How much?

There’s plenty of talk about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies these days; from endless banter from people who don’t even understand the basic premises, completely nonsensical information from folks who have no concept of money and finances in general and even some discussions anchored in fact and knowledge. One kind of vital piece of information is impossible to be found though: how much money has been put in BTC and its derivatives? It’s easy to calculate to the total value of all Bitcoins: quantity times price, just like the market cap of a stock, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I want to know how much money all of us together have spent on buying them and that’s not that easy to figure out.

One more thing: please, PLEASE take all these analyses on the web about BTC’s price movement (moving averages, death cross etc etc) with a pallet of salt. The people writing them are using methods that may hold value when applied to stocks representing companies, for predicting the value of something completely different, and that’s asking for trouble. You see, even if investors would lose trust in Ford as a company, its stock would still be worth something, based on, if nothing else, the company’s assets (factories, inventory, cash), but BTC could be worth $0 overnight if something bad enough happens. I’m not exaggerating; its price is 100% dependent on trust. I’m certainly not saying it’s worthless; I believe we have something incredibly valuable here in the long run, but our old methods of analysis can not be blindly carried over.

Endgames

Everybody loves convenience, right? The easy way, the path of least resistance. Amazon is the epitome of making your life require less work, combined with those prices, lower than just about any local store. It’s now resulted in it becoming an ever increasing monster corporation, swallowing up competitors left and right. “But, but, but…those low prices! Those are excellent right?” I hear folks saying. “I’m not gonna spend more than I need to!”

Bezos is now the richest man in the world, and Amazon has taken over Whole Foods, the epitome of classy, high quality supermarkets around here. And guess what’s happening? That smiley you see on your package has started to micro-manage the stores, for example by telling managers they cannot stock shelves meant for a particular out-of-stock product with something else so it doesn’t look like the Soviet Union anno 1985! There are constant checks of procedure and any manager with three write-ups gets let go. You see, when you feed the beast, allow it to grow to astronomical proportions, you can’t stop it anymore.

It’s very interesting in this time of seemingly extra heightened awareness of the “top 1%”, the big power brokers, the illuminati, that so many don’t seem we create those concentrations of power with our own behavior. Just like the guy a few years ago, complaining to me about mega companies, talking about the Occupy movement, whipping out a brand new iPhone! Or my neighbor who lost his USB backup of his music library, who can’t get his music off of his iPhone again, blaming himself for this loss. not the inherently flawed ecosystem he jumps into time and time again without question. Or a whole country that time and time again keeps voting in millionaires and crooks, somehow initially caring more for meaningless appeasement and proclaimed family values than even factual history. Is it really strange that there is corruption among the leaders of a land in which a good majority would do just about anything for more money?

A couple of years ago, the Prime Minister of The Netherlands  (who rode a bike to work by the way, and yes, even in the winter!) told a nation of many complaining about the demise of small local stores in the heart of old cities that they did it to themselves! Are we going to let Amazon destroy our own infrastructure of independence? Our diverse tapestry of mom and pops? Just keep in mind what happens when there’s no more competition! And don’t think for one second those low, low prices are here to stay forever. The classic scheme is to prop up a new business with investors’ capital, lure you in, then up it to whatever the market will bear.

Another interesting example is Facebook; it’s allowed us to “live” if you will in the world without even going anywhere. It brings us stories, pictures of the ones we care about, news that we need to know… or does it? It strikes me as hilarious that people complain when FB doesn’t show their important posts to others, or when it spreads nonsensical fake news. Yet, they keep going back for more! In a logical universe it would have been cast aside a LONG time ago, but somehow it’s still with us. I created an “event” on my page for a gig tonight; after three days it has been shown to 17 people; out of 300+ followers! Of course it’s simply because after being completely free in the beginning, now they want you to PAY to promote your post. But somehow, most musicians here in the city of knuckleheads, have abandoned, or neglected their personal websites; you know, the ones we actually OWN. And why? In my opinion, a good guess is because it’s just too hard to have to go to individual websites to find out where someone is playing. I hear them saying it: “You mean I have to do something? Why would I if my phone just lets me know?”

Finally, I want you to know I’m not just talk. I put my money where my mouth is, as much as I can. Two months ago I wanted to buy a Yamaha P115; Guitar Center, which ironically is the very closest place to my house to buy one had it for $600+tax, about $650, although they would have matched any legitimate price. Online I could have bought it for $550 shipped, brand new from a dealer. Keyboard Concepts, a local small dealer had it for the same price as GC and they got my business.

Galaxy Note 8

Did anybody out there watch Samsung’s presentation of the Note 8 today? I’m betting not very many of you! I’m sure it’s gonna be quite a nice piece of kit, but it’ll set you back $1000. That’s right, as much as a touch screen XPS 13! The event was surely cringe-worthy, as the Korean giant’s have been in the past, but there really isn’t that much innovation here. Bigger screen? Of course, 6.2″ but with a super tall 18.5 to 1 aspect ratio; 6GB of RAM, 64GB of flash, but still with an microSD slot and a regular 1/8″ headphone jack! So did Apple not want you to be able to connect your favorite cans without a dongle? Dual cameras? Of course, what is a phone that can’t blur the background behind that glorious shot of your tasteless gluten-free dinner?

And then there’s Bixby, yet another personal assistant waiting to become your best friend. I must say that Google’s has become better and better and that I hear iPhone users bitch about Siri as much as ever. Cortana is really good too, but how many of them do we need? When it comes to security, Google is head and shoulders above everyone else, and its ecosystem is available from many manufacturers. Tying your world of productivity to one brand is not smart, especially in this time of accelerating change.

All in all, unless you have money to burn, I think it’s not a smart buy, no matter how nice. Other than the S-pen, it offers nothing of consequential difference over a $200 phone. If we look at the screen size for instance, the new “6.3 inch” display is an interesting one: because of the extra tall aspect ratio (18.5:9) it ends up being exactly as wide as the Note 2 (!!!!!) screen, just a little taller. That means that for 16:9 content it will literally have the exact same image size as a 5.5″ phone. That’s right, it might be a better quality display, but my $200 Zenfone from 2 years ago already allowed for that size.

Mostly I don’t understand why one would want to watch videos on a tiny screen anyway; buy a Moto G and a decent 10″ tablet, and you still spend less than half. The idea that spending a lot now and then use it for many years is wise? Who knows what will be available even 2 years from now. Trust me, at that time Samsung, just like Apple, will be doing lots of things to subtly convince you to buy the next BIG THING.

A cookie of your own dough

Here we go again: yet another musicians needs money, had a stroke, crowdfunding started. But wait, didn’t he just buy a brand new Samsung Galaxy S8? More importantly, he has not been shy about supporting Trump, and that means every man for himself right? Safety net? NO: personal responsibility is the Republican mantra, right? On top of that, this guy was always boasting that he didn’t pay taxes, never paid taxes. He couldn’t sign up for the evil Obamacare because he didn’t pay taxes. So, he chose to give a big fuck you to all around him, from my perspective, chose to think only about himself and now he’s fucked. Should there not be a consequence for that?

It’s a very very hard situation; at what point does that kind of mentality and condition become an illness? We can’t hold a crazy person responsible for not fitting in to society, can we? Collectively we’ve created the system, but nobody signed up to live in it. This is exactly why modern humans have designed and created a social safety net. The guy in question  does have some family, but what if you don’t? A compassionate person believes in not letting people become homeless, in my opinion. Even someone like the guy in question, who’s so fat he can barely stand anymore, has not taken care of himself, and has proven to be quite selfish in his view of the world; even though he probably didn’t vote, he’s responsible for helping spread the nonsense about Hillary, in order to promote the Donald he likes, directly resulting in breaking down the relatively small safety net this country has. In a literal translation from on old Dutch saying: he got a cookie of his own dough.

Google Customer Service

For the first however many years, regular folks like you and me were not customers of Google’s; we certainly used their products, Maps, Gmail, Search, but like in any situation where advertising pays the bills, we were the product, lured in by good stuff, which was then sold to the advertisers. More precisely, our ‘attention’ was and is being sold, the chance to put something in our minds, for however short a period of time. Even Android was in effect free for consumers.

These days the Big G actually sells directly to us, from Cloud storage to music and movies, but even cellular service with Project Fi, which I subscribed to almost a year ago. Last Wednesday, my beloved Nexus 5X started acting up: fingerprint reader stopped working and it started rebooting on its own. I tried a factory reset which failed the first time, but completed the second. Once everything was back up it mostly worked, but once in a while would reboot. Clearly, it needed to be replaced and was still under warranty so I started a support chat with Google at 2AM. The customer service rep was quick, asked me about my problems, made sure I had d0ne a full reset (she knew what she was talking about!) and did not make me repeat all the steps because it’s on the script (!*&!*&*@&), and then told me a replacement would be shipped out Fedex NextDay at no cost to me! “You deserve a working device” was the line she used. This morning, less than 36 hours after initiating the chat, I got it! It said refurbished, but this is a brand new looking Nexus 5X!

So there it is: as good an experience as one can expect, with a carrier that’s perhaps the most inexpensive of all by the way! My monthly bill has gone from $70 with T-Mobile (albeit with more data) to $35 or $40, with better reception, a free second Data SIM for my backup phone, ability to text, call and check voicemail from my computer or any browser for that matter. Plus, I can now call my friends in Holland on their cell phones for 4 cents a minute, from my mobile! I can make calls from just about anywhere in the world for 20 cents a minute, texting from and to anywhere is free. That’s right, I can be in Ukraine texting someone in South Africa for free.

About that second free SIM card: I have it in my Honor 5X, an inexpensive Huawei (I paid $170, 5.5″ screen, 2GB RAM, uSD slot) with dual SIM capabilities that I use to hold my old landline number that I ported to H2O wireless on a $9 every 3 months plan (that’s right, I can keep my number for $36 per year). It means that I can tap into the same $10/GB supply on my Project Fi account to keep that phone online, and since Hangouts doesn’t care which device it’s on, texts and voicemails to my main number show up on the Huawei as well! In this case I was still able to use my Nexus, but if I ever lost it or it would stop working altogether, I’d never be without being reachable on my main phone number, or without the ability to use maps, airline apps etc. etc. It’s simply brilliant!

Trumpcare

And there it was: the first concrete example of what a Trump government would like to implement as a replacement for the ACA. And, unfortunately, it’s just about as bad as was predicted. Gone is the individual mandate, subsidies are not done away with completely I guess, but are replaced by what is effectively a tax cut for households making over $250k per year. Of course it came with no estimation of its effect on the nation whatsoever! People in the know are saying it would means millions will lose coverage, and that elderly and the poor will pay for a nice bump in the wallets of the well-off. It goes against everything the Donald has promised, apparently without him even noticing as he has described it as great.

Fresh of the press, all the details haven’t been completely analyzed, but it does look like even the way preexisting conditions are handled will change in a somewhat sneaky way. Insurers still won’t be able to turn anyone down based on their existence, but they might be able to offer different levels and types of coverage, leading back to the situation we had before in which some plans were nothing more than disaster coverage, not the type of healthcare system a modern nation should have. Of course Planned Parenthood will be defunded, and the list goes on.

To all of you out there urging others to “give Trump a chance!”: what will it take for you to see he’s not going to do as he says? Do you realize exactly what kind of government you’re supporting here? Donald is an alpha male, no doubt about it, but compared to the established system he’s nothing, and whatever amount of money he has, whatever amount of success he’s had, it means squat. He will have to play along with the GOP or risk complete chaos, which might be a result we do get by the way. Unfortunately for his fans, he’s simply not smart enough to effectively use the power he does have, in my opinion. He’s being used by the GOP establishment on the one side and Bannon and Co. on the other. Crazy times….

What is the Donald doing?

There was surprising

ly little prediction of what he would do, but now that Trump has been the boss for a few weeks, let’s see what he has done or has started to do. First and foremost, he has not drained the swamp: his cabinet consists of multiple former Goldman-Sachs execs, multiple Generals (although we did lose one…), and various other very established Republicans. There are a couple of outliers, non-native species to the swamp if you will, most notably Bannon. In my opinion, it would be easy to underestimate his importance in this ensemble, but how much he and the Donald can withstand the establishment remains to be seen.

Secondly, he has found out that fixing Obamacare is not that simple, if not in the least because it has many great features and has increased the number of insured in the US greatly. We have found out that there were many voters who didn’t realize that Obamacare is the ACA, and that their opposition was merely induced by rhetoric from opponents of the legislation, endless propaganda denouncing it. Republicans voted time and time again, for 8 years, to repeal the ACA; supposedly they could come up with something better, especially because it was so incredibly awful. So where is the replacement plan? I think it has become clear that what they intended to do, will not fly with Trump! In this case I do believe he will demand something that is not regressive and be on the side of the people. Whether he’s strong enough to see this fight to the end is anyone’s guess. With the limited proposals we do have on the table, if for whatever reason Donald is gone, a Pence White House would be swift in implementing them, cutting Medicaid, giving Tax Credits based on age alone which equals tax cuts for the rich etc. etc.

Thirdly, those things he said about deporting illegals? He meant them! He’s certainly been examining the limits of his power, and with Bannon by his side, he will continue to do so. I’m sure there will be some wall-building in the future, but it’s so unrealistic to truly close off the border that a business man like him would never blow that much dough on something as useless. In my opinion, removing illegals in the way he wants to do, and especially to the extent Bannon and others want, is not smart for various reasons. First of, I don’t believe there is even a net negative contribution; many of them pay income taxes anyway, they certainly buy food, clothes, TVs, cars, even houses in many places. I don’t care what anybody says, removing even 10 million people from an economy with 320 million will cause a recession. Of course in the long run it could be beneficial, but I believe most illegals here are simple hard working folks; if you believe in natural selection, you could argue they’re some of the stronger ones, they made it here, and kept themselves alive.  Removing the criminal ones is something that’s always happened! Obama deported quite a few as a matter of fact. The danger with rounding folks up, holding workplace raids and checkpoints, and most importantly forcing local police to enforce immigration status is creating an atmosphere of fear, and fear leads to escalation and violence.

Fourthly: regulations, regulations, regulations! Trump railed against them during his campaign, although he did show a few moments of clarity in which he called some of them beneficial. He most certainly put a man, who wanted to dismantle the agency,  in charge of the EPA! He just signed an executive order to overturn Obama’s “horrible clean water rules“. As a side note, how someone who identifies as a “Conservative” can be against protecting the environment is just as baffling as someone identifying as “Pro Life” being vigorously in favor of the death penalty, but I digress. So far we’ve seen very little from Trump to lead us to believe he will be against the typical Republican agenda: removal of barriers for business, with less regard to long term effects.

Lastly, in international relations we’ve seen a president who ignores conventions, or perhaps isn’t informed. It’s too early to tell how this will pan out, but fact is that respect for the US has tanked, compared to when Obama was in charge. The uncertainty has increased fear, and Trump’s macho BS, and typical Alpha Male behavior is seen as a problem. So far we haven’t seen any escalation in this world but I don’t feel it’s become more stable.

One more thing, what’s most disturbing is the divide within the American people. When one side now points out the great chasm Trump is creating, the other says it was already there, and that Obama was the one who started it! it’s a real problem though and one that needs to be resolved if we want to have a good place to live. There is clearly a large part of the population who felt ridiculed by the elite; mindless jobs at big corporations are in interesting clue in this situation. It’s a subject for another time….

E-verify

Riddle me this: why oh why does the US not fully implement its E-verify program? Why aren’t employers punished for knowingly or ignorantly hiring illegals? I mean, every US citizen has a Social Security number and with today’s technology, implementing a fairly reliable system of determining someone’s legal status should be trivial.

Answer: because Republicans don’t WANT to stop the influx of cheap labor! Nothing puts more money in the pockets of the bosses than a workforce that is afraid to speak up for fear of deportation! Come on already, it’s so damn obvious. In the few instances in which stemming the flow was tried, business suffered. In addition, the basic mantra has been to grow the economy and top Republicans know that the net effect of illegal immigration is actually positive. The little money they do get gets put right back into the system, paying rent, buying food and TVs. So, who the hell actually thinks any of the politicians that Trump is installing in his cabinet actually want to build that secure border?

Sock Puppet

Read an interesting article in De Volkrant today about Trump, who live-tweeted in response to Anderson Cooper’s show. He’s always bragged about only sleeping 4 hours a day, and his middle-of-the-night tweetathons are proof. Most would agree that that’s not a sufficient amount for a person holding a high office, but more importantly, it is not supportive of a solid attention span. The Washington Post recently reported that he has been “turning away intelligence briefers since election win”. He makes plenty of time to scrutinize what reporters say about him on many a show, but not for becoming informed about matters important to his upcoming job; you know, the one he’s less qualified to do than perhaps any of his predecessors. It does make perfect sense in light of the cabinet he’s surrounding himself with: these are folks who know how the country is run. Would it be premature to assume that by and large, the US will be run exactly by the playbook of the Republican party? Is it really that simple?

As I got in my rental car this afternoon, and drove through literally the first street west to the one I live on, I saw a house plastered with Trump/Pence signs. This is on a road where multiple people live who do not want my kind to park on their street, putting notes on cars etc. When I had it out with one once, I tried to explain that it is a public street, that anyone can park a car there for up to 72 hours, that I lived in the neighborhood! I was told: “You don’t live here! You’re a RENTER!”  As we say in Holland: there comes the monkey out of the sleeve! I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 13 years, always paid my rent on time, helped out the neighbors, spend my money, some of it from far away brought to this place; but the ones who own these parts, do not consider me a part of their community.

But I digress…..to me it looks more and more like Trump will be just like Bush, jr: a figurehead, albeit one who has a lot more opinions. He’s already rolled back many of his big promises; in the end it’ll be the people in the background running the show, just like Cheney and Rumsfeld did. That does mean that there will be no huge chances, although we will see an increase in the surveillance apparatus and law and order most likely. At the same time, I think even Republicans now see that we can’t keep putting more people in jail; at some point it becomes fiscally impossible. Donald’s administration will inherit a stable, growing economy, perhaps about to really take off if we look at the latest number. If we get enough growth it’ll mask the increasing income inequality gap. Maybe Trump will latch onto at least one good thing like a living wage for all, and like the pitbull that he is, not let go. We can dream, can’t we?

Of strength and vulnerability

All this renewed talk about the ‘alt-right’ and fascism has had me thinking about strength and where it is found in this universe. The biggest fallacy of Nazis and the like is that a genetically pure people is a strong people, and that just doesn’t mesh with the way the universe works. Just look at the difference between pure-bred dogs and mutts: genetic diseases are more common in the former. Similarly, in the world of finance, the most robust investment portfolio is a diversified one. We don’t have the saying “Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket” for nothing, do we? In my opinion it resonates in just about all situations and I have made redundancy one of my main objectives regarding everything that matters: I’d rather have 2 computers than one, even if that means getting less fancy ones perhaps, I have accounts with multiple banks, bought 2 of just about everything that my life depends on. What it means is that half the stuff I own could get stolen and I would hardly be affected! The peace of mind that comes from that position, especially put against the increasing fear I see in others concerning the possessions, is truly priceless. What’s strange is how few people seem to understand it at all…..

Looking forward, digital security and strength is becoming more and more important. In my opinion, trusting one company with your entire digital life is beyond foolish, especially in such a fast-changing world. We’re seeing more and more hacking of digital systems and it’s probably only a matter of time before a major bank will have its systems so compromised that it will become inoperable, at least temporarily. Think about that for a moment, if your checking account is unusable, what does that mean for your day to day life? Do you really want to be late on your mortgage due to no fault of your own? It might sound dramatic, but really we have no way of predicting what’s gonna happen. What we do know is that as everything gets more and more connected, bigger and bigger damage could be inflicted by smaller and smaller groups of people. Just this last weekend hackers broke into a California transit system and allowed everyone to travel for free, demanding a ransom to undo the hack. In this case the IT department was able to fix the system, but in others, notably a hospital here, huge ransoms have been paid. The bottom line is we don’t even know how vulnerable we are! As we move away from cash, multiple credit cards, and even a couple of checking accounts, in SEPARATE banks are the best hedge.

Another example is cellphones! We’ve all seen how people freak out at even just the thought of losing their iPhone or Galaxy; it’s about the $800 they paid for it, but also at the thought of being unable to communicate. Project Fi is just awesome in that regard, as they will give you a second data-only SIM for free, you just pay for the data you actually use. It’s allowed me to get a secondary phone, a Honor 5X I picked up for $170 BTW, which has my business number in it and a slot for a second SIM! Now I can get my texts, voice-mail and data access from my main account on a second device. I can even make and receive calls from my main number on it through Hangouts. Losing two phones is so much more unlikely than losing just one, isn’t it? Result: peace of mind.

The final example I want to bring up is food. Imagine a world in which every single person ate rice from the same patty; and now imagine there’s some kind of deadly contamination of said patty. You get the idea, everybody would die! Diversification is especially important when it comes to nourishment, on ALL levels. When you think about nutrition, the most effective way to make sure you get all the various nutrients you need is to eat a wildly diverse diet. Conversely, the best way to make sure you get deficient in something is to limit your diet to a few sources. We live in times where we have access to more different foods than ever before; for goodness’ sake, ENJOY IT! Because not only is a varied diet the healthiest, it’s the most exciting and interesting, isn’t it? It pains me when I see so many around here, the capital of eating disorders, consuming nothing but salads and chicken breast, while under the impression that they’re being ‘healthy’. And yes, even McDonald’s can be part of a healthy diet.