Friday, August 18, 2017

Long Beach to Propose Stricter Enforcement of Noise Curfew Ordinance



Finding a great place to live can be a balancing act. It can be next to impossible to find a good building with affordable rent in a popular area. People often have to commute to work in order to find their dream home or sacrifice some of the items on their wish list and settle for something less than ideal. Living near an airport, for example, has both positive and negative aspects. Prices for homes in the area tend to be much lower than those further away, but residents have to deal with increased traffic and greater noise issues. Even with noise curfew rules, some airlines find ways to get around it. However, according to Hugo Martin's L.A. Times article, the Long Beach Airport has proposed a crackdown on noise violators in order to address some of the more blatant rule-breakers.

In response to excessive noise issues over the years, the City of Long Beach has a Community Noise Ordinance that makes it illegal for people to make loud noises that affect residents or visitors during certain time periods. Some examples include leaf blowers, construction equipment, and amplified music. Mainly, the ordinance addresses repeat offenders with disruptive behavior above certain limited standards. One such standard is that for the airlines operating out of the Long Beach airport. The airlines have a limited "noise budget" that they have to stay under or they will be fined.

While many of the airlines have followed the rules of the Noise Ordinance, some of the busier airlines have chosen to prioritize their business over the wants of the community. JetBlue has been the most flagrant offender this year, with over 94 violations in the five-month period at the beginning of 2017. Delta AirLines and SkyWest, next in line, have a combined total of only 3 violations. JetBlue claims that its disruption of the noise levels between 10 PM and 7 AM throughout the year was due to delays at busier airports on the East Coast and in Northern California. They claim that the noise was unintentional and are working with the city to solve the problem.

When the ordinance was enacted in 1995, it set the fines for first-time offenders at $100 and set the fine at $300 for any airline breaking the rules more than three times. While these fines may have once been a deterrent to some airlines, it makes more financial sense for JetBlue to operate as many flights as possible, and just pay any fines they may incur. In response to that, city officials are looking into updating the fines on the ordinance to thousands of dollars per transgression, with the option to terminate an airline's ability to operate out of the airport if the airline accumulates more than 20 citations in a two-year period. It will still take some time to get the proposal before the city council, but it is expected that they will vote on it in the early months of 2018.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Scam Uses Stolen Credit Card Data to Illegally Resell Gasoline



Improvements in technology are great in many ways. They save money, make life more convenient, and help people to do good in the world. However, technological advancement can often have drawbacks as well. One of the main issues in recent years is the average criminal's increasing ability to get away with financial crimes. The more technologically advanced something is, the more opportunities there are for criminals to hack in or scam people. According to an article by the Associated Press of the Los Angeles Times, one of the latest scams involves using stolen credit card information to resell gasoline on the black market.

The first part of the scam involves attaching 3D-printed credit card "skimmers" to ATMs or other credit card readers, such as those at gas stations. When someone swipes their card through the skimmer without realizing that it's not actually part of the machine, it records the credit card's data for the scammer's use. Then, the scammer is able to transfer the information to a fake card later, which they can use to make purchases. As devices get more advanced and criminals become more tech-savvy, the crimes continue to increase.

Once they have the counterfeit cards with someone else's data on it, the thieves go to gas stations with specially-designed trucks with hidden fuel tanks that can hundreds of gallons of gasoline. Then, they go off and empty the fuel from the trucks into 4,500-gallon industrial tankers. Finally, the tankers turn around and sell the gasoline back to the gas stations or to people on construction sites or to truckers looking to get a discount. Even the smallest gangs of criminals can steal thousands of dollars per day in gasoline, which can be more profitable with fewer risks than other money-making scams.

These types of crimes started sometime around 2006 when the skimmer technology was first developed. Since then, thieves have been using the strategy more and more, mainly in populous states with many busy interstates, such as California, Florida, and Texas. At first, law enforcement did little to combat these crimes, since they were only targeting a couple hundred dollars per transaction. It was seen as a "victimless crime," because the targets could dispute the charges on their credit card statements and generally get the money back. Because of the "slap-on-the-wrist" view of this type of crime, more and more thieves joined up, to the extent that some gangs are making up to $20 million per year off of stolen gasoline.

Because this is a financial crime, the US Secret Service is  involved and is investigating various gangs of criminals, shutting down these groups when they can, and are working on instituting tougher laws to dissuade other criminals from going after the "low-hanging fruit." Gas stations are also looking into installing devices on their pumps that shut the machine down if it is tampered with. Generally, everyone should just be on alert and do what they can to avoid being targeted by a similar scam. Be careful when using your credit card somewhere you don't trust, and if something looks suspicious, you should report it to the authorities.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

New System to Alert Passengers via Mobile App if Luggage is Lost in Transit



Many people often need to travel often in this day and age. Technology has helped people to become more connected and some businesses even operate out of multiple countries at once. Therefore, people conducting business and people looking to visit friends and family will usually need to resort to flying to their destination. Because flying has become so mainstream and efficient, it's not unheard of for some individuals to board multiple flights per month. However, with all that popularity comes mistakes. Flights get overbooked, luggage gets lost, and the whole trip can be a frustrating experience. According to Hugo Martin's L.A. Times article, American Airlines is addressing one common issue: lost luggage, in the hopes of making the experience a little bit better for everyone.

Airports, especially those located in major cities, host many flights per day, with planes from dozens of different airlines. It's no surprise that luggage gets misplaced among so many thousands of travelers. The more frustrating part for many passengers is that they have to wait by baggage claim for every piece of luggage to exit the plane before they can definitively determine that their luggage is gone. Then, they have to go through the whole process and fill out paperwork so that when their belongings are found, they can be returned. People nowadays value efficiency and look to save time in every situation, so a big time-waster like that is not appreciated.

American Airlines is beginning to use a new system of scanning luggage at multiple checkpoints along the boarding and transport process, which keeps better track of everything. Additionally, all of the data is being uploaded to their system, and an alert gets sent out to a passenger if the system finds that their luggage was lost along the way. Because the passengers are getting a text message or app alert, they are able to immediately go to fill out the paperwork instead of first waiting for baggage claim, which can make an inherently stressful situation a little bit easier. In the coming years, lost luggage may be a thing of the past. New technology has been driving down the number of bags misplaced each year, and some research shows that use of RFIDs and other similar technology could lead to a 99% success rate on tracking bags, which could save millions of dollars in the long-run.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Upcoming Eclipse Expected to Raise Thousands in Revenue for Small Towns Throughout America



Eclipses are one of the only astronomical phenomena that can be seen from Earth without the aid of a telescope or other viewing device. Because of that, an eclipse can be an exciting event for locals and tourists alike. They are so uncommon that people travel from miles around to be able to see one. This year especially has been a big deal, because the so-named "Great Solar Eclipse," happening next month, is the first total solar eclipse to be seen in America in nearly 100 years. According to Rachel Spacek's L.A. Times article, the eclipse is expected to raise thousands of dollars in revenue for individuals and businesses alike across the country.

An eclipse is any obscuring of the light of one celestial body by another. Lunar eclipses can happen when the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun, in which case, the Earth's shadow passes over the moon and blocks its light. In the case of the upcoming Great American Eclipse, however, the moon will be passing directly in between the Earth and the Sun, which will block all but a corona of the Sun's light from reaching the Earth. Because of the relative sizes of the celestial bodies, lunar eclipses are far more common than solar eclipses, which makes the Great American Eclipse all the more exciting for viewers.

Although over 12 million Americans live somewhere in the "path of the totality," which is the area where people will be able to view the total solar eclipse in its entirety, millions more are going to be coming into town for the day, just to watch the phenomenon occur. The increased tourism, even just for a day or two, is expected to provide huge boosts to the economies of many small towns along the path. In states like Idaho, where the cost of living is usually very low, residents are taking advantage of the supply-and-demand aspect of the upcoming event and aiming to make a lot of money off of out-of-towners. Some are using sites like Airbnb to list a bedroom for over $1,000 on the night before the eclipse. Hotels have been sold out for months, if not years, and some people are even spending hundreds of dollars to camp out in people's backyards.

Souvenir companies are also making a killing off of the upcoming eclipse. From glow-in-the-dark T-shirts to temporary tattoos and luggage tags, people are selling anything and everything related to the eclipse. People are traveling for miles and paying thousands of dollars to see the eclipse, so it makes sense that they also want souvenirs to help remember the experience. Not only are online businesses getting a boost, but local businesses in towns along the path are expected to face a rush of new customers during the week of the eclipse. Restaurants are stocking up on menu items and are planning to truck in their employees to increase the number of available parking spots. Even Porta-Potty rentals are doing well in expectation of the increased number of people.

Supply-and-demand really is the name of the game. Tourists are looking for a place to stay and are willing to pay the money for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so why shouldn't the small town residents make money off of it. No one is forcing people to go out and view the eclipse. It seems comparable to an amusement park charging high prices for patrons to get in. If people want to ride the roller coasters, they need to pay whatever price was set. And, for these small towns along the path of the totality, this chance to boost their local economy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as another total solar eclipse won't happen for several decades.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Best Buy's Pivoting has Helped the Company Survive Amazon's Expansion



As more consumers look to online sources for many of their purchases, brick-and-mortar retailers have had to work on quickly adjusting their business model to stay in the game. Many such retail outlets have failed and filed for bankruptcy in recent years, including Radio Shack, once one of Best Buy's biggest competitors. Somehow, Best Buy was able to avoid a similar fate and has in fact made great strides since 2012, when most analysts thought they were doomed to fail. A recent L.A. Times article by James F. Peltz and Jack Flemming describes some of the methods Best Buy's CEO used to get the company back on track.

One of the biggest factors hurting the electronics chain's profits was a practice among shoppers called "showrooming." Consumers like to be able to see the products in person before purchasing them, which is one factor that makes people hesitant about making purchases on Amazon. However, they also want to make sure they're getting the best deal and spending the least amount of money. So, what they would do is go into stores like Best Buy, look at the variety of products, figure out which specific model they wanted to buy, then simply order it on Amazon for a cheaper price. To combat this practice, Best Buy invested more into expanding its market to the online sector instead of just focusing on its stores. Additionally, they have cut their profits on individual items in order to match Amazon's prices. In the short run, they may be losing money on an item-by-item basis, but overall, getting back some of their market share on electronics has been beneficial.

Even though Best Buy has been developing the online sales portion of their business model much more in recent years, the CEO of the company still considers the physical stores to be a huge asset. Although "same-store sales," which is a measure of the number of sales within a lasting store as opposed to new locations, was on a decline for 4 years, revenue at the older stores has been steadily increasing over the past 3 years. Online sales rose 21% this year and now account for 12% of Best Buy's overall sales. According to analysts, Best Buy's overall sales have remained flat because the electronics industry has been growing very slowly. The economy may be improving, but people are not buying as many "big-ticket" items anymore. Slower innovation and the vast range of retailers has led to a decrease in prices and less interest among consumers who might otherwise be interested in personal computers or televisions.

By offering the same prices as Amazon and speeding up their shipping times, Best Buy has been able to reel in some customers who want to get their product immediately, rather than waiting a while for it to be delivered. They also integrated a way for online shoppers to pick up the ordered product at their local store, which cuts down on shipping costs for both parties. Finally, Best Buy has invested heavily in education for their employees. By making sure that their employees are tech-savvy enough to explain products to shoppers, they are more likely to make a sale. Additionally, customers are more likely to shop at the store where the product is explained to them than on Amazon, where all they have is a description and some pictures. Improving customer service and lowering prices have helped, but it's still quite a while until we can determine whether Best Buy and other similar retailers will survive Amazon's spread throughout the industry.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Over 50% of U.S. Households Expected to Have Prime Membership by Year's End



Amazon Prime is a popular service that allows subscribers to pay a yearly fee in order to get expedited shipping on everything they order. Two years ago, on July 15, 2015, which was the anniversary of the company's founding, CEO Jeff Bezos started something new to further incentivize Prime users: Amazon Prime Day. On Prime Day, subscribers get special deals on select Amazon products. According to the L.A. Times article written by Angel Gonzalez and Ethan Varian, this year's Prime Day (on July 10th), attracted over 60% more shoppers than last year.

Prime Day, which has been compared to Cyber Monday or Black Friday, was designed by Amazon founder and CEO Bezos to be a "holiday" of deals. Not only was it intended to reward current Prime members, but it was also meant to attract new users. Although Amazon has only released the numbers of users that made purchases on Prime Day, it's likely that they gained many more Prime users in the weeks or months leading up to Prime Day. Tens of millions of users made purchases on Prime Day, over 50% more than last year, which brought in over $1 billion in revenue for Amazon over a single 30-hour period.

Analysts have calculated that the number of households in the US with a Prime account has increased 7% over the past year, and they predict that over half of the households in America will have Prime membership by the end of the year. Free shipping and various deals led people to buy some of their favorite new gadgets this year. Over the 30 hour period in 13 countries, Amazon's biggest sellers were their Amazon Echo speaker, Amazon Fire tablets, and Instant Pot programmable pressure cooker. Many other items sold well, but users were really after the deals on personal electronics.

Other retailers tried similar promotions to either compete with or ride the hype of Prime Day. Fry's Electronics offered free same-day delivery on select items and Best Buy had a "Big Deals Day." In the years to come, it is likely that many other businesses will follow suit, offering free shipping at the very least. Some day in the near future, Prime Day may become a holiday in its own right, similar in scope to Cyber Monday or Black Friday. As long as the deals keep coming, customers will keep shopping, so we'll just have to wait and see.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Grocery Delivery: Niche or Mainstream?



Going shopping can be both inconvenient and time-consuming for the average person. People like to save time and money so you might think that a technological innovation to make grocery shopping more convenient might attract a lot of interest. According to David Pierson's L.A. Times article, that might not be the case after all.

Amazon recently put in a $13.7 billion bid to acquire Whole Foods Inc., including all of its stores, warehouses, and distribution centers. Although Amazon already has a service called AmazonFresh, which allows customers to order fruits, vegetables, and other perishable food products to be delivered on the same day, this acquisition seems to show that Amazon is looking to gain greater traction in the grocery-delivery market. But, the question still remains: will grocery delivery be a successful venture in the years to come?

During the dot-com boom of the 1990s. a company called Webvan had a goal of making grocery shopping a thing of the past. They planned to do what Amazon is attempting to do: make grocery delivery mainstream. Unfortunately for Webvan, even after $800 million in funding, they were ultimately forced to declare bankruptcy nearly 20 years ago. They realized too late that, at the time, grocery delivery was both incredibly costly and extremely risky because it takes a certain kind of customer to let someone else pick out their groceries for them.

Research has shown that people have some innate preference for picking out their groceries themselves. They want to be able to look at each and every piece of fruit before purchasing it, making sure that it's unbruised or the right level of ripeness. Consumers don't trust that an employee of AmazonFresh or another similar company will be able to do as good a job as them when picking out their groceries. Especially if they end up paying the same amount for the delivered groceries as for those purchased in the store, customers will not sacrifice quality for a little bit of convenience.

However, if the convenience factor was there and the prices were reduced, studies show that the combination might be enough to convince some customers to try out grocery delivery. People care about the price more than anything else. That's why discount grocery stores like Aldi have been expanding so quickly in recent years. Even if the quality of the food is not phenomenal, the lower prices bring customers in faster than at any other chain. So, although many people in this day and age want organic fruits and vegetables, few of them purchase their organic foods at Whole Foods, because the chain is known to have high prices. If Amazon somehow found a way to reduce the prices and deliver the food, all while still making a profit, their goal might be achieved in the near future.

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