Friday, November 30, 2007

Dell XPS

What's with the Dell XPS commercials. Is that a commercial for mascara or a computer? All it's missing is an appearance from George Michael.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The taser debate

The use of tasers by police has been in the news lately. There is the infamous video from out in BC. Additionally a local man died recently here in Halifax after being tasered.

It should be noted that the individuals who died were apparently in serious medical distress to begin with so it's not certain at this point the tasering actually caused them to die as they may have died imminently anyway. The autopsies are still to be done.

In any case some people are recommending the police no longer use tasers as they can cause deaths. That doesn't make any sense. Some people are going to die each year when the police have to use physical force to get someone under control.

The cops wrestle someone to the ground. Suspect hits his head on the pavement, goes into a coma and later dies. People can die getting wrestled to the ground.

The cops use a night stick to subdue someone. Suspect loses consciousness as a result and dies later in hospital. People can die getting hit by a night stick. Choke holds can result in the loss of life.

Of course when the police have to shoot someone then the mortality rate is pretty high.

So we shouldn't discontinue tasers because some people die from them. Some suspects are going to die no matter what the police use to get them under control. The issue is if tasers produce an overly high mortality rate compared to other techniques the police could use. I'm not convinced the death rate from tasers is unacceptably high so without strong evidence the death rate is high then the use of tasers should continue.

Tasers were invented to give professional law enforcement extra options between smashing someone unconscious with a night stick and shooting him. I think they've worked well at that, and certainly decreased mortality from police shootings that were avoided. If there is further innovation and new technology is invented to replace the taser then great, we'll adopt the better new technology just like the taser was adopted as better new technology. Until then there is no meaningful statistical evidence at this point to question or discontinue the use of tasers.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Aliant, grief for you

What a pain it has been getting set up with Aliant high speed internet. It seems so simple. I have a cell phone and I just want to order high speed only.

I went into the Aliant store in Bayers Lake. I explained that I have separate phone and I just want to get set up with high speed internet. The clerk said yes yes yes we can do that, standard no problem. So I gave him my information and he filled out some stuff and I signed some stuff and I walked out the door with the white Internet in a box self install kit.

The Aliant store clerk assured me everything was on and ready to go and when I plugged in I would have access to the Internet. So a couple of weeks pass while I get my computer. Finally it arrives and I get it all plugged in.

Then I open up the white Aliant box and start the Internet install. There's a CD with a wizard. Unfortunately the install disc is crap software from Motive. The first time I ran it just abruptly crashed after a couple of the steps. The next time it got a bit further before freezing and needing to restart. Finally I got to a late screen where everything was plugged in properly and I had to enter some numeric code. I found one on my bill of sale but when I typed it in it failed and then started giving nasty error messages.

I called Aliant tech support. This is around 10 PM. The internet help desk guy was none too useful and within about 3 seconds of answering the phone he informed me that it is not a technical issue but a billing issue and he shunts me into some new queue. After a while someone from billing answers. English was not his first language and he was a dolt. The first thing he says is he needs my phone number. I tell him I have Internet only and no Aliant phone. He refuses to believe this.

After some arguing I convince him to look me up. After all I have a name, an address, and a billing number from my phone bill. Aliant may have screwed up my Internet but they sure got that bill out! After having to repeat the same information several times as he keyed it in incorrectly he insists that I'm not in his system and it's not his problem and talk to sales. Of course sales isn't around so call back tomorrow morning.

The next morning I did call back and the daytime crew is far better. First the guy from Internet help desk said it was indeed a tech issue. He was able to look up my service number in about 6 seconds from just my name and address after the dolt from the night before spent half and hour insisting I wasn't in their system. From there he told me how to log into the modem itself on the 192.168 local network and we went to the config screen and typed some stuff in and a couple of clicks later it's swoosh, nothing but Internet.

On the Siemens DSL modem the LAN console can be reached by just navigating to from Internet Explorer. The Aliant Modem Configuration screen appears and that's the modem console.

Great, all done right? Well this is Aliant so of course not. I get a bill this month and it's different than last month's bill. Now there is some local phone number service added. Say what? That wasn't on last months bill and I certainly didn't order it! I ordered high speed only. So again I have to call Aliant. The woman who answered was somewhat useful and explained that the original dealer made a mistake. This is the same original dealer who I was very careful to explain to that I was ordering high speed only. She would look into it and call me back shortly.

Around a half hour later she does call back and says now a technician has to come to my place after all to set it up properly. And it will cost $49 a month. I told her that I bought it on special for $35 a month. She agreed and had to change it. She informed me that because I don't have a land line I will have $10 tacked on. Thanks for not mentioning that Bayers Lake Aliant store.

Sigh, anyway at least they didn't cut off my service until the technician arrives next week. I'm a bit surprised they didn't. Maybe they meant to but managed to screw it up.

Knowing what I know now I would have just got high speed from Eastlink. I'm not locked into a contract with Aliant so I guess I can still switch if this hassle continues. Maybe after the $35 a month intro special wears off I'll switch.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Best price on milk in Halifax

It looks like the current best price on milk in Halifax is $2.99 for a 2L carton. It's at Ultramar of all places. You have to use the Ultramar ValuMax card to get that price.

I know some families go through gallons of milk each month so it would be worth it to get a better price. It's free to get the value max card. You don't have to buy gas to get the price on milk. You can just go in the store and buy the milk only if you wish. Although the value max card does give a 2 cents per litre discount on gas purchased.

Ultramar has been making an effort to get people to sign up for the ValuMax card. I kind of like Ultramar. Their stations tend to be in convenient locations. They also tend to be spacious, clean and well lit inside. The coffee is pretty good too at the Clayton Park location.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Big Lotto 6/49 Jackpot

Once or twice a year the Lotto 6/49 jackpot will get very large. This happens when the top prize goes unclaimed for a few weeks in a row and the jackpot keeps rolling over into the next draw. At the time of this writing the estimated jackpot for the next Lotto 6/49 draw is $37 million.

When the jackpot gets large it creates a bit of a mania in the population. At the office a guy put together a pool to buy a block of tickets. It seems a number of people bought in. They lost virtually the entire amount they invested on the draw earlier this week.

He sent around another e-mail to see if anyone wants to buy into the next draw on Saturday. I replied to this second e-mail asking him to set up a mailing list so that people who don't care about the lotto don't have to see these e-mails. He replied saying he wouldn't send me any more lottery stuff. Although it was inadvertant he should have been more careful to avoid co-worker spam. He should have set up an opt in mailing list with his first group e-mail.

Now because the 6/49 jackpot snowballs when nobody wins it, this can create a lot of dead money in the jackpot. In theory the jackpot could become large enough so that buying a ticket actually has a positive expected value, i.e. it is profitable to play. The chance of hitting the jackpot is around 1 in 14 million. A ticket costs $2. So when the jackpot is $28 million or higher then it is profitable to purchase a ticket right?

Well not quite. When the jackpot becomes very large far more tickets than usual are sold. Regular players buy more than usual, people who only play when the jackpot is large buy tickets, regular pools buy more, and people form new pools to play. With more tickets in play the chance that a lucky win ends up split increases. When the jackpot gets to $30 million or more then so many tickets are in play that the jackpot will be expected to be split around 3-6+ ways. In order to evaluate your expected value you have to discount your expectation by the number of expected splits. Even the most optimistic person would have to divide the jackpot by at least 2.5 to account for the number of splits on it if you win.

Applying an optimistic factor of 2.5 for splits makes the minimum break even jackpot for a $2 6/49 ticket $70 million. Of course at that level the expected number of splits would surely be more than 2.5 so even that's too low.

I'll gamble if I have the bankroll and I feel I'm getting the best of it with a positive expectation. However I won't be buying into the 6/49 this weekend. There's better things I can do with $2.


One final note about lotto pools. The Chinese saying "trust, but verify" definitely applies here. The office pools where I work and at past offices have been well run. The organizer photocopies the ticket numbers and posts them on the message board. So everyone can see how they did and check the results afterward.

There was a hospital in Nova Scotia where the pool was not so well run. The organizer didn't share the numbers with the other players, just the results. One time it became known several months later from other sources that the organizer had cashed in a very large ticket, something like $80,000. When questioned about it by her co-workers she claimed that her husband had bought the winning ticket separately with his own money. As you might guess, that group no longer has that lotto ticket pool.

It was foolish of the other players to possibly let themselves be cheated by the organizer with no way to determine after the fact if she was telling the truth about who bought the big winning ticket. These are social people who talk in great detail about what's going on in their lives. It seems very suspicious to me that the organizer would keep quiet about such a significant and happy event as a big lotto win.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

PC MasterCard

My President's Choice MasterCard is now paid off. Well kind off paid off. Much of it was moved to another place. But there was some left over on the card which I've now paid off. Now that it's paid off I cut up and canceled the card.

It's a small step back toward financial health. There's still a TD and MBNA card to deal with, in addition a car loan and some other crap. So a long and difficult road ahead, but at least I feel I'm moving in the right direction, reducing debt instead of adding to it. The TD and MBNA balances are higher and will take a while to get rid of. I hope be able to update this space to report their successful pay off.

Good riddance PC MasterCard, you brought nothing but misery and hard times into my life. I look forward to never having to interact with you again!