Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Web Secret #382: Acorns

Our elders used to throw their extra pennies into a coffee can. Once the receptacle was full, it paid for small luxuries or a rainy day emergency.

What is the 21st century version of that coffee can?

Acorns, a smartphone app built for exactly that purpose.

Acorns was designed to help people, especially first-time investors, get started in investing with small automated investments into a portfolio of exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, that the company selects and balances. Users link their bank accounts to the app, which then automatically rounds up the cost of all transactions to the nearest dollar, withdraws that spare change and invests it. For example, if you buy a coffee for $2.40, Acorns will take an extra 60 cents and invest it in an exchange-traded fund.

Not sure you get it? Watch the video:

Setting this up is a snap and takes only a few minutes.

My 21 year old son has grown his pennies into $200 in a matter of months.

Sign me up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Web Secret #381: Advanced Style

Next year I am going to have a major birthday.

So major I can't say it out loud, let alone write it in this post.

Just use your imagination.

I am preemptively FREAKING out.

How to feel better? Retail therapy? Psychotherapy? Plastic Surgery?

I watched "Advanced Style" on Netflix.

And I felt much better.

You see many people fear advancing age. They worry that they will be marginalized, unemployed, infirm, unattractive.

Me, I am shallow. I worry about not being cool.

And Advanced Style - which started as an equally wonderful blog - reassured me that I don't have to worry.

The brain child of blogger Ari Seth Cohen, it chronicles the stylish get-ups of a crowd that’s largely ignored by the fashion system - people over 50.

In the process of watching the movie and reading the blog I was elevated.

And you will be too.

Even if you don't have a major birthday coming up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Web Secret #380: QVC

QVC was founded in 1986, but I didn't find out about it until the early 90s. A young husband came to the EAP I worked for. Presenting problem: since their baby was stillborn, all his wife did was watch QVC 24/7.

So I had to check it out. At that time, QVC consisted of a variety of hosts hawking cheap goods for hours on end. Periodically, some hayseed from the Midwest would call in to express delight over these tacky items. There was a droning, pacifying quality to all of this. But it was not for me.

Recently, however, I was home recovering from surgery and had some time on my hands. I happened to turn on QVC and discovered that 95% of the tackiness is gone. The channel sells quality brands like Dooney & Bourke, Cannon, Clarks, Givenchy lipstick, KitchenAid, and much much more.

That's nice, but why buy from QVC?
  • Customer service - a generous return policy, fast shipping and more.
  • Product information - items are showcased for long periods of time, described and demonstrated by the QVC host and typically the product's designer, senior executive or brand expert. You can watch this live or months later as virtually every item has a companion video.
  • Easy Pay - this is unique: you can receive an item now and pay monthly installments at no extra charge. The product price, Shipping & Handling, and any applicable sales tax will be divided according to the specified number of payments.
  • Hard to find sizes - how fun is it to shop if you have narrow or wide feet, are very thin or petite or plus sized? Not. QVC sells most clothing, shoes, bracelets and rings in a broad range of sizes.
  • Models come in all shapes and sizes - most items are showcased by models of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, and ages. Cosmetic products are demonstrated on older women. You can actually see what a product would look like on a real person - not just a 16 year old wearing a size zero.
  • QVC hosts come in all shapes, sizes and ages.
All of this goes on 24/7.

Thank you QVC.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Web Secret #379: FOMO

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

I don't know when this concept crept into my brain.

The acronym was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

This is the OED definition: "Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website."

For me FOMO goes way beyond that definition. I fear missing out on knowledge, plays, articles, movies, books, scientific breakthroughs and more. Everything is tantalizingly at my finger tips - one link away. But I can't read it all, learn it all, experience it all. I barricade myself against websites, apps, people that I have no time for.

I am like a person who lived under Communist rule shopping in an American supermarket for the first time.


FOMO is an artifact of the Internet. Before it, you didn't have FOMO - you knew you were missing out. The reality was you could only surmise that you were missing out on something, somewhere. Ignorance is bliss.

Fast forward to the present, Pandora's box has been opened, we have been kicked out of Eden, we know we are missing out. All the time.

Now, live with it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Web Secret #378: the persistence of old technology

I am always preaching the need for preparedness in the face of rapidly changing technology.

But then I came across a very interesting article that states "Technology changes far slower than we usually think it does."

This is what it says:

A pretty-good technology that achieves widespread acceptance has a way of sticking around for years, even decades. Just look at how many people still listen to AM radio, buy CDs at concerts, or drive cars with internal combustion engines and four wheels.

Or look at the way telephone technology has evolved over the past century and a half. Yes, we’ve added new features, like cellular data and VoIP calling. But the underlying infrastructure is, in some ways, much the same. Your fancy iPhone still has a touch-pad dialer for connecting you to the telephone network, and that dialer is basically a digital representation of something that has existed since the 1960s.

The persistence of old-but-acceptable technology has some big implications for the future of the Web. After all, the Web is hardly cutting-edge tech. The basic protocol on which the Internet is based is over 40 years old.

So if you’re waiting for a transformative change in how we consume information online, you could be waiting a long time.

Think about what air travel looked like in 1965. Humans had only been flying airplanes for about sixty years, and the U.S. and Soviet Union were rapidly expanding their space travel capabilities. If you plotted a line of human transportation speed from 1750 to 1950, it would form an exponential curve. In the near future — a 1960s futurist might think — we would soon be flying on huge, comfortable supersonic jets. And shortly after that, we’d be riding on incredibly fast rockets, then nuclear rockets, and perhaps enjoying near-light speed interstellar travel by the early 2000s.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Supersonic jets turned out to be way too expensive and way too damaging to the ozone layer. Ordinary, high-capacity jets like the Boeing 747 turned out to be good enough, and economical enough, that they became the de facto standard. The models Boeing created in the 1970s form the backbone of the company’s lines today, with very slight differences and enhancements that are mostly invisible to non-experts. In fact, some of today’s planes are actually slower than their 1970s predecessors: The Boeing 787 is slower than the 707.

We might be at a similar point with Internet technologies today. In the past twenty years, we’ve seen enormous changes in the way people access and create information. The wide dispersion of Internet access has brought the world’s knowledge to every corner of the Earth; the shift to mobile devices has put that knowledge literally into the hands of everyone who can afford a cellphone and a monthly contract. Social networks make it easier than ever to connect with like-minded people around the world, and digital maps are shining a clear light into every corner of the Earth, simplifying navigation and enabling armchair travel to the most interesting, remote locations.

So you might think that the Web is advancing at the same, exponential rate that it has for the past 20 years. You’d be wrong: The Web is advancing only slowly, and in some ways, it’s getting worse.

The mobile Web sucks, the mobile browsers we use today are, in fact, slower and less capable than desktop browsers of five years ago. Our mobile browsers are more like 787s than Concordes.

What we need is to stop thinking of the Web as a platform for transformative, exponential innovation. That kind of innovation is still happening in other spheres — like transportation and health care — but not in the Web. Stop expecting media companies, or encyclopedias, to behave like startups.

Get a few billion more people onto the Web, and see what they come up with.