Monthly Archives: August 2008

Breakthroughs in solar power technology.

I am a techie person, I have always loved the idea of solar power, mostly cause it was so neat, you could power small portable devices wherever you go.  But the cost of solar power has always made it a bad deal.  Heck with normal solar cells it takes three years of use to produce as much energy as it takes to make the solar cell.

Let me share a bit on solar power.  There are two basic types of solar power.   The first is called Photovoltaic, where you convert sunlight directly into electricity.  The second is a solar concentrator, this is where the energy is focused and used to heat water, or some other thing.  Concentrator can be used to heat water for your house, cook for food outside in a solar oven or used to superheat water to turn a turbine and make electricity.  It can be as simple as filling a water bottle with water, and placing it on a mirror in the sun for a day, producing clean potable water out of water that was toxic, this is used by millions in third world nations.

Most people are interested in photovoltaic technology, it is cool, and it produces what we need, ELECTRICITY.  The key to wide adoption of these technologies is to lower the price of creating the power.  Spain has over half of current photovoltaic power plants.  But there is a new technology out there called nanosolar film technology where you basically can print a special ink on a plastic film and now you have a solar cell.  This cell is flexible, able to produce power in lower light and off angles, is lightweight but MOST importantly it is less than 10% the cost of traditional solar power.  [youtube=]

This technology will allow anyone to pay once now to buy a solar array and save enough money in only 1-2 years to totally pay for it.  Imagine being able to get cells that can product over a KW of power for a cost of less than $1000.  Here is a company that is attaching this to metal roofing.  Crazy.  Already there are plans to build a powerplant using these that will 10 times larger than the current worlds largest solar plant. This is a very key technology that will change the world.  You see the thing is that money has been king when it comes to power production, coal has been the cheapest but now they can build solar plants for less money than a coal plant, what will happen when a solar plan costs less to build, and almost nothing to operate, the free market will make it happen.

There are a few major problems though.  The powers that be are either heavily invested in other types or power, or if they have invested in solar they are invested in the old expensive kinds.  Even with this new technology most new plants, and new installs on houses are with the old technology.  What we need is for this technology to dominate the market.

Laptop Screen Size price point

A while ago I wrote an article about How to Select a laptop.  Read that if you have not already.  By far it is the most popular blog I ever wrote.

I have noticed a major change in the last month in the laptop market, and that change is about monitor size.  For at least 2 years the 15.4″ wide screen size was the cheapest and the most common.  Before that it was the 15″ screen.  Before 2003 or so the 14″ screen was the best value.   Usually an upgrade to a 17″ screen cost hundreds more, most of this was due to the lack of economy of scale.  In desktop screens a 15″ screen has cost more than a 17″ for at least 2 years.  But now this is quickly becomming the case with laptops also.  It makes sence, when you have a larger screen the computer part of your laptop is also larger, and with less minituration the cost is lower.  I have already seen laptops with 17″ screens only $50 more than the same specs with a 15.4″ screen.   Though this 17″ laptop was a full 3 lbs heavier.  17″ laptops are more popular as more and more people no longer have desktop computers.  I would predict that by christmas there will be no price differenct between these two laptop monitor sizes for computers with the same specs.

Comment on this, and when christmas comes I will look for two laptops with the same specs that are the same price.

Awesome Free Swag on the Internet

Swag is the cool stuff you get for free when you go to conventions.  (Stuff We All Get) You also see it for many different businesses.  This article says that Swag is there to promote their products, and reward loyal customer, not to make a profit.  This is something that most businesses simply DON’T UNDERSTAND.   In the world of the internet it is rare, most companies simply can not afford to send out free stuff to the world with no return.

And some that do only send free e-swag, the digital stuff cause it costs them almost nothing.  By far the BEST e-swag I ever seen is called America’s Army.  It is a top quality video game, but instead of being sold it is given away for free to promote the US Army.  For the rest of this entry I will only focus on REAL stuff that gets sent to you.

5LBS of FREE CANDY by Southwest Candy – This one is great, I asked for it on monday, got the candy on tuesday via FedEx.  It is really good stuff, I really love the Jelly Belly ones.  They sell candy wholesale, really cheaply.  I will order from them if I ever have a bulk candy need, maybe Oct 31.  Here is a video of a girl getting her free candy.

FREE GREETING CARDS by Send Out Card – This is a great program where you can go online and customize quality greeting cards and then they are sent by postal mail directly to anyone you like.  You get the first three for FREE and after that the prices are cheap.

FREE MAPS – Here is a list of a ton of places where you can get free maps.  Really cool if you plan to travel.  If you would rather have an entire Atlas then click here.

FREE GUY STUFF – Here is a list of 9 things you can send away for.  I sent away for a few of them, the old spice body wash was the only one I received, it was enough for about 2 uses, so I am saving it for my next trip.

FREE LOCAL STUFF – You may or may not know, but Craigslist has a huge section of free stuff.  I have used it a few times when I rather just not pay.  Just look under the for sale section for the word free.  Search in your local area to get your local stuff.

TOTALLY FREE STUFF – This is a huge website with tons of links to free stuff.  Most of these will call you and such, but that is ok.  Go there now to get the full list.

Time is more important than money.

Today I read a blog that very clearly states the delegation thing I was talking about the other day.  Sure you could do everything yourself to save a bit of money in the short run but in the long run that type of thinking will cost you your potential.  This is what AJC said on the 7million7years blog today.

Trading time for money is exactly the wrong way of looking at it: time is a finite resource; money is an infinite resource, why trade the finite one for the infinite one?

In other words, they keep printing money, but nobody is giving away more time.

So, every time that I can find an opportunity to ‘buy’ time with my money that’s exactly what I will do.

It’s why I give my shirts to the drycleaners; my mowing to the landscapers; and my property management to the experts. It’s why I outsource practically everything to do with my investments, too – except picking the investments themselves, or managing any issues to do with risk.

If I didn’t outsource my property management, I would eventually stop buying real-estate because every property that I bought would add to my workload, and who wants to do anything that makes you have to work harder?

So, I may lower my return on each property somewhat, but I reinvest the ’saved time’ into purchasing more investments … the whole shebang is much greater than the parts.

If you want to be a successful business own the employee mindset and the frugal mindset will hold you back.  It has for me, I see it now that this was one of my biggest mistakes, that is why I talk about it so much.

Computer Entry: Trends in Computer Pricing

I have been in the computer industry now for over 15 years.  During that time some trends have been the constant, that prices drop, and new technology is always making things.  So as of today this is what I am seeing in the world of computer pricing.  Here are my basic findings.

Laptop computers are very affordable. Laptops have been falling much faster than desktops, I think this is because they are all made by 7 main highly competitive companies, and they are trying to push eachother for market share.  The world of desktops is still controlled by many different companies and most all computers are built by companies in the same nation they are bought.  This raises costs, and reduces competition.

Margins are increasing. I have noticed that most stores that sell computer hardware have really increased their margins.  I was at Staples today and most of the hardware they were selling was at least 2.5 times their cost.  That is much larger than in the past.  I have seen this trend in retail stores.  Basically they know that if you want/need it now you are willing to pay.  In computer systems the big companies have really increased margin on desktop computers.  This makes a small company like me much easier to compete.  I think that most of this is due to the large reduction of competition in the retail market, most local computer stores are out of business and even big companies like COMP USA are basically gone.

Monitors have leveled off. LCD monitors have been coming down in price for a long time but they seem to reach a point where they don’t go down any more.  19″ and lower size monitors are only 10% less than they were a year ago.  22″ monitors are down a bit more but they still are near the price they were a while ago.

Hard Drive Prices are plummeting. Storage is king, this is mostly due to the higher data density.  They can put more data on the same hardware as before simply using new technology.  In just the last 2 months 500GB hard drives are down over 20% and most drives are down over 15%.  They are much cheaper than they were last year. Even with the decline in prices

RAM has leveled off. RAM is always going up and down, DDR2 RAM, the main RAM used to make computers is going down a bit but is fairly stable.  DDR has really dropped in price, at the start of the year it was double the price of DDR2, but not it is just a bit more.  I think this is mostly due to lowered demand of DDR.  If you are using a computer with less than 1GB of RAM right now then do yourself a favor and upgrade!!!

CPUs Fell off a cliff. The largest change in systems prices has come from the CPU.  They have fallen like crazy.  1 year ago a 6400 Athlon 64 was over $400 now you can get a Faster Quad Core version for UNDER $160.  Most CPU have lost over half their value, and the stock prices of AMD and INTEL have followed.

Motherboard have increased in price. The motherboard is the HUB that everything connects to.  Due to the higher demand and more precice demand of the rest of the better hardware it is now required to use a much better motherboard, so the average price of a motherboard has gone UP about 10% in the last year, but for that extra 10% you get much more for your money.  The old ones simply don’t exist any more.

Cases and Power Supplies have gone up. Power Supply Units have gone up slightly due to increased power stability required by todays newer motherboards, CPUs and RAM.  But cases have gone up by over 15%.  They are the largest and most bulky part of the computer, the production cost is tied to that of commoditys and they have gone up, and their shipping is tied to the price of OIL and we all know about that.

Optical Drives continue to decline. This year we have seen a 20% decline in the price of Optical Drives.  They simply can make more for less.

Flash Memory has plummeted. The price of flash memory has also fell like a rock.  Flash Memory is an open standard so cheap Asian production has killed the prices, this is great for us the customer, we now can have lots of memory to carry with us, or use in our toys.  The only thing that dropped faster than the memory prices is the stock of SanDisk, the largest producer.

Over all desktop systems have dropped about 10% in the last 3 months, and about 30% in the last year.  Now is a GREAT time to buy.  If you have a computer that is more than 3 years old then you should really think about upgrading to a new system.  It is a whole new world out there now.  Also many people may have bought a computer 2 years ago or so, but you purchased a computer that was built with 2 year old technology then you need to upgrade.  You will be glad that you did.  Click on the Image to the right to see our prices.

Let me shatter your false sense of security.

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

~ George Orwell

Everywhere you go today there is massive security. They say it is there to keep us safe, to free us from terror. I say that every time they impose their false security on us they are reminding us of the terror causing more fear and terror and therefore the terror is winning. I say false security because there is very little that any of these security measures can do to really stop someone who is determined to cause harm.

Let me talk about the highest level of security most people face, the airport. Flying is a business, and it is needed for many people to feel safe flying. When terror struck our nation many people stopped flying because they were afraid, so the government decided it would be good to increase the pre flight checking, because the more checking they do the more secure the people will feel and the more they will fly. Remember, most people are like sheep, they think small, and they are easy to control, I call them sheeple. Then some moron decided to put a bomb in his shoe, it was big news so the government decided to make people remove their shoes. They did NOT do this because people could put bombs there, they did this because people who fly now knew people could put bombs there and if they did not check for it many sheeple would not fly.  A few years later some other total idiots made a plan to use a binary liquid to make a bomb, and overnight all over the world you could not bring liquids on a plane.

Every time a new item pops up that the people think is a threat they ban it so that the sheeple will feel secure and keep flying.  But here is the truth, the real problem is that with the number of people traveling and the number of things they bring with them there is NO WAY to truly make your flight save and secure.  Everything in life has a small amount of risk, but the time, money and effort they are putting into creating this false does very little to make us more secure, it only wastes my time and my money when I travel.  I say this because the truth is that almost anything can be made into a weapon that is more damaging than the binary liquid or the shoe bomb yet these many other things are not in the mind of the public so they are not checked for.  The people in charge KNOW this fact, they know that what they are doing is a huge sham, but it pays them well so who wants to rock the boat.

checking you out

To give some examples, a laptop is a very common item people fly with, it is important so that people can get their work done, but the battery of the common laptop can be turned into a bomb with ease.  The bottom of most laptops is a sheet of aluminum, you could easily precut a knife blade out of this and it will pass security.  So lets ban all laptops.  Well the typical PDA/Cell Phone/IPod also has a battery, with a few changes it can be used to build a charge and be turned into a taser.  It also could be used to disrupt flight communications.  So lets ban these also.  Next metal detectors can’t see objects that are not metal but are under your clothes.  It is easy to buy/make a knife made of plastic that is almost as strong, and easy to hide.  So it looks like we need to pat everyone down.  But wait the clothes people wear can be made of highly flamable things that could be used to make large fires.  It looks like we need to ban clothes, the airline would need to provide offical passanger clothes.  What about shoes, just beause we x-ray them does not mean they are safe, in fact I doubt an x-ray would have cause the bomb the shoe bomber was using.  Shoes are made of rubber, and many explosives look and act like rubber, so why could you not create a shoe sole made entirelly of an explosive material.  Looks like we need to provide offical passanger shoes also. People can hide things inside their body, we all have seen the shows of the crazy people doing things you never would expect.  I guess we need to ban people all together.  How about we just give up. (Look at the solution Ryan Air came up with as a joke.)

Eva Air, My favorite discount airline.  I use them the most.
Eva Air, My favorite discount airline. I try to use them every time I fly to Asia.

This list can go on and on.  So as you can clearly see that all of this checking at the airport does almost nothing to stop someone that really wants to cause harm, all it does is waste all of our time, and all of our money. It may do a little to make people not bring dumb things on the airplane, but it does nothing to stop a planned attack done by professionals.

So now that we know that physical security is NOT the solution, what is then.  Look HERE, HERE or HERE for more proof.  One solution is information security, you can know your customers, and know which ones are very likely to be safe.  But in our nation of political correctness people are afraid to stand up to the types of people who are most likely to be evil doers. The idea of having an armed Air Marshal is a VERY GOOD idea, and I am glad they are using it, the thought of a random Air Marshal puts every evildoer in their place.

But in reality the BEST solution is no solution at all, have an alert public and simply accept the small risk.  Before 9/11 no airplane in the US was attacked other than one thing in the 1970 that was targeted only after money that a bank was transporting.  No attacks have been made after this time.  And I think that no attack will be made, simply because the other people on the plane will stand up and fight.  During WWII one of the strongest forces was that every American was working together with our government to protect our nation.  Some where along the line the government started seeing the people as the enemy, the insecure hordes, and no longer as the strongest tool to combat terror.

So my plea is this.  Lets have an informed and alert public.  Lets stop all of the wasted time and money checking for things that will probably never happen.  Let me keep my shoes on, let me keep my laptop in the bag, let me bring my drinks on the plane.  All of this security is just for show and I think more and more people have figured it out, so lets just stop it already.

Want the power to grow your company. Here it is!

I have talked to hundreds of people who own their own business.  Most of them had the same exact problem, they worked way too much.  They never had enough time in the day and usually never got to the important things that needed to be done to take their business to the next level.  They worked too much working in and for their business and not enough time working on their business.  This is a plan that will keep you stressed out, busy and poor.  There are two things that must be done when you are in this situation.

Bar Graph showing growth
Grow your business, learn how

The first one is to make systems for everything.  You need to write a system for writing an invoice, a system for cleaning the bathroom, a system for opening and closing your business.  When I was in business I wrote over 50 systems for various things, from how to pack a computer for shipping to how to make a phone call to a business.  You also need to create the paperwork and checklist for these systems.  We had a document for when a customer would leave a computer at our store, to documents for figuring out commission.  Later on I moved the most popular forms online and customers and employees would fill them out at a hidden website.  So this is what you need to do, systematize, document the system then create the resources (Documents, tools, equipment, etc.) to make system work.  Having a system makes everything you do predictable and much easier.  Buying a franchise is usually little more than buying a system with a marketing package, a high quality system will run your business, and is worth the tens of thousands they charge, but it is even better if you make it yourself.  It took me less than two months of working after we closed to write all of our systems and support material.

Now that you have a system in place you need to leverage it.  That brings us to part two, duplication/delegation.  When you have a system in place it is much easier to train people, to measure there performance, and get them to exactly what you want them to do.  People like to know exactly what is expected of them, most people like to have a system in place.  Now that you have a system you can start to delegate things that you have always done.  In many small business the owner does everything, they clean the bathroom, they do the banking, they service the customers.  One thing I have heard often is that if you can find someone to do something that you do and they can do it 80% as well as you do then have them DO IT.  When you have delegated to too many people that you can’t manage them, then promote someone to be a manager and delegate the delegating to them.

Think about what your company will look like if you doubled its size.  Then think about what would happen if you doubled it every month.  Without a system and with out delegation you will be sunk.  This is the number 1 thing that keeps most small business small.  You have to design and run your company as if there were 100 locations, what would you do different?  If you own a small business and working without a system and delegating, 60 hours a week you really have a glorified job working for your “business”.  A business is a system, it becomes viral, easy and fast, and other people do all the work, and you simply manage it.

For much more information here are some books you need to read on this subject.

HERE is another blog entry by one of my friends that expands on this concept.  Please read it.

I am Jason Dragon and I hope you enjoyed this, subscribe to my blog, and tell others about it.

CNN, Finally doing something I like.

In the past CNN has been very shallow and not very imformative.  They really like to gloss over most subjects.  All media really has gone in this direction.  Their goal is to write as if their audiance is a bunch of 5th graders.  This is not a joke, this is their real goal, they figure that if a 5th grader could read it then anyone could.  Most magizines and newspapers do the same thing.  Local news is also this way, specifically the morning local news.

CNBC is one bright exception to this rule, they are all about business and they talk directly to smart business people, but they also stay on topic so if it is not business related they say little about it.

Each of the two men running for office spends 1-2 hours of their day talking to the media and giving speeches.  The media does not air this, instead they take a short snip and just pound that for an entire day.  Most people don’t have access to the actual speeches, they must rely on the media and the media is doing a really bad job.  The funny thing is that they MUST fill the airwaves with something so they have people debate about small parts of these speeches.

It is like everyone is talking about the good and bad parts of a movie, and the debate goes on for hours if the movie is good or bad, but they won’t just show the movie and let us decide.  They want to make sure we decide the way they want us to decide if the movie is good or not.  This is a huge disservice to the audience.

CNN has broken this trend recently.  They now have started to air large parts of speeches and interviews, they then have someone come on and tell you if the facts stated are true or not, then they let the viewer decide.  WOW….what a revolution….people can actually decide for themselves and not be told my the media how to think!

Today they had part of a speech where McCain was talking about his energy policy, and how he has an “All of the Above” policy, get the government out of the way of all types of energy and let the market go for it.  This is very different to the plan that Bush has had, but Obama has been telling everyone that McCain is McSame, the same as Bush and he said the other day that McCain supported the bush plan.  But here is where the kicker comes in, McCain voted Against the Bush plan and Obama voted for it!   McCain hammered this, saying “Everyone know that if you vote for something you support it and if you vote against it you oppose it, so why is he saying I supported it when I obviously did not.”  The fact checker came on and said that everything McCain said was correct.  He went on to say that even Paris Hilton has a better energy plan than Obama.

To be fair they talked about how Obama was just mentioning Tire Pressure in response to a question, and this is NOT his energy policy.  Some crazy republicans are telling people that this is the entire Obama plan which is not true.  You can read his plan on his site, I linked to it from my Drill Drill Drill blog.

They went on playing videos back and forth for quite a while….it was really good to watch.

Why do Europeans love Obama so much?

I have noticed over and over again on the web, and talking with my friends in Europe that Europeans really love Obama, in fact if they could vote it would be a landslide election.  Of course all the info they get is from the media, so what is the European media telling people about him.  You can do a Google search and see long lists of glowing articles about him.  In the last two elections here in the US in 2000 and 2004 all of Europe thought that the democrats would win by a landslide and in both cases they were shocked and dismayed.

Maybe it is because Obama wants America to be like Europe in many ways.  He wants higher gas prices, wants to ban new drilling, and limit the importation of oil.  He wants to pay for universal health care, just like Europe.  He want to raise taxes to the point that you are working for the government.  Obama wants a weaker military, just like most of Europe.

Maybe it is true that he has become a celebrity.  Everyone knows how Europe loves those.

Europeans are blogging how they would love to be Americans, just to vote in this election.

But we here in America don’t want the be like Europe, with little economic growth, with a growing stronghold of atheism, with a weaker family structure than even the United States.

If you are in Europe, please tell me your view of Obama, I really would like to know if/why you support him.

Why you need to understand Elasticity

You may have never heard this term, or you may be an expert at it.  Most people under estimate the importance of this subject to their business.  Price elasticity is one of the MAIN reasons that businesses fail or succeed.  When I was growing up I was always told “It is better to make three fast nickels than one slow dime.”  This is what I will get to.

Elasticity is the different demand of a product at different price points.  Let me take a very easy example.  I will use the humble water bottle.  I buy them for less than 10 cents at my local grocery store.  They sell better when cold and it costs about 1 cent per bottle to make it ice cold.  Now we go to sell them, what price do we do it at.  Well many places sell them for $1.  I would make 90 cents each but the demand is low, I may be only able to sell to 5% of the people because most know that is too much.  Now what if I lower the price to 50 cents.  The demand jumps by a lot, I have seen it jump to 25% or more.  Then I offer an option where they can get 3 for $1, and you now get 20% buying 3 and 20% buying 1.   Now let us see how much we make on 100 people.  Option 1, we make $4.50 profit (5*.90).  Option 2 we make $10 profit (25*.4),  Option 3 we make $22 profit (20*.4+20*.7).  Which one would you rather have?  It is a huge difference, and one that most people simply do not notice.  They equate profit per item with over all profit, when in most cases you make MORE profit with lower prices.

You look around all over the place and people just don’t get it.  They sell things for way too much, so they sell very little.  The smaller that a company is the MORE I see this.  Today I went to a local owner operated Asian restaurant, the food was good but we paid almost double what we would have paid for twice the amount of food at Panda Express.  The larger a company the more they understand this, in fact the largest and fastest growing company, Wal-Mart, is built on the concept of Everyday Low Prices.  They do whatever they can to make sure they have the lowest price.

Now many things can effect the elasticity of an item, such as lowering supply or raising demand.  Lets go back to water.  What if you are at a 6 hour long seminar and the ONLY drink is the bottled water, you could price it at $1 and sell a lot of them.  Now what if you had 50 people but only 24 bottles of water, now not everyone can get one and you can charge $2 for each one, people will wait until they really need it or until it is almost out of stock and they will buy.  (They may resent your operation and remember to bring their own water next time they come.)  When something is not elastic it is called inelastic.  In the case of 50 people with only 24 bottles and 6 hours with no drinks you could hold out for $5 a bottle, and at some point people may start to buy.

Elasticity is caused by many things but one of the most common is competition.  If company A sells something for $4 and it is well known this is the price, and you sell the same thing for $4.10 your sales will plummet, but as soon as you go to $3.90 your people will be lining up to buy your item.  Gas companies know this, that is why they watch their competition VERY closely.  But so many companies operate in a vacuum, they have no idea what others are selling the same item for, and they may just be 5% too high, and by dropping their price by 5% they could DOUBLE their profits.  Small restaurants are a very good example.  The local taco stand sells tacos for $3 each, and they are almost always empty, it is rare to even see 2 people in their store.  But down the street taco bell does a similar sized taco, for $1.  Of course the taco stand is better, but is it really 3 times better especially when all you want to do is get full.  Lack of competition also is true, we all have seen the gas station 50 miles from any other selling gas for $1 more than anyone else simply because they know you need to buy.

Another thing that causes changes in elasticity is economic conditions.  When you sell something that is optional, in a time of tight economic conditions your demand will plummet, so you must start lowering prices will do to get your customers back, sometimes you have to lower so much that it no longer makes business sense to stay in business, this is why starbucks just had to close over 600 stores. (It also did not help them that every corner store and McDonald’s started selling quality coffee for 1/3rd the price of starbucks.)

Some things do better when economic conditions are worse, I know many people that are buying more Ramen and Mac and Cheese, it is simply much more affordable if you have $4 gas, less money coming in and you still need to eat.

You also have to think about Complementary Goods.  This is where you must buy A and B together to use them.  Lets think about Peanut Butter and Jelly, and lets assume the only thing you can do with them is make sandwiches.  What happens to the demand of Jelly when the price of Peanut Butter doubles, the demand of both falls, even if jelly lowers the price a bit it will still sell less because the total price of the combo is more.  This is why SUVs sell much less when gas costs $4 a gallon.

So next time you price something look around, see what the market is doing, and don’t be blind to your competition, and for all means don’t over price your product.  One way to test different prices is to have a sale.  (Why do you think large companies have so many things on sale, they often are testing different price points.)

I hope this helps with your business.