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Trump Repealism Rolls Back Obama’s Cuba Reforms

Grunge Cuban flag, image is overlaying a detailed grungy texture

Donald Trump’s push to repeal many of the Obama administration’s foreign policy initiatives has extended to the landmark lifting of the embargo against Cuba. Will the new hardline approach be effective in achieving its goal of encouraging political reform and economic liberalisation? 

On 16 June, US President Donald Trump announced a long-expected change in US foreign policy towards Cuba. The new policy will roll back many of the Obama administration’s reforms including travel liberalisation, while imposing further restrictions.

The exiles and dissidents here today have witnessed communism destroy a nation, just as communism has destroyed every single nation where it has ever been tried. But we will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer. You have seen the truth, you have spoken the truth, and the truth has now called us—this group—called us to action.Last year, I promised to be a voice against repression in our region—remember, tremendous oppression—and a voice for the freedom of the Cuban people. You heard that pledge. You exercised the right you have to vote. You went out and you voted. And here I am like I promised—like I promised.Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba 16 June 2017, Manuel Artime Theater, Miami, Florida, US.

Specific elements of the Trump policy include restrictions that prohibit individual travel (with the exception of Cuban Americans who will continue to be able to visit relatives in Cuba and send remittances) and limit non-academic educational travel to organised groups. While the US embassy in Havana will remain, the policy effectively reaffirms the statutory embargo of Cuba.

The stated objectives of the Trump policy are to:

  • “enhance compliance with United States (US) law—in particular, the provisions that govern the embargo of Cuba and the ban on tourism”;
  • hold Cuba “accountable for oppression and human rights”;
  • further US “national security and foreign policy interests”; and
  • empower the “Cuban people to develop greater economic and political liberty”.

The policy changes seek to prohibit business, trade and financial transactions between US companies and entities linked to the Cuban military’s holding company Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA). Instead, it seeks to promote direct economic ties between US individuals and entities and the private sector in Cuba. According to the White House, the policy will promote commerce with “free Cuban businesses and pressure the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to expand the private sector”.

The Trump policy was announced at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Florida, before a gathering of Cuban Americans. The new policy fulfilled a commitment made by the Trump campaign several weeks before the 2016 election in which Donald Trump pledged to roll back the Obama administration’s reforms. It was made in order to secure the presidential endorsement of the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association—the organisation of veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Florida Republicans Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, both influential advocates for the continuation of the US embargo against Cuba, supported the Trump initiative.

On the day of the announcement, the Cuban government responded in the strongest terms. In a statement published in Cuba’s official newspaper Granma, the government condemned Trump’s action as a “setback in the relations between both countries”.

“Once again, the US government resorts to coercive methods of the past when it adopts measures aimed at stepping up the blockade, effective since February 1962, which not only causes harm and deprivations to the Cuban people and is the main obstacle to our economic development, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, which arouses international rejection…

“The Government of Cuba condemns the new measures to tighten the blockade, which are doomed to failure, as has been repeatedly evidenced in the past, for they will not succeed in their purpose to weaken the Revolution or bend the Cuban people, whose resistance against aggressions of all sorts and origins has been put to the test throughout almost six decades….”

With the exception of hardline anti-communist Cuban Americans, the Trump administration’s approach to Cuba has limited support within the US. For example, a December 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 75 per cent approved of the 2015 Obama administration decision to re-establish US relations with Cuba, while approximately 73 per cent favoured ending the trade embargo against Cuba.

Following the Trump announcement, the Engage Cuba Coalition—a US lobby group which advocates for the lifting of the embargo—published a statement noting that the directive would negatively impact Cuban entrepreneurs and that the new restrictions could cost the US economy “billions of dollars and affect thousands of jobs”.

In the days leading up to the Trump announcement, human rights groups, such as Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watchand the Washington Office on Latin America, also expressed concerns about the implications of the proposed changes.

Many Republicans also don’t support the policy. On 16 June, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AR), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement in which he criticised renewed restrictions on US citizens’ ability to travel to Cuba. Other Republicans known to be critical of the policy include Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN), Representative Rick Crawford (R-AR), Representative Ted Poe (R-TX), Representative Justin Amash (R-MI), Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL).

Several conservative organisations and think tanks are also critical of the Trump approach, including the Cato InstituteReasonCampaign for Liberty and the Federalist.

While some dissidents in Cuba reportedly support a hardline policy approach, it is difficult to ascertain—on account of restricted access to the internet and social media in Cuba—whether the policy has any support among moderates who might be critical of the regime. However, some Cuban academics and entrepreneurs have expressed concern about the implications for Cuba of the election of Donald Trump.

Following the Trump announcement, one academic commented privately that “what happened in Miami… was imaginable”. She added, however, that it would be difficult to reverse what had hitherto been achieved in terms of bilateral engagement and closer ties between the two countries. That said, it was necessary for Cuba to continue to implement political and economic reforms; Cuba “must make deeper and better paced transformations”.

A Cuban entrepreneur commented separately that the Trump policy would impact adversely on tourism and, in particular, on individuals and small businesses involved in the provision of hospitality and accommodation in private dwellings, the so-called ‘casas particulares’. Another academic noted that while the Cuban government and many Cubans had expected the announcement, they were angered to see Trump surrounded by the “most radical members of the Miami hard-right exiles, some of [whom are] associated with the old mafia and wanted by the Cuban police”. Irrespective of whether or not this was the case, there is little doubt that the Trump announcement angered both stalwart supporters of the Cuban government and Cubans of more moderate persuasion.

The new Trump Cuba policy will be implemented through a series of regulations in coming months, the full impact of which remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the policy is another example of the isolationist approach of the current US administration and will likely enhance nationalist and anti-US sentiment among key players within the region, such as Mexico and Venezuela. In terms of its impact on business, US companies and their Cuban counterparts are taking a wait-and-see approach to ascertain how and to what extent their interests will be affected.

The new Trump foreign policy towards Cuba may have additional unintended consequences. It would provide a strategic opportunity for China to enhance its relations with, and influence in, Cuba. China is already Cuba’s third destination for exports after Canada and Venezuela, and its second source of imports after Venezuela. During a 2016 visit to Cuba, where approximately 30 bilateral agreements were signed, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spoke of the need to deepen their “traditional friendship”, enhance “pragmatic cooperation” and maintain “close cultural exchanges”.

China has previously taken a cautious approach to Cuba. However, in the wake of the Trump announcement, China is likely to assess potential trade and investment opportunities, which may be created by the US vacating the proverbial field, and seek to build on its existing interests, including with the provision of foreign loans.

The coming months will reveal the full extent of the rollback of the Obama administration’s initiatives to liberalise US-Cuba bilateral relations and its implications for the region and beyond. As always, the devil will be in the detail.

[Original published at http://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australian_outlook/trump-repealism-rolls-back-obamas-cuba-reforms/]

The Wanderlust Lifestyle: Beyond the Social Media Glitterati

Social Media is a place of the perfect mirage. This is a mirage which convinces the end users into believing the authenticity of flawless imagery of travelers having the times of their lives. But there’s more to this Social media glitterati than meets the eye.

Digitization has brought along a sense of transparency in our lives. Right from travel photographers to food bloggers, we can follow, connect with people and take a peep into their lifestyle the moment we want. A majority of the working population is busy in their 9 to 5 jobs – some trying to make their ends meet, others living the childhood dream by creating a niche in the area of their expertise. When these people open up the social feed on their phones, they just scroll through posts that tickle their sense of wanderlust. Instagram photos aesthetically shot at exotic locations, Facebook posts shared from attractions across the globe, and Tweets appreciating regional cuisines – Social Media has proven to be a platform of influence for potential travelers.

Inside the Mind of a Potentially Disillusioned Travel Buff: Underpinnings of Social Media and Influence of the Travel Industry

The globe-trotting lifestyle does seem very enticing on first look. On the surface, happy, smiling individuals who have let it all go and have adopted the nomadic way of living, are the biggest motivators for travel. The visual medium is one significant contributor for people to be inspired, and for travelers to inspire. Yet, most people can hardly afford to grab the next flight to their favourite destination and simply dash off.

The accessibility quotient definitely has a big role to play in this newfound urge for the wanderlust. Let’s break down this mechanism:

  • Scrolling through the social media feed on their smartphone, end-users (say, Segment A) spot photos and videos that they ‘like’, and hence interact with them.
  • This affinity is tracked by the algorithms on almost every social network – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You name it.
  • Travel companies get into the game by creating posts similar to the ones liked by the users, or by sponsoring the posts that are travel-oriented.
  • The ad platform on these social platforms is tailored to depict all statistics for marketers to identify and act upon these specific users, the Segment A.
  • Over time, the same end-users start getting more of these enthusiastic travel lifestyle photos.
  • Humans are designed to take action if the initiative for action is simple and seemingly conducive. The click-through impact of these social posts goes through the roof.
  • This is where the travel agencies jump in by banking on these split-second decisions that lead the users to instantly plan out their whole itinerary.

Content drives influence. This influence, however, can also lead to an illusion in the minds of the consumers. This results in a modern form of peer pressure. However, based on their own cognition and lone decision making, most end-users have are bound to take more practical decisions.

Content platforms have been focusing on creating content that appeals to the millennials and their urge to break the shackles of everyday life. Millennials have long been considered to be prominently impatient – metaphorically hoping to build Rome within a day. This early expectation also drives them into having inflated ambitions that other age-groups have a hard time adjusting to. Yet, it’s difficult to fight that instinct to click on that promoted Facebook post that leads directly to booking that AIRBnB shelter and buying that Airplane ticket.

The Middle-ground?

Leaving everything aside and letting go of the professional commitments is less realistic than the filter-addicted social platforms make it seem. This is also the reason why there has to be a middle-ground, one that brings along a sigh of relief from the complicated professional ongoings.

One point needs to be taken into perspective here: it’s much more practical and achievable if people plan out an occasional week off, relieving them of their professional commitments. Not everyone lies in the same spectrum of career choices and/or professional being that allows them to leave a trail of their lavish, nomadic lifestyle across the globe. This segment of potentially enthusiastic travelers is inclined towards opting for that occasional breeze of wanderlust that fits-in with their profession. Campervan hire companies have a similar strategic maneuver – one that taps into the practicality of an occasional weekend away from work.

Travel itineraries are difficult to schedule and might as well end up into a phase of procrastination for the preoccupied individuals who have a tough time accepting the millennial trend of following the heart. With work stress pushing people to look for a brief hiatus, the travel industry needs to tap into this practical aesthetic while keeping their ambitious Gen-Y strategy in tune with the presently digitized world.

There is a particular enthusiasm surrounding the newfound urge for the wanderlust (that people can brag about on their social profiles). But come the next decade, this digitized nomadic lifestyle is sure to adapt and creep into further segments of the working population. The travel ecosystem is in a transition that might as well converge to a more practical, encompassing approach.

Is menopause to blame for painkiller addiction amongst Women?

Addiction to painkiller drugs is one of the main concerns in substance abuse in America. Despite the medical advancement, mortality rates for middle-aged white women and men has climbed substantially over the past decade, whereas mortality rates have decreased for nearly every other ethnic and racial group. Scientists are still attempting to determine as to what the reason is behind this outcome. However, the major influence to this issue seems to be drug abuse and depression.

The Washington Post examined the mortality rates in middle-aged white women and proposed a wretched yet interesting theory: Changes in menopause treatments may have led some women to abuse prescription drugs and alcohol.

There are many women in America like Debbie that lean against the bathroom sink, with the medicine cabinet wide open, as she frantically searches for her pills. Inside the medicine cabinet there is a purple morphine tablet for her chronic back pain, a pill container with baby blue Xanax pills for her anxiety and white probiotic for her stomach pain, which she gets as a reaction from all her other pills. Debbie roughly consumes about a dozen different over the counter drugs, washing them away with either whiskey or water. As they do keep the edgy of, but her whiskey-rye bottle stay close to her for a bonus relief.

As mortality rates are decreasing for middle age black and Hispanic women, whites are dying prematurely in increasing numbers, particularly white women. One particular reason: a big increase in overdoses, primarily from opioids, but also from anti-anxiety drugs, which are often prescribed in simultaneously.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, between 1999 and 2014, the number of middle-aged white women dying every year from opiate overdoses increased drastically 400 percent. Studies have proven to show that white women are not only more likely to be prescribed by opioid painkillers than women of other races, but they are also more likely to take a combination of opioids and anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan. It’s reported, that white women are five times more likely than white men to be prescribed with this combination.

According to the former U.S assistant general, the combination of opioids and anti-anxiety drugs can depress the central nervous system, which decelerates the heart rate and breathing, the combination can be quite deadly – “People can go to sleep and never wake up.”

So how does menopause tie into all of this?

Psychologist in Kern County says “With perimenopause and menopause, you already have anxiety, sleep loss, loss of bladder control and loss of sex drive, it can just become too much.” So it isn’t really menopause itself that is causing the issue, it is what women tend to do to make the menopause easier and mentally comfortable. Opioid addiction and menopause correlation is quite fatal. The consumption of opioids and anti-anxiety medication is making the situation completely worse.

Because of the controversy over the risks of hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, for menopausal or perimenopausal women. A large study in 2002 uncovered that women treated with estrogen and progesterone had higher risks of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer. A professional practitioner has noted that the rise of opioid painkillers overlapped with a shift in treatment for menopausal women. Doctors stopped prescribing hormone-replacement therapy after studies found it increased the risk of stroke, blood clots and breast cancer.

Many women then resort to alcohol, anxiety meds and potent painkillers to cope. A professor at Stanford University who specializes in pain-psychology research states, “When women go through menopause, there are big changes with pain, anxiety and depression. There is a hard body of research on this,” Darnall said. “Opioids, taken long term, reduce the level of hormones in the body. This can lead to a greater sensitivity to pain. And it can feed into this dose-escalation cycle.”

However, research has now shown that hormone replacement therapy is now believed to be safe for healthy women under the age of 60. While the provisional shift in menopause treatment undoubtedly is not the only reason why more women in America are addicted to painkillers, it is definitely a theory to ponder and discuss. The best practice would be to just allow menopause to transpire organically and naturally. If deemed necessary, then to explore various holistic methods of easing the cycle.

Opioids and anti-anxiety are not the answer to menopause, not only menopause but also other illnesses and psychological issues. Many women around the world are living without the dependency of these drugs. Women should find other ways to cope – have a healthy lifestyle by exercising, avoid excessive alcohol and being with loved ones.

The Age of Games-as-a-Service


For the past week, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has been the centre of a storm of controversy within the online gaming community, and has once again brought forward concerns about how microtransactions are affecting the gaming industry. Fan’s first expressed concern about the game’s loot boxes, called ‘crates’ during the beta, and the criticisms only got louder in the lead up to the game’s launch this week.

Generally, loot boxes contain in-game goodies. Either superficial rewards like skins or cosmetic changes, or in-game bonuses like new weapons, ability upgrades, weapon mods, and passive stat bonuses that give you an edge in game. In Battlefront 2, crates include a combination of cosmetic and in-game bonuses. They can be purchased by spending real money, or through earning in-game credits. But the number of hours involved in earning cosmetic rewards and gameplay boosts through play as opposed to handing over cash, caused many fans to ask the question; will this game be pay-to-win?

For years now, gamers have claimed that microtransactions are devaluing game franchises and dampening player enjoyment. Social games pioneered microtransactions, and companies like Bethesda jumped on board to add customizable, cosmetic elements to their games like Armor for mounts and character costumes. It was Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 which first introduced microtransactions that would affect game-play. Mass Effect 3’s loot boxes caused massive uproar amongst players five years ago, and we’re seeing the same outrage and anger from the community, this time directed at Electronic Art’s and Battlefront 2.

All the biggest game developers have been floating the concept of ‘games-as-a-service’ for a while now. If you’re not much of a gamer, this idea refers to a set of practices companies can use to offer players ongoing, smaller transactions to continue game play for as long as possible. These don’t just include loot boxes, but can also include additional levels or other bonus content. Across the industry game corporations are now using these add-ons to maximize profit and keep players involved in individual games for as long as possible.

In 2016 NDP group, a market research company, released a study showing how gamers felt about this trend. They surveyed male and female gamers between the ages of 13 and 54. 68 percent of those surveyed said that the pay-to-win aspect of microtransactions was unfortunate for gaming. For many within the community, the problem with microtransactions and DLCs is that it creates the feeling that the initial release is incomplete. It forces people to continue to pay to play the full game. A practice that might make money, but is slowly eroding consumer confidence in games and developers in general.

Square Enix, the developer behind the massively successful Final Fantasy franchise, appear to be preparing for a future where microtransactions are the norm and games are expected to change constantly. Their massively successful recent release, Final Fantasy XV, has now become a service thanks to patches and downloadable content of additional levels and side quests. It remains to be seen whether this will prove a successful move for the company, with many fans questioning why they want to continue to spend time adding menial or inconsequential patches, rather than developing a new title in the series.

In many ways, microtransactions became the new gaming hacks and cheat codes. Just ask Blizzard, the creators of Diablo 3, who ended up shutting their real money auction house down in 2014 after less than two years. The mechanics of Diablo 3 are built around acquiring bigger and better gear, which made the auction house a huge deal for players. Some player’s made thousands of dollars selling random drops for real money, but for those not lucky enough to get a drop, or with the real-life cash to pay for one, the auction house became a problem for balance.

Blizzard didn’t give up on microtransactions though. Instead, they used what they learned from the community to successfully implement a microtransaction system which doesn’t affect balance and game-play. They’ve done it right, turning their microtransaction focus towards mainly cosmetic options or small boosts to experience over a period of days. They also utilise in game currency and daily quests to pay for cosmetic options and boosts as well. What this means in the end is no matter how much one player spends on a game, it will never impact the game-play of other players. Plus, those who are spending on microtransactions in game effectively fund future free DLC the whole player-base will get to enjoy.

For now, EA have stepped back from microtransactions, turning off the ability to purchase in-game currency off. A statement on the games official blog reads “We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this.”

The idea of games-as-a-service seems to be here to stay, but the developers and companies who are profiting most from it are those who are willing to spend time listening to their player bases, and finding ways to implement microtransactions and DLC which don’t risk ruining the game play for fans.

Electric Two-Wheelers for Sustainable Urban Transport

With a population of almost 1.4 billion, China’s most populated cities are plagued with congestion and terrible air quality. But the Chinese government’s strict road space rationing regulations, car license plate lottery system, extensive public transportation network and central government-supported growth of electric two-wheelers have turned things around and transformed the way people move in major Chinese cities such as Beijing.

In Beijing and Shanghai, where local officials struggle to curb traffic congestion and air pollution, government quotas on registrations limit car purchases, a move that has even put local automakers at a disadvantage. Car license plates can cost way more than the car itself. People began to turn to bicycle-style electric two-wheelers, which the government classified as bicycles in 1999 and did not require any licensing or registration. While China has set 2019 as the deadline for automakers to meet green-car sales targets, electric bikes are presented as good, cost-savvy alternatives. Spurred by favorable policies from the central government, the low-cost vehicle that are touted by many as an environmentally-friendly and convenient mode of transportation became very popular.

Although electric two-wheelers may not be as fast as petrol-powered motorcycles and scooters, they allow for great personal mobility and accessibility, make little to no noise and produce no local emissions. They are also deemed as low-cost as they are lightweight and require less power to operate. The environmental impact of using electric two-wheelers ultimately comes down to the method used to generate the electricity that powers them.

Other countries like Singapore — which has a well-established public transport infrastructure and plans to ban additional cars on its roads per February 2018 — also see people start taking up electric two-wheelers as a means of last-mile transportation. Startups that manufacture futuristic and top-of-the-line electric two-wheelers have also emerged to fill demand.

Israel-based company Green Ride debuted Inu at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in 2015. The company opened its first showroom in Palo Alto, California in December 2016. The Inu is an electric “scooter” that’s attractive and futuristic in design and packed with high-tech features. Unlocked with a smartphone and complete with a smartphone dock and built-in alarm, the Inu has a 40-kilometer range and can be fully charged from a standard wall outlet in three hours, according to The Verge’s Sean O’Kane who got to test out a prototype of the Inu.

The scooter is speed-limited to 15 km/h so that riders don’t need a motorcycle license. With shock absorbers and a leather seat, it allows for a comfortable ride. The Inu can fold up on its own via internal motors by voice command, but it doesn’t come cheap —it’s priced at US$3,000-5,000, depending on the battery.

This year, Taiwanese firm Gogoro made headlines when it raised $300 million in Series C investment. Gogoro was founded by Luke and Matt Taylor, former executives at Microsoft and HTC. Known for manufacturing smart scooters that come with Bluetooth keys, programmable LED headlights and user-swappable batteries, the company has sold more than 30,000 scooters since launching the product in 2015.

Gogoro’s offerings extend beyond the product itself. It already runs more than 400 battery-swapping stations across Taiwan. This September, it started providing its electric two-wheelers in Japan through a bike sharing system called GoShare. It also runs similar services in Paris and Berlin, according to Wired.

Another interesting option for electric two-wheelers are kick scooters, which are perfect for travelling that extra last mile on a commute. They may look like a kid’s toy, but they are serious commuter tools. The Glion Dolly, with speeds up to 25 km/h, can go a maximum range of 24 kilometers after its Lithium-ion battery has been fully charged for 3.5 hours. The scooter has large 200mm wheels that can ride through cracks and bumps, but its body folds easily and you can roll it like a suitcase to board the bus or train. It retails for $849.

Even though the initial cost of electric two-wheelers may be more expensive than their gas counterparts, when fuel prices are factored in, owners save money over the long term, making electric bikes or scooters a better investment. But these savings probably aren’t immediate enough for everyone — they don’t allure people with quick returns as an online casino does — especially for low-income populations in developing countries who should be the target market for these electric vehicles. It’s hard to predict how popular this mode of transportation will be if there’s no added incentive or subsidies.

Another concern about battery-powered vehicles is that its batteries have a short lifespan of 2-5 years. In Beijing, an estimated 80 percent of the recyclable SLA batteries went to illegal channels. Gogoro estimates that its batteries would last for 2,000 recharge cycles, but expects to lose 20 percent of the original capacity after a quarter of that usage, and Glion’s batteries has a cycle life of 1000+ charges.

After 500 cycles, Gogoro batteries are taken out of circulation in order to ensure reliability for users, after which they will be repurposed to help power data centers, home appliances, and offices. The Verge reported in 2015, “Once that second life is over, Gogoro’s aim will be to give the batteries away to impoverished areas around the world where people have no easy access to electricity.” Although it’s shown that there are ways to recycle these batteries, the production and illegal disposal of sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries remain a public health and environmental issue.

Automating the little things

Running a business is never easy. One of the most common struggles facing a business owner is the battle between the never-ending checklist of things to do and not enough time to allocate to those tasks. Time management has always been paramount. When we try and break down this list of tasks, for almost any kind of business, there are a couple of trends that begin to emerge.

There are tasks that are game changers. These are the tasks that allow the truly great entrepreneurs to shine. Sometimes they are technical sometimes they are not but inevitably, these are the ones that make the most telling impact on the DNA of the business.

These tasks can be highly tangible. For example, the number of man hours a founder can put into coding the central product for a tech company. More often than not, their hours will be worth more than those put in by others. The architecture is familiar, and the product is second nature to them. In the early stages, they are ones that see the vision more clearly than anyone else. Alternatively, it could be the number of meetings they might be able to take with prospective clients to open up new revenue streams. A founder being part of the pitch always gives a high value deal a much better shot at closing.

On other occasions these tasks might be intangible. The quality of relationships a founder builds within the team. Spending time with colleagues sharing experiences. These are the components that determine their ability to spot and mold great talent or drive people and get the best out of them.

Most successful businesses are built on such tasks. However, without exception, the never-ending check list will always contain tasks that don’t quite fall into this category of ‘game changers’. Still, as an owner, it is impossible to wash your hands from them completely. The offices will always need to be cleaned, bills will need to be payed and at book keeping needs to be kept up to date. With scale, the number only grows.

This is wear a few smart decisions go a really long way. ‘Automation’ and ‘process’ are really common terms in the business world. There are any number of services that allow you to automate or outsource almost every component of your business. There are SAAS solutions for functions as varied as recruiting, fundraising, HR and sales.

What really counts, is for a business owner to develop a habit of setting up effective processes. It has to become a part of the way company grows. As soon as the task becomes repetitive and flatlines in terms of value to the organization, a smart system can be created around it. While it might seem cumbersome to create, the long term rewards are exponential.

A simple example is using a mobile CMMS that automates hardware maintenance in the work space. The value it brings is not just the efficiency it brings to keeping all the machines running optimally. The real impact comes from the hours it might free up for valuable employees. If a talented coder can code for 2 extra hours every week rather than helping other colleagues with technical issues, the impact becomes tangible.

A good process doesn’t necessarily need to be driven by technology. A sales manual is a classic example of a process that saves hours of repetitive training and induction for each sales person joining an organization.

As an organization grows, these processes become more valuable. The marginal value they brought early on begins to multiply with little or no additional resource committed to them. Additionally, they provide the bed rock for creating new systems that are capable of solving more complex problems.

Sticking with the same example of hardware maintenance, when an organization takes it a step further and deploys a preventive maintenance plan, the returns begin to manifest themselves in easily measurable ROI metrics.

When the story is told, it is always about the great coding, head turning marketing strategy or maybe even the innovative design that the company is known for. These are the factors that will inevitably make all the headlines. Nobody can take that away. That spark of brilliance is something all entrepreneurs must strive for. Having said that, running a business is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Sometimes, it is important to stop and think about the smaller, not so glamorous components that need to come together perfectly to build the beautiful machine. The little nuts and bolts that keep everything ticking in perfect harmony.

Building solid processes is not a task that can be addressed as and when required. It has to be a constant endeavor sewn into the fabric of the company. It has to be an ideology inculcated into each employee’s thinking. If done well, like the roots of a tree, it holds things together allowing the branches to soar high into the sky.

The Current Education System: Far from Being Defunct, Barely Future-Ready

In the era of the Internet, the dynamics of education have changed. There once was a time when humans were supposed to learn and educate themselves at school, get through the grading system, and then accordingly grab an appropriate job based on their skills. Today, however, the rules have changed. Access to knowledge and information from around the globe on a single platform, that is, the World Wide Web has made it easier to learn and gain new skills. Although communications, entertainment, and content consumption have been the mainstay of the Internet over the years; it has also served as a repository of diverse knowledge, expert opinions along with (most importantly) learning and education. As a matter of fact, this has led to an evolution of the education system and the sector itself.

Over the past half-a-decade, philosophers and keynote speakers from across the globe have been questioning conventional teaching methods and the tardy education system on a whole. This is all thanks to unconventional career choices available today. From Vloggers to Musicians to Travel bloggers – individuals today prefer making a living out of the things that they love doing.

Students from around the globe seek fresh learning experiences every day. Yes, the power of the Internet has been instrumental in bringing along endless learning opportunities for the seekers. However, the ‘traditional’ education system is as significant today as it was. While several new industries have witnessed astronomical growth and opened up new avenues, other than a few exceptions, most firms have remained reluctant from adopting drastically different core enterprising methods. Thus, most established businesses and (even) startups still bank on the so-called conventional education system for a lion’s share of their talent pool.

Counter Opinion: Is the Traditional Education System Defunct? Hardly.

The prevalent education system has remained the same over the past centuries. Universal education was gradually introduced over a span of centuries, beginning from the 16th century and almost attaining its current form by the 19th century. In fact, through the later part of the 16th century through to the 17th century, several states in the USA and countries like Germany had mandated school education for children. It was another matter altogether though that the curriculum was influenced by varying factions. By the time the learning and education system reached a point somewhat close to its currently prevalent iteration, the focus had solely shifted to producing workers that could work within a set pattern – exactly what the manufacturing companies needed for their workforce. The Industrial revolution had originally proved conducive to the archaic education system. Fast forward now, and we are in the middle of the Internet revolution, witnessing automation in manufacturing hubs as most professional processes move to the online domain.

Individuals and entities might have been striking off the above schooling system as defunct, but sudden change is abrupt. Gradual change is glorious in the end. The disruption in education has to gradually trickle down.

Over time, technology needs to assist and improve the learning system to accommodate the new learning avenues with enablers like digital publishing. Employers are gradually adapting to this technology era. Different functional areas like human resource, sales, etc. leverage technology to enhance and streamline the processes. Yet, basic education in relevant functional area or expertise backed by educational qualification is sought after as much as it was prior to the Internet generation’s newfound emphasis on the niche rather than the clichés. A hybrid system of education is the way to go for the industry at this point in time – utilizing technological advancements to enhance learning and volunteering experiences. Push for E-learning is the next logical step in this direction and numerous certification courses have already started garnering much needed traction on the students’ as well as on the employers’ end.

In this phase of transition, there is one way in which students from around the world are exploiting networking opportunities. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) like the ones at edX and Udemy are backed by some of the biggest Universities from across the globe and provide great options for aspirants to sharpen their skills in a given field of interest. This, regardless of the stream pursued their full-time education in. Hyper-local internet usage and targeting has created potential for products like Goodwall, which help students in networking and learning from the experiences of other students who share similar skill-set and/or interests. These modern experiences are set to equip the current and the next generation with valuable practical skills and iron out their flaws even before they take the professional plunge. Change, after all, always begins from the ground up – the change in students’ perception of self-growth and learning is further sending ripples across the industry-mindset too.

Most studies conclude that the trend of online learning will not only help enhance the traditional teaching and learning methods, but also improve accessibility and reach as Internet penetration grows exponentially. The onus is on businesses and startups to facilitate this change and bring about drastic measures that green-light the renewed focus on improving our archaic education infrastructure.

A clean home is a happy home: the correlation between cleanliness and happiness

It might not come as a surprise to learn that what is clean or beautiful is associated with what is healthy and happy. It is suggested that chaos and untidiness increases stress levels but the reason as to why is largely debated.

One fun theory is that human beings are made up of tens of thousands of integrated biological and neuro-chemical systems which are all extremely organised. But a more plausible explanation as to why is probably due to feeling more comfortable in cleanliness and satisfied when things are in order, so that one may be more efficient in everyday tasks as opposed to getting frustrated over where the remote control is. That, and because human beings are extremely visual creatures.

There is a study dedicated to that phenomenon: a research professor and scientist at Indiana University, Nichole R. Keith, tracked 988 individuals in the demographic with high risk for heart disease and discovered those with an organised house were much healthier and physically active.

With countless tips and tricks on the internet that helps homeowners beautiful their space and make full use of every nook and cranny, there really is no reason to stay unhappy. But why is it that cleanliness seems like such a daunting task to many individuals?

One determining factor could be the emotional attachment many feel towards their possessions. While the item may be useless, many feel the need to hang on to it “just in case” because nobody enjoys the feeling of making the wrong decision of letting something go and realizing too late that it has significant value or that they need it. This is why it usually ends up in one of those self storage units or hoarded in the house.

There are many organizational methods which have been developed in order for people for break that psychological bond they have formed unconsciously and allowing them to let go. One popular method is KonMari. The Japanese Art of Decluttering was devised by a Japanese housewife.

Instead of cleaning room by room, she advises to break clutter into a few categories. Clothes is one of them. Gather every single piece of clothing and create a pile, so you may see for yourself exactly how much clothes you have and you begin decluttering by deciding whether an article of clothing sparks joy or not. Furthermore, the point of the exercise is not to decide what one wants to discard, but what one wants to keep. Her argument being, “if you focus on what to throw away, you don’t end up cleaning”.

After whittling the pile into two, fold the clothes one wants to keep in a specific manner and thank the ones to be discarded before discarding. This practice will increase the appreciation one has for their possessions and care for them better. Furthermore, Marie Kondo, the founder of KonMari, is adamant that “you will not rebound” and will only need to declutter once. That is probably what everyone wants to hear, but the truth is, humans are creatures of habit and unless being tidy is cultivated, chances are, clutter will always return in more ways than one.

A blog on the art of keeping an apartment tidy, mentions that there are a few things one can do to minimize messiness and that is by getting rid of paper piles and stacks. Have a trash can near the entrance of the house, where one may instantly filter through junk mail and bin them. Then place the important documents out of the way and not a table top. Designating a place for everything is one of the best ways to stop from cluttering. Clothes do not go on the back of chairs or over railings, so install a rack for lightly worn clothes which is not ready for the hamper but no longer belongs in the closet of freshly laundered clothes.

Another important factor to take into consideration when looking at the link between a happy home and a clean, organized one is how the household works together. For one individual to be responsible for every little thing is unrealistic and could cause feelings of resentment amongst other things. When an entire household comes together to keep their living space habitable, it takes the strain off everyone and there is more quality time for the family.

This is why when one walks into a clean home, one immediately feels at ease because of the harmony it foretells. Conversely, a home falling into disarray gives off a vibe of chaos and suggests that the household is not united. Also, a neat home is not only beneficial for the mind; studies show a clean home will most likely have healthy and physically fit inhabitants. With so many benefits, perhaps it is time to pick up cleaning as a hobby and drop that pricy gym membership.

Further removing the man from manufacturing – the growth of industrial technology

The last three centuries have seen the manufacturing industry experience significant progress. To truly appreciate how far we have come and see where we are going, take a quick glance at the past: Pre-industrial revolution industries were almost entirely labour based. Regardless of how strenuous and repetitive the tasks were, they were still carried out by the workers.

Several engineers thus started developing precision machines and tools to be implemented in various industries. Resulting in efficient productions, a greater output could be achieved in lesser time, with arguably lesser input required. As a result, costs of goods would significantly fall and also were of better quality (due to the elimination of human errors).

This set in motion a pursuit of constant improvements; the technology continues to evolve to further improve efficiency, or altogether new functionalities being introduced. The invention of computers also greatly aided the development of industrial technology almost exponentially. Technology which would take decades, if not centuries, to develop, are conceived in less than a decade.

First a mention of the current setup in most manufacturing units – electronic machines –a fixture of various industries for over two decades now. While older generation of machines were automated, they were not computerized or electronic (the automation was a result of a hydraulic, mechanical, or pneumatic setup). Newer generations of machines are also equipped with high-precision equipments, such as lasers. Lasers allow for greater accuracy in measurements and cutting of materials (metals, wood, etc.), and sometimes function as stand-alone production machines themselves, like those by Boss Laser.

These machines are gradually reducing their dependence on humans and becoming more automated, while improving efficiency and production value (quantity and quality of goods). The figure below shows after the start of the millennium, the amount of labour required is falling, yet production is increasing – primarily due to the introduction of machines.

Figure 1: Comparison of output levels and labor

While there are many achievements in the progress of industrial machines and technologies thus far, this article only discusses the most recent significant developments: 3-D printing, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

3-D Printing

The past few years have seen a morphing of the manufacturing process – through the introduction of 3-D Printing (3DP). Essentially, a material (plastic, metal, rubber) is liquefied and passed through the nozzle of the printer, creating patterns and shapes as designed on the computer. Often, these designs are created through a CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. 3DP allows for better control over the shape, as well as the functionality of the finished product.

Where previously several small products were required to be produced separately, then combined to form the larger product, 3DP can ‘print’ the larger product directly. This allows for faster production, and greater quality and durability. Several companies, such as Rolls Royce and McClaren-Honda (Formula 1 team), have already implemented 3DP in their production process. A study found that the entire airline industry could save up to US$2 billion annually if they utilized 3DP to produce RMO (Repair, Maintenance, Operations) parts of airplanes.

Not only does it produce better goods, 3DP also has started to disrupt the way supply chains, and businesses to a large extent, operate. 3D printers are constantly being upgraded, further reducing the production time, while allowing for greater quantity. This means that supply will become cheaper, which will allow for the cost of goods to fall even further than the levels experienced through automation only. In addition, as 3DP allows for goods to be created faster, manufacturers will not have to make them in advance and store them, thereby reducing inventory costs (as well as potential losses if the goods are never sold).

Another benefit of 3DP is mass customization. Most of us are familiar with the concept of mass production, and mass customization is somewhat along the same lines – large quantities of an item are produced, each one customized. This would not have been possible with only automation, where all the products would have been identical and rather than being a perfect fit for the customers’ needs, they would have just been the best fit. Several companies have built a multi-million dollar business, through 3DP; Invisalign produces 3D printed teeth alignment devices to completely customize every single device.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Self-learning machines

The Internet has been making its own strides, and industrial technology has also reaped some benefits. Most recently, we are experiencing a rise in Internet of Things (IoT) and the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The IoT is a paradigm which allows devices, with network connectivity, to connect to other devices and share data; AI refers to machines displaying intelligence which is usually attributed to humans. As machines become more intelligent, they will be capable of learning processes independently – termed machine learning.

As machines continue accessing data from themselves and through the IoT (other machines in other production units, for example), the machines can ‘learn’ and ‘improve’ the process. Potential uses of such application include quality control and failure detection, thus contributing to improved productivity and efficiency. A study found machines with AI capabilities can reduce material consumption by up to 4 percent, while improving production capacity by up to 20 percent.

In addition, AI can also help keep the machines maintain the optimal production levels through constant self-monitoring, and scheduling repairs as required. Currently, industrial equipment maintenance is based on a fixed schedule, often disregarding whether the machine actually requires maintenance or not. This results in unnecessary maintenance and higher costs. As factories are now installing sensors and networking them to one another, these devices will monitor and analyze the situation, and only recommend service as required.

The development of technology over the past couple of decades has been at a rate greater than the growth in the previous two centuries. It would not be wrong to say that technology is growing exponentially, and the manufacturing and industrial technologies are also growing at a similar rate. From here on, machines themselves will create the path for progression, rather than depend on human programming and intervention, after the introduction of AI and self-learning machines. It remains to be seen where industrial technology will be along this path, though one would wager that the development in the next century will far exceed all our progress in the past millennium.

Is online personal training more personalized than traditional training? Yes, says David Michigan

David Michigan says online training is more personalised than traditional personal training.

 

The American Council on Exercise witnessed the mainstream acceptance of online training in 2015 and in 2017, the rise of the online personal trainer has become even more apparent.

The Internet has brought about the ascent of the online fitness guru, generally young, tech savvy, experienced and certified, promoting primarily through massive social media accounts and conducting sessions via online videos/web-streaming. They are also increasingly incorporating wearable tech and smartphone applications into their work.

David Michigan, an online health and wellness coach speaks about the highly personalized nature of the service he provides, specifying workout and meal plans for clients without ever having to meet them in person. “I’d say 90% of the people I work with are people I have never met. They are all over the country.”

Michigan, who grosses more than 4 million followers combined on Instagram (here) and Facebook, focuses heavily on forging connections, facilitating fitness and life coaching sessions, helping to train the public mentally by giving motivational speeches and (due to his background as a Worldwide model), has also participated in helping the girls in Miss Tattoo France and soon in Miss Tattoo World. His ability to connect with audiences has been a driving factor in his success.

Michigan’s personal online training program has been customized according to information the students share. These include allergies, personal fitness goals, daily activity levels and food preferences with workout and meal plans updated on a monthly basis to keep the fitness routines and meals fresh. What he provides is real-time online personal training designed specifically for the client.

It seems that the fitness industry is being disrupted, with the distribution channel of yesteryear being replaced by whole new innovations that ride on the latest technological developments. Today, whether it’s aerobics or bodyweight strength and everything in between, you can simply log into a live stream (Facebook Live…etc) and grab a class from some of your favorite/celebrity instructors.

There are however, those that contend online and personal shouldn’t go in the same sentence and they scoff at the idea of bringing such an intensely physical activity into the realm of the virtual world.

With physical contact being such a core component of the fitness training process, can you really train someone, check form, prevent injury and give motivation without being physically present? Due to the remote nature of online training, there is no in-person trainer spotting for correct technique.

Fitness instructors can harness the Internet to essentially perform all the tasks required of the training process. If the trend is anything to go by, they may even be able to enhance the experience for hyper-personalization, something that students would not get even from a face-to-face session.

Students are readily flocking to the promise of getting quality personal training from the comfort of their own homes instead of the stuffy and often intimidating confines of the gym.

Aside from being able to meet their fitness goals remotely, technology today allows students to track progress and with the power of multimedia (and soon VR/AR) the interactive component of online training may be an added draw over the traditional face-to-face model.

Data and research works both ways as clients can utilize the vastness of the Internet to find reviews of a personal trainer or mine social media for recommendations on which trainer would suit their needs. Digital technology makes it easier than ever before to source for testimonials, mentions in the media and more.

Proponents of online personal training may be pointing to the fact that face-to-face personal training is possibly less personal because (outside of the session), students are not in constant communication with their trainer.

With the use of the Trainerize app as well as other technologies, online personal training has the added advantage of communication that is almost as constant as your heartbeat!

What being online/connected digitally means in essence is that the lines of communication are always open and students could be getting even more attention from their trainers due to being routinely connected through technology and applications.

Notifications and other personalized enhancements can also be provided.

Being drawn together by technology eliminates excuses and fitness apps can tell you if you’ve hit a personal best. Stats like body fat percentage and body weight can also be tracked and viewed on a graph over time.

Many trainers out there provide 24-7 messaging systems (through sites and applications), enabling you to reach your trainer around the clock. Comprehensive online support also figures heavily in the form of dietary guidelines, answers to emails, having your weekly food journal assessed…etc.

Through the use of custom exercise videos (even incorporating slow-motion technology), the issue of safety and be dealt with. Through the efficient use of technology, class schedules and other important aspects of your training can be just a click of a smartphone button away…

Franklin Antonin, the founder of iBodyFit.com says “At iBodyFit, each user gets several custom video workouts that they can do on their own time, including HD video and slow motion exercise samples.”

Then there’s also the community interaction aspect which can be taken to new levels with online personal training. Being able to interact with a community, without the intimidation, students can establish a certain level of anonymity if they so desire.

With constant access to the trainer as well as a virtual community, great connections can be established.

Recent developments in wearable technology allow your personal trainer to monitor your progress through a steady flow of data. Wearable technology can track calories burned, step count and more.

The motivation aspect of remote training can be tackled through the use of these exercise apps that make you want to stick to your training and exercise regularly, providing a clear means of viewing progress on the app (similar to how completing levels works in gamification).

The Fundamental Difference between Looking Fit and Staying Healthy: a Retrospective View

Human dietary habits have transitioned from essential necessities to exquisite indulgence over generations. Today, human eating habits are marred with complexities – juggling between the weekend indulgence and the week-long emphasis on inhibiting taste buds. Come the time to take stock, and we start to adjudge the status of our health based on the size of our waist. But is that all to it? Is visual fitness actually aligned with the universal definition of better health?

Even though it has fostered an industry of its own, the trend of ‘chiseled’ bodies is certainly not the cornerstone for optimum physical health. Hitting the gymnasium is a prevalent quick-fix in lifestyles that cut a lot of slack when it comes to tuning dietary habits. Counting the number of calories, taking stock of weight loss, keeping a measure of the waist girth – quantification of health is a fad that has refused to die down, and for good reason.

The fitness industry has long diverged from the imagined ideal of being a conduit towards inspiring people to make healthy lifestyle choices. From the inception of gymnasiums in the Greek era, when the focus was on core fitness and health and not on visual fitness, we have moved to an era in which visual fitness is all that we have ‘toned’ ourselves down to. The fitness industry is no longer synonymous with the health industry. The imposing demand of our modern lifestyle has eroded the roots of fundamental nutritionist tendencies once encoded in our biological psychic. A light breakfast, a heavy lunch, and a mistaken discourse towards the final ‘course’ of the day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner have had their definitions altered over the recent past. These have impacted the picture when it comes to the future of healthy living as we know it.

Omega 3, Iron, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid – the components of our diet that were considered to be essential once, have been replaced by artificial supplements that hardly fulfill our bodily requirements. While modern day supplements are presumed to be an essential addition to (or in some cases, a viable replacement for) a balanced diet, the reality is a far cry from this misconception. Even though supplements are supposed to compliment a healthy diet, recent trends envision them as a necessity for our daily dietary intake. Part of the blame lies with the fitness industry which is attuned to satiate the visual senses, rather than focus on the wholesome betterment of health. Just taking a look at the state of affairs in the US of A reveals that the problem of obesity has been highly influenced by popular opinion on the definition of health.

As a point for inference, the low fat dietary guidelines were, in fact, published around the same time that the obesity epidemic started; thus indicating an adverse impact on the statistics rather than the other way around. While this can be considered a coincidence, it’s difficult to quash statistics that have behaved consistently for close to half-a-century.

America’s obese population has been rapidly rising over the year.

Yes, as per statistical trends, the share of the proverbial home-made food is decreasing to accommodate instantly available fast food into a grab-and-go lifestyle. People are eating more processed food than they ever did, and are gradually implementing marketed quick fixes into the illusions of a healthy regime.

Several of the popularized dietary regimens and reviews are designed to maintain the healthy balance our body needs, but few of these diet reviews are modulated to align with our fast-paced lifestyle. This has led to the concept of aptly termed ‘cheat meals’ and ‘healthy snacks’, both of which lack the required proportion of nutrients and instigate an erratic eating behavior.

The epitome of health can be achieved and maintained by focusing on all three aspects, namely:

  • A Planned, Balanced Diet
  • Exercise
  • A Minutely thought-after Routine

The above three aspects complement each other and can hardly be effective in silos.

  • The balanced dietary plan should adhere to typical daily calorie requirements.
  • Exercise should include and encompass all parts of human anatomy and be conducive to the metabolic calorie utilization.
  • The diet and exercise plan needs to be incorporated into a minutely-crafted routine that seamlessly blends into the day.

The diet, the exercise, and the routine, all 3 have to be tuned to suit the goal, reworked to account for any unwanted change, and practiced with dutiful sincerity.

The gist of a healthy lifestyle is not just about keeping count of multiple calorific calculations, quantification of pounds lost in a set time period, or the steps taken in the span of a day. Instead, it is simply about achieving the cohesive purpose of the dietary plan and ensuring that the corresponding exercises are well chalked-out. This initiative has to be coupled with a prioritized routine.

There is a difference between looking fit and being healthy inside out. But this difference is fast getting lost in the echoes of marketing collaterals and celebrity endorsements of fad diets, both of which promise more than they deliver.