Friday, December 28, 2007

A Look Back: The Science of 2007


Science is arguably the single set of disciplines which propels the human race forward, drives culture, and increases our collective utility. The state of science can also be used to determine, via a snapshot, the state of the human condition; art and other elements of interdisciplinary studies flow from science. Just as this is so, I like to look back at the previous year’s scientific accomplishments.

Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs, courtesy Wired News

Top 10 Science Breakthroughs of the Year, courtesy Science News

Top 25 Science Stories of 2007, courtesy Scientific American

Craziest Science Stories of 2007, courtesy Live Science

Top 100 Science Stories of 2007, courtesy Discover Magazine

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Now We're Elite!

Now we're elite, or as is the popular vernacular amongst the die-hard Internet community: We're "leet."

The number "1337," as in one thousand three hundred and thirty seven, in "leet speak" dictates "eliteness."

Yeah, we're ending the year becoming "leet."

Keep on visiting and we'll see which mark we can hit next!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Help Wanted

It’s well-known that we live in the Information Age. Once upon a time it was the power of industry—great pieces of equipment operated by countless laborers working countless hours. As economies of scale developed, so did the assembly line and the furtherance of the manufacturing-based economy. As the industry-based landscape matured, the economy advanced to the point where specialization became increasingly important. As the twentieth century closed we had harnessed the power of the Internet. Combined with all other elements of the day our manufacturing-based society in the United States and other locales converted into an information-based economy.

Industry-based economics seemed to be a stepping stone to where we, in the west, are now; just as other places in the world go through this phase of their development we are shifting away from such and into a paradigm based around information, services, and facilitation. This information-based economy is revolutionizing old models and paradigms and changing the way that the various agents in each component of the economy interact with one another.

For the consumer part of this is that the Internet has had a tendency to democratize everything. eBay, with its online auctions, and Wal-Mart, with its harnessing of technology to make its business processes more efficient have collectively acted as the “invisible hand” of economics and made marketplaces more efficient: There is arguably not much profit to be made from these two businesses short of selling in volume. Wal-Mart posted a net profit margin of 3.6 percent in 2005, down to 3.2 percent in 2007. eBay has epitomized the low- or zero-profit margin on the Internet: In an online sense I firmly believe that eBay is as efficient as a market gets.

Each of us goes through our days selling our time to other people: For most of us that means selling our time for a wage or a salary, and maybe some benefits. Whether that means flipping burgers at the local fast food restaurant or bagging groceries for minimum wage or being a vice president with a bank, you are effectively selling your time to your employer for a price which you and the market will handle. In essence, you are a product which you must develop, market, and sell to employers seeking you and your product. This is simply a new way at looking at an old paradigm, though. I’ll breach that topic at another time. For now, however…

Imagine an extension of the above premise with the basis that you are a product such that you, instead of selling your services to your employer, could sell the services you provide to your employer directly to the customers which you already serve. Cut out the “middle man,” and eliminate inefficiencies at that level. Instead of being tied down to the policies, protocols, bureaucracies, and whatever else you don’t like about the time which you’re selling to your employer, you would be your own boss. You would be in control of your own destiny in the marketplace. You wouldn’t have to worry about performance reviews or a supervisor validating you: The marketplace which you serve would instead be the entity which validates your abilities and efforts.

There are a few, however, which can’t fit into this model. This does not mean, however, that you can’t work within this new paradigm, however.

Each person has not only the “hard” job skills and the “soft” ones they sell to their employer: They also have skills which they apply to hobbies or other “extracurricular” activities that occupy the time which they are not working for their employer.

This is where the famous adage “do what you love and find a way to get paid for it” enters. This is the ideal route. Find a way to do that which you love and make an occupation from it. Obfuscate the traditional definition of “work” so that it seems like play to you, particularly if you are that type of person who differentiates between “work” and “play.”

A lot of these hobbies-turn-jobs can be done as a sole proprietorship: Being in business for yourself, using yourself as the sole business entity. Although it is less difficult to deal with than its more sophisticated brethren, it is also just that: Less sophisticated. Not offering any liability protection is the greatest disadvantage of this form of business organization.

The next higher form of business organization is the partnership. There are multiple types of partnerships, but the key factor in choosing a partnership is that it offers a level of protection against liability inasmuch as it spreads liability amongst a group of partners. General partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and limited liability companies are the fundamental organizational forms which they take. For more, read up on them!

Next up are the corporations. The most sophisticated form of business organization; it is also the most powerful. A corporation is considered its own separate legal entity: In other words local, state, and federal governments consider it to be its own person. As such all liability taken on by a corporation is the responsibility of the corporation. Each “co-owner” or shareholder of a corporation is only liable for as much as they invest in the corporation. Put another way if you invest $1000 into a corporation and the corporation completely tanks, you only lose your $1000. The “classic” corporation is the “C-Corporation:” This organization type is typically unlimited to the amount of shareholders it can take on but can be taxed as a corporate entity (corporations are taxed as such in U.S. states; not at individual rates) and the shareholder is responsible for their financial gains from their investment in the corporation as well. Corporations are wonderful things for making money; as Ambrose Pierce humorously defined a corporation: “Corporation, [noun]. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility."

The other corporate entity is the “S-Corporation.” While some consider it a “glorified partnership,” the government still considers it a type of corporation. The name is derived from the portion of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax code that allows for the existence of this entity, “Subchapter S Corporations.” Essentially, the Subchapter S style of corporation allows for tax liability to be “passed through” the corporate veil such that each shareholder is responsible for paying them: While a regular C Corporation is double taxed (corporate plus individual), the S Corporation doesn’t pay corporate taxes, instead the individual shareholders are responsible for paying taxes on their individual investments in the enterprise. Subchapter S Corporations are typically corporations that are originally formed as C Corporations in their respective states, then paperwork is filed with the IRS in order to gain recognition as an S Corporation. An example of an S Corporation? My own.

Why such the long blog post? Because, at this time of year it seems that everyone is thinking about what moves to make in the year ahead: The obligatory New Year’s Resolution. Why not, in the upcoming year, figure out how you can break the “tyranny of the 9 to 5,” get away from the “dungeon of the cubicle” and figure out how you can become one of the successful string of businesses that drive innovation and contribute to society? Maybe it is for you, and maybe it is not for you. I strongly urge you to consider, however, this option.

While these steps take a skill set that is general and diverse in nature, one of my string of topics in the forthcoming year will be to develop the skill set required for a business owner, small business operator, or even CEO of one of the large multi-nationals. However, if you’d like to request a topic, please feel free to email me a question, your suggestion for a topic, or your feedback at this address!