In March of 2007 I began writing The Market Ticker. Some of you have heard the saga of how and why, but it bears repeating here in 2014, now 7 years later.
I was blessed in the 1990s with being in the right place at the right time. Oh sure, it didn't start that way; there was a lot of hard work dragging myself out of a sewer that I was headed into at high velocity, beginning with a speculative trip to Chicago undertaken with what was literally my last $100 and an offer to crash on a guy's couch I had never met in person; I only knew him as someone who ran software I had written for the TRS-80 operating an online bulletin board. That Sunday upon arrival I found an ad in the Chicago Tribune for a job in Schaumberg "programming the pins off the Z-80" at a little store-front business called NSI. Russ Berube, the guy who owned the joint, gave this at-the-time young man clawing himself away from a vortex of personal and financial disaster a programming position that he sorely needed -- and the income to rent an apartment. I still remember the workbenches and old-time PDP-11 running TSX-Plus, the cross-compiler and the EPROM burner; indeed, I spent so much time there that I could probably still walk from the little room where I worked to the can -- or to the PROM machine -- while sleeping. I remember well Mary, Denise, Don and several others. At night I slaved over my TRS-80 with a cobbled-together set of add-ons, some standard, some not-so-much, writing my own code for myself.
That was the opportunity that got me on my feet. It began my ventures as an entrepreneur, led to selling PCs along with doing network and computer integration for various firms in partnership with the guy who lent me his couch that first night. D&D Software morphed over time into both of us programming in his basement while I rented a room from him and his wife as it was closer than my first apartment (and cheaper), an expansion of the business to a small back warehouse in Mundelein where we built partitions out of wood and covered them with a remnant of carpet, a further expansion to a location in Wheeling and then, when the winds of change blew drying up business we amicably closed the firm and split up the assets as he was offered a technology position with an association and I was offered a network operations job at a project development office of a Fortune 50 company in Bannockburn. That ultimately led to me being hired by a spun-off subsidiary of another firm (VideOcart) that itself went public in Chicago proper.
When VideOcart got in trouble and it was apparent the firm was going to fail I prepared to start MCSNet -- in the bedroom closet of my apartment. That little place was the second level of an old brownstone rented out by a professional landlord who owned a few of them across the city, complete with out-of-true floors but somehow "safe enough" to pass a code inspection. It began with six modems, a 56kbps leased circuit and a hand-built PC running Unix, sporting a $20 box fan blowing extra air over the open case and collection of modems to keep them from melting down. That was the genesis of MCSNet; I built it with my bare hands and I retained majority ownership of the company throughout the firm's life.
MCSNet moved to 1300 W Belmont and expanded to fill two "micro office spaces" in a shared office building, where the photo that I've posted before was taken, and when we ran out of room there I moved the company to 180 N Stetson, otherwise known as 2 Prudential Plaza, leasing 8300' of the 26th floor. The company ultimately employed a couple of dozen people, served over 10,000 users in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, turned several million in gross receipts a year and was acquired in 1998 by Winstar Communications -- all with not one nickel of debt being taken on, ever, and not one item on lease other than the building space and office copy machine.
Why do I bring all of this history up?
Because there were many times during those years that I wondered if any of what I working toward was worth it, and there were plenty of times that it was a royal bitch too. It wasn't just the 4AM pages to go fix something, which as the boss was my job above everyone else -- that's not a big deal. No, it was the bare-knuckle aspect of business and the utter necessity of being willing to go to the mat when threatened, whether that came from competitive forces or other, less-orthodox events. That's a key part of being a successful enterpreneur that most people don't talk about; you either have the willingness to do that and are good at it, including remaining within the bright line tests but giving no quarter, or not. What's not required is that you like it; indeed, if you do enjoy it there's probably something wrong with you.
Then, just over 18 months after the sale closed I watched the Nasdaq come apart from the Sandestin Hilton in the Florida Panhandle.
I had much emotion over that event. My kid was a toddler and we were house-hunting, having decided that Chicago was not where I was going to raise her. I had been out of the market for roughly a year at the time because I saw it coming, but of course didn't know exactly when it would happen. I was angry. I remember telling Juanita and Jerry, the two Realtors that were showing us houses, that this was just the start of what was going to prove to be a monstrous crash, warning them that if they had investments in the market to pay very close attention.
That crash came from massive, outrageous fraud. It was founded in hubris, not so much in the people offering the stock in worthless companies and pipe dreams -- after all, if you're an entrepreneur you either believe in yourself and are both willing to and are good at being a bare-knuckled bastard when you need to be or you may as well quit before you start.
No, it was Wall Street, the bankers, and the puerile change in our society that had already begun to engulf us all. The media had lost its desire to look into stories and instead had become a lapdog for anyone with an ad budget. The Internet had become a monster, both enabling things nobody had ever thought of before which was good but at the same time either amplifying or at least exposing some really ugly realities about our human condition, which was bad.
The sharp drop in Asia in early 2007 woke me up from what had been a nice dream. I had spent the previous six years fishing, diving and raising my kid, and for four years had been a reasonably-active but long-only investor.
I looked into what was going on and saw the same old crap that had polluted the landscape in 1999 and 2000. It wasn't all that hard to figure out; after all I did have Realtors knocking on my door at 6:30 AM Saturdays claiming to have a couple in their car wanting to buy my house -- sight unseen, and no, it was not listed for sale.
I decided to try to make a difference.
So I began to write, and ultimately set up the forum as well as a place for people to congregate, trade ideas, and hopefully get something of value -- and perhaps, just perhaps, coalesce into something worthwhile that might put a stop to this sort of garbage in the future.
That appears to have been a foolish dream.
It wasn't my first foolish dream; I've been a fool many times before -- and I'm sure it won't be the last time either.
You see, nobody wants to do anything about the real issues facing our nation and that we have as a people -- at least not in a productive way. It's far more important and easier to take cheap shots, to play "gotcha" and to parade around bullshit than it is to face the facts about what our society has become, and when we play those games all we're doing is adding to the puerile and derelict nature of what our society has devolved into.
We're more-interested in whether Alec Baldwin said a bad thing on a NY Street than whether colleges are ripping off young adults. We're more interested in going after people predicated on half-truths and outright lies than the bald-faced rip-offs and outrages that are served upon us daily by those who claim to be acting in our "best interest" -- and our own culpability for same, in that virtually every one of these people holds office and power only because we consent with votes cast at either the polls or the store. It doesn't matter that the media intentionally placed their logo in a strategic fashion when George Zimmerman got out of a cop car to hide the back of his head so you couldn't see the gash that Trayvon Martin put there, and that was just one of the first half-truths and outright distortions presented in that case; we buy the products advertised on those "news" shows and watch those networks to this day.
Harry Reid struts around the Senate pontificating on evil Republicans even though his office and he personally knows that Medicare and Medicaid will bankrupt the country -- but he'll be dead first, so he doesn't give a damn nor will he put a stop to it. Boehner and McConnell, for their part, are happy to make all sorts of noises about deficit spending, but then when the time comes to actually stop it they fold for the same reason -- they don't give a damn either as they expect they'll leave office before it all goes to Hell and it's very profitable for them and their friends to continue the charade. Both sides of the aisle knew damn well that Obama was lying about virtually every respect of Obamacare and yet Pelosi literally said that Congress had to pass the law to know what was in it, which is a rank admission that she knew she was screwing the entire country. You don't care either because she's still in office. CEOs come on CNBC and other media channels to tout their "greatness" just as Mozillo did -- or for that matter Dick Fuld of Lehman who promised he was going to "burn the shorts." When his own pants caught on fire instead who called him on that?
What does it say about us when we're more-interested in whether Miley Cyrus is twerking with a foam finger than the rip-offs on Wall Street promulgated with HFT, blatant falsehoods spewed forth in Congressional testimony by Fed officials and outright lies by the head of the NSA? What does it say about us when a Congressperson documents that they and the President lied about your health care, intentionally destroying your insurance coverage and relationship with your physician -- and yet they still sit in their offices drawing paychecks funded with your money, voluntarily handed over, more than four years later?
What does it say about us when we're too damn busy dredging up old bullshit to demand that the foundation of this nation actually mean something? What does it mean when the most-important aspect of our lives is prattering about who's porking who (or who did pork who) instead of why we as a society tolerate grift on a wholesale basis to the point that 40% of our population gets a check that they literally steal from everyone -- including themselves and their children?
Maybe we all deserve what's happening and what's coming. Maybe we deserve the sort of thing that's happening in the Ukraine. After all, we watch those TV shows. We patronize the advertisers. We spend money making the paparazzi photo worth something; they wouldn't bother with the long lens pointed at the high-rise window or assaulting people in the street if nobody bought the magazine with the pictures. There's a whole section of magazines and newspapers in virtually every grocery store in the country filled with this crap at the checkout line and you're the reason it's there and is produced because you buy it.
Why is it considered acceptable when you have a garf with someone to blast them by text message instead of picking up the phone -- or talking to them in person? Where has our sense of reason gone and why don't you simply walk away if you conclude that you don't like someone? What does it say about your life when you find it so compelling to see how much crap you can load on someone else? Why is destruction so much more interesting to people these days than construction? Which moves the needle forward on balance for everyone, and which simply blows shit up for fun? How is that any different than chortling over the latest photo taken by the paparazzi?
You can't even drive to the store any more without running into someone who's hyper-aggressive about getting somewhere now and will ride your ass even though you're driving not only safely but somewhat faster than the speed limit. Nope -- they gotta go 70+ in a 55, on a bridge with one lane in each direction -- and no way to pass. When you won't accede to playing Speed Racer for a whole 30 second advantage in travel time they sit 2' from your bumper with their high beams on. Oh do I long for the days when I drove an AMC Pacer with rusted floorboards that was worth about $200 and could claim I saw a squirrel run across the road!
Why do we put up with exploding products? Manufacturers buy intentionally-cheapened components in modern electronics that are virtually guaranteed to fail not long after the warranty runs out. I've lost count of the number of LCD monitors and TVs I've resurrected that were felled by $5 worth of this crap made in China -- intentionally selected, I'm sure, for "lowest price." I can fix them for $5 in parts and 30 minutes with a soldering iron but how many people know that -- or know how to fix them? More to the point how many billions of dollars are wasted every year by consumers buying replacements for things that broke because they were designed to fail and how many tons of toxic waste are sitting in landfills that don't have to be there? How much of our so-called "GDP" is in fact spending driven by these intentional acts that rob us all? Why do we tolerate a "smartphone" or music player with a non user-replaceable battery that has a design life of 12-18 months when cycled from empty to full daily -- and better, why do we buy them for our kids and set that example for them? I have a Pioneer stereo receiver sitting next to me as I write this that I use for my computer speakers; it's two decades old and works perfectly. Can you say the same will be the case 20 years hence if you buy one today?
What does it say about us as a people when we build up and promote so-called "crypto-currencies" predicated on nothing more than the expenditure of electricity while intentionally ignoring the fact that they are designed to be self-extinguishing, exponentially-more-difficult to "mine" over time and the cost of verification of transactions increases with both volume and use? That's like trying to apply future value to a burning candle and yet many claim there is alleged "value" in these things -- or even worse, that they're "money." Where did the hallucinogenic drugs come from that are powering these fantasies?
What does it say about us when we build so-called "professions" up that lie to our youth as a matter of course -- and get paid for it? Why do we not only tolerate this but vote for the tax levies that fund these people instead of throwing them all out into the street on their ear? What purpose does "zero tolerance" actually have as applied to suspending children from school and giving them a permanent disciplinary record for biting into a Pop Tart in the wrong way, or pointing their finger? By the same token what does it say about us when a group of teens get a young girl drunk and then after she passes out remove her clothes, draw slurs on her thighs and assault her, and when we find out about it we make excuses for and protect the "kids" who did it even when it drives her to commit suicide? A singular, sad incident? Nope; Steubenville Ohio anyone, and I'm sure there are more. If you think this sort of crap is new, think again; it goes back at least decades. I have my own personal list of people I believe will burn in Hell that used to work in so-called "education" with culpability for similar, if in some cases less-severe, cover-ups and white-washes. You know who you are and if you're still breathing and read this piece I place my trust in God to judge you appropriately, for that decision is not mine to make.
Why do we have Fire Stations with "Safe Place" stickers on them where a woman can drop off a newborn baby without signing anything or identifying herself, and that child is forever gone from the perspective of its father, utterly without recourse? At the same time if she chooses to keep said kid she can hammer the same man for 18 or more years of child support, file false allegations of abuse to keep him from ever seeing the child for so much as 10 seconds and never be punished for the harm done to that kid or the false allegations. At the very same firehouse, however, five firefighters can ignore a man having a heart attack across the street despite being asked for help and after he dies as a consequence one of the involved parties is allowed to retire with her pension intact. In what sort of world do we live where life has become someone's plaything to be exploited for profit, both in birth and death say much less all the time in between? Want more examples? Go to your nearest hospital; you'll find hundreds of them each and every day from the ER waiting room to the patients in the beds.
Why would anyone bother to try to write opinion pieces or even news stories when they present a concise position in a paragraph and the second sentence is intentionally ignored so as to take a cheap shot at the author's point of view and claim they support something that is 180 degrees opposite from their actual and expressed position? Is that poor reading comprehension or intentional misconduct? Does it matter?
Maybe I have the wrong perspective here. Perhaps I should have looked at what I do as being part of the entertainment industry. Then it would all be par for the course; paparazzi are part of the deal, you smile for the camera and you pump out whatever crap you think people want to consume, damn the truth to Hell and back again. You expect to be the subject of tabloids and similar bullcrap. Oh, and to play my part well I'd have to speak in words of less than six letters, composing sentences of less than five words.
Just to make sure people can read them, of course.
But that's not why I set up The Market Ticker and Tickerforum. That's not why I spent a couple of thousand hours writing the software that runs this place (currently at version 41.4 as I pen this), say much less writing the articles herein.
It is, however, quite-clear that's what the expectation is of many who are consuming what's on this site -- complete with being a recipient of all the crap that has and does come with it.
There is more but I decline to dignify it with public commentary.
For all of the above reasons, enumerated and not, I decline to continue under the current arrangement. I'm seven years into this and enough is enough.
I'd rather go running with actual friends and then perhaps partake of a drink at the local pub where I can have a face-to-face conversation with real people. Or, maybe I'll go fishing.
Therefore what was is no longer. The Market Ticker will continue to publish articles at my whim if events catch my eye, much as Musings used to before The Ticker existed. I suspect there will be plenty that I want to comment on in the coming months and years. However, all comments will be moderated and will appear whenever I get around to looking at and approving them, starting here and now. The rest of what was Tickerforum has been closed.
Bonne chance mes amis.