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Business Leaders Can Help Boost Growth in Post GFC-World

We enter 2014, the Chinese year of the horse, with the global economy in much better shape and further signs of recovery in many major economies. Setting aside some not unexpected volatility as the US Federal Reserve begins to reduce supportive monetary policy, market sentiment has improved.

We are seeing good growth in the US; Japan’s policies seem to be having an effect, China’s growth remains robust and Euro area growth is showing some signs of picking up while the banking system’s stability is improving – although obviously I touch wood when I say this. In emerging market economies, significant progress has been made in improving their openness and resilience to market fluctuations.

Two main challenges lay ahead for the global economy and they are ones business leaders are discussing over the next few days in Sydney where I have been chairing the B20 Financing Growth Taskforce as part of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meetings.

G20 Finance Ministers led by Australia’s Treasurer Joe Hockey want to achieve growth and create jobs. They may well agree on a G20 growth target. Business leaders – through the B20 business leaders’ forum – can help them develop and achieve their growth strategies. The G20’s plans to foster private sector growth will hopefully align to our views and I know Treasurer Hockey is committed to deepening G20-business engagement.

Economic growth, critically, depends on the availability of credit. One of the major impediments to the expansion of credit is the overhang of uncertainty about regulation. For business, and for the global economy, the best outcome will be for the G20 Finance Ministers to finish implementing what was earlier agreed, pause and take stock of the ‘real economy’ effects of post-GFC regulation.

We are now in a post-GFC recovery phase and emphasis should increasingly shift to actions which restore confidence in markets, support business growth and create jobs. A key direction being taken by the B20 Financing Growth task force is better understanding the cumulative ‘real economy’ effects of the post GFC regulation. We aim to illustrate this to the Finance Ministers and G20 leaders.

The B20 could and would be willing to take a bigger role in assisting G20 Ministers develop and implement their reform agenda, including the development of regulations by the international regulatory bodies, Basel Banking Committee, FSB and IOSCO. More intense engagement would deliver better designed rules and possibly speedier implementation and a clearer identification of priorities. The existing G20 commitments need to be completed as the true benefit of reforms comes from wide spread adoption and the reduction in systemic risk. Having “real world” business people involved, who are more sensitive to the practical consequences, is vital.

I believe this business engagement is particularly important for emerging markets which will provide the “delta” or extra growth for the global economy as growth in the mature west moderates. B20 members are particularly concerned growth in emerging market economies is being slowed by the multiplicity of new regulatory standards.

It is important that any principle or rules-based approaches adopted by international regulators accounts for financial systems that are at different stages of development. Asia, which will be half the global economy by 2050, needs to be more central in this discussion. The adoption of policies that open up markets and reduce barriers to increased trade and capital flows will underpin growth in all countries.

Governments and the private sector should also focus on stimulating significant economic growth through prudent infrastructure investments. There are currently large pools of long-term funds, such as pension funds, insurance companies and sovereign wealth funds looking for appropriate investments. The tightening of prudential and regulatory requirements for banks means that there is an increasing role to play in infrastructure financing by capital markets and institutional investors.

This is the way forward for global growth, a proper focus for the G20 and a cause in which the B20 is both willing and able to assist. It is not time to forget the lessons learned or the effects of the crisis but it is time to focus on growth and creating jobs.


Photo Credit: Getty Images / Bloomberg

Posted by:Mike Smith

On the NSA: How Well-Meaning Bureaucrats Build a Surveillance State

On Thursday, the Guardian published a secret government order that forces an arm of Verizon to turn over the phone calling records of its mobile customers every day, for three months, to the U.S. government.

In one sense, the story was a massive scoop showing how the government’s secret surveillance programs work and what the government thinks the limits of the Constitution are.

In another sense, it just confirms the details of what’s been known in the bones and reported for years — the nation’s telecoms function as an extension of the U.S. government’s intelligence apparatus.

The latter interpretation was given weight by the nation’s top senators on Tuesday, who defended the order, saying this kind of collection has been going on for seven years and, perhaps, best of all, that no citizen has complained.

So don’t be too particularly pissed at Verizon, however pliant the telecom has been in the past. The order is likely routine and something every telecom gets. It’s very likely that similar orders are dropped on the nation’s credit card companies and ISPs.

What does the revelation mean?

Very simply, it means that the government is likely running a secret, massive data-mining operation. At the very least, the feds are collecting and storing huge amounts of data so that they can tell which numbers are calling which numbers. Think of it as how the Internet is built of links. There’s a lot of knowledge just in those links.

Then, say, the feds get a tip about a potential spy — they can then figure out that person’s phone number, query their giant database and see all the numbers that number was in contact with, and what numbers those numbers were in contact with — and then use other tools to force phone providers to disclose the names associated with those accounts.

Or, one could, following the dreams of John Poindexter, run pattern matching software on the metadata, looking for patterns of communication that resemble those of a terrorist cell. There you’re seeking to find the “bad guys” before they strike, albeit with the very real probability that the feds will put under suspicion political movements, knitting circles, book groups, etc.

That would mean the the government is likely still running, at least in part, the Total Information Awareness program that was ostensibly shut down 10 years ago, and the Verizon order is, in all likelihood, just a sliver of the government’s secret data collection about American citizens.

The collection of the metadata is legally predicated on a maximalist interpretation of an obscure catch-all provision of the PATRIOT Act known as the business records provision.

It was meant to augment the powers to wiretap and physically search targets in a terrorism investigation. Sec. 215 was there to give terrorism investigators a way to get other kinds of records, say from a rental car agency suspected of being used by a known suspect.

But instead of being targeted, it’s being used as a dragnet.

The government tells a secret court that phone records are relevant to counter-terrorism or intelligence, and the court gives them a three-month order — every three months.

Sec. 215 wasn’t intended to let the feds collect all the things all the time, but it seems some clever lawyer in the Obama administration came up, sometime around 2009, with a secret, broad interpretation that passed muster with a secret court.

But there’s something very intriguing of note in the order. The government asked for all the data on which numbers called which numbers and when and where — but explicitly ordered Verizon not to provide the names and billing information on those accounts.

It’s an odd way to narrow the request, because there’s nothing in Sec. 215 that prevents the collection of names. There are rules that force the NSA to anonymize (“minimize”) the names of Americans caught on its wiretaps, but that wouldn’t apply here — this is meta-data, not content.

So why would the feds explicitly say they don’t want the names?

My guess is that it’s a policy choice driven by the desire to be able to say technically accurate, though highly misleading, things, like, “The NSA is not creating dossiers on Americans.” But that’s only narrowly true because the data doesn’t have names attached — even though attaching names is a very simple matter.

But that leaves us with a few cold truths:

1) The NSA, thanks to the original warrantless wiretapping program started in 2001 and this program continued after, no longer believes that it should not be spying on Americans. That used to be the NSA’s honor code after the abuses of the 60s and 70s. It no longer exists.

2) The Obama administration’s interpretation of Sec. 215 to allow the collection of databases full of information on American citizens’ lawful activity on an ongoing daily basis is extremely dangerous.

The Administration will say that it’s not really so bad because they don’t know names. But they only don’t know names because of a policy decision that could fall at any time in this administration or the next.

The interpretation also makes it possible for the government to order any company to turn over, on a regular daily basis, all of the records to be stored indefinitely. Those could include health records, purchase records, veterinary records, you name it.

The Obama adminstration’s interpretation of Sec. 215 allows the feds to demand any database — and nothing in the law prevents this uber-database from being used for criminal investigations.

The only thing that stops all the databases from being siphoned is a politically driven policy decision inside the administration in power.

And if Obama has taught us anything about the presidency and institutions, it’s that new administrations do not relinquish the power carved out by the one that preceded it, no matter what promises get made on the campaign trail.

3) There is no winding down of the surveillance state, despite Obama’s pledge to deescalate the so-called “Global War on Terror.”

The tools have been built and the political imperative not to have a terrorist attack will keep them in place, regardless of whether they are effective or invasive.

These databases will be abused, just like FBI agents did when Verizon and AT&T were paid millions to station employees inside the FBI to make it faster to search phone records.

The political will to firewall off these databases only for intelligence and anti-terrorism will fade and at some point, all the databases will be opened to investigations of all kinds (the so-called legal Wall between intelligence and law enforcement was knocked down post-9/11).

The administration and the previous one are and were full of well-intentioned men and women seeking to prevent another attack on the country.

But we’ve allowed them, to build, out of fear, a surveillance apparatus on a scale only imagined previously by science fiction writers and dictators.

It’s time to bring that apparatus into the sunlight, think about what could be done with it in the hands of people with good intentions run wild, and then, if we do not outright smash it, we should start to unbuild it.

Further Reading

MyNSA: Google for the Private Web

 — With a citizen-facing pivot, NSA’s PRISM could take on Evernote, Intuit, Bing, and more

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PhotoSpace: A Private Instagram for Personal Cloud

And why we built a photo app where users control their data

Link to the app

Like the millions of other millennials out there who document their infatuation with food, puppies and babies, I love Instagram. But sometimes I’d like to filter my photo to death without the world seeing and keep that photo in a safe place where I can access it later. We envision a different paradigm of photo editing apps, one that’s more private and built on top of personal cloud.

Why on Top of Personal Cloud?

  1. Control of where your data goes: Users of the app are able to choose which personal cloud- Google, Dropbox or Box- they save pictures to. Once they snap photos within the app, they can view them from anywhere they can access their personal cloud. This means that not only can I see where my data is, but I can also easily delete it or share it if I so choose.
  2. Private vs. Public: Public photo storage is great- Facebook and Instagram do a great job of it. However, I want to share only a portion of my pictures, not every single one. Personal cloud fits my requirement well since private is the default setting.
  3. Storage and access: My iCloud, while great for default photo storage, is annoying for exporting and sharing photos. Personal clouds already do this extremely well and in a user-friendly way. Storing my photos across various personal cloud also gives me a lot more storage (Drive gives 15GB for free, Dropbox gives 5 GB, Box gives 50GB!) .

The actual app

First you login with your provider of choice and then snap a photo.

Next, you can add different filters and sticker effects or meme-ify your photo (powered by Aviary), and add a file name to store.

Now you can see the picture both inside the PhotoSpace app (first image) and your personal cloud (Google Drive mobile app in the second image)!

Apps on top of personal cloud can work for anything

There are many other apps in the same vein as PhotoSpace where ownership of data is valuable to, perhaps even a requirement for, the user. Private messaging apps like Tinder or Whatsapp, apps with sensitive healthcare information, apps that contain personal finance information and password savers are all examples of apps where storing the data in my Google Drive or Dropbox, where I can easily delete it and it’s harder for hackers to access, is highly preferred over the app’s external server.

Hosting app data on personal cloud is the wave of the future. I cofounded NimbusBase to help create an SDK where any developer can effortlessly store their app data on their user’s personal cloud. This vastly simplifies the backend process for developers and gives users the privacy they want. Check out our site, www.nimbusbase.com, and drop me a note at alex@nimbusbase.com if you want to be part of the revolution.

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Marketers Will Lead Adoption of the Internet of Things

Photo credit: NeimanMarcus.com

Photo credit: NeimanMarcus.com

Mass adoption of the Internet of Things will happen without most people noticing it. Why? In part, because except to select user groups, like technology early adopters, the term “Internet of Things” is meaningless. No one is saying, “hey you should go sign up for this Internet of Things thing”. There isn’t an actual thing to sign up for anyway.

But the main reason is that usage of the connected devices that make up the IoT will be driven by needs we didn’t know we had. Needs that marketers will tell us we have.

Marketers will drive adoption of the Internet of Things, gather even more of your data, and use it to sell you more things.

Many IoT predictions that I see paint a future of connected homes that sense your every move, mood, and need. For instance: your online calendar shows that you had meetings all day long, so your stereo (or music app on your iPad) knows to play mellow music when you get home from work.

But is the segment of people who want Jack Johnson on auto-play large enough to drive mass adoption of interconnected devices in the home? If not, who will drive this need? The answer is whoever will benefit financially from knowing where you are and what you are listening to, i.e. your data. In this case, it’s the music app that can sell ads based on what it knows about you (your work patterns,whether you live alone, your musical taste — from which age and even gender can often be derived).

Here is a theoretical scenario showing how marketers could lead the way towards what Cisco predicts will be 50 billion connected things by 2020:

Even Smarter Shoes

You buy a pair of shoes from Zappos. The shoes know how many steps you have taken. Using aggregate data on how long (number of steps) this type of shoe typically lasts, Zappos sends you a prompt to replace your shoes just as they begin to wear out. The shoes anticipate the need.

Zappos is already a master at anticipating user needs. For instance, they’ll send you an email a year after you bought winter boots to let you know it’s time to buy them again. They also geo-target Facebook ads based on weather data, to show you ads for Uggs when it’s snowing. The next step is to connect actual product usage with the individual user (you), then use the resulting data to anticipate your needs — and sell you more shoes.

Zappos is already using your data to anticipate your needs.

The awesome/scary thing is that it won’t seem like an intrusion. It will seem like a service. That’s how smart marketers will use the IoT. As long as there is a value exchange for the user, the awesome part of this “service” will assuage any concerns over personal data.

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Entrepreneurs Make A Difference

Starbucks, Vancouver, Wa. via Zachary Jeans

Starbucks, Vancouver, Wa. via Zachary Jeans

Zachary Jeans, Principal at Tourizing

“The entrepreneurs who succeed usually want to make a difference to people’s lives, not just their own bank balances. “ ~ Richard Branson

As an entrepreneur you are a leader. And the concrete decisions you make early on will determine how you value people inside and out of your business. That’s the truth of just about any business in its infancy.

A shift comes when people are brought in to scale your solution, service, or product, by stripping out inefficiencies, restructuring it for maximum profit. These people are the ones who wreck the brand to consumer relationship with less and less care, because ‘caring’ costs money. As a leader, you have to stand your ground to defend your principles of making a difference in people’s lives or the organization will default to business effiency.

As consumers, we empower brands by choosing them with our wallets. Choose the companies that make the hard decisions to stay a little inefficient for the sake of higher wages. Choose the service provider that has the better customer service. Choose the ones that care to give to non profits serving the least amongst us. Lets reward the entrepreneurs who make great things, and strive to keep them great, and shift the bank balances their way.

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GPA: Greatest Personal Advantage

“It’s not the grades you make but the hands you shake.”

I’ve always loved this cliche because while it is relatively true, it’s a worn-out justification for any extroverted college student that really has no direction in life or drive to get better.

Yes, networking helps and many times it lands someone a job or opportunity that he or she may otherwise not receive but to assume that “shaking hands” is all you need to succeed is not only a stupid approach but it’s incredibly egocentric.

I wanted to lead with that because this is not what I am talking about here. But it’s not about the grades you make. I am not saying that grades aren’t important or that hardwork isn’t necessary. But what I learned from my worst semester in college has little to do with the results of my courses:

Education is not about Grade Point Average but a different kind of GPA.

Most of my worst semester was spent on my work in marketing rather than my school work. My fault. I own it. It was a struggle with time management, work-life balance and priorities. But I don’t regret it because I learned a lot. It just wasn’t always the material on which I was assessed.

Chemistry class — not my ballpark. I probably won’t ever need to know much detail about hydrogen bonds or cations. And honestly, I don’t remember much of what I learned about either. Same goes for Macroeconomics and ironically, and embarrassingly, Intro to Marketing was the worst. So, my final grades reflected it. I didn’t fail any of them. But it wasn’t good.

Admittedly, this had much to do with my focus and passion, or lack thereof, for these courses and for school in general. But what I took away from those twelve weeks has proven far more useful:

I learned adaptability. I didn’t understand chemistry or economics but I found ways to be a part of the conversation that was often over my head.

I learned responsibility. There was nobody to blame but myself.

I learned self-reflection. My weaknesses were glaring. I had to own them. So, I did. And I learned to supplement weak areas with my strengths finding ways to minimize the impact of my shortcomings.

Lastly, and most importantly, I learned that GPA should stand for Greatest Personal Advantage. Education is about experience, challenge and opportunity to find what you best bring to the table. Maybe that strength is scholastic ability but that may not be the case for everyone; it certainly isn’t for me.

This is not me advising to stop paying attention in class and to stop caring about grades. Please don’t misinterpret my point. But my worst semester in school proved that grade point average is a microcosm of the entire education experience and it is most certainly not a measure of my ability or intellect.

So, embrace struggle. You don’t have to be proud of poor results but be proud and willing to take positivity from them. And start putting more emphasis on your GPA.

A strong handshake never hurts either.

If you liked what you read, hit the recommend button.

Or tweet it. That would be cool.

I’m an Interactive Media and Personal Branding strategist with Resonate Marketing Group and a marketing student at Butler University.

If you want to talk, find me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn. I look forward to hearing from you.

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CSS Blend Modes could be the next big thing in Web Design

For everyone who has ever opened Photoshop or Illustrator you are most likely familiar with blend modes. Multiply, Screen, Overlay and soft light, to name a few can turn boring opaque layers into beautiful pieces of stained glass. However, what awesome “blend modes” do web designers have at their disposal for making websites beautiful? Opacity. Yep, that’s it.

Cool-looking things that are difficult or downright impossible to replicate in CSS right now. Top row: Doublenaut, Graham Hicks, Jonathan Quintin, and Geoff Teehan. Bottom row: Ben Johnson, Claire Morales, Alan Defibaugh, and Jess Barlow

Blend modes and the web

It’s a shame that we couldn’t have had more blend modes to work with when the opacity property gained widespread support across browsers, but it turns out that ensuring that Photoshop-like blend modes render uniformly across different browsers and implementations is no easy task. Some blend modes have been available in SVG through filters, but these are limited and don’t see much use in the real world.

Despite this, things are changing fast and there is a draft specification titled CSS Compositing and Blending. Blend modes in CSS are being promoted heavily by Adobe Web Platform team (along with other interesting features like CSS regions and shaders).

Right now, the specification brings three brand new properties to CSS, background-blend-mode, mix-blend-mode, and isolation. Let’s explore!

Canvas 2D: Will it blend?

Particles by Justin Windle. Blend modes make this awesome demo really pop.

First, here’s a little secret, blend modes are now available for use with HTML5 Canvas in all the latest browsers except Internet Explorer. They are even supported on mobile Safari and Chrome. However, why should we stop there? Blend modes would be incredibly useful in CSS.

Blending in CSS: Say hello to background-blend-mode

Sixteen blend modes are coming to CSS. Demo.

The new background-blend-mode property allows you to specify blending between background layers of an element. Whether it be between an element’s background-color and background-image, or a background-image CSS gradient, background-blend-mode mixes all the backgrounds together with the blend mode(s) you specify.

Medium even uses blend modes in their articles. Too bad our friend CSS isn’t there to make this process a lot faster and easier.

Don’t think this property would get much use? Don’t go further than the website you’re on right now. When uploading full-page backgrounds to an article, Medium gives you the option to apply a color to the background to make the title stand out a bit more. However, because browsers don’t have blend modes in CSS, Medium has to do this the slow and costly way. They make six copies of the image you upload with different colors applied to each one, a process done on the server side. For the reader, this method is a lot slower than it could be with background-blend-mode. This new property could also be utilized elsewhere:

The Verge’s website is unique partly because of the pseudo blend modes they apply on their headlines. background-blend-mode could likely be used to make these kind of effects even better.

The super duper mix-blend-mode property

While background-blend-mode is strictly for blending backgrounds, we’d ideally also like to blend HTML and SVG elements like layers on a .psd. Fortunately, that is where the mix-blend-mode property comes in.

mix-blend-mode will blend elements with their backdrop. Perhaps you could experiment with a header that utilizes the screen blend mode rather than a simple background color with rgba(). There are also probably an infinite number of possibilities with loading animations and blend modes. The isolation property stops elements with mix-blend-mode from blending with the backdrop.

Implementation of the mix-blend-mode property is more complex than background-blend-mode so it is taking a bit more time, but don’t let that get you down. Blend modes will be here soon!

Can I use blend modes now?

Not yet, but I would expect in 2014 you could be able to start. The specification has already been approved by the SVG working group, and it needs approval from the CSS working group also to become a Candidate Recommendation. Once this happens soon, you can expect browsers to start shipping blend modes to browsers.

As for implementation, here’s a brief summary: (Early January 2014)

  • Firefox: Implements background-blend-mode in version 29, possibly incorrectly, see this demo. The mix-blend-mode property can be enabled in about:config.
  • Safari: Implements background-blend-mode in Webkit Nightly. Not mix-blend-mode.
  • Chrome and Opera: mix-blend-mode and background-blend-mode can be enabled in chrome://flags or opera://flags under “Experimental Web Platform Features”.
  • Internet Explorer: Doesn’t even support blend modes in Canvas. Can’t find any info on current development of CSS blend modes.

Learn more:

Demos of CSS Blend Modes on Codepen by me!
Compositing and Blending Level 1 specification by the W3c
CSS Blend Mode browser support matrix by Horia Olaru
Blending coming to an SVG renderer near you! (Including Inkscape) by Tavmjong Bah
Recreating Photoshop Blend Modes by Khoi Vinh
Bringing Blend Modes to the Web by Rik Cabanier (April 2012)


The web platform is moving quicker than ever and I’ll try to keep this article somewhat updated. If you see typos (e.g. composting is pretty different from compositing) or see things that need updating please let me know via a tweet (@bennettfeely) or email. Thanks!

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I make websites so you don’t have to.