Recipe: John’s Slow Cooker Chili

Everyone loves chili, especially as it gets colder.  This is an evolving recipe that is the basis for a “chili bar” – a party favorite in which people can assemble their own chili bowl.  I put a few ingredients around the completed crock pot: finely shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, chives, onions, and the foundation: Fritos.  Regular or Scoops work equally well.

  • 2 pounds ground chuck 80/20
  • 2 medium sweet onions, medium diced
  • 1 green or orange bell pepper, medium diced
  • 10-12 baby carrots (or 4 carrots), sliced into 2mm slices
  • 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup of beef broth
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 cans black beans, 1 can red kidney beans, and 1 can cannellini beans, with fluid

Spices:

  • 2 tablespoons each of chili powder and cumin
  • 1 tablespoon each of curry powder and sugar
  • 1 teaspoon each of thyme, oregano, and course black pepper
  • 4 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and 2 tablespoons salt

Brown the meat & onions and drain, lightly sauté the veggies, and add these into a large crock pot with all canned goods and spices.  Cook on high for 4 hours, then low for 2 hours.  Done!

Microsoft as Innovative Underdog?

I once said that it would be a cold day in Hell if Microsoft actually started innovating.  Well, it’s getting chilly.  Microsoft has been behind in a number of respects over the past few years, but it’s responding in force nowadays.  The company is actually putting out a bevy of cool new stuff that I never would have thought they could do a few years ago.  Let’s go:

Phones: Windows Phone 8 is the latest iteration of a line of (frankly) unimpressive set of releases for phones – but each release has gotten better in big leaps.  I’m an iPhone user, but I have to say that Phone 8 is getting very close to a smooth, intuitive phone OS.

Cloud: SkyDrive is a serious contender for cloud storage, and Windows Azure is a compelling application environment for hosting your own apps  on Microsoft’s servers.  I’m not as impressed at the “cloudification” of some of their Enterprise applications, but the next version of Office and Outlook online look absolutely awesome.

Hardware Platforms: Surface actually shows promise as a tablet platform – and they are appealing to Windows diehards by including a great keyboard as a tablet cover.  The problem with it all is that they are splitting Windows into two platforms (RT, which runs on low power ARM chips, and Windows 8, which runs on Intel CPUs).  Not good to do that.

OS: Windows 8 seems like Windows 7 with a new skin – but it’s far more than that.  With every release since Vista, Microsoft has continued to refine the speed and utility of one of their core products.  The risk there is that Windows 7 is becoming the new XP – corporate clients will stick with 7 for years to come.  This will affect their profits long term.

Honestly, I’m starting to get impressed with them.  I know they are fighting for their financial lives in the shadow of Apple and Google, but barring any Ballmer-related goofs, they’ll live.

Interesting AAPL Stock Trading Strategy

OK, folks, I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you a strategy I’ve been cooking up lately for stock investing.  This has NOT been tried yet, but I intend to the next quarterly earnings cycle.  It involves Apple (AAPL) and “betting on all the horses at once.”

Sound crazy?  It may be, but hear me out.  In the past few quarters, Apple has either a) blown out their revenue and income guidance and shares rise hugely, or disappointed “The Street’s” analyst estimates of how awesome they should be and shares fall like a rock for a day or two.  This happened in April 2012 when they reported earnings and shares rose about $50 / share, then again in July when they “only” had a 21% increase in sales year over year, and shares fell 3-4%.  In both cases, this massive stock movement happened the morning after they reported earnings.

This strategy depends on a) a stock like AAPL which trades in the hundreds of dollars per share (currently around $665), b) a pattern of huge movements up or down, and c) stock options which are about to expire, so you can leverage hundreds of shares with options contracts for a little money.  Here’s what I plan to do (prior dates are listed here):

  • The day of the announcement, buy the shortest contracts I can (if it happens on April 18, buy April contracts that expire a few days later).
  • Wherever the stock is 15 minutes before trading ends (4pm EST), buy a set of CALL options at that price, and an equal number of PUT options at that same price (CALL assumes the stock will go up, PUT assumes it will go down).  Say $1,000 each way.
  • The morning after the announcement, sell everything – one of them WILL vastly go up in value – so much so that you won’t care about the loss from the other.

Now, this will only make sense if the stock moves quite a bit, but it historically has.  Best times to do this are April (when iPhone / iPad sales are huge for the past few months) or July / Oct (when sales are typically lower in anticipation of the next iPhone in the fall).  I truly think this will result in a huge net gain for just a little invested.  Try it!

UPDATE: On January 23, 2013, Apple delivered it’s quarterly earnings report for the Oct-Dec 2012 quarter.  As of the morning of the 24th, it was down $60 / share.  So this strategy would have indeed worked.  Personally, I think the market overreacted.

Do Any Pitch in 15 Seconds

Often your entire business is dependent on your ability to “pitch” your business idea or distinguishing characteristic.  Here’s a great video on how to do so – watch and learn!

Where Is The Next Revolution?

How many people thought THIS would usher in the future?

Futurists, venture capitalists, and people like me all want to know where the next huge revolution will appear – that is, the next event which will facilitate a change in how we live, and usher in new methods, industries, even fields of study.  Most refer to this as disruptive technology, because it shakes up and replaces the status quo.  Examples of this include the birth of the personal computer (shown in the Apple 1 above), the Internet, the printed book, irrigation, fire – go back as far as you like.

But where will it appear next?  Whose garage is it being developed?  This is a crucial question for businesses, investors, even governments – the answer is simple:

Any industry controlled by a few is a target for disruptive change.

This may seem obvious, but the application of this idea is not.  Think of all the industries in which a select few people (or organizations) were in control of it.  Those industries were generally very expensive (or impossible) to compete in without the blessing of the establishment.  Pricing was set by that small group, and without an alternative, people just HAD to deal with it and pay up.  Remember paying 25 cents / minute for long distance phone calls?

The only way that these oligarchies were toppled was to introduce disruptive technology that allowed the common man to easily access an alternative to that product or service.  This allowed the Next Big Thing to bypass the establishment easily and quickly to bring about change.  Cell phones replaced phone booths, computers replaced typewriters, electricity replaced whale oil for lighting – the list goes on.

So what’s next?  The trick is not necessarily knowing where to look, but how to look.  Think of every activity today that is controlled by a small group, or is very expensive – then keep an open mind that it could be different, and eventually somebody will figure out a way to make that happen.  THAT is where the Next Revolution will happen.

Want some examples of disruptive technology that has appeared or will appear?

  • Personal space travel (has already been privatized, but it’s very pricey still)
  • Medicine (imagine a home machine which synthesizes medicine for you based on your own DNA, or visiting your doctor via webcam)
  • Energy production (generating electricity at home cheaper than utilities)
  • Fresh water reclamation (Solar condensers, or at-home rainwater processing)
  • Crowdsourced travel (chipping in on private transport instead of using airlines)
  • Do-It-Yourself Homes (well-built, cheap housing that you assemble like legos)
  • Private TV stations (taking YouTube to the next level – TV made for YOU)
Sound nuts?  Some of these things are already in process, and they would change the world if they are properly commercialized.  The question is: are YOU going to make it happen, or are you going to sit back and let someone else do it?  I pick Option A.

NFC: Near Field Communications – The Next Big Deal

This article is a brief introduction to something you’ll be seeing in mobile devices in a few months. NFC, or Near Field Communications, is a short-range radio chip being built into phones which allows it to communicate securely with a base station when in close proximity to each other. It’s kind of like an RFID chip, or Exxon’s “SpeedPass.”

In Asia, mobile phones with NFC are already being used to purchase items (for example: retail items, vending machines, or bus fares) with transactions added to the user’s cell phone bill, or a credit card associated with the user’s account.  But NFC hasn’t caught on yet in the US, mostly because retailers haven’t agreed on a standard.  Yet.

Above is an image showing a new feature that’s coming out on Apple iPhones this fall – it’s called PassBook.  PassBook allows you to store tickets, loyalty cards, & membership cards of various types on your phone in one place, which can be scanned on the screen, or if your phone has NFC, waved over a sensor.  This new feature will work with the new iPhone 5 being introduced with NFC in October, so get ready for it.  Google Wallet has been around for Android phones for a while, but the ubiquity of the new iPhone will give this feature the necessary push to become a US standard.

But this will become FAR BIGGER than mobile payments – NFC chips will be designed into appliances, furniture, even clothing, to communicate information to your mobile device in real time.  Imagine your refrigerator telling your phone to add milk to your grocery list because your milk is going bad.  Imagine trying out a recipe in your kitchen and your mobile device tells you what you do and do not already have in the pantry.  Imagine your clothing alerting you of high blood pressure or low blood sugar.  Yup!

Convenience comes at a cost, of course.  Location-based data is about to get even more rich for retailers – they will be able to track where you shop with finer detail than ever before.  But this is already being done to a much greater extent that you know – you think the whole loyalty card system for groceries and retail doesn’t do data mining on your favorite shopping locations?  It does.  Trust me, marketing firms know about you.

So get ready – NFC is coming in a big way.  In the meantime, marvel at the accuracy of the 1993 AT&T “You Will” ad campaign, which features NFC / RFID tech at 2:00 – wow!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MnQ8EkwXJ0

 

The Cloud – Rebirth of the Data Center

Remember mainframes? Those gigantic machines with vacuum tubes, reel-to-reel tape drives, and terminal stations with a huge printer / tiny screen staffed by technicians in lab coats? Those were the days – days which the technology industry triumphantly declared dead during the birth of the PC in the 1980’s, as computing power migrated to the home / office and everyone got connected to the “Interwebs.”

Well, those days are back! Not with mainframes and lab coats, but with blade servers, banks of hard drives, load-balancing routers and very tight security. Why should you care? Simple – those data centers can save you enough money every year to justify pulling the trigger and moving your stuff to the 21st century version called “The Cloud.”

Ooooooo.  Pretty Lights!

Cloud computing, via data centers, has enjoyed a renaissance because the ever-growing complexity of buying and maintaining server resources for your business can be handed off to a company that buys in volume and develops a maintenance ecosystem (so you don’t have to.) Just a few years ago, companies had to build out server rooms, buy servers, routers, battery backups, etc. – and the staff to keep it running.

But what if you didn’t have to do this? How great would it be to run the same software on faster, redundant hardware, accessible anywhere on the Internet, and get automatic speed upgrades for you as the Cloud gets upgraded for all? I submit to you that the time to rent your slice of the Cloud is NOW, and here’s why:

  1. Cloud hosting is more cost efficient for smaller businesses – No hardware to buy and manage is especially beneficial for “Mom & Pops” (cash flow savings).
  2. Maintenance of your software is someone else’s problem – no downtime caused by upgrades, database corruption, etc.
  3. Ubiquitous accessibility (with proper credentials) – Got internet?  You’re done.
  4. Fast setup, and fast changes – Pre-made server “images” can bring up an application within minutes.  Need a new user?  5 minutes.  Time is money.
  5. Reliability is improved – your app is run on data-center-grade servers, with power, cooling and security systems you can’t even imagine, much less afford.

So where to start?  If you have a software VAR (Value Added Reseller), ask them about moving your app to Cloud Hosting.  If you’re looking for a particular application, check the company’s website to see if it can be virtualized, or Google it.  If it can run on a server in your office, it can definitely be run in the Cloud.

Here in Nashville, we have several hosting companies that offer virtual server hosting.  The best known of these is Peak 10 – I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Saving Energy & Money in Hot Weather

You might live in the Arctic Circle right now – but if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, and haven’t seen a polar bear wandering by, then you may be “enjoying” a record heat wave that has befallen us. It’s currently 105 degrees in Nashville TN, so everyone here is cranking up the air conditioning. This can result in huge utility bills – but you can do some simple things to keep those costs to a minimum.

  • Look for and minimize every heat source in your home

There are multiple sources of heat in every modern household, but most people don’t do anything to minimize them. Your AC has to work to counteract everything that is warming your house – let’s go through a few ideas:

  1. Turn off or down everything that uses electricity or generates heat – stereo receivers, computers, TVs, refrigerators, dishwashers, even lights! They all generate heat inside the home, so keep them turned off, use dimmers on lights, or use them at night.  Even shutting off the pilot light to your furnace helps.
     
  2. Cover windows where you get sunlight during the day – blinds, curtains, blackout shades, and other covers can prevent sunlight from roasting your interior. If you can’t do this, then move dark objects out of the sun’s path (they absorb heat).
     
  3. Seal your house – this may be obvious, but it has to be mentioned.  Make sure your windows are sealed shut, your doors (and AC vents) have no air leaks, etc.
  • Make your cooling equipment more efficient, and don’t push it too hard

This is the big one during the summer – air conditioners work by allowing a pressurized liquid turn to a gas (which makes it colder), forcing warm air through cold coils, then recompressing the gas back to a liquid outside (which moves out the heat).  These AC systems can vary widely in efficiency (and cost you money) based on a few factors:

  • The SEER Rating of the AC unit – higher SEER ratings mean they use less power for a given amount of cooling.  In 2006, the minimum SEER rating for new AC units was raised to 13 from 10 – if your AC condenser is 10 years old or older, you will save double or triple what it costs you to upgrade to a 16 SEER condenser.
     
  • The condenser itself – go outside and look at the box with the big fan on top.  This device compresses the gas into a liquid, then cools it by pulling air through a long coil.  If the coil is dirty or obstructed on the sides, the air can’t move through it.  If you’re handy, you can take the fan off the top, clean and straighten the coil fins with a wire brush, and spray out any debris with a water hose.  This really helps. If the air still isn’t cool enough, have an AC guy check the refrigerant levels (either older R-22 Freon, or R-410A Puron).  That can really affect cooling.
     
  •  Make your AC work less – having the condenser sit in the shade helps, but there’s more you can do to de-stress your AC: replace your air filter regularly, close vents to rooms that you’re not using (then seal them off), raise the thermostat to 78 degrees or higher (every degree below 78 costs you 3-4% more), and if you have cool nights, open your house up to the outside air during the night, then close it for AC in the morning.  Some even use alternative cooling, like a box fan with ice on it.

Here’s a good video that explains how to optimize your AC unit’s performance: