Here’s how to travel to Cuba by Johnny Harris on October 21, 2015


You should go to Cuba. If you need convincing, we made a 2-minute video you should see:

Traveling to Cuba isn’t hard anymore

It used to be difficult, but now it’s not. In January, President Obama announced a “new course” with Cuba that included an easing of many restrictions banning Americans from traveling to the island.

You still can’t go as a straight-up tourist, but there are now 12 broad categories under which an American can travel to Cuba. And you no longer need to apply for a license and wait to get approval. You now just buy your ticket online and declare which of the 12 categories your trip falls under. All of this happens on an easy-to-use website. There’s no application or waiting period. Be warned, however, that charter flights are still painfully expensive (around $500 from Miami to Havana).

http://www.vox.com/2015/10/21/9384783/how-to-travel-cuba

Americans are spending more of the oil-price windfall than they realise – The Economist Oct 8th 2015, 6:00 BY H.C. | WASHINGTON, DC


BETWEEN June 2014 and February 2015 the price Americans paid for petrol fell by a third. Economists predicted this would boost growth by causing consumers, newly flush with cash, to spend more on other goods and services. Instead, the economy seemed to slow, with early estimates putting annualised growth in the first half of the year at a paltry 1.4%. Many claimed Americans were saving the windfall, or using it to pay down debts. Estimates of growth in the first half of the year have since been revised up sharply, to 2.3% annualised. Reinforcing this turnaround, a report released today argues that Americans are spending most of the oil-price windfall after all.

Researchers at the JPMorgan Institute, a think-tank tied to the bank, examined anonymised data from one million of the bank’s credit- and debit-card customers. The number-crunchers divvied up customers according to how much they spent on fuel before prices fell. Gas-guzzlers gain the most when fuel gets cheaper; reluctant-refuelers benefit less. Comparing the two groups’ spending before and after the price collapse can reveal how much of a dollar saved at the pump is spent elsewhere.

To mitigate the problem of mean reversion—high spenders spend less over time by virtue of being outliers to begin with—customers were categorised as gas-guzzlers or otherwise based on average spending on fuel by their zip-code neighbours. The researchers found that for every extra dollar those in gas-guzzling neighbourhoods saved at the pump, their spending elsewhere rose by 73 cents. This increased to 89 cents after adjusting for the fact that fuel is more likely to be bought with a debit or credit card than other expenses.

If this estimate is right, low oil prices are significantly boosting American consumption after all. This should reassure those who fret that low prices have reduced investment in oil and gas extraction without boosting consumer spending by much. The finding also contradicts recent survey evidence: one conducted by Gallup, a pollster, for instance, found that only 24% of Americans say they are spending their savings from cheaper gas.

The analysis, though, is not definitive. In particular, it relies on the similarity of gas-guzzlers and reluctant-refuelers along dimensions other than fondness for petrol (lest some other difference between the group be driving their divergent spending patterns). In support of this assumption, the authors point to the similar demographics of the two groups. For instance, both have a median monthly income of around $5,300. The two groups’ spending also follows a similar patterns before the oil price fall.

Much variation in fuel spending is driven by geography: gas-guzzlers are concentrated in spacious south, whereas almost three-quarters of low spenders are in the more metropolitan north-east. Divergent economic fortunes for different regions could, therefore, distort the results. In addition, there is a wide statistical margin of error around the estimates.

But the findings are still important, for three reasons. First, they provide some reassurance that boosting consumers’ disposable income does help the economy. The report’s authors note that the average household will gain $700 in 2015 from cheaper fuel—more than tax rebates issued in 2008 as a stimulus measure. Second, they suggest that consumers cannot always give pollsters an accurate picture of their budgets, especially when the question is complex. Even low earners spend only about 6% of their income on gas, so working out what they are doing with the savings is difficult. Finally, they show the potential for banks’ large data sets on individual behaviour to help answer big macroeconomic questions.

Judge: California Drivers Can Go Class-Action to Sue Uber – DAVEY ALBA 09.01.15.6:41 PM


A federal judge in San Francisco  has granted class-action status to a lawsuit brought by three Uber drivers against the on-demand ride company.

The decision issued today by US District Judge Edward Chen means as many as 160,000 Uber drivers in California could join the case seeking mileage and tip reimbursement from the company, presently valued at $51 billion. The drivers can now collectively challenge the company on the main issue of worker misclassification—whether drivers should actually be considered employees of Uber under the law rather than independent contractors.

The decision applies to all UberBlack, UberX, and UberSUV drivers who have driven for Uber in the state of California at any time since August 2009. However, it excluded Uber drivers who work for a third-party company and more recent drivers who are bound by Uber’s 2014 arbitration clause. For now, Chen also did not grant class-certification for related expenses, including gas and vehicle maintenance.

“This decision is a major victory for Uber drivers,” says Shannon Liss-Riordan, the Boston lawyer who is representing the Uber drivers in the case.

“It will allow thousands of Uber drivers to participate in this case to challenge their misclassification as independent contractors, as well as to attempt to recover the tips that Uber advertised to customers are included in the fare, but are not in fact distributed to the drivers.”

In arguing against class-action status, Uber tried to show in court that the idea of a typical Uber driver was a false notion, meaning that no individual plaintiffs could truly represent the interests of all drivers.

“We are likely to pursue an appeal of this decision because it is based on several key legal errors,” says attorney Ted Boutrous of Gibson Dunn, the firm defending Uber in the case.

“The mountain of evidence we submitted to the court—including the declarations of over 400 drivers from across California—demonstrates that two plaintiffs do not and cannot represent the interests of the thousands of other drivers who value the complete flexibility and autonomy they enjoy as independent contractors.”

The Future of On-Demand

Judge Chen’s ruling comes as the debate around how to properly classify workers for on-demand companies is heating up. As startups like Uber and Instacart have gone mainstream, so have criticisms of the so-called 1099 economy. These startups often employ freelance contractors, a classification the companies contend is desirable because the work is more flexible than a regular 9-to-5 job. Some critics are calling for broader protections for these workers, who do not receive benefits like Social Security, Medicare, and workers’ compensation and cannot unionize. Others complain that classifying workers as contractors allows companies like Uber to save up to 30 percent of payroll tax costs, which gives them an unfair competitive advantage.

 

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AIRBNB NEEDS TO BE BETTER AT SEARCH THAN GOOGLE – ISSIE LAPOWSKY 05.15. 07. AM


This weekend, tens of millions of Americans are heading off to the beach, the lake, the mountains, or wherever the barbecues and beers await. And for many holiday travelers these days, that means scouring Airbnb to find that perfect oceanfront cottage that sleeps eight, comes with a washer, dryer, Wi-Fi, and free parking on the premises.

But what most people won’t realize when they nestle into their respective crash pads this July 4th is just how complex that search process really is.

Airbnb, of course, is not one of the giants of search. Google and Amazon have it beat by almost any measure. But unlike either of those companies—or Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, for that matter, which have all emphasized search in recent years—Airbnb faces an altogether unique set of challenges, most notably, the fact that its search results don’t simply reflect websites or photos or products. They reflect people—people who may be renovating their homes, people who don’t want to accommodate a two-day rental in the middle of the summer, people who don’t check their email, or people who might want to spend the holiday weekend at their own darn lake house, thank you very much.

And yet, it’s still Airbnb’s job to predict the whims of these hosts to ensure that guests can find a place to stay every time. That means Airbnb can’t simply surface all its listings in a given area, no more than Google could arbitrarily serve up every web page in random order. Both businesses depend on users finding the right answer fast.

“You always need to match supply and demand, and in our case, the supply is completely unique. You’re talking about hosts and their homes,” Airbnb CTO Mike Curtis said on a recent visit to WIRED’s New York office. “So the matching problem between what’s the right host for the right guest is a pretty complex one.”

Article continues:

http://www.wired.com/2015/07/airbnb-search-machine-learning/

Five ways road-tripping families can save money – BY CHRIS TAYLOR July 2015


A camper leaves the Oak Flat Campground in the Tonto National Forest near Superior, Arizona May 30, 2015. REUTERS/Deanna Dent

A camper leaves the Oak Flat Campground in the Tonto National Forest near Superior, Arizona May 30, 2015. REUTERS/DEANNA DENT

With four kids between the ages of 1 and 12, Loralee Leavitt is a cost-savings ninja when she hits the road.

Leavitt, who hails from Kirkland, Washington, estimates that she has gone on more than 30 road trips with her growing family, logging over 60,000 miles, to places like Utah, Colorado, Arizona and California.

From packing their own food, to staying in state parks, to scouring for last-minute hotel deals, the family has made an art of saving money. Their piece de resistance: A trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park that did not cost more than $400 total.

“It is easy to spend more than you expect,” says Leavitt, author of “Road Tripping”. “But if you prepare it right, it can be a lot of fun, and very cheap.”

More Americans are planning road trips around the United States. In fact, 65 percent of those polled report they are more likely to take a road trip this summer than they were last summer, according to a recent survey by booking site Travelocity. And when you single out parents, a whopping 81 percent said they were more likely to hit the road with the kids this year.

Be careful, though. While a domestic road trip might appear like an affordable alternative to traveling abroad, costs can easily spiral out of control.

A recent study by travel site Expedia found that Americans expect to pay an average of $898 per person for a weeklong trip within their own country, hardly chump change.

To keep a lid on summer road-trip costs, we canvassed financial planners for their best tips, culled from personal experience. Here’s what they had to say.

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/01/us-money-travel-roadtrips-idUSKCN0PB51V20150701

 

The ‘Man Who Flies For Free’ says these are the 3 best websites for airline deals – MEGAN WILLETT APR. 2015


Scott Keyes, a reporter for Think Progress and author of the e-books “How To Fly For Free” and “How To Find Cheap Flights,” is an expert at finding affordable airfare.

Scott Keyes
Courtesy of Scott KeyesScott Keyes is an expert at traveling for cheap.

Keyes has become so gifted at landing supercheap tickets and getting the most out of his frequent-flier miles that he has booked an epic world trip that spans 13 countries, 20,000 miles, and 21 flights — all free.

He told Business Insider his process was a “labor of love” and that he enjoyed finding people the best deals he could. He created an email list to send friends updates on any amazing travel deals he finds while browsing Twitter or his RSS feed. When I spoke with Keyes, he even started giving me tips on how to find the most affordable ticket to a friend’s coming wedding in Scotland.

It’s safe to say he really loves this stuff.

And after spending five years dedicated to finding airline deals, Keyes now knows the best websites, tips, and hacks for getting tickets for dirt cheap prices.

Instead of heading to Priceline or Kayak the next time you’re planning a trip, try these three sites first:

TheFlightDeal.com

the flight dealTheFlightDeal.comThe Flight Deal is good at finding mistake fares that give travelers supercheap tickets.

“If I could recommend one website for people who want to get good deals for their flights, it’s TheFlightDeal.com,” Keyes told us.

Whether on Twitter or Facebook, through the newsletter, or on the site itself, TheFlightDeal.com posts what Keyes calls “fat-finger discounts,” or mistake fares that last for only a short time before airlines fix them.

Article continues:

THE RETRO ELECTRIC MOPED THAT’S TAKING OVER EUROPE – RENE CHUN GEAR March 2015


A moped spews more filth into the atmosphere than an 8-cylinder SUV. You didn’t know that? You would if you’ve ever been trapped behind one at a red light.  One study found that these tiny vehicles generate amounts of pollution “several orders of magnitude higher than the limit values admissible in Europe and the USA.” As the study authors put it, “Waiting behind a moped in traffic may, therefore, constitute a considerable health risk.” Not good.

To help rush-hour victims breathe easier, Dutch designer Ronald Meijs has created the Motorman, an electric “moped” that’s become the fashionable green machine for daily commuters throughout Europe. Motormans have been spotted on the cobbled streets of Amsterdam, Ibiza, Düsseldorf, Maastricht, Zurich, and Brussels; enough E.U. cities to fill a Jason Bourne itinerary.

The Motorman may fit the legal definition of a moped, but it has no pedals. The drivetrain is fully electric. No human power required. Tech-wise, though, this is no Tesla. The 2kw engine won’t allow you to do burnouts or evade the polizia. There’s no iPhone charger, blind spot detection sensor, or autonomous driving mode. Not even a lousy cup holder for your macchiato.

What you will get, though, is brilliant industrial design. While other moped and scooter companies are striving to make all their models look like Tron light cycles, Mr. Meijs has gone full retro. The Motorman—with its balloon tires, low-slung gas tank, oversized headlight, and spring-mounted leather seat—looks like a cross between a Schwinn cruiser and a 1915 Harley-Davidson.

A student of American culture, Meijs admits he mined inspiration for the design from the early board track racers that zipped around motordromes at the beginning of the last century. “This isn’t some alien machine from space,” he explains. “The antique motorcycle shape is instantly recognizable.” He adds that while his stylish two-wheeler is intended to be environmentally friendly, customers are attracted as much to the classic lines of its beefy tube frame as the zero-emission technology. Maybe more. “People smile when they see the Motorman on the street,” says the Dutch designer. “They love it because it transports them back to a time when life was easier and less complicated.”

The ride isn’t bad either. At just 99 pounds (less than half the weight of a typical moped), the Motorman is easy to balance and maneuver through congested streets. “If you can ride a bike,” says Meijs. “You can ride a Motorman.”

Article continues:

http://www.wired.com/2015/03/meijs-motorman/?mbid=social_fb