Sunday, December 21, 2008

$1.6 Billion for Bailed-Out Executives

The AP is reporting that at the financial firms that have received taxpayer bailout money, the top 600 executives have received a total of $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses and perks. That's an average of $2.6MM each.

Normally, I'm not a fan of government interference in executive pay. I find multimillion dollar pay packages as distasteful and excessive as anyone else does, and knowing that a company pays its executives outrageous sums makes me less likely to invest. But under normal circumstances, I don't think the government does anyone any favors by mandating salary caps. It's shareholders, not the government, who should be demanding sane and reasonable compensation packages. Executive compensation should always be oriented strongly towards performance, and in a year like this, in which the decisions these executives made were responsible not only for the systemic failure of their own businesses, but also for bringing the American economy to its knees, it's inconceivable that any investor would think these executives' contributions were worth anywhere near $1.6 billion. But it's shareholders, not the government, who should normally demand change.

In this situation, however, I think the government does have a legitimate reason to call these companies' compensation committees to task. These executives have had to come, hat in hand, to the taxpayers, asking for money: in other words, they're being paid, not with money earned legitimately in the open market, but with my tax dollars. And I don't like it. I supported the original bailout bill, and I still do, but only with fairly stringent conditions attached. Before it approves the second half of the $700 billion bailout, Congress should demand reasonable executive compensation as a condition for any company that wants to participate in any aspect of the program. (Not just the asset purchase part, now scrapped.)

I thought it was stupid that General Motors spent $20,000 to fly their chief executive to Washington to ask for a bailout. I think it's really stupid that these financial companies collectively spent 80,000 times that much on compensation for executives who were clearly asleep at the wheel. And before these companies get any more of my money, whether as an investor or as a taxpayer, I want to see that number lowered significantly.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Warning on Linksys WRT110 Firmware

Several months ago, I upgraded my wireless router to a Linksys WRT110, which supports a (draft) version of the 802.11n protocol. Everything worked well out of the box – as you would hopefully expect – until today, when I tried to upgrade the firmware. I'd been having some odd trouble with DNS queries getting handled in unexpected ways; that and a couple other things that I noticed led me to suspect that my router might conceivably be the source of the problems. So I upgraded my firmware from the 1.0.02 that it had shipped with to the available on the website here.

Big mistake. Turns out that this version of the firmware can't handle multiple connections to the router, which of course is sort of the point of a router. If only one computer was connecting, the router would stay up and work just like you'd expect. But as soon as a second computer (say, my desktop upstairs) tried to connect, the router would go completely silent: it wouldn't route traffic or respond to pings or answer HTTP management requests.

Apparently this problem isn't necessarily universal with the firmware, but it's been reported again and again on the Linksys discussion forums ever since Cisco first posted the firmware back in May, and Cisco still hasn't done anything about it.

The solution, I found, was to downgrade the firmware. Cisco won't let you download the older firmware from the WRT110 support page, but they will let you download it from the WRT100 support page. I downgraded the older firmware, and all was well (unless you count the two hours I lost troubleshooting the problem, of course).

[Updated 2/15/09: Cisco has removed the 1.0.02 firmware from their main site ( The above link points to an alternate version of their website, which as of 2/15/09 still has the old --good -- software. I've also copied it up to my website in case they remove it again. Cisco also has the source for all the versions of their software posted here, but I'm not enough of a Linux hacker to get it to compile, and I'm not sure you should trust my version if I did.]

This is the second day this week that I've been astonished at the poor choices made by very large, well-funded, reputable companies.

On a side note, this would have been an interesting time to try one of the open-source firmware options (here or here, among others), but apparently the WRT110 is based on an Ralink platform instead of the more common Broadlink, so the drivers aren't available as of yet.

[Update 7/2009: Apparently the best drivers to use are the recently released 1.0.05. They can be downloaded here: As mentioned above, do not use I don't know why it took Cisco so long to fix this problem.]

[Update 10/2009: Folks are still reporting problems with the 1.0.05 firmware, and I've run into them myself. I'm backleveling my own router to the 1.0.02 firmware available (among other places) here. This whole situation is bizarre.]

[Update 3/2010: Since the last time I'd looked, Cisco posted a 1.0.07 version of the firmware on the WRT110 support page.  I tried it, but it ended up breaking (of all things) certain Subversion operations.  I've since backleveled to 1.0.02.  Again.  Huh.]

Monday, December 15, 2008

Schwab Password Insanity

For some reason, I've never signed up for web access to my Schwab investment accounts, but I just did today, and I was astonished at one particular security feature. Schwab actually limits your password to 8 characters, and doesn't allow any special characters (#./!, etc.). This is sheer insanity from a security perspective, since you want your passwords to be as long as possible (8 characters is closer to a reasonable minimum length than the maximum), and in addition, you want the character space to be as large as possible, so you want to include as many special characters as possible. Does anyone have the slightest idea why Schwab would do this? The only thing I can think of is to make their password rules as abstruse as possible, to make it unlikely that you'll re-use passwords from another service. Of course, that has its own security risk, since it virtually guarantees that you'll need to write the password down somewhere…

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Starbucks vs. Tully’s

I keep trying Tully's for my morning coffee. Tully's has free wi-fi and a store on the most direct route out of my neighborhood. I'm probably the last coffee drinker in America who has to drive out of his way to get to a Starbucks. And yet I keep driving right past the Tully's and five minutes out of my way to find a Starbucks.

There are three reasons.

  1. Starbucks simply has better coffee. I don't know what Tully's does to mess up their drinks, but probably 75% of the time, a latte from Tully's tastes bitter and burnt. Their consistency seems to have improved over the last several years, but it's a long ways from Starbucks. A latte from Starbucks consistently has exactly the right combination of sweet and bitter.
  2. Starbucks has at least a few edible pastries that aren't guaranteed to give me diabetes. The Tully's selection consists either of "a doughnut by any other name", or inedible health food.
  3. Starbucks wants me there. This morning, I tried out Tully's again, because I wanted the free wi-fi. I sat down at one of the tables wearing a long-sleeve shirt, a fleece, and my ski jacket, but the AC was blowing at full blast, and it was so cold I couldn't type. When I asked the barista if they could turn off AC, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, "Sorry, we don't control the heat."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Google outage?

I've been having odd trouble with Google's various applications over the last two days – including at least Picasa and Gmail (and Blogger). They're much slower than normal, and periodically stop responding altogether. Has anyone else noticed this?