Things to Consider Before Renting an Apartment

It’s no secret that apartment hunting can be stressful. It can be hard to find the perfect one that meets your checklist, and that’s within your budget.

When I searched for my first apartment, I considered myself lucky when I found a dream dwelling right away! The walls were painted a deep olive green, granite countertops in the kitchen and I had my own bathroom, which is a big deal if you have a roommate. To make it even better, it was in a great location, and close to my job at the time. Before the landlord could even ask, I signed a year lease with my best friend. All seemed well, until small fees started popping up on the contract and the rules of the property got longer and longer. That’s when I thought to myself, maybe I should have looked more into this renting thing before signing off my hard earned money for a whole year.

All ended well with that apartment, but I moved out as soon as I could and learned a lot from the experience. Luckily, I’m here to share those tips and research with you! If you are looking to rent, here’s a couple things to focus on:

  1. Find out how to pay rent, and how late fees are calculated.
    Most properties nowadays have an electronic payment option, and will charge a small fee for doing so. In that case, it may make sense to write a handwritten check your landlord.
  2. Will the maintenance workers enter your apartment without notice?
    Because you don’t own the apartment, some landlords have very loose rules on whether their employees have to tell you when they’re stopping by. Make sure your landlord will give you a heads up before someone enters your apartment.
  3. What is their guest policy?
    Having a friend from out-of-town stay over for a few nights is fine, but some landlords have policies against anyone staying longer than two weeks.
  4. Find out if you can sublet the apartment, or what the penalty is for breaking your lease.
    Life’s full of surprises, and you may run into a situation where you need to move ASAP. Some apartments are strictly against subletting, and it could be a serious breach of your contract. If you leave on bad terms, this could mean you just lost a future rental reference.
  5. Can you make changes to the apartment?
    Adding some fresh paint and putting your own personal touch on the apartment could end up costing you at some complexes.
  6. What utilities are included in the rent?
    This could make or break your decision on your ‘dream’ apartment. Renters are usually left to pay electric, gas, internet and cable – but it’s different at every complex.
  7. Does the landlord require you to obtain renters insurance?
    Your landlord should tell you before you sign the lease whether they require you to have this. Renters insurance is important to have even if the landlord doesn’t require it.
  8. What is the parking situation?
    This is another big one. Find out if it’s included in your rent or not. If parking isn’t provided, what are the alternatives?

Finally, don’t be overwhelmed. Enjoy the apartment hunting adventure and do your research before signing. You can check out more questions to ask during the leasing process here. From everyone here at Foremost, have a safe and stress-free renting experience!

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It’s hot. Don’t leave your kids in the car!

I wish I were kidding. As an on-the-go-dad, I have sympathy for parents trying to multi-task, but there are certain things that we MUST pay attention to. Leaving the kids in the car while grabbing a snack in the gas station may be a time-saver, but with the extreme heat that can take place across the country, saving time is something you don’t want to test. As a mom, I’m going to give you a blunt reminder during this hot weather:

DON’T LEAVE YOUR KIDS IN THE CAR ALONE—EVER!

This summer the temperature gauge in my car has reached 93 degrees. This is the exact temperature that proves your car can become an oven in high temperatures. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, when it’s 93 degrees outside:

  • After 20 minutes temperatures inside a car = 125 degrees
  • After 40 minutes temperatures inside a car = 140 degrees

It’s also important to remember that your kids’ little bodies are effected by heat more quickly and severely than us adults, so our judgment of temperature is not accurate to that of a child. The stats above may be based on extremely hot weather, but in any temperature it’s never a good idea to leave your kids in the car alone. Saving a few minutes of time is far too big a gamble for the priceless cost it could pay. Don’t let those be the few minutes you regret forever.

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Home improvement: Contractor vs. do-it-yourself

Should you do it yourself, or hire a contractor? This might not even have been a question a generation or two ago. In our grandparents’ time, most families had a skilled tradesperson such as a carpenter, plumber, electrician or bricklayer to turn to for assistance. The small neighborhood hardware store had few options, and the suppliers who carried fixtures and materials catered primarily to skilled contractors.

But the increase in large home improvement retail centers allows today’s homeowner easy access to materials and product options to update your home and increase its value. Don’t know how to lay tile or replace a fixture? No problem! The internet and many TV home improvement shows provide instructions and ideas that may give you the confidence you need to do a project yourself.

But remember that the simple act of putting a fastener into a wall can have unexpected and sometimes disastrous consequences.

How much risk do you want to assume? This should be your first question when deciding whether to attempt a project yourself or hire a contractor. Fires, water damage, leaks and other post-completion problems may be covered by the contractor’s insurance when you hire a professional. Problems resulting from work done by the homeowner may have only the homeowner’s insurance policy as a remedy.

HIRING A CONTRACTOR

If you decide to hire the work done, here are some steps to take:

  • Hire a reputable contractor. Get several estimates, and be certain the contractor is insured and bonded.
  • Ask for references. Ask to see examples of the contractor’s finished work.
  • Be specific. Describe exactly what you want done and when you want it completed.
  • Be wary. Think twice if the contractor requests large deposits, cash payments and payment prior to completion of work or specific project phases.
  • Obtain a written contract. List the full scope of work.
  • Take precautions. Inventory and secure all valuables if a contractor is working inside your home, especially if no one will be home while the work is being performed.
  • Beware of scams. Sites such as the Better Business Bureau www.bbb.org can help find local licensed contractors and warn of area scams. Each area bureau has widely ranging information relevant to your region. Several commercial websites also allow you to establish an account and receive ratings and reviews of local artisans from other users. Read the site’s terms and conditions before signing up.
    • National Consumer Law Center offers these tips to avoid problem contractors
    • The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips
DOING IT YOURSELF

If you decide to do it yourself, remember these items:

  • Research and read. Information is available from manufacturers, home improvement store pros, books and on the web. Consult more than one to get the most reliable information. The more you know and understand, the better prepared you will be to decide if you want to tackle the project yourself.
  • Determine your requirements. Decks, patios, finished basements and other seemingly simple to moderate projects often require permits. Contact the local zoning or building inspector to determine what permits and requirements exist in your area. Plumbing, electrical and heating/cooling are skilled trades that require licensure in most jurisdictions. Calculate material, tools and personal protective equipment needs before starting any project.
  • Start simple and secluded. There is a learning curve with everything, and you will get better as you progress. But be sure to read and understand ALL instructions before starting. Do simple tasks first. Finished work such as painting, wood trim or refinishing a hardwood floor is best begun in a closet, low traffic or other inconspicuous area of a room not frequently occupied. Don’t attempt projects beyond your skill level or comfort zone unless you have skilled help.
  • Prepare the surface. Paints, sealers, adhesives, caulks, etc. need a clean and dry surface to bond and cure properly.
  • Avoid elevated or hazardous tasks when no one is around. Work with a helper whenever possible. Keep a phone handy for emergencies or to call manufacturer help lines with any questions. Read and follow the precautions for health and fire hazards associated with any chemicals or products.
  • Analyze the hidden hazards. Know what is behind the walls, under the floors, in the ceiling and below the ground.
    • Although cables, pipes, conduit and wires should be at predictable locations and depths, avoid damage by using location services (call811.com) and locator devices and refer to plans and blueprints. Look for signs of cables, pipes, wires, etc. as well as ground and wall entries/exits. Use stud finders with electric sensors. Pipe and wiring in your home is typically centered through a stud, joist or truss member, but that is not always the case. Even a 2-inch fastener could pierce or contact pipe, wiring and cable.
    • Newer homes may have nail guards; older homes likely will not.
    • Dig slowly and carefully. Some types of probes may help you find utilities. Newer homes often have warning ribbons buried a few inches below the soil to indicate a deeper utility.
    • Use tools with nonconductive handles.
    • Use the shortest permissible fastener or the fastener recommended by the manufacturer. It should carry the load and adequately hold the material or item. Some materials such as treated wood, areas prone to dampness and exterior applications will require noncorrosive or coated fasteners.
  • Turn off the water supply and verify that there is no more flow. Keep rags and buckets/pans handy to contain water if you replace a plumbing fixture. Always check for leaks/drips following any plumbing work by you or a contractor. Do this for one week at a minimum. Be sure family members know the locations of and how to operate the main water shutoff and all secondary water shutoffs. Avoid sweating pipe due to the fire potential. Leave that to skilled plumbers.
  • Disable electric power at the panel by switching off the breaker(s) before replacing an electric fixture or device. Use cordsets or outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interruption (GFCI). Don’t assume that a fixture has no power if the switch or breaker is in the “off” position. Use a test device – inexpensive and available at home improvement stores – to be sure there is no power. Check instructions before restoring power and test again. DO NOT work inside the electrical panel or sweat pipe. Leave that to a licensed, insured and bonded contractor.
  • Pay attention to basic conditions. Many projects will need to have some aspect of level, plumb, compaction or drainage factors. Patios and landscaping should be sloped slightly away from your home to assure proper drainage.
  • Remember that a deck may not be a simple project. Decks in areas with snowfall can be oriented below the threshold of doors to help prevent water intrusion when snow melts. Decks need to be properly designed and planned with the right sized posts, beams, joists, railings and balusters. Any deck anchored to your home must be attached with proper hardware, flashing and moisture barrier.

Doing it yourself may help save you money and can result in much satisfaction. Whether you do a home improvement project yourself or hire a contractor, proper planning and information may help a project go more smoothly and without incident.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. We can advise you on liability coverages and additional loss control measures.

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America’s best bass fishing lakes and ponds

According to the American Sportfishing Association, 60 million Americans identify themselves as fishermen, a number that includes license-buying adults age 16 and older, along with youngsters, seniors and others who are license-exempt.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service places the fishermen number at 33 million but excludes youth, seniors and other license-exempt anglers. When the 16-and-under crowd is added, USFWS estimates jump to around 45 million.

By either count it’s a large and diverse group. Recreational fishing is one of the few activities that crosses all social, economic, age, gender and ethnic lines. The fish don’t care what you look like or how much money you have.

Although anglers are united in passion for their sport, they’re rarely in agreement when the subject is best fishing spots.

Black bass — primarily largemouth and smallmouth — are the most sought-after game fish in America; the target of more than 11 million fishermen who, according to reams of research compiled by federal fish and wildlife officials, annually spend a collective “176 million days” trying to catch a bass. They also spend billions of dollars to do so.

So, where are the top spots for bass? Conventional angling wisdom says the best place to go fishing is the place you can most readily reach, and while there is truth in this sage advice, some spots are more productive than others.

I queried touring bass fishing professionals for their top fishing spots. Opinions varied, sometimes widely, but according to the guys who fish for a living, five can’t-miss locales for bass (largemouth and/or smallmouth) include, in no particular order:

Lake Champlain

This gem of the northeast may come as a surprise to anglers who view black bass as a southern or regional pursuit. Champlain is a long (120 miles), narrow (12 miles at the widest point) and deep (average 65 feet but plunges to 400 feet) natural lake that shares the border between upper New York and Vermont before spilling to Quebec. It covers more than 280,000 acres and is generally regarded as one of the most diverse and prolific bass fisheries in North America.

“Champlain is my personal favorite,” said Texan and veteran touring pro Clark Wendlandt, who has fished Champlain numerous times and has pocketed more than $2 million in career earnings. “You can catch both largemouth and smallmouth. The setting is rural with great mountain scenery. It’s a gigantic lake and you can’t go wrong anywhere on it. If I were planning a (fishing) vacation this would be my first pick.”

“This place is one of the most fun fish catching places I’ve ever been,” added Alton Jones Jr., another Texas-based pro. “It’s not abnormal to catch over one hundred bass in a single day.”

More info: lclt.org/about-lake-champlain/lake-champlain-facts.

Lake Okeechobee

This Florida jewel has been surrendering bags of bass for generations. It covers 730 square miles (about half the size of the state of Rhode Island), making it the largest freshwater lake in Florida and one of the largest in the United States.

It is also saucer-shallow with an average depth of 9 feet and harbors astounding numbers of very large largemouth bass.

“Incredible numbers of fish,” said Jameson Lecon, a 32-year-old paramedic from Ohio and weekend tournament angler who occasionally makes his way to Florida’s landmark bass producer. “And on any cast it could be a giant.”

More info: myfwc.com/fishing/freshwater/sites-forecast/s/lake-okeechobee.

Falcon Lake

Falcon straddles the U.S.-Mexico border on the Rio Grande River about 40 miles east of Laredo, Texas, in Zapata and Starr counties. The 83,654-acre lake was impounded 62 years ago and, thanks to its relative isolation, for decades was legendary with locals but largely remained under the bass fishing radar.

No longer.

“Falcon Lake would be (my) No. 1,” said Denny Brauer, who retired in 2012 after a 37-year pro career that included being the first professional bass angler to earn a spot on the Wheaties cereal box and appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. “Falcon is a great shallow or deep water fishery and gives up a lot of big fish.”

Falcon has also been the scene of some isolated criminal activity that has victimized fishermen and recreational boaters, including shooting deaths in 2010 and 2016.

More info: tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/falcon.

Toledo Bend

There is no shortage of fishing pressure on this famed, sprawling, 185,000-acre Sabine River impoundment that shares the Texas-Louisiana border.

No shortage of big bass, either, according to veteran bass pro Zell Rowland.

“It’s one of the top lakes in the country right now for largemouth bass,” he said.

More info:  tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/toledo_bend.

Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Located in Jasper County, Texas, 114,500-acre Sam Rayburn might lack the mystique of Falcon, the glamour of Champlain, the history of Okeechobee or the gloating reputation of Toledo Bend.

But it’s got it where it counts.

“Rayburn has been spitting out bags of fish with regularity,” said Wendlandt. “It a big lake with a ton to offer. People catch fish both deep and shallow.”

“The sheer number of bass per acre is phenomenal,” added Texas-based guide and tournament pro Ray Hanselman. “The bass are easy to catch at any experience level.”

More info: tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/sam_rayburn.

Here are some honorable mentions from our panel:

• Lake Fork. This 24,264-acre lake has held Texas bragging rights for 26 years. It produced the currently state record largemouth bass, an 18.18-pound brute. tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/fork

• Guntersville Lake. Located on the Tennessee River system in northwest Alabama. 68,000 acres. A popular tournament trail stop and proven bass producer. guntersvillelakeinfo.com

• Lake Erie. Erie is the shallowest, most southern and fourth largest of the Great Lakes. It is also arguably the most productive fishery. “Tremendous numbers of smallmouth in the 4 to 6-pound range,” according to bass pro Mark Davis. dec.ny.gov/outdoor/58757.html

• Kentucky Lake. This lowland reservoir is the final and largest impoundment on the Tennessee River. Its 160,309 surface acres spill across the Kentucky-Tennessee border and make it the largest manmade reservoir east of the Mississippi River.

“Kentucky (Lake) is known for consistently having 4 and 5-pound bass with the occasional 10-pounder,” said bass tournament veteran and television host Shaw Grigsby.

“The reason this lake is so good,” added Indiana-based pro Bill McDonald, “is that it has everything in it. Grass. Rocks. Wood. And you can fish it anyway you want, deep or shallow.”kentuckylake.org

• Clear Lake. California’s largest natural freshwater lake, Clear Lake covers approximately 68 square miles and is generally considered to be the most productive bass fishery on the West Coast. And one of the prettiest.

“Beautiful scenery,” said tournament veteran Mark Menendez. “And a chance at a double-digit bass on any cast.” co.lake.ca.us/Page2593.aspx

• Lake St. Clair. While not officially a Great Lake, 162-square-mile St. Clair is part of the Lake Erie basin. Extremely shallow (average depth is 10 feet), St. Clair is a proven smallmouth producer.

“It has the best smallmouth fishing around,” said Bill McDonald. “It’s not a huge body of water and it’s pretty easy to get on fish.” http://www.lakestclair.net/

• Mille Lacs Lake – This large (207 square miles) shallow natural lake is located about 100 miles north of Minneapolis and is  a smallmouth bass lodestone.

“The most incredible smallmouth bass fishery I have ever fished,” said Shaw Grigsby. “At Mille Lacs, a 3-pound (smallmouth) is a small bass.” dnr.state.mn.us/millelacslake/index.html

Our panel also named some hidden gems:

• Lake Jordon. Approximately 6,800 acres impounded on the Coosa River in Elmore County, Ala., and packed with hefty spotted bass, according to Mark Menendez.

“Spots” are sometimes viewed with a hint of disdain by some bass fishing purists. But not Menendez.

“At Jordon you have a chance at a 6-pound spotted bass or five spotted bass bag that weighs 25 pounds,” he said. “It’s a special lake with structure and cover.” outdooralabama.com/lake-jordan

• Lake Chickamauga. Impounded on the upper Tennessee River, Chickamauga floods about 35,000 acres. The rich food base fuels the bass fishery.

“(Chickamauga) has been incredible over the past couple of years,” said Clark Wendlandt. “It also has a lot to offer. Shallow grass. A lot of wood, docks and deep ledges. And an incredible shad population and it spreads out over a large area.” lake-maps.com/lakeinfo/tennessee/chickamauga/info.htm

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Insurance Risks to Consider When Starting a Restaurant

A flurry of news reports and research show one thing: casual dining is on the decline. Some have attributed this to millennials, who researchers say prefer fast-casual or home-made meals over pricey and time-consuming casual dining. Regardless of the reason, quick-service restaurants are increasingly appealing to a larger number of Americans. However, getting a quick-service operation off the ground and growing it is not as fast an endeavor as making a delicious Bahn-mi. Importantly, there are also significant insurance considerations both before the restaurant starts serving customers and during operation.

Restaurant Style and Format Matters

Quick-service restaurants follow a few distinct styles. Food trucks are growing in popularity and variety, while fast-casual dining, such as Chipotle, or fast-food staples like McDonald’s are still popular. These different styles can carry different insurance concerns, even before the first customer passes through the door.

For example, a food truck operation will need to purchase a Commercial Auto insurance policy before serving any food. It’s important for these businesses to carry that policy instead of trying to rely on a personal auto insurance policy, as personal auto insurance does not cover the same kinds of incidents. In truth, a vehicle accident in a food truck is unlikely to be covered by a personal vehicle insurance policy. Meanwhile, the Commercial Auto policy can mitigate the risks associated with property damage both done to the truck and damage the truck may cause to the property of others. Additionally, such a policy will cover the risk of bodily injury associated with operation of the vehicle.

If a restaurant plans to offer in-house delivery services instead of partnering with a delivery company like GrubHub, covering the risks related to those vehicles will be a distinct consideration. Commercial Auto is a possibility here, but so too is Hired & Non-Owned Vehicle Liability Insurance. Non-Owned Insurance is specifically designed for employers who have workers driving their personal vehicles for company work. It will cover the employee’s vehicle when it’s being used for work purposes, but not outside of those times, so the employee will still need their personal auto insurance policy.

Covering Employees Before You Open the Door

A quick-service restaurant relies on employees who can handle a fast-paced environment. But that kind of talent doesn’t happen overnight. Most restaurants, and especially quick-service restaurants, hire and train employees for several weeks before opening the doors to customers. As soon as the restaurant passes a certain number of employees, there are insurance considerations.

Workers compensation, for example, may be needed early on during the training phase. Restaurant work is not without its dangers. Fires are common, as are injuries associated with hot food and sharp knives. Alongside this, Workers compensation may not just be a good idea, but required by law. Most states have set relatively low minimums for the number of individuals employed before workers compensation is required. Quite often, 5—10 employees are enough to trigger this legal requirement. Unless the business format is just two people and a food truck, there’s a good chance some individuals are already working and training before the first customers come through.

Also, consider the risks associated with third-party claims. Many quick-service restaurants do a fair amount of pre-opening events to get the word out. Those events can come at a risk of third-party claims, such as food poisoning or personal injuries from slip and fall. Should a customer come into the restaurant and slip on a wet spot on the floor, an injury claim is certainly possible. Restaurants work with fairly small profit margins. A new restaurant, in particular, is at risk of closing should a hefty third-party claim come through before any real profit is made.

Third-party claims are effectively mitigated through General Liability insurance, which also covers medical expenses incurred after a successful bodily injury claim is made against the business.

For all restaurants, the physical assets need protecting as well. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, restaurant fires are not only common but also very damaging and costly. Cooking accidents cause more than 60 percent of such fires. Pre-opening staff training means a lot of cooking practice, which itself comes at the risk of fires, especially for new employees who may be less skilled behind the grill. It’s important to mitigate the possibility of property damage and loss even before the restaurant opens, especially given the fact that fires can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Reopening after a fire can be difficult, and many restaurants never do following such an event.

Quick-service restaurants may be supplanting traditional, casual dining, but they aren’t any less risky. Covering those risks before the restaurant opens can help new owners avoid some of the common pitfalls to owning and operating a restaurant.

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Alexa notifies you when Amazon has shipped your package The feature will work for other Alexa skills in the future.

You can add one more device to the pile of gadgets vying for your attention, now that Amazon has switched Alexa’s notifications on. The e-commerce titan first revealed that visual notifications were coming to its speakers on its developer site back in May. Now, the feature is live, though in very limited capacity. According to Fast Company and AFTVNews, it can only tell you about packages out for delivery at the moment. It doesn’t seem to be available for other Alexa skills yet.

Amazon’s Alexa notifications are available for the Echo, the Echo Dot and the Echo Show. Based on the new help page published on the company’s website, the Echo and the Echo Dot’s light ring will display a pulsing yellow light when there’s a new notification, while the Echo Show will display a banner at the top of its screen. When you see them, just tell Alexa to read your notifications or ask the voice assistant “what did I miss?”

Eventually, your Amazon speakers will also be bugging you about other things, including weather updates from AccuWeather and new happenings from The Washington Post. You don’t have to deal with any of those if you don’t want to, though. The feature is opt in: you’ll have to enable it by going to Settings and toggling on Notifications under Accounts.

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Life insurance can protect family from college debt

As college graduates take the next step, one thing is often left out of the process – life insurance. Young adults often carry debt with them into the working world, whether from student loans, car loans or credit card debt.

If you are a recent graduate, have you considered what could happen if you were no longer around to cover your loan payments? Would your loved ones struggle to make ends meet?

Many people do not realize that – depending on their loan agreement – their spouse, cosigner or estate might be responsible for paying off student debt. A 2016 LIMRA study found one in three households would have immediate trouble paying daily living expenses after the death of a primary wage earner. This need tends to be compounded for young adults who are not financially established in life. Most people are not expecting to cover the loan payments and final expenses of a young relative, but tragedies can happen, and life insurance can provide the financial protection to cover these costs while a family grieves.

Through the purchase of a term life insurance policy, a young adult could obtain coverage to fit their stage of life. Term life insurance offers a level death benefit for a guaranteed period of time ranging from 10 to 30 years. Furthermore, an applicant can usually obtain the most cost-effective coverage while still young. Term life insurance is an ideal product to protect a new professional’s family from financial distress in the event of an untimely death.

And it probably costs less than you think. Term life insurance tends to be the least expensive coverage option for an individual. A 2017 Insurance Barometer Study indicated that four in 10 millennials overestimate the cost of term life insurance by more than five times the actual cost. Even with a tight budget, term life insurance can provide the necessary coverage to protect one’s family.

Contact us to find coverage that works for you.

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In A Deadly Crash, Who Should A Driverless Car Kill — Or Save?

People can’t make up their moral minds about driverless cars.

In a series of surveys published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers asked people what they believe a driverless car ought to do in the following scenario: A group of pedestrians are crossing the street, and the only way the car can avoid hitting them is by swerving off the road, which would kill the passengers inside.

The participants generally agreed that the cars should be programmed to sacrifice their passengers if doing so would save many other people.

This, broadly speaking, is a utilitarian kind of answer — one aimed at preserving the greatest possible number of lives. But there’s one problem: The people in the survey also said they wouldn’t want to ride in these cars themselves.

It would be OK for others to buy them, the participants said, but they personally would not.

“Figuring out how to build ethical autonomous machines is one of the thorniest challenges in artificial intelligence today,” Jean-François Bonnefon, of France’s Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, and his colleagues wrote in the study.

The scenario described above is hypothetical, but it and others like it are bound to happen in real life once driverless cars become a mainstream reality, the researchers said. We need answers and rules now, so that we can include them in the programming of these machines. Even if a driverless car has a manual override option, it’s easy to imagine a situation where there simply isn’t time for a passenger to react and take control of the vehicle.

It can be unnerving to think about this stuff. But autonomous vehicles actually have the potential to create a safer world. In the United States alone, about 35,000 traffic deaths occur every year, along with millions of injuries.

“Around 90 percent of those accidents are due to human error,” Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, and a co-author of the study, said at a press conference. “Autonomous vehicles promise to change all that for the better, but there are barriers to their wide adoption. A number of those are technological barriers, but they’re also psychological ones.”

If you’ve ever taken an ethics class, you might recognize the driverless-car scenario described above. It shares a lot of DNA with a famous thought experiment known as the trolley problem. In that scenario, you are the engineer of a runaway trolley. On the track ahead of you, five workers are working, oblivious to your approach. You can’t brake, but you can switch the trolley onto another track. But there’s one person on that track. Would you kill that one worker to save five others?

There are a number of variations on the question. What if that one person is pregnant? What if the five others are criminals? You can imagine how many different ways this can go.

For the study published Thursday, the researchers conducted six online surveys of U.S. residents between June and November 2015, asking participants how they would want their autonomous cars to behave in various scenarios. The researchers tweaked some variables, such as the number of pedestrians or passengers, in each scenario. In some examples, participants had to imagine their child was riding in the car. In others, they were told to imagine riding with their coworkers.

People generally preferred decisions that minimized the number of casualties. In one scenario, 76 percent of respondents said it would be more moral for an autonomous vehicle to sacrifice one passenger if it would save 10 pedestrians.

But this allegiance to the greater good only went so far. People balked when asked if they would purchase these cars themselves. “You can recognize the feeling,” Bonnefon said — it’s “the feeling that I want other people to do something, but it would be great not to do it myself.”

What should the manufacturers of driverless cars do? And what would happen to public safety if every driverless car was programmed to protect its passengers above all else?

“To maximize safety, people want to live in a world in which everybody owns driverless cars that minimize casualties, but they want their own car to protect them at all costs,” said Iyad Rahwan, a researcher at MIT and co-author of the study.

Automakers that offer such cars would probably make a lot of money, Rahwan said. But it’s the tragedy of the commons: “If everybody thinks this way then we will end up in a world in which every car will look after its own passenger’s safety and society as a whole is worse off.”

However, the researchers believe that public attitudes may change over time. If the technology of autonomous cars improves to the point where riding in them is ultimately safer than driving yourself, people might become more receptive to the idea of buying a car that increases their safety — even if it’s explicitly programmed to allow them to die in certain unlikely situations.

If you have opinions of your own, you can contribute to the discussion at this website created by the researchers.

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What Everyone Ought to Know About Golf and Lightning

While lightning might be beautiful to see in the sky, thunderstorms are no joke, especially out on the golf course. Golf is one sport that is not necessarily hindered by inclement weather, and some golfers pride themselves on being “all weather” players; but before you continue playing when a storm starts, please consider these facts about golf and lightning, and learn what you should do if you find yourself caught in a thunderstorm out on the golf course.

According to ready.gov’s section on “Thunderstorms & Lightning,” lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related causes of fatality in the U.S, causing 51 deaths on average per year.

Lightning seeks the path of least resistance on its way to the ground, and the human body is an extremely good conductor due to the body’s large percentage of water. While metal is a better conductor (lightning travels easily—and over long distances—through metal objects such as fences and railroad tracks), if you live in an area with frequent thunderstorms (and enjoy playing golf even in weather), then you are at risk.

Many golf courses in areas known for thunderstorms have storm warning systems such as sirens installed to warn golfers if a thunderstorm is approaching. While in a U.S. National Oceanic Administration 30-year-period study, it was found that golfing only accounted for 4% of lightning strike fatalities (as compared to 13% under trees and 8% around water), it’s still a good idea to play it safe.

Here are some precautions you can take if you are caught on the golf course in a lightning storm:

  • Avoid open high ground and isolated large trees
  • Avoid water (swimming pools, lakes, ponds, rivers), beaches, and boats
  • Seek shelter inside a building or within a nearby automobile, but NOT a convertible or golf cart
  • Stay away from doors, windows, and metal objects (such as pipes, faucets, or metal fencing)
  • Avoid contact with electrical devices or metal (including some golf clubs, umbrellas, golf carts, etc.)
  • Do not lean against concrete walls

If you are in an open area, best advice: go to a low place such as a ravine or valley. Be alert for flash floods, and try to reach the indoors whenever possible.

If you are in a forest or heavily tree-covered area, best advice: seek shelter in a low area under a thick growth of small trees

If you begin to feel a tingling sensation on your hair or skin, squat in a baseball catcher’s position with your arms around your legs.

Some facts you might not know about lightning:

  • Air in a lightning strike can be heated up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The rapid heating of the air is what produces the shockwave that results in thunder
  • Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain, and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall
  • Most lightning incidents occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening (between 2:00-6:00 p.m.)
  • A ground strike can produce somewhere between 100 million to one billion volts of electricity
  • The length of a cloud-to-ground lightning strike can range from two miles to 10.
  • Lightning strike victims, contrary to what some movies portray, carry no post-strike electrical charge, and should be assisted immediately.

All in all, your chances of being struck by lightning are estimated to be 1 in 600,000, but could be reduced even further by following these simple safety precautions. Remember to head indoors as soon as it is safely possible. For more information on lightning and thunderstorms, you may visit www.ready.gov/thunderstorms-lightning.

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Go out and play! Plan for a camping experience

Car camping – whether at a park with reserved campsites or in wilderness areas off dirt roads – can bring great enjoyment to the entire family if it’s done right.

Using your car to haul gear improves the experience as you are limited in what you can bring only by the size of your car.

Camping can bring your family closer and provide enriching experiences such as sleeping in fresh air beneath the stars, hiking along rivers, climbing mountains, swimming in lakes or taking part in your choice of outdoor fun.

When my children were young, I would take them about 10 miles to a state park to camp. These were some of the most memorable experiences of being a dad. We would hike the trails, build fires, tell stories, play flashlight tag, burp out loud (only allowed around the campfires) and chase raccoons out of the campsite in the middle of the night.

This summer and fall, my wife and I decided to reserve every weekend for car camping so we can explore the great state we live in. Whenever anyone asks us about our weekend plans, we merely respond, “We will be out of town,” whether we have plans or not. This keeps us focused on never committing a weekend, allowing us to meet our goal to explore, learn and see whatever is accessible by four-wheel-drive.

We planned and organized so that we could mobilize quickly with all the important – and some less important – items. Here is our advice on how to be ready to go on short notice:

  • Create a camp box or boxes. We have camping boxes to store all the essentials. One box includes cooking (pan, spoon, spatula, fire starter, matches, soap, towels) and eating utensils (plates, napkins.) We also throw in flashlights, bug repellant, toiletries, sunscreen and a first aid kit. A second box holds sleeping bags, pads, tents and tarps. When we’re ready to leave, we merely toss the boxes in the truck. Note: Following each trip, we take time to clean up and replace necessary supplies.
  • Prepare food for camp cooking. I have become a huge fan of smoked meats because they are already cooked and tend to last longer. Precook items such as potatoes so that whipping up an awesome stir fry can be easy. Grate sweet potatoes for hash and dice and package onions and other veggies. Bacon and eggs are always a breakfast essential, and please don’t forget the dog food for your canine companions. Cooking is much easier if you have a small gas stove, but cooking over an open fire is always an option.
  • Have a plan. We chose areas of Colorado and specifically forest service roads with national forest, wilderness areas and Bureau of Land Management areas for camping. You might choose specific state parks or private campgrounds to explore based on activity options for the family or the need for plumbing. Whether you have children, pets or neither can make a huge difference in your choices. Having an idea of what you want to do in advance will make getting out the door that much easier. Consider calling to reserve a spot if you plan to visit a popular campground destination or be prepared to change your plans to find a place to sleep. Which leads to the next point…
  • Be flexible. There have been many evening drives where we just didn’t feel like roughing it and pushed on to the next hotel. These have been the greatest decisions each time, especially on multi-day trips where the experience of a warm shower and comfy bed are tough to beat.
  • Be a good camping citizen by following the rules where you are camping. Campfires, pets, shooting and quiet times are some issues to take into account. Colorado and other states have “no burn” rules to help prevent forest fires when fire danger is high. Some campgrounds, including most national parks, don’t allow pets. Wilderness areas and some other places allow shooting, which can ruin the experience if you’re not expecting it. And most campgrounds have quiet times to allow for sleeping. Always practice the “leave no trace” philosophy by leaving the camp cleaner than you found it. Such a practice is becoming more critical in large popular camping areas to help sustain the experience for all.

So get out there and enjoy the experience.

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