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    Shinola is one of those brands that’s found a way to thrive in spite of the retail downturn. With more than 30 stores both in the U.S. and internationally, and a consistently expanding product line from watches and leather goods to electronics and bikes made in the United States, the Detroit-based company has become a rare retail success story. Now, it’s moving into the hotel business.

    [Photo: Nicole Franzen/courtesy Shinola]

    On January 2nd, Shinola and its partner–the Detroit-based real estate firm Bedrock–opened a boutique hotel in the heart of the city’s downtown. The space, designed by Gachot Studios and Kraemer Design Group, features six different bars and restaurants, event spaces and retail, and  129 guest rooms that are outfitted with Shinola products, including a desk clock, a blanket, and candle that were made specifically for the hotel. Some of the suites include a Shinola record player and vinyl library.

    True to Shinola’s history, which entailed buying the brand of an old Detroit shoe polish business and relaunching it as an aspirational modern leather goods store, the hotel itself is a mix of existing historic structures and contemporary spaces. The design involved rehabilitating two older buildings: the T.B. Rayl & Co. hardware store, whose striking red-tiled facade was designed by iconic Detroit architect Wirt Roland and built in 1915, along with a Singer sewing-machine store first built in 1936. These refurbished architectural gems now sit next to three new buildings that match the historic architecture of the area, creating a larger hotel complex. With an emphasis on adaptive reuse, it takes its cues from other boutique hotels, including the Ace Hotel.

    Check out the finished spaces above.


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    In the near future, L’Oreal hopes you will not have to deal with eczema, atopic dermatitis, or acne breakouts. Instead, you’ll be able to pre-empt these skin conditions, and attack them before they ruin your confidence on a date or a pitch meeting.

    The beauty conglomerate today launched a new tool called My Skin Track pH, a sensor you wear on your inner arm for between 5 and 15 minutes. On a companion app, an algorithm will compute your pH measurement and rate of perspiration, then predict upcoming skin issues, and suggest product recommendations to avert problems.

    Dermatologists say that pH is a leading indicator of skin health. Healthy skin pH should be in the slightly acidic range, between 4.5 and 5.5, but both the environment and inflammation in your body can cause it to change. This can either cause or exacerbate common skin concerns, like eczema, which afflicts 10% of Americans, according to the National Eczema Association. Until now, it’s been difficult to accurately assess pH levels without a lot of sweat, so this device harnesses microfluidics technology, which gathers insights from a small amount of sweat.

    L’Oreal has been pouring resources into its Technology Incubator, which has been churning out high-tech solutions for the beauty industry. The company recently released another tracking device that identifies your skin’s exposure to sunlight, giving wearers insight into their skin cancer risk at any given moment.

    While it is releasing these devices for purchase one at a time, there also seems to be long term potential to combine multiple devices down the line, providing a wealth of useful information about your skin. In the future, it may be just as common for someone to stick a skin sensor to their arm as it currently is to glue on false eyelashes.

    The tech community clearly sees the potential in L’Oreal’s newest invention: It just received the CES 2019 Innovation Award for the Wearable Technology Products category. L’Oreal will demo the tech at the CES conference in Las Vegas this week.


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    Accurate audience measurement remains one of the peskiest problems marketers face when doing cross-platform campaigns. There are numerous platforms to place ads on, and the reporting about each is anything but interoperable. Companies specializing in this kind of reporting have been trying to make their offerings more robust, and today Nielsen announced a new partnership with Google that adds one very key integration: YouTube’s mobile audience.

    Essentially, what this means is that Nielsen’s Total Ad Ratings–which lets marketers rank how well their ads perform across platforms–will include YouTube’s mobile audience. Before, Nielsen didn’t have access to this data. The hope for marketers is that this could lead to better campaign measurement, as Total Ad Ratings theoretically makes it possible to more easily compare TV and digital ads.

    The addition of YouTube mobile to this Nielsen product illustrates the increasing shift to over-the-top TV viewership, especially on smartphones. Viewers are turning to multiple digital platforms beyond TV–including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Many of these users are consuming content on their mobile devices, adding another technical complication to the mix.

    Over the last few years, platforms, publishers, and marketers have turned increasingly to these digital video platforms, with mixed results. While eyeballs are undoubtedly going to non-TV programming, figuring out how best to monetize it has proved problematic. Imperfect–and sometimes flat-out incorrect–measurement only compounds these issues. With this announcement, Nielsen is trying to differentiate itself as a more authoritative source for cross-platform analytics.

    As more OTT offerings become mainstream, and marketers continue to invest in these platforms, these kinds of all-in-one measurement services make sense. Still, it’s likely that the entire industry is in for a rude awakening down the line, once it becomes clear how much of the digital world is bolstered by misrepresented data and automated views. So even with more universal metrics across platforms, the digital ad world’s house of cards may soon collapse.

    Correction: The headline has been changed to reflect that the Google integration is with YouTube mobile. 


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    Cybercrime is in many ways the perfect crime: low risk, scalable, and highly profitable. As more of our lives migrate online, attacks on our cybersecurity by the agile, globalized, and outsourced cybercrime industry show no signs of slowing down.

    Billions of people were affected by data breaches and cyber attacks in 2018, including up to 500 million Marriott customers. Incidents of cryptojacking (hijacking servers to mine cryptocurrency) experienced a meteoric rise, but those attacks dropped off towards the end of the year in line with cryptocurrency prices. In contrast, banking Trojans like Emotet and Trickbot, which steal banking credentials, experienced a resurgence. North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China continued to be the main actors in nation state attacks, such as the fake think-tank and Senate sites created by a Russian-linked hacking group ahead of the U.S. midterm elections.

    So what’s in store for cybersecurity in 2019? If 2018 is any indication, threats are becoming more sophisticated, harder to detect, and potentially more dangerous, but the cybersecurity technology and talent arrayed against them is evolving too.

    AI-powered malware

    Max Heinemeyer is the director of threat hunting at Darktrace, a company that uses AI to identify and combat cyberattacks. Human attackers using malware try to mimic normal behavior in a particular network in order to spread to more machines while avoiding detection.

    “Narrow artificial intelligence is going to supercharge malware in the next couple of years,” says Heinemeyer. “It’s always takes a human in manual intrusions, to take a look at an environment and see what normal behavior constitutes. But once they use AI to do this, they can do it at machine speed, localized to every environment. What if ransomware worms or other attacks can intelligently choose, tailored to the environment, which way to move around is best?”

    Traditionally, attackers maintain communications with compromised systems using command-and-control servers (also called C2). If malware can use AI to autonomously determine how to mimic normal behavior while moving around, e.g. by detecting and using local credentials, attackers no longer need C2 and the malware becomes harder to detect.

    Darktrace has also seen early examples of malware selecting different payloads (the code which actually performs a malicious action like encrypting or stealing data) depending on the context. Trickbot, for instance, can now steal banking details or lock machines for ransom. Malware will become more profitable if it can act in a way that will maximize the income from a particular environment.

    Smart phishing

    AI could also supercharge phishing, an attack whereby an email or other message from an apparently legitimate institution is used to lure the receiver into providing sensitive data. In a survey by CyberArk Global 56 percent of 1,300 IT security decision makers said that targeted phishing attacks were the top security threat they face.

    “If we think back to the Emotet Trojan, they are scraping email data,” says Heinemeyer. “They could take all that email data, use artificial intelligence to auto-create messages that understand the context of the emails and insert themselves into legitimate email conversations. Then we don’t even talk about phishing anymore, we talk about emails that look legitimate, that have absolutely contextualized content, that go into existing email conversations, and it will be almost impossible to distinguish them from genuine emails.”

    AI-powered defenses

    In the cybersecurity arms race, AI techniques like machine learning are becoming increasingly important. Sixteen percent of companies already use AI-powered security solutions, according to a survey by Spiceworks, with an additional 19 percent expecting to adopt them in the next year or two.

    But machine learning models can also be manipulated, according to Josiah Dykstra, the deputy technical director for cybersecurity operations at the National Security Agency. His group secures U.S. government systems that handle classified information and that are used for military purposes.

    “Everything is a double-edged sword in cyber,” he says. “The same things that we can use for defense can be used against us. I see a lot of academic work on adversarial machine learning. Can an attacker manipulate the model, so that they can hide from a machine learning algorithm? There’s terrific work going on in terms of showing how models can be resilient to those kind of attacks.”


    Related: Scathing House Oversight report: Equifax data breach was “entirely preventable”


    Vulnerable critical systems

    Critical national infrastructure consists of systems which are so essential that their operation is required to ensure the security of a nation, its economy and the safety of its population. In areas like energy and manufacturing, critical infrastructure is often managed by industrial control systems. Thirty-one percent of professionals with responsibility for those systems experienced a security incident in the past year, according to the Kaspersky Lab’s State of Industrial Cybersecurity Study for 2018.

    “We’ve seen attacks against nation-state infrastructure in Darktrace environments, as we cover a lot of government entities and critical systems,” says Heinemeyer. “Some of the industrial control systems are constantly being scanned from the internet. Sometimes they get infected by what looks like commodity malware. Opportunistic malware doesn’t care if it’s ransoming a water treatment plant or a government network or if it’s hitting an office network.”

    Dykstra is also concerned about the ability to effectively combat threats to critical infrastructure. “It’s such a complex ecosystem,” he says. “There’s so many players, so many different authorities. Who’s responsible for what? How do we help people understand the threat before it turns into a disaster? That is something that really needs to be on people’s minds in 2019.”

    Open source attacks

    The risk associated with supply chain attacks, where a target is attacked via a partner or supplier, has been rising steadily. Fifty nine percent of companies say they have experienced a data breach caused by one of their vendors or third parties. Heinemeyer highlights a less well-known type of supply chain attack as one to watch in 2019: those on open source software.

    “It’s sometimes easy to get contributor access to open source projects,” he says. “Because there’s no standard procedure to vet these people to make sure they’re trustworthy, malicious actors can get into the software supply chain, inject back doors into very well-known open source code, and then get access to many, many environments.”

    Earlier this year an open source JavaScript library with 2 million downloads was distributed with a bitcoin-stealing backdoor. The library’s developer no longer had time to provide updates so he accepted the help of an unknown developer who introduced the backdoor.

    Trust attacks

    Heinemeyer is also worried about an emerging form of cyber threat he calls a trust attack. “What could be more devastating than just stealing or destroying data?” he asks. “Undermining the public’s trust in data. What if data was changed really subtly?”

    He gives the example of altering blood sample data used by the U.K.’s National Health Service. “If an attacker was to intrude the database of blood samples and labeling, all kept digitally these days, and to change that data without anybody noticing, it could result in people dying without people knowing the cause. Public trust could be undermined in these kinds of national institutions.”

    Similarly a nation-state attacker could cast doubt on the results of an election, not by trying to influence voters as in Russia’s cyber operations leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but by changing some votes, and making the interference public later.

    “This could have disastrous effects on democracy,” says Heinemeyer. “It takes the discussion about the cyber realm these days in geopolitics to a whole new level.”

    Helping defenders deal

    One of Dykstra’s research interests is the human factor in cybersecurity. “Cybersecurity has historically been very technology-focused,” he says. “It is one aspect of cyber security, but alone it’s insufficient. I have done a bunch of studies looking at how do we help the human defenders be more resilient and robust and more effective at their jobs?”

    Cybersecurity professionals work long hours in stressful environments and mental health has not traditionally been a priority for the industry. Dykstra and Celeste Lyn-Paul, senior researcher and technical adviser at NSA Research, developed the Cyber Operations Stress Survey (COSS) to help gauge the stress levels of security personnel in high-risk environments. COSS measures factors like fatigue, frustration, and cognitive workload during real-time tactical cyber operations like those carried out by the NSA.

    “Those papers suggest ways not only to measure, but when to check in on people.” says Dykstra. “Different training is required to make people more resilient, but I think that’s still an emerging area.”

    A wider range of cybersecurity talent

    Both Heinemeyer and Dykstra argue that the cybersecurity industry needs to draw on a wider pool of talent in 2019. “Don’t just look at the Computer Science department of the top five universities in the world,” says Dykstra. “I have certainly found that diverse teams of psychology and economics and political science and language analysts, those skills make the STEM fields even better. I actually wish I had lots more classes in my computer science curriculum about human psychology. That would have helped me be a more effective cybersecurity person.”

    Dykstra adds that the cybersecurity field needs people who didn’t go to college. “There are amazing people in cybersecurity who, for whatever reason, decided not to go, or school wasn’t exactly their thing, but they bring a lot of talent to this problem,” he says. “Lots of the skills the NSA needs aren’t taught in colleges.”

    Heinemeyer mentors a team of 30 junior threat hunters (analysts who proactively search for malware or attackers that are lurking in a network) in the U.K., with 80 more across the globe. “Most of our junior analysts don’t have any IT background or any cybersecurity background,” he says. “They are data scientists, they have PhDs in chemistry, in astrophysics. Some of our best analysts come from linguistics or social science.” Roughly half of Darktrace’s U.K. threat hunters are female.


    Related: The biggest tech trends of 2019, according to top experts


    Invisible security

    Dykstra also suggests that users need to take more responsibility for securing their own data in 2019. “If your account gets compromised, it is your individual responsibility to go change that password and to understand that if you reuse passwords, very basic cybersecurity can break down,” he says. “Picking strong passwords or having a password manager would get us so far in achieving the prevention of data breaches.”

    Some users are more at risk than others because of their security behaviors or lack thereof. Understanding how personal traits influence these behaviors can help security professionals to determine which users need additional defenses or targeted training. Research from the University of Maryland (in which Dykstra participated), for example, found that women were less likely to use strong passwords and update them regularly, while introverts were less careful about locking their devices than extroverts.

    Despite the best efforts of the security community, users often resist doing the work required to implement even basic security, so Dykstra is also an advocate of what he calls invisible security.

    “When your browser gets automatic updates all the time, people actually are more safe and secure,” he says. “Where else can we do that invisible security to help make people safer? How can we just bake it in so that you don’t have to think about how to do strong encryption or how to do safe software development practices?”


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    Much of what we encounter at work is ambiguous. We have a lot of latitude in deciding how to interpret things that happen around us, how to react to events, and how to interact with people. The choices we make affect our success in many different ways.

    Which is why it’s important to be aware of the way you frame your view of your workplace, because it might lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.

    Here are five types of things we say to ourselves about both ourselves and those we work with that are setting us up to fail.You may not literally say these things to yourself, but your habitual mode of looking at the world can make you act as if you did.

    You suck

    You are guaranteed to have a few people at work who rub you the wrong way. If you cringe the moment they turn a corner, you’re going to cause two problems. First, you’ll interpret everything they do in the worst possible light. Second, you’ll probably treat them with obvious disdain, which will lead them to treat you poorly right back.

    Instead, put a smile on your face when you see your nemesis. Make a pleasant comment. You just might find you underestimated that person, and you’re actually more alike than you knew. And even if you continue not to like the person, at least you’re not causing any problems you still have with them.

    I suck

    Theories of motivation generally agree that your energy to complete tasks depends a lot on whether you think you can succeed. If you tell yourself that you’re incompetent, then you sap your motivation to try, and that increases your chance of failure (which then provides you with evidence that you suck).

    In addition, if you display low confidence in your abilities, it will affect the way you talk to everyone at work. You will raise comments and criticisms reluctantly. You will avoid putting your ideas into the mix. Even when you do say something, your obvious lack of confidence will lead people to dismiss those ideas—even if they’re great. Worse yet, you run the risk of having someone else restate your idea more confidently a little later in the conversation and get credit for what you said.

    Just remember, you don’t suck. Your company did not make a mistake hiring you. Step out each day and prove to everyone why you deserve to be where you are.

    Management sucks

    It is a common pastime at work to complain about management. Like the pointy-headed boss in the Dilbert cartoons, it is easy to assume the people above you in the hierarchy are clueless. And a little good-natured griping can help you bond with your colleagues.

    But you are quite likely to be in situations in which you are asked to do things that you would prefer to do differently. In that situation, you have three choices.

    If you truly believe management is misguided, you might be tempted to undermine their plan by doing something different from what you were asked to do. Don’t do that. There is a high probability that what you were asked to do fits into a bigger plan, and your rogue actions could have downstream effects that you are not aware of.

    Instead, if you truly believe that what you have been asked to do is misguided, express your concerns. If you are overruled, and you don’t want to be part of a train wreck, then you should quit your job. Really.

    Otherwise, you need to assume that your management team has some clue what they are doing. After you voice any concerns, put your whole self into the job. Give your organization its best chance to succeed. You might even discover that you don’t know everything.

    This project sucks

    Not every day at work has to be roses and champagne. Every job has a certain amount of drudgery to it. If you’re working on something that needs to get done, but is no fun, then put on a brave face and do it. The faster you eat that frog, the more time you’ll have to focus on the aspects of your job that you look forward to.

    But if your alarm goes off every day and you feel like you are being pulled under by the weight of what you are asked to do, you have two choices.

    Look for a redeeming quality of the project. Is it helping someone else do something cool? Does it allow you to work with people you like? Is it allowing other talented people to do things that benefit the company or society at large? Grab on to those benefits and repeat them to yourself until you feel better.

    If the project truly has no redeeming features, though, then it might be time to consider another line of work. As I discuss in my forthcoming book Bring Your Brain to Work, TGIF are the four saddest letters in the English language. It may seem daunting to make a change, but satisfaction with your job is worth a lot.

    This office sucks

    Sometimes, you like the work well enough, but your surroundings bring you down. Maybe you work in a cubicle farm that is loud and distracting. Perhaps your workspace has no windows. Or you neighbor at work might need some personal hygiene lessons.

    We often underestimate how much impact the world has on our ability to think, act, and be motivated. You can drain your own motivation just because you dread the physical space you occupy.

    If so, it’s time to chat with your supervisor about where you work. Maybe you can switch desks. If you are a proven self-starter who gets things done, maybe your boss will give you a chance to telecommute or at least spend the occasional afternoon at a coffee shop.

    Worst case, try to own the space where you work. Bring in some decorations that make you happy. I recently got a crocheted Freddie Mercury that I put on my desk. It just makes me smile to have a goofy toy like that on the desk, and that instantly makes the day better. Taking small steps to take control of your space can have a big impact on your work down the line.


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    “I am the girl who escaped Kuwait to Thailand. My life is in real danger if I am forced to return to Saudi Arabia,” wrote 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun on Twitter this weekend in Arabic. She was in the Bangkok airport, about to be deported to her home country, and was pleading for help. The internet noticed and reacted; the Thai government has since responded sympathetically to Alqunun’s plight–at least for the time being.

    Over the course of the last 48 hours, Alqunun live-tweeted her attempt to not be forced back to Saudi Arabia. While on a recent trip with her family, Alqunun slipped away and flew to Thailand, in an attempt to reach Australia, where she hoped to ultimately be granted asylum. A mysterious person, however, told her he would help her get a visa and then took her passport. Thai authorities then told Alqunun she was being deported back to Saudi Arabia.

    If forced back, she told the New York Times, “they will kill me.” In an interview with the newspaper, she talked about her life as a woman in Saudi Arabia:

    Ms. Alqunun described a life of unrelenting abuse at the hands of her family, who live in the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia. She said she was once locked in a room for six months because she had cut her hair in a way that her family did not approve of. And she said her family used to beat her, mostly her brother.

    Alqunun told both the newspaper and the world via social media that her deportation was essentially a death sentence. She was clear about what she wanted and what the stakes were. Alqunun posted videos on her Twitter page and also connected with organizations trying to help. One video posted by the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch shows her saying “I want asylum.”

    Alqunun posted another video of a self-made barricade behind her hotel room door demanding asylum from the UN. These posts seem to have worked; Alqunun now has over 50,000 Twitter followers and the world’s attention–including Thailand’s. The country’s immigration office confirmed that it is not sending her back to Saudi Arabia just yet. “We will not send someone back to die,” said the Thai immigration chief, Major General Surachate Hakparn, according to the New York Times. 

    This doesn’t mean she’s being granted asylum. However, it does buy Alqunun a little bit of time. It’s still possible the Thai government will deport her. But with the world watching–and now the help of groups like Human Rights Watch–it’s looking at least possible that Alqunun will be able to find freedom.

    She posted earlier today that she has received her passport back; Alqunun adds in the same tweet that her father is now in Thailand, which makes her very fearful.

    Hundreds of thousands of people, however, will be keeping an eye out in the hopes that she successfully makes it to Australia.


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    Skeuomorphic design has been nearly forgotten these days, with its references to the analog world mostly replaced by clean line minimalism, flat icons, and lots of white space.

    But a clever UI experiment from Apple alum Bob Burrough aims to bring it back by making the screen of your phone feel a little less, well, digital. As you move your phone, the icons on the screen react to the light in the actual room you’re in, their shadows and textures shifting very slightly in accordance with how the icons would be lit if they were in the physical world.

    While the demo is basic, the effect is mesmerizing. Rather than just mimicking the physical world, it’s like the elements of the UI have become part of the real-world environment.

    “It actually looks like the user interface elements are physical objects that reside just beneath the surface of the screen, and you could reach in and touch them,” Burrough says.

    Called Project Erasmus, the demo uses a fish-eye lens attached to the phone’s camera to capture your environment’s lighting. Then, the software projects this environmental map onto a scene, which the computer uses to calculate lighting and reflections.

    Why use a design that mimics the physical world? Practically speaking, it’s much more usable. Research has shown that while young people tend to like flat design aesthetically more than older people, young people find it just as confusing to use as older ones do. That’s because flat design often isn’t intuitive; it can be hard to know whether something is a button or not without some kind of gradient or shadow to indicate it. That’s why some companies, Google in particular, have tried to leave flat design behind using systems like Material Design, where interface designers take their cues from the materiality of the physical world.

    This demo, however, isn’t entirely practical–when Burrough moves slightly into shadow, the UI goes black because there’s little light in the environment around the phone. But it’s a novel way to give digital icons life beyond their pixels.


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    As you set your goals for 2019, you may be looking for new strategies to boost your productivity. Perhaps you want to find a way to better manage your email or organize your to-dos on a day-to-day basis. We asked a number of CEOs which apps and tools help them–and their teams–stay on task and fit more into each day. Here are a few to try out.

    [Image: courtesy of Slack]

    For staying in touch

    You may find Slack equal parts productivity tool and productivity killer. But for many CEOs, Slack remains the simplest way to communicate with their teams. “I’m a huge fan of Slack,” says Jessica Matthews, the CEO of energy startup Uncharted Power. “It reduces email and allows for an ‘instant message’ form of communication that we find to be highly effective.”

    For the team at cannabis startup Flow Kana–as at many companies–Slack serves as a way to bridge the gap between far-flung colleagues. “We have a team spread throughout the state of California in roles ranging from trimming and processing, to manufacturing, to sales and corporate operations,” says Flow Kana CEO Michael Steinmetz. “In addition to daily communications, we’ve found Slack unifies us in many ways, bringing our team in different locations and job types closer together.”

    [Image: courtesy of Evernote]

    For keeping a to-do list

    For Matthews, who calls herself a “huge proponent” of to-do lists, Evernote is her tool of choice. Her tip: Put more on your list than you can complete. “I like to make my to-do lists longer than anything I could feasibly accomplish in a day, so that I am never satisfied and always pushing myself,” she says.

    Nicole Centeno, the CEO of food startup Splendid Spoon, uses her inbox as a “running to-do list,” which means she keeps no more than 25 emails at a time. “I’m pretty no-frills with the apps I rely on,” she says. “I prefer Google Calendar to most other organization apps because it allows me to prioritize meetings as well as tasks.” When she’s on the go and needs to jot something down, she turns to Captio, a note-taking app that delivers all notes to her inbox.

    For managing your workflow

    When it comes to company-wide workflow management, some CEOs are partial to Asana while others prefer Airtable. Vivian Shen, the CEO of coding startup Juni Learning, swears by automation tool Zapier. “It integrates our customer relationship management, project management, Slack, email, and social media management dashboard—and helps us work quickly and efficiently,” she says.

    As for organizing their calendars, Calendly is a popular option for people who want to cut back on email correspondence while scheduling meetings. (Don’t we all?) “I use Calendly to allow others to schedule a meeting with me without having to go back and forth to find availability,” says Hussein Fazal, the CEO of travel startup SnapTravel. (Fazal also uses the tool Streak to keep track of “what feels like an infinite amount of email threads.”)

    Nicole Gibbons, the founder of paint startup Clare, uses the app Fantastical, which translates language like “dinner at 7 p.m. next Thursday” into calendar events. “It places a calendar icon in my menu bar,” she says, “and I can use natural language to add new items to my calendar without having to switch windows.”

    For finding your focus

    In the era of open-plan offices, it can be harder to carve out time for deep work. “We have an open office, so it’s easy to get distracted by conversations around me,” Gibbons says. “I use an app called Ananda to tune everything out—it uses binaural beats and tones to induce brain waves and help me zone in and focus.”

    For Tristan Walker, the CEO of Walker & Company Brands, upping his focus also means limiting screen time. “I like using the Moment app, which helps me track how much I time I spend within each app on my phone,” he says. “It has helped me limit distraction and improve productivity. On average, I win back an hour-plus of my day.”

    [Illustration: courtesy of Headspace]

    For prioritizing self-care

    There are any number of tools to boost workplace productivity, but for some founders, making time for a daily workout or meditation can be a crucial piece of the puzzle. Shan-Lyn Ma, the CEO of wedding company Zola, finds that meditation helps her feel centered and enhances her productivity for the rest of the day. “Over the past five years, I’ve learned that working 24/7 is not sustainable,” she says. “You have to take time for yourself, even 10 minutes, to be more productive at work.” Her meditation app of choice is Headspace. “I use the app almost every morning,” Ma says. “It is 10 minutes of ‘me time’ before I walk my dog Noe and the email grind begins.”

    The practice can also be a way to de-stress or take a breather during a busy day. “My job is stressful and full of uncertainty,” says Alicia Thomas, the CEO of fitness startup Dibs. “Headspace helps me relax into the stress and trust life a little bit more.” Thomas also makes sure to fit in a few workouts per week, which she tracks through Nike’s running app. “Every week, I make sure that I clock 12 miles,” she says. “Sometimes that’s in three runs, sometimes it’s in five runs.”

    Heidi Zak, the CEO of lingerie startup Third Love, makes a point of working out at home every morning before heading to the office. “I used to try and make it to a class, but as a mom of two young kids, that just wasn’t realistic,” she says. “Buying a Peloton bike completely cut out the stress of rushing to the gym to get a workout in—and I feel my best and am more productive.”

    But there is one time-honored productivity hack that is hard to beat. “The best app is still one called ‘getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night,'” says Kellee James, the CEO of agriculture tech startup Mercaris. “I haven’t found technology yet that can compensate if I’m not getting some consistent rest.”

    [Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash]

    For disconnecting

    Sometimes, the simplest tool isn’t one you can find on your phone or laptop. Nidhi Kapur, the CEO of furniture startup Maiden Home, relies on a notebook to organize her work for the week. “It’s pretty analog, but the most important tool that I have is my notebook,” she says. “Every Monday, I spend time mapping out my week and prioritizing what needs to be accomplished in the next five days. When I find myself working on anything that isn’t on that list, I stop and evaluate whether or not it’s truly a priority.”


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    The digital health sector shows no signs of slowing down. Startup Health, an organization that supports and fosters digital health startups, announced that funding totaled $14.2 billion in 2018, which is 14 times more than it was in 2010. The past year saw the average deal size grow by $3 million–to roughly $20 million–as investors nearly doubled their investments.

    In the last quarter alone, startups secured larger deals across all stages, with the average Series A round today (about $10 million) matching the size of a Series C in 2014. Some standout deals marked the past year, including Peloton, which snagged $550 million in new funding, and Smile Direct Club’s recent round of $380 million.

    [Image: courtesy of Startup Health]
    “Growth may be the norm in digital health these days, but this blockbuster year bears the markings of a reinvention of an entire sector, rather than a bubble stretching thinner as it expands,” notes the Startup Health 2018 Q4 Insights Report.“The market is sturdy and ready for continued transformation with big multinational corporations, local industry players, and startups capturing maximum share and establishing their unique market positions.”

    At this point, nearly every healthcare sector has expanded into digital in some way or another. Companies that aim to help patients navigate the healthcare industry witnessed the most funding, followed by telemedicine, patient engagement, and primary care. Startup Health found that newer niche sub-sectors also saw increased funding, most notably machine learning, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things.

    Startups in the mental health sector, meanwhile, received record-breaking funding with a total of $602 million. Of those companies, 77% focused on mobile apps for patients and consumers alike. Doctor on Demand, which lets users quickly connect with a psychologist or psychiatrist, raised $73 million.

    But despite impressive strides in industry funding, StartUp Health cofounder and president Unity Stoakes notes an interesting paradox: “Health innovation today is progressing slower than we think and faster than we ever dreamed possible–at the same time,” he wrote in a recent blog post.

    Stoakes suggests that while 2018 points to an overall push in digital health, there is still an overwhelming trend to rely on “incremental, band-aid innovation” to appease current consumer trends versus leaping beyond outdated foundations and infrastructures. Gradual change is trumping bigger disruption, but global wellness might be better served by bold moves—such as leveraging large platforms like Amazon or Apple, reimagining standard business models, or pushing for unorthodox partnerships.

    “What if Kaiser Permanente teamed up with Tesla to turn your ride to work into a daily health checkup?” asks Stoakes.

    StartUp Health’s cofounder shares several more ideas as to how the health industry can adapt and transform in the coming years. The past year may have been a standout year in funding, he explains, but there’s still much work to do if the industry hopes to better serve universal health solutions. Read more on the Startup Health website.


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    Ever wanted to draw at the nanoscale? Well, now there’s an app for that. It’s called Perdix.

    The free, open-source software, designed by a team of scientists from MIT and Arizona State University, lets anyone create 2D nanostructures using DNA strands. It’s a fun tool for anyone to play around with, but it could also have fascinating applications in quantum computing and photonics.

    [Image: Perdix]
    The new technology is built using the principle of scaffolded DNA origami, which was invented by Paul Rothemund, PhD, in 2006 to create any kind of bi- and tri-dimensional DNA structure. But Rothemund’s technology wasn’t available to just anyone. It was only accessible in expensive labs, and people with the necessary technical expertise.

    Perdix changes this, making biological “drawing” available to just about anyone. The software can automatically take any polygonal design drawn in a CAD program and transform it into a mesh that can be printed using synthetic DNA sequences. According to Mark Bathe, associate professor of biological engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study, this work “allows anyone to draw literally any 2D shape and convert it into DNA origami automatically.”

    [Image: Perdix]
    Of course, this is not just to create tiny cute drawing of tigers and koalas, though the authors offer up a few of those to demonstrate how easy their software is to use. They claim that engineers will be able to use this system to print nanoscale “parts” for all kinds of pursuits, including “cell biology, photonics, and quantum sensing and computing, among many others.”

    The future of biological design is here, and it’s as simple as downloading an app. You can download it for Windows or OS X here.


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    Don’t expect any in-air puppy cuddles on United Airlines flights.

    The airline has updated its rules for flying with pets or emotional support animals in the cabin and banned puppies or kittens who are less than four months of age as support animals, in-cabin pets, or service animals. (Personally, I would love to see someone try to make the case that their four-month-old kitten is a service animal.) The airline is also banning all emotional support animals on flights longer than eight hours. The new policy goes into effect today, January 7, and comes weeks after Delta Air Lines made a similar change.

    The rule change sounds heartbreaking since it means limiting the chance of stumbling into an inflight puppy party, but according to United spokesman Charles Hobart, it’s due in part to the fact that those adorable baby animals tend to not have the proper vaccinations. That said, even a vet’s note won’t get them onboard because the policy change is also due to a “greater instance of incidents,” aka animals “getting loose, urinating, defecating” with those little floofers–and even the most ardent pet lover may find those cuddly little cuties are not quite as cute after they piddle on your sock mid-flight.

    United is also limiting the kinds of emotional-support animals allowed on flights to solely dogs and cats (yes, that means you, emotional support peacock), which Hobart points out  are “the overwhelming majority of emotional support animals” anyway. As for service animals, aka animals that are specially trained to assist a qualified person living with a disability, they are still accepted on flights as long as they are a dog, cat, or miniature horse, the new policy said. The policy changes come as the airline tries to “accommodate passengers with disabilities while ensuring the well-being of our employees and customers,” Hobart said.

    If you do plan to try and fly the friendly skies with your emotional support dog or cat, in March 2018, United followed Delta’s lead and began requiring 48 hours’ notice as well as “documentation from a medical professional and a veterinarian” and a sign-off saying the animal hasn’t shown any signs of “being disruptive.” (You can find United’s full emotional support and service animal policy here.)

    That said, in the wake of last year’s tragic incident in which a dog died after being forced to ride in the overhead bin, United has been working with American Humane to make their flights safer for all pets in the cabin or riding in the cargo hold as part of their PetSafe program.


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    Ring is moving from doorbells to peepholes with its latest security camera. The Ring Door View Cam comes in two parts, with one half replacing a door’s inside peephole, and the other half mounting outdoors on the opposite side. It uses a removable battery for power, and provides HD video to mobile devices, Fire TV streamers, and touch screen Alexa devices like the Echo Show. Like Ring’s existing doorbell cameras, the Door View Cam can also detect motion, and it can still function like a regular door viewer. It could be useful for apartment dwellers or other folks who don’t want to mess with their existing doorbells. Ring says the Door View Cam will launch “later this year” and will cost $199.

    The idea of a connected peephole camera isn’t entirely new, but it’s the first product of its kind from a major brand–Amazon acquired Ring for $1.1 billion last year–and it could give Ring a leg up on Google’s rival Nest brand in trying to usher more people into its home security ecosystem.

    To that end, Ring is also fleshing out some of its existing products with new features. Users can now control certain smart locks directly from the Ring app, for instance, and Ring’s Alarm security system can now instruct nearby doorbells and cameras to start recording when a problem arises. Ring is also now shipping a variety of sensors that work with this system, including a smoke detector and flood sensor. The result of all this will be a pretty robust do-it-yourself security system for cheap–albeit one that plays better with Alexa than with Google Assistant or Siri.


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    By the time you read this, you may have already resolved to get fit, quit a bad habit, and be an all-around better person in 2019. But experts tell us that few of these resolutions will stick, in part because we humans tend to make sweeping statements rather than real commitments rooted in values, interests, and beliefs.

    But what if those resolutions were tied to your paycheck? Resolving to be a better employee might make all the difference in your level of engagement, simply because they might play a big role in that promotion or raise you’re gunning for this new year. With that in mind, we polled leaders across industries to hear their wisdom on how we can make effective change that will cast our work in the best light in 2019. Here’s what they told us:

    Be the CEO of your career

    “Take ownership of your role and your development. Be the CEO of your career. Where to start? Look to your peers and ask yourself what are the best, most talented people in your role doing and how do your skills stack up? Make a list (an actual, literal list) of those skills and then answer these questions for yourself:

    • Where do I want to improve?
    • What actionable steps can I take to make that improvement?
    • Where do I need my manager’s help?

    Then take your list and your answers to your manager and ask her what she thinks. Expect a conversation about what’s possible in the context of the broader business. That might sound scary, but any boss worth her salt would love it if you do this.”

    –Cheryl Roubian, head of people at Greenhouse 

    Up your emotional intelligence quotient

    “Everybody has the ability to become an expert in their field; the key is to master the ability to work with people and find comfort in uncertainty. These are the athletic abilities that I think you need to be successful.”

    –Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm

    Embrace an innovation mindset

    “Embrace an innovation mindset, which means being able to think about the work you do with fresh eyes and a willingness to reinvent yourself through a strong commitment to continuous learning. It also means living a commitment to inclusion and diversity, because innovation requires diversity of thought and experience–and makes everyone stronger.”

    –Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America

    Acknowledge failure up front

    “Failure can be a good thing. Acknowledging it can provide valuable learning opportunities that in turn drive growth and innovation. As an employee, don’t be afraid to try something that hasn’t been done before–to look critically at the tools and processes in place and challenge what they are and what they could be. I realize this may be easier said than done, especially in a culture where it may not be as safe to fail. But in that case, do what you can to push the envelope in your organization, on your team. Take the initiative to try something new while acknowledging the risk of failure up front. Doing so will not only help you improve as an individual employee, but it will also elevate your team and organization.”

    –Vijay Sankaran, CIO at TD Ameritrade

    Make sure you get enough rest

    “Try to get eight hours of sleep each night. Even if you come up a little short, you’ll still be doing better than most. While it’s been well documented how little sleep executives get, that can be toxic for both them and their workforce. Sleep sharpens our memory, helps us learn more and make better decisions, and even prevents longer-term health risks like Alzheimer’s disease. So do yourself a favor–put your phone down and get to bed. You’ll be more productive at work and on your way to living a longer, healthier life.”

    –Roger Crandall, CEO of MassMutual

    Make the open office work for you

    “If your office is an open concept, you need to make it work for you by figuring out how, when, and where you can be most productive in this environment. For instance, if you’re a morning person, consider coming into the office an hour early to get some work done, or talk to your manager about working from home once a week if that will lead to increased productivity for you. Also consider using noise-canceling headphones to tune out the chaos–no matter how your office is laid out. Headphones help with concentration while serving as “do not disturb” signals to coworkers. Finally, to be a better team player–and save your sanity–in 2019, consider taking advantage of phone rooms or other private areas to avoid the pitfalls of the open office.”

    –Andee Harris, president of YouEarnedIt/HighGround

    Give yourself a performance review

    “You can’t change what you don’t see. We all have blind spots, so developing a practice of asking your colleagues for feedback can be a great way to better understand how you might be getting in your own way.”

    –Shonna Waters, regional vice president of Behavioral Science at BetterUp

    Remote workers: make communication your top priority

    “Clear, regular communication with your colleagues and your manager will define you as a reliable, effective remote worker, and it gives you the chance to tell people what you’re accomplishing and advocate for yourself, including promotions or raises. Get into the habit of regularly communicating what you’re working on to your manager and colleagues who might need to know, AND asking them what you can help them with. The remote companies we’ve interviewed all say that communication is critical for high-performance remote workers and teams.”

    –Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs and Remote.co

    Make meetings more inclusive

    “Make sure each person has a chance to speak up without interruption. If one person has been silent, for example, find a way to draw him or her into the conversation. You could also consider a rotating meeting facilitator so every team member has an opportunity to take the lead. Think about your icebreakers, too. Not everyone will relate to football or kids. Before meetings, I try to think of one thing the whole group has in common, like upcoming travel plans or favorite meals, so everyone can contribute.”

    –Pratima Arora, head of Confluence at Atlassian


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    One way to make a car accident worse is if your airbag explodes, sending shrapnel flying. That’s why the Ford Motor Co. has recalled nearly one million vehicles across North America.

    The recall action involves more than 953,000 Ford vehicles worldwide—including 782,384 in the United States and its territories and 149,652 in Canada that were equipped with Takata airbag inflators, which can explode and cause flying shrapnel. The airbag inflators reportedly use ammonium nitrate to create an explosion that causes the airbag to inflate, but prolonged exposure to heat and humidity (you know, from being in a car all the time) can deteriorate the integrity of the system, “causing it to explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister designed to contain the explosion,” according to the Detroit Free Press. That’s not exactly the thrill-seeking fun most people have in mind when they purchase a Ford Mustang.

    Seven Ford and Lincoln vehicles are named in the recall:

    • Ford Edge, 2010
    • Lincoln MKX, 2010
    • Ford Ranger, 2010 and 2011
    • Ford Fusion, 2010 to 2012
    • Lincoln MKZ, 2010 to 2012
    • Mercury Milan, 2010 and 2011
    • Ford Mustang, 2010 to 2014

    According to the Detroit Free Press, while there have been no reported injuries involving Fords, at least 23 people worldwide have been killed in incidents involving Takata airbags. As Ford would very much like to keep it that way, it asks that anyone driving one of the cars or SUVs named in the recall return the vehicle to the dealership ASAP to have the front passenger airbag inflator replaced for free.

    Ford has set up a dedicated webpage where you can check your VIN number to see if your vehicle is among those affected. You can also search for a dealer near you. Find it here.


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    This year, Amazon accidentally shared our private conversations with random people. Facebook purposely gave away our data–including our messenger logs–to other corporations. Google had its social network breached–twice–which is truthfully a smaller invasion of our privacy compared to its vast ad tracking network. Microsoft planted its heels as a military contractor. And Apple was both busted for and continued to slow down costly iPhones after they’re but a year old.

    2018 was an unprecedented bad year for technology that has eroded consumer trust. But you won’t see any mention of that this week. Because it’s the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It’s the time of year when gadget manufacturers everywhere line up to dazzle us with their latest takes on thin and shiny. It’s one long “This Is Fine!” cartoon, playing out in the stale cigarette-scented air of the Hilton Las Vegas–with canapés!

    Privacy and security are the two things we need out of CES that we most certainly won’t get (despite Apple’s giant ad). Instead? I’ve gotten pitches for $15,000 massage chairs, delivery robots, and, as always, more TVs than I can count. It’s like the industry is telling us, kick back, binge on a show, and stuff your face until this nightmare has come to an end.

    [Photo: Glenn Chapman/AFP/Getty Images]
    It may be onto something. While many Silicon Valley companies face this self-made onslaught of privacy concerns, consumers are doing something weird: They seem to be reverting back to technologies many of us thought were dying. In a world when smartphone sales are declining and people are quitting Facebook in untold numbers, old-fashioned CES stuff is having a new golden age.

    For instance, televisions had a great 2018. Televisions! Sales of smart TVs continue to grow, and people are actually streaming content like Netflix to TVs more often than before–a whopping 145% more often than a year before, to be exact. Game consoles, too, celebrated their best November since 2010. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo each sold respectably. Microsoft demonstrated an unprecedented turnaround for its Xbox One brand. And the Nintendo Switch became the fastest-selling console in U.S. history.

    It’s quite the turn of events. Our future is looking less like holographic telepresence social media and more like a 1980s living room with a bigger screen.

    It’s too bad that CES can’t bring us the technologies we need to fix what’s wrong with technology. CES is a show dominated by hardware makers–Sony, Samsung, TCL, and LG–rather than platform holders like Facebook and Google. And aside from Apple, there’s really no hardware manufacturer that also has any measure of control over the platform side, too. Instead, hardware makers and even consumers are burying our heads in the sand–or in this case, some very expensive 8K TVs.


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    Amazon is adding garages to the list of places it can deliver packages in a tie-in with garage door kingpin Chamberlain. If you have a MyQ smart garage door opener or garage control hub from Chamberlain (or its Liftmaster brand), you’ll be able to choose “in-garage delivery” as a checkout option on Amazon.com starting this spring. This is the third delivery option Amazon has added to its Amazon Key service, joining car trunks and front doors.

    The garage might end up being the cheapest and easiest way to get secure Amazon package deliveries. In-home delivery requires both a compatible smart lock and an Amazon Cloud Cam, with the cheapest combo starting at $220. Trunk deliveries require a GM or Volvo vehicle from 2015 or later with an active OnStar or Volvo on Call subscription.

    By comparison, Chamberlain sells a smart control hub that works with any opener for $80. The Cloud Cam is optional, which might make sense, given that you can still keep your home entry door locked. And, speaking from experience, being able to control and monitor your garage door from anywhere is pretty neat, even if you seldom use the package delivery option.


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    Facial recognition technology makes checking in for flights and baseball games much faster, so the government shouldn’t limit its use. That’s according to people responding to a new survey by the Center for Data Innovation, which has ties to the tech companies that are probably making facial recognition software.

    The survey of 3,151 U.S. adult internet users comes from a “nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute affiliated with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.” Gizmodo can you tell about who donates to the group, but let’s say they have a stake in whether or not people are afraid of Big Tech.

    According to the survey, only about one in four Americans, 26%, think government should strictly limit the use of facial recognition technology. That number drops to only 20% if it would mean airports couldn’t use facial recognition technology to speed up security lines. Apparently 54% of the public wants the government to back off of regulation if it it means making it easier to get through the TSA line.

    Of course, facial recognition isn’t just about getting to your flight faster. The survey also asked about the use of facial recognition in public safety–specifically, whether the government should strictly limit the use of facial recognition technology even if it comes at the expense of public safety. Per the survey, 53% disagreed with that rather broad statement.

    When asked whether police should be allowed to use facial recognition to help find suspects, support depended on the tech’s accuracy: If the software is right 80% of the time, then 39% of respondent think police can use the technology, while 32% disagree. If the software is right 100% of the time, then 59% agree with using it, while 16% disagree.

    Overall, Americans were more likely to support limiting surveillance cameras (36%) than facial recognition technology (26%), perhaps because people don’t realize they go hand in hand.

    They are interesting findings, if you trust them. Check them out here while thinking about where you draw the line on trading privacy for convenience.


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    In fall 2018, Milo joined the growing bevy of startups–including Misen knives, Material utensils, Made In cookware, and Great Jones cookware–creating high quality pots, pans, and knives at affordable prices. It entered the market with just one product, a $95 Dutch oven designed to compete with Le Creuset, but at a third the price or less.

    Milo’s strategy has been to grow slowly. It just launched two more products, a smaller Dutch oven, and a skillet–made in the same Chinese factory–which can all be purchased together for $225. It’s an interesting approach, given that many of its competitors have been churning out more and more items, helping stock customers’ kitchens with enough equipment to fill a Michelin-star restaurant.

    [Photo: courtesy of Milo]
    But while the other startups have focused on creating a lifestyle around their products, one associated with stylish, gourmand living, Milo has stubbornly focused on the product itself. Its first pot received high marks from reviewers who argue that it stands up to more established brands like Staub, Lodge, and Le Creuset.

    Milo also makes the case that you can do more with fewer, better products, making it arguably part of a new, counterintuitive trend. The brand has taken pains to show how versatile its cast-iron pieces are. Several millennial-oriented brands are making the case that less is more. We’re seeing this among fashion brands like Cuyana, which came up with the catchphrase, “Fewer, better things.”

    On the one hand, this push toward minimalism is a good way to sell millennials items that are more expensive than they would otherwise buy. But it can also be seen as a backlash to the years of American consumerist behavior, which encourages us to own more and more stuff. Given that we’re in a full-on environmental crisis, these brands make it easier to own less.


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    1.9 million viewers tuned in to Director Dream Hampton’s Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly last week—and plenty of them have been expressing their horror to the (widely reported) allegations of the singer’s sexual abuse of young girls. It turns out that lots of people are also listening to R. Kelly’s songs, perhaps as they try to decide whether they can separate the art from the artist. According to The Blast, streams of Kelly’s music on Spotify have increased 16% since the premiere of Surviving R. Kelly on January 3.

    Currently, Kelly has more than 5.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify and more than 1.7 million subscribers eager to listen to “Ignition (Remix)” or are perhaps looking for his 19-minute song “I Admit,” where he confesses to not writing his own music and being molested as a child, and denies allegations of pedophilia and statutory rape. (That one’s on Soundcloud.)

    Last year, Spotify introduced a controversial hateful conduct policy that removed Kelly from some of its playlists in a response to the #MuteRKelly boycott. However, the effort didn’t cause a drop in his numbers on the platform. The Associated Press reported that it may have actually lead to a small growth in listeners. Three weeks into the new policy, after resounding criticism, Spotify reversed course and reinstated Kelly’s music. We have reached out to Spotify for comment about whether it is rethinking that policy in light of the heightened scrutiny.

    Kelly’s lawyer, publicist, and manager dropped him last April. (He has new representation.) Kelly’s label, RCA Records, on the other hand, so has far refused to part ways with him, as Pitchfork reported last year. (Variety explored the various legal reasons RCA might be sticking with him.) At press time, the label had not responded to our request for comment about whether it will drop him now.

    Other voices have been much less reluctant to speak up—and call out artists who have worked with Kelly in the past when they should have known better. Chance the Rapper, who collaborated with Kelly on the 2015 song “Somewhere in Paradise,” issued an apology via Twitter: “The truth is, any of us who ever ignored the R. Kelly stories, or ever believed he was being setup/attacked by the system (as black men often are) were doing so at the detriment of black women and girls. I apologize to all of his survivors for working with him and for taking this long to speak out.”

    Kelly has denied the allegations against him. Now, TMZ reports that he plans to “expose his accusers for what he calls blatant lies being spewed on Lifetime’s docuseries.” He already has a Facebook page ready.


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    Microsoft’s announcement with grocery behemoth Kroger today at first made it look like the software giant intended to challenge rival Amazon in the cashierless grocery shopping game. Not exactly.

    Microsoft and Kroger say they will build two high-tech grocery stores–one in Microsoft’s hometown of Redmond, Washington, and another in Monroe, Ohio (a suburb of Cincinnati, where Kroger is headquartered). But both outlets are really showcases for the various ways in which Microsoft’s cloud and AI products can be used by progressive grocers. Unlike Amazon Go, the stores will not be “grab and go”–customers will still have to scan all their items and pay up before they leave the stores.

    Amazon got into the grocery store business in 2017 with its acquisition of Whole Foods Markets. The first Amazon Go cashierless store opened for Amazon employees on December 5, 2016, and to the public on January 22, 2018.

    According to the announcement, the Microsoft/Kroger stores will feature digital shelving displays with real-time pricing displays and product information.

    [Photo: courtesy of Microsoft and Kroger]
    Intriguingly, the displays will serve up digital advertisements tailored to individual customers, calling to mind the ads in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie Minority Report. Here’s how it’s described in the press release: ” . . . the EDGE Shelf will enable Kroger to generate new revenue by selling digital advertising space to consumer packaged goods (CPGs) brands. Using video analytics, personalized offers and advertisements can be presented based on customer demographics.”

    The digital displays will be placed with special product offers at the ends of aisles. A camera at each display will determine through facial recognition AI the gender and age of the shopper passing by. If the person has not already opted in through the Kroger app, the display will show ads or coupons based only on age and gender and will use no personally identifiable information for targeting, Microsoft says. However, if the shopper has opted in, the displays may do some truly Minority Report-style customization. When the shopper comes into the vicinity of the display, they may see or hear something like, “Hello Mr. Sullivan, would you like to buy some more of the Pepsi you got last weekend?”

    As for the shopping experience, people who have Kroger’s Shop, Bag, Go app on their phone can make their shopping list in advance of coming to the store. Then a guided shopping system uses aisle location data to help them take the shortest route possible to get to the items they need. The system keeps a running tally of the prices on the way. If shoppers don’t have the Kroger app, they can use a dedicated Scan, Bag, Go device while they’re in the store. (The device has been available in some stores for a while now, and the reviews aren’t glowing.)

    Both the Scan, Bag, Go app and device let you scan your purchases during your journey through the store, then scan a single barcode at the front to initiate payment. It’s an improvement on being stuck in an interminable checkout line, but doesn’t match the wizardry of Amazon Go, which just lets you pluck items from shelves and leave the store without tallying up your purchases at all. That’s possible because Amazon’s stores use cameras—lots and lots of them—to follow every shopper and detect items as they’re removed. Microsoft is using computer vision only to identify users for advertising purposes. The system doesn’t know when a user physically removes an item from the shelf.

    The stores will likely be filled with cameras and sensors–as Amazon’s cashierless stores are–with the data from those processed in the cloud using tools within Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure. Microsoft and Kroger say they will develop the store technology together, then market it to other food retailers.


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