Brace yourself for one wild week
Good morning! Now that you’ve survived the weekend we all get to deal with the fact that not only does the weather for much of the United States absolutely SUCK this week, we’re also less than two weeks from Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanza. Those of you who still have shopping to do might want to consider doing it online because the weather outside is going to be beyond frightful in many places.
It’s still early as we’re looking at the news this morning so all the Monday horribleness has yet to hit. However, we have five things you need to know.
1. Prepare To Pay More At The Pump
We’re going to see some higher gas prices this morning because of an agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC countries to reduce oil output over the next several months1. Saudi Arabia, which has long been a hold out on reducing production, agreed over the weekend that they would pull their levels down below 10 billion barrels per day2. The reduction is not as much nor as long as some OPEC members would have liked, but it’s enough to create a significant jump in prices.
Goldman is saying that this cut is primarily to balance out excess inventory and doesn’t see the production lasting too long. February futures rose to just above $56 a barrel this morning which is a bit scary for those of us on a budget, but that doesn’t mean a return to $3- and $4-dollar a gallon prices. With the rising prices, US oil production could increase quickly, which would send prices back down.
No one is saying yet what effect the higher prices might have on holiday travel. Most people have already made their plans and we all know how upset grandma would be if we didn’t show up. Still, this could be a difficult budget hit for those who don’t have much wiggle room for extra spending.
1. Reuters: “Oil surges after output cuts, strong dollar weighs” By By Saikat Chatterjee Dec 12, 2016, 3:18am EST
2. Reuters: “Goldman says non-OPEC output cut deal aimed at inventory glut“ Dec 12, 2016, 3:15am EST
2. The Grinch Came To Venezuela Early
Actually, the Venezuelan government says it’s playing Santa Clause after seizing nearly four million toys from a warehouse near Caracas1. The government is accusing toymaker Kreisel of hoarding the toys in an effort to create scarcity, driving prices up. Stores throughout Venezuela have complained that the company hasn’t been fulfilling orders and when they did the prices were several times higher than normal.
The government’s official statement says that the toys will be sold at steep discounts. However, William Contreras, Venezuela’s national superintendent for the defense of socioeconomic rights, has promised that “every child will get a toy” for Christmas, so we’ll see exactly how that works out. No word yet from the toy company. All this story needs is a big dog and a bunch of meddling kids and we have a blockbuster movie for the holidays.
1. National Public Radio: “Venezuela Seizes Nearly 4 Million Toys, Saying They’re Overpriced” By Bill Chappell December 11, 20164:23 PM ET
3. Cars Without Drivers Are Coming
If you find yourself driving through Michigan, particularly the Detroit area, don’t be surprised if you look over in the lane next to you and find that no one is driving the car next to you. That reality just became possible last week as the Michigan legislature passed a group of bills allowing autonomous cars to drive on public roads1. The purpose, of course, is to allow Detroit automakers to compete with companies such as Google who have been testing driverless cars in California for some time now.
In fact, this new set of bills, which Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says he’ll sign, give Detroit automakers more freedom and less oversight with their testing than any other state with the possible exception of Florida. California, which has been the leader in autonomous car testing, still requires a human driver as backup, just in case something goes wrong. The Michigan bills don’t require any humans in the car at all. While this is exactly the type of laws automakers have been wanting, the safety issue is probably going to be a sticky one.
Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle says they’re leaving it up to automakers to decide when a car is safe for the road. Uhm, he is aware that GM just recalled another 50,000 vehicles last week2, right? I’m not sure trusting automakers to determine when a car is safe is necessarily the smartest move in the book. This could make driving in Michigan very interesting.
1. Associated Press: “MICHIGAN LETS AUTONOMOUS CARS ON ROADS WITHOUT HUMAN DRIVER” By TOM KRISHER Dec 9, 11:10 AM EST
2. Associated Press: “GENERAL MOTORS TO RECALL NEARLY 50,000 POLICE SUVS” Dec 10, 11:52 AM EST
4. You’re Not Still Using That Samsung Phone, Are You?
We all know Samsung has had some problems with their Note 7 phones doing bad things like blowing up and catching fire. The company issued a recall of all the phones last month and one might think that would put the problem behind them. Apparently not. It would seem there are still a significant number of people who, for whatever reason, did not turn in their phones. That means there are still Note 7 phones out there ready to go boom when one least expects it.
So, Samsung has announced that it is disabling all Note 7 phones in the US with a software update.1 Samsung issued a statement last Friday saying that the mid-December software update will render the phones completely useless. They won’t even charge properly. Danger averted, right?
Not necessarily. Those who bought their phones through Verizon won’t be getting the update. Verizon claims that it doesn’t want to strand customers who don’t have a backup phone. Therefore, it will not be pushing the software update out to its customers.
1. Reuters: “Samsung to disable Note 7 phones in the U.S. via software update” Dec 9, 2016, 1:12pm EST
5. And Finally …
Here’s one for all my photography friends and colleagues out there. Flickr, the photo hosting service owned by Yahoo, has released data for the year showing that camera phones dominated its service once again. Are we surprised? No, not at all. Flickr is a pedestrian service, not one limited to professionals. Therefore, it makes sense that pedestrian cameras would dominate. What we do find surprising, however, is that only two DSLRs, both Canon EOS 5D models, made the top ten and mirrorless cameras account for only three percent of the photos on the site.
I’ll be honest, while the data is certainly interesting, it doesn’t concern me a great deal as a photographer. I don’t use Flickr and haven’t since it sold to Yahoo several years ago. The site was designed for and is dominated by amateurs. That’s not a bad thing, but there is a definite difference between the tools used by Mom and Pop on vacation versus the professional taking your family portrait.
If anything, the report shows how dramatic the divide is between equipment used by professional versus amateur photographers. As the price for professional equipment goes up and the quality of cell phone cameras increases, we’re going to see that divide become more noticeable. This especially applies when discussing mirrorless cameras which are almost totally a tool used by the pros.
1. Flickr blog: “Smartphones Dominate Flickr Uploads in 2016, Apple Leads Device Makers” December 6, 2016
That’s the five things we think you should know for this Monday. We’ll be keeping an eye on things as they develop today and be back with more news first thing in the morning. Now, get out there and make this Monday beg for mercy.