San Francisco Security Robot Fired After Public Outcry

A San Francisco animal shelter has announced it will no longer use a Knightscope security robot to patrol its office, after a widely-circulated report that described the robot being used to “deter” nearby homeless encampments and rising crime.

In a statement to Ars Technica, the San Francisco SPCA said it has “received hundreds of messages inciting violence and vandalism against our facility” after the story of the robot went viral. In response to that pressure, the organization will seek “a more fully informed, consensus-oriented, local approach” to the use of security robots. San Francisco authorities had already advised the SPCA to stop using the robot on sidewalks without proper approval.

Mountain View-based Knightscope has said in a statement that the robot “was not brought in to clear the area around the San Francisco SPCA of homeless individuals,” but only to “serve and protect the SPCA.”

The fracas reads as the latest installment in a long-running cultural and economic war over the present and future of San Francisco. The recent influx of tech companies and their high-paid employees has helped drive income inequality and make the onetime bohemian mecca the most expensive place to rent an apartment in the United States.

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Those underlying tensions have boiled over in protests against tech companies, including over private shuttles run by companies including Google. According to Ars Technica, the San Francisco SPCA facility is located in a rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood where inequality is particularly acute, contributing to the rise of homeless encampments on sidewalks. The SPCA reported a recent rise in vandalism and theft, which it has said declined after the security robot was put into service.

But in San Francisco’s current context, the optics of even a nonprofit using a high-tech robot to deter homeless people could hardly have been worse. In a further layer, the robot could be seen as taking a job from a human. SF SPCA President Jennifer Scarlett earlier told the San Francisco Business Times that the robot cost about $6 an hour to rent, while San Francisco’s minimum wage is $14 an hour. Scarlett said having humans perform the same duties would be “cost prohibitive,” though, suggesting no new workers will be hired to replace the laid-off robot.

The Hard Work and Hustle Before Crazy Valuations and Exits

In February of last year, Appcues – the user activation and onboarding tool developed by Jonathan Kim – closed a seed round of $2.5 million, thanks to investors like Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. That’s on top of the company’s initial seed round of $1.2 million in 2014, bringing Appcues’s total funding to $3.7 million.

That’s a huge accomplishment for any company, but for me, it’s not the whole story. I’m every bit as interested in what got Appcues to this point – in the hard work and hustle that led to the company’s eventual success.

That’s why, after an introduction from our mutual friend, Appcues cofounder Jackson Noel, I jumped on a call with Jonathan to learn how the moves he made early on helped him bring Appcues to life. 

From Journalism Major to Startup Maker 

Jonathan doesn’t come from an entrepreneurial background. In fact, he has a journalism degree from Boston University – the cost of which he describes as having led him to work in computer science.

“I had to get a job to pay for school, and the highest-paying job I could find was in the computer lab,” he says. “I started toying around with computer programming, and I started getting better and better at it. I started working at a dev shop through my junior and senior year; when I graduated, I was looking at the prospect of going into the journalism job market. I decided not to do that. I was either going to do a startup or join an early stage company, and that’s how I wound up at Performable.” 

At Performable, Jonathan was employee #8 out of what would grow to 20 total before he left for Hubspot. Both experiences gave him exposure to the growing pains startups face – lessons he still takes to heart at Appcues.

“It was cool to see how the middle-stage culture starts to solidify and how processes start to break down,” he explains. “Then, going to Hubspot, it’s a totally different set of skills and people you need. We were 200-300 people when I joined, and I stayed with the company through about 700 people. It was neat to see what comes after that really early stage, and that perspective helps shape what’s really fundamental when you’re small.”

Leaving Hubspot to Launch Appcues

For Jonathan, entrepreneurship was always the goal. He explains, “I knew when I joined Performable that I was in that bridge between joining a startup or doing one on my own. It was always my plan to do that.”

And while he learned all he could working for Performable and Hubspot, Jonathan’s exposure to the challenges involved in onboarding and activating users within new tools and systems gave him the idea for the engagement processes that would drive Appcues. But before making the leap, Jonathan hustled hard to put himself in the best possible financial position.

“I paid off all my student loans and started saving money,” he shares. “By the time I left Hubspot, I had $20,000 saved up, and I invested all that into starting the company. I moved out of my expensive apartment in Central Square and into an attic with two roommates and my girlfriend, which took our rent down to like $500 each. I bought a bike on Craigslist for $100, and I biked everywhere because I was too cheap to buy a bus pass for $75 a month. 

(As a side note, Jonathan recommends that anyone thinking of going the same cheapskate route he did not start their companies in East Coast towns during the winter, as the bike commuting he experienced was brutal.)

Jonathan cut his costs in other ways, explaining, “I was eating steel-cut oats everyday and a good amount of ramen. I spent probably $100 per month on non-rent, non-utility expenses. When you’ve got $20,000 to last indefinitely, you really have to figure out how to make it stretch. Until we actually started paying ourselves after our seed round, I had $500 left in my bank account.” 

From 23 Customers to 23 Employees

Thanks in large part to Jonathan’s frugality and forward-thinking, Appcues took off quickly. One smart decision he made was to take on consulting opportunities shortly after leaving Hubspot that showed him exactly where his target consumers’ pain points lay with regards to user onboarding. Another early win was a listing on Product Hunt in 2014, which left him with 16 customers who’d promised to pay for his solution (once he finished developing it, of course).

A speaking gig led to a connection with Appcues’s cofounder Jackson, and the pair quickly brought on their first hire in John Sherer, Director of Sales. Jonathan noted that the move was unorthodox:

“The first person we hired was John, who was a salesperson. People are always surprised that we didn’t hire a developer first. But John was literally calling people asking why they weren’t buying and trying to get them to buy. The idea was that he’d learn so much more around the objections and the real must-haves for product that he actually became more effective for product than a developer would have.”

The team’s hard work, hustle and instincts paid off. Appcues, which started with three employees and 23 customers at the start of 2015 now boasts 23 employees and 530+ paying customers – none of which would have been possible without Jonathan grinding it out in the company’s early stages.

If you’re thinking about launching your own startup, Jonathan’s example is a great one to follow. Crazy valuations and flashy exits are fun to watch, but at the end of the day, it’s the kind of hard work and hustle he’s demonstrated that leads to real success.

To catch up with Jonathan, visit the Appcues website or follow him on LinkedIn. Or, for more info on our conversation, leave me a comment below with your follow-up questions:

New Evidence Could Blow Open the Uber/Waymo Self-Driving Lawsuit

Today, after three weeks of legal hemming and hawing, the Northern District of California finally made public a potentially key piece of evidence in the rollicking, roiling, rolling trade secrets lawsuit between self-driving Alphabet spinoff Waymo and ridehailing company Uber.

That evidence is the Jacobs Letter, a 37-page rundown of truly outrageous allegations about Uber’s business practices, put to paper by the lawyer for former Uber employee Ric Jacobs. Originally sent to Uber’s lawyers as part of a dispute between the company and Jacobs, it’s now at the center of Uber’s legal fight with Waymo. Whoops.

And while the letter’s contents most definitely have not been proven true, they include some tremendous new assertions: that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick himself directed trade theft; that the company employed spies to trail competitors’ executives; that it illegally recorded a call with employees about sexual assault allegations; and that it used a meme-filled slideshow to teach employees how to hide implicating documents from nosy lawyers.

So we—like you, presumably—have a few questions.

Back up. What’s this whole Uber-Waymo thing anyway?

In February, Waymo sued Uber for trade secret theft. It alleged longtime Google engineer Anthony Levandowski secretly downloaded thousands of files, resigned, and used the ill-gotten intellectual property to start his own self-driving truck company, Otto. Uber bought Otto in August 2016 (for a reported $680 million) and put Levandowski in charge of all its autonomous driving efforts. Waymo argues that Uber knew Levandowski had stolen its IP, then used that info to accelerate its own R&D.

After months of discovery, the case was supposed to go to trial in early December, wrapping up in time for holiday hot chocolates and trips to European snow chalets (for the lawyers, probably). Instead, in late November, the US Attorney’s Office made the very unusual move of sending William Alsup, the judge overseeing this case, a new piece of evidence. (Legal experts speculate the government lawyers did this as a sort of courtesy, because Alsup had flagged the trade secrets theft case for them back in May—another unusual move. The US Attorney’s Office confirmed this week it’s investigating the case.)

How true is this letter?

Who knows? An Uber spokesperson writes: “While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter—and, importantly, any related to Waymo—our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.”

Earlier this month, new Uber head lawyer Tony West told the company security team there was “no place” for competitor surveillance at Uber, and that anyone involved in that kind of shady behavior should “stop it now.”

During pretrial hearings a few weeks ago, Jacobs took the stand and walked back some of the claims in the letter, including the allegation that an Uber team stole trade secrets from Waymo. “I don’t stand by that statement,” he said, explaining that his lawyer had written the letter, and that he had reviewed it in a rush while on vacation.

Who is Ric Jacobs?

Ric Jacobs is a former Uber global threat operations employee who left the company this spring, after telling top Uber execs he was uncomfortable with his team’s ethically and legally dubious practices. The document portrays him as a whistleblower.

Uber says that’s not true, and its employees testified Jacobs was demoted for performance issues, resigned after he was caught downloading documents, then used trumped-up charges to extract a big payout in “consulting fees” on his way out the door—$4.5 million, plus another $3 million for his lawyer. Is Jacobs an extortionist? Would Uber pay that much to a bad actor? The letter only tells his side of the story.

What did Uber’s shadowy Strategic Services Group and Marketplace Analytics team actually do?

The letter says the Strategic Services Group was made of spies who allegedly handled human intelligence collection and stole data and info from competitors. It says Market Analytics members acquired trade secrets, competitive intelligence, code, and details on the operations of competitors’ apps—sometimes directly at the behest of then-CEO Travis Kalanick.

The letter also recounts some very sketchy (and, remember, alleged) fraud-like espionage behavior. Jacobs’ lawyer writes that SSG infiltrated Facebook groups and WhatsApp group messages for anti-Uber protestors, Uber drivers, and taxi operators. It alleges the Market Analytics team remotely accessed confidential corporate communications from a competitor, impersonated rider and drivers on the competitors’ platforms, and used the competitors’ data to “steal” drivers and riders for its own service. This sounds like—but is not necessarily—a reference to Uber’s “Hell” project, which used secret software to track rival Lyft’s drivers. (That program is reportedly being investigated by the FBI). The letter also alleges Uber stole a taxi driver database containing 35,000 records.

Did Uber surveil competitors?

During a pretrial hearing this month, one Uber employee testified that a vendor had passed along a taped conversation between executives at Didi Chuxing and Grab (Uber competitors from China and Singapore, respectively). The letter describes a similar (but maybe not identical?) situation, wherein, at the personal direction of Kalanick, “multiple surveillance teams infiltrated private-event spaces at hotel and conference facilities” where executives were staying, to record private conversations.

Does Uber really have an active mole within a competitor’s ranks?

Quoth the letter: “To date, Jacobs is aware Uber still benefits from at least on well-place [sic] [human intelligence] source with access to [REDACTED] executives and their collective knowledge of [REDACTED] on-going business practices.” Yeesh.

Did Uber hide stuff from legal proceedings on purpose?

The Jacobs letter details a complex system of shielding documents from eventual lawsuits, using forwarding techniques and strategic marks on draft documents to assert attorney-client privilege. It also alleges Uber employees used non-attributable devices, wiped clean after each use, and ephemeral messaging apps like Wickr and Telegram to communicate about things they’d rather not have regulators and lawyers see. (Experts note there are perfectly good reasons to use such devices and anonymizing techniques.) The letter says one Uber official trained the company’s autonomous driving unit to “impede, obstruct or influence the investigation of several ongoing lawsuits against Uber.”

Is anyone here working pro bone-o?

The letter alleges an Uber employee “developed a training using innocuous legal examples and the ‘lawyer dog’ meme to produce a slide deck that taught the ThreatOps team how to utilize attorney-client privilege to impede discovery.”

Did Uber actually wiretap an employee?

Among the creepiest allegations: Uber did not tell employees it was recording them during a call about the sexual harassment allegations. Recording a phone call without the consent of all parties involved is illegal in California.

What did Uber have nailed to its wall?

“Like a ‘scalp’ collected, the Market Analytics team proudly has a [REDACTED] nailed to the wall in their workplace to signify their successful theft of [REDACTED] trade secrets,” the letter says. Twitter’s best guess: a pink Lyft mustache.

Does the Jacobs Letter even matter?

Again, it’s unclear whether any of these allegations are true, or why Jacobs had his lawyer write the letter in the first place. Still, Waymo will undoubtedly use the details here to argue Uber had established protocols to conceal its alleged trade secrets theft.

Whatever the truth, the letter will have an immediate effect: The court has found Uber should have definitely turned over this 37-pager during the discovery process. And that’s a problem.

“To use a legal term, Uber is in deep doo-doo,” says Peter Toren, a federal prosecutor who specializes in trade secret litigation. “Judge Alsup is not going to be pleased with this at all.”

Alsup already has already been very impatient with Uber’s lawyers. Now, he could impose monetary sanctions on Uber, charging them court costs and/or Waymo’s bills associated with the trial delay, which could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. He could also allow the Waymo team to draw “adverse inferences” from Uber’s omission—to argue that, because Uber couldn’t produce ephemeral messages and hid documents, it’s fair for the jury to assume that they were filled with nefarious dealings.

Finally, the Jacobs letter could be used to supplement other lawsuits in the galaxy of those filed against Uber—or to launch entirely new ones. “To the extent that somebody now has a cause of action they may not have had before, it gives them evidence,” says Toren. Waymo lawyers are not the only ones reading the Jacobs letter. And they won’t be the only ones with questions.


More Uber, Waymo Problems

Data integration is one thing the cloud makes worse

One, enterprises have too many decisions to make. Two, it’s difficult to find success with complex data integration. Those are the two main excuses I hear these days, as enterprises move to the cloud. Whatever the justification, the lack of attention to data integration is beginning to cause some real damage. 

So, what went wrong? Enterprises have so much coming at them that they don’t think about every approach and technology that they need to think about. Security, management, monitoring, and governance are getting the attention they need, but data integration has fallen off the radar screen.

A byproduct of this behavior? More data silos. We all know that data silos are bad, but we seem to be building more data silos—not only on premises but in the public cloud. 

Data silos by themselves are not bad if they are integrated with other data silos. This means that as one silo is updated, the other silos are aware of the update and can immediately exchange information. 

The idea is that you need a “single source of truth” for data, using an old Oracle phrase. A single record of a customer, inventory, sales, or other information you want to track. 

But without a data integration strategy and technology, a single source of data truth is not possible. Systems become islands of automation unto themselves, and it doesn’t matter if they are in the public cloud or not.

The cloud makes many things better, but it makes data integration worse. Indeed, as you migrate applications and data to the cloud, as well as build new applications and databases, chances are you’re forgetting about data integration. 

The result is a far-diminished value of the systems you use, because the data is redundant and out of sync. Enterprise IT should treat data as a single consistent resource that can span all systems and platforms, both cloud and noncloud. If you overlook this aspect, you won’t find the business value you’re seeking. 

Alphabet's X sells new wireless internet tech to Indian state

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s X research division said on Thursday that India’s Andhra Pradesh state government would buy its newly developed technology that has the potential to provide high-speed wireless internet to millions of people without laying cable.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the agreement, which begins next year, would see 2,000 boxes installed as far as 20 kilometers (12 miles) apart on posts and roofs to bring a fast internet connection to populated areas. The idea is to create a new backbone to supply service to cellphone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots, endpoints that users would then access.

The agreement is an outgrowth of X’s Project Loon, which on several occasions has beamed cellphone service to Earth from a network of large balloons. The balloons link directly to smartphones but are meant for rural areas with a low population density, according to X.

Alphabet, which owns Google, and other online service providers view increasing internet accessibility in developing countries as crucial to maintaining their fast-growing businesses.

Andhra Pradesh, a southeastern coastal state with 53 million people, had nearly 15 million high-speed internet subscribers as of last December, according to a report by India’s telecom regulator. The state wants to connect an additional 12 million households by 2019, Alphabet said.

X plans to deploy free space optical technology, which transmits data through light beams at up to 20 gigabits per second between the rooftop boxes. There would be enough bandwidth for thousands of people to browse the Web simultaneously through the same cellphone tower, X said.

Researchers have said such systems hold promise in areas where linking cellphone towers to a wired connection is expensive and difficult. But the technology has not taken off because poor weather or misalignment between the boxes can weaken the connection.

Baris Erkmen, who is leading the effort inside X, said his team is “piloting a new approach” to overcome the challenges, but he did not specify the software and hardware advancements.

X plans to have a small team based in Andhra Pradesh next year to help roll out the technology.

Reporting by Paresh Dave, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Rakuten eyeing entry into Japan's mobile carrier market: source

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese online retailer Rakuten Inc plans to join a government auction for wireless spectrum to be held in January, potentially becoming the country’s fourth major wireless carrier, a source briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

A woman pushing a pram walks in front of a Rakuten Cafe store at a shopping district in Tokyo August 4, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

The source declined to be identified because the talks are private.

Japan’s mobile carrier market is currently dominated by NTT Docomo Inc, KDDI Corp and SoftBank Group.

The Nikkei business daily, which reported on the plan on Thursday, said Rakuten would raise 600 billion yen ($5.3 billion) by 2025 to invest in base stations and other infrastructure.

Rakuten said in a statement that while it was true it is weighing entry into the mobile carrier market, media reports on the matter were not something announced by the company.

Rakuten shares were down 1.7 percent in early trade. The benchmark Nikkei average was flat.

($1 = 112.6300 yen)

Reporting by Yoshiyasu Shida and Thomas Wilson; Writing by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

??Mirai? ?Botnet?: 3 Men Plead Guilty to Cybercrimes

Three men have pleaded guilty to charges related to the widespread Mirai botnet cyberattack in Oct. 2016 that took down various Internet services and websites.

The Justice Department said Wednesday that the three men—Paras Jha, Josiah White, and Dalton Norman—created what’s known as a botnet, a collection of computers used to covertly carry out commands without the knowledge of their owners.

The men, all in their early 20s, were able to spread the so-called Mirai malware onto Internet-connected devices like routers and wireless cameras so they could take control of them. The men then used those web-connected devices to flood online services like Internet-monitoring firm Dyn with so much traffic that they would slow or go offline.

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One of the men, Jha, plead guilty to also launching a botnet attack on Rutgers University where he was a student, which took down the school’s computer network. Jha’s guilty plea confirmed an earlier report by cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebbs, who wrote an article in Jan. 2017 tracing the Mirai botnet attacks to Jha and White.

A lawyer representing Jha said he is remorseful and “accepts full responsibility for his actions.”

Britain urged to prosecute social media firms over online abuse

LONDON (Reuters) – Social media companies should face prosecution for failing to remove racist and extremist material from their websites, according to a report by an influential committee.

FILE PHOTO – A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person’s eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015.REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Prime Minister Theresa May’s ethics watchdog recommends introducing laws to shift the liability for illegal content onto social media firms and calls for them to do more to take down intimidatory content.

Social media companies currently do not have liability for the content on their sites, even when it is illegal, the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life said.

The recommendations form part of the conclusions of an inquiry into intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates in an election campaign this year.

“The widespread use of social media has been the most significant factor accelerating and enabling intimidatory behavior in recent years,” the report said.

“The committee is deeply concerned about the limited engagement of the social media companies in tackling these issues.”

While the report said intimidation in public life is an old problem, the scale and intensity of intimidation is now posing a threat to Britain’s democracy.

FILE PHOTO – People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo

The report found that women, ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political candidates are disproportionately likely to be the targets of intimidation.

The committee heard how racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and anti-Semitic abuse is putting off some candidates from standing for public office.

Platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are criticized for failing to remove abusive material posted online even after they were notified.

FILE PHOTO – A 3D-printed YouTube icon is seen in front of a displayed YouTube logo in this illustration taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Ilustration

The committee said it was “surprised and concerned” Google, Facebook and Twitter do not collect data on the material they take down.

“The companies’ failure to collect this data seems extraordinary given that they thrive on data collection,” the report said. “It would appear to demonstrate that they do not prioritize addressing this issue of online intimidation.”

Twitter said in a statement it has announced several updates to its platform aimed at cutting down on abusive content and it is taking action on 10 times the number of abusive accounts every day compared to the same time last year.

YouTube declined to comment, while Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Many politicians have become more vocal about the abuse they face after Labour’s Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two young children, was shot and repeatedly stabbed a week before Britain’s Brexit referendum last year.

Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; editing by Stephen Addison

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

As the Southern California Fires Rage, a Boeing 747 Joins the Fight

The largest and most destructive fire burning in California continues to grow, consuming dry brush as it races not just through but across the canyons north of Los Angeles. Strong winds and dry conditions mean flames can leap large distances, prompting thousands to evacuate their homes. The Thomas Fire has now spread from Ventura County into Santa Barbara County, burning up 230,000 acres—an area larger than New York City and Boston combined. The out of control blaze is on track to become one of the largest in California history.

So firefighters are using the largest tools they have to tackle it, including one that’s more than 200 feet long, and does its work from just 200 feet above the ground.

“We avoid flying through smoke at all costs, but you can smell the fire 200 miles out, even at 20,000 feet,” says Marcos Valdez, one of the pilots of the Global Supertanker, a Boeing 747 modified to fight the fiercest of fires. The jumbo jet can drop 19,200 gallons of fire retardant liquid per trip, nearly double the capacity of the next largest air tanker, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Fully stocked, the plane weighs in at 660,000 pounds, comfortably under its 870,000-pound max takeoff weight.

Step inside (which you can do in the interactive 3-D model below) and you’ll see that the upper floor looks pretty normal, with the cockpit and a few seats. Head down the stairs to the main floor, though, and you’ll see the key changes its owner, Global Supertanker LLC, made when it converted the Japan Airlines passenger plane to a firefighter in 2016: In what looks like the interior of a submarine, you’ll find eight cylindrical white tanks in two rows.

Holding the fire suppressant liquid in separate tanks means the 747, aka The Spirit of John Muir, can make up to eight segmented drops on multiple small fires, or put down a solid two miles of fire line, to try to protect property or contain a fire. The liquid drops through a big hose, through a series of manhole-cover-sized circular nozzles under the plane, near the back. (If you use the “Dollhouse” view on the 3-D model, you can see some of that detail on the very lower deck.)

The plane is based in Colorado Springs, but its owner contracts it out to fire agencies in need. This week it’s flying out of Sacramento, in the northern part of the state. That’s because it can carry so much flame retardant that picking it up in Southern California wouldn’t leave enough for the smaller aerial firefighters. Plus, with a 600-mph cruise speed, it can reach the perimeter of the Thomas fire in just 38 minutes.

The 747 and other fixed wing aircraft sat out the early days of the fight against these fires, because high wind speeds would have blown their liquid retardant unpredictably off course. Though the pink stuff won’t damage people or property (good news for this guy), pilots make an effort to avoid dumping it on firefighters on the ground. The 747 can actually lay such a long line of retardant that it can be used to draw a line to safety for people trapped in a “burn-over” situation, where flames threaten to engulf them.

When the Supertanker reaches a fire, it doesn’t just drop down and fire away. The whole operation is a carefully orchestrated affair. Valdez, the pilot, starts by flying at 1,000 feet up, watching a “show me” flight by a lead plane, usually a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco or Beechcraft King Air. That has likely been in the air for hours, and directs each tanker aircraft exactly where to make its drops, pointing out hazards like power lines or tall rocks over the radio. “They’re using signals like ‘Start at this tree that’s split,’ ‘Fly on the right flank of the fire,’ and ‘I want to you stop at this rock that looks like a bear,’” Valdez says.

Then Valdez pushes the yoke forward until he and his crew are flying 200 to 300 feet above the ground—in a jet whose wingspan is just over 200 feet. Valdez plays down the terror, comparing it to driving next to a concrete barrier down the center of a highway. You know it’s there, and that one wrong move could kill you, but you just keep your heading and your cool.

The whole drop is over in 10 minutes, and then it’s time to head back to Sacramento, making for a two-hour roundtrip. On Friday, the Supertanker performed three drops on the Thomas fire—each gratefully received by the firefighters trying to stop the flames reaching more property, and people.


Fire Storm

Early Thanksgiving/Black Friday Data Reports Suggest Strong Retail Sales

Thanksgiving has passed and the holiday shopping season has officially begun. Though many consumers started shopping earlier in the month, Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales are some of the first indications of how retailers will fare this holiday season. The reports and analyses are still being produced, but initial figures on Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales are encouraging.

According to the annual International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Thanksgiving Weekend Shopping Report, more than 145 million adults spent time at malls and shopping centers and estimated spending, on average, $377.50. In addition to all the gift buying, venues for dining and entertainment also benefited from an added $78.70 in sales per adult.

The vast majority of consumers (87 percent) shoppers took advantage of in-store and online purchasing on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Not only were there a lot of people shopping, nearly three out of four (74 percent) Thanksgiving/Black Friday shoppers spent the same or more than in 2016.

The news was especially good for brick and mortar retailers. ICSC estimates that 75 percent of all spending was captured by retailers with a physical presence. This doesn’t mean that people weren’t shopping online. However, retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and other physical stores with online components fared better their online-only competitors.

The data clearly shows the benefits of having an online store for small business owners with a physical location. While it may be too late for a business to setup a full ecommerce website from scratch between now and Christmas, there are some things current website owners can do to make their site more appealing to holiday shoppers. For example, having a way to buy online and pick up in-store has extra benefits. The ICSC survey found that 69 percent of those purchasing online and picking up in-store (click & collect) made an additional in store purchase

“Thanksgiving Weekend is a great indicator for what will be a holiday season full of spending, as we are seeing a very positive consumer sentiment and willingness to spend,” said Tom McGee, President and CEO of ICSC. “Shopping centers across the country should feel very optimistic about the season ahead. While the shopping season is longer this year, it’s not coming at the expense of the most popular shopping day of the year.”

Now that Black Friday has passed and Cyber Monday is here, businesses need to finalize their plans for December. It’s important that promotions in December meet the expectations of consumers. The ICSC data suggests that retailers will need to be as generous or more so than they were for Black Friday.

Three out of five (60 percent) consumers anticipate similar deals/promotions to the ones they saw this weekend. And more than one in four (28 percent) consumers said they think the deals/promotions in December will be better than what was found over the past weekend. Only 12 percent of consumers assume that December deals/promotions won’t be as good as the ones they saw on Black Friday.

Since deals and sales are some of the greatest motivators for consumers during the holiday season, business owners need to make sure their site prominently features their best deals and that these are also advertised heavily in search and social media campaigns.

For more recent data about creating a better holiday marketing campaign, read this article on last minute shoppers.