Tales of Financial Persistence

Yesterday I was relentless in reaching my goal of erasing from my monthly bills one of the most embarrassing charges I could have, as a High Tech Financial Blogger, and that is paying for America On Line services.

It all started in 1993 when I first joined AOL, and I got e-mail address awhit34109 AT aol.com . Back then we needed dial-up access to get to the Internet, and back then, it really wasn’t the Internet, it was just a bunch of Newsgroups and Forums all complaining about things (so not much has changed really). Back then AOL used to send you a CD every month (or every day) in the mail so that you would sign up with their Internet Service Provider software. It was a magical time, and I have used the e-mail accounts from there for a very long time.

AOL

The America On Line

Time passed, and the Internet changed, and suddenly I had Internet access that didn’t rely on a phone line and a modem to get connected? What? How is that possible? I was part of the initial trials of the Nortel 1 Meg Modem, which was in ill-fated product that got bulldozed by the Tech Standard DSL, and Nortel missed out big time on that, but I had unlimited, always up Internet access, and it was all good.

AOL saw this change and they introduced a “bring your own access” solution, which was much cheaper, so I chose to stay with them, paying about $8 a month for this privilege. I also got some emergency dial-up access if I needed it, and some other free stuff, and the AOL interface too.

Time continued to pass, many different e-mail providers appeared, and when Google introduced Gmail, AOL had already started to die (remember AOL/Time/Warner?) but I kept paying AOL, mostly because I was lazy and just never got around to it.

Finally yesterday, I called 1-800-AOL-HELP to cancel my fees based AOL, but evidently I can keep my AOL E-mail accounts too. After 140 minutes on hold (I kept track of it, on my phone, I had to wait that long to get through on the “I want to cancel my AOL” hot line), a nice young man tried to cajole me into paying $3.95 for some other odd service (basically for a version of McAfee that AOL would supply), but I stuck to my guns and said, “No, I want to cancel my AOL, but keep my e-mail addresses“. Evidently I succeeded, but I will see if they continue to keep charging me for this.

This AOL service is evidently what is keeping AOL afloat, as there are countless lazy uninformed stupid folks like me that have just never cancelled their AOL and continue to pay $11 a month for a service they don’t need to pay for? Many folks think they are paying for their mail services with this, but no, you can keep your e-mail for free (it has been that way for a long time), you are actually paying for Dial-up access, McAfee software, and AOL service line, none of which I have used in years (yes, I should be derided and ridiculed for this).

Hopefully, I think after a lot of persistence (and a lot of Muzak on hold), I may have succeeded.

 

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NFC and Android Phones for Payment

Interesting, I received an E-mail from my bank (TD) pointing out that they now support using my Android -or- Blackberry phone ( no mention of the iPhone 6, since it only supports NFC for Apple Pay) to make small payments (tap and go), as an NFC (tap and go) device, if I have a supported credit card with them (which surprisingly, I do).

Smart Phone Credit cards

Now Your Phone is Your Wallet?

To quote TD’s e-mail to me:

Any TD EasyWeb customer with a supported Android or BlackBerry smartphone, eligible TD Credit Card and the TD app can enjoy using TD Mobile Payment.  The Android or Blackberry smartphone must be certified and enabled with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology (contactless) and a NFC SIM Card to securely store your payment information, and have a mobile plan with a participating carrier/service provider.

The nice part is that this is integrated into the TD Banking App, so there is a degree of security (I hope) with the app. I am not sure, but I hope I have to log into the App to be able to use the NFC capabilities of the app and phone (together), and not just enable it once, and then be able to willy nilly tap and pay (thus enabling anyone with my phone to do the same).

Is this a secure method of payment? I am not sure of the mechanics in the Android and Blackberry phones, however, the Android phones do have a reputation as being a little less secure than other phones (as all open systems do, when you let everyone see the source code, that includes the bad guys). Google has been working hard to improve Android’s reputation in the security area, but it is going to take a while to do that.

Am I recommending this service and TD? No, I am simply pointing out yet another interesting new way to spend your money. They keep making it easier and easier to spend your money.

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Apple Pay and Near Field Communication (NFC)

Until a few days ago NFC, meant National Football Conference to me, but after a little research I learned it also means Near Field Communication, (and Apple’s announcement of Apple Pay)  and it is an exploding field in the Financial and Telecommunication world. You most likely already have Smartcards with “tap” capabilities but more is coming (real soon now).

Apple Pay

An Interesting Product Name and so easily mocked.

What is NFC? Here is a helpful quick explanation on the topic:

Nifty and helpful isn’t it, and it will make your life so much simpler, as well. Apple’s announcement of  Apple Pay™ as part of the iPhone 6.0, so you can use your phone to “tap and pay” (you don’t even need your wallet any more just wander around with your phone), may be a “game changer” in terms of either payment systems or Smartphones (not sure which). Currently you can use your phone to “pay” but it typically uses the “scanner” capability (i.e. throw up a bar code or scatter code on the smartphone screen, and scan it), will folks adopt this new payment system? Given Apple’s ability to market things, my guess is yes, all the Hipsters will be flocking to using Apple Pay™.

The Disney store is adding payment machines that allow you to pay “on the fly” with your NFC-capable payment thing-a-ma-bob, so you can take your trendy iPhone 6.0 and buy some Disney stuff, Yea!!

Isn’t this a wonderful world we live in? Um, no, not for an old grizzled tech geek like me. All I see with this is yet another way to either:

  • Impulse spend without having to think about the consequences (the battle cry of the hipster, cappuccino sipping generation)
  • Another possible security breach that can empty my bank account (or at least put a dent in it)

If you read the Wikipedia page you will see a nice line that states:

Although the communication range of NFC is limited to a few centimeters, NFC alone does not ensure secure communications.

That is one of the kickers to watch. There are lots of really nifty security stuff built into this technology (I am not a complete Luddite, I do realize folks do try to be secure in these products, I just don’t think they do enough), but it is still susceptible to a few common lines of attack, from those desperadoes out there trying to steal your money (without having to have a gun, or even seeing you). Look up “man in the middle attacks” on Google, for a good example.

The peril of losing your phone now is much more severe as well, and equally important, is to have a good password on your phone (so that folks can’t easily borrow it to pay for things).

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Updated Tip: Scan those Bills

So one of the first useful tips I wrote about was To Scan All Your Bills, so you didn’t necessarily need to keep paper copies of them.

I still continue to do this, although I do keep paper copies as well, for things that I am sure that the CRA might want to look at if I make claims on my taxes like:

  • Tuition receipts for University and my son’s schooling
  • Utilities bills, as I do claim part of those as business expenses
  • etc.,

The interesting updated idea that I have changed to is that I no longer only save these images on my computer at home (which is being backed up). There are now many different services that offer free off-site backup of files such as:

  • Google drive, which comes with your Gmail account
  • Dropbox which is an app that runs on many devices
  • Outlook has file space for you
  • iCloud from Apple
  • Even Ubuntu One offers some free disk space

I am a little leery to use “the cloud” for this kind of storage, so you might want to encrypt them if you use these services, as you never know who the heck might look at your files from elsewhere.

The interesting part about the scanning of my bills was that I did exactly that when I was asked for receipts from the CRA, and I sent them scans of the documents in question, and they seemed happy enough with that. My guess is if it was an actual audit, they would want to see the originals, but for a “request for receipts” the government seems happy enough with a scanned image now as well.

Unfortunately you need to keep your paper records for a while before you can safely dispose of them (i.e. shred and/or burn), but maybe we are finally getting away from paper copies of things?

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Trader Terminator

The lovers of Science Fiction already know the perils of allowing machines to do too much in our world (i.e. Skynet and the Terminator series), yet I continue to hear more and more cool ways that automated systems are making our lives better (and will improve overall lifestyle).

Currently many trading systems have automated heuristics out there to deal with situations on the Equities markets. A lot of these are simple rules like, if BCM (a strong equity) goes below $12/share sell or if BCM trends upwards buy (as bad examples), however, thanks to very smart programmers, these rules and systems have become much more complex, and with complexity comes opportunities. I have worked on early “artificial intelligence” systems, but the heuristics these days are quite extraordinary (in my simple understanding of them).

Eniac was at the time the greatest piece of technology, now my digital watch has more computing power than this marvel of technology. Technology always evolves.

The interesting question is, even with really advanced “thinking” systems, will it make things better for me (the individual investor), us (the collective that holds a mutual fund) or we (all investors in general)?

Say I design an automated trading system (call it the XROB2013) which I created using as many cool and exciting algorithms and ideas that I read about and learned from various traders out there (there are very few “secrets” as we have learned form Mr. Snowden). The XROB2013 could be quite an exciting and new way of doing things, if (as the designer) I chose the right algorithms and heuristics to go with, and it would be easy to test it against all the old data from the market to see how our trading system might do (in a test environment).

I launch my XROB2013 Mutual Fund, which uses these algorithms to buy and sell the best stocks to hold (at the time) and for argument sake, we’ll say the axis we worry about is growth (i.e. we’ll ignore dividends and such). If my XROB2013 is successful, suddenly I have many folks wanting to buy shares in the Mutual Fund and the Fund Maxes out and might be declared “best in show” for a while (is best in show a real investing fund award?).

What happens next? Looking into my technology history books, there is no such thing as a secret and since Patent’ing a trading heuristic isn’t likely, there will be “rip offs” of XROB2013 that might appear (that maybe have lower MERs or such, to make them more attractive (it would be cheaper because there was no R&D, it was simply a rip off)). Suddenly XROB2013 loses its lustre for a lot of investors, and worse still the algorithms now are working against each other creating an orthogonal change in trading ideas, so the XROB2013 rules would need to be changed or there might be further erosion of the value of the Mutual Fund.

All of this to say, that no matter how great an automated trading/investing system anyone puts together, the market ends up finding ways to lower the impact of any new idea in a very short time and going back to a relative level of stasis. Don’t be enticed by claims of “the next big thing” in market trading, unless you are sure it’s going to work.

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