Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bailing-In European Style - Part 2

A deal with Cyprus was obviously concluded. However, some comments were made which were probably unwise or ill-timed (or weren't depending on your perspective).

A number of ways we can interpreted what was said:
- he was sending out a warning to the rest of the Eurozone to reduce their risk exposure
- he was being honest and direct about future Eurozone policy
- he simply wanted to test the markets to see how they would respond
- he was slightly careless in airing his mind
Either way, it gives an important insight into what the European leaders are thinking. It also tells us that they could probably handle the public relations side a little bit better (leaking certain notes from meetings does not help either. All it does is trigger speculation... unless the point is to guage market reaction to such policies?).

Like I said in my previous post, I believe that the public should not take on responsibility for reckless behaviour in the private sector. I'm not in the game of rewarding incompetance, hubris, or sheer foolishness and I don't think that many of the international creditors that are currently in charge of bailouts are either (I probably wouldn't have dipped into deposits though. This would has probably increased the chances of 'capital flight' (there's already an increased number of inquiries regarding movement towards safer options within the EU/Eurozone) and ironically stronger 'capital controls'. No one's saying that they can't have a flourishing financial sector. We just want a stable/healthy (even if it is a 'bloated' sector)). We can't keep on trying to fix debt with more debt if there is no growth that stems from it. Moreover, by taking public money and using it to bail out banks whose business models/practices are simply not functioning/working is not doing anybody any favours. Even if we had bailed them out and did exactly what they wanted who says we wouldn't be in the exact some situation several months down the line? The thing that I've noticed is that during times of stress/volatility people often double down and they either end up winning big or losing big. For the moment, we'll play things by the book until things stablise.

For those people who think that the deal was 'bad' for them and basically destroys their financial sector and economy (We need to think about this within context. If a retail chain, car manufacturer, or defense contractor suddenly falls apart does the government step in? Only in rare cases do they step in and even then it is only with heavy conditions imposed that they are granted government support. The same applies here.). They need to understand what exactly what was on the line. The country was basically a day (hours actually) away from 'bankruptcy'. Not only would you have lost both banks but government services, and a good proportion of other things that you take for granted as well. Moreover, my understanding is that much of the equipment that is required to create your own currency is destroyed upon entry to the Eurozone which means that a graceful exit is unlikely to be smooth nor simple. People need to understand the implications of going it alone. It's clear that the apetite is not there to test the waters and see what an exit from the Eurozone would be like. They also need to undertand that others were basically overexposing themselves to more risk than required. They should be part of the solution. You can't blame someone else for making bad decisions. If the market is there for other banks surefly they shoud consider especially in light of the light of the stress the existing bank is under?

It wasn't a question of Cyprus being forced/co-erced into anything (negotiations have been going on in the background for some while now though. Had they accepted an earlier offer things may have been a little less painful as well. Whether it was necessary or useful to target depositors with such a haircut is in question. Confidence is just as important in financial markets as are fundamentals. Would have only targeted creditors. Re-structuring can mean very many things but part of it is getting rid of toxic assets and trying to restore the health of the EU/Eurozone as quickly as possible.). The people running those banks chose to increase their risk exposure. It would be fine if they were still growing but with the EU/Eurozone being relatively unstable/seak over the last few years they took on too much than they could chew and they basically lost. While the solution that has been found may not be perfect it has staved off the uncertainty that comes part of a Eurozone exit. Something which neither European nor Cypriot leaders seem to be willing to countenance at this particular moment in time. Even in the case of Iceland/Finland while things may have recovered, things aren't exactly 'normal' now. Capital controls that were imposed long ago are still present (they have a odd way of dealing with foreign exchanges), many of their former billionaires are no longer, and a good chunk of their bloated financial sector is now gone.

The other thing that needs to understand is that if that we go towards the bail-in model we won't be propping up unsustainable businesses models/practices any longer but actually gaining genuine, sustainable, real growth that actually helps the citizens of Europe in the long term. They may not have the ability to devalue but they do have other countries/people who have the strength and hopefully the desire to help rebuild their economy. The thing they need to know is that they aren't going to be alone as they rebuild their economy (perhaps with the right incentives and supervision another bank may be able to fill in the void?).
Moreover, since they are such a small country:
- they are in a position to make rapid changes (regulation, taxes, investment)
- any changes that do make will have an almost immediate impact
- the results of any successful programs that the ECB implements in Cyprus can be used in aiding other Eurozone members
The key questions are of course:
- the timing of investment (do we try to break the fall or do we let it bottom out?)?
- what form of investment (private, public, what sections of the economy?)?
- and how much investment?
There are several purposes for this investment. Among them are trying to balance the ledger (cuts Vs growth) and social/political change (if policies here are sucessful and they are able to recover rapidly, then we can extend them back upwards up the hierarchy if need be in places such as Spain, Portual, Italy, and Greece. Will also help strengthen enthusiasm/confidence for the policies that are currently being pursued.)

If we're going to have capital controls (even if only temporarily) the ECB, EU, and other relevant stakeholders (British actually flew in Euros to their military bases) should make provisions to deal with basic necessities/goods as well. It's another compounding problem, if people can't withdraw enough money how are they going to pay for goods and services, what reasons are their to bring money in if they can't bring it out, etc?

Should probably hold off on adding new members to the Eurozone for the time being unless it can be proven that it will be beneficial to both the Eurozone as well as the country in question.

Interesting that the EU/Eurozone seems to have the ability to do things quickly if/when required. Suggest they do it more often and more proactively (perhaps even get the bank supervisor going by the end of the year as opposed to mid-2014?). Helps avoid critical situations like this weekend (though obviously co-operation admittedly wasn't strong early in the piece in this case) and allows us to use the Eurozone/EU in the way in which it was originally intended, for the benefit of other states.

Market manipulation/money laundering problem not a simple problem to solve.

Interesting perspective of political ramifications of Cyprus situation.,0,3155890.story,0,1480820.story

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bailing-In European Style

It's clear that people are tired of watching banks and others major institutions of getting themselves into trouble only for them to be 'bailed out' using taxpayer money (often because failure may result in a catastrophic cascade/succession of other failures). This has happened most prominently in the United States of late but obviously the situation has continuously popped up over the last few years in Europe as well.

Thus far, the reasons how they have found themselves in be such circumstances have often been related to compentency, taking high levels of risk that borders on negligence and malpractice, and engaging in (and being knowingly involved in) unethical and often illegal transactions.

I think most people are in the same boat though. As far as I'm concerned the people in charge can make an unlimited amount of money if they perform. However, if they have to be bailed out they should be penalised for their indiscretions. The option to take a haircut of salaries, stock options, and so on... of any people who are directly responsible should not and can not be ruled out (ironically, there are often local laws which cover corporate governance in relation to these issues though awareness of these particular laws is sometimes sub-par and not enforced often or harshly enough)(In an ideal world such people would either resign or be let go. However, keeping them on temporarily so that they can detail just exactly where they diverged may be necessary/required.). They have to learn that if they want to play with other people's money they will be held accountable. After all, it's clear that there is a far greater propensity for risk taking, if you have no 'skin in the game'.

- if funds can be determined to be be used for criminal (or other abnormal) activities (if you've ever read up on/about issues related to 'export controls' especially with regards to countries that are under sanction you'll realise that tracking such activities is easier said than done. There is also the problem of just exactly how big a role criminal activity plays in modern economies. One paper I read basically insinuated that it may actually be 'holding' up a good chunk of 'normal activity'. More research needs to go into this...)
- if they have resorted to unusual regulations to artifically boost their performance in an unsustainable fashion which could lead to collapse
- or if there is any other 'abnormalities' in the system
they should be among the first to be forced to shell out some of the burden not the average citizen who hasn't done anything wrong

Obviously, there are several key problems with 'bailing in' including:
- bank/currency runs
- loss of confidence which can lead to other cascading effects
- legal/jurisdictional issues
- political issues (though history indicates that if a levy is implemented fairly and under the correct circumstances it may actually be successful)
- implementation (they recently closed banks in Cyprus as a means of stopping a bank/currency run. This is only part of the solution though. If they do go directly after proceeds from criminal activity or other people 'of wealth' they need to think about back dating laws/dealing with jurisdiction issues so that if money is shifted or broken into multiple accounts (to deal with haircuts that are based on 'tiering'). Further discussion required at an international level.)

That's why I'm proposing something slightly different. Recently, the Australian Federal government implemented something called a 'super profits' tax on the mining sector (It's implementation was only partially successful due to loopholes in the way it was legislated.) as a way of basically funding future investment if/when the mining sector does undergo something of a downturn. I propose something similar. If banks are making substantial profits (the size of this is arbitrary but if you look at profits in the financial sector they seem quite healthy at the top end despite many of the problems that we are currently facing), a chunk of their profits will to go into a pool that is then used to help stablise, neutralise, and then hopefully fix crises situations such as this. It will ultimately act as a further firewall against instability and reduce the burden upon central banks (and ultimately taxpayers) in dealing with such circumstances (Obviously, the key problem is the size of it and how to implement it without impacting upon growth upon the finance/banking sector too much. Further thought/discussion required...).

Banks/opponents of this policy need to think about it in a different way. If one of their competitors collapses even though they may get a share of the clients confidence in the sector is also shaken which ultimately impacts on them as well. This is reflected in the style of assets which clients are willing to invest in and ultimately the returns that are realistically posisble. Moreover, it's clear that many banks have questionable assets on their books (everywhere not just Europe) and that removing them from their books isn't going to be an easy nor quick process. A pool of money from those who are able to provide further stability to the system is in everyone's best interest and ultimately backs up any stablity funds or any other liquidity options that are provided by the ECB.

Another option is to bail out/in based on citizenship (transfer all money back/responsibility back to the point of origin). At this point, we re-capitalise which reduces the burden on depositors. An option to basically reduce the size of the possible impact of a possible default, reduce the size of the finance sector in proportion in comparison to their economy while also allowing them room to breathe and basically set things right. Basically, roll up the bank or shift the responsibility back to others within the Eurozone (or elsewhere) to maintain confidence within the Eurozone whilst also allowing for the (hopefully) successful roll up of the bank in question. Clearly this is something that has been thought of (and implemented) in the past (Iceland/Greece) but it is also clear that there is some reluctance by those who basically have 'less skin to lose' than members of the Eurozone. If we do go down this path we may require more negotiations and therefore more time to have deal with the problem at large. Time that we may not have depending on those that are involved and how far they're willing to push their case forward.

Finally, equity in projects underway should always be considered (enough to make it worthwhile but also allows the country in question to maintain sovereignty).

For me, only after all of these other options have been considered should a broad levy be considered...

Been thinking about the logistics of having a second currency. Instead of a second currency if another country were willing to share their currency (temporarily or over the long term) that may be an option with regards to an exit and would save on a lot of production/implementation issues as well? The obvious question is just exactly who would be willing to put their hand up to do this.

The obvious question that has been asked before is whether or not they (Cyprus) are that important in the overall scheme of things. As stated elsewhere, they represent only a fraction of Eurozone output and most markets seem to be brushing off these issues. People may be factoring in confidence as too vital a factor in this circumstance. The key thing is just how strongly they are linked back into the Eurozone/EU.,0,1616609.story
From a personal perspective, I think it would be a really good test to see how the Eurozone/EU would hold up and the logistics of the process if they were to be let go.

One of the things I've found interesting throughout the the European crises is the dynamic/relationship between the desires/rights of the individual versus that of the state and ultimately the EU. On the one hand, you have those who are doing everything they possibly can to keep it from breaking up. On the other hand, there are those who are calling for reform and possibly even the breakup of the Eurozone/EU. Clearly, some of the policies that have been implemented may take time to bear fruit (such as in Germany when they reformed their labour laws about a decade ago) but the thing that continues to plague me is whether or not forcing countries into the mould/shape is necessarily the best policy at this particular moment in time. If we use a second currency we'll gain some additional flexibility, give some countries some more breathing room, and basically allow them to make their own progress in a multi-tier/speed EU which also allows them to change position at any point in time should they desire (depending on it's implementation). For me, progression should be natural and desired not forced. This shouldn't be a question of just not whether or not whether policies that are being pursued are the correct way forward. We should also question whether or not short/medium term pain is worth long term gain (or vice versa) and whether ultimately the citizens of EU/Eurozone buy into the vision that European leaders are currently proposing.

The other thing that needs to be thought about is whether the stronger economies can energise the weaker ones or whether they are just being slowed down them. This is not a simple question obviously especially in light of the role Asia (and China in particular) have played in global economic growth in recent history.,0,4815250.story

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Repairing Laptop Power Bricks

Recently I've had a few power bricks die on me. In one of those cases, it was still under warranty but since Asus seem to be extricating themselves from the original 'Netbook' formula there doesn't seem to be too many spare parts to go around. I guess that's why they gave me the option of a refund/credit instead.

Anyhow, a few days ago I ended up with another semi-working power brick. The original owner of the netbook told me that the cat had chewed on the cable (you could actually see bite marks and sections where the cord had come apart) but after examining the device it was clear that there were other problems as well. Pressing at particular points on the power brick resulted in the power coming on/off (didn't help that the thing had a fairly large buffer which meant that the visual feedback (LED) wasn't necessarily instantaneous).

First task was getting it open. Easier said then done if you don't have a good toolkit.

This one used a 'Torx bit' (under the sticker) in combination with a snap-lock type system and possibly some glue? Prying it wasn't easy and seemed to result in more plastic deformation rather progress in opening it. However, using a combination of a sharp knife and a hammer seemed to work perfectly and with almost no perceptible damage to the case.

At this point, I should probably digress. If you've ever worked with anything with anything more then battery voltage you'll understand why getting 'zapped' isn't fun or healthy (for those who have never experienced getting 'zapped' it feels like 'buzzing', it's something you know is wrong for you and something that you know you want to avoid). Wear rubber gloves (kitchen gloves well do) and take other precautions when ever possible. Don't do it if you lack knowledge, skill, or are generally careless!

Since pressing on the capacitor caused the device to work/fail I thought that either it had failed or there was a dry solder problem. I removed/de-soldered it (use a layer of solder/flux on top of the existing solder in combination with braid if you're having trouble. Makes the job a lot easier and helps to minimise damage that is often caused by a combination of heat guns and pliers or extremely high levels of heat from a soldering iron.). Didn't help that I didn't have adequate equipment to properly test (I guessed based on some rather crude tests that it was working but I wasn't 100% sure without more suitable equipment) but after removing all solder from the immediate area and re-doing the job that the problem seemed to disappear and my guess that it was due to a dry soldering issue was confirmed. 

Then came the issue of replacing the cable between the brick and the laptop. Problem is that the tip isn't widely available. In fact, the closest you can get is this which juts out slightly from the side of the netbook.

I had two possible choices. Use that tip on a new cable or use the cable from the old brick. In my case, neither was ideal so I spliced the old tip into a cable from another brick that had another problem (broken tip)(if you want to ensure a clean job always try to follow the priciples of the original design. If it has two wires at it's core with insulation only on one wire follow that convention and so on. This will ensure that there are no strange kinks in your wire when it is finished.), used heatshrink to give a more professional look to the job, and put it back together (glue it if you want or else just screw it back together).

Using the slightly longer tip option is also possible. However, I like to make sure that things are more ideal from an engineering perspective (reduces strain on the tip as well as the laptop jack). I noticed that cap on the end of Bic ballpoint pens seemed to be roughly the same diameter as what I needed. Moreover, since it already had a 'ventilation hole', and was the right colour (black) things were even easier. I used a sharp knife that was placed in heat (too hot and it will melt the plastic, not enough and it will make the job more difficult. Aim should be for warm blade or else use no heat at all if your (super sharp blade is best. A Dremel/rotary tool may generate too much friction/heat and result in distorted plastic rather than a clean cut even at lower speeds) equipment is up to it) to cut it down to the correct length to slide it down over the longer tip, and then it was a case of sanding down until for a cleaner finish/more flush fit.

Another option is creating an adapter using a suitable jack/socket and plug though this isn't ideal.

Used these (ferrite cores/beads/chokes) to great effect recently on some sensitive devices (reduce EMI/RFI). Good thing is depending on version you use/purchase you may be able to remove and re-use them elsewhere.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Europe's Road Towards Regrowth Continued

Almost everybody currently agrees that the European Union needs growth and reform but the key questions of late have been:
- where is the growth going to come from?
- how are we going to do it?
- how much are we willing to bet/risk?

As I've stated before while I believe that ultimately governments should not interfere overly with the operations of businesses they should attempt to support it (within limits). To this end I think the stronger nations need to stop thinking of the weaker members in the union as just being debt burdens. They need to think about them as being possible business/trade partners as well.

I think the key thing is that they are seen to be genuinely helping rather than just enforcing a set of rules without any real discernable difference. The more developed countries can invest in the smaller countries. Since they are better able to adapt, there should be a very quick turnaround in these countries with regards to growth. In fact, if there is enough of a turnaround they may actually end up as being consumers of products/services from the more developed countries.
If there are any labour/skills shortages that can be fulfilled by people in weaker states surely freeing labour laws/movements must be considered. Portion of money from taxes gained from these workers who are willing to move can be sent back to the weaker countries for re-investment. This may be of particular interest for those countries that are having issues regarding ageing populations. By allowing greater/required skilled migration they fill in that gap while removing some of the 'burden' (unemployed workers) of some of the weaker countries as well.

The EU is already in the midst of approving a budget. However, I believe that there should also be a separate 'European Investment Fund'. The size of this fund will be based on a percentage to be determined by EU members but it will have one fundamental purpose. Namely, investing in projects that have the strongest likelihood of success within EU which will ultimately lead to growth. Prefer that it will be directly via EU rather than filtering down via various layers to speed up the process and to hopefully see the benefits of growth sooner. It should focus in on companies/projects that are:
- clearly competitive, sustainable, and basically only need a means of getting over this crisis
- need seed funding but show strong promise and have a concrete service/product in place (the fund will almost act as a venture capital firm)
- are things that nation states definitely need and will see short/medium impact on growth. Basic things that nations need like infrastructure (which will result in increased employment and productivity), critical research and development (which may result in drastic increases in productivity), etc...

The thing that should always be thinking about is maximum 'bang for buck'. For the smallest possible investment or change (for reasons of time required to implement the change) we need to be able to extract the maximum benefit (perhaps consider investing in SME firms only?). This can help us reduce problems related to stagnant growth in the short/medium term. If the policies in question are controversial then set a time limit on them so that we can renew or simply let the policy expire.

Help companies reform and start making things that people build/want. A common issue locally and in the EU is attempting to compete in areas where there is little chance of us succeding or else simply trying to sell things that people don't need. Locally, this means subsidising production of uncompetive goods whose sales are on the wane while in the EU this means attempting to compete with the Chinese on price even though there is little of chance of this ever being realistic without significant subsidies or moving jobs off-shore. One local program here basically has highly experienced, former (retired but now working as consultants) industry leaders basically taking time off to see where firms can change to become more competitive. Cost of such a program would be negligible if implemeted correctly and could reap large dividends.
Figure out how each country can contribute to the well being and future of other member states within the EU. If we do go down the route of further intergration would like further details on strengths/weaknesses of each country (one country can focus on agriculture, another on technology, and so on) and how they fit within the future EU. By doing so, we can reduce the amount of overlap and essentially give each nation a genuine purpose and a chance to thrive within the EU (use the EU like it was originally intended as an economic/trade community). If a state can not do this, then should we question their role within the EU?

We can continue to muddle along but another alternative is going even harder/deeper/faster with regards to austerity/integration and hope that the markets realise that there is a mis-pricing and will begin to reinvest in EU countries. Obviously, there are significant problems with going down this route. Protests across the EU, and results of polling should indicate that 'the people' do not believe in such policy and there may be no mandate. If there are not signs of a pickup soon and of re-investment/growth in the EU I suspect election results may continue to be hung or else wildly skewed which further impedes the process of reform. Ultimately, the work that is being done needs to have a justification behind it. Preferably, sooner rather than later.

Clearly, there has been some thought towards a multi-tier/speed Europe by several states.
One thing that should be considered is whether or not we can aide this situation by essentially resorting to a 'swap' to reduce the impact of instability on Eurozone members. Basically, there are those who desire to enter the Eurozone/EU and others who are considering leaving. I suggest we speed up the process to 'fix' the inbalances that currently exist (another option to correcting the problem via austerity). We do this by swapping weaker nations for those who are better suited to the Euro as it currently stands or vice versa (stronger countries out) and de-value which ever currency is relevant we can move from there on.

I think we need to be more creative in the way we're dealing with the bond buying problem. We can use some of the facilities that have already been provided more creatively. Recently, Ireland sold more than the amount of bonds than was necessary. Think about this further. If we use some of a percentage of some of 'stability funds' to sell an abnormally large number of bonds when prices are favourable on behalf of some of the weaker states then we can basically gain some ground over the market and gain some further independence. Clearly, this will require further input/support from other member states.

Noticed some countries drag their heals with regards to some regulatory reform. This can often give them a temporary advantage with regards to competitiveness, but it also allows them to see what the impact of the regulatory reform is in other jurisdictions. Think about this when looking at regulatory reform within the EU. Timing is just as important as reform. If unsure, we can create inbalances by implementing across some states and not others to see what the impact is or else simply study other countries and the way they change after reform.

Despite the unpopularity of some of what has been done it was necessary to bring us back from the brink and provide us with some stability to institute reform. I think a lot of people have underestimated the size of the problem while others have overestimated them though. As others have alluded to confidence returning (especially to equity markets) but other question is whether or not they are running ahead of schedule. Think it's a natural part of a media and interconnected world. They're guessing/factoring the likely impact of the reforms that have occured before they've even been completely implemented. It's nice to have confidence back in the markets but I think we need to think further about some of the messages that are being sent out.
I've said before membership to any geo-political union should always be beneficial to member states. I'll say it again. One of the great benefits of the EU is it's highly differentiated nature. While this makes the process of 'convergence' and other harmonisation more difficult it also provides it with significant strengths. Members from other states can learn from one another. It's almost a form of economic/social Darwinism.$FILE/EEF_Spring_2013_Main_report.pdf

Random Thoughts

Had a USB flash drive go bad on me. Was considering repairing (many of the drives that I've come across have had some sort of soldering issue but were out of warranty when I repaired them. This was difficult to open/fix without voiding the warranty though as it was a 'nano' style device which basically sits almost flush to the casing of your computer) it but it was still under warranty. Thought there would have been more USB specific utilities out there but resorted to using storage specific utilities such as HD Tune, Scandisk, fsck, badblocks, and so on.

Based on what I've observed it may actually be harder to find a reliable flash type storage (randomly) then first thought. It seems no matter which brand you choose they always seem to have a 'bad batch', counterfeiting problems, or product line issues every once in a while...

Concept that I was theorising about ('Cloudnet', a predecessor to 'Skynet' like capabilities) in my 'Cloud' report. Will be interesting how far they can push this. Ideally every robot/computer out there will be able to interface with the same 'core'. In a way, the concept/technology reminds me of of many robots from science fiction. 
Another power management utility. Given number of computers in use around the world, I wonder how much of a saving we would make towards Carbon emissions if we were to mandate use of such programs (and better hardware) everywhere (aware of extensive power management technology deployment throughout portable and server technology. Don't see as much of an impact (in the real world) in the desktop/workstation (except in major enterprises) space though).

Which reminds me, curious to know just what impact of this style of carbon reduction worldwide would be (I recall a statistic that said that cows were the source of several hundred litres of methane gas each day)?

Easeus Data Recovery Wizard, nice free data recovery option for those under Windows and don't really have the time/desire to learn/skill to use more specialised forensic utilities. Limited to 1GB recovery in free/trial version though.

Figured out I had left some 'extraneous material' in a header for the Aspire One referred to below (labour intensive device to open if you've never seen this particular model). Resulted in occasional short. Have since done a trace back to larger, pads/points (easier to solder 'cleanly' 1mm target as opposed to something about 0.25-0.50mm in size) and are using these as connection points. Works perfectly now.

Another alternative to 'netbooks'. Note small battery capacity, difficulty upgrading, casing, and heating dissipation problems (dealt with by underclocking in subsequent BIOS versions apparently).

Some things impossible/difficult to simulate. If simulation/training runs aren't realistic then you could be doing more harm than good.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Europe's Road Towards Regrowth

This post is obviously a continuation of some work in my 'Convergence' report as well as some other blog posts.

My fundamental belief is that people should have the ability to work hard and ultimately choose the life that they desire for themselves. However, I also believe that at times capitalism works against itself. For it to be a self-sustaining system that will continue to endure there needs to be enough wealth throughout the network/system that the cycle of production and consumption of (finite) goods and services can continue. If the majority, (often the middle and lower classes) can not feed themselves or deal with their own needs then at some point those at the top will have nothing of worth that they can sell to those in the lower classes (think about a the process of photosynthesis. If at some point all sunlight were taken out of the equation then suddenly everything breaks down. The same thing is likely to happen here at some point. Take a little over time rather than a lot at one time. Capitalism works but it has it's limits much like Communism and many other ideologies.). Social instablity can result and strange/extremist perspectives can begin to take root.

From a personal perspective, what's been interesting is that in theory the the injection of capital into global markets should have led to growth but somehow they've mis-managed the re-structuring process. In reality what's happened is that what's basically been done thus far is shifting debt burden from the banks towards the taxpayer with the likelihood of it being paid back in the medium to long distant future. This has been due to a number of different factors but ultimately I believe that it partially comes down to complacency but also due to the fact that the policies that have been part of the 're-structuring' component have been too extreme (cut too quickly or too much and you're guaranteed to end up in a cycle of recession/depression) or just simply 'wrong' (make cuts to critical infrastructure and services and you may have other serious problems down the line. More thought needs to be put into individual country's needs.). More thought needs to be put towards how to not only becoming more competitive but not only through short cuts such as cutting back on spending, but also on how to do things 'smarter'. Make the process of business easier for people by cutting back on excessive 'red tape', streamline government process so that people can do things more quickly and easily, and pare back on non-critical services. The savings that can be extracted can be re-invested into more important areas. For instance, if you can calculate the weakest points (the points where the least amount of money will do the most) and inject it there then you can grow whilst also being relatively 'frugal'.

Another alternative is that we attempt to ride this situation out (let capitalism do it's thing). At some point, markets will realise just how much more competitive goods/services are in those weakest economies and will inject capital back into the system which 'should' lead to growth. The only concern is that I fear that by that point it will be too little, too late (youth unemployment is already at unusually high levels with no indication that they are going to come back down soon). Governments need to be more pro-active and co-operative with business when it comes to 'spruiking their wares' and make it easier for them to exist (much work with regards to FTA's being done behind the scenes worldwide at the moment. If they can't agree they could simply try/buy. Namely, implement temporary FTA's to see whether or not it would work over the medium/longer term. Ultimately, this allow for foreign investment without necessarily destroying local industries if carefully constructed.).

Something I've previously considered and am re-iterating is 'bottom-up stimulus'. Clearly, stimulus in at the top doesn't always filter all the way down so we can either manufacture methods (rules, regulations, governance) to ensure that it does filter down or else we can attack the problem by starting at the bottom and moving back up. After all, the purpose of business is to make a profit. The purpose of government is to ensure that the interests of the populace are represented and expressed (that's the theory). For this reason, I've always believed that the job of government should be to make it easier to for private business to grow (within limits obviously). Only when/where it is not commercially viable (or there are simply no takers) should government step in. This allows governments to maintain a relatively balanced budget whilst also ensuring that the needs of their citizens are met (they have a lot of options available with regards to governance in most cases). A good example of this would be Australia's NBN project. My belief is that it should have only connected major capital cities with most of the commercially unviable areas to be handled by government. Private industry should have funded the rest of it (and decided whether it was to be FTTH, FTTN, etc...). This would have allowed for a significantly less costly NBN whilst gaining many of the same benefits.

Where is this leading? One thing that many governments have been involved are shared public/private enterprises. Namely, enterprises where the initial risks, capital, and burden are shared by both private and public industry which can have often much broader benefits than you would normally think.

Moreover, if we think about this further there's also the chance that we can bring about other benefits as well. For instance, dealing with inflation artifically. For instance, if houses and office buildings are built to a known and fixed cost up front (obviously, we're targeting a lower cost than the current market price. If locally production can not result in adequate costed options than we import workers and goods which will allow us to do so.) this will also help to alleviate issues with a real estate shortages/bubbles, create extra jobs, whilst also allowing for economic growth (in general over the long term real estate growth outpaces inflation). Ideally the projects will either break even or make only a minor profit.

Another option is to simply directly feed money (controlled/measured to help avoid inflation) into taxpayer's bank accounts instead of giving it to banks who will then lend out (they are under multiple pressures at the moment with regards to general global economic conditions, reporting to shareholders, and facing increasing strain anyhow especially with regards to the implementation of Basel and Frank-Dodd and their greater need for capital). This will allow people to pay their bills, keep their businesses going and so on...

One thing that needs to be stressed is that if we continue to make mis-steps is that we may end up in a situation that is likely to be similar or even worse than the one we currently face further down the line. Be wise...

Something I've considered/proposed in the past is a second currency within the European Union which would give nations greater flexibility with regards to fiscal/economic policy. An idea which is actually gaining some traction in the Northern (generally richer countries) What needs to be stressed is that this is most definitely not a breakup of the EU. It is reform that helps Europe modernise, become more flexible, and help it deal with the pressures that come part and parcel of modernisation/globalisation. It also gives the Southern (generally poorer) countries increased flexibility with regards to devaluation to kick start their economies once more.

Recently, there was a local story about what basically amounted to a permanent line of credit/facility to help banks should they get themselves into trouble. I say that this is fundamentally wrong. We should only ever step in if it can be guaranteed that we can get value for money. If they have an 'open tap' (so to speak) I believe that they may be more willing to take risks knowing that there is always a line of credit that they can rely on should they get into trouble (even if there are rules/regulations to curb it). Even if we do have have such a facility we should not make it known to the banks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Laptop Hacking and Hardware Workarounds

If you've been around long enough sometimes you'll realise that people are sometimes unwilling to pay for the parts required in order to get the job done and you have to make do. A while back someone left me with an Acer Aspire One which had its fair share of problems but I was able to get going.

However, he neglected to purchase a power switch/cable. Obviously, these are key parts of any electronic device but the cost of them actually constitute a large proportion of the cost of the device itself. I've decided to turn it into an experimental device.

By hooking pins 2/3 of the power connector on mainboard to the the pins corresponding to relevant contact points of a 3.5mm sound socket/plug (a multi-meter with an audible continuity tester is extremely useful but you can also use guesswork, or a battery, some wires, and a standard multi-meter/LED to get around this problem) I've turned the the microphone socket into a a partial solution to power control. The other part involes a microphone plug which is then hooked up to a SPST LED switch.

While I was in Jaycar I noticed these (SPST switches that require a physical key). Not a bad security option actually... How can you hack something if you can't  power it up?

- clear that this particular machine had poor build quality. Even some basic things like the SD card reader slot needed some more thought/work. Based on personal experience tolerances and physical dimensions of memory cards are not identical and often vary from one manufacturer to another which means that sometimes cards from a particular manufacturer will get stuck and need to be extracted via abnormal means. This card slot erred on the side of being slightly too small. So many extra pieces which were not required. Small number of larger panels compared to larger number of smaller panels more preferable as the smaller ones tend to break more easily. Better to use more screws than snap lock type systems which when breached are often unrealistic to repair in spite of advances in glues, cements, and my experiments with plastic welding.

- if you've ever repaired/modified laptops before you'll realise how specialised how some parts are and how difficult it is to find replacements (which are often expensive as well). This is particularly the case with parallel style cables that are often used for data transfer. I fashioned the required cable by using Scotch tape and filaments extracted from multi-stranded wire from junk electronic equipment. Obviously, this is not easy and could lead to terminal problems. I consider it only a method of last resort because if you don't do the job cleanly it's likely you'll have reached a point of no return and won't be able to go back. Some tips,  remove the clamps which hold the cables in place, clean the connections first, and then attempt to add some solder/flux to the relevant elements which you mean to connect. Then attempt to the final connection. Obviously, too high a level of heat and you could burn away tracks, to low and you won't be able to get the solder to flow and it will increase the difficulty of the job. Not enough solder will mean a loose connection while too much will make it hard to put the system back together without deformities.

- fashioning a cable is not easy. Try to make life easier for yourself. Use maintenance manuals when/where ever possible to find out which connections are superfluous and do not bother with them.

The reason why I say this is because making a cable is far more difficult than you think without a decent lab/equipment (use cables from another laptop if at all possible!). Simple things like keeping the wiring straight and insulated from it's neighbour are an issue. Several options include:

- using a single wire strand and then enclosing it with tape, then wrapping this with the next wire and so on
- using paper to create a backing which you could then begin to glue the wires to
Reaslitically you're limited to creating cables only for:
- speakers
- memory cards
- trackpads
- power
- antennas
Basically anything less than six pins/connections and it shouldn't be too difficult. Any more and you'll require skill/patience/time.

Data card (optical drive and hard drive in particular) cables should definitely not be attempted by those who don't have good hands and technical knowledge. As I've discovered many odd things that can result which with cause/effects relationships that are not immediately clear when making custom modifications. In my case, the Aspire One works perfectly fine if you leave the switch in permanently. Remove it and re-insert (or any other electronic devices such as USB devices) while the power source remains intact and the machine may not boot properly next time (fiddle around with the ordering and it will work again though. Need more time to understand the bug compeltely...).  Like I've said though it's a hack and does minimal/no permanent damage to the system (I was considering drilling but there's little room to work with as it is. The recording socket seemed like the most obvious option since it is rarely used unlike network and USB ports).

- use dollar/discount store as a place from which to extract parts from toys which you can not find elsewhere. Membrane type switches are a constant source of pain for me and often I find that just breaking it off from another device is the only way that I can find one (creating one is also possible but also requires skill/time/patience. Possibly more than that required of creating a cable)

BIOS hacking introduction/roundup for those who are interested (a continuation from some of my previous posts/work obviously. Even if it is related to compliance issues there are surely better ways around this than a hardware whitelist?).

Freezing issue on an Acer. Interesting how many tangets they took.

Linux on the Toshiba AC100. A so called 'Smartbook'.

Interesting articles on power management/consumption under Linux and how to re-pack a laptop battery.

Disabling cores doesn't really help with power saving and may even increase it in some cases.

Disappearing Optical Drive Fix