From My Vantage Point

The Pros and Cons of a Smart City

Smart cities — i.e., cities using information and communication technology to upgrade the performance of various services — are becoming more and more popular across the globe, the hope being that they ultimately improve the quality of life in their given area.

Under ideal circumstances, the use of artificial intelligence in such places will positively impact several issues. Traffic will flow more smoothly. Energy will be used more efficiently. Carbon emissions will be reduced. Crime will be curtailed.

The downside of smart cities is considerable, however, and deal with security and privacy.

A 2017 white paper co-sponsored by the United Parcel Service and the Consumer Technology Association concluded that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities, increasing the need to make urban areas more livable. That same white paper noted that while smart city projects increased by 38 percent between 2013 and 2016, most of those were in Asia, notably Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer for Kansas City, Mo., did sound a hopeful note in the report, however:

“Twenty-five years from now, these will just be called cities. The ‘smart’ bit will be assumed. My goal as a CIO is to ensure as we are building out, doing maintenance on all these conditions.”

Copenhagen, Denmark, has made particular inroads in the smart space, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025 and independent of fossil fuels by 2050. One of the city’s landmark projects is “Copenhagen Connecting,” which involves the collection of anonymized data through WiFi trackers mounted in streetlights, allowing for the optimization of traffic flow, reduced energy usage and decreased carbon emissions.

Other cities, like Hamburg, London, Stockholm and Amsterdam, have adopted similar measures. In Barcelona, meanwhile, sensors connect the Ministry of Justice to police stations, hospitals and the like, and other devices allow drivers to detect open parking spaces. 

Elsewhere, there are such things as smart trash cans capable of alerting garbage trucks to when they are full.

But again, there are drawbacks to smart cities. 

Consider privacy. Police in Tigre, Argentina, have reduced car thefts through the use of security cameras and facial recognition software, but that has led to questions, there and everywhere else, about how such data might be used by governments. Is the door not open to surveillance to a Big Brother-like existence?

Then there is the matter of security. There are those who have hacked into the smart systems operating autonomous cars and planes, not to mention the traffic sensors in Washington, D.C. — though happily none did it with sinister intent. Rather, they wanted to check and see just how vulnerable such systems might be. The implications are ominous, however: Without sophisticated safeguards, a hacker could cause untold chaos in a smart city.

On balance, however, there is great promise in such interconnected areas, and much that can be built upon in the years ahead, as the world’s population grows and more and more people gravitate toward cities.

By |September 5th, 2019|Tags: , , |

Cryptocurrency forever (?): What happens to it When You Die?

The recent and unexpected death of Gerald Cotten, CEO of the Canadian cryptocurrency exchange platform Quadriga, has left thousands without access to their digital funds.

Cotten, just 31 at the time of his death, took to the grave all the core cold wallet keys, leaving to others the task of sorting out how to access Bitcoin, Litecoin and other cryptos held by his company’s users.

It also begs the larger question: What happens to your digital currencies if you die?

Cryptocurrencies only date back to 2009, when Bitcoin was created, and there is still some question about their staying power. As a result, most financial experts are preaching caution to investors. 

But Cotten’s death brings to light an added wrinkle: What are the loved ones of crypto holders to do when the account holder suddenly passes away without leaving a record of their access keys?

Here are three tips:

  1. Write a Letter of Will — After making the decision to take the cryptocurrency plunge, an investor would do well to write a letter to family detailing exactly how to access their account. The letter should outline a complete access plan, provide the exact location of wallet keys, and list any PINs, passwords and multi-signatures necessary to access the funds. This letter should be attached to a greater will and stored in a safe location, like a strong box or safety deposit box.
  2. Educate Your Family on Cryptocurrency — Anyone heavily invested in cryptocurrency should educate their loved ones about the investment tool, preferably after a letter of will has been finalized. This will help your family make safe investment decisions with the digital currency funds when the primary account holder passes away. With education, the next of kin can safely liquidate the currency fund or roll over the investment for longer-term gains.
  3. Appoint an Advisor — Anyone holding a substantial cryptocurrency sum should attach a letter of will to the contact information of a trusted investment consultant who is well-versed in digital currency. Doing so gives the estate’s inheritor and/or executor the ability to immediately contact said advisor, who can provide expert advice on how best to proceed.                               
By |August 14th, 2019|

Reinventing Oneself in a Tech Economy: What Jobs are Coming

There is an ongoing debate about the extent to which automation will impact the American workforce, one that dates back to at least 2013, when two Oxford University professors concluded that 47 percent of U.S. jobs would fall by the wayside as a result of technology.

A year later, nearly 1,900 tech experts were surveyed about the future of work. Forty-eight percent were of the opinion that robots would displace many workers, while 52 percent said automation would create more jobs than it eliminated. The latter conclusion has been supported in two subsequent studies, one by Gartner in 2017 and the other by the World Economic Forum in 2018. The first surmised that the U.S. would see a net gain of 500,000 jobs by 2020 — i.e., 2.3 million created, 1.8 million lost — while the second foresaw a gain of 58 million worldwide by 2022.

More recently — in January 2019, to be precise — the Brookings Institution issued a report that reached conclusions similar to those of the Oxford professors. The biggest is that one-quarter of the American workforce, some 36 million people, faces “high exposure” to automation, meaning that machines would be able to do at least 70 percent of their jobs.

The only thing that can be said with certainty is that every job will be impacted — that they will either disappear or be revamped to a certain degree by technology. (McKinsey estimated that 30 percent of the activities in 60 percent of the occupations will be automated.) And as jobs are reinvented, workers will be forced to reinvent themselves.

It is expected, for instance, that certain occupations in the food service and hospitality industries — cooks, waitresses, hotel desk clerks — will evaporate, and that short-haul truck drivers will be displaced by autonomous vehicles. According to the World Economic Forum report, jobs in data entry, payroll and accounting are also in peril, as are those that involve physical labor. The same report deduced that there will be an increased demand for data analysts, software developers, social media specialists and occupations that involve personal interaction, such as those in sales, marketing, innovation and customer service.

These shifts in the workforce have increased the need for retraining and upskilling the rank and file. But as Brookings noted, employer-supported training was on the wane between 1996 and 2008, the last year data was collected. Moreover, the U.S. in 2016 devoted just .11 percent of its GDP to Active Labor Market Policies, which are geared toward training workers. That’s down from .26 percent in 1985, and less than every industrialized country other than Mexico.

Brookings suggested that policymakers would do well to incentivize businesses to institute training programs, possibly with a human development tax credit. But the larger point made by Brookings is that the U.S. needs to get ahead of the technological curve — that it needs to step things up on the AI/Big Data/supercomputing front. Falling further behind an autocratic state like China, the institution said, is not a promising global scenario.

Brookings further recommended that policymakers enact means to protect workers who might be forced to take lower paying jobs in the face of automation, and that those same policymakers foster the shift to a tech-based economy in small cities and rural areas, which figure to be impacted the most by such a change.

But the biggest burden falls on their workers themselves, and whether they will be adroit enough to negotiate a career path permanently altered by automation.

By |July 23rd, 2019|

Focus is Key for Fledgling Companies

Maintaining focus is a serious issue for startup CEOs. Often they find themselves in a big hurry to launch and expand, but they don’t usually have the resources in place to do everything they desire. 

That’s the reason they need to concentrate on doing specific things right during the company’s development stage, but especially in the early stages.

Set Milestones and Easily Measurable Benchmarks

Keep your team on track by setting milestones. That way, everyone can work towards a particular goal with reasonable expectations. If a milestone is not appropriate, consider a series of benchmarks that are easy to measure. That’s a great way to motivate people, especially when the company may be a long way from profitability.

Use Transition Stages

You can set different transition stages as part of your developmental roadmap. Meet with your team and identify the phases that mark the critical periods of product development. This type of system keeps everyone aligned with shared goals. It also will put everyone on the same track so that achieving objectives becomes easier. You may even decide to hire people just for a specific stage in your cycle. Either way, it’s an asset to have a pathway that others can follow.

Limit Your Scope

Don’t set your eyes on too large of market. At first, you will be testing the waters to find out how viable your product is in the real world. As you discover demand, you can move to another phase of development. Losing focus is easy, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Most leaders have to deal with this issue (more than you might think). Execution and attention to detail will keep your ship running. If you start to bite off too much, you’ll see quality fail in the areas where you can least afford to let that happen.

Find the Right People for Key Positions

The biggest mistake you can make right off the bat is putting the wrong people in incorrect positions. Key individuals who can’t perform well in their roles will kill morale and slow or stop progress. Take the time necessary to match skills with available positions. You have to get people’s personalities to blend, and that’s a tough job, no matter how much experience you have.

People who hate their jobs complain. Eventually, they can poison a whole environment. It’s better to place the right individuals in roles where they operate best. That way, they’ll enjoy their work and be good at it. It may take more patience than you expect and an amount of skill to choose the perfect people, but it gives you a significant edge.

Are Users Returning?

If people don’t use your product or service repeatedly, you may have an issue. One of the central themes for success with apps (or any business) is repeat business, which also results in word-of-mouth advertising. App users are fickle, so you can’t count on high installation numbers to keep your business operational. If people refuse to come back and use your app more than once, you’re in trouble. Keep tweaking your core product and service until they can’t get enough. 

Settle on the Ideal Architecture

In the early stages, it’s essential to select the best architecture for the project. It will be much more comfortable than switching later. It will also help you assemble a team that’s comfortable using the best tools for the job. Architecture choices will come down to preference and cost. Your team has to live with this decision for a long time, so really dig in before committing. The fantastic news you’ll discover is that there are many robust platforms to choose from, so you can build an app with global potential.

Are Your Users Spreading the Word?

You need a viral push to make marketing effective. Do your users love your product enough to share it with others? Converting users into passionate customers  will help your product lift off as they pass it among colleagues and family. Nothing shoots your engagement through the roof like satisfied users. They are also the single best source of marketing because of their passion. Find ways to engage with and mobilize your most loyal users to improve your product throughout its lifecycle.

Tackle Scalability Issues

It’s always a good time to contemplate future growth. Scalability issues can’t sneak up on you if you don’t let them. It pays to plan for bursts of new activity and how you’ll handle it. Nothing kills growth faster than an app that doesn’t scale properly. Unhappy users will turn on you quickly. 

Realize that scalability problems only get worse! You don’t want to scale up customer complaints when you should be pushing revenues higher. Plan for the bursts, and you’ll be ready. Build the proper architecture and growth will be a given.

Get the Money

One thing is sure; startups always need more capital. You have to keep in mind monetization options every step of the way, especially when it looks like the product is taking off. You will need funds to fuel growth, so never let your attention drift too far from this essential objective. 

Building a business is always a challenge, but it’s rewarding. You have the chance to create something of lasting value while creating a fantastic work environment for yourself and others. It will take a ton of dedication and hard work to get there, but you’re in charge of your destiny. If you remain focused and do enough small things right, more significant and successful  results will begin to emerge.

Focus on keeping your customers happy, and your job gets a lot easier. There are many apps and choices that they make every day. If you can discover what motivates them to use your product, you can capture market share from competitors. Every one of your rivals’ weaknesses can become your greatest strength. It’s an exciting time to compete, and you have as much chance to succeed as anyone. Never give up on your dreams and keep your eye on the ball at all times.

By |July 16th, 2019|

Exploring the Benefits of CBD for Women

If it feels like everyone is suddenly taking or talking about CBD, you’re not imagining it. CBD products have flooded the market and people are using it in various forms to treat medical issues ranging from depression to infertility. 

Cannabidiol oil (CBD) is a natural non-psychotropic compound of cannabis, the mention of which leads to ongoing confusion: Is it a cure-all or just the latest fad? Will it cause a high or is it like taking a vitamin? CBD is not a drug and is derived from the hemp plant; and though the verdict is still out on its treatment for many issues, it has been proven as a solid choice for treatment in many cases. 

The medical community is just beginning to study CBD and its efficacy in treating everything from cancer to irritable bowel syndrome, but early indications are that CBD can alleviate a variety of common ailments. CBD has been shown to have several health benefits; and for women especially, it can help with stress and anxiety as well as issues associated with PMS, migraines and even endometriosis. 

Research shows CBD can positively affect the physical and emotional impact of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) since it serves as an anti-inflammatory and many symptoms of PMS are caused by inflammation in the body. CBD interacts with the body to help control nausea, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances and even bloating and cramps. CBD can even work to improve sleep, mood and the ability to relax.

In fact, researchers have discovered that preparations of the hemp plant have been used to treat ailments in women for thousands of years. These cannabis-derived treatments were used to ease pregnancy and help with menopause, so it is not surprising it also can be effective for PMS pain and other symptoms. While science hasn’t proven CBD as a PMS treatment specifically, the anti-inflammatory, pain relief and mood-lifting benefits are undeniable.

CBD can also help with hormonal imbalances. Hormones are chemicals produced by the endocrine system that control things like metabolism and growth. When the body doesn’t produce consistent levels of hormones, it can have a big impact on overall health. CBD can help regulate hormone levels, including cortisol, which is the stress hormone.

CBD has also been proven in dealing with anxiety. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million people and women are twice as likely as men to be affected. CBD promotes general relaxation and has no proven side effects like prescription anti-anxiety medications can have. Several studies have shown CBD can reduce anxiety by activating dopamine production in the brain and in states where it is legal, health practitioners have started to use it as treatment along with other more traditional therapies.   

Menopause is another female-specific hormonal change that can be greatly alleviated by using CBD and is one of the main reasons women explore CBD use. Research has shown CBD can help with mood swings, weight gain, hot flashes, sexual health and insomnia — again because most of these symptoms are associated with inflammation and brain chemistry changes. 

Autoimmune disorders also affect one in five U.S. adults. Women with arthritis, lupus and celiac disease have found that the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD can help treat or lessen the symptoms of these conditions.

There is obviously still a lot to be learned about CBD and many treatments arguing in favor of its use must be put to the scientific test. However, with studies beginning to show many positive impacts, it’s no wonder CBD is showing up in everything from skin creams to suppositories. If you plan to try it yourself, make sure you check your source and read labels carefully. It’s important to understand your dosage and delivery method for the best results.

By |July 3rd, 2019|

5 Ways The IoT Will Change The Face Of Modern Cities

One of the very first things that generally comes to mind when most people think of a city is traffic. Thick, heavy traffic and congestion, in fact. Public transportation has helped significantly reduce traffic in most large cities, but it continues to be a fairly significant pain point, with parking being next. 

With the population of most cities rising, land that has traditionally been used for vast parking lots or even parking structures is now in high demand for housing, making less space available for parking. Thankfully, technology is also helping to not only help traffic in large cities run more smoothly and efficiently, but it is also helping to decrease the need for parking. One of the most prevalent technologies assisting this process is the Internet of Things. Here are five ways how the Internet of Things (IoT) will change the face of modern cities.

1. Rideshare services

Public transportation can significantly reduce city congestion, but it is often time-consuming and doesn’t take you right where you need to be. Taxis are much more efficient and help cut down traffic, but they are both expensive and often in short supply. Rideshare services, however, utilize GPS tracking with smartphone apps that allow almost anyone to put their car into use for a few hours as a taxi of sorts. Not only does this cut down on the need for parking, but it also reduces traffic, since one car can carry multiple people to various locations instead of each person  having to bring their own car.

2. Faster and more efficient parking

In most large cities, drivers spend anywhere from six to fifteen minutes just driving around looking for parking. That adds up to 35 to 105 hours per year that drivers are spending just looking for a parking space. In addition, studies have actually shown that when one driver is waiting for another driver to leave a parking space, that driver actually takes longer to vacate that space. New connected meters will allow drivers to use an app that will tell them exactly where and when a space becomes available, eliminating the need to drive around looking for one.

3. Better public transportation

One of the many difficulties with public transportation is simply how confusing it can be to get from Point A to Point B in many large cities. Google Maps integrates public transportation information directly into the app, allowing riders to get a detailed picture of exactly what they need to do to reach their destinations. No matter how many transfers they need to take, GPS from both their phone and public vehicles show them exactly where they are and exactly where their ride is.

4. More efficient traffic

Smart traffic systems can communicate with each other to better direct the flow of traffic. If it is slow or congested in one area, smart signage helps redirect traffic to an open route, which helps reduce congestion and even pollution. Traffic systems even communicate directly with most map apps to help the apps themselves reroute traffic and alleviate congestion in busier areas.

5. Better building management

While traffic may remain one of the most prevalent problems in cities, the cities themselves are also a major drain of resources and contribute significantly to a number of environmental problems. Smart buildings, however, will use IoT technology to create more efficient energy management. Smart windows can darken or lighten to help manage light and reduce energy usage. When the sun is brightest, the windows can darken to help cooling systems operate more efficiently. When it’s cloudy, they can lighten to let in available light. Smartphone tracking will also help increase heat or cooling in rooms getting used heavily and decrease heat or cooling in lightly used areas.

By |June 27th, 2019|