Random tech thoughts

tech-headOne thing I like about the technology landscape is that it is vast and ever-changing—kind of like my very own New England landscape. (Hint: we’re about to get 30 inches of snow.)

Once a month or so we like to hop onto the information superhighway, tool around, and see what’s going on. We do the roadwork so you don’t have to.

This month, we find something extraordinary, technology that can radically improve lives. That aspect keeps us coming back each week.

We also weigh in on a few tech stocks we like and why. Finally, we take an opportunity to complain about that venerable old online payment service, PayPal.

Eyesight for the blind

Every once in awhile, we read a technology story that inspires us. Other times, we see real tech that borders on science fiction. This story features both elements.clouded_glass

If a person had to lose one of her five senses, her eyesight would likely be the last one she’d choose. Of course, people don’t usually get to choose, and in the case of Emilie Gossiaux, a talented artist, losing her ability to see probably seemed devastating.

Well, turns out, the eyes are simply one channel—albeit the usual channel—through which visual information travels to the brain. What if a person could use another sense to send visual data to the brain. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

Apparently not. Ms. Gossiaux has been using technology dubbed the BrainPort Vision Device, which combines a camera placed near her eyes and a small piece of titanium with thousands of electrodes placed on her tongue. The device is said to create a new way for the the artist’s brain to receive visual information.

A truly radical technology restoring some normalcy to a person’s life. Nice.

Buy technology stocks?

It’s a truism in investing that one should invest in what one knows—in my case, that’s not much. But I do feel comfortable with my knowledge of technology, and by extension the companies that produce that technology. stock

I’ve spent 35 years working for tech companies in various industries, and have read and written extensively about technology.

In addition, over the years, I’ve invested mainly in technology stocks and have averaged approximately a 20% annual gain.

With the proviso that you should take this information with a healthy grain of salt, here are three technology stocks that I like:

  • IBM-LogoIBM. This stock (NASDAQ: IBM) has been under fire lately, and the company has certainly received its fair share of negative press. I like IBM for several reasons. It has a tremendous track record of innovation, and has consistently been number one over the years in patents filed and granted. In addition, the company is versatile, relying on many businesses to fuel its revenues, pays a handsome quarterly dividend, and has tremendous critical mass with almost $12 billion cash in the bank. The company has struggled a bit over the last six quarters or so, as it works to redefine itself and its core businesses. For example, in cloud software, the company is expanding its revenues and forward-looking prospects. Because IBM’s stock price is depressed (approximately $155 a share), it now offers a pretty good buying opportunity. I would add that the company is not out of the woods yet, so investors should consider this a buy and hold for at least two years.
  • tesla-logoTesla. Elon Musk’s electric car company (NASDAQ: TSLA) has been putting out some impressive vehicles that have received stellar ratings for safety, performance, and curb appeal. I’d own one in a heartbeat, but unfortunately, the cars are a bit above my pay grade. The stock is currently hovering around $200 after a recent market retraction that took nearly a third of its value. Musk, himself, has said that the company isn’t likely to be profitable until 2020. However, the company has been selling every vehicle it manufactures, and there is currently a three-month waiting list. That’s impressive, given that the cars cost $100,000. What’s more, Tesla will be introducing a lower-cost vehicle next year, which should significantly broaden its appeal and potential customer base. Finally, Tesla is leading the way in innovation in an industry that figures to be dominant five to 10 years from now. This stock is a long-term buy and hold, as it stands currently, and the entry price is fairly attractive. If there are short-term dips, I’ll buy more to lower my dollar cost average. If the company is swallowed up by, say, General Motors or Ford, the stock price could ascend quickly.
  • silver-apple-logoApple. Perhaps Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is an obvious choice, as the company continues to defy the naysayers, reap enormous profits, and, most importantly, innovate. Additionally, since Apple did a 7-for-1 stock split in 2014, it has made the entry point for potential buyers much more attractive. The stock is currently hovering around $112 per share, and is likely to see some volatility this year. But keep in mind the company offers the highest quarterly dividend of any tech company, while continuing aggressively to buy back its own shares, thus steadily increasing the inherent value of each share of stock. If the Apple Watch is a hit—I wouldn’t bet against it—the stock price could quickly go to $150 and up.

PayPal is a mess

I’ve written about buying and selling items on eBay, having been an eBay member for 11 years. Built into 99% of those transactions has been PayPal. I’ve used PayPal extensively, and often when PayPal is accepted by an online merchant, I’ve opted to use it rather than entering credit card information (which always feels like a risky proposition).

PayPal-logo-20071With all of that experience, I feel eminently qualified to comment on PayPal. And, lately, PayPal has been a mess. The company simply has not kept up with mobile technology, nor the increasingly dangerous online world.

In a nutshell, if you opt for PayPal’s two-factor authentication feature, and you shop online with your mobile phone or tablet, you will be disappointed.

PayPal simply has not given its participating merchants the tools to support two-factor authentication. Either that, or its merchants haven’t yet upgraded to PayPal’s latest payment tools. I’m not sure which is the case, but regardless, the current state of affairs is unacceptable.

A company whose core business is based on commerce ought to be removing every obstacle to commerce. Ya think?

Now, I should add that through my laptop, two-factor authentication seems to work fine. I make a purchase at a participating online vendor and I’m redirected to the PayPal site. I log in to PayPal as normal, and I reach a page that lets me request a code to be sent to my cell phone via text message.

After I receive the six-digit code, usually almost instantly, I enter it into a field on my laptop, and PayPal lets me into its site to pay for the transaction. PayPal then redirects me back to the merchant website to complete the process.

However, on either my iPad or iPhone, when I go through the same process and log onto PayPal, I get a message that says my transaction has “timed out” and tells me I must log in again. I do so, and get the timeout message again. At this point, I usually back out of the transaction completely, and both the online merchant and PayPal lose my business.

Now let’s multiply my experience by a couple million users, and you can imagine that PayPal and its partners are losing big money.

That’s no way to run a business, PayFail. Oops, sorry. Freudian slip.

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