Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Progressive decline or huge drop?

I've always been curious to observe and measure my own decline as I get old enough to witness it and feel it. So far, my observations have been quite rewarding and for the past 4 years, I've observed that I get tired quicker and need more sleep than in the past.

The end of this winter has been quite hard on me though; even though I skied a lot and still well enough (I think) my legs feel stiff like they never have before. Instead of being a progressive decline it feels more like a huge, sudden drop.

I tend to put that on the account of the spring season that, as I always heard, plays havoc on many people and beats them up.

I hope this is true, but, on the other hand, the spring of my life can't last forever either!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Explaining Bitcoin

Today, my ambition is to attempt explaining in simple terms how the Bitcoin system of payment works. This is a quite ambitious endeavor, but I will try. First, it's based on an open-source peer-to-peer software.

Transactions take place between users directly, without any intermediary, all are verified by network nodes and are recorded in a ledger called the block chain. Since the system works without a central administration, nations generally consider Bitcoin as a decentralized, virtual currency.

The main purpose of Bitcoins is to be exchanged for other currencies,products, and services. This is obviously what meets the eye, but behind all this, there's a rather complex computerized record-keeping system, called mining that guarantees that all transactions are on the up and up.

In spite of this technical reassurance, I'm not ready yet to make the jump to Bitcoin (BTC) and entrust my life-savings to this seemingly elusive entity. Yet, at the same time, the few dollars I own, that I keep in a bank, are probably almost as fuzzy and virtual as this new ethereal currency!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Utah's long ski season...

There aren't too many ski resorts that stay open through the month of May, and along with Whistler and Sunshine Village, near Banff, in Canada that both closed on May 23rd, Mammoth Mountain and Snowbird, Utah are shutting down in tandem this Monday, Memorial Day.

Pretty cool to live near a place where the ski season spans six full months and 20 minutes away from a metro area that is over a million people!
An unsettled weather made it tough to ski Snowbird with any regularity in May, but I managed to ski twice that month. My last day of skiing wasn't the best of the season, but not the worst either!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My ski season is over!

Today was my last ski day of the season, even though Snowbird closes on Monday, May 30.

The weather is not promising for the next two days and I have plenty to do in the garden.

At any rate, that ultimate ski outing has been a good one and caps the most skiing I have ever done in one season.

Besides, in less than six month, Park City re-opens and, with some luck, I'll still remember how to ski.

Time now for mountain biking!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Most memorable moments...

There is not a part of my life that is marked by some memorable moments, good, bad or somewhere in between.

While with the distance, my long term memory becomes somewhat fuzzy, these special times that have marked my life remain pretty clear; at least that what I still believe.
Sure, there must be some “revisionism” from time to time, but why not embellish things every now and then?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Finally, some decent paychecks...

Today, the New York Times published the list of the 200 highest-paid chief executives in American business during 2015.

The best compensated only received $94.6 millions, while #200 “only” got $12.2 million. I feel a bit sorry for him; I wonder how he'll be able to put food on the table and fill his gas tank?

Suffice to say that by looking at this short list, the American Dream seems alive and well for a select few!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

How's your mindset?

A fairly small number of folks believe that they have a “growth mindset”, that their abilities are largely the product of their conscious efforts, in other words, that they can keep growing their personal potential as long they're willing to grow and learn.

On the opposite side, a vast majority resign themselves to the fact that they have a “fixed mindset”, which means that they are who they are and their character is pretty much what's revealed to them, with basically no hope to add to it and develop it further.

Since this is only a test, I won't say where I belong in either of these two groups, but will ask you the question: Are you a growth or a fix mindset?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The end of something

Sooner or later, all things, good or bad, come to an end. When this happens, and if the experience has been a positive one, it often creates pain, regrets and sometime grief.

The flip side of that situation is that it equally opens doors, offer a chance for new beginning and some new adventures.

Life is essentially cyclical, changes are interwoven in our lives and we should always welcome the end of something as it signals the beginning of something brand new...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ski resorts and changing marketing

For years, ski resort marketing consisted in placing ads in magazines, organizing a few competitions and trying to emulate their peers. Today, with the advent of the internet, social media, easy video and so many devices ready to capture the action, this old approach doesn't cut it anymore.

We're now operating in real time, starting with panoramic webcams, virtual ski tours, non-stop activities, plus continued pertinent and fresh information all the time. Did I mention apps that work, that are user-friendly and fully mix the guest experience into the resort's life?

Websites should be living organisms, not stiff frameworks that were dreamed up and built to run for at least four to five years. Now, they must be living organisms that constantly regenerate to the point that a website should be totally unrecognizable past a twelve month period, just to keep up with change.

This shouldn't be that difficult though; resorts are endowed with the most inspiring vistas and filled so much exciting action. Herein lay plenty of permanently renewed, entertaining raw material that stands available at all times for the savvy marketer...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

American craftsmanship?

Ever since we moved into our new home some 26 month ago, I had not actually noticed that one of the electric switch plates in the powder room wasn't quite straight; it was in fact unquestionably askew.

My wife complained and I obliged, got my screwdrivers out and straightened the whole scene. It amazing how so many people (in that case the electrician who rushed his job) don't give a damn and take a devil-may-care attitude on a permanent basis.

Thank God for having a spouse that remind us of straightening out all these societal ills!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Runnin' Down A Dream

For the past two evenings, we watched a mesmerizing documentary telling the story of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Even though I believe that I like pop music and rock n' roll, I have always ignored this American singer and group, except for a few of their hits that I liked, but that was about it.

I knew that Tom Petty had played with Dylan and the Traveling Wilburys, but I always ignored his career's details until we were mesmerized by the documentary directed by Peter Bogdanovich.

The film was so well put together that you couldn't realize it ran for almost four hour. We fell in love with the guy and his band and if you haven't seen it yet, do it now, it's on Netflix; you'll love it!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Time to plant...

Today, I finished prepping my veggie garden and began to sow.

If all goes according to plan, I'm looking at harvesting our first salads by the end of June if the heavens even begin to warm up a bit and if my seeds didn't get frozen in the shed during the coldest days of winter!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Treasure next door...

Today, I received a series of photographs showing the contrast between what travel agents show places the way they ought to be (pristine and beautiful) and the way they actually are when you show up as a tourist to visit them (crowded, dirty and disgusting).

We just returned from a short trip to Southern Utah that was picture perfect. Why travel the world when we have a treasure sitting next to us?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A National Park danger...

For some reasons, people seem to age incredibly fast when they visit the American National Parks.

At least that's what we observed during our last trip; we were shocked at how old most visitors looked, included ourselves.

What's aging us so fast? Inactivity or the pristine, yet corrosive, super-clean air at the Parks?

Perhaps it's time to get back to work...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Parlez-vous National Park?

There is no question that the French seem to dominate all visitors that can be found at the US National Parks, at least the ones located in Utah. More so than Chinese, Japanese, Germans or Italians.

What makes the French so affluent that they seem to travel the world while their counterparts are toiling away and seemingly having considerably less fun. It's a fact that French, as a nation, are saving a lot, and also that all the French we see, appear to be retired, which begs the question, how do they do it?

The last time I heard, France was not in the best financial shape, but hey, what do I know. What's visible is that the French are enjoying life to its utmost, while their country seems to be coming apart at the seam.

A good way, I guess, to celebrate the end in style!

Monday, May 16, 2016

If Panguitch built it, would they come?

In general, most town and cities that are at the gateway to a National Park benefit a lot.

Not Panguitch, Utah, that sits at the entrance to Bryce Canyon. The town looks on a downhill path and seems to have nothing to offer to the visitors coming to visit the nearby Park or willing to venture into Escalante National Monument.

All around, lodging and especially restaurants seem terrible. What would it take to get things changed? A couple of good eateries plus a decent hotel and a few shops. Who would dare building and starting all that? Big and tough question... Would business activity coalesce around it?

Who will ever know until someone takes the first step...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Out of the mouth of kids...

There is a set of 4 years old twins in our street, Reagan and Lockey, and both little boys love to interact with us when we see them.

Two nights ago, as they were enjoying their hot-tub in their dad's company, we stroke a conversation and one of them, pointing out to me, and out of the blue, asked my wife: “What's the name of your dad?” 
I took it on the chin and my spouse was elated!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Let's plan a trip!

Travel can be simple or quite complicated, depending mostly on the itinerary, our familiarity with certain places and on how often we do travel. I used to travel a great lot and wasn't thinking twice before organizing a whirlwind world trip, packing up and leaving home.
Now, that I seldom hit the road, planning becomes a big ordeal, takes me much more time and never fails to test my patience, my ability to make decision and my speed of execution. Perhaps the best antidote against this allergy to going around is just plain old practice.

Got it; I simply need to travel more in order to regain that second nature for wanderlust that seems to be in a permanent style of hibernation!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Why I decided not to be a farmer...

Getting a veggie garden ready for the growing season is a lot of work. This year was no exception and for some reasons it took me many more days to get up and running. I found working the dirt physically exhausting and I understand now much better why I choose not to follow in my parents' footsteps...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Economy 101 – A brief summary

For the past two weeks, I've attempted to summarize a few important snapshots of the world economy, and after reviewing all the numbers, I come to the following conclusions:

The number one priority for any nation is to eliminate its deficit and work its way mopping up its debt, no matter how long it may take. This will have a strong, positive effect on a return of “natural inflation” and encourage productive savings.
  1. No matter what we do, unemployment is going to keep creeping up, thanks to technology, robotics and automation and so will underemployment. 
  2. Poverty might increase and the Gini Index will keep on growing unless the focus is placed squarely on eliminating poverty rather than being obsessed with a utopian drive towards equality. 
  3. Finally, our GDP should grow through an increased maintenance and improvement of our national infrastructure, higher quality production and less consumption. 

My two-cent...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Economy 101 - Unemployment

The unemployment rate is calculated as a percentage by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by all individuals currently in the labor force. In 2012, more than 200 million people globally (6% of the world's workforce) had no job.

No one agrees on causes and solutions for unemployment. Classical and new classical economics, as well as the Austrian School of economics argue that market mechanisms are reliable means of resolving unemployment outside of interventions like unionization, work rules, minimum wage laws or other regulations that discourage hiring.

Keynesian economics point to the cyclical nature of unemployment and recommends government interventions in the economy. they can include financial stimuli, publicly funded job creation, and expansionist monetary policies.

Besides these theories, there are a few categories of unemployment that more precisely define nature of unemployment

These include structural economic problems and inefficiencies within the labor markets, such as mismatch between supply demand of workers with the skills actually needed. There are also all the workers that are not counted because they're not actively seeking jobs and that that are underemployed.

Most advanced economies have unemployment rates hovering between 2 and 10% while the rest fares far less favorably. As for future trends, continued automation, increased productivity and exploding population growth don't bode well for the labor market.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Economy 101- The Gini Index

For a specific country, the Gini index measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income. The more egalitarian a country's income distribution is, the lower is its Gini index.

On the attached table, back in 2012, with a Gini index of 23.7, Slovenia represented the country with the most equal distribution of income in the world. If income were distributed with perfect equality the index would be zero.

The more unequal a country's income distribution, the higher its Gini index; on that same table, the worst of the worst is Lesotho, a country landlocked in the middle of South Africa with a Gini index of 63.2 (this was back in 1995.

Since that time, the index might have changed for the better or the worst). If income were distributed with absolute inequality, the index would be 100.

On the chart, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, China, the US and Russia aren't doing too well either.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Transparency and migration

One aspect of globalization and pocket-instant media is that we now live in a fish tank where the entire world is able to sees us, can observe what's going on in our lives and is fully able to make comparisons.

We post our trips to Belize, China or Australia on social media for the entire world to see it, even if in the process it makes some of our neighbors a tiny bit jealous.

This also can signal burglars that our homes are open for business while we are playing thousands of miles away.

Then, we don't quite understand why Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians are blowing through the old mighty borders and are invading Europe from all corners.

In these days of total transparency, inequality is becoming that much more obvious that it creates an irresistible attraction and any attempt to control it is seems in vain.

Now might be a propicious moment to put our addiction to social media to rest for a while...

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Economy 101 - Gross National Savings

Gross national saving is derived by deducting final consumption expenditure from Gross national disposable income, and consists of personal saving, plus business saving, plus government saving, but excludes foreign saving.

The figures are presented as a percent of GDP. A negative number indicates that the economy as a whole is spending more income than it produces, thus drawing down the national wealth.

The percentage varies among countries and is influenced by various factors such as retirement age, borrowing constraints, income distribution over lifetime, demography and welfare state.

For example, a country that pays retirement pensions generated from tax levied on people of working age will have lower savings rate compared to countries where people have to save to personally provide for their retirement.

As usual, China is among the countries with the largest savings, along with Switzerland and the North European countries, while France sits right at the middle along with the average European numbers and the US lags behind, but still manages to do better than the UK.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Make America (Great) Again?

Yesterday, a NPR commentator was discussing Trump's stunning emergence as the potential GOP nominee and said that this “Make American Great Again” should be subtly translated into “Make America White Again” to fully understand the flavor and favorite true colors of him and his supporters.

Nothing could be closer to the truth.

Speedy snail-mail!

These days we seldom receive letters except for direct mail solicitations or rare statements that we still choose to get that way, so we don't pay much attention anymore to the performance (or lack thereof) of snail mail.
Today, May 7th, I received a regular letter, mailed at normal speed, from France that had been dropped in the postal services' hands on May 5th.

That's right, hard to believe, it only took two days for that lowly piece of mail to get to me from France...

In the meanwhile, I bet there are complainers by the thousands that whine about the terrible performance of their postal service. If they only knew!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Economics 101 – Foreign Exchange Reserves

Foreign exchange reserves consist of any foreign currency held by a centralized monetary authority, like the U.S. Federal Reserve. Foreign exchange reserves include foreign banknotes, bank deposits, bonds, treasury bills and other government securities.

Colloquially, the term can also encompass gold reserves or IMF funds. Foreign reserve assets serve a variety of purposes, but are primarily used to give the central government flexibility and resilience; should one or more currencies crash or become rapidly devalued, the central banking apparatus has holdings in other currencies to help them withstand such markets shocks.

Countries that must support their own currencies are generally cultivating large reserves, like China, Japan and the European Central Bank, to name the leaders. The UK isn't performance isn't too impressive nor is that of the USA, thanks probably to a mighty Dollar that still remains the reserve currency of choice.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Economics 101 – Current Account

The current account is an important indicator about an economy's health as it defines the the balance of trade, by looking at the sum of its goods and services exports minus its overall imports.

A positive current account balance indicates that a nation is a net lender to the rest of the world, while a negative current account balance indicates that it's a net borrower. A current account surplus increases a nation’s net foreign assets by the amount of the surplus while a current account deficit decreases accordingly.

The current account and the capital account are the two main components of a nation’s balance of payments. A nation’s current account balance is influenced by numerous factors – its trade policies, exchange rate, competitiveness, foreign exchange reserves and inflation rate among other factors. The currency exchange rate has a significant influence on the trade balance, and by extension, on the current account.

An overvalued currency makes imports cheaper and exports less competitive, widening the current account deficit or narrowing the surplus. Conversely, an undervalued currency boosts exports and makes imports more expensive, increasing the current account surplus or narrowing the deficit. Nations with chronic current account deficits become more vulnerable during periods of heightened uncertainty.

The table show that France isn't doing well compared to its European neighbors, while the UK does terrible, just like the US the world largest consumer of Chinese made stuff and to a lesser extent, both Canada and Australia.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Economics 101 – Debt

First and foremost, it's very important to differentiate between public debt and external/foreign debt. Public debt compares the cumulative total of all government borrowings less repayments that are denominated in a country's home currency. Public debt should not be confused with external debt.

External / Foreign debt is debt that is owed to foreigners. In most contexts, external or foreign debt means debt that is owed by the government to foreigners, although in a globalized world, it can in some contexts mean debt that is owed by national entities (governments, national based companies, and private individuals) to foreigners.

This means that most public debt in a country is still owed to its citizens. One of the things this means is that when we pay back the debt, the money will still be inside our economy, where hopefully it will stay and recirculate.

However, when we pay back foreign debt, it essentially leaves the economy, and transfers its purchasing power to another economy. It's interesting to note that Japan, even with its huge public debt has relatively little external debt.

This isn't the case for the UK, that owes hundreds of billions to Germany and Spain – while its banks are on the hook to Ireland, Italy and Portugal. Iceland and the Netherlands aren't looking too good either.

In a similar situation but to a lesser extent are France, Spain or the USA, the later with the largest amount held by China and Japan.

Clearly, there appear to be too much unproductive debt and it would be nice if governments began to behave like normal citizens, I mean the one that spend no more than what they earn!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Economics 101 – Budget Deficit

It's generally admitted that a 3% deficit is acceptable and this rather dogmatic view is based on a hypothetical 3% inflation rate. Instead, the goal should be a balanced budget, period.

Better yet, if the country is indebted, its goal should be to create a surplus that would be used as a reserve for repaying the debt.

This said, if we look at the list illustrating this blog, the countries that understand responsible accounting (Norway, Germany, Switzerland) or are oil rich (Qatar) are few and don't surprise anyone.

While the USA isn't doing too badly, it sure could do better and balance its budget, or better yet, create a surplus to begin repaying its humongous debt.

There's no excuse for government to lose money (creating deficit) and in the case of France, it would be totally possible to make huge cuts in its unproductive bureaucracy or overly generous social benefit system.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Economics 101 – Taxation

In order to run its own affairs, a country must collect from its citizens.

Taxes and other revenues help do this. This income includes personal and corporate income taxes, value added taxes, excise taxes, and tariffs.

There are also other revenues that include social contributions - such as payments for retirement and health care costs; also counted are grants, plus the net revenues from public enterprises. In theory, a country must tax just enough to run its government and have no deficit. Sure, a surplus would be nice, but please, don't hold your breath!

If you need a good social safety net, it may cost you a bundle as you chose to live in Scandinavia, Finland or France. All take about more than half of what you make. On average the European Union is tad less greedy at about 45%.

The sweet spot is probably found in Australia, Japan and Switzerland that only takes around one-third of the total income while some “good deals” are found from Mexico to Hong-Kong.

Even though its politicians are clamoring for lower taxes yet, the United States still stands below the 20% threshold, along with the Bahamas and Russia, so the good news is that we, Americans, have some taxing room to balance our budget and repay our humongous debt!

This said, I have no appetite to move to India or Iran on account of taxation alone!