The broker "borrows" the shares from someone else's account and sells them. You get the cash and the obligation to return the shares (cover the position) at a some future time. If all goes well, you can keep the position open as long as you like, wait for the stock to fall, and then cover (buy back and return) the borrowed shares at a lower price.

Looks like the hackers found a few cash cows. Good for them!

Comment Immersion works (Score 1) 369

Infants learn language by immersion -- listening to adults. At first, they have no comprehension. After a while, they understand a little. After a year, they understand quite a bit. Pretty soon, they start using the language. Learning by immersion works so well that the CIA uses it to train people in new languages.

People improve their reading and writing by PRACTICING reading and writing. Coding works the same way. Immersion works well for beginners. They can start with simple algorithms; critical thinking and analysis can wait. Until they have a language to work with, they don't have a foundation to build on. People just have to remember that learning syntax is not the end of the journey, it's the beginning.

Comment Re:Looking at you, BBC... (Score 4, Insightful) 202

Yes, there are better ways to use browser agent id. But keeping Flash on the desktop means their HTML5 code does not need to be validated on lots of browsers. If the BBC implementation of HTML5 turned out to be buggy, the damage would be limited to platforms that couldn't run Flash anyway.

If I were in charge at BBC, I would use mobile/portable devices as a beta test for implementing HTML5. Sooner or later, they have to bring HTML5 to the desktop, but it can wait until more of the obsolescent browsers are gone. Maybe the next project is to implement adaptive style sheets to get one code base that suits all browsers on all devices. At that point, Flash can finally take its rightful place in the Recycle Bin.

When you have a huge user base and many of them are technologically illiterate, you end up doing things that are far from elegant. In a large organization, it takes longer than you would expect to get anything done.

Comment Grand Theft Aircraft? (Score 1) 382

Just because the transponder was manually turned off, that doesn't prove a terrorist forced the pilot to do it. Maybe it was an inside job.
Why would it make sense for a plane to disappear? A Boeing 777 costs at least $200 million. The parts alone are worth many millions of dollars. Even though many of the parts have serial numbers, there are struggling airlines and outsourced maintenance depots that might be receptive to creatively sourced parts. Even if the plane was shredded for scrap, it's a lot of money for one day of work.

Comment BINGO (Score 1) 155

The privacy threat that people are MOST LIKELY TO FACE is the government investigating you as a "person of interest" for various reasons. Once they get your private messages, it's fairly easy to become a target for harassment. Sure, they could always get a search warrant and pressure you to decrypt the information. But hardly any of these "investigations" are backed by enough evidence to justify that tactic. The "invisible hand" prefers to work invisibly. Most email providers will quietly hand over your information to the government without so much as a whimper of protest.

Encryption that won't survive a subpoena of your ISP or email service provider is simply not worth doing. Client-based encryption is tough to set up because your contacts need to do the encryption and decryption on their machines. But it works.

Comment For once the ISP has a point (Score 2, Interesting) 573

This case really IS excessive; it goes well beyond what an individual user would reasonably use on their own.

Most of the OTHER cases (esp. cable companies) involve mysterious limits that individuals can break by watching (or downloading) too much online video. Of course, if you buy the cable company's overpriced TV services, you can watch as many shows as you like, on however many set top boxes you have, drawing down an unlimited volume of video-over-IP traffic to do it. Just don't watch video that competes with the cable provider, and it's all good.

Comment Bacteria and humans are NOT equally evolved (Score 1) 315

The opportunity for genetic mutation is primarily in the process of reproduction. Humans take roughly 20 years to reproduce. Bacteria reproduce millions of times faster. This is why we it's an uphill battle to keep producing new antibiotics, but the police have nothing to fear from criminals who might evolve to be born with bullet-proof exoskeletons.

Medical science can keep people alive that would otherwise be killed by various weaknesses, thus negating the evolutionary process in humans. The concept of letting the weakest people die is socially unacceptable, so we don't do it. I'm not in favor of doing that, but the human evolutionary process is pretty much limited to physical characteristics that attract the opposite sex. Even then, ugly people can always get plastic surgery.

Submission + - Best practices (and products) for encrypted email & messaging?

An anonymous reader writes: With the US government routinely invading the privacy of reporters and anyone who might be a political opponent, it's only a matter of time before this scrutiny gets completely out of hand. Say what you like about politicians and who started it, the fact remains that intrusive government is a serious problem and it's getting worse.

What are the technical options? Sure, I can install GnuPG and set up my own public & private keys. But all it really means is that I can send encrypted email to myself and a tiny percentage of geeks. The real challenge is to make strong encryption ubiquitous and "idiot-proof", so intruders are limited to the SMTP headers. There is little doubt that the government can monitor the entire unencrypted Internet. But they have to pick and choose where to deploy limited decryption assets.

What are the most effective solutions that can be deployed by the low-tech people that we all communicate with?

Comment Re:Choosing the correct tactics (Score 1) 491

The big pharma companies employ vast armies of sales reps. These people visit docs in person and try to persuade them (with free stuff and other perks) to write scripts for their products. Docs that play along by writing "no substitutions" on prescriptions get a lot more "rewards" than those who don't. The same concept applies to pharmacists, in an attempt to discourage them from making generic substitutions.

It took many years, but the insurance companies finally got smart. They require generic substitutions wherever possible, and stick the patient with big co-pays if a prescription is filled with a name brand when a generic choice existed -- if they cover it at all. The docs and pharmacists don't have as much latitude as they used to. I never had a problem with generic drugs, so have to say the insurance companies might be right on this.

Comment Re:Reflections (Score 1) 960

"Actually I think this is a problem somewhat unique to IT. Everyone has a computer at home and therefore thinks they *know* what IT does."

Sometimes they really do.

"They think its just a matter of scale and that the issues they face on their PC are the same ones the IT department deals with."

And sometimes they are right. When the IT department provides LESS capability at a HIGHER price than the users could obtain on their own, this can be hard to justify. Certainly, there are audit compliance, security, and scalability issues. But sometimes the IT department doesn't handle those very well either.

If a key deliverable of the IT department is stability and security, why does the Exchange server go on holiday for days at a time? Why does this happen every few months and nobody gets fired? Why is spam being broadcast to our distribution lists? Whose bright idea was it to allow database usernames and passwords to be left in text files on the web server and exposed to the Internet? After the fourth time the website was hacked, why is the only management action limited to deleting the above mentioned text file and recoding the website not to need it? What are all of these audits really worth if critical failures are swept under the rug? If we nuked the IT department and left everyone to fend for themselves, would we REALLY be any worse off? Not every company has a great answer to these questions.

Comment Re:Overvalued for 10 years (Score 1) 323

The service split and price increase was so incredibly harebrained, it's almost as if management (and their friends) was holding onto a short position that was about to expire.

The real uppity-ups are never short. They receive options and free stock to the point where they can never get rid of it all. Part of the justification for ridiculous CEO compensation is that the board never wants the CEO to profit from diminishing the business. Looking at Netflix, you would never know it, but senior management was not short.

That's not to say that people in middle management didn't know what was happening or how to profit from it. When a company defies common sense as much as Netlflix did, it's usually because senior management dragged middle management kicking and screaming into the quicksand. At the end of the day, scapegoats will be selected from middle management, the uppity-ups will have golden parachutes, and a new owner will try to reverse the stupidity.

Comment Re:Overvalued for 10 years (Score 2) 323

Market imbalances is how money is made in stocks. An overpriced stock that pays no dividend has "short me" written all over it. I am never surprised when a stock falls in line with performance metrics, but I am often surprised at how long it takes before that happens.

NFLX has been a screaming short for a long time. The service split and price increase was so incredibly harebrained, it's almost as if management wanted to fail.

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