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Archive Monthly Archives: February 2018

Closed Shorts, Good Defense Carry S&P 500 to Best Week Since 15

Every precaution taken against disaster by U.S. investors in 2016 was on display in the stock market this week.

Short sales that earlier reached the highest level since the financial crisis were covered, while bearish options bets were closed. Meanwhile defensive industries such as consumer staples and utilities powered the S&P 500 Index to its best week in seven months. When it was over, the two-day trauma that followed U.K. voters decision to secede from the European Union was all but erased.

The S&P 500 surged 3.2 percent to 2,102.95, including three consecutive daily gains of more than one percent, something thats happened only two other times since October 2011. At Fridays close, the index was less than half a percent from its level before the U.K. referendum.

There was a two-day period where people were freaking out, but at the end of the day, people did hedge going in, Pravit Chintawongvanich, head derivatives strategist at Macro Risk Advisors, said by phone. The fact that people were aware that this could happen, that limited the severity of the initial sell off.

Evidence that short covering helped fuel the subsequent advance was visible in the performance of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. basket of shares with the most bearish bets. The index surged 5.2 percent on the rallys second day, the most since 2009. Traders said a decline in the CBOE Volatility Index on Monday, when the market fell almost 2 percent, signaled investors cashed in on Brexit hedges. VIX futures volume had surged 40 percent in the days leading up to the vote.

The precautions led to a wild ride on the VIX. After the option-derived measure of stress surged 49 percent the day after the referendum, it posted the biggest weekly decline in history. The VIX and the S&P 500, which move in opposite directions 80 percent of the time, on Monday fell together by the biggest degree since August.

The move out of Brexit, people were a little bit more prepared for than they were last fall when Chinas devaluation rocked the market, Russell Rhoads, director of education for CBOEs options institution, said on Monday. You do have people with positions in place that theyre ready to take off. With people taking off the long put options, its pushing down implied volatility and resulting in a lower VIX.

Automated funds emerged as big winners. CTAs headed into the referendum with bearish bets on U.S. equities, allowing them to make money amid the turbulence, Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, global market strategist in the multi-asset allocation team of JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a note Friday. The funds quickly reversed to a long position, adding to their gains and in turn fueling the equity rally, Panigirtzoglou said.

While every industry in the S&P 500 rose over the five days, gains were dominated by industries least-tied to economic growth: health-care, utilities and phone companies rallied at least 4 percent. At price-earnings ratios of 23 for staples and 19.7 for utilities, both groups are more expensive than the benchmark and at least 20 percent above their five-year averages.

The buoyancy from U.S. stocks helped investors avoid the fate of past corrections induced by overseas concerns. While some analysts predicted a repeat of the August rout, central banks commitment to help markets navigate the turbulence lifted equities. The vote led traders to push back the expected timing for higher interest rates, and better-than-forecast data reinforced optimism that the economy will continue to expand.

The market is basically signaling that while Brexit is important, theres a sense that Europe isnt on the brink of falling apart, Matthew Kaufler, a portfolio manager with Federated Investors Inc. who oversees funds with about $2 billion assets, said by phone. Thats emboldened investors to get back in after the initial drop.

Health-care stocks were among the biggest gainers, with a 4 percent rally that was the best since March 2015. Endo International Plc, the groups worst performer in the two days after Brexit, ended the week 14 percent higher for the biggest gain.

Deal activity added to the rise. Mondelez International Inc.s $23 billion bid for Hershey Co. Thursday lifted the chocolate maker to the best performance among consumer-staple stocks even after it rebuffed the bid. The end of the second quarter on Thursday also spurred investors back into the market, Chintawongvanich said.

People panicked and sold at the lows, thinking it would get worse, but it didnt. The quarter-end came and people said, we cant not get involved, he said. That added to the rally over the last couple days, especially as they thought, well if this is nothing and central banks are going to help us, we cant not participate as we near highs.

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3 pillars of the most successful tech products

If youve started a tech company to make a lot of money, chances are youre bad at math or simply delusional. Statistically speaking, your odds of a big-time payday are somewhere between zero and almost zero.

Ninety-two percent of startups fail within three years. Only1 percent of the appsin the Apple App Store are financially successful. And even for the fortunate few companies that raise venture funding,75 percent will fail to generate a returnon investors capital.

Perhaps the hardest part about running a new business is knowing what to prioritize. There are hundreds of decisions to make, and keeping sight of whats important and whats not is a constant challenge. But when it comes to helping teams stay focused, I have found one model to be extremely useful: Its called the GEM framework. The origin story of the framework is uncertain, but Ive heard a similar modelwas first used during the early days of LinkedIn.

A companys job is to find a sustainable way to deliver value to customers, employees and shareholders. To do this, the company must never lose sight of its GEM: growth, engagement and monetization.


Growth is all about how a company finds new users or customers. Fundamentally, its about getting the right message in front of people who need what you have. I call these messages external triggers. External triggers are delivered through various channels, including television commercials, salespeople, emails or word of mouth.

Some external triggers, like one satisfied customer telling another about your product, cost you nothing. Others, like running ads on Google or buying billboards along the highway, can cost big bucks.

Its important to recognize that growth is a process and a practice, not an end state.

Theres nothing inherently better or worse about one external trigger versus another. What matters is whether the trigger fits your business. Viral growth is wonderful, but difficult to engineer and sustain. Meanwhile, buying media can produce a steady stream of customer interest, but can be expensive. The growth question to answer is: Are we getting better at drawing the attention of people who need our product? Quantifying the answer to that question means tracking the number of new users or customers over time, as well as the cost of earning their attention.

Its important to recognize that growth is a process and a practice, not an end state. Companies satisfied with their growth strategy are at risk of losing customers to their competitors. The growth hackers I know manically look for new channels and relentlessly test how many potential customers can be found and for what cost.

Growth question:Are we getting better at drawing the attention of people who need our product?
Growth metric:Number of new users or customers, and the cost of finding them.


With some products and services, customer engagement is naturally infrequent think of the way people buy real estate or book vacation travel. Other businesses require constant, habitual engagement to survive. Apps like Facebook, Slack, Salesforce and Snapchat need to becomea habit, or else they go out of business. If the service isnt used often, these products become less useful, and eventually customers never return.

Retaining customers means keeping them engaged, whether theyre checking in on an app or checking out of a purchase. Some businesses depend on repeat customer engagement more than others. But most critical for investors, founders and employees is to understand what brings people back.

To track engagement, companies should calculate the percentage of people using their product or service frequently enough to be classified as retained. For some products its once a year, for others its once an hour. The question Are we getting better at engaging people who need our product? is answered by calculating the growth in the percentage of retained customers.

Engagement question:Are we getting better at engaging people who need our product?
Engagement metric:Percentage of retained users or customers.


Finally, companies need to turn some of the value they create into cash or they go out of business. There are many ways to capture value. Companies can charge a subscription fee, sell a one-time purchase or create marketplaces where they take a share of the transaction between buyers and sellers.

When it comes to monetization, the most crucial question is: Are we getting better at capturing the value we create? The metric here is profits. But its essential not only to ask how the company is doing today, but also to understand how much untapped demand exists for the product. This is the only way to predict whether a company will be sustainable in the near term and to make bets on how big the company can get in the future.

This is where people get lucky with startups. While skill, diligence and process drive user growth and product engagement, predicting future markets is notoriously tough so much so that being smart can actually be a disadvantage.

Without a big unseen market and a way to hold on to it, future profits are no sure thing.

Smart people tend to try to predict future markets by reading industry reports, designing models and running numbers. However, with access to similar information, people tend to come to similar conclusions. Thats why being right isnt enough. Paradoxically, if you are right and everyone agrees with you, competitors will see the opportunity too, enter the market and eat away at your profits.

Therefore, when it comes to monetization over the long term, theres only one way to achieve it: Youve go to see a future market others dont. Next, if you can spot the big untapped market on the horizon, youve got to, as Warren Buffettadvises, protect it with unbreachable moats.There are only five ways todefend your marketfrom competitors: economies of scale, network effects, regulatory protection, brand and habit.

Without a big unseen market and a way to hold on to it, future profits are no sure thing.

Monetization question:Are we getting better at capturing the value we create?
Monetization metric:Profit.

A necessary trinity

Growth, engagement and monetization are interlinked, and each is insufficient on its own.

The most highly engaging, habit-forming product will fail if its used only by a small number of people who pay too little for the service. The overwhelming majority of apps in the App Store are never found by a critical mass because the companies behind them have failed to find a way to profitably draw users attention.

Similarly, an amazing growth strategy using the latest viral hacks is pointless without a way to retain and profit from the growth. Viddy, the video-sharing service and Snapchat predecessor, shocked Silicon Valley in the spring of 2012 by acquiring nearly three million users in a month. But shortly after investors ploughed $30 million into the company, it became clear the app was a leaky bucket that could not retain its users.

Finally, huge market potential is useless without a way to profitably reach and engage customers. For example, music-streaming services like Spotify and Pandora are a daily habit for millions of people, but if song owners manage to extract all the value by imposing stricter copyright terms, they have the power to destroy the streaming services.

Of course, businesses have to worry about all sorts of other things (see Alex OsterwaldersBusiness Model Canvasfor a more detailed analysis). But thinking through the GEM framework is extremely effective for keeping teams on track.

AsTomasz Tunguz, a partner at Redpoint Ventures, told me, these three criteria help make sure the team is allocating resources correctly. When it comes to monitoring and regularly communicating what matters, the GEM framework is precious.

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How the FBI won ‘the World Cup of fraud’ as Fifa scandal arrives in court

The trial of three former high-ranking South American football figures starts this week in New York but US authorities have already secured 23 guilty pleas

On Monday in a spartan Brooklyn courtroom, three former South American football chiefs accused of taking bribes and corruption will finally reach criminal trial, two and a half years on from the arrests in Zurich of Fifa barons that led to the toppling of Sepp Blatter’s regime. The three denying charges that include racketeering and “multiple acts involving bribery” over the sale of Copa América and other television rights are José Maria Marin, former president of the Brazil football association (CBF); Juan Ángel Napout, a Paraguayan who used to be president of the South America football confederation (Conmebol); and Manuel Burga, president of the Peru FA for 12 years and a member of Fifa’s money-dispensing development committee.

Substantial figures as they are, much more significant when assessing the impact of the US investigation into Fifa is to consider the former masters of the football universe who have already pleaded guilty, and the others charged but opposing extradition.

The latest to-do list for the presiding judge, Pamela Chen, states that 23 former football administrators and marketing executives have admitted guilt to crimes of financial corruption. They include Jeffrey Webb, who was president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Associations (Concacaf); Costas Takkas, one of Webb’s fixers; Alfredo Hawit, who took a $250,000 bribe when he was the interim Concacaf president; and two sons of Jack Warner, the long-term Concacaf president, who is also charged with serial corruption.

The guilty plea dramatically unsealed last Monday from the FBI’s investigation into the alleged links of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign with Russia carried the hallmarks of the methods that unearthed the corrupt Fifa panjandrums. When the seven executives were hauled out of their beds in Zurich’s five-star Baur au Lac hotel and accused of the “World Cup of fraud”, the US Department of Justice revealed that one baron at the heart of it all, Charles “Chuck” Blazer, had already pleaded guilty.

The American’s flip from Fifa powerbroker to admitted fraudster and informer echoes that of George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign foreign affairs adviser revealed to have pleaded guilty to lying, who is now believed to have worn a wire since in conversations with associates. The exploration by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice of endemic corruption in football followed the template now believed to be operating in the presidential investigation. They pinned Blazer with his undeniable guilt, secured his agreement to inform on others, then moved on to those whose names he sang. Investigators followed the evidence, and the money, secured more guilty pleas and informants, and proceeded to the next targets.

One crucial witness for the ultimate compiling of an indictment against 27 defendants, a who’s who of football potentates in the Americas, was clearly José Hawilla, the former president of Traffic, a prominent marketing company based in Brazil. Traffic was famed for having brokered a $160m deal in 1996 for Nike to sponsor the Brazil national team for 10 years. In his admission of guilt, Hawilla told the authorities he paid a kickback of $20m to Ricardo Teixeira, the long-term CBF president and a member of Fifa’s executive committee.

Hawilla, who awaits sentencing, illuminated in his guilty plea the culture of entitlement that had enveloped the heights of world football administration. He said he started Traffic as a legitimate company, buying South American football TV rights and selling them to broadcasters. But then the Paraguayan Nicolás Leoz, another of Fifa’s most powerful chiefs, president of Conmebol from 1986 to 2013, demanded the first bribe as long ago as 1991: “Leoz told Hawilla … that Hawilla would make a lot of money from the rights he was acquiring,” the indictment stated. “Leoz did not think it was fair that he did not also make money. Leoz told Hawilla that he would only sign the contract if Hawilla agreed to pay him a bribe.”

José Hawilla, the former president of Brazilian marketing company Traffic, was a key witness in securing the guilty pleas. Photograph: Brazil/Reuters

Hawilla said that from then on his company was endemically corrupt. Routinely, on almost every major deal to buy TV rights for the great South American football countries, he had to pay bribes, to Leoz, Teixeira and other football bosses, including Julio Grondona, president of the Argentina FA from 1979 and a central power-broker in Blatter’s Fifa until his death in 2014.

Blatter, whose 2015 election for a fifth term as Fifa president was scuppered by the arrests, still seethes about the US’s ruthless intervention. He argues, with some justification, that the corruption charged was in the Americas, and had nothing to do with Fifa in Zurich, which should not have been targeted. Blazer helped himself to piles of dollars from his base in the heart of the US, Trump Tower in New York, not at Fifa HQ in Switzerland.

But these complaints ignored the gross instances of alleged corruption that did relate to Fifa business. The worst accusation of all at the heart of the initial 164-page indictment was that Jack Warner of Trinidad & Tobago, for 21 years the head of Concacaf, had taken a $10m bribe to vote as a Fifa executive committee member for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup. Blatter, when I interviewed him last summer for my book, The Fall of the House of Fifa, was scathing about Blazer, who had gorged on corrupt gains over 21 years as Concacaf general secretary and a Fifa executive committee member. “Blazer was at the [London 2012] Olympics as a representative of Fifa, and he was wired by the FBI,” Blatter lamented. “So, what is such a country trying to give us lessons in how to honestly do a job?”

Blatter will always believe that the FBI and IRS began their work, with a tap on Blazer’s shoulder on 56th Street in Manhattan in November 2011, because the US was resentful that Fifa had spurned its bid to host the 2022 World Cup and voted for Qatar instead. Yet that overlooks some blatant episodes. Corruption was in effect publicly advertised in Trinidad in May 2011 by the handing out of $1m in $40,000 payments, literally in brown envelopes, to delegates of FAs in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) on the order of Warner. The payments followed a meeting at which the delegates were addressed by the Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam, who was standing as a presidential candidate to challenge Blatter in that month’s presidential election.

Warner denied it was bribery; Bin Hammam was found by the court of arbitration for sport to have been “more likely than not the source of the money” and was later banned from football for life.

The other problem with Blatter’s fixation on the Qatar vote is that a criminal investigation – whatever prompted it –would amount to nothing if there were no corruption to find. By any measure, with its guilty pleas, confiscation of assets and the threat of long jail sentences, the US evisceration of football authorities has been astonishingly successful.

Once they got going on the Trinidad dollars, subsequent public allegations made by Warner against Blazer, and the emptiness where Blazer’s tax returns should have been, the investigators unearthed mountains of dirt. Blazer, who died in July this year, pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges in November 2013: tax fraud, racketeering, his $1m share of the alleged $10m South Africa 2010 bribe, and multiple, serial bribe-pocketing for selling TV rights to Concacaf’s international Gold Cup tournaments dating as far back as 1993. In his formal plea and agreement to cooperate fully with the investigation, Blazer admitted to all of this and said: “I knew that my actions were wrong at the time.”

Yet through those years when Blazer was travelling the world in private flights, staying in five-star hotels, feasting at the heart of football in the US, all the while wielding World Cup hosting votes and leverage at Fifa, he gave no indication that he knew any of his actions were wrong. Contemplating these men awaiting trial this week, or those to be sentenced after admitting guilt, it is jolting to recall how untouchable they appeared for so long.

Warner, charged with the $10m bribe and corruption on TV deals dating back to 1994, has been characteristically contemptuous of his accusers and remains in Trinidad contesting the law on extradition to the US. Teixeira, who has not admitted any wrongdoing, is in Brazil, which has no extradition treaty with the US. Leoz’s lawyers have always said he is innocent; he is reported to be under house arrest in Paraguay and contesting extradition.

Marin, Napout and Burga will finally have their opportunity to defend themselves in court. But given the guilty pleas of so many other former inhabitants of world football’s heights, the “World Cup of fraud” has already been proven.

David Conn’s book, The Fall of the House of Fifa, is published by Yellow Jersey

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Will the Cowboys finally become more active in trades and free agency this year? – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

Will the Cowboys finally become more active in trades and free agency this year?
Blogging The Boys (blog)
Just like the Rams, the Eagles have stayed busy working the phones over the last two rotations around the sun. Philly has traded for players like Timmy Jernigan, Ronald Darby, and Jay Ajayi, all players that helped them win their world championship. We

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Blogging project promotes positivity and giving – Gladstone Observer (blog)

Gladstone Observer (blog)

Blogging project promotes positivity and giving
Gladstone Observer (blog)
The Gladstone woman and former professional photographer is seven weeks into a self-assigned 52-week kindness project. Each week she has published a blog post about a member or members of the Gladstone region who help their community. Her week two

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The ‘ghost town’ with no banks

Image caption The former HSBC bank is now empty

With nearly 260 banks in the UK set to be closed by the Royal Bank of Scotland due to a rise in online banking, BBC Wales visited Llandysul in Ceredigion to see how closures there have affected the community.

Until recently, Rose Ainsworth had four banks and a post office within a five-minute stroll of her front door.

Today, they have all gone.

Unable to drive, 83-year-old Mrs Ainsworth, who has osteoporosis, now has a 30 mile (48km) round trip via multiple buses to access her nearest banking services.

Image caption Rose Ainsworth, 83, sometimes has to walk for an hour to collect her pension

The other alternative is to grab her walking sticks and attempt the long walk to the relocated post office – a 4 sq m (43 sq ft) plastic kiosk next to the check-out tills at an edge-of-town supermarket.

On a bad day, the walk alone can take her an hour each way.

In common with an increasing number of once-prosperous towns across Wales, Llandysul, Ceredigion, is no longer deemed viable for the big banks.

The last of the “big four” banks to pull out of this town, with its proud history as the heart of the Welsh woollen industry, was Barclays just three weeks ago.

An increase in online banking and a lack of use were cited as reasons for the closures – for instance HSBC said the town’s service was “no longer viable”.

But not everyone can access online services.

“I don’t even own a computer,” Mrs Ainsworth, widowed nine years ago, said.

“I have to walk to the post office every Wednesday to collect my pension and it’s exhausting and leaves me in a lot of pain.

Image caption Llandysul used to be home to four banks

“I hate the set-up there because there is no privacy. It makes me feel vulnerable.

“If I need to go to the bank, it can take me all day now, whereas once I had four of them, and a post office, on my doorstep.”

Her views are shared by Danny Jones, a retired carpenter, who said the bank closures have left Llandysul like “a ghost town”.

Image caption Retired carpenter Danny Jones now has to travel 10 miles to do his banking

He said: “The town became more depressed every time a bank called it a day.

“My nearest bank now is 10 miles away in Newcastle Emlyn. If that closes I’ll be stuffed.

“Seeing the town so dead breaks my heart. It used to be such a lively, thriving place.

“Sure, you can’t say it’s all the banks’ fault but they have accelerated our demise. They were happy to be here in the good times. They should stay and help us get back on our feet.”

Image caption Caroline Kujawa (left) moved to Llandysul from Poole in August after losing her job as a NatWest cashier

Announcing 20 bank closures in Wales on Friday – part of 259 closures across the UK – RBS said the way people use its services had changed, with customers choosing to bank online or on mobiles instead.

All but one branch in Wales have less than 100 regular customers each week, it added.

But Caroline Kujawa believes banks have a responsibility to serve their communities as well as make money.

She moved to Llandysul in August after losing her job as a NatWest cashier in Poole, Dorset, when her branch closed.

She said: “When they close, they leave a massive hole in that community and you can see it here in Llandysul. It’s very sad.

“In my bank, we used to make sure our customers, especially the older ones, were safe. We had an elderly woman who wanted to withdraw £3,000 when usually she’d take out £50. It turned out she was being ripped off by a builder who demanded she took the cash out for him.

“Luckily, we were able to put a stop to it and contact the police. But how can there be that kind of pastoral care on the internet or in a town miles from your home where the bank doesn’t know you?”

Image caption From our BBC Wales News Facebook page

Businesswoman Clare Price blames a “general malaise” created by the bank closures for her trading woes.

“No one has any reason to come in to Llandysul now the banks are no longer here. Instead they head for bigger towns like Carmarthen to spend their money

“It feels like we’ve been left to rot.”

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The Cowboys should just overpay Anthony Hitchens to keep him – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

The Cowboys should just overpay Anthony Hitchens to keep him
Blogging The Boys (blog)
This is part one of a three-part series about moves the Cowboys need to make this offseason that will spark some debate, and maybe some anger, within the fanbase. In part one we discuss the free agency prospects of Anthony Hitchens. It's likely that

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Full 2018 NFL Draft order including all compensatory draft picks – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

Full 2018 NFL Draft order including all compensatory draft picks
Blogging The Boys (blog)
The NFL handed out 32 compensatory draft picks on Friday, and we take a look at what that means for the full 2018 NFL draft order. By Dave Halprin Feb 24, 2018, 4:00pm CST. Share Tweet Share. Share. Full 2018 NFL Draft order including all compensatory

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7 Ways To Stop Doubting Your Career Path When No One Supports It

Last weekI took four flights for two days straight to get from the capital of Nepal to my hometown of Buffalo, New York. I packed up the backpack I’d been living out of for eight months, plopped back down into the middle of America and the middle of something that looks like most people’s day-to-day reality.

I’mwatching my dad go to work at 6 am like he’s done for the past 40-something years, while my mom wakes up at 5 am to make his coffee and pack his lunch, like she’s done for the past 30-something years. I’mtalking to friends who work in offices by day and come home to boyfriends, dogs and sometimes kids by night. I went to the funeral of a family friend.

I’m (temporarily) back in the land where everyone goes through various amounts of schooling, reproduces and then works until they die. That’s notnecessarily a bad thing. It’s pretty much the normal course of life. It’s comfortable for a reason, and most people are perfectly happy to live that way.

I just don’t happen to live like that, so back here, I have to answer everyone’s questions: What do you do? How do you make money? How are you always traveling? Why are you always traveling? Don’t you want to get married? Where are you going next?

There’s something about being away, whether I’m living abroad for work or traveling for pleasure, that helps mestop comparing. I just live my own life, in my own way and wroteabout it on my blog for the people who are curious. Out there I’m inspired, motivated and supported by people who have found similarly unconventional paths, so I’m happy to go about my business.

But then, I come home. Inevitably, I start to compare. I switch on social media more often than I usually do, I see people graduate with yet another degree or move up quickly in the same company. I have coffee with old friends, I go to family functions and see my absolutely wonderful, but very normal family. And through all of this, I’m pretty much the oddball out.

It’s not just me that has this comparison problem.Many people evenbig dreamers and those who live life dancing to a different tune face this problem. 90 percent of the time, we’re able to ignore what everyone else is doing and keep grooving, but 10 percent of the time, we notice that no one else is on the dance floor.

Naturally, it’s hard to keep going.This doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong or need to cut our dreams down to size, it just means, to anyextent humanly possible, we need to stop comparing ours lives to others’. Or rather, because comparison is a natural tendency, we need to be careful to select the right benchmarks for who we are.

We need to stop second-guessing ourselves and find the courage to keep being different, but that’s easier said than done. So, how do we stop doing something that’s so natural and normal? How do we stop sizing up where we are, in comparison to where everyone else is?

Here are seven thingsI’ve come up with to boost my courage and embrace my individual journey and career:

1. Monitor your consumption.

My rule: My phone is on airplane mode for the first and last two hours of everyday simply for my sanity. If the first thing you do in the morning is wake up and look at Facebook and Instagram, and ingest a steady diet of the polished, superficial social media relics of everyone else’s lives, it’s no wonderyou’reunhappy.

It also means watching how many articles (like this one) you read that are made upof someone else’s experiences and opinions. It means monitoring how much of the news you consume, how much TV you watch and even how many books you read.

Stay close to reality, my friends.If you’re constantly ingesting other people’s ideas or scrolling through fairytale lives on glowing screens, how can you ever come up withor trust in your own path?

2. Ensure adequate alone time.

Once you regulate your intake of information, you have to give yourself space to let all the things you do consume digest and take shape in the form of your own opinions, ideas, creativity, inspiration and self-understanding.At minimum, spend 15 minutes in silent meditation when you wake upin order tocalm your mind and set positive intentions for the day. Then spend 15 minutes before bed to prepare your mind for rest.

I also go for evening walks most nights, and have one hour of reading time before bed. No TV, no movies, no phone, just feeding myself whatI’m intellectuallycurious about.

3. Track your own goals and successes.

It can be overwhelming to log into Facebook or LinkedIn and see acquaintances getting promotions, graduating from medical school, marrying a long-term partner or traveling to an exotic locale. If you spend too much time focused on what everyone else is accomplishing, you’ll forget about your own “wins,” which are of a completely different variety than other people’s, since they’re solely your own.

80 percent of the time, measure yourself against yourself. Then 20 percent of the time, measure yourself against someone who’sreally over-the-top successful for inspiration. Not your neighbor or your friend, but someone 20 years ahead of you. That’swho you need to look at, and that’swho you need to bringinto your life.The rest of the time, keep track of what’s important to you, and remind yourself of all the things you’re doing well.

4. Do a reality check.

Since you can’t justbe your own cheerleader, you have to face the facts. Are you actually falling behind? Are you not living up to your own potential? When you feel jealous,ashamed or anxious, what arethe roots of those worries?

If there are valid concerns behind your comparisons, lay those out, too. Be brutally honest with yourself, identify your weaknesses and make a plan to overcome them. If you want a graduate degree, don’t drool over someone else’s grad pictures. Start studying for the GRE. If you want a promotion, don’t spend time being jealous over a colleague’s success. Start working harder.

5. Evaluate who you spend time with.

Have you ever heard the saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with? If some of those people are causing you to consistently second-guess who you are or bring too muchnegative energy into your life, trim the fat.

Surround yourself not only with like-minded people (crazy, outlandish ones are even better), but also individuals who are the kind of people you want to be like. Look at everyone you spend the most time with and ask yourself, “Do I want to be like them?”

If not, try to make some new friends. Or at the very least, read good books, follow inspiring blogs, connect with people online and craft a virtual or intellectual place for yourself where you feel supported.

6. Meet with your Board of Directors.

Your Board ofDirectorsshould consist ofpeople you’ve hand-selected and appointed (usually without their knowing) to have a position of influence in your life. Remember, members of the Board can retire or be asked to leave. They can be loved ones, mentors, colleagues, friends or spiritual “gurus.”

When you’re really in a crisis, open up to members of the Board, honestly share your feelings and ask for feedback. The people who truly love and support you can providesome perspective, and perhaps show you some things to consider to keep dreaming big while still staying on track. Or they can assure you with confidence that you’re doing just fine.

7.Ask your 85-year-old self.

One of your members of the Board should always be yourself, on her death bed.Whenever the doubt creeps in “Am I the crazy one?” “Am I out of touch with reality?” “Am I going to wake up one day and wonder what the heck I’m doing?” “Am I setting myself up for failure?” spend some time alone, do the reality check and then ask yourself: What would 85-year-old me, on her deathbed, tell me to do?

Usually, thatanswer is very honest and very accurate.And then, friends, the most important thing of all, is to understandthe underlying fear.

When you look at other people and think everyone’s doing “so much better” than you, dig down on that. What are you afraid of? Why are you reacting that way? Does it boil down to pride, money, reputation, love or losing love?

It’s like a child who’s afraid of the dark. You’d want to sit them down and ask, “Sweetie, what are you afraid willto happen to you inthe dark?” And you’d want to listen to and pacifythe child’s fears by breaking each one down and assuring them that A) that’snever going to happen, and B) how to deal with it step-by-step if itdoeshappen.

Do the same thing for yourself. Ask yourself where the fear is coming from, and objectively check to see if it’s based in reality. Most of the time, it’s an irrational emotional response, and by simply being aware of it, we soothe and alleviate thosefears.

Some of the time, there are some valid concerns that can be planned for on a very practical levelin order to make us feel better about taking risks, chasing dreams andliving unconventional lives.That kind of planning might sound something like this:

If becoming a radio hostdoesn’t work out, which I define as not earning more than $50,000 a year three years from now, a back-up plan I’m happy with is going back to school to study nursing. Worst case scenario, I’m going to be fulfilleddoing something else, and I’m blessed to be in the position to pursue further education and change courses if I need to.

However,I’m excited to givePlan A my all, and cope with a lower income and less recognition than my peers for the next three years while I test thewaters. I accept that I’m on a different path, and as long as I’m happy and not harming anyone else by chasing this dream, I will persevere.

That balance of being grounded and self-aware, while still daring to live at the far-end of yourpossibilities spectrum, is a life-long struggle.

But I’d rather worry about going too far off the deep endthan never really live at all.Who’s with me?

This article was originally published on the author’s personal blog.

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How hackers can hijack your computer to make free money

If you experienced a sudden drop of performance when visiting Politifact on Friday, it was most likely because the popular fact-checking website was fast busy taxing your computer’s resources to make money—and no, you’re not getting a cut.

Hackers allegedly compromised the website and inflicted it with a cryptocurrency-mining script, a program that uses visitors’ CPU power to generate Monero, a digital currency like Bitcoin that professes anonymity.

The same script appeared on Showtime’s website late last month, though it was quickly removed after news broke on Twitter and several tech publications. Showtime never made it clear whether the script was added intentionally or was the result of their website being compromised. Pirate Bay intentionally experimented with the script but later removed it due to negative visitor feedback.

These are just a few of the increasing number of cases where the resources of computers like yours or mine have been hijacked to generate digital money without their owners’ consent. With the prices of cryptocurrencies steadily rising, plenty of people—including malicious hackers—are on the lookout to pad their wallets.

What is cryptocurrency mining?

While you can always buy cryptocurrencies on online exchanges, an alternative way to obtain them is to “mine” them, which will cost nothing if others are doing it for you.

Cryptocurrencies run on blockchain technology, a distributed ledger that exists on thousands of computers at the same time and obviates the need for middlemen and brokers such as banks and financial institutions. Records are stored on the ledger in blocks and are linked together through cryptographic equations, hence the name.

Before a new block is added to the blockchain, it has to be validated and verified through solving complicated mathematical problems. The process, called mining, requires a lot of computing power and ensures that no one can compromise the integrity of the system.

Anyone can become a miner by installing mining software and joining the network. The first miner to solve the equation gets to append the new block to the blockchain and be rewarded in cryptocurrencies and transaction fees.

Mining bitcoins requires huge amounts of computing power and requires specialized hardware available in large data centers. On the other hand, Monero, which was launched in 2014, can be mined with ordinary CPUs. Hackers can easily get involved by assembling a mining botnet, a network of computers infected with malware that enables cybercriminals to control them from afar.

How hackers are mining cryptocurrencies

Coinhive, the script used on the Showtime and Pirate Bay sites, was developed by a namesake company earlier this year and was introduced as “a viable alternative to intrusive and annoying ads that litter so many websites today.” It was also meant to address the rise of ad-blockers, which are hurting the bottom line of websites that rely on ads. The hosting website takes 70 percent of the proceeds and the rest goes to Coinhive. (The user naturally gets nothing.)

Given the inconspicuous way the script works, it has become a favorite money-making tool for hackers. In the past weeks, the script has popped up in numerous Google Chrome extensions and hacked WordPress and Magento websites.

Coinhive has expressed disappointment in the shady use of its tools and has promised to alter the script to obtain visitors’ consent before using their CPU for mining in the future. Meanwhile, several ad-blockers have added support to block Coinhive’s script.

However, Coinhive is not the only tool hackers are using to mine cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrency mining malware and schemes have been around for several years. But the past months have seen a spike in mining activity, largely due to the rising price of cryptocurrencies.

Slovakian cybersecurity vendor ESET recently discovered a malware that exploits unpatched vulnerabilities in Windows Server 2003 machines to mine tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of Monero every month.

Kaspersky Labs reported that cryptocurrency-mining malware has targeted more than 1.65 million computers in the first eight months of 2017, an uptick compared to previous years. IBM’s X-Force security team has found a sixfold increase in cryptocurrency-mining attacks aimed at enterprise networks.

How to protect yourself against cryptocurrency miners

While cryptocurrency miners won’t steal your data or encrypt your files like other malware, they are annoying nonetheless and can negatively impact the performance of your computer. Here are several ways you can prevent hackers from lining their pockets with your CPU:

  • Install an antivirus and keep it up to date: Most antivirus solutions detect and removing cryptocurrency mining tools as harmful software.
  • Install an ad-blocker: If you’re using AdBlock Plus or AdGuard, both block Coinhive’s JS library.
  • Install a cryptomining blocker extension on your browser: Developers have created Chrome extensions that scan your browser and terminate scripts that “look” like Coinhive. AntiMiner, No Coin, and minerBlock are three plugins that will help protect you against cryptocurrency miner scripts.

Ben Dickson is a software engineer and the founder of TechTalks. Follow his tweets at @bendee983 and his updates on Facebook.

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