Consumer Affairs – Edward Jones

Edward Jones offices around the country hang plaques that tout Edward Jones as winner of JD Power and Associate’s “One of the Best Companies to Work For.” I’m sure they are great to work for because they have a heck of a business model that benefits from an endless stream of investor newbies, directing them to buy investments at a premium allowing them to profit enormously. At the end of the day it’s their client that pays the overhead for their 11,500 brick and mortar branch offices across the country, the sports domes, the billboards, the TV commercials. I wish EJ was publicly traded, they would probably be a great investment ($6.28 billion in revenue in 2014), although arguably not an ethical one.

While I don’t think my Edward Jones adviser (a friend of the family actually) ever set out to intentionally do me wrong, the company is structured so that advisers are commission based salesmen. They are encouraged to promote mutual funds like American Funds which have ridiculous loading fees of 5.75% ( For every 10k you invest, you lose $575 from the get-go that won’t be growing over the next 10, 20 or 30 years) and on-going high expense ratios that skim money from your holding whether the fund is performing well or not. They will tell you that choosing “Class A Shares” with loading fees is good because these funds have no sales fees later and lower expense ratios than Class C shares, and if you are to hold funds for a long time, in the long run this is better. While this Class A vs C is true of American Funds, what they don’t tell you is that other fund families have no loading fees and lower expense ratios as American funds class A shares.. American Funds has very cozy relationship with EJ – they get a commission on the loading fees AND on the high expense ratios you pay (even with Class A shares) are partially comprised of whats called 12b-1 fees – that’s an ongoing finders fee that American Funds is kicking back to EJ for getting you into their fund! If you are savvy enough to choose your own investments and buy mutual funds not associated with EJ, they are still going to take commissions far greater than other brokerage firms.

Any stocks you buy have ridiculously high commission rates (2% taken) at both the time you Buy and Sell. That’s like buying stock on Wednesday and stock immediately dropping 2%. On top of that Edward Jones then takes 2% of all your dividend earnings when you have selected to have your dividends reinvested into the same stock or any other fund. That’s money they take as a commission for a process that is fully automated and as far as I know this commission on divined earnings is not something any other major brokerage firm does.

To add insult to injury, EJ has all these other little charges that add up, annual account charges and even a monthly fee if your checking account drops below $2000.

Now, 10 years after mediocre returns at best, having made EJ thousands of dollars of my hard earned money and all I have to show for it is a stack of their annual Birthday and Christmas cards (no i didn’t really save these). I’ve realized why savvy investors gibe EJ customers with “How are those American Funds doing :P” and calling them “Jonestown” followers. I for one can’t drink the green Kool Aid any longer!

It is extremely easy to move your IRA or other investments to another broker and you can transfer them “in-kind” which means you’re not even out of the market. After you move your funds over to another firm, you can then sell them for far less commissions and reallocate them in funds that will likely outperform American Funds. There’s a particular investment firm out there that is member owned and has the lowest fees. I won’t mention them by name in case that’s bad etiquette when reviewing another company, but if you do your research you’ll find many savvy investors recommending them.

UPDATED: Gov. Snyder responds to allegations that he ordered MDEQ to withhold lead test results | Blogs | Detroit Metro Times

Thursday, February 11, 2016

News Hits

UPDATED: Gov. Snyder responds to allegations that he ordered MDEQ to withhold lead test results


By Allie Gross

on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 at 8:56 AM

Gov. Rick Snyder’s press secretary has shared the following statement with Metro Times:

Gov. Rick Snyder never ordered a state agency to withhold information about lead testing in Flint schools, but instead quickly announced the results of water tests in 13 school buildings at a press conference in the city on Oct. 8.

The Governor’s Office unequivocally denies allegations published online by MLive on Wednesday that the Snyder ordered the Department of Environmental Quality to withhold results of testing in the schools.

Flint schools were under order not to drink the water since Sept. 25, 2015. On Friday, Oct. 2, the day after learning about elevated lead levels in in the city, Snyder responded aggressively with a an action plan that included testing the water in the schools.

As soon as the water samples were tested and the results verified, Snyder announced the results at a press conference in Flint on Oct. 8, where he also announced the state would help reconnect the city to water from Detroit.

New emails, obtained by the Flint Journal, suggest that Gov. Rick Snyder ordered the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to keep mum about Flint lead test results as they figured out a way to best present the information to the public.

According to MLive , for at least six days MDEQ withheld important lead test results from Genesee County Health Officials — and the public. Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that MDEQ later apologized to a county health official for the delay, saying the department was told by the governor not to share the results until a press conference.

The press conference in question is an October 8, 2015 gathering where Gov. Snyder announced plans for Flint to reconnect to Detroit’s water system and stop drawing water from the Flint River. It was more or less the conference where the governor conceded that yes, there were in fact very real problems with the corrosive Flint River as a water source.

The conference — which came a week after Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha presented research showing elevated lead levels in Flint youth —  is also where it was shared that three buildings within the Flint School District had tested above the federal limits for lead in the drinking water. In fact, at the conference it was revealed that one school, Freeman Elementary, tested  six times above the federal limit.

“They should have alerted the schools and they didn’t,” James Henry, Genesee County’s environmental health supervisor, who had been kept in the dark until after the press conference, told MLive Wednesday.

News that Gov. Snyder requested that this information not be shared with health officials until after the press conference came from a FOIAed email sent by Henry to a colleague. MLive reports that about a week after the news conference, MDEQ officials met with Henry and then-drinking water chief Liane Shekter Smith; two days later Henry emailed county Health Officer Mark Valacak to recap what was discussed. In this obtained email, MLive says Henry explained to Valacak that MDEQ claimed the governor had ordered them to delay the release.

The obfuscation of information was not limited to the original school test results, reports MLive.

Freeman elementary was supposed to have follow up tests the last week of October. According to FOIAed documents Henry requested the results on Nov. 3, asking MDEQ to treat his ask as a FOIA request (subject to a maximum 15-day time limit). MDEQ’s laboratory director, George Krisztian, however, rejected the request saying the Oct. 24 samples  provided an “incomplete picture of the plumbing system” and Oct. 31 results wouldn’t be ready till the next day.

An email Henry wrote to his boss three days later indicates that when Henry followed up with MDEQ, he was told that the department was going to wait until Dec. 2 — which was technically the FOIA deadline — to respond.

“MDEQ reminds me of a stubborn 2yr old child,” Henry wrote in an email the Flint Journal obtained. “Instead of doing what is right, they’ll willfully take another spanking just to be defiant.”

The results were eventually revealed on Nov. 9th — so before the FOIA deadline — however, the frustrating struggle to get the information sheds light on the often-obscured bureaucracy surrounding ‘who knew what’ in Flint.

If Henry’s name sounds familiar it’s because he was a key player in emails released last week  showing that one of Gov. Snyder’s top aides was aware of an uptick in Legionnaires Disease — and its possible tie to the Flint River — nearly a year before the public was informed.

Henry was the county health official who made the connection in an email that was eventually forwarded to Gov. Snyder’s aide Harvey Hollins.

“The increase of the illnesses closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to the Flint River water. The majority of the cases reside or have an association with the city,” Henry wrote in a March 10, 2015 to Flint officials and MDEQ officials. He later noted in the same email, “This situation has been explicitly explained to MDEQ and many of the city’s officials. I want to make sure in writing that there are no misunderstandings regarding this significant and urgent public health issue.”

Tags: flint , water , emails , FOIA , Snyder , Image

Google finishes 2,048-bit security upgrade for Web privacy – CNET

Google finishes 2,048-bit security upgrade for Web privacy

Prodded by “concerns about overbroad government surveillance,” Google beat an end-of-year deadline to retire Web certificates with less secure 1,024-bit encryption keys.

A 2,048-bit encryption key in binary is equivalent to a 617-digit number using decimal digits — not an easy number to guess if you don’t know it.

Wolfram Alpha

Never again are you going to get a Google Web site whose security certificate is protected with comparatively weak 1,024-bit encryption.

The Net giant has secured all its certificates with 2,048-bit RSA encryption keys or better, Google security engineer Dan Dulay said in a blog post Monday. Certificates are used to set up encrypted communications between a Web server and Web browser.

That means two things. First, traffic will be harder to decrypt since 1,024-bit keys aren’t in use at Google anymore. Second, retiring the 1,024-bit keys means the computing industry can retire the technology altogether by declaring such keys untrustworthy.

Google has been aggressively moving to stronger encryption because of U.S. government surveillance by the National Security Agency. According to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the agency gathered bulk data off Internet taps, including unencrypted data sent between company data centers on its own network, and actively worked to undermine encryption.

Google said it beat its internal end-of-year deadline for the 2,048-bit move. It’s also moved to encrypt its internal data transfer between data centers, a move that Yahoo also is making .

In other words, the Net’s technology giants are working actively to make surveillance, authorized or not, significantly harder.

Clicking on Chrome’s green lock icon in the address bar lets you see details of the encryption used for a secure connection. (Click to enlarge.)

screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

“Worry in Silicon Valley/Puget Sound: furor over NSA will cost billions cuz foreign customers fear US companies can’t guarantee security,” tweeted Strobe Talbott , president of analyst firm Brookings Institution, referring to the geographic regions where tech powers such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, LinkedIn, and Amazon are located.

There’s a lot of work to be done yet, though. Google also supports a standard called “forward secrecy,” which uses different keys for different sessions so that decrypting a single message doesn’t mean previous messages can likewise be decrypted using the same key. But many other Net giants don’t support forward secrecy — though that’s changing, too .


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A Deep Dive into Current & Future VR Experiences

Shattering Expectations – A Deep Dive into Current & Future VR Software

I’ve had a couple of weeks to play around with the GearVR virtual reality headset, and it’s been a blast. The hardware has finally matured enough for virtual reality to be quite convincing, and at an affordable price.

Since VR is such a new technology, there is currently a massive call for developers to get software into the hands of consumers. With the ongoing prioritization of app development there is already a surprising amount of software available even though the consumer Gear VR has been out for only one month.

I’ve set out to see what is possible with virtual reality software, by experimenting with many different apps and looking for trends. During my testing I’ve noticed there are several different types of experiences available in virtual reality. VR can provide new experiences in previously unreachable environments in addition to novel consumption of existing media. Let’s dive into the various types of applications starting with my favorite.

I have found social experiences to be the most compelling application of VR. These apps use virtual reality as a tool to bring together various people into the same room. Each person is given an Avatar that moves with their head. This adds an element of realism, and interactions closely simulate the real world. For example, I commonly found that players would make eye contact or facial expressions at each other even though this was completely unnecessary. It just felt right to follow standard social etiquette. In fact, several users on Reddit mentioned that they even felt social anxiety in these applications because they were so realistic.

The first such social experience application for the platform is Oculus Social Alpha. This application gathers up to five people in various virtual environments, including things such as a millionaire’s home theater or even the moon. You can watch Twitch or Vimeo videos, but just like hanging out in real life most didn’t pay much attention to the screen and instead spent most of their time conversing with each other. It’s surprising just how realistic this experience feels – it allows us to connect as humans on a social level that I have never experienced with any other type of technology.

Within the past week there have been two newcomers into this space: CONVRGE and vTime, each adding their own unique spin on the genre. In addition to allowing you to view YouTube videos (a much larger selection than Vimeo and Twitch), CONVRGE allows Gear VR users and Oculus users to hang out in the same rooms together. This expands and diversifies the pool of users you can connect with in their application, bridging the gap across platforms. vTime has it’s own twist: it does away with the video aspect and instead places users in various scenic locations like a river, famous mountain, or a fireplace inside a cave. These two applications are great examples of the innovations that can arise out of bringing third party developers into the mix. I’ll be keeping an eye on these applications to see how else they can continue innovating the experience of social communication in virtual reality.

“ The gaming demographic will likely drive plenty of VR’s mainstream adoption ”

The largest, and most expensive, category of applications is games. This is for good reason as well – Of all of the demos I’ve shown to friends and colleagues, nothing lights them up quite like a game of Smash Hit in virtual reality. Something just “clicks” when you start flying around inside the environment. It’s all quite natural.

The key is that instead of using a mouse, trackpad, or joystick to aim, you can simply look directly at your target and fire. There is something so satisfying about this method of aiming and everyone “gets it” almost instantly.

Another advantage of gaming in VR besides more natural interfaces is the immersion you can achieve. Gamers spend lots of money and effort making sure their gaming is as immersive as possible. Nothing is more immersive than virtually being inside of the environment. The enemies are much more real when you look over and see them in stereoscopic 3D. Because of this, the gaming demographic will drive a lot of adoption into the consumerization of VR. The high price that developers can charge for their apps (commonly $9.99 – $14.99) also makes this an appealing category for developers to invest in.

Watch out for the monsters in the dark and narrow corridors in the horror game Dreadhalls

One popular game that does a good job of demonstrating the level of immersion is Dreadhalls. This application is eerily similar to horror games in recent years such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. You are trapped inside of a large dungeon without anything but a lantern and must find a way to escape. Along the way you run into frightening creatures that are very dangerous. There are people that have tried this game that can’t make it more than 10 minutes before quitting out of fear. It’s that immersive.

For those looking for a less intense experience there are more relaxing games out there. Esper 2 is a great puzzle solving game that is reminiscent of Portal. It’s got sassy voice acting, humorous moments, and puzzles to solve that leverage interesting and novel mechanics. Similar to Smash Hit, Esper takes advantage of the ability to aim and control objects by simply looking at them and tapping. It’s a pleasurable experience and very entertaining, especially for the more casual gamer.

The ability to handcraft these experiences allows creators to make far more immersive content than ever before

The non-gamers out there can still enjoy virtual reality with various virtual experiences available. There are several apps that allow you to virtually visit places either in 360 degrees or in full stereoscopic 3D. These apps allow you to experience things you might not be able to experience normally. For example, the Ocean Rift app allows you to experience various underwater habitats and swim with animals such as dolphins, turtles, and whales. The experience is pretty convincing with the light effects and distortion tricking you into thinking you are actually underwater.

Check out how realistic this theater looks; and you can experience it from the comfort of your own couch!

When demoing the GearVR to my friends, another interesting experience I like to show them is the Oculus Video or the Netflix applications. Netflix places you inside of a wood cabin with a gigantic 110 inch TV you can use to view any Netflix content. Oculus Video allows you to consume traditional content in an extremely novel fashion. You are placed into a virtual cinema where you can watch a selection of movies (including any on your device) on the big screen. It’s a perfect recreation of a cinema, even the way the light bounces of the ceiling tiles is convincing. The only thing missing is the popcorn, but that’s what real life is for.

My favorite application in the “experiences” category is called Vrse. There are many different experiences in the Vrse app, but my go-to is called Catatonic. It’s an experience that utilizes the “captive audience” concept that is frequently used for horror experiences in VR. The viewer is strapped to a wheelchair and wheeled around an insane asylum. There are lights flickering, hooded men pushing you, and insane people crawling on the floor all around you. The sense of helplessness the content creators can achieve by forcing you to stay in a fixed location helps them to increase the level unease you feel. The entire experience is crafted to give you the spooks. It feels like you are inside of a horror film. In fact, the ability to handcraft these experiences will allow content creators to make far more immersive content than was ever possible.

The final category of Virtual Reality software I wanted to touch on is education. This is the direct application of the “experiences” concept, with a clear intent focused on educating the audience. The immersiveness of VR lends itself very well to educational experiences. VR is such a powerful education tool because it invites you to learn by actually experiencing the concepts, rather than just hearing about them.

The Body VR team believes they’ve stumbled upon the future of education with their immersive learning experience.

The types of educational experiences that are available remind me of what the children’s television show “The Magic Schoolbus” attempted to do. You can virtually experience many different things. The Body VR allows you to travel through the bloodstream to learn first-hand how the circulatory system works. With the BluVR you can swim in different ecosystems and learn facts about their inhabitants as they swim right past your nose. Titans of Space allows you to zoom through various planets and stars in a tour through our solar system and beyond. At each stop you learn information about the planet or surrounding moons. In all of these applications you are experiencing the concepts being taught. It almost doesn’t feel like learning!

Final Thoughts

Virtual reality has many strengths, the primary of which are immersion and simulated environments. Content creators and developers are finding many different applications of these concepts to create new ways to socialize, level up, or learn content. Once people get a chance to consume content in virtual reality, it’s hard to go back! One thing is certain – virtual reality is about to make a huge splash, but it will rely heavily on the software that is available for it. We’ve seen a lot of what’s possible, yet we’ve only scratched the surface.

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