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Monday, October 30, 2017

Facebook is Evil

Traditional news outlets (newspapers, TV news, radio news) were dedicated to reporting the "truth".  While it can be argued that some sources slant their coverage one way or another, most western media try to be honest in their reporting.  This honesty has a few characteristics:

  • Report the facts, not opinion.  If an article is opinionated, identify it by calling it an editorial or opinion piece.
  • Report all the news, do not just pick and choose what to report.
  • Do not let commercial considerations influence reporting
  • And probably a few more that I would have learned if I studied journalism instead of engineering at school
Facebook is becoming people's main source of news, but they are an evil source of information.  This is probably not because they want to be evil, but their business model demands it.  Facebook wants you to spend lots of time on their site so they can advertise things to you.  Therefore, they want to know your likes and dislikes, and want to know what interests you.  So they only show you news and opinion that interests you - things you really like and things that get you angry or concerned.  They also show you comments on these pieces of news - the positive comments make you think you are right and the negative comments make you angry and so you read more comments.  You are getting a biassed opinionated snapshot of some of the news.

On top of this, Facebook allows people to buy ads with no oversight, like Russian operatives, Climate Change Deniers, Big Corporations.  You will only see these ads if you might agree with them.  It is unclear whether you are seeing news or ads, adding to readers' confusion.

People who rely on Facebook are being brainwashed by the Facebook algorithms into thinking they are right, that there is no other valid point of view except the ones they know, and that most people agree with them.  They are also missing all news that Facebook censors out of their news feed in order to keep you interested.

This is amplifying the issues of today:
  • Climate Change is manmade?
  • Can muslims be good citizens of western countries?
  • Should American government help with health care?
  • Is free trade good for workers?
So I think Facebook is evil - a biassed commercially driven unregulated source of news - along with being a good way to find out what your old school buddies are doing these days.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Canada's Best Savings Account Interest Rate?


I was frustrated with the abysmal savings account interest rate in Canada: 0.1% to 0.50% at major banks.  In the USA, you can get 1%+ at Capital One Bank or Allied Bank.

Finally, I found a proper bank (CDIC insured) that pays almost 2% interest and charges nothing to electronically transfer money to and from my big bank (RBC).  This bank is Alterna.  Just thought I would pass on the info for folks who would like to make their money work a little harder.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Americans' Gun Obsession

As a Canadian returning from 20 years in the USA, I am often asked why Americans have an obsession with guns.  About one in two Americans have guns, and the death statistics for guns are eye-popping.

I am no expert, but I have some opinions on why most Americans love guns and are afraid of any restrictions on them.

  1. Most Americans are actually in favour of increased gun control, however they are drowned out by fervent gun supporters.  Few people want bans, but the majority would support laws that limit magazine size, mandate background checks, and limit access to silencers and automatic weapons.  However, most of these restrictions were soundly defeated in recent years.  Most Americans are more concerned about their money than guns so elections are won and lost on economic issues.
  2. The fervent gun supporters are organized by the NRA,which is expert at manipulating the USA's democratic process.  The NRA is supported by gun manufacturers and members.
  3. There is a whole mythology in the USA about the righteous citizen with a gun, defending his house, family, himself, and the American Way in a society that is full of criminals or "bad hombres" according to President Trump.  Think about the old movie "Death Wish" starring Charles Bronson.
    1. Many Americans believe that violent crime is increasing, and they don't want to wait for police to deal with criminals, they believe they can do it themselves with guns.  Statistics actually show crime is decreasing, but never mind.
    2. Many Americans believe that their government is evil, based on what they have heard for years from Fox News, the Republican Party, and websites like Breitbart.  They believe that they can keep the government at bay by owning guns.
    3. It is macho to own guns.  The idea that you can kill anyone within 100 yards whenever you want has appeal to many.
  4. There is a fear, stoked by the NRA and Republicans, that to give any concession on gun regulation with start a landslide that will end with gun bans.  Better to energetically oppose any measure, no matter how reasonable, than to give an inch.  How else can we explain the NRA's opposition to not allowing people on the no-fly list to buy guns?  If they are too dangerous to fly, why is it OK for them to buy AR-15's with 100 round magazines and ammunition?
  5. The Second Amendment is often cited as a reason for all the guns, but it is just an idea on an old piece of paper.  If Americans did not want guns, they could repeal the amendment just like they repealed the Prohibition of alcohol.  The second amendment is cited like the bible to justify guns, but ignore this distraction, lots of stuff in the constitution and the bible are ignored because Americans have different desires.
  6. There are many Americans who enjoy hunting and target shooting with guns.
The latest mass shooting will not cause any changes in gun laws, in my opinion.  It will take a much higher body count of innocent victims caused clearly by unregulated guns for the majority of Americans to shake off their apathy and put some common sense gun laws in place.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Rational Approach to Climate Change

Manmade climate change has become a political football in the USA with proponents on the left wing and opponents on the right.  After dividing the country in two, the debate is turned into a winner-take-all game instead of a scientific rational approach.

Let's look at it rationally and please put your politics on hold for a few minutes.

The world is definitely getting hotter, year by year statistics are pretty clear on this.  Check out the NASA measurements here.

Most of us would accept that a warming Earth will cause the ice caps to melt and rising sea levels.  It is pretty hard to deny this if you like ice in your drinks - the warmer it gets, the more it melts.  NASA also measures this and it is clear that sea level is rising.

Most of us would also accept that rising sea levels and rising temperatures are not good for people, plants, or animals as we know them today.  Low lying cities like New York, London, Miami, Houston will be flooded.  Hot areas like the US Southwest, Saharan Africa, and the Chinese desert will be much less compatible with human life. These bad things will cause people to do bad things to each other to survive.  You can debate how bad it will be but its going to be nasty.

So now comes the hard parts:

  1. Why is this happening and will it continue?
  2. What can we do about it?
The why is very politicized and seems to split into two camps:
  1. It is caused by CO2 emissions from fossil fuels that cause a greenhouse effect.  The scientists generally believe this and the argument can be found here.
  2. It is caused by something else that has nothing to do with man.  If you believe this, you probably know where to look for reinforcement of this idea.
Let's skip the debate on who is right, that is covered better elsewhere.  Let's look at what can we do?

We know the effects of global warming will likely be very bad.  Kind of like a big version of your house burning down or a tornado.

We disagree on what is causing it.  Let's assume you don't believe it is caused by man and CO2.  Do you believe that 100%, swear on the bible, bet my last dollar..??  Probably not, there is some uncertainty but you don't want to admit it publicly because politics is a win-lose game or whatever.  Let's say you think there is a 20% chance that climate change is man-made.

Given the very bad consequences, isn't it prudent to take action against a probable cause, however unlikely?  The worst that will happen is that money is wasted taking action to prevent a tragedy.

The analogy is that houses almost never catch fire, but we spend a lot of money trying to prevent and insure against a fire, including causes that are quite unlikely.

That is my core rational argument: given the catastrophic consequences of global warming, why would we not take action to mitigate the cause(s) and effects, even if you believe a cause is unlikely??

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dunkirk

British Soldiers on the Beach at Dunkirk Waiting to Evacuate


We went to see the movie "Dunkirk" which was very good.  Pretty true to history, graphically shows the horror of war and the different sides of the human spirit, and just the right amount of patriotism.

When I spoke to my 87 year old mother last night, I told her about the movie, and her reaction was surprising.  She said something like "..well I won't go and see that movie, it cuts too close to home.  I remember the ships gathering in the estuary for the evacuation.."  She was a 10 year old school girl in Westcliff on Sea, a city at the mouth of the Thames, and must have seen the little ships going and coming back.  Sadly, some of the local fishermen lost their lives in the evacuation.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Why Do Canadians Buy Canadian Mutual Funds?

Now that I am back in Canada, I see more Canadian financial information.  After looking for a Canadian stock index mutual fund, I thought, "why do Canadians buy Canadian mutual funds??".

I searched for "series D" Canadian equity mutual funds, and the minimum expense ratio (MER) was 0.60%.  This is quite high compared to US index mutual funds, which are around 0.20% or lower.

Then I searched for Canadian stock index ETFs.  The expense ratios are under 0.10%.  Here are some samples:
So why would anyone buy a Canadian mutual fund and give up over 0.50% of their return?  In today's low return environment, that is a lot.  I just don't see the point, am I missing something?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Canadian Customer Service Compared to U.S. Customer Service

You would think customer service would be identical north and south of the border, but it's not.  There is one fundamental difference that I run into constantly.

In the USA, if you the customer have a problem and common sense indicates that the store bends its rules or policy to make you happy, they generally will.  If not, they will certainly agree that the rule is silly and apologize profusely that they cannot take the right actions to make you satisfied.

In Canada, the RULES ARE THE RULES.  If you have a problem and the store's rules do not allow it to be solved, even though common sense says it should, you are out of luck.  Not only that, you will feel that you are causing the problem by exposing the weakness of their rule.

An example illustrates this difference:

  1. I want to transfer all my stocks and ETFs from my US broker Vanguard to my new Canadian broker, RBC Direct Investments (part of Royal Bank, a huge Canadian bank).
  2. This can be done by filling out a standard form.  Vanguard, like most brokers, requires that you get a special identity verification called a Medallion Stamp.  This is normally done by a US bank.
  3. RBC says that they can stamp the form, which makes sense since they operate in the USA, and they are the ones receiving all these investments.
  4. Long story short, RBC gives me the runaround of all their divisions (two weeks of calling and email) and finally says that they can only stamp their own form.  They cannot stamp the Vanguard form even though they know me, know what I am doing, I have lots of my money in their bank, I pay them lots of fees, and the form is almost identical to their form.  "It is a rule at the bank".  It is just a stamp saying they guarantee my identity, but they cannot do it.
  5. So I call Vanguard, tell them I cannot do the transfer because I cannot get the stamp.  Even though they are losing the business, they quickly come back to me and say they will accept voice verification of my identity using their voice identification system.  They will bend the rules to lose business and RBC will not bend the rules to get more business.  This is the essence of Canadian customer service - you will get good service as long as the rules allow it, otherwise you are SOL.