Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Money, Money, Who's Got the Money?

Over 40 school districts in California, including San Diego and Los Angeles, are looking at the proposed 2017-18 state budget and realizing they are going to have to make significant cuts, including many layoffs.
What happened?
Overall, per pupil spending from all sources for 2017-18 is projected to be 2.5% higher than 2016-17. (see p.19)
Even CSEA, a California union for classified school employees, admits schools are getting more in 2017-18. (see p.2)
So why the cuts?
School districts will claim that they are hemorrhaging money because of charter school students taking money away from the districts.
The data doesn't paint the kind of picture that would put these districts in that kind of a squeeze:

(Not including private schools)
Enrollment 2011-12   2012-13    2013-14    2014-15    2015-16
All        6,220,993 6,226,989  6,236,672  6,235,520  6,226,737
Charter    438,474   471,501    514,275    544,980    572,752
Public     5,782,519 5,755,488  5,722,397  5,690,540  5,653,985
Pub. Loss%           0.47%      0.57%      0.56%      0.64%

We see public schools in CA losing about half a percentage point each year in enrollment to charters, even not factoring in the loss in overall enrollment in the last two school years listed. Now how is that to blame for budget deficits approaching 10%?

Now we come to the problem the unions don't want you to see: pensions. While most Californians were gearing up for Christmas 2016, CalPERS dropped its expected rate of return on investments from 7.5% to 7%. This has the immediate effect of ramping up required contributions from districts, except that the rate drop is being phased in over 3 years, so the contribution increase will be phased in over 3 years. Contribution rates will increase from 13.88% in 2016, to 15.8% in 2017, to 17.7% in 2018, and so on and so on, where by 2023 projected contribution rates will be at 28.2%!!!!! That's a doubling in 7 years! This is what California school districts face!
The only time contribution rates have been this high before is in the early 1980s, where they reached 13.12%. But that was the max. We aren't stopping at 13 percent this time. This isn't the 80s all over again.
Jerry Brown is not going to have the state cover the difference. As a matter of fact, Brown wanted CalPERS to drop the expected rate of return all the way to 6.5%!!!! Talk about a bloodbath if that had happened! Why would Brown urge that kind of action if he thought the state would make up the difference?!

Districts have the option, starting 2018, to start making employees contribute up to 50% of the district's cost for their pension. Most post-2013 employees right now contribute more along the lines of 25%, with those prior contributing none. The unions and the baby boomers running them aren't going to take such proposals lying down. How many more jobs are going to lost before the unions get that defined benefit plans are no longer feasible in our new normal low growth environment.
This cannot end well.

Creating a Custom Mac Boot Label and Image

Having created a bootable Clonezilla drive for Mac, I wanted to see if I could change the label and image that appears on boot up.
Now keep in mind that the drive has to use a GPT partition table and be an EFI boot device. It is important to note that the icon and label that appear on Mac startup are not part of any EFI spec. Both of these bits of information are an Apple proprietary thing and they must applied using a Mac. When they are applied, macOS (OS X) writes some hidden files to the root of the drive to make the magic happen, so it doesn't affect the function or compatibility of the drive, except to use a very tiny bit of space.

The easy part is the boot label (which is different than the drive label). To apply a Mac boot label, go to Terminal, and run the following command to confirm the existing name of the drive:
ls /Volumes

Then use the bless command to set the boot label:
sudo bless --folder "/Volumes/Your Drive" -label "New Boot Label"

If you want to change the volume label, you can of course do that from the desktop anytime.

The harder part is the icon, only because you have to design it and to convert it to the icns format. First, compose your icon using a 512x512 pixel size. Then convert to icns. I used this site to do the conversion.
If you do a Google image search for a generic 512x512 drive icon, you can use that as a base for your custom design, which is what I did. If you are making a Clonezilla boot drive and you really like my icon and want to skip all this, you can download it here.

To apply the icon, open the Get Info window for the drive, then drag the icns file over the existing icon on the top left of the window.

More info:

What's Up with the Economy?

I had made a prediction in the past about a recession coming in 2016. That didn't happen. The job now is to understand why.

Let's start by looking at the following chart. It gives quarterly US GDP growth, the same growth as a 12 quarter moving average, and the difference between the two. The moving average helps smooth out the volatility and noise to give us a trend.

Date         GDP      GDP SMA 12q  GDP-GDP SMA 12q
31-Dec-16    3.50%    3.62%        -0.12%
30-Sep-16    2.94%    3.68%        -0.74%
30-Jun-16    2.51%    3.71%        -1.20%
31-Mar-16    2.80%    3.71%        -0.91%
31-Dec-15    3.00%    3.74%        -0.74%
30-Sep-15    3.26%    3.76%        -0.50%
30-Jun-15    4.12%    3.83%        0.29%
31-Mar-15    4.45%    3.85%        0.60%
31-Dec-14    4.07%    3.88%        0.19%
30-Sep-14    4.90%    3.84%        1.06%
30-Jun-14    4.50%    3.73%        0.77%
31-Mar-14    3.34%    3.67%        -0.33%
31-Dec-13    4.31%    3.71%        0.60%
30-Sep-13    3.21%    3.73%        -0.52%
30-Jun-13    2.60%    3.85%        -1.25%
31-Mar-13    3.14%    3.96%        -0.82%
31-Dec-12    3.24%    3.87%        -0.63%
30-Sep-12    4.11%    3.61%        0.51%

One of the first things you will notice is that the moving average is rising until Dec 2014, after which it begins a decline. The actual GDP growth rate falls below the moving average in Sep 2015 and has stayed below that ever since. In times past, this kind of thing would kick off a recession by now. The start of the 2008 recession in Dec 2007 occurred with the 12q moving average falling for 5 quarters and the GDP growth rate falling under the moving average for 7 quarters. The 2001 recession occurred with only two quarters of each. The 1991 recession was similar to the 2001 recession in this regard. What is happening now? And why did the Fed just raise rates in a falling GDP growth environment? (Yellen claimed GDP is "noisy" - what the heck?!?)

The answer is employment. In the three previous recessions, the employment situation was deteriorating. Presently, the employment situation is still strong. Neither the unemployment rate, a 12mo moving average of the unemployment rate, the Labor Market Conditions Index, or a 12mo moving average of that, shows any major deterioriation. A little softness maybe, but that's it.

Here's unemployment (official UE rate, 12 mo moving average, and the difference):

Date          UE     UE12   UE12-UE
2016-01-01    4.9    5.2    0.3
2016-02-01    4.9    5.1    0.2
2016-03-01    5.0    5.1    0.1
2016-04-01    5.0    5.1    0.1
2016-05-01    4.7    5.0    0.3
2016-06-01    4.9    5.0    0.1
2016-07-01    4.9    5.0    0.0
2016-08-01    4.9    4.9    0.0
2016-09-01    4.9    4.9    0.0
2016-10-01    4.8    4.9    0.1
2016-11-01    4.6    4.9    0.3
2016-12-01    4.7    4.9    0.1
2017-01-01    4.8    4.8    0.0
2017-02-01    4.7    4.8    0.1

Here's LMCI (LMCI and 12 mo moving average):

Date          LMCI   LMCI12
2016-01-01    -2.2   1.7
2016-02-01    -1.9   1.4
2016-03-01    -1.8   1.2
2016-04-01    -2.1   0.9
2016-05-01    -2.3   0.3
2016-06-01    1.1    0.1
2016-07-01    2.2    0.1
2016-08-01    0.1    0.0
2016-09-01    -0.1   0.0
2016-10-01    0.8    -0.2
2016-11-01    1.0    -0.3
2016-12-01    0.0    -0.4
2017-01-01    1.3    -0.1
2017-02-01    1.3    0.1

There's just not a whole lot to see. Employment is steady amidst a backdrop of falling GDP growth. What gives? Or doesn't give...
Now I put my interpretive hat on. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, American organizations cut staffing hard. They cut to essentials, and they've been loathe to add positions since. There has been much employment growth, however, that has come in large part through people retiring or otherwise opting out of the workforce. While there is some spare capacity to cut, there isn't much. Continued low unemployment in the face of falling GDP growth, then, is a sign that American organizations are near-optimized as far as employment, with respect to the complexity of our economy. Since employment is staying steady it isn't forming a negative feedback loop with GDP, meaning GDP is not declining as fast as it would if companies were in a position to cut more. Specifically, GDP growth is generally not more than 1% below the moving average.
Well something has to give, does it not? Now I put my prediction hat on again. If the unemployment situation does not deteriorate, look for inflation. Then look for GDP to slowly rise eventually, not by virtue of economic output, but simply because of inflation. If this is what is going to happen, the Fed rate hike was exactly the right move.
If the unemployment situation does deteriorate, I would expect it to do so no later than the end of 2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hosting Files

Both Dropbox and Google Drive make it difficult to directly host files.
Dropbox refuses to give you a direct link anymore, forcing you to their preview page, which will not preview many types of files. It wouldn't even preview HTML files.
Google Drive pushes you into "preview hell" as well, also forcing you to download the file if the previewer can't display it.
There is no way to make these services offer a direct link that would ask the browser to handle it. At best you can only get a download link, which will force a download instead of attempting to display in the browser.
Dropbox just made this change, destroying "dropboxusercontent" links, and it affected several of my links on this blog, as well as some automatic tasks I had set up with Zapier.
I was able to save my bacon by using Google Sites. You can use the "File Cabinet" page type for non-html or just create a new web page and paste in the html for your html stuff.
One of these days I'm just going to have to get my own web server. Except then you have to pay for bandwidth.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Microsoft W-9

Here is a copy of the W-9 for Microsoft which many purchasing departments will need if their company hasn't purchased directly from Microsoft before. In my case we needed to make purchases from the Windows Store for Business, and purchasing needs this form to set them up as a vendor.
All of the information on this form is public.
Valid as of 3/15/17.

Microsoft W-9

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Host Installer Prompt with Chrome Remote Desktop on Chromebook (Chrome OS)

Problem: When attempting to use Chrome Remote Desktop on a Chromebook with Chrome OS, you are prompted to download the Host Installer as if you were on a PC.

Resolution: Update Chrome OS: Settings > About Chrome OS

This occurred on a Chromebook running version 40 when the current version was 55.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fresh Install of Windows 7 will not update

Problem: Fresh install of Windows 7 will not update, even with SP1 applied.


Before starting, make sure automatic updates is disabled.

1. Install SP1 if you haven't already.
2. Install the April 2015 servicing stack update - KB3020369
3. Install the April 2016 rollup - KB3125574
4. Install the July 2016 rollup - KB3172605
5. Install the Windows Update Client March 2016 - KB3138612
6. Install the December 2016 Security Monthly Quality Rollup - KB3207752
7. Go into Control Panel>Windows Updates and enable automatic updates. It will automatically begin checking.

Microsoft recommends #1, #2, and #4.
#3 makes it so you have a lot less updates to download and install.
#5 is self-explanatory.
#6 gives you the latest version of win32k.sys which has been implicated in Windows Update issues in the past.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Communication Error with HP LaserJet 600 in HP Web Jetadmin

Problem: HP Web Jetadmin reports a connection error with an HP LaserJet 600 series printer, even when you verify that the web administration pages are available.

Solution: Replace the MD5 security certificate on the printer with SHA1 certificate. Log in to the printer on the web admin pages if needed. Go to Networking > Authorization > JetDirect Certificate. Click View and you will see the value of the Signature algorithm field begins with md5, which confirms this issue. Click OK and choose "Configure" (for JetDirect Certificate). Choose Self-Signed and at the following screen click Finish.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Rebooting instead of Shutting Down

Problem: An Ubuntu 16.04 LTS based distribution reboots when you request a shutdown.

Solution: Enter the BIOS and disable "Wake on LAN".

Circumstances I encountered this problem under:
Freshly installed and updated Xubuntu 16.04.1 LTS on a Lenovo M93z AIO PC. No Ethernet cable plugged in, wi-fi active (WPA2-Enterprise/PEAP/MSCHAPv2) on shutdown request.

Network adapters in the system:
Wireless: Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230
Wired: Intel Ethernet Connection I217-LM

The Point of Privatization

It has always been curious to me why it is that under-funded government functions get privatized. Outsourcing anything adds complexity which theoretically adds cost. Of course this is part of a broader picture of the never ending economic troubles caused by the decline of EROI, or the increased costs of obtaining energy.
To answer this question it helps to understand the constraints placed upon any government business. First, there are statutes and regulations. Also, there are the expenses involved with making people government employees. The aim of a government enterprise is not to make money, but to provide a public service, and to provide it the way people expect. Finally, government can be held accountable in a way private business cannot.
Below a certain level of funding, government services become dysfunctional. This is because of regulations, expectations, and government employee costs that were set in better economic times. Whereas a private company can choose to cut corners, lower pay and benefits, and substantially change their product offering, government cannot, absent significant legislative change.
Here in America we are in a period now (2016) where under funding of government services is a chronic problem, whether than be Medicaid, public schools, or something else. There are two solutions to the problem: 1) increase taxes or 2) cut government services. The problem with the first is that it's not just government--Americans themselves are "underfunded" and not making enough money. The problem with the second is that the people who need these services the most will get less.
So complain about government all you want but it's a problem either way.
This is where privatization comes in. It so happens that government can fulfill their duties AND get around a fair bit of costly regulation by privatizing government services. If the government isn't directly providing the service or hiring people to perform the service then some of the regulation that would apply no longer does. This especially saves money as far as employee pay and benefits. This also provides ongoing cost control as the private provider is now responsible for making sure the "public" services in question can be provided at whatever contract rate the government is willing to pay.
Of course, this often results in spotty service as the private provider stretches resources farther than the government themselves would ever do. Here in my city, the private company providing ambulance service for the city has been in the news quite a bit for poor response times. After the city fined them for it, it got "fixed". What was the provider's solution? When the number of available units gets to zero, they radio out to all the crews and tell them to hurry up. No kidding! Now an ex-employee is bringing this to light and both the provider and the city are saying that the frequency of having no available units is not something they track, and response time is what they really care about.
Some would say that the solution is to bring these services back in house, run and staffed by the city. I used to think this. However, such a view is ignorant of the cost pressures that drove privatization in the first place. Simply put, if the city could get away with doing things as cheaply as the private provider they would, but statute and regulation mean that they can't, so they privatize.
In these cases, government can't afford historical levels of service quality so they privatize and then excuse themselves of immediate responsibility for performance because they have an arm's length relationship with the private provider who is under no direct obligation to the public, and only a contractual obligation to the city.
It is much the same scenario with public schools. Underfunded public schools have been turned into basket cases that, in many cases, make it their mission to comply with statute and regulation because they can barely afford to do that. If your kid happens to get a good education then you are lucky. I saw this firsthand with my oldest child in Kindergarten. He struggled in the classroom and anytime we would ask for anything the school's response was always along the lines of whether or not they were obligated by the state education code to do what we asked. In several cases they even lied about not being obligated. I've had to become my own lawyer and arm myself with relevant portions of the state education code in all of my dealings with them. State ed code such-and-such and exhibit A, B, and C, and I'll be down to talk to you in person if you don't get it! The school cares less about helping children than they do with "complying" with state ed code.
Why is this? Are they bad people? Maybe there is a bit of coldness, of hardness. But the primary driver is funding. They can only afford to do so much so they do what they are legally obligated to do and if they can do more then fine but if not then oh, well! Charter schools are now stepping into this void as the primary vehicle of privatization for public schooling. Of course, charter schools are under less regulation than public schools (government-run schools) including regarding employee pay and benefits. As parents leave paralyzed public schools for charter schools it only makes the public school funding issue worse.
Of course the public tends to be split on the issue, with conservatives correctly identifying that public pensions and regulation are part of the problem, and liberals correctly identifying that under funding is part of the problem. But we so easily forget that the system which is now broken worked, once upon a time, and it was well funded, once upon a time. It remains an ideal system in many ways. We'd like to good public schools back, we'd like to have city-run ambulance services back. It would be great to have more government workers with money and pensions to put into the economy.
But it's not going to happen anytime in the foreseeable future. We can't properly fund such levels of public service without broader economic activity to match, which is not forthcoming, and will not be forthcoming. Since we can't solve the under funding problem, we have no choice but to cut public pensions and regulation. It will happen. Already public pension funds are only holding on because we actually believe them when they say they will generate annual returns of 7% in a market that, since the Great Recession, has been returning much less. Pensions will be ended, and current beneficiaries will take a major haircut, and even that will require a significant bail-out from public funds.