Business and marketing news, reviews and views


Is The NSA Out of Control?

NSA spying practices photo.
Recently, the Washington Post published an article about the extent to which the NSA is legally compliant. In a highly classified, leaked internal audit, several disturbing details were uncovered — the agency contravened laws and rules concerning collecting data on those within the US. Reportedly, there were 2,776 episodes of this in 1 year — however, upon closer inspection, a key question emerges: Is the NSA out of Control?

The relevant figures bear some significance, when considering is the NSA out of control? According to the compliance director of the NSA, the agency carries out roughly 20,000,000 queries each month. Assuming this is an accurate assessment (and as we are referring to their internal audit, we have to implicitly adopt this assumption), this means that the audit found approximately 0.0012% of the NSA queries every year are illegal.

Examining this data still further, a significant quantity of incorrect collection episodes — about 68% — were foreign people, who were legally monitored outside the US, but who decided to travel to America. This meant that their continued surveillance was forbidden. The classified report even states that this was probably because of the unusually large quantity of Chinese tourists, who visited America over the New Year.

About 10% of the purported contraventions involved computer typing errors —  as opposed to malicious intentions. Hence, 68% are foreign people in America, and another 10% are basic typing errors. This means that 78% of the NSA’s claimed rule violations would be more appropriately labeled as simple mistakes, rather than an organized “big brother” conspiracy.

This leaves 13% of the contraventions accounted for by other reasons — either procedural mistakes or, more disturbingly, malicious intention (which includes willfully disregarding the law). There’s no further data on what quantity of violations were intended, which gives rise to an obvious concern: Rather than presupposing willful rule breaking, as many have, the discussion instead ought to revolve around what America’s expectations for oversight and compliance actually are.

This is a far more challenging issue to address. The more outspoken critics of the NSA believe that a 99.9% rate of legal compliance is not acceptable. Whether this view is shared by the whole country is another matter. However, if it is, then the issue relates to the demand for complete perfection, alongside a basic misunderstanding of the procedures and technologies involved. This view bears much resemblance to the views of those who expect to be kept completely protected from acts of terrorism, and it is just as fanciful.

The Wall Street Journal published a report on other episodes of surveillance by the NSA on American citizens. The agency has the ability to monitor the majority of web traffic in the US; however it goes to great lengths not to do this. Capability and actions are two different things (even though lots of critics purposefully confuse the two, by employing the words interchangeably). Furthermore, many of these mistakes arise because of how the World Wide Web itself operates, for which there’s no clear technological solution.

The truth uncovered by this report — in contrast to the Post’s hyperbole and the critics’ rash judgments — is that the NSA is committed to its’ duty to protect the privacy of Americans. The FISA Court reviewed one program that was referred to in the audit, and quickly closed it down for breaking the law. Thus, the FISA Court carried out its’ oversight role correctly and stopped a program it believed was unlawful.

The present debate is caught between, on one side, centrist establishment proponents who believe a robust security force is the only protection against terrorism, and on another side, people who believe that government surveillance is inherently tyrannical. Eventually, a compromise between these two positions will be made. However, until there’s a full and frank discussion about what privacy and security compromises are in the best interests of the country, not much will change while the associated arguments only become more intense and emotional.

3D Printing Cutting Manufacturing Costs While Making 3D Available to All

The dawn of 3D printing, as many people know, is here and now with recent breakthroughs allowing for such things as NASA space rocket engines manufactured using 3D printing. In fact, three-dimensional printing technology is now very affordable with many people purchasing these printers at prices near the cost of standard copiers. NASA is also touting 3D printers as a cost effective technology. NASA explained how the rocket engine parts now cost 70% less in a new marketing video that is featured on the agency’s website.

3D Printing Cutting Manufacturing Costs

While NASA plans on manufacturing more rocket engine parts with its 3D printers, other government agencies and companies worldwide are also jumping on the 3D bandwagon by showcasing all sorts of things that can be easily made with this emerging technology. For instance, there are many car manufacturers who state this cost-saving technology will literally revolutionize how automobiles are made in the future. At the same time, the overall consensus is 3D means slashing production costs across the board for just about anything and everything manufactured today.

Another aspect of 3D technology is linked to the view that three-dimensional printing will allow for the production of thousands of single items at costs that are so cheap that this technology breakthrough is being compared to such things as the invention of the transistor in the Fifties or the steam engine in the 16th century. Meanwhile, the 3D printing technology is evolving so fast that science experts at NASA and other government agencies say three-dimensional will impact every field that this technology touches with massive cost savings for all manufacturing.

Three-dimensional printing here now

Because 3D printing technology allows for just about any single item to be reproduced at very low costs, there is a growing trend online to both showcase and market the magic of three-dimensional printing to consumers who still may not believe such a thing is possible. For example, a 3D scanner that is sold both online and in various electronic stores today can create a 3D model and then produce a resin replica just like a standard copy machine reproduces words or images on paper. In addition, NASA scientists have proven with comparable test data that a 3D-printed space engine part compares in every way to a traditionally made part while saving massive amounts of time and money.

While NASA rocket engines are being reproduced with a three-dimensional printer using layers of nickel-chromium powder, there are many different types and styles of 3D printers that use other innovative laser melting technology to produce such things as human body parts and exact replicas of works of ancient statues and other works of art. Also, there is a major effort going on right now by many industrial nations to get busy with 3D technology by testing, designing and manufacturing the next generation of three-dimensional printers that can copy anything in the world.

Moreover, both NASA and other manufacturers of high-tech equipment have test 3D printed parts at upwards of 3,500 degrees Celsius and found no difference in the integrity and performance of the three-dimensional copies as compared to traditionally manufactured parts.

Overall, there has never been a better time to get in on three-dimensional printing technology that is literally changing the landscape for both manufacturing advancements and cost-saving innovation.

5 New Job Skills You Can Learn Online

Learning online can improve your job skills.
Every year that passes brings with it fresh talent in the marketplace. For individuals currently in the job hunting market, this means stiffer competition. Although candidates can always rely on experience and an excellent set of knowledge and skills, they do need to acquire more if they want to remain relevant and competent. You can learn new job skills online and even choose a specialization that allows you to show your strengths and improve your underdeveloped skills and talents. Here are some of the most important skills you might want to consider building:

Communication Skills

Many people underestimate the power of good communication skills but it is actually a critical component of your success in the workplace. Let’s say there are three candidates vying for a very attractive position, all of them highly qualified but only one is capable of communicating his ideas in a way that is clear, concise and relatable. Guess who gets hired? Good communication skills help build solid connections and it can be a powerful tool at work. If you can communicate really well, you get to share ideas and present them to superiors and colleagues in the most convincing way possible. You can also negotiate, teach, train and lead a team with this skill, which also ups your desirability factor as an employee.

Project Management

Everyone can be part of a project but not everyone can manage a project. If you have the skills and knowledge, you can build your competence as an employee who can lead a team and produce results. Project management often relies on a methodical approach which also requires both technical and creative skills. It teaches leadership, critical thinking, organizational, business management and strategic skills. Knowledge in project management can also hone your abilities and specialties, since it can be applied to a wide range of industries, such as IT, finance, banking, insurance, manufacturing, production, construction and business.

As a project management expert or specialist, however, you may be required to earn a certificate to show your competency. There are a few websites that offer courses for free but most premium content are available for a fee. If this is the career path you want to choose, you will be glad to know that it is well worth the investment.

Computer Skills

Basic computer skills are mandatory in the workplace and employees who can use a computer like a pro tend to be more efficient and capable of working more quickly. You do not need to be an advanced programmer to get the job done but the skills can certainly come in handy. Try going online to learn basic computer operations in subjects such as word processing, presentations, graphics, website building, network management, data management and network security. If you prefer, focus on one or two specializations and build your skills to intermediate or advanced levels.

Social Media

More and more companies and organizations are turning to social media to promote their business and sell to their target market. Knowing a few tricks about how social media works will help you build the kind of competence that will allow you to promote your company more efficiently and increase its presence online. Whether you work in public relations, human resources or sales and marketing, you can leverage your knowledge and skills in social networking to fortify your company’s brand.

Language Skills

Many employers put a premium on job candidates who can communicate using another language. The language and level of fluency considered desirable will depend on the company you work for, the industry and the type of job you are targeting but knowing how to say “Pleasure doing business with you” in three or six languages can’t hurt. Knowing how to communicate in another language increases your skills as a member of your team and your competence as an employee. With a market that is increasingly becoming global, knowing how to speak, read and write in one or a few foreign languages will make you an indispensable part of the organization.

Yahoo! Looking to Rebrand Itself

Looking to rebrand itself.
After going through a series of problems in the past few years, including an attempted takeover by Microsoft and multiple internal reorganizations, Yahoo is trying to make changes that will strengthen the company in the coming months. These changes include the launch of a rebranding campaign. According to a statement released by Yahoo’s Chief Marketing Officer Kathy Saviit on August 7, 2013, the company plans to unveil a new logo on September 4, 2013. Saviit stated that in order to ensure that the rebranding campaign succeeds; Yahoo intends to unveil a logo that is a modern redesign of the current logo to reflect the company’s new experiences. However, in her statement, Ms. Saviit indicated that there will be no major changes in Yahoo’s current logo since the company will preserve the color purple and exclamation mark on their logo. The company has already started displaying variations of their current logo on the Yahoo! homepage.

In order to build up excitement before the unveiling on the new logo next month, Yahoo has launched a 30-day rebranding campaign that will see Yahoo unveil 30 different logos each day before the official new logo is unveiled in September. This campaign may be a good public relations and advertising move for Yahoo in view of the fact that the company will be in the spotlight for the next one month. However, According to Ms. Saviit, the main purpose of the impending logo change is to enable the company to reflect the ongoing innovations and internal changes in the company. According to a statement posted on Yahoo’s Tumblr blog Ms. Saviit indicated that by changing its logo, which is the essence of its brand, Yahoo will be able to reflect the renewed sense of purpose and progress within the company.

For some observers in the industry, Yahoo’s current rebranding campaign does not come as a surprise. Since Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, joined the company, she has made repeated attempts to change the company’s image by refreshing Yahoo’s products and office culture. For instance, Mayer infamously abolished Yahoo’s telecommuting policy and made a slew of other changes such as the provision of free cafeteria food for employees in order to improve Yahoo’s office culture. Mayer has also made it clear that that she intends to personalize Yahoo’s products in order to appeal to more clients. In an Interview with Bloomberg Television, Mayer stated that Yahoo intends to learn more about their clients’ preferences in order to be able to present information in manner that matches their clients’ Preferences. By unveiling one new logo design for the next 30 days, Yahoo may be attempting to determine its clients’ preferences and ensure its clients feel invested in the rebranding campaign.

However, some members of the public may perceive Yahoo’s current rebranding attempt as nothing more than a mere public relations stunt especially since this change of logo plan comes shortly after major challenges such as Microsoft’s attempted takeover of Yahoo. In order to compete effectively with companies such as Google, Yahoo needs to make substantive and innovative changes constantly and a prolonged logo change process may seem like a sign of indecision instead of a rebranding process that improves Yahoo’s ability to compete effectively.

Nevertheless, one cannot underestimate the PR-value of a logo change process no matter how long the process lasts. Logos are symbols of a company’s value system. In view of this, if Yahoo unveils a logo that encapsulates the values of innovation, progress and renewed purpose that the company’s executives want to display, they may be able to appeal to members of the public and gain an edge over their competitors. However, even if this campaign is successful, sometime in the future, Yahoo may have to consider making changes that are more dramatic and incisive in its information products in order to keep consumers interested in their products.

All in all, only time will tell whether Yahoo’s month long logo change is an indication of a full and in-depth rebrand or if this is a ruse designed to make consumers believe that the company is making some changes internally. Ultimately, all that matters right now is the public’s opinion. If the public buys into this logo change process, Yahoo will have succeeded in its mission.

The People vs. Red Light Cameras

Traffic law and your rights photo.

Constitutionality, privacy, regulation and other issues arise in the fight against automated traffic law enforcement.

It seems that red light cameras make news quite often these days. Legal battles abound in nearly every state. Local governments are being forced to review their programs by an increasingly critical population. Let’s look at some of the latest headlines with regards to these devices:

New York
In Rochester, a local attorney by the name of Larry Krieger is challenging the constitutionality of the cameras before the courts. The city has tried to have the case dismissed by saying that the plaintiff should have exhausted all administrative options before taking such a bold action. However, the state’s Supreme Court has just released a decision allowing the suit to proceed. Justice Scott Odorisi said that the usual procedural requirements may be set aside due to the nature of the case. The date for the initial oral arguments has been set for next month and it will be interesting to see how the story will unfold.

Meanwhile, in Long Island, a man is complaining of a red light camera which has been installed right in front of his house. The device has made it difficult for his family to live normally as it bothers the pets and the baby, especially at night. They can no longer sleep well nor interact normally since the camera was installed a few weeks ago. He claims that they were not notified prior to the installation. He has started an online campaign to have the unit removed. The man is encouraging motorists to join his online petition calling for placement restrictions, specifically banning them from residential communities.

The Ohio legislature is in the process of finalizing a law that would regulate the use of the cameras. Initially, there was a strong call for a total ban but new developments point to a possible softening of the language. The bill is currently in the Senate for its consideration. The alternative draft calls for limits on camera use such as having them catch red light runners but not the speeders. They would also need to be restricted to intersections with a high rate of T-bone collisions. This means that studies must be done to assess the need prior to installation.

New Jersey
A massive class action suit was filed last year claiming that the cameras were figuratively standing on shaky ground. It said that the traffic studies used to justify the installations are faulty as they did not consider average road speeds at the intersections. It also claims that drivers are not given enough time to press the brakes, putting them at a disadvantage. The complainants have reached a $4.2 million settlement with the device vendor. Those who were issued tickets are also eligible for partial reimbursement. The vendor is also obliged to post a publicly viewable educational video about how their systems work. The suit has nearly 500,000 participants with 18 lead plaintiffs.

Senator Jeff Brandes of Florida is starting to make concrete moves towards new legislation regarding red light cameras. He is known to be in opposition to them but for now all he wants is to get the facts straight. So has pushed for a statewide study that will be conducted by the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability. The OPPAGA has a good reputation and is expected to produce impartial data. The results of this study will be tackled next year when their session resumes. Sen. Brandes is the powerful chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The issue is becoming one of the hottest topics in the state. In fact, the mayoralty candidates in the city of St. Petersburg are sharply divided over it. The incumbent supports the camera program while one of his opponents wants it stopped. Kathleen Ford says that the technology is flawed and that the cost to appeal is unfair for the motorists. Another mayoralty candidate, Rick Kriseman, expressed confidence in the program and lauded its contributions to public safety. As red light cameras make news, it appears that the complex issues will take time to resolve.

Do You Know the Importance of Online Surveys in Your Business?

Consumer opinion holds real value for businesses.
Before the internet gained ground, businesses had to collect information from consumers using paper forms that were distributed by hand or via post. This process tool long and required a lot of effort. As we speak, the internet has gained prominence and you can now communicate with your consumers effortlessly. Having internet enabled devices has made everything easier for you. One way to get feedback from your consumers is by using online surveys. Well, if you did not know, online surveys gauge consumer sentiment faster and at a low cost.

What Does Online Surveys Deliver to Your Business?
Online surveys are all about gaining knowledge about your business. This information is from the people who use your items or potential users. The survey will help you enjoy several benefits over your competitors. These include:

Know What You Are Doing Right
Online surveys gauge consumer sentiment to help you know the practices that you are doing right in your business. This means that you get to know the things that your consumers appreciate. You will also realize that these are the things making your consumers come back to you time and again.

Well, it may be the follow up calls you are making to your consumers, bonus services, staff attitude, mobile phone service or any other thing that you do which makes you look different as compared to your competitors.

Know What You Need to Do Next to Make Things Even Better
When you receive great feedback, you need to find out whether there are any other things you need to do so that you make the service better. Since online surveys gauge customer sentiment, you are sure that if you make the services better, you will get more consumers. You also need to find out how to extend the “good service’ to other areas of your business so that you offer your consumers better services in other areas as well.

The step you take next will depend with the results of the survey. Have you realized that your consumers value great customer service? Well, why not use the model customer care representative to train and coach the others so that they can offer the same level of attention to your consumers? As you do this, you need to continue gauging the response rate of your consumers so that you know whether your efforts are bringing expected results.

Know What You Are Doing That Consumers Hate
The best thing with online surveys is that the respondent has the opportunity to provide unbiased views about your product or services. This is all done without the consumer feeling threatened or at risk of getting served in a discriminatory way.
The consumers will be able to give you information about something that you are doing which may end up making them look for another provider. This information is very vital especially when you own a very large enterprise that you cannot manage single-handedly. The feedback you get from online surveys will help you know about something you could not have found using your own efforts. Once you have this information in your hands, you need to move very fast so that you can remedy the situation.

Know What to Do to Make Things Better
When you get a negative comment in a survey that you have posted online, you need to make sure you work on it. It does not matter whether you have received a negative comment from only one customer or a hundred of them — you need to work on the problem as fast as possible. The bad thing with a disgruntled customer is that the information may finally find a way into the hands of potential consumers who will end up shunning your product or service.

Remember, online surveys gauge consumer sentiment which means that you should not ignore a single comment. If you find that an area needs focus and correction, you need to come up with ways to do the necessary. Take some time and examine the issue at hand before you take action. For example, if the complaint is about a member of staff who is annoying consumers, you need to investigate and find out the source of discontent. If it is a one-time occurrence, you need to try and prevent it from happening again.

At times, you may find that the problem that the consumer is complaining about is hard to deal with. What you need to so in such a situation is to thank the consumer for the observation and promise that you will take it into consideration.

A Final Take…
Unbiased feedback is one of the best gifts that you can get from your consumers. The feedback that you get will either be positive or negative. Positive feedback tells you about something you are doing right so that you find ways to make things much better. On the other hand, negative feedback will tell you something you are doing wrong so that you can correct it. Online surveys gauge consumer sentiment, which makes perfect sense for you to try and incorporate them in your business.