Archive for August, 2013

Backups and USB Flash Drive partitions

I’ve reminded people before how important it is to back up your data. Personally, I use Clonezilla for whole-disk or whole-partition backups periodically, in addition to my daily data backups. It’s pretty easy to use, and it gives you a lot of options as to how to store your data. For backing up my laptop, I had been using the save to SMB server option, which is sllllooooowwwww over your standard 802.11g network. So to speed things up, I bought a 128GB USB drive, which I would partition with a tiny Clonezilla boot partition, and my data partition for backups (it is temporary storage only, I have several backup locations I use, but backing up to USB and sneakernet is far faster than backing up over wireless by a factor of about ten).

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Land Value Taxes

I’m not an Econ major, but I’ve always wondered why we don’t tax land values by themselves instead of taxing land values plus the values of buildings on them. Specifically, I wonder why we have so many surface parking lots in downtown Minneapolis. For example, according to Hennepin County, the surface lot just north of the downtown library, between 3rd Street and Washington Ave, and Nicollet and Hennepin Avenues, pays about $30,000 in property taxes per year on its 1.7 acres, or about $18,000 per acre. Move one block east, between Nicollet and Marquette, and that building pays almost $2 million in property taxes on 2.45 acres, or almost $800,000 per acre. Even the surface lot east of the library pays $379,000 in taxes on 2.52 acres, or about $150,000 per acre, because there are no buildings on the lot.

This is ridiculous. Is a surface lot the best use of that land? By charging more taxes for building on the lot, the tax code certainly discourages development. That’s why Altoona in Pennsylvania has moved to property taxes based entirely on the land value instead of land plus building value. There is debate on how well it is working, but I’m happy to see that others have thought about this issue as well.

It would be nice to have Minneapolis move towards this property tax model. I’d like to see more development downtown instead of setting aside so much room for storing vehicles.

Healthcare Roundup

What’s going on with health care these days? Here’s a story about a Congressman who took some heat for being less than supportive when it comes to the new healthcare law. What I find very interesting is that he supports ending discrimination against pre-existing conditions, but is opposed to Obamacare. As many people have pointed out, eliminating “pre-existing conditions” + community rating = individual mandates = Obamacare. You can’t have the first two without mandates, and that’s Obamacare in a nutshell. There’s no other way around it.

Another interesting bit of news, if unsurprising, is that most people have no idea how health insurance works. I got 3 out of 4 questions right, missing one, and I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about health insurance. Even aside from the ACA, if most people have no idea how health insurance works and they are limited to what their employers provide, economics tells us that this information asymmetry is not going to favor the consumer. Imagine if restaurant bills had copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums!

I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more stories as we approach October 1st.

Spying and corporate fallout

For good reason, a lot of discussion about recent NSA revelations has focused on the government, what they are actually doing, and what controls are in place. However, it’s important to keep in mind, however, that most of the data collection utilized the services of private companies in one of the best examples of outsourcing available: why have the government spend billions of dollars on data collection infrastructure when they can just ask the private data collectors to share? What remains to be seen, though, is the long-term consequences for those private companies, and whether they will remain so quiet and accommodating in the future.

Continuing to cooperate may have real costs. Bruch Schneier advocates that private companies resist because eventually, the government will hang them out to dry. ITIF suggests a more concrete reason for resisting: it could cost money for cloud providers. I find the monetary justification very interesting, although one without a good solution. There’s a great deal of (justified) fear in outsourcing IT to Chinese infrastructure for fear of data loss. Is it now time to extend that fear to U.S.-based cloud providers? If so, what are the alternatives? Europe has regulatory issues. What does that leave? South America? Australia? Bring back HavenCo?

It’s very early in this saga, and it’s going to be a while before companies understand this landscape. When it comes to managing enterprise risk, companies have long had to worry about hackers, natural disasters, and corporate espionage. It’s clear, though, that it’s likely necessary to add cooperation with government data collection practices to the list of risks to manage.

Doorknocking doesn’t work

I’ve been campaigning since I was a precinct chair my senior year of high school. In that time, I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and made thousands of phone calls to undecided voters. There may be a few people in the world who appreciate being interrupted during dinner or during the Gopher football game on a pleasant fall Saturday afternoon, but for the most part, people are politely stilted at best, and outright dismissive on the bad end…and I’m not even counting the times I’ve been physically threatened. Doorknocking never seemed all that effective to me, and so it’s not surprising that a rare academic study found that no, doorknocking doesn’t really work all that well. The question is whether this data will make a difference in campaign practices.

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Chrome security and best practices

Many in the security community are all atwitter about the Chrome browser not encrypting passwords. They call this bad security; a lot of people disagree. I tend to agree with the latter group: putting a master password or otherwise putting some kind of encryption in Chrome’s password store wouldn’t materially increase security, and would give users false comfort. Many other software manufacturers feel the same way (see, for example, Pidgin).

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