Monday, March 29, 2021

Remote Workers Should Move To Small Towns

 Cities are great. Cities have lots of restaurants, shops, theaters, and other hubs of culture. They have plenty of sights to see. They have tons of people. They usually have better public transportation and more taxis.

There is a lot to like about cities which would attract people to live in them. But a major reason why people move to cities is for the work opportunities that exist there. Many of the best paying jobs are in cities. If a person wants one of those jobs, they have to move to where the work is.

For a long time, this has generally drawn people from around the country, people who formerly lived in rural areas and small towns, to big cities.

And while there is plenty of upside to city life, there are also some challenges. There are some reasons why people might want to leave the city.

There are lots of people. I listed that as a benefit before, but it can also be a problem. There are few private spaces in big cities. Everywhere you go, there will be people. Sometimes it's nice to just walk down an empty sidewalk or go to an empty park.

Everything in a city is more expensive. Any purchase you make from a restaurant or a shop is likely to be more expensive in the city than outside of it.

Housing can be limited and therefore very expensive. People in cities often have to settle for very small and crappy apartments because that is all that is available. And they tend to pay a lot in rent for those apartments.

Commuting can be more difficult because there are more people on the roads trying to get somewhere. All of those cars often slow traffic, making even short commutes time consuming.

For these reasons, many city dwellers would like to leave the city for smaller towns, but they can't because their job is in the city and they would take a significant pay cut to take a job in a smaller town.

But that is changing. Remote work has been possible for some occupations for a while now. But actually finding employers who were willing to let workers do their work from home was hard. They imagined there was some need for all the people doing independent work to be located in the same building. They were stuck in tradition. They figured that jobs had always worked that way, so they should continue to work that way.

But more and more employers are offering jobs that can be done remotely. And that trend has grown by leaps and bounds during the COVID-19 pandemic as people need to work from home as much as possible to prevent the spread of disease.

Now that employees have gotten a taste for how sweet the freedom to work from anywhere is, I doubt they'll be willing to give it up arbitrarily, just to go back to the way things were. And I think employers are realizing that it is completely possible to have an employee work 100% of the time away from the office and that all the work that needs to get done still gets done. They've proved the remote work model. And being able to open up their jobs to a wider candidate pool (remote work jobs can hire anyone from anywhere) allows them to get better quality help even faster.

Both sides of the employment arrangement are now willing to do remote work.

The one thing holding people back from moving out of cities and into small towns is now becoming less of an issue.

People with high incomes can now move to small towns and take their jobs with them.

Nat Eliason has started a new blog called Creator Towns which talks about this idea.

He suggests that creatives, entrepreneurs, and remote workers should move to small towns and build the sort of community they want.

Building space/leases tend to be cheaper in small towns than in cities, so these sorts of high income folks could take up available space and install the sorts of shops and restaurants they'd like to see in the place they live. They can create the amenities they want.

On top of that, they would have much better access to nature. They could go for hikes in the woods or spend some time near a lake. Once you get out of the city, nature tends to be easily accessible all the time.

Nat believes this movement of people with high incomes to smaller towns will revitalize these small towns and their main streets. The general trend, accelerated especially during economic downturns, has been that small towns shrank and their economies suffered. Bringing high income people to these towns can stimulate their economy and improve life for everyone living there.

It really seems like it is a win-win-win type of situation. The high income people get to live in a more ideal place and feel good about creating and supporting small businesses. The local residents get more people who will spend money in the local economy and they would likely love the new businesses that get created. And the wider economy will do better as money is spread out geographically wider and leaves the highly concentrated cities.

I have vaguely felt that I would like to move to a small town but for the fact that I need to live in a city to earn the sort of income I'd like to earn. I had not thought about it as much as Nat or nailed down as many details of a plan. I really enjoyed reading about Creator Towns and I really hope it works out. I hope that I can participate in one someday.

Do you prefer city or small town life? Would you like to take a relatively large income and build businesses in a small town? Can you think of any added benefits to this plan? Any downsides? Let me know in the comments!

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Finding Time To Write Every Day

 I have been blogging on this site for over a year. I have over 50 posts published.

These are not humongous achievements, but they are more than nothing. They are something. And I had hoped to have had some noticeable progress by now.

But this blog still receives fairly little traffic. On good days I get around 20 visitors, but I still have days where less than ten people come to the site.

I can keep publishing content, of course, and that should help me to achieve my traffic/readership goals. But there is a strategy which I have read about often that I haven't yet implemented. Consistency. Frequency of publishing.

Lots of successful bloggers talk about how important it is to success to be consistent in your publishing. They say that you want to shoot for a couple of articles published each week, minimum. It would even be better to publish a post every day.

They say that one reason why frequent publishing will help you grow your blog traffic is simply that you will accumulate posts more quickly and that you will reach a critical mass sooner, at which point your traffic will begin to grow exponentially.

That reason doesn't have much to do with publishing speed. It seems like you could achieve the same thing with a slower rate of publishing.

They also say that the act of frequent publishing is actually a signal to Google that your site should rank higher in the SERPs. Having more new content more often will display to Google that you are a real, high-quality website which would have something interesting to offer readers. And the faster you publish, and the more you publish, the greater the momentum you will build.

I imagine it like getting a little boost in traffic for a little while after you publish something new. If you publish something else while you are still in the boost phase, you will stack a new boost on top of the old one. Then your new peak will be even higher. Do that many times in a row and you reach exponential growth.

That whole concept of publishing frequently makes sense to me. And so I want to give it a try. But it's not like I have been trying to publish infrequently up until now. It is just hard to find time to write.

I can sometimes find free time to write on the weekends, but sometimes we have plans that use up the whole time.

I always hope that I'll be able to find time to write after work or before bedtime, but often I don't get around to it after I get done with other chores of life such as exercising, grocery shopping, or cooking.

I have decided that I will wake up one or two hours early each morning before I would normally get up for work. That time will be just for writing. Nothing else in life will use that time up.

It is also a good time to write because I am still mentally sharp. I have tried to write before bedtime, but I am usually too tired to think of anything to write. I get a lot of writer's block and mental freeze ups. I am just not a good writer when I am tired.

But first thing in the morning I am still close to peak awakeness. My ideas flow easily and I am able to get a lot of typing done quickly. This morning writing has really been working out.

Getting a set time prepared solely for the purpose of writing is really helpful to ensuring consistency. I get the chance to write. Even if I run out of time on an article and it doesn't get published the same day that I started it, it will just get published the next day. That is still far better than going a few weeks without writing a single sentence.

I am really hoping to keep this up and to be publishing more content more often here on this blog.

I have only been doing it for around a week, but I have already seen an improvement in my blog traffic numbers. When I check to see how my traffic is doing, I check three different tools.

I first look at the built in stats that come with the Blogger platform. I have read that these stats include web crawlers as well as people, so the numbers can be inflated, but they give you some idea.

I then look at Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) to find out how many times my content has been shown in people's search results and how many times people have clicked through to my content. This only includes real people (no bot traffic), but excludes every source other than Google's organic search results. This is most interesting to me anyways because I mostly care about improving that traffic source. I am putting zero effort into growing social media traffic. I really just want to get more Google search traffic. So this is the tool I care most about.

I finally check Google Analytics. This includes all real traffic and excludes bots. It tracks incoming traffic from every source. Organic traffic, social media, direct, referral. I like GA because of their graphs which very clearly show how traffic is trending over time.

My traffic growth had become pretty stagnant recently, and when I began writing every day, I saw my traffic grow. It hasn't grown much, but there is improvement.

I am going to try to keep on with it. I enjoy writing every day, and seeing traffic grow is just about the most satisfying thing in life. If I can do something I enjoy to accomplish the most meaningful goal in my life, how could I quit?

Do you think writing daily is beneficial? Do you have a rigid publishing schedule? Do you think publishing frequency has an effect on Google rankings and traffic? What have you done to make time for writing in your life? Let me know in the comments!

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Employee Owned Businesses As A Solution To Income Inequality

 Income inequality is becoming a major problem in our society. The difference in income between those who make the most and those who make the least is hard to believe.

The differences are so great that they cannot be due to a difference in work ethic or productivity. It is simply not possible to be thousands of times more productive than the average person. I could see being ten times or even 50 times more productive, but there must be a limit to what it is reasonable to believe someone has rightly earned through their own hard work.

It seems that often, people who are making huge amounts of money are in leadership positions of large companies or are owners of successful businesses. They aren't necessarily the people who are doing the work that customers pay for, but they are almost always the people who make the decisions about how revenues and profits are distributed.

In what has become the typical form of a company, there is an owner or a group of owners that receive all of the revenue of the business, and they decide what will be done with it. 

The employees who work in the business and do every vital task that actually creates value in the business usually get a wage or a salary and no more. While they might be the recipients of occasional pay raises or one-time bonuses, their incomes are not normally influenced by how profitable the company has been. They don't suddenly earn more when their work has produced more value or revenue.

The owners, however, will see their incomes grow as the company's revenue grows. After paying for the costs of the business (and labor costs through wages and salaries are viewed as a cost of business), the owners retain everything else. If everyone in the company works especially hard and improves the sales of the company, the only people who will benefit from the improvements are the owners.

That might not seem all that crazy when pictured on a small scale. If you use the example of a small business in a small town, it can seem somewhat fair. The owner of the business might make 5 times what their employees make. It is a lot more than the workers are getting, but it is not jaw-droppingly ridiculous.

It gets crazy when you think about bigger businesses. Many businesses have lots of locations and lots of employees. They bring in millions of dollars in yearly revenue or more. For these businesses, the average worker might make somewhere between $15,000 and $50,000 annually (depending on the sort of business being operated), while the owners make millions each. That's 20x minimum. That is too big a difference to be justified.

I think that the best solution to this sort of income inequality would be to more fairly divide the income of the business. Everyone should get their wages, but if the company does well, everyone in the company should see the benefits from that. Instead of a few people at the top of the hierarchy getting everything, I think it should be divided amongst all of the workers.

Companies could achieve this through bonuses.

I have seen companies which tout their profit sharing programs. Often times the percent of profits that they share with their workers is shamefully small. Single digit percentages of the profits get divided amongst all of the workers, and 90%+ go to the owners. I feel like that would be something to be ashamed of and hide, not something to brag about.

Some of the better profit sharing programs I have seen are still not that good. I've seen one company that offers 40% profit sharing. That is a lot, but it is still the minority of the profits. The majority of the people in the company are employees that are doing the work that creates the revenue in the first place, but they all must share in just a minority of the profits earned. In that case, a handful of owners get to divide 60% of the profits. I still think that is just not enough.

Lots of people seem to be angry at people who use government assistance programs because they are in poverty. They think of welfare program recipients as being lazy or unproductive, but the majority of adult welfare recipients work full-time jobs. For most people on welfare, and most people in poverty, the problem is not a lack of work ethic, but companies by and large not paying people fairly for their efforts.

If people go to work for 40 hours each week and do productive work for a company that is hugely profitable, then there is no reason why that worker and all of their coworkers should be paid so little that they are living in poverty. And they should see improvements in their personal incomes when the company does well. It is fair, firstly, but it also serves as a great motivator.

Companies send out information to employees about sales growth goals and how they want to see revenues increase. They talk to employees about doing all the right sorts of things to make that happen. They ask employees to continually increase the amount of work they do so that the company can do better.

But why would employees care or do even more when they know very well that the growth of the company won't benefit them at all. When they bust their tail to get more done, they are only putting more money in the pockets of the owners. They themselves won't see any of that growth reflected in their take home pay.

If there were some kind of guaranteed and predictable way for all employees to share in the success and growth of the company, then they might actually be motivated to work towards those goals. Life is all about incentives, and the current prevailing business model provides no incentive to employees to care about the overall health and growth of the company.

People talk about believing in democracy. They say they believe in the equality of all people. They claim to want a general fairness. In government, while that might not all be legitimately achieved, there is at least the attempt to embody those things. 

In private, capitalistic business, the reality is that you get none of those things. Those businesses are not democracies, but dictatorships. The owners are totally in charge. No workers get a voice in any decisions. Workers do not share in the value created by the company.

The values of that type of company differ so greatly from ideals of democracy that they should make people think twice about how they can happily accept both at the same time.

I think if either democracy or dictatorship is superior to the other, then we should use that model in any place we can. We should spread it to all realms. If people enjoy the current structuring of business, then we should propose to use the dictatorship model in our government. If they find that suggestion distasteful, then we have found that they do not actually prefer dictatorship. We should then propose to use a more democratic model in business.

While there might be some balking at that idea initially, I don't see how it could be sustained. Businesses with democratic ideals at their core can operate just as profitably as any other business, but the success of the business can benefit more people. Lots of people can do financially well, instead of having just one or a couple people doing unreasonably well and the rest of the involved people doing very poorly.

While there might be many ways of infusing business with more democratic values, one way I have read about is the cooperative model. Another is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

These might be technically two different things, but there are at least huge overlaps in what they are.

The reason that the owners of the business get do decide what happens with the profits of the business is because they are the only owners and all of the employees own no part of the business at all. Only owners get a say in the decisions. To give everyone a say in the decisions would require that every employee be an owner.

And that is exactly what a cooperative model does. It makes every employee an owner with a voting right and the right to share in the profits of the business.

When someone owns something, they tend to care about it more. And when the overall company's outcome will affect the worker-owners, they will actually have an incentive to work towards improvements.

I love this business model!

I don't see how it isn't obvious to everyone that, of course every employee should benefit when their company does well.

Many businesses make plenty of profits, enough to support the financial needs and wellbeing of all of its workers, but usually the owners take it all for themselves and pay their workers as little as they can get away with. That sort of exploitation of labor is not only immoral, but causes an inherent distrust and conflict between those who do all the work and get next to none of the rewards and those who do almost no work and collect all of the rewards. By splitting up whatever the company makes amongst all of the workers, there is no reason for conflict. Cooperation would be natural.

If all employees got to share in the profits of the company they work for, then people would take home significantly more money than they do now. Rather than working all the time to just barely get by (or for far too many people, not actually making enough money to get by), they could earn enough to live well and save for retirement. And rather than needing to work 45 years to have saved enough to retire, they might be able to work really hard for 10 or 20 years and have saved enough to retire.

If workers made a fair share of the profits of their companies, it wouldn't need to take almost the entirety of one's life to save enough money to retire on. And if most people worked for cooperatives, then most people would be able to work a decade or two out of their life to earn money and then spend the remainder of their life living in leisure and doing whatever they wanted.

That seems like a very good outcome. Who would dispute that outcome? The only people I could think of that would want an outcome different from that would be the people who are currently privileged to be business owners. For them, they currently get an unreal amount of money for doing almost nothing. They have built a money making machine that leverages the labor of other people. They get to live in decadent luxury and live as if they were retired from almost year one.

If things were to change and workers were to get a more equitable share of the benefits of their hard work, the only people who would see a poorer outcome would be the current owners. It might be that they would have to work harder to make less money. But not only would that bring things back into a reasonable alignment with the rest of the world, but it would only be a tiny fraction of all people finding a worse outcome. The vast majority of people would find much improved outcomes.

Why would anyone stop progress for most people simply because a few people will see a slight decrease to their extravagant standard of living. It was unfair in the first place for those people to hoard the value other people created.

Imagine how much better everyone's lives would be if they could work just 10 or 20 years (less if they were highly skilled workers who commanded a higher base salary) and have earned retirement. Everyone would be ecstatically happy! What a fantastic dream of a life. And it would be almost guaranteed. It would be the norm. It wouldn't be some fantasy that doesn't come true for large swaths of the population, as retirement is today.

I think that the huge increase we have seen in mental health disorders in our world in recent decades is due to the despair and hopelessness that comes from knowing you can work your whole adult life and never earn enough to retire on. You can work every week you are alive and still live in poverty the whole time. How would that sort of life not cause depression and anxiety? I think that depression and anxiety would fall to near zero if cooperative style businesses became the norm and most people could retire in 20 years maximum.

There would also be a huge reduction in the number of people using poverty reduction programs such as welfare and food stamps. If the effort these people already gave to earning an income actually earned a fair income, then there would be no need to claim these program benefits. Nobody wants to be on welfare or food stamps. It isn't a desirable position to be in. And if they were finally able to provide for themselves because they were paid fairly, then they would get off of those programs as quickly as they could.

I think that a huge number of society's problems could be solved or greatly improved by widely adopting the cooperative or ESOP model for businesses. I think things would get much better for everyone very quickly.

While one way to accomplish that would be to require it by law through the tool of government, it could also be accomplished voluntarily. No employee would fight the cooperative model, so the people who would need to make change would be business owners. Owners need to set up business as co-ops. They need to convert their existing businesses to coops.

I see it as a patriotic and humanitarian good to start businesses that are based on the cooperative model. Wherever there is a large company that exploits workers and puts the massive profits of the business into the pockets of a few owners, there should be cooperative businesses built to compete with it. As much as possible, I believe consumers would like to support cooperatives that support their workers, but too often that alternative does not exist. Build the co-ops, give the consumers the chance to support them, and see how quickly the crooked version of business we have today crumbles.

The voluntary solution requires that people in the position of ownership do what is best for the whole of society and the majority of people. It might not be better for them personally, but they would be doing a good thing. A right thing. They would be making the moral choice. It would be some type of altruism. They would be helping their fellow humans. Owners have the chance to show who they really are inside. They can reveal themselves to be totally self concerned and very selfish or they can show that they want to do what is right for the greater good and the thriving of society.

They can either keep their businesses as they are or they can convert their businesses to the cooperative model.

I also think that this is an area where entrepreneurs who want to change the world for the better can make that change. Take any type of business which currently exists and form a cooperative version of that business to enter the market and compete. If enough people start enough coops, there would be enough good jobs that share in the profits of the firms to ensure each citizen could have one. No longer would people need to work in jobs which paid a low wage and offered no share of the profits of the company.

There is enough value and wealth being created to provide for everyone. The only reason everyone doesn't do well is because people called owners hoard the value created in their businesses. If the value created by businesses was shared with everyone that worked in the business, then everyone would be doing well financially.

I really hope that a new wave of business leaders and entrepreneurs with a selfless desire to improve the world can make the cooperative model of business commonplace. It just might save the world.

Have you ever worked in a coop or an ESOP? Do you think it sounds right and fair that the profits of a company should be shared with everyone working in the company? Can you think of a better way to solve so many financial problems all at once? Let me know in the comments.

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Friday, February 19, 2021

Employers Should Pay To Train Employees

 Businesses often complain about a lack of workers with the right skills. They want people who can do very specific stuff, and it seems those people are not in abundance.

People go to college with one of the main goals being increased employability. People feel it would be hard to get a good job, so they go to college to make it easier. They believe that attending college will teach them the valuable skills that employers are saying they are looking for.

But, as so many college graduates are finding out, a college degree is not even enough. Four years of hard work and lots of student debt aren't even enough to always get an entry-level job.

We have an obvious mismatch. Employers want more skilled candidates, ostensibly because they have good jobs to offer them. People generally, but especially college graduates, not only want good jobs, but have proven that they are willing to go to great personal lengths to become job-ready. They are willing to do what it takes to prepare for the job. But all the preparation people believe they need to be completing isn't satisfying employers.

Something needs to change. There needs to be a new solution.

Employers need to be providing the skills training that they want for their employees. And they need to hire people who are not yet fully qualified and actually train them to have the skills they will need for the job. They need to invest in their employees. They need to pay for the outcome they want.

Unfortunately, many, if not most, businesses simply don't want to pay to train employees. They want to hire people who already have the skills they desire. But that makes them free loaders. It leads to a free rider problem. Enough free riders and the whole system fails to function.

If you are a single business in a massive economy, it can make logical sense for you to want to hire only employees that have received their training elsewhere and who can bring their skills to your job on their first day of hire. It is faster, because the person can get to work almost immediately, and it is cheaper, because you are not paying to train them.

But inherent in this thinking is the understanding that the employee will be receiving the training from someone else. Someone else will pay to train that employee. And then you will benefit from the skills that other company paid for. You want other people to pay for stuff you want. That is a free rider problem. You don't bear the costs for the benefits you receive.

When one or a small number of businesses operate this way, it can be annoying. It is selfish and unfair. It is unreasonable. But it could actually work. They could get away with it.

But the problem is that almost all companies seem to be operating this way. Nobody wants to pay for training people. Everyone wants to be a free rider, and when that happens, there is nobody left to pay for the stuff other people want. Everyone is a leech, and there are no more living bodies left to feed on. The system fails. And the system seems to have failed.

Don't believe me that it is already a really bad problem? Go on any job board website and look up job postings with keywords like "entry level". These should be jobs for people who have never had a job before. If they were for people who have had jobs before, they should be called intermediate level. These entry level jobs will just about always include a requirement for "2-5 years of experience".

That is absolutely ridiculous.

How is someone supposed to have 2-5 years of experience in doing something when they are applying to a position which should be someone's first in the industry? That is an oxymoron.

What the job poster really means, though, is that the job pays like an entry level job. They are cheap and they don't want to pay people what they are worth. They want to pay an insultingly low wage. They want to exploit someone. But they want to pay that low wage to someone with excellent skills who can be very productive for them and make them lots of profit.

Every employer seems to operate this way. And if everyone requires several years of previous experience in order to get their lowest rung jobs, where are people supposed to get real entry level experience? Who is hiring people who don't yet have the desirable skills employers want?

Well, when the free rider problem get to epidemic levels, as it has, then the answer is nobody. Everybody is hoping someone else will pay for it, but nobody is left to pay for it. And that is leaving employers with too few qualified candidates, and too many job seekers unable to get the jobs they want. It is bad for everybody.

Employers are hyper focused on the short term benefits of getting something for nothing, but they don't seem to see the longer term problem of drastically reducing the size of the pool of candidates with in-demand skills. This focus on the short term is due to greed.

One solution I have heard of is actually being used in France. In France, the government added a training tax to businesses. I believe it is something like 1% of a worker's salary. That tax will be taken from the business in some form no matter what. That is money that will be spent. That money can either be taken by the government in the form of a tax, or the company can use that same money to train employees. If the company trains employees with that money, then they don't have to pay the tax.

Businesses will almost always choose to use the money to train people, because they want to get something as opposed to nothing for their money. And since they are already spending the money anyways, they can hire people with fewer skills and pay to train up those skills. Everyone wins under this scenario. People can get jobs that they are not yet qualified for, but which they would be great for with the right on-the-job training. Companies can get the skilled workers they are always griping about. And the free rider problem goes away.

One thing that makes it hard for a company to be a training contributor and stop being a free rider is the understanding that they would eventually be paying the training costs for skills another company will benefit from. They could hire some unskilled person, pay to train them up, and then that employee could leave for another company, leveraging those skills they just learned.

But having a training tax ensures that everyone has to pay the costs of training. If everyone is paying, then nobody feels ripped off or taken advantage of. It's fair. Everyone is doing it. And the overall result is that the qualified candidate pool grows. Everyone involved in the economy gets more of the thing they are after.

I believe that people who are willing to learn and work hard should have zero troubles finding a job. They should be in constant demand because they are fresh clay, ready to be sculpted into the perfect person for any job. But those people are struggling hard to find any jobs that aren't low-wage retail and service sector jobs which provide no skills.

I believe that the only way to really get enough people hired into good career-type jobs with a future and a plan towards a good salary is to implement a training tax like France has. We can make believe and hope that businesses will spontaneously fix this glaring error on their own, but to believe they will is naïve. We are currently witnessing what businesses do when left to their own will. They become free riders as quickly as possible. They will happily offload any cost they can onto someone else, regardless of the harms to themselves and others.

We need to make up for their detrimental selfishness through appropriate incentives. Getting what we want out of life and society is all a game of finding the right incentives and disincentives. I believe that this training tax will lead to a better society where more people get what they want. I see no reason it should not be enacted. And the only reason I can think of why it would be resisted is greed and undue political influence wielded to businesses who want to continue being free riders.

Do you think employers do enough to train their employees? Would you take a different job or change career fields if employers would provide you training on the job? Do you think the economy would benefit from more skilled workers? Would more training and more skilled workers lead to a better economy and everyone getting more of the stuff they want? Can you think of a better way to incentivize training by employers? Let me know in the comments!

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Why Do Laptops Get So Slow?

 There's nothing that feels quite as good as a brand new, fresh, and still speedy laptop. Boot up time is very short. Whatever you click on or try to open jumps into view nearly instantaneously. There is very little lag time between your movements and the computer's reaction.

But for whatever reason, it seems like laptops slow down over time. That is strange. What would have changed? Why would it slow down? But this does seem to happen to every laptop I've ever owned.

Just as soon as you've gotten used to a speedy laptop and forgotten all about your frustrations with your old slow laptop, the new laptop begins to slow. Gradual at first, but it becomes extreme eventually.

Boot up takes minutes, then tens of minutes. You click on a computer program and it takes several minutes to open. You try to click on something and the whole computer freezes up. Sometimes it even gets so bad that it crashes.


It is so annoying!

I have researched online to find out what causes laptops to get slower over time and what can be done to remedy the situation. I have learned lots of potential causes and fixes, but they only ever improve things temporarily.

One trick I've found is to reduce the number of applications that try to launch automatically when you first start your computer. You go to the task manager by pressing CTRL, ALT, and DEL all at the same time. Then you click on the tab called "Startup". That list is all of the stuff that would like to begin working every time you boot up. Go through that list and decide what you don't actually need every time you start up your computer and "disable" it so that it won't use up your processing power on boot up.

I've read that disc defrag can be helpful. Disc Defragmentation is a process that organizes and condenses the data stored on your mechanical platter style hard drive. After you have used your computer for a while, you will have saved lots of stuff and deleted lots of stuff. As you do this, you create small areas of available memory that are too small to store any complete files. In order to make use of the little pockets of memory, the hard drive will break up a file and store it's portions in multiple locations. That is a clever way to use up available memory, but it means that when trying to retrieve that file later, it will have to work harder to find all of the pieces. That can make your computer run slowly.

Defragmenting the disc means that the hard drive will look for all of the bits of files and try to move them to available space so that they are stored in their complete form again. Depending on how many fragmented files you have, this process can take a long time. But sometimes it is worth it because a defragmented hard drive can make your computer faster.

One option that people have which should make your laptop work like new again is to reinstall your operating system. If you do a fresh install of Windows, then it will be exactly like it was when you first turned it on after you bought it. The obvious downside is that you will have lost all of your files and your downloads. Any necessary programs you had installed will be gone and will need to be reinstalled. That can be a major pain, but the opportunity to start over with a quick laptop again could make it worthwhile.

Installing programs and accumulating files could be exactly what slowed the computer in the first place, so doing that again immediately after a fresh install of the operating system might cause it to slow again.

I have only owned Windows laptops. I've never owned a Linux or an Apple laptop.

I have used other people's Mac laptops. My wife has a Mac. Macs seem to stay like new forever. They are always quick. They never slow down.

I'm not sure what makes Windows computers slow down over time, but I have spent a lot of time researching the problem and its potential fixes and have never found anything that works for very long. I don't have any allegiance to Windows. It has simply been the built in operating system on the computers I've owned.

People say that Windows is the operating system of the business world, but Macs have been grown in their ability to perform business tasks. They now have a native software productivity suite that is just as good as Microsoft Office. There is nothing I can think of that Macs can't do that I would need to have Windows for.

I have given Windows more than enough of a chance to improve their offering and performance, but they have failed me every time.

I have decided that I will be switching to a Mac the next time I buy a laptop. And unless I find something bad in that experience, I will be a Mac owner for life.

I just want a laptop that works and keeps on working. I want a laptop which works quickly every time I open it. If Mac is what provides that, then Mac is what I want.

Has every laptop you've ever owned eventually slowed down? How do you like Windows versus Macs? Do you know of a surefire way to speed up a lagging laptop? Do you know what causes laptops to become slow? Let me know in the comments!

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Is Making A Substack Newsletter A Good Idea?

 I have been hearing about Substack for a while now and I've decided to share my thoughts on it. Substack is a company which helps readers connect directly with writers. Substack facilitates the distribution of newsletters. Substack is a directory of available newsletters. 

Substack logo

Most, if not all, of those newsletters are written by a single author. They aren't the publication of some massive media conglomeration with dozens of writers on their payroll. They are the thoughts and reportings of one person. By choosing to subscribe to a particular newsletter, you are connecting directly to one person and their writings. That can be more beneficial and desirable in some ways than simply looking for information from large media company websites.

The newsletters are listed in a directory that you can either browse by category or which you can search by keyword. You find several available newsletter options, each with a brief description of what they contain. Then, the main way to engage with that newsletter that caught your eye is to enter your email address to sign up to receive the newsletter. After you submit your email address, you will begin to find the future editions of the newsletter arriving in your inbox.

It seems like some of the newsletters also have some of the newsletter content available for preview on their Substack page so that you can really get a feel for whether you will enjoy the newsletter or not.

Substack is really cool because it is a method of generating direct, non-advertising revenue from your readers. Substack allows newsletter creators to offer a premium newsletter in exchange for a monthly subscription from readers. Authors get to choose how much to charge for the premium subscription, so they get to decide how much money they make to some degree.

There are some Substack creators who offer mostly premium content with just a few free pieces as teasers for their paid stuff. There are also lots of creators who have everything available for free and are simply using Substack as a publishing platform. So, whatever your newsletter budget, you'll be able to find something to read.

The way Substack helps writers generate an income directly from their audience and their writing is what is really significant and revolutionary. There are already lots of companies/products that allow you to send things to an email list. Companies like MailChimp and Constant Contact enable you to connect with those people who have signed up for emails from you. And you could easily use those services to send out a newsletter.

But Substack facilitates the payments from readers to writers, allowing content creators to charge for their content. That is so huge. So many creators are forced to make money from advertising because it seems like the only way to make money from your writing when you can't charge your audience directly. Advertising can pay relatively little for lots of work, and showing ads to your readers can annoy them. Allowing for readers to pay for premium content can ensure higher quality work is produced and keeps irritating ads out of the reading experience.

One major application for Substack newsletters is for journalists. Journalists used to need to work for some kind of news organization, such as a newspaper or a TV news station. But working for a news company means that their boss tells them what they should be investigating and also filters their work before it reaches the audience. And, in recent years, news organizations have been reducing their staff of journalists, instead opting for cheaper writers.

Journalists can create and charge for a newsletter which would allow readers to follow the output of journalists they trust and for those journalists to generate an income which sustains their work and makes it possible for them to keep writing.

This whole process has been described as a journalism renaissance. People want good reporting, and if they are willing to pay for it, journalists are excited to produce it. The advertising-supported news model has been tried and it has resulted in a reducing of the quality of news and reporting. If things are to get better, people must be willing to pay for it.

I listened to a podcast episode from the a16z show, which is produced by the Andreessen Horowitz venture capital company, that interviewed Substack writers at different levels of success and found out what their opinions of the process were. They were all excited for the opportunity to reach an audience and have that audience provide an income for them.

The most successful person interviewed is a C-level executive for a tech startup. That person writes a tech newsletter, and because of his position within the industry, he has an existing large following of people who want to hear what he has to say. Because of that following, when he starting charging for a premium newsletter, people signed up and paid for it. For him, Substack is nothing but great.

There were newsletter authors with middle tier levels of success. They had some paying subscribers, but the income generated was not enough to replace their full-time jobs, so it was just a side income until they grew their audience more. For them, also, Substack was a worthwhile investment of time because they are part way to generating a full-time income from their writing, so they can see that it is possible. And being part way to success is better than nothing because of the momentum that is generated that helps you get where you want to go.

There was also a person who had no existing audience who was running a newsletter. That person wasn't able to generate any significant income at all because nobody knew them or yet cared about their work. Without an audience, Substack doesn't do much for writers. Some random people could happen upon your newsletter and possibly sign up, but that is not really sustainable. To build a dependable income around your writing, you need to build an audience that knows you, likes your work, and wants to continue to read your work. For this person, Substack was a frustration because they were putting in the work for the newsletter and not really getting anything for it.

And that is the point that leads me to my ultimate opinion about Substack. I think it is a great tool to generate an income if you already have an audience. You have done something somewhere which has attracted the interest of lots of people, and you simply need a way to charge those people for something to make an income.

I don't think Substack is a great option for newer writers or those just starting out. You need to work on building an audience first. And hiding all of your writing behind a paywall will not help you attract an audience. Nobody is going to pay to find out if they like your stuff. You need to convince them that they will like your stuff, then they will pay for it. And the best way to convince them is to offer your stuff for free. Remove all of the friction that could stop them from reading you.

You should publish a lot of good content for free. I think the best place to do that would be on your own blog. You can use Substack like a blog and offer all of your content for free, but then you are hosting all of your hard work on someone else's website. I think you should build up a website of your own that will become a lasting asset for you that isn't owned or controlled by anyone else. That way you can do whatever you want with your blog in terms of content and monetization, and simply use Substack as a tool or an offshoot of your business. I don't think Substack should be your whole business.

I am very excited about the opportunity and the possibilities that Substack offers for writers to generate an income from their writing. I am also very optimistic about the change this could have on people's willingness to pay for valuable writing and the changes that could cause in journalism generally.

Have you heard of Substack? Do you subscribe to any newsletters? Do you pay for premium writing? How do you feel about directly supporting your favorite writers through something like Substack or Patreon? Let me know in the comments!

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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Minnesota Hop Passport

 My wife has a friend that is a world-class gift giver. She always seems to pick out the perfect thing for each person. For my wife's birthday in 2020, her friend got her something called a brewery passport.

Blue Cover of Brewery Passport

My wife and I love to go to breweries, so that was a perfect gift!

A brewery passport is a book of breweries that are each located in a particular area. The Hop Passport is organized by state. We got the Minnesota version, but they have one for lots of states.

In the front of the passport is a map of Minnesota with a number on the map wherever there is a participating brewery. Those numbers match up to brewery names in a list that shows all of the breweries in the passport. There are around 100 breweries listed in the Hop Passport.

After that passport front matter, the rest of the book dedicates a whole page to each brewery, and the breweries are organized by alphabetical order.

Each brewery page has the name of the brewery, a picture of their logo, a short description of the brewery and its history, and a few quick facts, such as whether they have food, TV, or are dog-friendly.

When you travel to one of the breweries listed in the passport, you show the passport to the beertender, they stamp it to show that you have been there and that the coupon has been redeemed, and then you get two beers for the price of one.

Two for one beer for your first round is a great deal. Beers at most breweries are somewhere between $5 and $7, so not only is that a decent savings at one brewery, but if you multiply that against how many breweries you visit, you could save a significant amount of money. And it is just the right amount to be useful. If you tend to use your passport with another person (like my wife does with me), then one of you gets a free beer. If you use your passport alone, then a free second beer is also useful. Two beers is not too many, and so you could reasonably take advantage of the deal. I could easily see a different passport requiring 2 or 3 purchased beers before getting a free one, at which point you would probably be unable to use it by yourself if you plan on driving.

Each brewery can only be stamped once, but there are plenty of other breweries in the book to pick from. So, if you are willing to drive a little ways to a brewery, there is always a place to use your passport.

The passport only costs $25, which probably doesn't earn enough to pay for all the free beer the passport holder receives. So it might make you wonder why these breweries would be willing to participate in the program. Breweries are willing to be in the passport because it brings them customers who might never have otherwise heard of them and who might not have been willing to travel to their location. The passport encourages people to go out of their way and try new places.

My wife and I have definitely been to breweries we would not have been to if it were not for the Hop Passport.

And trying to make it to all of the listed breweries and collect a stamp at each is a fun game. Its a way to keep you motivated to get out of the house and try something new. And there is even an official game. The first person to collect a stamp from all of the breweries wins a T-shirt and a prize of money. Each state awards a different amount of money to the winner, but in Minnesota the prize is $1500.

It is a lot of breweries to get to. 100 breweries. 52 weeks in a year. That's around 2 breweries a week. Every week. It is an ambitious goal to try to make it to all of them.

My wife and I started out the year strong. We were doing 3 or 4 breweries per week. It really felt like we could have the passport completed by the end of summer. But then COVID-19 caused everything to shut down and we were unable to visit breweries for months. And even after the restrictions lightened and we could have visited breweries, we didn't for a long time. And when we did we weren't getting to nearly as many as before. We had lost momentum. And then the year came to an end and the Hop Passport expired.

We ended up making it to just over 50 breweries. A little more than half way. Which is pretty good, especially for a worldwide pandemic year. We are still taking our passport with us to new breweries to collect stamps even though we don't get the beer special, because we still hope to have a completed passport at some point.

We really enjoyed the Hop Passport. If you make it to just a few of the breweries to collect on the 2 for 1 deal, the passport pays for itself. It is a lot of fun and encourages you to try new things. I could not recommend the Hop Passport more highly. I loved it and I really hope you give it a try.

Have you ever had a Hop Passport? Have you ever heard of a similar product but with a different brand name? Do you think you could make it to 100 different breweries in a year? If you could design a brewery passport but for something besides breweries, what would you make it for? Parks, art galleries, restaurants, water-front park benches? Let me know in the comments!

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