Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why I don't read MSN Money

Make builders, lenders fix the housing mess - MSN Money

Wow, so I just read this Jim Jubak guy and reminded myself about why I read the PF blogs instead of the MSN Trash. FTA:

Remember Enron? The company claimed revenues of $111 billion in 2000 only to file for bankruptcy in 2001 when it turned out that revenues, profits and asset holdings were either wildly overinflated or didn't exist at all.

Losses to shareholders were variously estimated at $60 billion to $80 billion. Those are huge numbers. But when you add up all the fines and settlements paid by the parties the courts decided were responsible for at least part of the fraud, it comes to less than $10 billion.

Right good, the SEC has no teeth, it can't prevent you from losing money if the company lies. No shit, welcome to 2007. Enron, Worldcom, Nortel... all names to make you wince, except, oh yeah, this crap has been happening for decades.

He basically uses this opening paragraph to run off into a segue about Beazer and other home builders and he actually brings up the fact that Beazer employers violated federal law and that shareholder are out billions in the drop:

Whether the fines Beazer eventually pays are $15 million or $150 million, however, they won't do anything to help investors recoup the $1.5 billion they've lost in the stock as it plunged to $8.38 on Oct. 17 from $47 a share at the end of 2006. The best those folks can expect from an Enron-style settlement is pennies on the dollar.

Again, no shit! Welcome to the shark tank, this isn't new, the company cheated both the consumers and stock holders, surprise, surprise! If you thought the SEC was going to be your magical shining knight on a white horse and save you b/c the company "cheated", then you were sadly mistaken. I'd feel for you and deliver my sympathies, but it doesn't really take a genius to know that this stuff has happened dozens of times since the SEC was instituted in the 30's.

The SEC has no teeth, they cannot recover the money you will lose when a non-solvent company reveals the level of their "cheating". The SEC is not a risk management tool. You've been told.

So now, Jubak wants the greedy lenders to made responsible for fixing up new deals for the people to whom they gave all of these bad mortgage loans. Of course, he's not actually giving specific ideas on how to do this, let's put the onus on the cheats, right? This whole "good ideas" thing is pretty hard.

How the heck are lenders supposed to help? These are people who signed up for mortgages without taking a credit check? You bought a house worth several years of your salary without a credit check!?! Clearly these are people who missed the whole Caveat Emptor life lesson and no lender in their right mind actually wants to help these people out, that's why they had to cheat to get the loans in the first place, duh!

Obviously, the lenders took advantage of people with a poor grasp of financial concepts or people who were too greedy and wanted a place they couldn't really afford. In either case, malice or ignorance, there is only so much that you can do to protect people from themselves. It would be great to catch all of these dirty business people, but it's really a loser's game, there's just too much money in housing (and cars) to keep the sharks out of the tank. Plus, if you're going to take a mortgage without running a credit check, let's face it, you deserve to be broke and homeless for a while.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sofware IS a Service

Here's a quickie reply to Jeff Atwood's blog posts on the decay of software:
Why does software spoil?
Are Features the Enemy?

Of course, what he's talking about in these last two posts is basically endemic to the way in which packaged software is sold. It's not the very nature of software, packaged software is sold as a physical good, but it's not.

All of this feature bloat is an attempt to justify future sales, but sometimes problems arise from below as well. For all the "stableness" of packaged product it's all running on shaky ground. Hardware and software are evolving so quickly that even stable software will die. But that's the fundamental problem!

Building and then packaging software is analogous to building a house on top of a sand-dune and then selling the house. When the house inevitably crumbles we run out and sell a new house. Of course, the crumbling may have nothing to do with the quality of the house itself, it's just that you built it on a fricken sand dune!

This is why we need to move to subscription-based software services. I can't buy software for $100 today and simply expect it to function correctly on my new computer 10 years from now. Software isn't like a shovel or a bed or a fridge. Software is organic, it grows, it evolves, it lives within an eco-system of other related software.

For software to grow correctly, we need to move to a subscription model so that we can afford to keep programmers as tenders of the garden as well as tillers of the new land. Right now, we're not tending our gardens. The packaged software guys are being constantly forced to till new soil with no one left behind to tend gardens. But again, this is because we're pretending that selling software is like selling a shovel.

Good software doesn't need to spoil, instead it needs to be sold in a way that will allow it grow and to be tended. Maybe I'm just a dreamer, but imagine a world where Quicken charged an annual software fee? Then instead of "sun-setting" features, they'd just extract cash for keeping their software up to date and ensuring that it satisfies current/future customer needs.

It'd probably be a better software world, it's just a long ways off.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The DSM sucks

Here's a neat read from ShrinkTalk.Net

There are two sides here:

1. You're angry that you didn't get published. I'm sorry that it didn't work out for, I understand, but bringing up the bird journal just gives fuel to the opposition. That anger kind of "dequalified" point #2

2. The DSM is basically a piece of crap.

And it is, that book is the reason that I went into computing instead of psychology. 10 minutes and a little searching and all you're left with is "Man this is screwed up and useless, I can have two depressed people with totally different depressions"

The DSM is basically crap, but it's really just a small piece of the puzzle. B/c let's face it, most of North American medicine is crap. To follow up Amber's comment, I'm living in Canada (Edmonton) and I think that Canadian doctors over-prescribe (the American system is just a giant mess I don't want to touch).

But ironically, I think that the problem doesn't stem from the doctors, it stems from human nature (the pool from which we select doctors). Human nature is to desire the quick fix and the nature of the world is to favor the "gradual change": people want to wake up 20 lbs lighter, they don't want to lose weight; they want to "become" happy rather than "discover" happy. Like all classic dual-edged swords the "quick-fix" is both a source of success and failure.

So when it comes to medicine and health, people think the same way: "quick fix". We have pill for this a procedure for that and everything is fine. Human nature has reduced the concept of human health to a giant book of problems with an associated "lookup" for solutions. And it's done this under the very concept that such a "solution-lookup system" could feasibly exist and could feasibly be managed / maintained by doctors.

I can't be done. Sure it could theoretically be done, but it can't actually be done. At some point (as with all things) you have to cut your losses and work on your strengths.

Now sure, I'd love to yell at the doctors for believing that they could index all of humanity's problems, but hell We The People are basically yelling for it. We, the human race are just a bunch of "quick-fixers", that's our nature, heck that's our strength. Of course, at some point, we too have to cut our losses.

And this is where "modern medecine" has failed us, b/c our current medical scheme is highly focused on quick fixes. People (doctors) feel important when they are solving problems. "Processing" patients makes you feel good, it makes you feel like you're saving lives and making a difference. Of course, the problem with that logic is pretty clear: isn't the best news usually just no news at all? Wouldn't it be better to just have less people needing to visit the hospital?

Of course it would, but we (typical north americans) haven't built our system or our lives this way. We don't build for longevity, we don't "grow", we leap damnit! And that's why we're in trouble, we build bad foundations and then band-aid them up.

Think foundations:
  1. Diet
  2. Sleep
  3. Activity
  4. Mood

These things affect basically everything. Heck, these are the fundamental cycles of life, we eat, sleep, move around a bunch and act happy/sad about the whole deal.

So when you come in complaining about a headache, what does the doc ask you? He asks for descriptions or prior history, he's mostly trying to figure out what strength of pill to prescribe. But what he should be asking you is the above 4 questions. What he's fundamentally trying to do is return all of these to healthy norms.

Yeah, it doesn't always work, yeah some things are bigger, but unless we're trying to "normalize" these 4 factors, then how do we know what's causing the problem? How do we know what we're actually fixing? If your jaw hurts and you have a headache what's the problem? Unless I can ascertain that you've been sleeping well, eating well, treated your body well and were mentally positive, then how can I possibly evaluate the cause of your situation? Both of these issues could be caused by any of the above problems, face it, you could be having a headache b/c you aren't sleeping quite enough, but the doc probably just assumes that it's b/c of the jaw pain.

Yes to argue semantics I can't actually evaluate the exact cause of every ailment that you may have. But the least that the medical profession could enforce would be to throw out the most salient factors of variability. Anyone with a long-term ailment should be keeping diet/sleep/activity journals with a daily thought blurb. The goal, front and centre, should be normalizing these behaviours so that we can actually pick out the abnormality.

But we don't do this b/c it isn't quick. People, let alone doctors, don't want to keep these complicated journals and track their own progress, they don't want to get better, they want to be made better. So that's what the doctors deliver.

Deep-down, it angers me to no end that some of the smartest people around (doctors) can't actually behave like the smart people they are and learn to correctly guide the populace instead of buying into their weakness. But that's the fundamental problem, we don't just need doctors to pull out rotting teeth or replace broken hips or prescribe one-step solutions, we need doctors that can guide the patient on all levels but that's not what's happening.