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Five Workplace Trends Will Shape Life After Lockdown


Dave Cook, UCL

We are experiencing the biggest remote work experiment in history – but many are beginning to imagine life after lockdown. Amid unprecedented global job losses, concerns about transport infrastructure and the continuing need for workplace social distancing, governments are launching back-to-work plans.

Meanwhile, the latest US research reveals that 74% of businesses want some workers to permanently work remotely and business leaders are actively shedding leased office space – hinting that not everyone will go back to the office.

Here are five key trends that will shape the future of how we work.

1. Commuting will change forever

We might miss the social interaction of the office, but most don’t miss commuting. This was one of the key findings in my four-year remote work study.

Before lockdown, US commute times reached record levels and most UK workers spent more than a year of their lives travelling to and from work. People tell me that a hybrid strategy of working from home two days a week, is one ideal scenario.

Nobody misses this. Shutterstock

Those eager to go back to the office will have to wait. Many will need to work from home for weeks or months to come. The situation is fluid, but governments are drawing up plans for workers to stagger working times, so public transport is not overwhelmed.

The genie is out of the bottle, and commuting is not going back to how it was.

2. Bad email etiquette won’t be tolerated

Workplace communication is rapidly transforming and email is a case in point. More than ever, creating a clear separation between work and leisure time is vital.

Research repeatedly shows that sending out-of-hours emails is not only bad etiquette – but creates a coercive work culture that requires people to be available 24/7. Social scientists argue this turns us into worker/smartphone hybrids and causes stress and burnout. Expecting quick answers to email is increasingly seen as bullying.

Many now realise that colleagues might need to work flexibly due to caring responsibilities. Lockdown has encouraged a new acceptance of flexibility. But this shouldn’t extend to having a culture that expects people to be available all the time.

3. Video calls will be limited

Zoom calls will remain part of our lives – but we will change and adapt how we use them. Research shows that video calls are more draining and tiring than in-person meetings.

Smile for the camera. Shutterstock

While video calls are appropriate for some meetings, we don’t need to use them for all our communication. Research suggests many are shifting back to phone calls – which as one manager explained to me “feels more spontaneous and flows better”.

4. More co-working spaces will emerge

Workers forced to continue working from cramped living spaces are desperate for alternatives. When lockdown lifts they will turn to the cafes and co-working spaces that are still in business. Before COVID-19 hit, co-working spaces were projected to increase more than 40% worldwide.

The paradox of remote working is that people crave the flexibility but know that being around others boosts productivity. My research shows that over time remote workers crave the physical closeness that comes with just being alongside other people. It’s exactly why in 2017 IBM pulled many employees back into the office, despite having previously published a 2014 white paper in support of remote working.

Coming soon to a high street near you. Shutterstock

Local co-working spaces, as opposed to big investor-funded brands such as WeWork, will do well. Independent co-working spaces in some areas were thriving before COVID-19 – they may become more mainstream if they survive lockdown.

5. Could we become part-time digital nomads?

Digital nomads are extreme remote workers that post Instagram stories from exotic locations. Right now, that lifestyle seems unrelatable, impossible and to many unethical.

Nonetheless, many decently paid workers in New York, London and Paris are stuck in uncomfortably small flats, dreaming of escape from lockdown. As a housing manager recently confided to me: “London living without nightlife and culture, isn’t fun. Everyone wants to escape to somewhere outdoorsy when allowed. I’m not sure I approve but it’s understandable.”

For now, remote working from different locations is not allowed. But the allure of relocating to a picturesque location remains – and Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBnB, is banking on it. He sees COVID-19 as a business opportunity and told Bloomberg: “People are realising they can work remote … that’s a huge opportunity.”

Not all will agree – it could cause long-term sustainability issues – and many will not have this privilege. But when lockdown fully lifts, who’s to say more people will not work remotely from different parts of the world, beyond their living rooms.

Dave Cook, PhD Researcher, Anthropology, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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As the coronavirus interrupts global supply chains, people have an alternative – make it at home

Many items labeled “Made in China” could be made on people’s desktops instead. kynny/iStock via Getty Images

Joshua M. Pearce, Michigan Technological University

As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on global supply chains, a trend of moving manufacturing closer to customers could go so far as to put miniature manufacturing plants in people’s living rooms.

Most products in Americans’ homes are labeled “Made in China,” but even those bearing the words “Made in USA” frequently have parts from China that are now often delayed. The coronavirus pandemic closed so many factories in China that NASA could observe the resultant drop in pollution from space, and some products are becoming harder to find.

A sample from the thousands of items that can be 3D printed from free designs. Joshua Pearce, CC BY-ND

But at the same time, there are open-source, freely available digital designs for making millions of items with 3D printers, and their numbers are growing exponentially, as is an interest in open hardware design in academia. Some designs are already being shared for open-source medical hardware to help during the pandemic, like face shields, masks and ventilators. The free digital product designs go far beyond pandemic hardware.

The cost of 3D printers has dropped low enough to be accessible to most Americans. People can download, customize and print a remarkable range of products at home, and they often end up costing less than it takes to purchase them.

From rapid prototyping to home factory

Not so long ago, the prevailing thinking in industry was that the lowest-cost manufacturing was large, mass manufacturing in low-labor-cost countries like China. At the time, in the early 2000s, only Fortune 500 companies and major research universities had access to 3D printers. The machines were massive, expensive tools used to rapidly prototype parts and products.

More than a decade ago, the patents expired on the first type of 3D printing, and a professor in Britain had the intriguing idea of making a 3D printer that could print itself. He started the RepRap project – short for self-replicating rapid prototyper – and released the designs with open-source licenses on the web. The designs spread like wildfire and were quickly hacked and improved upon by thousands of engineers and hobbyists all over the world.

Many of these makers started their own companies to produce variants of these 3D printers, and people can now buy a 3D printer for US$250 to $550. Today’s 3D printers are full-fledged additive manufacturing robots, which build products one layer at a time. Additive manufacturing is infiltrating many industries.

3D printers turn digital designs into toys, household items and even medical equipment. Monty Rakusen/Cultura via Getty Images

My colleagues and I have observed clear trends as the technology threatens major disruption to global value chains. In general, companies are moving from using 3D printing for prototyping to adopting it to make products they need internally. They’re also using 3D printing to move manufacturing closer to their customers, which reduces the need for inventory and shipping. Some customers have bought 3D printers and are making the products for themselves.

This is not a small trend. Amazon now lists 3D printing filament, the raw material for 3D printers, under “Amazon Basics” along with batteries and towels. In general, people will save 90% to 99% off the commercial price of a product when they print it at home.

Coronavirus accelerates a trend

We had expected that adoption of 3D printing and the move toward distributed manufacturing would be a slow process as more and more products were printed by more and more people. But that was before there was a real risk of products becoming unavailable as the coronavirus spread.

The U.S. government is curating a collection of 3D printing designs for medical personal protective equipment. Dr. Beth Ripley, VHA 3D Printing Network

A good example of sharp demand for 3D printed products is personal protective equipment (PPE). The National Institutes of Health 3D Print Exchange, a relativity small design repository, has exploded with new PPE designs.

Already, because of the global impact of the coronavirus, 94% of Fortune 1000 companies are having their supplies chains disrupted and businesses dependent on global sourcing are facing hard choices.

The value of industrial commodities continues to slide because the coronavirus has put a major dent in demand as manufacturers shut down and potential customers are quarantined. This will limit people’s access to products while increasing their costs.

The disruptions to global supply chains caused by strict quarantines, stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures in industrialized nations around the world present an opportunity for distributed manufacturing to fill unmet needs. Many people are likely, in the short to medium term, to find some products unavailable or overly expensive.

In many cases, they will be able to make the products they need themselves (if they have access to a printer). Our research on the global value chains found that 3D printing with plastics in particular are well advanced so any product with a considerable number of polymer components, even if the parts are flexible, can be 3D printed.

Beyond plastics

Making functional toys and household products at home is easy even for beginners. So are adaptive aids for arthritis patients and other medical products and sporting goods like skateboards.

Metal and ceramic 3D printing is already available and expanding rapidly for a range of items, from high-cost medical implants to rocket engines to improving simple bulk manufactured products with 3D printed brackets at low costs. Printable electronics, pharmaceuticals and larger items like furniture are starting to become available or will be in the near future. These more advanced 3D printers could help accelerate the trend toward distributed manufacturing, even if they don’t end up in people’s homes.

There are some hurdles, particularly for consumer 3D printing. 3D printing filament is itself subject to disruptions in global supply chains, although recyclebot technology allows people to create filament from waste plastic. Some metal 3D printers are still expensive and the fine metal powder many of them use as raw material is potentially hazardous if inhaled, but there are now $1,200 metal printers that use more accessible welding wire. These new printers as well as those that can do multiple materials still need development, and there’s a long way to go before all products and their components can be 3D printed at home. Think computer chips.

When my colleagues and I initially analyzed when products would be available for distributed manufacturing, we focused only on economics. If the coronavirus continues to disrupt supply chains and hamper international trade, however, the demand for unavailable or costly products could speed up the transition to distributed manufacturing of all products.

Joshua M. Pearce, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Is it time for a ‘new way of war?’ What China’s army reforms mean for the rest of the world

The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said,

Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Looking at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) today, it’s hard to say which of these tactics is most germane.

Getting the answer right will have enormous consequences for the United States and the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Underestimating the PLA breeds complacency and risks costly overreach. Overestimating the Chinese military grants it unwarranted advantage.

Similarly, for the Chinese leadership, miscalculating its military capability could lead to disaster.

As such, any serious appraisal of Chinese military power has to take the PLA’s progress – as well as its problems – into account. This was the focus of a recent study we undertook, along with retired US Army lieutenant colonel Dennis Blasko, for the Australian Department of Defence.

The PLA’s new-found might

By all appearances, the PLA has become a more formidable force over the past decade. The massive military parade in Beijing last October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China showed off more than 700 pieces of modern military hardware.

One of these weapons, displayed publicly for the first time, was the DF-41, China’s most powerful nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It is capable of hitting targets anywhere in the US.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has also expanded its military footprint in the South China Sea. Military experts say China has used the global distraction of the coronavirus pandemic to shore up its position even further, drawing rebukes from neighbours. Tensions have heightened in recent days as the US and Australia have sent warships into the sea for drills.

Read more: With China’s swift rise as naval power, Australia needs to rethink how it defends itself

In the past few years, China has also stepped up its military exercises around Taiwan and disputed waters near Japan, and last December, commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, into service with the PLA Navy.

The most recent annual assessment of the PLA by the Pentagon acknowledges China’s armed forces are developing the capability to dissuade, deter or, if ordered, defeat third-party armed forces (such as the US) seeking to intervene in “a large-scale, theatre campaign” in the region.

The report also expects the PLA to steadily improve its ability to project power into the Pacific and beyond.

Read more: Despite strong words, the US has few options left to reverse China’s gains in the South China Sea

recent study commissioned by the US Congress goes further, saying China’s strategy aims to

disrupt, disable or destroy the critical systems that enable US military advantage.

The report called for a “new American way of war”.

All of these highlight the increasing capabilities of the PLA and underscore the challenges China’s rising hard power pose to the United States and its regional allies. But what of the challenges the PLA itself faces?

A Chinese destroyer taking part in a naval parade off the eastern port city of Qingdao last year. Jason Lee/Reuters

Overcoming the ‘peace disease’

Interestingly, many of these problems are openly discussed in official Chinese publications aimed at a Chinese audience, but are curiously absent when speaking to a foreign audience.

Often, pithy formulaic sayings of a few characters summarise PLA shortcomings. For example, the “two inabilities” (两个能力不够), a term that has appeared hundreds of times in official Chinese media, makes reference to two shortcomings:

  • the PLA’s current ability to fight a modern war is insufficient, and
  • the current military commanders are also not up to the task.

Another frequent self-criticism highlights the “peace disease” (和平病), “peacetime habits” (和平积习) and “long-standing peace problems” (和平积弊).

The PLA was last at war in the mid-1980s, some 35 years years ago. Today’s Chinese military has very little combat experience.

Put more pointedly, far more soldiers serving in the PLA today have paraded down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing than have actually operated in combat.

Read more: Xi Jinping’s grip on power is absolute, but there are new threats to his ‘Chinese dream’

Owing to these and many other acknowledged deficiencies, Xi launched the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching reforms in the PLA’s history in late 2015.

This massive structural overhaul aims to transform the PLA from a bloated, corrupt and degraded military to one increasingly capable of fighting and winning relatively short, but intensive, conflicts against technologically sophisticated adversaries, such as the United States.

But, recognising how difficult this transformation will be, the Chinese political and military leadership has set out a decades-long timeline to achieve it.

DF-17 ballistic missiles on parade in Tiananmen Square last year. Xinhua News Agency handout/EPA

In Xi’s estimations, by 2020, the PLA’s mechanisation will be “basically achieved” and strategic capabilities will have seen major improvements; by 2035, national defence modernisation will be “basically completed”; and by mid-century, the PLA will be a “world-class military.”

In other words, this transformation – if successful – will take time.

At this relatively early point in the process, authoritative writings by PLA leaders and strategic analysts make clear that much more work is needed, especially more realistic training in joint operations, as well as improved leadership and greater communications integration across the services.

PLA modernisation depends more on “software” — human talent development, new war-fighting concepts and organisational transformation — than on the “hardware” of new weapons systems. This underscores the lengthy and difficult nature of reform.

‘Know the enemy and know yourself’

The many challenges facing the PLA’s reform effort suggest the Chinese leadership may lack confidence in its current ability to achieve victory against a strong adversary on the battlefield.

However, none of this means we should dismiss the PLA as a paper tiger. The recent indictment of PLA personnel for the 2017 hack of Equifax is a cautionary reminder of the Chinese military’s expansive capabilities.

Better hardware is not what China needs at the moment – it needs to improve its software. ROMAN PILIPEY/EPA

Rather, it means a prudent assessment of the PLA must take its strengths and weaknesses into account, neither overestimating nor underestimating either one. Should strategic competition between the US and China continue to escalate, getting this right will be more important than ever.

So, is China appearing weak when it is strong, or appearing strong when it is weak? Much current evidence points to the latter.

But this situation will change and demands constant reassessment. Another quotation from Sun Tzu is instructive:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

He added,

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sources: Bates Gill, Adam Ni, Macquarie University. The Conversation

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Redesigning social media platforms to reduce ‘FoMO’

Fear of missing out, or FoMO, is commonly described as that anxious feeling you get when you think other people might be having a good time without you.

Excessive FoMO is closely related to symptoms of behavioural addiction. It often leads to undesirable behaviour such as the constant checking of social media, even in an inappropriate context, like while driving, and becoming overly preoccupied with reactions to online posts and messages.

Our new research has identified the main triggers of this psychological phenomenon, the contexts in which it happens and the types of fears involved in it. We have also suggested new design features which social media platforms could introduce to minimise this most modern form of social anxiety.

Humans are fundamentally social creatures. Our identity, beliefs and behaviours come from and are shaped by our interactions with others. From those we know well, to fleeting moments of eye contact with the strangers we walk past on the street. Previous generations may have had periods of respite from the social world. But the emergence of social media platforms and smartphones means access to social information and interaction, 24 hours a day, has never been easier.

Tourists looking at their mobile phones instead of the passing sights at the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Bangkok, in February 2015. EPA/BARBARA WALTON

This constant flow of interaction has an effect, and despite the adage that nothing on the internet ever goes away, social information can expire and become less meaningful after time. For example, ongoing group chats, live streaming and direct messages which expect an immediate answer. When people fail to keep up with all these battling messages and streams, FoMO rears its ugly head.

FoMO sub-categories

In our research, we looked at the situations and contexts in which FoMO may be triggered and what fears are encountered.

FoMO as a singular concept is an oversimplification. In contrast to the common idea of FoMO happening due to disconnection from the internet and social media (like losing signal or a dead battery), we found that it often happens when people are indeed connected. For example, when people have multiple devices and social media accounts and have little time or desire to check them all, they may fear missing important messages and events.

FoMO can also happen when people get frustrated by others not responding, despite receiving and reading messages. They may fear that they have missed out on previous interactions and missed out on the chance to show empathy. In addition to these, we discovered a number of sub-fears, such as:

  • fear of missing the opportunity to gain popularity. This happens if one is late in responding to others and in expressing empathy when needed
  • fear of missing valuable information
  • fear of being excluded from social groups due to lack of timely engagement
  • fear of inciting negative reactions

FoMO has been associated with feelings of stress and anxiety and concerns around how we relate to each other online and what our expectations are. This is why social networks in their current designs are seen by many as antisocial tools, aiming mainly to attract people’s attention but focusing less on a healthy and humanised interaction.

FoMO also leads to questions about the role of technology in harming people’s wellbeing and the limited availability of tools and design features to help them regulate and shape their online social presence and identity. The Google Digital Wellbeing initiative is an example of efforts in that direction, with a focus on screen time awareness and management and novel ways for managing notifications and cool-off times.

In our assessment of social media platforms we noted how design features may trigger FoMO in users. For example, the basic feature of showing how many likes a post has received may create a fear that the user is missing out on indicators of social approval – something that has been demonstrated to be linked to emotional wellbeing.

Other features, such as the double tick delivery and notification feature in WhatsApp, may create a preoccupation with social relationships. So FoMO can be triggered when a user begins wondering why friends are not responding, despite reading the message. This can be a risk since, as demonstrated within social psychological research, people often make mistakes in their explanation and interpretation of the behaviour of others.

Read more: Social media is as harmful as alcohol and drugs for millennials

A message left on “unread” or unanswered, for instance, may be interpreted by the sender as a snub, when in reality the recipient could have intended to do so but then lost their wifi connection or entered a meeting.

Design solutions

Technology can enhance existing problems, but it can also be used to bring about positive change. It can do so in an intelligent and interactive way. From the discussions we have had with people experiencing FoMO, we have identified a number of possible designs that could be implemented in a way that cross cut all their social media accounts, including:

  • Setting priority lists so that a person receives messages and notifications only for important events and topics and from selected sources, groups and contacts that they care about.
  • Allowing easy filtering, event recording and recapping so that a person can come back to social media in their own time without missing the temporarily available information and – at the same time – without being overwhelmed with pending notifications, content and interactions.
  • Enabling people to specify their social interaction protocol. For example, similar to setting privacy settings, users can specify that they do not always respond to comments and their presence online is sporadic so that others should not expect them to be fully engaged all the time.

Tech companies are conflicted between their goal of having as many users as possible on the one hand and their need to balance that with user wellbeing on the other. As an alternative, we propose a liberal and open model that allows applications and services – developed by third parties that are trusted and authorised by the user – to access their social media accounts and online usage data with the aim of helping them to regulate FoMO and the problematic attachment to digital media in general.

Sources: Raian Ali, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, John McAlaney, Bournemouth University, Aarif Alutaybi, Bournemouth University, The Conversation

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More than 2 million US adults with heart disease have used marijuana

Over two million U.S. adults with cardiovascular disease have smoked marijuana, and the substance may carry increased cardiovascular risks, new research indicates.

The study informs questions about the health impacts of policy changes on marijuana. Marijuana use remains illegal federally, but is legal medically in 33 states and the District of Columbia and recreationally in 11 states and D.C. It also makes the case for more research on the effects of marijuana, especially among people with heart disease.

The paper was published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. It combines a review of the research on cardiovascular risks linked to marijuana use with an analysis of national survey data on use of marijuana in the U.S.

Using data collected through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2015 to 2016, the researchers estimate that of the 89.6 million adults in the U.S. who had at some point used marijuana, about 2 million of them had cardiovascular disease – including congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, or a heart attack.

“That’s an incredible number of people, and even since that time, we know that marijuana use has increased dramatically in the United States,” says Ersilia M. DeFilippis, MD, lead author of the paper and cardiology fellow at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

“What’s more, there may be many people who are at risk for cardiovascular disease but may not be diagnosed,” she adds. “That just highlights how important it is for us to get good data in this area.”

Currently there is a dearth of controlled research on the subject because marijuana remains classified federally as a Schedule I substance, a Drug Enforcement Administration categorization that indicates these substances have “no currently accepted medical use in the United States,” and a high potential for abuse.

“We know from at least epidemiological studies that marijuana use has been associated with a variety of cardiovascular conditions, including abnormal heart rhythms, weakening of the heart muscle, heart attacks, as well as stroke,” DeFilippis says. Her paper highlights a meta-analysis that finds smoking marijuana was one of the top three triggers of heart attack. Another highlighted study finds that among 334 patients younger than 45 who had experienced a stroke, 17% were cannabis users.

“We have data that suggests these associations,” DeFilippis says. “But we really need to have better controlled studies, to be able to better inform people.”

While research on the health effects of marijuana by delivery method — smoking, ingestion, topical application — is also scarce, DeFilippis points out research finds that inhaled marijuana smoke is, chemically, quite similar to tobacco smoke.

“Although the active ingredients of the cannabis plant differ from those of the tobacco plant, each produces about 4,000 chemicals when smoked and these are largely identical,” finds a 2003 study in The BMJ comparing marijuana and tobacco.

“Given how we accept that smoking is a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, what does that mean for marijuana? And how do we counsel patients?” DeFilippis says.

The research review also highlights known interactions between marijuana and heart medications. Statins, for example, which are prescribed to lower cholesterol levels, can be affected by marijuana use. Levels of statins in the blood may increase when used with marijuana because of how the body metabolizes those substances. Levels of blood thinners, which are used to prevent stroke, and beta blockers, which lower blood pressure, can also increase due to marijuana use.

Further, because marijuana’s chemical composition varies between different strains, medication interactions are “unpredictable,” DeFilippis says.

Given that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., DeFilippis urges people who have or are at risk for heart disease to talk with their doctors about their marijuana use, whether it’s recreational or medical.

“Hopefully, with more data, we can help to provide more guidelines for doctors,” she says. “But we do know that for people who are using marijuana and on cardiovascular medications, it will be important for cardiologists as well as our pharmacy colleagues to be aware of potential drug interactions in that setting.”

This article first appeared on Journalist’s Resource and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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How oil prices got wrapped up in the Coronavirus outbreak

A novel coronavirus is affecting countries in every habitable continent, with recent shocks to oil prices only the latest wrinkle in the unfolding outbreak.

During trading on March 9, crude oil prices dropped to half what they were in January. This is an example of an oil shock. A shock is a massive change — in this case, in the price of a commodity that powers the global economy.

U.S. stock markets were down well over 5% by midday, with trading briefly halted and crude oil stocks hit particularly hard. Crude oil is used to make vehicle gasoline, jet fuel, heating fuel and to produce energy.

“My view is the downturn in the market is due to the virus,” says University of Oregon associate professor of finance Rob Ready, author of “Oil Prices and the Stock Market,” a February 2018 paper in the Review of Finance. “The oil prices are a sideshow.”

The oil shock, Ready says, is still adding uncertainty to equities markets already rattled by the new coronavirus. Oil stocks are down and airline stocks continue to fall, too. Still, he says it’s difficult to draw a stark line between this particular oil shock and recent ongoing stock market losses — considering the context that the volatility is happening alongside a global coronavirus outbreak.

“But that becomes a much more subtle story,” Ready says.

Here’s how oil prices became wrapped up in the novel coronavirus outbreak, and what the research says about how oil market volatility and stock prices usually interact.

Less demand — more supply?

The plunging price-per-barrel for crude oil comes down to simple supply-and-demand economics.

The novel coronavirus has hurt demand for travel and, as a result, has lowered demand for oil. Some companies in China, where the novel coronavirus originated, have mandated that employees telework. The European Parliament has told employees with health conditions to work from home, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management wants federal agencies to be ready to have employees telework.

Amazon, Google and other major U.S. companies have halted or restricted international travel. Usually well-attended conferences and events have been canceled, like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Cities in hard-hit regions, like northern Italy, are turning into ghost towns without tourists.

The result is less travel, less gasoline and jet fuel being used, and less crude oil demand. And it’s not just consumers, airlines and conference organizers being affected. With supply chains from China disrupted for weeks, U.S. transportation companies of all stripes are facing uncertainty.

“The trucking industry is very concerned,” says Steven Polunksy, director of the Alabama Transportation Policy Research Center at the University of Alabama and recent author of a primer on how the novel coronavirus is slowing transportation industries. “They don’t know if the impact will be a shortage of truckers because of illness, or if it’s how truckload shipments will be affected. Our shipping ports are very concerned and seeing impacts already. The question is, how long is this bubble [of uncertainty] going to last?”

Polunksy also notes that more people staying home could lead to more shipments by van and small trucks, due to people ordering groceries and other essentials online.

Amid lower demand for oil, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries — OPEC — responded with a plan to cut production. OPEC is an international organization with 14 member nations that influence global oil prices by managing the amount of oil they produce. Collectively OPEC controls some 80% of the world’s oil reserves. Supply from OPEC nations is a key driver of oil prices, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Major oil producers Russia and the U.S. are not members, but Russia has closely aligned with OPEC since 2017 — until now. Russia refused to go along with OPEC’s production cuts. Saudi Arabia, a powerful OPEC-member country, responded by cutting prices and raising their own production.

The situation now is this: a novel coronavirus is reducing oil demand. Major oil producers are increasing supply. There is much more oil than there is demand, and that, coupled with direct price cuts from Saudi Arabia, is why per-barrel prices are low.

Usually, stock prices reflect oil fluctuations

Under normal circumstances, when there isn’t a global outbreak of a new virus, research shows oil shocks and stock prices are closely linked. It’s been that way since the Great Recession, though before the late-2000s there was little relationship between the two, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Since then, a growing body of research has established that linkage.

For example, research from October 2018 in Energy Economics finds “a greater degree of interconnectedness across crude oil and financial markets” since the recession. Likewise, from a November 2018 paper in the Review of Financial Economics: “There is strong evidence that changes in oil prices have a significant effect on the financial markets and the overall economy.”

Research from February 2016 in Energy Economics finds that stock markets react poorly in the short-term, up to five days, when oil prices are volatile. Similarly, high volatility in oil prices can reduce global industrial production by .3%, according to research from August 2014 in the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking. Yet more research, published in June 2018 in the Journal of Empirical Finance, finds volatility in oil trading can forecast short-term stock fluctuations.

The reason for the typically robust link between oil and stock prices isn’t yet fully understood.

“In the financial crisis you had this giant shock to economic activity in the stock market, and oil prices went down a lot,” Ready says. “My view is people realized they were more closely linked, but there are lots of different theories. I haven’t seen one explanation everyone accepts.”

Roman Ferrer, an economist at the University of Valencia in Spain and co-author of the October 2018 Energy Economics paper, agrees that prior to the financial crisis the risk of real losses in energy and financial markets, and the inter-connectedness of those markets, had been been underestimated.

“If the world economy is working well, the aggregate demand rises and the oil and stocks increase in unison,” Ferrer explained in an email. “If the world economy is slowing down, oil and stock markets fall together.”

For more JR coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, check out these 5 tips for covering the outbreak and what the research says so far about how the virus is infecting the economy.

This article first appeared on Journalist’s Resource and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Microsoft Announces New Surface Lineup

Microsoft Surface Go 2

The most notable change is the bigger display up .5 of an inch to 10.5. The Go and Go 2 are the same size but the bezels have been made smaller. They’re not as slim as the sides found on their Pro X, but who currently wants that considering it can’t run x86/64 without emulation, right?

The resolution has been bumped to 1920×1280. Their base model (the one to avoid) has that nasty Pentium Gold processor comes in at $400 (They haven’t updated Ireland’s store yet).

The new Core m3 model is where it’s going to be at. It’s an 8th Gen processor and they state that it’ll have a 64% performance increase. Which should be sufficient as the original Surface Go was 40% slow.

The m3 model also comes with SSD instead of eMMC so performance gains all-round here. There’s also 8GB of RAM and a price tag of $629. (Probably around €580).

You can of course get the Gold processor combined with 128GB SSD which would alone be a good increase of speed over the original Surface, but if you’re going to spend any extra money – it should be for that processor.

Surface Go 2 – Source:

Microsoft Surface Go 2 – Source: Microsoft Surface – Youtube

Microsoft Surface Book 3

Microsofts new heavy hitter in the form of the Surface Book 3 is their most powerful laptop to date. It’s solely geared towards professionals who require desktop level performance on the go.

Microsoft claim it will have a 50% increase in speed over the old model ‘Surface Book 2’ and up to 17.5hours of battery life. Whoa, that alone makes me want to consider one! My Macbook barely gets 5.

It will come in two sizes 13″ and 15″ high DPI PixelSense displays, 10th Generation Intel Core processors and a choice between Geforce GTX or Quadro RTX GPUs (Wow!). You can max it out with 32GB of RAM. This will be a content creation powerhouse.

Surface Book 3 starting price is $1599 and available from the 21st of May.

Microsofts latest Surface Book 3 – Source: Microsoft Surface – Youtube

Microsoft Surface Earbuds

Earbuds are earbuds right?…. Not exactly

These new Surface Earbuds have some interesting features. You can let your voice do the typing – using Microsoft 365, you can type using dictation in Word, Excel or Powerpoint & Outlook email. Imagine that, working while going for a run. Madness.

Microsoft Earbuds snugly fit into your ear with a stylistic design. – Source:

They come featured with intuitive touch and voice control, all day battery, four in-ear anchor points to help with weight distributing comfort and three sets of silicone ear tips.

Full gesture support tap, touch and swipe meaning you can skip, change volume, call or get assistance with ease.

Microsoft Surface Earbuds – Source: Microsoft Surface – Youtube

Omnisonic Sound?!

They come with ‘omnisonic’ sound as Microsoft states. To us common folk that means custom designed precision drivers to deliver a great experience. Sorry Microsoft but aren’t all speakers “custom” and “designed to deliver exceptional acoustic experiences”. We’ll see. They also feature dual microphones which is the norm these days.


Microsoft are claiming their upcoming Earbuds will have 8 hours on a single charge and 24 hours total from the case.

Please note that the smaller print states:
[2] Pairing functionality requires a Surface PC running Windows 10 with the latest updates.
[3] Fast Pair requires Android Nougat.

They come in at USD $199 launch price, a $50 reduction than the retail.

Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

Offering better battery life & sound than its predecessor (Shouldn’t every product do that?) Anyway their first ones were a complete flop as they were charging top-tier Sony prices, and had no distinct advantages against the competiton.

Microsofts sleek looking Surface Earphones 2 – Source:

This time they’ve knocked the price considerably (US prices for original were $350, now $249 for the 2nd iteration) so they’re competing with an entirely different market. Way to say “We can’t compete with that quality or price”, Microsoft.

The design is much the same except they now come in black, have a cushy plush material on the top. Functionality in the design differs though, as the ear cups rotate 180 degrees to make them more comfortable for around your neck.

It has the same physical dials which seemed a little weird on the original model, but in the real world work better than touch controls. These are used for managing volume and its 13 levels of noise cancellation. They look like they’re made to last too!

Inner gears of the dial mechanism in the Surface Earphones 2 – Source:

They still feature a 40mm “Free Edge” driver as before.

All in all, the battery life would make it an ideal companion for anyone that travels a lot or requires a full days work without absoulutely peeling themselves off the floor when they trip over the cable. Though it’s battery life is still not as generous as Sony’s 30 hours of battery on their 1000XM3.

Microsoft’s latest Surface Headphones 2 – Source: Microsoft Surface – Youtube

The Surface Headphones 2 will be retailing for $249 USD, and they’ll hit stores on May 12th. For us in Ireland – who knows. Soon I hope.

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Apple’s Made It Less Annoying To Unlock Your Phone When Wearing A Mask

Currently, when an iPhone owner swipes to unlock their device – It will try to scan their face if Face ID is enabled on the device. If they are wearing a mask though, You need to tap the Face ID prompt or wait for the scan to fail before you can unlock your phone by typing in your passcode on a second screen prompt.

This latest update simply removes the wait for the Face ID unlock to fail.

When you first swipe to unlock, the device will attempt to scan their face while also offering a passcode input option on the same screen (Why this wasn’t done in the first place I’ll never know)

It only asks you to enter a passcode if the device detects that your mouth is covered though (Maybe this will work with an unruly beard which I’m sure some of you have right now!). If you’re not wearing a mask, Face ID will work as normal. 

Unfortunately this iOS Beta isn’t available to the public as of yet.

You currently have two options to sort out this issue

You can shut off Face ID completely in the settings of your device and just type your passcode eavery time you want to unlock your device.

Or you can also try to make use of a workaround that involves taking a new Face ID scan with a mask covering half of your mouth.

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Robots Connecting Elderly With Loved Ones During Coronavirus

zorabots james

The Belgian AI / Robotics company is lending a (friendly) army of robots to nursing homes to help residents keep in contact with all of their loved ones after the government banned visitors to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The company, named ‘Zorabots’, said they would initially loan 60 of its robots named “James” to nursing homes as a trial, and if successful it could lend hundreds more if required. The friendly helper robot can navigate rooms, connect with others through video chat on Facebook or Messenger. They really should have called them Jeeves.

Josef Gouwy 93 happily waves to a family member on the ‘James’ robot’s “face” in Ostend, Belgium.

Belgium’s government has banned visitors from nursing homes much like Ireland, alongside measures including limiting shop opening times and closing schools to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Nele Vandewiele, director of Residential Care for the city’s government stated that the robots could help residents who were missing contact with the outside world and their families.

zora bots james
Adree Desmaelle, 76, happily getting a demonstration on how to connect to one of her family members

ZoraBots is an interactive and caring Robotic platform solution which runs on the world’s most popular “humanoid type” AI Robots, such as ‘Pepper’, which is often used for education as well as healthcare.

ZoraBots is an interactive and caring platform solution which runs on the world’s most popular humanoid robots. ZoraBots makes friendly, intelligent companions with just one goal: making your life better- more comfortable, fun, healthier and relaxed.


Video source Softbank Robotics

Do you think Ireland should be doing the same?

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Burglar Steals VAN GOGH in Dutch Museum During Coronavirus Lockdown

van gogh

The security footage shows a thief smashed the doors of Singer Laren museum using a sledgehammer to steal the Vincent van Gogh painting “Lentetuin” or “Spring Garden” worth €2.97 million. The museum is currently shut down due to coronavirus pandemic.

The Singer Laren Museum in Laren, Netherlands.

The footage originated on Dutch TV in the hopes of catching the unidentified suspect. Some clips of the footage have been held by Police in the hopes of aiding the investigation.

The recently stolen “Spring Garden” by Vincent Van Gogh

As per the CCTV film, at 3:15 a.m. March 30th, the thief showed up outside the Museum riding a motorbike – alone. In the following seconds, he crushed the tempered glass doors of the Singer Laren gallery and made his way inside.

The museums doors at that point had been shut since Mar. 12 after the Dutch government prohibited events of in excess of 100 individuals due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He entered the exhibition hall through the gift shop. At that point, with a couple of hits to another glass entryway, he got entry to the main Gallery before leaving with the fine piece of art tucked under his arm and a sledgehammer in the other.

The burglar leaving with the Van Gogh in one hand, sledgehammer in other.
Source: Korps Nationale Politie

While the burglary had set off the alarm systems, the thief was well gone when the police showed up.

In a press briefing, Singer Laren’s Managing Director ‘Evert van Os’ defended the museum’s security. 

The burglar broke through some doors and several layers of security that had been approved by security experts

Well… clearly.

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Covid19 – Coronavirus Cases Ireland & Globally


[cvct title=”Coronavirus Ireland” country-code=”IE” label-total=”Total Cases” label-deaths=”Death Cases” label-recovered=”Recovered Cases” bg-color=”#23282D” font-color=”#fff”]

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths

Daily deaths (Per Million People)

Daily Confirmed Deaths Compared

Country comparison of daily deaths (Rolling 3 day average)

Global Confirmed Cases

Global Top Countries

Interactive Map

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Apps That Automatically Sort Your Files

We’ve all been there, Desktop and Download folder absolutely covered with files and then it takes an hour or more to sort it.

What if i told you there was an easier way?

You can download Apps for Windows & Mac That will sort your files according to terms you pick. Such as file type, location, size… This can happen either when an App is downloaded or when you scan certain folders using the app.

Great, now what do I do? Download some of these programs and try them out yourself!

1. DropIt

DropIt was selected as number one mainly because it’s free, and it gives you the basics of automatic file movement. There are no “if” or “then” statements at play here, which I personally find quite handy for automatically sorting and renaming Photos.

To organize files, you need to create some rules and actions. You Right click the float icon and choose Associations then Click on the + button to create rules. You can drag/drop files & folders into the icon also to start processing them.

Dropit – Source: Dropit

“You can define how to filter your files (by name, directory, size, date, properties, content, regular expressions) and associate one of the 21 available actions to perform (Move, Copy, Compress, Extract, Rename, Delete, Split, Join, Encrypt, Decrypt, Open With, Print, Upload, Send by Mail, Create Gallery, Create List, Create Playlist, Create Shortcut, Copy to Clipboard, Change Properties and Ignore)” – Dropit

Some other noteworthy features of DropIt are group association – e.g. one profile for work, one for home. You can also SPLIT and JOIN files or send files via Email using Dropit, which is pretty awesome

You can download DropIt here

2. File Juggler

File Juggler is free for 30 days then €47.00 after the trial expires. It probably is the most extensive on this list, so you would be better suited to at least try DropIt first, see how much it gets used then decide if you want to move to File Juggler.

Some of the features are moving files, renaming files, deleting files, organizing documents such as looking for keywords or dates in the contents of the files and then move/delete/rename them according to what it finds and where you specify to move it.

FileJuggler – Source:

The layout might seem a bit ‘algebra’ at first but really, it’s quite simple. You set the folders you want to monitor, then “if” any of the following – file extension is pdf / doc / ppt / xlsx.. “Then” Move file to “Documents”

You can download the free trial of FileJuggler here

3. Easy File Organizer

Easy file Organizer is another freemium option with some unique features such as charts showing you how many items you’ve organized, their kind, amount, size, date etc.

You can sort files by kind, extension, size, date, including searching in sub-folders, using custom rules. One nice feature is organizing files into folders generated from the file name – Which comes in very useful for photos.

Easy File Organizer – Source:

With Easy File Organizer you can set up multiple folders to be searched using the same filter. For example you have documents in your Documents folder, on your USB sticks & External Hard drives (Or want to save them to your External HDD) and also in your Downloads folder. You can then scan all of these directories automatically and put them wherever you want depending on filetype. So PDF’s could go into Documents/PDF and DOC files could go into Documents/

Another nifty feature is that all this is always reversible, so you can undo it if you can’t find something you just Downloaded for example.

You can download the free trial or buy Easy File Organizer here

Mac Option

“What about Mac” you say? Well, I’m actually using a ‘Mac’ and there (in my opinion) is only one option worth noting. It’s light weight, easy to use and un-obtrusive. It also gives a little popup every time it redirects a file, which is useful because you can click it and go straight to the file in Finder.


This thing is a godsend for Mac users, as we all know Finder is a bit of a nightmare to navigate sometimes.

Hazel can do almost everything any of the above can, but it has some extras that are awesome, such as moving files depending on what site they were downloaded from.

Hazel – Source:

Hazel can open, archive, tag and even upload. It will also delete your trash automatically after a certain time or if it’s over a certain size. Some of its other useful actions to note are: Spotlight integration, Photos & iTunes importing, Notifications, Tags, AppleScript & Automator. 

So for example, if you download a mp3 or album, it can automatically import it into iTunes to a specific playlist depending on what you choose – for e.g. Artist name, genre etc.

Hazel costs €30, and a free trial can be downloaded from here

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The Truth About The iPhone SE

Now before I start, I am a fan of some Apple products, I have owned numerous and still own some.

But these products are the original iPad Air, a 2014 MacBook Pro Retina 15 and up until recently a iPhone 7 (we’ll get to that shortly)

The newest iPhone SE to put quite frankly; is a bit of a joke. It looks like a phone that Apple just made from leftovers and bares no real resemblance to the original SE which was a massive hit.

The old vs the new

Why anyone would want a phone that looks like a 3 year old iPhone which at the time of released already looked old because all of the competitors were moving to semi-fullscreen phones. Keeping in mind the first SE was only a year beforehand. If they had any sense they would have made the SE design the same but slimmer and slightly larger. And let’s be honest they should have put two cameras in it at the very least. The 11’s camera is good but for the price – not really.

The reason people bought the original iPhone SE was for two reasons. It was small, fast, capable but more importantly for Apple users – it looked like a new iPhone and was stylish. The new iPhone SE in 2020 is neither of those things.

Keep in mind Apple recently started trying to sell castor’s for a Mac pro for 700 dollars. Four simple feet is 400 dollars. They’re really pushing the envelope on what they expect people to pay for these days.

Prime example being I traded my second hand iPhone 7 complete with dying battery for a brand new Huawei p20 lite with 48mp triple camera setup. It would have cost me an extra 250 euro to upgrade to an iPhone 8 which is really not much different to the 7.

The ecosystem of Apple is a great one but they’ve come to the point that the ecosystem is just too hard for the average person to easily join it. The very reason I don’t have an iMac or Mac Pro as I just made a hackintosh. It’s nothing but overpriced hardware. The only logical reason to get one is the software.

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Best Websites To Buy Tools

This is a collection of websites that I have collected, Which have the best prices for tools online & deliver to Ireland & UK.

  • Amazon UK – Surprisingly enough, Amazon a lot of the time had tools cheaper than local stores, other online stores such as Screwfix. If you have Amazon Prime – this is better again with Prime delivery.
  • Axminster Tools – Great selection, More for the ‘bigger tools’ for me. Lathes, bench grinders etc. Worldwide delivery.
  • Screwfix – If you don’t already know about Screwfix, I don’t know how. Fast delivery is the reason you’ll pay that little bit more with these guys. If you can’t find a fastener or fixing on here, there’s something wrong with you.
  • Caulfield Industrial – Great selection of absolutely everything with these guys. From hand-tools to drills & thermal imagers. Snickers workwear is reasonably priced. A lot of industrial machinery also like presses and welders.
  • Ray Grahams – One of my favorite Irish sites. Some items are cheaper than you’ll find anywhere else. But for example – I picked up a Weller soldering iron in Homebase for 9 euro! And Ray Graham’s have the very same one up for 63 euro. Same goes with ratchet spanners – One draper 10mm ratchet spanner is €11, where I got a 10mm Wera Joker ‘holding’ ratchet spanner on amazon for €11. One unique part of Ray Grahams is you can order pallets of supplies. E.g. 624 Heat logs for 462 inc VAT. You could easily sell these at €1.50 per log & 5 for €5, leaving a tidy profit after claiming the VAT back.
  • Rutlands – Rutlands has a vast collection of Woodwork specific tools & supplies. Some unique stuff here, Such as T tracks, router tables, roller stands and dovetail jigs.
  • Toolstop – Some great prices can be found here for specific items. I bought a Stanley toolbag very cheap from here. Also Knipex cobra pliers were cheaper here for me than anywhere else. Including Amazon.
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Websites for Copyright/Royalty Free Images and Music

Frustrated every time you go to make some content whether it’s a video or a website and you always come across some Pinterest link or Shutterstock? Me too.

Here’s some links to Copyright free content.

Annoyed every time you want to find an image but it has a watermark? Look no further.

Images –

Free downloads when you sign up with a Free user account:

Free downloads with no user account needed:

Music/Audio –

Free downloads, no user account needed:

Do you know any other good sites? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.