Tag Archives: Here&#039s

This Famous Supermarket Chain Released a Tear-Jerking Ad For Christmas. Here's Why It Was Banned
November 10, 2018 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

We’re coming to that time of year where we pretend that all humans have hearts and love will find a way.

That time when we give each other gifts, sometimes reluctantly, and hope to get better gifts in return.

That’s somewhat the logic of companies that release warm, emotional Christmas ads. 

They hope that, on giving you such a gift, you’ll immediately rush over to their store to buy lots of things you don’t need.

Still, the UK’s Iceland supermarket chain thought it would raise the tone a little.

What was the baby orangutan doing in her room? Running away from the nasty humans who are destroying its forest, in search of palm oil to put in foods.

Naturally, the little girl takes up the orangutan’s cause.

She’ll fight for its survival.

She’ll presumably make a plea to Santa that he should fly his reindeer over the nasty humans and drop coal all over their rapacious heads.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with Iceland.

Well, the chain is taking this opportunity to say it’s removing palm oil from all its own-label products.

A very Christmassy gesture, you might think. 

Not according to the UK authorities who approve ads, it isn’t. 

You see this ad was originally a Greenpeace film. Iceland merely asked if it could use it and change the ending a little.

Which the UK ad authorities deemed political. So they banned it from UK screens.

One can’t let British children hear political messages, you know. They might grow up wanting to be part of Europe again.

Iceland insists it’s not anti-palm oil, merely anti-deforestation. 

You can imagine, though, that it knew what the rules were and that the ad might be banned.

Which would then create huge publicity. Which would perfectly serve Iceland’s purposes and perhaps even save it a little money along the way.

Indeed, as Richard Walker, son of chain’s founder Malcolm, told the Guardian: “We always knew there was a risk [the clip would not be cleared for TV] but we gave it our best shot.”

Oh, I think you gave it a very fine, cost-effective shot indeed, Richard. 

As I write, the ad has already enjoyed around 1.5 million views on YouTube.

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There's a Bizarre Hoax Circulating on Facebook. Here's Why it's Spreading Like Wildfire
October 8, 2018 12:01 am|Comments (0)

Are you on Facebook? If you are, you’ve most likely received a repetitive, canned note (or 100) from your friends/family that is driving you into a fit of rage. If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. However, there’s indeed an irritating hoax going around that has grabbed some serious attention. Here’s what the message says: 

Hi….I actually got another friend request from you yesterday…which I ignored so you may want to check your account. Hold your finger on the message until the forward button appears…then hit forward and all the people you want to forward too….I had to do the people individually. Good Luck! 

Spoiler: there’s no ‘clone’ account. This is just a hoax, so delete the message and be worry-free that an account or second-degree account is compromised. 

We’re all familiar with this level of chain-like-mail, but what makes this time so different? The obvious answer could be any of the following: 

  • It’s coming from friends & family — so you can trust it
  • There’s clear instruction on what to do
  • It doesn’t contain a link
  • You’re doing it through Messenger (it’s more novel), vs. a status update

However, it goes deeper than that.

We need to remember that Facebook has its fair share of ‘bad press’ (yes, there is such a thing) the past couple years, stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal which affected 87 million accounts. Then, all 2.2 billion Facebook users received a notice in an effort to inform them on how to protect their information. Add to this that on September 28th, hackers exploited a flaw which resulted in compromised data for 50 million accounts. Yikes. 

And what do you get when you mix that all together?

A user constantly on high-alert due to the endless loop of security & privacy concerns

The decision to forward is almost an irrational one–and an innate reaction to Facebook’s shaky history and hyper-recent exploitation. All of that creates an uncomfortable level of ‘unknown’ when it comes to privacy and, at the end of the day, your friends & family are really just trying to help inform of a potential concern. 

So, the next time you receive one of these messages, maybe take a deep breath and if you feel like a good Samaritan, let them know that they don’t need to forward the message out to anyone else–the clones aren’t here (yet).

Published on: Oct 7, 2018

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Here's How That Person With the Perfect Life is Different From the Rest of us
July 15, 2018 6:51 pm|Comments (0)

“Biohacking is the use of self-experimentation to upgrade your mind, body, and life. I’m a big believer in biohacking, and self-experiment daily to ensure I have the energy I need to run not only my business but to also have the energy I need to be active with my family every night. I believe in taking care of myself through exercise, nutrition and proper supplements, and biohacking has allowed me to find the right formula for myself and my life.”

–Russell Brunson, cofounder and CEO of ClickFunnels, an online sales and marketing software which in three years has helped over 300 business owners cross over the $ 1 million mark, with 18 of them continuing to scale to $ 10 million and beyond

“When running a small business, you must be purposeful. You have to change your mindset and realize that while it’s easier to say yes, it’s not a bad thing to say no. Each time you say yes, you’re also saying no to something else.”

–Will Holsworth, CEO of SAFE + FAIR, an allergy-friendly food company which has quadrupled its website traffic in the four months since launching its new platform

3. Get 30 minutes of quiet every morning.

“I set two alarms every morning. The first one isn’t to create a window of time to snooze, but to allow me 30 minutes of quiet time every morning. It’s the calm before the action. During this time I tackle my confidence level and insecurities. I meditate, pray or give myself a pep talk. I take a moment to be mentally aware of the thoughts in my mind that could potentially hold me back from my accomplishments for the day, and I work on tucking them far away. By the time the next alarm goes off, I usually feel less fragmented and very centered. Thirty minutes later the second alarm goes off, usually playing a song–a positive, upbeat song which signals that it’s go time! Time to conquer the day!”

–Andréa Richardson, leader of multicultural and diversity engagement across Hilton’s portfolio of more than 5,000 properties

4. Work out, then focus on family and work.

“I wake up by 5 a.m. to work out with a trainer before my boys wake up. Working out reduces stress and makes me a better mom and boss. I have breakfast with my kids and drive them to school to start our days together, and nearly every evening I make them a home-cooked dinner. I also find it’s important to make time for a one-hour clarity break during my work day to focus on the business.”

–Shelly Sun, founder and CEO of BrightStar Care, a national private duty home care and medical staffing franchise with more than 300 locations in 38 states 

5. Set goals the night before.

“Every evening, I spend a few minutes planning my goals for the following day. More than just a to-do list, I think about what I accomplished that day and what I need to get accomplished in the next few days. I then write out, by hand, all the people, processes and programs in which I want to invest time improving in the following day. The list doesn’t always get accomplished the next day, as a good leader needs to be flexible, but by committing them to paper, I’m able to prioritize my time and my goals.”

–Paul Koulogeorge, CMO of Goddard Systems, Inc., franchisor of The Goddard School, which is on track to open its 500th school in 2018

6. Unplug and work out first thing.

“I like to start my mornings at the gym. It is helpful for me to get up, be active and disconnect first thing when I wake up. It’s a rare-moment that I am not on my iPhone, checking emails, calling franchise partners, or making notes about new ideas for our guests to play at our parks. I learned early that missing my morning workouts left me with a lack of focus for the day ahead, so I’ve made it a daily practice to start my day off at the gym.”

–Jeff Platt, CEO of Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline and aerial park with over 200 franchises across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait

7. Take the time to be personal.

“I start my day early, which means I’ll usually catch one or two employees before the work day technically ever starts. They’ll usually come in my office and we will talk about work, but it quickly turns into conversations about what’s going on in their lives and things much bigger than work. I really enjoy those talks and I think having a pulse on people’s personal lives helps me be a better boss, too. One habit I’ve gotten into and really held myself to is making rounds to say hi to everyone every morning. It’s a small gesture, but I think everyone enjoys the engagement and I want to feel as accessible as possible.

–Bart Silvestro, CEO of Chef’s Cut Real Jerky Co., a jerky brand with profits which rose from more than $ 460,000 to $ 47.5 million in four years

8. Determine your workday rhythm.

“I get my best work done in the morning. After my husband Ted takes our boys to school or camp, I sit at my desk with a large mug of coffee and don’t stop working until 1 p.m. I keep meetings, calls, errands for afternoons, when my brain is less focused. And of course, evenings are family time, dinner with friends and oft-needed rest. Determining a workday rhythm that gives energy (vs. depletes energy) is a worthwhile exercise for everyone.”

–Molly Fienning, cofounder of Babiators, maker of sunglasses for babies and kids which has sold more than 2 million pairs worldwide

9. Utilize your calendar as a daily to-do list.

“I prefer to use my calendar as my to-do list. I not only have my conference calls and meetings on my calendar but I also put three to five of my top items on the calendar each day that I want and need to get done. I also schedule some sort of workout or yoga class because it’s a necessity for my mental wellbeing and keeps me performing at the top of my game.  Each evening I look back at my calendar for the day and feel very accomplished. This technique helps me keep moving forward throughout the day otherwise I’d get bogged down with mini fires and items that keep me in the weeds.”

–Danielle Dietz-LiVolsi, founder and CEO of NuttZo, a multi-nut and seed butter brand sold in more than 16 retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods, Costco and Sprouts

10. Build relationships with colleagues.

“One of the best habits I’ve gotten into is making sure that I walk around to connect with each member of our team as often as possible. I try to do it daily, and especially in the morning, because it’s a really nice way to start the day. It’s so important to me because our team is our greatest asset, and the best way I’ve found to show appreciation and gratitude is to take time to build relationships with my colleagues. Even though sometimes it might not feel productive to be talking about things outside of business, I think it’s some of the most valuable time I spend every day because it aligns us as a team and strengthens our culture.”

–Alex Bingham, president and CEO of The Little Gym International, a children’s enrichment and development franchise with 400 locations worldwide

11. Stop overthinking it.

“Once you make a decision, take action that moment. Write the letter, make the call, send the email. Show up in a bigger way than you ever have before, but don’t wait for the planets to align. Take action now and, by next week, your anxiety will start to dissipate because you are going for it. I am always so impressed by persistent people, whether they are getting the results they want or not. No matter what, if they keep pushing forward, the big break they are waiting for is just one step away. Why would you ever want to miss that opportunity?”

–Allison Maslan, serial entrepreneur who built 10 companies to seven-figure success and author of “Blast Off!: The Surefire Success Plan to Launch Your Dreams into Reality” and “Scale or Fail: How to Build Your Dream Team, Explode Your Growth, and Let Your Business Soar”

“It is so easy to immerse yourself in work that you forget to stand, stretch, and reset. Believe it or not this enables you to be more productive. I often get up check in with staff and take a lap around the office or the building if the weather permits. Also, I started wearing wrist and ankle weights. This helps keep me alert and ready for the day-to-day challenges, not to mention the additional calorie burning.”

–Julia Biancella Au, cofounder and CEO of removable wallpaper company Tempaper, which has seen average annual growth of about 34 percent each year since launching in 2008

13. Talk to people and get to know them.

“Unengaged employees are a company’s biggest liability. People will feel more positively about coming to work if they feel they can engage with the business and those around them. Therefore, take time out of your day to physically get up and start conversation with those around you. Each day, engage with employees and coworkers on a personal and professional level. This makes them feel valued, heard and understood, leading to that constructive engagement.”

–Mike Whalen, founder of Heart of American Group which employs more than 3,500 people across more than 40 restaurants, hotels and other retail; and CEO of Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, an expanding restaurant franchise with 15 locations across nine states

14. Look for inspiration.

“I work very hard to do things every day that inspire me. This includes walks in cities, architecture, restaurants, bars, cars, stores, magazines, and mostly just working. I love the process–I am always excited to start new projects and investigate the next idea. People always ask how I come up with so many designs but in fact it is hard for me not to because everything I see and experience excites me. Because I am driven by what’s next, I am very fortunate to be so engaged by the challenge and its process.”

–Robert Sonneman, founder and chief creative officer of award-winning SONNEMAN-A Way of Light, with a product line which includes 1,800 SKUs, with over 100 new introductions annually, and has experienced over 40% revenue growth in 2016, and 20% growth month over month in 2017

15. Mark up your to-do list.

“Every morning I go through my entire to-do list (ranging from 10 to 30 items), and I highlight high versus low priorities so that at the end of the day the mission critical tasks are guaranteed to be completed.”

–Lex Corwin, founder of Stone Road Farms, a premium cannabis company which has done over $ 100,000 in sales since obtaining its license earlier this year and secured large scale manufacturing and multi-state distribution deals

16. Take time for silence each morning.

“For more than 25 years now I begin my day with an hour-long practice I refer to as the Sphere of Silence (SOS). It is not meditation, and it is not a religious practice of any kind. It’s derived from the art of silence I learnt from my grandfather at a very young age. My grandfather believed that abstaining from speaking brought him inner peace and made him a better listener. I have been practicing the Sphere of Silence for most of my life now and attribute my success to it. I find that practicing the SOS is the ultimate weapon against the assault on our senses and the insanity that prevails around us today. To many, it may seem that no quiet could exist amidst the din and racket of an ever-blaring world. Practice it for 21 days and it becomes a habit. The silence and introspection make you a better you, because it helps you channel your energies to maximum effect. And being a better you, makes you better at everything you do.”

–Vijay Eswaran , one of Forbes’ top 50 wealthiest Malaysians, one of Forbes Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy, bestselling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist and founder and executive chairman of the QI Group of Companies, a multi-business conglomerate with headquarters in Hong Kong, offices in more than 25 countries and customers in over 100 countries

17. Write down all the good and bad every day.

“One the easiest ways that has proven to increase my effectiveness is the habit I have created to write in my journal every day. I put pen-to-paper and write down the things which are important to me, the things that were both good and bad during my day and ideas on how I can improve. I write lists, goals, gratitude and sometime write to simply vent my frustrations. Writing requires engagement from both sides of my brain, making the brainstorming or problem-solving process more complete and innovative. Further, writing is crucial when it comes to settling emotional reactivity. It unwinds emotions caused by stress or conflict by providing a much needed disconnect from the daily grind of consistent talking, emailing, taking calls, and other distractions which come alone with electronic devices. I deeply value the process of writing because it puts me in touch with the more existential aspects of life, reminding me of the bigger picture of I am striving for.”

–Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a nationally recognized expert in clinical psychology, speaker, former radio host of the Dr. Sherrie Show for the BBM Global Network and TuneIn Radio, with over two decades of clinical training experience providing counseling and psychotherapy services to residents of Orange County, California, and author of “Success Equations: A Path to Living an Emotionally Wealthy Life”

18. Use flora and fauna for energization.

“I always have fresh flowers and green life in my office and at home, in order to keep
the air in these spaces fresh and have an inspiring atmosphere. On the fauna front, I
bring my three fur-babies–my dogs–to the office every day. I find that the research
stands true–pets in the office reduce stress and increase collaboration!”

–Terry Eaton, founder, president and chief curator of Eaton Fine Art, a firm that last
year marked its 25th anniversary with recent projects including the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and Holston House in Nashville

19. Take care of yourself.

“I recently saw a survey that said 80 percent of Americans have tension headaches or feel overwhelmed or depressed at least one day during the month. Those are sad symptoms of living in our society. At its worst, stress is making us sick, but it’s also sapping our productivity and stealing our success. The irony is that what’s causing our stress–the pace of life and the never-ending demands–are the very things that keep us from doing something about it. We’re busy taking care of business and for many of us, self-care is one of the first things that come off our list. I think that’s a big mistake and comes with a heavy cost, which is why I dedicate time every day, to taking care of myself no matter what’s going on. That might be a massage, but it can also be a run outdoors or a walk in the beach, talking to my kids or just taking a few minutes to close my eyes and take some deep breaths. The point is to make it a daily habit.”

–Joe Magnacca, CEO of Massage Envy, a provider of therapeutic massage and skincare services with a franchise system that collectively employs over 35,000 wellness professionals across 1,180 locations nationwide servicing more than 1.65 million members

“[I read] at least 10 pages from each of the books I’m reading (prayer, professional and enjoyment.)  Always have three books open and I personally prefer physical books over e-readers.”

–Ellie Johnson, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties which has $ 375 million in sales inventory and has grown its agent population five-fold since launching in January 2017

“I’m a huge proponent of rest. I take the weekends off and I believe in regular, relaxing vacations. Once a year, I go back home to pick olives with my family. It’s amazing how this time away from the office re-energizes my body and spirit. My downtime is essential.”

–Aytekin Tank, CEO of JotForm, an online form builder used by more than 3.5 million people

22. Lead a life with grace (in and out of the office).

“When I was younger, my father worked during the day and took classes at night to earn his college degree to make a better life for himself and our family. He taught me from an early age that no matter what life throws your way, it’s important to earn the respect of others by working hard and being honest, fair and trustworthy. I apply this advice to both my career and my personal life. No matter how difficult a situation may be or how frustrated I may be with someone, it is so important that I always keep my composure, lead with grace and give others the respect that they deserve. If you don’t respect others, you cannot expect to earn their respect in return!”

–Lisa A Haude, founder and president of Paradigm Design Group, an award-winning luxury-lifestyle hospitality interior design firm with offices in Houston, San Francisco and Chicago and ranked as one of the top design firms in the United States since 2006

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Even After Multiple Cyberattacks, Many Businesses Fail to Bolster Security. Here's What You Need to Do
June 18, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

Small businesses suffered a barrage of computer invasions last year but most took no action to shore up their security afterward, according to a survey by insurer Hiscox.

It found that 47 percent of small businesses reported that they had one attack in 2017, and 44 percent said they had two to four attacks.

The invasions included ransomware, which makes a computer’s files unusable unless the device’s user or owner pays a ransom, and phishing, in which emails that look legitimate are used to steals information. The invasions also include what are called drive-by attacks, which infect websites and in turn the computers that visit them.

Despite the prevalence of the data invasions, only about half of small businesses said they had a clear cybersecurity strategy, the report found. And nearly two-thirds said they didn’t bolster their security after an attack.

Hiscox estimates that seven out of 10 businesses aren’t prepared to handle cyber attacks, although they can cost a company thousands of dollars or more and ransomware can shut down operations. Cybersecurity tends to get pushed to the back burner while owners are busy developing products and services and working with clients and employees. Or owners may see it as an expense they can’t afford right now.

Some basic cybersecurity advice:

–Back up all of a company’s data securely. This means paying for a service that keeps a duplicate of all files on an ongoing basis. The best backups keep creating versions of a company’s files that can be accessed in the event of ransomware — eliminating the need to pay data thieves. Some backups cost just a few hundred dollars a year.

–Install software that searches for and immobilizes viruses, malware and other harmful programs. Also install firewalls and data encryption programs.

–Make sure you have all the updates and patches for your operating systems for all your devices. They often include security programs.

–If you have a website, learn how to protect it from hackers, using software including firewalls. But you might be better off hiring a service that will monitor your site with sophisticated tools that detect and disable intruders.

–Tell your staffers, and keep reminding them, about the dangers of clicking on links or attachments in emails unless they’re completely sure the emails are from a legitimate source. Educate your employees about phishing attacks and the tricks they use. Phishers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are creating emails that look like they really could have come from your bank or a company you do business with.

–Hire an information technology consultant who will regularly look at your systems to be sure you have the tools you need to keep your data safe.

–The Associated Press

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Rocket League's New Jurassic Park DLC Is Cool, But Here's Why I'm Disappointed
June 9, 2018 6:08 pm|Comments (0)

Rocket League has just announced their latest paid DLC, a Jurassic Park themed content pack which includes a new “hard hat” topper, a Jurassic Park flag and decals, a T-Rex goal explosion, and the classic Jurassic Park Jeep. This DLC is the latest of the officially licensed content, and with the newest ‘Jurassic’ film in theaters soon, the iconic Jeep is an easy choice to add to the Rocket League lineup.

Psyonix

Rocket League’s latest Premium DLC- The Jurassic Park Jeep

Fans of the Jurassic Park franchise are rejoicing, and I was too until I saw this Tweet from PsyonixThe tweet confirms that the new Jurassic Park car will have the same hitbox as Octane, Rocket League’s most popular car by far. For those unaware, since Patch 1.35, each Rocket League car is based on one of five standardized car body types, the solid 3D models of the car that the ball actually bounces off of. For example, the Merc (a van) uses the same hitbox as Octane, despite looking much different visually. In practice, even though the front end of the Merc appears to be much taller than on Octane, the ball bounces off of the two the exact same way. These changes in shape make a huge impact during gameplay, since even the slightest difference in how the ball bounces off of a player’s car can make or break a goal. 

Sure, it’s possible for most players to change cars on a whim, but more intense players notice the slight differences in turn radius, aerial control, and hitbox shape when they change between cars. Personally, I’m about 300 hours into using Breakout so trying to use Octane, which many consider to be the “best” car, just feels wrong. The tiny differences between the two feel massive to me, and to any avid players who try out cars different than their favorite.

Psyonix

The T-Rex goal explosion from the new Jurassic Park Premium DLC

It does make the most sense financially to sell a DLC car that will attract the most buyers; players are more likely to buy a new car that handles the same as their favorite. But with so many existing re-skins for Octane, including ‘Twinzer’, released in the very recent Salty Shores update, the rest of us are missing out on the fun. A Psyonix employee revealed on Reddit the official list of cars and their hitboxes as of the 1.37 update, which confirms that the Octane body type has the largest number of cars by far, with the gap growing even larger since the release of the new Jeep and Twinzer. 

In a game where customization is almost as much fun as the game itself, it’s unfortunate that players who don’t use Octane or Dominus-type cars are limited to so few choices of cars. The customization options in Rocket League are incredible, and the player base has come up with some truly fantastic creations. In the future, I’d like to see a larger diversity in newly released cars so that the vast customization options aren’t limited to just one or two body types.

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Here's How Chicago Can Keep Its Top Tech Talent From Leaving for Other Cities
April 30, 2018 6:04 pm|Comments (0)

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that pretty much every metropolis in the country is claiming to be the next Silicon Valley. In a previous Inc piece I wrote, titled The Advantage Chicago Has Over Silicon Valley, I threw Chicago’s hat in the ring to be considered next in line.

Many Chicagoans have responded positively to the piece, validating Chicago’s entrepreneurial excitement. A handful of people, however, responded with some resistance to the constant comparisons to to Silicon Valley, like this Medium post by Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp: Chicago, be Chicago

And for good reason–following another city’s playbook limits the space for originality. But on the other hand, resisting to target other cities is problematic and, to a some extent, dangerous.

Why? I’ll get to that in a second, but first I need to share a small part of my story:

I’m a twenty-something entrepreneur born and raised in Chicago. I founded MSTQ, a Chicago-based design and innovation firm, which has afforded me the opportunity to have a hand in some of Chicago’s most exciting tech startups. My work has given me a front row seat to Chicago’s growing tech scene, seeing first-hand this city’s immense potential for innovation. 

But there was once a time where I felt a deep sense of wanderlust. Not too long ago, I had dreams of packing a single suitcase and buying a one way ticket out. Admittedly, I felt like there was something bigger than what Chicago had to offer, that Chicago wasn’t forward-thinking enough and that I had outgrown it.

The problem is I’m most definitely not the only aspirational, bright-eyed entrepreneur that has felt this way. Many of my most talented friends–friends with incredibly promising creative potential that I admired–have left Chicago for cities like New York, Los Angeles and, you guessed it, Silicon Valley. 

Moreover, Chicago’s population has decreased for the third straight year. Meanwhile, urban populations are increasing everywhere else. While Chicago is still the third-most-populous metropolitan area in the US, it was the only one in the country’s top ten cities that saw a decrease rather than an increase in population, according to the Census Bureau.

So when influential figures in Chicago like Jason Fried resists comparisons to the very cities that are siphoning Chicago’s best native talent, they’re maintaining the status quo.

The crazy irony is that it was Fried himself who once preached the value of illuminating comparisons to competitors. In his book REWORK, here’s what he had to say about “picking fights”:

“If you think a competitor sucks, say so. When you do that, you’ll find that others who agree with you will rally to your side. Being the anti-_____ is a great way to differentiate yourself and attract followers. Taking a stand always stands out. People get stoked by conflict. They take sides. Passions are ignited. And that’s a good way to get people to take notice.”

So, why then, would you shy away from picking a fight with the biggest competitor?

The reality is, Silicon Valley is regarded as the tech and innovation capital of the world, bar none; it’s the modern day Rome of technology and innovation. And you know what they say–all roads lead to Rome, including the one from Chicago.

Insisting that young, ambitious Chicagoans like me ignore the success of the Valley hinders the ability to stand out and develop a sense of pride–a key ingredient in motivating the next generation of talent to stay in Chicago. 

Shouldn’t there be a target to aspire to? A vision to rally around?

Look, I get it. Let’s build something that’s our own. Let’s stop copying other cities. Let’s be original. Let’s not inflate our rent prices. Let’s make Chicago winters cool.

But instilling the belief that Chicago can be better than the best requires learning from and acknowledging the best. If today’s leaders in Chicago are going to preach a philosophy to its next generation of tech leaders, let it be Kobe Bryant’s perspective on comparisons to Michael Jordan:

“When you’re looking at players out there now, you’re saying, ‘OK, there’s not a next Michael Jordan.’ It’s not about the surface stuff. It’s about: Are they approaching the game the way he did?”

That way, the next generation of tech talent can not only better understand the formula for success, but also the Chicago’s unique strengths in comparison. And in Fried’s words, picking a fight with the best might inspire them to rally around the potential for the Second City to be first in innovation. 

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Southwest's Apology to Passengers on Flight 1380 Is Brilliant, and It's Not Just the Cash. Here's Why
April 21, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

For the passengers who survived the emergency landing on Southwest Flight 1380 this week, on which Jennifer Riordan died, the flight must have been a horrifying experience. 

The pilot and copilot have had been hailed as heroes, and Southwest CEO Gary Kelly was praise for the fast apology and condolence statement he offered via video. But you can imagine that the airline might want to continue to respond to the affected passengers quickly.

Apparently, it has. Even as the federal investigation into the incident continues, Southwest reportedly sent letters with personal apologies and quick compensation to passengers from Flight 1380 just a day after the emergency.

Obviously, any big company that faced a debacle like this needs to do something similar and quick.  Many do, but only in exchange for people offering to drop all claims against the company (more on whether that’s happening here, in a second).

But there’s something interesting in how Southwest handled the issue–a combination of what they offered, and how they worded the apology letter, as reported, signed by Kelly:

We value you as our customer and hope you will allow us another opportunity to restore your confidence in Southwest as the airline you can count on for your travel needs. … In this spirit, we are sending you a check in the amount of $ 5,000 to cover any of your immediate financial needs.

As a tangible gesture of our heartfelt sincerity, we are also sending you a $ 1,000 travel voucher…

Our primary focus and commitment is to assist you in every way possible.

What leaps out at me is, oddly, the smallest financial part of the compensation: the $ 1,000 travel voucher. (Although, it’s funny: psychologically people sometimes put a higher subjective value on a tangible thing valued at a certain amount, then they do on cash.)

Even in the wake of tragedy, Southwest is taking steps to try to keep these customers–as customers. 

As some commenters have pointed out, while the uncontained engine failure aboard flight 1380 was terrifying for passengers, and resulted in loss of life and injury, it’s by no means the first time a flight suffered a similar catastrophe and ultimately landed.

Commercial airlines like a 737 are designed to be able to fly with one of the engines disabled, and professional aircrew train and drill on what to do in this kind of situation. The emergency was deftly handled by Captain Tammie Jo Shults and first officer Darren Ellisor.

Part of why this story was so widely reported however, is that passengers were immediately sharing it on social media. One passenger famously paid $ 8 for inflight WiFi even while he thought the plane was going to crash, so that he could broadcast on Facebook Live what was happening and say a farewell to friends and family.

So, connect this to the travel vouchers. Beyond taking a step toward repairing the relationship with these passengers, what better PR result could Southwest hope for than some positive travel experiences and social media posts from one of them, as a result? 

I wouldn’t expect Southwest to articulate this rationale; that would actually undercut it. And, I do have a couple of other questions about how this all works, for which I’ve reached out to Southwest for answers. I’ll update this post when I hear back.

For example, I would assume that the family of the passenger who died on the flight, Jennifer Riordan, would be treated differently, and maybe also the seven passengers who reportedly were injured. 

There’s also the question of whether these are really just goodwill payments, or a way to quickly settle 100 or more potential claims against the airline. If it’s the more traditional, transactional legal strategy of just trying to settle claims quickly, then that undercuts a lot of this.

However, I’m judging based on the experience of one passenger, Eric Zilbert of Davis, California, that this might not be the case. Zilbert reportedly checked with a lawyer before accepting the compensation,” to make sure I didn’t preclude anything.” Based on the lawyer’s advice, went ahead and did so.

Of course, this doesn’t mean every passenger is happy with the gesture. For example, Marty Martinez of Dallas, the passenger who became famous after he livestreamed the emergency landing over Facebook Live, said he’s not satisfied.

“I didn’t feel any sort of sincerity in the email whatsoever, and the $ 6,000 total that they gave to each passenger I don’t think comes even remotely close to the price that many of us will have to pay for a lifetime.”

Even so, Southwest sort of got what they’d probably like to see in his case, anyway: a tangible demonstration that despite the experience aboard Flight 1380, he’s willing to fly with the airline again.

The proof? He gave his quote to an Associated Press reporter, the account said, “as he prepared to board a Southwest flight from New York.”

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Rihanna Shamed Snapchat Into an Apology. Here's Why Tech Companies Will Never Have Emotional Intelligence
March 16, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Every time a tech company does something patently ignorant or offensive, it’s rarely worth asking the question: “What were they thinking?”

Almost always, the answer is: “They weren’t.”

And they certainly weren’t feeling.

An example is an ad released by Snapchat last week for its “Would You Rather!” game. It asked whether you’d rather “Slap Rihanna” or “Punch Chris Brown.”

Really. Truly. 

In 2009, Brown and Rihanna were involved in a much-publicized incident of domestic violence. Brown was charged with battery.

And this is something to “joke” about?

Please, take a look.

Oh, Snapchat finally took the ad down and offered some sort of apology.

“The advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines. We immediately removed the ad last weekend, once we became aware. We are sorry that this happened,” the company said.

You might have thought that it had somehow slipped out without anyone noticing. 

Yet this statement suggests that actual human beings examined it and decided it was appropriate for publication.

For her part, Rihanna has now offered a response — remarkably measured, in the circumstances.

She said: “I’d love to call it ignorance, but I know you ain’t that dumb! You spent money to animate something that would bring shame to DV victims and made a joke of it!!!”

This is surely the point. You can’t blame a rogue algorithm here. You can’t blame a malevolent piece of code.

Someone designed this execrable item. Someone animated it and then someone looked at it and approved it. 

And no one stopped to think: “This is so thoroughly vile and tasteless that we should all be ashamed of ourselves?”

Shouldn’t all those someone‘s face consequences?

“All the women, children and men that have been victims of DV in the past and especially the ones who haven’t made it out yet…you let us down!,” continued the singer. “Shame on you. Throw the whole app-oligy away.”

Snapchat tried again with, yes, an apology.

A company spokeswoman told me: “This advertisement is disgusting and never should have appeared on our service. We are so sorry we made the terrible mistake of allowing it through our review process. We are investigating how that happened so that we can make sure it never happens again.”

But it will happen again. And again.

Tech companies rely so much on machines that many of their employees think exactly like those machines.

To reinforce the fatal loop, the people who create the code and algorithms behind the machines tend to think like machines, too.

So when decisions are made, any actual human emotions are cast aside. Or never even engaged. 

Worse, too many have grown up — sort of — with the belief that you move fast, break things and apologize later. 

Well, your PR people pen your apology, while you’re too busy coding. 

Apologizing is easy.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, has made an art form out of it.

For example, after he and a colleague performed a VR promotion while staring blankly at the suffering homeless of Puerto Rico and high-fiving.

Will this complete blindness when it comes to understanding, appreciating and, frankly, even feeling human emotions ever change?

Unlikely.

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With 1 Tweet, Kylie Jenner Cut $1.3 Billion From Snapchat. Here's the Explanation Everyone's Missing
February 23, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

With a single tweet yesterday, Kylie Jenner sucked $ 1.3 billion out of the market capitalization of Snap, Inc.  

Her whole message ran just 18 words, and that includes “sooo” and “ugh.” It all ads up to more than $ 72 million lost, for each word she wrote.

So, was it simply a tweet? Is Jenner just throwing in with the 1.2 million people who signed a petition objecting to Snapchat’s recent redesign?

Or is there something else going on?

I don’t have any inside information, but the timing of the tweet–the exact timing–makes me raise an eyebrow.

Here’s the background. Jenner is a social media influencer of the first order, making between $ 250,000 and $ 500,000 per post, according to one estimate.

That’s more money for a single post that almost everyone who reads this article makes in a year. Big-time influencer money. 

Pretty impressive performance for a woman who won’t even be able to drink legally in the United States until August 10 of this year. But Jenner is a Kardashian (half-sister of Kourtney, Kim and Khloé Kardashian).

Whatever else anyone may say, the Kardashians are brilliant marketers. I’m not exactly their demo, but I have to respect something about what they’ve managed to build.

And, whatever else they do, they don’t do things like this without thinking it through.

So, three things.

First, the change in Snap’s design potentially impacts the degree to which Jenner–heck, any of the Kardashians–can make money on the platform. Those 1.2 million Snapchat users who signed the petition? They’re her audience.

If there’s a change, of course she’d make noise. Double irony points for doing so on Twitter.

Second, the timing of the tweet: 4:50 p.m. Eastern time–less than an hour after the U.S. markets closed.

Recently, I wrote about how Mark Zuckerberg’s post in January about changing how Facebook’s news feed works sent his company’s stock into a tumble, and devaluing his own stake by $ 3 billion. Next time he posted, he did it outside trading hours.

So, by posting just outside trading hours, it’s almost as if Jenner knew she could impact Snap’s share price–but didn’t want to overwhelm it.

I don’t have any inside information. It’s just a hunch, but it feels like a a warning shot: Hey Snap, pay attention to what I can do if I want to!

But, it also feels like it’s not intended as a fatal blow. In fact, KJ did tweet again, reminding Snap that it was her “first love.” 

Awwww.

Sure enough, the stock price rebounded later Thursday, too. All’s well that ends well, right? 

At least until the next tweet.

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Here's Why You Shouldn't Pay $1.10 For A Dollar Of Investment Grade Bond Assets
February 18, 2018 6:12 pm|Comments (0)

I’ve received questions from prospective subscribers about the types of trade alerts that we issue to the members section of the Cambridge Income Laboratory. One type of trade is CEF arbitrage, or more specifically a pairs trade, where we simultaneously identify an overvalued CEF and an undervalued CEF in the same sector. The strategy then entails selling or selling short the overvalued fund while simultaneously buying the undervalued fund.

The advantage of a CEF pairs trade is that because both the sold and bought funds are from the same sector, we aren’t making a directional bet on the performance on the underlying assets. Instead, we’re simply relying on the powerful concept of reversion of CEF premium/discount values (see Reflections On Chemist’s CEF Report Pick Performance In 2017 for how this has worked well for us in the Chemist’s monthly CEF picks).

There are two main limitations of the CEF arbitrage strategy. The first is that the magnitude of the gains are unlikely to be very large, simply because it is by nature a hedged strategy. That’s the trade-off for the strategy being relatively low risk. The second limitation is that unless you already own the overvalued CEF identified in the pairs trade, you would have to locate shares of the overvalued CEF to sell short. With some of the smaller, less liquid CEFs, this can range from expensive to downright impossible. The most optimal set-up is therefore already owning the overvalued CEF, and then locking in profits by selling the fund and then replacing it with the undervalued CEF in the same sector.

With the introductory blurb out of the way, let’s see how this has played out for one of the more recent CEF pairs trade that we identified in the members section of the Cambridge Income Laboratory.

About 4.5 months ago (see Sell This Investment Grade Income CEF Now), we noticed the premium of Western Asset Income Fund (PAI), an investment grade bond CEF, suddenly spiking up to +10.16%. The 1-year z-score was +3.6, indicating that this fund was significantly more expensive than its recent history. My comments from the initial article are reproduced below:

I was looking through the CEF database today and noticed the Western Asset Income Fund (PAI) trading at an exceptionally high z-score of +3.6.

Its current premium of +10.16% is at a 5-year high.

(Source: CEFConnect)

A 1-year z-score of +3.6 tells us that the premium/discount is trading 3.6 standard deviations above its 1-year historical value. Statistically speaking, this would be a 0.02% probability of occurrence, assuming that the distribution of values is normally distributed (which it isn’t, but the point is that such a high z-score is a rare occurrence).

The 5-year chart above showed that the fund traded at quite substantial discounts over the past 5 years, sometimes exceeding even -10%. This makes the current premium of +10.16% even more unusual than the 1-year z-score of +3.6 would indicate.

At this juncture, I wanted to look at the entire history of the CEF since inception. Perhaps the past 5 years was just an anomaly, and that the CEF has commanded a consistent premium in the past? It turns out that was not so.

Going back to inception, only during a brief period in 2009 did the fund’s premium exceed 10%. An unusually high premium for an investment grade fund might be understood during the immediate recovery period after the financial crisis…but why now? I can’t think of a fundamental reason why someone would pay $ 1.10 for a dollar of investment grade debt.

(Source: CEFConnect)

I then check out the premium/discount values of the peer group. Maybe investment grade bond CEFs are for some reason on a tear thus accounting for PAI’s unusual premium? Nope, that’s not it.

The premium of PAI is 3rd-highest out of the 15 CEFs in the “investment grade” category of CEFConnect. But I don’t consider PIMCO Corporate & Income Strategy Fund (PCN) and PIMCO Corporate & Income Opportunity Fund (PTY) to be traditional investment grade income CEFs, so not counting those two funds PAI has the highest premium in the peer group.

(Source: Stanford Chemist, CEFConnect)

OK, so PAI is a pretty good sell or short candidate. What did I pair my short PAI position with?

What did I pair my short PAI position with? I chose the BlackRock Credit Allocation Income Trust (BTZ). I wanted to choose a fund with a negative z-score, but rather amazingly all 15 investment grade CEFs had z-scores 0 or greater. BTZ’s z-score of +0.8 wasn’t the lowest, but its discount of -9.04% was the widest in the peer group, as you can see from the chart above.

Next, I wanted to see compare the price and NAV returns of these two investment grade bond CEFs to check if there were signs of deteriorating portfolio values in the undervalued CEF, which might cause me to consider BTZ as the long partner in this pairs trade.

The opportunity for the pairs trade comes from the fact that PAI’s price return is significantly outpacing its NAV return, whereas that is not the case with BTZ. We can see from the chart below that PAI appears to be blowing BTZ out of the paper with a +19.29% YTD return compared to only +8.94% for BTZ.

Chart

However, their YTD NAV returns are nearly identical.

Chart

No warning signs there. That leads me to the conclusion that:

In summary, if you own PAI, now would be a great time to sell!

Let’s see how the thesis played out 4.5 months later. BTZ had a total return loss of -3.88% over this time frame. That’s bad, of course, but still relatively much better than PAI’s loss of -14.1% over the same period. In other words, BTZ outperformed PAI by 10.22 percentage points in only 4.5 months, or about 27% annualized.

Did PAI’s portfolio do much worse than BTZ’s? No, and in fact the reverse was true. PAI’s net asset value [NAV] fell by -2.10% over this time period, but BTZ’s was even worse at -3.24%.

If BTZ’s portfolio did worse than PAI’s, why was its total return (much) better? My regular readers will have already guessed at the answer: premium/discount mean reversion! Over the last 4.5 months, PAI’s premium of +10.16% has sank to a discount of -4.82%, while BTZ’s discount of -9.04% has widened slightly, to -11.9%. Therefore, the majority of the outperformance of the long BTZ/short PAI pairs trade was due to the contraction of PAI’s discount.

Chart
PAI Discount or Premium to NAV data by YCharts

Summary

This article hopefully conveys our thought process in recommending a pairs trade to our members. Anyone who owned PAI and swapped to BTZ to would have profited to the tune of ~10% in only 4.5 months (~27% annualized), which is equivalent to about 2.5 years worth of distributions from PAI!

Note that I did not need to do a deep dive analysis of either PAI or BTZ to initiate this pairs trade. This was based almost entirely on premium/discount mean reversion, or as my fellow SA author Arbitrage Trader likes to say, “simple statistics”.

Taking stock of the situation today, the long BTZ/short PAI trade has to be considered to be largely completed, as PAI is now trading with a discount of -4.82% and a 1-year z-score of -1.5, indicating that is now cheaper than its historical average. Although BTZ’s z-score of -2.5 is even lower, as is its discount (-11.9%), the gap in valuation is no longer there.

Are there any current opportunities? The following table shows the 12 CEFs in the database that currently have z-scores greater or equal to +2.5. If you own ones of these funds, if might be a good idea to seek out another fund in the same category that is trading with a more attractive valuation, particularly if the fund that you own is also trading at a premium. Don’t let mean reversion catch you out!

Name Ticker Yield Discount z-score
MS Income Securities (ICB) 2.71% -1.47% 3.9
BlackRock Science and Technolo (BST) 5.32% 3.05% 3.2
Tortoise MLP Fund (NTG) 8.61% 9.26% 3.2
ClearBridge Energy MLP (CEM) 8.85% 5.53% 3.1
Gabelli Utility Trust (GUT) 8.50% 44.95% 3.1
Templeton Emerging Mkts Income (TEI) 3.79% -8.17% 3.1
Sprott Focus Trust (FUND) 4.97% -8.86% 3.0
Nuveen S&P Dynamic Overwrite (SPXX) 5.58% 9.54% 2.9
RiverNorth Opportunities Fund (RIV) 12.09% 6.83% 2.7
Deutsche High Income Oppos (DHG) 5.42% -0.60% 2.6
First Trust New Opps MLP & En (FPL) 10.52% 6.67% 2.5

Western/Claymore Infl-Lnk Opps

(WIW) 3.79% -9.71% 2.5

(Source: CEFConnect, Stanford Chemist)

We’re currently offering a limited time only free trial for the Cambridge Income Laboratory. Prices are going up on March 1, 2018, so please join us and lock in a lower rate for life by clicking on the following link: Cambridge Income Laboratory.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: I am long the portfolio securities.

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