Off to Austin – Seasonal Business Case Study

I will be in Austin, TX for the next 3 weeks to help an ex-coworker with a small business case study on using internet software to manage the violate effects of seasonality. When most people think of Austin they understand it to be sort of a southern Silicon Valley, a technophile’s playground bursting with emerging tech firms that live a rather financially sheltered business lifecycle. Companies don’t have real cash flows, don’t focus on margins, and have unnatural life lines (VC funds) are common. However we are going to be working with and interviewing owners of “real companies” doing “boring stuff”. Spring is a most opportune time to look at seasonality fueled growth. You have three big industries revving their engines: lawn care/landscaping, pool cleaning services, and tax preparation. Austin business owners, even in these industries, are no strangers to innovation and tech-powered scalability. I heard of one pool maintenance company that is working on a wifi-powered pool sensor to push data back to the pool company (via the homeowner’s internet) about the current pH level of the water. This makes scheduling follow-up cleanings and preventative maintenance much more accurately dated. This type of innovation rarely gets the media’s attention. So I am very excited to see what is brewing in these industries. Reading too much tech news online can trick you into thinking you have seen everything. Time to cut back.

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Postal Mail to Email Conversion

I’m planning a 3 week trip to Denmark in March to study some of their architectural works of art and I need to continue checking and responding to my physical mail during this time. After a quick search I see there are plenty of companies that offer to receive and scan your mail for you. Earth Class Mail and Virtual Post Mail have the biggest fan base it seems. Frequent travelers love it and some people are even using the service to dodge sales tax by shipping products through no tax states like Oregon. But I only need it for a short time and after reading this Earth Class Mail review I understood that for small windows of time, it is much more of a hassle than it’s worth due to the inability to forward mail away from the service. The service is only useful if you are fully committed and update all your addresses, but then it’s extremely tedious work to go back. Having one foot in, one foot out, isn’t appealing either.

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Ideas for Street Interviews

I love candid street interviews. When the majority of your time is spent interacting exclusively with information and people within your particular specialty (medicine, engineering, banking, real estate), seeing the “average” person’s response to media related questions can be startling. Because we are always so sure everyone thinks in the same wave we do. Just off the top of my head, these would make great street interview questions. If I had a crew I would love to film these:

1. Who is Edward Snowden? Is he a man of conscience or a traitor?

2. How big is a BitCoin?

3. What is the God particle?

4. Does the NSA know what you ate for lunch?

5. What is a drone?

6. “I don’t own a TV” – Cool? Embarrassing? Normal?

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TSA – Coming to a neighborhood stop sign near you

Conspirators are having a good season. First the Snowden drama unfolded and continues to heap out material that validates many big brother conspiracy theories, then we had the declassification of Area 51, and now something else is getting them talking more about how ubiquitous TSA’s future reach will become. This week the NFL (which as a corporation has zero interest in anything outside of controlling sports content) announced new stadium restrictions for women’s handbags and purses. Going after a women’s private bag seems like an extreme place to begin enhancing your security. Was this an autonomous decision by the NFL or have they been coached or coerced towards this policy? Cue conspiracy theory: The TSA knows in order to continue expanding their invasive policies to other transportation mediums it needs other private organizations to start taking some heat for similar measures. Naturally beloved NFL fans will come alongside the media with pacifying interpretations of the policies, and the TSA will be taking notes. On the brighter side, every new security measure comes with new product opportunities, such as “NFL approved” clear handbags and purses similar to what we saw happen with TSA approved laptop bags. I sure hope female football fans continue to put up whatever fight they can muster to retain more control of their private handbags. It would send a message to the TSA which obviously sees the America public as that little frog sitting in the pot of slowly heating water.

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Home Automation as a Security System?

For a few weeks I have been experimenting with a home automation project. I was inspired by a few youtubes I saw and the tools of tech companies like Savant. For those new to the concept, home automation is basically about giving you deeper levels of control of your home’s power consumption, temperature, appliances, etc. But this part is nothing new. What I am blueprinting is a reasonable way to use home automation as a security alarm for my home. I cringe every time I think about installing an old school style security system from companies like ADT or one of their many local affiliate security companies. Imagine that you are at work and your friends need to pick something up from your house. You pull out your iPad and see him at the door, unlock the door, and then lock it again when he leaves. I am not too far from this and will post some specs in the coming weeks. =)

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The Most Misunderstood Term of 2013

It is really shocking how few people seem know what actually constitutes a Ponzi scheme. Lately journalists are throwing the word around to describe any type of isolated financial phenomenon which they do not trust, and mostly assuredly, do not understand. Why? Perhaps they are attempting to placate to readers who have recently been introduced to the term with the likes of recent high profiles cases such as Bernie Madoff and Zeek Rewards. Or maybe just to sensationalize what is really a more financially academic topic not fit for mainstream press. Either way, it is reason #139 why journalism today is embarrassing and shameful.

Take this recent article on Slate:
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2013/04/bitcoin_is_a_ponzi_scheme_the_internet_currency_will_collapse.html

Now the author obviously learned everything he knows about Bitcoin just a few hours before writing his article. Statements such as “Nakamoto must have realized this because there are not enough bitcoins to substitute for the currencies around the world. The currency can only succeed if it is expanded or supplemented.” reveal he was in a rush to publish something outside of his expertise. He fails to even realize that Bitcoins can be subdivided and transacted with up to 8 decimal places deep. So what do you do as a journalist when you know your thin content not will standup to even the slightest bit of scrutiny? Package it as a flash in the pan article with a provocative headline – “Fool’s Gold: Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme.”

 

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Good things happening in Austin

I want to send out a good word about two Austin companies I know that are doing good things in their local community. Austinites have a local focus and community spirit like none I have witnessed. Maybe Portland is close behind, but Austin is truly bright in this virtue. I consulted with them to help launch a social media campaign highlighting their new local profit sharing initiatives. Good luck guys.

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Troubleshooting your computer from 140 million miles away

http://www.space.com/20034-mars-rover-curiosity-computer-glitch.html

NASA is managing their PR very well here, but internally I’m sure that they are freaking out a bit – “high-energy particles that can cause the memory to be corrupted.” Looks like they need to create the equivalent of RAID drive like you would find in any standard database or web server. Doing that remotely without physical access to “the datacenter” – now that will be quite a feat!

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Long Wait for the First Trillion Dollar Company

This year hedge fund managers and stock analysts alike were calling for $1000 a share on Apple stock, saying it will soon be the world’s first trillion dollar company.  Well the stock is faltering hard and I have not seen much common sense exercised in explaining why.

Apple’s biggest ideas of the year were simply to make one of their products smaller (iPad) and make another one bigger (iPhone). Not exactly the innovative powerhouse we witnessed under Steve Jobs.

In August the company began paying out their first dividends. So now a significant portion of their huge cash hoard is being pumped out to shareholders. This is another move that further nudges the company out of the high-growth-innovators category and into safe blue chip territory.

Blue chip companies don’t double their market cap overnight or in one year, they do it in 5 to 10 years. So let’s stop the $1000 dump beats for now.

 

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NASA “gets it” when it comes to Social Media

I have thoroughly enjoyed following the Curiosity Rover. You get the latest pics and videos long before the news outlets push out the content and there’s no need to scavenge through NASA’s website thinking you might have missed something – it all hits the tweets.

I don’t know who specifically is tweeting (probably multiple people) but they are concise, witty, and hilarious. Here’s a few of my favorites from this month:

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