Thoughts of an old Analyst about the Current Financial Markets

I worked at an investment bank in the late 90’s and moved on in early 2000. Rats, it’s rumored, are the first to flee a sinking ship. In the brokerage industry, the metaphor says the analysts, the watchers of trends, are the first to exit before a big decline. I departed the firm in a wave with other analysts. The dot.com decline began a scant few months later.

The current exuberant increase in the value of various stocks, commodities and market indices isn’t the same as 2000, when the bubble burst like a ripe pustule oozing gore and leaking many people’s life savings into rapidly evaporating puddle of virtual wealth. 

No, nothing similar is going on, I mutter, without any conviction.

What happened then and what is happening now?

  • Day traders. i.e. individual retail investors with very short time horizons. 
  • Bored, excess money.
  • Another IPO every time you blink.
  • Misinformation.
  • Celebrity endorsements. No wait. That’s so 2021. Or is it? 
  • Multiples on earnings that make no sense – don’t reflect any feasible growth rate, can’t be justified by traditional economics (like how many people might buy a product).

With the involvement of hedge funds in the 2021 situation and the wild run up in a few stocks, I can’t help but think of the crash of 2008, where a series of unfortunate events collapsed value in the financial markets like a trail of tumbling dominos. The unexpected consequences of bundling securities together triggered an avalanche of decline in markets.

I’ve heard people who have profited in the past few weeks say they are looking for the deposit for a house. 2021 stock market, meet 2021 housing market.

The main difference between 2021 and 2000 seems to be the motivation of the short-term investors.1 Recently, not only have stock prices increased because a large number of buyers in the market, but some of them are apparently doing it because they’ve enthusiastic about thwarting some hedge funds. Perhaps it was the same in 2000, but we didn’t know. Now we have social media. There are no secrets in 2021. 

Fundamentally, stock markets exist to allow people to support businesses so that they can serve their customers’ needs, expand and serve more customer’s needs, while generating a profit and giving back to their investors. People buy and sell stocks on the basis of their projections of the company’s earnings capabilities. This means there is a finite value fundamental investors put on any given stock and will likely sell if they perceive the value is escalating beyond that. 

Ironically, the recent run up of several stocks are from companies with weak projected future earnings. This is counter intuitive, except in the context that they are being pushed up in a buying spree by individuals that apparently have other motives. This appears to be different than 2000. Back then, it was pure pursuit of money that lead to inexplicably high prices in certain stocks. At least, as far as we knew.

We’re seeing a plethora of IPOs and secondary offerings, with the market hungering for new investments. This makes sense, as we are seeing wide spread shifts in product demand and a willingness of people to put their money into the markets. 

Late 1999 and early 2000 saw an explosion of IPOs. That might have been a little different, as anyone who could correctly pronounce ‘internet’ and spell Unix could get an audience at an investment bank. The bar is much higher for those seeking IPOs in 2021. There must be viable businesses, well vetted and brought up through a robust VC ecosystem. Most are unicorns, with multiple rounds of investment by sophisticated money. In 1999, concepts were sufficient.

The question on many people’s minds is whether we are in a stock market bubble that will pop, leaving nothing but a slimy residue where people’s money used to be. While past performance is no indication of the future, we ask if the situation is the same as the 2000 dot.com situation. Some aspects are (high stock valuations in general, lots of IPO activity, overinflated stock prices attributed to players in the market) while some are different (more listing restrictions leading to high quality initial public offerings, atypical rationales for short term trading). 

One thing this old analyst is certain of, the stock market is a place where anyone, professionals and individuals alike, can lose a lot of money. Success depends on predicting the future and none of us can do this with certainty. This is as true now as it was in the year 2000. 

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1I’ve read so many articles about this recently which all tell a similar story. Here’s a recent one that has a great explanation of the system https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/robinhood-gamestop-1.5893812

Software Updates are Hell

The last week has been an inferno of sizzlingly slow downloads, agonizing loading bars, and the endless torture of researching how to adapt to ‘things that have changed’ for no obviously good reason. 

With little to do in pandemic lockdown, the time was right to update all my devices, operating systems, apps and all. I’ve couldn’t help but notice that I passed through experiences that I could dramatically liken to Dante’s circles of hell1. I’ve indicated the torment I imagined in brackets after each experience. 

In the first stage of the process, I suffered:

  • the emotional rollercoaster of ’22 hours to download’ which toggles to 10, 12, 9 and then 4 hours before a real countdown began, to the ‘almost done’ message that sends shivers of joy, only to be replaced by a message that it will take 1.5 hours to install the downloaded update (limbo)
  • once I’d started, I couldn’t get enough – I sought updates to every app and felt a little disappointed when I found ones that were up to date (lust)
  • the aggravation of finding enough room to download a major update, only to be told I didn’t have enough room – usually good at math, I can’t figure out how having more than twice available disc space of the size of the download isn’t enough (gluttony)
  • using all the monthly data from my home internet plan in a week (greed)

Eventually all updates were installed and then the real challenges kicked in. Restoring all the disturbed settings. Fortunately, there is help and explanation for most everything on the internet. Still, some of the silliest chores were:

  • convincing apps from competing software developers to play nice together (wrath)
  • fixing several things by power cycling – physically manipulating a device to make the software function feels like beating an intelligent creature into submission rather than reasoning with it (violence)
  • opening windows that can’t be closed – fixed by adjusting the updated screen resolution default (heresy)

At least I convinced my laptop that it wouldn’t die if it printed something, which it’d been sure of since the last OS update. (fraud)

While it is tempting to ignore updates, there is the guilt. You gotta do it for security reasons, even if all that seems to happen is new warthog emojis. And beware idly accepting the reminders from the manufacturer to update, lest surprise setting changes reveal themselves at an inconvenient time. Better to be in control and select ‘update’.

After a few days of settling into the new normal of all devices looking just a little weird but working ok, I start to relax, thinking it’s over. I’d done something useful to protect myself and stay at the forefront of tech functionality. While I was making bread in the kitchen (pandemic, right?), my iPod starts a lecture on business law, rather than playing the calming cords of my favourite metal band. The lecture snuck into my music library, after being shared across several devices which were previously separate. This is my fault, a byproduct of options I’ve chosen. And, I’m stuck because erasing stuff will erase it across all devices now. Arggh. (Treachery)

Software updates are a necessary evil. No one wants a user interface that you can see pixels in, or an operating system that’s so buggy it crashes every half hour, never mind something so insecure it’s tracking every word you speak, every key you stroke, or link you click. 

If we take Dante’s example, he travels through hell and emerges back onto the earth, resuming a reasonably normal life. This happens after software updates. Life goes on. That said, it would be better without the journey to hell and back. Can someone create an app, that never needs updating, to make software updates seamless? 

———-

1In a famous epic poem, with the title ‘Divine Comedy’ but known to some as Dante’s Inferno, a journey to hell includes passage through nine circles, each associated with a realm of sin. for more details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferno_(Dante)

Visions of Social Change

‘Tis the season… to think about how to change the world. Approaching a new year, I donate stuff from my closets and drawers that I don’t need but hope someone else does, and think about what I could contribute to a bigger, global picture. For me, this starts with ‘in my wildest dreams, what would l like to happen?’ 

As I compiled my list, I noticed parallels to the missions and visions of some large corporations. Below are my dreams of what an idealized outcome might be in realizing these visions. Some might make us a better society, others may impact at a personal level. 

CompanyMission or Vision or GoalsIdealized Outcome
Facebookgive people the power to build community1community where everyone is welcome and accepted without envy, judgement or competitiveness, and treated fairly and with respect
Googleorganize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful2including information on how to gauge the quality of information so none of it is misinterpreted or can be misused
Amazonhelp consumers find, discover and buy anything3that they need
Applewhile it’s a little different now, at the time of founding it was to make tools that allowed advancement of humankind 4and pop-up ads are impossible
Pfizer(my paraphrasing) apply science to develop projects to improve healthcare for everyone5with global access to, and general understanding of, the scientific basis of new vaccines and medicines
Twitterto bring our company and community together as a force for good6with an appreciation of different perspectives
lululemonmy interpretation of the Manifesto is support for striving towards personal achievement7with knowledge that pursuing goals of self improvement are of primary importance and the clothes are nice but secondary
Nike(my paraphrasing) expand human potential by creating groundbreaking sport innovations8and understanding the absolute value in physical fitness

This is a powerful list. If we haven’t made it to the state I suggest in the idealized outcome box, the missions have not failed, there are ongoing. There are more challenges to be addressed.

This is what I think would be great contributions to society:

  • truly supportive social media
  • the power to utilize the massive amount of information we have available for social good
  • science-based medical care (and information)
  • universal access to medical care (and true information)
  • embracing diversity
  • less spam, everywhere, because at minimum its annoying and at worse it can be manipulative
  • anything that improves general physical fitness for anyone. I’m passionate about fitness and believe its benefits can extend to all parts of a person’s life and to the impact each individual can have. 

Corporate visions and missions are often scoffed at as mere marketing tools, but entrepreneurs start ventures with visions of making the world a better place, helping people, or addressing social issues. I admire founders for striving towards lofty goals. 

Let’s keep dreaming!

——

1https://investor.fb.com/resources/default.aspx

2https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/mission/

3https://www.aboutamazon.co.uk/uk-investment/our-mission

4https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/042315/what-apples-current-mission-statement-and-how-does-it-differ-steve-jobs-original-ideals.asp

5https://investors.pfizer.com/why-invest-our-story/default.aspx

6https://about.twitter.com/en_us/company/twitter-for-good.html

7https://info.lululemon.com/about/our-story/manifesto

8https://about.nike.com

The Value of a Tomato

This should be simple. A commodity, with known nutritional content and availability. Well established supply and demand and therefore pricing. But it’s much more complex.

Obviously the value of any given thing rests with the holder, buyer or seller of the thing. If you don’t like tomatoes, aren’t part of the tomato value chain and don’t invest in tomato sales, you probably don’t give a flying sauce for the value of a tomato.

But this post is about how value is derived. Hater of tomatoes or not, there’s a lesson about the value proposition in this story.

As many entrepreneurial ventures do, it began as I wondered what value growing tomatoes had to me. I start seeds in March, nurture baby plants until they’re ready to go outside in May, pour water and fertilizer on them throughout the summer, and provide support until they yield fruits a compelling shade of red. It’s not deep, blood, pinkish, rosy, blushing, inflamed or sports car red. Just a simple, sunny red. 

To a friend, I lamented that critters ate my tomatoes. She suggested the local grocery store had the solution. Admittedly, they do provide tomatoes, if that’s the only goal.

Why do I grow tomatoes?

  • entertainment – the process of planting, watching for growth, discussing garden progress with fellow gardeners, watching YouTube to cure plant ills and increase yield
  • exercise – gardening provides both heavy (turning over soil) and light exercise (walking about the yard, bending, tying and weeding)
  • challenge – choosing the right varieties of seeds, dealing with varying weather conditions, generally managing the flock (the green flock)
  • thrift – growing your own seems like a more cost effective approach to obtaining tomatoes than the store; however, factoring in water, purchased soil, fertilizer and my time may render this untrue.
  • quality – tomatoes from the garden taste great. No question about superior flavour. I make my own tomato sauce, enough to last the year, which I prefer to the stuff in bottles and cans that the grocery store sells. 
  • satisfaction – there is nothing like the feeling of dashing out to the backyard and picking food you grew yourself, know is healthy, and tastes really good. To me, it feels both natural, like the natural order of the world (I have contributed to nurturing the earth1 while acting as a conscientious member of the global community) and productive – I grow my own food – I am self sufficient. 
  • spiritual – this is who I want to be – the person that is self sustaining, that protects the environment as far as I can. When I grow tomatoes, I find peace. 

I’m a fan of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs2. Fulfilling needs is a central part of the value proposition. Maslow’s theory is that humans are motived by a series of needs that they fulfill sequentially. The type of need grows more complex as the hierarchy is ascended with more complex human goals. Basic needs, required to sustain life like food and water, are at the bottom of the pyramid. Next, come the means to ensure safety and security, like shelter and means of communication. In the middle ground are social aspects, like love and companionship. Near the top are needs to be respected, recognized and free. The pinnacle is self actualization, reflected in the need to grow and achieve the best one can be. Once people have the lower order needs satisfied, they seek to achieve the next level. Have sufficient food, water and a roof over your head, then next you seek a social circle. 

Home grown tomatoes satisfy all levels of need in Maslow’s hierarchy. Here’s Ann’s hierarchy of the value of growing tomatoes:

That’s a whole lot of needs being satisfied by a packet of seeds, tools, soil conditioners, watering cans, straw hats, and other accessories used to grow tomatoes. For many customers, the buying decisions are rooted in a variety of motivations. Has this answered what the value proposition is for home grown tomatoes? It’s complex and likely a different combination of the various aspects illustrated above for every person who grows tomatoes.

Why do I grow tomatoes? 

Bruschetta. Sliced tomatoes on toast. Pasta sauce. Salad. Caponata. Chicken cacciatori. Gumbo. Curries. …ummm

——-

1Growing food in the backyard not only improves the local ecosystem by increasing the amount of greenery and the CO2 balance but also saves the fossil fuel that I would burn if I drove to buy tomatoes trucked into a store. I also suspect the agricultural approach I take is less invasive to the earth than industrial farming that produces the tomatoes in the canned sauce.

2Here is a general description: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

A Good Collision

Collision from Home is a virtual version of a whole lot more than a tech conference. Having spent 24 hours over three days listening to talks, and virtual speed networking, I need to write about what I heard1 at Collision from Home to understand what the experience meant to me.2

The program was truly awesome; speakers included world leaders, executives from large tech companies, professional athletes, entrepreneurs at all stages of company development, participants from across the globe. Production was very professional and considering the time in which it must have been put together, the program was delivered with few glitches. 

I couldn’t help but notice how impeccably presented the speakers were and wonder if makeup artists were deployed. This may seem shallow but it’s an observation on professionalism and how it is changing during the pandemic. I find myself watching the videos not only for their content but also for delivery, to learn best practices in presentation for our new world.

The talks I enjoyed the most were ones that gave me insight into the business of big tech:

  • Netflix’s vision for growth
  • Uber’s drive to become profitable
  • Twitter’s chat on curating tweets, both for ethical and business reasons
  • proprietary podcasts giving Spotify its competitive voice.

I was impressed with the inclusion of many talks about the ethics of technology use, such as the recognition of the privacy aspects with tracking apps for COVID transmission and sharing of information across medical and public health agencies. There were also discussions about how to deal with racism and bias. We have a long way to go but the degree of awareness is encouraging.

There was talk of new products and businesses, but the uses of tech are the news rather than the tech itself. The World Health Organization has a COVID chatbot. The American Medical Association recently released updated guidelines on privacy of medical information in response to distrust of big tech and how personal data is used. Hanson Robotics’ Sophia (version 24), a humanized robot, appeared and talked about the difference between humans and AI. I found much of what she said cliched but many humans are also good at speaking in trite truisms.

Of course, there was much, much, much discussion on how the pandemic has and will change industries, demand and employment. Most of this is logical. The supply chain challenges are less intuitive, perhaps because they aren’t visible in everyday life and are intertwined with global trade and shifts in demand caused by the pandemic.

In a discussion about the connected world, I found a recurring theme: privacy. Interestingly, adoption of smart devices for the home has been slower than some anticipated. It was speculated that this is the result of concerns about privacy and where data collected from in-home devices ends up.

This is how it all comes together: I didn’t learn about tech at the Collision from Home tech conference. I learned about society and humanity. Now that’s innovative.

——

1These are my observations and intepretations from the conference. With several parallel sessions at all times, someone else could gather a completely different perspective on Collision from Home.

2Something I’ve noticed about myself in the Zoom environment: I take notes. Handwritten notes. I spontaneously started doing this. Perhaps it’s symbolic of learning how to live again in a new place.

The Restart: Opportunity spotting.

Whispers of restarting the economy are building into conversations and escalating into announcements. Now is a tricky time to be an entrepreneur, or anyone running a business – starting one, restarting one, continuing one.

Business 101 teaches that successful firms deliver what customers1want. One way to spot opportunities is to consider whether customers want the same thing as they wanted B.C.2

Opportunities will exist to deliver on emerging demand. Some businesses are already prepared to supply, others many need to reposition. I see many avenues for shifts in customer needs:

  1. Sudden spikes in things people couldn’t get during isolation. The intensity may be short term but play out over several cycles with phasing in of economic restarts and if there are resurgences of infection.
  2. Specific products related to continuing the fight against the pandemic.
  3. Declining interest in items people realize they don’t actually want or need.
  4. Impacts of economic contraction.
  5. New needs that evolve from whatever odd things we’ve been doing in isolation.
  6. Longer term shifts.

Here’s few of my thoughts on each of the above. There are many more possibilities in each category and likely other categories I haven’t mentioned. The scope of possible opportunities is broad.

1. Sudden huge demands for existing goods and services:

  • Dining out. I’d predict this is a need to share a meal with friends, rather than a need for restaurant food. Many of us have been ordering more takeout than usual to support the restaurant industry.
  • Personal care: haircuts, manicures etc.
  • Healthcare for NON-Covid stuff. Many treatments have been postponed in the past couple of months. There is pent up demand for all the care that has been placed on hold during our isolation, including in allied fields, like dentistry, physiotherapy, and many more.
  • Entertainment: movies, sporting events, concerts, art galleries, museums, etc.
  • Deferred property maintenance. Many office and public buildings have sat unattended over the past two months that will need HVAC, plumbing and other systems upkeep. All this deferred maintenance provides opportunity for new entrants.

Over-demand will eventually be satisfied and decline to ‘normal’ levels of consumption. The opportunity is to attract new customers and a create a stable business, either as a new entrant or incumbent in the industry. If I were a leader in the industry, I’d try to meet the short-term request landslide, as failure to do so is likely to result in decreased marketshare.

2. Ongoing needs to fight the COV.

Clearly, PPE (everyone knows what this means now, right). Vaccines, drugs to treat COV infection. Floor stickers to remind people to stay 6 ft apart. Video conferencing. Health inspections. One of the most creative suggestions I heard recently was a need for pandemic planning for large organizations3. All kinds of services related to keeping us apart, sanitized and isolated if we have active infection.

3. What will we realize we no longer need? Questions that lurk in my mind:

  • how will the concept that pollution has significantly declined while we have all stopped commuting to work and generally running around in our fossil fuel burning conveyances play out?
  • how much working from home will continue as selected firms and employees discover efficiencies?
  • which things that we previously viewed as critical will be abandoned post COV – fancy office settings, pre-made bread, elementary school teachers (unlikely but I had to throw it out there)?

An interesting story I’m drawn to, because I wouldn’t have predicted it: music streaming has decreased (for example https://variety.com/2020/biz/news/music-streams-down-why-spotify-netflix-1203547387/ ) . I would have thought people would have more time to listen to music. The key to finding the opportunity is understanding why something happens, especially if everyone is doing it for the same reason.

Pay attention to what surprises you, there may be opportunity there.

4. The predicted economic fallout suggests that there will be fewer people with employment and even those with a job will be more cautious in their spending habits due to uncertainty and economic downturn. What do cautious people want to buy, compared to optimistic, high-spending people?

Cautious wants: insurance, personal protection devices, low cost goods, value items rather than luxury items, seeds to grow vegetables.

Optimistic wants: loans, vacations, bling for the self, office, and garden, gourmet food experiences.

5. Recovering from the things done in isolation.

Stockpiling of food and cleaning supplies has happened. Either the food banks will be well supplied with canned goods for years to come or there will be a market for creative approaches to utilizing 18 bags of pasta, a dozen cans of peas, and a flat of pineapple chunks.

Similarly, I suspect many people started DIY home renovation projects: Torn out the paneling in the basement, drawn up plans for a second level in the garage, taken the sink apart in the extra bathroom. The appetite for finishing these projects may evapourate when out of the home distractions become available. Home renovation services may expand to finish the unfinished DIYs.

What are we going to do with all the PPE when we don’t need them any more, even after keeping a good supply? There will be a need to recycle a few billion N95 masks soon. There must be a business model for reclaiming the materials in face shields.

6. Long term. One thing that is sure to linger for years is the cost of the government subsidy programs that have kept us afloat during our internment. Ultimately, these will need to be paid for, through higher taxes, probably personal and business. This may mean restrictive economic times in the future.

The cost of business will likely increase. Take home lessons from the current economic situation include that redundancy is smart. J.I.T. is risky. Outsourcing can be tricky if international borders close down or local economies are disrupted. More control, less low cost. I hear inflation rumbling on the horizon, like a thunderstorm on a humid July day.

Rainbows follow the torrential rains of thunderstorms. I hope the world can look new in a good way. Opportunities are out there.

—–

1This applies to either business or individual customers.

2B.C. Before Covid-19.

3Apologies to whoever said it. I’ve been to too many Zoom-inars, gathering fabulous information, and it’s all blurred into the cosmos of great ideas.

App Apprehension

Does anyone else want to talk about something else other than [the global situation that will not be named] for a little while?

I do. I have a problem. I’m paranoid of downloading apps. If [the global situation that will not be named] has taught me anything, it’s that there are at least a million people doing the same thing as I am at any given time (giving up mascara, chatting with long lost friends, rewriting wills, etc.). Thus, I suspect there are some of you out there with app apprehension too.

For those of you who blissfully tap ‘GET’ when someone you hardly know says ‘this new app is perfect for grooming your dog’ and accept all the ensuing permissions, including signing in via Google, allowing location services, and using your camera – let me explain.

A dread fear grips me at the sight of a dialogue box which wants my information. I suspect phishing, malware or some kind of a scam. So NO, I will not put a password into the box, because passwords are to be guarded with extreme care. Ditto personal information. To me, it feels like walking down the street and having a stranger ask you where you live. Creepy.

Apps can be scary. Cambridge Analytica was a spectacular case of an app secretly collecting reams of information about Facebook users and their friends.1Ancient history? It was years ago and since then many platforms have tightened their requirements for third party apps.

Googling, I found an abundance of posts on how to tell which apps were the good ones, but couldn’t decide what to believe. If you had an app that steals peoples’ banking info, you’d write an unbiased post suggesting the app in question was a safe one. The most insidious thing I can think of is disguising a malicious app as antivirus or anti-malware software.

Common suggestions were that apps could be validated by the number of times they’d been downloaded, length of time they’d been around, where the app could be obtained, and the credibility of the app’s creator.

More than 10 million downloads equals credibility. Yup, except Facebook: number of users at the time of the Cambridge Analytic scandal – over a billion2. Tiktok – concerns have been raised about the privacy practices of TikTok.3A recent report puts its users at 800 million4.

The App and Google Play stores lend credibility because developers must obtain a license to sell in these stores and apps are scrutinized. This would deter small time bad actors but if your agenda is to derail civilization or take control of the power grid, you would jump through the hoops.

Sometimes, the app hasn’t had time to catch up to its popularity. Think Zoom, which is available in the App Store. A wonderful entrepreneurial story of a business that stepped up to keep a good deal of the world running in the past few weeks. The sudden humongous demand for this video conferencing app has revealed some security weaknesses – only natural with the level of usage and popularity.

Every business, from commercial banks, to communications conglomerates, to restaurant chains, have their own app – custom-made pieces of software optimized to deliver the company’s business. If I download multiple apps, I’m concerned about them mingling, with all those different permissions, developers, standards and policies, on my many devices.

Hard as I try, my devices are like amorous bunnies and make connections even when I think I have them segregated. A bit of information here, a bite there, and I imagine my phone could borrow a million dollars by simultaneously applying to eight banks for a mortgage to buy real estate that’s contaminated with toxic waste that I end up responsible for remediating.

I did say I’m paranoid. What is the risk of a bad app? There are the truly malicious that have criminal activity as their intent. While concerning, those won’t get through most of the checks mentioned above. The other category is the mostly ok with weaknesses that might be exploited to manipulate, rather than perform criminal acts. Cambridge Analytica purloined data from a huge number of people. Information was abused to sway voters in several national events. This is pretty abstract stuff. If I download an app, the fate of the world may shift? Shut up, I just want to find cheap frozen pizza.

Where does this lead me? I can see why people embrace apps. They deliver a lot of functionality, fun and deals. Research supports that many people are resigned to sharing their data with endless commercial concerns and accept it as a consequence of the value they derive from apps. And aside from the rare, truly malicious cases, data use is directed to direct marketing or abstract things that one person has little influence over.

Should I avoid apps? My apprehension has grown over time as various spectacular app-fails emerged. This doesn’t mean they are all bad. Just as all cars have certain risks – mechanical failure, expensive maintenance, manufacturing defects and circumstances leading to accidents – all apps share common traits. They are foreign bits of software that might invade your device with malicious intent and lead to personal or societal harm. But all cars are not the same. Some are better built, some easier to fix and some have more protective measures to lessen operational calamities. I concede. Some apps do exactly what they say they do. Some are better engineered and have a lower risk of backdoor information leakage. A very few will be malicious. Probably fewer will cause societal disasters.

When a new product type emerges into the market, the tendency is to treat all versions of the product the same way. Then, as the product grows in popularity and matures, the value of individual versions or brands becomes clear. We have passed the emergent stage with apps, so I should value each app on its own merits and risks.

How will I deal with my app apprehension? One app at a time.

———

1Here is one of many stories: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/23/17151916/facebook-cambridge-analytica-trump-diagram

2https://venturebeat.com/2015/04/22/facebook-passes-1-44b-monthly-active-users-1-25b-mobile-users-and-936-million-daily-users/

3For example: https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/27/21155845/reddit-ceo-steve-huffman-tiktok-privacy-concerns-spyware-fingerprinting-tracking-users

4https://www.oberlo.ca/blog/tiktok-statistics

Fighting the COV : The Economic Enemy

How to fight this virus that has us locked away, hoarding supplies, turning ourselves into virtual versions of ourselves? 

There are many things to fight. The disease. The infection. The impact on the economy, our lives and society.

The battle against the disease is being waged on the front-lines by many medical professionals. They all have my deepest admiration and thanks. Medical researchers, at institutions academic to big pharma, are labouring to develop new weapons – vaccines, drugs – to throw down the enemy. Awesome.

Many manufacturers have stepped up their processes, or completely retooled them, to produce things we need to fight infection – hand sanitizer, masks, protective shields and more. Governments are wielding their power to suppress the spread, keeping us far enough away from each other so we can’t share the virus. All important efforts in the fight against the COV.

What’s left is the fight against the fallout effects from shutting down and shifting so much human activity – the wake of disease control. We’ve heard about massive unemployment and lost revenue in many industries. The picture hasn’t fully emerged yet of which industries and businesses may benefit from the demand reflected in all those empty store shelves and weeks of backordered home delivery. Some retailers have been hiring, as have delivery companies, but they’ve also incurred extra costs, such as installing protective measures for their employees. And then there all those government aid programs. Definitely needed. But where will these dollars come from ultimately? Taxes. Or the money supply, which ripples into inflation.

Many economic forecasts are grim. That’s what is left in the battle against the COV. Ways to fight economic downturn and unemployment.

All I have is an idea of what one person can do.

Here’s my simplistic understanding of economics: it’s the sum total of individual actions. It’s about the balance that’s created from the actions of millions of people in a country, and millions of other people in another country and other countries and… When there is economic growth, it means more people are buying things, because more people have the ability to buy things, because they have jobs to create more things that people want to buy.1It’s a big circular thing, that can either spiral down or up. 

Recessions happen when demand for stuff falls, as it has due to our enemy the COV. We’ve semi-voluntarily shut down the demand for many things like sporting events, live entertainment and travel. This has put millions of people out of work, so of course these people are buying fewer things. And down we go.

I think there is something some of us can do to shift the balance. Many people are still employed, doing essential things like healthcare, education, food services, maintaining the electrical systems and so much more. These people can support demand for goods and services. Economic recession and economic growth differ by whether there is more or less demand today than yesterday. I think we have some influence over this.

I’m not talking about increased debt burden, or senseless spending sprees. The decision-making process we go through when we make purchases, large or small, is complex and dependent on many factors. Outlook on the future is certainly one of them. There are times in every person’s life, regardless of whether they are acting as a consumer of staples like eggs and milk, or as a sophisticated investor in corporate expansion plans, when they are more or less willing to spend. This is related to the concept of consumer confidence, investor confidence, business confidence.

This is where I am going in my fight against the COV. It’s economic. Some of us have the opportunity to shift our economic stance, either as consumers, investors, or creators of products2. Because the economic situation depends on the number of buyers. More buyers means more room for sellers, and more employment. That’s fundamental theory. It means the action of each individual counts. 

Who am I to fight the COV? One consumer. One business person. That’s what the world is made of.

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1This buying can be of many things. It might be household goods, like slippers. Or construction equipment, like cranes. Business services, like cloud computing. Or consumer services, like entertainment streaming. Buying of many things are related. Like cloud computing and communication devices. Construction cranes and dental services (if construction industry employers have good benefit packages).

2 I am suggesting those who can afford to spend should, not that those who already have a debt load increase it.

Non-Routine Work from Home Routines

Like many people, 9 to 5, 8 to 4, or whatever, isn’t me. One of the things I loved about running my own business was that I never knew what I’d be doing next month.

Now, my schedule completely changes every four months. Each day of the week is always different. My natural rhythm, despite decades of trying to conform, has me sleeping until 9:00 am and awake till 1:00 am if at all possible. Plus, I hate sameness.

This makes the idea of maintaining my work routine at home nonsense. Below are my practices for working from home for the free-spirited. Some are the same as many guides to working from home, some directly oppose conventional wisdom.

1. Sleep till whenever1. One of the good things about COVID cloistering is that I get enough sleep. I’m definitely not setting the alarm for earlier than is natural for me to get up. Most people have a time they naturally get up. Go with – it may be your regular time anyway, either that or you weren’t getting enough sleep before. If you are get enough sleep, you will naturally go to bed at the same time each night. Awesome routine.

2. Keep doing enjoyable things in some semblance of B.C. (before Covid). I’m addicted to fitness. B.C. I did strength training classes three times a week. I still do strength training three days a week. I wrote out a routine, much like the instructor delivered, which takes 55 minutes and do it all. Otherwise, it’s tempting to wander off after 3 jumping jacks. I substitute 30 minutes of brisk rowing in the basement for 30 minutes of brisk walking.

3. Eat regularly and normally. That said, take advantage of being at home. I like oatmeal, so I have hot cereal in place of the muffin I had on the train on the way to work. Snacking is hard to avoid at home, but easier to resist if you aren’t hungry. I tell myself that after I eat salad for lunch, I can have chips later. Sometimes I don’t get around to the chips before dinner.

4. Mix work with family life. Sage advice is to get up from your desk at least once an hour. So, stir the stew and add the carrots. Or take one load of laundry out of the washer and put another one in. Enjoy being at home. I work on the couch, because I can be productive there. Ask family for their opinion on what you’re working on. They may have great ideas.

5. Shower etc. when it makes sense, not to begin the day. If I’m going to do a couple hours of work, then work out, following up with a shower makes sense. I make a conscious effort to take advantage of being at home, rather then trying to fool myself into thinking I’m ‘going’ to work.

6. Know what your work goals are. To put all this flex sleeping, exercising, and doing household chores into context, I decide the night before what work I need to get done the next day. As long as that happens, everything is good.

More conventional aspects of routine that makes sense to me:

1. Limit checking the news. I read the news and check the COVID epidemiologically data once a day, in the morning, laying in bed. B.C., I read the news and checked the weather laying in bed in the morning.

2. I reach out when there is a the need. To friends, business colleagues, medical professionals. It’s tough in here, for all of us in our own ways, but also in many common ways.

3. Wear WTF. Seriously, if the world is going to hell in hand-basket, I’m travelling in yoga pants.

4. Count blessings. Working from home relieves the stress of the commute and gives me more time. I am healthy. I have enough to eat, I have a job.

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1Sorry, if you have an 8am call, you gotta get up before then. 

Finding Hope in the fight against COV.

First, let me be clear what I mean when I say, I’m convinced the world will never be the same again (previous post).

I’m NOT talking apocalyptic stuff. I mean different. A little more of this, a little less of that.

It’s early days so anything specific is mere conjecture. In addition to the toll from viral infection, many of us are likely to be impacted economically and socially. Many already are.

We can see inklings of change. In our current stasis, there is big demand for fulfilling online orders, creating jobs along the path from merchandise collection from the warehouse to delivery to the customer’s door. Many small scale operations, if they provide a make-at-home product, like beer, may see demand like they’ve never experienced before. Of course, there is a huge need for medical supplies right now, gloves, face masks, ventilators and more, and manufacturers are increasing production and retooling if they can.

I suspect this will be the end of physical money. We were already on our way there, this crisis will push us faster.

Spending so much time at home, working and playing, people are likely to realize they don’t need some of the things they are used to consuming, like maybe mascara or beer in a plastic cup1. On the other hand, there may be new interests developed. I gather there is a surge in interest in home gardening, especially of vegetables2.

And then, there’s the financial markets. Some people will see a decline in their net worth due to the contraction of the stock markets. What will this do to the economy? Assuming those heavily invested are not depending on these investments to buy groceries next week, it could delay retirements, make investors cautious and slow corporate growth, decrease demand for ultra-high end goods. On the other hand, it might create an environment with investors receptive to new share issues if they perceive they are getting a discount rate. Real estate values are bound to be impacted. (Can you hear the dominos clacking into one another, creating a new configuration?)

People with stable employment will suddenly have an excess of spending money because they can’t buy basketball tickets, trips to the Bahamas, or exotic dinners out. Where will the discretionary spending go? One great idea I’ve seen is restaurant bonds. People are paying to dine in the future at restaurants whose doors are currently closed.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the potential ways the COV could change our lives. None of us know exactly where we will end up. The point is, I believe we have choices that can shape our future, and this hope is empowering.

1These suggestions are based on my personal experience. 

2To avoid potential shortages in grocery stores.