Space travel for the 21st century

Today is MLK in the US and we went out to meet friends for brunch. One of the topics we talked about was space travel and how this is could shorten our time spent on planes.

While tech is not quite there, there have been promising advancements by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. These private sector initiatives give me hope that we might achieve low-orbit fast travel by 2100.

I spent 5 days on planes, traveled 53,000 mi on 28 flights in 2019, per my AppInTheAir profile.

I can’t but wonder how much time and jet fuel I could have saved if we had something like this available:

Now to explain this diagram:

  • Science: The concept of the Regional Space Hub relies on the ESA definition of low-Earth orbiting space craft. It assumes that once orbiting altitude is achieved, and the space hub is running at full speed, the point-to-point travel is a matter of finding the docking timings to make the journey most efficient
  • Technical Prerequisites: The three companies I mentioned and a few government programs are hard at work to make scalable, reusable rockets that can get people off the ground and land back safely to refuel and go back up again. DARPA is already working on a Transportation Hub concept, fully run by robots, so that might be a good blueprint for the Regional Space Hubs
  • The journey: I want to visit my parents in Romania. For simplicity, I asked them to meet me in Bucharest, the capital city of Romania. I’m leaving from San Francisco. Currently, I have to use min 2 planes and travel for over 15 hours to get to Bucharest using traditional jets. In the future, I want to get on a rocket at SFO (15-20 minutes with take-off procedures), get to the nearest Regional Space Hub, rely on the orbit speed to get me over Eastern Europe (minutes to switch ships, or stay on the same ship and get new passengers for those with different destinations), where the Romania-bound return rocket would shuttle me down to the Otopeni Airport (10-15 minutes). The whole journey could take me anywhere between 40 minutes and 2 hours, depending if I have to circle the Earth in the Hub waiting for the downstream shuttle.
  • Bonus, this would be more environmentally friendly than traditional airplanes, if NASA’s new fuel research program succeeds in producing better rocket fuel.
  • Per NASA, “It takes the shuttle approximately 8-1/2 minutes to get to orbit. And if you think about it, we’re accelerating a 4-1/2 million pound system from zero miles per hour to its orbital velocity of 17,500 miles per hour in those 8-1/2 minutes. So it’s a heck of a ride for the astronauts. They typically experience about three times the force of gravity during most of the ascent, and once we reach orbit, when the main engines cut off, they go from that three-G acceleration to zero acceleration virtually instantaneously, and that’s when they become weightless on orbit.”

If you would have talked to someone in 1920 about an average person traveling over 53,000 mi in one year for business and pleasure, they would have called you crazy. Let’s see what happens by 2100. I plan to be alive to try it out, once it becomes commercially viable.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

10 mistakes I have made as a marketing professional

Everyone writes about guides and success stories. Those are easy, and they lend you their positive aura. It’s not just in marketing, it’s in every profession, even more so if you’re an entrepreneur. While fail groups and stories emerge every now and then, it’s the success that shines over and tries to give people an example to follow.

I, for one, believe in the power of mistakes and fails, if taken in correctly and constructively. They teach you what doesn’t work so you can focus on what does work. This is valid for anything you do in life.

I started my marketing career by focusing on wins and on the fails of others. Now it’s time to show some of my own mistakes and learnings.

Not listening

This is an easy one. I didn’t always listen to my peers. I didn’t listen to my target audience, nor my teams all the time. As a result, I had to redo work, adapt campaigns that fell flat and do post-mortems on unsalvageable work.

Assuming I always know best

This one is especially true as you get some wins under your belt, and it’s connected to the listening that I talked about before. Do research, test your campaigns and learn from smaller batches before you launch to full lists of people/with huge budgets. If you ask the right questions, you’ll get guidance from the ones you want to steer towards your goal.

Rushing things out the door

This is a classic. We need everything done yesterday. Marketing has infinite amount of work. Let’s try to get as much as we can out the door as fast as possible. That never leads to anything good. I did that early on in my career and still catch myself wanting to do this even now. Stop, focus, prioritize and do less with more intent, more analysis and more resources.

Choosing an angle that’s too extreme

In a world that’s more and more polarized, it’s easy to fall into the extreme bandwagon. Either too conservative, or too progressive, too radical, or too tame, campaigns and directions that try too hard to be in one camp will eventually cause the other to reject you completely. The risk is huge, because if you are wrong, it’s hard to go back from an extreme claim. Don’t be extreme, you’ll thank me later. But also try to be a little bit bold, so you don’t fall flat.

Not empathizing with the person challenging me

I used to always start a thought process with thinking about “what would I do”. That put me in challenging positions when anther other person’s context was very different from mine, and that led to conflict. Nowadays, I’m trying to think like I were in their shoes – what background they have, how they would interpret things through their cultural and personal lens. Doesn’t always work, but I’m more mindful of it and life had been better as a result.

Being too confrontational about things

This is a tricky one, since some cultures interpret assertiveness as a sign of confidence, others see it as aggressive. It’s pretty similar to the empathy point I made earlier. Think about what people around you do often to get their points across successfully and replicate that. Don’t hold on to your assertive nature if it gets you nowhere. Took me a few years of US to learn that.

Not waiting for math and statistics to confirm my findings

This is another way of saying: Stop jumping to conclusions and wait for all the data to come in. Sometimes, statistics can be skewed the wrong way if not all your audience is correctly represented. Also connected to rushing things out the door. Good things come to those who wait on the math and stats to confirm their findings.

Being inconsistent

This is a personal one more than a business one, but hey, guilty. Less now, more early in my career, but this blog bears witness that I write in bursts – 3-4-5 articles, then silence. Get better at being consistent and you’ll get farther than people like me.

Always trying to respond

I’ll just say here that silence is sometimes the best answer, especially for social media. Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t humor the hecklers. Anything you say can and will be used against you online. Now I hope that made you stop and think for a bit. It helped me a lot.

Taking things too personally

This is my parting thought — don’t fall in love with your campaigns or messages, because when you put them to the test, they might fail. And if you love them, you might not see that right away and might not learn from that mistake/miss, and end up wasting time, money and resources. The job well done is worth falling in love with after it produced the desired outcome, and then some.

Photo by JD Designs on Unsplash

Guest post on Havingtime.com – How to Deal With the Challenges of Moving to a New Country

I’ve been in San Francisco for over 3 and a half years, but I’ve moved around a lot in the past 10ish years. At some point, I decided to document that journey and show the good and not so good parts of moving around.

Check out my latest post on dealing with the challenges of moving to a new country on Havingtime.com

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

Romanian IT in San Francisco 2016 – 2018 retrospective (overdue) and some personal notes on events and community management

Ok, so I wrote about the great year we had and it got me thinking. Why not go all the way back in time and document the entire Romania IT in San Francisco history. It’s only been 3 years or so since it started, so it should be pretty easy.

Also, there’s power in retrospectives and I’ll write about that in a separate blog post.

Some background: I arrived in San Francisco in July 2016, took a few months to get a job, adjust and meet people before I got involved with the Romanian IT movement. Before that I ran the Romanian Entrepreneurs in UK group in London for about 2 years with Razvan and Mircea, but that’s a story for another post, too. I was also very focused on numbers and attendee counts at the beginning, and felt pressure to deliver. I don’t anymore and it’s become second nature. Funny to think about how, when I was a kid in 2nd grade (i think), I tried to organize my birthday party and no one showed up because I was too afraid to invite them, and now I’ve been organizing community events for a little more than 6 years.

Enough backstories, here it goes.

July 2016 – December 2016

I wrote my first official blog post in December 2016, as part of the greater Romanian IT community. We were planning to launch in multiple cities in Europe and US, and San Francisco was one of them. I was fresh off the plane and full of energy to start building the community here.

I also hosted the first AI & ML webinar, a 101 session with Ruben and Cosmin, We talked about my work at DigitalGenius, Ruben’s Microsoft experience and Cosmin’s ML engineering knowledge at Clusterr.io. I predicted AI would take off in 2017 and wrote a takeaways blog here pointing to the Medium post linked above. This was our first event in the Facebook group, too.

January 2017

This month was focused more on virtual events, with people attending Open Talk 2.0, an internal Romanian IT call, and two Startup feedback sessions, one for retargeting.biz and another one for pixteller.com.

February 2017

We met for the first time, at Natoma Cabana, with a very interesting, official crowd, more details in the dedicated blog post. Back then, we thought that this would be the format, some speaking/intros and then networking. It was also the first event Mihai and I organized together. See my official attire 🙂

During February, we promoted a Startup feedback session for CoinFlux and another Romanian IT webinar, this time about network security. We also promoted a Repatriot dinner in San Francisco, and a Romanian entrepreneurs and investors tour of Silicon Valley, both organized by Dea Wilson.

Nothing happened in March 2019, I was traveling a lot for work and didn’t get to organize an event until April. We promoted a few Romanian startup exits and recommender systems webinar.

April 2017

It was time for the second meetup for Romanian IT in San Francisco, and we chose another downtown location for our get-together – Thirsty Bear. It was a pretty good turnout and people said that this format would work better for them. I was also fundraising for Hospice of Hope’s Copaceni Tech House, as I was preparing for my marathon run in LA later in the year.

We continued to promote the webinar on recommender systems and a Romanian Investors from Fribourg Capital, Liberty Technology Park and the Principals of KPMG meetup organized by George Roth and his RABN group.

Thanks to Liana from Memo.ai, community members got discounted access to SuperBot 2017, an AI conference in San Francisco.

May – December 2017

In May, we only promoted one Startup feedback session, with Anda, a friend of mine, and her company, Colorimetrix. We also started promoting Spherik’s mentorship program, which I eventually ended up taking part in.

In June, we promoted an Ethereum Deep Dive in Berkeley, two Startup feedback sessions, one with Planable, run by Xenia, another friend, where I was a panelist, and another one with Baro.io.

In July, we met at another RABN meetup, at the JW Marriott in San Francisco, and in August we helped Repatriot promote their survey about Romanians abroad.

In October, we met again in San Francisco, at Thirsty Bear. Great turnout, no pics this time. We also promoted the Repatriot Summit, that took place in Romania, that October.

Towards the end of 2017, as crypto was taking off, I discovered El Rio, the place that was soon to be our home for the next few years. A few Romanians got together there, too, for a Bitcoin meetup, and that’s where Mihai and I got the idea to move our meetups to El Rio.

January – February 2018

It took another Thirsty Bear meetup in February to get us to move to El Rio in March. No pics this time, either, but we had a theme again – Blockchain and AI, two of the hottest topics that year. We also promoted a $200 discount that Dea was offering to our community for the StartupGrind conference.

March 2018

March was a pretty busy month, and we met up again, this time at El Rio. We realized that people didn’t want topics or too much of a structure for these meetups, so we ditched that part and evolved into what the group is today. Took us longer that I want to admit, but hey, we got there.

We also promoted a Romanian IT survey this month and Diaspora Invest, an event for people who wanted to return to Romania after living in San Francisco for a while.

April – June 2018

In April, we focused on promoting the Romanian IT global mentorship program, at its second edition. In May, we promoted the RABN get-together at their annual picnic in the South Bay. We also helped Code for Romania organize their event in June.

July – August 2018

That summer we got involved in an anti graft campaign in Romania, helped promote their signature gathering campaign. We also started recruiting for the 3rd mentorship program through Romanian IT. This is when we held our summer mixer at El Rio, great turnout for July.

September – October 2018

We had our Autumn mixer in September, I was still thinking about the right cadence for these meetups to get maximum attendance. After a great meetup in September, we hiked to Alamere Falls that October, albeit we had quite the drought and didn’t see much water. It was fun nevertheless.

October is summer in SF, so we tried a new venue, Zeitgeist, in one of the sunny Fridays. It was fun, but not for casual chats. We kept El Rio as our primary venue.

We also started promoting Code for Kids in October, for their November event in San Francisco.

November 2018

In November, we helped promote the Code for Kids in San Francisco event, where a few of us showed up to find out what they have been working on. Impressive stuff. In Berkeley, there were more Romanian films being screened, so we helped people learn more about those, too.

We did one more hike before the rainy season – this time in Purisima Creek. Great turnout, 7.6mi range. Last but not least, we organized a little Cards Against Humanity game at my place mid month. Lots of fun!

December 2018

We ended the year with a Romania 100 year old celebration and later that month the final official meetup at El Rio.

Overall, we did 22 events, both virtual and in-person. Lots of people, lots of learning, and lots of gratitude for everyone who is part of our community.

People that smell the failure

I heard the original line while driving to Los Altos, for the Romanian presidential elections, round one. My wife said it out loud in the car while we were discussing attitudes towards failing and where we had all grown up, back in Eastern Europe, and connected to a message on one of the leading party’s WhatsApp group about a candidate that received over 1.7M votes.

I thought then and there that I wanted to write about the topic, about our shared trauma, as a generation that grew up in fear of this dreaded failure. There’s more to it than that, but not for today.

Today, I was also prompted by something else. Another friend of mine wrote a beautiful post (in Romanian) about admiration and how rare of a muscle this was, and to some extent, still is where we come from.

While I was growing up, I didn’t understand until later that you had to hide any kind of weakness or hint of deviation from the norm. Others did, and the way they did it was directly linked to the ones that didn’t – like me. They learned to see a blush, a tremor in ones voice, a showing of emotion and to turn that against the “perpetrator”, thereby deflecting any attention on their own failures. It’s like they “felt” when someone around them could be perceived as failing and took the opportunity to point the first finger, and so positioning themselves in a safe space, as the accuser, not the accused.

Memories of public micro-moments where I failed, trying to ask girls out, speaking up against bullies, speaking out on topics I enjoyed, playing basketball, and later in work environments, both in companies and as an entrepreneur or consultant, they all share the same thing – one person or, usually, a group of people constantly looking for ways to tell you how you’re failing or you are going to fail.

It’s an incredibly toxic culture that pushes people to close up, create a large wall, a persona to hide behind and only come out when things are “perfect”, or not come out at all because they do not fell “worthy” or “enough” to face the scrutiny of the finger-pointers. This breeds insecurities and the imposter syndrome. This also breeds fake people, that are risk averse to anything that might tear down the wall or pierce the vail.

If I look inside and am very honest with myself, it was less about economic opportunity when I left Romania, it was more about escaping this cultural context where failure was ridiculed and constantly tracked. It still is, and probably will be until enough people speak up and tell those people off.

It’s ok to fail, it’s ok to try and not always win, it’s ok to show that you’re human.

I admire people who start something knowing that it’s highly likely they will fail.

Where I come from, it takes real guts to do that.

What is Libra: a big step towards building the first super-country

I started this though process on Twitter a while ago and an event by Blockchain for Good helped me crystalize the “Facebook as a country” theory.

In an age where “the world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, owns no cars, (…) the world’s most valuable retailer, Alibaba, carries no stock, and the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property,” (source) it’s possible to consider a country that has no land.

  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the largest in the world. It now has over 2.4B users and it’s still growing.
  • Once it launched its Marketplace in 2016,  Facebook started having its own economy – and that’s besides the advertising economy it had by selling user data and attention.
  • Facebook has a system of laws and rules, deemed in the terms of service, which get enforced by teams of moderators. It also has a network of robots that evaluate accounts periodically to weed out risky behavior, other bots or spammers.

There was one thing Facebook did not have – a currency – until they came up with Libra and Calibra, the network, basked-backed currency and wallet designed to replace current payment rails and change the financial system as we know it.

They have drawn significant attention and scrutiny from regulators (US, UK, Indian Government, for example), the banking system, and even made Christine Lagarde shrug on camera this summer.

But is this new or revolutionary? By no means. Facebook is drawing from exsiting stuff:

  • Special Drawing Rights by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (1969)
  • The launch of the Euro currency and its success (1999)
  • Visa as a foundation for inter-bank compensation 1958
  • Every other digital wallet out there, including Venmo, Cash App (2009, 2013)

Special Drawing Rights as an inspiration for Libra

Libra will issue a stable coin (a cryptocurrency that does not fluctuate severely) backed by a number of national currencies, to enable stability and interchangeability.

For anyone who knows a little bit about macroeconomy, baskets of currencies are not new. The International Monetary fund created them to support the global credit system and shield it from single country currency risks. The underlying mechanics are simple, weighted pot sums of each participating currency are used to determine the basked currency value at any point in time.

Libra will most likely combine a series of top economies’ currencies with a few top cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and others to determine the price of Libras. Libra will most likely operate outside the traditional banking and national currency sector, given the regulatory issues surrounding its birth. It will be interesting to see what on-ramps will be allowed early on.

Countries and banks don’t like this too much for two reasons:

  1. It takes away their power to control supply and demand for their currency and influence how the economy evolves – see the Eurozone’s issues with Greece, Spain, Italy
  2. It creates a network that can circumvent fees, rules that banking systems and countries set for their citizens, such as capital controls or restrictions, removes the possibility to charge exorbitant fees due to lack of alternatives when dealing in exotic trades and unusual territories

The launch of the Euro currency and its success

I’ve written about this topic before. The Euro and its launch are the original initial coin offering, with countries participating to the biggest artificial coin issue of its time. National banks were required to initially seed, and then exchange their currencies to Euros after a transition period, effectively ascribing value to the new currency. It has been successful thanks to its use inside the system, between citizens, countries, companies, and due the fact that it is mandatory to deal in Euros when dealing with the EU.

Libra learns from this and tries to get many entities involved to seed outside money (the basket of currencies), first in a limited format, with the membership fee – $10M or equivalent. They want as much exchangeability as possible from day one, so that the currency is useful. Having it also used alongside traditional money will create the foundation for “inside the system” transactions to start growing vs money having to constantly go out of the system.

Libra and Facebook will ultimately have to hold a trade balance with the rest of the world, ensuring that there is always enough liquidity of Libras to currencies that are needed to be withdrawn from the system. This is similar to preventing a run on the bank.

If they follow the EU model, they are likely to be successful.

Visa as a foundation for inter-bank compensation

A few months ago, I ordered a book called The Birth of the Chaordic Age, by Dee Hock. For those who don’t know who he is, he created VISA, one of the most impressive and important financial organizations of our time, about 60 years ago. He wrote the book on how the organization was created and his leadership style. It’s a great read.

This is relevant for Libra because VISA, unlike the publicly traded corporation that it is today, started out as a member-owned not-for-profit organization that helped banks settle payments faster than the 6 month process they previously had and reduce fraud that resulted due to ledgers being out of sync for so long. Each member organization had equal rights to vote – decentralization – and had to participate financially to the network to be able to vote – staking. Libra called them network members and has them stake the $10M to both regulate the network and provide liquidity.

The question here for Facebook and Libra is: If this becomes profitable, will you IPO Libra, the same way VISA decided to change from a member-owned not-for-profit to a public corporation?

I’m not saying that’s bad. Dee Hock, on the other hand, is more decisive about the topic than I am – he parted ways with Visa for this reason – he wanted to keep it from becoming a profit-seeking corporation to maintain its mission to open access to financial products for everyone.

Will Libra maintain its mission, or will it turn into Visa 2.0 meets Facebook-style data mining?

Peer to peer and payment functions

Libra claims that the network itself will enable two kinds of wallets – Facebook’s (Calibra), with full identity verification and affiliated with Libra, and more self-sovereign wallets, where if you control your key, you control your Libras, without any identity checks.

The second wallet type is interesting, but likely doomed from birth – most merchants, vendors won’t accept it due to risks. Some will, in the same way they accept cash today.

Calibra, the first wallet, is interesting to mention here because it wants to ultimately connect two things – identity and payment. The most interesting and concerning part about this fact is they want to do it fee free. That means that the users and their data will be the product. If you don’t pay for the service, you’re being offered to someone who does. Fun, right?

And, yes, Calibra will compete with Paypal, Venmo, Cash App, Zelle etc.

The ethics and moral debate on Facebook and Libra

This was the topic of debate when we met in San Francisco, for Libra-themed round table.

This comes at no surprise to anyone who has seen Facebook take off from a college-themed youth social network to the global organization that it is today. It’s over 2.4B strong user base has proven to be not just a tool for people to connect with each other – which is great, but also one of the best cash cows for advertising, a mass surveillance tool for governments and, more recently, a powerful elections / political medium. I’m sure the team behind Facebook never intended for more than the first 2, but as it happens when large groups of people gravitate in one place, so does a proportional level of bad actors (both individual and institutional).

Let’s fast forward a few years into a future where Facebook is successful, and Libra is being used by 3B people globally. We now have not only the biggest social network, but it is now interconnected with the global financial system – showing to whomever wants to see who is paying whom for what and when, further enriching human metadata.

Ethics of good and bad here are debatable and my inner libertarian-leaning self tends to argue that people have the right to choose to use a tool like that, if made available, with reasonable warnings / explanations / disclaimers.

The reason we need these disclaimers / communication pieces inside Facebook and Libra is the two type of users the platform has – unconscious and conscious. The unconscious ones share everything and are easy to profile due to the almost exact resemblance of their online profile to their physical self. The conscious users are engaged in a transaction with Facebook, only sharing that what is useful for them and receiving service as a result. In their case, the online persona can differ significantly from their physical selves.

You might think you are a conscious user and that Facebook doesn’t already have most of your data, but if you think harder, you’ll see that Facebook knows if you changed jobs, bought a house, had a child, got married, divorced, moved to a new city, country, neighborhood, how often you go on vacation and where, what media you follow, what jokes you like, your sexual and social preference, what opinions you share publicly with others, and that’s all just by looking at your usage data – friends, likes, shares, comments, posts, photos (and their EXIF info).

When looking at the bigger picture and what Facebook and similar companies do to our lives, my assessment is net positive. This doesn’t mean everything they do is good, but that for the most part they have made it easier for us to keep up with people in our lives.

Maybe hiring a Director for social good will help with this ethical debate.

Image Credits: Geralt

I want to refocus this blog (again)

You stare at a blank page and you think — this is going to be my capstone, the best piece I have written so far. Then you start putting pressure on yourself to deliver and it becomes a chore, a burden. That dries up your inner writing flow and the blank page stays blank.

I have done that here. I have done that by boxing my writing into certain topics, trying to set fixed expectations when my mind is nothing but fixed. I want to change that now. 

10 years ago, when I first started writing, it was raw, unfiltered, unfettered, and it spoke to a few people. Then it spoke to more and more, soon becoming one of the best professional blogs in my country. 

But I moved to the UK in 2014 and part of me got left behind. I thought I could continue writing the same way, but I failed to recognize the fact that I couldn’t force a flow in a new language, a new industry and a world I had not experienced. 

After all, it took me 22 years to start writing in Romania, so why shouldn’t I expect at least some lead time? It only took me another 5 years to get to a point where I don’t need to box the writing in and let it flow. 

A few months ago, I wrote about how life is an improv game. Mine combines AI, blockchain, brain-computer interfaces, super-countries, social evolution and multiculturalism with a strong liberal flavor. 

If you are reading this and wondering what’s going on, look inside, let got and ride the flow. It will take you where you need to be.

For me, the show is just about to start. Act II. Yes, and…

Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Taxes around the world in 2019

My favorite topic: taxes

Having grown up in Eastern Europe and worked in the UK for 2 years, I know how painful it is to hand over around 50% of your gross monthly proceeds to the government. To add insult to injury, if you are a healthy, upstanding, self-sufficient, net-contributor citizen, you don’t even get to benefit from all those services you pay for every month.

In Romania, it’s easy to overlook all the social security and healthcare taxes, as they are drawn separately from income taxes and corporate taxes. They are, however, the biggest chunk of what the government takes from each salaried employee and every income-making resident. I won’t go into detail about how inefficient the system is with the ~50% they take.

The UK takes about 40% for mid-to-top earners and 45% for top earners. They offer much better services than in Eastern Europe, but the healthcare system has much to be desired, even with all the tax allocations.

The US has a more interesting system, with federal, state and local taxes. Even with all this stack, they don’t even come close to Romania or UK in terms of %. Sure, you pay for private healthcare and there are private schools and other non-state run services you’ll end up accessing. But you do that in Romania and the UK too, if you want top quality care, on top of taxes paid.

Check out this cool infographic and spot the facts that stand out for you. Maybe you can choose a country to live in based on this, or where to incorporate your next startup:

Source: Fortunly

Tweaking the (Un)Fair Isaac and Company score aka FICO

When we first got to the US, we knew that the first thing we had to do is get a credit card and build credit history so we can actually have access to goods and services like real Americans.

This is thanks to the FICO score, a thing developed in 1989, after the FCRA legislation was enacted in the 70s. That’s when Equifax was also born, which later gave way to the biggest identity heist in history, with over half of US residents affected.

What’s this FICO score? It’s what banks, real estate companies, credit card companies and other service providers use to understand if you’re going to pay your bills so they can offer credit of some sort. In principle it’s a good thing, giving access to credit to a broad part of society and allowing everyone to play the game and work towards that dreamy perfect 850 score (which is not worth the effort, by the way, as you’ll do fine with a 780+ score).

Image Source

But coming back to my issue with it, it’s very rewarding to people who were born in the US and have had credit histories their whole lives, granted they have always been on time with payments and disciplined with their finances. Sure, the ones who overextend, miss payments and default will be hit. But the ones who play the game can win at it.

Except for immigrants. 15% of the score is length of credit, so an immigrant who just arrived to the US is already way behind in the credit game. It will take them 5-10 years to get to a point where they can hope at a perfect score. This is because FICO scores +10 years of history as the best category and removes points for anyone who has less than that. This is the unfairness that I mentioned.

It could be fixed easily. By adding the word “proportional” to the way credit history linked to the moment you become a lawful permanent resident or a lawful non-migrant alien is calculated in the FICO score, they could level the playing field and give access to better credit to more people, not rob them by asking for double digit car loan terms or extremely expensive mortgage rates just because they weren’t born here. 

What’s the reason for this absolute anchor? Why having 10+ years of credit is better than having credit 100% of the time you’ve been here? Why 2 years of history is worse than 10 years? Will FICO ever change? 

I have started making the argument that credit bureaus need to rethink their business models. In an era of identity theft, hoarding customer information and selling it is no longer a sustainable business model. I should be able to own my own score, based on my own accounts. It should be in my best interest to add as much information to a secure, local datastore and then selectively share proof of these transactions whenever I need to prove my creditworthiness.

Not the other way around, to have 3rd parties store my data and share my information freely with lenders so they can advertise all those loans in my mail.

It’s time for credit scores to change. 

The conservative and progressive irony of liberals and republicans

Thinking about AI, progress, innovation and pro-business can only lead me to think about politics. Since I’ve been in the US for a while now, I’ve started to spot some interesting anomalies, contradictions in the way the two dominating ideologies tend to behave conservatively or progressively.

Why does this matter? It’s all about double standards and the idiosyncrasies that people are so comfortable living with. Harari makes it his mission in Sapiens and Homo Deus to reflect on and uncover the vast array of contradictions our society deals with every day. You might think this is a new problem, but It’s not. It’s as old as religion, the main source of contradictions – like thou shall not kill, unless they are an infidel. You get the point.

Let’s start with Phoebe, who’s a dedicated, lifelong liberal. She lives in California, works in tech, and spends her free time hiking, doing yoga and going out to brunch. Pretty familiar, no? While she values progress, at least at declarative level, she opposes change in her neighborhood, wants to regulate everything that may impact any people negatively (which, by the way, is almost everything people do out there), but claims that protects freedoms and is progressive. Progress in her mind is to protect and conserve the status quo of any kind, while slowly innovating within a government set box. She doesn’t know it, but she’s conservative.

What about Lindsey? She’s a dedicated, lifelong republican. She lives in Louisiana, works in the insurance business, spends her free time at the local social club, watches TV, likes to drive to malls and organizes regular barbecues. Also familiar, no? While she’s very conservative, at least at declarative level, she’s pro business, wants less regulations and more individual freedom for people to do whatever they want within reason and without harming others. Conservatism in her mind goes back to the constitutional rights that were put in place by the founding fathers, while everyone today can do pretty much what they like and try to find new ways to create value, without the government dictating what people can or can’t do in their communities. She doesn’t know it, but she’s liberal.

This is the main source of contradiction in the American culture today, as both Phoebe and Lindsey want the same thing, to live the best life they can with their families, their friends and within their community. They can’t seem to see eye to eye on most things because they don’t know they share a lot of things, much more than what sets the apart. So if both of them are both liberal and conservative at the same time, it is actually easy for them to connect, if they set aside the outrage TV and politicians instill in both, setting them up to hate each other. 

This time I have no solution for this, other than making people more aware that they are not so different from their political counterparts. Food for thought for 2020.

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