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20161219

Economic Relgion - Part 1

Recently, my spouse has been critical of some of the investment books that I have been reading, primarily Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  My spouse quickly came to the conclusion that the book that I was reading was manipulative in the way it was worded, and that it was specifically phrased in such a way as to appeal to the ego, to motivate, or trick, a person into making rash decisions without fully appreciating the consequences.  I found this viewpoint upsetting not just because it was a strong negative reaction to a book that I have come to respect for it's core concepts, even though I agree the writing style was lacking.  The part that disappointed and upset me was that the opinion that my spouse had from this book was based primarily on a small segment of a single chapter halfway through the book.  It was more worrying because my spouses criticisms were not necessarily with the concepts that were being conveyed, but rather with the words and tactics being used to convey those ideas as a means to invalidate all of the concepts the book had to offer.

To say that I was annoyed with my spouses initial reaction would not be an understatement.  It's not that I think that they were wrong in what it is they were saying.  I do believe that some of the assumptions they were making about the book were accurate.  I think the important distinction to make from what my spouse was saying versus my own opinion of the book is this: identify the shortcomings and discard them and instead focus on what concepts or ideas work for your own financial situation.  Focus on what makes sense to you and derive value from it.  A reader can only get as much out of a book as much as they choose to take.  If a reader chooses to take nothing from it and perceive it as without value, does that hold true for all readers?  I don't think so, and I don't believe that my spouse would have felt that way either, if they had been willing to open their mind to radically different concepts, even if those concepts were presented in a less than stellar wrapping.  Don't simply target something specific that you do not like as a reason to disregard and ignore all of the advice, knowledge and experience that the author was putting fourth.  In my opinion, the author is not the focal point of the book even though he frequently uses personal experiences to convey his concepts, the concepts are what matters, not the context in which they are being presented.

Yes, I think that certain parts of the book do use certain tactics that I personally view to be manipulative upsells, or overly risky stances for young or inexperienced E and S's to make, however, I also personally believe that the net positives, good concepts and vital business information that a reader can gain from a book like that vastly outweigh its shortcomings.

The other part that I take personal issue with is that my spouse does not expect me to make these distinctions and come to the same, or a similar conclusion on my own because of some lack of intelligence.  That is, because I do not have a college degree in a highly specific field, that I cannot call a spade a spade because of my lack of formal education.

To use an analogy:
One week, I am reading The Old Testament.  My spouse notices what I am reading, and confronts me on this, stating that I should not pay attention to that book because it supports the ideals of slavery, patriarchal society, and the oppression of women.  I explain to her that I am reading The Old Testament, not because I believe everything that it has to say, word for word, but rather because I think that many other people value it highly.  The devotees of this book claim to see the word of God through its writing, and find a peace and happiness that I hope to explore for myself.  Simply by virtue of reading its teachings does not make me a devotee of the subject, it only makes me an curious explorer of its: teachings, wisdom, history and faith.

The following week, I am reading The New Testament.  My spouse once again notices what I am reading and confronts me about it.  They state that people who are Atheists should not read that book because they do not understand the context of when and why it was written.  My spouse tells me that I cannot fully contextualize the message The Bible is trying to convey because I am not educated in the subject of Christian faith.  I tell my spouse that I agree with them, which is why I am reading The New Testament.  "I am reading The Bible", I tell my spouse, "not because I feel that I have a personal connection to that faith, but rather, I am reading that Book because I do not have a personal connection to that faith.  I am trying to understand how people can develop such a strong conviction in their beliefs based off of The Words on a Page.  I am trying to gain insight into the context of why this Book is quoted, and why people have held it in such high regard for so many centuries."  I continue, "It is not that I am planning on becoming a follower of this religion, I am simply trying to find what value this book has, and how I can apply its teachings to my own life.  I do not have to agree with everything written within it, or understand the context of every passage in it, in order to gain a greater understanding and respect for that religion."

On the third week, my spouse finds me reading The Koran.  Again, my spouse is highly critical of my reading a book that they do not agree with.  My spouse tells me, "You should not read a book that supports the: stoning of adulators, the suppression of rights of women, and the concept of Jihad."  I tell my spouse, "I am reading The Koran not because I subscribe to the ideologies of those who follow its teachings, but rather because I hope to gain a wider respect and understanding for the people who do."  I say, "I do not need to become a follower of Islam in order to find value in the words written within it.  The point of reading this Book is not to become a follower of this religion, the point of my reading this book is to gain personal knowledge of its teachings, and to see if the lessons that it teaches can be applied to my own life."

On the fourth and final week, my spouse finds me reading a book on Dianetics.  Once again, my spouse tells me that they do not approve of the book that I am reading.  "Scientology is a cult.  There are many documentaries and reports that have been done to show that that 'religion' is destructive and harmful to the people that follow it.  You should not read a book that punishes its followers and who's faiths main goal is to get as much money as is possible, from all of its followers."  "Besides", my spouse says, "studying that cult is a waste of time.  I do not believe in it, so you should not believe in it either."  I tell her once again, "I am reading this Book, not because I agree or understand everything that is written within it.  I am reading this Book because others find peace and comfort in its teachings.  I cannot presume to understand the things that this Church has been accused of, but if the people accused of those crimes did commit those crimes, I hope they are held accountable for their own actions.  The point of me reading this Book is because I am trying to find out why others hold it in high regard.  I am trying to find out if there is content within this book that is applicable to my own life, and has advice that I can then apply to my life in order to improve it."  I tell my spouse, "Although I may not be a religious person, and I may not believe much of what any these Books claim to have happened, to actually have happened, but I do think that it is important for me to give them a chance to argue their individual merits.  It is important for me to approach each subject with an objective and open mind so I can come to my own conclusions based on what the writers of these Books judge to be the best way to live my life." I continue, "Much of what they say does not agree with my worldview.  I am exploring what they have to say in order to ensure the conclusions that I have reached are well informed.  It is only through constant mental, moral and ethical analysis, or mental training, that I can ensure that the decisions that I am making in my life are based off of my level of understanding on religious and philosophical education."

The similarities between religious assumptions and the economic or financial assumptions, should be readily apparent - it is only by challenging the concepts that we find comfortable, relaxing and "obvious" -- it is only by testing the merits of our personal faiths, and to constantly reevaluate the positions that we hold -- that we can gain a fuller, more well-rounded perspective and live our lives based on the knowledge that we acquire.

I will expand on the themes I have presented here in Part 2.

20161211

Difficulty with the idea of "Pay yourself First"

I have been reading, and re-reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki over the past several days.  Although there some absolutely explosive ideas within the book, to include the ideas of: a house being a liability instead of an asset, and the viability of forming a corporation in order to shield investments from tax burdens, I continually find myself having problems understanding the concept of "paying one's self first".

Passages from the book frequently read similar to the following,
"Rich Dad: I didn't say don't pay your bills or your taxes, I simply said I choose to pay myself before I pay anyone else.  Even the Government."

Is the implication that you should invest at the beginning of the month, in order to generate enough revenue to pay off any debts by the end of the month, via the "The people I owe money to will scream louder then I can." being viewed as a useful form of motivation?  I find it to be suspect.  It's not that I even disagree with it, it just seems needlessly risky without a great amount of justification.  Why not simply wait until bills are paid, then worry about investment opportunities?  Although your overall spending power will be lowered due to it being diverted to bill payment, it seems like a much smarter move.  Paying your bills means you won't have to worry about: late fees, credit hits, repossession of property, legal threats, etc.  Is it really that beneficial to risk all of those negative impacts simply to have more money to spend and invest with?

Part of the defense of this practice, as the book explains, is that you are being "pushed around" by the people you owe money to.  Again, a passage of the book read something similar to,

"Sometimes life pushes you around, the government, the bank, your boss.  You can either sit there and take it, or you can do something about it."

I find it hard to imagine myself being "pushed around" by being asked to pay for items and services that I use regularly.  Those services have value, and I value them enough to use those services.  Where is the "pushing you around" part come into play with that?  They expect payment, and I expect to pay them.  Although the author, and "Rich Dad" both claim that you should pay your bills, but simply opt to pay yourself first, I can't help but find myself at odds with the idea.  If you are paying yourself first, even before you pay taxes or bills and you come up short, you owe them.  If you owe them, you have late fees.  Those late fees eat into the profit generated by investments or expenditures made elsewhere, or cause long term effects which are more difficult to reverse (credit score).  I find it hard to justify that, even if the threat of that can be seen as a motivating factor.

Perhaps the implication is that the way in which we view finances: bills, income (passive and earned), assets, liabilities, etc. are often not what they seem.  Perhaps the way in which we imagine receiving and payment for products is misguided and the idea is to get the reader to think about the basic, underlying ideas in a new and different way.

I have done independent research, and looked up reworded concepts on the idea of paying one's self before paying anyone else, and the information that I took away from those resources was this:

When you receive a paycheck, devote a certain amount of it to your Retirement fund.  Put a small amount in a Savings Account.  Perform some kind of investment strategy, but do something with it in order to develop your own personal finances, without expending those dollars immediately towards paying bills and related matters.  The difference in doing this, and what most people do is that, when money goes into those accounts, it does not come back out in order to pay off debts.  It is your money, and not money that you are to spend on anyone else, but your own personal financial goals and investments.  I find this much easier to grasp and a much more fleshed out concept - which is why I can't help but question it - is that what Robert Kiyosaki meant when he was writing about the concept of paying yourself first?  If it was, I imagine he would have simply stated so, without room for confusion.  I imagine Mr. Kiyosaki to be a smart man, and I think that if he had meant to write something else, he would have simply done so.

I am open to the idea of re-evaluating certain aspects of my financial habits, I can't help but find this one to be a bit lacking.  It's a proposition of change of an idea, without a particularly clear follow through of why that is, and should be the case, or on how it is viable other than "it will motivate you...!"  Yes, you need motivating factors, but is fear a better motivating factor then say, greed, or the desire for success?  Perhaps it just depends on the person.  Perhaps my mind, and my current mindset simply isn't equipped for the level and "style" that is required to be a successful entrepreneur.  It's hard for me to say, since I have never done it.  It's more valid for him to speculate, as he has done it and has succeeded.  There is simply a certain level of "in the trenches" perspective on the subject that I do not believe I will ever attain - unless I make the journey to step foot into that ditch, grab a shovel, and make a hole myself.

To read more about the topic I am discussing, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki can be found here:
Rich Dad, Poor Dad

NOTE: The above is an Amazon Affiliate link.  This means that I receive payment, if you purchase based on the product I am linking to.  I link this book not in hopes of making money, but rather because I feel the topic and the book are highly relevant to the subject being discussed.

20161209

Thoughts on Health Care reform - Previous thoughts (Part 1)

For the majority of my young life, I had always thought very positively about the idea of socialized medicine.  To me, nothing was more honorable, and nothing made more sense than to simply have people pay higher taxes, in exchange for "free" health care coverage.

Even at the time, I understood intellectually that "free" health care coverage wasn't free in the sense that there was no exchange of money between two or more parties; I understood that in paying taxes towards providing health care coverage, that you were paying for the cost of it, and were simply doing so all at a single lump sum on a yearly basis.

The idea, the spirit of the thing, to me was this:
1) I believed that if you have citizenship in this country, you should not have to decide between whether or not you need to go to the doctor if you cut off a body part, simply because you are poor.  I was and am very much of the opinion that medical treatment should be the core of the issue, not its associated cost.  I believed this because I felt that for a country to maintain its integrity and honor, it should care for its citizens.

Yes, people would argue that you simply do not have to pay the bill.  You are not required to pay back what you owe if you are unable to do so.  For those of us that grew up in poverty, we have a strong understanding on why this argument is wrong and poorly thought out.  Having any kind of debt to another person, whether it is reasonable to expect it to be repaid or not is not the issue, the issue is that the person we owe can make our lives a nightmare.  The debt that you owe starts to become an overriding factor of your life.  Every time a dollar is earned, you feel that there is no ownership in that dollar - there is no value in any of the currency you possess because you do not possess it - the person you owe does.

2) I pay my taxes.  I report my earnings honestly and pay any debt that I owe reliably and on time.  I hold high expectations that the government will use the funds that I give them in a manner that will benefit the public interest.  To follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, it starts to become less about paying into something because you are forced to do so, and more so because it is the right thing to do.  It becomes a moral responsibility to do what you are already being compelled to do anyway.  The government twists your arm into convincing you to do it, but ultimately you accept that the price you pay will help in keeping other people alive and healthy as well.  In a very real sense, your taxes become the tip jar at a 7-11 for a Leukemia patient asking for assistance for paying for medical bills.  It is the Church collection plate, requesting donations in order to help a local family have a safe place to stay until their house can be rebuilt, after a fire or storm.  It is the penultimate version of looking out for each other - each and every American citizen.  It is a vastly distributed network, sure, but it is basically the same concept as donating to a charity or beggar, just on a much larger scale on a predetermined date.

One of the most obvious and glaring differences between a collection plate and socialized medicine being that tax money goes to a faceless, bureaucratic hodgepodge, in order to support people that you will likely never know personally.  It is hard to judge the merit of strangers, and harder yet to expect an unknown entity to use funds they are supplied with, in the manner that they claim that they will spend them.  Is it really your place to judge these strangers though?  Should you have a say in who does, and who doesn't get coverage?  How can you be certain that any charity or organization uses funds in an approved manner?  Surely some of them get audited by 3rd parties, but do you ever personally seek out and read those audit reports?  If you have, did you understand what they meant?  Surely a distributed system through the government is more fair and even-handed then many thousands of tiny mom-and-pop type setups, right?

The idea of a forced "donation" bothers me on a personal level that I could never really justify to myself.  Is it truly a donation if you do not have a say in the matter?  Regardless, I still felt that it was an overall net gain for Americans, and that ultimately it was for the good of everyone - the good of all of my close and distant relatives, the same it would be for complete and utter strangers, that I like to think that I would try to help in their time of need.  It was good for people that I agree with, people that I disagree with and people that I dislike strongly.  It was not a perfect concept by any means, but it was one that I believed in because I believed that it was important to help other Americans.  To be clear, I still believe that it's important to help other Americans, I simply feel that there are much more efficient, better ways to get those results.  I have started to find it harder and harder to support the idea for more realistic and logistical reasons which I will get into in Part 2, "Current thoughts".

I thought that I had had a very solid moral and logical foundation in this matter.  I am quietly literally talking about an idea that I had supported from <10 3="" a="" accept="" ago="" all="" and="" approximately="" as="" at="" attempted="" before="" belief="" can="" challenge="" completely.="" concepts.="" concerns="" concrete="" consider="" core="" decades.="" did="" down="" evaporate="" faith="" feel="" for="" held="" i="" idea="" if="" immediately="" in="" is="" it="" its="" losing="" many="" me="" my="" myself="" nbsp="" need="" not="" of="" on="" once="" opinion="" p="" really="" sat="" see="" seemed="" shifted="" so="" solidified="" something="" speed="" still="" stretch="" strongly="" subject="" t="" that="" the="" this="" to="" truly="" very="" was="" week="" which="" will="" years="">

Now, some may say that I have become so easily swayed or "taken in" by some kind of nefarious "alt-right" meme ladien agenda because it is the current, popular, in-thing to do.  I don't feel that this is the case; I very much feel that I came to this conclusion on my own, but I do think that it would be foolish of me to simply rule out such a suggestion.  The ideas I have been encountering over the past year are a new breath of fresh air into my political and personal opinions.  They have shown me that there is more then one way to think about things, and more then one way to handle the same situation, depending on where you fall within the political spectrum.  Perhaps it is simply a matter of choosing to feel different about universal health care that has caused me to change my stance.  If that is the case, I wonder how long the "choice" to do a complete 180 on this topic will hold for.  How long will it be before another "choice" pushes me into a third direction, or back to my original conclusion?

The fact of the matter is that I am gullible in many respects, and I believe myself to be especially susceptible in the cases of politics, where "facts" are often accented with pseudo-scientific charts, misquoted "gotcha" phrases and strong emotional bonds to RYB color preferences.  I believe that we are all aware that we have these shortcomings, and that we are all aware that whatever political leaning we choose to go with is chalk full of shaky, undocumented claims, paranoid ranting by a vocal minority, and feel good catch phrases that we cling to like a wet cat hanging onto a log, in a raging river.

I believe that the sooner that we identify the weaknesses within our own political and moral frameworks, the sooner we will be able to make educated and informed decisions for ourselves based on the evidence presented to us, rather than the emotional forces that we prescribe to because it feels safe.  It is quite easy for us all to hide behind dubious claims of how and why our particular flavor of politics is correct, it is much harder to reflect on why we feel the need to regurgitate those charts, "facts", and claims the moment our personal views feel threatened, and whether or not we've given the opposing side a fair and reasoned chance to justify their equally poorly supported arguments.

20150619

First 24 hour reaction with Chromebook

(Instead of just giving some sparse thoughts and reactions, I figured I should write like a grown adult.)

I've had the Dell Chromebook 11 for a little over 24-hours now and figured I should probably talk about some of my experiences with it so far.

Old and new

Compared to the old HP that I was using, I've really been blown away at how much smoother everything has been, keyboard quirkiness aside.  The specs are roughly equivilant but the performance is absolutely night and day.  I left the Chromebook unplugged for a solid 3 to 4 hours last night, as I was making Meatloaf and like using my laptop as the cookbook.  The size of the Chromebook and the brightness levels really worked to it's benifit.  It took up an extremely small amount of space both by height and width when compared to the HP I had been using.

 TrackPad/TouchPad

Many (all?) of the finger gestures that worked on my HP worked exactly the same on Chromebook, with one or two extra additional features thrown into Chromebook (two finger drag for page moving, two finger swipe left or right to navigate back/forward in webpages).  It was really great and felt very natural.  If you aren't a fan of TouchPads, this one probably isn't going to win you over, as well, it is just another TouchPad.  But it does its job well.  It has the "clickiness" that I have come to expect out of no button TrackPads, like with the Macbook Pro and some high end HP business laptops.  It has a satisfying thud to it when it is depressed, but also has the added benifit of being touch sensitive, that is, you can poke at the TrackPad to have it register a press instead of physically needing to make it click.  This can be handy in casual web browsing, but I have noticed it being slightly too sensitive at other times.  I tend to rest my right hand towards the enter key and have my left around Spacebar/left shift, so I found myself occasionally moving the mouse by mistake.  Hopefully there is an option to disable this feature in BIOS if it becomes a bigger problem.  I am unsure if the TrackPad becomes disabled if you hook up a mouse to the laptop, I would suspect it would, but I don't plan on doing any kind of mouse intensive work with the laptop so I doubt I'll ever really see that feature come into play regardless.

Operating System

As for the OS, I've gotten used to the Chrome version of Skype surprisingly quickly, although I am still slightly disappointed at the seeming lack of an options menu that exists for both Windows and Mac.  I am extremely annoyed to see that Skype on Chrome does not have video/audio support as of yet.  That is one of the core features of Skype.  How can that not be implemented already?  I know my camera and mic work because I was able to launch hangouts successfully.  I don't know if this is some kind of a snub by Google against Microsoft, or if Microsoft simply isn't interested in giving out support to a Google product, but whatever the case, it just seems petty and stupid.  It hurts the consumer in the end and forced them into using Hangouts or other alternatives.  I probably shouldn't be so hard on "Hangouts Talk" or whatever it's called, as I haven't actually given it a try yet and it did look pretty feature rich from what I saw...I just dislike the idea of being shoved towards a particular product, you know?  What's next?  A desktop icon for Prodigy?  Pass.

Gripes, moans and complaints

On the downside, I have noticed two things that I am not too thrilled about, one hardware wise and the other software related:

When I pick up my Chromebook, if I am hold it tightly to the right of the TrackPad, I can sometimes feel it click.  It's not a huge deal, but it is concerning.  It makes me believe that the construction quality of the front face/top face of the laptop isn't of particularly strong build quality and could break rather easily.  I usually don't use a monster grip on electronics, so I don't think the problem is on my end.  I should be able to pickup the laptop with one hand without having it click, regardless of where I grab it.

Finding files on Chromebook is very unintuitive.  I had to search just to figure out where they were stored and how to get at them.  Maybe I just haven't really gotten my head around the concept of using mainly cloud storage to backup files, but I keep expecting to see Windows Explorer and file directories to navigate but, it's just...not there.  Chromebook has a "Files" application, but it basically points to Google Drive and offers a very limited local storage device.  It's an interesting approach.  I haven't decided if I like it or not yet.

The idea of everything that is pinned on my Taskbar basically being weblinks is also rather odd.  It's not bad, it's an interesting concept, it's just...odd. Sometimes I'll find myself going to youtube through Chrome, and look down to see that Youtube is active.  I go through this weird mental checklist of "I don't remember launching YouTube" (click on it, Chrome minimizes, maximize Chrome) "Why is YouTube still launched?  All I was doing was watching YouT-...Oh.  Right."

I'm rather impressed at the finder feature for downloading Chromebook Apps, although I am not thrilled that it is a weird mish-mash of both Google searching and App searching.  That is, I like using it for both, but I don't like that it can't seem to distinguish when I am trying to search for a Chromebook App and when I am trying to do a Google Search.  For example, I typed in "Dropbox" in hopes of downloading the Chromebook version as a backup to Google Drive.  I chose the first link and found myself going to Dropboxes homepage.  It took me a second to realize that this wasn't their App page, this was a Web Search that had launched and was not what I wanted, even though there were things I could download there.  I had to perform the search again and manually check for "Install Chrome App" or whatever it's called.  It was a simple 1-click fix, but I could easily see this being an issue for non-tech savvy types who are used to downloading things "The old way".

My only other gripe I can recall is the battery life indicator:  By default, it does not give you the remaining time without expanding the icon in the bottom right, other than a battery icon that will presumably, change as the battery life gets lower.  I prefer either a time remaining or a percentage remaining, like you will see with a lot of cellphones.  I imagine it was done this way in order to keep things "uncluttered", as well as to mask the fact that the ETA for battery life can fluctuate wildly depending on what you are doing.  I have see it tell me that I have approximately "6 hours remaining", which is fine, then check an hour or so later to see "11 hours remaining", then switch to "8 hours remaining" 30 minutes after that.  I realize that there are a number of factors that can affect battery life ETAs, but a bit more consistency, or the option for a detailed breakdown of why it is changing so dramatically might be helpful to the more casual observer.  Perhaps a 24 hour/1 month history profile with most-to-least power intensive Applications running could help shed some light on these changes.  Similar technology exists for data usage, so I don't see why this couldn't be possible for battery life as well.

 Perks

I have to admit, I had completely forgotten that Chromebook even offered additional services simply for buying a Google product when I first purchased it.  I enabled the 100GB 2 year free storage space and the 60 trial of Google Music pretty much immediately.  I'm enjoying both so far, although I'm still slightly confused by how Google Music works...can I download the albums that I want, or do I need to stream in order to listen to them?  I would really love to be able to listen to songs in the car without having to use up any of my cellphones data cap, or if I happen to be in a remote location without service.  I suppose I'll have to investigate it more tomorrow to see how that works.

Inital Conclusion

Chromebook is really great.  It's affordable, small, light, quiet and (mostly) user-friendly.  There are a few areas where it could use some major improvement, but if you are looking for a cheap alternative to a your run of the mill 300-700$ laptop, don't intend to do any gaming and have a pretty consistent Internet Connection, Chromebook might just be exactly what you are looking for.

20150617

Dell Chromebook 11 Notebook - First hour impressions

"Huh, sure is tiny.  Neat!"
"Where is...caps lock?  Whatever."
"Where is Update Manager?  WHERE IS UPDATE MANAGER? WHERE?!"
"Where is Skype?  Oh...Hangouts.  Eh, close en-it needs an update.  Where is update manager?!?!"
"Do I seriously have to download a chrome update for chromebook?  This seems - Oh, so capslock is search now?  That's actually really cool.  REALLY cool, actually."
"Two finger swipe.  Nice."
"Where the fuck is restart?  No update manager OR restart?!"
"Did that shutdown Chromebook or send it into Hibernation?!  Eh, whatever.  Took like 6 seconds regardless."
"WHERE IS MY GOD DAMN UPDATE MANAGER?!" (Find this)  Eventually figure out what's going on.  "Ohhhh...it's been updating the whole time.  Would have been nice if it had uh, notified me.  At all."
(Start to type out this post) "Ugh, that's the third time I've opened search by mistake.  Man...I never realized just how often I use capslock.  :("

Aside from Updates being a tad on the hidden side, and possibly neededing to change the search key to Right Alt or Right Ctrl, I really like Chromebook so far.  I'm at 97% battery life right now and the ETA before shutdown from power loss is ~11 hours.  Fucking Godly!