Meet the American cities that are the safest from natural disasters.

Syracuse, New York

After several years of relative calm, suddenly we’ve faced some pretty significant natural disasters in North America – from the hurricanes that have devastated Houston and other cities in Texas, Louisiana and Florida to earthquakes in the vicinity of Mexico City.

Certainly, when it comes to hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods and fires, some cities are more prone to these natural disasters than others.

Acting on that hunch, Trulia, the online real estate service company, has analyzed federal disaster area data to prepare maps that show the U.S. regions and the metropolitan areas within in them that are most susceptible to suffering a catastrophic event of this kind.

As it turns out, most metropolitan areas are at a high risk for at least one of the potential natural disasters – although thankfully none are at a high risk for absolutely everything.

The Trulia maps show these broad contours:

  • California and other western regions are at a higher risk for earthquakes and wildfires.
  • Hurricane risks are highest in Florida and along the Gulf Coast.
  • Flooding risks factor into the Florida/Gulf Coast regions as well, but they also stretch up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
  • Tornado risks are highest in the Plains states, portions of the Great Lakes states, plus the Central-South region of the country.

What does the Trulia analysis tell us about the large urban areas that are “safest” from all of these natural disaster risks? Trulia finds them in places like Ohio (Cleveland, Akron and Dayton), in Upstate New York (Buffalo, Syracuse) and other parts of the Midwest and inland Northeast.

Looking at the various housing markets across the United States, here’s Trulia’s list of the ones that are, on balance, the “safest” from natural disasters:

  • #1. Syracuse, NY
  • #2.  Cleveland, OH
  • #3. Akron, OH
  • #4. Buffalo, NY
  • #5. Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, MD
  • #6. Dayton, OH
  • #7. Allentown, PA
  • #8. Chicago, IL
  • #9. Denver, CO
  • #10. Troy-Warren, MI

Of course, being safest from natural disasters doesn’t account for the dangers from “man-made disasters”  — as former Director of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano euphemistically labeled the other kinds of catastrophic events.

For the riskier places viewed from that standpoint, one might look to the most “iconic” metro areas such as Washington, DC, New York City and Boston as the likelier targets.

Plus, with North Korean nuclear weapons development and saber-rattling being prominent in the news of late, Honolulu, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, OR might also make it on that list.

Speaking for myself, as a resident of the region just 50 miles east of Washington, DC and in light of our prevailing west-to-east wind and weather patterns, the possibility of encountering radioactive fallout from a nuclear strike aimed at our nation’s capital has always been a really fun scenario to consider …

OSHA names the Top 10 most frequent workplace violations — some of which may surprise you.

fpWhat hazards represent the biggest threats to employees at worksites across America? We all may have our own suspicions … but the federal government has been keeping records about them for years.

In fact, this week the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has published its annual list of the Top Ten most frequently cited violations it has found following inspections of worksites its officials undertake on a regular (and unannounced) basis.

The OSHA listing shines a light on the types of safety issues that are most pronounced in the workplace. Here’s OSHA’s latest list, based on the 12-month period from October 2014 through September 2015.  It’s headlined by fall protection, which is the most frequent OSHA standards violation:

  1. Fall protection violations (construction standard)
  2. Hazard communication (general industry standard)
  3. Scaffolding (construction)
  4. Respiratory protection (industry)
  5. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout) (industry)
  6. Powered industrial trucks (industry)
  7. Ladders (construction)
  8. Electrical (wiring methods, components and equipment)
  9. Machine guarding
  10. Electrical (general requirements)

olOSHA publishes the list once per year to alert U.S. employers about the most common violations being cited so that they’ll take precautions to fix similar hazards in their own companies before OSHA officials show up to carry out an inspection.

Reviewing the list, some of the categories fall into the “everyone knows” category. Who doesn’t think that fall protection, scaffolding and ladders are major contributors to injuries in the workplace?

But then there are other OSHA violations like electrical systems and industrial trucks; it’s a little surprising to me to find them among the most frequently cited violations.

Which workplace threats do you think represent the biggest safety hazards to workers? Share your thoughts with other readers here.

Fade-to-black for movie film? Not quite so fast …

movie filmJust last week, I blogged about how print magazines are hanging in there, even in the face of relentless competition from “free and easy” digital media, with more new print magazines launching so far this year than folding.

And now come reports of renewed life in another reputed “dinosaur” medium in the communications arena:  movie film.

Journalist Ben Fritz reported in The Wall Street Journal that Eastman Kodak Company is close to inking an agreement with the top Hollywood movie studios to supply a set quantity of film over the next several years.

This, despite the fact that most motion pictures and TV shows are shot these days using digital video.

Because of the steep decline in film sales – Kodak’s movie-film sales are reportedly off by a whopping 96% compared to just 8 years ago, and are projected to amount to less than 450 million linear feet of output this year – Kodak had been mulling the possibility of closing down its film manufacturing capabilities.

If that were to happen, the last of the major movie film manufacturers would have exited the market.  (Fuji, the other major supplier, stopped producing movie film in 2013.)

As it turns out, however, there are a number of “name” film directors who remain quite keen on using film – among them J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, Christopher Noland, Lasse Hallström and Quentin Tarantino.

These and other movie directors lobbied the heads of the major film studios to commit to purchasing film in sufficient quantities to allow Kodak’s Rochester film manufacturing facility to remain open.

And now the major studios have reportedly decided to do just that – even though they don’t actually know how many movies will be shot using film versus the digital medium.

About the pending deal, Bob Weinstein, co-chairman of Weinstein Company said this:  “It’s a financial commitment, no doubt about it.  But I don’t think we could look some of our filmmakers in the eyes if we didn’t do it.”

The big challenge for movies shot on film is that very few younger film directors have any experience working in the medium.  That sort of filmmaking is hardly even taught in cinematic arts classes anymore.

Besides, post-production work is much easier and faster with digital.

Still, just like audiophiles are convinced of the superiority of analog recordings over those recorded digitally, some movie directors swear by film.  “I’m a huge fan of film, but it’s so much more convenient digitally,” film director Ian Bryce told reporter Ben Fritz.

Judd Apatow is another director who loves the film medium.  While he also recognizes the benefits of digital, “it would be a tragedy if suddenly directors didn’t have the opportunity to shoot on film,” he says.  “There’s a magic to the grain and the color quality that you get with film.”

By the way, Mr. Apatow is shooting his latest movie – Trainwreck – using film.  And the Lasse Hallström film The Hundred-Foot Journey, which just opened in theatres, was shot on film as well.

hundred food journey movie“Digital cameras are not able to capture all the subtleties of the forest,” Mr. Hallström reported.  His goal was to capture the lush landscape and greenery in the scenes of mushroom and wild berry picking that helps make The Hundred-Foot Journey such a feast for the eyes.

“We compared film and video, and the video simplified all the greens.  On film, you could see the nuances of all the shades,” Hallstrom emphasized.

With all the conflicting factors, what is the prognosis for the film medium?

Well, we now know that Kodak will continue to manufacture it for the next few years at least.  With set purchase commitments comes the ability to plan for operational efficiencies.

We also know that film remains the “medium of choice” for long-term preservation of all types of movies – including those shot digitally.

But practically all movie theatres have switched over to digital projection by now, whereas projection film used to represent a far bigger portion of product sales than preservation film.

So I think we can safely say that short-term, the prognosis is good.

Medium-term is iffy … and long-haul, it’s likely that the term “film” to describe “movies” will be accurate only from a historical perspective.

Do you feel differently?  If so, share your thoughts with other readers here.

Living Life in Pictures

PhotographyYou know the old adage:  A picture is worth a thousand words.

Well, with the plethora of images being uploaded these days … we’re talking billions and billions of images and words.

Recently, Yahoo estimated that the number of images uploaded to the web is nearing 900 billion, which translates to nearly 125 photos for every person on the planet.

Facebook reports that it’s seeing more than 6 billion photos uploaded each month, on average.

And Instagram?  It’s reporting that nearly 28,000 photos are uploaded every minute.

Clearly, we love our photos.  And since digital technology makes it so easy to take good-quality photos and post them instantly, it seems people can’t get enough of doing so.

It’s an interesting twist — in a sense, taking us back to the cavemen days and illustrations on the walls.

Over the centuries, words and language have made it faster and easier to communicate, even as drawing, painting or developing photos using analog (film) technology was difficult and/or time-consuming.

In more recent times, Polaroid® photos gave us a more “instant” experience with images … but sharing them was no easlier than before.  (Plus, let’s be honest:  Most Polaroid shots were pretty lame in the quality department.)

Now that digital photography is as effortless as it is … it seems everyone is rushing back to pictures.

We’re even seeing it in the world of books.  Take Amity Shlaes’ book The Forgotten Man, about the Great Depression.  It came out in conventional form in 2008.

The Forgotten Man (Graphic Edition)But now, it’s being released in a picture book version:  The entire book has been re-imagined as an elaborate comic book, replete with illustrations by veteran graphic artist Paul Rivoche.

And based on the early indications, it looks like the new graphic version is going to outsell the original.

Is all of this some kind of regression to an earlier stage — a return to a sort of “collective adolescence writ large”?

I think not.  It’s more a function of “doing what’s possible.”

I think human beings have always gravitated to pictorial portrayals — which explains the immediate embrace of movies and television when those innovations came on the scene.

So when photography becomes so easy to produce and to share, it’s only natural that we’re going to have billions and billions of images swirling around as a result.

And why not?  Life’s all the richer because of it.

Patent Trolls: Is a Day of Reckoning Finally at Hand?

When the banks get involved … watch out.

patent holding companiesIn recent weeks, I’ve begun reading more news items about legislation being passed to limit the damage so-called “patent trolls” can do to unsuspecting businesses.

These are the bottom-feeding firms which exist only to collect royalty payments and fines from companies due to supposed infringement on patents the firms have purchased.

Many of the victims of these schemes are smaller businesses with fewer than $10 million in annual revenues.

The reasons they’re targeted are pretty obvious:  smaller companies are less able to defend themselves against such charges, and it’s often easier and less expensive to settle out of court — and avoid all the hassles that accompany litigation as well.

But the cumulative impact is pretty enormous.  Patent risk specialist RPX Corporation estimates that it’s nearly $13 billion in legal fees, settlements or judgments.

The University of California’s Hastings College of the Law has also been studying the numbers.  It finds that patent infringement claims against the portfolio companies of venture-capital firms cost an average of $100,000 each to settle.

Predictably, only a smidgeon of the monies collected by these patent-holding companies actually makes it back to the inventors.  The rest goes right in the deep pockets of the people trolling the business world for easy money.

And then …

come down hardThen some patent trolls made the mistake of sending demand notifications to banking firms, related to things like the software used in ATMs.

Oops.  Bad move.

Once the banking institutions got sensitized to the issue,  a lot of legislators did, too.  Funny how that works.

The results are now beginning to show.  In recent months, more states have enacted legislation curbing the ability of patent trolls to make “bad faith” assertions of patent claims.

What is a questionable patent claim?  It’s a claim that isn’t based on any clear evidence of infringement — but instead on vague accusations.

(In other words, these questionable claims represent the vast majority of the notifications delivered to the unsuspecting victims.)

States jumping on the “put the trolls on trial” bandwagon range from New York, Vermont to Oklahoma and Minnesota.  Twelve so far, and the tally will surely increase in the coming months.

One of the interesting twists is the fact that most of new legislation also allows targeted companies to strike back in state courts with their own litigation … against the patent-holding companies themselves.

I guess turnabout is fair play.

Another twist …

Here’s an interesting case where financial institutions – an industry not particularly loved in many quarters – is helping to rout a particularly pernicious and avaricious bunch of businesspeople.

This sort of activity, based not only on any sense of commercial fair play but instead on playing mercantile “gotcha” games, is reprehensible and gives “the business of business” a bad name.

Too, it has to have had a chilling effect on the activities of smaller businesses in particular – especially those who rely on established technologies to create and commercialize new products.

Constantly looking over one’s shoulder to make sure no one is coming after you for something as innocuous as using an e-mail tool on a FAX machine is hardly the kind of environment that fosters innovation.

So let the cheering begin … and no stopping until these trolls are banished back under the bridge.

Time spent online daily: 2.5 hours and growing.

Lots of time spent onlineIf you’re wondering what happened to all of the community volunteer activities people used to do – not to mention the popularity of participating in group social or recreational activities like softball or bowling leagues … you might look at the time Americans are spending online as one possible explanation.

The evidence comes in the form of research the Interactive Advertising Bureau did when they contracted with GfK Research to conduct an extensive online survey as part of a larger behavioral analysis of American adults.

Fielded in late 2013 with participation from ~5,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 65, the IAB/GfK survey revealed that Americans are spending an average of 2.5 hours of every day online.

Add that on to the average ~5 hours per day spent watching TV – a figure that’s hardly budged in years – and it’s little wonder that the Jaycees, Shriners’ and other service organizations are finding it more difficult to recruit new members … or that “old faithful” group social and recreational activities are in danger of becoming less relevant.

The IAB/GfK survey also revealed which types of online activities are engaged in the most.  The chart below, created by Statista from the IAB/GfK report’s data and published in The Wall Street Journal, gives us the lowdown:

Online Time (average per day)

 

I wasn’t surprised to discover that social networks chew up the most online minutes per day.  Online video viewing and search time seem about as expected, too.  And who doesn’t enjoy a nice game of Spider Solitaire or Internet Spades to wind down after a long day?

But at ~30 minutes per day, the e-mail average seems on the high side.  People must really be struggling with managing personal inboxes stuffed with marketing e-mails.  (But if work-related e-mails are part of the equation, the half-hour figure seems more expected.)

Comparing these results to similar research done in prior years, the most recent survey charts an increase in online video watching; it’s doubled over the past four years.

Other activities that are on the rise include online gaming, and listening to online radio.

Adding it all up, total time spent online is continuing its inexorable rise thanks to mobile connectivity and the “always-on” digital environment in which Americans now live.

Perhaps the way to stem reduced interest in group social activities and volunteerism lies in giving people free reign to “multitask” even as they participate in the local bowling league or Ruritan Club meetings …

What are your thoughts on the time people are spending online – and if it’s crowding out other forms of daily activities?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Companies Continue to Increase their Investment in Social Media

InvestmentSocial media may have its share of nettlesome issues … but that doesn’t mean companies aren’t spending more effort and energy on these platforms.

To illustrate, a new online survey of ~1,060 business owners, senior management personnel and social strategists that was conducted in April 2014 by Social Media Marketing University finds that a clear majority of companies are investing more time and/or dollar resources on social media as compared to a year ago.

And three-fourths feel that this investment is worth it.

Here are some of the SMMU survey’s key findings:

  • ~74% of companies are devoting more time to social media.
  • ~54% are spending more dollars on social media.
  • Nearly 70% are managing four or more social profiles.

The most significant expenditures for social media programs fall into these four categories:

  • Compensation of in-house staff: ~37% of all social media program expenditures
  • Social media advertising: ~18% of program expenditures
  • Compensation of external staff: ~10% of expenditures
  • Content development: ~7% of expenditures

According to the SMMU survey, smaller businesses – those with fewer than 50 employees – face the biggest challenge in terms of the increased time and cost commitments to social media.

As SMMU Principal John Souza puts it:

“Because many small businesses don’t have the skill-set or the staff to properly manage social media, they are outsourcing their social, or spending an excessive amount of time on tasks as they learn social by trial-and-error.”

Not surprisingly, having some focused training on the “how-to” of social media can make a pretty big difference in the effectiveness of the people charged with planning and carrying out a company’s social media program.

The question is how many businesses actually feel the need for such training, seeing as how some of the recent press about social platforms hasn’t been all that positive.

The answer, based on my own personal interaction with numerous small and medium-sized firms is … not very many of them.