I'm Pirating the Next Version of Windows 124

Posted by jcnnghm Wed, 18 Jan 2012 13:12:00 GMT

Dear Microsoft,

I have purchased every consumer version of Windows, except Windows Me, since Windows 3.1.  I have also purchased dozens of Office licenses, Server licenses and CALs.  I will not buy another copy of Windows until the activation system is removed.  Not another moment of my time will be wasted entering excessively long 100-digit activation keys into my telephone, only to have the key automatically rejected, then manually accepted after a few more minutes of inconvenience by someone on the phone.  I have had enough.

I know how to pirate Windows.  It is easy to find, and easy to do.  A simple search on The Pirate Bay yields a torrent with 1,265 seeders for an activated Windows 7 Ultimate iso.  It takes less time than to buy it, I don't have to deal with the broken Live login system, and the BitTorrent downloads are faster.  I only know this because I had to download an ISO after one of my discs became unreadable, and Microsoft refused to replace it.  Why can't I just enter my product key and download an updated ISO with slipstreamed service packs?  Why do pirates have a better experience than customers?  If I want to reinstall my system, or upgrade my hardware, or switch between bootcamp and virtual machines, I will.  I am not calling to beg for permission any longer.

I put up with this broken activation system on Windows XP, where it was virtually impossible to not be forced to reinstall every couple of years, at the minimum.  I've had to deal with this broken system too many times, and I will not any more.  I will pirate the next version of Windows, and if I have to go through the hassle of pirating it to get a working copy, I will not be paying for it.

Why does Microsoft insist on making it harder for paying customers to use the product, than for pirates?  Why alienate the people that actually pay for the software?  Until this consumer hostile tomfoolery comes to an end, I am pirating Windows.  Take the advice of Gabe Newell, and address the service problem that is causing piracy.  Until that is done, I am not buying any more software.

Please do everyone a favor, and stop this.  Piracy is not being prevented.  No amount of legislation will remove piracy from the internet.  Even if The Pirate Bay is shut down, there will be other ways.  Pirates will just borrow the corporate edition from work, or download at link speed from Usenet.  The only thing these activation schemes are doing, is inconveniencing those of us that pay for the product.

Sincerely,

 

Justin Cunningham

Netflix for Documents 1

Posted by jcnnghm Thu, 05 May 2011 23:36:15 GMT

Shoeboxed Envelope on Fridge

I hate clutter. I’ve been combatting it for the last year, and I’ve finally got it under control. Initially, I was using a Neatworks Document Scanner, then I signed up for a service called Shoeboxed in December.

The Shoeboxed service automatically scans and categorizes paper receipts, business cards, and documents that are sent to them through the mail. Pictures of receipts can also be uploaded directly from the Shoeboxed iPhone App, though I found that process somewhat cumbersome, and have only used it a couple of times.

I opted for the Classic plan, which includes 12”x9” prepaid, addressed envelopes, just like Netflix. The plan is a little pricey, at $30/month, but with the coupon code SAVE10 it can be had for $20/month, which I feel has been well worth it. With the classic service, Shoeboxed ships 2 envelopes initially, allowing you to always have one on hand. I contacted the Shoeboxed customer service right after I signed up, and they immediately shipped out two extra envelopes, so I’d have a set for both home and work. Customer service was fast and friendly, though I haven’t had any reason to contact them since that call.

The real benefit to a service like Shoeboxed is the transcription. I found that with the Neatworks scanner, I would scan and tag documents, but the receipts and business cards would still pile up on my desk. Receipts are hard to scan, they tend to crinkle in the document feeder, and require time and attention to catalog as well. The Shoeboxed service has generated hundreds of high quality scans, and perfect transcriptions. Everything is human cataloged, and it shows. Sometimes, but not always, they’ll even transcribe the handwritten notes I’ve left. This makes it quite convenient to record who you’ve been meeting with.

I estimate that the service saves me two to three hours of scanning and cataloging a month, which is well worth the twenty dollars. There is also the end-of-the-year benefit of having categorized, searchable receipts that are very easy to access.

Overall, the convenience is the greatest feature. I’ve got the envelope attached to my refrigerator with these Neodymium magnets, so whenever I walk through the door, I empty all the receipts from my pockets into the envelope, never to be seen again. Whenever new envelopes arrive, every couple of weeks, I replace the envelopes that I’m using, and so the cycle goes. Overall, given that I already had an excellent scanner, I was skeptical that I would see value in the service when I signed up. I was pleasantly surprised.

Try it, there’s a free trial. It’s one of those things you’ll kind of fall in love with, just like Netflix.

Say goodbye to paper clutter! Shoeboxed.com

Get In Shape 4

Posted by jcnnghm Mon, 01 Mar 2010 01:09:00 GMT

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I’ve been going to the gym regularly for the last seven years, so I thought I would take the time to share some of what I’ve learned in that time.

Why you Should Lift Weights

Besides the obvious benefits, better health, longer life, and better looks, weight lifting has a number of ancillary benefits. Primarily, lifting weights will make you more confident in yourself, which will in turn improve a number of areas of your life. Increased confidence absolutely helps in your sales process, whatever it is that you may be selling. If you are selling yourself to a potential mate, selling yourself to a potential client or hiring manager, or selling some product or service, increased confidence is outwardly apparent. It’s not something that can be faked, it must be built.

In addition to increased confidence, I’ve found that the physical activity that is inherent to weight lifting helps me think significantly better. I generally wait until I encounter a difficult problem in my work, then head to the gym. By the time I am done lifting, I’ve worked through the problem from several approaches, usually solved the initial problem, and worked through the next several issues that would have arisen if I sat at my desk and just tried to power through it. Evidence would suggest that this is caused by the increased blood flow to the brain, which brings me to the next benefit.

I’ve found that weight lifting gives me an energy and alertness spike equivalent to drinking two or three cups of coffee, without the jitters. If I’m feeling tired or irritable, I’ll go the the gym and after twenty minutes or so, I’ll feel much more lively. The extra energy is matched with reduced stress. I strongly believe that my workouts turn stress and tiredness into relaxed raw energy, it’s kind of unintuitive, but it works.

I also learn something while I lift weights. I signed up for a free Audible.com trial and ended up renewing because it’s the cheapest way to regularly get audiobooks. I get a lot from listening to books while working out because of the increased alertness, and I am a big fan of expanding my mind while I work on my body. In particular, the Freakonomics audio books are quite good as they are ready by the author, as is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Finally, it delivers a positive message about me to other people. I went to meet with a potential client, and when he recognized me from the gym, he remarked that he already knew that I was motivated and dedicated, and that those are the hardest attributes to gauge. Another client asks every time I see him if I still lift weights. We haven’t gone to the same gym in five years. It’s immediately obvious from outward appearance alone who puts in the time and effort necessary to take care of themselves.

How You Should Exercise

So you’re sold on weight lifting and are ready to put a little pride in your stride, a little strut in your stuff, but you don’t know where to get started. When I first started lifting weights, I had a number of preconceived notions about the whole thing that are well worth dispelling. The primary problem I had with it initially is that I was self-conscious about the amount of weight I was capable of lifting. I didn’t feel strong, and I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t want the bigger guys to look down on me. Now that I am capable of lifting heavier weights, I realize that these fears are unfounded. The only people I notice or care about are the guys that are doing more than I am. I don’t notice anyone else.

I was also under the impression that the people that routinely lift weights are stupid and unfriendly. Neither of these things are true. They knew much more than me about weight lifting, and often other things as well. In addition, the vast majority are willing to give free advice, and spot you if ask. The guys that have been at it a while know tons of information, and can be a great resource. Don’t start lifting weights in January though, there are a huge influx of people every year at this time that don’t know what they’re doing, and get in the way. They’re mostly all gone by February, so the people that have been around a while assume that these newcomers won’t stick around.

The most important thing as a beginning weight lifter is form. Focus on perfecting the technique, and everything else will follow. Every gym I’ve ever been in has been full of mirrors so you can easily observe your form, so take advantage of this. You can get videos of every lift you would ever want to do online, so you can check them out for an initial reference.

In general, I recommend a few basic things that seem to produce the best results. First, emphasize the lowering of the weights, the negative portion of the exercise. When bench pressing, this would be lowering the weight to your chest. When performing arm curls, this would be lowering the dumbbells from your shoulders to your hips. I try to take two full seconds to lower the weights. This helps strengthen the inverse muscle, your triceps for arm curls, and improves your overall control.

When the weight is fully lowered, explode. Give it all you’ve got. This will empathize the development of your fast twitch muscles. Having said that, never lock out (fully extend) any of your joints. You’re unlikely to hurt yourself locking out with the lighter weights that you’ll start with, but if you get in the habit of it early, you will hurt yourself when you move on to heavier weights. So explode, then purposefully slow down and stop the lift before you lock out.

I always recommend free weights over machines as free weights demand proper form. I feel that the machines can force you into improper positions, and can ultimately lead to injury. In addition, free weights limit your ability to overcompensate with one side of your body, so should result in more symmetric muscle growth.

I perform each lift the following number of times:

15 times at 45% of One-Rep Max
7  times at 60% of One-Rep Max
5  times at 75% of One-Rep Max
3  times at 85% of One-Rep Max
2  times at 90% of One-Rep Max 

Your one-rep max is the maximum amount of weight that you can perform one full repetition with. This isn’t something I would suggest measuring, instead calculate it with the following formula:

weight / ( 1.0278 - ( 0.0278 * reps ))

To use the formula, you’ll want to pick a weight that you believe you’ll be able to lift between two and ten times. Lift the weight as many times as you can, then plug the weight and number of repetitions you were able to perform into the formula, and you’ll get your calculated one rep max. From there, calculate the weights you should be able to lift with the table. I usually round down to the nearest five pounds. For example, if you were able to lift 135lbs seven times, the formula would be 135 / ( 1.0278 - ( 0.0278 * 7 )), returning 162lbs. Multiply this by .45 and you’ll get 72.9lbs, suggesting that your first set of 15 repetitions should be performed at 70lbs.

The magic number for mental fatigue and physical growth seems to be 3 weeks, so I would recommend picking different lifts and recalculating your one-rep max every three weeks. I usually only lift weights three times a week, although I perform cardiovascular exercise every day. I always recommend changing what you’re doing at least every three weeks, it’s very easy to get bored and stop lifting all together if you don’t.

If you are just starting out, you should focus on a core set of exercises three times a week. I’d initially focus on the bench press, squats, arm curls, dead lifts, and shoulder presses. As you gain experience, you can add additional exercises, and focus on specific muscle groups for specific days. Just starting, you will gain muscle relatively quickly, so you should get the best initial results this way.

If you own a lawnmower and start it and run it every day, it’s never going to get stronger. Fortunately, you aren’t a lawnmower, if you lift weights and exercise every day you will get stronger. If you lift weights as I have described, you will achieve tangible results within 9 weeks.

Sperm Wars 2

Posted by jcnnghm Mon, 15 Feb 2010 00:18:02 GMT

In the last few days I've noticed a lot of interest in Dating and the Pickup subculture, such as the article The New Dating Game, at The Weekly Standard. While I read the book The Game and found it to be amusing, the most interesting book I've read on the subject, though it wasn't really on the subject, is a little-known out-of-print book by Dr. Robin Baker, Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex. Because it's out of print, new copies are going for about $600. I'm primarily writing this becasue I recently found that this great book has been reissued as Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles.

Sperm Wars is all about sex. Baker uses sexually charged stories to setup scenarios, and then explains the significance of each scenario in the context of evolutionary psychology. Baker covers everything, from masturbation and routine relationship sex, to female bisexuality, manual stimulation at the start of a relationship, and infidelity. The books namesake, Sperm Wars, are covered in great detail. Essentially, when a woman sleeps with multiple men, the 99% of their sperm that aren't capable of fertilizing the egg fight to the death to outflank the challengers. Fascinating stuff.

The heart of the book, to me, was the manner in which Baker tied the underlying evolved drives to the outward actions that people are intimately familiar with. For instance, Baker explains that men and women tend to sleep together less frequently, but more routinely the longer they've been in a committed relationship because it's only necessary for the man to "top-off" (his words, not mine) the woman, as his sperm can survive inside of her for about a week.

Baker's scenarios and explanations made it easy to extrapolate why people do what they do in practice, even if it's not immediately obvious. It doesn't make much sense for a woman to cheat on a man that she's happily in love with, unless you consider that she's overwhelmed with a subconscious desire to mate with a partner as fit as possible. Just as it's not easy to see why Tiger Woods would trash his name so thoroughly, unless you consider that a part of the desire for success is the in-built male desire to procreate as much as possible. Procreation for males leads to evolutionary success, whereas for women, it's much more complicated and refined.

The woman must not only conceive a fit child, but also raise them, at least from an evolutionary standpoint. The author asserts that unlike some apes, there is no outward sign that a human female is ovulating, so she is able to subconsciously control when she mates with different men, to control who fathers her children. Baker backs this up with the somewhat sobering statistic that 10% of the men that children call "dad" aren't actually their father.

All in all, Sperm Wars is an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone that is anxious to learn why people do the irrational things that they do. It could change your whole perspective, and may even have you questioning some of your own actions.

On $400 Hammers, $100 Bolts, and Cost-Plus Contracting

Posted by jcnnghm Sun, 14 Feb 2010 22:41:14 GMT

There are many misconceptions relating to government contracting, especially amongst technologists, so I thought I would take this opportunity to clear some of those confusions up.

I once bid several cents per e-mail to send out thousands of e-mails a month for a government organization. Ridiculous, right? Anybody can run sendmail in a colo for $100 a month. What the actual term of the agreement doesn't say, is that the e-mails were to be sent from an application we were to develop with features unique to the organization, and the e-mail addresses were to be collected using a marketing website and software package that we were to construct, maintain, and promote. We also had to provide two dedicated T1s, four dedicated servers, a load balancer, as well as design and produce all the print marketing materials to promote the new service. All of these things were included in the contract, but we were only paid per e-mail sent. Things aren't always as they appear at first glance.

In the case of the bolt, it's not an ordinary bolt. Normal bolts are never individually tested, a single bolt from the lot is taken and destructively tested. In the case of the expensive Department of Defense bolts, they are generally one of a kind, limited production, bolts designed for one purpose. In addition, they are generally non-destructively tested, which means that they are each individually subjected to the forces that they are rated for, and then examined. This is expensive.

For the hammer, the situation is similar. The price was inflated because of the equalallocation formula in use at the time. "The equal allocation method calculates prices for large numbers of items in a contract by assigning "support' costs such as indirect labor and overhead equally to each item. Take a contract to provide spare parts for a set of radar tracking monitors. Suppose a monitor has 100 parts and support costs amount to a total of $100,000. Using the equal allocation method each part is assigned $1,000 in such costs, even though one item may be a sophisticated circuit card assembly, which requires the attention of high-salaried engineers and managers, and another item may be a plastic knob. Add $1,000 to the direct cost of the part and you get a billing price. This is what the government is billed, though not what the part is really worth--the circuit card being undervalued, the knob being overvalued. The need for billing prices arises because contractors want to be paid up front for items that are shipped earlier than others." (from The case for the $435 hammer.)

As far as "cost plus" goes, there really isn't a better way to do what it does. Whenever I bid a contract I estimate cost, then add profit and that is the price. In the case of the e-mail contract I described above, I calculated the cost then decided on a fair profit. After that, I made best case, worst case, and average case estimates for e-mail volume. I ended up basing the per e-mail bid on the worst case number of messages sent. In other words, the bid price was ((cost + [slightly less than fair] profit) / worst case estimate). Had we won the contract and not gotten close to the worst case, the profit would be substantial. Had it been a "cost plus" contract, it probably would have been less expensive for the government overall, however, the risk would have been theirs, not mine (if our software was ineffective or underused, we could have potentially lost money).

Cost plus is most often used when something has to be built that is either difficult or impossible to estimate. If I were to ask you to build something that nobody has ever built before, and intended to have you sign a contract saying that you would construct it for that price, you'd probably greatly overestimate the actual cost, because you would have to make sure you don't end up too far in the red. The costs are evaluated and approved by an oversight group (like government engineers), so they can make sure project costs are really necessary. In addition, the records are audited and unnecessary cost is often disallowed. Cost plus isn't perfect, but it's less expensive in the long run then having the contractors make guesstimates then inflate them to deal with the risk and uncertainty.

In the long run, the single most disingenuous thing I've seen in government contracting is the blatant racism and sexism. Females and minorities are given preferential treatment because of their race or gender. Depending on the contract, their price proposals are also evaluated differently as well, often getting a 5% discount. In other words, a $100k bid placed by a Minority-owned business will be read as $95k when compared to other bids. The process is not only unfair and discriminatory, but can result in less qualified firms winning contracts on the basis of quotas.

In the end, the ultimate check and balance is the openness of the process. Anyone can put their money where their mouth is, start a company, and win some contracts. All you've got to do is demonstrate that you can do the work, and bid low.

Why Most People Think Memorizing Historical Facts is Useless (and Why It Actually Is) 5

Posted by jcnnghm Tue, 09 Feb 2010 18:46:00 GMT

An article, Why Most People Think Memorizing Historical Facts is Useless (and Why It Actually Isn't), was making the rounds yesterday. I strongly believe that the author is wrong, memorizing historical facts is useless, and so are History classes in general, as they are taught in the United States.

Knowing who someone was, where something happened, and when it happened are all essentially useless unless you know what happened, and why it happened. Unfortunately, I was never able to comprehend why I really enjoyed reading about history, but why I hated history classes. I figured out exactly what the problem was when I first read my favorite book of all time, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. In The 48 Laws of Power, Greene goes to great lengths to describe what leaders throughout history did to obtain, or lose, their power, and why they acted in the way that they did. The really fascinating part about history is all in the why. Why did they do that?

As History is taught in schools today, it's just a series of titles connected to events. Match Year X with Event Y. It is worthless. If you teach why's, and not just the who's and when's, all that other stuff falls into place, because it's contextually vital. If you care about why something happened, you'll understand what happened and who the major players were.

By far my favorite "character" in Greene's book, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (Talleyrand), was never mentioned in any history class I have ever taken. Talleyrand, a French diplomat, was intensely interesting, especially with respect to his interactions with Napoleon. Talleyrand actually collaborated with the British to allow Napoleon to escape from the island of Elba, which he had been exiled to after his failed invasion of Russia. Talleyrand firmly believed that Elba was too close, so he worked to convince the British that this was the case, and that if they let Napoleon escape now, he'd quickly enter a war where he'd be defeated and could be sent further away. Napoleon "escaped", and did indeed lead France into war again, where he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, and was exiled off the coast of Africa for the remainder of his life.

The real tragedy is, I'd never heard of Talleyrand until I read Greene's book. In college, I was tasked with writing an essay on Napoleon in a European History class, and decided to cross out the question posed by the professor, and construct and answer my own. I couldn't remember the facts I was supposed to, but I could remember and construct an essay on Talleyrand, which was good enough for the professor to give me an A, noting that it's not usually a good idea to disregard essay questions unless you have something really interesting to write about.

If a story is interesting and relevant, because you understand why something happened, you'll remember what happened. It is a big part of why. Take, for example, the story of the con artist Victor Lustig, famous for selling the Eiffel Tower. Lustig was able to play on Al Capone's desire to interact with someone of integrity to con him out of $5,000, a rather brazen act. Lustig approached Capone and asked him to invest $50,000, which he promised to double. Lustig returned in 2 months, and returned the $50,000 to Capone, along with a story of the hard times he had fallen on. Capone was shocked, and told Lustig that he had expected him to either return $100,000, or nothing, and confessed that he knew he was a con artist. So impressed by Lustig's honesty, Capone gave him $5,000 to help with his situation. There never was any investment deal, Lustig left the money in a safety deposit box for the two months. The con was all a play on Capone, who longed to deal with a man of integrity, since he was constantly surrounded by those who had none. This story is easy to remember, because it's easy to see why the actors did what they did.

After reading Greene's book, I became convinced that history education is all wrong. Why things happen, and why people do what they do, is intensely interesting. When they happened is boring and irrelevant. Not teaching why things happened dilutes the value of history to such an extent that it's worthless as it is. It serves no purpose, it must be fixed or abandoned.