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Friday, December 16, 2016

Likely Consequences of a Trump Presidency


Certain politicians are saying they don't want to openly state that the recent U.S. election was illegitimate. But anyone who has stayed informed of the facts knows it was. This article is not about the efforts of state legislators to disenfranchise old and poor voters, gerrymandering, or the proliferation of fake news sites.
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A foreign nation clearly impacted the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The efforts of FBI Director Comey to change the outcome of the election notwithstanding, the election was close enough that the meddling impacted the results.  The United States intelligence community and corporate cybersecurity experts concur that the Russian government interfered throughout the presidential campaign. The specialists in these roles do not make such claims haphazardly. Their careers, the world's banking system and our military network security are based on the accuracy of any claims top cybersecurity people make.

Despite the Russian governments eagerness to hack other nations, the U.S. is still the most technologically advanced nation, by far.  This makes us both successful and vulnerable to targeted attacks. While certain firms or organizations may not always implement the best protection against intrusions from cyberspace, our top people know far more about computer security than any other nation.

How did our nation, known for upholding democratic values the world over, get to this point? That's a complex question but here are a few of the obvious reasons:
  1. One of the candidates openly requested that the Russians hack his opposition's email. The Russians were already doing exactly that. To support a foreign power, to effectively cheer Putin on while his hackers subvert a Presidential election, is treason. Those that consider Trump's off-the-wall comments to be simply jokes are gravely deluded. Careless comments of the most powerful leader on Earth, even poorly composed Twitter posts, can destroy people and jobs. This is cyberbullying on a scale never before imagined.
  2. The candidate that lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes now states he will not attend regular intelligence briefings. Leading blindly while Daesh, the Taliban, al Shabab, Boko Harem, the Hakani network, the Chinese, and the Russians threaten is absolutely foolhardy.
  3. He wants to prosecute news reporters and judges. He wants to begin a trade war with our largest trading partner, China.
  4. Trump even wants to resume the torture program begun under George W. Bush. None of these acts even closely resembles a person capable of morally leading the U.S.. All of these and so many other demonstrations of ineptitude prove Trump capable of leading our nation, only to chaos and ruin, not success.
  5. Trump declares his first act in office will be to take away the health insurance of 20 million young or poor Americans.
  6. He refuses to divest his business holdings. Conflict of interest is yet another concept Trump has chosen to ignore.
  7. Trump intends to abolish Freedom of Religion by deportation of people solely based on religious orientation.
  8. Cyberwarefare is not something a President can take lightly. This form of war can destroy industries, lives and even nations. The U.S. is not innocent in this regard, we destroyed Iran's uranium centrifuges using computer espionage. The U.S. has interfered in the elections of other nations. President Obama has even promised some sort of retaliation for Russia's acts of war. Gandhi once stated, "An eye for eye leaves the whole world blind." But we cannot stand idly by while Putin invades our computer networks like he invaded the Ukraine. The Russians shot down an Airbus, has everyone but the victim's families forgotten this grotesque fact?
Don't expect the members of the Electoral College to step up to rectify this huge mistake. While some individuals do understand the consequences of confirming Trump, the collective will likely behave like obedient sheep. Just like animals being led to the slaughterhouse except these people clearly know an electric cattle prod and torture chambers lie ahead.

People, including members of the existing, if shattered, Republican Party, know exactly what lies ahead. Ineptitude in public office leads to charges of corruption and eventually impeachment. Has everyone forgotten Richard Nixon? That is exactly what will be happening long before Trump's four years in office come to an end.

Those who think Congress, as currently configured, would not vote to impeach do not know history. When our nation is brought to it's financial and moral knees during Trump's initial months in office, even hardline Tea Party types will have to confront their financially-ruined constituents. Emergency Rooms will struggle to handle waves of newly uninsured patients. Trade embargoes will cripple many industries. Those who conduct business or travel overseas will experience a spike in violent attacks. Every CEO of a major firm needs to get their hands on a copy of the book "Blindsided" by Bruce T. Blythe (New York: Penguin, 2002), now.

If he is permitted to continue in office World War 3 will start, perhaps only in the trade community at first but these will soon be followed by violent attacks on embassies, our citizens and our armed forces.

When Trump announces the resumption of the Draft Boards to build an army to fight his wars it will be too late for our nation to turn back. Don't count this or any other previously unbelievable scenarios out. Just like we cannot assume the Electoral College will deny Trump the office of the President, we cannot assume nuclear weapons will not be used by the grossly inept oligarchy being setup right now. Trump has stated so himself.

The first detonation of a nuclear weapon in a heavily populated area since Japan will mark the beginning of the end of mankind's existence on Earth. By that time the regrets of the Electors and the delusional people that voted for this vengeful misogynist will be too late. We will not even have a moment to hug our children one last time before the brilliant flash of light illuminates the end of civilization as we know it.

Few in the Press or in politics want to explore the certain tragic outcomes of a Trump presidency. The recent run up in U.S. financial markets provides only a temporary and false hope that things might go well. Trade wars will wreak havoc on everyone's retirement accounts. What is described above is only a glimpse of the human tragedy, the environmental ruin and the eventual scope of destruction possible. The world barely survived the last dictator bent on world domination. The weapons at the disposal of the U.S. President and other leaders today can mutually assure the destruction of all nations.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Voter Apathy

Over 40 million eligible voters did not turn out to vote last month, the lowest turnout since the 1940s. This poor voter turnout perhaps demonstrates the overall apathy of voters, especially when it comes to participating in mid-term elections. It also likely reflects on how disgusted people are with their elected officials overall.

Now the Republican Party has decided a good first step would be to shut down the government as soon as December 12. Technically, the GOP has simply said they will decline to fund the government budget if they do not get everything on their wish list or if the President decides to take any action whatsoever.

While it is difficult to determine the full cost of the last government shut-down, we can estimate it wasted billions of dollars. We know it led to a downgrade of U.S. debt by the major rating agencies, and therefore an increase in U.S. government borrowing costs. We know it led to thousands of government workers being idled. We know all sorts of government programs were disrupted, from Social Security to defense. The one thing that apparently did not happen is that GOP leaders learned a lesson.

An elected leader's first decision after an election should not be to shut the government down. This decision only goes to show the ineptitude of so many current members of Congress. It also demonstrates the lengths some government leaders will go to avoid taking any positive steps towards building a stronger nation.

If you don't like the current spending plans why not propose a new budget and start working out the details?

If you don't like the current health insurance mandate, why not propose a better solution? If you don't want your neighbors to be able to see a doctor when they get sick, why not just say so? Why not let Ebola or AIDS run rampant through our society?

If you don't want to find a solution to the current problems of illegal immigration, entitlements, soaring education costs and income disparity, speak out loud and clear about your intentions. The silence on these matters during the recent political campaigns only emphasizes how far certain elected officials will go to deceive the public. The silence about who is giving millions of dollars to certain elected officials leaves us wondering which billionaires are really in-charge of our future. The Republican-led push to shut-down the U.S. government makes many of us wonder if it made sense to hold elections at all.


Excellent brain science article, read it again!

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/science/learning-how-little-we-know-about-the-brain.html

The Contrary Investor

Looking over my stock portfolio I see my unrealized gains stand at 105%. I’ve held the majority of all the stocks in that portfolio for just about 4 years. That works out to 26% average annual gains. My ten year average is closer to 33% annually. I’m looking right at my financial figures, straight from my broker.
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There was even a Recession in that timeframe, wasn’t there? I mostly bought at the bottom. It’s important to buy stock at that point.

My brokerage does nothing for me but execute the trades I request through a web page. No special advice offered, no strategies suggested. I’m not one of their special customers, though one of their VPs called me to talk about my rate of return last year. Not to offer a job, oh no, just to remark on my rates of return.

Family members know about my investing prowess, but only my mother trusts me to make investments for her. I’m quite OK with that, don’t want siblings all angry with me over short-term losses.

What surprises me is when bankers and brokers do occasionally interview me, once or twice a year, they show no interest in my ability to research and buy stocks. None whatsoever. To a man, and sometimes a woman, every person I meet that works in the financial industry is consumed by commissions on the sale of specific products. They want me to sell funds with high expense ratios, life insurance or steer people to their staff of highly qualified, certified financial planners.

I have friends that work for Merrill, BOA and other big money firms. They tell me fund managers do employ people that do what I do, but I could never land a job as a Quant or Quantitative Analyst. I’m too normal, too earthy, I garden for cryin’ out loud. I spend too much time researching and don’t buy and sell frequently enough. 

The whole lot of them bring customers stunning average annual returns of 5 or 6%, before expenses. Steep losses some years. Meanwhile, back at The Farm, my retirement account gains average 26% a year. No kidding.

Yup, that’s me. I eagerly look forward to automated emails from my brokerage account, telling me such and such a stock has reach a price I like. I started letting computers help me invest in the 80s. Yes, Virginia, there were personal computers and email in the 1980s. I used dividends and returns from stock sales to buy my first IBM PC.

I don’t follow the investing rules you read in the newspapers, except for the one about holding long. I make up my own rules. I stick to certain industries and ignore others. I’ll hold huge amounts, while it grows, then sell it. I’ll put it in a 7% dividend stock for a few ex-dividend dates, waiting for the right time to buy another growth stock. That's called trying to time the market. The investment pros that get 5 or 6% returns advise against doing that. 

I sometimes buy foreign stocks, especially in dynamic India or Central and South America.

I do research sitting on benches in shopping malls or parked in a strip mall lot. That’s part of the reason I own Dollar Tree (NASDAQ:DLTR) and Apple (AAPL) shares. I look at current photographs, and spot trends that the newspapers won’t be talking about for months. I buy those trends before they are trends and sell them high, before the kids have even tired of the fashions or games.

I especially like to look at what certain firms stocks do seasonally, year after year. Stocks charts are simply road maps to desired financial results as far as I’m concerned. When you know a stock intimately, you know how it will respond to industry events, currency fluctuations and commodity price changes.

I dig dividends, I call them proven reserves. But frankly I use dividend stocks as high-interest savings accounts while I wait to buy growth shares at bargain prices. Try getting 7% interest on a savings account at Wells Fargo. Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) will shell out 7% if you hold their shares past the ex-dividend date.

This is how I manage my retirement money. Don’t ever expect to read about me in the newspapers. What I do is not newsworthy like the antics of one President-Elect. By the way, Twitter stock (TWTR), at -53% returns since inception, has never shown up on my my investing radar screen.

About the author: Obviously the writer buys and sells stock shares, including some of those mentioned in this article. He wouldn’t take advice about fishing lures from people that never fish. He assumes no responsibility for what you do with what is written here. Investing involves risks, but buying stocks is not nearly so risky as lottery tickets or casinos. He does not work in the financial industry, they have no interest in stock-pickers like him. Brokers, in general, seem not to care much about annual returns. That’s about all the author does care about in regards to investing. Is there any other reason to invest?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

iOS 10.0.2 Concerns and App Store Malware

I’m really starting to wonder what is going on at Apple, Inc.. Allowing malware to propagate through the App Store? Who in the world decided that the Shuffle and Continuous Play buttons should be removed from the Music App? I’m trying to play my music and I’m now stuck listening to each song individually? And the Music app no longer plays in the background? I sort of understand why Apple blocks all other apps from playing music in the background but doesn’t Apple own the Music App on the iPhone? They must have removed the background music play feature to satisfy some judge or EU antitrust commissioner.


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Now I understand there is probably some very, very logical reasons some geek in Palo Alto decided to get rid of or hide the background play or Shuffle features. But I’m less and less interested in an Operating System that slowly strips away the features I and I suspect millions of other users once enjoyed. I’m just guessing that other Music App users liked Shuffle or the ability to listen to songs while playing a game or writing.

In the end I realize a kid still living in his parent’s basement, with hundreds of hours available to just study her iPhone, will discover a workaround or the deeply hidden menu setting, three levels down, that re-enables the Background Music option. I have no doubt Shuffle is hidden, on page 300 of the latest iPhone for Dummies book, under Settings, General, Storage & iCloud Usage, Manage Storage (not the solution) or some such location but some iPhone users actually have a job, a family and other things to do besides seek out every new location for useful features.

I don’t like how my iPhone now turns off my car’s air conditioning every time a GPS app decides to speak some directions. I probably should not have bought a new car but the car works fine, until I do something really crazy like open a GPS App to struggle to find directions to my training site. I literally took a Gazetteer, a large paper maps book, with me on my business trip this week. That’s how terrible Google Maps and Apple Maps have become with the latest updates to the iOS or the app itself. I really don’t have the time to analyze every update to an App or operating system

My iPhone got infected with a virus or malware today. This is a first infection on any Apple product for me, ever, so I’m a bit unnerved today. Something called Everalbum invaded my iPhone, through the Apple App Store, no less. A text from an acquaintance let the beast in and I fought it for nearly an hour. It’s gone but the damage is done. Still have not hard reset the iPhone, after six very technical years at Ma Bell I know how nasty resetting a mobile device or replacing a cell tower can be. I will do so (the phone, not my local cell tower) but not while out of town on business. I’m forced to just turn off Data and use the phone only for SMS and Voice calls until I have the time to repair it.

Yes, I am a corporate and government technology trainer, somebody paid to learn the most complex new tools and hardware and then teach others. And the new iPhone has me crawling the walls, hunting for a simple feature like Shuffle. Or chasing malware, it is starting to remind me of Windows or Android phones. I long for the days when software developers actually conducted User Acceptance Testing before releasing a new or updated application. Those days are over, now they release the product and wait for users to start howling away. Not a good strategy for retaining clients.

UPDATE 9/29/16:  I found the Shuffle feature in the iPhone Music app, but then it disappeared again so I cannot say for certain it is back to stay as a feature. 'Lurking' does not constitute a reliable feature!

The Everalbum malware is still available to download, viciously infect your device and then spam your contact list. Don't believe the ratings, read them closely and you will see they are fake reviews. Apple apparently doesn't monitor app reviews or actual app functionality any more. iPhone users seem to be heading into the Wild West of the Android app store / Google market / or whatever Google calls their crappy app source this week. I'm averse to mobile devices that blow up in my front pocket!

My iPhone's new-found desire to adjust my car's A/C settings, only when I get a call or use GPS, is very unnerving. However autumn has arrived and I enjoy riding with the windows down and the roof open. Perhaps there will be an update before I need to use the heater!

The double-song download issue persists. In the image below you can clearly see Apple Music app's propensity to duplicate downloads. I am surprised Apple has allowed this to go on for so many years:

The red Shuffle All words in the image above do not provide any actual Shuffle control. They are just words on the screen with no function or response whatsoever. I've been exploring alternative music apps from other vendors. I wish the purposeless Love / Dislike buttons allowed an easy app review to be submitted!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Trouble with GPS Apps (iPhone or Android)

As a techie and especially a mobile device specialist, GPS applications have been a mainstay of my business and government training activities and personal use. All, except perhaps for Gas Buddy, are among the most confusing and cryptic apps you can put on your phone. That’s why people literally hire me to teach these apps to their employees that travel often. It is no wonder I still see so many Garmin and TomTom appliances still stuck to windshields.

I would expect any basic GPS app to find major street addresses, if you carefully type in the address. Most apps locate the address, but in the wrong state or country half the time. The app definitely knows I am in Baltimore today so why is it suggesting a street address in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?  Or Toronto, Canada?

Next I would expect most apps to automatically remember common directions for places, if you sign-in to the application. Most apps do not do this. OK, so you will not remember where I go automatically, why not let me show you? Nope, they might have a Favorites function but it does not let you give easily give it a name or a shortcut. Good luck finding these favorites when you need them most. I understand if you stand on one foot, tell the dog to get off the couch and let a 4-year old name the location, it works. But if you, yourself, want to add a location and give it a custom name, while you are parked at a Rest Area or sitting at a desk, you will only succeed 5% of the time.

I would expect most apps would default to showing you the driving directions. Wrong again. Google Maps prefers to give me the walking directions to New York City and the bicycle directions to Virginia Beach, from my home near Washington, DC. Dare I touch my phone for any reason during a journey. Many apps will quickly figure you wanted to turn around on the way to the store and suddenly drive to Miami Beach. I guess I should be glad they don’t have an option for directions by horseback.

Don’t get me wrong about GPS mapping. I love it. It works great on my iPad and on any laptop computer. These things are just a little too much to use while on the front seat of my Cadillac behind the steering wheel (while parked at a Rest Area). This raised another issue, do the app developers even understand that these apps are used by drivers in real cars? Every GPS app I’ve tested drains the battery to 0% in about an hour. All the GPS apps I’ve tried also go silent if I plug the phone into any power source. Other than power consumption, lack of correct directions, and not consistently telling me the next turn most apps are just fine.

Perhaps all this is because the app developers want you to buy the paid version instead of use the free app. I understand that logic entirely. I like to get paid for my work. Unfortunately that is not the case. Buying an app only removes the ads from what I can tell. I purposely bought several of the highly recommended GPS apps when doing a project for a major car rental firm. All the apps failed at the basic steps, all the Help sites for these apps provide excellent step-by-step instructions, except the instructions were all wrong.

Google Maps tells you to press and hold a location. Do that and it automatically picks a different location around the corner from your intended destination.

The GPS tools built into most luxury cars are great, if you have a few hours to carefully type everything in using some weird miniature keyboard. Oh, and don’t forget you need to subscribe to the GPS service at $25/month after the first year.

I’m sure all these apps function fine for the Application Developers and the committee of computer programmers that join their office focus groups. What happens when you test your GPS app with actual humans instead of programmers? Does anybody take the time to test any product with real humans anymore?

I realize that with enough practice humans can learn to use any application. I’m sure the harpsichord creator found it a very easy instrument to play back in the day. Millions of people learned to play piano over the years, with plenty of lessons and time. Most people do not have years to learn the minuscule controls of a GPS application. Even learning any application in detail is worthless exercise, because the developer will release a completely different version a week later.

Voice commands are not a solution, at least not until phones learn how to recognize plain English, that is expected to occur sometime around 2050. I do dictate to my devices, I have since the first versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking came out long ago. It is a great way to get a laugh out of a somber audience. I compare voice recognition software to the old Mad Libs game played with a special pad of paper. It’s better now but still very risky to use for any document your employer expects to be correct.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often brought up as the solution to all of the world’s major problems, including mapping. The problem with AI is that people still do not have a grasp on what constitutes normal human intelligence. We don’t stand a chance of figuring out what a computer-driven intelligence should be capable of, if we don’t know how we do what do now.

The firm that comes up with an easy-to-use GPS application that doesn’t cost $25/month will probably become the next unicorn. I would just like to see that happen sometime before all humans are replaced as drivers, by Uber, next year sometime. In the meantime I’ll keep using the maps function in Gas Buddy, and save hundreds of dollars in fuel at the same time.

Note: I am not directly paid by any of the firms or apps mentioned in any of my articles. Most of my income comes to me indirectly, through strategic stock market investments (90%) and technical training classes (10%).

New Apple OSX and the Leaning Tower of SFO

NOTE: Briefly, if you tried to upgrade to the new iPhone through apple.com in the days after the new iPhone release announcement you knew the stock would be going up. I do that a day or two after every new iPhone goes up for sale. When I saw an expected ship date of November for a jet black iPhone 7 Plus 128GB I immediately stopped the purchase process and switched over to my brokerage account to buy more shares. Works every time.

Apple has a new operating system (iOS 10) out today. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Do not run an update this large until you have backed up your iPhone or iPad to iCloud or a computer. Go to Settings, iCloud, Backup, Back Up Now.
  2. Do not try to run this update over a limited GB mobile hotspot. Use a broadband solution like cable Internet, FioS or high-speed WiFi with the iPhone plugged in to an AC power source.
  3. Do not try this update at work, unless you are fine with not having access to your phone for 30 minutes to an hour or more. The amount of time for the update can vary based on your Internet connection speed and the amount of memory in your iPhone.
  4. Do not upgrade without giving yourself some time to learn about the new features after the upgrade completes. There are many, many new features.  Apple provides some of the improvements at this site: https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-10/   There are many changes
    shown in Apple’s OS update details.
  5. Expect to run Updates to most if not all major apps after the software update completes. For me this involved another gigabyte of download

Wish List:

The loss of reliability with the fingerprint scanner has been a disappointment. I prefer that security feature over entering a code. Unfortunately my iPhone 6 keeps forgetting all my fingertips. If I power cycle the phone some Fingerprint functionality returns, but only for a short while. I am doing nothing that is altering my fingerprints like woodworking, long soaks in a tub or soldering electronics.

The secure apps that used to run with fingerprint scan are back to requiring complex passwords.

Gazelle is only offering $168 for my iPhone 6 64GB. Better to gift it to a family member.

I sure hope they repair the Wallet application so that it works with more than just one credit card.  Standing there at a cash register while all my credit cards just whirled around and then landed on a random credit card, just like some slot machine, is unacceptable. When those I advised raised the same issue I knew it was not just me. Setting a Primary Card was no help with the ‘spinning credit card” issue.

For a short-term workaround I deleted all but the credit card I primarily use and the issue went away. I have not reviewed all the items included in the new OS version but I sure hope Wallet was fixed.

The Leaning Tower of SFO

You think you have problems?  A $400 million 58-story condo building built out on landfill in San Francisco Bay is turning into the U.S. version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. To build a tall building on a landfill instead of bedrock was absurd. I’m sure the architects and engineers were all qualified but even the experts will sometimes make mistakes. Blaming it on the building next door is not entirely a poor strategy. More weight on the same landfill is bound to exacerbate the issue.

The Millennium Tower has sunk 16 inches in just a few years since completion. It is sinking more on one side than  the other. The rate the structure is sinking may even be increasing. Condo owners cannot be pleased with this development. Personally I would either ask for my money back or find someone more desperate for housing to buy it (maybe not so tough in SFO).

I have never felt comfortable with high-rise structures in common earthquake zones. I know about population density and land-use issues but building a tall building where the earth is known to shake violently is just plain stupid. Driving piles 80 feet down into the landfill instead of 200 feet down may be part of the problem.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek

It will be possible in a few more years to build radio controlled rockets which can be steered into such orbits beyond the limits of the atmosphere and left to broadcast scientific information back to the Earth. A little later, manned rockets will be able to make similar flights with sufficient excess power to break the orbit and return to Earth. - Arthur C. Clarke (1945)

Revenue for satellite services last year was $127.4 billion… -  New York Times (2016)


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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Robocalls as a D.O.S. Attack: Bombarded By Robocalls

In talks with co-workers I am learning that literally everyone I know gets 4 to 5 robocalls every day, often including weekends. These calls are all very much the same. An automated woman’s voice starts talking about credit cards or a fake IRS audit. The phone numbers that appear in caller ID are always fake, unusual area codes, with Canada area codes common. Frequently the phone number displayed is just like your phone number or just one digit off. Lately robocalls have even been going so far as to leave fake voice mail messages.

I assign robocall phone numbers to a contact called DO NOT ANSWER. I edited this contact so that it is added to a Blocked Caller list in my iPhone. But the robocallers keep using new numbers.

I understand that the FCC is doing what they can, within the laws, to reduce this problem. There are industry groups, composed of the largest tech firms, working on this issue too. Yet, when I researched the scope of the robocall issue, as a person trained in cybersecurity processes,  one thing stands clear. Mass robocalls are a Denial of Service or D.O.S type of attack.
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A Denial of Service Attack is generally accepted to be an attempt by some individual or group to shut down a web site by overloading that site with requests. In the case of Robocalls, the organizations doing this are directly impacting the productivity of millions of people. Think about it for just a moment. Millions of people getting 3 or more fake phone calls every day. These people are often at work when such calls arrive. Even if the fake call only distracts you for 2 minutes, three times a day, that’s a total of 6 minutes. Multiple that times one million or more people impacted.  That is 100,000 hours stolen from us as a society. Every day.

Just consider the load on the cell phone network. Most of us are on unlimited minute plans, but not everyone. But the cell phone network itself does not have unlimited capacity, and it costs money to process every single call.

If you are applying for work, you must take calls from phone numbers unfamiliar to you. All too often that callback from a recruiter we are expecting turns out to be just another robocall. Time lost when you could be revising a resume or searching job postings.

In these and other ways Robocalls are costing the U.S. economy possibly a billion dollars each day.

 This is big money that cannot be used for salaries, new equipment, or other productive uses. For all we know this assault is being orchestrated by a government or private entity with exactly that goal in mind. Even if it is not an orchestrated effort, the impact is still the same. Our nation is being publicly robbed, with so far very little we can do about it.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

How To Find A Bomb Lab Using Drones

...neighbors had complained about a suspicious chemical smell coming from the building.

  • A similar complaint was lodged against the Brussels airport attackers.

Chapter Three - The Large Drone Array


Her squadron had a unique mission. It all started with she and her friends operating eighteen drones all over the metro area. Each drone was fitted with 4 unique sensors, capable of smelling out labs where they make bombs. The tiny sensors processed a small stream of the surrounding atmosphere. GPS coordinates for each sample are automatically plotted. The little devices even cross-check results against each other for accuracy. They set-up a fake bomb lab in the university chemistry building. Her roommate's drone found it in less than an hour. But that was too easy. So they secretly made a similar source of the same chemicals, not a real bomb lab but something that produced the same chemical signature. They put it in a secret place out in the city only two of them knew about. One of her friend's drones detected the fake lab three days later! 

Soon after a guy from the government stopped by to visit them in their college dorm room. The university let her use this whole idea as a thesis for her PhD in Environmental Science. That was two years ago.

Drone MRE Tug of War Eastport 145496


Her latest news interview, as CEO of DroneView, went like this:

 “We are here today with Theresa Wilson, CEO of DroneView. DroneView operates what they call squadrons of drones, assembled in an large array, called an LDA, capable of detecting unique chemical signatures over large metropolitan areas." That's straight from their web site.

Theresa, essentially DroneView technology can locate bomb labs, right?"

"Yes, that is essentially correct. But we don't own the drones ourselves. Our operators bring the drones to us, we modify them for our purposes and teach them how to follow our specific flight paths. Ideally one or more of them detect traces of an illegal laboratory."

"Sounds a little like Uber. You must get quite a few false alarms, huh?”

 “Yes, Operators do work sort of like Uber drivers.

So far as false alarms, not really, not for the large areas we cover. Besides, each false positive provides a learning experience for our service. The LDA learns and gets smarter with every survey.

Remember these sensors and drones were tested over the exact same type of operation the bombers use. They are configured to look for three specific chemical traces. Each is precisely associated with the bombs currently being used. ”

 “So what happens when one of the drones detects something? Has that even happened?”

 “Oh, we’ve detected eight real labs with this same equipment, but that’s because LDAs are being operated in many places all over the world. The deployment here in Istanbul just started a few weeks ago. We found one new lab within four days. Still, governments are pretty antsy about letting these larger drones buzz all over their city. It is not unusual to have people shoot at them.”

 “Has one been shot down?”

 “No, they are a small target flying fairly high up, a hundred feet or more. Plus we keep ‘em moving fast, usually in straight lines.”

"Can these drones shoot at bad guys, like the one's in the movies?"

"These civilian drones are larger and more expensive than the one pictured but they are not weaponized in any way. No Hellfire missiles. "

“I guess they would be tough to shoot down. Are you filming too?”

 “The drone camera is always on, that’s how the pilot sees where it is going.”

 “Oh, yea, but do you save that video stream?”

 “Yes, of course, video is essential when we get a positive read from one of the sensors. We might cautiously send in one or more drones to look closer, to pinpoint the source. We have to be careful with those 2nd and 3rd passes over a possible lab. We still do quick sweeps but from different directions, to narrow down the source. These drones are also quieter than some less expensive models.”

 “What about privacy? You must be peering into people’s back yards with those hi-res cameras.”

 “Remember, the drones are moving fast, no lurking about. The video feed, along with all the results, are kept very secure. Nobody looks at 99.9% of the images. Really we only look at the video when we get a positive result from one of the drone’s chemical sensors.” 

“This is a real long shot, isn’t it?”

 “It used to be, until I found a way to use distributed computing, in real time, to process all the incoming data. Now we can canvas a large city in a week or two. We repeat the survey once each month. Out of 26 cities we’ve found 8 labs.”

 “Wow, that’s great! Sort of. What’s the cost of this program?”

 “What’s the cost of a bomb going off in one or more crowded markets or airports? I don’t mean to ridicule your question but the alternative to detecting these labs is anarchy and mayhem.”

 “Understood. So how much?”

 "It runs about $75,000 to survey a medium-size city. Figure $750 per drone per day. 15 to 20 drones flying for five days, optimum.”

 “That’s quite affordable.”

 “It is amazingly cheap. Most of our drones are flown by owner-operators. This provides good jobs locally. Our city partners really like the local staffing. They bring a suitable drone, we clear and train them. We also mount the sensors on each drone for them.”

"What happens if the bad guys only run the bomb lab at night? You might not detect it?"

"During the first survey the drones learn a safe route. We could automatically run that same survey at night, if we need to. But essentially we don't need to. Bomb making takes time and seems to be a continuous process, they can't make what they need in one night or even one day. It take many days to make enough material to build a big bomb. That gives us plenty of daylight flying time to detect them."

 “What if one of your drone operators goes to over to the Dark Side? They could avoid their buddy’s car bomb factory, for example.”

 “We considered that. Each operator actually doesn’t immediately know if their drone has detected something. The labs are typically detected and raided before the drone operator ever knows. They do get a bonus later. Plus they get paid for any court appearances needed when the bombers are prosecuted, but that's not usually necessary. Our analysts are ones that really locate the labs. Too risky for our local operators to be in that legal loop anyway.

There’s another way we would know if someone has decided to work for the likes of Darth Vader or a Sith lord. All the drones are configured to be part of an array. Each operator has to follow a flight plan determined by us. They can avoid obstacles but they have to stick to a set route. We survey all areas, industrial and residential. We don't fly over any government complex or military bases and of course not right over airports. We carefully survey residential areas near airports, though.

All this sensor data and video is stored in the drone and but also immediately sent over mobile broadband and processed in real time. If there is poor mobile phone service where the drone is flying it sends us the data later, when the connection is better.

Each sensor must send actual readings or the drone returned for service. They don’t get paid if the drone is not constantly conducting the survey according to the flight plan. The distributed processing brings the cost to analyze the data down too. Essentially we just want to map out all the chemical signatures that match what we are looking for. We do factor in prevailing winds when trying to locate the exact source. The local authorities take any action necessary.

We charge $150,000 per survey and invest most profits back into the operation. We are clear with each city partner about this. Some nations provide funding and experienced operators to us, especially in dangerous locales. Detecting a bomb factory in Aden, Yemen helps protect New York and Paris too. "

"This is going to sound odd but can you detect drug labs too?"

 "That is not our mission but production of certain illegal drugs, like methamphetamines, involves very explosive chemicals. Some of the same materials are used in bombs. When you think about it, an illegal drug lab like that is just as dangerous to society."

 “You didn’t answer the question.”

 “We are not in the business of looking for illegal drugs, period. Just things that blow up. We do have a new division that goes out looking for sources of pollution. We report our findings to the people that pay us, the local authorities. That’s all I’m going to day about that.”

 “OK, OK, I get it. Two more questions, do these drone operators need to work under where the drones are flying and is your firm hiring people now? "

“The drones we are talking about are designed to fly up to 15 kilometers from the control source. Additional instructions can be sent to the drone though a mobile phone connection if it flies out of signal range.

Operators must be licensed and work in the same city and sometimes they can even work near home. Most work up on a high rooftop or from higher ground. Like Uber, we are always hiring owner-operators in the cities that use our service regularly. Some cities request regular monthly surveys, some we only do quarterly. Or just once. We are also hiring full time operators and support staff. We expect to grow to 500 full-time employees this year. We have over 10,000 operators enrolled.”

 “Is that very effective?”

 “We found two labs in just the first survey of a particularly bad region in western Syria."

"Whoa, you have people inside Syria?"

"Some but we hire operators who know how to operate a drone from a greater distance. A few of the drones even have a way more expensive satellite phone connection. In those areas we rely on the Iraqi Army and Kurds as drone operators. Shiite militias have also gotten good at flying drones. We don't care what they learn from the video feed, our concern is with the sensor data.

Operators stay behind their lines for the most part. Like I said before, once the drone has done a route once, it can retrace that route using autopilot."

"It sounds like there too much automatic stuff going on with these drones."

"I thought you only had two more questions?"

"Your answers just invite more. My producer just gave me a question: Are you using artificial intelligence at all?"

"AI is an integral part of the LDA, it is why we are as effective as we are. We cannot depend on people pouring over data in spreadsheets. Of those 8 bomb labs our system detected, only two were actually detected by humans. The chemical amounts were so large they were easy to spot in those two cases. The rest were spotted by an AI routine we run over the data constantly."

"How does that work?"

"I could spend weeks explaining it to you but I'll give one public example. A single drone may only detect a very tiny amount of material produced when explosive materials are created. That tiny amount may have blown a mile or more in the wind. Other drones flying in the same city may detect tiny amounts. The artificial intelligence routines map out all those tiny traces, factor in the prevailing winds, and send the drones over a suspected, smaller region. The same routines are repeated, if something is picked up. Eventually we can narrow it down to a city block or less, sometimes a single structure. The military can usually figure out where the lab is from that point.

The entire system keeps learning and getting better. For example as some bomb makers alter their recipes, the system pretty much adjusts. We feed it the results from investigations into the bombings we don't prevent.  We are finding labs that are known to exist in some cities, in far less time."

"You guys worked over Gaza?"

"I can't talk about that, we have an extensive client list but we guard that list closely."

"You do work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? We see that on your web site."

"I can talk about the EPA contract. Yes, we survey major U.S. cities for specific pollutants, especially for dangerous levels. This is an area that is growing, though not as fast as overseas requests for existing bomb lab surveys. The EU is another buyer of our environmental survey product. Everybody likes the way we are able to quickly locate the source of certain chemicals."

"Thank you and DroneView for taking this time to talk with Market News today, Ms Wilson, we do appreciate it. I think some of our viewers may even change their opinions of drones as a result."

"That would be a positive outcome. It was my pleasure."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Insights: Markets, Dharma Fund

The fund has bought Dollar Tree, Inc.(NASDAQ:DLTR) shares for almost ten years now. The oldest shares are up nearly 1,000% despite my grade school math teacher teaching me otherwise. Mr. Preston taught that anything over 100% is nonsense.

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The most recent major Dollar Tree event is the acquisition of Family Dollar stores. The executives down in Chesapeake continue to do a great job integrating, no, doubling the total stores. Mr. Sasser and his team provided a very positive forward statement recently. It is no surprise Moodys upgraded Dollar Tree recently. My experience suggests Dollar Tree shares will move above 100 and split again.

The overall fund was still way up for the year at the depths of the Brexit panic. Trade agreements take months if not years to change. The British vote will eventually put them in a Norway-like relationship with the EU. This could take two years or more. They cannot even figure out who lives at Downing Street right now. I see the EU population growing with the addition of Scotland and a reunited Ireland. It is difficult to find the place where Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) runs into much trouble here, other than some currency issues.

From the point of view of EU reforms, Brexit may turn out to be a positive force for change. Barring some other new trend, investor sentiments will carry the U.S. markets higher. Overseas investors with large sums to invest are going to move a trillion dollars worth of investments into U.S. equities. They want to reduce their exposure to any negative Brexit fallout and the possibility of the EU fracturing. Mostly they just want good returns from their investments. There simply are no other secure markets capable of absorbing that much money.

Getting back into Brazil at the bottom has resulted in large Unrealized Gains for the fund, though this area is still a small holding. It came as a result of a review of past holdings, most long since sold off. The fund holds a block of shares for many past investments, such as Brazil Foods (NYSE:BRFS), as bookmarks. Otherwise there is no incentive to look back. The sun is driving me off the deck and back into the farmhouse. Enjoy your trading day!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Market Reaction to BREXIT

This analyst was not convinced that Brits would vote to leave the EU. We did examine the portfolios we manage for direct exposure to the UK. Our investments are mostly unrelated to England's economy, though many firms do business there it is not a huge volume compared to China or U.S.. The devalued British Pound may actually help some businesses. We don't own banks or insurance firms. Of course the UK is tied to every other nation but that's a given.

Expect the financial markets to show a knee-jerk reaction but investors don't really know what will happen next.  Stock valuations will likely drop 3 to 4% today or in the next few trading days.  But the value of the underlying non-UK assets will not, so there will be bargain prices in some equities.
Civil Ensign, British Virgin Islands, Annapolis Harbour 0090737
The U.S. Elections will go on. Business as usual goes on. Consumers in other nations will feel a shudder but few employers outside of the UK are going to suddenly decide to reduce payroll simply because they are changing their relationship with their largest trading partner.

Ireland will feel some changes. Too early to outline those but some British firms may turn West, considering more trade deals with the U.S. or Eire.

The U.S. economy is the engine that drives the world economy and the North American economy is stronger than it has been in years.  Once consumers and businesses get rolling, like they are now, that momentum carries at least the U.S. forward consistently.  To the Elections. The choice each of us makes at the polling places this fall will make a huge difference. This is important to remember.

Eventually the UK will need to come to terms with Europe. They never did use the Euro currency. There is still a need to let Europeans work in the UK and vice versa. The British pound will drop for now and then recover over time. The UK will end up relating to Europe like Norway, not a member but paying to play the markets all the same.

The renewed focus on trade tariffs with the EU may turn out to be a good thing. Various EU agencies are actually based in London, that gets tricky. Here the situation becomes like the BRAC, the U.S. military base realignment and closure process.  Land owners, builders and office rental people somewhere in Europe will get new business when EU offices in London are shuttered. London will suddenly have new office space available, for a short period.

The EU may get a little rocky for six months or so. No change there, Europe remains unsettled as refugees keep pouring in and certain economies like Italy, Spain and Greece, while recovering, are not exactly rock solid. That was all going to happen with or without the BREXIT vote.

Many people in England are rightly concerned about a huge influx of migrants from Syria. English communities enriched by so many people from former British Crown colonies. People from the West Indies, Egyptians, Pakistanis and others from the Indian subcontinent live and work all over England. Quite a few of these people are citizens of the UK. Not surprisingly they too are worried about the migrant flow and associated costs to EU members. Scotland is already talking about another exit vote, they sell boatloads of whiskey to other Europeans. Like many nations, there is a concern about trade tariffs imposed on non-EU nations.

Conclusion

The changes may not all be good but investors will still need to put their money someplace safe where it will earn dividends and grow. Can't leave it in cash, especially with the currency dropping. Sounds like the U.S. economy will get a huge influx in foreign investments moving out of the UK!