Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A New Day

Being a parent is hard.  I'm not going to mince words.  I have a teenager and a 10 year old and being a parent has been a constant challenge.  I love my children.  I love them more than I ever thought possible.  But parenting is like walking a maze surrounded by lava.  Any minute now I expect to make a wrong step and suddenly my child is the next Hannibal Lecter. Or worse, I look up and realize I've hit a dead end and my child missed an opportunity because I failed to help them.  

Do I make them do it because it's good for them or do I leave them alone and let them make their own decisions because that's good for them as well?  Is this annoying habit that makes me want to pull out my hair a phase or is this something I'm going to have to deal with at Thanksgiving dinner for the rest of my life?  It's a struggle.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that I'm still not perfect.  So on a regular basis I'm left doubting myself as well.  Is this really a big deal or am I projecting my own insecurities on my child and overreacting thus continuing the cycle of whatever it is that makes me feel insecure?  Good times.

Because parenting is hard, we have good days and bad days. But one of the things I've learned is not to let the bad days carry over.  If my son has stayed up late because he forgot to study for a test until the last minute and had to endure hours of lectures about video games and grades, I have a routine I do the next morning.

I gently wake him up early so there is no rush to get ready and I tell him "Today is a new day."

It's a reminder that despite how bad things have gotten, despite how tired or full of despair you might have felt, today is a new day.  It's new and you have a chance to turn this day into something different.  You have a chance to make this day better.  You have an opportunity to change.

Of course I'm speaking to myself as much as I am my kids when I say it.  Today I have a chance to start being healthier.  I have a chance to make better decisions.  I have the opportunity to chase that dream a little further.  Sure I may have messed things up a little yesterday.  Or maybe I was lazy the week before, but today is a new day.  Today I get to start over.

So, today is a new day and I'm going to be writing more.  I've actually already started this process, but this is the first post I've published.  I have no doubt that eventually I'll take a break again and disappear for a month or year at a time.  But that's ok because today is a new day and so is tomorrow.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Humility, the Path to Sound Judgement and the Way to Avoid Tragedy

I've never been a fan of tragedies. I'm not sure what the Greeks were thinking, but I'm guessing they weren't much fun at parties. It's certainly timeless and true that into every life some tragedy must fall. I've experienced my fair share, so I can speak as an authority. However, the defining theme for a Greek tragedy is that the main character often brings about or multiplies theirs own tragedy. The audience is left to cringe as they watch the slow descent of the hero into craziness and misdirection.

Bad decisions seem to define the tragic hero. Decisions that are so obviously bad to the third party observer, but seemingly so hidden from the protagonist. I think the true tragic character never even recognizes that a decision even existed. C'est la vie, that is life.\

That is why I hate tragedies. Life isn't something that just happens. Our lives are defined by the way we react to tragedies. It's defined by the decisions we make and how we decide to deal with those tragedies. A hero doesn't let a tragedy consume them and drive them into the dirt from which they came. A hero overcomes those tragedies and makes decisions based on experience.

Easily said, much harder to execute. I realize that as well. But the first step in making a decision is recognizing that a decision exists. The first step in making good decisions is recognizing that you can.

I think we often look at a situation and assume that positive outcomes aren't possible, because I'm not the type of person to be that way. I'm not strong. I don't have those opportunities. I don't have the money, the time, or the talent. It's just not who I am. No one decides these things for you. Only you can make those types of decisions and there is no more reason that you should assume the worst than there is that you should assume the best.

All of this has been said a million different ways before so I'm not going to dwell on them. The power of positive thinking and such. What I am going to talk about is one of the key ingredients to making good decisions. Humility.

I've watched plenty of tragic characters make horrible decisions. But one of the most common trait those characters had was a total lack of humility. Humility is such a downplayed virtue, but so key to good decisions in life.

Often times a lack of humility is involved when people are at their best. Tragedy is absent and life is grand. So humility quickly becomes a forgotten virtue.  When you feel like you're winning at life, you credit yourself with that result.  Maybe you're right.  If others feel like you're winning as well, they'll often reinforce that idea.  With social media the situation is even worse.  Likes and hearts make us feel like we're doing something right.  As you become successful, people will actually treat you differently.  Your jokes become funnier, you're more often right than wrong.  Suddenly everything you do is great.

But you're not funny, people just laugh because they want to earn your favor.  And you're definitely not right, they just know that it doesn't matter and they can't win anyways, so they nod and agree.  The trap has been set.  You start to believe your own hype and this is where you start messing up.

If we live in a world where the only outlook is our own, then our perception of the world is heavily skewed. No differing opinions or experiences leaves us isolated and out of touch with reality.  When the time comes that you have to make a decision based on a reality outside of your own, you'll probably make a weird one and not even realize it.

This is why I'm skeptical of career politicians.  If your entire job for the last 10 years is to live in the political world, then there is a very slim chance you have any notion of what my reality is like.  There is little chance you know what it's like to mow your own yard, get pulled over without reason or to clean out the toilet bowl with a plastic brush.  There are exceptions and local politicians are obviously more in touch than national ones, but you get the idea.

Humility teaches us that there are no jobs or experiences that are beneath us.  I don't look down on the person that may do these things for me because I respect them.  I also respect them enough to seek out and listen to their opinion.  Learn from them and make good decisions based on that knowledge.  I listen to everyone around me, the intern or new employee.  The crusty old employee that no one likes.  No one is beneath me and everyone has something I can learn from.  This is the key to making good decisions, but we must be humble to posses it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dogecoin and Bitcoin, What it Can Mean to Charities

   United Way recently announced that it was going to begin accepting Bitcoin.  This is an incredibly important step in the evolution of cryptocurrencies.
   One of the common questions about Bitcoin and Dogecoin, is why should I bother buying any?
    This is an extremely valid question.  Most people are drawn to Bitcoin for investment purposes and are hoping for some large payout like some of the earlier adopters experienced.  Tim Draper thinks this is still possible and predicts Bitcoin could be worth $10,000 in the next 3 years.  I hope he's right, but there are other reasons to use Bitcoin other than just dreams of riches.
    One of the clear advantages to using Bitcoin or rather accepting Bitcoin is the potential for crowd funding and micro transactions.  
     Ask yourself, why is buying a coke from a vending machine such a pain in the ass.  I don't have change, because seriously who carries change?  The dollar thing thinks my wrinkled dollar is actually a tobacco leaf and keeps spitting it back out.   I don't really trust the damn thing to give it my credit card information and the vendor sort of hopes I don't use a credit card because the merchant service fee on a $1.50 coke is like $0.25.
    So in today's high speed world full of technology, I can't figure out a reliable way to purchase a coke.  Enter cryptocurrency.  
    The advantages of accepting Bitcoin or Dogecoin for a small impersonal transaction are clear.  

1. No fees.  You could be using a service like Coinbase which charges a small fee (1% typically), but you certainly don't have to.

2. No risk of stolen credit card numbers.  With cryptocurrency I initiate the transaction.  The vending machine never has access to my information and so there is no risk that someone might be trying to steal my information for later use.  You can steal my wallet address, but without my private key it's not going to do you much good.

3. Portability.  I can send bitcoin using my phone.  I have my phone more often than I have $1.50 in quarters.

   Great, but what does this have to do with charities and United Way?  Well, the same advantages that a vending machine enjoys applies to charities, plus one more.
   When Hurricane Katrina hit, a lot of people donated money to Red Cross to help with the relief effort.  One of the more popular ways of doing this was by using text message donations.  Whoever came up with this idea is a genius.
   Basically a text number was created specifically associated with Red Cross and Katrina.  If you texted the magic passcode to the text number, you authorized your carrier to charge you $5.00 or some other set amount.
   No one is going to go to the trouble of mailing a $5.00 check to the Red Cross.  But texting is simple and when you watch those poor people sitting on their roofs surrounded by debris infested water and floating balls of fire ants you can't help but send a text while wiping away a tear.
   Bitcoin allows for these types of transactions without the middle man.  No phone carrier has to get involved.  No fees being sucked out by a bank or some other blood sucking corporation.  It's just United Way and you and some weird sense of accomplishment when you magically support a cause you heard about on Facebook.
   For charities, they can use crowdfunding to get millions of microtransactions and it would actually be worth the trouble.
   This is a big deal, especially for charities.  Suddenly raising awareness is actually valuable as opposed to some weird marketing campaign where everyone wears pink.  Now numbers could equal value and real money.
    The difficulty of course is that people are going to be reluctant to exchange $500.00 into bitcoin just so they can donate $5.00 to United Way.  But, the potential is there which means someone smart will figure out a way to overcome this difficulty.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bitcoin - An Over/Under View

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to talk about Bitcoin to a group of developers.  I've dabbled with Bitcoin (and dogecoin) for about a year now and this was a good chance for me to evaluate what I've learned.

I put together a nice little slide and wrote some text as a primer to Bitcoin for someone who isn't familiar.  Bitcoin and all of the terms associated with it can be complicated to understand, but I felt like this was a good place to start.  I could probably write an entire series on all of the different aspects, but I haven't simply because there are already so many resources out there.  However, since I've done this one already I'll go ahead and post it.

I enjoy answering questions and I certainly enjoy giving my opinion so if anyone ever has questions, feel free to ask and I'll be happy to answer.

Slide Show

Text Transcript

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Stupid Things We Remember

We've all at one time or another acknowledged the fact that we retain a lot of stupid facts.  Our poor brains are so stuffed with pop culture and nonsense that it must look like a hoarder's house full of memories.

I was reminded last night that my brain seems to have absorbed a lot of random things from the late 80's and early 90's.

Do you remember the movie, "Masters of the Universe"?  Yes, the 1987 live action He-Man movie.

Dolph Lundgren looked more like a roided version of MacGyver than He-Man, but I was so excited about this movie I probably watched it about 10 times when it came out on VHS or TNT.

Now, do you remember Gwildor and his Cosmic Key?  Gwildor was a dwarf like inventor who created a Key that used musical notes to open portals or worm holes through out the Universe.  Those musical notes sound like this:

Sound familiar?  If you've seen the movie, "The Hunger Games" then it should.

They're not exact matches, but similar enough that my brain recalled the Cosmic Key and I looked up the music to compare the notes.

I'll leave you with an early 90's classic to jog some of your own memories.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An Open Letter to Marshall Henderson

Dear Marshall,
   I'd like to begin by thanking you for one of the most entertaining basketball seasons I've experienced as an Ole Miss fan, ever.  I'm going to confess that I'm not a huge fan of basketball.  I played basketball a little, but I'm a short Asian guy so surprise, it was never really my sport.  I do love Ole Miss though and I was actually in school when Ole Miss went to the tourney in 1998 and the famous Valpo shot occurred.  That memory still hurts.
   All of this to say that because of your fire and personality I started to watch and enjoy Ole Miss basketball again.
   Now I don't know you.  I watch you shoot 3 after 3, I follow you on twitter, I read about you on sports blogs and I saw your really nervous and awkward interview with Charles Barkley, but I don't know you.  But you seem pretty honest and "real" so I'll go ahead and make some assumptions.

   1. You want to go pro.  Hence the "I want to make that money" statement and really who doesn't want to go pro if they're competing at the college level.
   2. You enjoy the attention.
   3. You're overall a decent person.
   Knowing these 3 things, I'd like to offer you some advice.  It's free because I'm a booster, so do what you want with it.  If you really want to make a big splash and get some attention from the pro teams, now's the time to make a change or at least act like you're changing.
   The crazy eyed, bad boy image will only take you so far.  Eventually people are going to get tired of it and the only thing that will attract more attention is crazier antics.  But there is an inverse relationship between crazy antics and fan love.  People that once supported you will begin to turn.  You'll get national attention for kicking an elderly person down the City Grocery stairs, but not the type you want.

   America loves the bad boy persona.  Think of all of the movies and tv shows where the hero is the bad boy that doesn't give a damn about anyone or anything.  Swag.  Yeah, that's cool.  But America loves even more the bad boy with a heart of gold.  The bad boy that reforms just enough that everyone goes "aaawwwwhhhh, he really does care."  He said he doesn't but that's just the rough exterior.  Deep down he's a good guy that wants to make good. We eat that shit up.
   Step 1. Publicly apologize for the double bird salute on twitter.  You're going to catch heat no matter what, so go ahead and beat them to the punch.  Say, "I want to apologize to my fans for my rude behavior at the end of the game against LaSalle.  I let my emotions get to me when I heard a fan call my sister a bad name.  I shouldn't have acted the way I did and I apologize to all of the fans, but especially Ole Miss for not representing you the best way possible."  I'm not sure if that's 140 characters, so you may have to use two tweets.
   It's milk toast and maybe you're not that sorry, but we'll love it.

   Step 2. Take a break from twitter for about a month. No more pictures of you drinking or bragging about winning pong.  You can still do it, just don't let anyone get pictures of it and post it on twitter.  There has to be a dark period where we don't hear about you and can imagine in our heads that you went into a great depressive funk where you contemplated your future, your existence and behavior and suddenly it dawned on you that you need to be a better person.  You need to make a change!

   Step 3.  After a break, anything you put up there is good guy image. "AYEEE, can't wait to volunteer at the shelter.  I love puppies!!!"  "Man this test is going to be killer."  and then "Woo aced that test.  I guess studying pays off after all."  There will be quiet murmurs as people take notice that you've gone from beer to books (that'd probably be the title of a blog post).  People will start to wonder, fans will start to believe.

   Step 4. Begin posting about how hard you're practicing for next season.  Talk about how you're hitting the gym every day, getting up early to run.  We're talking Rocky running up the stairs preparation.

   Step 5. When basketball season gets here, it's all about your team.  Any time anyone asks about you, you answer about the team.  You say how hard the team has been working or how motivated everyone is.  Call out each team member by name and talk about their specific accomplishment.  This is called the "Peyton" maneuver.
   Step 6. When playing your 1st SEC game, get excited but don't do anything to taunt the fans.  Act like you're about to die to pop your jersey, but you thought better of it and didn't because you know that would be un-sportsmanlike behavior.  Fans will be sort of sad at first that you didn’t "go ham on those Auburn rednecks" but people will start talking.  Has Marshall turned a corner?  No more Marshall Madness?   When you get interviewed after winning and leading the team with 30 pts, talk about how you have “matured” as a player and you’re taking better quality shots.

   Step 7.  When you've won the SEC championship again, dedicate that shit to Jesus.  Game over.

  Bottom line, you'll get more fans and more NBA attention as a bad boy gone good then a bad boy --> worse boy.  More fans = more money.

  A fan.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Richie Rich for Senate

There is a video swirling around the internet that demonstrates the distribution of (or lack there of) wealth across America.  Besides the very cool graphics of walking stick figures and piles of money, it's fairly informative.

I haven't check all of the sources listed at the end, but I'm going to assume the figures are correct.  Here are the highlights:

Based on $54 trillion of net worth across 311 million Americans in 2009.

The top 1% of America owns 40% of the nation's wealth
The bottom 40% own nothing
The bottom 80% own 7% of the nation's wealth

The top 1% owns half of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds
The bottom 50% owns 0.5% of the investments

1% take home 24% of total income

CEO's get paid more than 300 times the average worker.

So basically the rich are really rich, the poor are really poor and the middle class aren't really in the middle they're poor too.  Let's again assume this is true.  It sounds true and if it's not exactly correct, it's probably pretty close.

Now let's ask how did this happen because 40 yrs. ago the distribution was a little bit flatter.  I'd really like to see how flat and what the distribution looked like through the decades, but it wasn't in the video and I don't have enough time to research all of that information.

So how did this happen?  Part of the reason is the rich get rich with the help of a tax system that greatly favors them.  I can pretty much guarantee that the top 1% have a lower tax rate than the 20% - 80%.  Wealthy folks can generate wealth from sources other than income.  So the income tax that everyone likes to fight about and politicians like to make a big deal about have little impact on the top 1%.  They make money of off real estate, stocks and bonds and weird loan structures.  They do this because they get taxed at a lower rate (15% for long term capital gains) and 0% for loans.  They have firms that are very creative in increasing their net worth while avoiding taxes.  Remember Steve Jobs?  Besides being famous for being the most innovative CEO in America, he was known for his salary of $1.00.  Now obviously he was compensated in other ways and I can bet you that those other ways were at a lower tax rate.  Personally I think he deserved every penny he ever got, but that's just me.

So the taxes on income from stocks and bonds is at a much lower rate than income from actual work. But who owns the stocks and bonds?  Oh yeah, the rich people.

The top 1% owns half of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds
The bottom 50% owns 0.5% of the investments

When a politician is arguing against raising the capital gains tax on stocks and bonds, he's basically arguing that rich people shouldn't be taxed more.

Let's look at another tax that favors the rich.  The estate tax or death tax.  When a person inherits wealth, the wealth is taxed.  The tax rate is pretty high, so the government decided to exempt a certain amount.  That means if dear old grandma leaves you a pile of cash, you get to keep all of it up to a certain amount.  In 2001 that amount was $675,000.  Thanks grandma! But the politicians said hey, that's your money you should keep it.  So they raised the amount. And then raised it again.  And then permanently raised it for evermore. In 2008 it was $2,000,000. 3 years later it was $5,000,000.  Wow!  Thanks politicians for looking out for my best interest.  Wait.  Grandma's not that rich.  I don't know a lot of folks with grandparents worth over $5,000,000 but I'm also not part of the 1%.

So politicians who can't agree on balancing the budget or the fiscal cliff or any other bill that impacts the 99% can readily agree on tax rates that benefit the 1%.  Thanks guys, you're the best!

Oh by the way, 50 senators (50%) have a net worth of $6,210,000 or higher.  So the rich are passing laws that just happen to benefit the rich?  Wow, never would have seen that coming.

The problem as I see it is that the rich are passing laws that favor the rich and increases the poor distribution of wealth.  I don't believe in socialism and everyone being equally wealthy, but I also don't believe in systems that are completely unfair.  A moderately equal distribution of wealth benefits everyone.  It creates a stable society, it fosters creativity and growth.  We as a general rule should strive for a fair tax system.

I also don't believe in bitching without presenting solutions.  I'll outline some of those solutions in my next post.