Monday, June 14, 2021

Diversification and Asset Classes by Economic Strata

 Let me start by saying I am just writing for my own clarification. This is not advice. I'm not qualified really to handle my own investments, never mind advice anyone else. For clarity, get your advice from a professional.  This is just me noodling.

The foundation of investment strategy is diversification both within and between asset classes. It's not finding hot investments, that's gambling. Investing for non-professionals is best done (per Swanson and tons of other smart investment advisors) by picking the right diversification strategy and then some low cost well run index funds (Swanson swears by non-profit investment mutual funds but he wrote prior to the super low cost index funds)

Simple: for people with some wealth. Let's say $100,000 to $1,000,000.  The truism for these people is to balance equity and debt. If you are younger and saving long term, tilt heavily towards equities. Maybe 80%. Maybe more.  Inside the equity pool, focus on index funds.  Get a selection of obvious ones perhaps mostly the US equity market (S&P500, perhaps VOO) and a smaller percentage in global developed (EAFE: non-North America public equities) or emerging (don't have an example).  The S&P index fund probably has all the diversification you could need. If you'd like you can subdivide the sectors; Example, you can distinguish between growth investing and value investing (what index vs what index) but I'm not sure there are great index funds that make creating this distinction worthwhile. For debt, it's tricky in the modern world since T bills pay basically nothing.  And while everyone agrees that in the future, there will be an interest rate, the problem with holding T bills now is that as the interest rate reinstates itself, the value of existing T bills will shrink. So, is there any value at this point in holding debt? Why not simply a money market fund?

Complicated. People with more wealth and who want to generate enough cash to live on. Retirees. $1 - $5M in total portfolio savings including IRAs and 401Ks. This is a huge group. Boomers largely watched fixed income retirement plans disappear (in the 70s-2000) to be replaced with 401Ks and IRAs so retirement became largely self financed, not counting social security which helps but for professionals with a certain life-style, it's not nearly enough.. This means that there are tons of couples who have millions in retirement savings and are trying to figure out if they can live on that. Many would like to live off the income from these savings so that they can pass it on to their children. For these people, how should they be invested. How should these people think about diversification?

Wealthy People. A third category would be people who have enough wealth (over $5M right up to 10x that) so they can invest in some number of totally illiquid investments with a longer term perspective with higher risk/return ratios.  How should they think about diversification across asset classes on criteria such as:

-    liquid vs illiquid
-    debt vs equity
-    domestic vs international vs emerging
   real estate vs corporate
-    sectors such as agriculture, tech, etc
   growth vs value
-    income vs growth

Related points for these people are tax and estate planning.
There are some pretty good articles that I can find on the first category, a few on the second, but I can't find a single good article on this third category in terms of diversification strategy.


Small Business PR

 For many years, I invested almost nothing in PR. Then, at one point about five years ago (maybe around 2015), I thought about using PR to simplify our hiring. After that, with the pandemic, homeschooling became big news.

Local PR for Local Hiring - This worked pretty well. I made a point of speaking at the local business groups where the marketing and engineering types that we were interested in would see our name. I also personally did some PR and even local advertising to support this. We took some billboards and put some ads on NPR (our local affiliate is WLRN).  I spoke at some business promotion groups locally giving a speech up at FAU (organized by the Ten Golden Rules guy), a talk at Citrix organized by <what's the name of htat group?>, and so on (I never spoke at SFIMA nor at ??? the directo marketing group) etc etc. I got stories in local blogs, newsletters, Ft Lauderdale Biz News,  and Ft Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.  Plus tons of social media..

Pandemic Time: Homeschooling is Big News: By April 2020, we had decided that we could contribute to the national discussions and hired a PR firm. We hired and I started doing press. Generally, I pushed for focusing on using moms local to the news story which everyone agreed with as more engaging and convincing.  I tried to remain in reserve to use when they wanted a business talking head. Generally, the campaign seemed successful with three big caveats.

  1. Me as a talking head spokesperson. While I'm comfortable with a live audience as a speaker, I'm awkward with a camera and a soundbite. Despite good training by the PR team, I seem to have a crooked smile, a shifty gaze (glancing at my script or notes), and to be long-winded.  I'm working on it. In response to a request for a few minute speech, I just developed a new recording style in which I simply write myself a list of points. And each point is a separate take (entrepreneur talk on 5 points). This solves the "speech" problem but doesn't address interviews. I wish I had thought of it when I got to give the Time4Learning Graduation Celebration speech (my part starts at minute 36).
  2. National Press. We've only succeed with the regional stories and had a paid insert in USA today and a huge run with one AP Press story. But mostly, we've gotten coverage in regional press especially in South Florida. If our goal is press for SEO purposes, this is pretty good.
  3. Impact? While the agency makes a good point of routinely documenting that hundreds of thousands or millions of people are exposed to these stories and our name, I've seen no evidence that it helps our business in terms of name recognition, stimulating follow-up by potential customers, or selling customers.  We recently cut a sponsorship of a TV program (The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That) since while the numbers of people who saw our initial 20 second blip was huge, it seemed to have no measurable impact anywhere after six months.  While the PR effort for exposure is cheaper in terms of total monthly cash, it's also a ton more work. One added bonus however has been very useful work and thinking from the PR firm where thy function also as a marketing agency helping with message refinement and projects.
    1. Anecdotally. I never hear from anyone that they have seen our stuff. I know people everywhere so this seems weird. Especially since I know tons of people in SoFlo.  Is old media just dead?
    2. None of our marketing tracking tools have shown any surges related to where the stories ran.
    3. Our SEO team has not shown that the additional links and citations have been picked up, recognized, or counted by the search engines.
    4. Even in social media, while I see mentions by our team, they have never seemed to have any real momentum and get large numbers of links or shares. Is there a way to spin these stories to our audience which might encourage them to share the story. Many parents talk about other family members or community's skepticism about their homeschooling direction, could we write and share a link to these stories in a way that would get shared?
  4. The PR effort is very much a traditionally media focus. Except for a podcast (which had a tiny audience), it's focused on TV, radio, and newspapers. It's not designed to get big coverage from online websites or social media. Does PR of that sort exist?  Or does that really just mean doing paid work with influencers. We use to work with bloggers very effectively, both large and small. Recently, I haven't seen any real focus or success on it.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Comfort Zone and Learning

 I'm reading a book called License to Learn by Anna Switzer.  It's a great interesting book that blends personal experience with academic thinking and the learning sciences with some psychology. Pretty ambitious, illuminating, and engaging.

  To be honest, the first chapters annoyed me at their simplicity and the way that illustrative graphics were being used.  My complaints:

- the image of a comfort zone surrounded by a discomfort zone and then a panic zone seemed overly simplistic (I'm using different terms that were probably used in the book).
- I imagined that rather than a series of concentric circles, the concepts behind comfort zones should be shown on the initial graphic such as an X axis that maps high to low familiarity with the situation. And perhaps a Y axis that goes from no expectations to high performance, or significance or something. In this map, the lower left quadrant would be the high comfort zone.

 BUT, as I got to the next chapters (and they are short several page chapters), the analysis and imagery grew more sophisticated and addressed many of the issues that I was having with the opening.  As an editorial suggestion, I would have liked a note early on that this model will become more sophisticated in the upcoming chapters.  

Overall, I like the book. Even if I tend to think about graphics being more analytical and illustrative of underlying dynamics.

 I tend to think of these sorts of questions in light of some of the work that I do. For instance, in math education, a huge fork in the road starts with the math facts. Some kids really dig in and memorize the math facts effectively. They become fluent and proficient. This gives them enormous confidence as they go forward with math.  Many other kids do not become fluent which leads them to often have trouble following the conversation around math.

Look, we have three cars each with four wheels. These wheels each cost $200.  How much would it cost to buy new wheels? So, three cars times four wheels par car means that we have 12 wheels. The 12 wheels would cost twenty four hundred dollars.  

For kids fluent with math facts, this is pretty easy to follow. The kids lacking proficiency were unable to follow where the 12 wheels came from. These kids are the ones who put their head down on the desk in frustration and tune out.  

Of course, there are many reasons that kids do or don't become fluent. And of course, Mazlo before Lazlo is a powerful vision of what is realistic in planning a better educational system. YET, the data around the approach of Reflex Math defies that logic in that kids from every social economic strata seem to advance through the game-based learning program towards fluency at the same pace. Somehow, the engaging games and the part of the brain used for math resists the usual logic that kids' performance will generally correlate with socio economic strata. This is of course a very peculiar type of learning which could, perhaps be less affected by ACE type trauma?

For homeschoolers or study at home, Reflex is available as Time4MathFacts, with games to learn the multiplication times tables and the addition / subtraction math facts too.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Creating dialogue. Stimulating Students

 The best teachers know how to solicit engagement from students.  It's not the dumb obvious way. Here's a few tricks which I lifted from an article by Mineralla on Medium.  Thanks!:

https://msminarella.medium.com/

When I showed a quiet kid a picture of an elephant and asked “what is this?” they got bored, moved on, cried, anything but answer my question. But if I said, “this is a giraffe” they would all stand up and scream “no, that’s an elephant!” — and suddenly they’re all engaged.

By being ignorant about a topic they are knowledgeable in, it gives them some authority in the conversation and that builds up their confidence.

It works surprisingly well on adults too.

If I ask a stubborn adult, “tell me about your Engineering job” they will typically respond with, “I design systems”. And then I have to ask an endless stream of follow-up questions with one-sentence answers — which no one likes doing.

Now, if I say something inaccurate along the lines of, “so, you’re an engineer. That means you build engines, right?” They can’t correct my ignorance fast enough. They’ll go into detail explaining what an engineer is, what it isn’t, and what kind of engineers there are. All I have to do is chime in with “are you sure?” every few minutes and they’re talking up a storm for the rest of the conversation. 

I'm thinking about this as we work on our elementary student-facing curriculum for science and social studies.  Point: bore the kids by being a predictable authority, it might not work. Engage them with clever questions that give them some opportunity to show what they think and what they know, we might get them engaged!!!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

January 6th, 2021: A Day That Will Live in Infamy

January 6th, 2021 is a day that will live in infamy.  The lying, reprehensible, and dangerous behaviors of the last years were laid bare before America and the rest of the world.  Americans should and do feel ashamed.  And scared.

Before I review some of the others, I'd like to also point out that in some ways,  January 6th, 2021 was a great day for the American democracy. Again, we completed fiercely contested high stakes elections. The results of the two Senate races in Georgia were announced and one of the losers followed the  proud American tradition of conceding his race and congratulating the victor.  A newly elected Senate and House of Representatives took their seats of responsibility and started working.  The national election results were, despite astonishing drama and obstacles, ratified.  The Congress overall rose to the challenges and occasion and acted promptly, with determination, and with their eye on the big picture All of this, like every time the awesome American democracy works, brought tears of pride and awe to my eyes.

The stains and horrors of the day were very real and open up many many questions.

  1. Donald Trump, the current president, continued to lie about the results of the November 2020 election. It's unclear to me if he is delusional,  unanchored from reality. Or, is he cynical and amoral and calculating? Is this just a plot to continue to gather hundreds of millions of dollars from the gullible, to build and flaunt a fearsome mob (like the Brown Shirts), and to try to use his mob and position to overthrow the American democratic process and stay in office? Did he start cynical and become unhinged? Whatever understanding Trump may or may not have, on the 6th, he openly tried to use mob violence to overthrow or intimidate Congress. He sent the mob to attack the Congress. This seems like a sedition to me which is a criminal felony.
  2. Trump Political Supporters. Through-out the day, some US Senators and Congressmen continued to support Trump's tactics of spreading lies and attacking the American institutions that protect us.  Senator Ted Cruz showed formidable oratory skills and a total commitment to amoral cynicism. He argued that the success of  his and Trump's lying to Americans about the election is so great that they have now created so much confusion that maybe the will of the electorate does not have to be followed because they have made it so confusing by lying to them so Cruz proposed that we not certify the election. There were many others, particularly in the House of Representatives, who pursued this line of pandering and perpetuating  lies. To be clear, the confused Americans are confused because people who they should be able to trust are lying to them day after day after day.  If these politicians wanted to help the public understand the reality, they could speak the truth and stop lying. Is there a legal or other recourse to muzzle this lying?
  3. Also during the day, around eight Senators decided that they had played with poison and fire long enough. Most prominently, Linsey Graham found he has a conscience or a backbone and renounced (after many years) his self proclaimed position of being the biggest supporter of the liar-in-chief. Better late than never but it's unclear to me whether there is any forgiveness for him from colleagues, the public, or any deity who may judge.
  4. A mob in the hundreds of thousands, summoned by Donald Trump to Washington, to have a wild day, to be strong, and to stop the steal, acted at the bequest of Donald Trump. How this culpability of Donald Trump is going to be dealt with by the government is an open and widely discussed question. I want to move onto another one, what about all those people in the mob?
  5.  The Mob Goes Unpunished? If I tried to rush into a restricted secure area anywhere, including and especially the Congress, I would expect to be clubbed, tased, taken roughly to the ground, and have my hands cuffed behind me. I would expect to be incarcerated and to spend the rest of my life carrying the burden of being a felon. If I broke windows and defaced a Federal building (never mind desecrating and defiling sacred spaces), I would expect time behind bars and vast fines.  I'm dumfounded that this not underway. I get that there were some problems on January 6th, but when will the law enforcement agencies announce that they are starting to arrest and process the perpetrators? Where are the videos of the perp walks where these individuals are taken into custody? Where are there mug shots?  The photographic and other evidence of crimes is so clear, I do not understand the delay in starting this process. I think these are Federal crimes so wouldn't the FBI and the other federal agencies have jurisdiction and be able to start these processes?  
  6. What happened to security on the 6th? There are videos of Congressional cops opening barriers to let people in.  Were they sympathizers? Were they trying to limit violence by conceding ground? Who was making decisions?  Who decided to have small scale security with a large scale mob  marching their way? As a Federal City, did Trump have some say in this? Were the security decision-makers controlled directly by him? Were they sympathizers?  Incompetent?  The investigation into this is a huge priority especially with the inauguration so close.
  7. Communications. Apparently, the mob and those types have migrated from Twitter to some extremely private and secure community communications packages. I assume that these are scanned and infiltrated by the FBI and other antiterrorist organizations.  If these communities are planning treason and crimes, like they did yesterday, they should be dealt with. These packages are ultimately just software and their access to networks and resources can be shut down, they can be blocked on cell phones, and they can be disabled. We are way past the point where there is any question of whether they represent a viable threat to safety. There are many limits on free speech including when it slanders, threatens the US and its government representatives, and endangers lives.


Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Feedburner. Cool Name. What to do?

 I have some hobby blogs (like this one) that I have kept up on Blogger since around 1983. Or it feels that long. One one of them - https://www.AmusedByJokersAmi.com (also known as jokercollection.blogspot.com ) - there is a feedburner widget which supposedly sends out my blog posts to my subscribers. 

I'm not sure it's working any more. I clicked around and found this:



 Uhg, there are an indeterminant number of people who were in that system. Feedburner seems impossible to login to. What to do now? Just remove it? Start again with what?


I just tested the signup feature to see if I could use it to subscribe. It seems that I can.
But how would I login and see my subscribers, the number if not the actual names?

I just realized that this blog also has a feedburner widget. It says it is owned by a corporate account that I still have access to. I'll try to access it.


Feedburner does seem active in that I got an email confirmation email that clicked thru properly.



BUT, the feedburner account in use relates to an old Google account and while I'd like to switch it to the new account that manages the current blogger set-up, I cannot begin to figure out where and how I would do such a thing... Help?

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Is Privacy Bee a scam or legitimate?

 I run a small company and have in the last months, received a few very intimidating legal notices from a firm called Privacy Bee.  

They've caught my and my counsel's attention because while they claim to be protecting people's privacy, they cite individuals that my company has never done business with, has not emailed, and has no records of. 

We have spent considerable resources checking and double checking our lists so we are sure that we are not keeping records of them or direct marketing to them so we don't know what to make of it. As I look at them and see that they are charging a subscription to users, I wonder more and more about them.

Privacy Bee is one of these highly automated web companies which is incredibly buckled down and private.  .No individuals are listed.  For those of you not familiar with this, it's sometimes companies that are doing something controversial and nobody wants their name actually associated with it. Specifics.:

  1. The Privacy Bee website does not cite a single individual who invests in the company or works at the company. NO executives, no president, no individual to address legal concerns to. Nothing. Even the fine print, nothing.
  2. LinkedIn shows no individuals working there.
  3. Webhosting info is carefully managed so no individual can be found (I think btw, they are not in compliance with the need to make these records transparent). https://whois.domaintools.com/privacybee.com
I looked at their signup process and saw this:


The letters that I've received from them talk about protecting the rights of individuals. On each of the two sets of emails that I've received, an individual whose rights they claim they are protecting is cited. A good amount of information from the individual is provided including:
  • Name
  • Email
  • Date or birth
  • mobile cell phone
  • secondary phone number
  • home address
It's of course odd that a company, protecting privacy, will circulate such information about them.

I'm posting this in hopes of finding other companies that have dealt with Privacy Bee which can help me understand what they are looking for, what sort of company or business they have.  

I have contacted the individuals that they cite and the responses are along the lines of (this one is an exact quote from an email).

"you will have to ask privacy bee why their algorithm flagged you as being a potential source for my personal info"

This of course is the problem. Privacy Bee cannot be easily contacted. There is one email that I can find for them. support@privacybee.com and a contact-us page. I'm concerned that if I do that and show that they have my attention, it will trigger another set of intimidating initiatives and wild goose chases on our side.  

. I can click on a Privacy Bee link which gives me two choices: 
The problem is if the requested action is to delete records which do not exist in the first place, how should a company respond to a request to take action on the request to delete the existing records?

Does clicking that I agree somehow admit that I had such records? In this case, I do not want to agree.
Does clicking on I refuse somehow put me on record that my company refuses to support privacy?


It also shows a signed document which reads as follows

Limited Power of Attorney
 I, _______________, residing at ________________________________, appoint Privacy Bee, LLC, a Wyoming Limited Liability Company, as my authorized agent (attorney-in-fact) to act for me in any lawful way with respect to the matter described below. This Limited Power of Attorney is granted only to the extent necessary for my authorized agent to submit requests under the California Consumer Privacy Act, General Data Protection Regulation, Australian Privacy Act, or other relevant privacy legislation (the “Privacy Laws”), to any organization governed by the Privacy Laws, which grants consumers certain rights to request access to personal information (as defined in the Privacy Laws), to obtain copies of the personal information, to request the deletion of the personal information, and to opt-out of the sale of the personal information. By this power of attorney, I authorize my agent named above to submit a request on my behalf, under the Privacy Laws, for access, deletion, and opt-out from organizations that must comply with applicable Privacy Laws. I agree and acknowledge that my authorized agent may withdraw from this limited representation at its sole discretion. I further agree and acknowledge that this Limited Power of Attorney will terminate automatically, with respect to any particular organization to which my rights under the Privacy Laws are being exercised, once the authorized agent submits a request under the Privacy Law to the particular organization. I further agree and acknowledge that this Limited Power of Attorney will terminate automatically upon any legal actions taken by me, my authorized agent, or any third party (e.g., an organization to which a submission under the Privacy Laws is being made) associated with the purpose of this Limited Power of Attorney. 

 

-----Original Message-----

From: Privacy Bee <companies@mail.privacybee.com>

Sent:  date, 2020  

To: "MY COMPANY" <emails@ "MY COMPANY">

Subject: Urgent Followup: Legal Request for Data Deletion and Opt-Out of Resale [Request ID: xyz]

Concerns:  "MY COMPANY"

Request ID: xyz

Signed Power of Attorney: Yes

Request Date: November 2020

Respond At: https://app.privacybee.com/request/xyz

To Data Protection Officer or Legal Counsel:

I am hereby submitting a follow-up to a personal data request pursuant to Section 1798.105 of CCPA (SB-1121), Article 17 of GDPR, Nevada SB-220, New Hampshire HB 1680-FN, Washington Privacy SB-5376, Illinois DTPA SB2330, New York S5462, Hawaii SB 418, North Dakota HB 1485, Massachusetts S-120, Maryland SB 613, Texas Privacy Protection Act HB 4390, or other applicable right-to-be-forgotten legislation. If you feel my data is exempt from privacy legislation for any reason, I'm still asking you to respect my wishes regardless, as I believe privacy is a universal human right and I'm hopeful the integrity of your organization will honor my request with or without legal requisite.

The initial request was sent <time and date> UTC and I still have not received a response that my request has been fulfilled.  This is a reminder that you only have 5 days left to respond!

Specifically for  "MY COMPANY":

- Data Deletion: I hereby request the immediate and complete purging of any and all information your company has on me including but not limited to: user accounts, marketing data, transaction data, behavioral data, social data, CRM records, or absolutely anything that that contains my personal information.

- No Dissemination: if any information is being or has been disclosed, resold, licensed, rented, or otherwise disseminated by your company to third parties, I hereby request to opt-out of that data sharing, and request you communicate this request for opt-out and deletion to those entities as well.

If I have given consent to the processing of my personal data (e.g. according to Article 6(1) or Article 9(2) GDPR, or other applicable legislation), I am hereby withdrawing said consent. In addition, I am objecting to the processing of personal data concerning me (which includes profiling).

As I’m legally permitted, please confirm your compliance of my request without undue delay and in any event within one month of receipt of this request.

I am including the following information necessary to identify me:

Name: 
Primary Email:
Primary Phone: xxx  (Mobile)
Secondary Phone: yyy (Home)
Primary Address: specific home address
Birthday: Detailed date of birth

If you require additional information to resolve my identity, to view my signed Power of Attorney authorizing this request, or to respond to this request, please visit: https://app.privacybee.com/request/xyz

If you do not answer my request within the stated period, I and my legal privacy advocate, Privacy Bee, are reserving the right to take legal action against "MY COMPANY" and to lodge a complaint with the responsible supervisory authority.

Thank you.

This request was submitted by and tracked by Privacy Bee (privacybee.com).

 Route::get('request_followup', [TestEmailController::class, 'request_followup']);

 

In reviewing Privacy Bee's Terms of Service, I note that they are NOT a law firm.
2.3 No Legal Representation. We do not offer legal representation, nor do we offer any legal advice, legal opinions, recommendations, referrals, or counseling. 

Their business model seems to be a subscription service of sorts:

4. Fees and Payment.

You agree to pay fees (the “Fees”) for the Services on a monthly basis (the “Subscription”), in advance, in the amounts set forth in our price list for the Services in effect at the time of payment. The Fees applicable to you are set forth when you sign up for your Account, and may be amended by us, from time to time, in our sole discretion and with advance notice to you. By signing up for the Services, you expressly authorize us to withdraw funds from your bank account and/or charge your payment card (as applicable) for the full amount of the Fees. Since the Services are on-going and are subject to recurring payments, you expressly authorize us to withdraw funds from your bank account and/or charge your payment card on a recurring basis until you affirmatively cancel, remove or stop your use of the Services. You may be provided with the option to prepay Fees in advance on a quarterly or annual basis, in which event we may offer a discount or other incentive to you. All Fees paid by you for, via, or in connection with the Services are final and are non-refundable. You understand that the fees you pay to the Company for the Services are associated with the attempt to exercise your rights under the CCPA, and not for the guarantee of results associated therewith.

They claim extensive rights to any info their subscribers provide them. 

7.3 User Content. You hereby grant to us a royalty-free, fully paid-up, sublicensable, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, copy, modify, create derivative works of, display, perform, publish and distribute, in any form, medium or manner, any text, information, data, materials, images, or other content you provide to us using the Services or submit or post to the Site and that is not Feedback owned by us (the “User Content”). You represent and warrant that: (a) you own the User Content or have the right to grant the rights and licenses in these Terms, and (b) the User Content and use by us of the User Content as licensed herein does not and will not violate, misappropriate or infringe on the rights of any third party. We may remove any User Content from the Site for any reason at our discretion.

In the Privacy Bee privacy agreement they both say that they don't sell (unclear if they license) personal data and won't without some sort of opt out first.  And I quote:

  1. For more details about the personal information we have collected over the last 12 months, including the categories of sources, please see Section 3 “How We Use Your Information” above. We collect this information for the business and commercial purposes described in Section 4 “How We Share and Disclose Your Information” above. We share this information with the categories of third parties described in Section 4 “How We Share and Disclose Your Information” above. We do not sell (as such term is defined in the CCPA) the Personal Information we collect (and will not sell it without providing a right to opt out). Please note that we do use third-party cookies for our advertising purposes as further described in Section 4 “How We Share and Disclose Your Information” above.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

User Experience Design: Card Sorting

 Today I learned a new user experience (UIX) design technique. It's for organizing different topics into a few top level menus.  In the simplest form, there's closed card sorting. 

It starts by creating a card for each topic that the site is going to cover.  

With closed card sorting, a set of cards are given to different potential users along with a few pieces of papers with a topic on them, and the users are asked to sort the cards onto the pages based on the topic where it best fits. This gives guidance to site designers as to where to put topics in terms of where the users expect to find them.

Surprise! The Visitors Think About
Topics Differently Than the Professionals.
So Whose View to Use?

Open Card Sorting. To get more pure user feedback on how they visualize topics and categories, the cards can be given to users who put them in piles based on the categories that they imagine they should be organized along. This can reveal a more genuine sense of the mental maps with which users approach the relevant topics. It can also be overwhelming to users and in many cases, produces haphazard sets of logic that users turn to when they get frustrated and just want the exercise to end.  

A purer sort might be to give the users a blank set of cards and a few pieces of paper, tell them what the site is about, and ask them to put a major topic on each of a few pieces of paper, and then name and organize the cards. This system does not have a name that I am aware of.

It's easy for these techniques to get out of hand. It's important to remember that they are techniques to reveal the mental maps that people approach a topic with.  But the site designer, through careful wording, should be creating navigation and topics that steers users down paths that support the goal of the website.  Websites are not libraries or wikis where users are expected to freely browse and learn. Websites usually have a purpose and while knowing the mental maps with which users might first approach the site is useful, it does not necessarily dictate how the site should present its experience. 

Stay tuned or an example which illustrates these choices...



Friday, October 02, 2020

Patent to Build Reading Skills by hearing and seeing the sounds

Even as we rolled out SpellingCity, teachers and literacy coaches asked us to do more with helping students with sounds. They asked us to convert the games to focus not just on spelling practice but on practice activities for recognizing and working with sounds.  They wanted help not just with the spelling of words but with learning phonics and building phonological skills.  So we focused  on building the tools needed for games to help students with the sounds and the letter combinations that represent them.  The goal was to give students audio visual practice with the sounds that create words helping them connect the sounds that they hear and the letter combinations that they see.  



The idea was simple: We wanted to treat words like “tooth” as three blocks of letters which correspond with the three sounds: T, OO, and TH. But, as we searched, we could NOT find a system which mapped the sounds in words to the way the words are spelled. At first, this seemed unbelievable. Surely, in some university or research center, somebody had created a mapping which connected all the common English words into their sounds and mapped those sounds to the letters used to spell the words.

We spoke to a lot of people which  confirmed our initial findings. This mapping did not exist. Dictionaries, for instance, routinely have a phonetic spelling of words using various systems for writing phonics. But none of the dictionaries mapped the sounds back to the actual spelling of the words. Nobody had ever done this. Our vision came from watching endless tutors, teachers, and parents help students by pointing at a few letters in a word and having the student say the sounds that those letters created. We watched teachers help students read the sounds to decode the word and then blend them together to write them.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1eSTVqHDPNEbzxZ5HTvCaIAfMhv9bVGWS/view?usp=sharing



So, we decided to create the VocabularySpellingCity Phonics system, a novel contribution to literacy. The phonics system can be used for building a variety of prereading phonics-related skills including phonological skills, phonemic awareness, and spelling skills. Since we knew we had created something original and valuable, we started talking to lawyers. We decided in 2015 to file for a patent on our original system.  We started with two provisional patent filings. Our permanent patent is number 10,387,543, issued on August 20th, 2019. It’s called a “Phoneme-to-Graphemes Mapping Patent”. It’s a utility patent covering our original method for algorithmically mapping the sounds in English words to the letters. The patent grant is both a recognition of novelty, a recognition of usefulness, and a grant of intellectual property ownership. What is Phoneme to Grapheme Mapping? Phonemes are the basic sounds of the English language.  Examples of phonemes from the word “cheek”, would be: CH, EE, K.

 Graphemes are the use of letters to express these sounds.  In English, here are three example of patterns of how sounds (phonemes) are expressed by letters (graphemes): 

  1. Some sounds are created by a single letter which almost always makes the exact same sound. For example, the T is “ten”.  T almost always sounds the same (except when it’s in a combination with another letter like H). 
  2. Some sounds such as the long E sound can be spelled a number of ways including a "ee", or "ea", or an E followed by a consonant followed by an E at the end of a word, a y at the end of the word, and an "ey" at the end of the word.
  3. Some letters, like the S, can make different sounds. S usually sounds one way, like in sound, and sometimes sounds quite different, like in sugar (where it makes the SH sound)
 So how can this technology help?

 Students can hear and see the sounds by mousing over the sounds in each box of VocabularySpellingCity’s Interactive Phonics Boxes. Many classrooms have students first work on recognizing the initial sounds where the Sounds Boxes are used with images to match initial sounds. 
For commercial purposes, the patent belongs to VocabularySpellingCity. Patent 10,387,543 Holders of Patent 10,387,543 (current employees) 
The patent holders who are current VocabularySpellingCity employees are John Edelson, Obiora Obinyeluaku. and Kris Craig. The two xemployees are Jose Perez-Diaz and Harold Milenkovic.


 

Activities with Interactive Sound Boxes (that use this technology): Sound It Out,  Initial Sound SpellerFinal Sound Speller,  FlashCardsWord Study (available for logged-in students) and TeachMe More.

Sound-Based Activities for Phonological  and Phonics Skill Development:  Which Initial Sound?, Which Final Sound?, Initial Sound SpellerFinal Sound Speller,  SillyBullsSound It OutFlashCardsWord Studyand TeachMe More



 

 

References:

Article 1


Friday, September 11, 2020

Link Beggers...

 It's amazing to me that link beggars are still out there begging...

I get a few of these every week despite all the spam tools that should screen them out.

-----------

From: ****<**** @gmail.com> 

Sent: Friday, September 11, 2020 1:44 PM
To: T
**** @gmail.com
Subject: Guest Post Request on :https://www.*****.com

  Hello dear
Sir/ Madam

I Need Guest post at Your  Site: 
https://www.*****.com
With do-follow back link Permanent
Post and Insert link let me Know how much
price for each post
Waiting your good Reply
Thanks    
-------------

Sometimes I answer saying that a million dollars in bitcoins would do it.

Since I work for a legit corporation, this bit of humor will probably get me in trouble some day. Still, I think it's funny.

I was in an SEO meeting this week where we discussed link building and a suggestion was made to start asking for links. I was in disbelief but it turns out, they were talking primarily about contacting people who had written articles about us or were mentioning us. In these cases, you can sometimes turn the mentions into links, even sculpt them a little. And legit press will actually treat that as a profit opportunity and sell those links.

Interesting!!!



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

What's with all the links?

 To manage the process of optimizing our sites for the search engines (SEO), we license a tool called Conductor which helps us with tracking, ranking, and all sorts of the nitty gritty of SEO.

Mostly, the relationship is pretty minimal. We send them money, they let us use their tool (which is great).

This week we heard from them. Apparently, an unusual and alarming number of links were appearing aimed at our site and they worried that we were spamming or being made to look like we were spamming and were we aware of it?

Our answer:

"It is back-to-school season during a major pandemic and many parents are trying to figure out what to do for their children's education. Homeschooling is a school choice option that is now of interest not just to the ~1 million families that were doing it at this time last year, but all ~30 million families of kids with school age kids. The press as well as the public have picked up on this. Time4Learning is the leading homeschool online service. Yes. WE ARE TRENDING"

Nothing nefarious or devious about it. We're just getting a great deal of attention.

Thanks for checking. Oh, you too have children and have some questions? Well, check our website and look at the demos and videos, visit our facebook groups and ask some questions, download our free guide to starting to homeschool, and good luck to you."

Here's today's joker. It commemorates the 1934 World's Fair. It's part of the Americana collection of jokers. 


Monday, July 06, 2020

The Business Case for Podcasting

Lets assume that you are a business who runs an information site that makes its revenue on selling advertising to a specialized niche of people interested in that information.

For our purposes, the info could be anything. It could be about poodles. It could be about coffee mugs. It could be about business education for dentists. Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that the site is about poodles.

So assume there is an info website in place with people who visit it, people who write for it, people who sell ads on it, and people who buy ads on it.

Not Poodles but poodles is easier to spell!

As a growth and brand strategy, the info site would like to grow into all the places that people might want this info since people like to grow. But that is a lot of places. In some places, it might not make commercial sense. Overall, it would make more sense if the content could be created once, used everywhere. It would make less sense if the articles, videos, social media posts, podcasts, and so on were each an independent creation effort so there is no leverage and synergy.

In addition to a website full of articles info about poodles, the business might:
- syndicate its best content onto other platforms related to dogs, pets, families, and parenting.
- solicit other content writers about poodles and get their content onto the poodle website
- create videos about poodles and put them on Youtube
- create emails and newsletters about poodles
- hold conferences about poodles
- create social media accounts about poodles and fill them full of poodle info. This could include Facebook, Pinterest, Instragram, Twitter, and more.
- create ebooks about poodles and put them on kindle, iTunes, Google Play, and other channels
- create podcasts about poodles
- create new content on the new platforms as they emerge such as tiktok and interactive speakers (Alexa) and others that have not yet emerged

Is more always better? No, there is an optimal amount of expansion and content creation. You can  overspend on content creation.  You can over extend and put too much effort into too many media. You can create content around topics where there is no real advertising or business opportunity. Novels, for instance, are a powerful media but with NO opportunity for advertising. The color gray has a lot that can be said about it but virtually none of it attracts any advertising.   You can accumulate an audience but not monetize it.

What does, given all these possibilities, a business case for a podcast look like?

  1. Envisage success. If all goes well, in 12 months:
    1. What is the size of the audience that is following the podcast?
    2. What is the value, in terms of advertising, of this audience?
    3. These are easily answerable questions since we are buyers of ads on these platforms and we know what the revenue opportunity looks like. To think about it, a monthly advertising revenue estimate should be made.
    4. In 12 months, to maintain this audience, what are the monthly costs of producing and publishing this podcast?
  2. Measure progress.  Find some comparable successful podcasts and look at their history.
    1. How big was their audience after the first quarter, the second quarter, etc.
    2. Compare that growth pattern with the growth pattern that our podcast is showing.
    3. Are we going slower or faster than our model of success?
    4. Any adjustments we can make?
    5. What is the current expense to maintain the current growth rate?
  3. Create a spreadsheet and add it all up.  Does the business case make sense?  Is it a high ROI?  Is it a money pit?  
    1. What's the alternative? Could we for a certain amount of money sponsor some other podcast creator?
    2. Could the postcasts be published at the same time as videos on youtube and elsewhere?



Thursday, July 02, 2020

Hotwire Fision TV: Worst User Interface Ever?

I believe that when professors put together courses on designing user interfaces, the current Fision Hotwire remote interface should be used as an example of how awful an interface can be.

They obviously spent a lot of money on their slick remote gadget as it is thin and has a huge light up high res screen. But it is a nightmare to use each and every day.  It's so bad that you can spend hours arguing about what is the worst aspect of it and in the meantime, figure out that things are worse than you think.  
Hotwire Fision Remote: Worst Ever?

Problem 1.  The hardwired buttons are vital to using it. But they have this tiny tiny print on them. Plus, they are awkwardly placed and hard to remember. So whenever you use the remote, you have to turn all bright lights on in the room to see the tiny print.  Since the remote is often required to turn on the lights, this results in people taking out their phones to use the flashlight to see the remote. 

Problem two, for anyone over their mid 40s, using the remote with that tiny print means having your reading glasses on.

Problem three The touch screen on the remote starts out being pretty interesting. The icons are large and bright and clear. They are so bright that once your eyes get use to seeing the icons, you can't see the lightly printed physical buttons.

Using the remote means shifting your eyes constantly between three areas: 
- the big TV screen where much of the navigation happens
- the small screen on the remote which is also vital to the navigation
- the tiny buttons on the remove which is also vital to the navigation

I know that sounds stupid but it's true. Here for instance are the steps to go thru to watch a program on Amazon prime.

1.    Locate the Power On button. It's a physical button on the remote to turn something on.

2.    Now the little screen on the remote lights up. In my case, it is asking if I should "Turn off Room"?  No, I want to turn on the TV. Does it always light up to a different place depending on who was using the remote last and for what?  Does it reset after some amount of time or does it just keep whatever arbitrary state the last person who used it left it in.   So I touch the little touch screen to "Cancel". But now what? This turned off the little screen again. So now I've gone around this with the power button and this screen about 5 times when I decided to write this piece.

3.    I now see that after I hit cancel, the screen lights up with four icons: Watch, Lighting, Shades, comfort. But it only stays on for a bit and I need to act quick.   I'll click on Watch. Good, I now have a choice between Hotwire Fision TV and SmartHub.  Since they know that I'm going to the TV, why isn't this choice on the Big TV Screen instead of making me stare down at the little touchscreen? duhh? So I'll pick Smart Hub.  SHIT, I took too long. How to get the options back?

4.   I picked power again but this time, it gave me the choices that I want:  Hotwire Fision TV and SmartHub. Hurray!  After a year with this remote, I still don't know how to control  what choices the power button will give me when I use it to turn it on. I'm now guessing that it has to do with whomever used the remote most recently. So sometimes I hit the power button and all I see is some controls for the AC. Sometimes it only shows other stuff which I have no idea what they are about. I have not figured out how to get it to go from where ever it is back to the choices about TV.  On the remote, there are a Back and a Home and Menu (three buttons) as hard small little buttons on the remote but, when it's in AC and other modes, these buttons do really weird things.

5.    I hit power again, then Smart Hub. But the TV did not go on. I don't know why. Usually it does. So I hit power off again and tried again.

Again, I'm sick of this. I'll do what I usually do which is either switch rooms and see if one of the other TVs can be coaxed into showing me what I want to watch. Or I just go read.

If I get around to it, I'll write about the incredibly finicky process of trying to pick either Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.  While it appears for a second to be a simple choice, the problem is that it keeps kicking into some sort of universal app and I have no idea how to use it or how to get out of there. Sometimes the Back button (the hard button on the remote) will get me out of the univeral app. Then, if I'm careful, while staring at the big screen, I can coax the indicator to get out of the default pick-a-video menu that it is in, down to the pick-an-application mode, pick it, and then go. 

Mind you, neither the Home nor the Back button are of any use in these areas, they just do weird things. Often, the screen has four big colored rectangles across the top and I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out how they work. I've recently decided that they are just distracting decorations that some idiot added thinking that while people puzzled out how to use things, a few colored useless buttons might help.