Showing posts with label economy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economy. Show all posts

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Can we agree to stop buying Apple products?

Apple has gone too far in starting legal proceedings to stop sales of the Samsung Galaxy S III phones. Have you seen these? Carol and I both have them. It looks to me like Samsung bent over backwards on this product to not infringe.

I have a long happy history with Apple: I wrote the Chess playing program they gave away on the free demo tape for the early Apple II, I did quite well with a commercial AI product for the Mac in 1984, and I respect their technology.

That said, I think that the iPad 3 that I bought for my stepson a few months ago might be the last Apple product that I buy unless they have a turnaround in their business strategy and stop trying to be the world's largest patent troll. I have already decided to not buy one of the retina MBPs and to not renew my iTunes Match service subscription when it expires. Apple has the legal right to pursue any legal proceedings they want but as consumers we can vote with our wallets and stop buying Apple products! Obviously I want you to make your own decisions - I am just sharing my thoughts on the best strategy for affecting a company whose actions I don't like and a boycott of Apple products seems like the best strategy.

And, there are now some very sweet non-Apple laptops :-)

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A bright future, with some potential problems

Even though the news media portrays a dire world situation, I disagree. In the last few decades the world has become a safer place and fundamental shifts in technology keep driving down the cost of computing resources, networks, and storage that enable greatly increased global productivity. For much of the world globalization is a rising tide that floats most people's boats.

The problem is that not everyone benefits from new paradigms for constant lifelong learning, diminishing advantages of organizations who hold to old mega-scale production and business models, and a free flow of information. The book The Power of Pull is a good reference for ideas how to take advantage of the transitions that the world is going through, whether you like them or not!

The losers in this new world are people and organizations who cannot (or don't want to) adapt and learn and who expect material rewards that are out of touch with their productivity. The biggest potential problem that concerns me is that some of these "losers" have tremendous political and economic clout and will struggle to hang on to old advantages instead of engaging in more forward thinking and productive activities. You don't have to look further than businesses that are "too big to fail" to understand the real dangers of powerful incumbents to our future prosperity and security.

On a personal level, I do believe that for the most part we have control of our lives and that both our happiness and sadness in life is mostly an internal process in our own minds and is fairly independent of the world at large. Certainly, some people are born into, or live, in very harsh situations, but for most people there is at least the opportunity for material success and personal happiness. A cliche, but true: people who live in the past tend to be depressed, those who live in the future are anxious, and those who live in the moment are usually happy and content. The more we can focus our attention on what we are doing in the moment the happier and more productive we can be.

I leave it up to you how you want to manage your life, but I will mention a few things that work for me:

  • I don't waste much time exposing myself to the negatively toned corporate-slanted news media. It is necessary to understand what is happening in the world, and why, but a few minutes a day reading news stories from multiple sources around the world suffices.
  • Everyday I enjoy the time I set aside for learning new technologies, practicing a musical instrument, trying new recipes, hiking with friends, and generally enjoying my family. Without fun time, it is difficult to be productive while working.
  • I spend time and resources helping and mentoring people, and working extra time each week to support three very worthwhile charities. I am convinced that a quality life requires the certain knowledge that we are personally helping to make the world a better place.
  • Time is probably our most precious resource. In addition to saving the time not wasted on corporate news, I try to evaluate how I spend my time, realizing that watching TV, watching too many movies, and other mindless time sinks all have tremendous opportunity costs: how much more can we accomplish and how much more can we enjoy our lives if we apply critical thinking to how we spend our time?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Recommended: Niall Ferguson's "The Ascent of Money"

I just finished watching tonight the DVD of the PBS series but the book covers the same material. Harvard professor/historian Nial Ferguson puts down and in its place the (in my opinion also) misguided view that governments can, long term, spend their ways out of problems.

The PBS series is especially fun to watch (in addition to being very educational) because as Ferguson traces "bubbles" throughout history, there is local video that helped me picture what happened in ancient, medieval, and modern times.

Worth watching! (There are many excerpts on youtube if you don't have time to watch the 4 hour series.)

I rented the DVD from Netflix, and their summary is good:
British historian and author Niall Ferguson explains how big money works today as well as the causes of and solutions to economic catastrophes in this extended version The Ascent of Money documentary. Through interviews with top experts, such as former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and American currency speculator George Soros, the intricate world of finance, including global commerce, banking and lending, is examined thoroughly.
One bit of advice is that there is no firm economic security in anything but income. For individuals this the ability to earn money and for governments the ability to raise sufficient taxes to pay for most expenditures. The PBS documentary makes this point very well.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Control of news media == ability to set public opinion

In the late 1800s Western Union was able to alter the results of a presidential election (reference: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires - recommended!)

A similar situation exists today in the USA: all major news sources provide a very slanted pro-corporate agenda that results in a large percentage of the population simply not understanding things like the benefits of a social safety net (a trade of tax money to keep society civil and safer), how we incarcerate a much larger percentage of our population than other countries, that Wikileaks has released a very small percentage of the diplomatic cables and those cables that have been released have been redacted to minimize the chance of putting people in danger, that we spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined, how military spending enriches only a very small number of powerful people, the level of corruption in Congress (both democrats and republicans), etc.

It is sad that better sources of news come from the Comedy Central channel (for example, The Daily Show), Al Jazeera, foreign services like German Der Spiegel, small companies like Salon.com, etc.

The USA is in rapid decline. Part of the decline is due to failing infrastructure, large scale corruption, massive military costs, and also a much less informed population. All of these means to decline are fueled by a tightly controlled dishonest news media.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Future society: an optimum strategy for flourishing

I just watched this interview with Tim Wu. He nails it re: the tendency of information industries to move from open to closed systems. I just pre-ordered his new book: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires There is little doubt in my mind how our society is going to evolve in an era of consolidated corporate power and ubiquitous information systems.

Although I don't subscribe to the idea that history repeats itself, I do believe that history does inform us about human nature and how powerful people fight to consolidate power and influence. This tendency is firmly stapled into our DNA.

There will almost certainly be strife between what used to be the middle class and financial and political elites. I read yesterday that one of the international rating agencies predicted a loss of "social cohesion" in the USA. Right now, there are large strikes in France over raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. It is interesting that here in the USA, the waning middle class seems silent in comparison. In my country the consolidation of power by control of news by just a few corporations has been brilliant in execution, but not in the public good: we see people swayed by corporate controlled news to back political agendas that are very much against their own interests.

I have always had a strong interest in strategy games like Go (I wrote the first commercially available Go playing program) and Chess (I wrote the simple Chess program Apple shipped with very early Apple IIs). The point is: when playing strategy games, you play the current board position. Now, life is not a perfect knowledge game like Chess and Go but as individuals it still makes sense to "play the position" with what knowledge and resources we have.

What knowledge do we have? I would argue very little if you rely on USA filtered and biased news sources. You can improve your knowledge a little by reading multiple international news sources. I also rely on what people I trust write in their blogs and books.

What resources do we have? As individuals our resources are specialized job skills, education, family and friends, real property (hopefully not debt encumbered), owning your own business, cash assets, and social and professional networking. Negative resources are things like excessive personal debt.

In playing Chess and Go, it is almost always useful to understand what moves your opponent wants you to make, and avoid these moves! In our lives, I believe that it is useful to try understanding what the financial and political elites want the masses of non-elites to do. In recent history, using advertising and media control, a vision of extravagant lifestyles has been pushed at people and this has been carefully combined with control of cheap borrowing to induce people into taking on excessive private debt: optimum elite strategy for increasing control, wealth, and influence. The obvious strategy for non-elites is to avoid debt, avoid getting sucked into a materialistic lifestyle, and to invest personal resources in acquiring specialized job skills and making education a life-long process.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Spending money on faking public opinion: Cocoa Cola paid tweets, BP hiring people to down vote anti-BP stories and blog posts

OK, I say give Cocoa Cola a pass, and turn our wrath on BP. News manipulation, keeping reporters and the public away from the Gulf oil spill, etc.

Question is: will my little tech blog attract a paid for BP shill defending BP? :-)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Very bad decision by conservatives on the supreme court

Horrible supreme court decision! A great deal for international corporations to get to powerfully affect our internal elections in the USA. I don't want to overstate my opinion, but I think that this is the beginning of the end for fair representative democracy in our country. I hate to say it, but I am so fed up with the greed and avarice of the "elites" that I find myself not caring much about politics anymore. It would be a good first step for all members of the supreme court to publicly state any family members' business affiliations that might affect their rulings on cases. The justices have a long road to regain our trust.

On a more positive note, I do feel more like a 'citizen of the world' and I believe that stronger business and personal relationships with people around the world help offset the terribly high level of corruption in the USA and other countries that don't give good service to tax payers.

This is a simple prediction to make: corrupt governments will over time become less competitive for promoting and encouraging productive business activities in their tax jurisdictions. I am all for strong corporations and strong businesses both large and small. What I am against is what I consider to be illegal activities (or activities that should be illegal). We need a small government that enforces a small number of fair laws and then stays out of the way of doing business. Sadly, that is far from what we have now.

Monday, June 29, 2009

USA: return to 'robustness'

With all of the problems that my country is facing, I am still optimistic, if:

Parents do their job and turn off the TV after dinner. When I was in high school I did 2 to 3 hours a night of homework on week nights - that should, I think, be the norm for the new young generation.

Young people do their job and squeeze every bit of value from the educational opportunities that they have at their disposal.

Adults do their job and realize that education and job skills are something that they need to develop continually throughout their working lives. Be productive and prosper.

Congress and our president: suck it up, stop being bought off, and do what is right. Look out for your karma, try not not be total assholes.

Financial elite: realize that no matter how much money you accrue, your children and grandchildren need to live in this world so you should not ruin the world that they will need to live in. Suck it up and try doing the right thing for change. Look out for your karma, try not not be total assholes.

As a country, we need to work together and everyone do their part.

Tough choice in the USA

Here in the USA, we face a tough choice: to survive with any kind of lifestyle and robustness, we need to defund government spending on:
  • Huge government subsidies to the Insurance companies, Beef Industry, etc. Subsidies may also take the form of not collecting a fair tax burden and for "under-regulating" corporations that strongly act against the public interest.
  • Drastic curtailment of defense spending
  • Elimination of the large amounts of money we give/loan to other countries to buy weapon systems from companies in the USA
Why are these tough choices? Well, because Congress (and the executive branch under Bush and Obama) mostly look out for corporate interests and not citizens' interests - that is just the way it is. Also a tough choice because almost everyone is simply too lazy to spend the effort to personally lobby their elected representatives.

Perhaps people get the government that they deserve.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Open source, the gift economy, and the new world order

I just made a small donation to Canonical (good shepard for Ubuntu Linux) while I was installing some security updates. A good investment.

As a few very large corporations continue to control resources and major infrastructure, I expect to see a trend towards small agile enterprises covering rapidly changing technology and business niches. I expect to see a three-way synergy between mega-size corporations, small agile businesses, and a mobile highly educated work force: all three sides win big. The losers in this new world order are the poor and the poorly educated workers who can not adapt to changing situations.

I think that open source software, other key infrastructure supported by the users of the infrastructure, and a general gift economy will continue to reduce down to a minimum the cost of doing business. Again, the winners are both people who are well educated and prepared on a global scale to move quickly to take advantage of new situations, or people who prepare themselves for work in high-value local jobs like health care, critical government services (fire control, police, etc.), and support of local physical infrastructure.

I believe that both my country (USA) and most of the world are going through a historic transformation created mostly by a new higher level of transparency. Throughout history, the ultra rich and powerful have worked behind the scenes to amass more power and wealth by starting wars, etc. The same things still happen, but now society better understands what is really happening: corporate ownership of governments, who benefits financially from planned wars, strife, and the manipulation of the world's financial infrastructure.

I believe that the "information genie" is out of the bottle, and is not going back in.

Predicting the future is tricky, and I will not try. Still, it will be interesting to see how the general quality of world-scale governance improves or degrades in a future that blends meritocracy (those who get great educations and are major producers will compete with conventional multi-generational dynasties of controllers), greater transparency mostly due to the Internet, and near absolute corporate control and manipulation of governments and news media.

Ideally, in the new world order governments become "infrastructure" in the sense that governments compete to provide:
  • Highest quality of physical infrastructure services for the lowest tax base
  • Highest quality of resources for education (which needs to cover people throughout their entire lives)
  • Physical security for people living in and businesses in their jurisdictions, at the lowest cost
  • etc.
We all live in interesting times :-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happenings at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: this is what we need to see more of!

This article describes something that we need more of: people and businesses realizing that our society, with the current economic correction, is going through historic changes and people need to pull together. In this case, pulling together means higher paid workers agreeing to take pay and benefits cuts (and perhaps shortened work weeks) to help protect people at their hospital in the lower pay grades.

This is exactly what we need: less greed and avarice, and more working together as a community.

BTW, I have not been doing much tech blogging: I am immensely enjoying work on my new book for APress "Intelligent Scripting for Web 3.0" and after writing 20+ pages a week, it is more fun to write about the economy :-) My work on the book should mostly be done in about 4 weeks, and then things will get back to normal.

BTW, part 2: I have a good idea for a short tech book that I am thinking of publishing on this blog, one chapter at a time. I can take advantage of people's useful blog comments to edit older chapters "in place." I will need a break from serious writing, so it may be several months before I try this.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

National Public Radio: "Our Confusing Economy, Explained" - excellent!

www.npr.org
Perplexed by the U.S. economy? You're not alone. Law professor Michael Greenberger joins Fresh Air to explain the sub-prime mortgage crisis, credit defaults, the shaky future of other types of loans and what we can expect from the U.S. financial markets.

Greenberger is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and the director of the University's Center for Health and Homeland Security.
This is a long listen (39 minutes), but is the sort of thing that if every voting American listened to, and if every politician in Washington knew everyone listened to, that a lot of the future corruption in Washington might be avoided. Professor Greenberger also gives very solid advice on what we must do as a country to avoid having Asian countries "eat our lunch": emphasize science and technology and build companies that produce real products - and don't idolize people and companies who make money speculating instead of producing. I liked that he seemed to think our problems are fixable, but only with positive action. Listening to this interview, and then emailing your 2 senators and your representative in congress regarding this material would be a good start.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What to do to survive the recession? Build wealth

I am going to loan my copy of The Millionaire Next Door to my kids and nieces as a guide for long term wealth building - this entertaining book is a road map for building wealth instead of living a consumption based life style.

Since many more economists are now warning about the serious structural problems in our economy (that the war in Iraq is keeping out of the public consciousness), it occurred to me that Stanley and Danko's advice on money management and life style also apply to protecting you and your family from economic downturns. I am old enough to have lived through several economic "boom and bust" cycles, and one thing that has always caught my attention is that during "boom" economic times, a lot of people seem to believe that the good times will never end. In fact cycles are natural, should not be feared, and should be planned for.

New York Times advice: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

I just sent this link to my family and friends with the joke that the news media, in this case the New York Times, feeling guilty for not doing their proper job during during the run up to the Iraq invasion has finally decided to tell the truth about food :-)

This article on food and nutrition strikes a cord with me for another reason: I have friends who worry about future shortages of potable water and energy. I believe that the solution to future resource problems is simple: let the free market determine the costs of the food that we eat. A case in point: why should Congress give the beef industry about $40 billion a year in free water subsidies?

Raising meat for food rather than plants does the following:
  • Uses 10 times the water
  • Uses 10 times the energy
  • Generates horrendous pollution of the air and underground water supplies
  • Raises health care costs caused by unhealthy eating habits
I think that it is fine to eat meat, but we only need tiny portions each day to augment a primarily vegetarian diet.

It all comes down to a personal choice not to be a glutton, be it gluttony for food, buying large fuel inefficient vehicles, or houses larger than your family needs for comfortable living that you will never be able to own (i.e., pay off the mortgage). I believe that water and energy resource problems are solvable with free market economics and raising our collective consciousness concerning the downside of gluttonous life styles.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Offshoring vs. increasing the number of H1-B visas

I believe in a world economy, so if safeguards are in place that penalize corporations for unfair treatment of workers in areas with much lower cost of living, then I definitely support the concepts of off-shoring "white color" jobs and manufacturing jobs. I would like to financially penalize corporations for moving work to take advantage of a lack of local environmental laws. Business should be done in the least expensive and most productive way possible, but we need to factor in the importance of maintaining good working environment and environmental standards.

Although I support, with some small caveats, off-shoring work when it makes economic sense, I am very much against greatly increasing the number of allowed H1-B visas. I have heard too many stories of abuse of imported guest workers. For those H1-B workers that we allow in to the US every year, I think that they should be free to job hop, and try to maximise their salaries as can US citizens. Unfairly treating H1-B guest workers also has the effect of artificially lowering salaries for US workers - a bad thing. It might not seem fair, but I would allocate H1-B visas based on excellence - with the view that it is likely that many of these people will eventually become citizens and why not attract the very smartest people?

There is one thing that I would like to see done to help US workers, present and future: during the Bush administration we have seen a huge shift of wealth to the very richest via tax cuts and some sectors of the economy to support the war in Iraq. I would very much rather have seen most of this money not spent at all (smaller deficits!) and a little of it (perhaps 30%) spent for more effectively preparing our country for dealing with 4th generation war (nation state vs. organized groups) and to provide more scholarships and extended education funds for US workers.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea. Economies of Japan vs. USA

Long term, it is bad news that North Korea has had a successful nuclear test. Short term I am more concerned about the unstable government in Pakistan with their existing nuclear weapons (General Musharraf took control 8 years ago in a military coup, has never faced an election, and is unpopular in his own country - a country with few natural resources, increasing population pressures, etc. - who gets these nuclear weapons if the Musharraf government falls?) Also, many people in the Middle East and Europe are concerned with Israel's nuclear weapons. I believe that it is time for our government to start one-on-one negotiations with countries like Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Public "negotiations" are seldom effective - we need closed door sessions with top level diplomats (private, so egos do not get in the way).

On happier news: Japan is "officially" recovered from its severe 15 year economic slump. Less happy is a comparison between the assets that Japan had to survive economic hard times that we in the USA do not have (and make no mistake, a severe economic downturn will hit us in the future):
  • Personal savings: citizens in Japan had relatively large personal savings that they could rely on for living expenses (consumer savings in the USA is close to zero, considering people who increase their debt with second loans on their homes, etc.)
  • Japan had low defense costs (the USA spends as much money on defense than the next 24 countries in the world combined)
  • Japan had healthy industrial infrastructure with modern factory equipment (the USA is way behind the curve in updating basic infrastructure like factory equipment and our road and highway systems)
  • The government of Japan did not have the huge deficits that the government in the USA has.
  • The government of Japan did not have the huge foreign debts that the government in the USA has.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Linux vs. Windows and OS X: it is the economy that will be the driving factor

I had to laugh a bit this morning while enjoying my coffee: I was reading responses on Slashdot to Tom Yager's optimistic article on Apple's market share growth. While I am a Mac fan (I am writing this blog on a Mac and I have been writing Common Lisp code on a Mac since 5:30 this morning), I think that so many people miss the point of operating system dominance in the future:

Step outside of pure technology for a minute, and think about the global economy and were the buzz is right now: the US is educating a very small fraction of engineers and scientists as places like China, India, Europe, etc. The largest growth will be in what are now poorer countries, but expect a more level playing field in the future. There is a good reason why high technology companies are increasingly setting up research labs outside of the US: less expense and a good supply of highly motivated and educated talent.

Using Linux in developing countries makes the most sense: computer science students get free access to source code and end users can run on much cheaper hardware using free software. As more creative work is done outside of the US, scientists and engineers will naturally use what they have used in school: Linux.

Long term, I expect to see an upswing in technology in the US: with the amount of perceived (fake) wealth in the US (from people pulling $400 billion a year in equity from their homes for a higher lifestyle, etc.) many young people simply lack the motivation to work at science and engineering in school when they see lucrative careers in real estate and other fields that require training but not too much education. Who knows when the crash in the US economy will come, but when it does occur it is likely to make the "comfortable" recession of 2001 look like a picnic. Usually success requires education and hard work, and in the future when we in the US are climbing out of what I think will be a very long economic downturn, I also believe that poorer economic conditions in our country will motivate both student and workers. During the upcoming economic slump in the US I would not be surprised if Linux becomes more popular with end users for the same reasons that Linux is gaining in popularity in developing countries right now: families trying to hold on to their homes and meeting other mandatory expenses might look favorably at $200 Linux PCs.