Gongol.com Archives: February 2010
Brian Gongol

February 11, 2010

Business and Finance Google's founders are liquidating part of their holdings
Page and Brin will continue to have almost 50% of the voting control of the company, but they're each selling about $2.75 billion worth of stock. From a personal-finance standpoint, it makes perfect sense: They're probably being advised to diversify, and undoubtedly they'd simply like a billion or two in cash just to play with. However, their behavior is a signal to the market that Google is insufficiently diverse. Sure, the company is getting into a lot of different online services, from e-mail to video to mapping, but it's still an online-services company. Until it is more broadly diversified, it's going to be held hostage to the whims of a very fickle online-using public. All that has to happen to really blow up Google's presently-dominant position in the marketplace is for a knockout smartphone to hit the market, built on a competitor's platform and available on lots of different networks (the iPhone could've done this kind of damage, but it didn't in part because of Apple's deal with AT&T) -- and for a competitor like Microsoft to really hit a home run with a novel approach to search (like what they're trying to do with Wolfram Alpha). Cut Google off from the biggest area of future growth (mobile browsing) and current revenues (search-related advertising), and they're going to be in a world of hurt. Google needs to start working on strategically investing in new lines of business where its computing power and corporate culture could give it a competitive advantage, like medical or agricultural research. Undoubtedly, Pfizer and DuPont would rather not face heat from Google's enormous computing resources. But that just doesn't seem to be the direction in which Google is headed, and that's why the co-founders are smart to cash out, at least to some degree, today. The founders of Facebook and Twitter will come to regret someday that they didn't sell out. They're in too unstable a marketplace to stay dominant for long. Of course, the same advice applies to rivals like Microsoft as it does to Google: Instead of trying to eat one another's lunch, get into other lines of business, especially while revenues are high and profits are leaving the corporate coffers stuffed with cash. Tech giants will fall; they always have. It should be noted that Google's Page and Brin are going to pay a hefty penalty in the form of taxes as they sell their stock; it's a penalty that Warren Buffett has avoided by never really selling out of Berkshire Hathaway. Retained and reinvested earnings get much kinder treatment from the IRS than cash payouts.

The United States of America The United States has a surprisingly low ratio of representatives to people
Other Western countries have far more representatives per voter in their national assemblies and parliaments. Counting the House and the Senate, we have one member of Congress for every 575,000 people (roughly speaking). In Germany, it's something like one for every 137,000. In the UK, it's one for every 93,000 or so. We would be much better off with a much larger Congress, and this is just a small sliver of the evidence in favor. Smaller districts make it easier to "throw the bums out" and renders term limits unnecessary. It's much easier to run an outsider campaign when one's entire district only contains 100,000 people than when it contains seven times as many.

Futurism A few predictions for 2020
For a time that's only ten years away, we as a culture seem to have put very little thought into where this train is headed. An exercise in making predictions like this is such an exception to the rule, people only seem to feel comfortable doing it as the decade rolls over. The reality is that every organization ought to have a 100-year plan (with lots of intermediate stops, of course, between now and a century in the future) and ought to update it annually.

Business and Finance Americans keep living longer lives
...and we're not even saving enough (on average) to last through yesterday's life expectancies. This savings gap is growing, and it's a massive problem.

Humor and Good News Bill Clinton in a time machine

Water News Omaha plans for higher sewer fees

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