10.30.2014

On Tim Cook's "I’m proud to be gay" announcement

Tim Cook Speaks Up
Excerpt:


Throughout my professional life, I’ve tried to maintain a basic level of privacy. I come from humble roots, and I don’t seek to draw attention to myself. Apple is already one of the most closely watched companies in the world, and I like keeping the focus on our products and the incredible things our customers achieve with them. At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today. For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky. While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.
Comments:
  • I "came out" when Anderson Cooper did. I announced I was heterosexual! 
  • We live in a pluralistic society where people are able to freely make lifestyle choices. I'm cool with that
  • As a Christian I believe that choices have consequences because ultimately all of us will stand before God. I chose to get married and live in a monogamous committed relationship. 
  • Tim Cook's announcement won't impact my view of Apple or its products. I am both an investor and a consumer. 

10.28.2014

Apple Pay - The Way Forward for Secure and Easy Payments

Apple Pay Review: Easy to Use, but Still Hard to Find

Excerpt:

To set up Apple Pay on an iPhone 6, tap the plus sign in the included Passbook app. You only have to do this once: The app will prompt you to add one of your existing credit cards by typing in its digits or snapping a photo. Apple Pay works with most existing major credit and debit cards, which you can add to your phone in a matter of minutes. The exceptions are cards from some smaller banks, store-branded cards and corporate cards. At the store, look for an Apple Pay logo, or more likely the universal contactless payment logo—a sideways Wi-Fi symbol with a hand approaching it. Once you’re rung up, hold your iPhone near the credit-card terminal. You don’t have to tap or swipe—the connection happens over a wireless system called near-field communication, or NFC. When your iPhone gets close enough, an image of your credit cards appears on its screen, even if the phone is asleep or you’re playing “ Candy Crush Saga . ” If you’re ready to pay, lightly put your finger on the Touch ID sensor to approve it. If you want to pick a card other than your designated default card, just tap one, then do the finger scan. Nobody else’s finger will work unless you’ve registered that person’s print on your phone. (I tried.) At most stores, that’s it—you’re done. A few might ask you to sign a receipt or punch in your debit card’s PIN. In my tests, only one sales clerk got confused, and we figured it out together. Contrast that with an experience I had earlier this year with the competing PayPal app while heading to lunch with colleagues. PayPal had hired people to stand in front of the restaurant, telling people they’d get $5 off if they paid with its app. But doing that required downloading the app, remembering your PayPal password, finding the restaurant in the app then tapping to pay there. Most of my friends decided they’d rather forgo $5 than pay by phone. Google Wallet and Softcard, a joint effort of AT&T , T-Mobile and Verizon that work on some NFC-equipped Android phones, aren’t much better. Both require you to unlock your phone and type a code into an app. That¹s too many steps to be convenient.
How to Try Apple Pay Today—and Where to Use It 

Comments: I don't shop enough to need it. I'm sure that my next IPhone will be an Apple Pay enabled devices - but that is several years away.  

Check Fraud Ring: Meat Salesman, Bank Manager, Recruiters, Runners, and Check Manufacturers

Bank manager, teller among 28 charged in massive check fraud, says U.S. attorney in Minneapolis Excerpt:

The conspirators included the branch manager of a TCF Bank in Crystal, a teller at another local bank, a door-to-door meat salesman, and three men who used portable machines to crank out about 1,500 counterfeit checks. Together, along with more than 20 others, they conducted a massive bank fraud operation, stealing or attempting to steal some $2 million from 48 banks and check-cashing offices in Minnesota, Georgia, Oregon, Florida and North Dakota. U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announced at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon the federal indictment of 25 people, and federal criminal charges against three others, in connection with the scheme that started in and continued until September of last year. Some of those arrested made first court appearances an hour before the news conference. About 75 federal, state and local law enforcement officers from 12 agencies were involved in the investigation under the auspices of the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force, which is coordinated out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis. The task forced traced what appeared to be individual unrelated counterfeit checks passed at an array of banks back to “a large network of individuals engaging in identity theft, bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering,” according to a search warrant filed by Ryan Arnold, a special agent with the Secret Service who was assigned to the task force. The search warrant describes extensive surveillance of the criminal enterprise, including individuals going in and out of banks to cash fake checks. Authorities attached GPS devices to several vehicles to track the operatives. One of the people whose identity was stolen was a young woman who posted her photo on Instagram tagged #myfirstpaycheck, where people post pictures of themselves and their first paychecks. The criminal enterprise took information from the photo to create counterfeit checks. Another man, Timothy Tilmam, went door-to-door selling meat. When people wrote him checks for the meat, Tilman passed the identification information on the checks to individuals who the created phony checks that were cashed at banks. The enterprise was divided into three categories of criminals, which included three individuals who manufactured the checks, and 12 “recruiters” who found seven “runners” who went into bank offices to cash the checks, or deposit them into new accounts they created in their own names. In addition, there were two bank employees and the meat salesman.
Comment: Interesting to me because: I'm in banking, it's local, it's complex, and I can't believe they thought they could get away with it.

Baseball was a better game when the games were shorter - or why it's hard to watch anymore



Why no one cares about the World Series anymore
Excerpt:


This year’s World Series has great characters and storylines. So why are so few Americans captivated by the drama? The dynamic, too-young-to-worry Royals that brought Kansas City its first pennant since 1985 and the colorful, resourceful San Francisco Giants back to their third Series in five years have split the first two games. Yet the ratings for Fox’s game one broadcast were the lowest for a Series opener since the Fall Classic was first televised in 1947, continuing a steady, decade-long slide in the television audience for postseason baseball. Have Americans, in their 21st century over-stimulated haste, at last lost their patience for the leisurely pace of the game? “It has now become widely acknowledged,” says Yahoo Finance contributor Henry Blodget in the attached video, “that even Major League Baseball is starting to recognize just the pace of the game takes forever.” While he notes that some game-hastening rules are being tested in the minor leagues, in the majors long breaks, tedious pitcher rituals and TV cutaways cause games to drag. This year the typical game in the majors this season exceeded three hours, the longest average duration ever. Three decades ago, games were almost a half-hour shorter. MLB, an otherwise thriving industry in terms of attendance and revenues, understands this problem and its newly elected Commissioner Rob Manfred has assigned a committee to figure out ways to quicken the pace of play.
Comment: Contrast the 1967 and 2013 World Series times.



My own family: My wife will watch a football game with me. We stayed up and watched Monday night football as it went into overtime last night.

Quantitative Easing - No Losers?



How well did the Fed's stimulus work? A look back at Fed's QE: Critics warned of disaster, but most economists say program worked

Excerpt:

Soaring inflation. A collapsing dollar. Bubbles in financial markets that would soon pop. One presidential candidate even suggested that the Federal Reserve chairman should be roughed up. Over the past five years, as the Fed has pumped ever-more money into the financial system, critics have warned that it would lead to all kinds of disasters. Yet the central bank kept extending its bond-buying program, known by the wonky name of quantitative easing, or QE. It was an unprecedented effort aimed at lowering borrowing costs, encouraging spending and reviving a dormant economy before it could slip back into recession. Now, $4 trillion later, QE is drawing to a close, so the question is: Did it work? Economists have plenty of quibbles, but many agree that the Fed accomplished the bulk of its goals. ... Here's what has actually happened since Bernanke made the case for the Fed's expanded effort in August 2010:
  • The unemployment rate has fallen to 5.9 percent, the lowest level since July 2008. Back in August 2010, it was 9.6 percent.
  • The stock market has soared. The Standard & Poor's 500 index has returned 101 percent, powered by a stronger economy, higher spending and record corporate profits.
  • The dollar has held up against most major currencies. One widely used measure, the dollar index, is 3 percent higher.
  • Inflation has remained tame, despite all the warnings. Over the past year, overall prices have climbed a modest 1.7 percent, still below the 2 percent annual increase that the Fed targets.
Comment: For another article that addresses QE and the stock market see this link. Here's my take and the winners:
  • The investor and
  • Most of them are the wealthy
On the losers:
  • Frankly I was a naysayer on Quantitative Easying.
  • My hypothesis is that the middle class and the lower class are the QE losers. You cannot just pump that much $$ into the system without some negative consequences. Because it has not been observed yet does not mean it will not occur. 

10.26.2014

Ebola, Quarantines, and Constitutional Rights



NY, NJ order Ebola quarantine for doctors, others
Excerpt:


Alarmed by the case of an Ebola-infected New York doctor, the governors of New Jersey and New York on Friday ordered a mandatory, 21-day quarantine of all medical workers and other arriving airline passengers who have had contact with victims of the deadly disease in West Africa. The first person to fall under the order was a health care worker returning Friday from treating Ebola patients in West Africa. By Friday evening, she had developed a fever and was being evaluated, New Jersey officials said.
Nurse Detained in New Jersey for Ebola Calls Conditions ‘Really Inhumane’ - Kaci Hickox to Challenge Quarantine; Still Shows No Ebola Symptoms Excerpt:


The nurse detained in New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone has retained lawyers to challenge a mandatory quarantine in a hospital where she said Sunday the conditions are “really inhumane.” Norman Siegel, a prominent civil rights attorney in New York City, said he planned to file a lawsuit to lift the order keeping Kaci Hickox, a 33-year-old Doctors Without Borders nurse, under quarantine.
Christie Defends Mandatory Ebola Quarantine for Health-Care Workers Excerpt:


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Sunday stood by a decision to impose a mandatory 21-day quarantine for health-care workers returning from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, while a top health-care official said the move wasn’t justified by science. New Jersey is one of four states that have instituted quarantines for travelers who have had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa—measures that go beyond enhanced protocols the federal government has endorsed. “I absolutely have no second thoughts about it,” Mr. Christie said on Fox News Sunday.
Comment: Interesting. I agree with the decision to quarantine. Image source




10.23.2014

9 States that will Determine the next US Senate




Wall Street Journal graphic

Comments: Watch these 9 races. Sadly the MN Senate seat does not look close.

The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets: Sunday .... 57 days before travel



The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets

Excerpt:


The lower Sunday and Saturday prices also result from the ability social media has given airlines to throw discounts in front of consumers at any time. That turns vacation shoppers surfing the Web on weekends into ticketed passengers without discounting tickets business travelers might buy while at work. And the findings reflect the lack of corporate sales over the weekend, since business travelers typically fly on more expensive tickets than vacation buyers.
Comment: Image source.  (Nice retro ticket)


10.18.2014

Ebola: World "in the eye of a storm" ... "disaster of our generation"



Ebola is 'disaster of our generation' says aid agency

Excerpt:

Aid agency Oxfam on Saturday said Ebola could become the "definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation", as US President Barack Obama urged against "hysteria" in the face of the growing crisis. Oxfam, which works in the two worst-hit countries -- Liberia and Sierra Leone -- called for more troops, funding and medical staff to be sent to tackle the west African epicentre of the epidemic. Chief executive Mark Goldring warned that the world was "in the eye of a storm". "We cannot allow Ebola to immobilise us in fear, but... countries that have failed to commit troops, doctors and enough funding are in danger of costing lives," he said. The worst-ever outbreak of the deadly virus has so far killed more than 4,500 people, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but isolated cases have now begun to appear in Europe and the United States. "The Ebola crisis could become the definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation," a spokesperson for the British-based charity said as it appealed for EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday to do more.
Comment: Image source

Ebola's "super-spreader" event infected 14 women at a funeral



Outbreak in Sierra Leone Is Tied to Single Funeral Where 14 Women Were Infected

Excerpt:

Sierra Leone’s explosion of Ebola cases in early summer appears to stem from one traditional healer’s funeral at which 14 women were infected, according to scientists studying the blood of victims. The funeral, which took place in mid-May, constitutes a “super-spreader” event comparable to one in 2003 in a Hong Kong hotel in which one doctor from China dying of SARS infected nine other guests who spread the virus throughout the city and to Vietnam and Canada. The funeral was in Koindu, a diamond-mining town across the border from Guéckédou in Guinea, where the outbreak is thought to have begun in December, and the healer was known for treating victims of a mysterious illness that turned out to be Ebola. The funeral’s central role, which local doctors had anecdotally suspected, was confirmed by geneticists at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard who sequenced the virus found in 78 patients treated at Kenema Government Hospital in northeastern Sierra Leone, near the borders with Liberia and Guinea, two countries that are also at the heart of the outbreak.  ... “It’s frightening that a single event could catalyze a whole outbreak, but that’s what it looks like happened,” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a renowned virus hunter at Columbia University, who called the study “a really nice piece of work.” The scientists not only found that all 78 had virus traceable to funeral guests, but also showed that the West African Ebola strain was quite different from a strain that has been circulating thousands of miles away in Central Africa since 1976, and that the two probably diverged as far back as 2004.
Comment: Image source. Information on Koindu Sierra Leone

10.17.2014

Imagine the Ebola-as-weapon scenario



Six Reasons to Panic

Excerpt:

Do you really want to be scared? What’s to stop a jihadist from going to Liberia, getting himself infected, and then flying to New York and riding the subway until he keels over? This is just the biological warfare version of a suicide bomb. Can you imagine the consequences if someone with Ebola vomited in a New York City subway car? A flight from Roberts International in Monrovia to JFK in New York is less than $2,000, meaning that the planning and infrastructure needed for such an attack is relatively trivial. This scenario may be highly unlikely. But so were the September 11 attacks and the Richard Reid attempted shoe bombing, both of which resulted in the creation of a permanent security apparatus around airports. We take drastic precautions all the time, if the potential losses are serious enough, so long as officials are paying attention to the threat.
Comment: Image source. We should shut down all travel from West Africa.
See Boehner: Ban Flights From West Africa to Stop Ebola Spread

10.14.2014

"If you have $3,650, you’re among the wealthiest half of people in the world"



Are you among the world's wealthiest?

Excerpt:

  • The average person is worth $56,000.
  • If you have $3,650, including the value of your home, you’re among the wealthiest half of people in the world. (This is net wealth - so, once debts have been subtracted.) The other half own less than 1pc of global wealth, while 77pc of adults - that’s 3.3bn people - have less than $10,000.
  • The top 10pc of people - membership requirement is $77,000 - hold 87pc of the world’s wealth.
  • You need $798,000 to make it into the top percentile of the world’s wealthiest. This select group accounts for almost half - 48.2pc - of global assets.
Comment: Image source - Scrooge McDuck. Scriptural perspective:

  • Luke 12:15-21, "And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”"
  • I Timothy 6:6-10, "But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.