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    Hollywood is tapping the podcast well as a budding source of IP, with popular shows like Serial, Welcome to Night Vale, and Limetown getting picked up by HBO, FX, and Facebook TV, respectively.

    One of the most recent adaptations–and one that’s setting the bar particularly high–is Amazon Studios’ and Universal Cable Productions’ co-production of Homecoming, Gimlet’s star-studded 2016 narrative podcast about an experimental facility that helps reintegrate army veterans to civilian life but is also shrouded in secrets.

    Sam Esmail, the Emmy-nominated writer and executive producer of Mr. Robot, created the Homecoming series with the podcast’s creators, Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg. Esmail spoke with Fast Company for its November issue about the particular challenges of transforming an audio-driven story into something visual. And while Esmail directed all 10 episodes, he was adamant that Horowitz and Bloomberg be the series showrunners, despite their relatively limited experience in television. They immediately found themselves navigating a learning curve that forced them to decide when they could trust their instincts and when they should listen to others.

    “We had this weird situation where we’re both pretty inexperienced but also, through this crazy series of circumstances, in a position of real authority,” Horowitz says. “To strike that balance every day with all these decisions–when is it your job to listen and learn, and when is it your job to protect the story? I don’t think it ever becomes simple. That’s just part of the job.”

    “It’s a double-edged sword,” Bloomberg adds. “You have to allow space for your creative impulse and your instincts, which got you to this spot. And then at the same time, to listen to what people are telling you who are either more experienced or who you decided to bring into the process.”

    One such case came about when Horowitz and Bloomberg trusted Esmail’s request that much of what they’d built in the podcast remain the same in the TV adaptation.

    (From left) Micah Bloomberg, Sam Esmail, and Eli Horowitz on the set of Homecoming.

    “Our expectation coming in was: We need to stage a lot of this stuff. We need to break a lot of this stuff out,” Bloomberg says. “Sam, very often, was like, ‘No this scene works–we’re going to keep it like that.’ It felt more like Sam was with us on the side of the podcast when we were trying to figure out how to communicate that through [TV]. It never felt adversarial or like he was trying to turn it into something else.”

    Overall, the adaptation process helped Horowitz and Bloomberg expand their storytelling vocabulary. The treatment facility is barely a backdrop in the podcast, but through conversations with Esmail, it became a character in itself on the series. In the pilot episode, there’s an expertly crafted, sweeping one-take of the facility that establishes characters, location, and even a little foreshadowing. Describing the facility through visual language is just one of many instances where Esmail, Horowitz, and Bloomberg added to the story in a way that is unique to the TV format–without undoing the core spirit of the original Homecoming podcast.

    “We kept that stuff really nonexistent in the podcast, even in our own minds,” Horowitz says. “It was a blind spot for us as creators. And then once we started asking questions about it, it opened up all sorts of new possibilities.”


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    Just in time for the holiday shopping bonanza, Hay, the modern Danish furniture brand with a cult following, officially launches in the U.S. market today with its first dedicated e-commerce platform for North American shoppers at Hay.com. The brand’s first brick-and-mortar retail outpost in North America will also open this month in Portland, Oregon, “where there’s an appreciation for heritage, craftsmanship, and collaboration that we identify with,” says a spokesperson. Three additional retail stores, including one to open soon in Costa Mesa, California, later this fall, will roll out in the coming year.

    [Photo: Hay]
    All of this marks a big move into the North American market for Hay, which had previously only carried select items and smaller accessories in the U.S. through partners such as the MoMA Design Store, much to the chagrin of fans of its colorful and utilitarian wares, which range from office accessories, home goods, and gifts to contract furnishings and textiles.

    The expansion comes just a few months after the relatively quiet June announcement that Herman Miller had invested $66 million to acquire a 33% stake in the company, and an additional $5 million for the exclusive North American rights.

    “Hay is one of the best articulated design brands in the furnishings space,” said former Herman Miller CEO Brian Walker, in an earlier statement this spring (Andi Owen assumed his position in late August). “Hay is a key building block toward our stated priority to scale our consumer business. The Hay assortment will significantly expand our offer to a younger, more urban demographic that we have targeted for expansion.”

    Rolf and Mette Hay [Photo: Hay]
    A spokesperson confirmed the brand’s creative leadership will continue to be helmed by husband-wife duo Rolf and Mette Hay, who cofounded the brand in 2002, in Copenhagen, with Troels Holch Povlsen.

    The playful, colorful designs will add a youthful edge to Herman Miller’s legacy catalogue, and bring in a bit of smart tech as well: Special, on-trend colorways of the Sonos One smart speaker, which Hay debuted this spring at Salone del Mobile as part of the Sonos Limited Edition Collection, will be available online through Hay, Sonos, and the MoMA Design Store on November 5.


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    If the polling is actually accurate this year, Ted Cruz is the favorite to win the surprisingly competitive Texas Senate seat over progressive challenger Beto O’Rourke on November 6. If that occurs, it will be a coup for the senator’s campaign team, given Democratic headwinds in other races across the country, and plenty of criticism for Cruz’s new closeness to President Donald Trump. He’ll have done it by using some cutting-edge data science to target core Republican voting blocks in the state with conservative messages that boil down to, “Keep Texas Red.”

    For Cruz’s longtime campaign guru, that was the plan all along, given the nature of Texas politics.

    “Beto would have run a fantastic campaign had he been running as a Democrat in Massachusetts,” says Chris Wilson, whose firm WPA Intelligence handles the Cruz campaign’s data science and voter targeting operation from an office a few blocks from the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

    Texas is a Republican state. And it’s a Trump state. Roughly 4.7 million Texans voted for Trump in 2016, which gave him a 9% edge over Hillary Clinton. (Cruz, of course, lost in the primaries to Trump.) Still, nowhere near all those 4.7 million Trump voters will go out and vote for Cruz on November 6.

    “You look at the next election, and there will be between 5.8 million and 5.9 million votes cast, as turnout is always lower in the off-years,” says Wilson, who believes that a big enough portion of the GOP base is fired up about the midterm race to deliver Cruz a victory.

    “I like the direction in which this is going,” Wilson says. Not that he feels comfortable. “There’s an old saying in politics that you either run unopposed or you run scared,” Wilson says, meaning that the tides of opinion are always shifting among voters.

    As of now, Cruz leads O’Rourke 51% to 45%, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Early voting began in the state last week, and polls say only about 2% of likely voters remain undecided.

    It’s been an expensive race. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the candidates together have spent $93 million in pursuit of the Senate seat, a new record. The O’Rourke campaign has raked in a record $69 million in fundraising so far, almost half of it small-dollar (less than $200) donations (many from outside Texas). Cruz has raised more than $40 million in total, including almost $18 million from large donors and PACs. According to the CRP, outside groups like PACs have spent a collective $6.5 million to dissuade Texans from voting for O’Rourke, while such groups have spent a collective $1.6 million against Cruz.

    The politics of Beto’s kneeling-for-the-anthem video

    O’Rourke has enjoyed national media attention for much of the race (which has boosted his record fundraising). More than any other one thing, O’Rourke’s viral video (more than 47 million views now) about NFL players’ right to take a knee during the national anthem raised his profile nationally. The video even put O’Rourke on the short list of possible Democratic presidential candidates for 2020.

    Beto O'Rourke on NFL Players Kneeling During the National Anthem

    Beto O'Rourke — the man taking on Ted Cruz — brilliantly explains why NFL players kneeling during the anthem is not disrespectful

    Posted by NowThis Politics on Tuesday, August 21, 2018

    The video gave O’Rourke a lift in Texas, too. According to an average of polls by Real Clear Politics, O’Rourke trailed Cruz by 6.2% on August 20, just before the video went viral on August 23, and had closed the gap to 4.4% by the end of the month. O’Rourke had closed the gap to 3.2% on September 9, but that’s as close as he’s gotten to catching Cruz in the polls.

    Cruz’s response to the Beto video–a video for Facebook–was telling. The ad recaps O’Rourke’s statement supporting NFL players kneeling, shows supportive tweets from some Hollywood types, then cuts to a Vietnam vet who lost both legs for the punchline: “I gave two legs for this country . . . I’m not able to stand, but I sure expect you to stand for me when the national anthem is being played.” Cruz’s video got nowhere near the play that O’Rourke’s did, but it serves as a good example of how the Cruz people are running this campaign.

    Stand for the Anthem

    Why do I stand? I stand for the veterans like Tim Lee who lost both his legs fighting in South Vietnam.????????????????????????SHARE if you're proud to stand, too!

    Posted by Ted Cruz on Monday, August 27, 2018

    The NFL kneeling debate has all sorts of emotion-laden societal issues packed into it, including race. To the left, Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem may represent the primacy of freedom of speech and expression; to the right, standing may signal a respect for tradition, law and order, and the armed forces. Cruz’s video was able to hit two right-wing hot-button issues–the right’s disdain for coastal elites and media types, and respect for the flag and the military.

    The Cruz campaign relies on constant polling and voter modeling to understand the biases and sensitivities of mainstream conservatives in Texas. “We’re trying to understand what makes voters tick, finding out which voters might be responsive to different types of issues,” Cruz’s communication director Catherine Frazier told me.

    What the Iron Dome debate says about Texas voters

    By the third week in October, the Cruz campaign knew that undecided voters had dwindled to less than 5%. A Texas publication had recently released a story about Cruz’s and O’Rourke’s views on the proposed Iron Dome over Israel to protect the country from missile attacks. Based on research, the campaign recognized the Iron Dome to be an issue that could convert some of those undecideds into committed Cruz voters.

    “One of the models showed that a subset of voters would be responsive to messages about Ted Cruz supporting Israel,” Frazier told me. “We made a very simple ad highlighting the differences between the two candidates.”

    Two views of the same short Cruz Facebook ad about Israel. (Source: Facebook Ad Archive)

    Unwavering and unconditional support for the state of Israel is practically a requirement for winning elections in the U.S., especially among the conservatives and evangelicals who will vote for Cruz. Deviation from that norm can be found only on the far left, over with Bernie Sanders. So the Iron Dome ad was a natural for helping the Cruz campaign’s main job–painting O’Rourke as far-left and out of step with Texas.

    “It’s about pointing out the policies he supports,” she says. “He supports policies that would make Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren happy–they’re radically divergent from most people’s views in this state.”

    Actually, O’Rourke voted yes on a budget that sent an additional $351 million into Iron Dome in October 2014, but he was one of only eight House members to vote against spending another $225 million on the anti-missile system without debate in July 2014 after fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas. Some in Congress thought Israel still had unspent funds available from the earlier appropriation.

    “Targeting is so much better on Facebook that it used to be”

    The Facebook political ads that so troubled the 2016 presidential elections are being used even more widely in the midterm congressional elections. The Cruz campaign relies on Facebook heavily to get its messaging out. “Targeting is so much better on Facebook than it used to be,” Cruz’s digital director Josh Perry told me.

    “We use Twitter mainly to reach journalists,” Perry says. “If we feel like the media narrative starts getting carried away, we will just put it on Facebook, where we can reach [the base] directly.”

    In terms of the campaign’s total ad spend, Perry says the Cruz campaign spends as much or a little more on Google Search ads as on Facebook ads.

    The Cruz campaign has spent $520,030 on 344 Facebook ads between May 2018 and the present, according to the Facebook Ad Archive.

    Representative samples of Ted Cruz’s Facebook ads. (Source: Facebook Ad Archive)

    The archive has copies of the Cruz ads going back to July. Other than the basic fundraising and campaign event ads, I counted six ads about liberal outsiders trying to take over Texas (via O’Rourke), six ads asking whether Silicon Valley is censoring conservatives, six ads about Cruz defending the border with Mexico, four ads about Cruz abolishing the IRS, and two ads about Beto not supporting Israel.

    There are many more Beto for Texas ads to view in the archive than Cruz ones. The Beto for Texas campaign is the biggest-spending political cause on Facebook, period. The campaign spent $6.3 million on 7,504 ads since last May, more than 10 times what the Cruz campaign spent, according to Facebook.

    Representative samples of Beto O’Rourke’s Facebook ads. (Source: Facebook Ad Archive)

    O’Rourke’s ads, in general, are more issue-focused and less negative than Cruz’s. A look at the ads from the past month shows the normal fundraising and event fare, but also many ads about such things as funding Medicare, increasing the minimum wage, affordable care, education, and fixing immigration. Many of the Cruz ads contain images and words that are critical of O’Rourke. O’Rourke’s ads contain few pictures of Cruz, although some point out Cruz’s opposing viewpoints on specific issues. And one ad criticizes Cruz for missing half of all Senate votes in 2016 when Cruz was running for president.

    The O’Rourke campaign has spent 12% more on TV advertising than the Cruz campaign, according to numbers from Matrix Solutions. O’Rourke has bought $5.3 million in local broadcast ads, while the Cruz campaign has spent $4.1 million.

    For most of the campaign, the Cruz camp used TV ads sparingly, and in a very targeted way. It ran an ad about Texas’s booming energy economy in and around Austin, which is a liberal college town that gets more moderate in the suburbs.

    “That’s one that was very successful for us,” she says. “We also ran an ad about Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area.” That ad features Ted Cruz on the ground helping rescue victims from the flooding.

    Cruz has begun running ads across TV markets in Texas during the final few weeks of the campaign.

    The tent is big enough

    The Cruz campaign’s main strategy isn’t widening the tent for new types of voters. Some have observed that neither campaign has put much effort into attracting Hispanic or independent voters in the state. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that an October 26 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows 51% of independents breaking for O’Rourke, and only 39% for Cruz.)

    Its main job is connecting with and motivating the core, right-wing, GOP voter blocks (many of whom have cast votes for Cruz in the past) to get out and vote on November 6.

    That “motivating” part was what Perry was worried about when I talked to him in mid-October. He said GOP voters rallied around the cause of getting Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that the campaign faced a challenge getting that excitement to carry through to Election Day. “We’ve got to keep them tuned in to the race and keep them fired up to vote,” Perry said.

    Wilson told me social media data can be useful in modeling for those voters. “We use social data to ID voter groups in our core universes,” Wilson told me. The Cruz campaign isn’t doing anything quite so exotic as Cambridge Analytica’s “psychographic” modeling, but it is using social data for specific things. “We use it to turn out target voters in heavily contested areas,” Wilson said.

    “A lot of those are 2016 voters who we know are persuaded by specific messages,” Wilson said. Wilson’s firm handled the data science operation behind Cruz’s 2016 bid for the presidency, too.

    O’Rourke’s problem in the Texas Senate race is that there are simply more conservative voters who are likely to vote in a midterm election than there are progressive ones. O’Rourke’s task, then, is to find a lot of Democrats who wouldn’t normally bother to get to a polling place on November 6. The main underrepresented group in the midterms, and the ones most likely to hold progressive points of view, are young people. That’s why O’Rourke recently did a speaking tour of college campuses–to try to find and push more young and progressive voters into the calculus that will define the winner of the Senate seat.

    That’s a hard task. The young live complicated lives, and organized politics can seem to them like a remote world. The polls show that the O’Rourke campaign never got as close to catching up with Cruz as it did in mid-September. And for weeks, the narrative has been that the Beto for Texas campaign fought a good fight but came up short. Any change to that story would be a surprise.

    But, as progressives have learned, painfully, surprises do happen in November.


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    Today, thousands of Google employees walked out to protest the company’s approach to sexual harassment and general fairness. Following reports that the company let male executives accused of sexual misconduct leave with multimillion-dollar exit packages for years, employees wanted to make their displeasure known.

    But the walkout wasn’t just a walkout for its own sake. The organizers had a goal in mind. On their Instagram page they listed five demands:

    1. An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination.
    2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity.
    3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
    4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
    5. Elevate the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the board of directors. In addition, appoint an employee representative to the board.

    Each one has a very specific intention. Ending forced arbitration, for instance, would stop the highly questionable act of forcing employees to waive their right to sue the company.

    The protesters are also asking the company to take real steps toward being more accountable and fair. Committing to pay and opportunity equity would force the company to deal with the gender wage gap–an issue that plagues the entire tech industry. The company has faced lawsuits by female employees claiming it systematically underpays them. Employees now want proof that the company is working toward a more equitable workplace–for example, by pledging to include more diversity at the executive level.

    The subsequent two demands try to create better processes and accountability. A transparency report would let employees know exactly how many incidents happen every year, how many people were victims, how the company responded–be it by letting employees go, or offering exit packages, etc. While it’s important to report when these events happen, it’s just as important to codify the process by which the company handles allegations of sexual misconduct. Thus, demand No. 4.

    Lastly, the final demand attempts to make diversity something for which top executives are accountable. Many tech companies create roles to appear as if they’re trying to be more inclusive. Many of these roles, however, have no institutional power or channels to discuss issues with the top decision makers. By making employees part of the board, and by making its chief diversity officer a direct report of the CEO, Google would be showing that these issues are something even the top brass are taking seriously.

    It’s important that employees are speaking out. But it’s more important that Google adequately responds. CEO Sundar Pichai, in a statement, said the company is “taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.” We will know if he’s serious once he directly responds to these demands.


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    Last August I switched my entire digital life from an Apple MacBook Pro 15 to a first generation iPad Pro 12.9–and I never looked back.

    A few days ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn to announce new iPad Pros and declare that Apple’s tablet was actually the best-selling computer ever. Many people laughed at that idea. I didn’t. The iPad has been my only computer for three months now, and I couldn’t be happier.

    I’m able to do everything I used to do with my MacBook on my 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I’m writing this article on iA Writer, my favorite word processor. I use Google Docs for general collaborative writing and WriterDuet for TV scripts with my partner. I draw concept art and illustrations in ProCreate, retouch and create images on Affinity Photo, and assemble draft sizzle reels on iMovie. I craft pitches on Keynote, track my work on MeisterTask and AirTable, collaborate with clients on Slack and Skype, and chat with my partners on Google Chat. I navigate in Chrome. I read books in Apple Books, browse news in Feedly and Reddit, and enjoy old Kirby and Steranko comics on Marvel Unlimited. I Netflix, HBOGo, Hangout, Facetime, Message, Gmail, and do all my banking in different dedicated apps. And I just finished playing Thimbleweed Park (which is an awesome game, by the way. Go get it).

    To be clear, the iPad Pro isn’t perfect. The Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro sucks–it’s too flat, and doesn’t have enough key motion–so I got myself an Apple Magic Keyboard 2. I also got Studio Neat’s Canopy, a keyboard case and iPad stand combo that turns the iPad into the perfect workstation. When I need to write, I can work in landscape or portrait mode, which helps me concentrate on that single task. And when I don’t need to write, I just use the iPad on its own, like a paper notebook. (I also have an Acme Made iPad sleeve so I don’t even need to use a bag.)

    If you are thinking that an iPad with a keyboard is a laptop, you are wrong. The iPad is better than a laptop. Better than any other computer I’ve used before. And I’ve been looking for the perfect computer for a long time.

    [Photo: courtesy of the author]

    The quest for the perfect computer

    I started to use computers with an Apple II clone at home, a Commodore 64 at school, and ZX Spectrums at different friends’ homes. Back then, I programmed in Basic and loaded games on tapes. Then I went through a bunch of PCs from an IBM XT all the way up to a DEC Pentium. In my college years I bought myself an Apple PowerMac 8100. After that, all my computers have been Macs until my very last one, my trusty Macbook Pro 15 Retina, the one I abandoned this summer for the iPad Pro.

    Through those four decades I saw computing evolve from a green phosphor prompt line to the most advanced form of the desktop metaphor, macOS. I enjoyed tinkering with all those PCs and Macs, and I was an expert user by most measures. But through those years, taking care of my data became a chore.

    As computing power and storage space skyrocketed, the amount of time I spent managing my digital life increased proportionally. Project files piled up on folders all over my hard drive. My personal photos were distributed across 100 places. I had to decide how to organize stuff. And as things got more and more complex, the user experience got more complicated.

    The desktop metaphor that Apple had pioneered became only marginally better than the command line. The amount of “life hacks” I had to do to manage my files and keep my eyes from twitching every time I looked at my desktop and folders was just too much. Using database-like programs to organize images and videos helped, but overall the desktop metaphor was not made for all this practically unlimited computing and storage power. You can’t just organize a hundred billion files on a virtual desk and file cabinet.

    Jef Raskin and the information appliance

    Something happened along this road. In 2010, the iPad became a reality.

    The original iPad reintroduced the concept of the information appliance, an idea pioneered to its full potential by Jef Raskin. Raskin, who was a human interface expert and led the Macintosh project until Steve Jobs took it over, thought that the only way to harness the power of computing in a rational way was a concept called the “information appliance.”

    For Raskin, computers were supposed to be our servants, but instead they were oppressing us with their prompt lines and arcane commands. Only a handful of tech popes and hobbyists could master them. Raskin advocated for their elimination. Instead, he said, we needed machines with one single purpose, just like a toaster makes toast and an immersion blender turns solids into purées and sauces.

    These gadgets needed to be so easy to use that anyone would be able to instantly grab one and start using it, without any training: The information appliance, he said, would have the right number of buttons in the right position with the right software to do a specific set of tasks. Always networked, these appliances would be so easy to use that they would become invisible to users, just part of their daily life.

    Raskin eventually realized that having one gadget for each possible task wasn’t logistically possible. No one wants to walk around with 200 gadgets each. But he thought that the Macintosh could fulfill the promise of the information appliance thanks to its graphical user interface, with programs that could change on-screen and perform specialized tasks better and more easily than the command line computers.

    The Mac became a giant leap in computing, but it was still one step removed from his dream. At first, it was extremely simple. It was a modal computer, which each program running on the full screen, launched from diskettes. Your mind could concentrate on one task at a time. People instantly got it.

    Then, the Mac first and Windows PCs after it, became more complicated. Multitasking killed modal computing. And it brought complexity. At first, not too much. Then, as processors and hard drives evolved, lots of it. These brought cluttered desktops and folders. After a few years, it all became a big clusterfuck. So big that Tim Cook recently said that he couldn’t live without macOS Mojave’s Stacks, a software that cleans the desktop by making little groups of files organized by type. But Mojave’s stacks are actually just a band-aid to clean desktop clutter and leave you with a bunch of unorganized documents piles. It treats the symptom but it doesn’t solve the problem.

    It wasn’t until Raskin saw touchscreens that he realized what the future actually was: A single screen that could morph into an infinite number of “soft” devices with the right buttons in the right places at your fingertips. A GPS, a camera, a calendar, a book reader, a drawing pad, a sound recorder, a guitar tuner, an image compositor. You could make it do anything, transforming it into different information appliances on the fly.

    Ultimately, Raskin didn’t make it happen. It was Jobs who brought this idea to the world with the iPhone. And people instantly got it. People who were confused by Macs and Windows and couldn’t stand computers embraced these little screens that magically transformed into a myriad of useful dedicated “devices,” each with their own function. And there were no folders or files.

    When the iPhone came out, Jobs called Alan Kay–who invented the Dynabook, the very idea of the tablet computer–and asked what he thought of it. Kay said that it was pretty great but that he should make it “five inches by eight inches” to truly rule the world.

    Jobs did what Kay said and released the iPad in 2010 (in fact, Apple was working on the iPad before it started work on the iPhone). Kay was sort of mistaken, as the iPhone was the device that transformed society. But he was sort of right too, as Tim Cook said when he announced the new iPad Pro: “the iPad is the world’s best selling computer.” He’s right about that: While the iPhone is a tiny device that is great to consume media, play games, and communicate, it’s not a computer. The iPad, on the other hand, allows you to create just like a computer does, and then some, thanks to its Pencil.

    The future is finally here

    Which brings me back to my original question: Why is the iPad Pro the best computing experience I’ve ever had?

    Because the iPad Pro gets the best of the classic computer–its raw power and capacity to create content–but escapes the complications of the desktop metaphor. The apps take over the screen to transform it into dedicated devices specifically tailored to do the specific tasks I need to do, focusing exclusively on them, without a million open windows.

    And instead of having to worry about organizing my work in folders and files, my word processor, painting app, or photo apps take care of my files on their own. Everything is contained within its own space. I don’t worry about files. And when I need to find something, I just use the search box.

    That’s why I love the user experience. From the lack of clutter to the modal nature of apps, it feels like it was designed for concentration. I’m more efficient on the iPad.

    Working on an iPad has also elevated my digital well-being: Without having to worry about how my computer works or where my stuff is, I have jettisoned the parts of computing that stressed me out and made me waste time.

    I was a huge fan of the original iPad; I  called it the future of computing in 2010. But it was too limited to switch my life to it: it wasn’t powerful enough and didn’t have the apps I needed. The second and third versions fell short too. It wasn’t until the iPad Pro and iOS 11 came out that the iPad became a viable alternative to “real” computers.

    iOS 11 introduced the right amount of multitasking features–split screen, drag and drop, and gestures to summon or dismiss apps–that are needed to work faster in some specific cases. For example, while working on a pitch deck in Keynote, sometimes I figure out that I don’t have a number of images I need. I can quickly summon Chrome by dragging its icon from the iPad’s dock to one side of the screen. The display divides neatly into two columns. I search for materials in Chrome and drag and drop with my finger into Keynote. Once I’m done, I just dismiss the browser by swiping Chrome out to the side of the display and boom, I’m back to fully concentrating on the pitch.

    The new iPad furthers the case for tablets to be full desktop or laptop replacements. The new hardware design is gorgeous, with rounded corners, small bezels, and square edges. More importantly, it is a true processing powerhouse. Apple claims that it can match the graphics performance of the Xbox One S–which is Microsoft’s top game console, a monster capable of moving a gazillion 3D polygons at UltraHD 4K resolution. That’s incredible for a product that is 94% smaller than that game console–and runs on batteries. During its introduction, Apple also said that the new iPad Pro is faster than 92% of all laptops sold last month.

    All while keeping the simplicity of the “information appliance” and modal computing. The new machine will run full Photoshop as fast as most laptops and desktops. And the new Apple Pencil–with its magnetic latch, gesture controls, and wireless charging–is icing on the cake for those who draw for a living, or for anyone who needs to annotate documents or create presentations.

    So yes, iPad is the future. And for me, as cliché as it sounds, the future is now.


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    What: A Halloween costume that perfectly captures one of the most haunting of all workplace terrors.

    Who: Software engineer/improv comedian Alex Engelberg.

    Why we care: Look, there were a lot of great Halloween costumes out there yesterday. Beyoncé went as FloJo. Heidi Klum went as Princess Fiona from Shrek. And Trump ingeniously went as David Duke. But there was one be-costumed hero who towered over all the rest. It’s this guy and his perfectly color-coordinated and soundtracked Slack notification costume. Because truly, what is scarier than one of those unwanted clackety-clack’s from an employer you’re trying to avoid?

    We have “1 new message” for Alex: good job.


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    Starbucks has no respect for calendar traditions. Not only did it gauchely unleash the Pumpkin Spice Latte before Labor Day, cutting into rosé’s seasonal spotlight, but now, the day after Halloween, it unveiled its holiday cups.

    Holiday as in Christmas, not Thanksgiving, which *checks calendar * comes before Christmas. Starbucks has been introducing new holiday cups each fall since 1997 and it has courted controversy for years, like when it was accused of hating the little baby Jesus and waging a war on Christmas for having a red holiday cup, instead of a specifically Christmassy design.

    This year’s holiday cup designs are giving people (the Christmas-loving ones anyway) what they want with multiple with red stripes, one with a green argyle pattern, one with red-and-white flames, and one with mistletoe-like coffee cherries in red and green. For those who prefer the red cup, Starbucks has a reusable version that saves the planet and spreads a little Christmas cheer all year round.

    Not only did Starbucks introduce the new cups, but it also unleashed its holiday drink menu on the world–and it’s not turkey or cranberry or stuffing flavored. Instead, it’s all gingerbread and egg nog and peppermint dreams.

    For those of us who don’t think Christmas cups should be unveiled until after Thanksgiving, keep in mind that a 2017 article, citing “experts,” revealed that people who put their Christmas decorations up early are happier than those who wait. So if you want to get happy–and the number of CBD beverages on the market implies that you do–just start sucking on a candy cane, crank up “Last Christmas,” put on your ugly sweater, and jingle all the way to Starbucks, where we will be protesting its apparent boycott of Thanksgiving.


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    The second season of the podcast Up and Vanished looks into the disappearance of Kristal Anne Reisinger, a 29-year-old mom who vanished two years ago after wandering from a drum circle in a small, isolated Colorado mountain town. Like the first season of the show, which helped break open the case surrounding the 2005 disappearance of Georgian beauty queen and schoolteacher Tara Grinstead, it’s a captivating listen.

    So captivating, in fact, that just halfway through the second season, it has already surpassed 17 million downloads. That’s like if the entire population of the Netherlands tried to crack the mystery before host Payne Lindsey even finishes the season.

    Here are a few other podcast milestones that Up and Vanished‘s second season has hit so far:

    Season 2 downloads: Over 17 million (Source: Art19)

    • Total time listened on all Apple devices since launch of season 2: Over 4 million hours (Source: Apple Podcast Analytics)
    • Total series downloads since launch of season 2: Over 37 million (Source: Art19)
    • Average season 2 episode consumption rate: 100% (Source: Apple Podcast Analytics)

    “It’s difficult to maintain numbers and interest after having a viral first season, but to actually see our numbers grow is very inspiring,” says Donald Albright, cofounder and president of Tenderfoot TV, which produces the podcast in partnership with Cadence13. “We have a dedicated audience, and I think we struck a great balance of giving them a story they could be invested in, like season one, while opening them up to an entirely different world.”

    To give the numbers a little context, Tenderfoot TV’s Atlanta Monster was downloaded over 20 million times across 12 episodes within its first three months of launch, In The Dark‘s second season was downloaded almost 4 million times within its first month, and Dirty John was reportedly downloaded more than 7 million times within its first month of launch (and is being turned into a Bravo TV series).

    As for the first season, since its premiere in 2016, it has racked up a whopping 225 million downloads. And like a lot of successful podcasts these days, Up and Vanished is making the leap to television. On November 18, Oxygen will premiere a docu-special based on season one of the show. Watch the trailer:


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    On Wednesday, Netflix made one of its biggest concessions to traditional Hollywood by announcing that three of its upcoming movies will be released in theaters between one and three weeks before they hit Netflix. Historically, Netflix has been adamant about releasing select Oscar-hopeful films in a handful of theaters on the same day the films are available for streaming. 

    But by releasing Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and Bird Box, a thriller starring Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson, in theaters ahead of their streaming debut, Netflix hopes to win points with the Hollywood community, and Academy voters specifically, as it desperately tries to win an Oscar. 

    Netflix’s Oscar efforts thus far have not come close to matching its success at the Emmys. Two years ago, Cary Fukunaga’s film Beasts of No Nation was completely shut out of the Oscar race. And last year its big hopeful, Dee Rees’s Mudbound, received nominations for Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, and some technical awards, but was snubbed in major categories like Best Picture and Best Director. 

    This year, Netflix hopes to change that. Expectations are especially high for Roma, which premiered to rapturous reviews at the Venice Film Festival in late August. But almost as soon as the black-and-white, Spanish-language homage to Cuarón’s childhood nanny screened, a debate broke out over whether it would get an exclusive theatrical release. Cuarón, like many filmmakers whom Netflix is trying to do business with, wanted the film to have a traditional release on big screens. But that desire was at odds with Netflix’s streaming-only model, an issue about which head of content Ted Sarandos has been passionately vocal. 

    As recently as two weeks ago, Sarandos said on a Netflix earnings call that “We believe in our member-centric simultaneous release model for our original films.” Last April, he said: “Defining distribution by what room you see [a movie] in is not the business we want to be in.” And last Oscar season, Netflix executives were adamant about never veering from the day-and-date release strategy, according to someone who worked on a Netflix awards film. 

    But internally, there has been a struggle as Netflix brings on more traditional Hollywood players, such as Scott Stuber, a former Universal executive who now oversees the streaming company’s film division. One producer says that well before the Roma conversation, Stuber would tell filmmakers in meetings that he was “trying to get you a [theatrical] window.” Netflix also hired former Warner Bros. domestic distribution head Dan Fellman–a sign that the company was interested in making nice with exhibitors. Additionally, the respected Oscar campaign publicist Lisa Taback is now on Netflix’s payroll. 

    In a statement, Stuber said, “Netflix’s priority is our members and our filmmakers, and we are constantly innovating to serve them. Our members benefit from having the best quality films from world class filmmakers and our filmmakers benefit by being able to share their artistry with the largest possible audience in over 190 countries worldwide.”

    Roma is set to be released on Nov. 21st in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and Mexico, three weeks before it begins streaming on Dec. 7. (Buster Scruggs and Bird Box will receive a one-week theatrical release.) More limited engagements will follow on Nov. 29 in a few markets, including London. Ultimately, it will screen in 20 countries. As has been reported, Netflix is resorting to “four-walling” or renting out theaters one by one. This means they’ll be paying exhibitors a fee upfront rather than simply splitting box office receipts with a theater, as is typically done. The arrangement is helping Netflix secure theaters that are being inundated with big tentpole films this time of year. By four-walling, the theaters are guaranteed a pay day, whether or not Roma performs well–a legitimate fear given how niche the film is.

    But many questions remain. While three weeks may be a major concession for a tech company that has prided itself on its streaming-only “North Star,” is it enough for Oscar voters? Most major theaters insist on a 90-day window before a film moves on to another platform, which is the accepted norm in Hollywood. There’s a big difference between 90 and 21 days.

    Second, does the Roma release set a new precedent for which films receive a theatrical release and for how long? Why are the Coen brothers only getting one week? Notes one insider, “This is for them a Pandora’s box.” 

    Netflix has not revealed whether it will report box office grosses, in keeping with its show-no-data mantra. This prompted one Oscar guru to call the news “a fake news story. It’s like, ‘Let’s do this to show ’em we’re in the game, but not report box office, not use real theaters, and four-wall them so there’s no paper trail. It’s just a sham.”

    And then there’s marketing. Netflix has not traditionally spent much on traditional marketing, believing that the best way to promote a Netflix TV show or movie is simply to promote it on Netflix. That’s changing, and Netflix is now pledging to dramatically increase its traditional marketing spends. But so far it has not shown the same marketing aggression as its competitors. Says one studio exec: “Does putting movies in theaters translate to spending money? Or are they simply placating a filmmaker by saying ‘Sure, it’ll qualify [for the Oscars]—it’ll be in theaters!’?”

    In the end, the success of Roma, both as a film and as an Oscar contender, will depend on audiences. As the studio exec says, “The most important thing that’s gonna matter is, how good is the movie? If it’s special, then one week [in theaters] will be enough because then we’ll talk about it.”   

    This story has been updated. 


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    It’s a scary time to be raising a child in the U.S. The news is flooded with children of asylum seekers being separated from their parents, the killing of Jews in a synagogue, and the shooting of black people as they go about their lives. One some level, all this reflects hatred for people who are deemed the “Other.” Yet most parents want their children to grow up embracing and empathizing with those from different backgrounds.

    Worldwide Buddies is here to help. It’s a newly launched startup founded by Evi Triantafyllides, who grew up in Cyprus—a melting pot of different cultures at the intersection of Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. The $39 quarterly box, which can be purchased online and at select stores, delves into the reality of kids from other parts of the world. Each one contains a book, toys, and games about one specific culture, all of which she and her cofounder have designed from scratch.

    In the first box covers Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which is happening right now. The book features a Mexican boy, Adri, who is scared of the holiday and its imagery, but eventually comes to understand that the day actually teaches people to overcome their fear of death. Triantafyllides wanted to give children aged 5 and up from around the world the chance to empathize with Mexican kids.

    And at a time when migrants from Mexico (and other Latin American cultures) are being terrorized by troops at the U.S. border, this book could not be timelier. “I wrote the book long before the child separation policy and the migrant caravan,” says Triantafyllides. “But the fact that these things are in the news makes my point. I don’t want kids to see Mexican children as ‘Other.'”


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    What: The latest proof that politicians (especially conservative ones) should not try their hands at humor.

    Who: Mike Pence, Ted Cruz.

    Why we care: It’s a good thing Mike Huckabee exists. Otherwise it would be hard to decide who is the most aggressively unfunny politician in the United States. Huckabee got some competition for the crown this week, though, from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

    Let’s start with Cruz. The famously unsettling, porn-tweeting Texan has long been the subject of an actually funny joke: the idea that he enjoys a secret double life as the Zodiac Killer (so much so that the joke has its own Wikipedia page). Whether or not Cruz actually is the Zodiac Killer, he definitely committed murder on Wednesday when he killed this beloved meme forever by embracing it.

    Cruz’s (wait for it) stab at humor is an attempt to prove that he’s in on the longest-running joke about him. A very crafty adviser probably suggested that this would be a good way of currying favor with millennials, those voters most likely to have heard of the meme. At the same time, though, this is a U.S. senator acknowledging that a substantial number of people regularly joke about him coming across as a creepy weirdo. It’s a self-own masquerading as self-deprecating humor–and unlike the actual Zodiac, Cruz doesn’t get away with it.

    Next, there’s Mike Pence, who on Thursday morning inelegantly dusted off an Anchorman quote at a campaign event for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp.

    “I heard Oprah was in town today. And I heard Will Ferrell was going door to door the other day,” Pence said. “Well, I’d like to remind Stacey and Oprah and Will Ferrell–I’m kind of a big deal, too.” The crowd makes some noise and then, exactly unlike any halfway decent funny person would ever think of doing, Pence leans in and asks, “Did you get that?”

    Leaving aside the fact that simply quoting a 15-year-old movie and having to ask if anyone got the hi-LAR-ious reference isn’t inherently funny, the thing that’s so galling about the line is that Mike Pence is most certainly not kind of a big deal. In the past two years, his most memorable moment was that time he spent a quarter million in taxpayer money flying to a football game just so he could pointedly walk out in protest. What else has he done, apart from spewing LGBTQ and women hate as Trump’s cheerleader-in-chief? He’s shown about as much true leadership as the DJ in any late-’90s nü-metal band.

    At least his idea of humor appears to be slightly less mean-spirited than that of his boss, who joked last Saturday about almost cancelling his political rally, not because of the most deadly attack on American Jews in history, but because he was having a bad hair day. Jokes are the language of the oppressed, not the oppressors, which is why conservatives in power should give them up.

    “It’s almost like humor is one of the last things people surrender,” Veep creator Armando Iannucci told me earlier this year. “You’re still telling yourself you have a bit of freedom left because you’re making jokes about the person pointing a gun at you.”


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    Internet freedom is in decline across much of the globe as various governments crack down on dissent and so-called fake news, according to an annual report from Freedom House, a nonprofit that receives much of its funding from the U.S. government.

    Among the group’s observations:

    • China is not only continuing to restrict online speech within its own borders, but also providing seminars and tours to delegations from other countries, where it promotes its restrictive techniques and tools. “While it is not always clear what transpires during such seminars, a training for Vietnamese officials in April 2017 was followed in 2018 by the introduction of a cybersecurity law that closely mimics China’s own law,” according to the report. “Increased activity by Chinese companies and officials in Africa similarly preceded the passage of restrictive cybercrime and media laws in Uganda and Tanzania over the past year.” Other countries and multinational companies have previously found a lucrative opportunity in exporting censorship tools.
    • The U.S. saw a decline in internet freedom as FCC net neutrality rules were repealed and broad surveillance provisions were renewed by Congress. “Despite an online environment that remains vibrant, diverse, and free, disinformation and hyperpartisan content continued to be of pressing concern in the United States, particularly in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections,” according to the report.
    • More countries are restricting online speech in the name of combating “fake news.” The Philippines has proposed a law to criminalize the malicious spread of fake news, countries including Bangladesh and Rwanda have cracked down on live streamers and bloggers, and more countries are requiring website operators and high-traffic social media accounts to register or receive permits from the government.
    • Several countries are restricting VPNs and require that citizen data be stored locally, reversing the international nature of the internet. This trend is sometimes referred to as a growing “splinternet.”
    • On the bright side, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation is serving as a model for privacy regulations around the world.

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    Apple’s stock dropped by 5% immediately after the company announced results for its September-ending quarter Thursday.

    The company exceeded analyst expectations on revenue, but missed expectations on the number of iPhones sold during the quarter.

    Revenues came in at a record $62.9 billion. But Apple sold 46.89 million iPhones during the September quarter, and analysts were looking for sales of 47.5 million phones, according to FactSet.

    What spooked some investors may have been the guidance Apple gave for its holiday quarter sales. The company projected between $89 billion and $93 billion, while a Bloomberg survey of analysts found an average expectation of $92.7 billion.

    The company made its bets for connecting with consumer wants this year when it laid out its new line of iPhones at its press event in September. It upgraded the features of the X with the $999 5.8-inch XS. It went big with a 6.5-inch version of last year’s iPhone X–the $1,099 iPhone XS Max. Perhaps its most intriguing bet was the Xr, which packs the design and many of the features of the iPhone X, but for a nice price–$749, to start.

    But the Xr didn’t go on sale until October, so the new low-cost device didn’t play into the September results. At the same time, October sales of the device could definitely have influenced Apple’s forecast for the holiday quarter.

    Apple is seeing slowing growth in its iPhone business, but it’s making up for that by selling more expensive phones at higher margins, which seems to be working fine. The company reported an average selling price (ASP) of $793 for the September quarter, a big jump from $618 reported in the year-ago quarter, and significantly more than the $729 that analysts had expected.

    The iPhone still contributes more than 60% of overall Apple revenues. However, the device is increasingly being seen as a vending machine for Apple services like iCloud and Apple Music. Apple reported $10 billion for the September quarter, and said it’s well on its way to doubling its 2016 Services revenue by 2020.

    “We are heading into the holiday quarter with our strongest product line ever and we could not be more bullish about our future,” CEO Tim Cook said on the conference call with analysts.

    Apple CFO Luca Maestri said Apple saw double-digit revenue growth in every major geographic region in the world during the quarter. Revenues grew 18% in Europe, 19% in the U.S., and 34% in Japan, Apple reported.

    Maestri explained that his company’s holiday quarter guidance had been influenced by the release timing of the new iPhones compared to last year, by shaky consumer confidence in some emerging markets, a strengthening U.S. dollar, and uncertainty over the product-market fit of the many new products Apple now has in its development pipeline.

    Apple’s stock lost 3% of its value in October, but is still up 31% for the year.


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    If you’re in a voting booth on November 6 staring at your ballot and realize you don’t know anything about the candidates running for comptroller–or what a comptroller is–an app can help.

    One app, BallotReady, was born out of the last midterm election. “I knew who I was going to vote for at the top of the ballot, but I also knew my ballot was going to be long and there were offices that I didn’t really know what they did, like a water reclamation commissioner,” says Alex Niemczewski, now CEO of BallotReady. She pulled together information for herself, and realized that a similar tool could be broadly useful. Everyone she spoke with, she says, told her that they’d occasionally guessed on a candidate in the past, or left a space blank, because they didn’t have enough information.

    [Photo: BallotReady]
    The app, now available nationally, shows who has endorsed candidates and gives details about their position on issues. Though because it pulls from their own websites, it sometimes leaves out issues the candidates would rather avoid: Martha McSally, running for senator in Arizona, for instance doesn’t have a health care section on the app, despite her vote to repeal Obamacare–a vote she’s now trying to run away from.

    For referendums, like California’s often complexly worded propositions, they show what a yes or no vote means. “Often measures are written in a way that is hard to understand, and sometimes they’re written in a way that’s deceptive purposefully,” Niemczewski says.

    The information is difficult to gather. “The toughest part is there’s no single database of who’s running for office, or even what positions are up for election,” she says. “We have to go county by county and municipality by municipality.” Around a third of county election boards don’t have websites, so the staff sometimes has to send faxes.

    A similar app, called We Vote, is also available nationally. The app, which was developed by an open-source network of volunteers and is still in a rough beta stage, lets voters filter by issues they care about, such as affordable housing or climate change. “We let you choose the issues, we let you choose the organizations you trust, and then we let you add your friends and invite people who want to talk to you,” says Dale McGrew, cofounder and CEO of WeVote. The app shows a score for candidates based on those issues and the opinions of trusted organizations and friends.

    It’s much simpler to use, McGrew says, than hunting down voter guides individually. “We’re tuned to serve people who don’t want to spend a lot of time,” he says. Someone can work through the ballot as they’re commuting to work, or whenever they have free time. Both apps can be used at the last minute–as someone is in line at the polls–or even in the polling booth, with a few exceptions in states that don’t allow phones inside the booth. Voters who have prepared in advance can use the apps to remind themselves of their choices.

    In elections next year, BallotReady will offer details about even more offices, such as school board elections. “We want people to be prepared to vote their entire ballot without guessing, even in local elections,” she says. The next version of the app will also let people know which offices they could run for themselves. “A lot of offices run uncontested, especially at the local level. I think for voters to have a real choice, for democracy to really work, races should be contested, and people should know what the process to run is like.”


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    With elections either just passing or on the horizon, many political researchers have been digging into the problem of fake news. Bad actors have been using numerous online platforms to spread misinformation, which has had demonstrable political effects. While most people believe Facebook to be the haven for this kind of viral and factually incorrect content, other apps may be just as bad.

    A recent Oxford study, for example, found that WhatsApp was one of the most prominent messaging platforms used for misinformation campaigns, reports NBC News. Not only that, but use of the app in certain regions has been correlated with higher rates of political violence.

    The problem is that WhatsApp messaging creates the impression of more personalized group communication. Users can either message each other individually, or join small groups to share information. These groups are often used by political groups to share propaganda, though the recipients are likely not aware. And it’s extremely easy to share messages from group to group–thus, a post containing inflammatory and false information can easily go viral on the platform.

    Increased use of WhatsApp, it turns out, has also led to political violence. In both Mexico and India, mobs have been started because of misinformation stemming from the messaging platform. Indeed, WhatsApp has even been traveling around India in an attempt to educate users about fake news and how to spot it. All the while, new political movements–especially those advocating for more tribalistic or nationalistic politics–have used WhatsApp as a way to spread their message.

    For now, there’s no easy way to fix the problem. But as things continue, the fake news conversation will likely begin shifting away from Facebook and to these messaging platforms.

    You can read the full NBC News report here.


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    Matter of fact, the global market in smartphones plummeted 6% last quarter alone, reports Engadget. Smartphone makers shipped just 355.2 million last quarter, according to numbers from IDC. So why the big decline?

    A large part of the blame can be put on Samsung, which controls 20.3% of the global smartphone market. The South Korean company shipped 13.4% fewer phones last quarter. China is also partly to blame, where consumers are tightening their belts amid an economic slowdown. The country is the largest smartphone market.

    Then there is also the fact that people aren’t upgrading their smartphones on a yearly basis anymore because they feel the technology isn’t changing rapidly enough to warrant an upgrade. That’s why companies are looking forward to the upcoming rollout of 5G networks, which they hope will spur consumers into buying all-new, 5G-enabled devices.


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    On Thursday, Amazon’s second 4-star store opened in Lone Tree, Colorado, just a few miles outside of Denver, reports the Verge. The company’s second 4-star store follows the opening of its first in SoHo, New York City, in late September. As Amazon explained in a blog post at the time about their 4-star concept:

    We created Amazon 4-star to be a place where customers can discover products they will love. Amazon 4-star’s selection is a direct reflection of our customers—what they’re buying and what they’re loving.

    We started with some of the most popular categories on Amazon.com including devices, consumer electronics, kitchen, home, toys, books, and games, and chose only the products that customers have rated 4 stars and above, or are top sellers, or are new and trending.

    Today, the average rating of all the products in Amazon 4-star is 4.4 stars, and collectively, the products in store have earned more than 1.8 million 5-star customer reviews.

    Amazon also plans to open its third 4-star store in Berkeley, California, in the coming months. Of course, these aren’t the only brick-and-mortar retail stores Amazon has. The company owns the Whole Foods grocery chain as well as has a number of physical bookshops and Go cashier-less convenience stores across the country.


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    Don’t get me wrong. I love a good tote bag, particularly if it’s from a brand I love. I have an NPR tote I got from a pledge drive. I confess that I canceled and re-subscribed to the New Yorker just so that I could get a new version of the tote that comes with membership.

    But I’m also drowning in dozens of other totes that brands fling at me at conferences, product launches, and events. Most of them aren’t particularly sturdy or well designed, so they’re not that useful for bringing to the grocery store. And Goodwill doesn’t typically take random, flimsy tote bags. So every few months, I gather them and throw them out.

    [Source Images: invincible_bulldog/iStock, MattMump/Blendswap]

    It’s painful. As you may have heard, the planet is hurtling toward a full-on environmental crisis. A month ago, the United Nations released a report written by 91 scientists in 40 countries saying that there is a strong risk that we will begin experiencing terrible consequences from climate change–think: Food shortages, wildfires, the end of coral reef–by as early as 2040.

    When you think about all of the energy and resources that go into making just one of the tote bags that I have just thrown into the trash–only to end up in a landfill–the impact in staggering. Such bags are often made out of cotton with its own environmental footprint, or plastic made from oil. In most cases, they are sewn together in low-wage factories in China, then shipped around the world. And for what purpose? So that a company could marginally improve its brand recognition by stuffing them with pamphlets and handing them out at an event.

    [Source Images: invincible_bulldog/iStock, MattMump/Blendswap]

    It’s not just tote bags, which only make up 8.4% of total promotional product sales. It’s also T-shirts, which represent more than a quarter of sales; writing instruments, which make up 6.1%; and various tech accessories, like USB drives, which make up 7.5%.

    The promotional products industry in the United States is worth $24 billion and has grown by 2.5% over the last five years. There are 26,413 businesses in the space, which employs 392,820 people, according to the most recent figures. While cheap swag is popular across industries, education, healthcare, insurance, nonprofits, marketing companies, and technology are the biggest consumers of conference swag.

    There are large companies in this space, including 4imprint, which made $608 million in 2017, Staples Promotional Products, which made $592.9 million, and HALO Branded Solutions, which made $416.4 million. If you’re browsing the internet, you may have stumbled on online distributors like Marco Promos, AnyPromo.com, DiscountMugs, and VistaPrint. All of these companies specialize in creating mugs, magnets, calendars, and T-shirts customized with a client’s logo or advertising message. There are blogs, podcasts, and annual reports devoted to the promotional products industry, and websites that help distributors grow their businesses, encouraging them to sell their products online and ship as quickly as possible.

    [Source Images: invincible_bulldog/iStock, MattMump/Blendswap]

    One thing stands out when you begin to scan through their websites: They’re all competing with one another to sell products at rock bottom prices. The companies buying these things are looking to get them out to as many people as possible, while maximizing their marketing budget.

    Take those tote bags that I just chucked out. A plastic tote emblazoned with a logo goes for as little at $0.61, while a cotton one goes for a little over $1. Slightly more premium versions cost more, but are still cheap: You can get insulation for around $2, totes that mimic LL.Bean’s iconic canvas bags for just over $3, and bags that look a little like luxury Longchamp Le Pliage bags for just over $7.

    Ensuring an ethical supply chain and materials with the smallest carbon footprint, of course, tends to increase costs. We see a parallel here with the fast fashion industry, which also focuses on making things as inexpensively as possible, so you can buy a T-shirt for a few bucks at H&M or Forever21. But over the last few years, reporting on these practices has drawn attention to their enormously damaging environmental footprint, which includes producing water pollution, toxic chemicals, and terrible waste. The human impact is just as terrifying: Workers at low-cost factories that make fast fashion products often labor under inhumane conditions, and many have died because of a lack of workplace safety standards.

    When it comes to promotional goods, there have been reports of workers in Chinese factories that make these products who have experienced  poor working conditions and a lack of collective bargaining, which results in very low wages.

    [Source Images: invincible_bulldog/iStock, MattMump/Blendswap]

    The promo industry is about to hit choppy waters as far as manufacturing is concerned. According to the Advertising Speciality Institute (ASI), the promotional industry’s primary supply chain is rooted in Chinese factories. In fact, many promo companies are now being affected by President Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products. And this is going to increase the prices by as much as 25%, which could be a major blow to an industry that thrives on creating cheap goods. “This is one of the biggest challenges our industry has faced from an outside pressure,” Jonathan Isaacson, president of promo company The Gem Group, told Advertising Speciality Institute.

    Some companies are thinking about shifting production to other cheap labor markets. Memo Kahan, president of a distributor called PromoShop, says he’s considering moving manufacturing to Malaysia, Africa, and Mexico. These are countries that also happen to have weak regulations as far as worker protections and environmental impact.

    [Source Images: invincible_bulldog/iStock, MattMump/Blendswap]

    There are alternatives. Since prices are already going up thanks to Trump’s policies, these companies could consider making their products domestically. Since America has higher standards as far as minimum wage and pollution go, this could mitigate some of the industry’s environmental impact. Rather than competing with one another for rock bottom prices, they could pitch themselves as ethical brands–the same way some fashion companies have.

    But there’s a more radical solution: We could get rid of cheap swag altogether. What if you left your next conference or trade show without heaps of notepads, pens, and USB drives stuffed in a cheap tote bag, all of which will eventually end up in the trash?

    For this transformation to happen, it can’t come from the distributers alone. Brands and consumers need to speak up, and change their behavior. That might mean turning down some of the free stuff that companies shove your way at your annual industry event. If you’re in the marketing department at your company, with some say over what swag you buy, you might sway your team to resist the urge to invest in cheap, disposable garbage.

    Instead, consider offering experiences. Several well-reported studies show that millennials are prioritizing experiences over stuff. For instance, I’d appreciate a back massage at a conference, or perhaps a yoga class, or a free headshot. I’d even enjoy a good meal instead of a swag bag. Give me a cold brew, awesome donuts, or a burger. If you wrap the event in your branding, there’s a good chance your target customer will remember that experience long after the tote bag is stuffed in a landfill somewhere.


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    Retreat and advance
    “My favorite place in the world is the Wickaninnish Inn, in Tofino, British Columbia. I have a deep love for the Pacific Northwest, and Tofino is remote enough for me to truly unplug. I feel like the best version of myself when I’m there.” Jen Rubio, cofounder and chief brand officer, Away

    [Illustration: Marco Goran Romano]
    On switch: How to jump-start your morning
    I do about five minutes of deep breathing, lying on my back on the floor, and I often get a really clear and basic idea. Like, yesterday I realized I needed to do a label change for a product. These ideas are always super specific, out of nowhere, and usually on point.” —Anya Fernald, cofounder and CEO, Belcampo

    [Illustration: Marco Goran Romano]
    Putting in the workout: the Peleton Bike
    “Peloton conveniently delivers amazing content that inspires me to work out (almost) every day. Even though I ride the bike at home, I feel connected to a large, inspiring, and supportive community of people who have a strong desire to maintain a healthy lifestyle.” —Tristan Walker, founder and CEO, Walker & Company Brands

    [Illustration: Joel Kimmel]
    White hat hack: Encrypt your email when using hotel wi-fi
    Hackers increasingly scan open networks, mining professional secrets from users’ emails. With encryption, only your desired recipients can read your messages. Leading email applications from Microsoft and Google have this as a free option: Look under Office 365 Message Encryption (OME), and for Gmail, use the FlowCrypt add-onNicole Eagan, CEO, Darktrace

    [Illustration: Marco Goran Romano]
    It never gets old: Clarks Desert Boot
    “Growing up, music was important to me; I remember seeing George Harrison wear them on the Abbey Road cover. They’re incredibly versatile, and the iconic silhouette works for practically any situation.” —Imran Chaudhri, designer/inventor


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    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug Epidiolex back in June, but GW Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Epidiolex, needed to wait until the Drug Enforcement Administration recategorized its compounds from their listing as Schedule 1 drugs before the company could begin selling it. That recategorization has now happened, and the drug is now available for sale in all 50 states.

    Epidiolex uses a marijuana derivative that is helpful in treating a rare form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS) and a genetic brain dysfunction called Dravet syndrome. Both syndromes can cause seizures. But Epidiolex, with its marijuana derivative, has been found to reduce a certain type of those seizures by as much as 25% to 28%, reports CNN.

    Announcing the commercial availability of the drug, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said: “Adequate and well-controlled clinical studies supported Epidiolex’s approval, so prescribers can have confidence in the drug’s uniform strength and consistent delivery that support appropriate dosing needed for treating patients with these complex and serious epilepsy syndromes. The FDA will continue to support rigorous scientific research on the potential medical uses of marijuana-derived products and stand ready to work with product developers who are interested in bringing patients safe and effective, high-quality products.”


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