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    Remember when Dippin’ Dots hit? All the kids thought the future held flying cars and ice cream made out of tiny lint balls. Well, let’s just say a new bar has been set for the future of frozen treats. And it’s right in line with the hottest trend in design.

    As part of this week’s London Design Festival, whimsical food design agency Bompas & Parr threw a competition for ice-cream mold designs. The competition caps off its summertime exhibition SCOOP at the British Museum of Food, which looked at the once-popular dessert mold. “Ice cream and sorbets have an aristocratic history in Europe due to the high costs associated with ingredients and keeping things frozen,” Bompas & Parr explains on its website. “In the past, eating ice cream and sorbet was reserved for royalty and the very wealthy and serving it in moulds represented the pure zenith of the craft. A banquet in 1714, hosted by the Austrian ambassador to Rome in honor of Empress Elisabetta Cristina, included five tables of towering pyramids of moulded sorbets, a large vase made of milk-colored ice, and a tree holding 150 frozen moulded fruit sorbets set in a chocolate ‘soil.'”

    The firm also invited the public to propose their own designs for molds, the three winners of which would be produced in a one-off run for sale at the end of the show. The firm’s own creation was a frozen popsicle that doesn’t melt in extreme heat, but the winners of their competition are worth a look, as well:

    Runner-up: Bubble-icious. [Photo: Bompas & Parr]
    In third place came Bubble-icious, by Michele Menescardi. The design is meant to resemble a soap bar, but this bar tastes like sweet pineapple and basil rather than bile and curse words. Once you’re done with the frozen treat, you’re left with, not a popsicle stick, but a bubble wand that’s been hiding inside. You’ll need to acquire your own bubble fluid, though.

    In second place, Mouth Toys: Ice Lollie, by designer Estela Glass, above. Inspired by Mexican paletas–frozen fruit popsicles–it’s spherical and textured rather than the boring, flat bubble-tape-for-your-tongue variety popsicle. Its flavor? Turkish-dondurma-elastic cherry.

    Winner: Homage to the Breast. [Photo: Bompas & Parr]

    And in first place, Homage to the Breast, by designer and artist Sally Reynolds. In this case, the homage to the thing is the thing. It’s “inspired by classical sculptures of Roman origins,” Bompas & Parr’s release explains. “The design plays on the power of the currency of women in the days of royalty and a nod to the beauty of the female figure. The resulting flavor will be rose masala chai–a sensual vanilla gelato with rose syrup & chai spice.”

    Honestly, that does sounds delicious. But when tasting it in public, be sure to use a spoon.


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    If singular surrealist Michel Gondry and renaissance oddball Jim Carrey could erase the memory of working together on 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, they obviously would not.

    The pair has just rekindled their collaboration for the first time since that mind-bending dramedy with Showtime’s Kidding—and have proven that their creative alchemy was no fluke.

    In Kidding, Carrey plays a modern-day Mr. Rogers, Jeff Pickles, who’s navigating a mental breakdown following an unspeakable tragedy. The show finds both Gondry, who executive produced the series and directed four of 10 episodes, and Carrey in rare form. We’ve seen Carrey go to dark and sad places before, but here the control and specificity of his performance is tethered to Gondry’s equally restrained vision of a dreamworld jackknifed by bitter reality. It’s in the same ballpark as the pair’s work together on Eternal Sunshine, only a different sport.

    When they first began to work together on the 2004 film, Gondry had only one film, the little-seen Human Nature, and a satchel of trippy, iconic music videos to his credit. Carrey was dubious of Gondry’s approach.

    “I would say to try [acting in a scene] this way, and he would say, ‘No, it’s ridiculous,'” Gondry says. “And I would say, ‘How can you tell if you don’t try it?'”

    Over the course of filming, however, he gradually gained the star’s respect.

    Jim Carrey as Jeff Pickles in Kidding [Photo: courtesy of Erica Parise/Showtime]
    “I had sort of proven throughout Sunshine that I was not a fake or incompetent, and now he trusts me 100%. I can ask him to try something and he’s gonna try it.”

    The film was a modest hit at the box office and with critics. More importantly, its reputation has continued to grow. Carrey’s praised performance stood in sharp relief to some of his other more serious roles that followed, such as The Number 23 (2007) and Dark Crimes (2016.) Carrey wanted to find a way to work with Gondry again. And when Kidding creator Dave Holstein sold Carrey on becoming Jeff Pickles, the star knew who he wanted to direct.

    In the years since Eternal Sunshine, Gondry has added shades to his directorial palette. He went further down the psyche-plumbing rabbit hole with The Science of Sleep (2006), cooked up his version of the Hollywood superhero flick with The Green Hornet (2011), and dabbled in fantastical French comedies with 2013’s Mood Indigo and 2015’s Microbe & Gasoline. As soon as he heard about the character of Jeff Pickles, he was intrigued.

    “Part of the reason I wanted to do this project is that, even with how crazy he is, I can really identify with him. His desire to express himself in some weird way, the way we react to events in real life, the way he has created this world for television in which he evolves like a kid in his room—all that I could identify with,” Gondry says. “And the premise allowed for interesting performances.”

    Jim Carrey (right) as Jeff Pickles, Catherine Keener (left) as Deirdre, and Juliet Morris (center) as Maddy in Kidding [Photo: courtesy of Erica Parise/Showtime]
    In order to map out what the performance would entail, Gondry went to visit Carrey a few months before shooting began. When he arrived, the director found Carrey in a tired state and with his hair grown out to nearly shoulder-length. It was a look he wanted to preserve for Mr. Pickles. Although the pair had long conversations during the visit about the character’s unraveling inner life and how he should carry himself, Gondry did much of the fine-tuning of Carrey’s performance on set.

    It’s really fun because he’s willing to try new things, and you don’t have a lot of bullshit that you may have with other actors,” the director says. “I think my job with Jim is to find an element that he’s not aware of and elements that make me like him more. When I see him doing the Andy Kaufman/Actors Studio thing, it’s not my favorite Jim. But when I can get him to go out of himself, I find little bits of him that I really like. So I try to get those bits out of him to create the character. I try to get the Jim that’s not the one he controls.”

    Sounds like the perfect way to draw out a character whose life is going off the rails.


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    While some interviews may feel more like interrogations, they shouldn’t.

    Close your eyes and think of a tennis match: The ball is hit back and forth, rather effortlessly (well, unless you’re opposite Serena Williams). An interview should be like a casual game of tennis, where questions are lobbed back and forth. They ask a question, you respond. Then you ask a question, and they respond. Back and forth.

    The key is to ask the right kind of questions. The type of questions you chose to ask your interviewer should stem from what you need to know in order to fully evaluate the position. This means the questions you chose to prioritize should be well thought out.

    Here are 8 prompts to get you in the right frame of mind:

    1. What do the day-to-day responsibilities of the role look like?

    Writer Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Success and happiness in a job boils down to contentment with the nitty-gritty of the everyday.

    2. What are the company’s values? What characteristics do you look for in employees in order to represent those values?

    Dig deep to get more information on company culture. You’ll get insight into what is most important for the company as a whole, and what it values in the individuals who work there.

    3. What’s your favorite part about working at the company?

    It’s important to get a sense of your interviewer’s opinions about working there. If enthusiasm flows easily, that’s a great sign. If it doesn’t, that is worth noting too.

    4. What does success look like in this position, and how do you measure it?

    It’s crucial to have a deep understanding of how a company measures success. What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) for the role? How, and how often, are they measured?

    5. Are there opportunities for professional development? If so, what do those look like?

    When asking this question, you’re looking to key into whether there are opportunities for growth and whether the company has a Learning & Development program. Stagnation is a big red flag, so be alert!

    6.  Who will I be working most closely with?

    This question will help you get a better sense of the dynamics of who your collaborators will be. Jot down names, ask for titles. It’s important to evaluate how cross-functional the role is.

    7. What do you see as the most challenging aspect of this job?

    Knowing the good is just as important as knowing the not-so-good. You want to understand the scale of the problems you’ll be dealing with.

    8. Is there anything about my background or resume that makes you question whether I am a good fit for this role?

    This question displays that you’re highly invested in the job and committed to understanding your prospects as a candidate. Plus, it will also allow you an opportunity to respond to any potential concerns.


    A version of this article originally appeared on Glassdoor and is reprinted with permission.


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    After calling off the launch of a smart display device earlier this year, Facebook is reportedly planning to announce it next week. Here are the details from Cheddar’s Alex Heath, who cites unnamed sources:

    • The main feature will be video chat, and Facebook will use facial recognition to tag users and follow them around the room. (Amazon’s Echo Show and Google-powered smart displays don’t identify users’ faces, though some security cameras do.)
    • The device will have a privacy shutter to disable the camera tracking, but amazingly, Facebook may have only thought to include this in response to its own recent privacy scandals.
    • While the device was once rumored to rely a homegrown voice assistant to handle basic commands, Portal may instead lean on Amazon’s Alexa for things like music, recipes, and news briefings.
    • Portal could come in small and large sizes for $300 and $400, respectively.

    We reached out to Facebook for comment and will update if we hear back.

    Recent polls have shown that a majority Americans don’t trust Facebook to protect their personal information. For the most part, this doesn’t appear to have stopped people from using the social network, but buying a Facebook-powered, always-on video camera is a much bigger ask than habitually opening an app. We’ll see how the company pitches it to the public soon enough.


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    Southwest Airlines employees created a “whites-only” break room at Houston’s Hobby Airport, according to a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee who was fired from Southwest in 2017.

    In the lawsuit, filed in federal court Wednesday, Jamel Parker alleged that the break room—called the “WB” according to USA Today—was used by Southwest employees for years until an airport renovation turned it into a supervisor’s office. Parker also claims a noose made of bungee cords was hung by a Southwest gate at the airport and that the airline subjected black employees to “extreme race discrimination.

    In addition to the horrifying throwback break room, Parker claims that the airline treated people differently based on their race. He alleges that he was fired after failing to report an incident involving running over a power cord, while white employees were merely disciplined for similar infractions.

    This isn’t the first time that the airline has been accused of discrimination. CNN has a good rundown, although it’s usually passengers complaining that the flight crew is treating them unjustly.

    Reached for comment, the airline said it won’t discuss matters related to litigation, but it sent over the following statement:

    “[We] work relentlessly to foster an environment that is diverse and inclusive. We do not tolerate or condone discrimination of any kind, and we cultivate a workplace that mirrors the Customers we serve. [We] welcome the opportunity to emphasize that Southwest is and always has been a Company that puts its People first.”

    A pretrial and scheduling conference is set for January 25 in Houston.


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    Maybe it’s good that Amazon got smartphones out of its system back in 2014 with the ill-fated Fire phone. It may have cleared the decks and let the company’s best minds think about other things–other devices, different embodiments of artificial intelligence, and different human/machine interfaces–like natural language. While Apple’s ecosystem still rotates around the iPhone, Amazon’s is about an ever-growing number of specialized end points for the Alexa brain.

    This dynamic was on full display Thursday at Amazon’s mega-product-announcement event in Seattle. The company announced a bunch of Alexa-powered devices. There was a microwave, a wall clock, a new digital video recorder, and a gizmo for bringing voice control to old-school stereo systems. We saw devices for using Alexa in the car, the living room, the kitchen, and beyond. And phones didn’t play much of a role in this voice-centric vision. In Amazon’s world, you still need a smartphone, but you don’t rely on it for every single aspect of your digital life.

    Amazon appears to be taking steps to make Alexa even less dependent on smartphones. One of the main jobs of Alexa is to control connected home gear such as lights, locks, and garage doors. But when you get a new connected home device—say, a voice-controlled light for the bathroom—you have to download a manufacturer app and muck around in it to get your new gizmo connected to Wi-Fi and set up. Then you have to use the Amazon app to get it ready for voice control. This smartphone-based headache is a big reason people avoid automating their home. That’s why Amazon has been training Alexa to help homeowners set up new connected home devices using natural language dialog instead of tapping on smartphone apps in a smartphone.

    Two Echo Plus speakers and an Echo Sub subwoofer [Photo: courtesy of Amazon]

    Two approaches to voice

    All of this contrasts with Apple’s approach to voice input. For a long time, Apple people said that talking to Siri on an iPhone was just as easy as talking to an Alexa speaker. But Alexa devices have always had arrays of microphones built to detect voices talking naturally in their vicinity. The microphones in an iPhone are fewer in number, far smaller, and built for close talk. Apple finally accepted this reality when it decided to release the HomePod speaker, which has a fancy seven-microphone array for far-field natural language skills control.

    For most of its existence, Apple’s home automation platform HomeKit has used the iPhone as its main hub and controller. Only when the company launched the HomePod could people control HomeKit connected devices using ambient voice commands. While Apple doesn’t release sale numbers, most analysts believe the $349 HomePod hasn’t sold well. So for a great many HomeKit households, the connected devices around the house are still controlled via app iPhone-based taps or Siri commands.

    Apple’s approach to the car is also smartphone-centric. The company’s CarPlay software allows an automobile’s dashboard screen to act as a display and a controller for selected features and content on the iPhone. It also uses some of the car’s built-in buttons and knobs to control the content from the phone, and to play audio from the phone. The driver can also make Siri commands via a microphone built into the car. CarPlay only works in cars with the software built in or added through an aftermarket upgrade.

    Amazon’s new Echo Auto device works with any car that offers a way to connect with its audio system, such as Bluetoothor an auxiliary-in port. The content served by the device doesn’t come from apps on the phone, but rather from the Alexa brain in the cloud. The real draw of the device is the array of microphones inside that can hear through all the road noise, music, and back seat chatter to hear the user’s voice commands, allowing users to call up directions, find places, make phone calls, and hear audiobooks without moving their hands from the steering wheel or their attention from the road. The wireless connection provided by the smartphone in the car is just an enabler, and someday soon that connection might be a 5G connection built directly into the car, leaving the phone out of the picture entirely.

    With the launch of the first Echo back in June 2015, Amazon latched onto something people liked–a new way of interacting with technology (including AI) using natural language, as if talking to another person in the room. The company has an army of people working to improve Alexa’s understanding of both words and their meanings. And it’s growing more confident in this new kind of experience. “The idea of voice automation is not going away; it’s not a fad,” says Amazon senior VP of devices and services Dave Limp, who leads the Alexa effort at Amazon. “I wouldn’t have been as adamant about that a year ago.”

    The natural language technology is at a place now where Amazon feels confident enough to expand into new domains. “It’s no longer early days; clearly we’re now thinking about other places, like the car, the kitchen, and meetings–here we have an Echo Dot in every conference room,” Limp told me, hinting at future applications for Alexa in the workplace. “So we’re able to spread our wings a little bit and go out and find and test new environments where ambient user interfaces might work.”

    This year Amazon has focused Alexa on in-home audio and video, the connected home, and the car. Next year at this time, we may see Amazon announce products that bring natural voice computing a new set of environments. When you arrive at a very new user experience paradigm first, as Amazon has, you have the advantage of a head start and a lot of green field in front of you.


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    What a week, muttered the entire country for the 38th consecutive time this year. A bit of good news, courtesy of Smithsonian magazine: Tomorrow you can spend the day at any of the 1,400 museums that will be free around the United States as part of national Museum Day.

    The full list of participating museums ranges from botanical gardens to lighthouse museums to bonsai museums, but a slew of great art, technology, and design institutions will be free, as well. A few highlights:

    Check out the full list of museums, and download your tickets, here.


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    As a manager, when you see an employee watching a YouTube video, do you assume they are goofing off? Do you think they are wasting time? When they see you, do they quickly change their screens to an Excel spreadsheet?

    If you’re a manager or leader who is nodding right now, you could be a control manager. In contrast, if you are a manager who views all employees as professionals, as people you hired to get a job done (but you don’t really care how they get it done), you’re a power manager–someone who makes employees feel comfortable with sharing their ideas.

    When it comes to the workplace, a few things have remained constant during the past several decades. Generally, there is structure, hierarchy, managers, and employees. With these components, everyone is then supposed to contribute to a well-oiled machine for producing services. But this model has become outdated in the expertise economy, even though the majority of companies still operate this way.

    Forcing employees to do “what’s best” doesn’t guarantee that they’ll do their best work

    For knowledge workers to thrive, you need to give them autonomy. After all, every individual works differently–and forcing one employee to adopt a working style that isn’t in line with how they operate won’t make them more productive. In fact, it can have the opposite effect and make them less productive.

    Most companies claim that they know this–yet they continue to impose control. From instituting non-negotiable working hours to telling employees how to get things done, they’re stripping people of the autonomy and creativity to figure out how they could best carry out the tasks. Research on motivation shows us that enforcing “what’s best” for employees is not the right way to get the most from them. Author and researcher Daniel H. Pink talks more about this phenomenon in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink says that “the secret to performance and satisfaction–at work, at school, and at home–is the deeply human need to direct our lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

    The same concept applies to learning. People cannot be “controlled” to learn what someone else (HR or learning groups) tells them to do. Sure, you can make them sit in a mandatory class or click through an online compliance course, but you can’t force people to learn. They need to want to learn.

    Control often is an illusion, but companies don’t see it that way

    Companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple might tout that they have an “autonomous” work culture–but in practice, they continue to impose a sense of control. For example, they prefer their employees to come into the office every day because they believe that it would foster in-person collaboration.

    The thing is, how collaborative can employees be in such a huge working environment? Some of these tech companies are made up of dozens of buildings on a single campus. These companies have expanded so much that people have to drive to these buildings to have meetings with coworkers. What ends up happening in these types of organizations is that employees spend hours commuting to work only to use video conferencing to talk to people who work in a different building. Why force people to commute if they are going to use technology to work together in any case? Arguably, the reason has its foundation in control–or at least the illusion of it.

    Introducing an autonomous and flexible environment takes work, but it brings results

    Autonomy and flexibility only work if managers frequently connect with their employees to discuss tasks, set goals, set expectations, and provide feedback. If a remote working situation isn’t working out, managers should take some accountability for the employee’s failure to deliver. Then they have a choice to make: Either have a proper discussion to ascertain the reasons why they are struggling or fire the employee. After all, if managers don’t trust their employees to work remotely, why hire them at all? If managers took the time to discuss goals and deliverables with their teams, then they wouldn’t need to care so much about when and where they worked.

    The thing is, it’s more laborious and more time-consuming to engage with employees on this level, so managers end up measuring productivity by how much time their employees spend in the office–and that doesn’t always translate to results for the company.

    But when managers are prepared to put in the work to empower their employees, they won’t need to impose control to see productivity. First, they’ll attract better people in the first place. Second, they’ll have the time to do the work that brings them results, because they’re not spending unnecessary time and energy monitoring what time their employees clock in and out of work.

    Companies that build a learning culture and provides real autonomy and flexibility in the workplace will attract the best and most creative people. Happy, motivated employees lead to greater benefits to organizations, including higher retention, increased productivity, and higher motivation.


    This article is adapted from The Expertise Economy: How the Smartest Companies Use Learning to Engage, Compete, and Succeed, by Kelly Palmer and David Blake. It is reprinted with permission from Nicholas Brealey Publishing.


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    Between mid-2017 and mid-2018, the value of the impact investing market roughly doubled to $228 billion in assets under management, according to a survey from the Global Impact Investing Network, a nonprofit that works to increase the scale and effectiveness of financial bets with social and environmental returns. But that’s still a drop in the bucket of what’s needed to make real-world change.

    The United Nations projects it will take $5 trillion to $7 trillion to reach the world’s Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to eliminate many worldwide inequalities by 2030. “If we are going to have the impact that the world needs on issues like inequality and climate change, we also have to think about how we continue to grow this market and accelerate progress,” says Amit Bouri, the CEO and cofounder of GIIN.

    To do so, GIIN has released a new report called “Financing the Sustainable Development Goals: Impact Investing In Action.” It serves as an inspirational blueprint, tracing the success of several investment firms that have pioneered new and lucrative ways to make impactful financial bets.

    [Image: StudioM1/iStock]
    One successful example is Blue like an Orange Sustainable Capital, which has partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank to co-invest in Latin American and Caribbean companies. The bank’s development arm has its own tools for quantifying, tracking, and measuring these impacts, which provides allows Blue like an Orange a uniform way to analyze its investments. The firm recently invested $30 million over seven years in a coconut water manufacturer in Brazil, which supports the hiring and training of local workers, a local school, and advancement of women in both management and science-related roles.

    Another project by Incofin Investment Management provides $4.5 million to support a Colombian coffee cooperative whose process is Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade certified. That deal requires that women are included at managerial and board levels, and invests in social programs so the collaborative can offer educational opportunities and microcredit for its 3,500 members. There’s also a minimum future price guarantee for bean farmers.

    Since starting in 2009, GIIN has grown to include 237 members across 37 countries, including global banks like UBS and Credit Suisse and JP Morgan, and nonprofit funders like the Ford Foundation, Gates Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation. It also includes a variety of government agencies and boutique investment firms.

    The report comes on the heels of another guide, dubbed GIIN’s “road map for the future” that highlights numerous ways for those in the field to continue to formalize, popularize, and build trust in this style of making change.

    “If you zoom out and take a perspective of the world’s needs now, we have to be thinking not just about how we do more deals, but how we influence the broader system,” Bouri says. “It doesn’t mean anything if we have a successful impact investing market in a broader system that’s failed.”


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    No sooner did some anonymous White House aides brag to Axios about preventing Trump from attacking Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser on Twitter than the president did exactly that.

    Earlier this week, Trump had been uncharacteristically neutral about Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who came forward last week with allegations that the SCOTUS nominee sexually assaulted her in the summer of 1982. The dam first cracked during one of the president’s completely normal and necessary Two Minutes Hate-style rallies on Thursday night. That’s where Trump, referring to Ford’s request that the FBI investigate her claim, asked the “lock-her-up” chanting crowd why someone didn’t call the FBI 36 years ago. Then came the Friday morning tweet-geyser.

    There were other tweets (there always are) and they were all over the place (as ever.) Here’s the gist: Brett Kavanagh is a fine man, he couldn’t have done this! But even if he did, how come the police never heard about it? And why are we only hearing about it now?

    If Trump actually had any genuine curiosity about why 70% of rapes go unreported, he could have easily found out. There’s a wealth of documented information available, and every man would benefit from brushing up on it. But the question was rhetorical. The last thing Trump wanted, who famously has been accused of sexual assault by 14 women and suffered zero consequences, was an answer. Most likely, he was just sick of not going on the offense and felt the need to publicly scrutinize Ford’s accusation, thereby getting millions of followers to parrot his line of questioning in the process. It’s a typically insidious attack for Trump.

    And it may have backfired.

    As little as Trump cared about getting an answer to his question, the women of Twitter were more than happy to comply. Within hours of Trump’s tweets, the top trending topic was #WhyIDidntReport. Much like last year’s initial #MeToo outpouring, thousands of women took to Twitter to tell their stories, reliving deep personal trauma in the service of making a collective point.

    It’s amazing what you can learn when you actually want to learn something!

    Some men even chimed in to explain why they hadn’t reported their sexual assaults.

    I suppose we should thank Donald Trump for inadvertently triggering a very important conversation about an aspect of sexual assault that hasn’t received its proper due, even in the year of #MeToo. Unfortunately, the people who need to hear these stories the most are the ones most invested in maintaining the status quo.


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    As Fast Company‘s lunch box correspondent, I’ve been tracking some of the latest advancements in portable meals. The kid’s lunch box Omie, for instance, is adorable, and also has hot and cold compartments. But why should kids have all the nice stuff? If you work at an office, you’re familiar with the sad desk lunch–the depressing, ugly assortment of tasteless food that you scarf down between working on spreadsheets and preparing for meetings. (There’s even a blog where people submit pictures of their lame lunches that include microwave pot pies and ugly sandwiches.)

    But an innovative brand called Prepd wants to make your desk lunch happier. The brand launched as a Kickstarter project two years ago and managed to raise a whopping $1.44 million in funding, revealing how desperate most of us are for a better lunch at the office.

    [Photo: courtesy of Prepd]
    Prepd is now a fully fledged company. For $69, you can purchase a kit that contains a bamboo case, plus some clear containers (one large and two small), together with magnetic cutlery. The containers have some innovative features: The large one contains a little sauce holder so that your salads don’t get soggy. But the main point of the box is that it is beautiful, unlike the stacks of Rubbermaid containers and Ziploc bags that most of us use to hold our lunch. It transforms eating at work from a boring non-event into a self-care ritual. 

    You can also download a Prepd app, where you can find recipes created by chefs and nutritionists. The app also generates shopping lists and counts calories for you, which makes the whole lunch process easier. While the whole kit is fairly expensive, it’s cheaper than ditching your lunch to eat at a restaurant several times a week, which I have certainly done.


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    Capital & Main is an award-winning publication that reports from California on economic, political, and social issues.

    Amid the swell of protesters demanding that California put an end to oil, and a police force growing irritated with their monotonous chanting (“I’m going to be singing that one in my sleep,” quipped one officer), the Global Climate Action Summit kicked off last week in San Francisco. The international gathering of climate activists, elected officials, and corporate leaders had come to the city’s George Moscone Center committed to holding the United States to the terms of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Trump and his administration be damned.

    Much of the summit was simple corporate and government backslapping — noble but too easily mocked. What does it matter if General Electric presents its climate ideals when the company refuses to back down on plans for a new coal plant in Kenya? Starbucks might have banned plastic straws, but emissions still accumulate in the long lines at its many drive-throughs. And McDonald’s…really?

    For protesters outside the fences, maintaining global temperature below the point-of-no-return threshold means that, in some cases, entire industries have to be shut down. “We have to keep 80 percent of the fossil-fuel reserves that we know about underground,” the noted author and climate warrior Bill McKibben has written. “If we don’t—if we dig up the coal and oil and gas and burn them—we will overwhelm the planet’s physical systems, heating the Earth far past the red lines drawn by scientists and governments.”

    The problem with that strategy is that with those industries, oil and coal, come many thousands of well-paying, often union jobs. “Climate strategies that leave coal miners’ pension funds bankrupt, power plant workers unemployed, construction workers making less than they do now,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a speech on opening day, “fundamentally undermine the power of the political coalition needed to address the climate crisis.” The issue of the climate versus jobs will be used by the foes of both labor and clean energy to divide the country, Trumka noted. It already has.

    In the near term, if oil extraction were to suddenly come to an end in California, 30,000 people would lose their livelihoods, and thousands more will be out of work in places where industries depend on California oil. In the long term, jobs wouldn’t be available to a new generation full of people like Theodore Hunt, a 28-year-old mechanic who services San Francisco’s network of electric bikes. Hunt told me he can earn as much as $800 on a busy week and, if he meshes his maintenance duties with a food-delivery service, like Uber Eats, he might make $1,200 in a week. That’s a decent living wage almost anywhere besides San Francisco, where he can’t afford to live.

    But the big weeks are rare, and if Hunt gets sick, or injured, or takes a mental-health break, he doesn’t get paid at all. He belongs to the 8.5 percent of California workers whom the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center calls the “unincorporated self-employed.” He gets paid when he delivers a meal or services a bike. He does not get paid when he stops to eat lunch. If he wants health insurance, he must buy it himself.

    Hunt likes his job: The hours vary, he gets to be outside, he interacts with people. Like so many other “green” jobs, Hunt’s is many times more pleasant and safer than mining coal, or working on an oil rig. But it’s not a steady living on which to buy a house or support a family.

    Nor is installing solar panels on rooftops, a job that generally pays $14 to $20 and hour, rarely with benefits. Trumka told the summit that 4,000 megawatts of solar had been installed in the San Joaquin Valley over the last two decades. “Fifteen million job-hours of union work, at union wages and with union benefits, made that possible,” he said. But once those plants are built, it takes only a few people to keep them operating, and no one has to mine the fuel. The same math applies to wind farms: Once the turbines are up, most of the work is done.

    Bringing the labor movement to the climate fight

    Paul Getsos, national director of the People’s Climate Movement, has spent more than a decade thinking through what it means to bring the labor movement into the climate fight by way of a just transition for workers. He organized in disadvantaged communities around the Obama administration’s stimulus package. Later, he assessed green jobs for the Center for Community Change, and found that “the promise of ‘green jobs’ wasn’t fulfilled for a lot of communities. There’s a very narrow view of what a ‘green job’ is.” The solution to the worker-transition conundrum for a 100 percent clean energy economy is to expand that definition. “Manufacturing electric cars is a ‘green job,’ said Getsos. “Rebuilding infrastructure in North Carolina to keep people safe from coal ash — that’s a ‘green job.'”

    Retrofitting homes and business to use less energy is also a green job — and one of the best, according to Getsos: “[Energy efficiency] is one of the areas where there is access to new jobs that don’t require higher education.” It’s also ripe for job growth. In New York City, a mandate to retrofit the city’s buildings — which account for two-thirds of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions — will yield 17,000 jobs between now and 2030.

    Energy efficiency isn’t a big field in some of the smaller towns where dirty fossil-fuel plants exist. In Centralia, Washington, where a coal plant employing 300 workers making $80,000 a year will begin shutting down in 2020, environmentalists and labor negotiated an agreement with the city and the plant operator, TransAlta, to invest $55 million in worker retraining and community development in exchange for an expedited permit to build a natural gas plant on the same site. (Natural gas isn’t perfect, but for the climate it’s better than coal.)

    Legislators could also intervene with laws granting benefits and collective bargaining rights to people like Theodore Hunt. As smart technology expands further into transportation and utilities, some necessary jobs will become more fluid for employers and less rewarding for workers. California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher has introduced two bills over the past few years to give contract employees workers’ compensation benefits and the right to form and join unions, and Assemblymember Evan Low last session brought up a bill that would guarantee contract workers portable benefits. None have yet made it to the governor’s desk.

    “We can’t just say ‘green jobs’,” Getsos said. “We need to say green jobs, good jobs and worker access.”

    Those principles might be as consequential to the clean-energy economy as are the protesters’ demands.


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    Texas is not big enough for Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, so the two candidates for U.S. Senate are duking it out tonight in the first of three debates. Republican incumbent Cruz has occupied the seat since 2013, but the notably unlikable senator may have met his match in the charismatic O’Rourke. Polls indicate the 45-year-old congressman has all the momentum, with one forecaster now calling the race a “toss-up.”

    Either way, tonight’s high-stakes debate should be entertaining to watch. The one-hour event takes place tonight (September 21) at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It starts at 6 p.m. local time (7 p.m. ET).

    If you’re looking to stream it online, you have a few options. Texas Tribune, the nonprofit news outlet, will live-stream the debate on its website. The Dallas Morning News will also stream it online, as will the local NBC affiliate KXAS.

    The debate topic is domestic politics. It will be moderated by NBC 5 reporter Julie Fine and Dallas Morning News writer Gromer Jeffers. If Cruz and O’Rourke both survive, a second debate will take place in Houston on September 30, and a third in San Antonio on October 16. After that, we’ll definitely be all Cruzed out.


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    U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office as unfit for duty, according to a report in the New York Times. Rosenstein even proposed surreptitiously recording conversations with the president, the report further alleges.

    Rosenstein denies the allegations, which were reportedly told to Times reporters by people who had been briefed about the conversations or about memos from FBI officials documenting them.

    “The New York Times‘s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” Rosenstein said in a statement. “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

    The 25th Amendment provides a provision for the vice president and members of the cabinet to act to remove a president who is unable to carry out his or her duties. That constitutional provision has never been invoked. Rosenstein reportedly discussed the possibility of working with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now White House chief of staff, to carry out the action.

    There’s no evidence that Rosenstein ever taped a conversation with Trump or actually discussed invoking the constitutional provision with Sessions or Kelly. One source told the Times that the comments about wearing a wire were merely sarcastic.

    Rosenstein is perhaps best known for appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller last spring to investigate Russian tampering with the 2016 election. Commentators on social media quickly speculated on whether the story was deliberately leaked to urge Trump to fire Rosenstein. That backlash has become so vociferous that some Times reporters are taking to Twitter to defend the story.


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    When 1,028 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2017–8,000% more than a decade earlier–most of their horns were smuggled into Vietnam and China, where some pieces of horn end up at parties, ground into a powder that hosts give to guests to mix into drinks in the mistaken belief that the horn prevents hangovers. Others are made into traditional medicine or carved into decorative objects and jewelry.

    China banned the sale of rhino horn 25 years ago, and poaching in Africa initially declined as Taiwan also stepped up enforcement. But as wealth grew in both China and Vietnam, the illegal horn became a status symbol. By 2011, horn was selling for $80,000 a kilogram, more than twice the price of gold. For the last several years, more than 1,000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa alone; global poaching numbers are unknown, but the total population is now only around 30,000, and 4 out of 5 species are critically endangered.

    In Seattle, one startup is working on a controversial potential solution: “biofabricating” synthetic horns that are identical to the real thing, and that could theoretically disrupt the market. “What we’re focusing on is to get the price below a certain level such that people no longer really want that job of [poaching] because the costs outweigh the benefits to them,” says Matthew Markus, cofounder and CEO of the startup, called Pembient. But conservation groups argue that the work is risky–and could possibly lead to even more poaching.

    [Photo: Andew Wegst/WildAid]
    When Pembient launched in 2015, it initially planned to make a powder using synthetic rhino horn DNA that it could sell to people who used rhino horn for its purported medicinal properties. One motivation was technical–it’s easier to make a powder than a solid horn. For a similar reason, many cellular agriculture companies that make “clean meat” without animals are beginning with ground meat rather than trying to make steaks. But as Pembient learned more about the market, it realized that other fake powders, made from other horns such as water buffalo, were already common. The company is now developing full horns that could be sold to carvers, and aims to bring them to market by 2022.

    Pembient believes that if it floods the market with horns that are indistinguishable from the real thing, the price will drop so significantly that the crime rings now responsible for poaching will go out of business. But conservation organizations see multiple problems with the strategy.

    If the new products look like real rhino horns–down to the level of their DNA–it would become easier for real horns to be smuggled. “If you think about someone at the border of China and Vietnam trying to discern whether this is a legal or an illegal product, these types of biofabricated products create major enforcement concerns,” says Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney and international program legal director for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

    The fake horns could be designed with a signature that could be detected by officials with a DNA test, for example. But the more complex the test, the more likely that some officials may not have the right equipment to do it. And if the difference is easily discernible–or even discernible at all–wealthy customers likely won’t want it.

    “Having rhino horn shows your wealth, and it also shows that you’re willing to flout the law,” says Sanerib. “The fact that it’s illegal, the fact that it’s from the wild, the fact that it’s hard to get and you have to have the resources to be able to have it–none of that’s going to be addressed by synthetic rhino horn because it doesn’t have that same allure, doesn’t hold that same status, which is fueling demand in Vietnam right now.”

    Pembient wants to create an identical product. But regulators may decide to require some way to identify the products; CITES, an international agreement between governments on the trade of animals, plans to discuss how to regulate a growing number of synthetic replacements for wild animal parts at an upcoming meeting in October. Other companies are also working in the same space. Ceratotech, another startup, is working on growing rhino cells into horns using techniques from regenerative medicine. A professor at Oxford University is working on synthetic ivory, made with microscopic channels that differentiate it from the real thing. Others are working on synthetic tiger bones and synthetic pangolin scales (pangolins, which look a little like anteaters, have scales that are also used in Chinese medicine, and may be the world’s most hunted mammal).

    If the synthetic products can be detected, Markus says they will have to be carefully designed to avoid creating two markets, the way that lab-created diamonds are now sold much more cheaply than mined diamonds–and didn’t replace the real thing, despite the fact that mines often exploit workers and diamond sales have been used to fund violence.

    “You could have the artificial rhino horn, and then you could have the real thing for people who could afford it–it could even drive that up,” says Bas Huijbregts, who leads the World Wildlife Fund‘s work on wildlife conservation in Africa. “We believe that you can’t really gamble with species whose numbers are so low on the hypothesis that you can flood markets.”

    [Photo: Andew Wegst/WildAid]
    Frederick Chen, a professor of economics at Wake Forest University who has modeled the economics of synthetic rhino horns in a 2017 study, says that it’s true both that increasing supply could drive prices down, and, as conservationists argue, that the synthetic product could also drive more demand for the real thing. Chen proposes another idea: If the fake horns were made to look identical but later proved to be inferior, that could create “quality uncertainty” in the market, an economic theory that was first applied to used cars (people are willing to pay less for used cars because they know there’s a risk they’ll get a lemon).

    A fake rhino horn powder could be designed to produce a mild stomach pain, and a fake horn might be designed to eventually break more easily, for example. “If the buyers can’t tell the difference between a real horn and some crappy fake, now their willingness to pay for the product is going to go down,” Chen says. He acknowledges the challenges with the approach–the horns would have to enter the market covertly, and companies would have to be willing to produce an inferior product. “I think there are conditions under which [synthetic horns] would be good for saving rhinos, and I think it’s important to know what those conditions are, and what policies we can implement in order to bring about those conditions,” he says.

    Conservation organizations argue that there are better ways to reduce poaching, from increasing enforcement (crime kingpins are rarely, if ever, prosecuted) and stepping up patrols in wildlife parks, to running marketing campaigns to decrease demand. WildAid, one organization, has worked with other NGOs to recruit stars like Yao Ming and Jackie Chan to make PSAs about the fact that rhino horn is simply keratin, like fingernails, and fighting myths about its medicinal value. As the campaigns have run since 2013, they’ve seemed to change attitudes. In surveys in China and Vietnam, the nonprofit found that the number of people who were aware that horns came from poached rhinos quickly increased after the ads ran, while belief in the medicinal value of the horns fell. Since 2014, rhino horn prices have fallen more than 70% to a mean price of $18,000 by last year.

    “I strongly believe that this type of demand is cyclical,” says Huijbregts. “We are now in one of those cycles of high demand. Markets can change and will change. With increased efforts of awareness in those markets, there will be a shift.”

    At least one organization has tried to directly oppose Pembient’s progress. Earlier this year, The Humane Society of the United States accused the company of violating the Washington Animal Trafficking Act, prompting an official investigation. According to Pembient, the Humane Society also triggered a second investigation into whether the startup was selling unregistered securities when it launched an ICO for tokens that buyers could later exchange for horn. The company spent months dealing with the investigations and was cleared.

    Despite challenges, Pembient continues to develop its product, believing that it could help rhinos and provide other value in the market–the horn, for example, could be used in place of plastic to make biodegradable glasses frames and other products, for example. At the upcoming CITES meeting, leaders will grapple with how to regulate the new products. “I think everyone recognizes whether you support these products or not, that we need to see what happens with them, and we need to keep an eye on them,” says Sanerib.


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    Here’s a harsh reality. There are more startups that fail than those that succeed. Whether it’s a hiring misstep, a botched product launch, or a company that never gains traction, startup founders have to deal with all kinds of failure. Yet what really matters is how founders deal with it.

    As an investor, I’ve seen failure addressed in two very different ways. Some founders try to rationalize their failure, by pointing to issues like, “The market wasn’t ready,” “The product wasn’t ready,” or “We were burning through cash too quickly.” To those founders, I often say, Well, who chose the market? Who developed the product? Who spent the cash?

    On the other side of the spectrum, I see founders who take responsibility. They own the outcome, and the mistakes that led to the outcome. I wholeheartedly believe that this is the only way to ensure that they won’t repeat their missteps. That said, even among founders who react this way, some see taking responsibility as a lip service, rather than feel it viscerally.

    But how do you move forward? After all, taking responsibility is just the first step. Here’s how you can bounce back from failure with grace and dignity.

    Get out of the gray zone

    When it seems like your startup is going downhill, being in the murky area where you keep spending money and are “hoping” for a turnaround is a bad place to be. You need to know: Is this right or not? If the idea isn’t good enough or big enough, determine if you can pivot or change your company’s focus. What do you need to do to restructure? What do you have to do differently? We recently had one of our portfolio companies pivot and replace the CEO–changes that saved the company. Of course, this solution isn’t right for every company. But bad business situations rarely fix themselves–you need to make the call on what needs to change, and execute that decisively.

    Know when to let go

    If the idea is never going to make it, determine how to sell the technology and the talent and return some capital to investors. One of our portfolio companies arranged a talent acquisition to Google. In finding a home for their team members, the founders took care of their engineers and returned all the cash they raised to investors.

    Treat people the way you want to be treated

    As you would with any job, leave on good terms. By treating everyone with respect, you give people another opportunity to remember you in a positive light. You want people to feel as if you treated them as well as possible even though the company didn’t reach its full potential. After all, it is very likely that you will want to start another company, and how you handle your failures now will set a precedent for how likely you’ll get funding for your future endeavors. What goes around comes around. If you flame out, it will be much harder for anyone to support you in the future.

    Specifically, it’s crucial that you take the following actions:

    1. Communicate early. Surprises are bad things, especially when all the money is gone. People should know the company is in trouble before it folds. Investors might be able to help get the company on the right path. Give them the opportunity.
    2. Take care of your customers. Don’t crash and burn and leave them with nothing. If you have customers on your service, educate them on places to migrate and give them a date for the end of life of the service. If you can, try to keep it running for 90 days or more after you notify them.
    3. Be generous with your employees. Make sure they have other jobs. I believe some severance is in order. There are some tough calls here about who gets what, and at what expense to investors, and there are no hard and fast rules. The decisions you make will be very situational and depend on team performance, among other things. The operative word in this calculus is fairness.

    Turn your focus to, “Now what?”

    Determine if you have the stomach to start a company again. Do you have the passion and enthusiasm to go after it again, or do you want to pursue a safer route, with more predictable economics? Take the opportunity to step back and reflect: What really went wrong? What have you learned about yourself that you didn’t know before? Are you ready to do it all again?

    Part of entrepreneurship is failing. Don’t feel horrible about it. Don’t lose your drive to change the world and make a difference.

    Remember, true innovation rests on trying, failing, and trying again. Thomas Edison discovered hundreds of ways not to build the light bulb before he found a way to make it something we can’t live without. Babe Ruth held a record for strikeouts–not just home runs. And Henry Ford had two car companies fail before he created the one that revolutionized modern production. The world needs more entrepreneurs who are bold enough to think of new ideas and brave enough to pursue them. You just need to accept that you might encounter some failures in the process.


    This article is adapted from Dear Founder: Letters of Advice for Anyone Who Owns, Leads, Or Wants to Start a Business by Maynard Webb. Copyright © 2018 by the author. It is reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.


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    If there’s one advice that business owners hear over and over again, it’s know your customers. After all, they are the ones who buy your product and service. Without knowing and understanding how they think, you can’t build a successful business. If you’re a small business owner, this idea can be frightening–particularly when you’ve invested a lot, and you might have a different vision for the company from the people you’re selling to.

    I’ve been there–but I’ve also seen the incredible results that can come from listening to your customers. I cofounded MailChimp, but it wasn’t the company we planned on building–that was a side project from scrap code that grew into a business because of customer demand.

    Early on, we decided that our motto was going to be, “Listen hard, change fast.” For us, this meant constantly looking for improvement and innovating quickly, and letting the customer dictate our focus as a company.

    Getting to know your customer doesn’t need to be an overwhelming process. Here are some simple ways to start.

    Visit your customers where they live or work

    Whether that’s their dining room table, distribution warehouse, or enterprise headquarters, in-person visits can establish a deeper level of empathy and build trust among customers and your business. This kind of setup is more likely to bring honest and direct feedback on what your customers genuinely think about your product or service. If something is broken, you can act quickly and improve it.

    I spend half my time on the road anonymously visiting customers. I once went on a customer visit with members of the product management and research teams, where one of the researchers asked a customer what they thought about automation. It turns out they hated it.

    That was particularly tough to hear. We were proud of our work and felt defeated, but we immediately started asking questions to dig into the problems the customer was facing. In the end, that comment was a blessing in disguise. We were able to collect so much valuable, direct feedback about how they were using and experiencing what we built, and that information allowed the team to rebuild and improve the feature quickly. Even if you can’t visit your customers in-person, making the effort to talk to them on social platforms can go a long way.

    Remember, even when you think you’ve finished a project or passed a milestone, you’re never really done serving the customer. After all, their preferences and opinions might evolve over time, and you need to be attuned to those changes to keep your product and services relevant.


    Related:Three weird customer insights that led to kick-ass products 


    Invite customers into your office

    Customer empathy has to be a two-way street. When you invite customers into your business, not only will you increase their trust, in our experience–your employees become more connected to their work. We’ve found this from conducting quarterly customer visits where we invite our small business customers to speak on panels at our headquarters.

    Inviting customers into our territory gives the broader company (engineers, designers, customer support, human resources, etc.) a better understanding and appreciation for what our customers go through, and what they need from us as a business and brand, which in turn allows them to do their job better. Customers also spend the whole day with product, research, and support teams, so they can learn more about MailChimp and ask questions.

    Be your customer for a day

    It’s easy to say, “Put yourself in the shoes of your customers.” However, until you actually go through it yourself, it’s difficult to do. In order to understand the day-to-day lives of our e-commerce users, build empathy, and learn a few things, we did something a little crazy–we created our own e-commerce store called Freddie + Co. What started as a fun way to get to know our e-commerce customers and share what we learned ended up giving us incredible insights that we weren’t privy to.

    To foster this learning community, we eventually built What’s In Store, where we share in-depth customer stories about how and why they use MailChimp. This blog has enabled our customers to develop empathy with one another. By building this community, we learned that our customers want marketing to be simple yet powerful, and intuitive as well as inspired.

    Sure, this may not have had a direct impact on the products we’re building, but it has had a profound effect on the way we deliver those products and communicate their value with our customers. In the age of algorithms, excellent customer service can go a long way in differentiating your business from your competitor.


    Related: Retailers can’t out-Amazon Amazon, but they can change the rules 


    Don’t hesitate to make changes

    Customer empathy is only valuable if you can enact change quickly and in a meaningful way. At MailChimp, customer feedback led us to move beyond email after 18 years, and also resulted in us adding advertising options through Facebook, Instagram, and Google in the last year. We wouldn’t have realized that this was the move we needed to make if we didn’t make an effort to talk to our customers.

    Customer empathy is core to MailChimp, and essential to the success of any business. It’s the personal connection that keeps products strong, employees engaged, and customers passionately loyal, so dedicate time to spend with your customers to hear what they’re honestly thinking. Otherwise, you might just miss out on an opportunity to make your business infinitely better.


    Dan Kurzius is the cofounder and chief customer officer of MailChimp.


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    Just a few days ago, as Hurricane Florence approached my home in North Carolina, I popped a disc into my 1990s Atari Jaguar CD gaming console. A familiar animated logo popped onto the screen, and I found myself transported back to a world I knew well decades ago.

    It was Myst, the groundbreaking point-and-click adventure game that Brøderbund published in its first incarnation–for the Mac–25 years ago today, on September 24, 1993. I personally happened to have first played Myst on the most obscure platform possible, the Jaguar, but that made it no less of a transformational experience at the time.

    In Myst, you explore an ornately detailed island that leads to other vaguely Victorian sci-fi worlds (called ages) created by a character named Atrus. You’re presented with lushly detailed screens—punctuated by animations—depicting the scene around you, and can point and click your way through puzzles that feel woven perfectly into the tapestry of the game. Despite its largely static nature, its groundbreaking pre-rendered visuals (which many people called photorealistic at the time) made Myst feel like the first convincing virtual reality experience, at least in the sense of feeling physically present in a fictional world.

    Myst’s world was static and mysterious, but gorgeous by the standards of the mid-1990s. [Image: Cyan Worlds, Inc.]
    I invited my daughters, aged 6 and 8, to join me in exploring the lush alien world while the rains encircled our house. They took copious illustrated notes and offered suggestions as we played. Despite growing up with much flashier animated graphics, they were still sucked in by the classic world of Myst. As we collaborated over puzzles played out on vintage machinery, my older daughter said, “People back then must have been incredibly creative to make something like this.”

    Indeed they were.

    The creators of Myst, brothers Rand and Robyn Miller, along with a small team at their Washington state-based firm Cyan, were no strangers to innovation. The company had previously developed the first-ever game released on CD-ROM for a personal computer (in this case, a Macintosh), The Manhole, in 1989. They followed that children’s title with other whimsical point-and-click words crafted in HyperCard, Apple’s Mac-based hypertext environment that presaged the World Wide Web. Creativity came naturally to the Millers, and Myst was the natural next step in the refinement of their art.

    Four years before Myst, the Miller brothers’ The Manhole couldn’t yet offer the same sort of visual splendor. [Image: Cyan Worlds, Inc.]
    Even 25 years later, the emergence of Myst still represents a watershed moment in the development of computer video games. It’s an achievement on par, I think, with the launch of Pong, Super Mario Bros., and Tetris. Myst expanded the art form, expanded the market, and challenged assumptions. It also made a lot of people happy.

    Like most classic works, Myst has proven commercially timeless. After the Mac launch in September 1993, an IBM PC version launched the following February, and the game’s popularity quickly spread by word of mouth. Within a year, glowing reviews of the title began appearing in mainstream newspapers, and Myst’s sales skyrocketed, making it a high-profile success.

    Since then, the game has appeared on at least 12 different platforms, most recently including iOS and Nintendo 3DS. Across all releases, consumers have purchased Myst over 6 million times; for several years it held the title of highest-selling PC game of all time (until the equally groundbreaking The Sims came along). Over the dozen years following its release, it also inspired four sequels. And last May, Cyan completed a Myst 25th anniversary Kickstarter campaign with more than $2.8 million in crowdfunded proceeds.

    Beloved–to a point

    Despite Myst’s enduring popularity, its reputation is surprisingly mixed for such an iconic game. At launch, people immediately loved it. Just search the Usenet archives over on Google, and you’ll find players who enjoyed it so much that when the game crashed repeatedly on their Macs they kept on plowing through it, soaking in every second of the experience. Reviewers for major newspapers and magazines cited Myst as evidence that computer gaming had finally attained artistic maturity.

    The traditional gaming press was not as easily swayed, and some editorials derided the title for its simplicity and lack of action. (“Finally attained?” I can imagine them asking in their heads; they considered computer games an artform form all along.)

    Often, the needling of Myst gets far more specific. In my years of reporting on the history of electronic games, I have encountered more than one industry developer who has blamed Myst for the death of everything they loved about adventure games in the early 1990s.

    [Image: Cyan Worlds, Inc.]
    While developing a list of the “Ten Greatest PC Games Ever” for PCWorld back in 2009, I sought a quote from a famous game developer for just about every game included. When I looked around for a developer willing to praise Myst, I found none. In fact, Al Lowe, creator of Sierra’s classic graphical adventure game Leisure Suit Larry (1987), went out of his way to explain why he didn’t like it.

    “I never understood the excitement about Myst,” Lowe told me. “There were always many other games that were more interesting, exciting, subtle and funny, with better logic and puzzles. I grew to resent its success while better games struggled for recognition.”

    It’s true that adventure titles developed by people like Lowe suffered for attention while Myst soaked up the limelight. That must have been very difficult to accept for companies like Sierra, which had a proven formula for adventure games in franchises such as Leisure Suit Larry and King’s Quest. Suddenly, that approach wasn’t so hot anymore.

    Prior to Myst, if you said “adventure game,” a PC owner might see images of a title from that firm or LucasArts, another company that crafted some of the most well-respected adventure titles of the ’80s and ’90s. Think Monkey’s Island or Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: third-person view, inventory, copious dialog (often funny), lots of characters, constant peril, verb-based interface. Myst did away with all of that. It was Spartan, lonely, calm, and low-stakes.

    [Image: Cyan Worlds, Inc.]
    Along with violating the existing rules of adventure games, Myst was also the ultimate anti-arcade game. Everything gaming had taught itself to be since 1972 was thrown out the window. There were no lives, no dying, no score, and no time limit. No physical agility or reflexes were required. The only pressure was that which you imposed upon yourself to solve the puzzles and complete the storyline.

    For a game so seemingly simple, Myst was astonishingly hard to copy. After it became wildly successful, it was not long before other developers tried to replicate Cyan’s recipe. In general, they failed, and many Myst-like adventure games suffered poorly at the hands of reviewers.

    Augustin Cordes, the creator of one of my favorite adventure games, 2002’s Scratches, sometimes tangles with me about Myst on Twitter. He admits it was important, but still laments its impact on the adventure game market. “I do believe the overwhelming saturation of Myst clones led to an adventure game fatigue,” he says. “It didn’t help they were so shamefully similar to each other, featuring sterile worlds, obscure puzzles based on trial and error, and close to no narrative design.”

    Tim Schafer, a veteran game designer responsible for LucasArts classics such as Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, says that he never saw Myst as a threat to LucasArts’ way of life; instead, he saw the sunny side of its impact on the market. “We didn’t really think of Myst as competition because it was such a different type of game to us,” Schafer says. “If anything we thought it would make more people buy computers and CD-ROM drives and see games as more than just hyperviolent shooters.”

    [Image: Cyan Worlds, Inc.]
    Speaking of hyperviolence, Myst debuted in a gaming era typified by Mortal Kombat, which was known for its intensity and gore. It seemed everything leading up to Myst involved ramping up gaming’s intensity, including the first-person shooter games that followed. The launch of Myst was like hitting a steam release valve; a peaceful break from the visceral and often bloody action of the era.

    And one of the period’s most archetypal violent shooters, Doom, launched in December 1993 — just a few months after Myst. Doom’s success propelled first-person shooters into mainstream consciousness, and like Myst, Doom spawned a horde of copycat titles. These two games rode in like twin horsemen of a PC gaming apocalypse, shifting fashions and styles in gaming dramatically for the remainder of the decade.

    [Image: Cyan Worlds, Inc.]

    Curious about the interplay of those two titles, I asked John Romero, co-creator of Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein 3D, how he feels about Myst and its impact on the industry. “When Myst came out, I was floored to see it unseat Wolfenstein 3D from the top of the Usenet 100 weekly list,” he says. “We couldn’t believe that a game with static screens was actually so popular, and ignored most of the conventions of adventure games of the era.”

    Romero strikes an understanding tone on the appeal of the game. “There is a huge market for players who like to go on an adventure and read a good story, so there is definitely a place for those kinds of games. But we looked at Doom as the beginning of a new era of action gaming that was super exciting.”

    Lost in the usual criticism of Myst as a genre killer is the fact that success in business is not usually a zero-sum game. One company can “win” a sales race while second place still does astonishingly well. Myst may have been #1 on the charts for a while in the late 1990s, but radically different #2 sellers like Quake still sold in phenomenal quantities. And while LucasArts-style games may have fallen by the wayside for a time, it wasn’t the death of the adventure genre.

    In fact, if you squinted the right way, you could see that adventure games had survived, even if they had changed form. As Romero points out, “CSI, Nancy Drew, and all of the murder mystery types of adventure games kept the genre alive for a long time. Now you can see hidden-object games as expanding the realm of the adventure.”

    Notes by one of the author’s daughters about Myst, a game created long before she was born. [Image: Courtesy of Benj Edwards]
    In Myst’s heyday, the concept of “casual games” had not yet solidified, but now it’s okay to make games that take it easy. We’re used to a world with bajillion-sellers like Bejeweled, one-finger smartphone and tablet games that we digest at our own pace, and quieter adventure experiences like Gone Home and Dear Esther–games that put the pot on simmer rather than full boil. What if Myst was, in fact, the world’s first breakout causal game? The first adventure roasted in a slow-cooker?

    “Maybe that’s the key to the stunning success behind Myst,” reflects Cordes. “It came up with the winning formula of casual and then mobile games… in 1993.”

    You could say that Myst was ahead of its time, but more than that, it created its time, giving birth to the idea that it can be fun to play games at your own pace. Casual or otherwise, for my kids, it doesn’t matter what you call it. 25 years later, Myst is still a compelling treat for the senses–even in the middle of a hurricane.


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    On Friday, September 14, Hurricane Florence made landfall along the North Carolina coast, prompting high winds and massive flooding throughout the region. All of that was in the forecast. But at the same time, disaster response agencies faced some vexing questions: What were the people warned to evacuate actually doing? And where exactly had they fled?

    In what has become an increasingly common tactic, many organizations including the Direct Relief, and the Red Cross, turned to Facebook data to provide some answers. Last year, Facebook launched Disaster Maps, an initiative through its Data for Good division that tracks the geographic coordinates of user signals to show trends in people’s movements during a crisis.

    The result is a series of time-stamped images that can help emergency responders get a rough idea of how a situation is really unfolding, and where their services might be needed most. All of the data is aggregated in a way that makes it anonymous. It’s also collected automatically, as long as the social network users have their location services enabled.

    At least a dozen nonprofit groups began using the service in 2017, including Direct Relief, which provides medical supplies to overtaxed hospitals and health centers in times of critical need. In 2017, for instance, the group used Disaster Maps data to help inform where they staged respiration mask depots for residents dealing with Southern California’s massive wildfires.

    [Images: courtesy Facebook]

    In the case of Hurricane Florence, Facebook began offering imagery several days ahead of landfall. To create it, the company first developed a baseline of what user activity historically looked like in the affected areas based on signal positions from three months prior. Then it began to color-code areas that were transmitting abnormal population density spikes (in blue) or lulls (in red) to highlight areas where folks seemed to be flocking or fleeing.

    Andrew Schroeder, the director of research and analysis at Direct Relief, says Facebook shared the first maps with him on Sunday, September 9. The nonprofit has since received new snapshots every eight hours, which is especially important as relief efforts continue. “It lets us actually compare what Facebook is seeing with media reports of where people are evacuating,” Schroeder says. That helps because initial media reports can be vague. And so far, at least one trend has been surprising: Initially, Facebook data showed only the pace of the exodus where people were specifically taking shelter in larger cities like Raleigh and Charlotte.

    In many big cities, Schroeder says there has been a flip in their usual activity. Whereas a blue cluster traditionally marks downtowns, more people seem to be congregating around the outer edges of these places versus in the center. “That’s probably because people are actually just staying home and they don’t go into the downtown area to seek services,” he says, nothing that transportation routes may also have been disrupted.

    For Direct Relief, the information could inform how aid is rendered in the days ahead. Many of the nonprofit group’s targeted health centers are located in downtown areas for obvious business reasons. Many actually re-supplied just before the storm because, as happens every storm season, Direct Relief pre-positioned “hurricane preparedness modules” with things like bandages, water purification supplies, antibiotics, and asthma medication at six locations throughout South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.

    Earlier this week, the group told Fast Company that it had since sent 11 shipments to five different health centers, and had five more shipments prepped to move. But some of the people clustered on the outer edge of these cities may not be able to get back downtown, or, if they arrived from other places, might be unsure where the nearest reliable medical care would be. Others may also be stranded there because they can’t yet return home. “Over the long term, if that persists, you do need to actually shift where you’re focusing the point of care,” Schroeder says. “It’s a real argument for mobile [units] going out to where people are, [and] for supporting health centers that are actually farther out along the periphery and making sure at least that we’re aware of the conditions that they’re facing.”

    Direct Relief doesn’t just use Facebook data to inform such decisions. (It might, for instance, be especially misleading if, after a day or two, signals in places with no power blinked out.) The group also uses government data to pinpoint spots with large population densities and social vulnerabilities, and reports from another nonprofit called Humanity Road, which compiles all sorts of data about how crucial infrastructure is holding up, including power outages, 911 call routing, and cell sites.

    “I don’t think that Facebook data is a slam-dunk on anything, but I think it’s good hypothesis formation stuff,” says Schroeder, who expects that the company will allow many responders continued access for at least the next couple of weeks. That’s important because as separate reports by Harvard and George Washington University on the tragically high death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico have shown, much of the mortality that happens in events like this comes from the slow toll of being isolated or uprooted. People may not have access to important health services, and at the same time that they also lack income because their workplace was wiped out or jobs aren’t transportable. In the meantime, serious medical conditions like diabetes or hypertension can remain untreated.

    As Schroeder puts it, most mortality in Hurricane Maria was the result of “the impact on the system” of how traditional society works “and you’ll see the same thing with Hurricane Florence.” Facebook may be providing some early clues about how to render aid, but there’s plenty more work to be done. “It’s good to see that people left their homes,” he says. “We need to know how fast they come back. We need to know if there are neighborhoods where you see long term low population evidence that [means] whole areas have not necessarily seen recovery. And then that needs to be combined with other information to really figure out what the heck it means.”


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    With her perfect posture, polished cream suit, bouncy thick hair, and glittering diamond bracelets, Kathy Ireland is still runway ready at 55—but this is no fashion show she’s bounding into.

    Moments after filming back-to-back episodes for her TV shows, Modern Living and Worldwide Business, the supermodel-turned-business mogul is at a table with 15 men strategizing over her latest retail venture.

    No, it’s not new living room furniture or women’s clothing or anything else you might associate from her already robust product line. It’s cannabis.

    More specifically, CBD oil, or cannabidiol, which has been used for years for anything from arthritis pain management to anxiety relief and insomnia cure.

    [Image: courtesy of Isodiol International Inc]
    Before you start imagining Ireland baking brownies with Snoop Dogg, it should be noted that CBD is just one of a variety of extracts found in the plant—and it does not contain any psychoactive properties like THC, the compound in cannabis that gets people high.

    Ireland’s meeting in Burbank, California, is with executives from Isodiol International Inc, a major manufacturer of CBD products. Her vision is to bring CBD to the same masses that snap up her Kathy Ireland Home curtains, bed linens, lamps, and towels.

    The new venture will be called kathy ireland Health & Wellness, an offshoot of her $2 billion company. (Her first and last name will be lower case, she insists, because she wants to be “more about the customer,” less about her.)

    Ireland is at ease and helps herself to a plate of catered food, while the others in the boardroom stay focused on her. Between spoonfuls, Ireland makes the case for why this is a smart expansion for her billion-dollar empire. It’s an opportunity to do good, she says, to help people suffering from chronic pain, to educate them on the benefits of CBD, and  to give cannabis a makeover for folks who would otherwise shy away.

    “There’s a stigma attached, and there’s no reason for that,” says Ireland, noting that beyond pain management, CBD can help women feel energized, alert, and well-rested. Cannabis oil products should no longer be relegated to dispensaries or hushed circles, she continues. “It belongs in Walgreens.”

    The “pretty head” has brains

    The iconic supermodel founded kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW) in 1993, hot off the heels of her swimsuit fame. She was getting a bit tired of her place within the fashion industry and wanted more. She had ideas, a knack for what she thought could sell, but unlike the men now hanging on to her every word, execs had little regard for a professional beauty. One even told her not to worry her “pretty head,” and asked point-blank why she didn’t want to just stay home and get pregnant instead.

    “I was coming from a background where my job description was ‘shut up and pose,'” Ireland tells Fast Company,“which is something I reject today.”

    Not that she wasn’t presented with opportunities. Plenty of companies offered Ireland lucrative endorsement deals, though that seemed just like a further extension of modeling. There’s nothing wrong with lending your name, she clarifies. “It’s just never been a choice for me.”

    “People call me a control freak . . . I prefer to think of it as passionate.”

    Ireland tracks her fighting spirit as far back as age 11, when she became the neighborhood papergirl despite an ad saying boys only need apply. One customer yelled she’d never last in a boy’s job, she once told  Investors Business Daily—but instead she was named the local Carrier of the Year three times in a row.

    That independence carried over into her modeling career. At 17, a photographer tried to pressure and physically push the model into posing topless. “So I decked him,” she told ET.

    It all started with socks

    Ireland’s business started small–with socks (coincidentally, made with hemp). Advisers attempted to steer her back into her wheelhouse, like bikinis and beauty products, but Ireland stayed the course. As she saw it, if she could win consumers over with a basic like socks, she would win their trust with other products. Start small, start intentionally, she thought.

    The budding brand sold over 100 million pairs, prompting Kmart to eventually offer an exclusive clothing and accessory partnership. (The two went their separate ways in 2003.) The initial focus included products catering to busy moms and families, but the target exponentially grew in the coming decades.

    kathy ireland Health & Wellness by Isodiol [Photo: courtesy of Isodiol International Inc]
    By the late ’90s, kiWW sold fine jewelry, home furnishings, bridal, crafts, pet care, flooring, and shipping containers. You can now buy Kathy Ireland window blinds, rugs, chandeliers, and underwear. There are more than 17,000 products that carry her name.

    By 2015, Ireland’s brand was generating $2.5 billion in annual retail sales. Her net worth is thought to be north of $420 million. Warren Buffet now opens each Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting with Ireland and, of course, Bill Gates.

    At this point in the company’s maturation, Ireland insists she doesn’t feel the need to extend the brand unless it’s for a product that will “make our world better.” That may sound too hokey to be true, but sitting with Ireland, the words come off as sincere. She says the keywords that now lead kiWW’s growth are: teach, inspire, and empower. “We take that very seriously.”

    It’s that guiding entrepreneurial light, says Ireland’s team, that led her to CBD. “It is important for the world to know that industrial hemp, without THC, has no psychoactive effects, just like eating a grape before it is fermented into wine,” Ireland writes to fans on her product’s website.

    Bringing CBD to the masses

    Public sentiment is shifting. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently stated there have been no reports of public health problems associated with pure CBD.

    “CBD has been found to be generally well-tolerated with a good safety profile,” the WHO concluded at its Geneva convention. “There is no evidence that CBD is liable to similar abuse and similar ill-effects as substances . . . such as cannabis or THC.”

    Ireland getting behind CBD might just help usher it into the mainstream, and, she says, ease some suffering.

    “I know there is a lot of controversy around it,” says Ireland. “There were people telling me not to touch it.” She pauses, and adds, “But I just loathe hypocrisy.”

    Ireland stresses that, by all accounts, CBD works, treats pain, and is sustainable. Having spent two decades working in the health and wellness space–a board member on numerous medical charities and as an ambassador for the City of Hope cancer treatment and research center–she feels competent that she has the network to vouch for product quality and usefulness.

    “There are great results,” she says, disregarding naysayers. “I understand the benefits. And I believe in it.”

    It seems a smart investment: The cannabidiol market will grow 700% by 2020, reaching $2.1 billion, estimates market intelligence firm Hemp Business Journal. Granted, that’s just one piece of the booming marijuana industry, which is poised to hit $57 billion by 2027, with recreational marijuana use composing 67% and medical marijuana the remaining 33%.

    For its debut into the market, kiWW partnered with Canada’s Isodiol, which sells everything from CBD-infused coffee to skin cream. It also grows and harvests hemp on an industrial scale.

    The two powerhouses collaborated on consumer products for three brands under the Level Brands umbrella, a marketing and brand licensing company backed by kiWW: kathy ireland Health & Wellness (women’s products), Chef Andre Carthen (edibles), and I’M1 (men’s personal care products).

    These include creams, oral sprays, body care products, and supplements. The goal was to begin with starter products that could have a daily impact, like body washes.

    The kathy ireland Health & Wellness collection ranges from $59 for a bottle of 30 capsules to $99 for a 2 ounce tincture. The product names run rather straightforward, with goals such as “Rest” (induce relaxation and sleep), “Ease” (reduce inflammation), “Mend” (improve joint function), and “Defend” (immune system boost).

    Kathy Ireland [Photo: courtesy of Isodiol International Inc]
    In addition to collaborating on the product development and marketing strategies, Ireland also serves as the brand’s “educator in chief,” which taps her celebrity to reach women across the country. Although the Isodial partnership includes three brands, it’s evident the kathy ireland Health & Wellness line will prove most lucrative, considering the founder’s appeal with women.

    Women are the fastest-growing demographic for CBD products, accounting for 58% of “CBD-only” products. Over 50% who turn to CBD do so to treat joint pain and inflammation, followed by migraines (35%), which women are twice as likely as men to suffer from, as well as chronic pain (32%).

    The therapeutic extract has also proven useful in treating PMS and menopause. Autoimmune diseases, meanwhile, affect 1 in 5 adults, with women comprising 75% of sufferers.

    CBD in its many forms can treat arthritis, diabetes, and inflammation. Meryl Streep, for one, is a fan: She recently told Jimmy Kimmel that CBD lotion relieves foot pain caused by high-heel use. “It’s an amazing thing,” she laughed, adding, “so then I started rubbing it everywhere.”

    But despite its many healing properties, many women are averse to hitting up the local cannabis dispensary, in part because of the stoner rep.

    Distribution is one area Ireland’s vast empire can certainly influence—now it’s just the matter of luring in first-timers.

    “If my name means anything at all, it’s really because we’ve built our brand on such a grassroots level and we’ve earned the trust of our customers,” says Ireland. Does she think such consumer trust can extend to a sector overcoming taboos? “Yes. With the customers whom we’ve been able to earn their trust, I do believe it will make a difference.”

    She takes none of this lightly, stressing her hunt to partner with a company that can deliver consistency and product quality, two areas often problematic in the CBD categories: “Trust takes a very long time to earn, and it can be lost instantaneously,” she notes.

    Ireland highlights one category that significantly solidified the company’s relationship with consumers: bridal. Her brand sold a bevy of products for the big day—wedding dresses, tableware, and even reception villas.

    “If we can earn her trust on that most special day, then she trusts us and other areas of her life,” says Ireland. “We’ve really been able to grow a great relationship with young people through this [strategy].”

    While kiWW built a strong base with baby boomers, the 18-34 demographic is now the company’s largest customer base. The average household income tops $100,000. It makes sense: They are now increasingly becoming head of households.

    As Ireland notes, it also goes back to her first mission statement, when she started with socks: “Finding solutions for families, especially busy moms.”

    Though nascent, the battle to become the national brand in the crowded CBD market is on. There’s anything and everything you can imagine: body lotion, bath salts, lip balm, and tea. Isodiol believes the gold rush is far from over, and that Ireland possesses the ability to speak to an untapped market of female consumers.

    “Kathy speaks to [the American] woman,” says Isodiol spokesman Christopher Hussey. “She lends credibility. She’s a leader in [the health and wellness] space.”

    Birthing the “baby brand”

    The line is available for purchase online and in stores this fall. Isodiol also plans to roll out a nationwide network of branded automated retail kiosks filled with the CBD goodies. The kiosks will be found at high traffic locations and inside retailers—pharmacies, convenience stores, wellness centers, gyms, and more. (Units will comply with the appropriate legislation in each jurisdiction.)

    But those are just baby steps, says Hussey. Long term, he sees CBD being as popular and ubiquitous as any other mainstream ingredient, stripped of its controversial status.

    He sees it in Walmart and supermarkets not in the coming decade, but in the coming 24 months. “We’re already  beginning to see that,” says Hussey.

    For Ireland, this mission is more than just business: It’s a way to bring something she holds dear to her heart to those who have fallen prey to the “propaganda” against cannabis-adjacent products.

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    She, the woman who sells $400 million worth of namesake vinyl and plastic replacement windows per year, can also help ease your pain, she says.

    Although  an entrepreneur for 25 years, Ireland is excited by this very new challenge—a “baby brand just getting started.”

    There’s a lot to teach–or rather, unteach, she explains.

    “There’s so much there globally, so much that we can do,” she says with a hint of excitement. “We’re just getting started.”