Thursday, February 01, 2024

IT Support for Individuals

 I'm astonished at how hard it is to keep my personal IT going and that there aren't swarms of trustworthy IT people willing to let me pay them a monthly subscription and a per hour rate to keep my problems at bay.  What do I really need?

A security review and some help muting effing Norton and Winzip. First, Norton. I bought the 5 system Norton security system and installed it on three computers. Now everytime I go on the computer, the screen is full of ads from Norton to sell me a lot more security. WTF?  I thought I was paying them to protect me from popups, not to place them.  

Winzip is a little different. I thought unzipping files was a basic function of  Windows but it turns out be an independent service. I installed the freeware version (I know, big mistake) and since the, Winzip competes wtih Norton to see who can popup the most windows on my screens.  I've started uninstalling it but then, what happens when I download a zip file and need to open it? Is there a paid version of Winzip which will NOT popup ads on my computer all the time?

PDFs.  I had the same sort of problem with Adobe and PDFs. I think I ended up subscribing to Acrobat so that I could read all those PDFs but it turns out to be useful only for reading, not for filling in blanks. I'm sure there is a simple solution to this but I haven't found it yet. 

Pictures, iphone to Windows PC. I take a lot of pictures that I would like access to on my computer. Many years ago, I had installed a file system on my PC so I could see and directly access the images on my iphone.  I would like to stop spending so much time picking pictures on my phone, sending them by email in groups smaller than 6 (all that I can email), saving them, and then using them. There must be a way.

Calendars. I use the Google suite most of the time including Google calendar. When an invite arrives from the Windows world,  I manually type it into my google calendar. Obviously, there should be a better way.

When email  breaks! I use rackspace to handle the email to my private domain but sometimes, it breaks. Usually, this seems to have to do with an updated in the basic security system of email (ie the way authorized domains are named and listed). Last time, Rackspace was fantastic about staying on the phone and eventually, taking over my computer so that all the changes that had to be done inside GoDaddy (the register) were taken care of. But having someone to look at it would be great.

Ebook readers. I have bought a digital version of the Hoffman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards but it comes in an epub format that requires a digital reader. Which one is quality and not a security risk?

Picking computers. I am about to take a three week trip in which I would expect to have to use a bigger screen than my phone a few times. So I'm thinking of buying a super light PC, maybe a Windows Surface or even a tablet of some sort.  I could get myself another apple tablet with a tiny keyboard. Not sure. Would like help choosing.

Never mind networks, passwords, and television stuff. 

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Norton360: An Ongoing Discussion

 Since I retired, I'm responsible for my own IT. Yick. I've sorted out my email, bought an annual subscription to Microsoft, and just added this past week, a subscription to Norton360 for security. I regularly use three different computers and all these subscriptions allowed me to cover the entire set without incident.

So far, I'm struck my the ongoing discussion with Norton360. It consists of:

Do you want to add this?

Aren't your worried about that?

You should buy this!

I think they are trying to sell me credit monitoring services (which I already have). I'm pretty confused about what other stuff they are lecturing me about. 

As I look at their site, it might be that they have many features that they want me to use. For instance, I think a VPN is included but since 99% of the time I'm on my own private secure network, I don't see the point of going thru it.  They also feel that they should be the one in charge of all my passwords.  And they want to be where all my data gets back up to.  I guess being pushy about getting their features used particularly in the first week of the subscription is not so bad. 

I was pleased that when I called up trying to get help to get McAffee popups off my computer, they actually took the call, logged into my computer, and fixed it for me.

Does the constant popups and reminders to use them more and buy more from them stop after awhile? Can I turn it off?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

SEO 2022 and Blogs

 Get rid of all links from blogs. All run of site links. They are now noxious, not useful.  Here's some related literature....

analysis/commentary about the multi domain linking practice:

Friday, September 02, 2022

An EFT Evergreen Fund of Funds

 In public equity markets, the era of managed mutual funds is over due to the overwhelming improvement of using passively managed low cost index funds or EFTs. Cheaper, better-performing, more liquid, and so on.  

I've been looking at Funds of Funds for private investments these week and they remind me of the old mutual funds. Totally illiquid. Very expensive. Old school.

I'm imaging a new type of FoF for either VC or PE.  Three characteristics.

1.    Limited Fees.  A mgt percent of perhaps 0.5% - 1%. Another 1% on the carried interest.
2.    A simple mgt philosophy investment on picking the funds driven entirely off one of the rating agency algorithms. Of course, the funds have to agree to the terms.
3.    An evergreen aspect with a quarterly pricing mechanism for adding or closing out investments.  This is the trickiest and it should be developed by looking at the evergreen PE funds as to how they value and regulate the flow in and out.

It'll be popular since it's diversified, people can just keep adding, no need to raise new rounds, and so on.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Private equity and VC: funds of funds

 Pros for an individual to invest through a fund of funds:

1.    Diversification
2.    Access to large funds with high minimums
3.    Access to small niche funds

Cons for an individual to invest through a fund of funds:

1.   Cost. Double fees! 0.5% to 1% for management and 5% to 10% for carried interest returns. PE are traditionally charging 2% and 20%
2.   Longer Commitment. PE firms are 3-7 years, a FoF is 12 years.

The Fund of Funds idea is in decline. More specifically, it has not grown as fast as PE investments over the last decades. Most PE investors now have staff using databases for their investment. Largest funds of funds include Hamilton Lane, HarborurVest Partners, Pathway Capital Mgt, Fort Washington Investment Advisors, AlpInvest Partners, and Adams Street Partners.  

My priorities.

1.  The longer terms and higher fees feels like a big negative.
2.  How much diversification do I need? A fund generally does 10 investments, there's lots of diversification right there.  

 I had hoped that the funds of funds would provide more (NOT less) liquidity. I thought they could be evergreens with a quarterly price to get in and out, all based on NAV.  

I was also thinking that a VC fund of funds would be the way to go. I just looked at one of their books and the fees seem high, worth it for the access to great VCs?

Friday, August 05, 2022

Career Training - Homeschooling - what I'm reading....

 I'm in the homeschool world and am looking at career and college guidance for our students. So I'm reading. I'm finding some interesting stuff. Some of it, I'd like to keep track of so - with no rights whatsoever - I'm posting a section of a newsletter here. There's a link to his site and appropriate attribution so I don't feel too bad...I'll read his books and put them on the shelf next to Blake Boles and

Jennifer Cook-DeRosa who does that great stuff on Homeschooling for College Credit.

It's by Ryan Craig is the author of College Disrupted and A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College. He is Managing Director at Achieve Partners, which is engineering the future of learning and earning.....

In this spirit, I have my own admission. Two summers ago – back when Susan Collins was more than a punchline and overt treason was just a gleam in Donnie’s eye – Microsoft and Google announced efforts to calm America’s troubled streets (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor) with free online programs to close the digital skills gap. Microsoft announced new curriculum from LinkedIn Learning and the GitHub Learning Lab and lowered the cost of certifications to bring digital skills to an additional 25M Americans. In Google’s case, it was 100,000 scholarships for new online certificates (data analyst, project manager, UX designer). In a Gap Letter titled The False Allure of Online Training, I lampooned the tech giants, saying “when the problems include racial injustice and generational damage, online training is biting off more than it can chew.” I went on to highlight the fact that neither company planned to actually hire any of the newly trained talent. “Microsoft and Google: if they’re not good enough for you, why should another employer want them?”

So allow me join the ranks of penitent pundits by acknowledging I was wrong to castigate Microsoft and Google for launching online courses (although right as rain about the big picture – skills gap, lack of clear pathways to socioeconomic mobility, death of the American Dream). Doing so violated a principle I hold dear: not letting the best be the enemy of the good. Sure, it would be great if Microsoft and Google could singlehandedly wrench America’s workforce into alignment with employer needs. But that’s asking too much, even for businesses that collectively generate over $200B in annual profit.

I now recognize that casting aspersions on Microsoft and Google is like blaming McGraw-Hill and HMH for what ails K-12 education. Actually worse, because Microsoft and Google have better curriculum. And it’s not just these two. AWS, Salesforce, VMware, Cisco, Oracle, Pega, Appian, Workday, Facebook, Adobe, CompTIA, SAP, Snowflake, and lots of other tech leaders have built out high-quality, skills-based online courses leading to certification exams for the most in-demand digital skills. Besides addressing skills employers want but can’t find, these courses have something else in common. They’re all 100% asynchronous.

In this era of digital transformation, self-paced online courses are just like textbooks: necessary but insufficient. Learners and job seekers who can successfully complete these courses on their own probably don’t need much help getting a good job. They’re not the ones we should be worried about. And for those who don’t yet have a good job – struggling frontline and gig workers without the necessary motivation, aptitude, and preparation to progress on their own (and where life is likely to get in the way even if they hit that trifecta) – I’d bet completion rates on asynchronous tech credentials are below the education equivalent of the Mendoza Line (the MOOC Line i.e., 5%).

Microsoft, Google and the rest can’t be expected to solve this problem. They’re not schools or training companies and will never be (principally because they turn up their noses at low gross margins). But they can recognize the problem. And so kudos to Google, which back in February announced $100M of funding for wraparound services, specifically funding Year Up and Merit America to provide synchronous engagement for job seekers. Wraparound services include instruction (i.e., classes), coaching, and interview prep. And while they have their attention, Year Up and Merit America will also work on soft skills like teamwork and communication. Google’s goal is 20,000 additional (low-income, underrepresented) certificate completers, or $5K per life transformed.

Deploying wraparound services to mine America’s newly discovered motherlode of tech training courseware for the benefit of tens of millions who’ve been shut out of the digital economy also has the potential to fix our broken workforce system. I’ve written previously about state and local workforce boards, which prioritize speed-to-placement and counseling over human capital development and therefore find themselves in a vicious circle of attracting only the lowest skill jobs and job seekers. Now a new service provider is seeking to play the role of Year Up for workforce boards. ShiftUp is delivering similar wraparound services for in-demand tech credentials, dramatically elevating 5% completion rates; ShiftUp is currently over 75% for these in-demand credentials. ShiftUp is now supporting workforce boards in New Jersey, Michigan, and Washington DC. Again, the price tag is in the neighborhood of $5K per life transformed.


With nonprofits and workforce boards taking the lead on making tech credentials accessible and meaningful for displaced and underserved Americans, where are colleges and universities in this pixelated picture? Largely nowhere. Sure, hundreds of schools have signed up for AWS Academy and Pathstream is helping over 30 colleges and universities deliver certifications from Facebook, Salesforce, Tableau, and Asana. But all told, well under 5% of accredited institutions are pairing instruction with any off-the-shelf online courses from tech leaders to create faster + cheaper pathways to good jobs.

Why are colleges missing the boat? First, there are dozens of tech companies. Developing a comprehensive tech credential offering would require going company-by-company. And within a university, who’s set up to do this?

I came to the answer two weeks ago during a tech tête-à-tête with a dean at a Midwestern university. The e-mail discussion involved this very subject: how her university could begin to offer these wondrous new tech credentials. I suggested she’d need to add synchronous instruction in order to make them work for students. Her response:

Synchronous is not quality online education. It is something else but not ONLINE. It is a hybrid and I am not sure why anyone would think that is the way to go. On demand, on your own time is imperative for today's consumer. Like MOOCs this will not last.

Why she cited MOOCs – a model that failed primarily due to lack of synchronous engagement – to make her point is a door I opted not to walk through. But I suggested that if she wanted to reach those seeking to land a good first job, she might take a different view, and cited Google’s $100M investment.

Her response:

I have been in the business a long time, this is the flavor of the month like MOOCs which I knew were not going to last (and a lot more than 100M got spent on MOOCs). We would be happy to create asynchronous versions for our [hundreds of] corporate partners.

And with that clarifying statement, I pinpointed my correspondent: dean of a continuing education division with a mandate to serve corporate partners, make money, and contribute that money back to the core university. She’s serving customers and her customers’ employees are different in many ways from the typical Merit America participant: early 30s with a decade or more working in restaurants and retail. One way in particular they’re different: they’re much more likely to have the motivation, aptitude, and preparation to complete asynchronous online courses unaided.

Unfortunately, if you talk to a college or university about Microsoft, Google, AWS, Salesforce and the like, this is where you end up: the periphery, a borderland known as continuing education. There’s little sense that these remarkable new educational resources could be useful for full-time students or help the institution fulfill its mission. And that’s a shame.

Which leads me to a third reason for university inaction on tech credentials. As Postsecondary Analytics’ Nate Johnson said on last week’s Inside Higher Education (The Key) podcast, amidst enrollment wreckage, there are bright spots in student demand: areas like technology. “But those are the most costly fields for... instruction... You have to hire people who have those skills.”

So even if colleges could figure out how to gather these credentials and somehow activate the core instead of continuing education, they’d still have to find instructors. And where are colleges going to find people to teach AWS, Pega, Snowflake, and Workday? Not from Ph.D programs! Experts are out there, but they’re scarce (hence skills gap). And they’ll be hard for colleges to recruit: they’re practitioners, not career educators, and they’re already making a much better living than career educators. Colleges would have to appeal to their better angels. And to do that, they’ll probably have to figure out how to serve students who really need the leg up these programs can provide.

In response to these challenges, Hire-Train-Deploy leader SkillStorm came up with an answer. SkillStorm entered into agreements with AWS, Pega, Salesforce, Appian, and CompTIA and is setting up white-label tech cert programs for university partners. What SkillStorm calls its Accelerator program solves problems #1 and #3: the first one-stop shop for the most in-demand tech certifications with a large bench of qualified instructors. Then SkillStorm runs synchronous programs (one hour per day, five days per week). By working with multiple colleges and aggregating enrollments, SkillStorm is able to launch cohorts weekly. (The one problem SkillStorm hasn’t solved yet is continuing education; that’s where SkillStorm is plugging in.)


With partners like Pathstream and SkillStorm Accelerator, colleges and universities have no excuse for avoiding Microsoft, Google, and the other companies leading digital transformation. And while higher education will instinctively push these programs to continuing ed, as soon as these programs come online, the appeal for students who’ve paid for longer and more expensive degree bundles will become obvious. As these last-mile skills could not be more meaningful for landing good jobs, core students will find them and either force schools to include them in degree programs or perhaps convince colleges to situate them as building blocks in stackable credentials (e.g., upside-down degrees).
Come to think of it, after unjustly accusing them two years ago, the only one with an excuse for avoiding Microsoft and Google is me.