Tuesday, August 24, 2021

I, For One, Welcome Our AI Coding Overlords

I love to tinker with the latest new development toys, so when OpenAI announced their Codex beta recently, I jumped to sign up.  To understand what this is, imagine you took a twelve year old and made them read all of the code in the world.  This twelve year old has a great memory and can generally remember it all and regurgitate it back to you when you ask.  You train the twelve year old by giving them a cookie every time they give you the right code for your question.  You do this millions of times, and eventually, the twelve year old can shoot back pretty decent code much of the time, even if they don't totally understand what's going on.  This is Codex.

There is some irony to me here.  When I, as a twelve year old, first learned Amiga BASIC many moons ago, one of my first attempts at a program was one to take in English phrases and translate them to code.  My goal: make it so that my little sister could program the Amiga.  My program and my goals for my sister failed spectacularly, but I've since come to appreciate that my whole career is translating between English and Nerd, something that Codex is able to do with surprising accuracy.

To tinker with Codex, I wrote this simple game, just by telling it things like "draw a 20 pixel ball named player on the bottom of the page, 10 pixels from the bottom and 10 pixels from the left" and "if player hits the square, increase score by 1".  I did have to correct it on a few things, but was also surprised by how well it understood the context of what I was asking.  For example, when I told it "if player hits the square, increase score by 1", Codex understood that in the context of the previous code and wrote a working collision algorithm to using previously created variables and functions. 

Of course, there's lots of hyperbole around this tech and AI in general.  To be fair, some of it is well deserved.  This AI has much more appearance of intelligence than anything I've seen, and there are ethical questions about using other people's hard-written code to train the AI without their explicit permission or consideration of licensing terms. Also, there are already demos of having it talk to various APIs, so it's not a stretch to imagine armies of automated twelve year old coders romping around cyberspace. It's not hard to imagine certain bits of it going off the rails when wired up to a stock trading API or weapons system.

That said, my first impressions are that Codex and tools like it will serve as really smart autocomplete or code snippets for the foreseeable future.  Or, as an analogy for my less nerdy friends and family (sister included): like grammar check and spell check, but better. A tool that improves your writing, not one that replaces you.  I hope.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Some more non-scammy financial sites

A while back, I posted some non-scammy personal finance sites, but that was one child and three years ago, which is an eon in internet time.  Here are a few more that have piqued my interest (pun intended) since then.

Your Money: The Missing Manual - by the author of the Get Rich Slowly blog I mentioned last time, this book provides simple, down-to-earth guidance on all things personal finance.  There isn't anything here that you couldn't also glean from the website and other sites, but here it is all in one neat package.  I think this would make a great gift for high school graduates.

RedPocket - I've recently switched to this for cell service and am very happy.  They piggyback on the major carriers, but provide much cheaper rates. I got the exact same service - two lines of unlimited talk and text + 5G LTE with unlimited slower data after that  - for less than half the price.  ATT was costing me $115/month, RedPocket costs $60/month the first month, and $50/month after that. Assuming they continue to work well, I plan to get the annual service, which would bring me down to $40/month.  If you use less or no data, you could get even cheaper.  One tip I learned the hard way:  when porting your number over, you will be prompted for your _current provider_ account number and password, however you should enter your account PIN, not your website password. You set up this PIN when you first got your phone, but if you don't remember it, you will need to call your current provider's support.  You also may need to manually set up some carrier settings on your phone.  If you run into issues, RedPocket's live chat works great.  The only downside I've found so far is that Visual Voicemail is not supported on my device and network.  It is supported for other networks and Android, just not on iPhone on the GSMA network.  There are some 3rd party voicemail services I would like to try, but for now I have to check voicemail like it's 1999.

Robinhood - This is a commission-free stock trading service.  Where other online brokers often charge you for each buy or sell, Robinhood is completely free.  In addition to stocks and ETFs, they offer a limited set of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.  They make money by interest on your cash holdings and on optional monthly subscriptions that let you do leveraged trading and  faster money transfers.  The downside is that they don't offer some things long-term investors need like partial shares, automated dividend reinvestment, or IRA accounts.  For that reason, I only recommend this _after_ you have a full emergency fund, no debt besides house, and have maxed out tax-advantaged accounts (IRA/401k), as a learning tool for investing or crypto.  (Disclaimer:  the link above gets both you and I entered for free stock, but that is not why I'm sharing it- I do use and like the free service).

M1 Finance - This is also a commission-free investing service.  Unlike Robinhood, it _does_ offer partial shares, dividend reinvestment, and IRA accounts.  All with no fees.   You can buy any stock or ETF, but they also provide some pre-done blends of various ETFs (called "pies") along with descriptions of how they work, average return, and relative risk.  They make their money on interest on cash holdings and limit your transactions to once per day, but for a long-term investor this is not a bad thing.  They also offer loans based on your holdings and a debit card, but I have not evaluated those.  I haven't fully made the leap, but am leaning toward these guys and away from Betterment/Weathfront type services which offer the exact same funds but charge an annual fee based on your holdings.  (Disclaimer: the link above gets both you and I $10, but I am only sharing because I do use and like the investing and research service.)

Reddit Personal Finance - The wiki here offers some good advice, and people routinely ask and answer "what if" posts about various situations.  Good motivation for getting your finances in order or asking questions that you can't find answers to elsewhere.  Also, /r/Frugal but be careful - reddit can be a huge time waste.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Special Script

var family = [mom,dad,sim,chel];

var rootlet3 = {
Name: 'Evan Joshua',
eat:function(){return true;},
sleep:function(){return true;},
poop:function(){return true;},
       window.setInterval(self.eat, 3600000);
       window.setInterval(self.sleep, 3600000);
       window.setInterval(self.poop, 3600000);


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nifty Things from Build 2016

Ionic in VS Code (not sure if this is Build-related, but still, useful):

MS is really pushing this “bot” concept.  The implementation is pretty cool- you build a web api and register it with MS.  They handle all the goo of connecting to Slack, SMS, email, Skype, etc.    Should be fairly easy to write bots that work in all the things.

A bunch of free (for now) apis for doing complex stuff like parsing natural language, recognizing things in images, search

Of course, hololens.  Somebody get me an excuse and 3k to get one of these:

Freaking native linux bash shell and binary runtime on windows:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Short List of Non-Scammy Online Finance and Business Resources

The internet is rife with plenty of people telling you how to get rich quick and what to do with your money.  It's difficult to weed out what are legitimate, useful resources and what is snake oil or worse. Amid all the noise and fluff, there are real people who really do have some useful information for those looking to earn an income online and retire before they are 92.   Below is my "short list" of resources that are not scammy and have high-quality helpful content we can learn from and use.

Pat Flynn is one of my favorites right now.  His blog posts and podcast are really some of the best free content on the subject of online business.  His new book Will it Fly is a perfect example of the type of short, practical, actionable advice that just about anybody could use to start a business online. He's genuine and transparent- actually posting income statements each month!

Mike and Lauren is a new one for me, but one I really enjoy.  They are a young couple employing the Early Retirement Extreme principals in a unique transparent YouTube channel that is a blend of finance information and DIY workshop videos.  I first found Mike's workshop videos, but have gone back and watched their other ones and now look forward to seeing their next adventure - an RV across the country.

Dave Ramsey was my first introduction to financial literature, and kept me largely out of debt after college.  Some may see his advice as "dated", but even if you don't follow him 100%, his practical 10 step plan to get out of debt and get ahead is solid.  Coupled with some of these other resources, you have the recipe for real success.

Get Rich Slowly is a great blog with just the right sort of attitude toward this stuff:  there is no such thing as a free lunch, but you also don't have to settle for working a 9-5 until you're 92 just to scrape by paycheck to paycheck.

Early Retirement Extreme I really want to like. The gist is, if you go to the extreme of saving and investing 80% of your income and living off of 20%, you can retire in 5 years, regardless of income. That means living _way_ under your means of course, and I can't say I'm ready to be as extreme as this, but I do like having his perspective.  If nothing else it's a push in the right direction.

Mint  * Is free online tracking of your finances and budget all in one place.  Now, a warning:  If you're not the customer, you're the product, and Mint does advertise fairly heavily.  Still, I think the service they provide is worth it.  I firmly believe you can't improve what you can't see, and Mint helps me see my finances.

Wave * is to business accounting what Mint is to personal finance.  Free online accounting for small businesses.  I haven't had occasion to use all of their services - not having a payroll to run for my small LLC, I mainly use it to track business expenses.  But, I have been impressed with the clean interface and useful tools.

*There are some who will object to keeping financial information "in the cloud" like this. My response is: there is risk, but online is likely safer than desktop apps on your own device and network.  Plus, your banks and credit cards regularly keep your finances online.  Unless you have PCI compliance for your home PC, benefits of online tools (with obvious due diligence) generally outweigh the risks.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Peaches and Scotch

LastPass was just Hacked, Here's Why I'm Still Using Them

A coworker emailed me that my favorite password manager service, LastPass, was just hacked.  I read through the alert and followed the instructions to change my master password.  At first blush, this is bad news.  A company whose primary job is to protect access to every account I have was hacked.   Even if they _say_ nothing was stolen: Oh crap.

But, after a a little reflection, I realized this is still better than no password manager or even rolling my own.   First, I do take them at their word that no credentials are ever stored on their servers unencrypted, and that encryption used is secure.  The only way that somebody can steal my passwords would be to download my encrypted passwords and know my master password.  If you want my bank login so bad that you'd hack LastPass and then torture me to give up the master password, you must be looking at different bank statements than me.  

More importantly, though, LastPass is monitoring proactively and doing the right thing when they detect anomalies.  That to me is way more than any paper or home-rolled service can provide.  If you are not using a password manager, you are likely either writing them down on paper or using the same ones everywhere.  The latter is instant hacksville. The former is as secure as what you are writing them on.  Do you have staff monitoring the post-it notes you write your passwords on?  Do they notify you when something remotely suspicious happens related to your passwords?

No, I still enjoy the bliss of generating random passwords that even I don't know, and letting LastPass ensure they are relatively safe.

That said, there are some things LastPass could do better:  Notification for me came through reading a blog post three days after the hack.  I would have liked earlier notification and to have had it in the LastPass app as well as email.

So, if you are not using LastPass (or _some_ password manager), don't be scared off by recent events. If you are, change your passwords and move on.