Two otters holding hands

August 19, 2007

The jaded & cynical person in me watched this for the first minute or so and said to myself, "Oh for crying out loud, they’re animals.  The contact is purely just incidental.  They probably just got their paws tangled."  And then they separated and everyone got sad. 

But as they approached each other again… well, just watch.

http://images.soapbox.msn.com/flash/soapbox1_1.swf


HOWTO: How to get an edge in Blackjack in 10 minutes (part 2)

August 18, 2007

[This is a continuation of the original post, "HOWTO: How to get an edge in Blackjack in 10 minutes (part 1)".  Please read Part 1 before reading this post.  Also I have to acknowledge that Fred Renzey is the individual that came up with this technique.  He wrote the book, "Blackjack Bluebook II" in which I believe he describes the A10 Count… however I’ve never read the book so I can’t really say much more than that.  I’ll let everyone know what it’s like as soon as I buy it.]

So now you know how to ‘count cards’.  Anyone can do it.  Simply by counting the A’s & 10 cards and watching to see that 2 decks have been dealt, you can knock the house edge from a typical .5% to an edge in your favor by as high as 1.2%.  I have to admit something however:  I left out some ‘advanced’ or ‘upper division’ information from the first post. 

A NOTE ON THE INFREQUENCY OF A 36 COUNT & BELOW
The fact is, that having a A10 count of 36 and below doesn’t happen very often.  In fact, you’ll find that you only get a 36 count or less ONCE every FOUR shoes dealt.  That’s only 25% of the time.  Ouch.  So you can be playing for 3 entire shoes and never see a A10 rich shoe – i.e. a 36 count – for a while.

Even worse, you’ll find that 50% of the time, the shoe will result in in a count that’s 40 or higher and if you recall, the A10 Count rules state that when the count is 40 or higher, you should "wong out" i.e. leave the table or ‘go to the bathroom’ while the dealer watches your seat.

Overall, the fact that you’ll be playing through few decks where you have an edge means that rule #2 of Advantage Blackjack play is especially important when using this count: 

"Play within your means:  Always play with a bankroll of at least 100 betting units – optimally 150-200 betting units – and set your betting unit appropriately.  Compute your risk of ruin using any number of tools out there."
(I’ll list out all the rules I adhere to someday in another post)

IMPROVING YOUR EDGE #1:  MODIFY BASIC STRATEGY
The edge doesn’t really hit the high side for you until you start to apply some modifications to basic strategy depending on the A10 count after 2 decks.  Sure you can play without these and get an edge simply through your propensity to increase your bet at optimal situations or leave the table during bad ones however with these modifications to your play, you get a much better edge.

40 or more (-.5% or greater)

  • "Wong out" – i.e. leave the table

39, 38, 37 – 1 unit bet (-.2% to .2%)

36 or 35 – 2 unit bet (.4%)

  • 9 vs 2 – DOUBLE DOWN
  • 11 vs A – DOUBLE DOWN
  • A8 vs 5 – DOUBLE DOWN
  • A8 vs 6 – DOUBLE DOWN
  • 16 vs 10 – STAND

34 or 33 – 4 unit bet (.8%)

  • All modifications for 36 or 35
  • 8 vs 6 – DOUBLE DOWN
  • 12 vs 3 – DOUBLE DOWN

32 or less – 6 unit bet (1.2%)

  • All modifications for 36 or 35
  • All modifications for 34 or 33
  • 9 vs 7
  • 12 v 2
  • Take insurance

INCREASE YOUR EDGE #2:  GROW YOUR BET SPREAD
If you want a greater edge than .4%, .8%, and 1.2%, it’s possible to do so simply by increasing your bet spread.  In other words: 

Instead of betting 1 unit, 2 units, 4 units, and 6 units depending on the A10 count… change your spread to 1 unit, 3 units, 6 units, and 10 units. 

This will give you a bonus +.4% edge above and beyond the existing edge so the total edge for each bet level are .8%, 1.2%, and 1.6%.

One of the cool benefits of the A10 Count is that the casino simply can’t tell you’re using it.  Ever.  This is because you never vary your bet more than once a shoe and card counting is traditionally based on bet variation based on a running measure of what cards have been dealt.

The consequence however of this increase is that your standard variation or fluctuation in betting losses will grow respectively – i.e. you’ll lose more money faster during bad shoes.  In fact as Fred Renzey says, it’s possible that you could lose 4 hands with 10 units each so be aware of the risk.  Thus, it’s especially important that you heed Blackjack rule #2, and "Play within your means".  Make sure you have a large enough bankroll to weather the storms of bad luck.


Microsoft: Why do I work here?

August 16, 2007

I really like this video. 

This is a collection of clips from speeches given by our executive management.  And for those wondering, this is what our company meetings and global sales summits are like:  Executives excited and passionate about the work we do, individuals that are focused and relentless about their goals, and leaders that understand that, like Paul Flessner says: "If you’re going to play – play to win."

"…Microsoft ALWAYS plays to win." 

http://images.soapbox.msn.com/flash/soapbox1_1.swf


Las Vegas Podcasts: What is it that I’m listening to these days?

August 13, 2007

UPDATED (8/27/2007): 
So Steve Friess chimed in the comments section and noted that he’s never written for the New York Post, so that’s been edited out.  He also noted that I made a snarky "two snaps up" comment which wasn’t necessary, and in the end I agreed so that’s been edited out as well.

—————–
ORIGINAL POST:
Not that anyone actually cares about what I listen to, but if you’re like me and you love hearing about what’s going on in Las Vegas in an entertaining yet well-informed way, there’s a really easy way to stay in the know… and that’s via podcasts oriented around Las Vegas.

Yes, yes, yes.  I know.  95% of all podcasts are utter rubbish.  And you’d be right:  That’s why I’m going to list out the Las Vegas podcasts that I listen to so at least you have one ‘filter’.  And for the record, there are some real stinkers out there – most of them have disappeared but there’s still a couple left which you may assume are the one’s not listed below.

 

  • The Living in Las Vegas Podcast  (http://www.livinginlv.com)
    RSS: http://www.livinginlv.com/podcasts/LivingInLV-PodCast.xml
    OMG.  Married couple Scott & Melissa "Madame Secretary" Whitney need to be institutionalized and by that I mean, in a double entendre sort of way.  They both should be enshrined as well as sent to a sanitarium because their podcast is one of the funniest things I’ve listened to in a while.  Although it helps if you’re married, because clearly these two fall into this category.

    image LIVING "MARRIED IN VEGAS"
    Scott and Melissa talk about what it’s like to live in Las Vegas and what’s going on in the city from a married couple’s point of view.  And believe me – this is VERY DIFFERENT from the other podcasts.  I should warn you that most of the podcast is about them and their travails in Las Vegas as opposed to Vegas itself, however every minute is gold.  Sheer 24 karat, baby.

    REGULAR SEGMENTS OF COMEDY, SEVERAL UNINTENTIONAL
    Scott has regular segments to the show including "The Pool Report" where Scott & Melissa discuss the temperature of their home pool relative to the whether, which might not sound funny right now but believe me, it’s such weak sauce at times it’s actually funny… oh, and something called "Hot and Horrible" which I’ll leave you to discover.  In the end, I consider this to be akin to the Comic section of the newspaper, whenever I load up my Zune for playback in the gym.  It’s probably my favorite podcast at the moment.

  • The Strip:  Las Vegas Podcast (http://www.thestrippodcast.com)
    RSS: 
    http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheStrip 
    Steve Freiss, a journalist for the Vegas Magazine, and the author of books including, "Gay Vegas" along with his partner Miles, does a fairly serious, information packed, and extremely opinionated podcast on the events going on in Vegas, and in particular, includes conversations and interviews with celebrities in Sin City. 

    image STEVE GETS THE INTERVIEWS
    Boy, Steve has the hook up.  He interviews Vegas regulars… for example, recently his interviews include the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Lovitz, the Amazing Johnathan, Mel Brooks, the Killers, Steve Wyrick, Paul Anka, Lance Burton, Paula Poundstone, and Jamie Gold… just for starters.  So there’s undoubtedly going to be content in the podcast that you’ll find interesting.  With all the Hollywood types and famous folks speaking on his podcast, it’s kinda hard to avoid.

    OPINION IS THE KEY WORD
    The thing to note is that Steve is very opinionated and frankly one of the more arrogant people I’ve listened to.  But I think that his snide, "I’m-right-and-everyone-else-can-just-f-off" attitude creates an immediate dialogue in one’s head polarizing your thoughts on whatever it is he’s talking about and that frankly makes for good listening and good journalism… so good for you Steve.  And let’s not kid ourselves:  You, the listener, get the last word all the time since you don’t actually have to listen to the podcast if you don’t like it, and more importantly, you get the satisfaction of deleting his god-awful rubbish off your media player if you think he’s being an ass. 

  • Five Hundy By Midnight (http://www.fivehundybymidnight.com)
    RSS:  http://feeds.feedburner.com/FiveHundyByMidnight
    image I have a special place in my heart for the two that do this podcast – Tim & Michele Dressen.  In case you’re wondering, it’s called ‘Five Hundy By Midnight’ because of a quote from the movie "Swingers". And they have the best intro of all the Las Vegas podcasts, for certain.

    NPR MEETS LAS VEGAS
    How do you describe Tim & Michele?  Well, their low key demeanor and affable banter make these folks nominees for the "most likely to get a show on NPR".  It really does sound like two somewhat mellow NPR commentators going back and forth with the occasional "drunk dialing" listener phone call.

    SIGMA DERBY LUST
    This always makes me laugh:  They’re major Sigma Derby fans – particularly Michele.  For the uninitiated, Sigma Derby is a old fashioned gambling machine in a table format in which 5 mechanical horses physically race around a track and people win based on the horse they select.  It’s a got a whopping 12% house edge on it, but fans don’t seem to care.  They just love Sigma Derby.  And the sad part is that Sigma Derby is almost extinct:  One of the few remaining machines in Las Vegas was in the Frontier which recently shutdown leaving only one more machine in MGM Grand… and that’s it.

    DRUNK DIALING SPECIALISTS
    Here’s the other thing:  They have tons of fans that are drunk dialers.  I mean we’re talking LEGIONS.  They get all pissed drunk then call up the podcast’s answering machine to leave a message.  And did I mention there’s a lot of these folks?  This gives Tim & Michele a lot of podcast fodder and an infinite source of laughter.

 

And in case you don’t have a podcast downloader/manager, here’s what I use:


6 Things I Love about Windows Vista

August 12, 2007

I’ve read a lot of articles on the web explaining what makes Windows Vista great and a lot of articles explaining why it sucks. None of them really seem to fit my state of mind as I drive at the helm of Windows Vista Aero.

So here’s 5 things that I feel embody my experience using Windows Vista as my production machine’s operating system.

  1. No More Operating System Erosion
    No more of that "just reinstall everything to start fresh" mentality.  Windows Vista’s ability to isolate applications, control leakage and memory overruns through hardware data protection, and maintain the system in a state of stability… the value just can’t be measured.
  2. A Feeling of Protection & Safety
    Besides data protection which completely mitigates the entire class of malware based on buffer overruns, the introduction of ASLR or address space layout randomization in Windows Vista means the virtual elimination of any and all virus attacks by ‘carefully placing virulent data are certain locations in memory’ based on OS components that are usually in the same location in memory on every load.  No virus, trojan, or spyware will ever know where to place itself in memory to ‘latch on’ to the OS, completely eliminating an entire class of malware.  That and having
  3. Control & Understanding of What’s-going-on
    The introduction of the Resource Monitor in Windows Vista is gold.  I used to use purchased products just to accomplish the same thing.  Basically, the Resource Monitor now provides you with the following at a bare minimum… and if you don’t know the value of this, then, well, never mind:
    1. What applications are currently chewing up CPU time
    2. What applications are making the hard drive go nuts
    3. What applications are pulling data in/out of the Network
  4. Just Plain ‘Designed for Laptops’
    Sleep occurs and wakes up in 2 seconds.  Bitlocker secures everything on the hard drive to the PC.  Out of the box, the OS works with most smart cards.  The security functions all recognize the TPM chip.  The EFS security makes selectable encryption easy.  The Power Management is extremely flexible and configurable without any hardware add ons.  I could go on, but this should be enough.
  5. The Power to Find any Mail or Document
    The existing indexing engine freaks people out because the hard drive light seems to always be flickering…  but that’s a good thing.  It’s the Indexing engine making it possible to search for content on the hard drive during idle cycles, and why not use those idle cycles to make your Information Searching that much easier?  The indexing engine also searches Outlook mail so in a single search you can view either email or documents that exist on the machine.
  6. Empowerment to run Next-generation Applications
    This is the biggie:  Most next-generation applications will be much smaller in size yet much more powerful.  Why?  Windows Vista contains all of the code necessary to make graphically attractive, workflow empowered, communications enabled applications without any additinal libraries.  Most basic applications are 1MB in size and simply leverage all the incredible libraries that come built into Windows Vista.

HOWTO: How to avoid being tracked by Google

August 11, 2007

UPDATE: February 11, 2010

Recent research by the EFF has shown that your browser alone, during it’s negotiation with the web sites you visit, voluntarily give up enough unique information to possibily uniquely identify you.   Your browser hands over traditionally unique information such as:

  • "the exact fonts installed on your machine"
    EXAMPLE:  SWMacro, Marlett, Arial, Arabic Transparent, Arial Baltic, Arial CE, Arial CYR, Arial Greek, Arial TUR, Batang, BatangChe, Gungsuh, GungsuhChe, Courier New, Courier New Baltic, Courier New CE, Courier New CYR, Courier New Greek, Courier New TUR, DaunPenh, … [+150 more installed font]
  • "the user agent string of your browser, it’s version, operating system, etc."
    EXAMPLE:  Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 8.0; Windows NT 6.1; WOW64; Trident/4.0; SLCC2; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; .NET CLR 3.0.30729; Media Center PC 6.0; InfoPath.2; MS-RTC LM 8; Zune 4.0; OfficeLiveConnector.1.4)
    (This one is really interesting because people on less common machines – SUCH AS MACINTOSHES – are much easier to identify because of their relative infrequency)
  • "the details of each browser plug in loaded & their exact versions"
    EXAMPLE:  Java 1,6,0,16; Flash 10,0,42,34; WindowsMediaplayer 12,0,7600,16415; Silverlight 3,0,50106,0
  • "the workstation’s screen resolution"
    1680x1050x32

…etc. etc. etc.  All these elements combine to make a very unique identifier that can be uniquely traced to you machine.  And this information is transmitted in the clear to every single web site you visit.

For more information, visit:

  • EFF online tool reveals ‘fingerprint’ browsers leave on the Web
    http://bit.ly/9SEMkG
  • Panopticlick:  Test your browser to see how unique it is based on the information it will share with sites it visits
    http://bit.ly/cB6bB8

——————–
UPDATE: December 29, 2008

Well, there you have it folks.  Apparently, it took awhile but the world seems to have figured out that having one company with EVERYONE’S information is a colossally stupid idea.

——————–
ORIGINAL POST:  August 11, 2007

Given
Sites like Google track you by placing a unique serialized cookie on your machine.
Therefore
Deleting Google cookies prevents Google from associating you from your searches.
Better yet:
Deleting all cookies really keeps Google from tracking you by eliminating any Google affiliate cookies from tracking your search & surfing habits.
Even better yet:
Simply don’t use Google… right?  How can they track you if you don’t go to Google.com?

Oh, au contraire.  Here’s a few of the ways that Google manages to track you… with or without you visiting Google.com… with or without a Google cookie.

—————–

GOOGLE AFFLIATE NETWORK
Even if you never go to Google.com, your behavior is probably being monitored.  Remember that every Google affliate (folks using Google AdSense – those banners & context sensitive ads that show up on people’s web pages) is receiving payment for you simply visiting their page and essentially allowing your visit & interest to be indexed into the Google ‘brain’. 

The fact is that the more information Google has associated with your cookie, the more they can tell about you.  A giant profile or ‘virtual folder’ is being built about you and even if you never enter your real name, mailing address, or email while being tracked, a general profile is being created on you individually – this is how advertisement targeting is done. 

And this is the nefarious nature of all of this:  With people signing up for Google AdSense to receive their ‘bounty’, it’s becoming virtually impossible to dodge Google’s tracking engine.

ANSWER: 
1) Block that cookie.  And selectively clear your cookie cache.
2)  Change your hosts file to block google-analytics.com

  • Use Internet Explorer’s cookie blocking/privacy facility to proactively block all first party cookies from Google.com.  Go to Tools-Internet Options-"Privacy" tab and click the Sites button.  Then set up a rule that Always blocks cookies from anything associated with the google.com domain.
  • Block Google Analytics.  Google Analytics is nefarious because it’s a true first party cookie that exists on people’s web sites that track you back to Google Analytics so even if you’re blocking Google cookies, this 1st party cookie from myhomegrownweb.com still allows Google to track you through redirection.   To stop this, you have to change your HOSTS file.  Add the following line to your Windows hosts file

           127.0.0.1 google-analytics.com

  • If you’re at all interested in protecting your privacy, it’s absolutely imperative that you nuke tracking cookies early and often.  Use CCleaner from http://www.ccleaner.com to clear out your cookie cache on every boot of your system.  Consider Advanced Tracks Eraser as well from http://www.benutec.com/products/trackseraser/ which can clear your cache at timed intervals.
  • Consider trying G-Zapper from http://www.dummysoftware.com/gzapper.html.  This will help identify any other cookie-based methods that Google uses to track users.  For example, it blocks people from using Google Analytics.

IP ADDRESS MAPPING
The fact is that you’re being tracked regardless of whether you’re using a static IP address, you’re sitting behind a NAT, or your using an ISP/Cable Network provided DHCP-assigned IP address.

Huh?  Damn right.  Remember that subnets have a limited number of IP addresses and while you might be coming from an assigned IP address, if it’s DHCP, it’s likely leased and simply renewed everytime you visit.  And even if you are assigned a different IP address when you turn on the ol’ PC, it’s coming from what is likely a 256 count address space meaning that all that needs to happen is associate your searches with range of addresses.  Ultimately, reconciiling who you are based on 256 addresses is not that hard for computers to do.

ANSWER:  Use Scroogle

  • Go to https://ssl.scroogle.org for your Google searches.  Scroogle is a middle tier anonymizer for all traffic that goes to Google.  It randomly picks an IP address from a massive statistically irrelevant subnet of addresses and submits that to Google, then receives the results back and saves it without the advertising and all that to a file.  The resultset is presented to you and the search logs and your results are deleted in 48 hours.
  • To use Scroogle in your Internet Explorer 7.0 search bar, paste http://www.scroogle.org/cgi-bin/nbbw.cgi?Gw=TEST into the yellow box as described by http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/searchguide/en-en/default.mspx.
  • Hint:  You can delete most spam and blogs by adding -com to your search terms.

GMAIL COMMUNICATIONS
This is one that concerns me the most:  Just simply by participating in a conversation with someone using Gmail, your name and discussion interests are getting catagorized, and tracked.

That’s right:  Conversations that take place over Gmail are indexed and there’s no real way to prevent this from happening.  Your conversation implicitly will get indexed and associated with the gmail user regardless of your authorization.

ANSWER:  Filter all Gmail to the trash.  Do not participate in any discussions with anyone using Gmail addresses.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the mere act of a Gmail user sending you an email indexes your email address.  On the high side, not responding keeps them from verifying the validity of the your email address.  On the down side, there’s no way to keep the sender from thinking you’re just blowing them off.

In case it wasn’t apparent, you can’t use Gmail without having a Google cookie installed on your system.  There’s no reason for this functionally other than to make sure that Google can track your search activities – frankly, this should be reason enough alone to not use Gmail.

PATTERN MAPPING
Tracking isn’t just dependent on your IP address or your Google cookie.  When you visit Google.com or a page that’s a Google affiliate, you present your Operating System, your Browser type, and all kinds of interesting information to help the web site present a web experience suitable for your computer configuration.  And that information classifies you, thus narrowing down who you are.  This alone narrows you down to a very small part of the Google using population – even if you’re using Windows XP SP2 & Internet Explorer 6.02.

Now comes the tricky part:  How to identify a person based on what they search for.  Everyone’s search patterns are like a fingerprint:  Your search patterns are unique and unlike that of anyone else’s.  I’ve only read about this a couple times and this is part of the voodoo science I don’t completely understand.  As I find more about this I’ll post it but right now, I’m not completely sure how to cloak this.

REFERENCES


HOWTO: How to remove scratches from CDs and DVDs

August 10, 2007

There was an interesting article posted about techniques for removing scratches in CDs and DVDs posted a bit ago.  Here’s a quick summary of the solutions that were proposed as working:

Here’s the full article:
http://www.wisebread.com/quickly-removing-scratches-from-cds-and-dvds