Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why I Don't Use Google Search

Google is by far the most popular search engine, why wouldn't I use it?  They claim that they will not evil, so what is not to like?  Normally, I have no problem using popular products made by large corporations, but in this case, I avoid Google Search, and am trying to reduce my use of other Google Products.

What are my concerns?

  1. Google has a worldwide stranglehold on search, the most used function on the Internet.  They are quite secretive about what they do and how they do it.  They offer search for free in return for showing you advertisements and using your personal data.  Why do certain stores and sites get listed at the top, the most profitable  position?  We don't know.  Does Google "blackball" sites and not show them or put them way down the list?  We don't know.
  2. Google has a worldwide stranglehold on self-produced video with Youtube.  A lot of people now make their living or support their charities with the money Google pays to put ads on their videos.  One charity I followed (Rise Up Society) operates in Africa and tries to cure people of Jiggers, a nasty parasite.  They produced their own homemade videos with cheap cameras and made money that they used to buy supplies like scalpels, disinfectant, gloves.  They had tens of thousands of followers who admired their work.  All of a sudden, their channel was removed for unspecified reasons.  I have seen this before, removal of a channel for mysterious reasons.  Luckily, one of their followers was an influential person in Silicon Valley and he intervened with higher ups at Google that he knew personally.  If not for this person, this poor charity would be back struggling for donations with no access to Youtube.
  3. Google reads your mail and uses the info to target you with ads.  Everyone is up in arms about the NSA but Gmail users are quite happy to have all of their mail scanned by Google.
  4. Google knows a lot about you, which you can find at this link.  Some of it is pretty personal and creepy, like recording your voice if you use voice search and recording your locations and showing you a timeline of where you were, for how long, what pictures you took, etc.
  5. Today, there are sites which have been hacked, like Ashley Madison, and sites which will be hacked, like Google.  What happens when they are hacked and all your info is stolen?
  6. Google uses super-creative tax tricks to pay little or no taxes to foreign governments (2.6% to the UK on $5B in revenue). The normal UK tax rate is 28%.
  7. The terms of use of some of their services are pretty evil.  They can use your content to promote their services.  They can terminate a service or deny a service to you at their sole discretion.  For example, based on the Blogger terms of service, they could take exception to this posting and ban me from this service.  I would have no way to deal with this other than getting a lawyer and suing them in court.
  8. Google operates according to the culture of Silicon Valley.  In the past, this culture was defined by a bunch of nerds who valued innovation and new technology.  The "new and improved" Silicon Valley values money above all else and the freedom to do whatever they want, screw everyone else, in essence radical libertarianism.  One billionaire backer of Facebook wants to create a new offshore country with "no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons"
  9. There are other good search engines out there.  Bing works well and is especially good at image searches and they give reward points for your searches.  I get at least $5-$10 a month in Amazon gift card credits using Bing.
  10. Lastly, Google right now has some nice people running it, and they seem to try to be benevolent.  But as we all know, corporate leadership changes, especially if the quarterly results are bad, witness Yahoo, AOL, etc.  What happens when some nasty "turnaround guy" ends up as head of Google and decides he is going to "monetize their information"?
So I am trying to reduce the clutches of Google on my information, my searches, and my business.  Let's see what happens.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Don't Panic

As the Dow plunges and the 24/7 news channels spout stories of doom, don't panic and sell stocks.

Presumably, your stock mutual funds and ETFs are part of a saving plan for college and/or retirement and are part of a diversified portfolio which includes bonds, international stocks, and cash.  Unless you need the money tomorrow for retirement, why sell now?

  • It has been proven time and again that you cannot time the market (buy low, sell high).  I have lots of friends who are still working because they sold all their stocks in 2008 and 2009 and then waited too long to get back into the market and missed the huge runup in 2010-13.
  • There is little yield in cash, so your money will not be working for you
  • Markets always come back, although sometimes it takes a long time
  • You should have a cash cushion for emergencies or if you are retired, a cash cushion of a few months expenses that you can spend in the short term.
  • Think of it this way: stocks are on sale for 10% off what they were a month ago.
If anything, now is the time to buy some stock mutual funds or ETFs.  Not too much, moderation is always the key, the market could go down further and there will be even better buying opportunities.

As always, beware of what you read on the Internet, like this blog.  Talk to your financial adviser before making financial decisions like this.

Photo credit: Flickr

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Americans Envy The Canada Pension Plan??

I often listen to Bloomberg Radio in the car, it is one of the few business radio stations that does not have ranting investment idiots (CNBC) or ranting political idiots (Fox Business Channel).  An ad recently caught my attention.

It essentially implied that the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) was superior to US Social Security and an American could get CPP even if they never worked in Canada.  They called this "Piggybacking", I kid you not, check out their web page here.  The CPP is superior because it has a separate investment fund managed by "highly skilled professionals", not a "pay as you go" system like US Social Security where the taxes coming in pay the current beneficiaries.

Sounds too good to be true?  Well yes.  Yes it is too good to be true.  If you delve deeper into this "piggyback" idea, you find out that you cannot get CPP if you never worked in Canada.  You can mimic the investments by buying shares in the same or similar companies, and therefore creating your own facsimile of the CPP.  But you cannot just get CPP, however much you admire what those smart Canadians are doing up North when they are not hanging out in their igloos drinking beer and watching hockey.

It is kind of crazy.  CPP pays less than US Social Security, unless you are poor enough to get the OAS as well.  The Canadian dollar is worth 76 cents US due to the commodity/oil price crash.  US Social Security will pay you more and it is partially tax free.  Yet someone thinks Americans can be tricked into the idea that they can get a Canadian pension and they should want this.

Pretty soon they will be convinced that Canadian Football is superior to the NFL...well...maybe not.

Picture credit: Flickr, Flickr

Thursday, August 13, 2015

It's Not Good to be Right When Things Go Wrong

I was reflecting on my past corporate experience and it struck me that it is not good to be right when things that you opposed go wrong.

In my day, I was "the guy".  "The Guy" was the person who strongly opposed ideas that were popular with senior executives but were not going to work.  "The Guy" was the one that spoke up in meetings to say why we should not do something or do it differently and the consequences.  Meanwhile, the toadies and yes-people were whispering "..his career is toast.." or "..doesn't he know this is the CEO's pet project?"  I am not talking about piping up with a concern, having it squashed, then going along with the doomed project.  I am talking about really making yourself heard to the right decision makers, who were usually the cheerleaders for the idea.

Later, after the project bombs and there is a witch-hunt for the people involved in the decision, no one goes back to "the guy" and says "you were right".  In fact, you are just as likely as anyone involved to get swept up in the search for the guilty and pilloried.

A few examples I remember:
  1. Opposing the degree of outsourcing in a project while we were trying to execute another big project.  Too much change, loss of expertise, confusion said I, and eventually the big project fell well behind schedule as the new outsource company struggled.
  2. Forecasting that the WIMAX market would be small compared to traditional 3G and 4G technologies.  I predicted it would be around 1/10th or 1/100th of the traditional market, and it turned out to be even smaller.  This got me removed from my job and a forced transfer to a very unpleasant assignment.
  3. Buying a small startup during the Internet bubble of the 00's, I was the leader of the due diligence team that examined the startup.  After a good first impression (the company hid all its troubles), we found major problems.  Despite bringing this to attention of senior execs, we went ahead and the reason given was " is good publicity to buy startups.."  Coincidentally, I was only asked to join a diligence team once after that, maybe because someone forgot to tell the execs I was "the guy".
So what advice can I offer to those still moving onwards and upwards with their career?  Following in my footsteps and becoming another "the guy" is not recommended.  Some guidance:
  • Clearly state your position and reasoning when you are faced with that popular project that has major problems.  Make sure that you do it professionally and calmly in front of the right decision makers.
  • Listen for the response.  If it is clear that you were heard and things are moving ahead anyway, you should quieten down and look for options:
    • Don't try to undermine the project behind the scenes.  A bad project executed badly is worse than a bad project executed well.
    • If there is no way to stop the train wreck, get out of the way if possible.  
    • Support the project and see if there is a way to make it succeed, perhaps through a change in the plan.
    • If there is another decision point in future, perhaps wait for this point to restate your case, particularly if more is known at that future time.
    • If the results are going to be truly catastrophic (bankruptcy, criminal charges, loss of the corporation's good reputation), you should go to higher authority and state your case professionally
Picture credit: Flickr

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Passing Time Well in Retirement

Over the last two years or so in semi-retirement, I learned a few things about how to spend your time well.  It is a challenge to pass your time favorably when you are not working or going to school 8 to 10 hours a day like you have for the past 55 years of your life.  During those 55 years, your use of time was mainly dictated by others, but now it is up to you to decide what to do and how to make it enjoyable.

I find you need certain things that were perhaps delivered by your previous working or family life:

  • Companionship - you need to spend time with folks you like, including your family and spouse
  • Purpose and fulfillment - getting things done that you feel are valuable
  • Helping - providing assistance to others
  • Physical activity - working out your muscles to stay healthy
  • Mental activity - working out your brain.  I am a believer that you can postpone or eliminate dementia if you keep mentally active.
  • Managing your life, your finances, your home.
Many activities deliver more than one of these characteristics so here is a list that I put together:

ActivityCompanionshipPurposeHelpingPhysical AcitivityMental ActivityManaging
Travelling with your spouse and family*****
Writing a blog****
Volunteering e.g. meals-on-wheels****
Jobs around the house****
Part time consulting***
Starting a new job, career, or business*****
Getting together with friends*
Pursuing a hobby**
Playing a sport e.g. golf**
Taking online courses**
Taking adult education classes**
Taking care of family members******
Reading, using the Internet, educational TV for learning*
Joining a club or organization (hobby, sports, political..)***

The trick of course is to do a variety of things that deliver your right mix.  For me, it has consisted of:
  • Travel
  • Part time work
  • Blogging
  • Hobbies like building radio control quadcopters and computers
  • Getting together with friends
  • Taking courses online, playing golf, and working out
  • Helping out with the family, particularly grandchildren and parents
You may want more companionship or more purpose in life, and that is great, find the activities that deliver those things.

Most of us are going to live long lives in retirement, thanks to medical science, so spending this time well makes sense.  Hope this helps and good luck.