Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Adobe and Microsoft back to their old tricks, Google too

I need to fill in the fields of a PDF to file my FBAR* This is a USA government required document, failure to file means a $10,000 fine. Google's Chrome is not able/allowed to open the PDF. Microsoft's "Edge" browser has somehow made itself my default PDF opener. It doesn't work either. So first you need to (re)install Adobe Reader, then make it the default for PDFs, then use Adobe tm software to meet a federally mandated filing requirement. It's 2020 and these companies are back to the "fuck you, consumer" school of fighting with each other and abusing their power to lock in users. Adobe nags and tricks at every turn trying to browbeat you into buying a subscription. Why is the USGOV a willing participant in this? *FBAR means: if you have U.S. nationality and have a foreign bank account -- even if the reason you have a foreign bank account is that you live abroad -- you must send information to the US Treasury's "Financial Crimes Enforcement Network." Separate from taxes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Playing with PGP

Ever want to send me encrypted email?


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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bitcoin's rise

So much opinionating about Bitcoin at the moment, I figure I might as well throw in my 0.02 BTC.

I don't want to get into questions of what Bitcoin is, what it might be worth in the future, the pros and cons or ethics. I just want to focus on explaining its recent explosive rise.

What we have is a simple mismatch between supply and demand.

The demand is coming because of media attention and, yes, in part because of the Cyprus "bailout."

But what's really interesting is that there's not much supply.

There are many Bitcoin "whales" out there (no I am not one) who invested early, have thousands of Bitcoins, and would love to sell some 'coin at current prices _ but aren't.

The reasons why they would love to sell are:

1) They know it's not "worth" this much yet (even if they remain long-term believers).
2) Volatility is BAD for the long-term health of the Bitcoin market. People who get burned in a Bitcoin bust are not going to come back quickly. Also, it's impossible to conduct much trade in Bitcoin with prices this volatile.

So why aren't the "whales" selling some Bitcoin to stabilize prices?

Answer: Because the early adopters were almost by definition people interested in privacy. They don't want the world to know that they have a lot of Bitcoin, and they certainly don't want to open themselves up to scrutiny by tax authorities by selling on Mt. Gox.

So, any big Bitcoin sales still have to be done on the black market, and that's a daunting prospect for both buyers and sellers.

That is all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Summa pulchritudo mea donum mundi est

Latin lessons at the Efteling.

Visiting the fairy tale display on "The Emperor's New Clothes," (De nieuwe kleren van de keiser) and I'm confronted with the inscription below. Of course my wife looks to me for translation and I'm baffled. My Latin was never very good in the first place and it's getting to be 20 years ago, after all.

Summa pulchritudo mea donum mundi est 

-Caesar Narcissus

This is a situation where the overriding meaning is clear ('My incredible good looks are god's gift to the world'), but I can't get make the words in front of me say that and remain true to what I honestly suspect are the individual word meanings and cases.

Anyhow. In the cold light of afterward, I find pulchritudo is a 3rd declention noun (feminine), so pulchritudo is the presumptive subject, which is good, and most of the rest falls in place.

"Summa pulchritudo mea" all group together, "My most-high beauty,"

The "est" could have been left off, but there it is: "is."

"Donum," gift, is also nominative, (2nd declention), not accusative as I dimly feared, and I'm almost home:

"My great beaty is a gift".

But there's the "mundi," which I would really have liked to see in the dative, "mundo," = "to the world," or "for the world."

But what we have is "mundi," genitive. Doesn't make much sense intuitively. Gift belonging to the world?

After some refresher Latin grammar Googling, I'm reluctantly calling this "mundi" either a "subjective genetive" or "objective genitive," because a gift raises the idea of a receiver.

I can't find any examples of this _ on the contrary I see donum taking a dative everywhere _ but I'm assuming whoever they let make humorous signs at the country's biggest tourist trap attraction knows more than I do.


"My incomparable beauty is the world's gift." (Subjective genitive, leading candidate for correct translation)
"My incomparable beauty is the gift of the world."(Objective genitive)

Either way, I still think it would make more sense with "mundo," given the story.

"My incomparable beauty is a gift to the world."

Latinists? Another use of the genitive I'm not considering? Other possibilities/errors?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What exactly is the NOS Teletekstbrowser cockup?

Ah, Teletekst. The simplest and most efficient way to get NOS headlines and news imaginable. Plain text. Just a few characters per page. Predates Twitter, predates ... well not the Internet as such, but the Internet as it has been since the advent of html.

They have a handy nice little mini-browser that lets you use Teletekst on your computer. They HAD one, I should say. Suddenly, two days ago, the computer version went dead. The mobile phone app is still working fine.

Thinking perhaps my version had become corrupted, I uninstalled the browser, went to re-install it, and found the following message on their website.

"The NOS teletext browser does not work any more.Today, January 31, 2013, the NOS has taken a new layout of Teletekst into use. As a result, the NOS Teletekst browser doesn't work anymore. 

Because the NOS some time ago acquired full rights to this software program, we, as maker of the program are not capable of making the program function again. 

Our excuses for the inconvenience,


I love the way the old text has just been left sitting there for all to see like some kind of "fuck you" message to the NOS struck-through.

Since I never heard of XSO, I had a glance at their website.

It seems they've lost a key client recently.

Kids, can you please just kiss and make up? I want my Teletekst browser back.

Friday, February 1, 2013

SNS - what a difference an external auditor makes !

So, banks balance sheets are often said to be opaque. In the Dutch ministry of finance's discussion of its decision to nationalize SNS Reaal I came across the following (translation of text in bold at bottom below).

The takeaway is that SNS had written down EUR700 million of a EUR9 billion property loans portfolio, but (quietly?) expected to take additional losses of EUR1.4 billion.

But an external auditor said the *base case* was actually additional writedowns of EUR2.7 billion.

That means starting from a loan portfolio worth EUR8.3 billion, SNS and the auditors had a difference of opinion of EUR1.3 billion as to its actual worth.

If I'm reading right, SNS hadn't taken at least EUR1.4 billion in write-downs it KNEW it should have and in the external auditor's opinion EUR2.7 billion _ ie. in the auditor's opinion, SNS should have been writing down about A THIRD of the value of this loan portfolio.

That's not even the worst case scenario.

That's my interpretation of the below. Implications for other European banks with real estate loans?

Page 4 (bullet point 14), my translation:

SNS Property Finance itself estimated the losses it expected on the basis of the information that was available as of the middle of 2012. The Real Estate Portfolio then had a net size of about EUR8.3 billion (gross size of about EUR9.0 billion minus EUR0.7 billion provisions). SNS Property Finance estimated these additional expected losses in a base scenario would amount to about EUR1.4 billion, and in a negative scenario about EUR2.1 billion. The ministry hired Cushman & Wakefield in October 2012 to make an independent valuation of the real estate portfolio of SNS Property Finance. The result of the measurement of the actual economic value on the basis of information available from mid 2012 _ the correctness of which the Ministry then presumed afterward _ was for the real estate loans [to be worth] around EUR5.6 billion in a base scenario and EUR4.9 billion in a negative scenario.
In addition, Cushman & Wakefield indicated that SNS Property Finance's real estate [i.e. actual property, not loans] has a current actual economic worth of between EUR185 million and EUR265 million.
All this can be translated into an expected loss beyond the provisions taken by SNS Property Finance on its real estate loan portfolio of between EUR2.4 billion in a base scenario and about EUR3.2 billion in a negative scenario. These losses are substantially higher than the additional expectable losses estimated by SNS Property Finance. A recently updated overview by Cushman & Wakefield doesn't materially change the picture.

Link to actual report:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dutch consumers shafted on mortgages? Say it ain't so

I've always thought it was clear that Dutch mortgage rates were being set artificially high due to overconcentration in the  banking sector: ABN, ING, and Rabobank dominate.

Exhibit "A" was friends I knew of _ with perfectly healthy finances _ having to pay around 6 percent interest rates for their mortgages while retail depositors were being offered 2 percent on their savings accounts. I figured, with a 4 percent margin, even I could run a profitable bank. And of course banks had the option to get funding even more cheaply than 2 percent from the ECB.

But amazingly, the Dutch antitrust regulator NMa did a study and concluded (my summary): "nothing to see here, move along." (Dutch language).
Key quote:
"A focused investigation into possible coordination did not deliver any evidence of price-fixing between mortgage brokers or other violations of antitrust law" -NMa, May 2011.

Anyhow, today, a Dutch politician, Stef Blok, has woken up and come to the realization that perhaps there is a problem here after all:

From the Volkskrant today:

"The mortgage market in the Netherlands is primarily the battleground of the big Dutch banks: ING, ABN Amro and Rabobank. But because the first two _ due to the crisis _ received state support, they were obliged to charge a higher mortgage rate than competitors who made it through the crisis without support. That was one of the conditions of Dutch state aid.  ING was released from this condition in November, but for a long time, the Rabobank could set rates by itself. So there could be no question of much competition, as minister Blok observed, and therefore the intererest rates are possibly higher than necessary."

The coffee, NMa. Wake up and smell it. Please.

The sad thing is that if all the consumers who are now * still * paying a percent or more too much interest on their mortgages were to successfully sue over this, what good would it do? Due to other financial woes, the banks are all undercapitalized to the point where probably none of them could survive having to give up this ill-gotten 1 percent advantage they have on a sizeable chunk of mortgages, much less pay back the years of income they've gotten from it.

And if they were forced to pay up, they'd go bankrupt. And then, the state would have to intervene to bail the banks out and prevent armageddon; and a state bailout means taxpayers would foot the bill. Net result: a new subsidy from non-home-owners to homeowners.

Justice is hard to find in the banking world.


I use this space as a brain dump, almost a note pad.
Lots of English translations of Dutch information, especially if I think something could also be useful for others. For speed I start with Google translate and then put on finishing touches myself.
*Use at your own risk.*