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    The midcentury gave us a wealth of great design, but today “midcentury modern” is often a misnomer applied to a style that’s increasingly hard to define–and avoid.

    Whether you’re looking for a bargain buy on fast-furniture fixtures like Article, West Elm, and Burrow, or at higher-end stores that stock the classics, like Design Within Reach and Vitra, there’s a sameness that permeates much of design today. What made the midcentury unique has been generically flattened to a mainstream aesthetic default that continues to dominate the furniture and product market across the price spectrum.

    [Photo: Coming Soon]

    Midcentury modern fatigue is real, and it’s even hitting the retail giants that helped popularize it. In the past year alone, Ikea, the Swedish big-box brand long synonymous with affordable modern furniture for the masses, has taken note of the era’s waning appeal with collections that are arty, ugly, techy, and even extraterrestrial–anything but midcentury. At the same time, a growing batch of more adventurous brands, startups, vintage dealers, independent shops, and entrepreneurial designers are selling contemporary design online today. The pendulum is swinging back to a wider range of aesthetics (and not just Memphis-inspired stuff, though there’s some of that, too).

    Here’s our guide to finding original design, with more than 20 online shopping destinations that are firmly rooted in the present.

    [Photo: courtesy Studio Cope]

    Start with fabric, not furniture

    Textiles are the perfect, low-stakes way to add a punchy graphic to an interior or give a second life to a bland or older piece. And luckily, an insurgence of independent designers specializing in the craft–and taking their wares online–mean they’re not hard to find.

    Block Shop,
    Los Angeles-based sisters Lily and Hopie Stockman bring a bohemian California spirit to their colorful and natural-dyed Kantha quilts, prints, and table linens, with oversized patterns produced by hand with a community of master printers, dyers, and weavers based in Rajasthan, India.

    [Photo: Dusen Dusen]

    Dusen Dusen,
    Clothing and textile designer Ellen Van Dusen, whose dresses have been known to pop up on millennial chronicler Lena Dunham, recently expanded her popular geometric-pop designs with a home category that includes towels, upholstery, bedding, poufs, and shower curtains.

    Studio Cope,
    Nick and Rachel Cope, the husband-and-wife duo behind Calico, the bespoke wallpaper company that popularized the ethereal marbleized lewk, have also jumped into the home textiles game with Studio Cope. The line of pillows, curtains, and throws feature a soft watercolor aesthetic inspired by art, science, and nature.

    For rugs, look to Adam Sipe and Arati Rao’s Brooklyn-based label Tantuvi for handwoven ikats and dhurries made by women-run artisan collaboratives in South India that use centuries-old techniques. Sipe, a painter, and Rao, a fashion designer by training, pair to bring a keen eye to abstract compositions, and the duo also collaborates on high-street capsule collections with CB2 from time to time.

    Look for budget options at Minted, the print-on-demand stationery and textile platform that crowdsources patterns and illustrators from a community of artists. And for the less adventurous, default to basic with essentials from Snowe, a house goods purveyor that cuts costs by nixing the middleman, or Brooklinen, which offers quality, mostly monochrome linens at decent prices.

    [Photo: Nordstrom]

    Look to fashion designers

    Interior design and fashion make natural bedfellows, and many fashion brands and retailers are moving into the home sector, introducing furniture and lifestyle products alongside clothing and apparel. From the buzzy, big-ticket collaboration between Kvadrat and Raf Simons to more accessible collections like Virgil Abloh’s Ikea line, you can come across some pretty sweet, unexpected finds thanks to today’s fashion designers.

    [Photo: Nordstrom]

    Memphis Milano gift shop at Nordstrom,
    The teeming popularity and resurgence of the short-lived but highly influential Memphis Group, especially among young designers, can be seen as a reaction against the studious practicality of the midcentury modern ethos (though it may, too, have peaked and crested). Case in point: Nordstrom is hosting a pop-up of original wares from the 1980s Italian collective through the end of this month–and you can find most of it online for a pretty penny.

    Need Supply Co.,
    The Richmond, Virginia, store opened in 1996 as a retailer of vintage Levi’s, but has since expanded into a full-blown clothing and lifestyle store with a mix of well-known brands and emerging designers, now complete with a curated set of home goods. Go to their “Life” page to find a stock of giftable items you’d be tempted to keep for yourself, ranging from geometric coasters from Areaware (itself a good source for fun gifts) to perfectly folding table linens by Issey Miyake for Iittala, more high-end scented candles than you can afford, rugs by Cold Picnic, and lots of stylish planters by Eric Trine, Yield Design, and more.

    The Line,
    Located in a second-floor showroom that’s styled as a lived-in loft apartment, The Line is a favorite for downtown Manhattan fashion types, though its online shop it just as good for those not based in the city. Its luxe mix of home goods includes minimalist furniture, art prints, antiques, vases, and tableware from a range of brands and independent makers; as well as textiles, tabletop items, and accessories from their own in-house collection, Tenfold.

    Founded in 2013 as an online-only store that has since expanded to include a New York showroom, Trnk markets itself as a design retailer for shoppers seeking a “handsome home” with a “masculine point of view.” That feels tone-deaf in 2018, but don’t let that stop you from browsing the huge inventory of sleek, polished wares that make it a solid choice for midrange sofas, chunky armchairs, and an eclectic mix of designs that keep the midcentury homage to a tasteful minimum.

    [Photo: Adrianna Glaviano, courtesy Salter House]

    Dig into speciality stores and concept shops

    Luckily, in the age of the internet, you don’t need to travel far to track down hard-to-find goods from concept stores with a razor-sharp aesthetic. You’re likely to find a prized keepsake and plenty of inspiration with a simple browse of these highly curated stores.

    Tortoise General Store,
    Founded around a philosophy of a “slow and steady” lifestyle, the Venice, California-based store Tortoise sells Japanese minimalist furniture and household wares, and carries the entirety of the Hasami Porcelain collection, so you can mix and match your own complete set.

    [Photo: Adrianna Glaviano, courtesy Salter House]

    Salter House,,
    Sandeep Salter worked as a cataloguer for Printed Matter–the nonprofit that brought us the massive, annual New York Art Book Fair–before moving on to be the art and design book buyer at the independent bookstore McNally Jackson, and eventually staking a claim in the retail landscape with two spin-offs: Goods for the Study, home to all of the beautiful pens, stationery, and office goods you could hope for, and Picture Room, a store of artists’ editions and prints that she’s since taken independent. She teamed up with her husband, Carson Salter, on her latest venture, Salter House, which opened last month in Brooklyn. Alongside vegan treats and tea, the shop serves up traditional and sustainable, everyday English, American, and Japanese goods that have a calming effect and are blissfully plastic-free.

    Mociun Home,
    Trained in textile design, RISD alum Caitlin Mociun made her name in Brooklyn with her custom jewelry pieces. Her outpost for home goods is a treasure trove of both–plus a jaw-dropping collection of zeitgeist-y ceramics by independent makers like Bari Ziperstein, Risa Nishimori, and Workaday Handmade. Your best bet is a visit to the brick-and-mortar location in Williamsburg, though many pieces are listed online, and Mociun frequently shares new pieces on her Instagram account, @mociunhome.

    [Photo: Coming Soon]

    Use Instagram for rare finds and independent design

    Mixing in vintage pieces can add character to the rest of your stock Ikea finds, but navigating the listings of behemoth platforms like Chairish,Etsy, and 1stdibs can be a daunting challenge, if you don’t have a specific piece in mind. For a more casual browse, opt for specialized independent vintage dealers who sell directly on social media, and often share a wealth of archival eye candy between product posts.

    View this post on Instagram

    Ready for ya, 12-8

    A post shared by ✨bi-rite studio✨ (@bi_rite) on

    Bi-Rite,, @bi_rite
    Brooklyn-based dealer Cat Snodgrass runs both a brick-and-mortar store and an online shop, but, with nearly 20,000 followers on Instagram, her wares are likely to get snapped up in the comments before they hit the showroom floor. Expect a mix of playful and highbrow PoMo furniture, lighting, and product finds in primary colors from the ’80s and ’90s, including wastebaskets by Gino Colombini from Kartell, telephones by Michael Graves for Target, first-edition books on postmodern design, and the occasional nameless retro gem, like a stool with oversized pencils for legs.

    View this post on Instagram

    For a spicy ???? Saturday night

    A post shared by Coming Soon (@comingsoonny) on

    Coming Soon,
    The Lower East Side boutique is catnip for well-to-do hipster obsessed with interiors. You can browse products by color and astrology sign, in addition to the typical categories of price and genre, and it’s stocked almost entirely with works from up-and-coming designers and established independents like Chen Chen & Kai Williams, Anna Karlin Studios, and Group Partner. But don’t sleep on its incredible vintage furniture listings: With limited space in the packed-to-the-gills Manhattan storefront, the funky and glam ’70s finds often make their way online or on Instagram first, to an audience of more than 40,000 followers.

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    Hybrid-to-electric airplane manufacturer Zunum Aero and France’s Safran Helicopter Engines are teaming up to create the airplane of the future–fuel efficient, cost efficient, and better for the planet.

    Zunum Aero, the Seattle-based startup backed by Boeing and JetBlue Technology Ventures, announced plans for its first hybrid-electric planes last year. Private-jet charter company JetSuite quickly jumped on board, ordering “up to 100” of Zunum’s 12-seater hybrid-electric planes with the hopes of having them in their fleet and in the air by around 2022. Zunum is one step closer to making that deadline thanks to the partnership it announced today with Safran.

    Zunum’s planes operate on a unique hybrid system (more about that here) that can seamlessly move between a turbine engine and batteries. Safran’s new-generation engine turbine will drive the electrical generator in the Zunum ZA10, the first in the company’s family of hybrid-to-electric aircraft.

    Safran’s engine is a critical element of the ZA10’s hybrid powertrain as it is compact, high power, low weight, and fuel efficient. Zunum says it’s a world-class turbo-generator at a fraction of the traditional cost, contributing to Zunum’s promised 60% to 80% lower operating costs, with those costs pricing out at around just 8¢ per available seat mile. The cost savings is more than just good business, because saving the planet looks even better when you’re saving money, too.

    Read more:Inside Zunum Aero’s hybrid-electric plane

    While the news is exciting for Zunum, it’s also good for Safran, which can demonstrate its ability to make engines that work perfectly in hybrid planes. It’s a good skill set to have as consumers and companies look to electric alternatives to curb their carbon footprint and help slow the march of global warming.

    The integrated turbo-generator unit will be tested first on the ground at the Safran Helicopter Engines facility in France, before being installed on the Zunum flying test bed in the fall of 2019.

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    Chances are, you start each workday with high hopes and energy. You get to the office ready to take on the world. Your energy may ebb and flow, but you reach a point (often an hour or two before the day ends) where you’re just tapped out. You are physically there at work, but your brain has taken a holiday. You may find yourself doing “fake work” searching the internet (maybe reading articles like this one) or shuffling papers.

    Why is the end of the day so hard?

    There are two big reasons for it that have to do with the way your motivational system is set up. As I wrote in my book Smart Change, your motivational system has two primary subcomponents. The Go System engages your goals and drives you to act. Your Stop System stops you from doing things your Go System engages in that you don’t actually want to do. Both of these systems function less well as the day goes on.

    Sustained attention to a task requires energizing the Go System. As the day goes forward and you have worked hard on a variety of tasks, it can be difficult to generate the energy internally to focus on the next task on your to-do list. As a result, enticing things in your environment can play a big role in determining what you focus on. You may be more likely to get distracted by your email or your Slack feed later in the day than earlier.

    On top of that, the Stop System requires effort to engage. You will have less energy available to stop behaviors as well. If you are tempted to do something that is not central to the tasks that need to be accomplish, you’ll be better at pushing that temptation aside early in the day than late.

    What can you do?

    Just because it is hard to focus late in the day doesn’t mean that you can’t be productive. You just need to be productive in a different way.

    When you look at your to-do list, there are probably two kinds of tasks on it. Some are ones that require an internal motivational commitment to make progress like working on a report, researching a sales lead, or reading the specs of a new product. Other tasks can engage you from the outside. Having a one-on-one meeting with a colleague or client, touring a new work facility, or checking your email are all things where the motivation to work on them comes from the outside rather than having to be generated internally.

    Structure your day so that the tasks that require the most internal commitment are done early in the day, while the ones that will provide you with motivation themselves happen late. For example, I often schedule blocks of time to work on my writing early in the day, and put my meetings with colleagues and graduate students in the afternoon. And for my worst work times of the week (like late on Friday afternoon) I schedule productive events that are fun, like my lab group meeting.

    Setting up your day in this way allows you to work with the ebb and flow of your motivational system rather than creating a constant fight against your energy level.

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    Charles and Ray Eames’s work transformed homes, schools, and offices all over America in the 1950s and ’60s, but not all of the prolific duo’s designs made it into production. Now, the retailer Vitra and the Eames Office are collaborating to manufacture a design that’s never been made before: a radio with a molded plywood frame.

    The Eameses designed the radio in the 1940s, after the end of World War II. At the time, their office was more of a manufacturer than a design studio, according to Eames Demetrios, the office’s current director and the duo’s grandson. The duo were perfecting their molded plywood technique, which they used to create splints for injured soldiers, a now-classic chair, and even airplane wings. Many conventional materials were scarce after the war–including among makers of electronics, like radios.

    “As a result there was a real need for radio manufacturers to use a tried and true technology–the molded plywood that [the Eameses] invented,” Demetrios says.

    [Photo: Vitra]
    Radio companies were soon asking the office to manufacture molded plywood cabinets for their radio designs, of which the Eames Office ended up manufacturing hundreds of thousands.

    Unsurprisingly, the Eameses also came up with their own radio designs–including the 1946 model that Vitra is finally realizing. At the time, however, radio producers ultimately rejected the duo’s work in favor of their own designs, and the Eameses’ radios were never mass-produced. “They were too modern, you might say,” Demetrios says. “I think people look at the Eameses work today and it’s so iconic that people think that they were successful since the beginning. But in the 1940s, they were like any startup today trying to make things work.”

    [Photo: Vitra]

    To revitalize the stylish design, which has a rounded plywood frame, a classic black face with 16 speaker holes, and a few knobs and dials, the Eames Office and Vitra partnered with the British manufacturer Revo, which has expertise in producing speakers. The new design uses the molded plywood technique, but it has some modern twists: It’s outfitted with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so you can stream your digital music easily.

    The process was not without challenges: The team had to slightly tweak the design to ensure that music would properly play through the holes in the wood at high sound quality. But according to Demetrios, it’s all part of the revival process–updating it actually stays true to the Eameses’s philosophy.

    “When they designed things, they were always improving them and trying to make them better,” he says. “It wouldn’t make sense to make a radio with vacuum tubes in it.”

    The radio costs $999. Only 50 are available for purchase at the MoMA Design Store through the end of 2018. It will be sold in a limited run at Vitra stores in 2019.

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    That’s according to a report from bandwidth management company Sandvine, reports the BBC. Taking up 15% of the world’s bandwidth makes Netflix the biggest data hog on the planet. Following Netflix, miscellaneous video embeds on websites takes up 13.1% of all internet traffic, while YouTube takes up 11.4% and general web browsing takes up 7.8%

    In total, streaming video accounts for more than half the bandwidth on the internet worldwide at 58% of total bandwidth. Other findings reveal BitTorrent is responsible for 22% of total upstreams on the web, social media accounts for just 5.1% of all web traffic, and League of Legends accounts for 26% of all gaming streaming traffic on the web.

    You can check out Sandvine’s full Global Internet Phenomena Report here.

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    The internet is about as clean as a public toilet, and election season is like the end of the night in a busy bar. Web pages are littered with misleading election ads and deceptive social media screeds authored by who knows.

    Firefox users will see this announcement of the Election Bundle in their browser. [Image: courtesy of Mozilla]
    To combat this onslaught, Mozilla, the nonprofit behind the privacy-focused Firefox web browser, is offering a free packet of tools—called the Firefox Election Bundle—to help users navigate the coming mayhem. Starting today, the Mozilla home page will provide information on electoral deception through articles, documentaries, relevant episodes of Mozilla’s IRL podcast, and hand-selected political articles from its bookmarking service, Pocket. It also has a tool for checking whether you are registered to vote.

    “We want to make it even easier than going out and searching by packaging that [information] together,” says Mozilla CMO Jascha Kaykas-Wolfe.

    Some of the information resources offered in the Election Bundle. [Image: courtesy of Mozilla]
    Current and new users who opt in will also get two ad-ons (browser plug-ins) aimed at the biggest social network. Facebook Container isolates Facebook activity from the rest of your browsing in other tabs or windows. That, for instance, prevents Facebook from using information from other sites, like cookies, to better track you. With all the election-related exploits on the social network over the years, this privacy shield is a welcome tool. (I’ve been using it since the Cambridge Analytica scandal.)

    The second ad-on, ProPublica’s Political Ad Collector, scarfs these adverts from Facebook and sends them to a coalition of groups and volunteers that monitor deception in political messaging. Available as a Chrome plug-in as well, Ad Collector also reveals the full range of political ads that aren’t targeted to your social media bubble.

    “What we are doing more and more with Firefox,” says Kaykas-Wolfe, “is that we’re bringing together all of the tools, preselected to help individuals have more control over very discrete problems they’re trying to solve.”

    This article has been updated.

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    In late July, firefighters in Santa Clara County, California were stretched to the breaking point as they took on raging wildfires in the Mendocino hills, which were spreading fast, nearly 30,000 acres within hours at one point. It was the largest fire on record in state history. Firefighters were overwhelmed with laying down containment lines in steep inaccessible areas when they were suddenly presented with a new challenge–the loss of communications.

    Verizon virtually cut off the internet connection to a vital command and control vehicle used to receive calls for help and to coordinate firefighters and equipment. The company had throttled down the broadband connection to that vehicle (known as “OES 5262”) to 1/200th of its normal speed. One fireman said the service became basically unusable, cutting off firefighters from vital emergency communications.

    Why? Because the fire department had maxed out its monthly data allotment during the emergency. “Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, but, rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost,” said Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden in a court filing, “and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan.” It took four weeks to resolve the matter, and Verizon’s only solution was to up-sell the fire department to a more expensive data plan.”

    “This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality . . .” Verizon said in a statement. “We made a mistake in how we communicated with our customer about the terms of its plan.” But Verizon had been shamed, and later announced it would lift the data caps on all California emergency response vehicles.

    The bill that wouldn’t die

    Meanwhile, 115 miles to the southwest in Sacramento, state senator Scott Weiner and other Democrats were fighting another kind of firestorm–a massive lobbying offensive by Big ISPs (internet service providers) to stop the advance of Weiner’s network neutrality bill, SB-822. The bill assures that the big ISPs (like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast) that connect users to the internet deliver all content at the same speed, regardless of the substance or origin of the data packets. The bill would prohibit Big ISPs from selling higher delivery speeds to big internet companies that can afford it (to the great disadvantage of smaller internet businesses), and from giving their own services an advantage by “zero-rating” (not charging for) the data used to deliver them.

    At one point in June, when SB-822 had come up for a crucial committee vote, some California lawmakers buckled under heavy pressure from AT&T and Comcast lobbyists and removed some of the bill’s key protections at the 11th hour. During the hearing, a frustrated Weiner threatened to abandon the watered-down version of the bill altogether. But the public took notice, and waves of outrage flowed to Sacramento from around the state, blasting the lawmakers for selling out to Big ISP. This had the effect of refocusing the efforts of certain lawmakers to the job of passing an effective bill. Weiner and his Democratic colleagues went back to work on SB-822, restoring its key points. And then Verizon cut off the communications of the Santa Clara firefighters, making headlines across the country.

    “That incident certainly provided us with some momentum on the legislation,” Weiner told me during an interview Tuesday. “There was a dispute about whether or not the incident was a net neutrality violation. Some experts said it was, others said it wasn’t. But regardless of that it really highlighted the reality that network neutrality is a public safety concern.”

    By summer’s end, SB-822 had risen from the ashes. It passed both chambers of the California legislature August 31 and headed for the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. Brown had been silent on the matter for some time, so his signature was far from assured. A month after the bill passed the legislature, Brown finally signed it into law last Sunday. It was a massive victory of network neutrality proponents over the well-monied ISP lobby, but the celebration didn’t last long.

    As expected, the Trump administration responded (as it had before on the California immigration law) with a lawsuit.  The Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the FCC, immediately filed an injunction on Sunday to stop SB-822 from taking effect January 1, 2019.

    “Within minutes of Governor Brown signing our net neutrality bill into law, Jeff Sessions came out of his cave and sued California to strike down the law,” Weiner said in a statement. A few days later, four large broadband industry lobby groups signed on to the DOJ’s injunction, including USTelecom (telcos), the CTIA (mobile broadband carriers), the NCTA (large cable companies), and the American Cable Association (small and mid-size cable companies). As Ars Technica‘s Jon Brodkin puts it, “the entire broadband industry” is lining up to stop California’s net neutrality law.

    No one is allowed

    The California law was prompted by a controversial move late last year by the Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, who rammed through an order that killed off federal network neutrality protections outlined in the 2015 Open Internet Order. Indeed, Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” order, passed on a 3-2 party-line vote in December 2017, did more than erase federal net neutrality protections. It also reclassified broadband service from a Title II “telecommunication service” to a Title I “information service” under the definitions provided by the Telecommunication Act, which effectively put broadband providers outside the jurisdiction of the commission. That left only the Federal Trade Commission to punish network neutrality breaches after the fact, and the FTC has no special expertise in regulating telecommunication services as the FCC does.

    Pai’s order went still further. It also contains a clause saying that states can’t pass their own laws regulating the ISPs, filling the regulatory vacuum left by the FCC.

    “Sessions and his boss Donald Trump aren’t satisfied with the federal government repealing net neutrality,” Weiner said in his Sunday statement. “In their world, no one is allowed to protect an open internet.”

    Pai had his own reasons for making sure that the FCC order preempted any state action. His order was politically unpopular, with polls showing that a strong majority of Americans wanted laws preventing ISPs from hindering some internet traffic and helping others. (And there’s evidence that Pai and other Republican FCC staffers may have interfered with the agency’s public comments system to obscure the extent of the public’s support for net neutrality.)

    When the federal government passes unpopular legislation there’s a good chance that states will step in and write their own laws that better reflect the will of voters, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Ernesto Falcon explained to me. Comcast and Verizon’s lawyers knew that, and that’s why both asked the FCC–in last minute ex parte filings to the commission in November 2017–to add language to Pai’s order preempting the states from passing their own laws protecting the neutral internet. The FCC agreed to add the preemption, even though it had not asked for public comment on the clause as it is required to do by law. The commission appears to have been actively working with Big ISPs on the legal language needed to kill network neutrality rules for good. This all could come back to bite Pai and the FCC in court. More on that below.

    This all puts the FCC in an odd position now. On the one hand the commission has taken away its own power to regulate broadband providers, and on the other it insists it still has the power to prevent the states from doing so. “It certainly does look like the commission is talking out of both sides of its mouth,” former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told me.

    Fighting California

    The DOJ will have to reconcile the two sides of this paradox in court. And this problem had an effect on the agency’s legal strategy to kill off the California law in court. In its injunction, the DOJ doesn’t focus directly on disputing California’s right to make net neutrality law. Rather, its main tactic seems to be delaying the law from taking effect by moving the matter to a federal circuit court in the District of Columbia. The D.C. circuit court, as it happens, is already hearing another case in which Mozilla and some other tech companies are challenging the FCC’s power to preempt states from passing their own net neutrality laws. That case, Mozilla v. FCC, won’t be heard by the court until next February, with a decision expected by mid-next year.

    If the D.C. circuit court decides that FCC indeed has the power to preempt the states, that may mean the end for the California law, the EFF’s Falcon told me. If the court decides that the FCC lacks the power to preempt (and the way the preemption clause was added to the order may push the court in this direction), the case moves on to a new question: Can the states show that their reasons for regulating broadband service providers are compelling enough to outweigh the burden imposed on the Big ISPs to comply with numerous state laws? And the burden may be significant; ISPs like Comcast operate nationwide networks, so complying with a patchwork of state laws could be costly. The DOJ attorneys will argue that broadband service is a classic example of “interstate commerce,” which the Constitution says should be regulated by the federal government.

    Broadband and public safety

    In order to overcome that argument, the California Attorney General will have to make a strong case that California has a vital interest in regulating ISPs doing business in the state. The California AG may point out that the state already enjoys the power to dole out franchise rights to telecom or cable companies that want to install new broadband infrastructure in California cities and towns. The state already overseas programs for providing broadband service to poor and underserved populations in the state. But the state’s strongest argument may be that it must have the power to regulate broadband providers in order to maintain public safety.

    And that’s where the firefighters come in. When Verizon throttled down the broadband connection to those emergency vehicles, there was no authority to complain to–no local, state, or federal agency with the authority to demand that Verizon restore the service immediately. Had the Santa Clara county fire chief appealed to the FCC, it wouldn’t have made a difference, because the FCC abandoned its authority to regulate broadband providers like Verizon with its Restoring Internet Freedom order. This is remarkable because assuring the availability of communications systems in times of emergency is one of the FCC’s key mandates. The fire chief couldn’t have complained to the state of California because the state had no network neutrality law of its own on the books–and still won’t on January 1, 2019 because of the DOJ’s injunction. If the court is receptive to that powerful line of argument, the California law could survive and eventually go into effect. And Verizon’s July 29 throttle-down of emergency vehicle OES 5262 will have played a big role.

    Pressure on Congress

    California’s new law may put pressure on lawmakers in D.C. to reinstate the Obama-era net neutrality protections that the FCC rolled back. There’s precedent for this. The Congress in 2017 struck down Obama-era FCC rules preventing Big ISPs from harvesting and using customers’ personal browsing data without consent. The ISP lobby had complained (probably rightly) that they were being subjected to rules that didn’t apply to big internet companies like Google and Facebook.

    The ISPs got their way, and the privacy rules were repealed. But the repeal wasn’t popular with the public, and many states immediately began working their own broadband privacy bills to fill the regulatory vacuum. California was one of them, and it eventually passed a remarkably strong privacy law in June. This, sources tell me, didn’t go unnoticed in Washington, D.C., and it has put pressure on Congress to pass a new federal privacy bill. And California passed its privacy law just as the public and members of Congress have grown more aware and less patient with the personal data harvesting practices of companies like Google and Facebook.

    The same kind of pressure on Congress could result from California’s net neutrality law, if it survives in court.

    In fact, whenever the fight over net neutrality heats up, voices cry out that the Congress will eventually have to settle the matter by writing new federal law. The same voices were heard at the signing of California network neutrality bill. “This state law is unlikely to survive judicial review,” proclaimed Brent Skorup at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. “The internet and internet services are clearly interstate communications and federal law dominates.” Some point out it should be elected officials (members of Congress), not appointed ones (FCC commissioners) who should make the law. This might result in a set of rules that better reflects what voters want and which isn’t subject to the partisan winds that blow in and out of the agency every time a new administration comes to town.

    The future’s unwritten

    Even the Big ISPs have been heard saying they’d welcome a federal network neutrality law. “. . . we repeatedly have encouraged the U.S. Congress to end the back and forth and confusion surrounding open internet protections once and for all by writing a uniform, national law that protects all American consumers, innovation and investment by treating all internet platforms equally,” said Joan Marsh, AT&T EVP of Regulatory & State External Affairs, in a statement. “Simply put, state-by-state regulation in this area is insufficient and unworkable because the internet is a global network of networks that enables consumers to access and use information, content and services without regard to state, and even national, boundaries.”

    Be careful what you wish for, says Obama-era FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

    “I love the Oscar Wilde saying: There are only two tragedies in life: One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it,” says Wheeler, under whose chairmanship the FCC passed the 2015 net neutrality rules and the 2017 broadband privacy rules. “The ISPs have had such complete and total victories in the Trump FCC, first with the repeal of the privacy rules and then with the repeal of the net neutrality rules. Congratulations. You’ve won. But now you’re in a situation where you have to choose between what you allege are the incompatible state regulations and the Congress enacting something you don’t like.”

    Wheeler says the Big ISPs might have left well enough alone when the new administration came to power in January 2017. “I think there was about a snowball’s chance in hell that the Trump FCC would ever have enforced the net neutrality rules in the 2015 order, but that wasn’t enough. They had to put a stake in its heart.”

    “But that woke up a lot of people, and they will have to answer to that,” Wheeler says, “whether it be in the courts, in the Congress, or in other states.”

    Indeed, four states–Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and now California–have already passed their own network neutrality laws, and another 30 states have net neutrality laws in the works. Others will likely follow in 2019 with bills modeled after Weiner’s SB-822.

    Or, with champions like Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn in the House, the big broadband providers might get something they love from Congress. And that is Weiner’s nightmare.

    “One of the worst results would be passing a fake net neutrality law and then declaring victory, and then trying to preempt the states,” Weiner told me. That might mean Game Over for net neutrality. Weiner has already seen one fake net neutrality bill this year–his own SB-822 when it got (temporarily) neutered in Sacramento last June. Something very similar could easily happen in Washington. When the Big ISPs like AT&T and Comcast say they’d welcome a federal network neutrality law, that’s what they’re probably hoping for–federal law that allows them to sell internet fast lanes and zero-rate their own services like on-demand video or streaming music.

    “We have to be mindful of that fact and make sure that if the Congress does act they pass meaningful legislation,” Weiner says. But he also told me he doesn’t see Congress acting anytime soon. Democrats currently favor strong network neutrality rules but lack the numbers needed to push a bill. “Even if the Democrats manage to turn the House in the midterms they’re still not going to have the 60 votes [they’d need to pass a bill] in the Senate,” Weiner says.

    The only thing that seems certain in the fight over the neutrality of the internet is continued regulatory uncertainty. At least in the near term this alone may be enough to keep the big ISPs’ plans for fast lanes and zero-rating in check.

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    You might need an advanced degree to fully grok the spooky science of quantum physics. With the state of subatomic particles, such as the polarization of a photon, in constant flux, that particle is essentially in multiple states at the same time. Building a computer around that phenomenon means that each data bit, instead of being a zero or a one at any given moment, can be both a zero and a one.

    Funky physics aside, the sales pitch for the technology is straightforward: It will (someday) beat even the most powerful traditional computers at finding the optimal arrangement of many interdependent components. For instance: picking the optimal routes for thousands of delivery vehicles, all sharing the same road network. Another: predicting the way many atoms of different elements, and all their buzzing electrons, will interact when designing complex molecules for new drugs.

    Until recently, quantum computing has largely happened in the scientific underground–with large systems housed inside refrigerated cabinets at university and government labs, or in the skunkworks at cash-rich companies like Google. (Systems cost several million dollars and require specialized care and feeding.) But in 2016, IBM launched the Q Experience, providing online access to a quantum system so people without multimillion-dollar R&D budgets can kick the tires. This year, China’s Alibaba, California’s Rigetti, and now Canada’s D-Wave have followed suit.

    Related: Quantum computing is almost ready for business, startup Rigetti says

    This opening of access could lead to a crowd-sourced revolution in advancing the gnarly new algorithms required to integrate quantum with traditional computing–and fulfill the sales pitch.

    “Those are the optimistic possibilities,” says Chirag Dekate, a Gartner analyst covering AI and emerging technologies. “But if you speak with the realists in the space, what they will tell you is…it’ll allow end users to explore and figure out that quantum computing is just not ready for primetime yet.”

    Perhaps nowhere is the promise-vs.-reality debate more heated than with D-Wave–established back in 1999 and the latest to offer a cloud-based system, which opened to the public today. Mentioning D-Wave often provokes a smirk or grimace among quantum computing experts, who say the company may be overselling its outlier approach to the technology, known as quantum annealing.

    “D-Wave claims that they’re realizing production value from their quantum computer,” says Brian Hopkins, a Forrester Research analyst covering quantum computing. “I haven’t been able to verify that claim by talking to anybody who’s willing to tell me they’re doing anything other than running science experiments.” He goes on to say, however, that anyone who did get a competitive advantage using a quantum computer probably wouldn’t want competitors to know.

    “Every time somebody says, well, D-Wave this, D-wave that, my response was, go try it. You go see for yourself,” says Alan Baratz, EVP of R&D and chief product officer at D-Wave. And now anyone actually can.

    Leap provides one minute of free quantum computing time–enough for hundreds or even thousands of jobs. [Image: courtesy of D-Wave]
    The new online service, called D-Wave Leap, runs on a freemium model. Anyone–regardless of expertise level–gets free access to educational materials, programming tools, a community of users, and one minute of realtime quantum computer operation. “A minute allows you to submit between 400 and 4,000 jobs,” says Baratz. Developers can get an additional free minute per month, if they make all their work open-source; or they can buy private time, starting at $2,000 per hour.

    IBM’s Q Experience is also free. Rigetti’s free quantum cloud is limited to about 500 invited participants. I was unable to find Alibaba’s online system, announced back in March, and the company hasn’t responded to my inquiry.

    What happens when Romeo meets Juliet

    At the very least, D-Wave Leap is a fun way to get a feel for quantum computing, running introductory lessons on a real machine within the first few minutes. It currently features two example problems that harness quantum computing’s ability to consider multiple variations of a situation at the same time. That comes from the ability for each bit to be considered to have a value of both zero and one, plus the ability to link the fate of bits together through “spooky” phenomena like entanglement.

    The first example is factoring: finding all the integers (i.e. not decimal numbers) that another integer can be divided by. First D-Wave shows how a classical computer would solve the problem, trying each option in sequence. For the number 49, can you divide it by 2? No. Can you divide it by 3? No. And on and on, until it tries 7.

    It then reconfigures the problem into a latticework of entangled qubits. You press the “RUN” button, and a distant quantum computer spits out the answer “7×7” after a 16-millisecond run–leaving enough computer time for solving up to 3,998 other problems.

    Try as it might, even a quantum computer can’t fix the strained relationships Romeo and Juliet caused. [Image: courtesy of D-Wave]
    The entertaining second example, considers 16 love and hate relationships between the Montague and Capulet clans of Verona, and how the stable state of enmity is thrown into deadly chaos when Romeo meets Juliet. Trying every possible rejiggering of relationships, the quantum computer concludes, in 16 milliseconds, that there is no way to achieve a stable realignment of the families.

    These sample tasks, known as optimization problems, are easy enough for a traditional computer to solve without breaking a sweat. But as the numbers get bigger, the workload on a traditional computer quickly spirals out of control. On that all computing experts and mathematicians agree.

    The battle of the bits

    One critique of D-Wave’s technology is that it’s only useful for these optimization problems. Its qubits are tied together in a way that, driven by physics, naturally cascades to an alignment providing the optimal arrangement (or arrangements) to solve the problem. But D-Wave’s tech doesn’t provide the quantum versions of the “logic gates” on which today’s computers are based. Those systems, which most other companies are pursuing, could solve a wider range of potential problems. “DWave’s qubits and qubits of gate-modeled or universal quantum computers are similar only in name,” says Hopkins. “You simply cannot compare them in any meaningful way.”

    D-Wave has a pretty compelling counter-argument. “Today you can’t actually use a gate model system for anything of value,” says Baratz. Or as Hopkins describes it: “Universal quantum computers have qubits that are highly susceptible to errors and hence the complexity of problems they can solve is currently very limited.”

    [Photo: courtesy of D-Wave]
    Most of these computers have just a handful of qubits. Google has the biggest of these systems that’s been announced, with 72 qubits. D-wave’s current chip has 2,048 qubits–albeit of a radically different type. (Industry analyst Doug Finke maintains a scorecard of quantum computers, tracking both the quantity and quality of qubits.)

    What remains controversial, though, is D-Wave’s current ability to economically beat a standard computer. “I have run into academic researchers from reputed universities in New England that claim that quantum annealing systems are fairly limited, and you can actually achieve exactly [what they do] using high performance classical systems,” says Chirag Dekate.

    D-Wave, of course, disagrees; and it’s now putting its mouth where its money is ($220 million in funding raised). Beyond introductory materials, including videos and other explainers, Leap gets very technical. It includes a suite of developer tools called Ocean, sample code, and a software developer kit that allow programmers to build complex operations for solving real problems. That’s similar to what Rigetti is doing, with a set of tools–following the nature theme–called Forest.

    This is the natural progression of quantum computing, according to analysts. “Cloud is going to be the de facto way to access quantum computers,” says Brian Hopkins. “Very few firms are going to buy quantum computers.”

    Putting a spin on quantum computing claims

    Rigetti expects that, within three years, its community of developers will reach so-called “quantum advantage”–getting results faster or cheaper with a combination of quantum and classical computers than with a classical machine alone. That’s a bold claim in the industry, but D-Wave says it’s passed that milestone. “We have [clients] working on 100 applications. Many of them are achieving [quantum] advantage already,” says D-Wave’s SVP of marketing, Jen Houston. She and Baratz point to customers like OTI Lumionics, which they say is using their technology to model new molecules for OLED lighting.

    Observers remain wary. “I’m always skeptical until I actually speak with a customer firsthand,” says Dekate. “Vendors will always say some interesting things to push their technology.”

    By bringing its technology into the open, D-Wave is allowing many more people to test its claims, and trade notes. “We’ve had—up until now–20, 30, 40 customers that have been doing really interesting application work,” says Baratz. “Now they and hundreds of thousands of developers that we’re opening the system up to will be able to communicate and interact with one another.”

    Hundreds of thousands sounds quite optimistic. Quantum computing is still a rather niche field for savvy early tinkerers, says Dekate. But he agrees that opening up these computers–whatever quantum technology they use–could have a huge benefit to advancing the nascent technology. “If you have a problem set that can benefit from quantum computing, irrespective of the platform type, rethinking your approach, rethinking your problems, and thinking in a quantum mindset absolutely is going to be helpful,” he says.

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    Today’s workplace provides abundant opportunities for impromptu remarks–in meetings, job interviews, networking events, corridor chats, and elevator conversations. These passing conversations are enormously important in building your leadership image.

    Gone are the days when leaders earned their stripes by delivering scripted speeches or lengthy presentations. Impromptu conversations are the new norm for inspiring others. Even a brief hallway conversation can earn you the attention of a supervisor, a prospective client, or a senior executive. The outcome could be approval for a project, well-deserved recognition, or a job opportunity.

    Impromptu: The Myth and Reality

    But many people are held back by a myth: that speaking impromptu involves “winging it.” The assumption is that either we’re born with this skill–or not.

    But being a great extemporaneous speaker is not about winging it, nor is it for the privileged few. It’s something we all can become good at. Those who are excellent at off-the-cuff speaking have a secret: They don’t wing it; they prepare. As paradoxical as it may sound, preparing to be spontaneous is key. In fact, the word “impromptu” derives from the Latin “in promptu,” meaning “in readiness.”

    Whether you have three days, three minutes, or three seconds to prepare, there are techniques you can use to be successfully spontaneous. Here are three I discuss in my book, Impromptu: Leading in the Moment.

    Think Ahead – Plan Your Strategy

    To begin with, plan ahead. Think about the informal opportunities you might encounter in the next few days, and decide how you’ll handle them.

    Look at your calendar for the week. Ask yourself which events will likely involve important impromptu conversations. Suppose you’re scheduled for a networking event. Decide who you’ll want to meet, and what kind of “pitch” you’ll present. Or if you have a regular weekly meeting with your team, think ahead to what contribution you’ll want to make.

    It’s also wise to plan for some of the chance encounters that might occur in the elevator or corridor. For example, if you have a new CEO in the company, think ahead to what you’ll say if you see her. A good approach would be to introduce yourself and welcome her to the company.

    By thinking ahead and deciding how you’ll handle each situation, you won’t freeze–or simply mouth platitudes.

    Have Leadership Messages in Mind

    Second, keep key leadership messages in mind. Those statements are important if you want to make a strong impression in these impromptu situations. They will position you as a leader and ensure that you inspire others.

    Messages about you as a leader might include statements like: “I’m pleased to lead our very successful business development team.” Or more specifically, “We have just closed the books on a remarkable year–revenue is up by 25%.”

    Messages about your team might sound like this: “My team has been working extremely hard, and they’ve delivered a record sales performance.” Or “We have just come back from our annual retreat and I am excited about the talent in our group.”

    Still other messages might be about individuals in your group. “Marcia, a member of our team, has just won a national award for female entrepreneurship.”

    Let’s suppose you run into your new CEO–how wonderful to be able to share one of these messages. These are positive, career-enhancing messages that can be embedded in any set of impromptu remarks.

    Collect Your Thoughts

    Third, good impromptu speakers are also able to organize their thoughts without having a scripted text. The best approach is to have some sort of template that allows you to structure what you’re going to say, and create a mental outline.

    The one I recommend has four elements:

    1. Begin with a “grabber” that connects you to your audience. You might say, “I’ve been meaning to give you a call,” or “Great to see you.”
    2. Next comes your message, a one-sentence statement that often begins with “I believe,” or “I’m delighted to share with you . . . .”
    3. Offer two to four proof points that support your message.
    4. End with a call to action that invites your audience to act on what you’ve said or that suggests collaborative action you and your audience can take together.

    A financial executive I know used this template when she was at an international conference. She saw a business opportunity and spent the break jotting down her short script on the back of a business card. She then pitched, and won, an important deal she was after. Her grabber was, “Great meeting you.” Her message: “We can certainly provide the equity investment you’re looking for.” Her proof points elaborated several aspects of the proposed deal. And her call to action was a strong, positive, “We’d love to partner with you.”

    Imagine using this template in a quick corridor conversation, an elevator chat, a networking event, or in answering a question. It is an “in the moment” strategy for collecting your thoughts.

    Studies have shown that good impromptu speakers are regarded as smart and charismatic. So prepare to be spontaneous. Take the time to master these techniques, and you will come across as a superb impromptu speaker and a compelling leader.

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    If you’ve spent any significant time looking at data visualizations–or in a STEM classroom–you’ve probably had this maxim drilled into your head: Correlation does not imply causation. In plain English, it means “just because A and B appear to be related doesn’t mean that A caused B to happen.” Statisticians and chart nerds love to point out this fallacy by setting up patently absurd correlations, like matching up the divorce rate in Maine with per capita consumption of margarine. Nobody would seriously believe that eating margarine causes divorce. But what about subtler correlations like this one?

    [Image: couresty of the author]

    If, after scanning that graph, you can’t help but think that higher housing prices are somehow causing women to have fewer babies… well, you wouldn’t be alone. Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, two researchers at the University of Washington, think that the very layout of the graph itself–one set of numbers laid out horizontally, another set arranged vertically–may be partly to blame.

    That classic “X vs Y axis” graph, known as a scatterplot, is a workhorse visualization in science and statistics. Researchers use it to explore how closely two sets of measurements are related to each other. Scatterplots make this exploration easier, because the correlations literally line up as visual patterns right in front of your eyes.

    The trouble, says Bergstrom, is that these “correlation-only” scatterplots follow exactly the same visual conventions as graphs that are explicitly intended to show causation. Which graphs? According to Bergstrom, pretty much every one you saw in high school. Whether we were fussing with f(x)’s in geometry class or filling out lab reports in chemistry, for those of us whose visual-statistical education ended shortly after senior prom, the entire idea of plotting data on an X-Y grid means “this thing causes that thing.”

    A graph of the function y = sin x from a calculus textbook. [Image: couresty of the author]
    “Because of conventions that the horizontal axis variable influences the vertical axis variable, we are trained or at least habituated to think in causal terms when looking at scatterplots,” Bergstrom says.

    But Bergstrom and West don’t want to rebuild graphing from the ground up: “We are stuck with with the norms we already have,” they write. Their solution? Keep the same Cartesian grid system we all learned on in high school, but display it at a 45-degree angle to create what they call a “diamond plot.” Here’s that graph about home prices and fertility again, redisplayed according to Bergstrom and Wise’s scheme:

    [Image: couresty of the author]

    The correlations themselves still form clear visual patterns on the grid, just like the did in old-fashioned scatterplots. But with both sets of numbers tilted at symmetrical angles, neither axis appears to take causal priority over the other. In other words, the layout of the graph doesn’t nudge you to project nonexistent storylines onto the data.

    That’s the hunch, anyway. Bergstrom and West freely admit that they still need to validate diamond plots with rigorous user testing. Alberto Cairo, information designer and author of The Functional Art, thinks that “the diamond [plot] is an intriguing idea.” But he also thinks that the problem lies less with graph design and more in our own built-in cognitive bias to see causation in everything. “We evolved to detect patterns, even if patterns are just the product of random clustering, and come up with stories to explain them,” he says. “How to overcome these biases? A conscious effort, informed by education, to curb our impulse to jump to conclusions.”

    Bergstrom agrees that our natural pattern-recognition habits are a major factor in misinterpreting scatterplots; he just doesn’t think it’s the only factor. He and Wise are planning to test diamond plots this autumn. But Bergstrom also understands that putting standard graphs at a Dutch angle might cause more problems than it solves, by making the visualizations more difficult to read. “If it turns out that diamond plots are effective at reducing unwarranted causal inferences without imposing too great a cognitive cost [on users], of course we will be using them going forward,” he says. “If not, well, that is the nature of science: You propose an idea, test it, and discard it if the evidence stacks up to the contrary.”

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    As wellness further sweeps the travel industry, more and more established names are launching getaways. The newest one is Equinox.

    On Thursday, the luxury fitness company announced its version of fit retreats, which will include domestic getaways as well exotic week-long journeys abroad. Depending on the destination, each trip will focus on a different modality. For example, expect hiking in the Adirondacks, yoga and mindfulness in India, and more physically demanding exercise during a trip to Ethiopia that traces the birth of elite running. They will all be led by Equinox talent.

    The company recently hired luxury travel coordinator Leah Howe, formerly of premier travel agencies Butterfield & Robinson and Van Wyck & Van Wyck, to serve as senior director of retreats and member experiences.

    “Physical activity will be an integral part of the experiences, but the way that physicality is incorporated will vary based on the destination and planned programming,” Howe told Fast Company via email. “We are creating highly coveted signature programs for Equinox such as precision running, performance cycling, and yoga and regeneration, and all will include complementary lifestyle programming. We plan to have different options available–some trip-goers will, say, do a 10-mile hike, others may opt to go further or incorporate additional activities. The sky’s the limit.”

    All packages include meals and excursions, which run the gamut from a personalized training session with a champion athlete to foraging with a renowned local chef. Equinox’s new venture kicks off with a “summit-chasing adventure in Morocco” in April 2019.

    One does not need to be an Equinox club member to sign up, and prices vary depending on duration and destination. These group trips can also be customized based on a group’s fitness or lifestyle goals. Essentially, Equinox can now plan your next bachelorette party or corporate retreat.

    “Conceived with its member community in mind, the Equinox travel experiences are intended for sophisticated travelers who want to explore destinations through the lens of transformational health and life maximization,” reads a press statement.

    Branching out

    Equinox’s travel expansion is yet another example of the company shifting into a lifestyle brand. Last year, the gym franchise announced it was dipping into hospitality with a New York City hotel. It also added “sleep coaches” to its portfolio of member services. More recently, Equinox and SoulCycle (which is majority owned by Equinox) announced a joint talent management agency.

    As millennials increasingly look to travel to “reset” their fitness and health goals, it makes sense that Equinox would offer an extension beyond gym walls. It joins other fitness companies offering retreats and day-long experiences, including ClassPass, Barre3, Taryn Toomey’s The Class, and dozens more.

    “Travel and experiences are important elements of the high-performance life, and members and non-members alike know and expect us to deliver a highly curated offering that meaningfully reflects the services and programming already offered at our clubs,” says Howe. “In everything we do, science-backed fitness is at our core, but it’s the style–from design, to delivery to amenities–that truly elevates the experience.”

    As Fast Company previously reported, wellness travel–defined as vacationing while enhancing or maintaining one’s physical, mental, or spiritual well-being–is now a $563 billion global industry. The Global Wellness Institute reports that while overall tourism is growing at 6.9%, the wellness tourism sector grew 14% in the last two years and is now one of the fastest-growing tourism markets.

    There are now entire festivals dedicated to fitness and wellness. Some, like Wanderlust, are held throughout the year in exotic locations like Oahu, Hawaii. Much of this signifies the industry’s move to experiential offerings, which explains hybrids such as SoulCycle live concerts.

    Fitness clubs–and their talent–are leading much of the wellness travel interest. In a survey of nearly 5,000 Well+Good readers, 40% of respondents reported they’d rather go on a fitness retreat with their favorite instructor than attend a five-star resort like the esteemed Miraval in Arizona.

    “Equinox single-handedly invented the concept of fitness-as-lifestyle nearly 30 years ago,” said Harvey Spevak, Equinox’s executive chairman and managing partner, in a press statement, “and now we are expanding our purview to include active, covetable experiences that empower our discerning members to connect with the world–and themselves.”

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    The science of career success is well-established. There are thousands of academic studies comparing the power of a variety of factors that predict performance and achievement across all possible jobs and careers. Unfortunately, it is usually ignored by those who provide actual career advice to the wider public.

    This is largely due to the fact that academics tend to publish their findings using technical language and in subscription-only journals with limited access. This is unfortunate, not least because their research is funded by taxpayer dollars.

    Another issue is that even though academic findings are more reliable than personal anecdotes from self-proclaimed gurus, they rarely make news, because intelligence, hard work, and social skills aren’t ever going to be viral hits. Likewise, some of the scientific evidence on why some people are more successful than others would make for depressing rather than uplifting reading, and cannot easily derive into practical life hacks.

    This is why, despite the evidence that much of our career success is already determined at birth, no one is writing self-help articles advising us to “be born rich” or at least “in a rich country.” And why, despite the fact that 40% of happiness is driven by genetics, it is pointless to suggest “being born with the right personality” (i.e., extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability, which are also partly predetermined at birth).

    In contrast, popular advice on how to be more successful focuses on uplifting or feel-good tips, designed to boost people’s self-esteem and make them feel in control of their careers. Here are four popular examples that usually come from a well-meaning person but are actually not terribly helpful.

    Follow your passions

    This is obviously much more appealing than doing what you hate. But is following our passions an effective approach to attain success? Extensive meta-analysis suggests that this may only work when your interests are correlated with your actual abilities. The better advice would be, “Follow your passions as long as they relate to your actual skills.” You should also consider whether your passion is in demand. I may have a great passion for the things I’m good at, but if nobody cares about those things, I will probably not be successful.

    Related:When to ignore the most common piece of career advice

    If we measure success in financial terms–which of course tells just part of the story–that is only marginally related to how much people like what they do. As a meta-analysis showed, there is only 9% overlap between people’s salaries and their level of career satisfaction. The best-paid jobs are not always the most fun to do, and some of the most enjoyable or meaningful jobs are generally not compensated well. But the general rule remains the same: When it comes to objective markers of career success, you are better off being relatively good at something you dislike, if there is demand for it, than being exceptional at something you love, if there is no demand for it.

    Just be yourself

    This suggestion is also much more enticing than the alternative, which would be to censor yourself. However, it’s far more likely to make you successful. Just imagine going to a job interview and being truly yourself–the way you are with your close relatives or best friends–without any social inhibitions. For instance, when the interviewer asks you a dumb question, you can just tell them they’re stupid. And when they ask why you want to work for them, you can tell them that you don’t, but that none of your preferred options invited you to an interview. Or when you answer a psychometric test designed to evaluate your potential, imagine answering that you don’t enjoy meeting new people, that you stress out easily, and that you are not a team player. Finally, once you are at work, you should feel free to tell all your colleagues and your boss what you really think in any given situation–as opposed to exercising good citizenship.

    “Just be yourself” in those terms is a recipe for disaster. If you really think you don’t need to worry about what other people think of you, you can be sure that they will never think highly of you. Successful people are rarely themselves. They are extremely good at controlling the undesirable aspects of their personality and putting on a likable and charming performance that requires a great deal of effort and self-control. Studies show that political skills are the strongest predictor of career success. There are probably just five people in the world who have learned to like–or at least tolerate–the unfiltered version of you, and I doubt your boss is one of them.

    Play to your strengths

    We don’t even need to tell people to do this, they do it naturally. It is a bit like going to the gym and exercising the same muscles every time. You will see progress, but it’s limited to your existing abilities. The only way to develop new skills is to focus on your gaps, and your limitations pose a much bigger threat to your career success than your underdeveloped strengths.

    Related:Ask yourself these questions at every stage of your career

    Overused strengths are a liability. For example, you are better off being confident than overconfident, moderately ambitious than greedy, mildly extroverted than exhibitionistic, and modest than insecure or hypercritical. It may be comforting to ignore your weaknesses, but it’s what other people think of you–not what you think of yourself–that matters most. As great as your strengths may be, others are unlikely to ignore your flaws.

    Just believe in yourself

    Most people do already, and for those who don’t, the real issue is whether others believe in them or not. Your career success depends on others’ perceptions of your talents and output, rather than what you make of them yourself. In fact, many studies show that in any area of competence, it is often the most inept who show the highest levels of self-belief, while true experts are relatively self-critical and modest. This should be obvious, but it’s good to be aware of your limitations, and an accurate estimate of your skills and flaws is more beneficial (for you and others) than a delusion of your prowess.

    Our inability to detect actual competence in others often benefits those who are unaware of the limitations, because it is easier to fool others when you have already fooled yourself. However, you will still stand a better chance of developing competence and climbing the ladder of success if your belief in yourself is related to your actual talents.

    Boosting your ego won’t build skills, and an overinflated ego without the talent to back it up equates to narcissism rather than career success. And while narcissists often succeed, that’s not a personality trait you need in order to be successful, particularly if you have the talents to back it up.

    So take a bit of time to consider advice when it comes your way. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, particularly when it comes to your career.

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    When most of us picture our commute into work, we see the back of another car, or perhaps recall the sordid scents of the subway. But when Craig Taylor, Data Visualization Design Manager at Ito World, pictures a commute, he sees something vastly different. He sees ocean corals in all colors of the rainbow.

    [Image: courtesy Craig Taylor]

    His project, Coral Cities, maps out how far you can travel by car from the city center in just 30 minutes, ignoring traffic. In a beautiful series of animated visualizations, Taylor renders the complex network of streets in 40 cities across the globe as if they were living, breathing coral–a far more lovely depiction than infrastructure normally receives.

    It’s half art, half science. The webs represent the major arteries in each city, and they’re shaped largely in response to geographical features, like water and mountains. That’s why Paris’s roads bloom outward like an unfettered blossom, while Barcelona is lopsided, stunted against the sea.  The rainbow hues you see don’t mean anything at all–the colors are purely aesthetic, playing up the diversity and complexity of the grids.

    “It’s also fascinating how the density of networks varies from one city to another,” Taylor points out. “Some are more grid-like, such as New York City and Beijing, while some exhibit a more random pattern.”

    [Image: courtesy Craig Taylor]
    [Image: courtesy Craig Taylor]
    Despite all of these nuanced details within the maps, they ignore population density and road congestion, meaning you’re looking at commute distances more than commute times–a map of the latter would probably result in very different shapes and forms. Even still, they’re a beautiful bit of work to behold. The ever-evolving project has taken Taylor six months to complete, and if you’d like a small piece of it, he hopes to put prints on sale soon.

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    Houston could have become a real-life Westworld, but instead the city council has unanimously voted to pass an ordinance that effectively blocks a proposed “sex robot brothel” from opening.

    The brothel was supposed to be the first U.S. showroom of the try-before-you-buy Canadian love doll company KinkySdollS, which already has a location in the much more free-thinking city of Toronto. Since the human-like dolls can cost more than $3,000 each, the company seems to think it’s only polite to let potential customers try them on for size.

    Houston locals were not thrilled by the prospect of turning their fair city into a robotic Wild Wild West. According to USA Today, prior to the council’s vote, a petition opposed to the robot sex business had more than 13,000 signatures. Residents testified that the brothel was “crooked, evil and sleazy,” according to FOX 26 News, and would “tear families apart,” which says something about Houston families and their predilections.

    The council was unanimously opposed to the futuristic business, with one council member deeming them “weird” and “a little gross,” another planning on filming patrons as they entered the building to shame them online, and another noting that Houston is “not Sin City.”

    The ordinance the council ended up passing, though, doesn’t mean no one can have sex with a robot in their own home. Instead, it makes it “illegal to have sex with a mechanical object in a Houston business.”

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    Shoppers who buy big-ticket items from Square merchants will now have the option to pay via installment loans, the company said today. Square will offer the point-of-sale loans for amounts between $250 and $10,000, online and offline, through its Square Capital division.

    Square is best known for serving small businesses, many of which have average transaction sizes under $20. But a surprising number of Square merchants sell higher-value products and services, such as furniture or hair treatments, says Square Capital lead Jacqueline Reses. “Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen 36 million transactions that fit within this profile of high-ticket sales. We see it as a significant opportunity across the Square ecosystem.”

    Installment loans have re-emerged as a popular payment option in recent years. For consumers, they offer clarity by locking in a fixed monthly cost, unlike credit cards. For merchants, they can increase sales by reducing cart abandonment and encouraging larger purchases. Affirm, a startup focused on installment loans, has raised $720 million in venture funding and partners with retailers including Expedia and Peloton.

    Square first started issuing loans in 2014, when it introduced business loans for its merchants. Last quarter, Square Capital facilitated $390 million worth of business loans, a 22% increase from the year prior. The average merchant loan size was within the range the company has set for consumers: $6,500.

    In launching a consumer-facing loan, Square signals its growing interest in serving consumers directly. Already, the company offers an app for peer-to-peer payments and a debit card. It’s not hard to imagine a credit card or other services being added to the mix.

    “What’s important to us is finding unique places where we have unusual access to data,” says Reses. “That’s where, across the Square ecosystem, we would want to play.”

    Square’s installment loans are currently available in 22 states, with plans to expand nationwide.

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    Coal: In all likelihood, that word conjures an image of the black, dirty fossil fuel that has contributed to global environmental destruction. What would coal look like if it were used as a high-end material–like marble?

    That’s the premise of a new project on display at the London Design Biennale by the artist and designer Jesper Eriksson. The exhibition, called Coal: PostFuel, transforms the fossil fuel into shiny tiles, which he used to create tables and benches. “If you didn’t know it was coal, you’d think it’s just bathroom tiles,” Eriksson says. “The idea is for people to be able to accept it and relate to it within our material culture.”

    [Photo: courtesy Jesper Eriksson]

    Eriksson began to think about coal and its potential as a material within design back in 2015, when the last deep coal mine shuttered in the U.K. and the government announced its aim to stop burning coal as a source of energy by 2025. “I find the material fascinating because it’s so contradictory,” Eriksson says. “It’s enabled so much technological progress, but at the same time it’s harmed the environment.”

    To create the series, Eriksson visited a few mines before finally settling on one in Wales, where the coal produced is a form called anthracite. Anthracite is between 90% to 95% carbon, which makes it harder and thus easier to work with than other forms of coal.

    But it’s also prettier: Anthracite stains less and is easier to polish, enabling Eriksson to change its appearance from a matte black to a shiny black. He says that coal also has some properties that could make it desirable in an interior design–he describes it as “almost between wood and stone” because of its texture and how it holds warmth.

    [Photo: courtesy Jesper Eriksson]

    Figuring out how to work with the coal was the biggest challenge of the project: Eriksson brought on a geologist from the British Geological Survey to help. He describes loading pieces of coal into the back of his car before driving to a nearby quarry to experiment with it. His first attempt to cut the material instantly dulled the metal hacksaw he was using; to create the final pieces for Post Fuel, Eriksson had to use a diamond-edged blade.

    [Photo: courtesy Jesper Eriksson]

    Eriksson hopes to highlight the unconscious way we place value on certain materials over others–what he calls “the social relations between us and materials.” After all, coal eventually becomes diamond. Post Fuel points to the tension between what we perceive as luxurious or beautiful and the reality: that marble and coal are both ultimately elements that have been mined from the earth.

    “The grand ambition… is to completely change the perception we have of coal from a dirty fossil fuel that’s harmful for the environment, that’s cheap, to something of high value and aesthetic,” Eriksson says. “After all, it’s we who have decided as a society that coal is a fuel and we should burn it.”

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    You probably know the benefits of using video in your presentation–a powerful clip can strengthen an argument because it allows the audience to see that idea in action, even if it’s just on the big screen. But how do you incorporate it so that it enhances your presentation, rather than distracting your attendees from it?

    One of my clients commissioned Taylor Swift to produce a video for their big, national meeting. The opening showed Swift with glitz and glamour before she turns into a zombie with ghoulish makeup. It shocked the audience. “Definitely got everyone off their cell phones, into the moment,” he said. “What should I do? I’m up next.” He found himself as the follow-up speaker to a high-gloss, high-glitz, high-intensity video.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that his presentation (and leadership presence) is doomed. In fact, with intention, there are ways to use a compelling video to boost your credibility as a speaker. If you ever find yourself in this situation, start by taking the following steps:

    Step one: Watch the video, and take note of your reaction

    When you watch a video, you see something old and new simultaneously (even if it’s one that you’ve never seen). Most of you have probably watched hundreds of videos–so that part is the “old.” But you might not have seen the actual footage. Think about what jumps out at you before you start thinking about how to incorporate it in your presentation. For example, when I first saw Michael Jackson’s video of “Black and White,” I was immediately struck by its multidimensional nature. As one person morphed into another in the same space, I thought, “Wow–what an amazing integration of idea and technology. So many dimensions.”

    You’ll be able to capitalize on the video for your speech when you understand your reaction. You’ll identify its relevance to your presentation (and when you should play the clip), and you can also predict how the audience might react. Use your initial impression as a starting point. This allows you to present it in the most authentic way possible.

    Step two: Set the expectation

    Alfred Hitchcock once said in an interview, “To build suspense, you have to tell your audience everything. If your audience is not anticipating, you are not building suspense. You are creating surprise.”

    It’s not a bad thing to surprise an audience–but it’s a risky and uncertain strategy. Without guidance, your listeners might not know what to make of the video. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should tell them how they should feel. Ask questions like, “What are you expecting? What are you getting?” This way, they know what to look for and they won’t forget about you while they watch the video. Your speech will remain at the forefront of their thinking.

    Step three: Make the connection between the video and your point clear to the audience

    Now that your audience has digested the video from the perspective you introduced, you need to spell out the connection. They might be mesmerized by the footage, but they might not immediately recognize how it’s related to what you’re saying.

    Going back to the Taylor Swift example–I encouraged my client to articulate the connection. This is what he said, “Not what you’d expect. Now, think about our customers. Are we giving them what they expect in terms of service, what they expect in terms of quality, what they expect in terms of price?”

    That question made a striking video even more compelling, but what’s more, it allowed my client to be the central storyteller. He was the one in charge of the narrative, not the clip.

    Step four: Play the video again at the end

    At the end of your presentation, play your video again. We like to see videos over and over again because we crave the familiar. The first time, your audience might feel the suspense, and the second time, the clip serves as a powerful reminder of your message. When they remember the ending, they’re more likely to engage with your message long after your talk ends.

    Crafting (and controlling) your own narrative can go a long way in bolstering your reputation as a leader. Incorporating videos can help you with telling that story. Just remember to guide your audience. They’ll get more out of it (and out of your speech) that way.

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    Google and PRX are joining forces to bring more people into the wonderful world of podcasting. PRX, which runs a podcast training bootcamp of sorts, will head up the Google Podcasts creator program, an accelerator funded by Google with the aim of lowering barriers to podcasting and ideally adding more diverse voices to podcast playlists across the world.

    Anyone interested in applying to the program can submit an application here. The application process will be open until Sunday, November 18.

    After sorting through the many applications, PRX and members of an advisory committee will select global teams to receive seed funding, intensive training, and mentorship, and hopefully create the next Serial or Atlanta Monster. The program will be split into two rounds of approximately six projects each. The first round kicks off in January 2019.

    “We are committed to lowering barriers to podcasting through education and information sharing,” Zack Reneau-Wedeen, product manager of Google Podcasts, said in a statement. “As we work to bring hundreds of millions more listeners into the fold, we want to play a role in ensuring content is available for all types of global audiences.”

    In addition to the global accelerator program, PRX is developing a series of podcasting 101 videos in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Arabic to further spread the gospel of podcasting around the world.

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    Watching a 50th anniversary screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I found myself, a mathematician and computer scientist whose research includes work related to artificial intelligence, comparing the story’s vision of the future with the world today.

    The movie was made through a collaboration with science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and film director Stanley Kubrick, inspired by Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End and his lesser-known short story The Sentinel. A striking work of speculative fiction, it depicts–in terms sometimes hopeful and other times cautionary–a future of alien contact, interplanetary travel, conscious machines, and even the next great evolutionary leap of humankind.

    The most obvious way in which 2018 has fallen short of the vision of 2001 is in space travel. People are not yet routinely visiting space stations, making unremarkable visits to one of several moon bases, nor traveling to other planets. But Kubrick and Clarke hit the bull’s-eye when imagining the possibilities, problems and challenges of the future of artificial intelligence.

    What can computers do?

    A chief drama of the movie can in many ways be viewed as a battle to the death between human and computer. The artificial intelligence of 2001 is embodied in HAL, the omniscient computational presence, the brain of the Discovery One spaceship–and perhaps the film’s most famous character. HAL marks the pinnacle of computational achievement: a self-aware, seemingly infallible device and a ubiquitous presence in the ship, always listening, always watching.

    HAL is not just a technological assistant to the crew, but rather–in the words of the mission commander Dave Bowman–the sixth crew member. The humans interact with HAL by speaking to him, and he replies in a measured male voice, somewhere between stern-yet-indulging parent and well-meaning nurse. HAL is Alexa and Siri–but much better. HAL has complete control of the ship and also, as it turns out, is the only crew member who knows the true goal of the mission.

    Ethics in the machine

    The tension of the film’s third act revolves around Bowman and his crewmate Frank Poole becoming increasingly aware that HAL is malfunctioning, and HAL’s discovery of these suspicions. Dave and Frank want to pull the plug on a failing computer, while self-aware HAL wants to live. All want to complete the mission.

    The life-or-death chess match between the humans and HAL offers precursors of some of today’s questions about the prevalence and deployment of artificial intelligence in people’s daily lives.

    First and foremost is the question of how much control people should cede to artificially intelligent machines, regardless of how “smart” the systems might be. HAL’s control of Discovery is like a deep-space version of the networked home of the future or the driverless car. Citizens, policymakers, experts, and researchers are all still exploring the degree to which automation could–or should–take humans out of the loop. Some of the considerations involve relatively simple questions about the reliability of machines, but other issues are more subtle.

    The actions of a computational machine are dictated by decisions encoded by humans in algorithms that control the devices. Algorithms generally have some quantifiable goal, toward which each of its actions should make progress–like winning a game of checkers, chess, or Go. Just as an AI system would analyze positions of game pieces on a board, it can also measure efficiency of a warehouse or energy use of a data center.

    But what happens when a moral or ethical dilemma arises en route to the goal? For the self-aware HAL, completing the mission–and staying alive–wins out when measured against the lives of the crew. What about a driverless car? Is the mission of a self-driving car, for instance, to get a passenger from one place to another as quickly as possible–or to avoid killing pedestrians? When someone steps in front of an autonomous vehicle, those goals conflict. That might feel like an obvious “choice” to program away, but what if the car needs to “choose” between two different scenarios, each of which would cause a human death?

    Under surveillance

    In one classic scene, Dave and Frank go into a part of the space station where they think HAL can’t hear them to discuss their doubts about HAL’s functioning and his ability to control the ship and guide the mission. They broach the idea of shutting him down. Little do they know that HAL’s cameras can see them: The computer is reading their lips through the pod window and learns of their plans.

    In the modern world, a version of that scene happens all day every day. Most of us are effectively continuously monitored, through our almost-always-on phones or corporate and government surveillance of real-world and online activities. The boundary between private and public has become and continues to be increasingly fuzzy.

    The characters’ relationships in the movie made me think a lot about how people and machines might coexist, or even evolve together. Through much of the movie, even the humans talk to each other blandly, without much tone or emotion–as they might talk to a machine, or as a machine might talk to them. HAL’s famous death scene–in which Dave methodically disconnects its logic links–made me wonder whether intelligent machines will ever be afforded something equivalent to human rights.

    Clarke believed it quite possible that humans’ time on Earth was but a “brief resting place,” and that the maturation and evolution of the species would necessarily take people well beyond this planet. 2001 ends optimistically, vaulting a human through the “Stargate” to mark the rebirth of the race. To do this in reality will require people to figure out how to make the best use of the machines and devices that they are building, and to make sure we don’t let those machines control us.

    This story originally appeared on The Conversation. Daniel N. Rockmore is a professor at the department of mathematics, computational science, and computer science at Dartmouth College.

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    In response to what can only be described as an existential crisis back in 2009, General Motors decided to cut its roster of brands in half to just four: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC. Jettisoned were Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, and Saab.

    Now, in response to an existential moment of their own, advertising agency holding companies are finding ways to navigate an increasingly volatile landscape. One of those ways, according to industry analysts, is culling and consolidating the hundreds of agency brands under their roofs.

    Last week it was WPP merging two of its major agency brands–VML and Y&R–into a single global agency network called VMLY&R. The move created a 7,000-person agency with offices around the world, combining the digital chops of VML, founded in 1992, with the creative legacy of Y&R, founded in 1923. WPP acquired VML in 2001, and Y&R a year earlier.

    New VMLY&R CEO Jon Cook, who was VML’s CEO, says this was more of a proactive move than a reaction to industry demands.

    VMLY&R CEO Jon Cook [Photo: courtesy of VMLY&R]
    “These are agencies with choices, agencies with really strong leadership. They have success and good history,” says Cook. “I think there will be occasions in this industry where people will be forced together, where they have to have certain things to survive. We’re doing this at a time where we choose to do it and are excited to do it, and we get to choose our dance partner. It’s from a position of strength.”

    In August, an industry report by Forrester analysts said that WPP should look to “dissolve its agency brands to meet the CMO’s need for simplicity, accountability, and scale,” restructuring nearly 400 companies into just dozens. It also called for WPP to consolidate its 100 creative agencies within the seven global networks of AKQA, Grey, JWT, Ogilvy, VML, Wunderman, and Y&R. Last week’s merger was a significant step in that direction.

    “Right now, we’re at a point where the industry cares less about agency labels than ever before,” Cook says. “This is an industry where so many people have worried about whether something is an ad agency, a digital agency, a PR agency, or a consultancy. We may be at the first point I can remember in a decade where the labels of agencies don’t really matter.”

    Used to be that ad agencies, like those of the products they helped market, had more distinct personalities, working models, and creative sensibilities. You could guess pretty quickly which work was done by BBH London or by McCann New York. Or Crispin Porter + Bogusky and BBDO. But in the last decade, this has become much less the case. Holding companies like WPP, Publicis, Omnicom, IPG–even MDC Partners–ramped up their own branding, touting themselves as the big-box store version of creative advertising. They even combined talent from different subsidiary agencies to set up custom shops–like Omnicom’s We Are Unlimited, for McDonald’s–for especially big (and lucrative) clients.

    Some, like industry observer and author Bob Hoffman, think this approach has completely devalued agency brands, ultimately hurting their ability to attract new business. This week, he wrote, “Nobody buys a Berkshire Hathaway or a Procter & Gamble. The buy GEICO insurance or Tide detergent.”

    Cook, of course, disagrees. He says the industry has matured to the point where traditional territorial disputes and tribalism no longer matter. “I think a few years ago people would’ve asked why this was happening between a more traditional agency and a more digital agency, but now I think because of the intensity and scrutiny in our industry, the attitude is more positive and inclusive of the different talents,” he says. “It’s welcoming of anyone who can help navigate this current landscape.”

    What matters most is survival.

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