SEC, NASDAQ, NYSE Finally Do, Er, “Something” To Combat Reverse Merger Abuse…

The SEC is a joke, a mockery of a regulatory agency, mandated with (among other things), investor protection and ensuring fair, transparent, and fraud-free capital markets.  It has failed, quite fantastically in these tasks, especially in the (latter part of the) past decade, chronicled by myself and others with great frequency and depth.

Thus, it is little if any surprise that when it came time do something about the fantastic frequency and magnitude of fraud in the (largely Chinese) reverse-merger industry, the “fix” the SEC and the exchanges have come up with to stem RM market abuse really isn’t a fix at all.  Rather, the “solution” to the problem is simply to put a speed bump or two on the road to U.S. reverse-merger listing:

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Boots On Throats, The Long, Hot Summer

Imagine being told that you need to do something in life and you attempt to do it, but the person that’s very insistent that you do X takes his other hand and actively goes out of his/her way to prevent you from attaining X while each passing moment in time said person begins to label you as “lazy” or not trying hard enough?

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What Happened To The USA: AT&T Edition

I normally don’t write opinion pieces like this, but after seeing the recent news this weekend regarding AT&T instituting bandwidth “soft limits” of 150/250GB per month – it made me think of what “innovation” has become in this country. You’re familiar with the history of AT&T (Ma Bell) and the rapid progression of telephony technology in the past century. America (along with AT&T/Western Electric) led the world in innovation in this space and they continue to hold their own against the Asian and Canadian infrastructure providers.

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SEC Division of Risk, Strategy, & Financial Innovation Could Use A Few Good Men…

I realize the SEC’s task is a gargantuan one, especially considering the severely constrained resources, but there’s just no excuse for things like this.  The SEC’s Division of Risk, Strategy, and Financial Innovation – the group created in 2009 to supposedly “enhance our capabilities and help identify developing risks and trends in the financial markets” – does not have anyone running the Office of Data & Data Analytics.  How the hell is the Division supposed to do its job if there’s no one analyzing data?!?!?

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Giving Financial Media a Second Chance: Nevermind (UPDATED)

A few short days ago I wrote about how I want to give the financial media a second chance.  Today, I’m seriously having second thoughts.  It’s 2011!  Link.to.primary.documents!  This is not freaking rocket science. Ugh.

Today, SIGTARP released an audit report on the bailout of Citigroup.  The stalwarts of the 4th estate were all over the news, but alas, few, if any, linked to the SIGTARP website or the report itself.  Here is the report(pdf).  Here is the official SIGTARP website where you can find that and other audit reports.

I don’t want to read a summary a reporter had to throw together to meet a ridiculous deadline and/or some editors dumbed-down copy.  For laypeople, that may be fine, but for anyone who actually cares, it’s not nearly good enough.  You don’t have to write an opus, just link to the freaking source document.  How hard is that????

So hard, apparently, that none of the following “authorities’ on financial news could be bothered to make the effort:

  • Reuters
  • Wall Street Journal (has hyperlink to report hosted on wsj.com, only gets partial credit)
  • Fortune/CNN Money
  • Bloomberg (shame on you!)
  • TheStreet.com
  • New York Times (can’t even find any mention of the report, wtf?)
  • Huffington Post (UPDATE: HuffPo’s Ryan McCarthy alerts us that they added the document to the bottom of their article shortly after they originally published it.  Kudos to them for not only getting the source doc up in full but for being tied-into social media like twitter, where Ryan saw this post and responded quickly)

Strong recommendation to all of these outlets: start from scratch as blogs, and learn the best practices thereof.  The web is not print, and you should not be writing on the web as if it were.  Use hyperlinks, not just to internal pages but to external ones as well, ESPECIALLY source documents.  Get with the freaking program already or continue the long, slow death spiral your industry has been on for the past decade+.  Your call.

Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Please Remove Your Head From Your Ass

Despite its ridiculous popularity and apparently top-notch staff (or so I’ve been told/heard), Facebook continues to disappoint.  Sure, the core service is OK (at best), but there’s sooooooo many painfully obvious changes that need to be made for the service to be considered good (lets not even talk about great yet, baby steps, baby steps).  In no particular order, here’s a few suggestions from a former web designer/programmer that I think would vastly improve the Facebook experience:

  • Implement an option that blocks mobile notifications when logged-into the website.  Its pretty annoying when I’m sitting in front of my computer and then my blackberry blows up 30 seconds later.  Seriously, this is pretty simple shit, wtf, does anyone at Facebook actually use Facebook + Facebook Mobile?
  • Please also add an option that allows users to choose from who they received notifications on photo/status/etc comments.  If I comment on a friend’s status/photo, I couldn’t give less of a shit if said friend’s friend – who I’ve never heard of, let alone met – left a comment after me.  Maybe some people do, however, most people with whom I’ve spoken, dont.
  • While I applaud Facebook for having the best privacy options of the big social networking sites (Linkedin is awful, Myspace isn’t much better), it seems that Facebook doesn’t have a single employee whose sole job is to test Facebook’s privacy controls.  Seriously, would it kill you guys to, ya’ know, test shit before doing a full-scale roll-out?  And if you do test, you’re doing a horrible, pathetic job.  Get your shit together.
  • Facebook is unique in that user profiles contain mostly-accurate, granular demographic data.  In the religion field, my profile clearly says “Jewish,” however just now (for the umpteenth time!), your “targeted advertising system” delivered an ad for ichurch.com “Dating for Christian Singles.”  THIS ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE!  Seriously, what is the problem?  You even allow users to mark ads as useless/etc, which I have, dozens of times, but to no avail.  How you’re able to sell ads is frankly, beyond my comprehension, to the point where I wonder if you’re completely fudging the results ala Madoff.
  • Your “customer service” department – to the extent that it uh, actually exists – is FUCKING USELESS.  USELESS! I’ve spent the past few months trying to establish an account for myself (Anal_yst, that is), however, your software apparently considers the word “anal” to be offensive and thus automatically blocks all of my registration efforts.  One of your “customer service” reps emailed me back (after a few weeks, that is) like one of us (or both?) had never used a computer before.  I emailed her back, and proceeded to wait what, 2+ weeks for another useless, inane response.  I asked to speak to her supervisor since she’d so conveniently wasted a month of my time (I was slightly more polite, in actuality), which resulted in an “apology” and more FUCKING USELESS instructions. Ma’am, and all of Team Facebook: While I may not be David Pogue or Walt Mossberg, it’d likely behoove you NOT to piss off someone who writes for The Atlantic. Be thankful I’m not (yet) of a vengeful demeanor.

Oh, and lest you doubt, here’s a screenshot from about 10 minutes ago illustrating how much your ad-delivery system blows.

If these are unintentional oversights, perhaps you’d like to hire me as a consultant.  My fees are very reasonable, and I guarantee I won’t just kiss management’s ass (clearly) and put together a bunch of pretty Power Point slides with a bunch of meaningless “statistics”.

If intentional, look, I get it: you’re between a rock and a hard place.  On one hand, you need to keep your users happy-enough that they don’t bail, but on the other, you need pageviews (etc).   Methinks you’d be well-served to pay more attention to the former, lest you inadvertently screw up the latter

Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

Regards,

Anal_yst

Targeted Advertising Fail #873,975,294

Firstly, yes, I read thesuperficial (not that I give a flying f*ck about Lindsay Lohan or whatever, but its a solid way to maintain a dying convo with some girls in NYC.  Also, and more importantly, who DOESN’T like Bar Rafaeli in a bikini?!  Exactly.)

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to revisit a topic I’ve been following since late 2002/early 2003: Targeted internet advertising (or lack thereof).    I’ve done a fair deal of programming and web design in my day, so I understand that in practice, delivering (with any semblance of accuracy, efficacy, consistency, etc) truly targeted ads is not as easy as it sounds.  However, every now and then (I’m looking at you, Facebook) I encounter an example of an utter FAIL that I’m moved to take pen to paper (er fingers to keyboard, as it were).

Today, we’re going to examine what I think are two simple (not mutually exclusive) aspects of any high-level, rules-based ad-delivery scheme: Language and demographics.  Take, for example, this screenshot from thesuperficial for McDonalds:

Why is this such a targeted advertising FAIL?

  • thesuperficial.com is an English-language site.  The ad, as you can clearly see, is in Spanish.  The site is not published in any other languages.
  • I’ve never seen a non-English ad on this site (and I’m a fairly regular reader).
  • My Spanish is a little rusty, but I’m pretty sure that’s an ad for 2 for $3 Fillet-o-Fish (aka McFish) sandwiches.
  • Sure, its Lent, and apparently this is the time of year when McDonald’s sells 25% (“apparently” being the key word) of the things.  I haven’t found any reliable data on what % of Global annual sales the McFish represents, but I’d imagine its pretty minimal (best guess low-to-mid single digit %).
  • Alexa informs us the demographics for The Superficial are as follows:

So, what we know is that relative to the rest of the web, The Superficial readers are generally 18-34, mostly Female, college-educated, accessing the site from work or home.

So, a question for the audience: What’s the demographic overlap between The Superficial’s readership and consumers of the Filet-o-Fish?

Disappointingly, I don’t have a conclusive answer, and despite wasting the past 2 hours of my life on it, can’t seem to find the underlying data I’d need to prove this FAIL beyond a shadow of a doubt, argh!

What I did find, though, is that among college graduates, those identifying themselves as Hispanic (approximately the same for both men and women) represent maybe 10% (+/- a few % points) of college graduates in the U.S. from the data I have examined.  Just based-upon the facts we do know (english site,~ 90%+ non-hispanic readership, relatively unpopular food item, etc), I just can’t seem to figure out the rationale for serving the McFish ad on this website.  In fairness to the technology, I went through the next 15 pages and couldn’t get the system to serve the ad again, so perhaps it was something of a fluke.

On the other hand, just Facebook, alone, serves up so many horrendously-targeted ads every day, I’m loathe to give the technology the benefit of the doubt.

Verdict:  Spanish ads for tertiary menu items on English language sites with majority non-Hispanic readership?  FAIL

How NOT to Fix the U.S. Educational System, Part 7,249

As many of you who’ve been reading my work know, the topic of educational reform is near and dear to my heart.  While hardly 3rd-worldesque, the U.S. educational system is no-where close to where it should be, although I’d love LOVE to hear anyone argue the contrary.

I started agitating, personally, for reform while I was still in Middle School, although quite clearly, my efforts were largely in vain.  Since High School, I wondered why the “normal” courses were such a joke, where even friends who weren’t the studious type could eek by with a B (if not higher) with little, if any real dedication.  I’m not arguing that everyone in America needs to be able to crank-out differential calculus by the age of 18, not hardly, as that’d be an inefficient use of time and resources.  However, on the other hand, there is NO EXCUSE for an American High School graduate to fail basic algebra, geometry, and worse, arithmetic!

This weekend, the NY Times brings us news of the most recent, and naturally brilliant, reform approach, which would allow students passing a battery of “competency” tests to graduate after only 2 years.  Proponents of this plan argue:

Kentucky’s commissioner of education, Terry Holliday, said high school graduation requirements there had long been based on having students accumulate enough course credits to graduate.

“This would reform that,” Dr. Holliday said. “We’ve been tied to seat time for 100 years. This would allow an approach based on subject mastery — a system based around move-on-when-ready.”

The new system aims to provide students with a clear outline of what they need to study to succeed, said Phil Daro, a consultant based in Berkeley, Calif., who is a member of an advisory committee for the effort.

Naturally, I agree, the current system could use some work (to say the least!), but as I mentioned earlier, when a mediocre student can  coast through with C’s, clearly the intent of education is being mangled, if not completely mocked.  My main concern with this plan, namely the idea of  “an approach based on subject mastery” relies entirely on administrators to determine these thresholds, which, in my experience, is a recipe for failure.

Additionally, I’m not sure what other public schools get away with, but at my High School (admittedly one of the less-terrible ones) and several others that friends attended, it wasn’t exactly a mystery what was required to pass a given course, nor, do I believe, has it really ever been.  For all but those with serious learning disabilities (and not always then, either), hard work and dedication are almost always enough to get through basic High School course work.  Again, in my experience, most people hardly give it anything close to 100% in High School, even in the Honors and AP classes I took (guilty as charged, whoops!).  I don’t think the problem, is that kids don’t know what it takes to succeed academically, its just their too lazy and unmotivated to do it, even when told exactly what it takes (uh, ever heard of a Syllabus?).  Alas,  I fear this plan’s proponents are even more deluded (nay, high on their own supply) than I initially thought:

School systems like Singapore’s promise students that if they diligently study the material in their course syllabuses, they will do well on their examinations, Mr. Daro said. “In the U.S., by contrast, all is murky,” he said. “Students do not have a clear idea of where to apply their effort, and the system makes no coherent attempt to reward learning.”

Its backers say the new system would reduce the need for community colleges to offer remedial courses because the passing score for the 10th-grade tests would be set at the level necessary to succeed in first-year college courses. Failure would provide 10th graders with an early warning system about the knowledge and skills they need to master in high school before seeking to enroll in college.

Currently, many high school graduates enrolling in community colleges are stunned to find that they cannot pass the math and English exams those colleges use to determine who need remediation.

As noted, I’m all for innovative reform that incentivizes learning and academic achievement, but when the hell did the overall mentality in this country become so freaking lazy (…he said semi-sarcastically)?  From what (little) I know about culture in Singapore (and many parts of Asia), parents virtually beat the importance/necessity of educational excellence into their kids heads from birth.  Here, even in wealthy areas with good schools, I see parents who appear to not give less of a shit about their childrens’ academic efforts, so long as they never get one of “those” calls from a teacher or school administrator.  If the goal is to get students to “diligently study the material in their course syllabi” (with the fairly well-documented non-sequitur that such diligence will inevitably lead to success on exams), then parents MUST be brought into the picture.  I don’t have the answer here, but you cannot expect students to bust their ass when, after the bell ends at the end of the day, they’re free to run amok doing whatever the hell they want.

Further, this plan hardly encourages lifetime, or even long-term learning;  Quite the contrary, it encourages cramming, wrote-learning, and doing just enough to pass the exams to get the hell out of Dodge, er, High School.  Kinda like the FINRA Series 7 exam basically everyone in the Securities business has to take; virtually no one, and I mean NO one remembers half the material by the time they leave the testing center, because it tests crap most of us will never have to use again.  Similarly, just because a kid can pass a math test at Tzero doesn’t mean he’s retained those skills to actually use T+x months or years down the road.  Hell, I used to be able to do Integrals in my head and program in C++, VB, and Pascal!  Now, let’s just say I don’t exactly look forward to reading through some of the quantitative finance papers friends and colleagues have asked me to review.

The point is, ladies & gentlemen, that if the goal is to measure competency at date T and shove the kids out the door to whatever comes next, then this approach is pretty close to idea.  However, if the goal is to encourage students to REALLY LEARN the material, to embrace it, to use that knowledge, then this approach is sure to be an epic failure.