Monday, January 7, 2019

New Age of Elon Musk: Tesla, Space X, Boring - the future?

As the human race has come to master computer technology, we are now moving up to changing our vehicles into the lithium battery-based EV platform, an upgrade from combustion technology (which uses oil, gasoline, etc.).  Elon Musk is the pioneer leading the Electric Vehicle revolution.  He is the CEO and co-founder of Tesla which has manufactured the most amount of best-selling highest quality electric cars on the market, including the following models: Roadster, Model S, Model X and Model 3.  Furthermore, he owns two other companies that are important for future development in outer space and urban infrastructure.  Let's review his companies, and then take a look at Elon Musk himself.

Tesla - the most well-known company and largest manufacturer/seller of electric cars is the Electric energy company that relies on a powerful lithium-based rechargeable battery for renewable source of energy.  This renewable form of energy is better for the environment than anything that derives from fossil fuels (a.k.a. oil, coal) and could ultimately become cheaper over time.  The main problem right now is that EV technology is still new and very expensive.  Even the cheapest car from Tesla - the Model 3 - costs around $49,000! That's double the price of a Subaru SUV with more features! Tesla cars usually are reveled by consumers and the customer service at Tesla is outstanding! However, there have been some issues with cars catching on fire, as well as auto-pilot safety features.  Overall, Tesla has achieved very much in a short period of time.  Solar City, a solar energy company was bought out by Tesla and since then Tesla has built the Gigafactory 1, 2 and 3 for automatic assembly of batteries, parts and energy equipment.

Space X - They gained a government contract a few years ago and since then have designed rockets to go into Outer Space for cheaper than NASA has spent in the past.  So far, Space X has had a few successful launches (including one where Elon Musk sent his Tesla Roadster into space). An ambitious project to hope to bring humanity into the stars, and with a plan to soon go to Mars.

Boring - The last company of Musk's is a drilling company with the intention of creating the Hyperloop - a new form of transportation to travel via a tunnel quickly from one city to another through a sliding system (which we have seen before in Sci Fi movies).  This project has just started and is getting underway to become a unique factor in setting the standard for a new form of transportation technology.

About Elon Musk - Musk is an ambitious man who wants to change the world.  He has been very successful so far.  A wealthy entrepreneur, Musk will do everything in his power to meet his goals.  Sometimes he will get criticized, and when times are stressful for Musk he tends to take it out via Twitter.  For the most part Musk shows a lot of promise in influencing the future and changing the world.

Cloud Computing for Beginners

What is "Cloud computing" for those who are unfamiliar with the term? Cloud computing is a technique for outsourcing workflow and/or storage onto a remote device or web server.  You may have heard of Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, SugarSync, etc.  Those basic cloud services are used for online storage of files, pictures and data which can be shared on multiple devices, but do not have too many other functions.  There is also Amazon Web Service, which has multiple cloud functions.  More advanced workflow cloud services usually cost a subscription fee, such as Office 365 and Adobe Document Cloud.  These allow you to do all of your Adobe Acrobat PDF and Microsoft Office work online - you will never need to download or upgrade your software again! They do it all for you now.  Pretty cool, huh? Well, there are both advantages and disadvantages to this.  The most expensive cloud computing services are for larger businesses and these will have a setup in some form of Remote Desktop into a much larger Windows Server-based computer.  The sky is the limit and there is a huge industry out there for this.  For now, though, let's review some of the more basic cloud services you can find almost anywhere on the internet.  These are both free and subscription-based depending on your needs:

1.  Microsoft OneDrive - this is a great, recommended online storage drive with an adjustable camera function.  It is easy to use and links with your Outlook account.

2.  Apple iCloud - It is fairly simple to use and similar to the OneDrive for the storage aspect, but the camera doesn't adjust as well as OneDrive.  Will link to all of your Apple Devices with ease and helps you weave a safety net for your devices.  iCloud is also used for linking all of your devices and protecting them.  You will receive notifications when you change your password or make changes, or even access from an alternative location.

3.  Amazon Web Service - Has multiple uses, such as online storage and sharing, as well as downloading games, music, videos, movies and other media.

4.  Office 365 - Great for business, education, personal and multiple uses.  You will be able to use Office online on varying subscription levels and you have the option of downloading files and software, or saving them online.  The ultimate tool for an online world where you never need to upgrade your office software again!

5.  Adobe DC (Document Cloud) - similar to Office 365, but is now the most current version of Adobe Acrobat that is used online via a subscription basis with varying levels. You can download the files/software, make PDFs in your own fashion, or do everything once again for PDF creation media.  This is a unique program which automatically updates online.  This makes using Acrobat finally a mainstream tool instead of one single expensive software purchase.

Can also be used on Mobile Devices and prevents purchasing hugely expensive software packages that get installed on a personal computer.  Subscription services allow you to cancel whenever you want if you get bored of the software.  Know your limits with free services.

Cloud computing services such as those mentioned still require a decent computer and web browser, since using the online services uses a lot of memory and downloads a lot of data.  In some ways, this can be harder if you are using an older computer since the browsers will move much slower, where having an application already installed and unpackaged on an older computer might just function more smoothly and doesn't require any Data usage.  Also, you will have to get used to a whole new platform with these services.

Be careful of Malware!
Many hackers and spammers will exploit these Cloud services by sending you fake spam emails that claim to be Microsoft or Apple, and asking you to log in.  This is a PHISHING attempt or an attempt to download malware onto your computer.  USE CAUTION and NEVER OPEN EMAILS that look suspicious!!

Overall, cloud computing is a decent tool to use, but it isn't a new concept - it's just the way software is used nowadays so you don't need to buy extra hardware for yourself, and to share certain programs among your co-workers.  Recommended trying one of these cloud services.  The sky is the limit! ;)

Examples of Apps

The term "App" is the new type of small applications that you download on your mobile device for convenience so that you do not have to use the web browser or to have a game to play.  It derives from the former popular PC terms - "software", "program", "application", "freeware", "shareware", etc.  In my opinion, there isn't really much benefit to most apps, since they are nearly identical to the web browser (such as banking or shopping apps), but some can be really convenient while others useless.  Here are some examples of a variety of apps:

1.  Game App (any game): Most game apps are convenient and fun to use, but often are a form of shareware with limited use and loaded with advertisements unless you purchase the full version.  Always be mindful when downloading a game app and be careful about the in-app purchases.

2.  Banking App (such as Citi or Chase): The only benefit is the Face Recognition feature on the iPhone X for easy access and the depositing of checks, but is otherwise nearly identical to the web browser.

3.  Amazon App: Actually worse than the website and loaded with glitches with freezes that prevent the completion of orders.  We recommend avoiding this one.

4.  eBay App: very convenient app that is more useful than the website in some ways, although for the most part it is better to use the website.

5.  News Apps: convenient if you like reading the news, but can cause a lot of alerts to pop up.

6.  Social Media Apps (such as Facebook or Twitter): Similar to a news app - good if you like receiving notifications and convenient to use.

Apps are the modern-day standard for downloadable programs and convenience, but overall there isn't a particularly great use for them.

New eBay Payments System ambition through Adyen

Last year, eBay made a large acquisition in purchasing Adyen (an Ireland-based payments system) for nearly $3 billion dollars.  The goal of this purchase was to weed out PayPal as the third-party payments system, which has been used by eBay for a long time.  PayPal has been a source of scrutiny by many sellers and buyers.  eBay launched their new payments system using the Adyen technology last fall, and millions have already transitioned.  PayPal will remain as an optional provider for a few more years until the eBay/PayPal contract and relationship fully expires.

The positives of the transition:

1.  Adyen finally allows eBay's payments and money transfers to be all in one place! You no longer need a PayPal account with a dual set of customer information.  This is a great thing and eliminates any confusion due to the duality.

2.  eBay's payments system charges a cheaper fee than PayPal: it is a flat fee of 2.7% per transaction.  PayPal.  PayPal has a fee of 2.9% + $0.35 per transaction for domestic customers, and 3.9% + $0.35 per transaction for international customers.

3.  eBay's payments system transfers automatically on a schedule that you set, but is defaulted to every day.  You save work and time since you do not to set up a manual transfer.

The negatives of the transition:

1.  Slower money transfers with the eBay payments system.  With PayPal, you are paid cash up-front while PayPal deals with the back-end banking delay nonsense firsthand.  Now that eBay has transitioned to Adyen, the clearance times fall directly onto the eBay seller.  Some transactions can take up to a week just to clear!  After the moneys are cleared and the transfer is initiated, it takes longer to receive the funds in your bank account than PayPal.  Expect wait times of 2-3 business days; sometimes longer!  When we were using PayPal you could expect to get your money the next day or even quicker (if you paid a fee).

2.  Loans system.  PayPal had set up an excellent loan service called "PayPal Working Capital" that eBay sellers had easy access to.  Now that the relationship between eBay and PayPal is in shambles, this system is now extremely risky to use.  PayPal Working Capital takes a portion of each eBay transaction to slowly repay the loan that you take, but now you can no longer do that if you switch to Payments by eBay (and you cannot go back easily!).  Payments by eBay is planned to fully replace PayPal. Unfortunately, PayPal sent a notice to sellers warning them you cannot take out a loan if you use Payments by eBay, and this could be devastating to an outstanding loan or even worse - your Credit Score!  This wasn't planned very well by either company in the transition phase.  What's worse is that eBay has not been clear about the alternative - Square Capital.  eBay claims that the sellers can use Square Capital but we have yet to witness an easy access to this new loan service.  Hopefully they will open the Square Capital loans door soon to the eBay community!

3.  In the end, its all the same thing.  Whether you pay 2.9% or 2.7%, the amount of time, money and maddening effort eBay has spent on the transition/upgrade has been beyond insane.  Yes, PayPal was annoying in the way that you had two separate accounts and sure its nice to get a small discount now, but other than that the benefits to Adyen aren't really all that great.  And the transfer speeds with eBay Payments is very slow and frustrating sometimes.  Ebay was also strongly motivated for Adyen because it has a sleek, simple appearance in comparison to PayPal.  For customers, it probably has more benefits to use Adyen, but sellers only get the benefit of the 2.7% rate.  Don't forget that PayPal had super fast money transfers to your bank account, since they worked in reverse (cash up front).

Overall, Adyen technology underneath the new Payments by eBay system is kind of neat and since the sellers know its long term, we don't really have a choice but to use it instead of PayPal.  Other than that, we have a slightly cheaper rate of 2.7%, but there really isn't much benefit and PayPal had a superior underlying infrastructure to it.  We also do not know any kinds of security risks or hazards with eBay's new payments system.  With PayPal, all transactions were covered and there were varying levels of departments looking into all types of transactions.  Payments by eBay gives us no kind of reassurance - you just type in your bank account number and routing number but there isn't even a deposit confirmation.  The biggest downer is that we no longer have access to PayPal Working Capital, which was in my opinion the best, simplest and least expensive electronic Loan service on the web.

New technology is nice and useful, but I think it needs to take into consideration a lack of priorities.  Let's see what eBay has to offer us moving forward.

Apple iPhone X Review

Apple's iPhone X is now 1 year old - it is a staple amongst the iPhone clan of phones.  Apple has made a newer version of the iPhone X called the iPhone XS, and has resumed its models based on the iPhone X blueprint.

The iPhone X is a great phone overall and has many new technological breakthroughs:

Camera Quality (5/5): The iPhone X camera quality and features are top-notch - its almost as good as a professional camera.  The Zoom function has been adjusted and works more properly.

Face Recognition (4/5): The Face Recognition is iPhone X's most ambitious security achievement.  It works great overall, although it can glitch sometimes if you do not have your face properly aligned to the camera.  This replaces the Thumbprint that was used for most iPhones 8 and below.  Newer software and framework updates for the iOS have improved the Face recognition slightly, and the iPhone XS makes further enhancements.

Cellular Reception (4/5): About the same.  Still depends on who your Cellular Provider is.  There isn't any benefit or loss with the iPhone, still.

Navigation (4/5): Roughly the same as the previous versions, except the Do Not Disturb is included with the iPhone X upon purchase, rather through an update.

Internet Web Browsers (4/5):  A little faster browsing capability, but no major changes.

Summary (4.5/5): Overall, you should only get an iPhone X if you have an old iPhone (5 or lower) or if you have an older phone from a different brand, since it is a pricey device and you will enjoy it only if you make a big upgrade leap.  Those who have already purchased an iPhone 8 might be disappointed since the changes and updates will seem subtle, at best.  The iPhone X is a recommended, yet expensive phone.

Sunday, January 6, 2019 is getting too big, in recent years, has become the #1 online retailer, selling almost all of your needs in virtually all sectors of ecommerce and receiving your order within 2 days.  They are the largest internet company by gross revenue and could soon become the most valuable company.  Jeff Bezos, the company founder and CEO has the goal to become the first Trillion Dollar ($) company.

Most are not complaining and are satisfied with Amazon's service.  However, we have started to see some cracks developing in their formula which many do not see.  There are extreme risks to this type of business that could downplay the efforts to become the most valuable company:

1) Monopoly risk.  In 2017 made some large acquisitions in their expansion of the business.  Two of these important ones were Kohl's and Whole Foods.  Kohl's has remained a clothing store but is also now a hub for Amazon Returns.  Whole Foods has largely remained the same, except now customers can use their Visa Credit Card to get 5% back via the points system that can be redeemed on  Amazon keeps pursuing efforts to acquire more and more companies, including buying certain healthcare businesses.  They want to absorb and buy out businesses from all different sectors.  Eventually, if they are appearing to be too large, the government will come after them and many smaller companies will file lawsuits against them.  The same thing happened to Microsoft in the late-1990s/early-2000s when Sun Microsystems (now called Oracle) filed the largest anti-trust suit ever which even reached the US Supreme Court! Since then, Microsoft has tried extra hard to NOT be a monopoly.

2) Labor Practices.  Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in the world, worth approximately $150 billion dollars but you don't become the richest unless you are sidelining everyone else.  Those who work at have to work extra long hours, meet insanely tough deadlines, go to the bathroom in cups, and do not make a great salary.  This has led to multiple strikes and pressure on the executive management.  If Bezos caves in to these demands, then the cost for labor will increase and this will eat into's bottom line, defeating the effort to become a trillion dollar company.  People's lives are at stake here!

3) Online listing issues.  Aside from the legal risks, Amazon needs to step up and make improvements to listings and returns of certain types of products.  Amazon doesn't have a really good or solid return policy for third party sellers and certain cheaper items (such as add-ons or anything under $9.99).  They tell you these items are "non-returnable" but if you have an issue with the item or the package was incomplete, then you cannot return the item directly or even initiate the refund process.  You have to contact Amazon directly and get them to refund you.  This is a poorly diagnosed procedure, since often we can find issues with items that are cheaper too.  Third Party Sellers on Amazon are usually okay to use, but sometimes you find bad apples who either ship too slowly, are dishonest with the items they resell, or at worst are total scams.  For these cases where you have a third party seller issue, you have to use Amazon's A-Z Guarantee procedure, which works sometimes but is a little tedious.  If the seller says they shipped to item but there isn't any tracking information, then you have to wait longer.  Furthermore, you will run into issues where the wrong picture of an item is displayed and receive a totally different item, but Amazon does not fix the listing.  Amazon needs to improve all of the above.

Amazon is no different than any company and now they are reaching their limitations as one of the largest companies, not breaking any limits.  With any super large big business, there are always cracks that form. If they truly want to be #1 then Amazon will have to start by first making the above improvements.