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    How often do you find yourself in this situation: With a pressing deadline, you sit down at your desk and tell yourself you’re not going to get up until the task is finished. Focus, we assume, is what we need in order to be successful. But what if what we really need is to allow ourselves to be distracted?

    Dr. Srini Pillay, author of Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlocking the Power of the Unfocused Mind, says while we all need a little time to focus to complete tasks, we tend to put our heads down too much. “Too much focus can actually hurt us,” he says. Here’s why focusing too hard may actually be damaging your productivity.

    Focus drains your energy

    Do you notice that spending the whole day working on a project leaves you depleted at the end of the day? “If you spend too much time focusing, your brain starts to lose energy,” says Pillay. If you find that you’re going through the day exhausted and downing one coffee after another just to stay awake, you may have exhausted your brain’s capacity to focus.

    Focus means you stop noticing other things

    Being too focused on one task can cause you to become oblivious to other things going on around you. “An Wang, the founder of the word processor, was busy focusing on version 2 of his creation, and in the process missed a competitor, the PC,” says Pillay. Without being able to see what’s going on in the periphery, you can lose track of the bigger picture and may miss something big that’s coming up in the future.

    Focus hinders creativity

    Creativity requires a mashup of ideas. Focusing solely on one thought or idea too closely doesn’t leave any space for other thoughts to creep in and for creativity to happen.

    So, if focus isn’t enough on its own for success, how can we activate the unfocused brain and use the wandering mind to its advantage? Pillay suggests three ways.

    Three ways to take advantage of an unfocused brain

    Constructively daydream. We all have moments where we allow our minds to wander, sometimes thinking about nothing in particular. Pillay says while allowing your brain to wander off-topic while you sit staring at your to-do list simply delays task completion, there is a form of daydreaming that can help you to be more productive. “Positive constructive daydreaming,” he says, occurs when you are engaged in doing a low-key activity, such as knitting or gardening, where you allow your mind to wander to a positive place. Daydreaming during a low-key activity, he says, can help you to feel more energized, productive, and creative.

    Find the right distractions. How many times do you find yourself turning to social media as an outlet for distraction? How about doodling? Pillay says distractions are allowed; however, they must be the right distractions. While scrolling through social media leads to procrastination and doesn’t truly give your mind a break, doodling, on the other hand, is actually a healthy distraction. Pillay says that scribbling activity that used to get you in trouble in grade school helps you to connect with your unconscious, allowing you to retain more information and improve your memory recall.

    Recognize unconscious distractions. Unconscious distractions, such as worrying about paying your mortgage, or concerns about the health of a family member, may not always be top of mind, but are happening unconsciously. These thoughts can become unhealthy distractions, activating your brain’s fear center without you being aware of it.

    Pillay argues it’s important to be aware of these distractions so that you can consciously set aside time to think about these concerns and let your brain come up with solutions to those unconscious fears, rather than having them appear at inopportune moments.


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    Next year, 373 million people will find themselves on Dutch National Railway Company trains (dubbed NS), and for all sorts of reasons. Some people will be solo, commuting to work with laptops, while others will be in groups, with massive amounts of luggage, playing tourist. Some will want to make friends. Others will want personal privacy.

    There is no one type of passenger on trains, so why is there so often just one type of seat?

    [Image: courtesy Mecanoo]

    In response to this reality, NS hired Mecanoo architects and the furniture company Gispen to create a flexible concept train for the year 2025. It’s a mix of several seating types that can be mixed or matched modularly, so that trains can adapt to customer needs. The design does away with the classic 2×2 model of seating–which organizes two seats of two on each side of the train–and replaces it with all sorts of options in the form of 12 new furniture modules.

    [Image: courtesy Mecanoo]

    The core seating unit is almost like a corner booth at a restaurant crossed with your standard office cubicle, featuring U-shaped seating and fold-out table tops. Don’t want to sit with anyone else? There are individual seats, too, that run single file along one wall like a tiny passenger jet. Or you can capture that whole alone-together vibe by sitting at bar seats up against the window. Or, assuming you’re as flexible as you were in high school, you can totally lounge out on long, bleacher-like seats instead.

    [Image: courtesy Mecanoo]

    The best part is that all of these arrangements are completely noncommittal. NS suggests that it could even switch up the layouts over the course of the day, architecting the space for human density during popular commute times but giving everyone a bit more breathing room during the more casual hours. Exactly how easily modules could be changed, though, is a bit unclear.

    Indeed, the exploration is billed merely as a concept. It doesn’t exist in physical form at this time (though Dutch Design Week participants could try it out recently in VR), and the company has made no promises to pursue the designs commercially. However, NS is billing the vision as “highly inspirational” to the direction of the company, insisting that the train of the future “will turn journey time into working time. Or time for reading, chatting, or chilling out . . . it’s the passengers who decide.”

    I’m not so sure that I’d ever want to sit cross-legged on some shared bench on a public train, no matter the circumstance. That said, every other seating option looks like a welcome departure from the sorts of train seating most of us know: hard, sticky, and uncomfortably close to strangers.


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    Freelancing is on the rise–and so is integration of freelancers into organizational teams. The “2018 Future Workforce” report from freelancing website Upwork, released in February, found that 59% of hiring managers are using flexible talent–freelancers, temporary, and agency workers–which is more than double the 2017 percentage (24%).

    At the same time, Americans have embraced freelancing as a career choice. Upwork’s “Freelancing in 2018” report, released on October 31, 2018, found that 3.7 million more people began freelancing between 2014 and 2018. The report also found that freelancers place more value on skills training. The U.S. freelance workforce is growing faster than the overall U.S. workforce, outpacing overall U.S. workforce growth at a rate three times faster since 2014. Upwork’s report predicts that the workforce will be majority freelance by 2027.

    Winning the Freelance Talent Wars

    While it may seem counterintuitive to invest training resources in people who are not employees, the lines between W2 workers and 1099 workers can be blurry sometimes. As freelancers take on new responsibilities in your organization, it may be time to consider investing in them, says Mike Boro, a partner in PwC’s Workforce of the Future practice. “I do think there is a war for talent, there is a war for independent contractors, so the better you can do to get your independent contractors integrated and then learning something which advances their skill set is actually a positive as well,” he says.

    And freelancers are likely to welcome those opportunities. Seventy percent of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months compared to only 49% of full-time non-freelancers.

    Kari DePhillips, owner of digital marketing firm The Content Factory, integrates a period of freelancing and training into her hiring process. If she’s interested in hiring a candidate, she’ll hire them as an independent contractor and pay an hourly rate for them to complete several of her company’s extensive online training modules. After a 60- to 90- day trial period, if she’s satisfied with the training results, she hires the employee. This leads to very little turnover, as she and her employees have already had a “trial run,” and she has the added assurance that the people she’s onboarding have the skills her clients need, she says.

    Creating Criteria

    To train or not to train depends on the duration of the contractor’s tenure and the role they’ll play, says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, a division of staffing firm Robert Half that works with creative agencies. “It depends on the duration of that contractor’s tenure or anticipated tenure with your organization. It starts with especially if it is a longer-term freelancer or contractor, they will be even more valuable to your organization if you provide them first and foremost training on your company,” she says.

    From there, you have some decisions to make, Boro says. It’s also a good idea to train contract workers who are integrated into your teams in the same onboarding training that your employees receive. This may include the compliance-related areas in which your employees are trained, such as sexual harassment and any other code of conduct training, as well as an introduction to your brand and its standards, processes, tools, and systems, etc. That training helps set up your contractor for success, he says. One employer he knows allows employees and contractors access to training materials before they’re formally “in the system.” As a result, they can access the training before they’re officially brought on board and hit the ground running once they start working with the company.

    From there, you need a good understanding of the roles these workers are playing within your organization, Domeyer says. If they’re completing defined tasks and don’t have client interaction, then you may not need to invest in more training. However, highly skilled freelancers might end up taking on more responsibility, in which case it may be wise to invest in the same soft skills and leadership training you’re giving your employees, especially if they will have client contact or important roles on key teams.

    Reaping the Rewards

    March 2018 research by Robert Half discovered the top challenges advertising and marketing executives have when working with creative freelancers. They included:

    • Making them feel like part of the team: 25%
    • Negotiating pay rates: 22%
    • Communicating or collaborating effectively with them: 19%

    Strategic training could help overcome at least two of those issues–integrating them into the team and communicating and collaborating more effectively. Domeyer points out that many companies don’t invest enough in training overall, but that it can help teams overcome key challenges in attracting and retaining high-level freelance talent. “Simply by opening access to your freelancers, you can give them exposure to some of the skills-based training or soft-skills training without a lot of incremental expense,” she says. Boro adds that if contractors are valuable enough to be trained, they should also be compensated for that training time.

    More people are working freelance because it gives them control, diversity of work, and allows them to keep their skills current and fresh, Domeyer says. “Take advantage of what you have for your existing employees and loop them in, especially if it’s an in-demand skill set, because that’s what professionals are looking for,” she says “Since there’s a diminishing supply of top talent and increasing demand, to the extent that you can include in the training your freelancers or contractors, you’re more apt to be able to move them from project to project and build upon the value as they learn about your company and are able to be that much more effective.”


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    As an award-winning food writer, Sierra Tishgart has seen a lot of great cookware in her time. She has interviewed chefs who are deeply attached to their copper Mauviel pots, Le Creuset enameled cast iron Dutch ovens, and All-Clad sauciers. But as Tishgart surveyed all of this fancy expensive cookware, she felt like many of these brands weren’t really speaking to younger consumers like herself.

    For one thing, most of these pots and pans were prohibitively expensive, partly because they were all sold through through department stores, which layered on middleman markups. The whole cookware industry seemed to be unnecessarily complicated, making it impossible to tell what made one skillet better than another. And neither the branding nor the products themselves seemed designed to appeal to twenty- and thirtysomethings, who are starting to invest in their homes. “I found myself at home more, and wanting to become a better home cook,” Tishgart says. “But I found the process of figuring out what I need in the kitchen really overwhelming, and cookware seemed to lack originality in design.”

    [Photo: Danny Kim/courtesy Great Jones]

    That’s when Tishgart came up with the idea for Great Jones, a new cookware company aimed at young home cooks, which sells attractive pots and pans online. (The startup is named after Judith Jones, the cookbook author and editor who published the work of Julia Child, James Beard, and others. She passed away last year at the age of 93.) To help Tishgart launch the business, she reached out to Maddy Moelis, one of her closest friends, whom she met at the age of eight at summer camp. Moelis happened to have graduated from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where many direct-to-consumer brands got their start. Moelis started her career working for several fast-growing startups, including Warby Parker and wedding registry company Zola, which gave her a clear view into the homeware space. “I saw how big a business cookware is, but I also saw how hard it was for the big, classic cookware brands to reach a millennial audience,” says Moelis. “Brand managers and the marketing teams at those companies struggled to speak in a voice that was relevant to our generation.”

    The two of them raised a small friends and family funding round to get Great Jones off the ground, and are now ready to take on the $2.1 billion global cookware industry, which is expected to experience significant growth by 2024, with analysts expecting it to more than double. Data shows that 60% of first-time home buyers today are millennials. These twenty- and thirtysomethings are outfitting their new houses with homewares and kitchen products. So the founders believe it’s the right time to introduce a new cookware brand oriented toward them.

    But there’s competition. MadeIn is a notable competitor; it launched online in 2016 with a line of stainless steel pots and pans. Milo launched in April this year with a single product, a $95 Dutch oven. And there are also several knife and kitchen tool brands on the market, including Material Kitchen and Misen. (Kitchen brands seem to like “M” names.)

    Great Jones’s introductory collection consists of four pieces of stainless steel cookware (a saucepan, a saute pan, a stock pot, and a small fry pan with a ceramic non-stick coating) and one Dutch oven. They’re all priced between $45 and $145, while the full set can be purchased for $395, which puts it on par with brands you might find at Target like Cuisinart, and significantly cheaper than brands you might find at speciality stores like Sur La Table, like Demeyere or Staub. Tishgart and Moelis say they’ve used the same materials that high-end brands use to ensure even distribution of heat during cooking, making it less likely that you’ll burn your food. They make their products in factories based in Hong Kong (I have not tested these products in the kitchen, so I can’t speak to how well they work in action.)

    [Photos: Danny Kim/courtesy Great Jones]

    Tishgart and Moelis hope Great Jones’s vibrant look will help it stand out from the competition. The founders worked with professional industrial designer, whose name they are not disclosing. All the pots and pans have contrasting brass-colored metal for the handles, and the Dutch oven (playfully called The Dutchess) comes in an eye-catching color palette of pink, yellow, and dark green. While many people hide their cookware when it is not in use, the founders hope that customers like their pots so much, they’ll want to leave them out.

    Great Jones’ founders were inspired by vintage colors and shapes. On the Great Jones website, the logo typeface is inspired by the 1970s “Thank You For Shopping” bags found in New York. The brand’s Instagram feed is full of pictures of campy old cookbooks, including one with a picture of Elvis Presley on the cover. Several books feature Great Jones pans with curved handles photoshopped into them, to show how germane this aesthetic looks in vintage books. “It’s about color, warmth, and a nod to the nostalgia of cooking,” says Tishgart. “We wanted to create something that would connect you to different generations in your family, while of course having a modern design.”

    [Photo: Danny Kim/courtesy Great Jones]

    Tishgart and Moelis also hope to tap into customers’ frustration with having to shop around. Right now, if you’re looking to upgrade your kitchen with premium products, you need to go to separate brands to buy your cast iron and stainless steel pieces. Great Jones offers pieces that the founders believe are the essentials of a kitchen set. All products are delivered to the customer within a week, and ship for free when you spend over $100. Tishgart says that she reached out to many chefs to identify their most frequently used pieces, while Moelis studied market data to figure out the most frequently purchased items. “We’re setting ourselves up as a one-stop shop,” says Tishgart. “We offered five pieces from the start, and wanted to explain and inform you about what each of these does.”

    Explaining the cookware is key. The brand’s website highlights each of the five pots and pans, explaining what foods will cook best in each. A large pan, for instance, could be ideal for paella, but it is also appropriately sized for making pancakes for a group. There is also information about how to take care of the cookware.

    Above all, the founders say, they want to create a brand that resonates emotionally with customers. “Food is emotional,” says Tishgart. “Whether it’s just me cooking for myself in my pajamas, or having my boyfriend’s family over for the first time and struggling to roast chicken.  We want all this to come across in our brand.”

    Will Great Jones’s branding and design be enough to lure customers, especially now that the internet abounds with startups selling comparable products at good prices? And will the brand be able to compete with Amazon Prime and the endless array of pots and pans that can be bought on impulse and arrive on the doorstep two days later? We’ll have to wait and see.


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    In a fishing village south of Tampa called Cortez, a new community of small homes will run on solar power to reach a “net zero” energy footprint–using Google Home to help optimize how the power is used.

    “It’s going to be a grid-interactive, grid-optimized virtual power plant,” says Blake Richetta, senior vice president and head of U.S. operations at Sonnen, which is making batteries that will store solar power for the 148 new homes in the new development, called Hunters Point. The company designed its software to work with Google Home device and interact with its system, which sends extra power into batteries or into the grid at ideal times.

    [Image: Pearl Homes]

    During the day, for example, when homeowners are at work, Google’s Nest thermostat can start “pre-cooling” houses early. That means that solar power from the roof can be used directly. In the evening–the peak time for the electric grid–the system can gradually raise the temperature. The house will stay comfortable since it’s already cool. But the demand on the grid will be lower at a critical time when operators otherwise might have needed to rely on more fossil fuels. Other Google devices could work with the system to find other ways to shift demand, such as running appliances when demand is low (the homes will come equipped with Wi-Fi-connected appliances from GE). Sonnen’s system could also charge electric cars when energy demand is low, or store extra power from the grid when energy is being overproduced and is cheapest.

    [Image: Pearl Homes]

    The system solves one of the challenges of solar power. “Pumping solar into the grid is a problem for grid operation,” says Richetta. “It makes for difficult frequency issues, it’s expensive, it’s stressful for the grid, and ultimately it does not decarbonize in the way that people who love the idea of solar think it does.”

    As solar grows on the grid, it tends to create an oversupply in the middle of the day when the sun is shining and demand for electricity is low. The supply of solar makes demand drop even more. When the sun sets and demand peaks, power plants have to quickly ramp up production. By storing solar power and controlling energy demand, the system of battery storage and software can make better use of solar power.

    The small houses, designed with help from the Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute at the University of Central Florida, will be LEED-certified and ultra-efficient. They’ll also be essentially hurricane-proof: Carbon fiber in the building materials helps the houses meet the standard for a Category 5 storm (by law, the builders only had to meet a Category 3 standard). And if a storm takes out the electric grid, the solar panels and batteries can keep the power on in the neighborhood after the storm passes. “As long as the sun is shining–and the good news is you’re in Florida, so there’s usually going to be lots of sun–we should be fine for perpetual backup,” says Richetta.

    [Image: Pearl Homes]

    After construction of the neighborhood begins in late 2019, the developer, Pearl Homes, will begin a second development of 720 rental homes nearby, using the same combination of efficient design, solar panels, battery storage, and Google Home. It will be the first net-zero rental community of its size, and will make net-zero homes and apartments accessible to those who might not have been able to afford them in the past. Two-bedroom units will rent for $1,200 to $1,400.

    “Our mission is everybody should be able to afford a sustainable home,” says Marshall Gobuty, president of Pearl Homes. “These sustainable homes that are solar-powered with our Sonnen system should not just be for the rich.”


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    Greg Benson has been a University of San Francisco professor teaching computer science for the last 20 years. He’s also part of a quiet effort to solve one of the field’s growing problems.

    During semesters, he spends one to two days a week at SnapLogic, a cloud integration company, and works full-time there during school breaks. Each year, he offers 10 of his machine learning master’s students the chance to intern at SnapLogic and work on AI research projects. If they do well, they can end up with a job. About a third of SnapLogic’s engineering team are former interns. “This has been wildly successful for us,” Benson said.

    This is a useful recruiting method when even the tech giants are struggling for talent. But there’s also another innovation afoot: SnapLogic’s deal with Benson also shows how companies can support academics and make sure there are still professors to teach the next generation of AI researchers.

    The problem is stark: Almost 60% of U.S. computer science PhDs take industry jobs after graduation, up from 38% over the last decade, according to data from the National Science Foundation published by the Wall Street Journal.

    Greg Benson, a computer science professor at the University of San Francisco, who spends two days a week at SnapLogic (left)

    Another study out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute found that in many universities, there were more faculty positions open for AI and related areas than were filled. AI and associated fields was one of the tracks with the highest discrepancy between PhDs produced and positions filled, with a net of 6% more positions filled than PhDs produced. The problem is further compounded by the fact that it takes three to five years to earn a doctorate in computer science.

    It’s unclear how much talent is even out there to begin with. The Montreal-based startup Element AI published a study that found 22,000 AI researchers with relevant PhDs since 2015. That number goes up to 90,000 if you count degrees awarded pre-2015, but the field is changing so fast, recent grads are often thought to have the most relevant research. Tencent, the Chinese internet giant, published its own estimate that put the figure between 200,000 to 300,000 people able to contribute to AI research.

    The hunt for top talent has become a hiring arms race that uses everything from offers of seven-figure deals to Flo Rida performances at industry events. Even researchers at AI nonprofits backed by big money are making more than a million dollars a year. The talent is highly concentrated. Six technology companies—Google, Microsoft, NVIDIA, IBM, Intel, and Samsung—employ over half of all deep learning specialists, according to a December 2016 report by KPMG.

    Benson said the University of San Francisco has struggled to hire enough professors to teach AI. Being in the Bay Area, the combination of expensive home prices and the strong draw from industry is hard for practitioners to ignore when looking for work. The University of San Francisco gets 700 to 800 applications a year to the school’s machine learning master’s program, and takes less than 10%. They could potentially accept more students or expand offerings, but they don’t have the faculty to do it.

    Some of the biggest names in AI maintain a heavy load of teaching and industry work, or cycle between the two. Geoffrey Hinton joined Google and splits his time there with the University of Toronto. Yann LeCun divides his time with New York University and Facebook. Andrew Ng balanced being a professor at Stanford University and leading Baidu’s AI group before leaving the latter to start his own fund and other projects.

    Carnegie Mellon University’s Andrew Moore has jumped between industry and academia throughout his career, but recently announced he is leaving CMU to lead Google Cloud. That position is open because Fei-Fei Li recently left the position to go back full-time to Stanford. (Li, who was on leave from Stanford for nearly two years, had always planned to return, a Google spokesman told Business Insider in June.)

    Before leaving Carnegie Mellon, Moore tried to fight back against the siren song of industry by making it easier for faculty to go back and forth between the two worlds. Moore told the Wall Street Journal that he estimates that 10% to 20% of faculty will take leaves of absence to go to industry or even found a startup.

    This might not be a scalable solution. Top researchers in the right cities might have the resources that allow them to work intense schedules—childcare, assistants, important meetings planned around their time—but those perks aren’t available for everyone.

    Sofus Macskassy, VP of data science at HackerRank, a technical recruiting platform, says that balance is nearly impossible. He speaks from personal and professional experience—he previously taught at the University of Southern California while working for a startup in Los Angeles and hired AI talent at Facebook.

    “Realistically speaking, you don’t have time to do both jobs really well,” he said.

    To create highly trained AI researchers, it’s not just teaching students. It is also advising and helping research get published. That type of work is much different than the applied AI most workplaces are interested in.

    “It’s hard to straddle both,” he said.

    Balancing both also means making sure to sort out the issues of intellectual property (IP) and patents, and what is developed where. It can be quite difficult to navigate IP legalities as the creator is stuck between two legal entities that often both want the IP rights. For the most part, these legalities often get resolved by the lawyers for the university and company without the professor having to get involved. It gets trickier if the professor is starting a company. Macskassy said this depends on the university’s organization that manages IP. If that department is less experienced, it can become a headache. But it is a process that has plenty of precedents to rely upon.

    Macskassy said the talent shortage was the bigger conundrum. If left unaddressed, the U.S. will run into shortages that puts it at risk of losing ground in innovation and research to other countries like China.

    “Companies are shooting themselves in the foot in the long term,” Macskassy said.


    Related:Letting tech firms frame the AI ethics debate is a mistake


    Another solution might be to support academia with more research grants. With the Trump administration’s cut to funding, that might be a pipe dream for the time being. But where the U.S. federal government is failing, some tech giants are trying to staunch the flow by directly funding university departments and teaching students.

    Facebook’s AI Research program, called FAIR, is working with academics that let them split their time between Facebook and their home university. The program recently expanded, with 12 researchers now maintaining a dual affiliation; how the researchers split their time is up to them. IBM launched a program called Cognitive Horizons Network that partnered with six schools to work with researchers and students while keeping academics in their university positions. The project saw 70 peer-reviewed AI publications in its first year.

    Last month, Microsoft unveiled its own effort to tackle the shortage of AI-related skills in business and academia. Professor Chris Bishop, director of Microsoft’s Research Lab in Cambridge in the U.K., told ZDNet that the launch of two new training programs is a “multimillion-pound program in which we’ll invest in PhD scholarship, postdoc, internship, and consultancy positions.”

    Of course, all this focus on PhDs and master’s degrees might be a losing strategy, no matter what compromises are made. Not every problem needs a fancy algorithm, and understanding the goals of a certain business comes from experience, not a degree. One group making this argument is Fast.ai, a nonprofit that offers free AI courses while putting out original research has the goal to make deep learning more accessible, or, as their cheeky slogan says, “Making neural nets uncool again.” A group of students from Fast.ai beat teams is made up of researchers from Intel, Google, and other tech giants in a challenge to train the fastest and cheapest object recognition algorithm.

    “They are fighting over the same few people where they could be looking at a much broader group,” said Rachel Thomas, a cofounder of Fast.ai, who herself switched over to machine learning from finance after taking online courses.

    Thomas also points out that the talent shortage is partially a perception problem that ignores the fact that training employees in AI could be accomplished with a variety of online courses like Fast.ai or Coursera (which, incidentally, is a company cofounded by Ng while he was at Stanford; it now hosts his machine learning course). These already-in-place workers have a deep insight into the company, the data available, and the problems the company wants to solve with AI. Not all of those issues need cutting-edge resources, especially with all the open source tools and AI software currently out there.

    “Companies think, ‘Oh, I have to hire the Stanford PhD,’ and that’s not actually what they need,” Thomas said. “In-house talent is being undervalued right now.”

    Benson agrees that companies aren’t tackling the problem as head-on as they could. Taking on researchers with fewer degrees, providing continuing education, and training internally are all company-based solutions that need more resources. There is only so much that the university system can do before companies need to pull some weight.

    “Academia has responded, but industry doesn’t know what it’s going to take,” Benson said.


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    In some circles John Green is best known as the author of YA novels The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, both of which were turned into movies with very attractive casts. In other circles, though, John Green is known as one half of the podcasting duo behind Dear Hank and John, which he runs with his equally talented brother, Hank, an author in his own right. The show started way back in 2015–practically geriatric in the podcasting world–and built on the popularity of their YouTube channel, The Vlog Brothers, which dates back to the paleolithic era of YouTube circa 2007. They also founded a little thing called VidCon, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

    Now, the Green brothers are wading even further into the podcasting world, bringing their entire slate of podcasts to WNYC Studios.

    In The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green reviews elements of the current geological era, the anthropocene. Every month he reviews two facets of the human-centered planet, things like Hawaiian pizza and viral meningitis, neither of which he particularly recommends. “By paying extremely close attention to almost anything, I think we can learn about the universe and our place in it,” Green says.  There will be a new episode once a month, starting Thursday, November 15.

    On SciShow Tangents Hank Green will help bring the hit YouTube series SciShow to life with the help of writer Ceri Riley, cartoonist Sam Schultz, and producer Stefan Chin. They’ll spend each episode trying to wow each other with weird factoids from the wonderful world of science (hoaxes! mystery ailments! a woman who gave birth to rabbits!) and, naturally, go on plenty of tangents about video games, music, strange smells, and surprisingly deep insights about life.

    “I can’t wait to start sharing SciShow Tangents with listeners,” says Hank Green. “The SciShow YouTube channel has reached hundreds of millions of viewers at home and in classrooms. Everything we’ve recorded at SciShow Tangents has been so fascinating and funny, and I can’t wait to connect with this new audience. Hope you’ll join us.” There will be a new episode every Tuesday, beginning November 13.

    The brothers are rounding out their podcasting trilogy with new episodes of Dear Hank and John, where they offer snort-laugh-worthy and heartfelt advice, that is admittedly somewhat dubious. They tackle topics like what to do if you feel like you always have an ’80s disco in your head and take a deep dive into John’s atrocious cereal-eating habits. They also spend a lot of time talking about Mars (their second-favorite planet) and AFC Wimbledon (their favorite third-tier English football club). New episodes show up weekly, starting Monday, Nov. 12.

    “We couldn’t be more excited about our partnership with Hank and John,” said Tony Phillips, VP of on-demand content at WNYC Studios. “Their sharp, creative minds and natural ability to connect with listeners complements everything we do at WNYC Studios. Listen, and be enthralled.”


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    Well, we’ll always have those 10 seconds of faint relief yesterday morning.

    Somehow, it already feels as though the midterms, which restored a measure of bipartisan standing to the three branches of government, happened untold weeks ago. President Trump made sure of that by firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions less than a day after the elections, paving the way for an end to the Mueller investigation. (Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein has been relieved of overseeing the matter, with his duties falling to a newly installed interim AG-slash-stooge, who has called the investigation a “witch hunt” on TV.) On top of all that, this Wednesday Afternoon Massacre took place hours after a contentious (even for Trump) press conference, which produced its own still-unfolding scandal.

    It started out with a surreal exchange between the president and CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, during which the reporter briefly struggled to hold onto the microphone an aide was trying to take away. Acosta then asked his perhaps too assertively earned follow-up, a challenging question about the Russia investigation. Trump refused to answer the question and called Acosta “a rude, terrible person.” But Trump’s punishment for Acosta did not end with mere badmouthing. Later on Wednesday afternoon, the White House officially revoked Acosta’s press pass. And somehow, it is only at this point in the story that things began to get deeply weird and troubling.

    When White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the decision to revoke Acosta’s press pass, she falsely claimed that the reporter had inflicted physical violence on the intern who tried to take his microphone.

    Setting aside the ludicrously false notion that “President Trump has given the press more access than any President in history,” Acosta clearly didn’t “place his hands on a young woman.” We can all plainly see that. With our eyes. Here’s NBC’s video of the moment in question, but it was captured from other angles as well, which we’ll get to further below.

    CNN’s PR team quickly responded to the White House’s decision and false assertion with a strongly worded condemnation, followed by an even more forceful rebuke by the White House Correspondent’s Association.

    After these rightful assertions that the White House can’t merely say that their version of an event seen by millions is the definitive account, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down. She released a video that makes it look as though Jim Acosta kind of karate chops the White House intern as he struggles to keep the microphone.

    Twitter users with eyeballs, however, couldn’t help notice that the footage in the video appears to be sped up.

    Further clarifying why the White House’s footage looks more damning than what everyone else saw, a 15-year veteran of video editing helpfully broke down the technique used.

    Apparently, the doctored version of the video came from InfoWars, a sub-basement of Online Hell not exactly known for its honest or honorable tactics. It’s a perfect demonstration of a White House in a perpetual state of sloppy spinning, no matter how brazen the lie. Considering that Trump’s whole thing is that Fake News is the enemy of the people, I’m sure we can expect strong words from the president toward whoever on his team allowed the White House to pollute the waters of truth with this doctored video.


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    In the U.S., households that have to devote between 6% to 11% of their annual income to electric bills are considered energy-cost burdened. Their energy costs are high enough to sometimes force them to make trade-offs on food or other necessities to pay their bills. People who are energy-cost burdened are disproportionately people of color living at or below the poverty line. In New York City, for instance, people living below the poverty line of $31,756 have to devote nearly 10% of their income to energy costs.

    [Photo: New York City Economic Development Corporation]

    In Sunset Park, a waterfront neighborhood in central Brooklyn, nearly 30% of residents live below the poverty line. The neighborhood has dealt with a history of environmental burdens, particularly due to an expressway that runs above one of its main streets. For residents, high energy costs compound the air quality concerns produced by passing traffic and the presence of three nearby fossil fuel plants. A new initiative, though, is working to bring renewable energy to the neighborhood–and following a cooperative ownership model that’s helped stabilize energy prices in rural America.

    Across rural America, it’s not uncommon for people to own their energy sources. Over 42 million people throughout 47 states get their energy from electric cooperatives–nonprofits collectively owned and governed by the same people who purchase energy from them. In the U.S., there are around 900 such cooperatives, which first appeared in the 1930s to help people living in far-flung, rural regions gain access to affordable, reliable energy when private utilities were hesitant to expand there, fearing inadequate returns on investment. Through collective ownership and governance of the electric cooperatives, members work to ensure that energy prices remain affordable to people, and that demand across the cooperative’s network is met. For people living in urban areas, it’s a different story. There, energy is most often delivered through monopolistic regional utilities, which are interested in delivering high returns to shareholders, and, lacking competition, have no reason to keep prices affordable.

    [Photo: New York City Economic Development Corporation]
    But now, on the roof of the Brooklyn Army Terminal–a decommissioned army building now owned and being redeveloped by the NYC Economic Development Corporation as a local business hub–a partnership between NYCEDC, the nonprofit Solar One, the cooperative financing agency Co-op Power, and the local environmental advocacy group Uprose is creating a, 80,000-square-foot solar garden. Once completed, it will be one of the first examples of a cooperatively owned urban power supply, and potentially a model for other city coalitions to follow when looking for mutually beneficial ways to repurpose public rooftops as communal solar energy sources.

    “We’re living in a time when we have to make nontraditional partnerships and doing really big things, because climate change and environmental concerns are a huge issue and they’re demanding that we step up,” says Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose and co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance. “For a long time in the climate justice movement, we’ve been talking about what community-owned energy looks like, and how we engage government agencies and other partners in operationalizing something like this.”

    When NYCEDC began looking into repurposing the Army Terminal building several years ago, they had in mind the usual features that developers want to bring to vacant-yet-beautiful industrial spaces: startups, modern manufacturing (it’s now the home of a DIY workshop and fabrication studio), and food companies. But when Yeampierre and others from Uprose, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization, met with NYCEDC, they alerted the agency to both the community’s desire for locally owned clean energy and a way to ensure that residents benefit both economically and environmentally from the project.

    Community solar projects are generally independently financed solar arrays, which local people can subscribe to in order to lower their energy bills. While these projects are springing up around the country, they’re often still owned by utilities or private companies, because financing the solar arrays is costly. But a handful of other projects, like one installed at the University of Maryland, and the Clean Energy Collective’s Mid-Valley Solar Array in Colorado, have installed community solar projects that are actually owned and collectively managed by subscribers. It’s more difficult to do, in large part because solar projects are often most effectively funded by tax credits that have to go to either a homeowner or a commercial entity. But if done successfully, cooperative community solar projects, because they are ultimately governed by residents, have the most potential to actually achieve the equity aims that Uprose wanted to see in the Army Terminal project.

    [Photo: New York City Economic Development Corporation]

    Subscriptions to the solar array, once it comes online next year, will be open to low-income residents of Sunset Park. Noah Ginsburg, a project facilitator and designer from Solar One, estimates that around 200 households will be able to subscribe. A typical New York City household’s average utility bill is around $100, but that can fluctuate radically due to seasonal energy needs. A subscription through the community solar project will reduce those monthly costs by around 20%.

    Once residents subscribe, they will become a member of the New York City Community Energy Cooperative, the member-driven governing body for the project. As cooperative members, they’ll meet monthly to discuss costs and community matters. “The vision is that community members will actually own this utility,” Yeampierre says. Co-op Power, at least initially, will serve as the legal owner of the project–it was necessary to receive the tax credits and loans for financing, Ginsburg says. But once enough subscription fees have been collected to cover the cost of the installation, in around seven years, ownership will officially transfer to subscribers.

    While it’s taken many leaps through logistical hurdles to get the Brooklyn Army Terminal cooperative solar project off the ground, the coalition behind it thinks that other cities with similar challenges to New York could learn from them–especially as cities continue to pledge to shift to 100% renewable energy. While New York, and many other dense cities, has a lot of available rooftop space, it’s often a challenge to get permits to develop it for solar. People who rent, too, often have little access to renewable energy. Community solar projects present an opportunity to connect renters and low-income people with renewable energy, and the cooperative layer that the Army Terminal project has developed ensures that rates set through the project remain affordable to people who most stand to benefit from it. “This is the whole idea of a just transition,” Yeampierre says. “We want to move toward local, livable communities where people actually own the infrastructure that will help them thrive economically, and not have to depend on fossil fuel.”


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    Luxury high rises are monuments to the rich–and they’re everywhere in today’s cities. A photo series by the London-based photographer Lewis Bush takes these luxe developments as his subject, using double exposures to transform the buildings into cookie-cutter constructions that look both menacing and unfamiliar.

    As urban areas flourish and real estate prices rise, developers have often defaulted to a single type of building: the luxury high rise. According to the real estate research firm CoStar Group, 82% of the 370,000 multifamily rental units built in 54 major U.S. metro areas are categorized as luxury developments. In cities like New York, many of these sit empty, acting like places to park cash for overseas investors. Some cities are trying to fight back by requiring developers to build a certain amount of affordable housing in their compounds, while others stick with tax incentives for developers who build less expensive housing. Coupled with a crisis in affordable housing, the boom in luxury construction is a visual reminder of increasing inequality–according to Bloomberg, the earnings gap between the top 5% of earners and the middle 20% of earners has grown in 96 out of America’s 100 largest cities between 2010 and 2015.

    [Photo: Lewis Bush]
    “These buildings are designed to be visible and kind of spectacular,” Bush says. “I didn’t want to make images that played into it and acted almost like advertising for those buildings. I wanted to distort that and make them look kind of threatening and alien.”

    Many of Bush’s black-and-white photographs show buildings in progress, with cranes looming beside. Others look at a building’s industrial guts, necessary to keep such large constructions operational, but a far cry from the single-family homes and lower-rise apartment buildings that historically have made up London’s landscape. There are few if any people. Bush expertly uses the double exposure so that you can still see what you’re looking at–but it looks off, like a futuristic dystopian city that could be anywhere in the world. “You look a lot at these buildings and it’s hard to imagine in 50 years time they’ll be considered worth preserving,” Bush says.

    [Photo: Lewis Bush]

    Even the stories behind the buildings feel tragically similar. Bush took one bleary image of an in-progress development in the London neighborhood Elephant and Castle, which was historically working class area. Now it’s peppered with high rises–and in at least one development, every apartment is owned by overseas investors.

    [Photo: Lewis Bush]

    The photos are on display at the Museum of London and are also published in a book called Metropole by Overlapse Books. Among the moody black and whites are small, postcard-size color insets that provide a welcome contrast: They depict the developers’ vision for each building. “In the same way my images are very subjective and fantastical, these CGI images are a fantasy,” Bush says. “It’s the opposite perspective on these buildings: what the developers think these buildings are going to be like.”

    For Bush, the series is part of a larger interrogation into systems of power. He has also documented espionage technology and is working on a series about white-collar crime. The photographs additionally have a personal connection: “I feel alienated and lost in my own city,” he says. It’s something anyone who has moved away from a major city, then visited again, might feel staring up at an increasingly crowded sky these days.


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    Often, articles that draw advice from psychology for people in business focus on exciting new findings. That makes sense. A new finding may make you think differently about the way you work. A danger in focusing on new research is that subsequent studies may demonstrate that the initial reports do not hold up to further scrutiny.

    The field of social psychology has a long history, and much of the seminal work in the field has lasting implications. In the 1950s and early ’60s, much of social psychology grappled with questions inspired by real-world events like the Holocaust.

    A half-century later, these findings have lessons to teach today’s leaders. Here are a few examples.

    Conformity is powerful

    A classic finding comes from the work of Solomon Asch, who found that people’s judgments are strongly affected by the beliefs of others. He had participants judge which of a set of lines was the same length as a standard in a group setting. Unbeknownst to the participants, the rest of the group were confederates of the experimenter. On some trials, the entire group made the right judgment. On some trials, though, the confederates made the wrong judgment. In those cases, participants often went along with the group judgment, even though it was clearly wrong.

    Leaders must recognize that they will feel pressure to go along with what a group wants. This is particularly true in situations in which leaders are motivated by the status they get from being the leader. It takes effort and a willingness not to be liked by other people in the moment to do things that go against the wishes of the majority.

    Diffusion of responsibility

    Another classic set of studies that explored people’s likelihood of getting involved in a difficult situation was done by John Darley and Bibb Latane. They simulated an emergency in which research participants were in a room and believed they were speaking to other participants over a microphone and headphones. Suddenly, one of the other participants began having what seemed like an epileptic seizure. The question was how quickly the participant left the booth to find the experimenter to get help.

    The fewer people the participant believed were part of the conversation, the faster they responded. This finding was called diffusion of responsibility. It is related to the well-known tragedy of the commons in which people often fail to take care of shared resources partly because they don’t want to put in the effort, and partly because they believe someone else will do it.

    Leaders need to recognize that they will be prone to ignore some problems by assuming that someone else will take care of them. It is important to take individual responsibility for solving key problems. A great exercise is to look at a problem and assume that it is only your fault that the problem exists. Then lead an effort to solve it.

    You don’t change people’s minds

    Disagreements are common in workplaces. The tendency is for people to try to resolve these disagreements by providing facts or data that are intended to convince other people of the truth of your position. The aim of the discussions you have is to change someone else’s mind.

    A number of classic lines of research suggest that this isn’t really the way to go about influencing the beliefs of others. You have probably heard about cognitive dissonance—an idea developed by Leon Festinger. Fritz Heider had a related approach called balance theory.

    The idea is that when you think about inconsistent ideas, you change your beliefs about some of them in order to bring consistency to the whole. Initially, that often means discounting information you hear that is inconsistent with what you already believe. So, when you try to convince someone else of something, you are likely to meet with resistance at first.

    Instead, you should try to expose people to factors that will help them change their own mind. The best way to do that is to highlight values and beliefs they already have that are inconsistent with the view they hold. You can add additional facts as well, but the trick is to create an internal conflict among a person’s own thoughts and beliefs, rather than trying to persuade them through the weight of argument in the moment.


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    Silicon Valley entrepreneurs love to talk a big game, but when it comes to actually practicing what they preach, they often fall flat. We’re seeing this firsthand with the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

    The Turkish government claims that Saudi Arabia was almost certainly behind the journalist’s killing, but despite this claim, investment deals from the Middle Eastern country’s vast wealth continue to flow into the American tech sector.

    Here are three salient examples, cited from The Wall Street Journal:

    • Startups View Inc. and Zume Inc. have both recently accepted a combined $1.5 billion in funding from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which is backed by the Saudi Arabian government.
    • Another Silicon Valley-based company, Katerra Inc., just agreed to a tentative deal to build housing in Saudi Arabia.
    • WeWork is reportedly in continued talks with SoftBank about investing $15 billion to $20 billion, to acquire a majority stake of the company.

    This follows weeks of questions being asked of top Silicon Valley companies about their potential involvement with Saudi money, with most of these questions being met with silence. The situation is surely uncomfortable, as Saudi Arabia has become “the largest funder of U.S. startups in recent years,” according to the Journal.

    For an industry known to produce companies with values like “don’t be evil,” the Saudi-money dilemma offers a real-world test. And it’s becoming abundantly clear that the technology industry, despite its predilection for espousing those lofty principles, is widely choosing money over morals.

    I reached out to all the companies for comment and will update this post if I hear back. You can read the Journal‘s write-up here.


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    In the words of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic! That said: Beloved U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the hospital.

    The 85-year-old icon fell in her office at the court and fractured three ribs, according to a release from the court Thursday. “She went home, but after experiencing discomfort overnight, went to George Washington University Hospital early this morning,” the statement said. “Tests showed that she fractured three ribs on her left side and she was admitted for observation and treatment.”

    Ginsburg’s health has been a matter of intense speculation in recent years, but as shown in the documentary RBG, she is a tough woman, which is further proven by the fact that she broke three ribs and went home! She only went to the hospital later. Ginsburg has also survived multiple bouts with cancer, had a stent placed in her right coronary artery back in 2014, and broke two ribs back in 2012 and popped right back up. Plus she has survived sitting next to Clarence Thomas for the last 25 years (and now Brett Kavanaugh, too). Hopefully these three fractured ribs won’t keep her down for long.


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    Three years ago, Evelyn Frison set out to reengineer professional women’s pants.

    She wasn’t exactly the person you’d expect to take on this task: She had no background in fashion design, having studied journalism in college and pursued a career in marketing. But she had spent most of her adult life lamenting how terrible office-appropriate pants were. She had identified all of their problems: They often stretched out at the knees and butt. They wrinkled and stained easily. But one thing bothered her more than anything else. “I hate how so many women’s pants don’t have real pockets,” Frison says. “Where are we supposed to put our keys? Our cards? Our phones? And what on earth is the purpose of a fake pocket that is sewn shut?”

    [Photo: Pivotte]

    “A boy’s pockets are his certificate of empire”

    These are good questions. And Frison is not alone in finding it weird that her clothes are so lacking in functional pockets.

    Historian Hannah Carlson has found many examples of women bemoaning their lack of pockets for the past two centuries. For many of these women, the fact that men are entitled to pockets and women are not is yet another example of male privilege. Take this quote from a American woman, printed in Harper’s Magazine in the 1890s, who observed that her young son already had pockets in his clothes, while she and her daughter had none. “A boy’s pockets are his certificate of empire,” she wrote. “All through life, he will carry his scepter of dominion by the right of his pockets.”

    While fashion has changed dramatically over the last two hundred years, the pocket gender gap is still alive and well. Today’s children experience the same pocket discrepancy that the American woman describes in the anecdote above. If you scan through the clothes in my two-year-old daughter’s closet, there is hardly a pocket in sight. She has dozens of pocket-less leggings, a few dresses with pockets so shallow you can’t put anything in them, and a pair of jeans with fake pockets sewn shut. Meanwhile, my editor’s two-year-old son has dozens of trousers in his closet with functional pockets. One pair has a total of six pockets. A scepter of dominion indeed.

    The vast majority of adult women’s clothes don’t have thoughtfully-designed pockets. In fact, pockets are such a rarity that the few brands that do include them make a big deal out of it on their product descriptions. Take British brand Boden, for instance, which describes its Margo dress in this way: “This soft, elegant number is made to flatter with an elegant scoop neck, cap sleeves and a ruched waist. If you’re still not convinced, how about this? POCKETS.” Workwear brand MM.Lafleur has a pair of pants with deep pockets, which the website says “offer plenty of room to stash keys, mints, notes, an extra packet of hot sauce…you name it.”

    Frison doesn’t want pockets to be a novelty. Three years ago, she launched her womenswear brand, Pivotte, that specializes in creating women’s work pants. Well-designed pockets that can actually, you know, hold stuff, are a non-negotiable for her. “There’s no point in having a pocket if you can’t put your phone in it,” says Frison. “We need to be thinking about what women actually want to carry around with them in their pockets.”

    Back in 2015, she partnered with fashion designer Yehua Yang, who previously worked at Calvin Klein, Kaufman Franco, and Badgley Mischka. Together, Yang and Frison have designed four pairs of trousers. If you scan through them on the website, you’ll see pockets everywhere. In the brand’s popular “24/7” slacks, there are four generously-sized pockets that are all subtly incorporated into the garment so they don’t stick out on the sides, which would ruin the body-hugging silhouette. In the Vivi leggings, there’s a sleek side pocket that serves as a cool design feature, but also holds an iPhone. The loosely-fitting Venture trousers has a whopping six pockets. And Frison says that women often use all of them.

    “Many women don’t need to carry a handbag anymore,” she says. “Instead, they put distribute their wallet, phone, and keys throughout their pockets, and walk out the door. Like a man.”

    [Photo: Flickr user Ashley Van Haeften]

    The 18th century origins of pocket privilege

    It’s a curious accident of history that women’s fashion is so often devoid of pockets. After all, there is no functional reason to include pockets in men’s garments but leave them out of women’s garments. In an episode of the Articles of Interest podcast that focuses on the history of pockets, producer Avery Trufelman describes the arbitrariness of pockets like this.

    “Pockets are just a perfect metaphor for privilege,” she says. “Not only because they are so easily taken for granted by the people who have them, but also because, like the categories of race and gender themselves, pocket disparity is construct. It’s made up: There’s no reason for women’s pockets to be so small.”

    In fact, there have been times in history when men and women actually had pockets that were the same size. Medieval dress historians say that pockets were first invented about a thousand years ago. Back then, both men and women carried little pouches that hung at their hips like a kind of ancient fanny pack. But then came a major innovation in women’s dress: Clothing makers cut slits in the sides of women’s voluminous skirts and petticoats, so that women could wear their pouches underneath their clothes, but still had easy access to them. Meanwhile, tailors began sewing pockets into men’s trousers and coats.

    These interior pockets were important, says Carlson, the historian. It’s harder to steal things from an interior pocket, which means you don’t need to constantly think about the objects you are carrying, and you can focus on the task at hand. And in many ways, this is still true today. Women who carry handbags have a distinct disadvantage compared to men who hold everything in their pockets. Women toting bag don’t have their hands free, so they are not as mobile. They need to constantly remember where they left their bag when they put it down. And, of course, it is much easier to snatch a handbag than remove a wallet from an interior pocket. “Holding things in your hand takes up time and mental space,” Carlson tells me. “The invention of pockets does away with this worry.”

    But things changed for the worse for women in the years after the French Revolution–at least as far as pockets are concerned–creating the basis for the modern pocket gender gap. Rather than large, expensive gowns with many petticoats, women began opting for thin body-hugging dresses during this period. The goal of this shift in clothing was noble: Women wanted to reject the excessive clothing of the wealthy, aristocratic class. But these new gowns didn’t leave enough room for the interior pouch, and adding sewn-in pockets would upset the curved silhouette of the skirt. Meanwhile, men still had interior pockets sewn into their trousers.

    For the last two hundred years, this pocket disparity has continued–spurring a lot of debate about whether pockets are liberating or oppressive. For one thing, there are issues of class that intersect with gender. Working class people had more things to carry around with them–like bits of food for breaks, and tools for the job–than wealthier people who didn’t have jobs. So, throughout the Industrial Revolution of the early 1800s, when lower-middle class workers moved off farms and into factories, not having pockets was a sign of freedom from work and worry. And, by extension, the fact that many women were pocket-free also meant that they were above everyday concerns.

    The other side of this argument? That by denying women pockets, you assert that women don’t have a productive role to play in society. In other words, not including pockets in clothes sends a message to women that their place is at home, rather than out in the world. Carlson believes that pockets are not just about what is fashionable, but about deeper social beliefs about gender.

    “This is a design issue, but one that takes into account women’s supposed social roles,” she says. “I don’t think you can divorce the two. This has to do with questions about the public spaces where women are allowed to move: What is the point for women to have clothes outfitted with pockets if you also believe that their place is in the home?”

    The pocket revolution

    This is still a relevant point today. While men in the workplace have all the pockets they need to hold their wallets, office key cards, and smartphones, many women still don’t have designated space in their clothing for these items.

    [Photo: Pivotte]

    So it’s no surprise that much of today’s pocket innovation is happening with women’s workwear brands. Sali Christeson, who co-founded women’s workwear brand Argent two years ago, believes that the lack of pockets in clothing impacts women’s productivity in the workforce. She spent years in finance and technology, wearing pocketless trousers and blazers to work, and saw firsthand how this aggravates the gender disparity in the workplace.

    “So much of women’s workwear is designed to look good, but not actually support women as they do their jobs,” she says. “Just think of how much time women waste digging through their purse for their phone or keycard. If you add up all the minutes, it’s a lot of time.”

    As Christeson began designing women’s workwear, she discovered that incorporating pockets into clothing comes with some design hurdles. Much like the dresses of the French Revolution, women’s clothes today are designed to cling to the body, which sometimes makes it difficult to include interior pockets that can house plenty of bulky, heavy items. But Argent has managed to sprinkle pockets throughout its entire line, from shift dresses, to trousers, to blazers.

    “Pockets are not even a particularly difficult design challenge to overcome,” says Christeson. “The fact that more brands are not trying to design better pockets is really symptomatic about how lazy they are about responding to women’s needs.”

    Argent’s blazers, for instance, have several cavernous pockets in them. One pocket is specifically designed for your iPhone. It is made of mesh, so you can simply glance inside your blazer to check your updates and messages without even taking out the phone. The bags of the pockets are made out of a microfiber cloth that is specifically designed to clean glasses and phone screens. There are special pockets for pens and key cards too, and on trousers and dresses, the pockets are designed to hold plenty of items–wallets, phones, random office paraphernalia–without causing the outfit to sag or become misshapen.

    Christeson says there isn’t one trick to making these designs work. Just plenty of hard work prototyping. Argent’s designers iterate on each outfit many times, placing pockets in different spots and filling them up with lots of items. They then send real women into the world in these garments to see how they stand up to everyday wear.

    In the end, this is what the move to design pockets back into women’s clothing is all about: Allowing women to go out into the world and participate equally with their male counterparts.

    Pockets also show how clothing design–arbitrary and haphazard as it sometimes is–can shape society in profound ways. Both Argent and Pivotte have shown that it’s possible to create beautiful, fashionable clothing full of functional pockets–it just takes a bit more time and effort that going along with the status quo. The founders of these brands hope that they’re helping to spearhead a bigger pocket revolution. “Women’s pockets shouldn’t not be a novelty item,” Frison says.

    I’m hoping that by the time my two-year-old hits the workforce, she’ll have her pick of clothes in every style and size with pockets aplenty. But for the time being, her only clothes with pockets are a pair of yellow shorts. The novelty of having pockets in these shorts fills her with such joy, she stuffs them with her treasured possessions, like an acorn she found at the park or a medal she got for completing her swimming lessons. But it’s getting cold now, and she still insists on wearing them to daycare. It might be time for me to pick up a pair of trousers from the boy’s department.


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    On a sunny fall day in Palo Alto, California, researchers at Stanford University climbed on a roof to test a small new device. On the top of the device, solar panels harvested electricity from the sun. But the bottom layer of the device beamed the heat from the sun away from the building–and into outer space–an alternative to energy-sucking air conditioners.

    “We want to change how people think about how to use the rooftop to harvest renewable energy,” says Zhen Chen, a former postdoctoral research associate at Stanford University and current professor at the Southeast University of China, who is the lead author of a new paper in Joule about the technology.

    The device, which is still in development, could help solve one of the challenges of climate change: As the world gets hotter, and as more people around the world can afford to use air conditioning, the number of air conditioners may grow from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion units by the middle of the century. A report earlier this year from the International Energy Agency suggests that the emissions from air conditioners will double–leading to more warming and an increased demand for A/C.

    [Photo: Linda Cicero/Stanford News]
    Radiative cooling, the technology that the researchers incorporated into the bottom of their experimental device, has the potential to cool buildings without the massive electricity use of air conditioning. The researchers took advantage of the fact that certain wavelengths of infrared light can pass through the atmosphere and into space.

    “Think about the atmosphere as a big blanket around the Earth,” says Chen. “This blanket does not allow heat easily to go from the Earth to the cold universe. But there are ‘holes’ in the blanket, if you want to think about it that way, through which the heat can radiate out to outer space.”

    The researchers previously designed materials that can convert heat into the right wavelength to pass through the atmosphere. While a handful of startups are also developing “radiative coolers,” the researchers are the first to combine that technology with solar panels. “Simultaneously using the sun as a heat source and outer space as a heat sink had never been demonstrated previously,” Chen says.

    In the future, if the technology is fully developed, a roof could be covered in devices that would simultaneously generate electricity and keep the building from getting overheated by the sun’s rays.


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    I’ll admit I was late to the emoji party. For years now, people have been texting me thumbs up, fire bursts, and the occasional unicorn. But I held out, responding with plain old text. Then one day I finally decided to dive into my emoji keyboard.

    That’s when I discovered the incredible communicative power of something as simple as a high-five icon. One tiny drawing. A whole world of emotion and context.

    Even more surprising, this realization didn’t come in my personal communications. It came at work, where the majority of our young, gen-Z workforce is rapidly moving beyond using text as their primary mode of communication.

    For those, like myself, who came of age in the era of email, it might be easy to assume that text is and will always be king. After all, emojis, GIFs, and Instagram-style selfie videos don’t have the usual gravitas we assign to workplace communications. Opinions are still split as to whether they’re acceptable in a business environment at all. But the proliferation of powerful (and emoji-friendly) workplace communication platforms like Slack suggest the debate is over.

    The reality is that, as these modes of visual communication become more common, they represent the future of workplace communications. And that might not a bad thing.

    Mobile: the gateway to the post-text era

    We can thank gen-Z, and the breakneck evolution of mobile technology, for much of this change. The generation that grew up with smartphones (and HD cameras) in their pockets has never known anything other than an instantly connected world primed for short bursts of visual communications. Why describe a scene in words when you can make a Snapchat Story with video and pics instead?

    According to them, even email is an outmoded method of communication reserved for school assignments and not much else. My youngest employees treat email the way that I looked at the fax machine when I got my first real job: a relic from a bygone era, and an absolute last resort if efficient communication is the goal.

    The array of non-text options at their fingertips—from emojis and GIFs to photos, Boomerangs, and self-made videos—has fundamentally altered the way they communicate and expect to be communicated with. In fact, studies show that, although gen-Z and millennials spend similar amounts of time on social media, the younger generation favors platforms that prioritize visuals. Their use of sites like Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube outpaces time spent on more text-based platforms like Facebook.

    And it’s not only the medium but the tone of the message that’s changed. Compared to boomers and their poker-faced business tone, gen-Z are emotional communicators. They use the full gamut of communication tools at their disposal to attach meaning and personal context to their thoughts and ideas. Gone are dry emails, replaced by Instagram Stories overlaid with quotes, stickers, and running commentary. Importantly, this isn’t just in their personal lives but in their professional lives, as well.

    And far from being inappropriate in the workplace, this can actually be a serious advantage.

    For us, embracing this shift has led to some important innovations. One of our gen-Z hires, frustrated with prospecting for new customers via email, helped us come up with GoVideo, a free email plug-in that makes it easy to create video messages for business communications. It’s now one of our most profitable product lines.

    Why less text can increase clarity

    Contrary to popular belief, using fewer words can actually increase understanding—and profitability. One study found that incorporating visual tools like video, screenshots, GIFs, and emojis in business operations amounted to $167 billion in saved time, reduced misinterpretation, and increased profitability.

    I’ve certainly seen this in my own company. I used to send out a monthly progress report to our entire organization updating everyone on our performance, upcoming projects, and profitability. Try as I might to make it short and engaging, it inevitably ended up being a wall of text and numbers. Once, after I’d sent it out, I caught wind of a rumour circulating in the office: Apparently the company was running out of money. It was news to me—and also completely untrue, the result of someone misinterpreting my email, and passing that on to others who had probably only skimmed it, at best.

    That’s the thing with relying on text. People have to read it, and carefully at that. Even if you can convince someone to skim to the bottom of your 1,000-word update—increasingly difficult to do in our world of shrinking attention spans—the risk of misinterpretation is incredibly high.

    So I now do my updates via video. Not only is there more uptake from my team, who can casually open and watch while they take a break or answer their Slack messages, there’s much less room for misinterpretation. I can say exactly what I mean, in my own words, and my demeanour, tone, and body language add layers of context that’s almost impossible to include via text. I’m delivering vital information in a way that’s verifiably easier for the majority of my team to digest.

    Overall, leaning more on visual communications has also been a big time saver in my daily communications. As the CEO, I get pinged all the time by people looking for go-aheads or final sign-offs. One thumbs-up emoji, and that part of my work as a leader is done.

    Adapting to the new paradigm requires support

    Of course, just like the generation before me had a steep learning curve when it came to email, not everyone today is versed in the visual values of gen-Z. To survive and thrive, there needs to be some intergenerational education.

    This works both ways. I sit down with my young hires to walk them through the ins and outs of email etiquette. (It’s not totally dead yet, after all.) But I’ve also had to clarify the nuances of texting and emojis with older colleagues. One board member explicitly told me I’m the only person who texts him. Initially, our rapid-fire back and forths led to more confusion than clarity.

    For employers and team leaders, the key right now comes down to keeping an open mind and developing fluency across platforms. The communication landscape is shifting fast. Email has its holdouts, while a new generation is image-first and often image-only. Rejecting any one platform as either outdated or frivolous risks alienating a big part of your workforce—and a big part of your customer base, too.


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    Guests who order room service at the Hotel EMC2, an “art and science inspired” hotel in Chicago’s upscale Streeterville neighborhood, can as of last week have their items delivered by a pair of autonomous robots.

    [Photo: courtesy of Hotel EMC2]
    The 3-foot-tall devices, dubbed Leo and Cleo, need to be loaded by a human with food items such as pastries, fruit bowls, or a package with pimento toast and Chicago’s Old Style brand beers. They can also transport miscellaneous items like toiletries or towels. Then, the machines–from Bay Area robotics company Savioke–can navigate their way to guest rooms. Hotel guests, who can order the semi-automated deliveries using in-room Amazon Alexa units, can then pluck their orders from the glowing robots and send them on their way.

    The hotel isn’t the only one to feature a robotic butler: The Aloft hotel near Apple’s Cupertino, California, has also rolled out similar bots from Savioke’s Relay line. Savioke has figured out how to let its robots talk to hotel elevators, meaning one less step that humans need to be involved with as the machines make their rounds.

    Robot-powered room service is available at the EMC2 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.


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    One of the things Michelle Obama is most famous for–along with her intelligence, grace, good humor, compassion, anti-obesity campaign, and dance skills–is the phrase, “When they go low, we go high.” And in her new book, she finally reveals the toll Donald Trump’s lowness took on her–and much more than that.

    In anticipation of next week’s release of Obama’s new memoir, Becoming, Friday’s Good Morning America teased snippets from the former First Lady’s interview with Robin Roberts that will air in full tonight. At one point, host George Stephanopoulos read an excerpt from the book, revealing the author’s reaction to Donald Trump’s racist Birther campaign. For anyone who lived in a cave from 2011 to 2016, Trump burst onto the political scene by repeatedly insisting Barack Obama was secretly a Kenyan-born Muslim and a liar and an illegitimate president. Trump kept up the lie for five years before eventually blaming it on Hillary Clinton in 2016 (yes, that really happened) and never once coming close to apologizing.

    “The whole [birther] thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed. But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks,” she writes in the book, according to The Washington Post.

    “‘What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington?'” Stephanopoulos read on Good Morning America, quoting an excerpt from Becoming. “‘What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this, I’d never forgive him.'”

    Although one might have assumed Michelle Obama felt this way, it’s a revelation to have her actually put her feelings out into the world, knowing she might have to attend events with Trump for the foreseeable future.

    And Becoming‘s revelations do not end there.

    Elsewhere in the interview, the former First Lady disclosed that she suffered a miscarriage 20 years ago, and that she and her husband conceived both of their daughters through in vitro fertilization.

    “I felt like I failed because I didn’t know how common miscarriages were because we don’t talk about them,” Obama told Roberts. “We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we’re broken.”

    By talking openly about these experiences in this interview and within her memoir, Michelle Obama is inviting women and their partners to speak more openly about IVF and miscarriages. Both are incredibly common sources of private anguish, and advancing public discourse on them can only make people going through these experiences feel less alone.

    Finally, Obama also reveals that she and Barack underwent marriage counseling, which should shed some light on the hard work it takes to achieve what looked, in former White House photographer Pete Souza’s photos, like an effortlessly perfect marriage. (There is no such thing.) As she said to Roberts, “I know too many young couples who struggle and think that somehow there’s something wrong with them. And I want them to know that Michelle and Barack Obama, who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other, we work on our marriage. And we get help with our marriage when we need it.”

    UPDATE: Trump has weighed in on Michelle Obama’s comments about him: “I haven’t seen it. I guess she wrote a book. She got paid a lot of money to write a book,” he said when a reporter asked about her comments. Then the reporter told him what exactly Obama said. “Oh, Michelle Obama said that? They always insist that you come up with controversial. Well I’ll give you a little controversy back. I’ll never forgive him for what he did to our United States military by not funding it properly. It was depleted. Everything was old and tired.”


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    How do you define “too political” when it comes to mainstream advertising? According to Clearcast, the U.K. body responsible for making sure ads meet standards set by the 2003 Communications Act, an adorably animated orangutan lamenting the effects of deforestation fits the bill.

    Iceland Foods worked with Greenpeace to repurpose a film the environmental organization originally launched in August; the spot would become Iceland Foods’ entry in Britain’s annual Christmas advertising bonanza. Narrated by Dame Emma Thompson, “Rang-Tan” tells the story of a little girl wondering why this baby orangutan has moved into her room. It outlines the effects of palm oil production on orangutan habitats, with Iceland declaring it has removed all palm oil from its products.

    While banned from U.K. TV, the spot will run plenty online, with the Clearcast decision fueling a slew of earned media and additional attention. Iceland Food’s founder Malcolm Walker told The Guardian, “We got permission to use it and take off the Greenpeace logo and use it as the Iceland Christmas ad. It would have blown the John Lewis ad out of the window. It was so emotional.”

    Now, if they really wanted to pull a John Lewis (that’s the U.K. retailer, not the American congressman and civil rights icon), we’ll be seeing Iceland-branded plush Rang-Tan toys under the tree.


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    The teardrop-shaped soap bottle that helped take Method from an experiment in a San Francisco apartment to shelves at Target just got a redesign: The company is now making a version in glass, in an attempt to nudge consumers away from creating more plastic trash.

    “With this bottle, what we were hoping to do was bring some of our commitments to sustainability and design together and kind of use it as a test–and see how the consumer responds,” says Saskia Van Gendt, who leads the company’s sustainability team.

    [Photo: Method]
    It’s a small test. The bottle, for now, is only available at SFMOMA’s museum store, so it won’t lead to any immediate widespread changes in how people buy soap. But it points toward the company’s larger interest in helping customers shift to buying refills instead of new packages.

    Already, refills are a growing part of the company’s business. While Method wouldn’t share figures, it says that refills are projected to grow “strong double digits” this year. Thin refill packages use less plastic, and have an 82% lower carbon footprint. “It’s a huge unlock around sustainability if you can get a consumer to reuse the bottle that they’ve already purchased,” she says. “So we’ve tried to figure out all of the different ways to influence that.”

    At the moment, she says, most U.S. retailers aren’t interested in having large refill stations in stores and letting customers bring in their own bottles–retailers can make more money by allocating shelf spaces to small packages. So Method is selling its individual pouches that can refill a bottle around three times, and still using a small amount of plastic. (For online sales, too, it’s necessary to have some form of packaging.) But Ecover, a European cleaning product company that bought Method in 2012, and was later itself acquired by SC Johnson, does have a growing number of in-store refill stations for its brand in Europe. There’s a stronger push there to solve the problem of plastic pollution.

    “You have retailers saying how can we have this better offering for consumers to allow them to lower their plastic footprint, increase the refillability and reusability of the bottles, so you see retailers supporting it, but then there’s also a huge consumer demand,” Van Gendt says. “That’s created this whole new opportunity for us in Europe that is beginning to be supported by the retailer.” Other companies have shifted to refills elsewhere; Kao, the Japanese company that makes brands like Biore and Jergens, says that 80% of its sales in Japan now come from refills.

    [Photo: Method]

    The same thing could happen in the U.S. as consumers become increasingly aware of the fact that plastic is trashing the ocean and entering the food chain. “You just kind of need that consumer pressure and demand to get the retailer excited to allow [a refill system],” Van Gendt says.

    The company’s current bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. “You need to be purchasing recycled content in your packaging to drive the economics of recycling to exist in the first place,” she says. “If you don’t have demand, then you’re really not closing the loop.” Another limited edition is made partly from ocean plastic. The standard bottles are PET, the same material as water bottles, making them widely recyclable. Still, most American consumers don’t actually recycle plastic, and plastic packaging makes up about a third of the carbon footprint of Method’s products. Switching from plastic to single-use glass containers wouldn’t make sense, since glass is heavy and would take more fuel to ship. But shifting to a refillable system linked to reusable glass containers would help.

    “Now, where we are today with the awareness around plastic, we’re continuing to look at what are those new solutions that might not be the obvious solution today,” says Van Gendt. “And I’m very hopeful that durables are part of that.”


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