Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Century of DIY part 3

How Crowdfunding and allowing you to invest in the world's financial markets is funnelling your money into the biggest hedge fund. 


Not since the industrial revolution has the world seen such a tsunami of technological change. A change that affects each and every one on the planet, in fact many maintain that the industrial revolution was but a blip compared to what we are living through now. The big difference now is who is paying for it. The steam revolution was bankrolled by the new middle classes and industrialists and built on the backs of the new factory workers. The tech revolution is being paid from your pockets and history has taught us some important lessons about betting on the wrong horse when you know nothing of the stables.


Don't panic...SELL!
Toward the end of 1929 Wall street was looking shaky, the Dow Jones had taken a tumble in the spring but rallied again after the National City  Bank had propped it up with a $25 million injection but those in the know knew that it was time to cash their chips and move to another table. By the end of October chips were being cashed quicker than the market to sustain and “Black Tuesday” signalled the beginning of a world depression. The Rockefellers and Billy Durant made a brave attempt to save their investments but with over $30 billion (when $30 billion was a sum of money) wiped off the markets in a matter of days, even they could not stem the tide .

There have been many market crashes throughout history, most bizarrely the  Tulip mania crash of 1637, and more recently “Black Wednesday” in the early 90s, the dot-com bubble at the end of the millennium and the one that we are still reeling from now that seems to have begun when Lehman brothers fell in 2008. The nature of markets is boom and bust, when speculators see a chance at massive returns they will do what speculators do; speculate, and when the nuts and bolts of the stock will no longer support the market value the bears move in and the prices fall.

Tulip Mania - Middle-ages dot.com
The issue is now who loses when the markets slump. In 1929, as the new middle classes and industrialists lost fortunes on the markets, the working classes lost their work.  We also need to understand what happens in a bear market. A bear market, as defined by Investopedia  is more than 20% downturn in multiple stock indexes in a 2 month period and in the crashes this happens in a matter of days but those who are close to the market react quickly and sell their stock before losses bite too hard, leaving those outside the loop to take the brunt. Around the end of the 90s, when Charles Schwab and E Trade introduced online trading, the markets became available to all. The flipside of this is that it made $billions of private funds available to the markets. Many of the these services allow individuals to trade with a credit account, in other words they allow you to speculate much more than you may have to lose. Speculation drives prices, speculation by individuals without the same access to information or understanding of company values as professional traders. This is a fantastic democratisation of the markets but when it goes wrong it is the inner circle that gets out first drawing the profits up the food chain and the losses to the little fish.

Crowdfunding is seen as the new way for the common man to get in on the investment ladder; services like Kickstarter and Crowdcube allow anyone to become a venture capitalist by investing in start-ups and expanding businesses. In a world where the banks are becoming all too reluctant to invest in new and uncertain ventures, the householders have come to the rescue once again. Mark Shuttleworth’s recent Ubuntu Edge campaign, while unsuccessful in raising its target $32 million, did reach and unprecedented $12 million, proving that if you have the right concept you can get people to buy a product that is still on the drawing board. This gives many commercial venture capitalists the opportunity to sit back and allow ventures to fly or flop before they get their hands dirty.  

Stop grumbling and build an app!
The democratisation of investment would be a huge opportunity for us to build a nest egg from our disposable income but in an age of austerity and credit crunch more of us are speculating on credit with a dream of joining the ranks of the steadily growing number of superstar billionaires. It seems that, not satisfied with consuming commercial products at an unprecedented rate we are now expected to dig deep to facilitate the financing of more stuff for us to buy. The message is clear, with pension and equity funds managed by professionals losing our money in toxic investments and flawed strategy, building that retirement nest egg is another DIY responsibility. 

Part 4: How, after a brief flirtation with social welfare, government has put your welfare back in your hands    

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Century of DIY part 2

How entrepreneurs are taking the risks for other peoples' businesses and how Tupperware made it possible. 


You may be sitting at your desk, well before your time, making sure the boss sees the commitment you have to the company. You may be an entrepreneur, sitting at home coding the next big app for the app-store or calling your friends to sell them some dish soap, a sandwich box or a vibrator. You may be sat in front of a camera talking about the latest ephemeral star’s dress sense. You are doing it for yourself. Or are you doing it for someone else. The contrivance of a global recession has set the scene for Go-Get-It enterprise, the internet has given you the global reach but are you really getting it.



tupperware
In 1948, Earl Silas Tupper developed a new kind of container for keeping food fresh, but it was Brownie Wise who began a movement that would change the way we work. Brownie Wise began network marketing when she discovered that the best people to sell domestic products were the same people who used them. After WWII, many women who had been working on aluminium drives in the community and in munitions factories for the war effort were returned to the kitchen, for some this must have been a relief but for others it was an unwelcome return to domestic hum-drum and they missed the extra income for the little pleasures of the new consumer life. Brownie gave them some new purpose, selling Tupper’s plastic containers to their friends through party plans. And, while they were becoming new age entrepreneurs they were also turning their friends into Tupperware’s customers.

It didn’t take long for other brands to realise the potential of this business model and soon Avon began using the model for their range of cosmetics and the Avon Ladies were born. Now it is possible to buy anything from baby clothes and jewellery to sex toys at an invariably women-only party.

This use of social networks to act as the shop front for companies was taken to a new level when companies like Amway developed the model further by encouraging individuals to become their own boss and make huge incomes selling their products. Anyone who has attended an Amway meeting will find it difficult to remain unaffected by the hype of success. Amway and its peers focus on internal marketing to make sales of their products, their network of “independent business owners” (IBOs) are sold on the dream that they can make fortunes by selling to their social network and recruiting more to do the same. Anyone who has been approached to join this network will be familiar with their techniques, an experience that I share. Super successful evangelists will tell you of how they were once builders or bank clerks but now live a life of plenty with huge incomes thanks to taking matters into their own hands. What Amway have done though, is to put the execution of their marketing plan into the hands of credible sales people with their own marketing budget; Amway makes  the products while you do the marketing, sales and accounting for them from your own pocket.

The tech revolution seems to have democratised the marketplace and now anyone can become a successful ebayer, Amazon marketplace holder or sell your crafts on Etsy. This shift has reversed the Amway model by selling the network to enterprising individuals to market their wares and it is this global reach that gives them the power to make the rules.


Once Apple released the first iPhone the game would change again. Apps, small

programs that could be developed by individuals or small groups would be sold to smart phone users. Now the R&D department had been outsourced. Google now sell other peoples products in the name of entrepreneurship. The poster-boys of tech are selling their creations for millions. Young people are now being sold on the idea that in order to make it big they must make it for Google, while Google are making it hand over fist.

This year’s Forbes list boasts 210 new billionaires with an increase of nearly a trillion dollars aggregate wealth over the previous year.     

Youtube has “democratised” programme production by giving everyone the ability to create content for their advertising platform.

Recent advances in 3D printing means that we will soon be able to “print” products in our own home. This has already begun to bring with it huge opportunities for enterprising people to begin designing and producing goods to sell through online marketplaces. As the complexity of these products progresses it will be possible to download plans from the major tech companies to print your own phone or tablet and thus lower production and distribution costs while reducing the reliance on staffed retail outlets. But, just as with IKEA's self-assembly it will also outsource the accountability of build quality.    

The responsibility to staff has already begun wither as so-called “Zero-hour” contracts have hit the news recently in UK. The controversial employment contract means that employees are not guaranteed any fixed hours of work and must be on-call for when they are needed by the company. They are not just used by fast-food chains and supermarkets but Universities and energy companies have also realised the benefits of making salaries a more variable expense. And it is not just the UK; a recent protest to the president of MacDonalds in the US by a lone employee highlights the emphasis on self-reliance even in the employment relationship.


The contrived world recession is laying the ground for an environment of resourceful self-reliance; UNION is now a dirty word and employers are developing commitment issues. And we are in danger of going back to the work-houses with one difference, we will have to buy the tech, the access and build the machines that will run it.  




Friday, 4 October 2013

The century of DIY part 1

How IKEA has become the template for modern democracy.


Stand up now, look around, do it! You may be in a room full of people, you may be in a busy street, you may be having coffee with a friend but know this; you are alone. We are on the tipping point of a society that completely defers all responsibility to the individual to the point where a social modularism replaces democracy.  


Mankind, like many animals, has an innate ability to create communities.  And, like so many other things we do, we feel superior to the animals in this ability; we create Democracies. We, again like many animals, create hierarchies, a chain of command and responsibility where everyone has their place and duty. This is a structure of interdependencies that break down the complicated mechanisms necessary to maintain civilisation into manageable tasks. This democratic spread of obligations meant that we could specialise in particular skills and disciplines according to our abilities. The quid pro quo is that we take a share of the profits and get to choose those who manage the system.

Karl Marx predicted that this interdependence would develop into a society that would eliminate need and cement communities into a society of equality through socialism. As Marx’s theories were beginning to be put into practice in one of the biggest social experiments ever undertaken, Sigmund Freud focused his attention on the individual.

Do it yourself
Do it yourself
Then came a subtle shift. In America, Edward Bernays, began to develop ways to study consumers’ habits and drives using his uncle, Sigmund Freud’s studies. He discovered that the potency of his uncle’s research allowed him to not just understand individual behaviour but to influence it. According to Adam Curtis, this began a systematic movement from community to the “Century of the Self”. He proposes that the knowledge obtained through Freud’s development of psychoanalysis has been used to manipulate society. As early as 1927, Paul Mazur, a top banker from the now defunct Lehman brothers wrote "We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed." By tapping into these newly nurtured desires marketeers have managed to make us desire their never ending stream of life-enhancing devices and services.  Now, it is not the enterprise of this that is of most concern, it is the side-effect. In the beginning advertising focused on peer acceptance and being a good member of the mass democracy. Then, after the dust of WWII had settled the sense of self became the target. People were told that it was their right to have whatever they wanted and the more they acquired, the better people they were. People became judged by their appetites and their ability to satisfy them. Conspicuous consumption replaced the satisfaction of needs and those who consumed most conspicuously became the billboards of commerce. By the end of the last century it was every man for himself.

We are now leaving the “century of self” and entering the “century of do-it-yourself”.   

IKEA democracy
Cheaper than China
1943, In Sweden, a young Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA and soon discovered that there was one place where labour could be sourced cheaper than China. By entrusting the consumer to assemble their own purchase, significant savings could be made on production. Now most of us routinely assemble our own furniture and think nothing of it. If anything we are proud of our achievement and attach more value to the item we have built. The knock-on effect for IKEA is that we not only make more impulse furniture purchases due to the convenience of buying a box that fits in the car but that they have deferred the build-quality responsibility from the manufacturer to us.

Driven by the desire culture and the systematic devolution of obligation, civilisation has begun to outsource responsibility to the individual.

Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 best-seller “The secret”  declares that we are all capable of being and having what we want so long as we project the idea strongly enough. More importantly, it maintains that our lack of wealth and success is our own fault. Ok, now I agree that if you sit on your arse and expect everyone else to do the running you will get what you deserve but on the subject of human tragedy such as Indonesia’s tsunami, 9/11 or even cancer, Byrne declares that they only befall people who are “on the same frequency as the event”.  So we are now accountable for epidemics and natural disasters.

Smile or die
Keep Calm and avert disaster
Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Smile or Die” investigates the self-help culture and its apportioning of blame to the sufferer for not being ‘bright’ enough. Her experiences with breast cancer and the support groups that she turned to for help are indicative of our new “keep calm and carry on” society where you are welcome to lean on a friend as long as you don’t make a fuss about it.

The current swathe of motivational speakers and self-help books are pushing the philosophy of individualism and self-support. None of them suggest that you should turn to friends, family or society to share. None advocate building support networks, that may just hit their sales. You are on your own and you better get used to it.

Governments around the western world are reducing state health care and pensions and the message is clear; you have to work through your waking hours until you are no longer able, pay your taxes and insurances but if you haven't made adequate provision for your retirement then just don't retire (the DIY government is coming in another part). The years of double-shifts or building your own business have already weakened your bonds with your kids enough that they have little desire to care for you, even if they weren't too busy doing the same thing and more. The current resistance to Obama's health care plans highlights the attitude of "pay your own way and get what you are given". 

I'll close on my own piece of self-help advice. There is no shame in needing help from others and if you don't need it, offer it. 
      


The next part of this observational study will explore how the IKEA philosophy is being applied to the workplace and how new technology will put us back in the workhouse with one main difference – we will buy the machines.



Friday, 27 September 2013

Ssssh!..It's a secret

Beware: Dastardly cads

One of the main worries of many young would-be entrepreneurs is having their genius idea stolen by some dastardly cad. You wake up in a sweat soaked bed and have the epiphany of the century, you keep it close to your chest until you have to share it with somebody and BAM! next week one of the big companies have produced the home bread slicer and you are back at your day job.


Intellectual property is a big deal and after the wranglings between Apple and Samsung in USA and more recently James Dyson taking action against Samsung for breach of patents relating to the steering technology on one of his vacuum cleaners.  Two things become clear, one that it is very important to get your patents in order and two, patent or not, companies can and will come along a take you invention or brilliant business model and sell it as their own if they see enough profit in it.    

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Death of a Madman


The modern age of Google-based advertising promises to be a very dreary affair. Google has spent so long farming our online habits with analysts pouring over their every nuance that they know more about what makes us tick than we do ourselves. Let’s not just demonise Google, everyone is in the business of data mining now, Facebook, linkedin, Amazon anyone who has a click to be clicked, a date to be marked, a friend to be made is interested in your choices. Kinda makes cookies lose their sweetness, eh?  Those who track our online trawling have such a well-rounded profile of all our habits and weaknesses they only need to produce a handful of clickable images to trap all of us to such a high degree of accuracy. This is the science of conversion rates.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Punk Rock entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. I may not be the first to draw that analogy and entrepreneurs will not be the last group to be allegorized in this way; TV chefs , footballers and even scientists have all had a similar comparison made. “… are the new rock-stars” is the vocational equivalent to fashion’s “… is the new black”. Rock stars are the benchmark of wild and glamorous. Rock stars have to beat the girls off with a sweaty guitar; rock star means success in excess.   

I wish I was coding
There was a time when every teenager wanted to master the guitar, synthesizer or a pair of decks and play Wembley, Shea or headline Glastonbury. There was a time, and not so long ago, when teens wanted to be getting the action that Steve Tyler, Robert Plant or Tommy Lee were getting. But, now instead of a band many bedroom barons are trying to form a plc.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Right all along!

The failing Greek economy has been a tragedy played out on the world stage for what seems like forever. Europe’s moustached loafers, once the envy of all hard-working northern Europeans and the subject of many an incredulous holiday-maker’s anecdote became the lazy, feckless swine who were endangering the stability of the noble Euro. Then as they began to protest against the austerity imposed for their own good by the wise Troika, they became the petulant children who were obviously never mature enough to have economic sovereignty in the first place.  

Now the Eurozone is finally starting to show signs of growth and the Greek economy’s contraction is slowing despite the austerity, It is time for another renaissance because it’s occurred to me that Greece had it right all along.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Episode 14: Anyone home?

from under dark clouds

From Under Dark Clouds

From Under Dark Clouds

'From Under Dark Clouds...' is a Gonzo fictionalisation of current events in Greece as seen through the eyes of our unnamed hero as he fumbles from paranoia to public office, under the mentorage of the shady Socrates.

Each episode is based on real events. Readers are invited to share their experiences for the Under Dark Clouds treatment. Many have been included in cameo roles, can you spot them?


See link below for contributions


findus face
Wear's the beef?
I was still licking my wounds, dear Blogees after the pasting from the peoples' pitbulls. I had a face like a findus lasagne. The police had not wanted to know and if the truth be told there did seem to be a new fashion of minimalist haircuts down the station house. The people were, mostly, quite horrified about the incident but it had blown over a damn sight quicker than the pain in my noggin and anyway, these guys were actually doing something rather than banging their gums about it down at the city hall. They were, of course, quite right about that but banging someone else's gums is not really the best way to deal with the problem either. 


Since that day their presence in the town had been marked but as they hadn't bounced anyone around since then, since me, I was willing to give them a wide birth and at least let the people get the benefits of their provisions. This was a decision I would live to regret.

We had managed to recover a good amount of my predecessor, Mr. Mayor's embezzled funds but it wasn't going to keep us going for long. Central government had promised to help us out but so far all they had sent was a promise.


I had to clear my head so I kicked the Vespa into life and let it take me on a tour of my kingdom. It took me down streets I barely knew existed and on a number of occasions very nearly bucked me off while swinging into a narrow passage. Apart from the boarded up shops I noted all the unfinished and empty flats and houses. The winter air was cold and my swollen face was beginning to throb, I pulled over to put a bit of liquid warmer into my veins. There, opposite was a block of apartments maybe 6 or 7, completely unoccupied with a big sign outside advertising them being for sale. The name of the developer was familiar but I couldn't place it at all. I noted in my newly acquired filofax, took another nip of Irish and set off. The Vespa seemed to have decided on an early shower that day because next thing I knew I was pulling up outside my house.



penguin's pants
Penguin's pants
The wife was as cold as a Penguin's pants but I knew that she cared. The kids assaulted my head with questions and irrelevancies but their sublime sanity was soothing. I read them a story at bedtime and had a glass of red stuff, maybe wine, in front of the telly with the wife. She made one comment about keeping my trap shut and another time she winced and asked me if it hurt; she did care.


The empty properties occupied my dreams. The name I couldn't place came out in a song, it was the mayor, at least the previous mayor, it was his name but more importantly he hadn't embezzled it all, some was in bricks and mortar in the middle of town.


When I woke it was still dark so I crept around gathering my clothes and brushing my teeth in stealth mode. I needn't have bothered. Nothing short of putting a bus stop by the wardrobe would stir this sleeping beauty.


The morning air was icy and my face was a map of numbness and pain. By the time I reached the town hall and realised I didn't have the keys again, I was mute. I did, however have my trusty Swiss army knife so it wasn't long before I was in the building.


The birds were in a bit of a fluster but there was still little sign of the sun making an appearance. What I could hear was a shuffling from somewhere below the entrance level. I had never explored the building so had little idea of its layout but it occurred to me now that not only did it have a basement but that it also had rats. I picked up a plastic leaflet rack that had long since given its last information and made my way to the door by the stairs. The handle twisted in my hand and the door punched me in the nose.


On the other side was Mike, the IT guy looking profoundly pre-corn flakes. “Good morning, Sir.”

I asked him what the hell he was doing here at such an ungodly hour. He offered that he was putting in some overtime; I laughed out loud.

“Overtime?” we weren't liquid enough to cover the undertime! I asked him what IT we had down there but he closed the door and offered me a cup of coffee.



I heard another shuffling from behind the door, “ Mike, do we have rats?”



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Saturday, 26 January 2013

Peace Child International builds European network to tackle youth unemployment crisis

Peace Child international, the youth-led organization with over 30 years’ experience empowering the young to make their own change has reached out to organizations from all over Europe in a bid to stem the spread of youth unemployment. Its EU Youth job creation network will draw on experience and knowledge from the UK, Ireland, The Netherlands, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece’s Innovation Farm.


Uncertainty and doubt about the future has always been part of the impetus that drives innovation and achievement. It has rarely been far from most people’s minds but the last few years have seen a period of renewed intensity. After decades of raised expectations for many, the roller-coaster is now the big dipper, the double-dipper, the triple-dip to the point where pundits are running out of euphemisms. There are few for whom this is more terrifying than our young. The thought of a future-less generation fills us all with dread.  

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

who's to blame

Since long before living memory commercial industry has invested trillions to develop products and services that have satisfied needs, both real and fabricated. 


Trillions have been invested to make marketing ever more persuasive. 

Even more has been spent to create new devices that both address needs and desires and open new lucrative markets for their maintenance, upgrading and accessories. 
 
Trillions upon trillions have been conjured up by financial institutions to enable everyone to acquire them. 


..and we are to blame because we bought too much?

or being punished because we just plain ran out of money


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

End of the Fakelaki?

On new years eve the wife decided to tackle an outstanding round of paper-stamping. We had to take on IKA and OAEE and although New Year's may seem a masochistic day for such a task we headed off with freshly woken kids to the big smoke of Thessaloniki's public services. We made a quick pit stop at the post office to get the road tax paid which went swiftly and without hitch or hindrance. Next the hardcore, IKA. after about ten minutes. Wifey emerged from the offices with a reserved smile, while she hadn't managed to complete she was pleasantly surprised by the generally helpful demeanour of the public servants. We proceeded to the police station as I required some stamps to prove that I'm not an illegal alien. After trying two previous addresses of the dept of aliens I enquired if the bloody office was on wheels and received a smile, not common from public employees let alone the police. And here lies my point, is it me or are public employees growing some humanity? *


From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY