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  • Microsoft: Skype Remains Very Popular [View article]
    In Europe, yes, but I was thinking more of Latin America where people are much more likely to just have pay-as-you-go phone service and use wi-fi for the Internet connection on a smart phone.

    In the US with Cricket I am now paying $55 monthly for unlimited calls and texts, plus international texts, plus 10GB data on the AT&T 4G network, so I think the US is starting to catch up in terms of affordable cell phone and data service.

    Possibly the sheer size of the US and the lack of density of the population spread out in huge suburbs has made infrastructure roll-out much more expensive than in countries where the population is concentrated and a few cell phone towers can serve most of the population. If 4G LTE is the final stage of wireless Internet development, we may see prices dropping.
    Oct 1, 2014. 01:20 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Microsoft: Skype Remains Very Popular [View article]
    LINE is another app that is similar to Viber that seems to be a bit more reliable, though I have only tried it recently. One of the differences with Skype is that you can use it either laptop or tablet or phone to any of these devices. Viber and Line are only phone to phone.

    Skype is very useful for calling out from the US, because the US subscriber will probably have a data plan on the phone and thus able to make and receive calls anywhere, whereas the overseas user will often be using some kind of public wi-fi or wi-fi that is only available at home and will not have a data plan included with calling, although that is starting to change somewhat. However data is expensive, though starting to drop a bit in the US--finally--with services like Cricket offering 10GB of AT&T 4G service for about $50 per month now with unlimited calling too.

    As far as the real time translation, I find Bing Translator to be pretty OK, though I am fluent enough in Spanish to rarely need it, except occasionally to look up a subjunctive or something like that, but the problem with any language translation program, or speech recognition for that matter is that it is usually a case of garbage in, garbage out. If you are inputting speech in English you have to be real careful to avoid homophones or ambiguous phrases or slang and keep your grammar simple and correct, so you have to have sufficient knowledge of the destination language to be able to check if the translator has got the sense of what you are saying, though used carefully it can be a time saver. It would be useless to speak in English and hope that it comes out in proper Chinese if you don't know a word of Chinese.
    Sep 30, 2014. 09:15 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Microsoft: Skype Remains Very Popular [View article]
    Skype is not bad and now has a service that the author did not mention called Skype-to-go by which if you call a number overseas frequently they will give you a number local to you to call and then the person receiving the call will receive a local call from their own country. This has some effect in improving the calling quality. Of course you still pay the international rate for the call.

    I have used Viber and it can be a useful service, but it is still effectively in beta and cannot really be relied upon. For example just today someone called me on the Viber free call service and said my phone was "ringing" but I did not pick up. Of course I heard nothing. I then tried the call in the other direction via Viber with the exact same result. I then made the call via Skype-to-go with no problems, although the call was not free. When my correspondent was at home later we were able to make a free video call via Skype. Viber does not do video calls yet.

    I also tried a paid Skype service that gives you another US telephone number at which you can receive calls. I would not recommend this as they apparently supply the number to nuisance callers.
    Sep 30, 2014. 05:36 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why I'm Still Not Buying Wal-Mart [View article]
    I actually visited a Costco today and took a look around. It was almost 20 miles from my home and somewhat difficult to access via bridges, freeways, heavy traffic, and various traffic lights.

    Generally the store is similar to a Sam's Club (or PriceMart in the Caribbean). Even the fast food/cafe section is almost identical.

    It advertises itself as a "wholesale club" which is what it is. They had an excellent selection of goods at reasonable prices, but most food items had to be bought in larger quantities, so one would have be be quite careful not to overbuy and then end up wasting perishables.

    Some of the pricing was a bit misleading as the price would be posted as the price per pound, but the minimum purchase was more than one pound. I suppose one would get used to this. It would be an ideal place for buying food supplies for a restaurant at a discounted price to reduce your costs per plate.

    There was an excellent selection of high quality meats and a great deal of emphasis on preprepared or convenience foods, for example ready-made hummus, or precooked lamb shanks. I do not remember any frozen vegetables or fruits, but there was some work going on around the freezer areas and I think they were installing a new display, so perhaps that was the reason.

    The clothing was sold as individual garments and was of good quality and value, and definitely much better than what is available at Walmart.

    The pharmacy section again offers large quantities for good prices, but most people would not need to buy such large amounts.

    I cannot see this format of Costco replacing Walmart Supercenters in Florida as the Walmart Supercenters are aimed at retail customers, and Costco more at business customers, though also with some appeal to retail customers who can handle large quantities of food, or want to make purchases of clothing, bedding, etc. If you wanted to furnish an entire house, you could get most of what you needed here at reasonable prices.
    Sep 29, 2014. 10:03 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Barron's And Goldman Sachs Say Buy Bank Of America [View article]
    Sounds more like his family refused to locate to Charlotte, the birthplace of Billy Graham, among other distinctions.
    Sep 28, 2014. 01:07 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Barron's And Goldman Sachs Say Buy Bank Of America [View article]
    Interesting story here about how Goldman bankers have been banned from personally investing individually in stocks or event-driven funds due to allegations of corruption of various kinds.

    Of course I am quite sure that a thorough investigation would show that Goldman employees in no way, shape, or form, took long positions prior to the announcement that Goldman was upgrading its recommendation on BAC. They would most definitely want their own customers and small investors in general to get the first bite at the cherry ahead of their own employees who are already very well reimbursed and in any case totally incorruptible.
    Sep 28, 2014. 12:57 AM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why I'm Still Not Buying Wal-Mart [View article]
    "Currently Walmart's price advantage seems to be most prevalent in the grocery arena."

    I think also in the area of pharmacy, prescription and non prescription drugs, and associated products such as vitamins, nutritional supplements, personal hygiene products, diapers, razors, toothbrushes, corn plasters, bandaids, and so on. The dedicated pharmacy/drugstore chains like Walgreens and CVS are noticeable much more expensive right across the board for every item in the store. In fact pharmacies must be incredibly profitable, due to medicare, because these dedicated pharmacy chains appear to sell very little in the rump of the stores, and yet they have large stores in expensive retail locations.

    Also for automobile tires they are very competitive.

    In my area (Florida) Costco stores are few and far between, but Walmart Supercenters are every few miles. For example the nearest Costco to where I live is 18 miles away, but there are 7 Walmart Supercenters that are closer.

    Costco IS the best shopping destination for large families and small businesses, but buying food there is problematical for singles and smaller families as it must be bought in larger quantities.
    Sep 27, 2014. 11:37 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why I'm Still Not Buying Wal-Mart [View article]
    Of course, the ability of any large chain to survive and grow over time depends on the ability of management to be surefooted and make changes in line with changing demographics, economics, the rise and fall and aging of neighborhoods and so on.

    I can think of a number of improvements that all of the supermarket chains in my area might want to introduce, but I daresay all of their managements have probably examined all of them and rejected them already for one reason or another.

    For example, in South America and the Caribbean many people drink oatmeal-based drinks made with fruit juices, pureed fruit, and milk (basically what Americans call "smoothies"), but such drinks, which are highly nutritious, fat-free, and healthy, and ideal, for example served hot or cold for a child's breakfast are almost unknown and the powdered oatmeal necessary cannot be found even in the "Hispanic" aisles of the supermarkets (only as a high-priced "organic" product). Promoting such drinks and providing the powdered oatmeal and all the other ingredients such as fruit in frozen chunks, lime juice, etc. is potentially a huge business aimed at anyone who has children or is interested in dieting, which is about 80% of the population.

    Of course the powdered oatmeal is easily made at home with a food processor applied to old-fashioned oats, but some people are apparently lazy enough (or possibly disabled) to buy premashed potatoes and no one ever went broke underestimating the laziness of some consumers.
    Sep 25, 2014. 12:51 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Why I'm Still Not Buying Wal-Mart [View article]
    Good points. Ultimately any huge chain of retail stores is going to suffer from the limitations of the people who are available for them to employ, the economic rise and fall of the neighborhoods where the stores are located, and so on. Would anyone expect Detroit to have the best Walmarts in the nation? Thought not.

    And then these chains have to compete with each other for your dollar, because you are going to buy food from one place or another, that is certain, but who is going to take the profits from feeding you and how large those profits will be is a moot point.

    Here in Florida there is a chain of Supermarkets called Publix that is generally reckoned to be the top of the food chain in the world of supermarkets, which translates into slightly better decor, slightly better-groomed employees who speak to every customer in passing, and slightly higher prices. But even Publix is concerned about competition from Walmart, having a board at the door showing the prices of a list of items that are cheaper in Publix than at Walmart. Unfortunately the list omits anything I want to buy and fails to make useful comparisons, for instance how much per pound are Publix old-fashioned oats or low-fat yoghurt versus Walmart old-fashioned oats or low-fat yoghurt, or p cucumbers versus w cukes.

    But from the observer point of view, there are so many variables that cannot be fathomed. For example is the obese customer more profitable for the supermarkets than the lighweight? It would appear so, because the obese customer is like the gas station customer with a gas-guzzler putting 20-gallons into a 15-gallon tank, filling up with premium priced fuel, and religiously buying the fuel treatment add-on and the car wash compared to the customer with the Corolla who rarely uses the a/c and puts in standard gas with no frills.

    The cheapest ingredients in American food is sugar or corn syrup, corn oil, and wheat flour, hence foods are manufactured to include as much sugar and flour and corn products as possible, and as little of anything else as possible for the maximum profit margins. Even the bread nearly always has sugar added.

    Hence the ideal customer for the supermarket is the donut addict. If Walmart can keep the donut addicts, then profits will continue to flow.

    Another key to growth for Walmart is overseas expansion, where, if they get it right profit margins are even higher than in the US due to lack of competition, inefficiencies, and so on.

    Walmart also does a huge amount of business with people crossing the borders from Canada and Mexico, plus close to ports of entry like Miami, due to the lure of single point of sale locations where almost anything can be bought from ice-picks to i-phones.

    My one suggestion for Walmart is that they ought to think about installing value-for money cafeterias with open wi-fi where the food is sold by weight as a way to sell grocery products that are about to expire, fresh juices, coffees, high margin soda drinks, etc. This would improve the viability of their stores as discrete destinations for one-stop shopping and bring in more customers. They would probably also be able to sell to employees. This would be an improvement over instore franchises of crummy outfits like Subway and Dunkin Donuts.
    Sep 25, 2014. 11:47 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Barron's And Goldman Sachs Say Buy Bank Of America [View article]
    I have nothing but admiration for Brett and his suggestions are usually extremely solid and following some, like Microsoft, has made me money. I also agree that BoA looks cheap at the current levels. I just don't think any buy recommendation by Goldman Sachs can be taken at face value.

    It is like that line from Monty Python's life of Brian: "What have the Romans ever done for us?"
    Sep 24, 2014. 05:30 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why I'm Still Not Buying Wal-Mart [View article]
    If you had bought Walmart on the day this article was published, you would be up about 2% in 3 weeks. Not bad compared to what certificates of deposit are offering.
    Sep 24, 2014. 05:16 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Why I'm Still Not Buying Wal-Mart [View article]
    "If anyone who read this lives in FL and wants a PRICE SHOPPING/MONEY SAVING CHALLENGE, I would be happy to oblige."

    I was in a Save-a-Lot supermarket in Florida today and bought a fresh pineapple for 99 cents. Walmart current price is $2.99 with occasional dips to $2.49. Winn Dixie is $4.99, but $3.99 if you have one of their cards. I also got Baby Bella mushrooms for 99 cents. Walmart is $2.49, I think.

    However I agree with you that for most common items Walmart is as cheap or cheaper, except perhaps for drinking glasses and frozen strawberries in Dollar Tree. I also find their computer section pretty pricey compared to online for stuff like cables, cameras. I saw a protective box for an i-Phone in WMT recently for $80. Hell, my smart phone cost me less than that, and my rubberized protector was about $2.

    The other advantage of Walmart is that they have a wide range of merchandise in the same place, so you can get green tea, Mason jars, spray paint, car tires, and a towel and swimming shorts, and an iPhone at the same place. Not many can say that.
    Sep 23, 2014. 11:26 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why I'm Still Not Buying Wal-Mart [View article]
    I knew a guy a few years ago who was about 50, broke, out of a job, and with what appeared to be a severe case of COPD requiring inhaler treatments, plus a fairly severe drinking problem.

    I didn't see him for a few years and then one day I met him in a Walmart about 20 miles from where I lived in South Florida. He was looking rather spiffy, well groomed, slim, trim, no smell of cigarettes about him and told me that he took a job at Walmart and within six months they put him in a management program, then promoted him to assistant manager and that he would be moving to a new store as overall manager in a few weeks. He was only making $19 an hour at the time i spoke to him, but that was the most he had ever earned in his life. After many years working in human services for the state, he was delighted with his new position in life and seemed like a new man. Of course he is probably atypical, but it was an eye opener for me all the same.
    Sep 23, 2014. 11:17 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Barron's And Goldman Sachs Say Buy Bank Of America [View article]
    The trouble is that if Goldman Sachs recommends buying BAC, that means that Goldman Sachs already has a long position in BAC and is hoping to offload it to you at a profit, so that they can then shake the price up and down by manipulating stories released in the financial press and Web sites like SA, analyst reports, etc., and hopefully (from their point of view) pressure you into selling your interest in BAC back to them at a loss to you.

    Goldman Sachs will probably argue that they have "Chinese" (i.e. paper thin!) walls between their buy and sell side departments, but if you buy that argument, then I have investments in bridge management stocks that may interest you.
    Sep 21, 2014. 10:12 AM | 14 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Alibaba AMZN EBay Online Retail Future  [View instapost]
    From my point of view as a consumer a shoe that is identical to another shoe but costs less is a better deal. From the investor point of view one might indeed rue lost sales of the more expensive product if one was invested in it.
    Sep 19, 2014. 10:34 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment