GRPH Stock, John Person, and the Bottomline Newsletter


Just got a mailing that sure looks like a newsletter called  “The Bottomline Newsletter”, with somebody called “John Person, Market Analyst, Editor” pictured at the top right.

To even a careful reader this appeared to be some sort of report on the prospects for a stock called GRPH which is a US graphite producer.    But a look at the tiny fine print on page 6 reveals that John Person received $20,000 in cash compensation from Greenstone Media to “endorse this advertisement”, and that another payment of over *one million dollars*  (say this with an Austin Powers accent please) was made as part of this advertising campaign.

My recommendation is that if you are going to buy *anything* you read the fine print!

Update:   Wow, it appears this John Person fellow also participated in some sort of advertising scheme for the stock  MDMC.   Note the activity peaks about June (looks from online buzz like the MDMC Bottomline stock report and other promotions for that company came out about that time) and then the stock tumbles.    http://www.nasdaq.com/symbol/mdmc/interactive-chart?timeframe=1y&charttype=line

Disclaimers state that the Bottomline newsletter people are not actively trading the stock  so perhaps they stay clear of legal problems because they are just advertising it, even as this is a company that is supposed to be providing people with trading advice?

Back in the days of Rum Running and Joe Kennedy, “pumping and dumping” was a common stock swindle.   Basically insiders would all agree to buy up shares of a stock (the pump), and after the price went very high as others “got in the deal”  they’d all agree to sell  out at the higher price which would send the stock price falling.    By working together and agreeing how to proceed the insiders had a big edge.    This activity used to be legal but is now a serious crime.

I’m not sure how this relates to modern media, but it appears that the idea behind these advertising campaigns is to pump up the stock price of companies.

Cochabamba Water Wars, James Bond’s Quantum of Solace, and SKYFALL


I’m watching the first two Daniel Craig Bond movies to refresh my memory before watching the new Bond film  “Skyfall” and naturally one’s mind turns to the Cochabamba Water Wars because Bond’s “Quantum of Solace”, the second film, is loosely and somewhat bizarrely inspired by that important Bolivian event.

A too simple summary of the Water Wars is this:   Bolivian water in Cochambamba was very poorly managed, leaving about half the folks without water.    Government signed an expensive, questionable monopoly contract with an international corporation to build a major dam, generate power, and stabilize and increase the water supply.  Large cost increases for this privitized water led the people to protest , which in turn created enough unrest that the company left the country and water production was turned back over to a public management.

Water has become a critical issue in many parts of the world, and privatization is a big part of that story.   Unfortunately it’s impossible to analyze the effects in a simple way.  There are many examples of successful and unsuccessful private efforts  as well as public ones, and it’s clear that one cannot simply dismiss either option without risking suboptimal water provision to those of us whose lives depend upon a stable supply of clean water.   And by “those of us” I mean of course every human on the planet.

Wikipedia has a nice summary but it appears to stop in 2006, so more research is needed to see how the people of Cochabamba fared after kicking out the corporations:

Cochabamba Water Wars Outcome from Wikipedia:
In the end water prices in Cochabamba returned to their pre-2000 levels with a group of community leaders running the restored state utility company SEMAPA. As late as 2005, half of the 600,000 people of Cochabamba remained without water and those with it only received intermittent service (some as little as three hours a day). Oscar Olivera the leading figure in the protests admitted, “I would have to say we were not ready to build new alternatives.”[19] SEMAPA managers say they are still forced to deal with graft and inefficiencies, but that its biggest problem is a lack of money (it can not raise rates and no international company will give them a loan).[19] Luis Camargo, SEMAPA’s operations manager in an interview with the New York Times said they were forced to continue using a water-filtration system that is split between “an obsolete series of 80-year-old tanks and a 29-year-old section that uses gravity to move mountain water from one tank to another.”[19] He stated that the system was built for a far smaller city and worried about shrinking aquifers. A system to bring water down from the mountains would cost $300 million and SEMAPA’s budget is only about $5 million a year.[19] The New Yorker reports “in Cochabamba, those who are not on the network and who have no well, pay ten times as much for their water as the relatively wealthy residents who are hooked up”, and with no new capital the situation can not be improved.[1] A local resident complained that water-truck operators “drill polluted water and sell it. They [also] waste a lot of water.”[1] According to author Frederik Segerfeldt, “the poor of Cochabamba are still paying 10 times as much for their water as the rich, connected households and continue to indirectly subsidize water consumption of more well-to-do sectors of the community. Water nowadays is available only four hours a day and no new households have been connected to the supply network.”[20] Franz Taquichiri, a veteran of the Water War and an SEMAPA director elected by the community, said “I don’t think you’ll find people in Cochabamba who will say they’re happy with service. No one will be happy unless they get service 24 hours a day.”[19] Another Cochabamba resident and activist during the unrest summed up her opinion of the situation by saying, “afterwards, what had we gained? We were still hungry and poor.”[21]

Google Doodle’s Little Nemo’s 107th Birthday.

Image


The Google Doodle folks are coming up with some amazing animated graphics these days and today may be the most spectacular of the Google Doodles, though I found it kind of annoying because you could not immediately go off to see what it was showcasing. Today’s doodle features Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo” comic strip, today celebrating a 107th birthday. This is certainly the *largest* Google Doodle ever, as the animated sequence takes up several screens as you scroll down to reveal more and more of Little Nemo’s dream. It’s a spectacular animation and another in the amazing series of graphics from Google.

Google Doodle Nemo

Google Doodle Nemo

How Proflowers (and other online flower sellers) charge $40 for their $20 bouquets.


I wasn’t surprised that the “$20 bouquet” offers online were bogus but I’m hoping others might find this post before they go through the painful upselling process at Proflowers and many other online flower places.

Note that $20 for a bouquet is too cheap – you’d expect to pay more than that at almost any florist shop, but I wish that Proflowers and others would simply state all their extra charges up front so you can buy informed rather than uninformed – having to wait until checkout to see the extra fees.     Next time I’ll probably just call a local flower shop directly – that’s what I’ve done in the past but I wanted to see how these online “$20 bouquets” worked.    In fact a project I’ll finalized some day helps people find local florists.   Google does this pretty well, but FlowerPhones.com will have a database of all florists with easy free access to their information.    Contacting florists directly helps cut out the FTD or other middlemen, and in theory gets you a better bouquet for the same price.

In the case of Proflowers the specials offer what look like great bouquets  (I’ll report back on that when I have a report on the one I just sent), but then add a delivery charge of about 10 and ‘fees’ of about another $5.    Add to that a basic glass vase or “morning delivery” and you  can be over $50 quickly.   In my particular case I took the upsell that included chocolates and a vase but then discounted my “order” by 15% – though they did not discount delivery so again they are being misleading.

None of these charges are unreasonable, I just don’t like that they obscure them until checkout.    The right online approach is to do what vendors like Kayak and Orbitz do – display the FINAL pricing so you can make an informed decision.

In my case I had to spend about a half hour on the Proflowers site and enter my order twice because changing a  discount coupons seemed to require me to re-enter.    There was probably a way to avoid that by me, but the site does the common and frustrating online trick of presenting you with different pages depending on your entry point – ie the same items can cost different amounts depending on how you enter and navigate the website and use coupons.

I guess there’s nothing really wrong with that, but I prefer more transparency so I know what I’m getting and paying *during the choosing process* rather than at checkout.

… More to come when I hear how and when the flowers arrived  …

Retirement in California and Retire USA blog


What?  Not another shameless plug on my personal blog for our great Retire USA project?       Well, not shameless or even shameful because RETIRE USA is a great blog with over a dozen excellent writers and a post almost every day featuring topics of interest to retirees all over the nation.

Marty, one of the partners in the project, has been blogging about retirement in each state – Retirement in California is the latest series.    In those posts you’ll find a lot of links and information about retirement in general as well as Retirement in California.

Here are some excerpts from several of our latest retirement blog posts:

  • RETIRE IN CALIFORNIA – Part 5 of 5 PLACES TO RETIRE – CALIFORNIA RETIREMENT – Part 5 of 5: Costa Mesa, San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo, Palm Springs. COSTA MESA RETIREMENT Costa Mesa, with a population of 109,960 as of the 2010 census, is located 37 miles southeast of Los Angeles …
  • RETIRE IN CALIFORNIA – Part 4 of 5 PLACES TO RETIRE – CALIFORNIA RETIREMENT – Part 4 of 5: San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Lake Tahoe, El Centro, Newport Beach. SAN LUIS OBISPO RETIREMENT San Luis Obispo, with a population of 43,685 as of 2011, is located inland a bit from the California…
  • WHAT’S IN A PICTURE? TRAVEL AND PHOTOGRAPY – BILL FERRY- At first glance, this is a nondescript photo. Maybe it isn’t even apparent that it is a drydock. Walk closer and details begin to emerge that stand on their own. I’m guessing that you might see even more pieces that sta…
  • RETIRE IN CALIFORNIA – Part 3 of 5 PLACES TO RETIRE – CALIFORNIA RETIREMENT – Part 3 of 5: Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Santa Maria. SACRAMENTO RETIREMENT Sacramento, with a population of 466,488 residents as of the 2010 census, is the oldest incorporated …
  • FOLLOWING THE THREAD TO ELDER   ACTIVE RETIREMENT LIVING – MADELINE HILL & FRIENDS–by Madeline- Recently some neighbors here at Mountain Meadows (MM) hosted a screening in our Clubhouse of Dot: An Ordinary Life, an Extraordinary Person, a fine short documentary film about…

Grameen Bank Takeover in Bangladesh: Bad Economics.


I wrote earlier about the great work of the Grameen Bank and the Grameen Foundation, groups I have supported for many years.  Founder M. Yunus invented the concept of “microloans”, a tactic that has been helping the poor for many years.   In 2006 Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize for this pioneering work.

Unfortunately the Bangladesh Government is now in a power play to take over the bank, jeopardizing the welfare of the millions of women and their families who benefit from the bank.

I’d encourage anybody interested in the well being of poor folks to write the government of Bangladesh here: info@pmo.gov.bd  , urging them to reconsider this bad takeover move.

Here’s the letter I wrote them in June , feel free to copy from it.    I think more important, however, is to write your Congressperson and your Senators to let them know this issue *matters to you*, and that the USA can stand against unwise bureaucratic power plays that will reduce the effectiveness of the Grameen Bank – perhaps even destroy it.

Here are contacts for your Congressperson:   http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Your Senator:  http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm/

You don’t need to be Shakespeare here – just let them know you are concerned about the Grameen Bank Takeover and you’d like to know what they are doing about this.

At my son Ben’s commencement address the speaker did a great job of talking about the difference between “first world problems” and “developing world problems”.    Here, we fret over standing in line or the color of our clothes or the price of a fancy restaurant.    There, people worry mostly about feeding their kids, getting them schooling, or surviving   diseases that are virtually unknown in the USA.    Sure we have real problems too.    Health issues, abuse, education, and more.   But on average our challenges are far less than in most of the rest of the world and we can and should support efforts like Grameen that are building viable micro-economies based on free enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit.  These are super low cost, high ROI approaches to poverty and they deserve our support and our political klout.

… Hey, thanks!

Yosemite Hiking – Half Dome Hike Death Risk Calculation


Hurray !
My family and friends just survived a top ten dangerous hike in the most dangerous National Park in America! http://www.backpacker.com/october_08_americas_10_most_dangerous_hikes/destinations/12631

Half Dome Cables, Yosemite

Well, technically, Linda isn’t home yet …. but the odds are in her favor.  : )Of course our odds of survival were always very good, but Yosemite has been a dangerous park, especially last year 2011 when  18 people (!)   died there :  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/us/06yosemite.html?pagewanted=all

Spooky description of a 2007 fall off the cables:
Book about Yosemite deaths.
Base jump off the place where we took pix:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdxU2tDbL54

Of course you have to compare the small number of deaths on that hike over many, many years (20 on dome, 60 on trail) with the huge number of people who *survived* their hikes, as I think we did (assuming no parallel universes where we didn’t survive), to get a reasonable risk calculation.   You also need to compare that risk to other risky things we do, such as *drive to Yosemite*.I wanted to try a shot at calculating which is more dangerous – the drive to Yosemite from Oregon, or the most intense part of the hike up Half Dome – the cables.

Obviously there are many confounding variables.  Nobody was drunk driving, our hiking experience is higher than average, for simplicity I’m not using the entire hike death stats  (60 deaths but many millions more hikers on the entire 8.5 mile trail – this would give a *safer* number for sure, but would reflect hikers and deaths who never made it to or beyond Vernal falls).   So lots of confounders, but here’s my shot at a risk number:

Let’s assume that the  20 dome deaths are since cables were installed by The Sierra Club in 1919  (hey, THANKS Sierra Club!):
Now we need to estimate the number of people who have made it up there as we did.   Ranger guy below the dome and internet tells us it is now about “350-400 per day”.   That would be current high season with permit restrictions so hard to know the past until I can find more records.  But we know that the low season (winter) is about 0 per day.   Probably far fewer people in 1919 than now, so let’s *wildly guestimate* that on average, since 1919,  100 people per day go up, and that almost all that traffic is during the high season of June, July, August, September when cables are elevated with the metal rods  (in the past and in winter they lay flat on the surface).  100×120 days = 12,000 people up per year.  90 years of cables x 12,000 =  1.08 million ascents of half dome over 90 years.    ROUND THIS WILD GUESTIMATE to one million people up  half dome over all of human history.
We now have 1,000,000 people who went up and 999,980 people who come safely back down.  20 of the million, sadly, died on half dome.   Thankfully, every single one of us remains in the 999,980 group of happy Half Dome hikers.
Your chance of dying on the final half dome portion of the hike is, very very approximately, if our assumptions are reasonably accurate, about 20 / 1,000,000 or one in  50,000.    We could also state this in this fashion if our assumptions are correct:
“For every 50,000 people who go up the final portion of the half dome hike … one will probably die”.
For extra drama we might note that we had 6 people on the hike so the (pre-hike) odds that one of us would die were 6/50,000 or 1 / 8333.
 
Now we need to compare this to our 900 mile car trip home.   Car travel is one of the more dangerous things we do on a regular basis.   VERY ROUGHLY in California there are 1.21 deaths per 100 million miles travelled
We did not travel 100 million miles so we need this calculation to figure out deaths per Yosemite trip:
The chances of dying during 900 miles of car travel in California:  900 x  [1.21 / 100,000,000] =   .00001 deaths per Yosemite trip.
So, on average of all drivers and cars and circumstances, the chances that somebody will die on a trip of 900 miles in California are about one in 100,000.      Put another way this means that, very approximately:
” For every 100,000 people who take a 900 mile trip to Yosemite by car, one will die ”  
 
So if all these assumptions are pretty reasonable, than we can state that the half dome portion of the hike with its one in 50,000 chance of death, is about twice as dangerous as the car ride with its 1 in 100,000 chance of death.  

Yosemite!


Tomorrow we’re off to hike in Yosemite National Park, one of my favorite places in the world. We’ll camp in Little Yosemite Valley and hike up Half Dome via the cables that make it a lot safer than … without them! It’s a really fun adventure with amazing views from the top of Half Dome, especially lying right over the edge and looking straight down into Yosemite valley below.

Yosemite NP

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Colorado Shooting and the Ongoing Gun Control Debates


The Colorado theater shooting spree last night will no doubt get us all buzzing again about the relative merits of changing the laws about guns.    I’m not holding my breath on solutions because in my view and as usual neither side has any interest in the facts and the solutions, they simply want to have “their way”.    This is unfortunate because 1. We do have major gun problems in the USA  and 2.  They can’t be be solved by strict gun control legislation because most of the problems are from law breakers not law abiders and Americans historically will not tolerate the kinds of gun control we see in many other countries.    More about US History.

The media’s usual approach will be to showcase the two hard core lobby types – the NRA carping about guns not killing people and the gun controllers carping about how we’ve got a shooting gallery out there.

What’s the solution here?

I’d suggest that, as with many problems, we need less rules but more transparency.     The right to bear arms is pretty clear in the constitution and even without powerful lobbies many people will fight hard to maintain that right.    That’s fine, but they should also be willing to increase the level of transparency in the systems to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

The Gun show loophole problems and the severe lack of better gun purchase restrictions and tracking could be solved in *days* with cheap technologies.       Gun advocates need to stop resisting the types of rules that allow law enforcement to track the bad guys and to monitor purchases and distribution of guns.   The argument that these tools will eventually be used to deprive the good guys of their guns is weak, as evidenced by about 250 years of strong gun rights in the USA.

Gun control advocates need to back off and stop working to ban guns.   This won’t happen – ever – in the USA, and as with a lot of such efforts their work is counterproductive, giving the overzealous NRA lots of meaty anti gun material to “shoot down” in the national debates.

Meanwhile, all of us, and especially gun enthusiasts,  have an obligation to stop worrying so much about their rights that have been  well-protected for centuries, and start thinking a LOT MORE about how to reduce over 12,000 gun homicides per year in the USA*

* 2007 stats from Wikipedia:  31,224 firearm-related deaths in 2007.  About 17,300 were suicides, about  12,600 homicides.  

More recent data from the Government Bureau of … wait for it …. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms :  www.atf.gov/statistics/

Cool vs Effective – Rant of the Day


Hey, I’m into cool stuff as much as the next person.  Some would say I’m into cool stuff even more than the *average Joe* since I spend a lot of time writing about technology and ideas, attending tech conferences, and that sort of cool stuff.

BUT I want to put in a word for the much greater value of pragmatic down in the dirt ditch digging get ‘er done stuff.    Far, far, FAR too often people confuse “cool” with “effective”, “productive”, or “meaningful”.   

Sure there is some cross over, as with the amazing helpfulness of the internet in getting information.   The internet in general is both cool AND effective.   Smart Phones too, though in my opinion many people mistake cool applications as helpful in life when they are simply helping them waste time doing meaningless things.   Nothing WRONG with doing meaningless things but it’s important not to confuse that with real productivity, which is the main reason we can … afford to buy the cool stuff.