Play the Lottery? Don’t Bet On It

Time magazine has some financial advice for you. The only problem is, if you follow their advice, you are nearly 100% certain to lose money. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think this is the sort of advice Time (or anyone) should be doling out.

Specifically, an article by Bill Saporito asks and answers: Play the Lottery? You Bet. You read correctly. The column argues that buying lottery tickets on a regular basis, something that even Time magazine itself (in a previous article) asserted you should never do, is actually money well spent.

This has to be one of the most inane and potentially harmful columns ever to appear in Time. The author should be embarrassed by the column. Time should be ashamed for publishing it.

By what torturous and irrational reasoning did Mr. Saporito come to this fallacious conclusion? Let’s take a closer look.

What are the odds?

The author admits that the odds of one ticket winning the Powerball Lottery are incredibly low — as in 1 in 195,249,054. In his attempt to convey just how low these odds are, Saporito warns: “You have a better chance of being struck by lightning.”

True. But not nearly true enough. If you buy one lottery ticket a week for a year, the odds that you will win the lottery are 1 in 195,249,054/52 which works out to 1 in 3,754,790. In contrast, the National Weather Service reports that the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year is 1 in 1,000,000. In other words, the odds that you will win the lottery are more close to the odds of being struck by lightning 4 times in one year!

The odds go up or down depending on how many lottery tickets you buy in a year. If you only buy one ticket a year, you would have to get struck by lightning 195 times during that year to match the lottery winning odds. On the other hand, if you buy 4 tickets a week for a year (as Mr. Saporito does), the odds of winning are indeed close to the odds of being struck by lightning. Of course, even this is not anything that should get your hopes up.

Let’s look at this one other way. Suppose you buy one ticket a week in a lottery where your odds of winning are 52 to 1. This would mean that you could expect to win the lottery on an average of once a year. With the Powerball’s odds of 195,249,054 to 1, you could expect to win on average once every 3.75 million years! In other words, the odds of winning the Powerball are close to the odds of winning if you never play at all. They are both about zero.

And yet, $58.8 billion dollars was spent on state-supported lotteries last year.

A regressive tax?

Mr. Saporito points out a second criticism against lotteries: They amount to a regressive tax. That is, the lower your annual income, the greater percentage of that income is used up when you buy lottery tickets. Buying $1000 worth of lottery tickets a year is 5% of your income if you make $20,000 a year. But it is only 0.5% of your income if you earn $200,000 a year. Given that those in the lower income brackets tend to buy lottery tickets with greater frequency than those in the upper brackets, this is a double whammy: lottery ticket purchases most hurt those that can least afford it. Indeed, a study cited by Saporito showed lotteries eating up as much a 3.1% of income that would otherwise go to food, rent and clothing.

How does this make sense?

At this point, you might expect Saporito to strongly advocate against lottery ticket purchases. That’s certainly what the data he presents would suggest. But no, he instead recommends the opposite. Huh? How can this be? Mr. Saporito attempts three answers:

First, Mr. Saporito advocates for the entertainment value of the lottery. The enjoyment you get imagining what you would do if you won makes it worth buying a ticket. In some sense, it’s the same enjoyment you might get from playing a slot machine in Las Vegas and hoping for the jackpot. I concede this point — up to a point. It only makes sense if you truly enjoy the process (to me, buying a lottery ticket and waiting to see if I won is no fun at all), you don’t buy more tickets than you can afford (which may be close to zero for low income individuals), and you truly understand how badly the odds are stacked against you. I would suggest that very few people meet these combined criteria.

Saporito’s second argument boils down to this quote: “And there are many other even more foolish places to waste money (than the lottery). Why does Wall Street keep coming to mind?” By this, Mr. Saporito appears to be implying you are better off playing the lottery than investing your money in stock.

Here is where Saporito’s logic truly comes off the rails. As cited in the article, if you had invested money in the stock market for the past ten years (which happen to be among the worst ten years in the history of the stock market), you would have lost 1.54% of your investment. In other words, a $1000 investment would now be worth a bit over $984. Had you invested the same money in the lottery, you would almost certainly have $0 left. By what screwy reasoning does this make the lottery a better deal than the stock market? Never mind that throughout most of the last 60 years, you would have actually made money in the stock market during any ten year period.

Anyway, it’s not as if the stock market is the only alternative place for your lottery money. If you just put the money in a bank, even at the current low interest rates, you’d be better off. Heck, if you spent it on a flat-panel television, you’d probably have more enjoyment than from lottery tickets.

Finally, Mr. Saporito concludes: “So I’ll continue to buy my $4 worth of lotto tickets each week.” This is the final bit of illogic. If all you want is to enjoy an “imaginary jackpot”, why spend $4 a week? Couldn’t you get the same enjoyment from $1 a week, and save the extra $3? If not, if spending more money somehow increases your enjoyment, where does this progression stop? What makes $4 the stopping point? Why not $40 or $400 dollars a week? Saporito offers no advice here.

Take my advice instead. Ignore Mr. Saporito. Stay away from the lottery. Unless the near certainty of losing money appeals to you.

Posted in General, Politics | 3 Comments

Jailbreaking, iOS 5 and Me

iOS 5 is out. I’ve updated our iPad, iPad 2, and iPhone 4 to run the new iOS version. Plus, I purchased an iPhone 4S that comes with iOS 5 preinstalled. As installing iOS 5 wipes out any prior jailbreaks, this means I lost the jailbreak on all my updated iOS devices.

This, in turn, leads to the obvious question: Should I jailbreak any or all of my devices running iOS 5?

At least for the moment, the current limitations of jailbreaking have largely determined the answer for me. You can not jailbreak the iPhone 4S or the iPad 2 running iOS 5. The jailbreak for my remaining iOS 5 devices is tethered — which means I would have to connect the device to a Mac whenever I power down and reboot the device. In the past, I have resisted installing this type of jailbreak, not wanting to have to deal with such an inconvenience.

But let’s ignore these restrictions. Suppose I could jailbreak all of my iOS 5 devices with a minimum of hassle. Should I do it? I’m not asking this in the ethical or political sense. That’s a different kettle of fish that I intend to cover today. Rather, I am asking a more personal question. I have previously jailbroken nearly every iOS device I have owned. Why? Because, as I have written on numerous occasions (such as this posting), I have found it worthwhile to do so. But what about now? Is it still worth even a minimum of trouble to jailbreak? Or has iOS 5 changed the equation in such a way that I would rather not bother at all?

My answer is: With the release of iOS 5, I am ready to abandon jailbreaking. Well, almost.

This is because iOS 5 has managed to eliminate almost every reason I previously had for jailbreaking. People jailbreak their iOS devices for a variety of different purposes. There’s a wealth of jailbreak apps out there. While each app has its champions, I have ignored all but a select few of them.

There have been, at most, a half-dozen features that have led me to consider jailbreaking. Apple’s iOS 5 offers an alternative for all but two of those features (and only one of those two really matters).

I give kudos to Apple for this. Apple has shown a willingness to respond to what drove many users to jailbreak their devices, yet still maintain the company’s limits in regard to what they allow on an iOS device. It’s a difficult balancing act, and Apple is handling it well.

What exactly has iOS 5 delivered that has caused me to change my tune?

Well, there’s Notification Center, Wi-Fi syncing and AirPlay mirroring. I have previously used jailbreak apps to accomplish these tasks. No more. I should also mention internet tethering. You’ve been able to do this “legally” on an iPhone prior to iOS 5. However, for me, doing so would mean giving up my AT&T unlimited data plan — something I do not want to do. As such, I considered using a jailbreak app to accomplish this tethering. However, the truth is that I have almost never been in a situation where I wanted to use this feature. So I can easily live without it. Again, this means no need for a jailbreak.

What remains for a jailbreak to accomplish for me? Two things.

The first is Home button disabling via IncarcerApp. This app puts an iOS device in a kiosk-mode. Apple uses it in their Stores for the iPads that sit on their product display tables. It’s also useful when sharing an iOS device with a young child. It means you can let a child play with a given app without worrying that they will press the Home button to exit the app and begin an “exploration” of the rest of your device.

So far, Apple prohibits any such feature on an iOS device. This represents my quintessential annoyance with Apple’s iOS policies. Here is a feature that is clearly helpful (even Apple uses it), seems easy to implement and has worked perfectly in my use. Yet, because of Apple’s restrictions on what can and can’t go in the App Store, this jailbreak-only app remains unavailable to the vast majority of iOS users. That’s how Apple rolls. Maybe someday, Apple will offer this feature, as they finally did with mirroring. We can hope.

On the other hand, I personally have had very little “real world” use for the app. I would certainly not bother to jailbreak an iOS device just to get this feature.

This leaves only one remaining reason for me to jailbreak. And it’s a big one. So big, that I am still debating jailbreaking my devices just so I can have the feature. That feature is root access to the iOS. With a jailbreak, even without adding any additional software, you have access to the entire contents of an iOS device: System folder, Library folders, UNIX directories and everything else. Connect a jailbroken device to a OS X app such as PhoneView and the entire iOS opens up to you. As I have covered before, this allows for troubleshooting and “power user” tricks that you could not otherwise do.

Install the jailbreak app iFile on your drive and you have root access right on the iOS device itself, via an easy to navigate Finder-like interface.

All Mac users have root access. The Mac has survived quite well despite openly offering this power. I am confident the iPhone and iPad would survive just as well. If it made Apple feel better, they could restrict this access to an “advanced” mode, one that most users would almost certainly ignore. As it stands now, iOS devices are like cars that have the hood locked so that only dealers can see and modify what’s underneath.

I understand that most people are content never to peer into the System folder on an iOS device or look under the hood of a car. I am not one of those people. For me, and for those who share my interest, jailbreaking remains the only solution. If Apple provided some form of root access to iOS devices, I would without a doubt be ready to bid adieu to jailbreaking.

Even so, iOS 5 is such a giant leap forward that, for the first time, I can imagine giving up on jailbreaking even if it meant a loss of root access. In fact, that’s what I am doing now. I wound up jailbreaking my original iPad, just to test things out. However, my iPad 2 and both iPhones remain unmodified. So far, things have been going well. Very well.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPhone, Technology | 1 Comment

Steve Jobs

This is not a recounting of all that Steve Jobs has accomplished, the ways in which he has forever altered the trajectory of our world. You can find plenty of such tributes on the web.

Today, I merely want to say thank you to Steve Jobs for the huge and enduring impact he has had on my own life.

The first computer I bought was a original Macintosh back in 1984. I never looked back. Every single computer I have owned since then has been from Apple — all the way to my current sheer delight, a MacBook Air.

I did make one brief detour back in the 1990′s and purchased a Gateway PC. It was not a replacement for my Mac, but an addition. I had agreed to write a cross-platform book and needed the Gateway to do the PC side of the book. I hated every minute of it. I sold the computer within a year and withdrew from my book contract.

In this century, my love affair with Apple products extended beyond computers to iPods and iPhones and iPads. [The Macworld Expo where Steve introduced the iPhone is still the most amazing fall-off-my-chair event I have ever attended.] Again, I never considered buying any competing device. It was Apple or nothing.

For me, like for so many others, Apple products were unlike any other purchase. I didn’t simply buy an Apple computer, I established a relationship with it. It became a member of our family. I recognized a spark in the design of Apple products that was missing from the competition, no matter how things might have stacked up on a spec sheet.

My passion for Apple products eventually blossomed into a satisfying and enriching career writing about Apple. It began with writing magazine articles and eventually extended to books and websites.

I bled six-colors, as they used to say back when the Apple logo sported a rainbow.

I say all this because I am certain that, without Steve Jobs at Apple’s helm, none of this would have happened. The products that I so admire would never have been created without Steve to oversee their development. Whatever else might have filled their place would have been far less exciting. They would never have ignited the passion that led to my career as a technology writer. The arc of the past four decades of my life has been altered by Steve Jobs more than any other person outside of my immediate family. For this, I will be forever grateful.

I didn’t agree with everything Steve did. In recent years, I have been especially critical of Steve’s positions regarding control of the App Store and jailbreaking of iOS devices. Regardless, with Steve in charge, I remained confident that the big decisions would be in the best interest of Apple and its customers. Put it this way: I’d much rather have a CEO that created an iPhone that disallows jailbreaking, than someone who would have never created the iPhone in the first place.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have been able to live the advice Steve Jobs gave at his 2005 Stanford commencement address:

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

I found it, Steve. Thanks to you.

Steve Jobs died today. There are no words that can express the sorrow I am now feeling. The world was a better place because Steve Jobs was in it. Life goes on — as it always does. But the world will never seem quite the same again.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPhone, Mac, Media, Technology | 3 Comments


The events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy were tragic, shocking and emotionally gut-wrenching. From the bulletin announcing the shooting (I heard the news from our school principal, over the public address system) to the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald on live television, the days are seared into my memory. I believed (or at least hoped) that I would never again experience anything comparable to those four days in November.

I was wrong.

September 11, 2001 was yet another occasion of unmeasurable shock and sadness. As with the Kennedy assassination, the world seemed to stop spinning for a short while. The entire nation was united, glued to the television as the terrifying events unfolded. For days, all routine events were cancelled or put on hold. From the video showing the planes slamming into the twin towers, to the buildings’ still unbelievable collapse, to the plane hitting the Pentagon and to the crash of United 93—just recalling it all is almost more than I can bear. I was dumbfounded at the time. It was impossible to comprehend how or why all of this was happening. In some ways, it still is.

I still half expect to see the towers when viewing the New York City skyline. And, when they do appear in some older movie, it’s jarring.

I was living in Michigan in 2001. But, as someone who grew up in the New York City area and had passed through the World Trade Center more times than I could count, the death and destruction in New York struck an especially sad and personal chord. I wound up visiting Ground Zero shortly thereafter and, not for the first or the last time, tears welled up at the thought of what had happened here.

On a world-wide scale of tragic events, this is not the worst thing that has ever occurred. But this is not how one measures personal tragedy.

On this tenth anniversary of 9/11, I will be spending the weekend reflecting on these events — and the fallout that has changed the world in which we live. This is not a weekend for “life as usual” — at least not for me. There will inevitably come a time when the memories of this event recede. The emotions will be far less raw. The day will become like December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day) — something that appears on the calendar each year but is otherwise largely ignored by most of the country. This is not yet that time.

As I recall the events of ten years ago, I can at least hope that this is truly the last time that anything comparable will ever happen again.

Posted in General | Comments Off on 9/11