Stockholm and Riga Trip and Pics

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Back our 3-year anniversary trip to Riga, Latvia, via Stockholm, Sweden. Great trip, great weather, great food, people!

It was a nice surprise to be in Riga for the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Chain, a protest where 2 million people held hands over 600 kilometers (373 miles) spanning three countries (Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR, and Lithuanian SSR). Imagine that! I had know idea.

By the way, while we’re on the topic of protests and before I forget, here’s Larry Flint’s (yes, that Larry Flint) call for mass protest on HuffPo: “Common Sense 2009.”  What will cause the sheeple to reject the lies, reject their selfishness (and the selfishness of the politicians and mega corporations), and standup for each other (“we, not me”)?  Apparently a lot, since it’s not happened yet.  Sigh.  Now back to regularly scheduled blog post.

More about the Baltic Chain and its 20th anniversary:

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Jeff Bezos’ & Amazon’s Big “Tell”

(Why do I single out Bezos here?  Because responsibility goes to the top and Bezos is the Founder, Chairman, CEO, and President of Amazon.)

2009-7-23 UPDATE: See bottom of this post.

I wasn’t going to comment on the recnt (and ironic) Jeff Bezos debacle, but yesterday a commenter on Cringly’s blog said: “Amazon has destroyed their business in one careless stroke. Once you lose the public trust, you never get it back.”

Although I think “destroyed” and “never” are too strong words, I share the sentiment, especially the part about violating trust (for example, violate my trust once and you’re out, with little chance of reinstatement).

Why is “destroyed” too strong a word?

Because, probably enough of Amazon’s customers don’t know or care about Bezos’ Orwellian, jack-booted thug maneuver or are not thoughtful enough to understand why it’s such a big deal.

Most of the people who do care might somehow punish Amazon a little, such as by going on a temporary buyer’s strike or writing a negative blog post (like this one), but they will probably come back to big bro Bezos and his website that knows more about you than you may know yourself.  The more you use Amazon, the more it learns about you, of course.  It’s the same, with Google, NetFlix, your credit/debit card purchases, mobile phone and location data, RFID chipped cards and passports, but all that’s another story. Reminds me, though, see this interesting Wired UK article: “The new hidden persuaders.”

So, why is this debacle so interesting?

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Why The Twitter Breach Is Bullish for Two-Factor Authentication

First, see these headlines and stories:

Now, ask yourself this?

Is having (good) two-factor authentication (TFA) on its Google Apps and Gmail accounts something that Twitter would pay for?  A GToken, perhaps, for each user?

Of course, it is.  And, to answer the begged question: Yes, TFA could have prevented this breach.  NEW: See “The Anatomy Of The Twitter Attack” and consider what would have happened if Twitter would have been using TFA (and it was required for password resets).

It’s the same with many other individuals and companies. In fact, if good TFA is easily accessible, it will become a requirement, not just the differentiator it is now. Companies who tell their customers, partners, investors, lenders, etc. that they use security best practices will have to use TFA.

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New Plan Ties College Loan Payments to Income

This is an important article for anyone who has student loan debt. The more your debt, and lower your imcome, the more important the article.

The new repayment option — the Income Based Repayment (IBR) plan — went into effect on July 1, 2009. It limits what borrowers have to pay to “15% of the difference between their gross income and 150% of federal poverty guidelines.”

What exactly that means, is up to your lender to determine, as I understand it. But it does appear that payments can be as low as $0.00. That’s bad, because interest accrues and is added to the outstanding balance, but it’s good because after borrowers “make payments on loans” for 25 years, the balance is forgiven.  (But what does “make payments on loans” mean?  What if those “payments” are $0.00?)

Bottom line is that everyone who feels burdened by their student loans should read this article, and its links, and figure out if this new plan is something for them. If it is, take action.

Problem is, how to figure all this stuff out? It may be so important, and complicated, that some people might want/need professional advice. That’s actually something I’ve long been interested in, but it’s been low on the priority list compared with my other projects. I would love to hear from any of you with the relevant knowledge, experience, and drive to setup a web- and phone-based business providing student loan consulting (in partnership with me). I’ve already got a good domain name: StudentLoanConsulting.com. I guess I could always sell or license that name as well. If you’re interested in any of this, just contact me.

Now on to the article:

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Unity of Greater New Orleans

Unity of Greater New Orleans is a group of amazing people working to end homelessness (in New Orleans).

We all want to help reduce homelessness everywhere, so this is just one charity of interest in that department, but it’s a good one.  We have to help each other, one person at a time.

Read the following article and let me know what you think: New Orleans Times-Picayune: “Squatters hidden in N.O.’s abandoned houses often need more help than other homeless people”: http://bit.ly/TT3V1 (Google Doc) or http://bit.ly/gh72s (PDF).

So did you read that article? That’s why I just made a donation to them through the Network For Good. Here’s the link to Unity of Greater New Orleans’s donation page in case you’re inspired, too. Either way, maybe re-share this post? Thanks.

PS: Pics and video from my latest trip to New Orleans, in April 2009.

Barack Obama:
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

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Ten Principles for a Black Swan-proof World

A year and a half ago, Nouriel Roubini gave us his recipe for financial meltdown, The Twelve Steps to Financial Disaster, each of which unfolded in sequence. Now Nassim Nicholas Taleb gives us his “Ten Steps for a Black Swan-proof World” (below).

Roubini’s steps were the inevitable outcome of a flawed system. Sadly, perhaps, Taleb’s steps are not inevitable.

Additional reading:

Now on to the article:

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Article: The Quiet Coup

A long, but interesting and important article.

The Quiet Coup
By Simon Johnson
2009-05
The Atlantic

The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we’re running out of time.

One thing you learn rather quickly when working at the International Monetary Fund is that…

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Miss. and La. Road Trip Pics: 1st Set: Leave DC, Drive, Arrive, First Day/Night in NOLA

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UPDATE #1: Here’s a master page of New Orleans pics and videos: www.buzzpal.com/no.

UPDATE #2: Here’s the rest of the pics, all on one page.

Here’s the first batch of pics from my 9-day road trip down to Pearl River, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Why/how’d I go on this trip?

To help my friend Alan move all his stuff down to his and his wife Amy’s organic blueberry farm, Pearl River Blues. Plus I absolutely love great road trips, and what could be better, especially if you love music, than a road trip to Mississippi and New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, funk, and blues?

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“The Financial Crisis in Terms I Can Understand”

Not sure who wrote this (if you know, please put the credit in the comments), but I like it. Received it today from a friend in London.

Related

“The Financial Crisis in Terms I Can Understand”

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Berlin. In order to increase sales, she decides to allow her loyal customers – most of whom are unemployed alcoholics – to drink now but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).

Word gets around and as a result increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi’s bar.

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Life Is Beautiful

Rob and Hugo
Rob and Hugo

Fourteen months have gone by since I wrote the following letter, on December 21, 2008, the day after my wife Susanne’s godfather, Hugo, died, at his home in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I’ve wanted to share it for a long time as a memorial to Hugo and to remind myself, and maybe help others remind themselves, that life is beautiful, that we need to cherish it, be kind, pay it forward, live in the present, and generally try to do no harm and leave this earth better than we found it.

The reason I publish this letter today is two fold:

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Snow Falling on Dog

Snow Falling on Dog
Snow Falling on Dog

Today at my parents’ house in Cambridge, Maryland, USA. Looks pretty, but the snow is wet, heavy, nasty!

BTW, for those of you who don’t know Izzie, she is my parents’ dog, a 9-year-old Doberman. She is extremely sweet. Here’s a pic I took of here a few years back.