Weather And Business: Insights And Ideas For Weathering The Storms

“How about this weather we’re having?” “Can you believe how cold it is?” “The weather made my commute just brutal today!” Weather dominates small talk in the United States, and there has been a lot of research done on how weather influences behavior and emotions. But, weather also has strong financial impact; it is estimated that nearly 20% of the U.S. economy is directly affected by the weather, and it impacts the profitability and revenues of many industries, including agriculture, energy, events, construction, travel and others. In a 1998 testimony to Congress, former commerce secretary William Daley stated, “Weather is not just an environmental issue, it is a major economic factor. At least $1 trillion of our economy is weather-sensitive.”

This regular column will focus on business and its relationship with weather. Our economy is dependent on weather, and increased weather volatility has forced businesses to be more proactive in including weather insights into operational planning.  As weather-forecasting technology continues to improve, businesses are finding it easier to be more proactive in making decisions related to weather.

Of the more than 10,000 practicing meteorologists in the U.S., there is strong representation in the private sector. A meteorologist may be found in a variety of positions, ranging from weather forecasting duties, to non-forecasting roles like sales, marketing and business analytics. The job outlook for meteorologists is estimated to grow by 12%, which is almost 40 percent faster than the national average.

Public safety is a very visible example of weather forecasting for business. But there are many other ways weather plays a role in business. For some companies, it’s about risk management. For retailers, meteorologists help develop strategies that address how weather impacts purchasing trends. Meteorologists can help with business planning and developing strategies for expansion geographies. The impact of weather on business is real, and as forecasting and other technology continues to evolve, the weather-based decision making within business will also evolve.

Top of mind for so many folks right now is winter and safety, particularly as yet another storm rolls into the northeast. Severe weather will impact flights, road traffic, agriculture, the delivery of energy and the general safety of the public. When thinking about the current winter conditions and the impact on traffic and road conditions, it’s expected the plows will keep the roads clear, but there’s a lot of planning needed, not only to effectively keep the roads clear, but to also effectively manage budgets. In Minnesota for example, Anoka County is responsible for keeping 1,100 lane miles of roads clear with the work of 40 full-time, and 20 on-call, maintenance workers. These crews rely on the accuracy of each weather forecast and a big benefit of leveraging those forecasts is the effective use of budgets. Anoka County weather forecasts have specific pavement forecasts, which help the team schedule crews appropriately. The county is required to give night crews a 24-hour notice, and those crews are paid a premium rate for working after hours. Having an accurate forecast helps the department avoid scheduling workers for night shifts unless it’s necessary, ultimately protecting the bottom line.

Pavement forecasts also help the department use other resources efficiently. When freezing rain is predicted, it uses this information to help determine the optimal time to salt the roads, in turn, avoiding unnecessary applications. The department also knows the best time to pretreat roads, allowing it to avoid sending out a second shift which increases safety for everyone on the road. As this story from Anoka County, Minnesota, shows, there are real economic implications to everyday weather events.

[“source=forbes”]

Creative Super X-Fi review: A ‘holographic audio’ eargasm

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Few things in technology are guaranteed to bring you actual joy, but Creative’s Super X-Fi just might qualify for that list.

In short, the Super X-Fi distills decades of audio work into a tiny, portable dongle no bigger than a USB thumb drive that transforms smartphone, laptop, or PC audio with “holographic audio,” according the company.

While that sounds like a lot of superfluous ad copy, we have to admit that after weeks of using the Super X-Fi, the company is on to something. We’d almost believe Creative’s claim that it has found the “holy grail” of audio, but we’re disinclined to recall the Quest Knights just yet.

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Gordon Mah Ung

The Super X-Fi (right) is the size of a finger but offers far more advanced audio than the Google Pixel 2XL audio dongle (v1) on the left.

Getting started with the Super X-Fi

The Super X-Fi features a USB-C port on one end, a standard 3.5mm analog jack on the other, and features volume, shuffle, and a single control button on its surface. A tiny LED changes state from green to orange to let you know if it’s at work or not.

To get started with the Super X-Fi, you first download an Android app though the GooglePlay store. You then take pictures of your head which is analyzed by Creative to pick the perfect audio profile for your particular head shape.

This is necessary because so much of how we hear sound is determined by the timing differences of audio arriving in our ears, and the shape of our head and earlobes plays a large part of it.

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The Super X-Fi app scans your head to determine what is optimimal for you.

Besides profiling for your head, you also pick from a set of listed approved headphones in the app, or set it to “generic” for either headphone or in-ear. The headphone profiles are fine tuned by Creative to make the most of each pair’s sonic characteristics and fit style.

Creative actually has an even more optimized approach for mapping that uses in-ear microphones to precisely model audio for your head while frequency sweeps are run on a surround system. Obviously, this isn’t something that’s currently feasible for your average consumer. But we can say that in demonstrations of the Super X-Fi mapped using the in-ear microphones, we had a tough time distinguishing the Super X-Fi from a decently high-end Dolby Atmos system.

For now, the head scans using a phone camera are the next best thing.

Having that extra information is how Creative distinguishes the Super X-Fi from all other spatialized audio solutions. Creative expects its algorithms to get even better still as it adds more scans to its growing database.

sfi couragejack

Gordon Mah Ung

On one end is a USB-C port, and on the other is a 3.5mm jack, which many companies have banned from phones.

Inside the Super X-Fi

Crack open the Super X-Fi and you’ll find an AK4377. That’s a 32-bit, 768KHz digital analog converter from acclaimed audio company Asahi Kasei Microdevices. The other chip is Creative’s Super X-Fi chip. The company is pretty secretive about what the Super X-Fi does exactly but we’d guess it relies on such technologies as Creative’s Crystalizer, CMSS, and dozens of other audio patents the company has in its war chest.

Yes, true audiophiles who pursue the highest-resolution FLAC or DSD files will scoff at Creative’s bag of audio techniques as gimmicks or magic tricks, but in our listening experience, the Super X-Fi was nothing short of phenomenal.

Super X-Fi and music

With stereo content over a good set of headphones or in-ear earphones, most music is rendered as if a singer or band is inside your skull. In fact, we’re so accustomed to this John Malkovich feeling that switching on the Super X-Fi may throw you off for a second or three.

If you keep listening though, you’ll eventually realize you’re just not used to the sound of a band in front of your head, where they would be if they were performing for you.

If we were writing Creative marketing lines, it would be easy to say that the Super X-Fi is like having a personal audition by musicians.

Using whatever wizardry Creative has summoned from its library, there were times when the difference was stunning. It had us combing through our collection for more music to re-experience.

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With the Super X-Fi in Windows, you set the OS to output as discrete 7.1 audio, which the dongle then reassembles positional audio from.

Super X-Fi and games

Want to feel like you have an advantage in a multiplayer shooter? Want to be further immersed further in an open world? Plug that Super X-Fi into your PC and enjoy a 5.1 setup at the comfort of your desk with no pesky speakers or wires to worry about.

Online games like Destiny 2Battlefield V, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 worked like a dream and provided a level of feedback that made us feel as if we were cheating. When you can accurately place a sound without any visual feedback and respond to it, it becomes a game changer. Did it make us a better player? No, it’s not magic. But it did give us a deeper sense of our surroundings than we’d experienced before. The Super X-Fi will also pass microphone data as well, for when you are teaming up with your buddies.

The spatialized sound even increased the immersiveness of single-player games like The Evil Within 2DOOM, and Red Dead Redemption 2 (gasp—a console game). Yes, the Super X-Fi also works with the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, but not on the Xbox One due to current restrictions from Microsoft.

We’ve been using the Super X-Fi primarily to play games for two months and it’s become a must-have. In situations where a dedicated 5.1 sound system isn’t an option, the Super X-Fi is the next-best thing whether you’re playing on a TV or PC.

And for those who are worried about Creative drivers, have no fear, this is plug-and-play—meaning you can’t blame the company anymore if your build locks up mid-match!

Super X-Fi isn’t perfect

Be forewarned, the Super X-Fi is not perfect by any stretch. As we said, there will be times when you’ll be floored by just how good the Super X-Fi sounds. But there will also be times when it’s just meh, or even just wrong. Maybe a pinch too much reverb, maybe the vocals are processed out as a little too thin. Android users will also be annoyed by the device asking for permission to access the Super X-Fi (Creative says it’s a security limitation imposed by the OS).

There also isn’t much customization in how much depth you can add to the spatialization. In future iterations we’d love to see the ability to push the “speakers” out further, or adjust how much reverb is in the space with you. Fine-tuning like this can further trick the brain to accept you are indeed listening to speakers in the space with you.

Fortunately, in situations where the Super X-Fi’s processing isn’t working for you, you can click a button on the device to switch it off. You’ll still get the benefits of a 120dB SNR, 32-bit AKM DAC, which is likely a big improvement over anything built into your phone or laptop, or the generic dongle that came with your phone.

[“source=pcworld”]

Your apps are spying on you

Awareness around data integrity is improving every day, but are your efforts to shore up your sensitive personal information in vain?

Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes.

Have you ever had a phone conversation about a brand or product, only to hop onto your browser later that day and be inundated with ads for the same product?

It’s enough to make anyone do a double take, and it’s been the source of an old legend: our phones record our conversations.

In their 2018 study, undergraduate Elleen Pan and doctoral candidate Jingjing Ren set out to test this very theory, analysing over 17,000 of the most popular Android apps.

The result?

9,000 of those apps had the potential to be unfaithful to the user.

While no evidence was found of recorded conversations, the apps in question took screenshots of activity before forwarding them onto third parties.

Oh dear.Oh dear.

That’s just a tad horrifying.

David Choffnes, who was one of two computer science professors who oversaw the study, commented on the findings: “We found that thousands of popular apps have the ability to record your screen and anything you type.

“That does include your username and password, because it can record the characters you type before they turn into those little black dots.”

“We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack,” Choffnes said, “and we were surprised to find several needles.”

Although the privacy breaches over the course of the study were largely benign, it drives home just how easy it could be for your phone to be exploited for cash.

“This opening will almost certainly be used for malicious purposes, it’s simple to install and collect this information,” said Christo Wilson, the other computer science professor on the research team.

“And what’s most disturbing is that this occurs with no notifications to or permission by users.

“In the case we caught, the information sent to a third party was zip codes, but it could just as easily have been credit card numbers.”

It should be noted that while the study was only conducted on Android apps, the study concluded that iOS apps were likely guilty of similar breaches.

So, how do we combat this betrayal?

Android Q teases new and improved privacy controls

While there’s no quick fix for this loophole, greater app security is a major point of emphasis in the upcoming Android Q release.

In the new edition of the popular OS, a status bar feature displays when sensitive phone permissions are in use and which apps are responsible.

Source: arstechnica Source: arstechnica

Among these fresh features will be a list that displays:

  • Apps by most frequently accessed permission
  • Apps by most permission use
  • Apps that gained recent permission access

This will be a significant upgrade over Android’s current permission screen, which is a simple series of on/off switches.

Other improvements include greater visibility on why apps need certain permissions and GPS services being actively turned off when an app is running in the background.

In theory, these updates should help users make informed decisions around which apps could be up to no good.

[“source=finfeed”]

World leaders head to Davos as uncertainty darkens the global outlook

A demonstrator holds a 'Stop The Shutdown' sign during a rally with union members and federal employees to end the partial government shutdown outside the White House in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A demonstrator holds a ‘Stop The Shutdown’ sign during a rally with union members and federal employees to end the partial government shutdown outside the White House in Washington, D.C.

As a legion of heads of state and business leaders head to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) next week, world affairs are as unpredictable and unstable as ever.

In the 12 months since the last forum, global trade relations and diplomacy as well as domestic politics have been fractious, to say the least.

Since President Donald Trump first announced tariffs on a selection of Chinese imports last January, the U.S. and China have gone on to impose tariffs of $250 billion and $110 billion on each other’s goods, respectively. Washington is currently witnessing its longest ever shutdown because of an impasse over funding for a border wall and Brexit remains as chaotic and unclear as ever just weeks before the U.K.’s departure from the EU.

The forum released a “Global Risks” report Wednesday in which it noted that “global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking.”

In continental Europe over the last year, we’ve seen a populist government take charge in one of Europe’s major economies, Italy, and a demise of mainstream politicians that could lead to a power vacuum — and moral crisis — in the region.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in October that she is to retire from politics and her party continues to cede voters to the left and right, meanwhile an increasingly unpopular French President Emmanuel Macron is dealing with ongoing and often violent protests on the streets of Paris.

John Drzik, president of Global Risk and Digital at risk management firm Marsh, told CNBC that cybercrime, critical infrastructure and environmental threats, as well as changes in geopolitics, are among the biggest risks facing the world right now.

“The rise of nationalist agendas around the world is creating friction among states as well as weakening multilateral institutions,” he told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche.

“It’s not just in the U.S., here in the U.K. you have Brexit, but in Brazil, Italy, Austria and Hungary there are lots of populist political figures who are getting elected and changing the agenda to be more protectionist and more nationalist and, as a result, weakening the multilateral bonds that were there and that’s expected to continue into 2019.”

The global economy is not looking too great either as trade concerns continue to concern business and rattle financial markets.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) cited trade tensions when it downgraded its global growth forecast for 2019 last October. The IMF expects global growth of 3.7 percent in 2019, down 0.2 percentage points from an earlier forecast in its World Economic Outlook report.

The World Bank, meanwhile, sees global growth at 2.9 percent in 2019 amid tightening financial conditions. The European Commission is also downbeat about the region’s growth, forecasting a lackluster 2 percent growth in the EU in 2019.

Globalization 4.0

Against this backdrop, there’s plenty to talk about at this year’s Davos then when the heads and officials of over 100 governments meet, as well as top executives from over 1,000 global companies. Designed to foster private and public cooperation, the forum’s main objective is “to improve the state of the world.” This year’s theme is focused on “Globalization 4.0.”

WEF’s founder Klaus Schwab said in November that the world is experiencing “an economic and political upheaval that will not cease any time soon” adding in a WEF editorial that “the forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have ushered in a new economy and a new form of globalization.”

Schwab said that a slow and uneven recovery since the global financial crisis meant “a substantial part of society has become disaffected and embittered, not only with politics and politicians, but also with globalization and the entire economic system it underpins.”

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He said populist discourse had confused globalization, which has been seen to have negative connotations in some populist narratives, with globalism.

“Globalization is a phenomenon driven by technology and the movement of ideas, people, and goods. Globalism is an ideology that prioritizes the neoliberal global order over national interests. Nobody can deny that we are living in a globalized world. But whether all of our policies should be ‘globalist’ is highly debatable.”

Put simply, Schwab said the challenge for global leaders is “to restore sovereignty in a world that requires cooperation.” He advised that rather than closing off economies through protectionism and nationalist
politics, a new social compact is needed between citizens and their leaders, so that everyone feels secure enough at home to remain open to the world at large.”

“Failing that, the ongoing disintegration of our social fabric could ultimately lead to the collapse of democracy,” he said.

[“source=cnbc”]