Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wrong Trajectories

Assuming I live to be as old as some of my relatives did, am I going to be able to look back on my life and marvel at how much things have changed since I was a kid? I mean, my grandparents and grand-uncle (who died at 105) got to see a LOT of really meaningful change. Somehow, I doubt I'm going to get to see anything so meaningful as the transition form man not even having powered flight to being on the moon. Right now, it seems like the best I'm going to be able to point to is nifty consumer gadgets. In fact, on the trajectory we're on, I'll be able to say "I remember moon mission" as a kid but have nothing even remotely as awe-inspiring in my adulthood. Pretty sad, actually.

Musings on Mega Lotteries

Each time one of the big US lotteries reach stupidly-high prize levels, it causes me to ruminate on a number of things. I've never had illusions that I might win a meaningfully, life-changing prize, but it's still nice to think of the possibilities. This time, as the prize number became more and more stratospheric, it caused me - prompted or of my own accord, a number of things.

I'm kind of a statistics geek - not so much from the standpoint of being massively into specific statistics but more from the standpoint of being amused by people's habits and interests. I've got to think that things like mega lotteries cause all sorts of interesting queries to end up in Google's data banks. It would be sort of interesting to see what lottery-related questions are asked, how they're asked, how frequently they're asked and how the relative frequencies change as new numbers about the size of the prize come out. For instance, did people ask questions like (because, obviously, these are questions that occurred to me):

  • What are the community-property rules of my state and how do they relate to lottery winnings?
  • How often do married lottery winners end up divorced after winning?
  • Is the post-winning divorce rate any higher than the average divorce rate or the divorce rates of couples who've experienced severe economic stress?
  • Of those divorces:
    • how many are prompted by the lottery winnings (i.e., bickering over what to do with it, etc.)
    • how many are simply enabled by the lottery winnings. That is, are they couples who would have otherwise divorced, sooner, but didn't have the financial wherwithal to do so (say because they couldn't afford to live on their respective individual incomes or whatever) or were they simply not quite in love any more, but stayed together because they couldn't think of a compelling enough reason to break up.

You're probably noticing a theme, here. Yeah: I'm married. So, I think like a married guy. I can't honestly say that, after winning a huge jackpot, I'd still be long-married afterwards. Not that I'm actively seeking dissolution of my marriage, but money does weird things....

The other thing(s) that come up are peoples' reactions to lottery moneys they never receive.

More than a few people, after the lottery has ended with a winner (that isn't them), express things akin to sour grapes. There's a tendency to look at whether the winner(s) were deserving of the prize awarded. Often times, it's simple matter of being able to identify with the winners (e.g., "that's why I never win: I don't live in a mobile home"). Other times it's along the lines of "he already had money - he didn't need to win that prize" (because, hey, there's anyone out there that needs $640Mn - especially more than the person complaining does)

Whatevs. Not like someone esle's winning the jackpot diminishes me for having not won. Got other things to worry about (some might say, "clearly, given the bulleted list of questions, above").

The most baffling thing, however are the people who seem to think that certain prizes aren't worth winning. It's compounded by who some of these people are. Case in point was a couple years ago, just after one of the big lotteries had paid out a $300Mn+ prize. At any rate,  I'd had an extra dollar in my pocket, that day, so I opted to buy a lottery ticket. The prize in that day's drawing was "only" 15Mn. The woman behind the counter asked me why I was wasting my money on such a small payout. All I could think was, "fucker, 15Mn is more than you're gonna see in a lifetime (as a 7Eleven clerk, she couldn't have been clearing much more than minimum-wage): who are you to turn up your nose at 'only' $15Mn?" I mean, seriously, while even a $1Mn lottery winning wouldn't necessarily be life-altering to the point of allowing me to retire early, etc, it would still allow me to pay off my mortgage. Given that my mortgage sets me back $30K/year, even if I changed nothing else about my life, I could either just piss away $30K/yr on things like vacations and "toys", or, I could take a job I really liked rather than one that ones dictated by financial needs, etc.. So, yeah, it's "only" $1Mn - I just don't how you could ever possibly question why anyone would "waste" $1 on such a "small" prize.

Oh well, there's no accounting for what goes through other peoples heads.

So You Wanna Screen Employee's FaceBook Pages?

It used to be, some employers liked to do online background check of job candidates by seeing what people were publicly-posting to the FaceBook, Twitter and other online presences. While creepy, this was all public material, so, you could let it slide. Recently, as people have become more sharing-aware, people are doing things a bit more privately. A once useful resource for info-trolling is becoming less so. What's the reasonable thing to do: realize that a tool is no longer useful and move on to bigger and better things or try to force your way into people's intentionally private lives?

Here's a hint: trolling for things that used to be public gave you a barometer of how much discretion potential hires displayed. as an employer. At this point, it should be more than enough to be able to determine, "this guy understands discretion" or "this guy is completely indescrete". An employer should never try to think that it's their right to rifle through a candidates off-the-clock time.

Here's how I look at it if you go to check up on a candidate and find nothing public on their FB page:

  • The stuff posted to their FaceBook page (etc.) was set to be visible to specific audiences was it was done so for a reason
  • Your insistance on logging into their account gives you more than just a view of the candidate's live, it exposes eveverythin their friends have shared. While it may be arguable that it's reasonable for you to see what your candidate is sharing, it is completely unreasnoabl and unjustifiable to try to see what others are sharing with your candidate. Even if the candidate is willing to give up their own privacy, they have no right to hand over the privacy of their friends and you have no right to demand it and no justifiable reason to business see it.
  • FB is single signon service for a lot of other sites. By demanding access to your candidate's FaceBook profile, you're also demanding access to every site that uses the FaceBook SSO engin. You compromise privacy on all those sites as well - many of which are even less relavant to the suitability of the candidate than what they may be saying on FaceBook.
  • For anyone - employer, employee, job candidate or a retiree - entering credentials on a foreign computer is risky at best. If it ain't your computer, you never know if there's a keylogger installed on that system. Worse, you don't know if any such keyloggers are controlled by the computer owner (the employee or their employer) or whether it's controlled by the creator of malware.
  • Given that FaceBook info is a treasure-trove of information for identity thieves, it exposes ALL of the candidate's other accounts - whether they leverage the FB SSO or not - to informed-cracking attempts ("Bob has a pet dog named 'Sparky': wonder if that's one of his password-recovery answers?").
  • Depending on how an employer is running their computers, it's also possible that the candidate's FaceBook profile may have other kinds of hidden treasures. A sloppy (or privacy-conscious but devious) job candidate may have malware apps in their profile. Logging into that profile may provide a nifty vector for malware to enter your computing environment. And, frankly, if your invasion of your candidates privacy ended up damaging your network, you would absolutely deserve it.

Overall, it seems to me that, if a potential employer asks for FaceBook (et. al.) information, they should be joint and severally liable to the account-owner, any site that uses the FaceBook SSO engin, everyone on the candidate's friends list (directly or indirectly) and to any site breached using information from that snooped-on FaceBook account to guess credential-recovery information. I have to think that a half-competent lawyer is going to be able to arrange quite a respectable class-action suit against the snooping employer. I also have to think that a lot of people are gonna want to help with that effort, as well.

To me, as a smart employer, it just wouldn't be worth any information gained from such snooping when measured against all the potential damage it could create or all of the legal liability it would cause to be assume. Even if the ethics of it are merely questionable, all of the other possibilities just scream, "don't do it".

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Riddle Me This, Batman

For the last couple months, my laptop's built-in WiFi has been getting progressively flakier. I finally got around to calling HP to see about warranty service (3 year warranty on this beast). The helpful CSR asked me for my identifying info to verify my warranty coverage, then asked me to go into device manager to see which WiFi option was installed in my laptop.

I'd always *thought* I'd had the BroadComm 802.11a/b/g/n+BlueTooth in it. However, Device Manager said I had an Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN adapter. This is a user-replaceable component, so, HP sent me out a replacement.

The replacement arrived Tuesday. Since it was mostly working, Tuesday, I put off putting it in till it crapped out completely, this evening. I powered the thing down, unplugged it and popped the battery out. I removed the screw from the panel over where the replacement WiFi card plugs in and opened it up.

Now, here's where it gets really fucking interesting: there was a SLOT for the WiFi adapter, but there was nothing in the goddamned slot. Even more, not only is the slot empty, but there's nothing rattling about inside the case. Obviously, I'm wondering "how the fuck did this thing's wifi connectivity *EVER* work??" But, I pop the new adapter into the empty slot, button her up, restore the battery and power cord and power on. WiFi's working and happy, again.

So, I gotta wonder, "do I now have two WiFi adapters in this beast that have the potential to conflict if the original ever wakes up again? Or, was the original one integrated and the presence of something in the slot deactivates it?" This leads to the final mystery of, "if the latter is the case, why the hell did they send RMA paperwork?"

I fucking hate mysteries when it comes to computers.