Archive for September, 2008

Ch-Ch-Ch-CheckBot

September 30, 2008

Yesterday I released my latest project at work. I call it CheckBot and it is a Windows service that pulls down messages from a third-party service, checks them for domain names, and replies with whether those domain names are available. I built it using a plugin architecture, so adding third-party services is a breeze.

The first plugin was Twitter. A Twitter user just has to follow domaincheck and then send that bot account a domain name through the direct messaging system. Within seconds, CheckBot will respond with its availability and include a link to register it on GoDaddy.com if it is available.

I am very proud of this application because I did it fairly quickly and I like the simplicity of the design. There was only one bug that came up during testing and it was both minor and quickly resolved. This sort of thing is exactly the reason why I love my job and the Gadgets Team I lead.

[The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Go Daddy Software, Inc.]

Advertisements

Instapundit, I Am Not

September 30, 2008

That last entry marks the 37th post this month. This is the most frequent posting rate I’ve maintained since October 2003! I am pleased as punch by this because I love blogging and I enjoy the long format this blog provides. I cannot believe that I’ve been doing this for the last six years.

Hey Mister Congressman!

September 30, 2008

The bailout plan failed to pass the House. I didn’t have a chance to comb through the text of the straight-out-of-Atlas Shrugged-named Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 but I read the highlights and it seemed to match quite well with Reich’s plan. I think my arguments against that plan also work against the House’s version.

House Republicans successfully repulsed this corporate welfare program—man it sounds weird saying that—but this isn’t the last we’ve heard of this plan. Democrats see an opportunity for increased regulation over a sector that they particularly despise and the Bush Administration sees a chance to transfer wealth over to its cronies on Wall Street. The Republican objections generally were not on principled grounds so they may not have the wherewithal to stop the next iteration. I encourage you to write your representatives in both houses to let them know of your opposition.

Here’s what I just wrote to Representative John Shadegg:

I am glad to read of your opposition to the bailout plan. You are my Representative and I have voted for you in the past at every opportunity. If you maintain your opposition, I will vote for you in November.

My only wish is that you base your argument against the bill on better grounds. Your statement reads like your disagreement is based on technicalities, not any firm defense of constitutional principles or freedom. I think your soft dissent, while producing the same end result, leaves open the possibility of a subsequent bill’s passage.

I admire your father’s work for Barry Goldwater. I expect you to maintain the family name as a bastion of freedom and individual rights. While the government has largely created this mess, it is not its place to absolve those who took advantage of their responsibilities. It is time to truly deregulate the financial sector, which has been one of the most regulated parts of our economy since the New Deal.

Please oppose future bills on the premise of limited government.

And here’s what I wrote to Senator Jon Kyl:

In your press release dated 9/15 entitled “Bail Out” you speak of “allowing the free market system to work” and opined that you weren’t going to support “writing a blank check with American taxpayer dollars.” Yet in your weekly column of 9/22 entitled “Stabilizing the Economy” you contradict those very same statements.

I have voted for you ever since you started in the Senate. I think you are generally an advocate of the free market and you represent your state well in that regard. I think you are tremendously wrong in supporting this bailout, though.

This crisis was not the result of the housing bubble as you suggest in “Kyl on the Economy, Housing, Financial Markets.” The housing bubble masked the consequences of the “moral hazard” of guaranteeing and encouraging fiscally irresponsible actions on the part of mortgage lenders. When housing valuations were on the rise, there were no problems because equity ratios were sufficient to make these mortgages look good. Once housing valuations returned to reasonable levels, the truth was laid bare and the risks inherent in the shaky loans were inescapable.

Bailing out these irresponsible lenders sends a horrible message and further insures that the “moral hazard” you rail against becomes enshrined as precedent.

But that’s not the worst of it. In bailing out anyone, you are supporting the writing of a blank check on the taxpayer. I am more than my wallet: I am an American with individual rights that I elected you to protect. I am not the Peter you may shake down to help Paul out when he makes bad choices.

This is a government intervention not seen since the days of the New Deal. If you are truly in favor of a free market, you must oppose this bill (and inevitable subsequent bills) with every fiber and sinew of your convictions. If you do not, I may find myself having to vote you out. And I’d rather not do that.

And finally, here’s my letter to Senator John McCain:

I have grudgingly voted for you ever since I’ve been eligible to vote. I am a Republican of the Barry Goldwater variety: we stand for limited government and individual rights. Your support of the bailout plan as put forward by Secretary Paulson and Congress is repugnant to Goldwater Republicans, as it should be to any individual who professes to support the free market.

The financial crisis was caused not by the greedy Wall Street financiers, though they took advantage of the situation, but by the very government regulations that were supposed to forestall such a calamity. In encouraging questionable mortgage lending and providing lenders a guarantee of immunity from the consequences of such irresponsibility, the federal government caused the situation in which we find ourselves.

The answer to this problem is not more government power or regulation. It is deregulation: the financial markets need to be left to succeed or fail on their own accord. The government prop has proven itself useless on countless occasions and it needs to be removed.

I know that it’s politically expedient to play the demagogue and pander to what you think the American people want to hear about Wall Street fat cats. You are wrong: the American people don’t want to be a wallet for the government to loot. They respect those who get rich of their own accord, who work hard and earn every penny they own. The thing they don’t like are people who get rich through government-provided incentives and then cry when those dislocations come back to bite them.

I am going to vote against Barack Obama come November. Please don’t make me reconsider that decision by supporting future bailout proposals.

I don’t know if it will do any good, but it certainly can’t hurt.

Thoughts on Android

September 30, 2008

Last week saw the introduction of the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. I’ve been following Android’s progress with interest because it seems to be the most compelling competitor to Apple’s iPhone so far.

This video by Engadget really helped me to understand the phone and operating system in a way that all of the specs and press releases have not. This particular video was better than most of the other ones I’ve come across because the phone’s operator was quite familiar with its features.

Here are the things from the video that I really liked:

  • That little drop-down panel notification that appears and disappears after a few seconds. It also appears to be able to be recalled at any time. It’s especially handy for background processes and applications, neither of which are possible on the iPhone.
  • The compass rose on the Google Maps application. This is a third-party integration, like a plugin or Greasemonkey script, that provides additional functionality not originally conceived by the app developers. This sort of customization is impossible on the iPhone and could be the basis for a much richer experience.
  • The Street View responds to movement on all axes by changing the view accordingly. This is pretty sophisticated positional analysis. Like the compass rose, it appears that Android can tell the application not only the phone’s coordinates but also its orientation on all axes. That’s not available on the iPhone and could be very useful.

That being said, I believe that Android is doomed to failure. First, it has forsaken multitouch ubiquity. After the pioneering efforts of Jeff Han, Apple and Microsoft have clearly embraced multitouch as the user interface of the future. By not requiring hardware manufacturers to support multitouch (or touch at all, really), Google has seriously limited application developers. If a developer wants to do a multitouch application once Android supports that, he is either limited to a subset of the customer base or he has to make it degrade gracefully on phones that don’t support multitouch—neither is an appealing option.

And openness has proven time and again to not be a huge selling point to the average consumer. There are already open mobile operating systems but people are clamoring for iPhones. There’s a certain abstract benefit to openness that is hard to communicate to users. The freetards may whine but the average person just looks at the iPhone and drools. They don’t particularly care that their phone isn’t open. Why? Because most phones in the past never were.

I predict that Android will linger forever on cheaper phones where a free operating system could make for increased profits. The Big Three—Apple, Microsoft, and Nokia—will barely notice its share and Google will mostly abandon the project due to its corporate ADD.

Gone Frontin’

September 29, 2008

I went to an MC Frontalot concert Saturday night with a friend and had an incredible time. Let me preface this all by saying that I am not a concertgoer: I don’t enjoy crowds, am not a people-watcher, prefer studio-produced music, and am a cheapskate. The only concerts I have ever paid for was Public Enemy and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy twice; aside from that, I’ve either gotten free tickets or the concerts were entirely free. I do, however, love music and spend plenty of money buying it on CD, through iTunes, or, lately, Amazon MP3.

I’m a longtime fan of the Front and went to his concert last year when he came to town. He puts on a great show and so I just had to go. Plus you can’t beat the price at $10. Also appearing were the Minibosses and MC Lars, whom I had heard of but never heard.

I knew it was going to be different this year as soon as we pulled into the parking lot. There was a line stretching through the entire strip mall and we were half an hour early. We passed the time joking about the various misfits we saw and most revolved around these weirdos with long hair who were wearing black jumpsuits with yellow pentagrams and dripping with fringe. They looked like Satanic disco goers.

Turns out those freaks were the unannounced opening act, Totally Radd!! (which they weren’t, incidentally). I won’t waste valuable electrons fully describing their set since they were really not worth mentioning.

The Minibosses were next. Apparently, they’re a local band; their schtick is covering video game theme songs like Super Marios Brothers or Castlevania. Like last year, I appreciated their skill but couldn’t identify of the video games they were re-creating. I had a Colecovision and a Nintendo in my childhood, but they never made a lasting impression on my because I wasn’t very good.

The biggest surprise of the night was MC Lars. After listening to his set, I was annoyed that I had never listened to anything of his. The songs he played—“Mr. Raven,” “iGeneration,” “Download This Song,” “Generic Crunk Rap Song,” and “Hot Topic is Not Punk Rock”—were awesome and his stagecraft was perfect. He had his laptop powering two projectors and he amazingly never lost synchronization with their presentations.

MC Frontalot was excellent, as always. He even improvised for a bit while his guitarist changed instruments. He had a new drummer since his last tour and I didn’t like him as well. The only bad thing I can say about his set versus last year’s is that I think his vocals were sometimes overwhelmed by the band. He performed three songs from his new CD but due to the music I wouldn’t have known what he was saying if I hadn’t listened to the songs previously. It could be that he was just really tired since he didn’t start until after midnight and finished around 1:30 AM.

If you ever have a chance to go to one of his concerts, I’d recommend it highly: $10 for four bands and 4½ hours of entertainment is an astounding value. I don’t know how they make much money but they obviously do—they’ve earned it!

jQuery On the Rise

September 29, 2008

Wow. Microsoft will bundle the jQuery library with all ASP.NET MVC projects, enhance its interaction with Visual Studio through IntelliSense, use it in future ASP.NET Ajax controls, and provide support for the library itself. This is huge because most of the Microsoft universe doesn’t take note of anything not provided by Microsoft in a standard distribution.

A Hard Decision

September 27, 2008

I’ve been a consumer of the Facebook.NET framework for a few months now as I’ve developed several Facebook applications in ASP.NET. I chose that framework instead of the official Microsoft one because it seemed more logical and straightforward.

Honestly, I’m not at all certain why I originally chose one over the other. I read all of the blog commentary about each, I looked over the source, and I checked out the sample applications included. Facebook.NET struck me as elegantly designed, well conceived, and actively developed. Sure, Microsoft had commissioned and paid for the development and maintenance of the Facebook Developer Toolkit, which meant it was more likely to be around in the future. This possible objection was easily dismissed since Facebook.NET was open source and could be extended privately as long as need be.

What I couldn’t have foreseen were sweeping changes by Facebook to the underlying API within six months and a complete abandonment of the open-source project by its sole maintainer. Facebook has made a lot of mistakes in handling the transition but there’s precious little that I, as a third-party application developer, can do about that. So my sole responsibility is to keep up with updates to the framework and alter my code to accommodate the new (or changed) functionality.

Faced with a framework that isn’t getting updates, the responsibility expands considerably. One must either abandon the abandoned framework to search for greener pastures or one must take up the mantle of leadership by forking the project. Neither is a path to be chosen lightly for each entails considerable pain.

The choice was made easier for me by the fact that the Facebook Developer Toolkit was just as inactive at the time. I tried corresponding with the Facebook.NET maintainer and even succeeded a couple times: I would much rather have been a developer on a project than the man responsible. In the end, it became clear that the maintainer had moved on to other projects and that I was going to have to fork.

The result is fb.net. I largely brought it up to parity with the API changes in a span of two days but then I got distracted by work, family, and other projects myself. As it stands, there’s just a little more to go and then I can make a release candidate.

My only hope is that I can get this framework ready for a full release and then start looking to build a community that can assist in its maintenance. The Facebook.NET maintainer got it off to a good start; now it’s my turn to finish the job.

A Different Perspective

September 26, 2008

The Antiplanner takes on some meltdown myths. His perspective is microeconomic so it’s a little more like Allison’s than much of the other economic analysis I’ve linked to.

WaaaahhhhMu

September 26, 2008

Washington Mutual was just closed down and its assets sold to JP Morgan Chase and Company. This means that I am once again a Chase customer. Is there no refuge from the customer service hell that is Chase?

To my mind, this reinforces the idea that a private solution exists in consolidation as well as that John Allison was exactly right in damning poorly-run banks. Washington Mutual was holding about $70 billion in bad mortgage debt and lost $3.3 billion in the second quarter.

Unfortunately, I’d wager that this episode will contribute to the sense of panic in our politicians, lending further urgency to get something—anything—done. Things are seeming increasingly inexorable—if this bailout takes place, we will feel the consequences for decades.

[UPDATE (9/26/2008): My mistake, it “has to happen.”]

[UPDATE 2 (9/26/2008): I didn’t really discuss it but JP Morgan is spending $1.9 billion to get $307 billion in deposits plus WaMu’s significant lending portfolio. It’s a fire sale and JP Morgan would have had to spend 10 times that six months ago. This bailout, though, won’t work at fire sale prices so you’ll see the government accepting above-market valuations when it purchases the “toxic” mortgage debts.]

When John Allison Speaks, I Listen

September 26, 2008

John Allison, chairman of BB&T, has publicly opposed the bailout plan in a letter sent to all members of Congress. I’m a big fan of John Allison and I couldn’t find the full text in any of the articles quoting from it. I did find a scan of the letter on a site that pulled it so I’ve hurriedly transcribed it below:

Dear Senator/Congressman/Representative:

BB&T is a $136 billion multi-state banking company. We have 1,500 branches throughout the mid-Atlantic and southeast states. While we have been impacted by the real estate markets, we continue to have healthy profitability and a strong capital position.

We think it is important that Congress hear from the well run financial institutions as most of the concerns have been focused on the problem companies. It is inappropriate that the debate is largely being shaped by the financial institutions who made very poor decisions.

Attached are the issues that we believe are relevant from the perspective of healthy banks. Your consideration of these issues is greatly appreciated.

Key Points on “Rescue” Plan From a Healthy Bank’s Perspective

  1. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are the primary cause of the mortgage crisis. These government supported enterprises distorted normal market risk mechanisms. While individual private financial institutions have made serious mistakes, the problems in the financial system have been caused by government policies including, affordable housing (now sub-prime), combined with the market disruptions caused by the Federal Reserve holding interest rates too low and then raising interest rates too high.
  2. There is no panic on Main Street and in sound financial institutions. The problems are in high-risk financial institutions and on Wall Street.
  3. While all financial intermediaries are being impacted by liquidity issues, this is primarily a bailout of poorly run financial institutions. It is extremely important that the bailout not damage well run companies.
  4. Corrections are not all bad. The market correction process eliminates irrational competitors. There were a number of poorly managed institutions and poorly made financial decisions during the real estate boom. It is important that any rules post “rescue” punish the poorly run institutions and not punish the well run companies.
  5. A significant and immediate tax credit for purchasing homes would be a far less expensive and more effective cure for the mortgage market and financial system than the proposed “rescue” plan.
  6. This is a housing value crisis. It does not make economic sense to purchase credit card loans, automobile loans, etc. The goverment should directly purchase housing assets, not real estate bonds. This would include lots and houses under construction.
  7. The guaranty of money funds by the U.S. Treasury creates enormous risk for the banking industry. Banks have been paying into the FDIC insurance fund since 1933. The fund has a limit of $100,000 per client. An arbitrary, “out of the blue” guarantee of money funds creates risk for the taxpayers and significantly distorts financial markets.
  8. Protecting the banking system, which is fundamentally controlled by the Federal Reserve, is an established government function. It is completely unclear why the government needs to or should bail out insurance companies, investment banks, hedge funds and foreign companies.
  9. It is extremely unclear how the government will price the problem real estate assets. Priced too low, the real estate markets will be worse off than if the bail out did not exist. Priced too high, the taxpayers will take huge losses. Without a market price, how can you rationally determine value?
  10. The proposed bankruptcy “cram down” will severely negatively impact mortgage markets and will damage well run institutions. This will provide an incentive for homeowners who are able to pay their mortgages, but have a loss in their house, to take bankruptcy and force losses on banks. (Banks would not have received the gains had the houses appreciated.) This will substantially increase the risk in mortgage lending and make mortgage pricing much higher in the future.
  11. Fair Value accounting should be changed immediately. It does not work when there are no market prices. If we had Fair Value accounting, as interpreted today, in the early 1990’s the United States financial system would have crashed. Accounting should not drive economic activity, it should reflect it.
  12. The proposed new merger accounting rules should be deferred for at least five years. The new merger accounting rules are creating uncertainty for high quality companies who might potentially purchase weaker companies.
  13. The primary beneficiaries of the proposed rescue are Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The Treasury has a number of smart individuals, including Hank Paulson. However, Treasury is totally dominated by Wall Street investment bankers. They do not have knowledge of the commercial banking industry. Therefore, they can not be relied on to objectively assess all the implications of government policy on all financial intermediaries. The decision to protect the money funds is a clear example of a material lack of insight into the risk to the total financial system.
  14. Arbitrary limits on executive compensation will be self defeating. With these limits, only the failing financial institutions will participate in the “rescue,” effectively making this plan a massive subsidy for incompetence. Also, how will companies attract the leadership talent to manage their business effectively with irrational compensation limits?