Archive for February 2016

Thoughts On An Eyewitness Account

One of the topics of this website is that “Technology Is Useless“. A lot of what is going on in technology (or what people consider technology) is useless to society at large. They think they are “solving problems”, but they are not even first world problems (like finding a cab). The companies people fawn over are not doing anything about climate change, or energy, or water. People in the startup cult are not as smart as they think they are. And I think a lot of them live in a bubble.

There is a guy living in Silicon Valley named Michael O. Church (henceforth MOC). Until recently, his site had a lot of posts that articulate this theme better than I have. But before I got around to writing this post, he took down most of his posts. You can find them archived here. [1]

From what I could gather before he removed his posts, he has been a software developer in SV for several years. He worked at Google, and was booted out due to politics. He started writing about the culture in Silicon Valley, and criticizing the startup fetish that has taken over our culture.

He has angered a lot of people in SV, which has hurt him when he has had to seek employment. One person that he angered is Paul Graham, programmer, author, founder of incubator Y Combinator. YC published the news aggregation site Hacker News.

PG has written a few books about a language called Common Lisp. He used that to make a company he sold to Yahoo in the late 1990s, which made him rich. He has written a few more books, and his essays on his website are pretty influential in “the Valley”. He started YC in 2005. Now, some VC firms will only invest in companies that are YC alums.

After the dot com bust, working at a startup had little appeal for a lot of people, especially outside the confines of SV. MOC credits PG with rehabilitating the image of startups via his essays and YC, and making them appealling places to work. MOC wrote this is good, but it has gone too far. Now startups have gone from being a stage a company goes through, to being an end in itself. It’s now a lifestyle. MOC wrote that PG is partly responsible for the “bro” culture we see in SV today.

MOC wrote that he has never met PG, but PG knows who he is and hates MOC. YC is an investor in Quora, and leaned on Quora to ban MOC from the site. Somewhere in the archives MOC lists a few more ways that PG has tried to make life more difficult for MOC, usually indirectly, and usually via YC leaning on companies to not hire MOC.

Why would PG hate MOC? Because MOC is living proof that PG is selling the world a bill of goods. PG tells people that if you work or found a startup, you will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. Apply to be in YC! Change your life and the world for the better! Or come to SV and work for a company that has been through YC. It’s the ticket to fame and fortune!

MOC is a smart guy. He worked at a few startups, and it did not work out. He has written posts explaining that the only people that win in SV are the VCs. They always win. Sometimes the founders get rich, but not always. And employees usually wind up wasting years chasing the dream. They get paid below market wages. They are promised “equity”, but either the company goes under, or the half a percent turns out to be not a whole lot when all is said and done. SV is the Wall Street of the West Coast.

MOC is living proof that PG is pretty much putting lipstick on a pig. PG does not need the money. It is probably ego. PG wants a nice legacy. It is hard for most people to admit they are wrong. When you have spent the past decade pushing something, it’s even harder.

MOC also points out that when firms say “We don’t care if you have worked with the language we use; we just want smart people”, they are usually lying. Have you ever noticed these firms rarely hire anyone over 30? It’s not because you get dumb when you are 30. They know it’s harder to sell the false dream to people past a certain age. When you get married, have kids, have to pay off your student loans, and/or realize you will need a LOT of money for retirement, an actual paycheck looks better than equity fairy dust.

Here are a couple of more quotes:

From “Silicon Valley Can Be Beaten“:
Increasingly, true technologists look at the culture of the VC-funded world and realize that it has to die, because marketing experiments using technology have won the decade while the larger goal of improving the human condition has been forgotten. To be a technologist used to mean that one wanted to invest in humanity’s total capital; now, the industry has been swarmed by champion value-capturers. Consequently, the short-term “next quarter” mentality, couched in juvenile lingo about “failing fast”, has won and to have vision is to make oneself a pariah.

From “Don’t Waste Your Time In Crappy Startup Jobs“:
Scientific research changes the world. Large-scale infrastructure projects change the world. Most businesses, on the other hand, are incremental projects, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Startups are not a good vehicle for “changing the world”.

One thing he wrote that I really like and caught my attention is that most of the companies in SV companies are not really technology companies. These companies are marketing experiments using technology.

[1] I have wanted to finish this post for a while, so I am kind of going by memory here. Also, I have never contacted anyone mentioned in this post, including MOC. All opinions/interpretations are my own. Paul Graham does not endorse this post.

Image from Stargate Wiki, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

The Wicked Witch Is Dead

I actually jumped for joy when I read that Scalia is dead.

This is the best thing to happen to this country since Lee surrendered to Grant.

Some people are saying we should be respectful. Express condolences to his family.

Screw that.

Liberals have been nicer. Do we have anything to show for it?

As far as “respect”: A man who was disrespectful towards others in life deserves none in death. I hated the man before he died. Frankly it would be illogical not to be glad he’s dead.

As far as condolences to his family, from what I have read they have the same nasty views he did.

Someone on Twitter thought it was shameful for people to say bad things about Scalia since he had a family, and asked if we would say the same hateful things about our own fathers. I replied that since my father is a drunk who treated my mother like garbage, yes I do. Call a spade a spade.

One reason I really hated Scalia is that he claimed to believe in a religion whose founder told his followers to protect the poor and the powerless, yet he sided with the rich and the powerful every time. For a long time, Catholics in this country were discriminated against. Catholics were the other. Yet Scalia had no problem pulling the ladder up after himself. [1]

And I am tired of people saying how smart he was.

Scalia thought that there was more support for creationism than evolution. First off, this is not true. There is much more support for evolution. The Discovery Institute has had 20 years to make their case and publish some research. So far nothing. Anyone who says that evolution (or climate change) is not settled science frankly is not paying attention to science. (Yet, in true Taxicab Fallacy style, they have no problem enjoying the fruits of the scientific method.)

I am reminded of that episode of John Oliver‘s show where he starts moderating a debate on climate change. The denier says that the science is under debate. John Oliver says it is not, that at least 97% of climate scientists say that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it. He says in order to show the true scientific consensus he brings in a bunch of people wearing lab coats. As he said, this “debate” should not be happening. And the same is true for evolution.

Secondly, I think that goes against the position of the Catholic Church  [2].

I suppose it takes a lot of intellectual talent and effort to spend your life saying that up is down, night is day and black is white. But if you go through your life being wrong about a lot of things, and using your intellect to justify things that are not true, then you are really very stupid.

And now, the strict constructionists are not only telling us we should not politicize his death, but that Obama should not appoint the next justice. Where does the constitution say he has to wait? And would they tell a Republican president to wait?

Lastly, some nutjobs are saying that Obama had Scalia killed. They think it’s just “too convenient” that Scalia died. But let’s remember Scalia was

  1.  A nasty, spiteful person
  2.  79 years old
  3. Fat.

He’s lucky he lasted as long as he did.

[1] Sidenote: There are some things in the Bible that sound pretty good: Be nice to everyone, give to the poor, don’t pray in public. Yet many Christians act the exact opposite. Is there some grand conspiracy going on here? Atheists get the joke Bible that tells you to be nice, but once you convert you get the real Bible, the Jerk Bible.

[2] From the page cited:
Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.
So I guess they are not really affirming or denying evolution. Sort of like how they have no position on the Shroud of Turin. The Catholic hierarchy may not be smart, but they can be shrewd.

Cartoon image from the always-bizarre Uncyclopedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use and perhaps even Unfair Use (but who knows what the second one?).

Dancing skeletons from a 1493 woodcut by Michael Wolgemut, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Europeans considered many things up for grabs in that decade.

Image of crowd of scientists taken from Google search. It is a screen cap of John Oliver’s show on HBO, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Thoughts On the 2016 Election

I do not think I will be supporting Bernie Sanders.

I agree with him more than Hillary about Wall Street’s influence on society. But he seems pretty weak on other topics. He’s in his 70s, he has been in Congress since 1991, and he still has a hard time talking about foreign policy. I think Hillary Clinton responded to Black Lives Matter better than he did.

Hillary’s general preparedness really struck me when she had her marathon testimony in front of the Benghazi committee. You had all these Republicans losing their minds, and she stayed firm. This is the crowd Bernie will be dealing with. She has been dealing with right-wing nut jobs since 1992. And the right-wing noise machine has only gotten bigger in the past few years.

He has also said he will not campaign for downticket candidates. That is colossally stupid. He will need allies in Congress, and he is refusing to build any sort of coalition. He thinks he can just go directly to the people. That hasn’t worked for Obama. What is to stop Republicans in Congress from going to the people as well? He is going to need people on his side, and giving Democrats the finger is not going to help him.

He has bad-mouthed the Democratic Pary for years (see this page and this page). As someone who has voted consistently for the Democratic Party, I frankly feel insulted by the idea that this guy now wants my vote after bad-mouthing my choices for decades. You hate us until you want something? I don’t think so.

I hope Hillary gets the nomination. If she does, I think she will win.

I do not think any of the Republicans could win. The past two Republican presidents that rank and file Republican voters loved were Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. (Despite what they all say now, they loved W when he was running and in office. It was only after it was obvious he was the worse president ever that they decided retroactively he was never a “real conservative”.)

What they had in common is they had the support of both the big business wing of the party and the social conservative wing. I do not see any of the current candidates who get support from both of those groups. In fact, I think it might be a long long long time before we see a Republican who gets support from both of those groups.

Image from some museum in the Unwanted Kingdom, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Idea Lists and Idea Machines

I have read James Altucher’s blog for a while. It is pretty interesting.

I have been trying to put his Daily Practice into place. I admit I am not always successful. One thing I am trying to do is building up my idea muscle by listing out ten ideas a day.

Some of his posts are pretty repetitive. He tells his life story over and over again. He had a few jobs, ran a few funds, and repeated the cycle of making and losing money a few times. He had a drinking problem. At one point his first wife called the police, and they convinced him to spend the night in a hotel. He says he hit rock bottom, and the Daily Practice saved him. He tries every day to do something for himself emotionally, spritually, physically and mentally.

His main mental practice is to come up with ten ideas every day. They could be about anything. New businesses. Books he could write. Topics he would like to read books on. Features a web site should add. Reasons people should not own a home, or go to college. How to implement ideas from a previous day’s list.

The point is to work your idea muscle, and strain your brain. He says that sometimes he gets more than ten ideas, but he always tries to get at least ten. He says the first five or six are usually pretty easy. Then it gets pretty hard. Sometimes the ideas are pretty bad. Nobody could come up with 3,650 good ideas for a business in a year, and then do that again the next year. The point is to build your idea muscle.

He tries to make lists of ten, because the goal is to get himself to think about things, see things differently and make connections. Frequently he will find the first five ideas easy, and the next five difficult. This is what builds his “idea muscle”. And he does not say that all of these ideas are good or that they will go anywhere.

There have been a few other people who have posted about this (see this page,  this pagethis page and  this page). They say that it has changed how they think. They can react more quickly to situations. That sounds like a good thing to me.

So far I wind up skipping a day a lot, and sometimes have to do two lists a day. He says it takes six months to become an idea machine. He says when that happens, your life will change every six months. I would like to be rich. Who wouldn’t? I don’t expect to be a billionaire in six months. But I do not like my job, and I do not know enough about the technologies that interest me to get a job in them. Not yet. But maybe being an idea machine will help.

His wife wrote a book called How To Become An Idea Machine. I might buy it, since sometimes I don’t know what to use for a list topic.

Hopefully I will stay consistent, and have a better life in six months.


Some posts from James Altucher about different types of lists:

Note: I also discuss idea machines in a later post.

Image from Museu de Montserrat, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Thoughts On Oregon Terrorists

The “occupiers” do not seem like the sharpest knives in the drawer.

They show up with guns out of nowhere, and complain that there are checkpoints.

“We don’t like the feds telling us what to do. So let’s go to some sparsely populated corner of Oregon and push whoever lives there around!!” Why is it the people who complain about “tyranny” always want everybody to do things their way? And why is it that people who go on and on about what strict Constitutionalists they are, it’s usually right before they start going on and on about god. Where in the Constitution does it say anything about how we have to do what your god says? Or, more accurately, what you think he says?

My understanding is these ranchers are getting very good rates from the feds. Lower than they would get from the states. And MUCH lower than they would get if the land were in private hands. Yet still they complain. And Cliven Bundy has gotten loans from SBA. It is amazing how many of the people who complain about government overreach get money or some sort of assistance from the government.

The standoff started because a few locals were convicted of starting fires on federal land. Fires that almost killed a few people. Yes, federal land belongs to everyone. But you can’t ruin it for everybody else (either by setting fire to it or by overgrazing.)

And if you are going to use federal land to make money, then, yes, you should be forced to pay money. It is only fair, since they ARE being subsidized. State taxes are lower than federal taxes. Do they really think that a state would charge a lower rate?

They were essentially stealing from the federal government. From the other 300 million of us. If you are a rancher and you want federal policy changed, then you tell the other 300 million of us what the issue is, and ASK US POLITELY to contact our senators, representatives and/or the relevant federal agency.

If the first time I hear about your grievance is when you are pointing guns at federal agents, then I am not inclined to listen to you.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

2016-01 Dividend Income Report

Here is the dividend income report for January, 2016.

The monthly dividend income came out to $237.08. The yearly income total for 2016 through the end of the month was $237.08. Huuuuuge income. Best January ever. Quality dividends.

The income for January, 2015 was $213.49, and the yearly income for 2015 through the end of January was $213.49.

The income for January/April/July/October might be a bit lower going forward. Chubb Corporation was acquired by ACE Limited, and is trading under the Chubb ticker CB. All of my old CB shares were sold, I got half the money as cash, and the other half was put into the new CB. Last month I said that I might stick with ETFs in my taxable account I Might Move To ETFs In Some Accounts, and I listed some mergers and rumored mergers as reasons. I completely forgot about this one.

Sure Dividend recommended people sell CB. It’s a bit late for that now. The merger happened. According to David Fish’s Dividend Champions spreadsheet from last month, ACE Limited has increased dividends for 23 years, has a yield of 2.29%, a payout ratio of 32.72%, and a P/E ratio of 14.27. The old Chubb Corporation had increased dividends for 33 years, had a yield of 1.72%, a payout ratio of 26.24% and a P/E ratio of 15.26. Going by that, ACE Limited had better metrics. I am sure some might get worse for a bit as they absorb the old Chubb, but all in all it looks like it might not be a bad deal.

On the other hand, the CEO of ACE/the new Chubb is Evan Greenberg. He is the son of former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg. So perhaps some caution is warranted.

I am thinking about taking the cash from ACE/Chubb and buying more APD or MMM, and getting more than less than a tenth of a share every quarter.

Here is a table with the year-to-date amounts, the monthly amounts, and the three- and twelve-month moving averages for each January from 2012 through 2016:

Month YTD Amount 3MMA 12MMA
2016-01 $237.08 $237.08 $550.81 $457.97
2015-01 $213.49 $213.49 $471.54 $374.28
2014-01 $159.67 $159.67 $335.67 $287.98
2013-01 $110.12 $110.12 $348.07 $292.20
2012-01 $188.68 $188.68 $316.66 $256.77

Here are the stocks and the income amounts for January, 2016:

  • Automatic Data Processing: $31.49
  • MDU Resources Group Inc.: $10.88
  • Chubb Corp: $59.01
  • Kimberly-Clark: $50.99
  • Illinois Tool Works: $30.31
  • Sysco Corp: $17.98
  • Piedmont Natural Gas Inc: $20.64
  • RPM International Inc.: $15.78

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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