Thursday, 29 November 2007

Predictions of 2008 trends start rushing in

The 2008 predictions are gathering speed and it's only going to get worse.

My view of the global economy is limited from my ground floor apartment but a private equity insider predicts we have just seen the "lull at the top of asset prices, and stomach lifting hump before the first roller-coaster drop."

Trendwatching landed in my mailbox today with as many as EIGHT cleverly identified consumer trends for 2008. Status spheres will segment the market and Evian is by far not expensive enough for some people (who now apparently buy a $20 version - how cheap of me to have turned down the $3 option yesterday offered to me as the only non-carbonated mineral water at the crappy Notax restaurant).

Meanwhile someone predicts professionally produced content will beat home made videos next year.

I have so far only made a single prediction: Kosice real estate will rise dramatically in 2008 but I hope to make a few more just to see if I get to say I told you so later. Oh yeah, and (via the brilliant Frank Schilling) US real estate prices are going down in 2008:

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Shut up when the anthem plays!

The Slovak Police drew enemy fire from Slovak media after forcibly removing a protester who shouted through a megaphone about undemocratic practices in Kazakhstan within earshot of where the Slovak Presidential Guards saluted Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbajev.

There is a special provision in the Kazakh constitution allowing Nursultan Nazarbajev (him and only him) to stand for reelection an unlimited number of times. Well no surprise he received regal treatment, especially since Kazakhstan has so much oil and is the World's No. 1 exporter of potassium.

Police dragged the Kazakh emigre activist Balli Marzec, a Polish citizen, kicking and screaming and detained her at the police station for 12 hours.

Sadly this was but one in a string of incidents with blatant violations of free speech, freedom of movement and other basic constitutional rights. In some the police were subject of provocation and mistakenly took it as a sign they can suppress human rights.

More often police were the perpetrators of harassment and abuse - beating people up, shutting up demonstrators, harassing the poor and homeless.

This of course permeates the police culture at all levels: corruption is rampant at many levels and certainly the attitude is more often "abuse and exploit" rather than "serve and protect".

Old advice on doing better with charity

If you've ever given to a poor person unwillingly, you should know there are seven higher degrees of charity Jewish philosopher Maimonides inferred from the Torah.

To do better next time try giving a poor person gladly, with a smile.

Even better, give to those in need when you are asked.

If that doesn't feel charitable enough try giving before you are asked.

Next level up means giving without knowing who receives your help but they will know you were the benefactor. In Maimonides's times the custom was for "greatest sages" to pack coins in a scarf, sling it over their shoulder and let poor people pick out coins not seeing who they were and thus avoiding embarrassing them.

When the roles are reversed you can move up a level: you know who you are helping without them knowing who you are. There were righteous men who would put coins in poor people's doorways secretly.

When neither side knows the other you are almost at the top. A guy or gal recently gave $100 million to a town in Pennsylvania this way.

There is but one level left, the greatest: when you help someone get on their feet so that they no longer need the help of the community. A Silicon Valley geek taught a whole Stanford class how to make Facebook Apps although these are presumably paying students and this would not classify as an act of charity. It may just be good teaching.

Oh and read this article mainly as an effort to connect those two interesting stories into one entry.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Landline over mobile

Although the number of landlines in Slovak households is declining I still maintain mine. I pay some 400 Slovak crowns per month to Slovak Telecom, mainly for the sake of older members of my family who feel a lot more comfortable calling my landline than calling my mobile.

While there are financial considerations (i.e. calling mobile phone numbers from a land line phone in Slovakia remains pretty expensive) there are also some privacy considerations: calling someone's home telephone and reaching them means you will not be catching them in the supermarket checkout line, at a busy traffic intersection or in a cinema.

For me another advantage is that I know only very few people have my landline number and I can be pretty sure that it is the family calling (and the occasional telemarketer who I simply hang up on).

Many new businesses these days do not bother to install landlines - probably to save the money and hassle they provide a mobile phone number as their primary contact number. I would argue that this may be shortsighted for some, especially those who interact with an older clientele. There are lots of mainly older people who remain distinctly uncomfortable both calling a mobile phone in general (perhaps because they are used to the anonymity of landline calling from the time landlines did not have caller ID) and especially calling a mobile from their land line telephone.

If I were to operate a business that expects customer calls I would probably try to offer at least a mobile and landline contact number and perhaps even consider having a separate mobile contact with the several mobile operators. From a practical perspective having a contract with each operator allows to economise on outgoing calls. But also this maximises the chance that customers wishing to reach you by phone will be comfortable doing so.

What prompted this short writeup was my recent experience trying to make a hairdresser appointment. On the website the only phone number provided was a mobile, I phoned and said I would like to make an appointment. The lady on the other end surprised me a little: "Could you call back in about 10 minutes? I am away from the salon right now." Now that would ever happen with a landline...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

2008: Anyone can make predictions!

I made a prediction earlier, saying that the city of KoŇ°ice will blossom in 2008. The prediction brought me search engine traffic because people are starting to look for predictions for next year. Even Adwords advertisers have woken up with their predictions for 2008 (led by horoscopes and such).

Google Trends shows that the demand for new-year 2008 predictions online has grown over the last few years. Every year it starts earlier and peaks a little higher. The order of searches by countries is stable over time - Indians search for predictions the most.

A classmate of mine in primary school, Alexander, told me in 1988 that in 1999 we would be able to travel to neighbouring Austria on bicycle. To me that was unimaginable at the time: we were living in the depth of a Soviet-satellite Communist regime. In November 1989 suddenly we were walking across the border. His prediction simply turned out to be correct.

Now I feel like it may be fun to make a few predictions for 2008 - if I make 10 or 20 oredictions on random events there is a good chance a half of them may turn out right and having 5 or 10 correct prediction can be packaged as pretty good predictive success.

Anyway the purpose of this article is to motivate myself to make up a few predictions, write them up and drum them up.