Monthly Archives: August 2016

New Jersey Reaches Stalemate in Transportation and Construction Funding

Back in early July, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered a shutdown of all state-funded construction projects because the government’s Transportation Trust Fund ran out of money. Christie told laid-off workers that the moratorium would last for at least one week.

It’s now been more than 40 days since the Governor’s order, and state senators say that the closure might extend until after election season in November since officials haven’t been able to reach an agreement on how to fund future projects.

Construction season in the northeast usually winds down with the colder months, which means many laid-off New Jersey construction workers might not see another paycheck until March.

“We can’t just wait for the Senate to act whenever they feel like it,” said Roger Ellis, a union lobbyist for local workers. “We need action now.”

Ellis’ union and others staged a protest outside the offices of state senators, bearing signs with messages like “Do Your Job So We Can Do Ours.”

The impasse in New Jersey’s state senate revolves around competing plans to raise revenue without burdening taxpayers. A proposed bill to increase the gas tax by 23 cents — the first raise since 1988 — has been countered by Christie and Senate Republicans with an accompanying one percent decrease in state sales tax to offset citizens’ costs.

“I’m the first governor in 27 years to publicly say I was for a gas tax increase,” Christie said. “I’m ready to sign a gas tax increase into law to be able to sustainably fund the Transportation Trust fund. Pass the bill and put it on my desk. I wish I could do it by myself. If I could it would be done already.”

However, state Senate Democrats say that lowering the sales tax would cut government revenue by $1.9 billion over the next five years, adding to an already sizable debt. Expenses for construction and transportation needs can be particularly high in an industry where paint and coating products alone generated $2.3 billion in exports in 2014, the highest level in 10 years.

Yet, the Governor does not appear worried about the state’s infrastructure.

“The roads are fine,” Christie said. “I’ve negotiated with these same cast of characters for a very long time, and we’ll get there.”

Increased Use of Drones Leading to Voyeurism Concerns

The drone industry is expected to grow significantly over the next few years and it’s affecting nearly every industry in the world. Roof inspections, for instance, should be performed at least once or twice a year, and are now able to be completed via unmanned aircraft system (UAS), more commonly known as: drones.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, drones are being used by insurance firms, real estate agencies, and property inspectors to inspect difficult to reach areas of high structures. The increased use of these aerial machines is prompting concerns for potential cases of privacy invasion.

“We are aware of incidents where drones have been used purely for the purpose of spying on others and invading their privacy,” said Kim Henshaw, chief executive of Strata Community Australia. Drone operators are required to follow privacy regulations set by federal law and many believe that local laws as well as each individual building manager’s rules should be considered and respected as well.

“We want managers to take action and notify all owners and residents about the presence of a drone being used for maintenance and inspections,” Henshaw added, “including details regarding the time of use, and for what period.”

According to Lorraine Scott, who started Aerial by Drone, a company for building and insurance inspections, privacy is one of the most important aspects of her industry.

“The last thing we want is to upset anyone,” Scott said. “You can also hear the drones long before you see them. To date we have not had an issue with privacy.”

Pilot-Tribune and Enterprise reports that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is approving the use of drones for commercial real estate teams around the United States.

Licensed drone pilots granted Section 333 Exemption are able to operate drones to conduct aerial videography, photography and cinematography for real estate, agriculture and search and rescue. Currently, in the U.S., you can’t fly a drone commercially without exemption, but after August 29, anyone is allowed to take the FAA test to obtain a remote pilot certificate and fly drones.

Etsy and Intuit Announce Partnership to Help Users With Finances

Etsy, a Brooklyn-born, peer-to-peer e-commerce site, announced on August 11 that it’s offering its members access to Intuit’s accounting software.

According to New York Business Journal, the partnership will affect U.S. and U.K. Etsy merchants. Members will now be able to export their sales data, business expenses and other financial information into Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed platform to better handle their finances. Etsy members will also be able to easily track their revenue streams including losses and other bookkeeping data.

At any given moment, there are more than 250,000 active sellers on Etsy, with more than 2 million new items listed each month. This new partnership will allow users to keep better track of their finances and focus more on other important aspects of business.

“Using QuickBooks Self-Employed [platform], sellers will be able to easily categorize fees, profits and business expenses, import sales and expense data from other channels like Square and PayPal, and estimate their quarterly taxes,” Etsy said. “These features will provide instant insights into cash flow and capture an accurate snapshot of the financial health of their business.”

Business Wire reports that in a recent survey of Etsy sellers, 45% said accounting and tax preparation for their business were “very challenging.” Intuit’s program will lend a hand to those users and should make the entire process easier.

“At Intuit, we’re on a mission to change the financial lives of self-employed people around the world,” said Alex Chriss, Intuit vice president and general manager of Self-Employed Solution. “Etsy empowers creative entrepreneurs to discover new and exciting ways to pursue their passions and earn income in the global marketplace. We’re port to help Etsy sellers keep more of that hard-earned income in their pocket, with a tailor-made solution that maximizes their deductions, simplifies tax time and provides clear visibility into their cash-flow throughout the year.”

Over the last few months, Etsy has continually improved their product, adding a new service, Pattern, which enables users to create their own custom websites, as well as Shop Homes, a program that allows members to seamlessly upload items to their mobile sites.

Olympic Cyclists are Falling Left and Right on Slippery Rio Course

rioolympicsNationwide, 38% of Americans report cycling for exercise and for the many health benefits that come with it. But when you are racing in the Olympics, your only goal is gold.

However, due to the dangerous biking course in Rio, many Olympians’ dreams are being taken away from them right at the final moments of the race.

The 241 kilometer Olympic course features loose cobblestones, crosswinds, both long and short climbs, and an incredibly steep descent. These conditions are making many professional athletes lose control in an action many are saying is not a coincidence.

Turkish cyclist Ahmet Orken fell and crashed on Saturday, along with Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali and Colombia’s Sergio Henao both hitting the pavement about 15 kilometers away from the finish line. Multiple bikers also had to stop mid-race to fix their bikes after their chains popped off because of intense bumping conditions.

On the following day, the women fared just as bad as the men. Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten was severely injured in a crash on live TV as she flew over her handlebars and collided into the shoulder on the side of the road.

With just six miles left to go in the 87-mile course, 33-year-old van Vleuten was expected to take the gold medal. But as she descended down the slippery Vista Chinesa, she launched over her bike into the metal framework that determined the path of the race.

Chase cameras showed her laying unconscious on the side of the road, and was swiftly rushed to a hospital. The Dutch cycling federation confirmed on Twitter later in the day that van Vleuten was in critical condition.

Van Vleuten’s fall inspired Dutch teammate Anna van der Breggen to race ahead for the gold medal in her friend’s honor.

As People reported, van der Breggen told reporters after her win, “I was pretty shocked, I think she crashed hard. I realized I was at the front of the team, so I had to chase. I did it for Annemiek. To see her like that, it’s a big shock.”

As of the time of this writing, van Vleuten is still in the hospital.

Gold Medals, National Pride, and Doping All on Display at This Year’s Olympics

rioolympicsThe Olympics are starting, and not without controversy.

A state-run doping investigation has revealed that over 100 Russian athletes were given illegal anabolic steroids in order to enhance their performance during competitions. Despite these findings, the International Olympic Committee has decided to allow Russia to compete in Rio.

According to the IOC, they are trying to play fair. They believe that clean athletes should not be barred just because they are guilty by association.

However, this doesn’t answer the question of how the IOC plans to regulate steroid use during the Olympic Games.

Doping at the games is nothing new. Steroid use came to light once the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, when reports that the East German system reportedly doped about 10,000 athletes, some as young as 11 years old.

Doping isn’t just at the Olympics, either. Performance-enhancing drugs can be seen in the famed Tour de France bicycling competition and American NBA. Even amateur athletes are using steroids at an alarming rate.

Athletic trainers, ethics professors, and sports writers are all calling for the IOC to lift the ban on steroid use in order to combat constant rule breaking. Their opinion: if there is really no way to stop the doping, why not allow it and regulate it for safety?

However, that raises even more questions. Once the Olympics start, it will be exceptionally difficult for Russian athletes — or any Olympian for that matter — to prove they went through legitimate testing and are not currently using.

Plus, it seems that some Olympic officials are more worried about their image rather than the athletes’ well-being.

Professor Yesalis, retired Penn State professor and expert on anabolic steroids, explains why to The New York Times. He says, “It’s all about marketing and perception. They don’t care about the health of the athletes. Doping just distracts from the mom, apple pie, Chevrolet image.”

And since Chevrolets are on the road in over two-thirds of the world, almost everyone at the Olympics can understand their global wholesome image they project.

One thing is for sure, though. Those who take steroids will have long lasting side effects, potentially for their entire life.

Russia’s doping cocktail, nicknamed the Duchess, is especially dangerous. Named after a typical Russian drink, it consists of the drugs Oral Turinabol, Oxandrolone and Methasterone. These hard to detect drugs are then dissolved in alcohol, Chivas whisky for men and Vermouth for women, letting them go undetected. The athletes then swish it around in their mouth, allowing the drugs to be absorbed by the buccal membrane, then spat out.

The Duchess came to be after Russia was outraged over “abysmal’ medal performance in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The Russian ministry of sport demanded all their athletes be tested for doping, and all positives would be sent to the Russian deputy minister. If that athlete had stellar performance at the Olympics, then the Minister would throw out the sample, pretending to never see it, and allow the athlete to continue competing dishonestly.

But if the steroid use wasn’t enough and the athlete failed to perform to their specifications, they were deemed unpromising. They would be sent to quarantine to go through a regular laboratory process, which would then deter them from competing at any level.

Russia aside, doping is a problem for athletes considering the hefty pressure on the professionals to bring their country home gold. But steroids are not always the answer.

Even though Olympians generally start their sport at a young age, some health officials believe that being involved in other activities is a great way to combat the temptation of doping. In fact, female high school athletes are 92% less likely to get involved with drugs, most likely because of the fact they are simply too busy.

So where does that leave the Olympics? Antidoping expert and member of the IOC’s medical and scientific commission, Yannis Pitsiladis, believes the Olympic doping problem will “get worse before it gets better.”

The Gender Pay Gap is Alive and Well and It’s Costing Young Women Their Futures

Retirement PlanningAccording to the Department of Health and Human Services, the proportion of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to top 20% by the year 2050. That means 20% of the population will likely be retired at that point. Or, that would be the case if they were able to start saving up for retirement today.

Unfortunately, almost half of millennial women are not currently saving for retirement. This is not because of the stereotypical “free-spirited” lifestyle of the 21st century 20-something. No, most millennials are not just blowing their money on music festival passes and dream-catcher tattoos. Believe it or not, the gender wage gap is alive and well in the U.S., affecting the present and future wellbeing of young women across the country.

It’s simple — lower pay means less money to put away for the future. A recent Wells Fargo survey of over 1,000 people between the ages of 22 and 35 revealed that 44% of women are not currently saving for retirement at all because their finances are stretched too thin. In direct correlation, the survey showed that on average, millennial women earn about 74% of what millennial men do.

Statistics show that millennial women are making over $10,000 less per year than millennial men. The median personal income for millennial women is $28,800 while the median for men is $39,100. This is a staggering disparity that demonstrates just how severe the wage gap has become.

Not only does the wage gap affect how millennial women live their lives today, but it also indicates more difficulties for these women in the future. Financial experts insist that people should be saving for retirement early on or risk losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time they retire.

Sure, it’s important to save for the future, but how can young women be expected to live independently now, especially with the cost of living on the rise?

Heat Wave Sparks Record Energy Use in Carolinas

Temperatures in North and South Carolina have been so high during recent weeks that customers of Duke Energy, the major electric supplier in the region, set a new record for summertime energy usage last week.

On July 27 between the hours of 4 and 5 p.m., consumers used 20,671 megawatt hours of electricity, beating the previous hourly record of 20,628 megawatts set in 2007. Daytime highs have consistently been in the upper-90s without much of a break in future sight.

“We have sufficient supplies of electricity to meet our customers’ needs, and our technicians are working around the clock to ensure smooth operations at our power plants and along our power lines,” Duke Energy’s vice president of system planning and operations, Nelson Peeler, said in a press release.

Nevertheless, the company likes to remind customers to find ways to reduce unnecessary energy expenditures wherever possible. Much of the electricity usage is no doubt going toward running air conditioners, which already use around five percent of all of the electricity used in the United States. Duke recommends running AC in the morning and then turning it off during peak afternoon hours, or raising the thermostat by a few degrees while no one is home.

Meteorologist Sean Sublette of the nonprofit Climate Central said these energy use trends are only likely to continue, both in the short and long-term.

“You have a warming atmosphere, higher population, more demand for air conditioning and we’d absolutely expect these numbers to go up and very likely continue to go up further in the coming decades,” Sublette told WUNC, adding that Raleigh summers might feel more like those in South Texas by the end of the century.

Duke Energy spokesperson Megan Miles told the station that energy conservation is good for the company, the environment, and consumers alike. “We always like to remind [our customers] to use energy more wisely inside their home at all times,” she said, “because that helps save them money on their bills.”

U.S. Small Business Administration Announces Deadline for Disaster Assistance

moneyAn estimated 543,000 new businesses get started every month, but their window for disaster assistance is closing, according to a recent announcement by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

The U.S. Small Business Administration is reminding all small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations that August 23 is the filing deadline for federal economic injury disaster loans available.

The reminder is catered particularly to those small business owners in Essex, Franklin, Middlesex and Worcester counties in Massachusetts as a result of a drought that began in February.

Those areas aren’t the only ones where the SBA is offering assistance, either.

A Disaster Loan Outreach Center has been set up by the SBA at Fayetteville Street Elementary School in Durham to offer assistance to small businesses affected by the July 16 storm that ravaged the southeast.

Representatives at the outreach center are providing information on the loans, which have interest rates as low 1.625% for residents and as low as 4% for business owners.

Those eligible can apply at the outreach center, while those who don’t qualify for a loan can apply for a grant through NC Emergency Management.

Jalil Belmouloud, who owns a cafe in Durham, is still dealing with the aftermath of the storm after water leaked through his ceiling. Repairs are still being made.

“There was a lot of lost merchandise,” he said. “I unfortunately do pastries and ice cream and some sandwiches and things like that so all that stuff I had to replace. Also my employees did not work for a couple of days.”

Jalil certainly isn’t the only small business owner suffering from the onslaught of storms that have plagued the U.S. this year.

In the first 6 months of 2016 alone, more than $8 billion in weather disasters have struck the country.

Six “severe thunderstorm events” and two “flooding events” compiled to ring up a bill that of at least one billion dollars each from January through June this year.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, 2016 has had the second-highest number of weather-related disasters of such scale since 1980.

The cost of damage is exactly why the SBA has offered such large quantities of assistance to small business owners.

The loans can be up to $2 million with interest rates of four percent for eligible small businesses, 2.625% for nonprofit organizations, and terms up to 30 years.

Amazon Reigns Supreme in Cloud Computing Industry

Amazon Web Services (AWS), a cloud computing company providing a service known as S3, has a massive lead over the rest of the industry. In the past 12 months, AWS gas generated over $8 billion — more than quadruple that of Microsoft’s Azure’s $1.8 billion, and 15 times the sales from Google’s cloud services.

And that’s not all — AWD has seen an impressive 72% year-over-year growth, which is completely unknown of for an enterprise service of its size.

Although the current numbers and AWD’s massive lead are quite significant, the estimates for Microsoft and Google are merely estimates. The numbers are in for AWS because they launched their services much earlier than the other two companies. Also not factored into the comparisons are Microsoft’s multibillion-dollar cloud software business.

At this point, with 87% of companies operating in the cloud, the industry represents many interests and is the intersection of several industries. Amazon Web Services hold a lot of that responsively, hosting twice as much customer data as the top seven other public cloud providers combined.

Indeed, Gartner’s recent Magic Quadrant report assessed several cloud vendors according to their vision in cloud storage and their ability to fulfill goals. The companies are then ranked relative to each other, taking into account core services, sales strategy, and geographic coverage. The study found that Amazon S3 stores 1.6 times the amount of data of all the other players in the study.

Amazon S3 (which stands for Simple Storage Service) launched in 2006. It offers archival services called Glacier, which stores companies cold data. While many of its services are lauded for their ease and quality, many companies recognize that while it is easy to put dates into the system, it can be quite pricey to take them out. For now, though, AWS’ S3 services still reign supreme.