Driverless Cars Are Getting Smarter

Specialized computer chips are giving cars more brainpower to rapidly crunch data and assess their next move. Chip makers are designing new silicon that can run artificial intelligence software to speed up computing tasks, both in the car and in the cloud.

The first place to look for extra smarts: Data centers that are adding AI chips that will improve driverless software. Tech giants Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, along with Chinese companies Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, are racing to scoop up the server chips for their massive data centers around the globe. The chips accelerate data-intensive tasks, such as running voice recognition and analyzing photos, while using less power. Continue reading “Driverless Cars Are Getting Smarter”

Florida tourism will bounce back from Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma punched Florida hard, but she failed to deliver a knockout blow to the state’s top industry – tourism.

The Sunshine State’s most popular tourist destinations, including Orlando-area theme parks and coastal beaches, are fine, as are most hotels and resorts. The mega storm hit during one of Florida’s slowest tourism periods, buying precious time to rebuild ahead of the busy winter season. Continue reading “Florida tourism will bounce back from Hurricane Irma”

Federal, State Response to Opioid Crisis Lacking

America’s opioid epidemic is the country’s worst public health crisis in a generation. A deadly combination of prescription pills and various black-market drugs, including heroin, is killing more than 100 people per day. Public health experts expect that number to rise, potentially claiming an additional 650,000 lives over the next decade.

The bottom line: Things will get worse before they get better. The United States remains awash in opioids, despite nascent efforts to clamp down on the problem. The main culprit is overprescription.
Continue reading “Federal, State Response to Opioid Crisis Lacking”

Emerging Wireless Tech is Revving Up the Internet of Things

The rise of the Internet of Things isn’t just about superfast speeds and vast data transmissions. New options for transmitting small amounts of data at slower speeds also have the potential to transform billions of everyday products by connecting them to the web for the first time.

Advances in low-power wireless technology will spark stronger sales of connected products, from mobile medical kits to warehouse lighting. The companies involved in the design of wireless chips and the products they go into are vying to establish themselves as the go-to suppliers for these nascent markets. To conserve power, the radio signals involved work at much slower speeds and pass along far less data. The chips are designed to run off of batteries for up to 10 years by going into a “deep sleep” power-saving mode. Continue reading “Emerging Wireless Tech is Revving Up the Internet of Things”

Advertising in the Digital World

Advertising on the internet is now bigger than on TV and is growing fast. Many businesses are jumping on the internet and social media bandwagon to hawk their wares, or just to build brand awareness. Some advice for businesses:

Stick your toe in the water by building brand awareness on social media.  Advertising on Facebook is cheaper than on Google, and is best for expanding your business’s online visibility. Ads appear in Facebook’s news feed and can be targeted by location, language, age, gender, workplace, college, interests, relationship status, education level, college major or your own email lists. Eighty percent of the time, Facebook is viewed on smartphones, where simple branding-type ads work best. However, product-selling ads are also used. Ads that require the customer to input lots of information, such as financial services ads, should be targeted only at desktop computers.

A trial ad campaign can be set up for as little as $1 per day, though $5 to $30 per day is better to gauge effectiveness. If you’re going to go to the trouble of producing decent ads, then you’ll want to give them a good test. Facebook will generate metrics for you, such as number of clicks, likes and shares. The average cost-per-click for Facebook ads is 28 cents in the U.S. Test multiple versions of ads to see which generates the most response. A company like AdEspresso will help you design effective Facebook ads, if you need help.

Google AdWords is a little more expensive, but also gets lots of attention. Ads can be assigned to certain search words, or products can be advertised in Google’s Shopping Ads (Product Listing Ads or PLA). Amazon also has a large reach. Other social media platforms include Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Twitter, but the limitations of each of these needs to be considered.

To save time, consider using an advertising management platform like Hootsuite, Salesforce or Nanigans, which allow you to automate a lot of the ad process. Other companies will help you design ads or both design and manage the entire marketing effort. For larger campaigns, third-party ad management can drive the cost-per-click below 1 cent. The trick is to spend enough on an ad in order to have it appear with reasonable frequency, but not to overspend.

A search engine optimization (SEO) expert can help drive your company up the search rankings in Google, ensuring that users see your website.

Native advertising is growing as a share of ad spend, as opposed to banner ads, which can suffer from “banner blindness.” Native advertising contains content that is related to the same topics as the regular content on a website. It often consists of a product testimonial or description written by the advertiser. The idea is to provide an informational service as well as advertising, which may garner more attention from viewers.

Progressive web apps are gaining ground at the expense of regular apps. It is becoming apparent that, on average, consumers use only seven apps on their mobile phones and ignore the rest. Apps can be a hassle because consumers must download updates and revalidate their accounts. But apps are still valuable because they result in a lot of online orders, if you can get customers to use them. Because of this, Google has developed progressive web apps. These are versionless apps that work just like accessing the web via a browser and never have to be updated. Apple has been reluctant to compromise its revenue selling traditional apps, but is likely to come around, eventually.

Retail outlets and restaurants will especially want to pay attention to their Google Maps listing, which also has star ratings. Currently, these have a small number of reviewers leaving comments, so just a few can have a large effect on the overall rating, for better or for worse.

Use closed captioning on video ads. Many people don’t turn on the sound on their computer and so don’t pay attention to muted videos that play automatically.

In electronic gaming, rewards advertising is rapidly gaining ground. This is advertising that promises an in-game reward, such as game “money,” abilities or lives in return for a willingness to view the ad first: A good way to get the attention of an increasingly video game-addled population.

 

The Economic Toll of Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey will ding third quarter GDP but boost the fourth quarter. Much of the Texas coast, including Houston — the nation’s fifth-largest metro area — was shut down for over a week because of the storm. As business resumes after Labor Day, it will be operating at about 80% of normal staffing levels for a while. That is likely to knock 0.3 percentage points off of U.S. GDP growth in the third quarter, resulting in a pace of about 2.5%. However, as more folks return to work, the economy will likely see a boost to GDP in the fourth quarter. Likewise, the national employment report for September is likely to come in weak, with a gain of fewer than 100,000 jobs, but the following months will show larger than average gains. Continue reading “The Economic Toll of Hurricane Harvey”

Hurricane-Proofing a City: How Houston Should Prepare for the Next Big Storm

Houston is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, a record-breaking tropical storm that has drenched the Texas coast with an estimated 21 trillion gallons of water since Aug. 25 and inflicted untold damage on both lives and property.

As with previous hurricanes, many people are asking: What could have been done differently this time to mitigate the damage? And what can be done to prepare for the next storm?

Continue reading “Hurricane-Proofing a City: How Houston Should Prepare for the Next Big Storm”

Flood Insurance Program Will Swell But Not Breach

Congress will reauthorize and revamp the National Flood Insurance Program before it expires at the end of September. Lawmakers are in no mood to let the program lapse in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. What’s less certain is just how extensive those reforms will be.

The 49-year-old Federal Emergency Management Agency program enables property owners in flood-prone areas to purchase flood insurance that is administered and backed by the federal government. Local governments must adopt and enforce floodplain management plans for their communities to be eligible. Continue reading “Flood Insurance Program Will Swell But Not Breach”

Hurricane Harvey Wallops the Energy Industry

The rain is still falling along the Gulf Coast and the flood waters are still rising, but it’s already clear that Hurricane Harvey has crippled the region’s energy infrastructure. As I wrote last week, many of the country’s oil refineries are located along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. The latest reports indicate that more than 10% of U.S. refining capacity is now offline because of flooding and closures of shipping channels, roads and railways.

Retail gasoline prices are already starting to show the effects of refinery outages. According to AAA, the nation’s average price for regular unleaded now stands at $2.38 per gallon, up 4 cents from a week ago. Gasoline futures contracts are showing even steeper gains, signaling that drivers can expect prices at the gas station to keep rising in the next few days. Continue reading “Hurricane Harvey Wallops the Energy Industry”

What Hurricane Harvey Means For Gas Prices

Residents living along the western Gulf of Mexico are no doubt carefully monitoring Hurricane Harvey, which is forecast to come ashore somewhere along the Texas coast Friday with flooding rains, powerful winds and damaging storm surges. It’s a dangerous situation for a region that hasn’t seen a hurricane since Ike in 2008.

Motorists throughout the U.S. might want to keep an eye on the storm’s impact, too. Why? Because the western Gulf is home to almost half of the country’s oil refining capacity. If flooding causes power outages or otherwise hobbles refineries, the production of gasoline and other fuels will take a significant hit. Continue reading “What Hurricane Harvey Means For Gas Prices”