EBay activates plan to shift more business to UPS and away from Postal Service because of mail delays

The online auction and sales site eBay, one of the U.S. Postal Service’s biggest customers, said it is shifting some of its business to private-sector rival United Parcel Service because of reliability issues with the agency.

“Customers want and expect to receive their packages in the fastest and most reliable way possible, which is why our collaboration with UPS comes at such a critical moment,” eBay vice president Marni Levine, who had previously expressed concerns about the Postal Service’s decreasing on-time delivery rate, wrote in a message to eBay sellers announcing the deal with UPS.

The company said that by the end of September, eBay sellers will be able to print out discounted UPS shipping labels, at a cost up to 62% cheaper than typical UPS rates.

For the Postal Service, the loss of eBay revenue could be substantial: A spreadsheet of the Postal Service’s largest customers prepared last spring showed the e-commerce site was agency’s second-largest retail customer, shipping more than 130 million items up to that point in the fiscal year. The USPS generated more than $743 million in revenue from eBay packages in that fiscal year while grappling with a $160.9 billion deficit.

EBay is second only to Amazon, which generated more than $2.3 billion in revenue for USPS during the same time frame, and whose business top Postal Service managers were fearful of losing, The Washington Post reported this week.

EBay facilitates online sales by private individuals and businesses across the country, shipping hundreds of millions of items to buyers’ doorsteps each year. In August, amid growing complaints of USPS delivery slowdowns, eBay started warning sellers who indicated they planned to ship an item via the Postal Service that, “USPS is experiencing significant delays across their delivery network. Please consider using other carrier options that may provide a better buyer experience”

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Postmaster General Louis DeJoy instituted a number of new policies after taking office in mid-June that were meant to cut costs including stricter dispatch schedules that forced postal workers to leave mail behind and prohibited extra mail trips, that have been blamed for mail backups across the country. Managers under him also cracked down on overtime, which postal workers commonly rely on to complete routes, though DeJoy has denied playing a role in those decisions.

Congressional Democrats have claimed that DeJoy’s changes held up 7% of the nation’s first-class mail. On-time delivery rates dropped from above 90% to 81.5%, a Senate report said.

Faced with mounting criticism about abrupt changes in agency operations, DeJoy recently said he would stop removing mail sorting machines and postal boxes and would restore overtime until after the election.

On Friday, a federal judge ordered the Postal Service to halt its operational changes, saying that DeJoy and President Trump are carrying out “a politically motivated attack” on mail delivery.

EBay had been watchful during the Postal Service’s tumultuous months. Levine wrote to sellers in mid-August, “We are continually monitoring shipping developments and USPS delays. We are working on other affordable, more reliable delivery options for sellers. Stay tuned for important developments in this area in the coming weeks.”

An eBay spokeswoman declined to comment when asked how many sellers would likely use UPS instead of the Postal Service. The company has said on a website about its lobbying stances that it supports “a viable postal system.”

Seven Ways Crowdfunding Helps Startups

Crowdfunding is an alternative method of raising capital for a project or campaign and is fulfilled through the monetary contributions of many people, either from family or friends, as well as investors customers. Unlike multinational companies who raise funds through stocks, smaller businesses and entrepreneurs will be able to finance their business venture from this collective effort over the Internet.

Crowdfunding for startups and entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, one of the most important things that you need to consider is capital or funding. Sure, you may have a great business idea or concept, but without proper and sufficient funding, all your efforts may go to waste. Crowdfunding helps you source the necessary funds to carry out the plans for your startup company. Two of the most funded crowdfunding campaigns are namely, The DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) and Star Citizen, raised more than $100 million dollars each. The success of these two campaigns shows the power of crowdfunding as a means to raise funds for startups and business ventures.

In order to properly understand crowdfunding and how it benefits startups and entrepreneurs, you should know the three aspects involved in crowdfunding: the individual or group seeking the funds, the people who invest either for recognition or business shares and the platform for crowdfunding. Crowdfunding business startups online may have seen increased attention and popularity in the mid-2000’s, but the concept has been used centuries ago by authors and book publishers. Raising funds through crowdfunding has financed many good business ideas over the years.

Crowdfunding can help startups in many ways. Here are the seven ways this method can transform a great business concept into reality.

Provides Access To Funds

The first and most obvious way crowdfunding helps startups is by giving them the capital to start a business venture. Capital is not easy to raise especially for new entrepreneurs. Banks and creditors have strict requirements before approving a business loan but crowdfunding eliminates such requirements and difficulties.

Promotes The Business Startup

A crowdfunding platform can also be used to promote a business venture. It is a great to introduce the mission and vision of a business startup to the market and potential investors, at virtually no cost. Most platforms used for crowdfunding incorporate social media strategies and mechanisms, making it easier to draw attention to your company or project. Crowdfunding can draw the interest and attention of potential customers and investors. Using this method can help bring the story of your startup to the right audience thus creating more attention and good publicity.

Reduces Risk

Starting a company can be very challenging and very risky. Aside from gaining access to business funds, crowdfunding also reduces risks identified with a new business venture such as gaining market validation and giving up equity. There is also no fee to use a crowdfunding platform, except when the campaign has reached its 100% funding goal, about 5% may be the average commission.

Provides Concept Proof

Crowdfunding makes it possible to demonstrate the proof of concept to investors and to everybody else. Providing sufficient market validation for a business venture can be quite difficult for a startup company. Having a successful crowdfunding project is a great way to achieve credibility and gain respect from investors.

Pre-selling Opportunity

Starting a business has many risks and many startups fail when they do not gauge the market beforehand. A new concept can be introduced to the market through crowdfunding thus giving the entrepreneur a chance to revise the plan or pursue the existing business idea.

Generate Ideas

An entrepreneur may have a great business idea or concept, but this does not mean that these are perfect or flawless. Crowdfunding helps in providing feedback and recommendations from the audience and investors. Many interested investors will likely be individuals with experience and expertise in that area of business. Attracting and drawing such experts will help produce and generate ideas, allowing one to review and revise the business plans to make it better and more feasible.

Creates Loyal Customers

An entrepreneur who utilizes a crowdfunding campaign will not only get access to financial support but will also gain loyal customers. Drawing like-minded individuals to your business concept help create loyal customers and investors. Early adopters are those who decide to contribute to the entrepreneur’s campaign and help spread the word out without expecting anything in exchange. These early adopters have the potential to become loyal customers of the business. Crowdfunding is a great method that an entrepreneur can use to receive adequate financing as well as exposure needed to make the venture a reality. This modern method has raised billions of dollars and continues to give hope to entrepreneurs with great ideas and passion for success.

The Himalayan invention powered by pine needles

In Uttarakhand, in the western Himalayas, a local inventor discovered an unusual use for pine needles that is reviving the local economy, and the forest floor.
A nippy November morning saw me driving along mountain road in Tripuradevi village in India’s Pithoragarh district, Uttarakhand, with the warm sun peeping through the tall pines lining the road.

I was there to buy hand-woven organically dyed silks and cottons created by Avani, a community organisation employing local craftsmen and providing them with a steady source of income, alongside that from the surplus crops and produce they sell. But what caught my eye were heaps of pine needles drying in the sun. A man was feeding the dried pine needles into a large gently humming metal cylinder attached to more chambers and motor.

The set up, I was told, was a power plant to generate electricity from pine needles.
Uttarakhand, also known as Dev Bhoomi or “land of gods” for its many pilgrimage centres, is an Indian state in the western arm of the Himalayas, bordering 

Tibet to north and Nepal to east. The state’s unique ecosystem is made up of snow-clad mountains, rivers, lakes and diverse flora and fauna.You might also like:The ingenious ‘solar canals’ of India The floating gardens of Bangladesh The rare plants that ‘bleed’ nickel A large part of this landscape is the chir pine forest, large plantations of which were introduced by British colonists and continued by later governments for commercial timber and resin. But the chir pine’s dominance in the landscape – it covers nearly 400,000 hectares (1,540 square miles) of Uttarakhand – has contributed to other problems. These pines shed their needles onto the forest floor, littering it in what is essentially delicate shreds of dry, high-energy kindling.

The loss of natural wealth translates into much more than a monetary one for our socio-cultural fabric – GCS Negi

One study estimates the net annual pine needle yield in the state of Uttarakhand to be some 1.3 million tonnes (that’s roughly a quarter of the weight of Great Pyramid of Giza). Pine needles shed by the trees between March to June cover the hill slopes, which are prone to fire.

Though forest fires play an ecological role, they also bring some inestimable losses. It challenges the make-up of the forest, says GCS Negi, head of the Centre for Socioeconomic Development at the GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment. The fire renders the forest floor inhospitable to the region’s some 1,800 plants used as medicinal herbs, as well as indigenous grasses and broadleaf species such as Himalayan oak.

“Indigenous plants and trees are valuable ecologically and socially as they conserve soil and water, thus allowing rich biodiversity of wild edibles and minor forest produce that are used by locals,” says Negi. “The loss of natural wealth translates into much more than a monetary one for our socio-cultural fabric.”

He realised that it could be a way to fix several problems at once: as well as reducing the damage from fires, electricity produced from the needles could supplement or replace cooking fuel, which had to be bought in. He hoped it could even help to prevent migration away from the region, as a lack of reliable income from agriculture had forced people from the village to seek more lucrative employment in towns and cities. With this in mind, he began to research using pine needles as a fuel source for a type of energy production called biomass gasification.

The villagers thought I was out of my mind… generating electricity from pine needles seemed an alien concept – Rajnish Jain

This technology had started to gain traction in India in 1994, when the engineer S Dasappa and his team at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore started working on improving biomass gasifiers in collaboration with the engineering company Dasag, based in Switzerland. They experimented not with pine needles, but with agricultural waste like rice husks, leaves and coconut shells as feedstock, heated to over 1,000C in a reduced oxygen environment. In those conditions, the needles gave off a mixture of gases, including carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen. These gases were further cleaned of dust and tar and burned to power an electric generator.

Dasappa’s design has since been improved further and patented. There are currently about 30 units operating in villages of Karnataka, India. “With abundant agricultural and forest biomass available in India, it is a low-cost energy source that has lower impact on the environment than fossil fuels,” says Dasappa. It has caught on elsewhere too, with uptake in countries including United States, Switzerland and Japan.

But Rajnish says his suggestion to utilise pine needles for biomass gasification was met with resistance and rejection from government officials and researchers at the time in 2007. They argued that even though highly combustible, the density of pine needles was not enough to be used as an energy source for gasification. They were not the only ones with questions. “The villagers thought I was out of my mind,” recalls Rajnish. “They did not know about biomass gasification, and generating electricity from pine needles seemed an alien concept.”

The idea, however, intrigued the Volkart Foundation, set up by Swiss brothers in 1953 to support NGOs working for poor communities, and they invested in the pine needle experiment. A few trials later, Rajnish struck on the idea of chopping the pine needles into smaller pieces to increase the density before feeding to the gasifier – and it worked. In 2009, he succeeded in setting up the world’s first 9 kWh pine needle power plant. Today, the electricity generated by the small plant is used to power the Avani workshop, while leftover carbon powder produced is bound together with locally made glue and made into briquettes to burn as a sustainable form of cooking fuel.

Encouraged by his success, Rajnish participated in many accelerator programmes to pitch his work and pursued support from government agencies. He believed his venture could provide a sustainable livelihood for villagers and, he hoped, reduce forest fires if rolled out on a large scale. It led to the setting up of Avani Bio Energy, a for-profit social enterprise, in 2011.

Avani Bio Energy then signed an agreement with the state electrical facility, which under national policy was required to source a percentage of its energy from renewable sources. By 2014, a policy on the commercial use of pine needles, including for gasification among other purposes, was brought into effect by the Uttarakhand Renewable Energy Development Agency.

But there were hurdles to rolling the project out on a large scale. The mountainous terrain in the region makes it challenging to collect pine needles. With unmotorable slopes, pine needles could only be collected manually. For every 1 kWh generated, 1.5 kilos of pine needles are required. An ambitious 120 kWh plant would require a huge amount of feedstock. So, they thought again and decided instead to install smaller decentralised power plants of 10-25 kWh each, so the volume of pine needles needed could be met with manual collection.

The village women, who Rajnish approached to collect needles, were initially hesitant. But each kilo of needles brought to the plant fetched 2 rupees (3 cents/2 pence), which over 6-7 hours’ work amounted to double the typical minimum daily wage for the state.

Asha Devi, a needle collector from Hasyudi village who has been collecting pine needles for three years, now has a very different view of the project. “I earned 8,000 rupees ($110/£85) in the first year and bought a buffalo for milk,” she says. This year she has earned up to 17,000 rupees ($230/£180) in one month. With her savings from last year, she constructed an additional room in her house and plans to add a kitchen next year. “It is convenient as I finish my house chores before I go for needle collection,” she says.

There are now seven 25 kWh power plants up and running at different villages, with five of those owned by village-based entrepreneurs, with a further five 10 kWh plants in other villages. Forty more projects are on the horizon.

As well as boosting the local economy, Rajnish hopes that the collection of pine needles has lowered the local fire risk. In the nearby areas that have seen consistent removal of pine needles, there has been almost no incidence of fire, he says.

The indigenous medicinal plants, usually destroyed by fires, have also been seen reviving. If the optimal conditions for these plants are maintained, some native plant species could begin to regenerate, says the GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment’s Negi.

This year, the shoots of the kafal, or bay berry, have been seen emerging in Tripuradevi. The golden Himalayan raspberry and the Himalayan oak are also cropping up. They are a sign of what can happen when something seen as little more than a nuisance and a fire risk is put to good use, rejuvenating the forest floor and bringing hope to the local community.

Who Invented the Lightbulb?

The question of who should get credit for inventing the lightbulb is deceptively complex, and reveals several aspects of the history of science and technology worth revealing. Most people would probably answer the question – Thomas Edison. However, this is more than just overly simplistic. It is arguably wrong. This question has also become political, made so when presidential candidate Joe Biden claims that a black man invented the lightbulb, not Edison. This too is wrong, but is perhaps as correct as the claim that Edison was the inventor.

The question itself betrays an underlying assumption that is flawed, and so there is no one correct answer.  That is really what people are referring to with Edison – not that he invented the lightbulb but that he brought the concept over the finish line to a marketable product. Edison sort-of did that, and he does deserve credit for the tweak he did develop at Menlo Park. Instead, we have to confront the underlying assumption – that one person or entity mostly or entirely invented the lightbulb. Rather, creating the lightbulb was an iterative process with many people involved and no clear objective demarcation line. However, there was a sort-of demarcation line – the first marketable lightbulb.

The real story of the lightbulb begins in 1802 with Humphrey Davy He developed an electric arc lamp by connecting Volta’s electric pile (basically a battery) to charcoal electrodes. The electrodes made a bright arc of light, but it burned too bright for everyday use and burned out too quickly to be practical. But still, Davy gets credit as the first person to use electricity to generate light. Arc lamps of various designs were used for outdoor lighting, such as street light and lighthouses, and for stage lighting until fairly recently.

In 1841 Frederick de Moleyns received the first patent for a light bulb – a glass bulb with a vacuum containing platinum filaments. The bulb worked, but the platinum was expensive. Further, the technology for making vacuums inside bulbs was still not efficient. The glass also had a tendency to blacken, reducing the light emitted over time. So we are not commercially viable yet, but all the elements of a modern incandescent bulb are already there. The technology for evacuating bulbs without disturbing the filaments improved over time. In 1865, German chemist Hermann Sprengel developed the mercury vacuum pump, which was soon adopted by lightbulb inventors.

In 1874 Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans filed a patent in the US and Canada for an incandescent bulb with a carbon filament. This seems to have been a commercially viable lightbulb, but the company did not sell well and eventually they sold their patent to Edison. Soon after that, in 1878 William E. Sawyer and Albion Man received a US patent for an incandescent bulb filled with nitrogen with a now familiar zigzagging emmiter. The bulb worked well, but the rigid design made it vulnerable to cracking.

At this point all the basic elements of a modern incandescent bulb are in place. Edison developed none of them. But still the bulb had limitations that prevented it from being commercially viable. It should also be noted that commercial viability was also limited by the batteries of the time and the vacuum technology. Once electrification and a practical way to evacuate a glass bulb existed, the lightbulb was ripe. This is where both Edison and Swan (a British inventor) come it.

Joseph Swan developed his own version of the incandescent bulb, with an evacuated bulb, platinum lead wires, and carbon light-emitting filaments. However, his design still had problems. The carbon filaments were thick and required lots of juice to heat up and glow. Still, Swan receive a patent in the UK for this design in 1879, and in 1881 developed his own lighting company, with improvements on his original design.

At around the same time, Edison was working on his version of the lightbulb. His innovation was to use a thin carbon filament with high electrical resistance. He eventually settled on a carbonized bamboo filament – really his primary technological contribution to the invention of the commercial lightbulb. Edison patented his innovations, and went on tour making sure to align his name with the invention of the lightbulb as much as possible. Swan and Edison eventually sued each other for patent infringement – and Swan won. So legally, one might argue that Swan invented the commercial lightbulb. Edison’s solution was to partner with Swan, forming a joint company, and then totally buying out Swan several years later. So Edison acquired the patents for the lightbulb from others as much as he earned them himself.

Edison does get credit for popularizing the electric lightbulb, and for connecting this to public electricity generation and distribution. Once he had all the patents, his company continued to iterate and improve the technology. This is also where Biden’s “black man” comes in. He was referring to Lewis Howard Latimer. Latimer received a patent in 1882 for a process for improved production of carbon filaments for lightbulbs. Latimer then went to work for the Edison Electric Light Company. Latimer made a significant contribution to the manufacture of lightbulbs, but he didn’t “invent” the lightbulb by any stretch, and is at best a footnote on this interesting history.

While Edison’s contribution to the lightbulb was significant, he did not “invent” the lightbulb. At most he put the last piece into place, acquired any competing patents, and then marketed himself as the inventor. This strategy worked.

But like many stories of both technological and scientific progress, many people contributed over time, and it is not even possible to give credit to any single person.