Looking for Good Wireless Karma

One of the blogs I read on a frequent basis, SwissMiss, has a sponsor called Karma. Karma provides mobile wifi that is not tied to any specific carrier and does not require a contract. In other words it’s like the various wireless carriers’ MiFi devices, but you don’t have to sign a contract and you pay for the data as you go.  Their website lists the retail price for the device at $149 – they’re running a special for $99 right now – and the data rates are $14 per GB with discounts available for bulk purchases.

A quick search for comparisons of MiFi plans brought me to this page that compares the providers that require contracts – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile – and the no-contract providers, Virgin and T-Mobile Monthly 4G. Karma seems to stack up well price-wise against all of them in terms of data plans and since there doesn’t seem to be a time limit on using the data this could be very useful for someone like me who might use a ton of data one month, say while on a business trip, and then not a lot of data for a couple of months at a time.

With the low price of the device itself this seems like a no-brainer. I’ll let you know how it goes if I end up testing it, and would love to hear from anyone else who has given it a try.

Mini’s Genius Marketers

Mini Cooper truly has some smart marketing folks. Yesterday my wife, who’s been driving a Mini for about two years, received a package with what she thought was a free music CD. Instead it was two portable speakers that can be folded flat and are intended to be used to provide “music for your gears” while motoring.

So smart. An unexpected, no strings show of appreciation for their customers.

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How We Think About Charity is Wrong

This is a fantastic TED presentation by Dan Pallotta on why the non-profit industry is perpetually hamstrung by its inability, among other things, to break out of a structure that limits compensation, suppresses risk-taking, prohibits access to capital markets, imposes frugality at the expense of future growth potential and tags all overhead as negative.  It’s a must-watch for anyone in the non-profit sector, but the charitable arm of the non-profit sector in particular.

Here’s a link to the full transcript and a couple of excerpts that really hit home:

So in the for-profit sector, the more value you produce, the more money you can make. But we don’t like nonprofits to use money to incentivize people to produce more in social service. We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interesting that we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people. You know, you want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself…

Businessweek did a survey, looked at the compensation packages for MBAs 10 years of business school, and the median compensation for a Stanford MBA, with bonus, at the age of 38, was 400,000 dollars. Meanwhile, for the same year, the average salary for the CEO of a $5 million-plus medical charity in the U.S. was 232,000 dollars, and for a hunger charity, 84,000 dollars. Now, there’s no way you’re going to get a lot of people with $400,000 talent to make a $316,000 sacrifice every year to become the CEO of a hunger charity.

Some people say, “Well, that’s just because those MBA types are greedy.” Not necessarily. They might be smart. It’s cheaper for that person to donate 100,000 dollars every year to the hunger charity, save 50,000 dollars on their taxes, so still be roughly 270,000 dollars a year ahead of the game, now be called a philanthropist because they donated 100,000 dollars to charity, probably sit on the board of the hunger charity, indeed, probably supervise the poor SOB who decided to become the CEO of the hunger charity,and have a lifetime of this kind of power and influence and popular praise still ahead of them…

So we’ve all been taught that charities should spend as little as possible on overhead things like fundraising under the theory that, well, the less money you spend on fundraising, the more money there is available for the cause. Well, that’s true if it’s a depressing world in which this pie cannot be made any bigger. But if it’s a logical world in which investment in fundraising actually raises more funds and makes the pie bigger, then we have it precisely backwards, and we should be investing more money, not less, in fundraising, because fundraising is the one thing that has the potential to multiply the amount of moneyavailable for the cause that we care about so deeply…

This is what happens when we confuse morality with frugality. We’ve all been taught that the bake sale with five percent overhead is morally superior to the professional fundraising enterprise with 40 percent overhead, but we’re missing the most important piece of information, which is, what is the actual size of these pies? Who cares if the bake sale only has five percent overhead if it’s tiny? What if the bake sale only netted 71 dollars for charity because it made no investment in its scale and the professional fundraising enterprise netted 71 million dollars because it did? Now which pie would we prefer, and which pie do we think people who are hungry would prefer?

 

The Basic Report

Do you read The Week? It’s a great publication because it does something vitally important – it provides on overview of issues of the week and incorporates excerpts from news sources from around the world in the process.

Now some folks in San Francisco have created The Basic Report, which is kind of like The Week, but appears to go a step further by taking the events and explaining how you can best use this info in a cocktail party setting. November, 2014 is Vol 1, Issue 1 and it looks like a great start. Here’s to hoping they stick around.

Getting Squeezed in the Middle

The Wall Street Journal has a report that should surprise no one if they’ve been paying attention:

The American middle class has absorbed a steep increase in the cost of health care and other necessities as incomes have stagnated over the past half decade, a squeeze that has forced families to cut back spending on everything from clothing to restaurants.

Health-care spending by middle-income Americans rose 24% between 2007 and 2013, driven by an even larger rise in the cost of buying health insurance, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of detailed consumer-spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That hit has been accompanied by increases in spending on other necessities, including food eaten at home, rent and education, as well as the soaring cost of staying connected digitally via cellphones and home Internet service…

Consumer spending continues to make up just over two-thirds of the U.S. economy. But where households spend that money has shifted significantly.

To see how it has moved, the Journal analyzed Labor Department data on 2013 out-of-pocket spending for the middle 60% of the population by income—households earning between about $18,000 and $95,000 a year, before taxes.

The data show they are losing ground. Overall spending for the group rose by about 2.3% over the six-year period from 2007, even as inflation totaled about 12%. At the same time, income for the group stagnated, rising less than half a percent…

“Part of the story is that your income growth is slowing,” said Steven Fazzari, an economist and chairman of the sociology department at Washington University in St. Louis. “They’re spending more on necessities, cutting back on other types.”

It’s tempting to blame the Affordable Care Act for the increase in health care costs, but as the article points out, health care costs were soaring before ACA was enacted. While health care costs is probably one of the bigger issues faced by middle class Americans, probably the biggest is wage stagnation combined with fewer benefits.

Higher health are costs in and of themselves wouldn’t be as big a deal if people were making more money and still had “Cadillac” benefits from their employers. What we’ve been seeing, and what the Journal’s report highlights, is that the middle class is being hit from all sides and they’re truly feeling the squeeze. Employers have been scaling back health coverage for years, often requiring employees to pay higher percentages of their own premiums and paying 100% of the premiums on their dependents, which adds up to hundreds of dollars a month in added expenses. Tack on higher food costs, housing costs, communications costs, transportation costs, etc. and the expense side of the ledger grows very quickly while the income side stays where it is. Taken all together what you get is a middle class that is being squeezed to the point that many will be pushed into a completely different category – the working poor or just plain poor.

That’s not good for any of us.

Tennis Stats Have Been Left Behind

Fivethirtyeight.com has a fascinating post on the state of statistics in tennis:

Old, an avid player himself, meticulously charted every shot of every rally to figure out how to play the game optimally. A scientist, he broke down the sport scientifically — then wrote about it in a series of books endorsed by some of the best American tennis players of their day.

Sometimes his son, Randy, watched matches with him. “It was boring,” Randy said, laughing. “He didn’t talk. He had this huge notebook, and he just was concentrating.”

In a typical story of a sports stats pioneer, I’d show how this early work inspired others and led to a revolution in analysis of the game.2 Not this time. Nearly six decades after Old’s first book hit shelves, no one is producing stats like his. Old’s stats on how often pros hit overheads for winners, or hit their returns down the line, aren’t available in tennis today.

The author of the post showed Old’s 60+ year old book on doubles to some modern players, including the record-setting Bryan brothers, and they found that much of it still applied to the modern game:

Last month at the World Tour Finals in London, I showed the doubles book to the Bryans, to Fleming, and to Daniel Nestor, a 12-time Grand Slam champion. None had seen stats like Old kept — on winning percentage on volleys depending on where they were struck, or on which shots were most likely to yield winners.

They said some data-driven tenets from the book still held: Come to net.12Crowd the middle of the court. Keep returns low. Others, like taking speed off the first serve to allow time to come to net, don’t apply in today’s power-dominated game, the current stars agreed.13

Unfortunately doubles is the red-headed stepchild of tennis and so these kinds of stats aren’t available to even the pros. While the tenets are all well and good, it would be helpful for them to have stats like these on specific opponents. After all, you might find that a certain player’s success rate drops if you hit sliced low returns versus aggressive hard returns. That kind of information can mean all the difference in matches that are often decided by two or three critical points.

San Francisco’s Poop Problem

In this day and age it’s not hard to find an argument about the proper role of government in American society. Almost everyone agrees that government should have a significant role in public safety and national security, but even with those gimmes there’s significant disagreement about what that looks like. Throw in topics like education, public welfare, transportation, etc. and you’re going to get heated debate in any room with more than one person in it.

Still, with all that disagreement you’d think that any municipality in the country would have a pretty easy time getting its citizens behind the concept of doing whatever is necessary to keep people from pooping in public. The folks in San Francisco seem to be intent on making a mountain out of a pile of poo:

As a Mission kid, I have experienced days, even weeks, in a row when I’ve had to pull my eager dog away from steaming pancakes of human shit, or I’ve had to step over a sad, sick turd-smeared man passed out among sculpture-like piles of his own doo-doo mere feet from my doorway.However San Francisco’s poop problem isn’t confined to the streets of the Mission. Other neighborhoods ­– particularly SOMA, Mid-Market, and the Tenderloin ­– have a similar human-excrement predicament. Let’s face­­ it: if you live in the city, regardless of location or class affiliation, you’ve probably had your own encounter with the aftermath of a public number-two.

We live in a beautiful city that’s praised for its progressive values and the deeply set urban intellect of its residents. Why, then, do I find myself, on a daily basis, stepping around errant piles of fecal matter? In simpler terms, what’s with all the shit?…

It’s there for one reason, and one reason only: people needed to use the loo, and none was there for the using. And for the most part, these people are San Francisco’s massive homeless population.

There are more than 10,000 people living on the streets at any given time in our fair City by the Bay. San Francisco must be scrambling hand over foot to provide at least some semblance of a plan for their very apparent human needs. Right? Wrong.

Nice, huh? It’s not that the fair people of San Francisco aren’t thinking about the issue, but they’re having a heckuva time coming to a consensus about what to do:

Of course, like everything else in San Francisco, it turns out that potties have long been lashed to political debates. In a city that’s constantly reimagining itself, a restroom isn’t just a place to pee, after all. It’s part of a larger dialogue about who owns the public space. It’s a piece of architecture that’s at once public and intimate, where the landed gentry have to squat right alongside the city’s poor. “I think as you see a more stratified city, obviously the restrooms are gonna become more politicized,” former Supervisor Chris Daly says, remembering years of public-restroom football in City Hall.

For at least a decade, bathrooms have stood in for the city’s anxieties about homelessness, public utilities, and the changing economy. They’ve created fault lines and frenemies, they’ve cost untold millions of dollars. (The tab for this year’s renovation of a particularly infamous Portsmouth Square lavatory comes to $1.13 million). They’ve become porcelain tea leaves through which we can analyze the city’s development, and proxies for all of its battles. Scoff or turn away at the door, but it’s undeniable: Toilets have been markers for civilization since long before even the venerable coffee bar, and understanding the city now is just a flush away.

The problem is so bad that someone’s created a map of poop incidents and it has a “Report Poop” function.

So a note to all of our fine citizens here in the Piedmont Triad who interact with our municipal governments, whether it’s through volunteering to serve on various boards, committees and councils or appearing before those boards on behalf of themselves or clients and are often frustrated with the process – no matter how bad it gets just think of the folks in San Francisco and remember that things could be worse. Much worse.