Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Income, Wealth distribution: A few interesting numbers

I saw this video a couple months ago. It presents some very fascinating information about wealth distribution. Now some of the statistics they provide are open to debate - for instance I have seen Wealth numbers for the 1% ranging between 30% and 50%, a pretty significant variance. But most numbers put the 1% as controlling 46 of the wealth in the US. Expanding the scope to the world, the 1% control roughly 38% by most reports I have seen.

I don't disagree with his suggestion that the top 1% control too much of the wealth, or receive too much income (there is a difference between wealth and income, the top 1% receive 10% of the income). The disparity is obscene.

However, I was left feeling like I didn't have enough information. The graph is pretty and all, but graphs can say what you want them to say. So I tried to do a little math with some of the numbers.
 My assumptions: (drawn from a number of sources, mostly from the top 1 to 10 hits on Google.
  • US population = 318 million
  • US wealth = 52,8 trillion
  • US 1 percentile average income=$717k
  • US 99 percentile avg. income = $51k
  • US Households = 120 million

 Given those numbers

If the one percent were to liquid all their assets and redistribute the wealth, every person in America would get a one-time payout of $76k. That is a petty good chunk. Of course it needs to be understood that a moderate portion of that wealth is timed up in Business. So to obtain that wealth for redistribution would mean shutting down, or at the very least significantly curtailing Apple, GMC, Microsoft... I am guessing a fair number of small businesses and start-ups would also have to close shop, as many are relying on investments, which also make up a portion of that wealth. So realistically, keeping all the current "lights on", every American would get a $10k to $30k one time payment. How far is that really going to go?

If the one percent were to give up their income and redistribute it, every American would get a $7k pay raise. Average salary would move from $51k to $58k. Okay, that is a per person measure, and so were are confusing kids in that mix. So if we redistribute by household, then each household gets and additional $20k per year, roughly. Again, realistically many of the one percent-ers have harder than average jobs, so they do deserve to be compensated accordingly, so the practical number is more likely to be somewhere between $8k and $15k per year. That would still be a nice number, though for most, it won't be particularly life changing.

 But let's take a look at the people we are depending on to do something about this...

 President Obama's income is around 1.7 million
roughly 11% of congress are in the 1%
US House, Senate Avg income = $174k

They are all above the average. Not sure they can be counted on. What about the celebs?

Jay-Z: $450 million
Kanye West: $70 million
Alec Baldwin: $65 million
Michael Moore: $50 million

I haven't seen any of them making the first move, have you?

I can think of four ways the inequality can be fixed.
1. The wealthy voluntarily redistribute their wealth.
2. The government forcibly redistributes wealth
3. The non-wealthy revolt and forcibly redistribute wealth
4. The non-wealthy peaceably protest.

Numbers 1 and 2 aren't going to happen. Let's be honest. People tend to look out for themselves.  Most everyone think they are under paid, that they don't make enough to support a decent lifestyle, and that the "others", get more than they deserve. Our current leadership have been seen as champions of this cause, and under their tenure the gap between rich and poor has grown at a record rate.

Number 3. is an option, but it is generally ugly and  bloody, and it usually leads to everyone being worse off than before.

Number 4, is the possibly the ideal option, but almost impossible to implement. Here's how it works: Stop supporting businesses owned by the 1%. That means shop local small businesses, buy local grown food. That also means doing without things (most brand-name products, movies, sporting events, big concerts, etc...). You don't have to completely abandon them, but if everyone cut their current investment by half, the one percent-ers would feel it, and would have to respond, either by reducing their take, or eliminating jobs. If the former, then hooray! Mission accomplished. If the latter, then it is up to the 99% to dig in and create wealth producing jobs for those people, which further reduces dependance upon products provided by the one percent.... Any takers?

Any other suggestions?

It is also interesting to note that while there are 11 million listed as unemployed in the US, there are 4 million listed job openings. Certainly some of this can be explained by issues of compatibility, or training, or emotional or physical disability, but... all of it? Is it really fair to redistribute wealth to someone who is unemployed because... he is waiting for "the right job" ?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Is a playground for pedophiles?

Since I ended up with a account, I decided to poke around a bit, and see what it was exactly. It was a rather educational journey. I was fairly careful not to monkey with the account too much, well, other than giving the kid a new profile pic.

But that is the extent of my vandalism of the account, and I mostly did that to see if I could get one of his friends to come out of the woodwork, so I could confirm his legitimacy.

Anyway, I did learn a few interesting things about

It is populated primarily by 14-20 year olds, 15-17 being the most prevalent ages listed. It is less focused on communication and more focused on building connections.There are three main strategies I observed the accomplish this: Q&A, Blind Date, and Secret Admirers.

Q&A is fairly obvious. Someone asks you a question - any question, and you answer it. The questions I saw ran the gambit from "What is your favorite band?", to "You are cute!"(yeah, I know), to "Can I have your number?"(Danger Will Robinson! Danger!), to "........."(censored due to X-rated content).

Blind Date is a fun little game, which selects 4 random profiles, and asks you multiple choice) questions previously answered by them. Three questions for each "profile", if you get two right, you are considered a match, and and make a connection. If you get it wrong, you don't. Except, you can cheat. has its own virtual currency, which you earn for correct answers, and which you can then spend in the blind date game to get extra guesses, or to peek at the answers. Oh, you can also by currency with paypal....

Secret admirers is a simpler game, it starts by looking a profile pic's and "admiring" them. The admiree is notified that they have a secret admirer, and is then presented with a group of... I think it was 16 photos. They have five guesses to pick the one who admired them. If they get it right, they get to make a connection. If they get it wrong, they can spend currency to get more guesses.

So a smart person with cash to blow through, can pretty much own the place...

Something to think about.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hacking Teen Sneaks and Questioning Google's Wisdom.

A few weeks ago, I started noticing weird messages in my inbox. First, there was a series of messages in french, which appeared to be coming from facebook. I don't speak french, and didn't feel motivated to do anything about it at the time. I just assumed it was a phishing scam. and ignored it. Then a few days ago, I started getting emails from about admirers, and chat responses, and acceptances of friend requests... Somethings up.

So I pop into gmail on my computer. up in the header of the message is a spot that says "to me" with a little down arrow next to it.

Clicking on the arrow brings up some additional detail.

Interesting, the name is not mine (I have redacted it, because I don't know the individual or his/her motives, so for now I will try to respect their privacy).

The email is almost identical to mine. with one small difference. Mine has a '.' in it (instead of, mine is (okay it isn't "" it's "". I wonder how many other providers have the same issue though...

I found the following support doc from google here:
The interesting bit is under the heading
"Your address is similar but has more or fewer dots(.) or different capitalization."
Below are a few relevant snippets...
Sometimes you may receive a message sent to an address that looks like yours but has a different number or arrangement of periods. ...  don't worry: both of these addresses are yours.
Gmail doesn't recognize dots as characters within usernames. ... In short:
  • =
  • =
  • =
All these addresses belong to the same person.

okay, first blush this sounds like a convenience, people can mispell your email address, and you will still get the email. How sweet of them.

In this case, a teenager (or two or...) is(/are) using this as a tool to create accounts on social sites, without tying a legitimate email address to it. For what purpose? To increase anonymity for nefarious purposes? To keep it hidden from  their parents?

It appears to the service be a legitimate email address, and if it had been a stale account (i.e. if I were not checking it  once in a while), or If I had just continued to ignore those messages as spam, it mostly would have worked. (The facebook account would probably have died, I think after awhile facebook prevent you from seeing your page unless you respond to an acknowledgement email.Though I can think of at least one way to get around that as well).

At any rate, Google really should have stopped to consider the potential abuse inherent in their email address helper. I wonder how many such fraudulent accounts are out there? And what all are they being used for? Some poor schmoe who hasn't used his email account for a few years could suddenly find himself getting busted for child-porn trafficking or terrorist activities (he might not be checking his email, but the NSA is). I'm thinking Google should probably reconsider this feature.

So now, what am I to do about this? Technically it is identity theft, they are using my email identity for their social activities. But since their is no money involved. I don't see any enforcement agency getting involved. I pursued a scam letter which specifically was a financial fraud not too long ago; I contacted the FBI, the Postal Service (it was a snail mail scam), the police, and the two banks which were listed. Nobody would give me the time of day.

Well, since I have the email account associated with them, I went to the sites, and activated their forgot password service, which sent me an email allowing me to reset the password. They are out, I am in. I poked around a bit, trying to identify "friends" who might be "In Real Life" (IRL) friends, and messaged them, to see if they are in fact friends. My goal with that is to determine if the person does in fact exist, and is in fact who they say they are. There are cases of people building fake profiles for various nefarious purposes. If it is fake I will report it, if it isn't... I  may report it anyway.

But I have learned a couple interesting things from this excursion.
First, I found a phone number of a 16 year old girl. She sent it to the doofus that created this account - he asked her for it in a chat, and she responded. What if I had been a pedophile or serial killer? Just a thought but perhaps teens should be a bit more careful with their phone #'s. Just because you know someone doesn't mean they aren't a doofus.

I also discovered a selfie of a 14 year old (in her "about me" section, or 15 year old (in her profile, directly above the "about me"), posing provocatively on a bed in her bra, with a poster on her main page saying "If you laugh at this I get to have Sex with you!". I won't quote the first conversation on the page, as it might get my blog banned.

Just a suggestion... but parents... might want to become more involved in their kids lives. It might be a good idea to make sure the computer is out in the open, and it might be worthwhile to reconsider the decision to allow a young child to have a personal smartphone.