Friday, June 23, 2017

LAX to Allow Select Passengers to Check-in Using Fingerprints or Iris Scans



In this day and age, partly due to continually advancing technological innovation, the ability to avoid time-wasting activities like waiting in lines has become a necessity for many consumers. People value their free time and want to save as much of it as possible for activities they enjoy. For example, when people fly in an airplane, whether for their job or on their way to a vacation, they don't enjoy how long it takes to make their way through security and check-in lines. Fortunately for many, according to Hugo Martin's L.A. Times article, passengers leaving from Los Angeles International Airport may soon have the option to speed through check-in using iris scans and/or their fingerprints.

Depending on the type of flight and time of year, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours (or sometimes even more) for a passenger to get all the way through check-in and security before they are finally able to get to their boarding gate. For many people, especially the more affluent travelers and people who travel often for business, it can be worthwhile to pay a fee to get through security faster. Well, a company called Clear just installed new kiosks at LAX that allow passengers to use biometric markers to get through security. The service is membership based and costs $179 per year so it would be the best deal for frequent fliers.

Clear already has connections to 22 airports and 6 sports arenas around the country, so LAX is not their first foray into the world of biometrics. Accounts can be easily made at one of the kiosks by scanning a government-issued form of identification, answering some questions, and having one's iris and fingerprints scanned. After the short process to set up the account, check-in becomes faster and much more convenient. When using Clear to check-in, passengers get to interact with Clear employees (LAX has approximately 90 such individuals), bypassing most of the line and moving directly to the X-ray portion of security.

Clear may be one of the biggest presences in the field of biometric security, but other companies are beginning to get in on the industry, as it is likely to keep growing in the years to come. Jet Blue and Delta have begun using facial recognition and fingerprint scanning for the checking in of some of their premium passengers. Not only does scanning someone's fingerprints take much less time and is more convenient than classic methods, it can also be a more secure method. If biometric check-in were to become mainstream, wanted suspects would potentially be unable to get through security without raising an alarm, because their fingerprints and iris scans would be in the system.

However, that can also raise the question of privacy concerns. What will the companies do with all of that biometric information if this practice became mainstream? Would the police be able to get a subpoena for someone's fingerprint scans if they are a suspect in a crime? Many potential issues could arise from the integration of biometrics into security protocol, but many benefits are inherent as well. For now, it is only being used by a subset of passengers as a way to save time and make life more convenient. Everything else is too far in the future to know definitively now.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

LADWP Pauses Planned Work on Natural Gas Power Plants in Favor of Green Alternatives



Energy is one of the most important commodities in this day and age. Whether it comes from fossil fuel, natural gas, or green sources, energy is a necessity in our increasingly technological world. Up until recently, California legislators had plans to build new natural gas power plants and renovate some older ones that run on fossil fuels. According to Ivan Penn's L.A. Times article, they are instead looking at other potential options for energy generation throughout the state.

Before this week, a $2.2 billion plan was in the works to fix up some older natural gas power plants and get them ready to produce electricity. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power put that plan on pause while they look into green electricity alternatives. Among a few other reasons, this change in trajectory is likely due mainly to recent investigative journalism that found that California has an oversupply of electricity, which drove prices up instead of down as expected.

It is expected that by 2020, the state's power plants will be able to produce over 20% more electricity than is needed, which will lead to Californians being stuck with a $40 billion-per-year bill for energy they're not even using. Even after reducing energy usage and installing more energy-efficient appliances, Californians will still be paying almost $7 billion more for electricity than they did in 2008, the state's record high.

Now that the LADWP sees that generating more power from natural gas is not going to solve the problem, they have to turn to other alternatives. Because so much energy is produced that is not being used, it makes more sense to look at different ways of producing energy rather than methods of producing more energy. For example, many homes are beginning to install personal solar panels and batteries to store excess collected energy. Solar farms or wind turbines could be a potential source of green energy for the state.

No matter how the LADWP ends up generating the proper amount of electricity for the state, it seems clear that natural gas will not be invested in without a fight. It will be difficult to hide oversupply, especially if the excess energy comes from sources that are not environmentally friendly. Legislators hope to have California 100% reliant on renewable energy by 2045. This is just the first step, but with enough work, it could be a feasible goal.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Latest Fortune 500 List Contains 53 California Companies



The well-known "Fortune 500" is a list of 500 of the nation's top companies, published each year in a list by Fortune Magazine. The companies are those that bring in the most revenue and show the highest profits, which means they are likely to do well in the coming year. Basically, they are the 500 best companies on the market in a given year. Many, especially in recent years, are tech companies, and some have even been on the list for many years, even decades in some cases. According to Makeda Easter's L.A. Times article, of the 500 companies, 53 are based in California.

While California is not the number one state in regard to their number of Fortune 500 companies, California falls in a close second behind New York's 54 companies. The remaining 400 or so companies have headquarters spread throughout the rest of the country. California has two companies ranking in the top 10 of the Fortune 500 list: Apple is in third and McKesson Corp. is fifth. Trends show that California's biggest earners are technology companies and pharmaceutical/biotech companies.

Even with some companies having difficulties with slowing sales or scandals within their board of directors, California companies still improved quite a bit this year. Chevron came in 19th place on the list and Wells Fargo unexpectedly rose to 25th place, even after recent bad publicity. In Los Angeles specifically, construction company Aecom was in 161st place, real estate firm CBRE Group was in 214th, and Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. placed 320th.

The percentage of companies with women CEOs that make it onto the Fortune 500 list is very small, only about 6.4% of the 500 companies. However, of the 32 companies on the list with women CEOs, 7 of those companies are based in California. Apple Inc., which is based in Cupertino, California, made the largest profit this year, at approximately $46 billion, but Wal-Mart still holds the number one spot on the Fortune 500 list based on revenue alone. Approximately two-thirds of the US's total GDP come from the 500 companies on the list. If trends continue as they have been, California's companies could end up being the most valuable on the list in time.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Google Aims to use Targeted Advertisements to Boost Both In-Store and Online Shopping



Most people who use the internet, especially for online shopping, have noticed at some point that the advertisements that appear on web pages they visit tend to relate to items they have been looking to buy. It is one of the ways that Google makes revenue, by selling advertising space and targeting the advertisements at those consumers most likely to be swayed by them. By correlating the number of clicks on an advertisement to the actual items purchased online by consumers, Google is able to show online retailers that their advertisements are the right choice.

Similarly, Google seems to be looking to move into the non-digital marketplace. According to an article by the Associated Press of the L.A. Times, Google is looking into a new service that will track how much consumers spend in brick and mortar stores after clicking on advertisements related to those purchases. However, it will only be able to correlate the information to stores, not to specific items purchased at the stores, which may not be enough information for some advertisers.

By determining how ad clicks are connected with actual purchases, Google can help advertisers to determine whether their ads are a waste of money or actually useful. If the data is convincing enough, it could be beneficial to both Google and the advertisers it is contracted by. If advertisers see how well their ads work, they are more likely to increase their advertising budget, thus generating more revenue for the retailer and more income for Google. The main problem, however, seems to be the loss of privacy inherent in this kind of data tracking.

Already, Google has digital dossiers on everyone who uses their online services. They know what people search for, what people shop for, and even the types of videos people watch on social media. Using that information, they can create targeted ads that are directed at the proper demographics. This new system just seems to be an expansion of that concept. There are precautions in place, fortunately. The system is expected to run in a "double-blind" manner, which means Google receives personal information that credit card companies and merchants don't, while the credit card company receives information that Google doesn't. Additionally, it won't be able to gather information on cash transactions and about 30% of credit card transactions. Advertisements have the ability to help all involved parties in that they can point customers toward products they want and provided added demand on products for retailers. The main question: is the loss of privacy worth the added benefits of the ads?

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend Predicted to See Record High Number of Vacationers



National holidays, especially those that fall at the beginning or the end of a weekend, tend to lead to travel plans for a lot of Americans. The three- or four-day weekend is the perfect time for many vacationers to spend some time away from home with their family and friends. While holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's usually lead to a lot of travel plans, many people prefer the shorter weekend trips over Veteran's Day or President's Day. According to Hugo Martin's L.A. Times article, the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is expected to break records in terms of the number of vacationers. 

According to experts, this phenomenon could be due in large part to falling gas prices. As the cost of gasoline goes down, it becomes cheaper to travel, which is encouraging for people who want to go on vacation. It's expected that the prices will stay low at around $3 per gallon, which is the cheapest they've been over Memorial Day weekend since 2009. Partially due to the low gas prices, most of the vacationers are expected to be driving. In fact, statistics show that around 2.52 million will be driving to their destinations, a 2.9% increase from last year.

Similarly, there is expected to be a 3.4% increase in the total number of vacationers, up to 3.03 million Southern Californians, according to the Auto Club of Southern California. This will be the sixth consecutive year where the number of travelers increased, potentially a sign of a strengthening economy, in which consumers feel secure enough to spend money on travel. Some of the top destinations for travelers include San Francisco, San Diego, and Las Vegas, as well as famous landmarks like the Grand Canyon and some national parks.

The biggest increase of all, however, is among the number of Californians choosing airplanes as their mode of transportation. Over this Memorial Day weekend, over 300,000 Californians are expected to fly on commercial airlines, which is a 6.2% increase from last year's numbers. Even with all of the recent issues with airlines, the growing numbers could indicate that people are traveling further, which means that they are taking more time off of work than just the three-day weekend. That could point to growing comfort with the state of the economy or better financial management on the part of consumers looking to go on vacation. 

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Friday, May 12, 2017

California Tourism Indutry Grows for Seventh Consecutive Year



Tourism can be a huge economic boost for any given state or country. Tourists stay at hotels and motels, they eat at restaurants, and they shop at stores, all of which can help to stimulate the local economy. Big cities like Paris, New York City, and London are popular tourist destinations, but cities throughout California, especially Los Angeles and San Francisco, have been booming over the past several years. In fact, according to Makeda Easter's L.A. Times article, research shows that California's tourism industry has grown every year for the past seven consecutive years.

Data showed that spending on travel in California was up 3.8% last year to $126.3 billion. Over a million jobs in the state are involved in the tourism industry, up 2.5% from the year before. Even tax revenue was up from tourism-related expenditures. Tax revenue was over $10 billion last year and tourism incorporated nearly 3% of the state's GDP (gross domestic product). Not only is California generally a popular tourist destination, economists believe the continuing improvement of its tourism industry could be due to economic growth around the country and the world.

As the global economy improves, people have more money to spend and feel more stable and willing to spend the money. Because of that, they tend to take more vacations and spend more money on travel. Research shows that California is the number 1 tourist destination in the country. Its tourism industry is 2.5 times bigger than that of Florida, which has just as many tourist attractions and theme parks as California. Additionally, of the hundreds of millions of tourists each year throughout California, many of them come from different parts of California itself, rather than from out of the state or from other countries.

California tourism is expected to keep going strong. Some theme parks, such as Disneyland, are undergoing changes and renovations that they hope will bring in more visitors, but only time will tell if the improvements will succeed. People like to visit California for its weather, beaches, and popular social scene, but as the value of the dollar continues to increase, people may look to travel outside of the country for vacation. California can be a very expensive place to live, so people's preferences can change pretty quickly. Maybe next year will be the eighth consecutive year of growth. We'll just have to wait and see.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Uber Update Lets Users See How They Have Been Rated by Drivers



Especially for people living in densely populated cities like Los Angeles or New York, it can be difficult to justify owning a vehicle. Traffic is usually difficult to deal with, parking can be nearly impossible to find, and unless you're driving a significant distance each day, the combination of gasoline, insurance, and maintenance can make it all too costly. Fortunately, ride-sharing technology gives people a way to get around town without having to own a car of their own.

While there are many ride-sharing smartphone applications, the two most popular and well-known are Uber and Lyft. Each has similar business plans: they take a percentage of every dollar earned by one of their drivers. Both driver and rider have the opportunity to rate each other, and the ratings help other drivers and riders to choose whether they want to use the service. Until recently, riders could see all of the ratings (on a 5-star scale) that other riders had left for their driver, and drivers could see ratings left for riders. According to Tracey Lien's L.A. times article, a recent update to the Uber app will allow riders to view their own ratings.

Uber executives hope that this update will help both drivers and riders to improve the ride-sharing experience. The riders can rate the drivers on safety, friendliness, and cleanliness of the vehicle, while drivers can rate riders on whether they leave a mess in the car or if they slam the doors. Because riders will now be able to see what drivers think of them, it is hoped that they will be more cognizant of their behavior and will, therefore, become better passengers.

Everyone wants to have a high rating on apps like Uber because the app's algorithm matches up riders and drivers based on similar rankings. So, if a rider has close to 5 stars, they will likely get paired up with a driver with a 5-star rating. If they have a lower score, they will, in turn, be paired up with a less-sought-after driver. While this update should be beneficial to everyone, another update aims to help drivers avoid being negatively affected by the behavior of other passengers in an UberPool, in which a rider chooses to share the ride with another user of the app. Lately, Uber has had some bad press, but the changes they are making could help to improve their image, retain their drivers, and win back potential riders.

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