Guest Author - 2/15 - SaintPetersBlog

Guest Author

Blake Dowling: Amazon Go storefront, the next big disruption in retail, society

When it comes to the home theater experience, we used to rent movies from Blockbuster and Movie Gallery. VHS came and went. Then DVD, which is gone (for the most part).

In regards to transportation, there are still taxi cabs out there, but everyone I know contacts Uber to get a ride.

Have you bought a CD lately? I know plenty of music execs who wish they could turn back the clock when there were huge margins on tapes, LPs and CDs.

And in the world of politics, Hillary Clinton was all set to become President, but here we are.

Granted the last one isn’t so much about technology but, for whatever reason, the experts didn’t see it coming.

Disruption can take on many forms.

We now have a new one, which is about to ruffle some serious feathers and it won’t just affect grocery stores, but retail in general.

Imagine a grocery store experience where you just walk into and grab what you need and leave. It’s opening in 2017. It’s called Amazon Go. It’s real, so to all the experts out there, take note.

Here’s how it works: After entering the store, you scan an app. Select items to put into your cart and the store tracks what you pick up. You already have an Amazon account, so it’s just a matter of sensors tracking you correctly.

The Amazon Go storefront is small; it is not a Wal-Mart type of set up. It has essentials and — for downtown residents of a major city — it seems like a perfect fit.

For example, I was shopping at Publix on Spring Street this past weekend, just before the SEC Game in Atlanta. If you could take the lines and congestion out of that place on a busy day, it would be wicked.

The ways in which this type of disruption would affect retail (and our society) seem to be endless. Where to start on the domino effect? Let’s see there are over 3 million cashiers employed in our country making minimum wage. With that wage about to go up, retail execs are bound to be thinking can’t we automate this? The self-checkout kiosks were just the beginning of a labor issue for the cashiers.

What about criminals? Those who misbehave with tech are drooling over this as well. Credit card numbers and personal info are being zapped around rampantly.

Or what about someone just walking into the Amazon Go store without scanning the app. In that scenario, I could imagine some rambunctious teens stealing beer. In this kind of world, I suppose you must have a significant security presence.

How will other stores catch up? Publix, for instance, doesn’t have your credit card info on file. And, personally, I don’t want them to have it.

In the past four years, I have had two credit cards digitally stolen. The first time it happened, American Express did an excellent job notifying me via the AMX app. Once I declined the purchase through the app, I soon received a phone call with details.

In hindsight, it was kind of funny: “Mr. Dowling, are you in Milan attempting to purchase a fur coat?”

That would be a negative, boss. Thanks for the heads up.

The other incident was more recent; the local bank involved was just as meticulous.

Hopefully, these types of stores will offer anti-skimming devices throughout the location to block the possibility of digital theft.

This is going to be a significant movement, and all eyes will be on both Amazon and this Seattle storefront to see where they succeed and where they fail.

Disruption never stops; who knows what’s next?

Personally, a grocery store with no line sounds like heaven. Clean up on aisle 4, LOL.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies in Tallahassee; he writes columns for several organizations. You can contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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Carlos Nathan: An open letter to Florida Democrats

Carlos Nathan
Carlos Nathan

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

That quote from “Cool Hand Luke” could be directed squarely at the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has been suffering from this issue and a message problem since 1998.

The performance of the Florida Democratic Party has led to a complete Republican dominance in both the Legislature and the Governor’s mansion. In 2008, Florida helped elect a young, vibrant senator to the highest office in this land under the premise of hope and change. Unfortunately, this message did not flow down to the Florida Democratic Party.

The State Party has overseen three election cycles where Democrats have run candidates anointed in a backroom and forced them down the voters’ throats. This delusion of “the party knows best” has led us where we are today.

Untested candidates with nothing to offer had the support of a party that has no message and no clear identity except simply a “we are not Republicans” mentality.  This tactic does not work and has been proven time and time again that it does not resonate with the voter.

Soul-searching is a term that has been thrown out anytime an election does not go as anticipated. Instead of coming up with a real plan of action, we revert to our place of comfort by selecting individuals who have ran for office in the past.

We summon them out of their “retirement” holes and encourage them to run again as if that will be the key to bringing Democrats back to power and relevance.

FDP retrenches with a plan to right the errors of the last election. In the meantime, the rest of the state and especially Republicans are devising strategies to fill their bench with young Republicans for generations to come.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have multiple members in the Legislature in their 20s. These members will have an unprecedented experience in governing by the time they are 40. They are building up their youth and their bench in a way Democrats are not. They’ve got redshirt freshmen when we’re running seniors, and we’ve got to stop that.

As a young, African- American progressive, it was crucial to becoming a member of an organization called the New Leader’s Council. New Leader’s Council has 44 chapters across the country, and six chapters across Florida.

Our goal is recruit, train and promote the progressive leaders of the future. We are making great strides in our immediate community, statewide and nationwide. Since our chapter’s creation in 2013, we have trained over 40 young progressives in Tallahassee alone, because we all understand the collective obligation we have in our future; which begins with leadership. Our fellows are learning the critical skills of governance, political campaigns, messaging and fundraising.

There is an opportunity for real change in the Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

Beyond the structure of the party, where the focus has been on raising money, there is actual room to encourage younger individuals that embody the spirit of Bob Graham, Reuben Askew, Lawton Chiles, and all the other great legends of the Democratic Party.

It is time to embrace younger candidates with new and fresh ideas.  More than ever, we need people with the energy and courage to fight for our environment and water quality, the protection of our elderly, quality public education and affordable higher education. These sort of policy issues are going to affect our generation far more than baby boomers, so it is time that we begin to take responsibility for these decisions as the Republicans are.

Economic equality, restoration of felon voting rights, protecting the liberties of all citizens, and allowing women the right to protect their body free from the burdens of government are just some of the issues we must have those who are willing to stand up to challenge.

As the third largest state, we have an enormous duty to train the future of this country’s leaders, but we won’t ever get the chance to lead if we’re behind Democratic politicians from the 80s and 90s.

If the party doesn’t begin to accept young people into its ranks, we as a party are going to be in this hole for a very long time. There are many passionate young people all across this state that need and want to pick up the mantle of leadership, I just hope they let us.

Let us on the team coach.

___

Carlos Nathan is a 33-year-old political and government professional and a board member of the Tallahassee Chapter of the New Leader’s Council.

 

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Steve Ryan: John Glenn, Senator and hero. Things the public didn’t always see.

Stephen M. Ryan

John Glenn is my hero and America’s hero, but he was also my boss.

Sen. Glenn always acted with integrity: in his marriage to his sweetheart, in his devotion to his country, in his work with his colleagues. He was always a gentleman in the best sense.

I had the good luck as a young child to have the measles during his February 1962 flight.

We all marveled at his flight, and his coolness under pressure. Subsequently, we saw all the pictures of him and Annie with President Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy and the brothers, particularly Bobby, and they all seemed the embodiment of Camelot.

So, it was part of my dream to work for him, and I ended up as an advance man in his presidential campaign.

As an advance man in his 1984 presidential campaign, I went to fly with him and work with him. The Senator had a way to remind folks about his heroism while being so ‘right stuff’ and self-deprecating at the same time.

Joke 1 was his government contract joke: he was sitting atop the Atlas rocket waiting to be launched when he realized it had been awarded to the lowest bidder.

Joke 2 was the hero and marriage joke: after his flight, a speaker was droning on about him and saying how there “were few truly great Americans.”

When he and Annie were driving home, and the Senator started talking about this, and he claimed Annie responded: “John Glenn, there is one less Great American than you may think …”

We all know that this incident was unlikely to ever have happened. All of us saw the Glenns as a model for how devotion in marriage could work. In a movie or real life, their love was a constant for each other and a lesson to all of us surrounding them.

But the Senator’s modesty and calm at times masked his killer qualities. Opponents in war or politics knew a different Glenn. We should never forget that John Glenn was one of the youngest Corsair fighter pilots in the Pacific who flew really dangerous ground support missions for his fellow Marines in World War II. He followed this by flying jet fighters in Korea where he became known as “Magnet Ass,” said with affection and respect by his colleagues, for picking up so much shrapnel from enemy anti-air fire and from flying low to the ground supporting the troops.

Glenn and the greatest baseball player of all time, Ted Williams, who also flew combat in two wars flew together the last days of the Korean War, and the Senator downed Migs with his Sabre.

That same quality was on exhibit when the Senator made his Gold Star debate response:  “In the primary race, his opponent contrasted his strong business background with Glenn’s military and astronaut credentials, implied Glenn had never met a payroll or held a “job.”

Glenn’s impassioned response came to be known as the “Gold Star Mothers” speech. He told his opponent to go to a veterans’ hospital and “look those men with mangled bodies in the eyes and tell them they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother, and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job.” It won the Senate election.

Well, like most presidential campaigns we ended in failure.

We failed to get our Democratic Eisenhower the nomination he deserved, but campaign work was enough to raise me from being an Assistant U.S. Attorney to a swanky job as counsel to the Senator as Chair of what is now the Homeland Security and Governmental Committee in 1987.

The Senator was doing what he always did–leading a worthy policy effort in success or failure. At leadership’s request, the Chairman took to the floor in a valiant and doomed attempt to raise the federal civil service wages, which had bottomed out at that time in comparison to the private Sector. But it was not a popular issue and he/we knew it would not succeed. It translated into hard seat time for the new Committee Chair, being forced to walk the plank for his colleagues.

My first important time on the Senate floor sitting in a side chair with Senator Glenn was to me the highest honor accorded a government lawyer. Senator Glenn was pretty popular with his colleagues, and Senators spoke out one after another against civil service raises then came over to tell the Senator they would like to be with him but couldn’t.

Finally, after several hours of this, I could see the warning signs: the Senator’s neck and bald spot started to turn red during those conversations. I had learned this was about the only visible sign his cool, control, and laconic fighter pilot calm might desert him. Finally, he turned to one Senator and said quietly (so only the Senator could hear) ‘do what’s right for the country.’

The Senator on the receiving end of that statement had a shocked look on his face, and left pretty quickly. That was the only time in the years I worked for Senator Glenn that I saw him rebuke a colleague.

One time, a very old Senator, who was on occasion losing his grip on memory, chewed Senator Glenn out for a position he had taken on the Armed Services Committee. It was harsh and un-senatorial.

Barely an hour later we were back in his Hart office, on a late evening, and the Senator called and asked for a favor. And Glenn agreed. I was incredulous. My Irish was up from the earlier encounter, and I asked the Senator why he did it—he laughed and said the other Senator no longer remembered the chewing out, and it did no harm to help him on the matter at hand.

Pure Glenn. Generous beyond expectation.

The Senator put together a really respectable body of public policy accomplishments, including addressing nuclear non-proliferation issues that still dog our security.

He insisted on the environmental cleanup of the DOE nuclear weapons complex and an oversight board to look at its safety. He empowered Inspectors General and extended the IG coverage to the CIA, and to the Justice and Treasury Departments and many other federal agencies.

He led the legislation lifting the Veteran Affairs Administration and the EPA from agencies to cabinet type departments. He was a workhorse in the Senate, and because he was already a hero, he quietly did the grunt work other Senators and Chairman didn’t pay as much attention to.

He accomplished far more in his Senate career than people remember and is the only Democrat in Ohio history elected and serving four times.

The Senator always stayed in shape. He ate carefully, usually a bowl of soup and an apple. One day Senators [Dennis] DeConcini and Ted Kennedy got in a spat at a meeting where Glenn, [Joe] Biden and others were working. I was sitting between the two Senators who were standing over me with me between them.

I watched Glenn calmly start in eating Kennedy’s potato chips, a delicacy he didn’t normally indulge in.

The careful upkeep of his body paid off in 1997 when I was able to take my son John (now a counsel in the Senate) to the Senator’s return to space in the space shuttle.

I had come full circle from 1962 to 1997. As always, the Senator was a teacher and mentor — ‘flexibility’ was his mantra for all of us.

Of course, he used it to put back on his space suit, as they used to call it.

So, goodbye Senator — we remember you with the handsome Midwest good looks, and your rocketing into our lives as a shining example of the duty we all owe our country.

___

Stephen M. Ryan is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law. He is currently a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in Washington, DC.

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John Sowinski: On Charlie Reed, a legacy ‘beyond measure’

Charlie Reed

Editor’s note: Former Florida State University System Chancellor Charles Reed died Tuesday at 75.

Charlie Reed was a hard charger, a master legislative strategist, a fantastically successful leader in higher education, a consummate professional, and a class act.

Reed became Chancellor of Florida’s State University System at about the same time that I became Executive Director of the Florida Student Association, the lobbying group that represents the students of Florida’s State University System.

He left his job as Governor Bob Graham’s chief of staff to become Chancellor. It was 1985, and everyone in Florida’s higher education policy realm had had a healthy dose of respect for and fear of Reed. He wanted to raise tuition 15 percent per year. Students wanted tuition increases capped at no more than 5 percent per year.

Part of my job was to testify immediately after him at every Board of Regents and Legislative Committee meeting that dealt with the tuition issue and provide the counterpoints to his points. The undergraduate tuition increase landed close to 5 percent, but no permanent cap was created.

After the Session, I was summoned to the Board of Regents office for a one-on-one meeting with Chancellor Reed. I had no idea why he wanted to meet with me, much less alone. I thought he was going to take me to the woodshed, because he was a tough guy.

In fact, during that Session, I saw him use a legislator’s aide’s phone (no cellphones back then) to dress down a high-level university administrator for not towing the State University System position on a particular bill. My interactions with Chancellor Reed during the legislative session and at Board of Regents meetings were made awkward by the fact that we were diametrically opposed on the high-stakes tuition issue, and though we had spoken many times, we had never had a “casual” conversation.

I nervously went into his office. We shook hands, and I sat down.

He said he wanted to meet so that he could complement me on how I handled myself during the Session, how even though the issues were big and the stakes were high, it never became personal or disrespectful.

Reed said it is always great to witness the abilities of so many student leaders coming out of Florida’s universities, and that even when we differ on issues, we all have the best interests of Florida’s students and universities at heart. He said that he heard that I wanted to return to Orlando after my 1-year contract was over and that he wanted to encourage me to stay involved in the process because he thought I was good at it.

Coming from Charlie Reed, that was high praise.

He asked what I wanted to do, and when I told him that I was a Public Administration major, and that in the near term I wanted to work in government, but live in Orlando.

So, he offered to call then-Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick, and his chief administrative officer, Lex Hester, and put in a word for me. The fact that he was a Democratic partisan and I was a Republican partisan made no difference to him, or me. Thanks to recommendations by Reed and Vice Chancellor George Bedell, I got an interview and my first post-college job in Mayor Frederick’s office.

So, the man whose side I had been a thorn in for months put differences aside and took a personal interest in me and what I wanted to do with my life, and helped give me a head start in a rewarding career.

I saw Charlie many times in Tallahassee in the years that followed, and he always asked about and seemed genuinely interested in the campaigns, causes and clients that I was working on. I even called him in California for insight and institutional knowledge, and he would either immediately take my call, or call back later that day, and seemed eager to help and glad to talk to another Floridian.

I’m saddened by his passing, and forever grateful for the lessons that a lion of those days taught, and the courtesies that he extended, to the 22-year old version of me.

RIP Charlie Reed. Your legacy is beyond measure, and you will be greatly missed.

___

John Sowinski

John Sowinski is a political consultant and founding partner of Consensus Communication.

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Heidi Gonzalez: Lawsuit against school choice will hurt children like mine

Five years ago, my daughter Samantha was struggling in sixth grade and not getting enough help, because her teachers were dealing with too many struggling students at once. It wasn’t long before she began hanging out with the wrong crowd, and acting up in school and at home.

I knew I had to make a change. I found out about a scholarship called the Florida tax credit scholarship, which allows low-income parents to send their children to private school. I also found a school that would be better for her.

It worked.

Samantha’s academics improved. Her behavior improved.

She became my sweet little girl again.

This year, the scholarship is helping 95,000 students, including 35,000 Hispanic students. Yet if the Florida teachers union has its way, all of these students will lose their scholarships and be sent back to schools where they were losing hope.

I want other parents to know what is happening. In 2014, the teachers union and other groups filed a lawsuit against the scholarship, saying it hurt public schools by taking money from them. Since then, two courts have ruled against them, saying they didn’t see any evidence to prove that. But the union is still appealing, this time to the Florida Supreme Court. Last week, the scholarship parents and the state filed their response to the appeal.

Also last week, it was reported that the Florida PTA dropped out of the suit. They join two other groups – the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of School Administrators – that dropped out earlier. I want to thank the PTA for deciding not to fight parents. I ask the union to do the same.

The only reason the union is continuing is because of pride. We should not be fighting over which schools our children go to. We should be fighting poverty and all the other obstacles that our children face.

I say this not just as a mom, but as a public school teacher. I know every child is different, and not every school works for every child. Samantha’s story is a perfect example.

Her school, Miami Christian, is smaller. It is more welcoming. It is faith-based. That made a difference for Samantha, who is now in 11th grade.

She went from F’s in her former school to honor roll in her new school. It was so emotional when she did it the first time, I had the award framed.

Samantha is also more caring and respectful, and more involved with her church and community. The school emphasizes volunteering for good causes, so Samantha has done everything from ride bicycles with students with disabilities to pack meals for hungry children. She’s also been exposed to team sports, and developed such a passion for them that she was MVP of her softball team last year.

Now, Samantha wants to go to Florida International University and study physical therapy. Knowing where she was headed just a few years ago, I am so proud and relieved to know she has these big dreams.

Because of the lawsuit, though, I am also scared. Samantha’s little brother, Adrian, also uses a tax credit scholarship. He is in third grade at Miami Christian and thriving. No parent who knows their children are on the right path wants to see that disrupted.

I can’t imagine a teacher would either. I ask other teachers what they would do if their child was struggling in school. Wouldn’t they want the power to put their child in a different school, if that’s what it would take to save them?

Almost always, they say yes.

___

Heidi Gonzalez is a Miami resident and teacher in Miami-Dade public schools.

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Valerio Martinelli: Cubans know ideas matter

valerio-martinelli-2
Valerio Martinelli

Fidel Castro is dead.

Thousands of Cubans, many of whom lived under Castro’s regime, gathered in the streets of Miami to celebrate his death. For them, his passing marked the symbolic end of a reign of terror, a nightmare that destroyed thousands of lives and forced a million Cubans to leave their homes and seek a new beginning in America.

But in Cuba, nothing has changed. As the celebrations ended, Castro’s regime was still there.

The people of Cuba are still not free. For all practical purposes, his death was almost insignificant. What matters is what Castro has left in his wake. The mixed reactions that followed the news of his death are indeed part of this legacy.

The fact that segments of our country, including many of our political leaders, are reluctant to unequivocally denounce the murderous conduct of such a ruthless dictator casts doubt on their capacity to discern the ideas that sustain our free society. They could be gone in the blink of an eye.

At the end of the day, ideas about our liberties, about the role of government, and about our individual and inalienable rights are what protect our way of life. Nothing else.

Cuban Americans know it. That these ideas matter is something every Cuban parent teaches their children from birth. It’s in their blood. If you know a Cuban, you know they are constantly reminded of this truth at every family gathering, at every celebration, during every meal with their grandparents.

Their culture, traditions, and even their food speaks of it. That’s because their family stories are so often intertwined with a larger tale, one that is repeated in a thousand different flavors but carries the same message: our freedom is fragile and in the blink of an eye it can be easily stolen from us in the name of an idea.

Cuban Americans are the living proof of this truth.

But while celebrations were underway in Miami, other Americans mourned Castro and hailed him as a symbol of social justice. It would be easy to dismiss these people as simply uninformed tourists, blissfully unaware of the immense human suffering caused by that totalitarian regime, but the reality is more complex.

For years, the narrative that socialism is “good” and capitalism is “evil” has been seeping into the fabric of our society, effectively rewriting history and creating new villains and new idols. This narrative is often advanced by prominent intellectuals, political figures and even presidential candidates.

Now, it seems to have finally borne fruit, as many young people use social media to praise Castro and his legacy. But they are hardly alone in their appreciation for the Cuban dictator.

After the news of Castro’s death broke out, Canada’s prime minister elevated the Cuban dictator to the ranks of a “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century,” despite the fact that that his way of being “larger than life” included routinely imprisoning, torturing and executing thousands of his political opponents.

At first glance, it appears that people who did not experience life under Castro do not fully appreciate just how unjust and brutal the Cuban regime has been toward its own people. And this is normal. Cuba’s ruling elite controls most forms communication on the island — including internet — and makes it difficult for regular people to piece together the type of miseries Cubans must endure on a daily basis.

What is not normal, borderline criminal, is that people that probably know better — especially highly educated politicians and heads of state—try to romanticize decades of people’s suffering to advance their own political agenda.

As evidence of Castro’s able and “compassionate” leadership they offer stories about the greatness of the Cuban health care and education systems, while conveniently failing to mention that the landmark achievements of the island’s centrally-planned economy are a constant violation of human rights that has afflicted regular Cubans for decades.

Fortunately, many Cuban-Americans who were lucky enough to survive torture, imprisonment, and firing squads know that Cuba’s grandiose health care system is only available to wealthy tourists and to those with close ties to the island’s political class. Most importantly, they also know that romanticizing the conduct of a brutal regime only enables it to tighten the rope of oppression around the neck of those who yearn for freedom on the island.

But some people don’t care about the truth, especially if it does not fit their narrative or their political aspirations.

In fact, the truth is their enemy when it comes to Cuba.

Let’s consider the very fact that many Cubans immigrants, despite having all their possessions stolen by a criminal regime, could quickly rebuild prosperous lives thanks to their hard work and the capitalist system.

And the Cubans that stayed on the island, far from enjoying in the “socialist utopia” often described by so many on the left, are still willing to take their chances on makeshift rafts through shark infested waters to set foot in the U.S. Why? Because ideas matter. Castro was a ruthless tyrant, and socialism is just a bad idea that constantly needs to be sold through myths, propaganda and denial. Otherwise, nobody would buy it.

Legitimizing the legacy of a brutal dictator by praising him or even by refusing to condemn his atrocities is just another attempt to sell a very bad idea. But Cubans don’t buy it anymore. We shouldn’t either.

___

Valerio Martinelli is a policy analyst for The LIBRE Initiative.

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Blake Dowling: Apps for everything

dowling-11-30I think I have downloaded more apps in the past five years than anyone in the southern United States. When the kids were younger, new game? Done. Five a day, we would play incessantly, then delete.

The gaming app 100 Balls took over two weeks of our life; Stack took a few weeks. Jet Pack Joy Ride might have robbed our family of actual months. Anyway, as the kids got older, it’s more about functionality these days.

Although Zombie Highway still pulls me back in sometimes, I try to get out, and they pull me back in (as the saying goes).

As far as must-have solid apps, here is my go-to list: WatchESPN, Xfinity (I can change the channel while on the road, the kids wonder why they are suddenly watching Air Wolf … Ha Ha!), dowling-11-30_2AMX, The Bible app is great, Delta, The Score, Twitter, and Insta.

For political junkies out there, make sure to check FloridaPolitics.com first for your news (duh).

After that, check out Politomix, which streamlines all political news worldwide 24/7, or Pocket Justice, which details over 600 constitutional law cases (they should have called this “party time,” because it sounds like the fun doesn’t stop).

iCitizen is another cool app for all things politics.

I have football season tickets with some fraternity brothers from back in the old days. The old days are defined as a time before smartphones, email, and social media – BT (Before Tech) for short.

It was a glorious time to be digitally anonymous. Those days are over now, and – for better or worse – tech is here to stay.

dowling-11-30_3In regards to my season ticket holding group we use an app called SplitCost, which comes in handy 4 dividing up expenses: New generator costs A, dinner out was B, 4 cases of gin costs C.

You create a group name in SplitCost and enter each members name and costs accordingly. It defines who owes in red and who is owed in green. This app can be used for anything requiring a shared bill. Check that one out, for sure.

As for professional messaging apps, Slack seems to be the up-and-comer with the most noise around it, with users who really like it.

Slack is a solid replacement for internal organizational email; it is also searchable, so you don’t lose any functionality. Slack is also free, making it certainly worth a look.

In the kitchen, you should check out BigOven. It is like most recipe apps but takes it to the next level.

Select a recipe and, like magic, the app sends you a grocery list – taking some of the chore out of cooking up something new.

Sometimes, exercise can get tedious – straight up boring – so download Zombies, Run!, which turns your daily workout into an all-out run-for-your-life-type experience.

OK, we have covered apps for politics, entertainment, messaging, gaming, cooking, exercise, travel, religion and finance. That’s all she wrote, man.

Hopefully, you find a use of one or two of these.

___

dowling-11-30_4Blake Dowling is CEO at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns appear in publications for several organizations. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or www.aegisbiztech.com.

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Christian Cámara: Reinsurance saved Florida from catastrophic losses

christian-camara-of-the-r-street-instituteAs the Nov. 30 end of the hurricane season approaches, Floridians should be thankful. While this year’s storms Hermine and Matthew brought an end to the state’s decade-long hurricane drought, they easily could have been stronger or cut a more destructive path.

Indeed, had Hurricane Matthew tracked just 20 or more miles further west, it would have raked the entire east coast of Florida, bringing the full force of a Category 4 storm to the most populated and wealth-concentrated coastline in the region. Insured losses could have topped $35 billion.

That’s not to say the actual losses were trivial or insignificant. Thousands of homes and businesses were damaged, especially along Florida’s northeast coast. As of Oct. 27, the state reported more than 100,000 Hurricane Matthew-related insurance claims, and thousands more are expected to be filed in coming months. Ultimately, total losses are expected to reach $5 billion.

But thanks to responsible decisions made by Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature over the past several years, coupled with trends in the global economy, homeowners are not expected to see insurance rate increases because of these storms.

Part of the luck Florida has experienced over the past decade is due not only to Mother Nature, but also to the reinsurance market. Reinsurance is insurance for insurance companies; that is, when an insurance company experiences catastrophic losses due to a major like a hurricane, its reinsurance protection kicks in and pays out a pre-negotiated percentage of claims.

Due to a realignment in the global capital markets, reinsurance prices have plummeted over the past several years, ushering in a “buyers’ market” that insurance companies have used to export more of their risk abroad and write more policies at home. Lawmakers and state regulators took note of this trend. Among other important insurance reforms, they have allowed state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. (Citizens) and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (Cat Fund) to purchase reinsurance protection and other risk-transfer products without raising rates on consumers.

Thanks to these investments, based on current preliminary loss reports, it appears the state is poised ultimately to receive an influx of $1 billion in foreign capital to help pay these hurricane claims. These same reports estimate this amount could double to $2 billion, since roughly 50 percent of aggregate claims amounts will be paid for by foreign reinsurance entities.

This is significant. If private insurance companies were responsible for a higher share of their losses, they would have to dig deeper into their surplus accounts, which have to eventually be replenished—usually through rate increases on their consumers when policies come up for renewal. Instead, policyholders will be gratified that insurance companies took advantage of low reinsurance rates to purchase more of their own protection.

Current projections indicate that losses incurred by state-run Citizens and the Cat Fund will not trigger their reinsurance protection this time around. However, lawmakers and regulators alike should not forget how close Hurricane Matthew came to doing so. When making their decisions to protect consumers, the state’s property insurance market and taxpayers, Florida policymakers should not assume the next bullet will merely graze us like Matthew did.

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Christian Cámara of the R Street Institute is a member of the Stronger Safer Florida coalition.

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Gus Bilirakis: Giving a voice to rare disease patients

bilirakisTwo years ago, I held a series of roundtable meetings in Lutz, Florida with physicians, advocates, patients, and families from our area to hear about the challenges of finding cures for the thousands of deadly and chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans. Diseases like cancer, ALS, Alzheimer’s and the 7,000 rare conditions. These discussions were eye-opening to me. I got a true sense of how difficult it is to get new medicines to market, and how painful it can be for families desperate for treatment.

Out of these conversations with folks like Ashleigh Pike from Palm Harbor, who lives with Dysautonomia, Dr. Thomas Sellers, a top researcher with Moffitt Cancer Center, and Patricia Stanco, an advocate with the ALS Association Florida Chapter, along with many others, came the 21st Century Cures Act.

The 21st Century Cures Act is a comprehensive legislative package that will help speed up the development, discovery, and delivery of lifesaving cures and treatments for patients in need. During the early stages of working on 21st Century Cures, I became especially inspired by those fighting rare diseases.

Rare diseases affect 30 million Americans, and yet 95 percent of rare diseases have no approved treatment. Right now, drug makers do not have a major incentive to repurpose mainstream treatments for rare disease patients because each disease impacts a small number of patients—even though many of these conditions are life-threatening.

We need to give people fighting rare diseases a voice. That is why I introduced a provision to 21st Century Cures called the OPEN Act, an initiative to help leverage the free market and promote repurposing major market drugs for rare diseases. The OPEN Act has the potential to result in hundreds of new drugs and treatments for individuals with rare diseases, as well as a new surge in biotechnology jobs and investments. This bill helps make sure those suffering from a rare condition can find safe, effective medications. It also ensures those medicines are affordable and can be reimbursed through insurance coverage.

With the help of over 150 rare disease advocacy groups, and bipartisan support in Congress, the OPEN Act and 21st Century Cures passed the House by a wide margin. It is now being considered by the Senate. Time is of the essence and I have urged my Senate friends to quickly pass this meaningful bill before time runs out on the legislative clock for this Congress. It is imperative that 21st Century Cures gets signed into law.

We have the opportunity now to truly make a difference in people’s lives. Let’s get this legislation across the finish line, and give hope to millions of patients and their families.

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Congressman Gus Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District. He is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health.

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Adam Putnam: Your Thanksgiving meal began on a farm

Picking up ingredients for your family’s favorite Thanksgiving dishes locally can be so easy that we sometimes take for granted our ranchers’ and farmers’ hard work to provide the food we all rely on. Agriculture has been and will continue to be the cornerstone of society — it is the industry that provides for one of our most basic needs. Some elements of agriculture have remained unchanged over centuries while others have changed radically with scientific and technological advancements.

Agriculture is not for the faint of heart. It has always drawn people who are stubborn, resilient, courageous and love the land that gives the bounty. Ranchers and farmers must embody these traits to weather whatever Mother Nature throws their way, whether it’s too much rain, too little rain, or an invasive pest or disease. Agriculture is both robust and fragile, and it requires commitment and adaptability. Farmers have faced these challenges for hundreds of years, and they face them today.

While the heat, hard work and vagaries of nature haven’t been automated, agriculture today is high tech. Innovative ranchers, farmers and researchers are finding ways to do more with less. As our population soars and the demands for land and water increase, our ranchers and farmers are turning to science to decrease inputs and increase yields. It’s not Old McDonald’s Farm anymore. Florida’s 47,000 farms are sophisticated operations that implement cutting-edge technology and constantly evaluate the results.

With a recent report projecting that by 2070 Florida will have 15 million new residents, the stress on our resources will only grow. As always Florida’s farmers and ranchers will continue to be leaders in conservation and innovation ensuring that they are able to produce the abundant food and fiber we depend on as a state and nation while being good stewards of the resources entrusted to them.

As you gather with your family and loved ones this Thanksgiving, let’s all be grateful for our dedicated ranchers and farmers who work day in and day out to produce our safe, affordable and abundant food. And when you sit down to enjoy your “Fresh From Florida” meal, remember that it all began on a farm.

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Adam Putnam is Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture.

 

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