JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 305 : 13 June 2012

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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America's College Education in Serious Decline

In America today, high school students are brainwashed that they "need" to go to college because, no matter what it costs, it is always worth the money. Then they take on huge loans to pay the gigantic bills.

After the real-estate bubble exploded, student loans became the easiest loans to receive. The government gives out easy student loans to anybody, regardless of grades, credit history, what they are majoring in and what their job prospects are.

With prices for tuition and textbooks increasing rapidly, college education has become big business. The college-industrial complex has created not only myths, but also outright hoaxes, in order to entice students into taking those tempting, easy-to-get Federal loans. Most universities have big-budget advertising that lures the unwary into the trap, implying that the loans can easily be repaid with the much better job that will result from the college degree.

There is no industry that has seen more consistent price inflation this decade than college education. With bloated infrastructure and too many outmoded professors with tenure (which means they cannot be fired) US Colleges have had over 5% annual tuition increases over the past decade. In spite of this, over 70% of high school graduates are still enrolling in college.

Most young people spend 6 years going to college before graduating. With tuition for private colleges increasing more than 5%, tuition fees of $30,000 today will have jumped to almost $ 40,000 in the sixth year.

Today, most college graduates finish with an average of $24,000 in debt. They were promised a bright future, though for most their diploma is simply a ticket to a mediocre job. They discover, too late, that they are going to be working really hard to pay off their financial obligations for many years to come. They quickly realize that there are way too many college graduates and not nearly enough good jobs.

There is nothing special about getting a college degree if everyone else has one. And it's certainly not worth getting tens of thousands of dollars into debt. Today, many graduates remain unemployed and are still living with their parents.

The truth is that the quality of education at many colleges and Universities has become outdated. Decades ago it was an investment; today it has become degraded into a diploma-mill that turns out young people who simply cannot find jobs in an economy with over 20% college graduates remaining unemployed, and many more under-employed.

Remember the futurist pointer: ?Any product or service that delivers less and less and costs more and more is seriously in decline.?

Free on-line education will continue to grow exponentially, while conventional colleges and universities will go into steep decline.

Click College Education - The Largest Scam in U.S. History

Click The College Conspiracy (Youtube video)

Click College Education Has Become A Giant Money Making Scam

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Howard Bloom's book - Radical Re-vision of Capitalism

In the last eNews, we discussed the crises of Capitalism and its inevitable transformation.

Using his intuition to sniff out what people really want, Howard Bloom rose to prominence in the 70s/80s music industry. He achieved great success with stars like Billy Joel, Prince, Michael Jackson, Bette Midler and many others. Now approaching 70, he seems to have settled down to writing visionary books.

In the past, I extolled Bloom?s, "Global Brain" as one of the most significant books I have ever read. Then his "Lucifer Principle" resonated with me.

And then in 2010 Bloom came out with, "The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism", an iconoclastic, big-picture view of the transformation of mankind by its machinery. I got sidetracked before I finished the book, but started again after my recent comments on the changing paradigms of Capitalism. This time I couldn't put it down.

Is global Capitalism on its last legs? Is the era of American leadership over? Has the West begun a decline into a new Dark Age? Does American Civilization deserve to survive?

Howard Bloom has radically new answers.  He insists that there's a hidden imperative in the adaptations of Capitalism that can lift us from the current economic crisis and make us a leader in the next-generation economy.

Bloom sees crisis as opportunity for the whole human race. In more than 80 short, fast chapters, his insights sweep over centuries and millennia, drawing parallels that become clear. He expresses a radically new way to see the astonishing mechanisms of Capitalism. He shows that what many regard as the end is just the beginning ? of things never before imagined.

Bloom explains the regular cycles of boom and bust as mechanisms that cause explorations and then consolidations. He shows why Capitalism's next great leap will not come through financial manipulations, but by the emergence of radically new ways that will benefit humanity. The key lies in his big-picture view.  He reveals the deeper meaning beneath what we've thought of as crass materialism. He shows how successive change upgrades the nature of human developments.

"Genius of the Beast" rewrites the history of Capitalism. Says Howard Bloom, "What is the beast? It's Capitalism that, beneath the surface, hides astonishing human abilities to adapt and succeed.

This brilliant, inspirational work of daring ideas offers more than just hope. It offers new levels of understanding that can literally redefine how we think about how humanity is progressing.

View Howard Bloom's Youtube video - it's like talking with him!

Click Howard Bloom: The Genius Of The Beast (Youtube video)

Click Review and buy on Amazon.com - The Genius of the Beast

Click Howard Bloom - Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind

Click Howard Bloom: The Lucifer Principle

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Biotech Inflection Point

We've often discussed "inflection points" - events that result in significant, revolutionary change.

During the past couple of decades, most inflection points have been related to electronics and communications -  the Internet, computers, cellphones and the like. In the next decade, Biotech will jump to the forefront, bringing changes that will impact humanity hugely, more than anything that humans have experienced in the past century.

Craig Venter is regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century for his many revolutionary contributions to genomic research. Now he is thinking of bugs that could swim in a pond and soak up sunlight and secrete oil; of bugs that could gobble exhaust and exude fresh air.

What's strange about Venter is that the fantasies he concocts actually come true. He dreamed of mapping the human genome faster than anyone, and he did it. He dreamed of creating a synthetic organism, and he made it. In 2003, he sailed around the planet in search of new forms of life, and returned two years later after discovering more species than anyone, ever.

In 2008, Venter's lab built a genome which replicates the DNA of a bacterium. In 2010 they announced that they brought the synthetic DNA to life. In theory, this leaves just one step to the building of a custom species, crossing the threshold to "designer life".

Venter is pushing forward with designing new organisms entirely from synthetic DNA, which would be a radical leap forward. Here are the attractions:

  • Because cells reproduce, they can be used for bio-manufacturing. Custom organisms could produce in bulk while feeding on pollutants or solar energy.
  • Conventional agriculture probably cannot keep pace with the world's increasing population. Strains of algae could secrete proteins, using less land and water than traditional crops.
  • Bio-machinery could result in "distributed manufacturing" using microbes. For example, people could synthesize bugs and grow them at home.
Of course, synthetic biology brings the potential for catastrophe. The greater the reach of bio-machinery, the more urgent the need to understand the risks. Many environmental groups worry that synthetic bugs could become the ultimate invasive species.

Venter and his proponents claim that a synthetic bug can be designed to die without chemical support, and has little chance of surviving in the competitive natural ecosystem. In 2010, the President's bioethics commission found "limited risks."

Craig Venter's synthetic biology could indeed backfire into biological Calamity. But it also offers a transformative approach to many problems which have no available solutions.

Click NY Times - Craig Venter?s bugs might save the world

Click Craig Venter creates synthetic life form

Click Craig Venter unveils "synthetic life" (TED video)

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Flame & Stuxnet - Automation Malware with Common Heritage

A massive, highly sophisticated piece of malware has been newly found infecting systems in Iran and elsewhere and is believed to be part of a well-coordinated, ongoing, state-run cyber espionage operation.

Dubbed "Flame", the malware is an espionage toolkit that has been infecting targeted systems in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa for at least two years. It is estimated that Flame has infected about 1,000 machines.

A chunk of code used in both Stuxnet and Flame shows that the developers shared their work. It is believed that Flame preceded Stuxnet and each team developed its own code. Both were clearly state-sponsored, and many think the developer is Israel, with US help. How long before there is serious retaliation?

Early analysis of Flame indicates that it is designed primarily to spy on the users of infected computers and steal data from them, including documents, recorded conversations and keystrokes. It also opens a backdoor to infected systems to allow the attackers to tweak the toolkit and add new functionality.

Among Flame's many modules is one that turns on the internal microphone of an infected machine to secretly record conversations that occur either over Skype or in the computer's near vicinity; a module that turns Bluetooth-enabled computers into a Bluetooth beacon, which scans for other Bluetooth-enabled devices in the vicinity to siphon names and phone numbers from their contacts folder; and a module that grabs and stores frequent screenshots of activity on the machine, such as instant-messaging and e-mail communications, and sends them via a covert SSL channel to the attackers' command-and-control servers.

The malware also has a sniffer component that can scan all of the traffic on an infected machine's local network and collect usernames and password hashes that are transmitted across the network. The attackers appear to use this component to hijack administrative accounts and gain high-level privileges to other machines and parts of the network.

Flame is "20 times larger than Stuxnet" the previous malware that raised awareness of the problems. Like Stuxnet, Flame has the ability to spread by infecting USB sticks using the same vulnerabilities. It also uses the same print spooler to spread to computers on a local network. This suggests that the authors of Flame have had access to the creators of Stuxnet.

Unlike Stuxnet, however, Flame does not replicate automatically. This is likely intended to control the spread of the malware and lessen the likelihood that it will be detected.

Click Flame, the massive spy malware infiltrating Iranian Computers

Click ISS Source - Flame: 20 Times Larger than Stuxnet

Click Cybersleuths see link between Flame, Stuxnet virus

Click Stuxnet - Anatomy of a Computer Virus (Youtube video)

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Personal Growth & Success in Automation

The Automation business grows slowly and is dominated by just a handful of large, global corporations with structured management. So, how does an ambitious individual get paid in this stolid environment?

At senior levels, salaries are respectable, though raises are few and far between. The promotions process is mostly bureaucratic; few can really advance by more than a few levels.

Bonuses are awarded mostly to high-level managers, but rarely amount to more than about 5%, perhaps up to 20 % in good times.

Some companies award stock options, primarily for senior managers. These can generate value only if the company is growing fast and profitably. The values of most automation companies have declined in the past decade, so options are not worth anything.

The usual path to personal advancement is to switch jobs - moving to higher management levels in competitors and perhaps finally achieving a VP-level position. But, beyond the titles and salary increments, it's seldom worth the effort.

The usual growth strategy at established automation companies is to acquire smaller companies that have generated some success, which adds complementary product lines and provides resources for more growth. So, if you want to be on the fast track, my advice is to take the entrepreneurial approach - start your own company, or become part of a founding group with significant equity participation.

The primary aim is to find growing customer needs and satisfy them profitably. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, the company will be acquired and the founders will become millionaires. No big company can match that.

In the automation business, the best path to personal growth and success is to break out of the box and be your own boss. Hey, if you fail, you can always retire to the safety of a cubicle in a large corporation.

Click AW June 2012 - Personal Growth & Success in Automation

Click Success and Personal Growth: Do You Know Your Purpose?

Click Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation (TED video)

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Martin Greenwood from Australia [greenwme@iinet.net.au] says that stock market trading is clearly like gambling:
    "The cost of individual trading transactions has plummeted in the last 30 years since the introduction of computer technology. This has no doubt been a contributing factor to the rise of hedge funds and day traders.

    "Large numbers of highly intelligent people spend a huge amount of effort, making money for themselves, but not creating any true wealth; certainly not any wealth for the rest of us.

    "So, impose a tax on such activity. It need not be a big tax, perhaps even 0.1%. This would:

      a) Reduce the incentives for constant unproductive trading on very thin margins
      b) Calm the markets
      c) Raise a huge amount of money.

    "As you point out, the entrenched interests with howl with outrage, and claim that it will discourage "investment", and reduce liquidity in the markets.

    "I believe that true investment must be for a period long enough for the borrower to do something useful with the funds, e.g. Build a factory or design a new product. This takes many months or years.

    "If the 'investor' can demonstrate that a security was held for a minimum period (e.g a year) the 'gambling tax' can be refunded.

    "This tax would then pose no obstacle to genuine 'Investors' while still enabling a security to be sold at short notice in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

    "In Australia, and probably in America, gambling for the poor (Casinos, Horses, Dogs and Lotteries) is taxed. So why not tax gambling for the rich?"

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Shrisha Chandra [shreesha.chandra@in.yokogawa.com] comments on the Education Revolution in India:

    "Your comments on usage of technology for revolutionizing education are timely. There is a tremendous scope for effective utilization of technology for people who are less fortunate to get a good education.

    "In India, Education has become more of a business than a social obligation. The tuition fee structure in private education centers are prohibitive for students, even from middle class families. Many special training institutes operate to supplement the teaching in schools. Free/Less costly education imparted via the Internet could certainly revolutionize the education scenario - mass reach with minimal effort.

    "I personally like the concept of Khan Academy, where small conceptualization modules are available for free, with the motto: Learn whatever you want, whenever you want!

    "I am sure that this will pickup steam in the next few years, provided adequate attention is paid to infrastructure needs (computer/intranet, facilities/power etc.)

    "With state-run schools languishing for want to good tutors, these tools can be effectively used to bring back the initial objective: To provide good education to the masses at affordable costs."

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Alan Perlingiere [Alan.Perlingiere@hollyfrontier.com] comments on my Futurist pointer that "Any product or service that delivers less and costs more, is in decline."

    "How can we make our medical delivery system respond to the same rule? Medical costs only go up, and rarely deliver more (except in the case of technological breakthroughs & new medications). According to some studies, our medical care is less effective than that of several other countries, but has the highest costs.

    "I don't see how a purely market-based system would work ? too many times you need a doctor now & don't have time to shop around. And price controls make me nervous because of unintended effects.

    "I'm asking because I see medical service costs continue to increase well above the inflation rate. How long can this go on before something breaks down? Any thoughts?"

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