Advice and Predictions for 2014

I made three predictions last year, and two were correct: Steve Ballmer is a big part of the problem at Microsoft so he is resigning, and the Obamacare website remains the favorite to win “all time IT screw up”. I was however mostly wrong about Xbox One, which I thought would have to change their requirements for sharing, drop their price, and that it wouldn’t sell well--it sold out at full price. So, since “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, I took the opportunity to end 2014 with some practical advice and predictions for the New Year:

1.    Never sign up for auto renew online. Trying to stop the process takes more time and trouble than it’s worth, and even if your credit card expires, there is now software that will find out the new expiration date and enable your expired card to be continually billed, “not interrupting service” or more importantly for these companies, “not interrupting their billing stream”. Plus, there’s no worry the company will forget to remind you over and over to renew. In fact, you might get a better deal.

2.    Buy your OTC drugs and vitamins at Wal-Mart. They are overpriced everywhere else, including CVS, Walgreens, and other pharmacy chains. As just one example, Ranitidine (generic Zantac) is at least 50% and up to 75% less expensive at Wal-Mart than the same generic elsewhere: 65 ‘extra strength’ (150 mg.) pills are $4 at Wal-Mart. The name brand (Zantac) will cost you over $25, but even the generic at major pharmacy chains are usually well over $15. For instance, 95 ‘extra strength’ (150 mg.) pills are $22 at CVS vs.$4 (for 65 pills) at Wal-Mart. Do the math—the generic (per pill) is nearly 4X more expensive at CVS that at Wal-Mart.

Generics are far cheaper at Wal-Mart

3.    Don’t believe the inflation numbers put out by the government. They are correct as far as they go, but the calculation is misleading. It’s a ‘point in time’ for a basket of goods, albeit many goods, weighted for importance, and measured often. Excluded is quality of the goods, and taxes. Taxes, hidden and direct, are going up like a rocket ship, and if the quality of the goods is lousy, you’ve got to buy the same product multiple times over a period of years. Think about a toaster: Maybe the cost of one toaster hasn’t gone up much over the last two decades, but today’s toasters either cost a fortune and last longer, or are cheap but only last a few years if you’re lucky. If you have to purchase a toaster every 2-3 years instead of once in a lifetime, it’s gone up in price by about 300% over a decade. Don’t buy your toasters at Wal-Mart and similar establishments unless you like shopping for toasters frequently.
Similarly, if the government keeps jacking taxes--directly (sales taxes, excise taxes, income tax, property tax, deduction phase-outs, etc.) or indirectly (Obamacare, corporate taxes, tolls, rules that drive up prices, “closing loopholes”, etc.), your cost of living goes up dramatically. This is why inflation registers as nonexistent but the middle class is broke. Note that the vast majority of these taxes are not ‘graduated’ based on income. In fact, sales taxes, cigarette taxes, and the lottery hit the poor and middle class much more that the wealthy. Do you think you’ll see Bill Gates sitting in his limo outside a convenience store frantically scratching lottery tickets so he can win $5K and change his life around?

4.    Do sign up for those free music streaming services, but lie about your personal demographics. It’s best to select the oldest age possible. For instance—if you tell them you are 100 years old, you’ll get a lot less ads since these ads are sold to hit certain demographics, and absolutely nobody is selling to centenarians on mobile devices. Avoid Pandora.com too, as they appear to factor in both your age and royalty rates to the music selections. If you were a child of the seventies and give a “thumbs up” to Lodi by Credence Clearwater Revival, you’re doomed to hear endless songs by that band and from that era. I signed up for Jango--it’s 100% free and I have not yet heard even one advertisement in two months. Of course I told them I was 101 years old. Apparently “Depends” is not advertising on mobile Jango. I haven’t tried Spotify, so that might be good too.

5.    Forget about Blackberry making a comeback, and watch for Microsoft to split up in the post Ballmer era, into legacy products and new markets. Windows 8 remains a dumb idea—why would anyone working with a mouse and keyboard in an office want a swipe screen? Those screens are expensive, and your arms would get tired.

Some phones are not coming back

6.    I know this one’s controversial, but …….ha—I’m not writing it down. There is an orthodoxy in our time period (and every time period), and it enforces its viewpoint just as mindlessly and nearly as ruthlessly as the Inquisition did during the Middle Ages. In the 1600s educated people knew the world wasn't flat, but kept their mouths shut about it. Do the same, particularly in public. Note to Republican Party candidates who self destruct like Todd Akin: This applies double if you’ve got a scientifically incorrect, dumb idea.

7.    Watch for much, much better robo telemarketing calls in 2014. If you haven’t heard these recordings yet, from Time Magazine online, they are well worth listening to, because the technology is unbelievable. A little more programming work and it will be nearly impossible to tell a robot from a person on the phone. This one laughs, claims there is a bad connection if asked if it’s a robot, and denies that it’s not ‘a real person’. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this technology incorporated in that great Internet business, pornography—imagine the cost savings for those 1-900 numbers.

8.    Every wonder why computers can’t think like humans? It’s because computers are logical, and figure things out each time. We, on the other hand, are evolutionary creatures, and when you’re being charged by a tiger, you don’t have time to do the calculations to figure out if it’s dangerous.  Your brain isn’t even involved—your spinal cord steps in and says “run like hell”. Therefore, humans develop all sorts of bad habits like stereotypes, prejudices, and just plain being set in their ways. With humans it’s always black and white and good or bad. This music is great but that music is terrible. Inheriting money is great, as is getting a new, fast car. That person looks threatening, but that person doesn’t. In real life nothing is “all or nothing” (yes, the inconsistency in this sentence is intentional). Sure a new car is great except you now have a car payment and might kill yourself driving too fast. Growing up rich is great unless you become a drug addled, do nothing, spoiled booze hound with no idea how most people live. Life’s not simple or black and white, and no matter what, it’s changing fast, so I sure hope computers don’t start thinking like people.

9.    Consider using Crow Hill Associates to improve your IT system and general business operations. This is the good part about writing these lists: Most companies don’t need a CIO all the time, but definitely could use one sometimes. CIO advisory services or Virtual CIO services are the wave of the future. Click here to see why Crow Hill is the smart choice. Hint: Crow Hill is more efficient, more experienced, and less per hour than the big name consulting firms…..no sense paying $200+ per hour to get someone fresh out of grad school to sit in your order entry department for two weeks ‘collecting data’. Click here for contact information.

The Cliffs at Crow Hill

10.    Make things come out to nice, even numbers, like 10—it looks and sounds better.