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    There is no shortage of annual reviews of the best companies to work for. This year, the companies with the happiest employees covered a swath of industries from tech to transportation.  The ratings were based on employee sentiment about their company’s goals and work environment.

    That doesn’t mean that every company on the list is a great place for women to work. In fact, Google landed the No. 3 spot. But it took some 20,000 employees globally walking out in protest over the way the company handled cases of sexual misconduct to make Google change its policy.

    Now, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative released a report that drills down into specific findings from hundreds of academic studies on women and work that reveals what makes certain companies better for women to work for than others.

    [Image: courtesy of Wharton Social Impact Initiative]
    The report identifies four critical outcomes that matter most for women: representation, pay, health, and satisfaction. Each of these factors was weighed and scored quantitatively. For example, in representation, the company was ranked highly for having a large number of women at all levels and units of the organization. As women make up 43% of the current workforce according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that was the benchmark used for all industries, companies, and roles.

    For pay, companies had to provide wages that didn’t leave women in poverty as well as equally for work done by both men and women. The poverty gap between men and women is significant according to the U.S. Census. In 2017, 9% of men and 13% of women fell below the poverty line, but that number jumped to 41% of women when they were raising children alone versus just 19% of men raising children alone.

    Health and satisfaction had to be supported across the board for women and men. Health encompassed insurance as well as benefits like paid parental leave, protection against injuries and fatalities, stress, and harassment. In terms of satisfaction, employee ratings of their overall job satisfaction were used to determine whether or not the organization was a good place to work.

    Women in leadership

    One of the most surprising revelations is that companies that have women on the board and/or in the C-suite don’t necessarily mean that they are great places for women to work. Some studies found no correlation between women in leadership and their ability to foster an environment that develops and promotes women in lower positions. According to a new report from Indeed, 53% of women believe they have the same opportunities to enter senior leadership roles as their male counterparts.

    Heather Combs, chief revenue officer for 3Pillar Global, a software development company, asserts that their leadership team is 50% women, but that alone doesn’t guarantee the company’s status as a great place to work. “Building the best-in-class digital products that meet the needs of the market requires a leadership structure that reflects the diversity of the customers we serve, and to do so, it requires a range of experiences and perspectives,” she says. Combs says 3Pillar is committed to seeking, interviewing, and hiring candidates from a wide range of backgrounds and profiles and then committing to the fair and respectful treatment of all its employees.

    And a male CEO was the one who supported a landmark equal pay audit at Salesforce. In a recent white paper from Fairygodboss titled How to Drive Gender Parity in Your Workplace, Cindy Robbins, president and chief people officer of Salesforce, comments, “There’s a level of accountability that starts at the CEO level,” which publicly held Salesforce accountable for addressing its pay inequity. Going forward, Robbins says Salesforce’s leadership is held accountable to gender equality every quarter.

    Why the whole picture is important

    As Katherine Klein, professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and vice dean of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, points out, “You really can’t look at any one of the four factors in isolation. You wouldn’t want to work at a company where women are well-represented throughout the company–one of the four factors in our framework–but women are still underpaid, harassed, and dissatisfied.”

    Yet it can be tough to tell if a company will support women across these four outcomes, because gender bias can sneak into unexpected places. The Fairygodboss white paper reveals that the Boston Consulting Group faced a unique retention challenge. Jenn Garcia-Alonso, global women@BCG director, said that internal data showed women were leaving BCG because they were being coached on communication skills when they neither wanted the coaching nor found it helpful. A deeper dive illuminated unconscious bias from those who were coaching with an intent to “fix” women’s communication styles because they were different from their own. “We used the data to prove that bias was happening,” Garcia-Alonso said. Her group also started educating senior employees to help them understand that different communication styles can be equally effective.

    How to figure it out before you take the job

    It’s even tougher to determine if a company is supportive of its female employees when job hunting. Klein reminds job seekers to check to see if the company publishes statistics like those suggested in the report, rather than vague statements or promises. “A company that is transparent in providing these statistics is committed to being a great employer for women and for men, too,” she says. “Its holding itself accountable.” If not, ask specific questions about representation to find out how many women work in the company and at what levels and roles, and what the difference is between the company’s average compensation for women and men.

    She recommended asking these additional questions in an interview:

    • I see you have several programs to support women at the company. What metrics do you track to know if they’re effective? And do you share that data?
    • What are the primary challenges women have in this industry? What is this company doing to combat those?
    • I’m hoping to join a company where I can grow in my role and make a real contribution. I’ve seen that a growing number of companies are choosing to publicly report their gender composition and gender pay gap. Is this information available here?
    • Do you measure employees’ job satisfaction here? Can you share information about how job satisfaction at this company compares to industry and national norms?

    Ultimately, says Heather Combs of 3Pillar Global, it’s important to feel valued, regardless of gender, race, or any other factor at work. “I am personally committed to hiring and mentoring the rising female leaders that surround me every day,” she says, “and I am proud to look around and see I am not trying to change the world alone.”

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    Computer chips work behind the scenes, powering your internet surfing, video streaming, and gaming. Because they’re just little bits of hardware, the engineers that make them rarely spend time thinking about what they should look like. After all, most people will never even see them.

    Yet the prominent design agency Pentagram recently created a downright gorgeous computer chip for the the U.K.-based startup Graphcore. Why bother? Because as so much of our computing is moving into the cloud, Graphcore’s chips, which are designed to run machine learning algorithms, will mostly be located in server farms. And the company, with help from Pentagram, is betting on design to help it stand out on the server rack–even if the only people that ever see the chips are the engineers who maintain the servers.

    The colorful plastic tiles adorn the top and side of each IPU to make them easily distinguishable in a server farm. [Photo: courtesy Pentagram]
    “This change in technology means there’s a lot of new hardware being developed and there’s more attention on server racks as placement for people’s brands,” says Jon Marshall, who worked on the industrial design of the chip, called an IPU, while at the design studio Map Project Office (now Marshall is a partner at Pentagram). “As you get new businesses and brands working in that space, they have the same requirements for brands in the consumer space: They want to be noticed.”

    That’s a big reason why Pentagram created a series of plastic tiles that can snap onto Graphcore’s microprocessor. Each tile, which is made from the same plastic as a Lego brick, has an algorithmically generated pattern that makes it distinct. The tiles alternate between bubblegum pink, navy blue, and pale blue, with embossed geometric shapes to create a subtle pattern. This industrial design doesn’t have a technical purpose and exists purely to extend the company’s graphic identity onto its hardware. But Graphcore was so supportive of how the colorful tiles might help the company raise brand awareness in server farms that the company’s engineers created a custom heat sink to ensure enough airflow to keep the device cool with the tiles on top.

    Hardware is typically very utilitarian. But Graphcore wanted to stand out. [Photo: courtesy Pentagram]

    The colorful design is a far cry from most utilitarian computing hardware, which usually lacks distinct branding. And if an aesthetic is there, it’s typically very masculine. “There’s this influence from this very bro-y masculine world that will flow into the AI and machine learning world because of this relationship with the hardware,” says Jody Hudson-Powell, the Pentagram partner who worked on Graphcore’s brand identity. “We were interested in how we could create something that would feel completely different to existing hardware. So we created this brand that felt way softer, way more human.”

    The bright colors, arranged differently on each processor, feel much more human than the standard black or chrome usually found in server farms. For Marshall, each box’s distinct design serves another purpose–to help IT engineers identify them. In fact, when he was touring server farms to get a sense of where Graphcore’s IPUs would sit, he noticed how the engineers had given server racks names, like Freddie and Bingo, to identify them if a server stopped working. Ideally, the differently patterned IPUs will help the engineers who are interacting with them differentiate between each box.

    “It’s like one CP3O, and one R2D2,” says Hudson-Powell. “You start to have a different relationship with the intelligence within the small box.”

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    Not getting enough sleep at night? You’re not alone. According to research by the Harvard Business Review, 43% of business leaders don’t get enough sleep at least four nights a week. Yes, you read that right–for the majority of the workweek, you’re probably working with someone who’s running on fumes, metaphorically speaking.

    And it’s much more than a few extra yawns throughout the workday. The lack of consistent, quality sleep has a significant impact: Rand study data shows that in the U.S., sleep deprivation causes more than $400 billion in financial losses each year and results in 1.23 million days of work lost.

    Americans are still not prioritizing sleep–even when it’s hurting their productivity and bottom lines. They have plenty of excuses for it–from poor boundaries around screen time to non-conducive sleep setups. The good news is, with a few tweaks to your bedtime routine and with the help of modern sleep tech, you can get back on the path to restful nights. Let’s look at some of the common excuses around poor sleep habits, as well as what you can do to build better ones.

    Excuse: I stay up late watching something/looking at my phone

    You’ve probably heard it before: Too much screen time before bed is a bad thing. It’s true–research shows too much screen time before sleeping negatively impacts sleep (and can also lead to increased instances of depression).

    Solution: Create better boundaries for yourself and limit screen time past a certain hour

    Give yourself plenty of time to wind down before bed, and swap that last hour on your laptop for reading, stretching, or meditation. If you struggle to do this on your own, consider trying out a device like Dodow, which guides you through breathing exercises that can help you induce sleep.

    Excuse: I’m always too awake to fall asleep

    If you feel too wired to sleep when you lay down in bed, it may be because you’ve either had too little or too much physical activity before bed. Both are shown to cause hormonal changes that can throw off your natural circadian rhythms.

    Solution: Establish a sleep routine and stick to it

    Research on this shows that following a consistent sleep schedule seven days a week can help you establish a more consistent and healthy sleep cycle. If you’re not sure what an optimal night of sleep looks like for you, you might want to test out a sleep monitoring device like the Oura ring so you can see the patterns/trends that lead to your most well-rested morning state.

    Excuse: I’m too stressed to sleep

    Anxiety and stress are probably two of the most common reason for sleeplessness in adults across the U.S. Sleep helps our bodies rest and repair overnight–and stress is the antithesis of that.

    Solution: Instituting a pre-sleep routine

    Creating a specific ritual can help you mentally wind down for the day. If that’s not enough, you may also consider trying an anxiety-reducing weighted blanket. One study showed that they help induce deeper, more restful sleep.

    Excuse: I’m never the right temperature in bed

    If the fact that your bed is either too hot or too cold keeps you up at night, there are simple fixes that can help you get better shut-eye.

    Solution: Experiment with your temperature, and different bedding

    Turn your home temperature down to an optimal 68 degrees Fahrenheit and experiment with different types of bedding to find the fabric that best helps you sleep. Bedding brands like Brooklinen and Buffy now let you try products free for 30 days, so you can find the optimal material without having to commit to buying right away. If that’s not enough, consider a mattress temperature controlling device like the ChiliPad that allows for custom temperature zones.

    Excuse: My back/neck problem wakes me up at night

    Back pain is a serious epidemic in the U.S. It costs Americans at least $100 billion each year in lost wages, healthcare costs, and decreased productivity. If you are experiencing these issues, your old mattress or pillows might be to blame. According to Consumer Reports, you should be replacing them every 10 years or less.

    Solution: Invest in good-quality mattresses and pillows

    Optimize your sleep setup to ease back and neck pain by trying different mattresses and pillows. Mattress brands like Casper offer a 100-night free trial period, which is plenty of time to experiment and find the optimal solution. The same goes for pillows–brands like Tempurpedic have free trial periods and easy returns so you can find the perfect sleep setup.

    Excuse: Noise keeps me from falling asleep/staying asleep

    If noise pollution is interrupting your sleep patterns or delaying sleep, you’re part of the demographic of Americans who suffer from the health effects. Research shows that noise pollution that disrupts sleep can lead to some cardiometabolic, psychiatric, and social outcomes.

    Solution: Block the noise with ambient sound

    A white noise stimulator can help you get to sleep faster and more soundly. Studies have shown that white noise can “reduce” the magnitude of external sounds like outside activity or snoring, by creating a constant ambient backdrop.

    Yes, there are a lot of obstacles to achieve a good night’s sleep–but there are also many ways you can choose to overcome them. Experiment with different tactics and tools to optimize your sleep, and make the most of your waking hours. Even one small change can make a big difference.

    Kaleigh Moore is a writer and consultant for companies in the SaaS industry.

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    For obvious reasons, ’tis the season for schmaltzy, feel-good, holiday-themed advertising. We’ll no doubt see the jolly old elf in all kinds of commercial situations, but none will punch you in the gut like this one.

    To raise awareness about the work the International Red Cross is doing to reunite families around the world, the PSA does a remarkable job of jarring us out of the holiday bubble with a reminder that, in many parts of the world, and for many people, this isn’t even close to the most wonderful time of the year.

    [Photo: courtesy of International Red Cross]
    It’s fitting that the PSA was made by adam&eveDDB, the ad agency known as the masters of the Christmas ad for helping create the British holiday ad bonanza through its work with retailer John Lewis over the last decade. It’s a long way from Elton John’s piano, but here we still get the same gut punch as in the agency’s best Xmas ads. Only this time we’re not overwhelmed with warm and fuzzies, but rather empathy and a sense of responsibility to our fellow humans.

    The spot will run until December 31st in markets including the U.S., Canada, France, U.K., Germany, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.

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    While many job applications have the word “optional” next to the field that asks for a cover letter, it shouldn’t be overlooked. After all, a cover letter is intended to show you off and captivate a hiring manager, kind of like a movie trailer. It’s meant to tease and entice the recruiter or hiring manager to keep reading and be so interested in you that they simply cannot put down your resume. Think: personable and professional.

    Some of the best cover letters tell interesting stories about the candidate and help them to be seen as a good culture fit for a company. “Recruiters always remember the personal side of cover letters–this is when you become more than just another applicant,” says career expert Heather Huhman. “They connect your experiences with your name because you’re giving them another dimension of you, sharing what makes you unique.”

    Given the importance of a cover letter, you cannot afford to blow it. Once you’ve got a working draft, it’s time to grab your red pen. Here are 15 words and phrases that are simply dragging your cover letter down. Cut ’em! Take the expert advice below to craft the best cover letter possible and let your personality, not robotic prose, shine through.

    1. “To whom it may concern”

    Generic salutations, while professional, can be a bit sterile. Do a little digging to find the name of the hiring manager or the recruiter. “Let’s say you discover an opening for an electrical engineer position at an engineering organization’s website. The position description indicates the employee will report to the lead electrical engineer. You decide (initially) to bypass the company’s automated application system so you can customize your communications,” advises Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, master resume writer. “You sail over to LinkedIn and begin researching. Use the advanced search feature and type in ‘name of company’ for the company name, ‘lead electrical engineer’ for keywords and ‘64152’ for a zip code for greater Kansas City (where the company headquarters and this position are located) and click enter. Your results will appear.”

    2. “Thinking outside of the box”

    Recruiters read thousands of cover letters and resumes. It’s their job. So try hard to make reading your cover letter a treat. Career coach Angela Copeland says, “more specifically, stay away from phrases that are known to annoy hiring managers, such as ‘heavy lifting’ or ‘think outside the box’ or ‘game-changer.'” Be creative instead of using meaningless buzzwords.

    3. “I’m not sure if you know”

    “When it comes to today’s job search process, another thing to remember is your online footprint,” says Copeland. Phrases like this one underestimate a recruiter’s ability to Google and may come across as naive. HR professionals and recruiters do their due diligence on you. Trust us, they know. “In a way, your Google search results are a lot like the modern-day cover letter. After an employer reads your cover letter, they will also Google you. Beat them to the punch and Google yourself. Be sure you’re comfortable with the information that shows up on the first two pages of the Google search results. Look through social media, photos, and any other websites that show up when you search for yourself.”

    4. Insider jargon

    “Job seekers should try to minimize phrases that are very industry-specific, especially if they’re switching industries,” advises Copeland. “Although these phrases may sound impressive within one industry, they will most likely confuse your hiring manager in the new industry you want to switch to.”

    5. Claims without evidence

    Instead of simply saying you’re good at what you do, Huhman advises providing a valuable anecdote. “Let’s say you’re applying for a marketing director position. Among other aspects in the description, the job requires several years of marketing experience, a deep knowledge of lead generation, and strong communication skills. Describe how, in your previous role as a marketing manager, you ran several campaigns for your clients and exceeded their expectations of lead generation (with specific numbers, if possible), and how you also trained and mentored new associates on how to manage their own accounts, which improved client retention rates.” In other words, show how effective you have been in the past. “Your anecdote is accomplishing a lot at once–it’s demonstrating one of your top hard skills, lead nurturing, and showcasing how you can collaborate with trainees, communicate effectively, and educate new employees on processes and client relations,” says Huhman. “You’re proving that you can meet the communication standards and marketing knowledge they’re seeking.”

    6. “Love”

    Cut the millennial speak. “You shouldn’t just say that you want the job or that you love your industry. You have to show your passion,” says Huhman. “Share why your career path best suits you and how your love for your work drives and motivates you. For example, answer some questions about what made you want to enter the field, how your personality helps you succeed, and what past experiences influenced your career decisions.”

    7. Lies

    Embellishing in a cover letter is one way to set yourself up for letting down your future employer once you’ve been hired,” warns Huhman. Steer clear of touting skills you don’t really possess or overselling your impact on a key project at your current employer. “The best-case scenario is that lying on a cover letter creates uncomfortable situations. Worst-case scenario? [You’ll lose the] job because [you are] not the candidate they were looking for.”

    8. Flattery

    “When you’re looking for a job, do your best to bring your authentic self to the table. As the old saying goes, people hire people. Often, you’re hired because the hiring manager likes you–not just because you can do the work,” says Copeland. “Nobody likes insincere flattery. It leaves an impression that you aren’t authentic and therefore can’t be trusted. In business, especially in an employee/employer relationship, trust is paramount. Avoid being insincere, and focus on building a true relationship with your future hiring manager.”

    9. “Please feel free”

    Ending your cover letter with a clear call-to-action is key, but instead of being gentle, be direct. Show your confidence and prove to the recruiter that you know you wrote a compelling cover letter by wrapping up with a more self-assured request for an in-person interview or phone screen.

    10. “Dynamic”

    “Get away from stuffing cover letters full of clichéd phrases and think clear, honest, and impactful. Think in terms of telling a story,” says resume expert Anish Majumdar. “You’re not a dynamic, agile leader who can deliver rapid marketing and biz dev ROI in rapidly changing environments.” Instead, you are someone who thrives on helping companies “more fully realize their vision, and have some amazing successes on the marketing and business development front that you’d like to discuss.”

    11. “Significant”

    Instead of tiptoeing around the impact you’ve had at your current company with words like “significant,” “measurable” or “huge,” get specific. Nicole Cox, chief recruitment officer at national recruiting firm Decision Toolbox, advises job seekers to, “substantiate your accomplishments with numbers. Some recruiters prefer to see actual numbers (such as ‘cut manufacturing costs by $500,000’), while others prefer percentages (‘cut manufacturing costs by 15 percent’). Either way, provide enough context to show the impact. If your objective was to cut manufacturing costs by 10 percent, make it clear that you exceeded the goal.”

    12. “Really, truly, deeply”

    Flowery language and excessive adverbs can come off as insincere. “Don’t get me wrong, you need to share your accomplishments in your cover letter. Nobody else will do it for you. But, you want to come across as confident, not arrogant,” says Copeland. “Fluffy jargon will risk turning off the hiring manager.”

    13. Cut, copy & paste

    Resist the temptation to write a cover letter that regurgitates what you’ve outlined in your resume. Instead, recognize the opportunity that a cover letter presents. “Use the cover letter as an opportunity to highlight the parts of your resume that align to the job,” says Copeland. “And, add things you don’t normally include in your resume that are relevant to the work. For example, I once coached a job seeker who was a university administrator. He was interested to work for a large hotel chain. Although he didn’t have direct hotel experience, his hobbies included both real estate investing and managing a fitness franchise location. This information was critical to him landing a job with the large hotel company.”

    14. “Self-starter,” “detail-oriented,” and “forward thinker”

    These are what’s known as “frequent offenders” among cover letter and resume experts. They are overused and carry little weight these days. “Treat a cover letter as a chance to make a human connection, not a formality,” says Majumdar. “What gets you excited about this job? What have you been up to recently that they’d find interesting? What should they know about you that they couldn’t discern by reading your resume? All great points to touch on in this letter.”

    15. Synonyms out of a thesaurus

    While it may be tempting to head to to add a few highbrow words and smart-sounding phrases, resist the temptation. Be yourself. Be honest. “This is a prime opportunity to showcase skills,” says Majumdar. Words like “change,” “execute,” “communicates,” and “relationship building” will all get the job done effectively when paired with strong anecdotes and authenticity.

    This article was originally published on Glassdoor and is reprinted with permission.

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    Home is a dangerous place for women, according to a new report from the United Nations. While men are more likely to be victims of homicide–accounting for 8 out of 10 murders in 2017–mostly at the hands of strangers, women are at the greatest risk of being killed by someone they know and maybe love.

    More than half of all female homicide victims worldwide–137 every day–were killed by a member of their own family last year, according to a new report on gender-related killings from the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), released in conjunction with the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. That translates to six women killed every hour by someone they know.

    More than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by someone they should have been able to trust–a current or former partner or spouse. What’s more, writes the report, women are far more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men; women made up roughly 82% of the victims in homicide cases where an intimate partner was implicated.

    If that’s not depressing enough, it appears that intimate partner/family-related homicides are on the rise. A total of 50,000 women were intentionally killed by loved ones in 2017 (58% of all murder victims), while back in 2012 it was 48,000 (47% of all female homicide victims).

    In the face of these startling, horrifying numbers the UN is sponsoring 16 days of activism aimed at eliminating violence against women. The organization also called for a series of measures to combat the global problem–including coordination between police, the criminal justice system, health and social services, involving men more in addressing the problem, and, of course, listening to survivors.

    Editor’s note: We have changed the headline on this story to better reflect the language used in the original report.

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    As 2018 hobbles to a close, the people at felt there was really one word to sum it all up: misinformation.

    As the Trump administration has made the political news cycle a more ubiquitous presence in everyday life, it has also stirred up an ongoing debate over fake news. Seeing how easy it is to manipulate people with half truths and whole lies, Jane Solomon, a linguist-in-residence at Dictionary, explained to AP News that her team’s choice of “misinformation” instead of “disinformation” was deliberate.

    “Disinformation is a word that kind of looks externally to examine the behavior of others. It’s sort of like pointing at behavior and saying, ‘THIS is disinformation,'” she said. “With misinformation, there is still some of that pointing, but also it can look more internally to help us evaluate our own behavior, which is really, really important in the fight against misinformation. It’s a word of self-reflection, and in that it can be a call to action.”

    Solomon’s hope for’s word of the year is to get people to rethink how and what kind of information they consume going forward–which is in keeping with the site’s increasingly woke personality.

    “Misinformation has been around for a long time, but over the last decade or so the rise of social media has really, really changed how information is shared,” she said. “We believe that understanding the concept of misinformation is vital to identifying misinformation as we encounter it in the wild, and that could ultimately help curb its impact.”

    [Image: courtesy of]

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    It’s probably no surprise to you that exercise, nutrition, and caffeine can have a significant impact on your brain health. You’ve probably read many articles giving you advice on how they can help your mind. You might even have adopted a habit or two.

    But while certain practices seem productive in theory, they’re more likely to hamper your brain function rather than boost it. Here are 5 of those common habits, and what you can do instead:

    Urban jogging or city cycling

    Whenever I see joggers on city pavements, I want to stop them and tell them to stay away from the roadside and head to the gym. This is because although cardiovascular exercise is a great way to boost alertness, mood, and learning, inhaling polluted air means you may cancel out much of the benefit. Particulate matter from car exhaust is terrible for the brain–it can lead to neuroinflammation and cognitive decline.

    When you inhale polluted air, it reduces levels of BDNF in the brain. BDNF is a protein that enhances brain plasticity–which improves cognition and memory performance. One study looked at BDNF levels among cyclists who rode in heavy traffic and found that the exercise led to no increase in BDNF at all.

    The best alternative for urban dwellers is to head to an indoor gym–but if you don’t want to give up your outdoor run, download an air-quality app and check your route before a ride or a run. There are lots to choose from, including Air Matters, Air Visual App, and Breezometer. You can also just avoid major roads altogether, and jog on woodland trails or in park interiors instead, away from traffic and fumes.

    Grazing on “healthy” food

    We have become habitual grazers. People in the U.S. consume 25% of calories in snack form and rarely go for more than a few hours without something to eat. Our parents’ generation believed in the importance of working up an appetite and were cautious about “spoiling” dinner by overdoing the snacks, but we fill our work bags with nuts, fruit, and protein shakes, like explorers off on a hike.

    The science on satiation and brain function is contradictory. Yes, extreme hunger can negatively impact concentration, mood, and unconscious bias, but if you’ve maintained a healthy balanced diet for some time, practicing intermittent fasting can help you build mental resilience. Look at it as a form of stress-inoculation, where you learn to withstand hunger and manage your own recovery.

    We all tend to overestimate the healthiness of our diets–so in addition to fasting, you can also benefit from noting down everything that passes your lips. Keep a note too of your mental energy throughout the day, and take a look at the relationship between the two.

    Restorative lie-ins

    It’s easy to assume that if you build up a sleep deficit during a period of burning the candle, you can catch up with a few strategic lie-ins. But messing with your wake-up time can have a negative impact on your circadian rhythm. A study by researchers at University of Arizona in Tucson found that “social jet lag”–losing sleep and sleeping and waking at random times–can lead to poor mood and fatigue.

    Aim to sleep 7 to 9 hours per night plus nap for a full sleep cycle a few days a week. If you have to take a nap, make sure not to do it later in the day–that can disrupt your sleep. Be mindful of how long your naps are too. Short naps (20-40 minutes) can make you feel groggy. However, if you can manage to get 90 minutes of sleep (equivalent to a full sleep-cycle), your brain moves through all the different phases of sleep–including the most restorative NREM or stage 3 “dreamless” sleep– your mind gets a chance to embed new learning and memories, and make new connections that lead to creative insights.

    Cutting caffeine completely

    From a thorough assessment of the evidence, I’m convinced that when it comes to caffeine, for most people, little is probably better than none. I’d particularly advise against a radical change in your habits, like going cold turkey if you’re a four- or five-a-day drinker, for example. Moderate caffeine can yield health benefits. It’s a potent source of antioxidants, and it stimulates the nervous system, which makes you alert. It also sharpens your memory, and researchers  at Johns Hopkins University found that it can improve long-term memory recall.

    Ideally, opt for no more than a cup or two a day, and time them to deliver the maximum brain benefit. Drink it in the morning, and after lunch (but not after 2 p.m., to avoid the long half-life keeping you up at night!). Remember, the alertness boost is most intense for the first 45 minutes after you drink it.

    Evening workouts

    Although exercise is undoubtedly good for your brain, timing is essential. Intensive training too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep, although this isn’t universal. In general, the evidence shows that those who exercise at any time of day sleep better than those who are inactive.

    If you can fit it in, it’s best to exercise early in the morning, as we are 15% more productive on days where we do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise in the morning. And who doesn’t want that? Whenever you do work out, make sure you refuel with protein and rehydrate with plenty of water. Otherwise, the effects of muscle repair and dehydration will negatively impact on your body and brain function.

    When it comes to our health, we don’t always think about nurturing our brains the way we nourish our bodies. But to be our most productive self, that’s precisely what we need to do. Start by adopting one or two of these alternatives. Your mind will thank you.

    Dr. Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, leadership coach, author, and medical doctor. Follow her on Twitter at @TaraSwart. She is the author of the upcoming book, The Source: Open Your Mind, Change Your Life.

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    Thanksgiving is now but a hazy, gravy-scented memory, and you know what that means: time for the annual War on Christmas.

    It’s that most wonderful time of the year when the kind of people who rail against the scourge of political correctness and oversensitivity get steaming mad if someone doesn’t use their favorite holiday greeting. One such person is current U.S. president and fervent Santa Claus-enthusiast Donald Trump, who repeatedly promised on the campaign trail to start saying Merry Christmas “again,” despite staggering empirical evidence that suggests his predecessor never didn’t do that.

    In order to help prove to the haters and losers just how much this White House is defiantly unafraid to throw around the banished “C-word” this time of year, Melania Trump tweeted out a video advertising the general concept of Christmas at the White House.

    Here are 13 things this ad reminds me of:

    • A training video for seasonal staff at Target
    • Home Alone but instead of Macauley Culkin, it’s the First Lady of the United States
    • The SNL sketch version of this exact video, not a single detail altered
    • The movie Marie Antoinette, if instead of Sofia Coppola it had been directed by a Hallmark card
    • A recruitment video for an actual War on Christmas
    • A stealth promotion for the Be Best campaign, challenging viewers to resist cyberbullying Melania Trump about the video, against overwhelming odds
    • The end of The Shining, but it’s the White House
    • A nightmare Michelle Obama had one time
    • If Melania Trump were elected president of Macy’s
    • The exact obverse of a commercial for Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, where instead of finding out “he went to Jared,” a rich divorcee surveys her fabulously empty mansion with quiet satisfaction.
    • A DVD extra from a circa 2007 Oxygen Channel movie where First Daughter Lindsay Lohan finds love at Christmastime, in which we discover why the original production designer got fired.
    • A Happy Honda Days ad where instead of a car with an enormous red ribbon around it, the lady of the house is transformed into the world’s second-most prominent Birther.
    • If Tim Burton directed The Nutcracker but quit on the third day.

    What does Melania Trump’s Christmas ad remind you of? Tweet at Fast Company to let us know.

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    After nearly a decade of legal battles, Apple is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court today to defend its 30 percent commission on app sales. The justices will hear arguments in Apple Inc. v. Pepper, over whether the tech giant can be forced to pay damages to iPhone owners who believe the App Store is an unlawful monopoly that jacks up prices.

    Whether or not Apple has a monopoly over the App Store it invented is not the subject of the dispute. Instead Robert Pepper and the other iPhone owners in the class-action lawsuit have an issue with the 30 percent commission that Apple takes on app sales. They claim that high an amount is akin to price gouging–raising fees on apps that are then passed on to consumers. Since iPhone owners can only buy apps through the App Store without jailbreaking their phones and voiding their warranties, they want to be compensated for the damages incurred. Apple, naturally, does not want to pay.

    UPDATE 1:40 EST: The Associated Pressreports that the Supreme Court sounds open to the idea of allowing the class action suit alleging an Apple monopoly over iPhone app sales to go forward. During oral arguments Monday morning, only Chief Justice John Roberts sounded ready to side with Apple, the AP reports. Apple argued that it is merely an intermediary between third-party developers and app buyers, not a direct seller. That distinction matters because a 1977 Supreme Court ruling held that under federal antitrust law only direct purchasers of a product can collect damages for overpricing.

    In 2014,  the complaint against Apple was dismissed, but in early 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and Apple Inc. v. Pepper was back on. Now, Apple is petitioning the Supreme Court to throw the case out, again. Today, the two parties will argue whether or not consumers are entitled to damages in antitrust cases, even when the goods were sold by third parties who actually set the prices.

    While the ruling won’t be made for a while, if the Supreme Court throws out the case, it will be business as usual for Apple. If the Supreme Court upholds the Ninth Circuit’s decision, though, it will send the case back to a lower court, where the case will keep going; Apple will have to fight to avoid being forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to consumers and perhaps even changing its App Store model.

    What’s more, if the court finds that Apple can be sued over third-party products, it could open the door for similar class action suits against companies like Amazon and eBay and any marketplace where third parties sell products.

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    Prose, a personalized haircare brand that launched in January 2018, just landed an enormous $18 million in Series B investment led by Insight Venture Partners, bringing its total funding to $25 million. That’s an enormous amount for a beauty company–but it’s warranted, says Kirsten Green, founding partner of Forerunner Ventures, which has invested in startups like Away, Glossier, Outdoor Voices, and Bonobos.

    “I’m not sure we need customization in every beauty product,” she tells me. “But we all have such specific hair needs. And Prose’s early success suggests that customers are ready for personalization in haircare.”

    Customers go to Prose’s website, answer a five-minute questionnaire about their hair, including questions about its texture, how it responds to humidity, and scent preferences. Then an algorithm comes up with a specific formula that is then made in a New York lab, and shipped to the customer. Shampoos start at $25 for an 8-ounce bottle, which places it squarely in the luxury beauty category. Prose claims to use expensive ingredients–for example, Siberian pine nut oil and açaí oil, which are said to deliver better results.

    The brand was inspired by a rather old concept: the apothecary. “All beauty products used to be personalized,” says Prose co-founder and CEO Arnaud Plas. “We wanted to find a way to modernize this process.”

    But personalization at scale is a rather complex endeavor, hence all the funding. Plas says a large chunk of the funding will go towards hiring an in-house data science team and doubling its R&D team. Right now, Prose has collected half a million consumer profiles, gathering 135 data points per person. Data engineers are now training machine-learning algorithms to create more effective formulas. Prose is also releasing new products, including the first-ever custom hair oil.

    There are other custom haircare products on the market, including Function of Beauty. Prose says it wants to stand out by offering a more premium product and customer experience. “This is not just about science, but about luxury,” says Green. “The ultimate luxury is a product that is made just for you.”

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    WPP announced today that it is merging ad agencies J. Walter Thompson and Wunderman to create Wunderman Thompson, a new agency that will have 20,000 employees in about 90 different markets around the world. The news comes about two months since the holding company merged Y&R with VML to create VMLY&R.

    It’s the company’s latest major move to streamline business amid volatile times in the advertising industry and, as I pointed out in October, likely won’t be the last. Back in August, a Forrester industry report said WPP should look to “dissolve its agency brands to meet the CMO’s need for simplicity, accountability, and scale,” restructuring nearly 400 companies into just dozens. It specifically called for WPP to consolidate its 100 creative agencies within the seven global networks of AKQA, Grey, JWT, Ogilvy, VML, Wunderman, and Y&R. Those networks are now down to five.

    Wunderman Thompson will be run by global CEO Mel Edwards (former Wunderman CEO), with JWT global CEO Tamara Ingram becoming chairman of the new combined agency.

    VMLY&R’s new CEO Jon Cook told me last month, “We may be at the first point I can remember in a decade where the labels of agencies don’t really matter.” The Wunderman Thompson merger will certainly test that theory, given the legacy of JWT in particular, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2014. It was the first agency to make a TV commercial. According to Tim Wu’s excellent book The Attention Merchants, at the turn of the century JWT was one of the first proponents of behavioral science in advertising and was the first to target ads directly at women. (Those ads were written in the agency’s Women’s Editorial Department, staffed by what the agency called “Lady Persuaders”.)

    However, JWT has had a rough few years of self-inflicted PR wounds. Most recently, a number of straight, white, male former employees in the U.K. threatened legal action after being let go after they asked JWT London’s HR department what agency creative director Jo Wallace meant when she said at an industry conference that she wanted to “obliterate” the agency’s reputation as a haven for straight, white males. But the agency was hardest hit by its overall response to a sexual harassment lawsuit that the former head of communications, Erin Johnson, filed in 2016 against ex-global JWT CEO Gustavo Martinez, which alleged racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic comments. The suit was settled in April, but the agency still employed Martinez until he resigned in June 2018.

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    There’s not much that hasn’t already been said of 3D printing or the predicted revolution that promised to transform manufacturing and put a MakerBot in every home. While the technology continues to evolve, with new applications like cutting-edge medical uses and building-size structures, it has yet to truly overtake industrial production in the mainstream market–though not for lack of effort.

    Ian Yang, founder of the San Francisco product startup Gantri, which launched around this time last year, is relatively late to the 3D printing game, but is passionately and well convinced of its long-term potential. The fledgling brand sells desk lamps by indie designers for under $200 thanks to its use of 3D printers. But unlike many of its competitors, it’s using 3D printing to optimize the manufacturing process without being heavy-handed about the buzziness of the technology. In Yang’s mind, 3D printing is less of a selling point than a purely practical, logistics-driven decision. If you were to spot a Gantri lamp in the wild, you might not even realize it’s 3D-printed at all.

    The son of two ground-up entrepreneurs, Yang is a 29-year-old Shanghai native who spent many childhood days tagging along on factory visits and “knew from a young age that starting my own business would be my calling.” After studying at the London School of Economics, he spent a few years working in management consulting while moonlighting in classes at Central Saint Martins, where he became enamored with design and an ecosystem of makers across disciplines.

    Fast forward a few years, a move to the Bay Area, a software engineering gig, and an eye-opening membership at the local DIY maker space TechShop, where Yang first encountered 3D printing and the changing landscape of manufacturing with measured caution. “That was 2015, and 3D printing had already come off the hype cycle, and there was sort of an air of pessimism about the future of the industry,” he says. “But I was new to it, and so when I saw it, I didn’t frame it around the vision that everyone would one day have a 3D printer in their home… I saw it as a means of producing design products in a way of helping designers bring their products to market in a way that’s more affordable, sustainable than the current manufacturing process.”

    There have been a smattering of similar 3D printing startups in recent years, seemingly split pretty evenly between printing vendors and hardware manufacturers (Shapeways and MakerBot are among the most commonly known) and consumer-facing brands selling 3D-printed products. The three-year-old startup OTHR is one of the latter, ditching plastic for an elevated material palette of bronze, porcelain, and steel, and working with well-known designers like Marc Thorpe and Joe Doucet, who’s also a cofounder. Similarly, Kwambio, which launched the following year, seeks to boost the appeal of 3D-printed products with a savvy roster of designers, and a two-week lead for small, everyday objects printed on demand. On the design week and festival circuit, students at ECAL have been using it almost as a performative concept, with a cash-and-carry “Digital Market” pop-up at this year’s Salone del Mobile and London Design Festival.

    Iceberg by Hannah Fink in Sand [Photo: Gantri]

    Ventures like OTHR and Kwambio seem intent on “rebranding” the appeal of 3D printing for the masses. But rather than marketing 3D printing process as a flashy selling point or heady statement, Yang is simply betting on the technology as a practical, economical means of production, and a way to bring more independent design talents into the fold. He’s focusing on lighting as an initial product category, a significantly more demanding product to create than, say, a vase or bottle opener, with electrical standards and more safety and functional requirements to ensure. And Gantri is using an “intelligent stocking algorithm” that keeps popular models in stock, ready for overnight shipment. It’s all a subtle play at besting other consumer-facing 3D printing companies by focusing on the design and delivery, rather than the process.

    Priced at under $200 each, each of Gantri’s products–there are roughly 30 currently on offer, by designers from the North America, South America, and Europe–are entirely submissions-based, vetted, tested, and prototyped by its in-house team before they’re printed in a biodegradable, cornstarch-based PLA that’s specially engineered to withstand overheating. After the lamps are printed, they’re hand-sanded, then painted with a durable lacquer–typically used as a protective coating on luxury yachts–to finesse and mask the signature striated texture of a 3D print to a smooth touch that will give off a soft glow when illuminated.

    An accessible starter kit, which outlines best practices of 3D modeling, available components, and other technical requirements, is offered on Gantri’s website to lower the entry barrier for designers and do away with the commissioning process typical of larger industrial product companies. Should a design be selected, Gantri pays back a royalty of 5% of the retail price back to the designer–which sounds low but is notably more than the 2% that is typically offered by larger brands, according to Core77.

    [Photo: Gantri]

    In his formative time at Saint Martins, “Every person I met was different, with a distinct aesthetic viewpoint and way of speaking about their work, but what they all had was a dream and ambition,” says Yang. “In the fashion world, that dream is to own their own label or show at a big fashion week. But in the product world, designers don’t really have as much of an outlet–a lot of them end up working for big companies or agencies. They don’t really have a way to build their own voice, their own design brand.”

    Gantri, he explains, is a play on the term “gantry,” which fittingly refers to a supporting structure and, in fabrication-speak, to the hardware that holds the machine’s printer head in place. In spite of the nuanced meaning, when users unbox their Gantri lamps for the first time, Yang isn’t concerned if they’re aware of any of this, or that the objects are 3D-printed at all.

    “Our mission is not to spread 3D printing–our mission is to help designers bring products to life and offer these products to a consumer at an affordable price. 3D printing is just a means to an end, and lighting is just the beginning,” says Yang, who, point-blank, states his ambitions to compete with the likes of stalwart modern design brands like Blu Dot or Design Within Reach.

    “It’s all about the end-product quality for us. Who cares if it’s 3D-printed inside or not?”

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    Earlier this year, Starbucks sent 18 truckloads of old paper cups to a paper mill in Wisconsin to prove a point: Contrary to a widespread myth, paper coffee cups can be recycled cost-effectively. The cups–25 million in total, from excess inventory that the coffee chain otherwise would have sent to landfill–were processed at the mill. Then the recycled fiber was sent to another partner to be incorporated into paperboard for new Starbucks cups.

    The pilot project was a way to “demonstrate that a coffee cup can be turned back into a coffee cup,” says Jay Hunsberger, VP of sales for North America from Sustana, the mill that recycled the old cups. At the mill, the cups were mixed with water and ground into a pulp with a seven-foot-tall corkscrew to begin to separate the plastic lining that helps keep coffee cups from getting soggy. The fibers were screened and washed to finish the separation, then made into sheets and sent to WestRock, a packaging company, to be made into paperboard. At a third company, Seda, the board was printed with the Starbucks logo and shaped into new cups.

    [Image: Sustana]

    “There’s a misconception right now in the industry regarding the recyclability of poly-coated paperboard,” says Mike Mueller, senior manager of product marketing at WestRock. “I think that’s a big reason why that type of packaging isn’t accepted for recycling today broadly.” WestRock recently began accepting cups, along with paper food packaging, at eight of its own mills.

    It’s commonly thought that it’s difficult or expensive to separate the plastic lining from the cups, or that contamination from coffee is an issue. But it’s no more expensive to recycle cups than other paper, Hunsberger says. And whether they are used or not also doesn’t matter. Before the pilot with Starbucks, Sustana already regularly recycled other coated food containers like milk cartons. Coffee cups actually yield higher-quality fiber than some other paper products.

    One challenge is the supply–if it’s hard for a mill to predict how many cups it will get, it makes it hard to run efficiently. But if a mill knows that it will get a continuous stream of a certain percentage of cups, it’s not difficult to handle. “The material does behave a little differently, you do modify your process to be able to handle it, but if it is a consistent add into your process, then you can adapt for it and run it,” says Hunsberger.

    [Image: Sustana]

    Local recyclers also have to be willing to take the cups–something that’s uncommon now. In San Francisco, the local recycling company, Recology, began accepting cups in 2017. The company, which uses sophisticated equipment to sort its recycling, says that its reputation for “clean” bales of materials means that paper brokers are willing to accept paper coffee cups in the mix. Seattle, New York City, and D.C. are among a handful of other cities that also recycle cups. The latest city to begin recycling paper coffee cups is Denver, which recently sent its first shipment of two truckloads, or around 88,000 cups, to Sustana.

    WestRock says that other municipal recycling centers should also begin to accept cups. “Part of why we’re trying to generate awareness about these activities is so other companies that own recycling centers and paper mills will begin to come on board with this, and we’ll begin to get it to scale over time,” says Mueller.

    Starbucks wants to see recycling take a more uniform approach in the U.S., rather than the patchwork of policies that different cities have now. “Significant inconsistencies in product recyclability exist from city to city based on service models, market access and investments made in infrastructure and technology,” says Rebecca Zimmer, global director of environment at Starbucks. “Starbucks advocates for a national approach to provide a more consistent experience for consumers.”

    [Image: Sustana]

    The company, along with other partners, also has a long-running effort to redesign a single-use coffee cup that would be both easily recyclable and compostable. An even better option would be for more consumers to use their own reusable mugs, which rarely happens now despite a discount that Starbucks offers; reusable cups are also still uncommon for customers who sit inside the cafes while they drink. (Charging an extra fee for a paper cup, which the company tested in London, may be more effective, just as shopping bag fees have convinced more consumers to use reusable bags and reduced litter.) For now, armed with proof that cups can be recycled cost-effectively, the company hopes that more recyclers will begin working with current cups. “We hope this project will convince more mills across the country to be open to accepting paper cups in their recycle streams, a required step to scaling the operation to more municipal recycling service programs,” Zimmer says. Arguably, as a company that helped popularize to-go culture at cafes–and that uses around 6 billion cups annually itself–Starbucks should be investing more to help cities make that change.

    Starbucks uses 10% recycled paper content in its new cups, and aims to double that by 2022. If the retailer decided to source that recycled fiber from its own cups, in the closed loop that it tested in the recent pilot, that might drive more demand for paper mills and local recyclers to accept the cups. Current paper machine equipment can’t make a 100% recycled paper coffee cup yet, but equipment can incorporate more recycled fiber–as much as 40-50%–so Starbucks and other cafes could also aim for more ambitious goals.

    Recycled fiber, whether it comes from cups or another source, is slightly more expensive than virgin fiber from trees, but it adds up to less than a fraction of a cent, something that adds up for orders of a company on a scale like Starbuck. But the extra cost is also justified. “Cost and value are very different things,” says Hunsberger. If a company’s consumers are thinking about their impact on the environment, he says, then a company should take the step of responsible sourcing.

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    Microsoft has overtaken Apple as the world’s most valuable company.

    On a day when tech stocks are recovering from a bummer week last week, Microsoft reached a valuation of $814 billion Monday. As of 1 p.m. its market cap had settled back to $807 billion. Meanwhile, Apple’s market cap was slightly less at $805 billion.

    Both companies have seen higher valuations earlier in the year. Microsoft hit a valuation of $887 billion prior to “Red October,” in which many tech stocks suffered. In August Apple became the first company to hold a trillion-dollar valuation (hitting a peak of $1.12 trillion) but has fallen since, especially in October.

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    Last year was California’s most destructive wildfire season on record, with more than 1 million acres burned. This year is breaking different records. The Camp Fire is the deadliest wildfire in California history, with 85 people dead and 249 listed as missing. Officials said the fire, which was 100% contained on Sunday, has also destroyed some 19,000 buildings, most of them homes.

    As climate change threatens to expand the size of fires and make fire season an around-the-year event, government agencies, researchers, and companies are turning to AI to cut through a chaos of the data that precedes and comes out of these disasters. The hope is that earlier detection will help firefighters stop them from getting out of hand, aid in recovery, and prevent future fires from starting to begin with.

    Fighting fire from space

    Currently, most fires are reported by 911 calls, commercial flights, or fire lookout stations. That spotty approach lets some wildfires go undiscovered for hours or even days. Satellites focused on the Earth can improve coverage. Already, two NASA satellites currently orbiting the Earth scan nearly the entire planet once a day and can spot the thermal signature of a fire. The process takes at least three hours, which is about the time it takes for the satellites to cross over Goddard Space Flight Center outside of Washington, D.C., beam down the data, and run the images through a supercomputer.

    The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this natural-color image of the Camp Fire on November 12, 2018. [Photo: NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin]
    But an algorithm could be run on the satellites and process images in a matter of minutes, says James MacKinnon, a NASA computer engineer running a new AI project looking to do just that. MacKinnon scaled down the work that the supercomputer does into a neural network that is small enough to run on the simple, onboard computers typical of satellites. He trained the system on a year’s worth of satellite imagery from around the world and created a system that is 98% accurate at recognizing fires.

    “The fires stick out like a sore thumb,” he says.

    In the future, an AI-based system like this on a fleet of small satellites could provide more regular contact with Earth, with the ability to send near real-time alerts to emergency responders on the ground.

    Digital humanitarianism

    Even after the immediate threat of a fire recedes, time is of the essence for finding survivors and getting help to the people that need it. But figuring out the best way to get limited available resources to disaster victims is an unsolved problem.

    Some researchers are mining social media data to improve disaster response. Going through it manually would be impossible, but different AI tools could pinpoint the most crucial messages. A recent paper by researchers at Texas Tech and George Washington University titled “Coordinating Disaster Emergency Response with Heuristic Reinforcement Learning” documented a machine learning system that can analyze tweets and identify volunteers and victims, along with their locations.

    “Our proposed new disaster relief framework bridges the gap when traditional emergency help lines such as 911 are overwhelmed, thus benefiting both the disaster victims and the non-governmental organizations seeking to help them,” the authors wrote.

    Sample tweets requesting rescue and offering help can be used to map volunteers and victims, like this map of the Houston area on August 28, 2017 [Image: Nguyen et al.]
    Another system, Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response, or AIDR, is a free and open platform to label social media messages discussing emergencies, disasters, or humanitarian crises. AIDR uses machine learning to classify millions of tweets and Facebook posts about a disaster. Emergency responders train the system by giving it a list of keywords to look for, like #Campfire, or “Paradise fire,” or a geographic area from which to pull social media posts. The system takes as little as 30 minutes to learn about the disaster.

    From then on, emergency responders get real-time updates on social media posts that are relevant to the situation they are monitoring. A map shows where geotagged posts are coming from and approximates where non-tagged information is coming from. There is also a list of posts, organized in order of what the algorithm decides is most urgent or relevant, along with information about most commonly used words, like locations or names. AIDR researchers are also working on using computer vision to label photos as showing damage or not. Relying on people on the ground to acquire this sort of data could take days or weeks.

    “We wanted to lower the time between when a disaster strikes and response,” says Muhammad Imran, a scientist at Qatar Computing Research Institute in Doha, Qatar, where AIDR is based.

    Related:Disaster relief is dangerously broken. Can AI fix it?

    Only you (or AI) can prevent forest fires

    To prevent fires from igniting in the first place, AI will need more types of on-the-ground data. A pair of high school students in California is developing a tool that could pinpoint dry forest areas that are susceptible to wildfires. Typically, measuring biomass of fallen branches and leaf cover is challenging or labor intensive, and requires a physical visit to the area. Using sensors and Google’s TensorFlow machine learning tool, Sanjana Shah and Aditya Shah built something called Smart Wildfire Sensor to capture photos of nearby fallen branches and leaves and estimate an area’s biomass, moisture content, and size to determine how much dead fuel is present, and thus the likelihood of a fire.

    The students say that Smart Wildfire Sensor would be able to predict the possibility of wildfire down to a 100-square-meter level. The project is now in the running for Google’s AI for Social Good program, which will disperse $25 million in grant funding to winning teams.

    For a more holistic view, Silviaterra, a San Francisco-based company, creates maps that break down the composition of forests across the continental U.S. Using satellite imagery, the maps are made up of pixels that represent 15-meter-by-15-meter areas of forested lands and include a list of trees in each section. The company’s initial clients were timber companies, but with a grant from Microsoft’s AI for Earth program, Silviaterra wants to use its maps to combat wildfires, too. By helping point to “fire mitigation hot spots,” the maps could help planners figure out how and where to intervene, says Max Nova, a cofounder.

    Wildfire risk in and around Paradise, California (near the center of the Camp Fire), courtesy of SilviaTerra. Blue means lower wildfire ignition risk and red means higher risk. [Image: courtesy of SilviaTerra]
    “It’s going to allow forest managers everywhere to reduce catastrophic fire risks,” says Nova. Before this effort, Nova says there wasn’t a lot of data out there about the makeup of forested land, not for small owners or even big government. What was out there was coarse, with basic information or averages of a given area.

    Beyond strategies for addressing immediate threats, it’s possible to use such maps to develop a longer strategy by looking at data such as an area’s carbon sequestration ability, habitat, and groundwater levels, according to Zack Parisa, the startup’s other cofounder.

    “It’s not only the state of the forest,” he says. “But what are the lowest-hanging fruits to make sure that this is not the new normal?”

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    If you’ve ever wondered why Apple’s Tim Cook has tried to remain on good terms with Donald Trump, it’s for times like these.

    Trump told the Wall Street Journal Monday that it’s possible the U.S. will apply new tariffs to Chinese-made consumer tech products like the iPhone. The new tariff could be either 10% or 25%, the president said. His comments come four days before he will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping for trade talks.

    Trump had promised Cook that he would not place tariffs on Apple products, the New York Timesreported in June, and Apple devices missed the first round of tariffs applied by the Trump administration in September, but the company’s luck might not hold. If the iPhone were subject to a 10%-25% tariff, consumers would bear most of the extra cost. And Apple has already been pushing the envelope on the (high) prices of its flagship iPhones. The iPhone accounts for about 60% of Apple’s revenues.

    Other Apple products assembled in China, like AirPods, the MacBook Pro, iPad, and Apple Watch, could also be subject to the new tariffs.

    Apple’s stock fell 1.8% in after-hours trading on Trump’s comments.

    Related: To appreciate the futility of Trump’s trade war, consider the iPhone

    As of September 24, about half of all Chinese products coming into the U.S. were subject to a 10% tariff. The tariff is scheduled to rise to 25% on January 1st. China’s main goal in the upcoming negotiations is convincing the U.S. to hold off on increasing the tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25%. Trump told the Journal it is “highly unlikely” the U.S. will be convinced.

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    Shortcuts is one of the neatest new features in iOS 12. But it’s easy to miss just how useful it is.

    While Shortcuts can help you get things done faster on an iPhone or iPad, simply poking around the Shortcuts app in iOS 12 doesn’t do the feature justice. Most of Apple’s own example shortcuts won’t save you much time. And if you aren’t already an automation-tool aficionado, it’s easy to feel lost if you try to create a custom Shortcut on your own.

    Still, you don’t have to be a tech wizard to take advantage of iOS 12 Shortcuts. I’ll walk through some of the best Shortcuts to use, along with some basic concepts for building your own Shortcuts from scratch.

    Simple iOS 12 Shortcuts

    The best way to get started with iOS 12 Shortcuts is to enable a few that other people have created already. Anyone can share a link to an existing Shortcut, so all you have to do is click on it from an iPhone or iPad, then select “Get Shortcut” to add it to your collection in the Shortcuts app.

    Tapping a Shortcut web link on an iPhone or iPad takes you to the activation page.

    For a basic example, check out the Dictate & Share Shortcut. Once triggered, it will listen for voice dictation and open the Share sheet, letting you copy the text to your clipboard or send it into another app. I’m using this to take quick notes in Google Keep without having to open the app directly.

    I also made my own Time to Focus Shortcut that tells my nearby Amazon Echo to play heavy rain sounds, while also turning on Do Not Disturb on iOS.

    Some other examples that I’ve found useful:

    In some cases, third-party apps can help add Shortcuts for you. Google, for instance, now offers a handy Shortcut for talking to Google Assistant through Siri. Just download the latest version of Google Assistant, then look for the “Add to Siri” button. You can then record a custom phrase or just use “Hey Google.” You’ll still have to say “Hey Siri” or tap the Siri button first, but it’s still a lot faster than opening the app directly.

    Google Assistant’s Shortcut lets you say “Hey Siri, OK Google” (or another phrase of your choosing).

    Pandora offers something similar for turning on internet radio stations through Siri. Just open the Pandora app, head to Settings, select “Add to Siri,” then choose a radio station and record the phrase you’d like to use. Unfortunately, each Shortcut only works with one station, but you can set up multiple Shortcuts for each of your favorites.

    Faster access to Shortcuts

    Convenient as Shortcuts may be, having to open the Shortcuts app to use them is a waste of time. Instead, consider adding shortcuts to your Shortcuts through widgets, home screen icons, and Siri.

    Start by opening the Shortcuts app, then hitting the three-dot button on the Shortcut you want to access. Hit the Shortcut’s menu button (which looks like a pair of toggle buttons), and you’ll see a set of options:

    This menu lets you add shortcuts to your Shortcuts.

    Add to Siri lets you record a custom voice command for launching the Shortcut. With the aforementioned Spotify artist search, for instance, I used the phrase “Spotify artist.” (One downside: You can only associate one phrase with each Shortcut, and your voice commands must match this phrase exactly, so you need to remember the precise wording you chose.)

    Show in Widget adds a button for the Shortcut to your device’s widgets list, which you can access by swiping left from the home screen or swiping right from Notification Center. Make sure your widgets list includes Shortcuts by scrolling to the bottom of the list, selecting Edit, finding Shortcuts under the “More widgets” section, and pressing the + button. You can then drag the button that looks like three horizontal lines to move the widget higher up your list.

    Widgets allow you to access Shortcuts without leaving the app you’re in.

    Add to Home Screen creates an Shortcut icon that lives alongside your other apps. To modify how this icon will look, hit the Icon button first, then select a color and a glyph from the menu. (You can also use images from your camera roll.) Once you’ve selected an icon, hit Add to Home Screen, then follow the instructions on the Safari page that pops up.

    Adding Shortcuts to your home screen can save even more time.

    Contextual Shortcuts

    Some Shortcuts can’t be used directly through the app or with voice commands. Instead, they use the Share button to perform an action inside specific apps.

    A great example is Download YouTube, a Shortcut that can save videos to your Camera Roll for offline viewing without any additional apps. Once you’ve activated it, load up a video in the YouTube app, then hit the Share button. You can then select “Shortcuts” (you may have to hit “More” first to see this option), then select “Download YouTube.” After the Shortcut runs, choose “Save to Album,” and it’ll appear in your gallery.

    Some other examples that use the Share button:

    One Shortcut uses the website to check the price history of Amazon products.

    Rolling your own Shortcuts

    Now that you’re feeling comfortable with how Shortcuts work, let’s take the next step and build one from scratch.

    For this example, I’m going to use Siri voice commands to add grocery list items in Wunderlist. This will allow me to say “Add Groceries,” then dictate the grocery item without ever having to open Wunderlist directly. (You can also set up similar Shortcuts with other to-do list apps, such as Omnifocus and Trello.)

    1. We’ll start by creating a custom Siri voice command that you can use to activate this Shortcut. Open Shortcuts, then select Create Shortcut. Select the icon that looks like two menu toggles, then select “Add to Siri.” Hit the record button, and utter whatever phrase you’d like to use as your voice command. (I chose “Add Groceries.”) Optionally, give the Shortcut a name and an icon in the same menu, then hit “Done” when you’re finished.

    Add a Siri Phrase the same way you did with other Shortcuts.

    2. Next, we’ll have Siri listen for the name of your grocery item after you’ve triggered the shortcut. From the search bar, type “Dictate,” then select “Dictate Text.”

    3. Finally, we’ll set up Wunderlist to accept the dictated text as the name of a new grocery list item. In the search box, type “Wunderlist,” then select “Add Wunderlist Task.” (If you’d like to use a different to-do service, enter it in the search box and look for an “add” command.) In the Wunderlist box, select “Title,” then select “Dictated Text” from the top row of the keyboard. You can also select the List in which items should be added.

    Note that “Dictated Text” appears just above the keyboard.

    4. Hit “Done” in the Shortcuts menu to complete the process.

    Now, you can say “Hey Siri, Add Groceries,” then say the name of the grocery item when prompted. The Shortcut will take care of adding the item to the list you’ve chosen.

    Much of the fun of Shortcuts involves figuring out how to mash together input sources and actions. To get a sense of what’s possible, tap on the Search box, then scroll through the Content Types section for a list of everything that your apps can do. If you need even more inspiration, you’ll find plenty of additional Shortcuts at MacStories, the Shortcuts subreddit, and ShortcutsGallery.

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    Editor’s Note: This story is part of our feature, “Secrets of 13 of the most productive people.” See the complete 2018 list here.

    Instant messaging platforms like Slack have transformed workplace communication, to the point that “slack” has become a verb (as in, “I’ll Slack that to you later”). But even as it solves one problem (cutting down on the number of emails), it creates another: the feeling that you must always be on and part of the conversation.

    If you feel like too much of your day is eaten up with this tool designed to make work easier, try one of these approaches to cutting down your time on Slack.


    Log in at set times instead of having the platform running constantly. Put your phone in airplane mode when doing important work. Use emergency override settings to approve certain contacts so you won’t worry about missing important messages.


    Disable features that show others whether you’re online, reducing pressure to respond instantly, says Virginia Tech University associate professor William Becker, coauthor of the study, “Exhausted, but Unable to Disconnect.”


    Ask your manager to adopt another form of communication.”Instant messaging is more dangerous than email because it’s more demanding of an immediate response,” says Becker. And those annoying notifications don’t go away until you read them.

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    The first Giving Tuesday started in 2012 to fight against Thanksgiving’s commercial corruption: The fourth Thursday of November was becoming less about feeling grateful and more about strategizing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, those nationally recognized days for shopping deals.

    “The very basic premise of it was, could we turn people’s attention from two days of consuming to a day of giving,” says Asha Curran, chief innovation officer at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at 92Y,  the New York-based community nonprofit that first dreamed up the idea. “Could there be a sort of counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday that brought us back to what is really a very, very long American tradition of giving and generosity, but for this age of social media and shifting behaviors?”

    More than 2,500 nonprofits participated the first year, which brought in roughly $10 million in online fundraising. Tens of thousands of groups have since joined in, with donations increasing 3,000% since then: People gave at least $300 million in 2017, according to transaction data from online giving platforms and payment processors like PayPal, Blackbaud, and Facebook.

    [Source Image: yewkeo/iStock]
    Based on a recent survey by 92Y at least 58% of Americans who are online know about Giving Tuesday, which encourages people to act generously toward each other by donating to charity, volunteering, or simply doing good deeds, even small ones, for those in need. Roughly 67% of those who have heard about it also participate in some way.

    And over the last seven years, the idea has spread to a formal network in 55 countries, globalizing the concept. In many of those spots fewer people overall may be aware of the push than in the U.S., but those who are tend to embrace it even more emphatically. For instance, in India recognition hovers at 49%, but 94% of those participate. (Methodology note: These findings come from the responses of between 500 and 1,000 people per country.)

    In 2012, one of 92Y’s key decisions was to take their message digital. The group initially worked with the United Nations Foundation and encouraged nonprofits to promote their stories, needs, and donor support through what at the time seemed like a novel way to build a movement: the #GivingTuesday hashtag. It’s since popularized other hashtags like #UnSelfie and #MyGivingStory that let more groups and people find interesting ways to share their messages.

    [Source Image: yewkeo/iStock]

    One of the keys to Giving Tuesday’s success has been that 92Y didn’t try to brand it as an in-house initiative. “We were very much platform agnostic and cause agnostic right from the beginning, so encouraging people to give to whatever they found meaningful,” Curran says. That has encouraged other fundraisers to riff on the concept: During the first year, a nonprofit called Dress For Success launched “Giving ShoesDay” to outfit women rejoining the workforce. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the mayor and nonprofits banded together to create the city-wide Bmore Gives More challenge to become the most generous city in America. In one day, the effort raised more than $5 million for local groups. Those sorts of community-wide campaigns have since been replicated in 150 places ranging from small towns to other major cities and even some states.

    For 92Y, the goal now is to continue reimagining both the meaning and mechanisms of community support. Leaders who’ve joined up from other countries even share ideas through a dedicated WhatsApp channel, leading to surprising results. When an organizer in Taiwan recently shared entries from a crowdsourced competition to redesign their logo there, for instance, another organizer in Chile liked one of the finalists so much that they adopted it as their own symbol.

    [Source Image: yewkeo/iStock]

    In Curran’s view, this sort of collective momentum is often missing in the nonprofit space, where cause groups sometimes hoard good ideas because they view others as competitors instead of collaborators. “We say, ‘You know something is a movement if it moves without you,'” she says, crediting that mentality for Giving Tuesday’s exponential growth.

    And the movement still has plenty of room to grown. For first-time donors looking to be involved, Curran suggests reviewing the list of groups on or any of the hashtagged stories from people in your own social network. To vet the quality of participating groups, donors may also want to often visit charity evaluator Charity Navigator or review additional information posted on GuideStar. Many platforms may offer matching gifts to incentivize more action, including the $7 million available from Facebook and PayPal, although those funds will likely be spent quickly.

    Unlike the preceding days of commercial mayhem, Curran hopes that Giving Tuesday participants will focus on far more than money. This is a chance for people, organizations, and communities to focus on all the ways they might improve humanity. As she puts it: “If there’s the same level of public awareness eventually of Giving Tuesday as there is of Cyber Monday, the world can only benefit from that.”

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