Podcast: MBraille, Part 2

Posted by hllf on Aug 3, 2013 in Podcasts

This is part 2 of a two-part series on MBraille, an iOS app from MPaja Software which provides the ability to use an on-screen braille keyboard for input.

In part 2, I cover in detail the advanced previewing and editting capabilities of MBraille.

Part 1 talked about the app, the different key layouts that are available, typing and basic genstures, and the various dot commands.

Note: If you wish to subscribe to my podcast feed, the URL is http://www.hllf.net/feed/podcasts


Podcast: MBraille, Part 1

Posted by hllf on Jul 28, 2013 in Podcasts

Well, I have been wanting to do a podcast for years, and I finally have completed my first one. Hopefully this will be the start of a series of podcasts I will do on whatever I find to be useful, interesting, or just simply cool.

This is part 1 of a two-part series on MBraille, an iOS app from MPaja Software which provides the ability to use an on-screen braille keyboard for input.

In part 1, I give an overview of the app, describe in detail the different key layouts that are available, demonstrate typing and basic genstures, and demonstrate in detail all the available dot commands, which are what make MBraille so powerful.

Part 2 will get into the advanced previewing and editting capabilities of the app.

Note: If you wish to subscribe to my podcast feed, the URL is http://www.hllf.net/feed/podcasts


Qwitter and its Future (As far As It Involves Me)

Posted by hllf on Sep 19, 2011 in Technology

To my readers who don’t use Qwitter or don’t even know what Qwitter is, please ignore this post, as it will be of no interest whatsoever. If you are a Qwitter user or have an interest in Qwitter, then please read on.

As many of you know, Q (@mongoose_q on Twitter), Qwitter’s creator, announced today, via the @qwitter_hg Twitter account, that he is closing shop on Qwitter. This has been discussed at length on Twitter, and I am not going to comment on the events that led up to this. I am, however, going to state how this affects me and how I view the future of Qwitter.

To start with, let me provide a little history. I have a strong computer science background. I have a BS in computer science and engineering, and an MS in computer science. I have worked both as a software developer, as well as in other capacities dealing with computers. About 8 years ago, I decided I no longer wished to work as a code monkey and discovered my true love lay in business. I changed career paths, got my MBA, and have not looked back.

Therefore when Q first approached me to work on Qwitter, I had not written a line of code for quite a few years. Furthermore, I had never seen nor written a single line of Python code, which is the language Qwitter is written in. It actually took a fair bit of convincing on Q’s part to get me to start developing, as I had then, and still have today, a job, wife, and a life completely outside Twitter and computers. I eventually decided to start developing for Qwitter because of three reasons and three reasons only:

1. Until Qwitter, I never used Twitter, so I liked the program.
2. It would be fun to do some coding again on the side, to once again work the computer science centers of my brain.
3. And the most important, it was way easier for me to build in the features I wanted myself, rather than having to ask or depend on someone else to do it.

After I started, I eventually became the developer who contributed the most code after Q. I did it because of the 3 reasons above. But I want to be clear, and this is something that is hard for a lot of users to understand: I never started developing for Qwitter because I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives; I’m very glad I was able to contribute in a small way in doing that, but I have always viewed that as a nice bonus.

So what’s my point with all this? Well, I started developing for Qwitter because of the three reasons I listed, and I will continue to do so as long as those 3 reasons remain in effect. The first two still do. As far as the third? Well, having switched to using a Mac as my primary desktop some months back, and given Macs have accessible Twitter clients available, I have been using Qwitter much less than I did in the past. Therefore, my desire for new features diminished, and that’s why I haven’t coded for Qwitter over the last few months. I also have increased responsibilities with my job and life in general, so that too made it difficult to find the time to code.

So where do I go from here? As far as I am concerned, nothing has changed. Q may or may not develop Qwitter anymore; that’s fine; he’s an adult and is capable of making decisions he feels are best for him. I have the source code for Qwitter and will continue to use it to suit my needs. When the time comes that I need Qwitter to do something more, I will simply write the code to do it myself, as I have always done. And if anyone wishes to take advantage of anything I write into Qwitter? That’s fine by me, licensing and other issues notwithstanding. When I switched to using a Mac, even though I didn’t write code for a while, I did not withdraw from the Qwitter development team, and I have no intention of doing so now. Does that mean I might write some code tomorrow? Maybe. Does it mean I may not write code for a year? Maybe. It just depends on how Qwitter can best serve me, and hopefully, as I continue to use it to serve me, it will also continue to serve others.


VoiceOver Keyboard Commands for iOS 4.1 and Later

Posted by hllf on Sep 9, 2010 in Technology

As many of you are already aware, Apple just released iOS 4.1 yesterday. One of the new features with this version is the ability to fully control both iPhone and VoiceOver (the built-in screen for blind users) from a Bluetooth keyboard connected to iPhone. This also applies to the iPod Touch, though not having used a Touch, I cannot speak directly to its capabilities.

There are numerous new commands one can issue from a Bluetooth keyboard to control the device, so much so that there is no longer any need to touch the device’s screen when using a keyboard. Apple unfortunately has very little documentation when it comes to accessibility (strange for a company who is so actively pursuing it); therefore, I wanted to put together this list of keyboard commands. I won’t go so far as to claim this is a comprehensive list, but I am pretty sure it covers almost everything, if not everything. It took me a long time to play around and figure out these commands, so I hope to save other blind users time by posting them here.

Update on March 9, 2011 (iOS 4.3)

Today Apple released iOS 4.3, and there are a couple of changes to the gestures. The list of commands below have been updated to reflect these changes.

A Few Important Notes

Before I go into the various keyboard commands, there are a few things I would like to mention. First, for Windows users, there are a couple noteworthy differences between a traditional PC keyboard and an Apple keyboard. Instead of the control, Windows, and alt modifiers, Apple devices use control, command, and option. Control maps to control, Windos maps to command, and alt maps to option.

Second, in the list of keyboard commands below, you will see references to a “VO” modifier. In the world of Apple, the “VO” (or VoiceOver) key is control + option. That is, if the keystroke says, for example, “VO + down arrow”, you perform this keystroke by holding down control and option, then pressing the down arrow.

Third, when listing keys, I use both a + (plus) and * (asterisk) connectors. A + indicates which modifiers (such as control, command, or option) are to be used. The * indicates the keys are to be pressed simultaneously. For example, “left arrow * right arrow” means you press the left and right arrow keys at the exact same time.

Fourth, if you find some of the keys with multiple modifiers do not seem to work with your Bluetooth keyboard, try using the other modifier. For example, my Bluetooth keyboard has control, command, and option keys to the left of the spacebar, but it also has an option key to the right of the spacebar. When performing any commands that require holding down all three modifiers, such as to increase the VoiceOver volume (VO + command + up arrow), I have to use the right option key; if I use the left option key, the command does not work. This is no doubt a limitation of my keyboard, not iOS 4.1, but it is good to keep it in mind.

Fifth, most of the text navigation commands that make use of the command key can also be performed by substituting the control key for the command key (many thanks to Esther for this tip). This is especially useful for some Windows-based Bluetooth keyboards.

Sixth, iOS 4.1 has something called quick nav. Quick nav, when turned on, allows for easier navigation between elements using the keyboard. To turn quick nav on and off, you hit the left and right arrows simultaneously.

Seventh, I have broken the following 57 keyboard commands into four categories: general navigation, VoiceOver controls, text navigation, and Unix-style text navigation. For each action, I have listed the corresponding keystroke when quick nav is on and when quick nav is off. Some commands can only be performed with quick nav either on or off, so the corresponding entry in the table states N/A if the command does not apply. I have also listed the corresponding VoiceOver screen gesture (where applicable) for reference and ease of transition.

Eighth, I would like to thank Esther for her excellent comment, with which I was able to expand this list to include even more commands. I am now quite certain this list is about as comprehensive as possible.

Finally, if you think I have missed any keystroke or have any questions, please leave a comment, and I will address it.

And now for the commands…

General Navigation

Action Keystroke (quick nav on) Keystroke (quick nav off) Equivalent Gesture
Toggle quick nav left arrow * right arrow left arrow * right arrow N/A
Previous element left arrow VO + left arrow flick left
Next element right arrow VO + right arrow flick right
Previous element by roter up arrow VO + up arrow flick up
Next element by roter down arrow VO + down arrow flick down
Previous roter setting up arrow * left arrow N/A rotate counterclockwise
Next roter setting up arrow * right arrow N/A rotate clockwise
Activate selected element up arrow * down arrow VO + spacebar double tap
Previous text field shift + tab shift + tab N/A
Next text field tab tab N/A
Read page from selected item VO + a VO + a 2 finger flick down
Read page from top VO + b VO + b 2 finger flick up
Move to first element control + up arrow N/A 4 finger tap near top of screen
Move to last element control + down arrow N/A 4 finger tap near bottom of screen
Scroll up 1 page option + up arrow N/A 3 finger flick down
Scroll down 1 page option + down arrow N/A 3 finger flick up
Scroll left 1 page option + left arrow N/A 3 finger flick right
Scroll right 1 page option + right arrow N/A 3 finger flick left
Move to status bar VO + m VO + m N/A
Activate back button escape escape 2 finger scrub
Activate home button VO + h VO + h N/A
Start/stop current action VO + – VO + – 2 finger double tap

VoiceOver Controls

Action Keystroke (quick nav on) Keystroke (quick nav off) Equivalent Gesture
Previous VO setting VO + command + left arrow VO + command + left arrow N/A
Next VO setting VO + command + right arrow VO + command + right arrow N/A
Increment selected VO setting VO + command + up arrow VO + command + up arrow N/A
Decrement selected VO setting VO + command + down arrow VO + command + down arrow N/A
Pause/resume speech control control 2 finger single tap
Toggle speech VO + s VO + s 3 finger double tap
Toggle screen curtain VO + shift + s VO + shift + s 3 finger triple tap
VoiceOver help VO + k VO + k N/A
Exit VoiceOver help escape escape N/A

Text Navigation

Action Keystroke (quick nav on) Keystroke (quick nav off) Equivalent Gesture
Previous character N/A left arrow N/A
Next character N/A right arrow N/A
Previous word N/A option + left arrow N/A
Next word N/A option + right arrow N/A
Previous line N/A up arrow N/A
Next line N/A down arrow N/A
Start of line N/A command + left arrow N/A
End of line N/A command + right arrow N/A
Top of document N/A command + up arrow N/A
End of document N/A command + down arrow N/A
Select text N/A shift + navigation keystroke N/A
Select all N/A command + a N/A
Cut N/A command + x N/A
Copy N/A command + c N/A
Paste N/A command + v N/A
Undo N/A command + z N/A
Redo N/A shift + command + z N/A
Previous int. keyboard N/A shift + command + spacebar N/A
Next int. keyboard N/A command + spacebar N/A

Unix-Style Text Navigation

Action Keystroke (quick nav on) Keystroke (quick nav off) Equivalent Gesture
Previous character N/A control + b N/A
Next character N/A control + f N/A
Start of line N/A control + a N/A
End of line N/A control + e N/A
Backspace N/A control + h N/A
Delete to end of line N/A control + k N/A
Return (new line) N/A control + m N/A


Another Prominent Liberal Democrat Sees the Light…Maybe?

Posted by hllf on Jul 19, 2010 in Politics

A quick post today, folks. I know it seems like I can’t get off this theme of liberals finally realizing the destructive nature of this administration’s policies, but it is just too good, too illustrative, and too funny to not touch upon it. The latest to join the group of disgruntled Obama supporters? James Carville.

Now for those of you who haven’t been following presidential politics for a long time, James Carville was the lead strategist in then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton’s campaign to win the Whitehouse in 1992. He is a very prominent liberal pundit. He was the co-host of the CNN show, Crossfire, a debate program where Carville represented the liberal side of the isle. (The program was canceled in 2005.) He is currently a professor of political science at Tulane University.

Mr. Carville is also the person, who on the morning of September 11, 2001, said the following, referring to President Bush: “I certainly hope he doesn’t succeed.” Now in James Carville’s defense, these comments were made literally moments prior to him finding out about the terrorist attacks, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he is a liberal Democrat.

Moving on to my point for today: On July 14 of this year (five days ago), James Carville appeared on Cnn’s Anderson Cooper 44. Carville was speaking from his hometown of New Orleans. Cooper asked him the following question:

“What else do you want people to know about what’s going on right now down in New Orleans? I mean there’s a new moratorium that’s going to be in place, that’s a huge concern, but now it sounds like people on the presidential commission are backtracking, saying it may not take six months.”

Now just read James Carville’s response. This is amazing, folks.

“The people here have been so let down. The federal government let us down. They’re killing the economy here. People in the interior department that issue these things don’t have the foggiest idea about life here, they don’t have the foggiest idea about what’s going on, and they have got to do something about this because the federal government is about to kill us.”

And there you all have it. I really have nothing more to add, since Carville has stated it so well. Well, I do have one thing to add: People like you, James Carville, voted for this! And now you are getting exactly what you voted for. And so now, people like me, who are not surprised in the slightest at any of the actions and policies of this administration, wish we could laugh at you and say, “We tried to warn you!” Unfortunately, having been right would be a lot more satisfying, if we weren’t watching the systematic destruction of so much of what this great country stands for: individual liberties, a limited government, the rule of law with the U.S. Constitution at its core, and a private sector built upon the principles of capitalism.


And They’ll Have Cash! Cash! Cash! till the Government Takes It Away

Posted by hllf on Jul 15, 2010 in Politics

I love it when the media reports things that should be obvious to all as news-worthy items. A recent example of this is an article in the Washington Post by Fareed Zakaria, entitled “Obama’s CEO Problem.” The article starts out like this:

The Federal Reserve recently reported that America’s 500 largest nonfinancial companies have accumulated an astonishing $1.8 trillion of cash on their balance sheets. By any calculation (for example, as a percentage of assets), this is higher than it has been in almost half a century. Yet most corporations are not spending this money on new plants, equipment or workers. Were they to loosen their purse strings, hundreds of billions of dollars would start pouring through the economy. These investments would probably have greater effect and staying power than a government stimulus.

Seriously? Private sector spending would “probably” work better than government spending? I can just see Mr. Zakaria, sitting there, scratching his head, saying to himself, “This is so odd; I just don’t get it. My entire life, I was taught the government is the answer to all our problems, the private sector is the cause of all evil, but now I am starting to think the private sector spending might be better? Huh.”

Now the fact that companies are “hording” cash and not spending it is neither news to me, nor is it one bit surprising. But Mr. Zakaria and the Washington Post apparently thought this was such odd behavior, they had to ask these CEOs directly to find out the reason. He writes:

I put this question to a series of business leaders, all of whom were expansive on the topic yet did not want to be quoted by name, for fear of offending people in Washington.

“For fear of offending people in Washington?” So our own CEOs are afraid to speak out, because they know the consequences of incurring this administration’s wrath. And I suppose I can’t blame them. After all, when you have a President who can call the CEO of BP into a private meeting, and shake him down for 20 billion dollars, no one is going to feel safe.

And this is not a case of me siding with BP. In fact, this is completely separate from the oil spill. I do not defend BP; however, I do defend the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. If there was wrongdoing by BP, fine. If they are found responsible and have to pay, fine again. But we have a legal system that decides this, not the President of the United States. Let’s take a quick look at the U.S. Constitution, shall we? Here is a portion of the text from the 5th amendment, so important, the Founding Fathers put it in the Bill of Rights:

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Yes, “due process of law.” Not the due process of the President. And yes, 20 billion dollars in cash is property, property which the President has deprived BP. Whether you hate BP is irrelevant. whether you think they deserved it is irrelevant. The second we start to say, “Who cares. They are evil. They are destroying the environment. They just got what was coming to them, and screw the rule of law,” that’s when we stop being the wonderful and great country we are and start to behave like the former Soviet Union. It is such a dangerous path. We have the Constitution and the legal system for a reason. No one person ever can be permitted to have the power to make these decisions, and yet, our President thinks he does. Remember checks and balances, folks?

But let’s return to discussing the article. So Mr. Zakaria goes out and asks all these CEOs why oh why are they hording all this cash. Here is what he finds out:

Economic uncertainty was the primary cause of their caution. “We’ve just been through a tsunami and that produces caution,” one told me. But in addition to economics, they kept talking about politics, about the uncertainty surrounding regulations and taxes. Some have even begun to speak out publicly. Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, complained Friday that government was not in sync with entrepreneurs. The Business Roundtable, which had supported the Obama administration, has begun to complain about the myriad laws and regulations being cooked up in Washington.

Oh really? You mean that all these new potential regulations are causing uncertainty? The fact that we signed into law a health-care bill with thousands of pages that no one has read in full yet, the fact we are about to pass a so-called financial reform bill that is 2,300 pages that also no one has read yet, makes these CEOs think twice about spending their cash? Folks, if this isn’t ground-breaking reporting, I don’t know what is. I’d like to personally thank the Washington Post, because without them, I would still totally be in the dark!

Sarcasm aside, Of course this is why they are holding on to their cash! No one yet knows what the impact is going to be of all these regulations. We have the largest tax increase in this country’s history coming in six months. As an individual, if you had some extra cash lying around, yet knew that in six months, you may be required by the government to have to come up with thousands of dollars, would you go out and buy that big screen TV? Well, some might, but you see my point. Mr. Zakaria continued:

One CEO told me, “Almost every agency we deal with has announced some expansion of its authority, which naturally makes me concerned about what’s in store for us for the future.” Another pointed out that between the health-care bill, financial reform and possibly cap-and-trade, his company had lawyers working day and night to figure out the implications of all these new regulations.

I’m stunned, folks. I thought all these new regulations were going to be the answer to all our problems. Now check out this next paragraph from the article, and keep in mind my post yesterday about the speeches at the Aspen Ideas Festival and how even the liberals are turning against the President’s policies:

Most of the business leaders I spoke to had voted for Barack Obama. They still admire him. Those who had met him thought he was unusually smart. But all think he is, at his core, anti-business. When I asked for specifics, they pointed to the fact that Obama has no business executives in his Cabinet, that he rarely consults with CEOs (except for photo ops), that he has almost no private-sector experience, that he’s made clear he thinks government and nonprofit work are superior to the private sector. It all added up to a profound sense of distrust.

The sad thing, folks? It has taken 18 months for these people to finally realize this. All of this was clear as crystal during the entire campaign! Obama is doing exactly what I knew he would do! None of this surprises me one bit. We do get what we vote for.

For those of you who would like to read Fareed Zakaria’s article in its entirety, you can find it here.


Hell Has Frozen Over: I Agree with Barbara Streisand

Posted by hllf on Jul 14, 2010 in Politics

I came across something yesterday when I was browsing the news on the web that made my jaw drop, which, by the way, is not an easy thing to accomplish. So I figured I’d share it with everyone.

Last week Monday marked the start of the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, which is a conference sponsored by the Aspen Institute. For those of you who do not know what the Aspen Institute is, here is how Wikipedia describes it:

“The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1950 as the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies. Today, the organization is dedicated to ‘fostering enlightened leadership, the appreciation of timeless ideas and values, and open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues.'”

The annual Aspen Ideas Festival is a forum in which many individuals gather together for a week to discuss a variety of issues and to determine policy initiatives. Translation: It is an opportunity for rich elitists to emerge from their ivory towers, hang out together, and decide how the rest of us should live our lives.

So you can imagine my shock when I read some of the things said by the various speakers at the festival, most notably Mortimer (Mort) Zuckerman, Niall Ferguson, Michael Splinter, and Arianna Huffington. I’ll first start out with some of the things Mr. Zuckerman said:

“We are, without question, in a period of decline, particularly in the business world. The real problem we have, are some of the worst economic policies in place today that, in my judgment, go directly against the long-term interests of this country.”

Now I know you might be saying to yourself, “Who is this Mort Zuckerman guy? He’s probably some Republican politician.” Quite the contrary. Mr. Zuckerman is the owner and publisher of the New York Daily News (hardly a conservative or even a moderate publication), as well as the editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report. He is a billionaire, and in 2008, he was the 147-wealthiest American, up from 188th a year earlier. On July 12 of this year (just two days ago), he stated publically that he helped to write one of President Barack Obama’s political speeches. He appears regularly on MSNBC and The McLaughlin Group, and if you have ever seen him speak, he is no conservative; an independent at best, and I would definitely characterize him as liberal. Finally, if you would like yet still more evidence, Zuckerman has donated more than $68,000 to political candidates since the 1970s. Of this $68,000, $42,700 has gone to Democratic candidates and $24,000 to independent interests; notice the word Republican doesn’t appear.

Mr. Zuckerman continued in his statements to tear apart Obama’s trillion-dollar deficit spending (the so-called economic stimulus package), calling it fiscally ruinous, potentially turning America into a second-rate power. He went on to say that he detects in the Obama White House, “a hostility to the very kinds of business culture that have made this the great country that it is and was. I think we have to find some way of dealing with that or else we will do great damage to this country with a public policy that could ruin everything.”

Now let’s move on to Niall Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson is a British historian, who is currently the Lawrence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, as well as the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Here are some of the things he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival:

“The critical point is if your policy says you’re going run a trillion-dollar deficit for the rest of time, you’re riding for a fall…Then it really is goodbye.” Drawing on his British heritage, he added, “Can I say that, having grown up in a declining empire, I do not recommend it. It’s just not a lot of fun actually—decline.”

He went on to say, “The curse of long-term unemployment is that if you pay people to do nothing, they’ll find themselves doing nothing for very long periods of time. Long-term unemployment is at an all-time high in the United States, and it is a direct consequence of a misconceived public policy.”

He then called for a reform of the entitlement system in this country and said we must “unleash entrepreneurial innovation.” And he warned us to the alternative: “Do you want to be a kind of implicit part of the European Union? I’d advise you against it.”

And there is more. Michael Splinter, a Silicon Valley superstar and president of the Applied Materials solar energy company, said this:

“From an industry standpoint, it’s below what a lot of people in industry have viewed as the solution to the jobs problem. When I talk to venture capitalists, their companies are starting to move their manufacturing operations out of the United States…Our corporate tax rate, on a worldwide competitive basis, is just not competitive. Taiwan is lowering their rate to 20 to 15 percent in order to stay competitive with Singapore. These countries have made it their job to attract industry. You don’t get that sense here in the United States.”

Keep in mind this is from the president of a solar energy company, I.E., green technology. These people used to be in bed with Obama and his policies.

Finally, even Arianna Huffington, a known liberal Democrat and Obama supporter , couldn’t put a positive spin on things, stating,

“He said jobs were going to be his No. 1 priority—there’s a huge disconnect between Washington and what’s going on out in the country. The president’s economic team kept talking about a ‘cyclical’ problem. Larry Summers said jobs were a lagging economic indicator. All these things are simply wrong. The president put all his trust in the wrong economic team—an economic team that didn’t understand what was happening.”

Now I would say that Ms. Huffington is not exactly right here, because Obama didn’t put his trust in the wrong economic team, but rather, in an economic team that was perfect for him, since it mirrored his views and vision and philosophy to the letter. But that discussion is for another time.

So all this was definitely incredible to read. But the best is yet to come. Zuckerman’s and Ferguson’s comments were met with tons of applause from a crowd that included Barbara Streisand and her husband James Brolin. Mrs. Streisand later said, referring to the speeches, “Depressing, but fantastic. So exciting. Wonderful!”

Did I read that right? Barbara Streisand, one of the most radical, nutty, left-wing wacko people out there, thought these speeches were wonderful? Well, I never thought I’d see this day. The day when Barbara Streisand makes more sense than and receives my own applause over the entire Republican Party!


The Real Truth Behind the Economic Meltdown and Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by hllf on Jul 13, 2010 in Politics

Back on March 5, 2009, I wrote a blog post on a now-defunct blog called Washington Follies about the state of the economy and the so-called subprime mortgage crisis. Given some recent discussions on Twitter and other forums, I thought it was relevant for me to post it again, this time on my own website. Even though 16 months have passed since I wrote this article, the content still applies to the current situation in which we all find ourselves.

And now for the post…

It should be the duty of every American to ask, “How did we arrive at the current economic situation in which we find ourselves?” There is so much information and so many opinions floating out there, and 99% of them are completely politically driven and without an ounce of truth. Not only that, but the vast majority of what is said doesn’t even make any economic sense, but given the poor state of education in this country, many Americans lack the intellectual tools necessary to figure this out.

Under normal circumstances, it would be the job of the media to ask these tough questions, to bring to the forefront the people responsible for the economic meltdown, to hold those individuals accountable for their actions or inactions. But the media is about as partisan and agenda-driven as it has ever been in the history of this country, and therefore, the people involved cannot–and will not–perform their most fundamental duties as journalists.

It may surprise many readers to find out that the virus that began to tear apart the fabric of our economic and financial system and which eventually led to today’s problems was not introduced a few months ago; it was not introduced a year ago, nor was it even introduced 10 years ago. It was actually enacted over three decades ago. The name of this virus? The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

The CRA was signed into law in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter. Its purpose was to encourage commercial banks and savings associations to meet the needs of borrowers in all segments of their communities, specifically those in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Put simply, the CRA was enacted because banks were not giving out loans to those individuals they considered to be higher-risk, or if they were, those loans had unfavorable terms or high interest rates, and of course, many of these individuals happened to be low-income people.

I am sure the irony of this hasn’t escaped any of you. The very thing that the CRA encouraged banks to do is the same exact practice that banks are today vilified for, namely having given out loans to people that should not have gotten those loans. You may ask, “Under the CRA, How were the banks encouraged to give out these loans they otherwise were not doing so?” Well, in order to enforce the statute, federal regulatory agencies examine banks for CRA compliance, and take this information into consideration when approving applications for new bank branches or for mergers or acquisitions.

Now just sit back and think about this. The implications of the CRA were huge. It in effect took away market-driven reasons for giving out loans, and instead, put the federal government in charge of the process. Let me illustrate with an example. You have an irresponsible friend who lost his money because he gambled it away. Now this friend comes to you and asks you to loan him some money. You of course turn him down, as you don’t have the necessary confidence you need that he will ever pay you back. Then six months later, you want to build yourself a brand-new kitchen in your house. You apply for the necessary permits from your government…but you are turned down. The reason? Because you didn’t loan your friend the money six months ago, and the government feels you should have.

I do not wish to stray too far from the topic of this post, but I want to emphasize a very important point here. When decisions are made by an individual or by the market, the decision is made for the purpose of maximizing productivity, maximizing self-interest, and maximizing the general welfare of the individual or group. And this occurs in a relatively predictable way. But when government makes a decision, it is made for only one purpose, and that is to maximize votes. And this is typically done in an entirely unpredictable way, which breaks down our entire system of market economics, as investments are always based on a degree of predictability of future performance. But a lesson in basic economics is beyond the scope of this post.

After Jimmy Carter signed the CRA into law, it remained a relatively obscure statute until the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton gave it a whole new dimension. In a July 15, 1993 speech on the South Lawn of the White House, Clinton claimed, “The CRA has not lived up to its potential.” Following this announcement, Clinton made appointments who shared his views on expanding the CRA.

In keeping with Clinton’s vision for the CRA, Attorney General Janet Reno appeared at numerous high-profile press conferences, where she announced fair-lending settlements. Most notable of these was one during which she made statements about the CRA when she announced a settlement in January of 1994 with the First National Bank of Vicksburg and the Blackpipe State Bank:

“today’s actions demonstrate that we will tackle lending discrimination wherever and in whatever form it appears. No loan is exempt, no bank is immune. For those who thumb their noses at us, I promise vigorous enforcement.”

Now just imagine you are a bank executive, and you hear the attorney general of the United States make such a statement; what do you think your reaction is going to be? Do you think that you just may go out to your loan officers and underwriters and tell them to give questionable applications a second look, perhaps tell them to relax their standards, so the bank doesn’t run into any future legal/regulatory problems with the top lawyer in the country?

But it didn’t stop there. Henry Cisneros, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Assistant Secretary Roberta Achtenberg (both members of the Clinton Administration) developed new rules for lenders. These rules encouraged them to increase approval rates for loans to minority applicants by 20 percent within one year, increase the hiring of minorities by 5 percent, purchase more goods and services from minority-owned businesses, and perhaps the most egregious, reward those employees who effectively serve lower-income applicants.

There are many more examples of things the Clinton Administration did in order to expand the power and reach of the CRA, but the most important are those that involved the two now-infamous government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Back in 1992, Congress passed a law, called the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act, that required Fannie and Freddie to devote a percentage of their lending to support affordable housing. In October of 2000, Fannie Mae committed to purchase and securitize $2 billion of loans made under the CRA. Fannie said it was doing this in order to expand the secondary market for affordable community-based mortgages and to increase liquidity for CRA-eligible loans.

let me expand upon this a bit. In the world of the stock market, there are individual stocks. Then there are companies who invest in or combine a group of stocks into convenient packages, called mutual funds. When you buy a mutual fund, you are buying a vehicle that consists of a multitude of stocks.

This same principle applies to the mortgage industry as well. When banks make individual loans, they often take a group of these loans, do something called securitization, and come up with a financial instrument known as a mortgage-backed security (MBS). In simple terms, an MBS is like a mutual fund that consists of individual mortgages instead of stocks. Under normal circumstances, MBSs are generally very safe investments, as risk is spread over many mortgages. Even if one or two loans default, the impact on the MBS as a whole is minimal.

So in effect, here is what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were doing: They were loaning money to low-income individuals (or acquiring such loans made by other banks), combining these loans into mortgaged-back securities which they then would sell to investors, and then using the money they received from the investments in the MBSs to start the vicious cycle all over again and give out or acquire more such loans. It is precisely these loans that eventually became known as subprime loans and subprime mortgages.

In November of 2000, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, then headed by Clinton-appointee Andrew Cuomo, announced it would soon require Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to dedicate 50% of their business to low- and moderate-income families. The result of this was to flood the subprime mortgage industry with new cash. Not only did it introduce new cash, but it gave banks a convenient way to fulfill their requirements under the CRA. Because Fannie and Freddie were in the business of buying up subprime loans from banks, this limited the exposures banks had in making such loans. On the one hand, banks faced incredible and ever-increasing pressures to make loans to people the bank would otherwise consider to be high-risk and not worthy of receiving a loan. On the other hand, the banks had Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who would come in and buy up those loans from them, in effect taking the loans off their hands. This led to a huge increase in the subprime mortgage business.

During the Bush administration, officials and Republicans in Congress tried no less than 11 separate times to try to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because they realized the situation was spiraling out of control. However, they were stymied by the Democrats each and every single time. The only crime of President Bush and the Republicans was not to push the issue further, not to publically warn everyone of the impending danger, not to stand up to the Democrats. Of course, if they had, they would have been labeled by the media as racists and bigots for trying to take loans away from low-income individuals, but sometimes, that is the price one pays for doing the right thing. The reality of course is that Republicans are labeled as such by the Democrats and the media no matter what they do, so they might as well do the right thing.

You may of course be asking, “Why did the Democrats do nothing about this?” The primary reason of course has to do with politics and liberalism, but I won’t get into that here. There is, however, another reason. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have donated very strategically throughout the years, and the number 1 recipient of their contributions has been Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate banking and Finance committee, a very influential committee in the affairs of Fannie and Freddie. In fact, if you look at the politicians who have received the most donations from the two enterprises from 1989 to 2008, there are some very recognizable names. Here are the top 5: Chris Dodd, Senator, Democrat-CT; John Kerry, Senator, Democrat-MA; Barack Obama, President, Democrat-IL; Hillary Clinton, Senator, Democrat-NY; Paul Kanjorski, Representative, Democrat-PA.

All of this resulted in the creation of an artificial environment, completely driven by government and special interest policies and rules, not by the market nor reality. Banks were required to give out loans to people who shouldn’t have gotten them, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were making huge amounts of cash available for such loans, and new securities were being created with these loans and backed by two U.S. government enterprises, all serving to introduce even more liquidity into the subprime mortgage space. To make matters even worse, new financial instruments were created as well, the most important of these being credit default swaps. How CDSs work is beyond the scope of this post, but essentially, buying a CDS is like buying an insurance policy on your investment. So now on top of everything, there were financial firms who were selling insurance policies on the subprime mortgages.

With so much money now available to loan to low-income individuals, the market for home buyers was greatly expanded. With an expanded market came more demand, as more and more people wanted to buy homes. And what happens as demand goes up? Prices go up. And this is exactly what happened. New homes were constructed to meet the increased demand. Prices of homes started to rise. As the value of homes went up, people started to sell their homes to make a profit. This resulted in even more homes exchanging hands, further increasing prices.

Even as the price of homes increased, so did the pressure for banks to lend money under the CRA. In order to make it possible for low-income individuals to afford ever-more expensive homes, new types of mortgages were created. These mortgages had very favorable terms for the first few years, such as making interest-only payments, or even in some cases, making less than even just the interest on the loan. Eventually, these mortgages had to be offered to people with higher incomes, as the prices for homes were becoming too high for even them to afford.

But despite all this, the expansion of the home-buyer market wasn’t complete. More and more people continued to buy homes, driving prices yet higher. No one questioned the absolute folly of the subprime loans, because as long as prices continued to increase, nothing would go wrong. Even if someone couldn’t afford a mortgage after the first two years, this wasn’t a problem; they would simply sell the house before that happened and sell it for a profit, pay back the loan in full, pocket the difference, then move on to the next home.

More and more banks were entering the subprime mortgage business in order to meet the demand. Fannie and Freddie were buying more and more of these loans. More and more securities were created with these loans. More and more financial derivatives were being created, all backed by these loans. And most devastatingly, more and more financial institutions were becoming heavily invested in financial instruments, built on layers upon layers of paper, but all with these subprime loans at their core. The result was an artificial bubble, the size of which dwarfed even the .com bubble of the mid to late 90s.

Even more than a bubble, it was a very precarious house of cards, with subprime mortgages at the bottom, and the entire housing market, financial sector, and our economy built on top of it. And what was it all built on? It was all built on debt. Our entire economy was built on debt. And not just any debt; debt that should never have been given out in the first place.

Eventually, the market could not be sustained. The number of people buying homes were saturated. Prices could not go up any further. Many people that had obtained subprime loans hit the crucial time in their mortgage terms when their payments ballooned, and they could no longer afford their payments. They also could not sell their house, because the value wasn’t high enough to cancel out the loan. So what happened? Foreclosure. As more and more people began to be foreclosed upon, not only did prices stopped going up, but they started to fall. As prices fell, even more people couldn’t sell their houses and couldn’t afford their payments, resulting in yet more foreclosures.

Thus began the collapse of the largest house of cards we have ever seen. As the bottom was pulled out, The value of the subprime loans as a whole started to plummet. This made the securities that were built with them worthless. This made all the credit default swaps worthless. Sitting right in the middle of all of it was Fannie and Freddie, which fell. After Fannie and Freddie, the financial institutions that were invested in the ‘house of cards’ started to fall one by one. This disrupted the entire dynamic of our financial system. As the financial system started to collapse, it took along with it our national economy. Consumer confidence fell, further hurting the economy. And since so much of the world economy is dependent on the U.S. economy, so too fell the world economy.

And now, we find ourselves in the situation we do today. The cause of it was not predatory lenders, it was not greedy corporations, it was not outrageous CEO salaries, it was not corporate jets, it was not the lack of regulation over Wall Street, and it was not lavish trips to Las Vegas nor putting one’s name on a baseball stadium. It was former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, members of their administrations, and the Democrats in Congress who created the framework that allowed subprime mortgages to flourish, and repeatedly continued to strengthen that framework, despite attempt after attempt to stop them. And it is the same exact people who gave us this economic mess–and single handedly destroyed the world financial system–who are now enacting the policies to get us out of it. It is my belief that eventually, history will reflect the truth; namely, that this entire economic crisis has been the single greatest fraud ever perpetrated upon the American people and the people of the world by none other than the Democrats who were in positions of power in the United States government.


Real Ring Tones for Cell Phones

Posted by hllf on Feb 27, 2010 in General

Those of you who know me know that I absolutely detest musical ring tones. In my mind, a phone, well, should ring like a phone! A singularly revolutionary concept, I know. I am always on the lookout for good ring tones, and in the last 10 years, I have found maybe four or five that both qualify and are recorded well. And those midi or polyphonic ring tones that are basically musical but are played in a way to imitate a standard electronic ring tone do not count.

One of my favorite rings of all time is the ring of a Lucent phone. These phone systems are designed for businesses and have a very characteristic ring. I once captured it onto a computer by putting a microphone up to the phone and making it ring. Well, imagine my surprise when I found out that Jack Bauer from the television show 24 has a phone that rings just like a Lucent phone. There are eight different ways these phones can ring, but there are two I especially like, one of which is the way Jack’s phone rings. As a result, I thought I’d post them here for everyone to enjoy.

The files themselves have no silence added to the end; if your phone is remotely intelligent, it will automatically wait a few seconds before playing the ring tone over when your phone is ringing. However, if your phone is not this smart and plays the tone over and over with no gap, I am also posting Jack Bauer’s ring tone with silence added. I hope all of you enjoy these as much as I do.

Jack Bauer’s ring tone, no silence at end
Jack Bauer’s ring tone, a few seconds of silence at end
A Lucent phone ring tone, no silence at end


You Have Two Cows…

Posted by hllf on Sep 10, 2009 in Funny

I recently stumbled upon this and thought I’d share it with everyone. I used to have a very similar list hanging on my cubicle wall probably about 12 years ago — back when I had time to actually print something funny, get out the tape, and stick the pieces of paper on the wall. Ah, those were the days. 🙂


You have two cows. The cows decide you have no right to do anything with their milk and leave to form their own society.


You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.


You have two cows. The government takes both of them and gives you part of the milk.


You have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.


You have two cows. The government takes both cows and drafts you.

European Unionism

You have two cows. The EU develops a quota system that “limits the gas emissions from flatulent cows.” You sell your carbon allotment, not the milk.


You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them, and sells you the milk.


You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.


You have two cows. You dissect them both and figure out how to build a milk-factory instead.


You have two cows. You sell both to the rich. The government then taxes one of the cows from the rich and gives it to the poor.


Go away. What I do with my cows is none of your business.


You have two cows. The government takes both and then shoots you.

New Dealism

You have two cows. The government takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and pours the milk down the sink. The government insists there is a giant storage tank where all the milk goes.

Political Correctnessism

You are associated with (the concept of “ownership” is a symbol of the phallocentric, warmongering, intolerant past) two differently aged (but no less valuable to society) bovines of unspecified gender.


You have two cows. Everyone should have the same amount of cow. The government takes both cows, cuts them up, and spends more than the cows are worth giving everyone a little piece of cow.


You have two cows. The government takes one of them and gives it to your neighbor.

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