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It's Time For Social Media to Change the World (Again)
February 17, 2019 6:00 pm|Comments (0)

In the summer of 2007, soon after a college intern convinced me to join Facebook, I remember thinking, “This is going to change everything. This is going to change the world.”

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and other social networks, blogs, and interactive online media have undoubtedly impacted billions of people over the past 12 years. Social media has helped topple dictatorships and given a voice to many millions of people previously unheard. It has reunited families, reconnected old friends, and rekindled romances. It has created opportunities for a massive number of small business owners, authors, and entrepreneurs. My wife and I are two of those people.  

But there has also been a dark side to the last 12 years of social media: Cyber-bullying, negative headlines, data and security breaches, Russian interference in elections, impact on mental health,–the list of harmful elements of social media, sadly, goes on and on.

Whether you log on and see someone complaining about something small, like how boring a tv show was last night, or something big, like how toxic our current political environment is, it’s impossible to use social media these days without constant exposure to negativity.

Forty-one percent of Generation Z social media users recently said that social media makes them feel sad, anxious, or depressed. A 2017 study found that the more time 18-22-year-olds spent on social media per day, “the greater the association with anxiety symptoms.” Disinformation Twitter accounts continue to publish more than a million tweets per day. The majority of teens have come across racist or sexist hate speech on social media. Nearly 43% of teens have been bullied online, and 41% of all Americans have experienced online harassment. The data is all startling, but we don’t need the data to know how we feel when we log in and check our feeds.

What then can we do to combat the negativity? Could we all quit social media? No, in 2019, social media is an unavoidable part of our lives, for better or for worse. We could put the responsibility in the hands of the social media companies themselves, but they haven’t exactly proven trustworthy lately. So really, the only thing we can do is to change our individual behavior. And it starts with small acts of kindness that will have a ripple effect.

Here’s one idea: #BeLikeableDay, a global movement which asks people and organizations to pledge to take one minute out of the day on February 26th to commit to an act of kindness on social media. Compliment a friend on their outfit on Instagram, share gratitude for a neighbor on Facebook, or leave an unsolicited recommendation for a colleague on LinkedIn. Re-tweet a charitable cause on Twitter, or simply say something nice on the social network of your choice.

Together, one person and one act of kindness at a time, we can start to make social media a more positive place to spend our time, first, on February 26th, and then, maybe eventually, every day. And here’s the good news: Online acts of kindness don’t just change the world of social media for the better, they change you for the better.

recent study by Yale and UCLA researchers suggest that performing small, kind gestures diffuses stress and improves mental health. In a Berkeley study, participants reported greater feelings of calmness and increased self-esteem after helping others. Committing acts of kindness even lowers your blood pressure: According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, author of The 5 Side Effects of Kindness, acts of kindness release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of nitric oxide, which in turn reduces your blood pressure. Yes, there is science to being nice online! 

So, instead of complaining about all of the negativity and toxicity of social media, and making it even more negative, how about choosing positivity on social media, on #BeLikeableDay and every day? You might improve your mood. You might even change the world.

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American Airlines Just Admitted It Has a Massive Problem. It's Either Funny Or Tragic
February 4, 2019 12:02 am|Comments (0)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

When I offer my occasionally skeptical thoughts about American Airlines, its customers cascade abuse upon my ignorance, my being and even my Twitter feed.

No, that’s a joke.

What actually happens is that I get messages from yet more American Airlines employees and customers telling me that things at the airline aren’t too perfect.

Of course, it’s often the whiners who choose to make most noise. 

For some time, though, American has made decision after decision that seems unhelpful to its customers.

The airline, though, has always insisted that its customer satisfaction scores were holding steadier than you would be doing, should you be standing in one of those bathrooms.

It’s a source, then, of considerable discomfort that the airline admitted it has a big problem. 

During its latest earnings call it admitted that customer satisfaction scores for the airline as a whole have now gone down.

Yes, passengers appear to be bothering to express a little displeasure even on the airline’s survey forms.

You might think that — as well as the tiny bathrooms — reducing legroom in First Class as well as Economy Class wouldn’t necessarily endear American to its customers.

You might even think that executives at American realize this.

However, as Skift reports, American’s president Robert Isom believes passengers are unhappy for a different reason.

He said no, no, they’re entirely happy with the actual product American offers: 

People are very pleased with what they’re getting in terms of service and in terms of the amenities and fleet and airports.

For Isom, though, passengers have just one itty-bitty issue:

They want a reliable airline. They want to be certain they get what they pay for.

You mean like with baggage fees?

Isom’s view rhymes perfectly with the opinions of the airline’s CEO, Doug Parker.

He recently insisted that by far the most important thing to customers is to get to their destination on time.

I fear he and Isom may not, for once, be correct.

But as it forced more and more of its planes into its so-called Project Oasis (seriously) cramped configuration and it flies more and more narrowbody planes stuffed with more and more seats over longer distances — yes, a narrowbody nightmare to Brazil! — passengers are going to notice.

American’s Flight Attendants regularly tell me they don’t feel the sort of motivation they’d like to, given what they see as management’s indifference to anything other than the lure of lucre.

Why, Isom himself declared last year that the airline won’t make anything better for passengers unless it can make a profit out of it.

At some point, your customers can see what you’re doing and decide they really don’t like it.

At some further point, they’re going to tell you.

It was a hauntingly pleasant experience, one that the airline is phasing out.

Is it really any wonder that its customers are now less satisfied?

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McDonald's Just Quietly Introduced Something That's Shocking Its Customers. It's Going to Shock Competitors, Too
January 6, 2019 12:01 pm|Comments (0)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Tastes are changing, which means McDonald’s has to turn its vast tanker of frozen meat and fatty morsels in a new direction.

And almost a year ago, the chain announced that it’s creeping toward making Happy Meals healthier.

Now, though, there’s a new, quite astounding step.

I can already see parents delighting in the notion that their advertising-vulnerable kids can now eat a burger with no meat in it.

Sadly, not quite.

Instead, the chain is releasing the Happy Meal, featuring a wrap.

The wrap is a red pesto goujon tortilla wrap. Yes, it includes shredded lettuce. But, perhaps the greatest glory for McDonald’s traditionalists is that it’s still garnished with one of the world’s great food groups — tomato ketchup. 

This whole(some) thing is a mere 209 calories and has been approved by the Vegetarian Society.

What’s not to love? 

It seems that not everyone is moved by McDonald’s wrapping itself in an eco-friendly future.

Noted bulbously extreme bloviator Piers Morgan was appalled. On Twitter, he screeched

Oh FFS. It’s supposed to be a HAPPY meal.

Oddly, McDonald’s chose to reply. Morgan, you see, had also railed against bakery Greggs introducing a vegan sausage roll. Morgan called the bakery “PC-ravaged clowns.” 

Astutely, Greggs replied: 

Oh hello, Piers, We’ve been expecting you.

For its part, McDonald’s offered: 

Like our pals at the sausage roll place, we’ve been expecting you. Don’t worry Piers, you can still get McNuggets in your Happy Meal!

There’s no news that this “progressive” Happy Meal is coming to the U.S. 

It seems clear, though, that competitors will worry that McDonald’s is suddenly making itself acceptable to the audience of the concerned.

I leave (almost) the last words to McDonald’s.

After all, the most important thing here is that kids actually like its greener happiness. So yes, there’s a toy involved too:

We’ve teamed up with Pokemon to bring you a little bit of fun in every box. Plus, you can now choose a Fruit Bag instead of Fries.

Yes, a Pokemon toy and a Fruit Bag instead of Fries.

What more could a child of tomorrow want?

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It's Time to Ditch New Year's Resolutions. Do This Powerful 25-Minute Exercise Instead
January 3, 2019 12:01 pm|Comments (0)

I have always found new year resolutions difficult (with the exception of Woody Guthrie’s beautiful 1942 version). I prefer writing manifestos when it comes to the future.

I wrote about the Manifesto Exercise around this time last year. Denny Post, CEO of Red Robin, shared it on Facebook at the end of this year, recommending it to her friends as a different way of doing their new year resolutions. That inspired me to do mine, below, and update it with some new categories.

“Ayse Birsel authored this piece last year in INC – it’s a practical, efficient and inclusive approach to setting yourself up for the New Year!” Denny Post

The Manifesto Exercise will help you think like a designer about your work for 2019.

I recommend that you do one alone and then do it again with your team. Remember you’ll be thinking like a designer–with optimism, looking at the big picture, and with empathy for yourself (and each other, if you’re doing it with your team).

Ground rules are the same as last year: Give yourself 25 minutes total. If you run out of time, take a short break before you complete it. Speed is part of the game in that it helps you go with your gut and leaves less room for unnecessary self-judgment. Remember to do it playfully, because when we’re playful we’re like kids, fearless and open to learning by doing.

Time: 25 minutes, sometime in early January 2019.

A. DECONSTRUCT:

Map out your work life in 2018 across the following 6 categories (see my diagram and use it as a cheat-sheet). 

Note: This year I found it useful to make loose notes for my deconstruction, adding items as things popped into my head, before sitting down to do it all in one go.

1. Emotion: Start with how you feel in this moment. Then think back to how you felt in 2018 and how you want to feel in 2019. List your feelings as they come to mind in one column. 

Note: Emotions at work often run in opposite pairs–love/hate, success/failure, having a sense of purpose/feeling lost.”  

2. Information: Think about what you know about your work going into 2019. This can be your salary, the size of your team, the number of projects you’re working on. List tangible information or data in this column.

3. Constraints: What holds you back you back or limits you? Your own constraints, like procrastinating and leaving things to the last minute, and constraints that you cannot control, like budgets. 

4. Joy: What brings you joy at work? Thinking about what makes you happy will help you think about what matters to you at work and will help you to be more intentional about increasing your instances of joy.

Note: Last year Opportunity was #4. I intentionally moved it to #6, wanting you to circle through joy and gratitude (#5) first, to inspire your opportunities.

5. Gratitude: What were you grateful for in 2018? While joy is more personal, gratitude is often in relation to others. It’s about getting the relation between ourselves and others right, one of the three foundations of happiness according to Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

6. Opportunity: What are your opportunities as you start in 2019? These are things that align with your values, purpose and personal growth. They’re positive, exciting, empowering.

Tip: Try turning your constraints into opportunities (for example, as one of our clients put it, many voices and opinions can be a constraint but it is also an opportunity.)

Note: Last year #5 was Out-of-the-box Opportunity (OOBO) for big dreams and leaps, “revolutions” versus “evolutions”. This year they’re inside the Opportunity column (See my OOBO in my diagram, daring me to think big.) 

B. REFLECT:

Reflect on your deconstruction, above. Deconstruction helps you break a complex idea into its parts to make it more manageable. It visualizes your life at the cross-section of 2018 and 2019 so that you can decide what to keep, what to discard and what to change. 

Now do your own dot-voting, picking one thing that rises to the top in each column. Go with your gut. You can put a star next to it (I underlined mine in red.) These are your 6 key ingredients for 2019. 

C. WRITE YOUR MANIFESTO:

Your Manifesto is your declaration for 2019 based on the top 6 ingredients you chose above. Write it by combining them together in a paragraph:

Your Manifesto = Emotion + Information + Constraint + Joy + Gratitude + Opportunity.

Once you have your manifesto, gather your team–this can be over breakfast or lunch–to do the exercise together and to share your manifestos. Based on each other’s manifesto, talk about what you need help with, what you can do together, and who can be your mentors, mentees or an accountability partners to collaborate with to bring your vision to life in 2019.

We use this tool to shift with our clients’ mindsets from problems to opportunities, from feeling stuck to action, with great success. The process is almost mathematical in its simple formula yet vision-creating in its results. It’s a key component of Design Quotient (DQ), our practice to teach leaders how to think like a designer and imagine tomorrow based on what you know today.

Wishing you a happy and creative 2019.

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With 1 Simple Move, Google Showed Yet Again Why It's Not the Company You Thought It Was
November 18, 2018 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

They hope, though, that you don’t notice when those promises become, well, a little diluted over time.

It’s the thought that counts, after all.

One thought offered by Google when it committed itself to your health was that Deep Mind, its profound subsidiary that uses AI to help solve health problems, was that its “data will never be connected to Google accounts or services.”

Cut to not very long at all and Deep Mind was last week rolled into, oh, Google.

In an odd coincidence, this move also necessitated that an independent review board, there to check on Deep Mind’s work with healthcare professionals, was disappeared.

This caused those who keep a careful eye on Google — such as NYU research fellow Julia Powles — to gently point out the company’s sleight of mouth.

This is TOTALLY unacceptable. DeepMind repeatedly, unconditionally promised to *never* connect people’s intimate, identifiable health data to Google. Now it’s announced…exactly that. This isn’t transparency, it’s trust demolition. 

This is, though, the problem with tech companies. 

We looked at them as if they were run by wizards doing things we could never understand.

Any time we became even slightly suspicious, the tech companies murmured that we should trust them. Because, well, we really didn’t understand what sort of world they were building.

Now, we’re living in it. A world where everything is tradable and hackable and nothing is sacred.

A world where the most common headlines about the company seem to begin: Google fined..

I asked Google whether it understood the reaction to its latest Oh, you caught us, yes, we’re going to do things differently now move. 

The company referred me to a blog post it wrote explaining its actions.

In it, Google uses phrases like major milestone and words like excited

It also offered me these words from Dr. Dominic King a former UK National Health Service surgeon and researcher who will be leading the Deep Mind Streams team: 

The public is rightly concerned about what happens with patient data. I want to be totally clear. This data is not DeepMind’s or Google’s – it belongs to our partners, whether the NHS or internationally. We process it according to their instructions – nothing more.

King added:

At this stage our contracts have not moved across to Google and will not without our partners’ consent. The same applies to the data that we process under these contracts.

At this stage.

Oh, but you know how creepily the online world works.

You know, for example, that advertising keeps popping up at the strangest times and for the strangest things.

Within minutes, certain apps on my phone were full of ads for Google’s new Pixel 3 phone. Which I could buy most easily, said the ads, at a Verizon store. 

Who would be surprised, then, if personal health data began to be linked with other Google services, such as advertising?

Too many tech companies know only one way to do business — to grow and wrap their tentacles around every last aspect of human life. 

The likes of Google operate on a basis of a FOMO paranoia that even teens and millennials might envy.

They need to know everything about you, in case they miss out on an advertising opportunity.

You are not a number. You are a lot of numbers. 

And your numbers help Google make even bigger numbers.

Will that ever change? Probably not.

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There's a Bizarre Hoax Circulating on Facebook. Here's Why it's Spreading Like Wildfire
October 8, 2018 12:01 am|Comments (0)

Are you on Facebook? If you are, you’ve most likely received a repetitive, canned note (or 100) from your friends/family that is driving you into a fit of rage. If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. However, there’s indeed an irritating hoax going around that has grabbed some serious attention. Here’s what the message says: 

Hi….I actually got another friend request from you yesterday…which I ignored so you may want to check your account. Hold your finger on the message until the forward button appears…then hit forward and all the people you want to forward too….I had to do the people individually. Good Luck! 

Spoiler: there’s no ‘clone’ account. This is just a hoax, so delete the message and be worry-free that an account or second-degree account is compromised. 

We’re all familiar with this level of chain-like-mail, but what makes this time so different? The obvious answer could be any of the following: 

  • It’s coming from friends & family — so you can trust it
  • There’s clear instruction on what to do
  • It doesn’t contain a link
  • You’re doing it through Messenger (it’s more novel), vs. a status update

However, it goes deeper than that.

We need to remember that Facebook has its fair share of ‘bad press’ (yes, there is such a thing) the past couple years, stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal which affected 87 million accounts. Then, all 2.2 billion Facebook users received a notice in an effort to inform them on how to protect their information. Add to this that on September 28th, hackers exploited a flaw which resulted in compromised data for 50 million accounts. Yikes. 

And what do you get when you mix that all together?

A user constantly on high-alert due to the endless loop of security & privacy concerns

The decision to forward is almost an irrational one–and an innate reaction to Facebook’s shaky history and hyper-recent exploitation. All of that creates an uncomfortable level of ‘unknown’ when it comes to privacy and, at the end of the day, your friends & family are really just trying to help inform of a potential concern. 

So, the next time you receive one of these messages, maybe take a deep breath and if you feel like a good Samaritan, let them know that they don’t need to forward the message out to anyone else–the clones aren’t here (yet).

Published on: Oct 7, 2018

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What Separates Millionaire Entrepreneurs From The Rest Of Us? Hint: It's Not What You Think
July 7, 2018 6:37 am|Comments (0)

At the end of the day, who doesn’t love a shortcut?

But there’s a trap in this approach that most people don’t realize.

Simply copying their strategies and tactics alone won’t work. You need to first understand the mindset behind what they do.

I’ll tell you, I see people making this mistake all the time. They discover that the big dog of their industry generates 80% of leads using Facebook ads. So guess what they do? They copy their ads and expect it to work.

After spending a few hundred bucks and not seeing any results, they turn their ads down and never touch it again. “I always knew that Facebook ads don’t work for my audience.” Seriously?

What those folks don’t understand is that the guys who made it work for them have a completely different mindset. They focus on learning and experiment with several different variations until they find the one that works.

You see what I mean? It all comes back to your mindset.

Now, I’ve recently interviewed several multimillion-dollar business owners in my podcast, and I sat down with my team to analyze how these successful entrepreneurs think differently.

Here are three key mindsets that you can copy:

1.  Put all your eggs into one basket

The average entrepreneur tends to struggle with what’s known as Shiny Object Syndrome. They try to do everything at once — we’re talking multiple product lines, income streams, and business opportunities.

Millionaires, on the other hand, put all their eggs in one basket. They give the current project they’re working on their 100% — no ifs, ands, or buts.

I’m not going to lie – I fell prey to the Shiny Object Syndrome back when I first started my company, too. I thought that the best way of making money was to sell whatever my clients needed — as long as they were willing to pay, I was willing to do the job.

One day, I was talking to a successful business owner, and he told me to stop running around like a headless chicken and to focus my attention on a single project. I took his advice, and my revenue shot through the roof.

2. Look for the root of your problems

Here’s another way in which successful entrepreneurs think differently…

They look past the superficial and focus on the root of their problems — this helps them solve their problems with ease.

When I encounter a problem, for example, I like to use the 5 Whys technique to identify the underlying issue. This is pretty simple; all you need to do is to ask “Why?” 5 times.

Say you’re not hitting your quarterly revenue target.

Why? Because you don’t have enough sales.

Why? Because you don’t have enough leads.

Why? Because the marketing team hasn’t generated enough leads.

Why? Because the marketing team is unaware that more leads are required.

Why? Because there’s a lack of communication between sales and marketing.

Bingo — you’ve now gotten to the root of your problem.

3. Progress over perfection

Last but not least, the average entrepreneur aims for perfection over progress, and they feel as though everything has to be in place before they make a decision.

On the other hand, successful entrepreneurs are comfortable with moving a project forward even when the conditions aren’t perfect. They’d rather try and fail (and learn something in the process), rather than not give it a shot.

One of our coaching clients, unfortunately, is one of those guys who’s trapped by his own need for perfection. He’s making 7 figures per year, which is a great start — but because he’s obsessed with getting things perfect, he’s become his own bottleneck. This guy’s business has since stagnated, and unless he changes his mindset, he won’t be able to grow.

As entrepreneurs, we typically look for tangible solutions that we can implement immediately. But keep this in mind: at the end of the day, it’s how you implement these strategies and work past your challenges that determines if you succeed or not. Remember, it’s all about the mindset.

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General Electric: Finally, It's Over
April 23, 2018 6:11 pm|Comments (0)


Image Source

So far, the word “unpredictable” seems to be one of the most-used descriptive choices when characterizing the events of 2018. And, broadly speaking, this appears to be an accurate term. Just a few months ago, if you were to suggest that the NASDAQ would be seeing “flash crash” activity while General Electric (NYSE:GE) was forming a long-term bottom in a multi-year decline, you might have been laughed out of the room. But this appears to be where we are, given the market’s positive reaction to GE’s April 20th announcements and the generalized lack of certainty in almost every aspect of this current financial environment. We have been saying that the stock declines below $ 13 per share would be the worst of it for holders of GE and we maintain this view in light of the company’s recent strategic moves. We are long GE with a bullish stance on the stock as a long-term hold for portfolio strategies.

Chart: CNN Money

Many analysts have argued that there are fundamental earnings problems within the company itself. But, since this is the most “mega” of the “mega-conglomerates” it is critical to assess the trends over at least three years before drawing any drastic conclusions. The earnings performance at GE has been erratic since 2015. But the revenue side of the equation has been much more stable over the same period.

This implies that GE’s problems are internal (fixable) rather than external (not fixable). This is good news, as long as the company is able to reduce operations and focus on the businesses. Currently, jet engines, power plants, and healthcare machines are GE’s biggest money-makers – and we would prefer to see more of the company’s attention (and resources) focused on streamlining these segments.

Earnings Trend Chart: Yahoo Finance

On the other side of the ledger, the power, oil, and gas markets are still presenting major challenges for General Electric, with revenue in those segments showing significant weakness in Q1. Operating losses in the power unit were lower by 38%, but the company has said that improvements have been made in service operation and cost execution for the segment. Operating losses in oil and gas fell by 30%. Other negatives were seen in the GE Capital unit, as it continues with its weaker trends.

For the first quarter, net losses came in at 14 cents per share (roughly in-line with last year’s performance for the period). On a continuing basis, net incomes came in at 4 cents per share (a solid increase from the in the 1 cent per share seen a year ago). On an adjusted basis, the company posted earnings of 16 cents per share (well above analyst estimates calling for 11 cents per share). Total revenues for the quarter gained by 7% (to $ 28.66 billion against expectations of $ 27.45 billion). In the accompanying statement, Flannery highlighted the fact that margins, industrial earnings, and free cash flows are all gaining on an annualized basis – and this is all good news for dividend investors.

What really matters here is the strategic direction, and the willingness within those in management to cut the fat and become a more modern company. There are still very real questions with respect to whether or not Flannery & Co. will be able to address those needs. But we do know that many of the correct moves have already been made. This includes the decisions to sell NBC, Universal Studios, and its real estate portfolio.

These were areas where the company could not reasonably hope to compete, and sacrifices needed to be made in order to preserve as much of the dividend as possible. Another example of a strategic move in the “right” direction was deal to sell GE’s appliance division for $ 5.6 billion. GE is still in recovery-mode, and this is the short-term outlook that should define the long-term outlook for quite some time.

GE Chart Analysis: Dividend-Investments.com

The key point here is that the word “recovery” implies gradual strengthening. In market terms, that equates to positive price movement, and we view GE as a long-term hold with an attractive yield offering for investors. GE cut industrial structural costs by $ 805 million, and they expect to beat prior goals to reduce costs by $ 2 billion for all of 2018. This is strong evidence of progress, and it has not yet been reflected in share prices.

Shorter-term, we have seen some upside and this is an indication that the market is liking what it sees (so far, at least). Since aviation, healthcare, and transportation divisions all experienced double-digit profit growth, these moves should be viewed as valid. Prior resistance under $ 14 should now be expected to act as price support and we believe that a long-term bottom has likely formed at $ 12.80.

What is your position on GE? We look forward to reading your comments. Stay tuned to Dividend Investors and receive our next alerts by clicking the “Follow” button at the top of the page.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GE.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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Southwest's Apology to Passengers on Flight 1380 Is Brilliant, and It's Not Just the Cash. Here's Why
April 21, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

For the passengers who survived the emergency landing on Southwest Flight 1380 this week, on which Jennifer Riordan died, the flight must have been a horrifying experience. 

The pilot and copilot have had been hailed as heroes, and Southwest CEO Gary Kelly was praise for the fast apology and condolence statement he offered via video. But you can imagine that the airline might want to continue to respond to the affected passengers quickly.

Apparently, it has. Even as the federal investigation into the incident continues, Southwest reportedly sent letters with personal apologies and quick compensation to passengers from Flight 1380 just a day after the emergency.

Obviously, any big company that faced a debacle like this needs to do something similar and quick.  Many do, but only in exchange for people offering to drop all claims against the company (more on whether that’s happening here, in a second).

But there’s something interesting in how Southwest handled the issue–a combination of what they offered, and how they worded the apology letter, as reported, signed by Kelly:

We value you as our customer and hope you will allow us another opportunity to restore your confidence in Southwest as the airline you can count on for your travel needs. … In this spirit, we are sending you a check in the amount of $ 5,000 to cover any of your immediate financial needs.

As a tangible gesture of our heartfelt sincerity, we are also sending you a $ 1,000 travel voucher…

Our primary focus and commitment is to assist you in every way possible.

What leaps out at me is, oddly, the smallest financial part of the compensation: the $ 1,000 travel voucher. (Although, it’s funny: psychologically people sometimes put a higher subjective value on a tangible thing valued at a certain amount, then they do on cash.)

Even in the wake of tragedy, Southwest is taking steps to try to keep these customers–as customers. 

As some commenters have pointed out, while the uncontained engine failure aboard flight 1380 was terrifying for passengers, and resulted in loss of life and injury, it’s by no means the first time a flight suffered a similar catastrophe and ultimately landed.

Commercial airlines like a 737 are designed to be able to fly with one of the engines disabled, and professional aircrew train and drill on what to do in this kind of situation. The emergency was deftly handled by Captain Tammie Jo Shults and first officer Darren Ellisor.

Part of why this story was so widely reported however, is that passengers were immediately sharing it on social media. One passenger famously paid $ 8 for inflight WiFi even while he thought the plane was going to crash, so that he could broadcast on Facebook Live what was happening and say a farewell to friends and family.

So, connect this to the travel vouchers. Beyond taking a step toward repairing the relationship with these passengers, what better PR result could Southwest hope for than some positive travel experiences and social media posts from one of them, as a result? 

I wouldn’t expect Southwest to articulate this rationale; that would actually undercut it. And, I do have a couple of other questions about how this all works, for which I’ve reached out to Southwest for answers. I’ll update this post when I hear back.

For example, I would assume that the family of the passenger who died on the flight, Jennifer Riordan, would be treated differently, and maybe also the seven passengers who reportedly were injured. 

There’s also the question of whether these are really just goodwill payments, or a way to quickly settle 100 or more potential claims against the airline. If it’s the more traditional, transactional legal strategy of just trying to settle claims quickly, then that undercuts a lot of this.

However, I’m judging based on the experience of one passenger, Eric Zilbert of Davis, California, that this might not be the case. Zilbert reportedly checked with a lawyer before accepting the compensation,” to make sure I didn’t preclude anything.” Based on the lawyer’s advice, went ahead and did so.

Of course, this doesn’t mean every passenger is happy with the gesture. For example, Marty Martinez of Dallas, the passenger who became famous after he livestreamed the emergency landing over Facebook Live, said he’s not satisfied.

“I didn’t feel any sort of sincerity in the email whatsoever, and the $ 6,000 total that they gave to each passenger I don’t think comes even remotely close to the price that many of us will have to pay for a lifetime.”

Even so, Southwest sort of got what they’d probably like to see in his case, anyway: a tangible demonstration that despite the experience aboard Flight 1380, he’s willing to fly with the airline again.

The proof? He gave his quote to an Associated Press reporter, the account said, “as he prepared to board a Southwest flight from New York.”

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The Dirty Secret of California's Cannabis: It's Dirty
February 2, 2018 6:43 pm|Comments (0)

This is a story about marijuana that begins in a drawer of dead birds. In the specimen collections of the California Academy of Sciences, curator Jack Dumbacher picks up a barred owl—so named for the stripes than run across its chest—and strokes its feathers. It looks like a healthy enough bird, sure, but something nefarious once lurked in its liver: anticoagulant rodenticide, which causes rats to bleed out, and inevitably accumulates in apex predators like owls. The origin of the poison? Likely an illegal cannabis grow operation in the wilds of Northern California.

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“It’s a mess out there,” says Dumbacher. “And it costs taxpayers millions of dollars to clean up the sites.”

Marijuana doesn’t just suddenly appear on the shelves of a dispensary, or the pocket of a dealer. Someone’s gotta grow it, and in Northern California, that often means rogue farmers squatting on public lands, tainting the ecosystem with pesticides and other chemicals, then harvesting their goods and leaving behind what is essentially a mini superfund site. Plenty of growers run legit, organic operations—but cannabis can be a dirty, dirty game.

Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences

Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences

As cannabis use goes recreational in California, producers are facing a reckoning: They’ll either have to clean up their act, or get out of the legal market. Until the federal prohibition on marijuana ends, growers here can skip the legit marketplace and ship to black markets in the many states where the drug is still illegal. That’s bad news for public health, and even worse news for the wildlife of California.

If you’re buying cannabis in the United States, there’s up to a 75 percent chance that it grew somewhere in California. In Humboldt County alone, as many as 15,000 private grows churn out marijuana. Of those 15,000 farms, 2,300 have applied for permits, and of those just 91 actually have the permits.

Researchers reckon that 15 to 20 percent of private grows here are using rodenticide, trying to avoid damage from rats chewing through irrigation lines and plants. Worse, though, are the growers who hike into rugged public lands and set up grow operations. Virtually all of them are using rodenticide. “At very high doses the rodenticides is meant to kill by basically stopping coagulation of blood,” says Dumbacher. “So what happens is if you get a bruise or a cut it you would you would literally bleed out because it won’t coagulate.”

And what’s bad for the rats can’t be good for the barred owl. How the poison might affect these predators isn’t immediately clear, but researchers think it may weaken them.

Scientists are used to seeing rodenticides in owl livers—but usually, those animals are picking off rats in urban areas. Not so for these samples. “When we actually looked at the data, it turned out that some of the owls that were exposed were from remote areas parts of the forest that don’t have even roads near them,” says Dumbacher. When researchers took a look at satellite images of these areas, they were able to pick out illegal grow operations and make the connection: Rodenticides from marijuana cultivation are probably moving up the food chain.

The havoc that growers are wreaking in Northern California is worryingly similar to the environmental bedlam of the past. “We can’t just take exactly the same historical approach that California did with the Gold Rush,” says Mourad Gabriel, executive director of the Integral Ecology Research Center and lead author of the study with Dumbacher. It was a massive inundation of illegal gold and mining operations that tore the landscape to pieces. “150 years down the road, we are still dealing with it.”

And Northern California’s problems have the potential to become your problem if you’re buying marijuana in a state where it’s still illegal. “We have data clearly demonstrating the plant material is contaminated, not just with one or two but a plethora of different types of pesticides that should not be used on any consumable product,” says Gabriel. “And we find it on levels that are potentially a threat to humans as well.”

Lab Rats

Across from an old cookie factory in Oakland, California sits a lab that couldn’t look more nondescript. It’s called CW Analytical, and it’s in the business of testing marijuana for a range of nasties, both natural and synthetic. Technicians in lab coats shuffle about, dissolving cannabis in solution, while in a little room up front a man behind a desk consults clients.

Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences

Running this place is a goateed Alabama native named Robert Martin. For a decade he’s risked the ire of the feds to ensure that the medical marijuana sold in California dispensaries is clean and safe. But in the age of recreational cannabis, the state has given him a new list of enemies to test for. If you’re worried about consuming grow chemicals like the owls are doing, it’s scientists like Martin who have your back.

“We’re trying to do it in legitimate ways, not painting our face or putting flowers in our hair,” says Martin. “We’re here to show another face of the industry.” Clinical. Empirical.

Labs like these—the Association of Commercial Cannabis Laboratories, which Martin heads, counts two dozen members—are where marijuana comes to pass the test or face destruction. Martin’s team is looking for two main things: microbiological contaminants and chemical residues. “Microbiological contaminants could come in the form of bacteria or fungi, depending on what kind of situation your cannabis has seen,” says Martin. (Bad drying or curing habits on the part of the growers can lead to the growth of Aspergillus mold, for instance.) “Or on the other side, the chemical residues can be pesticides, herbicides, things like that.”

The biological bit is pretty straightforward. Technicians add a cannabis sample to solution, then spread it on plates that go into incubators. “What we find is of all the flowers that come through, about 12 to 13 percent will come back with a high level of aerobic bacteria and about 13 to 14 percent will come back with a high level of fungi and yeast and mold,” says laboratory manager Emily Savage.

With chemical contaminants it gets a bit trickier. To test for these, the lab run the cannabis through a machine called a mass spectrometer, which isolates the component parts of the sample. This catches common chemicals like myclobutanil, which growers use to kill fungi.

Starting July 1 of this year, distributors and (legal) cultivators have to put their product through testing for heavy metals and bacteria like E. coli and chemicals like acephate (a general use insecticide). That’s important for average consumers but especially medical marijuana patients with compromised health. One group of researchers has even warned that smoking or vaping tainted marijuana could lead to fatal infections for some patients, as pathogens are taken deep into the lungs.

“This is why we have to end prohibition and regulate and legalize cannabis, so that we can develop the standards that everybody must meet,” says Andrew DeAngelo, director of operations of the Harborside dispensary in Oakland.

After testing, a lab like CW has to report their results to the state, whose guidelines may dictate that the crop be destroyed. If everything checks out, the marijuana is cleared for sale in a dispensary. “That gives the public confidence that these supply chains are clean for them and healthy for them,” says DeAngelo.

That safety comes at a price, though. To fund the oversight of recreational marijuana, California is imposing combined taxes of perhaps 50 percent. “They’re too high,” says DeAngelo. He’s worried that the fees will push users back into the black market, where plants don’t have to hew to the same strict safety standards. “This shop should be a lot fuller than it is right now.”

And the black market gets us right back to the mess we started off in. Illegal cultivation is bad for consumers and bad for the environment. The only real solution? The end of prohibition. At the very least, the owls would appreciate it.

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