Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Battleground Rhino a For Benefit Enterprise

I recently saw an interview on TV promoting a new Animal Planet series: Battleground Rhino Wars.
They caught my attention because I thought they said Battleground 3. (I've not played it personally although I think it looks cool. Besides, I'm more of a strategy and sim gamer: SimCity 2000.) I digress...

Battleground Rhino Wars features four United States Special Forces members training with local South African anti-poaching corps to defend the rhino. The poachers are out to get one thing - the horn - that's all. In fact, poachers have wounded an rhino and stripped its horn while it still alive, leaving the rhino to suffer and die from infection.

One of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams, who wrote The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, my review, also wrote about his travels to Africa where he wore a rhino costume to raise awareness and funds in support of Save the Rhino International. Below is a small excerpt about this experience, from his posthumous book, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time .

"I only spent a week on the walk. I didn't get to climb Kilimanjaro, though I did get to see it. I was very sorry not get to go up it, though having seen it, I have to say that I wasn't very, very sorry. I did get to see one rhino, briefly, out of the thousands that used to roam in this area, and I wondered if it had any sense at all that all was not right with its world. Human beings have been on this planet for a million years or so, and in that time we have faced all sorts of threats to our survival: famine, plague, warfare, AIDS. Rhinoceroses have been here for 40 million years, and just one threat has brought them to the brink of extinction: human beings. We are not the only species to have caused devastation to the rest of the world, and it must be said in our favour that we are the only one that has become aware of the consequences of its behaviour and tried to do something about it."
 We've tried to do something about it. And now it appears that Animal Planet is also supporting this cause in an interesting way. Here is a for-profit company engaging in for-benefit work. As long as there are enough viewers to generate a profit, this company will provide a positive benefit to the world.

This idea of for-benefit companies has been growing slowly. Traditionally, when dealing with taxes, there are two types of companies: For-profit and Non-profit. But what about a different company that is still engaged in profitable activities which evolve from socially beneficial themes? They don't qualify as a non-profit and so cannot take advantage of the tax breaks, yet they are also not strictly a for-profit corporation. It's this blending of the two that opens up a whole new sector in our economy worth investigating.They are also known as B corps. B corps use the power of business that to solve social and environmental problems.

Personally, I hope that Battleground Rhino Wars is widely successful and that it runs for many seasons. Capitalism will protect the Rhino as long as we all tune in to watch the show. What are other scenarios where we can deploy/employ retired soldiers to solve a social or environmental issue?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Technical Analysis DeMystified Book Review

I like the idea of Core and Explore investing. If you're not familiar, the approach is to safely invest the core of your retirement, +85% into low cost index funds across an appropriate asset allocation model that fits your age and risk level. The small remainder is set aside to allow you to flex your personal investing prowess. It is not money that you use to bet the farm, but money that will allow you to try your hand and test your knowledge. Your type of exploration can be fundamentalist driven or technically driven.You can still buy index funds, it's up to you.

I lost a chunk of my Explore fund with the demise of the market in 2008; and due to my inexperience and lack of sufficient study. I was disheartened, but not broke because my Core was still intact and chugging along just as it should. I am now in a position that I want to begin working proactively in my Explore fund once again. Note: This is not due to recent market sentiment and the major indices reaching new highs, but rather the re-establishment of the cash in my Explore portfolio. While I love the idea behind ShareBuilder and their automatic investing plans - it is also wise to consider transaction costs. I've read that transaction costs should not be more than 2% of any trade. If you invest at ShareBuilder, at a $4 automatic trade, it is suggested that your minimum buy order should be $200, otherwise you're losing too much to transaction fees. But I digress...

I checked out the book Technical Analysis Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide by Constance Brown. Because of my previous investment history, I was already vaguely familiar with some of the technical indicators that are available to help you examine a stock chart and understand and predict the price movement therein. Nevertheless, I knew that I didn't know enough. It should be understood that Technical Analysis differs from Fundamental Analysis. Technical Analysis is the study of the charting and claims that the chart will hold all the price information you need to trade. Trading based on chart analysis and price projection is known as market timing. Warren Buffett doesn't follow this method. His method is that of company valuation, the Graham number, P/E, and a long term buy and hold approach. I recently reviewed a book about Buffett's investing style.

Constance Brown, however, has written several books about Fibonacci analysis, the Elliot Wave Principle, and more in depth books than this beginner's guide, Technical Analysis Demystified.
In fact, there are so many technical indicators that are covered in this book that it feels like browsing the buffet line - endless choices but not enough time to really sample any one sufficiently to form an opinion about, let alone establish any appreciable skills.
The technical indicators covered in this text include several from momentum, breadth, and sentiment. The author stresses that a trade should have two of his three non-correlated methods giving permission to enter the trade. 

For the novice trader, this book will open your eyes to another dimension of trading. The author, graciously, is not a hyped up salesperson trying to convert you. While profitable trades are set up and explained, caution and understanding and risk assessment are all equally stressed. The author quizzes your intent to make a trade.
"Do you have confirmation in other stocks in the sector?
Do you have permission from your indicators at a key support or resistance level? 
Can you find evidence to support your opinion in other makrets that correlated? Can you establish a postion risking less than 3 percent of your portfolio? Do you have a minimum 3-to-1 win-to-loss ratio?"

I think this was a very worth while read. And while I probably won't be using astrological events as part of my technical analysis toolbox, I did learn that using two oscillators, such as a fast stochastic indicator and a slow moving-average convergence divergence (MACD) indicator, provides only one market analysis approach, not two.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Warning: Following this Advice Will Vastly Increase your Credit Score Rating!

This is a guest post by Ethel Wilson. Short bio is included at the bottom.

Warning: Following this Advice Will Vastly Increase your Credit Score Rating!

You’ll find many so-called experts on the internet claiming they can boost your credit score rating – for a fee of course. The last thing you need to do if your credit rating is low is to spend more money! The methods these companies and individuals use don’t always work either. Many of their methods are short term fixes designed to cheat the system. Like any shortcut there is risk involved, and these “fixes” often come back to haunt you in the long run. You can repair a damaged credit rating yourself; it’s neither difficult, nor complicated. It does take a bit of discipline and a little time (not as much as you might think), but the following methods have been proven to greatly increase your credit score rating. 

Pay your Most Recent Past-Dues: The very first thing you should do is to pay all past due payments on your accounts that most recently fell a month or so behind. The reason for this is that; the more recent a late payment, the more dramatically it will lower your credit score rating.

Apply for a Credit Report Adjustment: Once you have brought you past due accounts up to date, your next move is to contact the creditors who are responsible for reporting late payments regarding your credit score rating. Request that they make a good faith adjustment to delete the late payment information from your credit history files. Not all creditors will cooperate, but asking politely and reminding them that you will continue to be a valued customer, may convince a few to work with you.

Pay Collections Agencies that Will Wipe the Slate Clean: If you have any accounts in collection, pay those off where the collection agency will agree to delete any references to those accounts from your credit history. It is important that you make it clear from the outset that it is a condition of paying off the debt in full. You’ll be surprised how many agencies will cooperate just to clear the account from their books. This strategy can raise your credit score rating drastically in only a few months.

Spread Debt Around: It’s better to have several cards with mediocre balances than to have one or two with a zero balances and another with a very high balance or completely maxed out. Try to spread the debt around so that none of your cards has a balance of more than 40% of your limit. An effective and fast way of raising your credit score rating is to ask the creditor to increase your limit, thus lowering the percentage of your balance. Keep in mind however that you must maintain that ratio going forward to maintain the points you earned by doing so.

Make Sure Your Credit Limit is Reported: If your creditor does not inform the credit bureau of your accounts limits, this negatively affects your credit score rating. The reason for this is that because no limit is mentioned, the system the credit bureau uses to calculate credit scores assumes the account to be maxed out. Your credit score rating could be suffering simply because a creditor has failed to notify the credit bureau of your limit, not through any fault of your own. You could have a lower score than you deserve, so this step is well worth taking.

Apply for a Credit Card from a Major Bank: Of course the best way to improve your credit score rating is to maintain a good credit history over time with a major bank. This is especially true of credit cards issued by them. If you don’t have one, get rid of all of those department and retail store cards that do little to help, and much to harm your credit score rating. They have a much higher debt to limit ratio, and consequently affect your score adversely. Qualifying for a credit card issued by a major bank automatically increases your credit score rating dramatically.

Ethel Wilson is a financial and credit specialist with 12 years experience in the banking, credit scores, and financial industry.  She has advised countless clients on how to improve their credit score rating.  She shares the best of her credit score information as a contributor and editor of http://www.creditscoreresource.com

Monday, April 8, 2013

Household AA Battery Recycling

I recycle. Sometimes, I've even been accused of being a tree-hugger for my green ways. However, I'm an engineer, not an environmentalist. In fact, it seemed odd to me that more people didn't realize that "Going Green" wasn't really about saving the environment. It was all about the money, which had the added benefit of saving the environment.

CFL bulbs, rechargeable batteries, we all love them for the money they save us, until they're worthless and then, in the great American fashion - We chuck 'em.
Your remote control forces you to watch the same channel all night long, the clock on the wall runs slow, your daughter's princess piano has mercifully fallen silent. In the end, all those 'AA' and 'AAA' batteries are headed for your trashcan.
Why? Why do we throw away so much stuff that still has intrinsic value? Simple: It no longer has value to me.

It's also very easy to answer that question if you consider the trade-off between fidelity and convenience.
Think about it. You're sitting at your desk at work. You hold a piece of paper in your hand that is suddenly worthless to you. A trashcan sits immediately below your desk and the Paper Recycling Bin sits clear across the office next to the printer. Where does the paper go?
Convenience: trash can, back to work.

Fidelity, after endless marketing ads, news stories of extremist tree-huggers chained to trees, guilt about global warming and your carbon footprint, and razed rainforests in the Amazon, etc... Fidelity offers you the rich experience of knowing that you've done your part at the high cost of breaking your concentration and flow so you can stand up and walk to the recycling bin.
I believe that more people would recycle, or recycle more, if it was simply more convenient. People that don't care about the environment happily recycle when the opportunity to do so is as easy as throwing it in the trash.
How many of you recycle old batteries?
You don't. Even though they are worse than throwing paper in the trash, you chuck them and religiously recycle your paper because you have a place to put the paper. Where are you going to put two old "AA" batteries?

Armed with this knowledge, I set up a method to give people I work with everyday the opportunity to recycle their old clock batteries, cordless phone batteries, flashlight batteries. I grabbed a cardboard box, printed off some pictures from the internet and instantly created a Battery Recycling Center.

I placed this Battery Recycling Center in our workroom and was amazed at how quickly this little box filled up. Batteries of all types were dumped in my box. Double AA, triple AAA, C, D, cell phone, laptop, cordless phone, camera, drill, etc. I was astounded at what one little box had just diverted from the local landfill.

Even if you did save those old remote control batteries, where can you responsibly dump that toxic waste? I didn't know, and suddenly had 20lbs of Ni-Cd, and Lithium batteries that I didn't know what to do with. I tried, but failed when I learned that Home Depot and Lowes's will accept the large rechargeable batteries that go in power tools. Their bins, however, state that they do not want the common place batteries.
Staples! And you only thought they were good for recycling your old ink cartridges. Staples has a program called Easy on the Planet and they gladly accept your old batteries.(Note: After researching the corporate website online, it states only rechargeable batteries. However, my local Staples was eager to take my box full of assorted batteries, alkalines included. Check with your local Staples.)

I'm an engineer and I tend to frown on inefficiencies. Engineers like to solve problems and do things cheaper, better, faster. Thank you Staples for being a convenient method for the average consumer to recycle common household batteries.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Trade Off Book Review

Trade-Off written by Kevin Maney
"Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don't"
"The Ever-Present Tension Between Quality and Convenience"

This is a great book to read because it opens your eyes and understanding to things that are already present around you. Things that you might have had impressions about, or figured out if you happened to be studying them, are laid out clearly so that you can begin to benefit from the knowledge immediately.

The premise of this book is exploring the concept of the Fidelity Swap: the trade-off between the fidelity of an experience and its convenience. Listen to an MP3 (super convenient) or go to a concert (very inconvenient but a rich experience).

In the world of business the fidelity swap is key to success. You strive for high fidelity (think Bose) or high convenience (think Wal-Mart). If you strike out to achieve both, you end up chasing a mirage which ultimately sinks you because you are neither convenient, nor high enough fidelity. Kodak fell into this trap. Starbucks did, too, it was an experience, it was expensive, but then it pushed expansion so hard, and sought the convenience of being commonplace. Compact Starbucks stands were nothing more than a glorified vending machine, not a special customer experience.
Apple's iPod went this route. It was first exclusive, and ended up ordinary. Without the development of the iPhone, Apple today would be a very different company.

The dynamic portion comes into play when you consider the effect that technology has on continually pushing and expanding the limits of fidelity and convenience. A high powered cell phone might be high fidelity when it first launches, but then as technology improves, it quickly is surpassed and overcome. Innovation is the key to keeping a business moving towards either more convenience or higher fidelity.

Exploring another example involving IBM and the server business, was this quote.
US Hardcover, pg 145
"Some competitor can always uncover a market just below your fidleity--at good-enough fidelity," Wladawsk-Berger said. "If they discover good-enough fidelity that's way down in cost, they'll kill you. It happens all the time. At IBM, it put pressure on us to either continue to differientiate by improving fidelity, or contininuting to innovate oto offer fidelity oat lower prices--or exit that segment of business and move on. The question often becomes, 'Showuld we go up, down, or exit?'"

Should you read Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don't ? Definitely, if you are in business, either by yourself as an entrepreneur or are in any level of management. It's important to understand where your product or service fits in the market and to properly understand the difference between convenience and fidelity (quality). The book describes numerous examples of success and failure in a compelling way that keeps the reader interested throughout.

If you've read this book, please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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