Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stanley Druckenmiller and Friends Focus on the U.S. Budget and the Future

Stanley Druckenmiller
As U.S. policy makers continue to negotiate budget cuts, the following comments by Geoffrey Canada- President Harlem Children's Zone, Stanley Druckenmiller - former President of Duquesne Capital and Kevin Warsh - former Federal Reserve Governor, from their article “Generational Theft Needs to Be Arrested” (Wall Street Journal Feb. 14, 2013) are worth considering.
  • We recognize several hard truths: Government spending levels are unsustainable. Higher taxes, however advisable or not, fail to come close to solving the problem. ..Three main infirmities plague Washington and constitute a clear and present danger to the prospects for the next generation.”
  • The country's existing entitlement programs are not just unaffordable; they are also profoundly unfair to those who are taking their first steps in search of opportunity…The government has an obligation, of course, to support needy seniors. But this pension system is ripe for common-sense reforms, including changing eligibility ages and benefit structures for those with greater means.”
  • Elected officials continue to allow the immediate [needs] to trump the important…The country has spent trillions in temporary tax credits and short-term "stimulus" to goose growth by the next election…..The Federal Reserve's policies reinforce this short-term orientation… As a result, Congress may be missing market signals and failing to see the costs of its spending addiction in time to undertake real reforms. Ultimately, economic fundamentals—not the promises of central banks—will determine the prices of stocks and bonds. “
  • “Too many politicians appear more eager to divide the spoils of electoral victory among their own than to increase the size of the economic pie for all…Some individual Americans are surely better off than they were many years ago. The more probing question is whether America is better off.”
  • The deeper failing is one of essential fairness. The benefits of rising stock prices accrue to those who have already amassed wealth at the expense of those who are struggling to save. And failing to deal with runaway spending will burden the country's children with higher interest rates and a debt bomb that will come due in their lifetimes.“
As these views join those of other high profile citizens, many Washington decision makers are influenced by local voters, campaign supporters and affiliations with congressional committees. History has demonstrated that the big hard decisions are often adjustments to the status quo as pressure increases. The risks are known, but the sense of danger has dissipated. Because the economy remains fragile, market dynamics have the potential to change rapidly.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Solve for X: Geena Davis on Gender Equality

Solve For X is an interesting site to learn about radical technology ideas being pursued to help solve global problems.  

My first encounter with the Solve for X site was watching Genna Davis' 15 minute presentation on Gender Equality, which is accessible below via YouTube as well.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Obama on Cyber-Security and Clean Energy (State of the Union Address)

When U.S. President Obama presented his 2013 State of the Union Address last week, many organizations, communities and governments around the world likely focused on his comments in the following areas:
  • On Cyber-Security: “we know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mails. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.” (Note that the number of attacks reported to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity response team increased 52% during 2012, with recent security breaches including theb, the Energy DepartmentFacebook, Twitter, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.)
  • On Clean Energy: “we must do more to combat climate change.…The fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.…We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it's too late... to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
  • Regarding Cyber-Security -  as the Federal government seeks to increase information sharing and cooperation among government agencies and companies, these efforts will likely confront personal privacy issues and a diverse set of private sector concerns.  However, because the risks are significant and many currently available offerings do not provide sufficient protection, opportunities exist for a new generation of adaptive security products and services.
  • Regarding Clean Energy -  while Obama is emphasizing a “market-based solution to climate change” which suggests a renewed focus on “cap and trade” schemes, approaches driven by sustainable business models in areas such as biofuels, fuel cells, solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, nuclear and smart grid technologies are required as well.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bill Ackman on the Psychology of Successful Investing (Floating University)

The 2 minute video below is presented by high profile and often controversial investor Bill Ackman. He is considered an activist  with a value focus.

He is participating with the on-line education project Floating University which has  a Great Big Ideas lecture series.  Other participants in the series include Joel Cohen, Mathematical Biologist - Colombia; Michio Kaku, Theoretical Physics - CUNY; Tamar Gendler, Philosophy - Yale; Steven Pinker, Psychologist/Linguist – Harvard; Saul Levmore, Law - University of Chicago; Paul Bloom, Cognitive Psychologist – Yale; Nicholas Christakis, Medical Sociology – Harvard; Douglas Melton, Natural Sciences – Harvard; Leon Botstein, Conductor/President, Bard College; Jeffrey Brenzel, Philosopher – Yale, Larry Summers, Economist – Harvard.

Ackman's  lecture "Everything you need to Know About Finance and Investing in Less than an Hour” is part of this series as well.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

As the Internet Privacy Debate Intensifies, Microsoft Attacks Google's "Creepy Line"

Last week, attention increased on the European Union’s efforts to increase control over how Internet focused services collect and use data about its citizens. Jacob Kohnstamm, Chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority said, “In the US, privacy is a consumer business” andIn Europe, data protection is a fundamental right. We think what’s right or wrong isn’t decided in Silicon Valley, but is decided in our capitals.”

On Monday, several U.S. advocacy groups sent a letter to senior White House officials supporting the EU’s efforts (including American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Digital Democracy and Electronic Privacy Information Center) stating, “users around the world are experiencing increases in identity theft, security breaches, government surveillance, and secretive, discriminatory profiling. Users find that personal information given for one purpose is often used for another purpose, often without their knowledge or consent. Our personal data - our privacy - is being abused by both the commercial sector and governments. In fact, the line is increasingly blurred as personal data passes between both with few restrictions.”

On Thursday, Microsoft added its perspective by launching its “Don't Get Scroogled by Gmail” campaign that said “Google goes through every single word of personal Gmail messages and uses that information to sell and target ads” and “Google even goes through emails from non-Gmail users to generate advertising income. Gmail goes through all incoming email messages, from any email provider, and sells ads based on the content of those emails.” They also highlight Google Chairman Eric Schmidt comments at The Atlantic Washington Ideas Forum 2010 including “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are, with your permission; we know where you’ve been, with your permission; we can more or less know what you’re thinking about” and “ There is what I call the creepy line. The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.

  • While many high profile U.S companies have benefited from a lax approach to Internet privacy protection, it is unlikely that many Internet users are aware of how profiles of their behaviors are tracked, analyzed and sold/traded to marketers and others without their knowledge. 
  • While many users are likely to accept the use of their behavior profile as a trade-off for “free” on-line services, any alternations to the current fluid access and use of this information would have a significant impact on many Internet business models.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dick Tracy - A Technology Trendsetter; Will Voice become the Next Big User Interface?

Dick Tracy, the police detective comic strip hero that debuted in 1931, began wearing his 2-Way Wrist Radio in 1946.  

Today, as the universe of  personal mobile devices expands, applications are being developed for Google Glasses and rumors are increasing that Apple and Samsung will introduce Smart Wrist Watches soon.

Adding to the intrigue is the potential for Apple’s Siri and Google Now to become a significant means by which we interact with applications.  An interesting article on this topic is  "Siri, Google Now, and the End of Apps" MIT Technology Review (February 9, 2013)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dr. Robert Cialdini on Influence and the Science of Persuasion

Dr. Robert Cialdini is the author of "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" which presents his 6 key principles of influence: 1) reciprocity, 2) commitment and consistency, 3) social proof, 4) authority, 5) liking and 6) scarcity. He is a well regarding expert in this field. Noteworthy testimonials of his work include Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger: "Robert Cialdini has had a greater impact on my thinking on this topic than any other scientist… and  demonstrates six or eight ways in which the quirks of your own mind will frequently prove dysfunctional to your best interests.”

The following 12 minute video provides an introduction to Cialdini's thinking (it takes about 15 seconds before the audio track starts).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bill Gates on Setting, Measuring and Achieving Goals

The following are excerpts from Bill Gates' 2013 annual letter that was published last week. His foundation focuses on improving education in the U.S and health, agriculture, and family planning in developing regions.
  • On the need for goals, measurement and communication:  “Setting clear goals, picking the right approach, and then measuring results to get feedback and refine the approach continually—helps us to deliver tools and services to everybody who will benefit” and “I think a lot of efforts fail because they don’t focus on the right measure or they don’t invest enough in doing it accurately” and “while measurement is critical to making progress in global health, it’s very hard to do well. You have to measure accurately, as well as create an environment where problems can be discussed openly so you can effectively evaluate what’s working and what’s not.”
  • On the efforts of James Grant, UNICEF Executive Director (1980-1995):  “Grant put a robust data-gathering system in place, he was able to drive change. He could see which countries were successful in increasing their vaccination coverage rates and used that data to help other countries to do the same” and “sadly, some of the gains didn’t last. Once the vaccination goal was reached, donor attention shifted elsewhere and coverage rates drifted down in many countries.”
  • On US education:  “I was amazed to learn a few years ago that over 90% of teachers get zero feedback on how to improve. A lot of the debate in education today really amounts to a circular discussion of how to implement tools to measure teacher effectiveness and whether such measurement is even possible. We know that if all teachers were anywhere near as good as the best, our education system would be fantastic. “
  • As Gates applies his commercial sector approaches (admired by some and criticized by others) to the efforts on his foundation, he continues to learn from his experiences.
  • Regarding project success: Anyone that has managed a successful project or participated in a good investment understands the need for establishing clear goals, persistently focusing on objectives, measuring milestones and adapting to change.  
  • Regarding the efforts of Jim Grant: He was a trailblazer in the use of data to pursue positive project outcomes.  As Gates’ notes, continued success does not take place on its own, but requires continual support.
  • Regarding the U.S. education: The system is broad and diverse with many strengths and weaknesses.  Generally, a focus on improving student success will drive positive outcomes, while situations that contend with conflicting objectives remain significantly challenged.