Essential Modern Tech Skills

Brett Fingerhut TechnologyWithout a doubt, technology is one area that no industry can afford to be complacent.  Tech skills are changing so rapidly that anybody who doesn’t stay up to the time risks becoming irrelevant.  In such a quickly evolving tech world, information tends to decay at a rate of 30 percent a year, making nearly a third of the previous year’s tech-related knowledge irrelevant.  Therefore, staying up-to-date with emerging technologies and trends, as well as the skills needed to master them, will help keep you ahead of the curve.  The key to maintaining an ongoing competitive advantage is continuous learning.  I recently came across an article that discusses six essential tech skills that you should know in the current day and age.

1. Coding: Around the world, coding is currently the number-one skill in demand today.  Even though coding and computer science aren’t too thoroughly touched upon in the K-12 education system, the ability to code remains an essential skill.  Luckily, no matter what your age or tech knowledge, there are ways to pick up intro coding skills, many of which are free.

2. Big data: According to Forbes, big data will only continue to grow in 2015, partially due to the rise of the Internet of Things, which has the power to embed technology in almost anything.  With continuously larger volumes of data being created on a regular basis, you need to know how to collect and analyze said data.  If you ignore big data, you’ll miss out on key marketing and decision-making opportunities.

3. Cloud computing: Back in January, TechRadar reported that 2015 will be the year that the cloud becomes the “new normal”, as costs can be slashed as much as 90 percent through digitizing information-intensive processes.  An ability to utilize the cloud’s flexible power can help improve everything from data security to collaboration ability.

4. Mobile: Not having a mobile strategy for your business in the age of the smartphone can be dangerous.  In 2015, it’s been predicted that an increasing number of companies will learn how to mobilize their revenue-generating processes, such as making purchases and depositing checks.  This is also the year that technology will hit critical mass with the fusion of mobile and cloud computing, meaning that many more centrally-coordinated apps will be usable on multiple devices.

5. Data visualization: Since data keeps multiplying, whatever message you hope to communicate online needs to find increasingly creative ways to break through the white noise.  This is where data visualization, which involves using a visual representation of the data to discover new information and breakthroughs, can be so helpful.

6. UX design skills: User experience designers consider the end user’s ease of use, efficiency and general experience of interfacing with a system.  While user experience has long been important, it’s only become more so in relation to the diverse ways that users are now able to access websites, such as mobile and apps.  The more complex the system, the more involved the planning and architecture will have to be for it.

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2014 For the Stockmarket

2014 was overall a solid year for the US stock market.  Even with losses, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index ended the year with an 11.4 percent increase, meaning 6 straightBrett Fingerhut stock market years of gains.  Compare that to oil, which had its worst annual performance since 2008 after it ended down 45 percent for the year after a sharp slump in the second half of the year.  This S&P 500 rise was double what strategists had expected for the market at the beginning of 2014.  Most strategists agree that the stock market will continue to rise in 2015, but are also expecting much more modest gains, somewhere between 4 and 6 percent.

Because of the holidays, trading has been fairly slow the past couple weeks; in the days leading up to the New Year, roughly 2.6 billion shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange, down with the average 3.6 billion typically traded on an average day.  As the price of oil has fallen, energy stocks continued to decrease in value.  Oil has plunged since June amid a surplus and a weak global demand, falling 45 percent in 2014.

On New Years Eve, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 160 points, yet ended up 7.5 percent.  Nasdaq rose 13.4% in 2014.  Prices for US government bonds rose as well.  The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged down to 2.17 percent, with bonds being an unexpected strong point for the 2014 market.  Gold fell in value $16.30, now costing $1.184.10 an ounce.  This precious metal barely budged throughout the year, falling only .2 percent, compared with a 28.3 percent drop in 2013.  Silver fell 68 cents in the year, reduced to $15.60 an ounce.  Copper fell three cents, costing $2.83 a pound by the end of the year.  In other parts of trading, wholesale gasoline fell 1.8 cents to $1.435 a gallon, heating oil fell 2.2 cents to close at $1.847 a gallon and natural gas fell 20.5 cents to close at $2.889 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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The Scottish Independence Movement

Brett Fingerhut ScottishFor over 300 years now, Scotland has been a part of the United Kingdom, having sacrificed its independence due to a crippled economy.  For 100 years before that, Scotland and England had both been under the same monarchs, with the two countries strongly intertwined with one another.  Before that, however, independent Scotland was England’s sworn, uncompromising enemy; from 1066 to 1603, the two countries were in almost a constant state of warfare with one another.  While it’s been a long time since Scotland was a truly independent nation, Scottish nationalism has always been strong, although for the most part, not a whole lot of Scots were talking about independence from the UK.  About 7 years ago, however, that all changed, as the Scottish independence movement became more and more popular.  In just a few days, the Scottish will vote on whether or not they want to break from the British crown for the first time in 401 years.

During all of this talk about independence, Queen Elizabeth has stayed quiet.  However, that all changed on Sunday, when the Queen urged the Scots to “think very carefully about the future”.  While this isn’t a condemnation or endorsement of Scottish independence, and Elizabeth does a good job at staying neutral on the subject, it’s not too hard to guess the popular monarch’s personal views on the topic.  Elizabeth made the comment to a well-wisher in a crowd, after a church service near her Balmoral estate in Scotland.  Recently, Buckingham Palace issued a statement that indicated Elizabeth’s intention to remain neutral on the vote.  Lawmakers from the Conservative Party have asked her to take a stance, but she’s declined, stating that it could lead to a potential breakup of the United Kingdom.

It’s well known that the Queen has a deep fondness for Scotland, spending much of her free time during the summer at her estate in Balmoral, walking in the woods and riding horses.  According to weekend polls, the independence vote is too close to call; both sides have been scrambling during the final days of campaigning.  Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to return to Scotland to try and persuade voters to reject independence and remain part of the UK, as part of the “Better Together” campaign, which has emphasized the economic uncertainties that an independent Scotland would face; indeed, a poor economy was what forced the Scottish to give up their independence some 300 years ago.  Those in favor of independence have predicted a future for an oil-rich Scotland free of the United Kingdom.

Just 100 years ago, the British Empire was the largest and most powerful force in the world.  The British controlled territory in 6 different continents, and it seemed as if the sun would never set on the British Empire.  In the aftermath of World War II, however, the British watched as many of their old territories in Africa, Asia, South America and even Europe gained independence.  Indeed, one of the last possessions that the British have held onto, and one of their earliest conquests, has been Scotland.  To lose Scotland could be a disastrous blow to British pride.  If the Scottish independence movement does succeed, it isn’t clear how the new situation would look; many Scottish leaders have expressed a desire for the Queen to serve as head of state, while others want to completely cut ties with the United Kingdom.

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What You Can Learn From da Vinci

The more you read about Leonardo da Vinci, the more amazing he is: he painted some of the Renaissance’s most timeless works of art, created functional robots at an age when people had yet to invent a functional musket and conceptualized a functional flying machine.  He’s considered to be one of the most multi-talented people of all time.  But, to make this Renaissance man even more amazing, he also wrote a killer cover letter.  I recently came across an article that shows a letter that da Vinci wrote to Ludovico Sforza, the de-facto leader of Milan, applying for a job.  And the letter he wrote was so good, that he landed the job.  Sforza later commissioned da Vinci to paint “The Last Supper”.  Whether you’re an employer or a prospective employee, da Vinci’s letter is worth a look.  The article I came across discusses some of the important things to learn from the letter.

When you’re writing a cover letter, it’s important to know who you’re writing to, and you should address them by name.  If your cover letter starts with “sir” or “madam”, then you’re doing it wrong.  In da Vinci, he addresses his prospective employer as “My Most Illustrious Lord”.  If you’re going to use language like that, it’s certainly going to stand out.

Unfortunately, the writing of cover letters is extremely impersonal, and the person applying for a job and writing the letter is focused on why the position is perfect for them.  Instead, a cover letter should emphasize why it is that the writer is perfect for the position.  An employer wants to know how a person is going to solve their problems and make their company even better.  In the first paragraph of da Vinci’s cover letter, he offers Sforza his “secrets” at his complete disposal.  Then, da Vinci briefly yet meticulously outlines his engineering skills, and how they can specifically be put to use for Sforza.

Finally, and this can’t be overemphasized, you need to be confident.  In da Vinci’s letter, after he outlined his skills and intentions, he says this about his abilities at painting: “I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be”.  No doubt, he was confident (but hey, if I was Leonardo da Vinci, I would be too).  The average employer runs through hundreds of cover letters, all of which say the same thing.  If somebody was this confident, without also talking trash about other potential employees, then an employer is going to be intrigued.


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How To Be A Millionaire

Getting rich has never been easy, and becoming rich by the time you’re 30 sounds nigh impossible.  However, I recently came across an article in Entrepreneur, that talks about the key steps to becoming a millionaire by the time you’re 30.  The author of the article, entrepreneur Grant Cardone, graduated from college at the age of 21 broke and in debt.  By the time he was 30, however, he had become a millionaire.  In the article, he gives the reader 10 steps to guarantee that by the time you’re 30, you will be a millionaire just like him.

In today’s economy, it’s impossible to save your way to millionaire status.  First, you need to focus your income in increments and repeat that.  If you start to follow the money, it will force you to control revenue and see opportunities when they arise.  When you do get your hands on money, it’s important to remember not to show off too much.  Don’t go out and buy a luxury car until your businesses and investments are producing several secure income flows.  If you want people to respect you, be known for your work ethic, not your flashy spending.

The only reason to save money, according to Cardone, is to invest it.  Take your saved money and put it into secured, untouchable accounts, and never use these accounts for anything.  This will force you to keep working to increase your income.  This can be dangerous, however, since you can end up broke very frequently.  If you do end up in debt, make sure that it’s only the kind of debt that will make you money in the long run.  Rich people use debt to leverage investments and grow cash flows, while poor people use it to buy things that ultimately make rich people richer.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody that doesn’t wish for financial freedom.  However, only those that make it a priority have millions.  If you want to get rich and stay rich, you have to make that your priority.  Money, Cardone argues, should be treated like a jealous lover.  If you don’t give it enough attention, it will spurn you.  Money ultimately doesn’t sleep; it’s insensitive to the concept of times or schedules, which means that you should be too.  People with a great work ethic will be rewarded; work the extra hours and try to outwork everybody else.

Being poor is no fun, and having “just enough” money is hardly any better.  If you want to be a millionaire, eliminate the idea that being poor is okay.  To quote Bill Gates, “if you’re born poor, it’s not your mistake.  But if you die poor, it is your mistake”.  Most of us weren’t brought up in a terribly rich environment, and as a result hold ourselves to the ideas and limits of our middle class or poor background.  If you want to be a millionaire, study millionaires to duplicate what they do.  Get a personal millionaire mentor and study them.  You’ll find that most rich people are very generous with their knowledge and resources.

The real key to becoming a millionaire is investing; once your money starts making more money than your actual work, you know that you’re in a good place.  If you don’t have surplus money, then you won’t make any investments.  Investing is the only reason to do the other steps of becoming a millionaire, and your money needs to work for you and do your heavy lifting.  When you’re investing and working to become a millionaire, you should be ambitious, and shoot high.  Don’t just go for $1 million, go for $10 million.

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Ripple Effect in Ukraine

With an increasingly globalized economy, when one country suffers some sort of economic hardship, it usually affects the rest of the world as well.  And now, it looks like recent economic turmoil triggered by the crisis in Ukraine is starting to harm several major European companies.  According to the International Monetary fund, Russia has been dragged into a recession as investors flee the emerging market so that they won’t get caught up in the escalating conflict in Ukraine.  Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the US and Europe have accused the Russians of goading separatist tensions.  They’ve frozen the assets of numerous Russian officials, and the US has even targeted certain Russian companies.  If Ukraine’s May 25th presidential election is put at risk, they warn that harsher measures aimed at the Russian economy will follow.

However, for some European companies, it looks like the damage is already being done.  The Danish brewer Carlsberg cut its earnings forecast for the year, blaming a larger-than-expected fall in Russian demand and the weakness of the ruble.  Their beer sales in eastern Europe fell 7% by volume in the first quarter, while net revenue in the region plunged by twice as much due to wildly unpredictable currency swings.  So far this year, its shares have fallen a full 12%, and they continue to lose ground.  Societe Generale is also hurting; it took a charge of 525 million euros for writing down the value of its Russian banking activities, slashing first quarter net profit to 416 million euros from 798 million in the same period last year.  This write down reflects the general decline in ruble/euro exchange rate parities, a slowing economy and an increase in Russia’s risk premium in the current environment.

Trade and investment between Russia and Europe equals about $500 billion every year, and German companies are the most likely to be hurt by this embargo.  So far, however, engineering group Siemens, which makes about 2 billion euros in annual sales in Russia, seems to have escaped the drama unharmed for now.  However, according to CEO Joe Kaeser, who flew to Moscow in late March for a meeting with Putin, the situation could take a turn for the worse.  German factory orders in March fell by 2.8% compared to February, which was a huge surprise to analysts who only expected a decline of .2%.  This deterioration could be due to regional tension, however, others claim it reflected the timing of big bulk orders, and the modest external shock from the Ukraine crisis would only have a slight negative effect on growth.


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6 Cool Life-Saving gadgets

40 years ago, if you told somebody about the gadgets that are now being carried around, they probably wouldn’t believe you.  I still remember, when cell phones were first popularized, talking about how cool it would be to use the Internet from your cell phone, as opposed to a bulky monitor attached to a desk, and how absurd it seemed to me; just a few years later, the iPhone was invented.  Now, we can only imagine what new gadgets will be invented in the future, and even now, it’s amazing to believe what’s already been invented.  I recently came across an article discussing some various modern gadgets that could help save both money and even your life.

AdhereTech has created a “smart pill bottle”, which includes a sensor that tracks the amount of medication left inside and sends the information wirelessly to both patients and doctors.  If you miss a dose, the bottle sends you a text message reminder; according to the company, this dramatically increases consistent medication use.

SwipeSense is a company that makes hand sanitizer dispensers that sync with badges worn by individual employees to ensure that everybody does their part to stay sanitary, to ensure that people adhere to proper hygiene and stop the spread of germs in the workplace.

AliveCor is a California startup, which makes smartphone cases that double as heart monitors.  This allows users to records electrocardiograms by simply resting their device on their fingers or chest, and the data can then wirelessly be transmitted to your physician for real-time monitoring.

Earlier this year, Google announced that it’s testing a contact lens that measures glucose levels in tears via a tiny wireless chip, helping diabetes patients keep track of their condition.  Hopefully, the device will allow patients to monitor their blood sugar levels without having to prick their fingers and test drops of their blood throughout the day.

Undoubtedly, dealing with soiled diapers can be an unpleasant experience.  However, New York startup Pixie Scientific makes disposable “smart diapers” that analyze urine for signs of dehydration, urinary tract infections and even diabetes.  Parents gather this data by simply scanning the QR codes on the front of the diapers with their smartphones.  Unfortunately, however, the company is still working with the FDA for approval.

Proper posture can be extremely important, but it can also be a royal pain in the neck.  The Lumo Back device can actually help you deal with your posture problem; it straps around your torso, and measures the angle at which you’re sitting, buzzing to remind you when you’re in an unhealthy slouching position.  It also tracks sitting time, counts your steps and times your sleep.

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Retirement Options

I recently came across an article discussing plans for retirement savings.  There are millions of workers out there who don’t have access to a workplace 401k; for such people, the responsibility of saving for retirement is entirely up to them.  Thankfully, however, you do have several options for saving.  And what’s important to realize is that the earlier you start, the more your savings have to grow.  Even the smallest sums set aside now can grow significantly over the years.  Let’s say, for instance, that you invest only $100 a month for the next 40 years.  With an average annual return of 6%, that ends up equalling almost $200,000 at the end of forty years.  Getting into a habit like that can be extremely beneficial.

Before you start investing, it’s important to have at least six months of easily accessible savings set aside for an emergency.  Once you’ve done this, here are some great options you should look at:

Traditional IRA: This allows you to invest your savings while simultaneously realizing some sizable tax breaks.  Under federal tax rules, you can contribute up to $5,500 a year to an IRA.  If you’re single and without a workplace plan, you can deduct your whole IRA contribution, which could result in over $1,000 worth of tax savings.  Instead of paying taxes now, you’ll pay them when you withdraw your money during retirement.  This is a great option, so long as you don’t expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you retire.  IRAs have some limitations: if you tap into the money before you turn 59, you will be hit with income taxes and a 10% early withdrawal penalty.  And by age 70, you will be forced to make withdrawals and pay the accompanying taxes.

Roth IRA: For savers in a lower tax bracket that don’t need immediate tax savings, this could be a great option.  With a Roth, you contribute after-tax dollars, but also don’t pay taxes on withdrawals during retirement.  Roth IRAs are ideal for young workers, since contributions can grow for decades tax-free, helping you avoid a big tax hit when you finally do retire.  The contribution limit of $5,500 is the same as a traditional IRA, so long as you don’t exceed income thresholds ($114,000 for single filers and $181,000 for married couples).

Unlike a traditional IRA, you can withdraw your contributions at any time without taxes or penalties.  However, if you withdraw any investment earnings on those contributions, you will get hit with taxes and the 10% penalty.  Special provisions in federal law allow you to use the earnings from your Roth or tap a traditional IRA without any penalty for education expenses or for a first-time home purchase (up to $10,000).  However, you’ll still have to pay income taxes.  If you want to balance out your tax hits between now and retiring, you can split your contributions between a Roth and a traditional account.

Brokerage account: If you still have extra cash to save after you max out your IRA contributions, then brokerage accounts offer a great way to invest your after-tax dollars.  Discount brokerage firms such as Charles Schwab or TD Ameritrade let you invest in various different low-cost mutual funds.  And since you’re using after-tax dollars, these brokerage savings can also be used for non-retirement purposes.  However, it’s important to remember that any earnings you make on your investments will be subject to capital gains tax when you sell them.

MyRA: If investing in stocks on your own makes you a little worried, Obama has recently announced the creation of a new “myRA” savings account, which is aimed at workers without workplace retirement benefits.  These accounts, which will be offered through a pilot program later in 2014, aren’t going to lose money because they’ll invest in government bonds.  However, they will also get low returns (about 2 to 3 percent), which will barely outpace inflation.

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Anti-Semitism in Miami

Over the course of 2013, South Florida saw its fair share of anti-semitism.  In Tavernier, somebody tossed a raw ham in front of a Jewish community center.  Hateful slogans and symbols were painted on prayer centers in Miami Beach, and pro-Nazi leaflets were put on car windows in Palmetto Bay.  However, the number of such incidents has dropped significantly from 2012, a trend which has been consistent across the entire country, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.

According to ADL Florida regional director Hava Holzhauer, these numbers are encouraging, as actions of “bigotry or hate” threaten our ability to live in a multicultural society in harmony.  The 2013 audit revealed 11 incidents of anti-semitic assault, vandalism or harassment in the Miami region, down from 16 in 2012.  Statewide, there were 68 reported incidents of anti-Semitism in Florida, down from 88 in 2012.  Nationwide, there were a total 751, down from 927 in 2012.  While numbers reveal that ADL education programs for adults and students are helping reduce hate crimes, recorded incidents are nonetheless troubling.

One incident that Holzhauer referenced was the mysterious ham delivery.  According to him, since pork is a forbidden food, this statement made an offensive and hateful statement.  JCC President Bernard Ginsberg says people had tried to break into the center twice beforehand until the ham was left under the center’s sign.  Another concerning incident occurred in Miami Beach in December.  Four separate sites, a condominium, youth center, homeless shelter and Daughters of Israel Mikvah Center, were defaced by anti-semitic graffiti.  Over the course of 2013, pro-Nazi flyers were passed out in a Palmetto Bay neighborhood back in October, and in May, a restaurant owner and staff in Coconut Creek harassed a Jewish employee with anti-semitic comments and symbols.  And in December, anti-semitic graffiti were painted on a building next to the Lubavitch Educational Center in Miami.

No doubt, there are probably even more incidents that have gone unreported, especially with the increase of Internet use to spread hate.  One thing that truly concerned Holzhauer was that a third of the anti-semitic incidents recorded invoked Nazi imagery, a universal sign of hatred that has no place in a modern, multicultural society.

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Tensions Escalate in Ukraine

According to a recent article, Putin has no desire to take over the Crimea region of Ukraine.  Yet I really have to wonder how true this is, however.

Last week, troops appeared in Crimea, wearing uniforms without any identifying insignia.  Since the troops are Russian-speaking, and are using military vehicles with Russian license plates, there is little doubt that Russia sent in these soldiers.  Putin, however, insists that this is not true, and these troops were only local “self-defense teams”.  However, it isn’t entirely clear how reliable this statement is.  Putin insists that there hasn’t been any need for the Russian military (at least not officially).

Putin has refused to recognize the new Ukrainian government, and insists that ousted President Yanukovych is still the legitimate leader.  He claims that an invasion of Ukraine would be completely legitimate, since it was at the request of Yanukovych and Russia has a “duty” to protect ethnic Russians.  Yet there doesn’t seem to be anything happening in Ukraine that would “threaten” the ethnic Russians there, so this excuse sounds rather flimsy.  It’s like they say: Russia without Ukraine is a country.  Russia with Ukraine is an empire.

Many of Russia and Ukraine’s neighbors have been concerned about recent actions.  Turkey, on the southern half of the Black Sea, scrambled fighter jets after they spotted a Russian surveillance plane flying along their coast.  Poland, feeling threatened by the recent action in Ukraine, requested emergency talks with NATO.  Russia has been invited to a meeting tomorrow with the United States, United Kingdom and Ukraine, but it isn’t clear if they’ll actually accept (they have declined invites to hold diplomatic talks with the new Ukrainian government).

Miraculously, there haven’t been any deaths this past week, which is incredible, considering that the past few weeks have been Ukraine’s bloodiest since World War II.  However, that’s not to say that there haven’t been conflicts.  As Ukrainian forces advanced towards some Russians, they responded by firing warning shots into the air.  Pro-Russian Cossacks tried to attack the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol, but the Ukrainians were able to repel them without firing a shot.  Last night, Russian soldiers moved onto the Russian side of a narrow channel dividing Russia and Crimea.  Ukraine has begged the UN Security Council for help, claiming that the Russians have flooded Crimea with thousands of troops.


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