Archive for August, 2009

Lazy Man and Money got me thinking when he wrote a post about hiring a virtual assistant and although I already outsource a great deal, I still have quite a few projects on my to do list that I really wanted to move forward on this year.   So I began my journey to complete a personal project that’s been on my ‘to do’ list for quite a long time and I hired a person on E-lance to do the work.

I wasn’t sure how much the project would cost and when I posted the job I got bids ranging from $50 to $300 for the project.  At first I thought it would be harder to actually find the person to do the work than doing the actual work since I got so many bids but I quickly settled on a median price for the project (around $100).

What did I learn from the experience?   Trust is a very difficult thing to do over anonymous online outsourcing job portals.   I quickly realized during the project that there were so many possible legal issues that could come up that I wasn’t sure if the work would ever get completed.     The key problem with e-lance is not knowing what ulterior motives any of the workers on the job board might have when conducting business online.

For example, let’s say I hire someone to write some code for my website.  How do I know that it is their unique code and didn’t steal….err… borrow from someone else?   How do I protect myself, legally, if it turns out the person I hired grabbed some code online and then sold it as his own?   Elance doesn’t seem to offer any indemnification or legal forms  to address this issue.   How do I know that the person who sold me the code won’t come back and threaten to sue me if I hit on a multi-million dollar idea with the code he/she wrote?  What if the code works fine for a while then breaks with an upgrade?  Can I still find the original coder?   What if it means losing tens of thousands in sales while the code is broken?

I quickly learned a lesson that if you plan on using anything that is developed/created on e-lance, you need to make sure you have the appropriate legal protections in place to avoid headaches down the line.

I’ll probably continue to use e-lance but only on a very limited basis and that’s too bad because I was ultimately very happy with the work and results but the risk is too great.   Hey, E-lance, can you add some risk management perspective to your business model?  Do that and I’ll be doing a whole lot more business with you!

Wow!  The person I left in charge three companies ago just let me know that he got sacked!  It’s a shocker and I’m totally dumbfounded by it.   In a way, I’m shocked and in another way I’m not; the guy put in his dues and worked diligently for over a decade to get to the executive position he was in and he was a subordinate of mine that got promoted when I left.

I did my absolute best to try to train, mentor and teach him the ins and outs of quasi-executive life and he survived for a full two years but the economic toll has claimed him and he was told he had to go.   I’m not too shocked because I was sacked myself and I thought of myself as relatively invincible as I always brought value to the various organizations but that just doesn’t matter any more.   Too many companies are on the verge of insolvency, bankruptcy or cash flow crunches that “slash and burn” has become the norm.    Ironically, my wife and I just talked about the fact that whether I had stayed there or moved on I was bound to be laid off this year no matter what!

I’m really bummed by the whole thing and I hope he finds something soon but it’s not going to be pretty, six figure jobs are hard to come by these days.

During my six month hiatus I worked exclusively on my mac and I didn’t have a single crash or problem with the OS; I had a very happy computing experience. Flash forward to my new job with a brand new dell with Windows XP and I’ve already experienced:

1. a repeated blue screen of death upon boot up of my computer caused by who knows what.

2. a sluggish computer which periodically displays an hour glass for minutes on end for no apparent reason.

3. a horrible web browser – the company standard is IE6 and it sucks!

4. primitive tools for finding files on my computer.

But my frustration doesn’t stop there because Microsoft has wrapped it’s tentacles around my University.  The school uses Blackboard for online courses and guess what…’s not compatible with Mac for some odd reason…hmm…..I wonder why.   Fortunately someone tuned me to the fact that I could install a User Agent on my browser and make Blackboard think I’m using IE6 and lo and behold it worked fine!  So yeah it works fine but not without getting a bitching prompt saying that it’s not really sure I’m on Windows with a windows browser but it’ll let me do it anyway!

So there is no real reason why Blackboard shouldn’t work with a Mac other than Microsoft is a real a**hole.

Well I’m in the process of ordering books for my MBA classes and one thing that hasn’t changed since the last time I was in college it is the ridiculous cost of college text books.   What really gets my blood boiling is the incessant distribution of new editions when there is hardly anything new in edition x than from edition x-1.

I have a proposal to solve this problem, the government should mandate that publishers should release a digest between editions that encompass all the changes from edition x to edition x+1.   By doing this we’ll get the full benefit of recycling older additions while minimizing the publishing costs of reprinting a full book where the only difference is the color of the book and a couple of paragraphs of content.

Like the movie and music industry, the book publishers have to know what they have coming to them by now if they don’t change – massive book pirating when books go mostly digital.   From my orientation, the professors stated that most students were using electronic editions of the books and yet the costs haven’t come down…hmmm….why is that?  Publishers used to claim that publishing costs kept growing ever year as inflation eroded their profits because of the high cost of ink, paper, and labor to print, bind and distribute books but a funny thing happened on the way to the publishing shop…it became obsolete!

So what’s the excuse now book publishers?  Electron transfers inside a copper wire are crippling your profitability?

I understand capitalism and free markets but I don’t understand unsatisfiable greed when it comes to college text books.  It’s all about expanding people’s knowledge morons!   I don’t know the real statistics but I’ll venture to guess that an educated person is about 50% less likely to commit crime or at least violent crime.   An educated society is better than an uneducated society and all you need to do is look no further than any fourth world country where there is 90% illiteracy to understand the truth to this statement.

In the near future, just like the health care crisis we face today, we’ll have a college cost crisis and I can already here the pointless bickering between the red and the blue as fewer and fewer people have access to education.   Hey maybe the health insurance industry can sell “college book insurance” policies instead once they get the boot from Obama but then again Obama II might institute “start of college life counseling” which would be so controversial it would be stripped from the bill…ignorant college students are fairly profitable after all.

As some of you know, I’ve returned to school to complete an MBA and this week I went to my orientation for new students.   While it was mainly a boring orientation, I did notice some interesting changes to the university processes since the last time I was in college many many years ago.

First, the university has sold out to banks as the new student ID is now nothing more than a bank debit card.  I was perplexed by this at first because I thought the card was a simple vehicle to distribute funds but the card itself is THE student ID to be used throughout the school.  I found it odd and ironic that your identity (as defined by the university) is a debit card that houses your financial aid.

Although students have a few options for their financial aid packages there was a hard push to get your financial aid refunds (loans, grants, etc) put in an account linked to your card.   I chose to have my financial aid ACH’d to my personal bank accounts and rolled my eyes at the audacity of the university selling out to banks.

I’m doing the math in my head and I’m thinking: 2,000,000 students x $30,000 (avg financial aid) = $60 billion in cash.   I guess this is one way to recapitalize banks, take student’s financial aid, keep it tethered to a debit card, and through the magic of fractional reserve banking, lend out the rest to make money!

Secondly, while there were supplemental health insurance plans back in my day, there was a hard push and sales pitch to sell health insurance policies to students.   Ironically, there were so many disclaimers and warnings about limitations that the policy looked pretty worthless and sadly international students are REQUIRED to buy the policy!

Lastly, the staff doing the orientation kept referring to “FREE” things like “Free libraries”, “Free Tutoring”, “Free Internet Wifi”, and a variety of other “free” services but I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut and asked that if they were truly “free” when a few surprised academics finally relented and said “you’ve already paid for these services through the student use fees”  and that seemed to make it sound just a bit less valuable.

I don’t know what it is about bums that frequently make them come up to me asking for money or food or something else.   A few days ago I walked into a gas station to buy a lottery ticket (no I didn’t win) and as I queued for service a bum stood behind me and asked me if I had any work for him.    I told him I didn’t have any work and he stated that he hadn’t been able to find the usual handyman type work this person does for several weeks.

He said he got so desperate that he created a sign which read, “Will work for food, haven’t eaten!”

I told him that I had been recently laid off and that I just recently got a new job so I understood his situation.     He then showed me how much money he had earned the whole day with his little sign: $1.74.     He asked me if I had any money I could give him but then I looked at what he was holding in his hand.  Can any of you guess what this gentleman had in his hand?

Well he was holding a tall boy beer and he now had enough cash to buy one;  I got the sense that he spends a great deal of time with alcohol perhaps to drown his unemployment problems or perhaps his unemployment problems are caused by his alcohol.    I told him to enjoy his beer and left after getting my lottery ticket.    I think that tall boy has about 800 calories so he should be fine for the day.

At home, I have a very basic landline that I keep around for use with my monitored home alarm system and I occasionally get calls on that line but most people call my cell phone.   Lately, we’ve missed a few calls to our landline phone and considered adding back some services such as Caller ID but the steep price of $7/month to simply know who called you was ridiculous so we left it at that and didn’t have Caller ID.

Flash forward when I recently signed up for Google voice and discovered that I could forward all calls to this number to my home number and guess what, the Google Voice App has FREE caller ID.   Even better is fact that I get FREE voicemail, FREE call blocking, and a variety of other features that blow my AT&T land line away because it’s FREE!   I can create custom greetings based on incoming number, block spammers and get transcripts of my voicemail!

If you don’t have a google voice line yet, I encourage you to consider looking into it.  I’m currently mapping out how to utilize the full power of Google voice and I’ll follow up later….

Check it out here….

Sometimes I wonder why people can’t do basic math and figure these things out for themselves.  You don’t need to understand fancy calculus to figure this out just basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.   You don’t need to read economic reports, understand economic theories or models to get down to some basic realizations about what is going to happen over the next decade.

By Tommy Stevenson Associate Editor

Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 1:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 2:07 p.m.

TUSCALOOSA | Social Security could face a deficit within two years, according to U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus who met with The Tuscaloosa News editorial board Tuesday.

“What this recession has done to Social Security is pretty alarming,” he said. “We’ve known for 15 years that we were going to have to make adjustments to Social Security, but we still thought that was seven or eight years down the road. But if things don’t improve very quickly, we’re going to be dealing with that problem before we know it.”

I’ve been exploring this problem for the last three years (here, here and here) and no one has yet to even attempt to offer a solution other than “things always bounce back” but that just doesn’t play in Peoria anymore.

Let the good times roll……I just got approved for a student loan for my MBA program and I couldn’t be more excited!  What should I do with the money?  Pay off mortgage?  Pay off the remaining car note?  Buy that new Big Screen TV?   The possibilities are endless!

Student loan money is the best arbitrage money these days as the loans are typically fixed at 6% or so and there isn’t a credit card company in the world that can compete with that since most are arbitrarily raising fees and APR on even their best customers!

I’m only borrowing 15k so it’s nothing to get truly excited about but still, 15k at 6% is a pretty sweet deal as the interest will be (hopefully) tax deductible.   I’ll also add that I’m expecting inflation to sky rocket over the course of this loan(s) over the next few years so the debt will likely be inflated away.

Right now is the perfect time to reposition your cash flows and my balance sheet just got a whole lot better!

If you’re stuck in an overpriced home with an overloaded mortgage, you better walk away now before your neighborhood turns into a public housing project.  As I predicted back in December 2007, the Obama administration is planning on converting foreclosed homes into public housing for the poor and needy.

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration, in a major shift on housing policy, is abandoning George W. Bush’s vision of creating an “ownership society’’ and instead plans to pump $4.25 billion of economic stimulus money into creating tens of thousands of federally subsidized rental units in American cities.
The idea is to pay for the construction of low-rise rental apartment buildings and town houses, as well as the purchase of foreclosed homes that can be refurbished and rented to low- and moderate-income families at affordable rates.
Gee, I wonder what this plan will do for home values in surrounding neighborhoods to have a public housing project smack near your home.    At this point, might as well have the government buy up these homes and save them for the next hurricane systems.   All the government needs to do is bus people from the gulf coast to Nevada, California and Florida; no need to spend $70,000 on trailers.