Sunday, April 30, 2006


IT and Productivity

About a week ago, I installed the videolan client media player. There were a number of good reasons for choosing it, but mainly it is open source and plays lots of media formats.

The installation started badly: when I chose to change the installation directory from the default, the Windows directory tree dialog stopped responding. Hmmm, they didn't test their installer? Oh well, I restarted and accepted the default installation directory. All went well, and the player works very well.

Then I tried to change the target directory Firefox uses for downloads. Again, the Windows directory tree dialog stopped responding, and I had to use the task manager (ctrl-alt-del) to terminate the application. Oops, the installer broke Windows? I tried again a few times, with the task manager open: when I called the directory tree dialog, the application (Firefox) appeared a second time in the list of active applications! Strange.

Later, I wanted to move some files using Windows Explorer. Once again, the directory tree dialog stopped responding.

I decided the best course of action was to use the Windows administration utility to roll back to a prior configuration (restore system to a saved configuration) just prior to the vlc installation I thought was to blame. However, that did not restore the directory tree dialog function, so I went back to a configuration called "Software Distribution Service 2.0" (from 16 April). Bingo! Windows Explorer was healed!

My relief was short-lived. Windows Update insisted on downloading and installing some security updates; they re-broke Windows Explorer!

I decided to proceed logically, uninstalling the updates one by one to find the culprit. My first choice was KB908531, and that was it. A little research in the Microsoft Windows support forum led me to the fix. It turns out that this update has this bad behaviour on machines where HP Share-to-web is installed, and all it takes is an additional registry key to fix! For Windows XP, it is:

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Shell Extensions\Cached]
"{A4DF5659-0801-4A60-9607-1C48695EFDA9} {000214E6-0000-0000-C000-000000000046} 0x401"=dword:00000001

The problem was known by Microsoft for over a week when I noticed it; I get mail from HP regularly to pitch their products and services. If they want to manage their relationship with me the customer, they ought to have notified me of this bug and the fix to apply. Shame on them as well as on Microsoft.

Silver lining? I got some practice applying (and cancelling) system restores and update uninstalls. Great. I had to spend about half a day on this mess, although I am fairly IT literate and fluent in US-English; I pity a lot of other, less fortunate, customers.

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Monday, April 17, 2006


Fiscal Paradise Competition

Two articles on London's rise to prominance in financial services caught my interest today, one more than the other. The latter was "London's New Confidence" by Martin Dickson, a writer from the Financial Times and appeared in the Los Angeles Times; it mostly highlighted technical progress and infrastructure, ignoring fiscality, and gave more evidence of success than reasons why.

The article I found much more interesting was Super rich, by James Meek, in The Guardian. It brings to mind a French author's recommendation about twenty years ago to make France a fiscal paradise, although I cannot really recall his arguments. In today's article, we get more than theories and principles, we get lots of research and observations by people close to the action: money managers (who interestingly, speak without the veil of anonymity; perhaps their clients don't know their names?):
After a bit of scenery and context, we get some numbers. For instance, it includes juicy info from Tulip Financial Research, a firm specialising in studying the spending habits of the very wealthy in Britain; using a computer model, it looks not at overall wealth but liquid assets - cash and the things people own that could quickly be turned into cash:
The firm's most recent survey suggests that, in the five years since 2000, Britons' liquid assets have increased by more than 50%, far ahead of inflation, from £1trn (that's £1,000bn) to £1.6trn.

Tulip follows the standard division of the rich into four classes. First is the "mass affluent", 4% of the population, who now have average liquid assets of £144,000. Then comes the High Net Worth (HNW) individuals, 0.7% of the population, with average liquid assets of £665,000. There are 135,000 people in the third class, the ultra-HNWs. What this means is that Britain contains a community the size of Peterborough whose average liquid assets (which doesn't include their first or second home) average £6.4m. This one group, 0.3% of the population, owns almost half the liquid assets in Britain, and they are on average 66% richer than they were five years ago. The last group, the super-rich - the thousand richest individuals in Britain - have seen their liquid assets increase by 79% in five years, to an average £70m each.

79% in five years, when little gals and guys were making 2% per year on their savings accounts, or zero after inflation. So, it is not just in the U.S.A. that the rich are winning the class war.

Then we get clues as to who they are, and why the out-of-sight rich from around the world have the money managed in London: tax breaks, and available competence.

Finally, a nice introduction to "family offices":
[...] The ultimate symbol of true wealth in 2006 is not a Bentley or a house in Kensington Park Gardens, or a diamond as big as the Ritz. It's something called a "family office" - a full-time team of lawyers and accountants dedicated to the sole aim of protecting and cultivating one family's wealth further into the future than most governments, let alone ordinary people, would ever dream of planning. David Harvey of Step suggested that a sensible rich family would be advised to think 100 years ahead. "For a lot of families, the question is: can we take it as far as generation three?" he says.

I vaguely recall reading in the Los Angeles Times several years ago (1990's? Were there a lot of junk-bond billionaires then?) that the challenge for the real estate market was to find enough exceptional properties to satisfy the 10,000 clients with, if not billions each, certainly enough money to own "homes" at several geographically-favored locations. That seemed like too many clients; was I naive?
Seb Dovey says there are about 2,500 active family offices across Europe, three times that number in the US- worldwide, perhaps 11,000 family offices, each with more than $100m to invest. "It's significant that the rate of new family offices opening up has increased," he says. "We now estimate about 20 new family offices are being set up across Europe every month. In the UK, that means two or three offices a month."

Back-of-an-envelope time: 1.1 x 10 4 (11,000) for a global population of 6.5 x 10 9 give a proportion of about one "family office" per 6 x 10 5 (600,000) people. Twenty new offices per month would be proportional to population of growth of 12,000,000 per month, 144 million per year, which is about two per cent. (double-check: 20 x 12 is about two percent of 11,000). "Family offices" are apparently growing at the same rate as population.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006


First Employment in France and Elsewhere

In the course of the twelve weeks the CPE was the focus of much attention in France, a lot was said about the "problem" and, especially abroad, the need to modernize the French labor market. In the end, it was not at all clear how the proposed solution was supposed to fix the problem, largely because there was no concensus as to what the nature of the problem really was (that is why a law passed in 2004 requires participation of stakeholders in design of labor market changes, and much of the hullaballoo was because Villepin somehow forgot about that requirement).

In an article in Le Monde, 23 March 2006, Florence Audier, Laurence Lizé et Christophe Ramaux, economists at the Université Paris-I, gave their reading of the unemployment of the young in France:

But might a more "liberal" system integrate the young in the economy better or faster? According to OECD statistics regarding "Youths aged between 15 and 19 who are not in education nor in employment", we see that "exclusion" is much higher in the U.S.A. and U.K than it is in France:

Males * Females
Country 2000 2001 2002 * 2000 2001 2002
UK 8.194 8.343 8.234 * 7.88 7.972 8.937
USA 6.758 6.941 6.423 * 7.254 8.03 7.541
Germany 5.173 4.889 4.268 * 6.273 5.331 5.149
Sweden 4,7335,3725,93 * 2,4433,0823,258
France 3.364 3.374 3.651 * 3.1623.457 3.193
Denmark1.8684.7132.367 * 3.5852.708 2.43
Norway2,2853,343,673 * 1,152 2,735 2,757

So the 15-19 year-olds seem to be in not-so-bad good shape in France. If there is a problem, then, it seems to be in the 20-24 year-old bracket

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Stop CPE -- 4 April MMVI


Premiers rendez vous de manifestation pour le mardi 4 avril
67 - BAS-RHIN Strasbourg. Manifestation à 14h, Place Kléber.

I note that I'm a bit behind in my blogging: nothing about the "Stop CPE" demonstration a week ago; nothing about the Conseil Constitutionnel's favorable opinion in the CPE's legality; nothing about Chirac's surreal speech Friday evening, nor about the reactions, commentaries, and analyses it generated. For good measure, I should also include some facts and ideas from relevent books and articles I've read.

But first, are the trains running today? Can I go to Strasbourg to demonstrate if I want to (and hurry)? Actually, that is one thing I wanted to say about the strikes and demonstrations last Tuesday: the SNCF has exemplary customer relationship management in such cases. The altered schedules are posted the day before. For instance, they currently announce

Meanwhile, I think I've de facto chosen not to go: I've missed the last train that arrives in Strasbourg before 14:00.

Why march? Why not march?
To avoid any apparent weakening of support that might encourage Chirac to think his manoeuver worked. Doubtful effectiveness.
It is a nice day (blue sky, not rainy like last week) for a stroll through Strasbourg.Tension and confrontation could well rise, since Chirac signed the law into effect despite the massive demonstrations of popular opposition and weak business support.
I think this law is bad, not just the CPE, and should not have been railroaded through.I think trying to cling to the CDI "entitlement" is futile, and I do not share that goal with the other demonstrators.
Favoring employment of the young could make it even harder for the less young to find or keep employment.I'm not under twenty-six, and although I could (again) demonstrate as a parent of under-twenty-six year-olds, they themselves aren't demonstrating.
My good character and serious and thoughtful demeanor might improve the tone of the crowd, and reduce the likelihood of transformation to a mob. I dislike the attitude of many demonstrators: what does beer have to do with it? This is not a party, a festival, a sports event. Different protocols for different events. Demonstrating is a job to be done well.

Conclusion: I hope enough others attend today that my absence will go unnoticed.

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