Wed, 26 Apr 2017 09:00:31 GMTIt’s been almost three months since President Trump called for a major investigation into voter fraud, citing the author of a study who claimed that at least 3 million votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election. Since then, he’s obsessively tweeted about the issue, most recently claiming that he “would still beat Hillary in popular vote” despite the fact that he actually lost the popular vote by about 3 million votes. Yet as of today not much progress has been made on either front, and voting data experts are skeptical that any such study’s results will be accurate given the complexity of the task, and the fact that almost every previous probe has uncovered no evidence of significant fraud. True the Vote, the nonprofit group behind the study cited by the president, hasn’t gotten very far. It’s still in the process of gathering voter rolls from states and sending out public records requests to government agencies, which is a far cry from actually identifying any fraudulent voters. But the leaders of True the Vote, whose board member Gregg Phillips’s tweets about voter fraud were retweeted by the president in February, is determined to carry out the project no matter how long it takes. “It’s a Herculean task,” the group’s president, Catherine Engelbrecht, a Texan who founded a Tea Party group in 2009, told Fast Company, pointing out the challenge of dealing with states that each have their own process for releasing information about voters. “I originally said late spring, but what I hadn’t factored in was the snail’s pace that we would see some of these data sources crawling in.” They’re not the only ones moving slowly on the effort. In early February, the White House announced that Vice President Pence was leading a task force into voter fraud, and he was “starting to gather names and individuals to be a part of it.” A month later, Pence’s office told NPR that the task force was “still doing the necessary groundwork.” By last week, a senior administration official told CNN that the task force “has not been the topic of a lot of conversation” in the White House. And as of today it still appears to have no staff and there is no indication of when it will start its work. A spokesman for Pence did not return requests for comment from Fast Company. No predictions this time True the Vote’s task consists of two parts: collecting voter rolls from every state (which list the individuals who voted in the 2016 election) and then comparing them to lists from a panoply of government agencies that include immigration records, prison records, among others. By filtering out noncitizens, felons, and others who are not legally allowed to vote, they hope to tally the number of people who illegally voted last November. Engelbrecht is careful not to make predictions, noting that Phillips was “crucified” and “tried in the court of public opinion” over his claim that 3 million illegal votes may have been cast in November, though she does anticipate that True the Vote will have somewhere close to 200 million records to analyze. Phillips, whose findings were called suspect by the fact-checking group PolitiFact, did not return several calls for comment. “There are enough fissures and wormholes and rabbit holes in the voting process that have afforded the opportunity for fraud to be institutionalized,” says Engelbrecht. “Are we going to find noncitizens voting? Dead people voting? Yes. And that points to a bigger problem and a bigger conversation that we need to have.” Except most election experts don’t think it’s a problem at all, citing cleaner voter rolls, updated voting systems, and stricter voter ID laws in many jurisdictions. During the George W. Bush administration, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft set up a “voting access and integrity initiative,” [...]
Wed, 26 Apr 2017 09:00:02 GMTFirst things first: Your job interview is going to stress you out—even if just a little bit, and even if you think you’ve got it in the bag. You have one shot to impress people who don’t know you that well, and it’s a fact of human psychology that we just aren’t naturally comfortable in situations like that. Plus, you’re competing against a number of other people for the same position, and if you really want the job, you’re already emotionally invested in getting it. If only it stopped there, but it usually doesn’t. On top of all that, you might feel like the job is a bit of a stretch for you. You may not be completely qualified to step into the role on Day 1 and do a stellar job. That’s actually completely fine, but it can make preparing for your interview even more anxiety inducing than it already is. Here’s how to stop freaking out and nail it anyway. It’s Not Worth Your Time If It Isn’t A Stretch Of all the reasons to stress about a job interview, your qualifications to do the job should not be one of them. The first rule of career advancement is that if you’re completely qualified for the job you’re applying for, you’ve aimed too low. New jobs are an opportunity for growth, and good employers know that. They aren’t hiring you for your ability to do the job completely from the start. They’re hiring you for your potential to become great in the role. So if your resume accurately reflects your prior experience, then the people interviewing you already have a sense of your qualifications. Keep this in mind while you’re preparing for the interview, because it can significantly change what you focus on: You don’t need to convince them that your experience makes you worth considering—they’ve already decided it does by inviting you in chat. A big source of stress in these situations is imposter syndrome. Many people assume that everyone else is highly qualified for the roles they occupy, and that they’re the only ones who might not be. This is a really common worry, and one reason why it’s so dangerous is because it might lead you to hide your weaknesses. Squaring off with a hiring manager, you might hesitate to reveal what you don’t know and discuss the mistakes you’ve made. This might be interpreted as overconfidence and could hurt your chances. Scour Your Resume For Proof Of What You’ve Learned So your first step is to make an honest list of the things you don’t know—the ones that are likely stressing you out by making you feel underqualified. Itemize all the ways you’d have to grow in the role. Now practice talking forthrightly about these deficits, not as “weaknesses” but in terms of your potential. Not sure how? These tips can help you reframe the narrative. Everyone is learning on the job. Nobody has the entire skill set they need to do their job perfectly; there are some things they do well and others that they’re still getting the hang of. That means you want to emphasize your ability to learn on the job—and share proof that you’re really good at doing that when given the chance. Look over your resume and jot down a few anecdotes you can tell from past positions. You want to be prepared to give examples of situations where you made a mistake and learned from it—or where you didn’t have enough information to do something right, so you went out and gathered it. You want to show that you’re willing (and excited!) to be mentored. Your goal isn’t to convince an interviewer to hire somebody who’s “underqualified,” to dupe them into gambling recklessly on you. It’s to show your prospective employer that their faith in your potential is well-placed. Ask About Training Opportunities Once you’ve lined up some examples of how quickly you learn on th[...]
Wed, 26 Apr 2017 08:00:41 GMTJob hunting takes different forms at different times in your life. Did you take a new job six months ago that isn’t working out, and are you ready to fire up your search all over again? That’s fine, just don’t use the same resume and cover letter. Since you’re hitting the job market so soon after getting out of it, you’ll need to change up your approach. It cuts the other way, too; your job search will be different if you’ve spent a long time at one company and start looking again for the first time in years. How employers see you depends a lot on how long or short your job tenure has been. That can be a good thing, though—as long as you get your strategy right. Here’s what it takes to position yourself effectively in the job market, no matter how long it’s been since you last waded into it. When You’ve Been In Your Job For Less Than A Year So-called “job hopping” is commonplace. Some wager that the average employee should plan on changing jobs at least every three years, and the recent rise of “passive job seekers”—those who’d consider a new gig even if they aren’t actively looking for one—has been deemed an opportunity by some and a sign of trouble by others. But while you can’t control how a hiring manager might view your short tenure, you do have a chance to spin it. Veteran recruiter Jason Niad shared one piece of advice with Fast Company in 2015 that’s still worth heeding: Focus relentlessly on your accomplishments—in your resume, cover letter, and job interview. That’s something you’d be doing anyway, of course, but whenever a hiring manager tries to steer the conversation toward your short stints (and a good one will), you should steer it back to the impact you’ve made, even in a short time. “Since one of the worries regarding job hopping is lack of loyalty to the company,” Niad points out, “this can help show that you were invested in your past employers enough to make a measurable difference.” Emphasis on measurable—come armed with anecdotes and a couple of key stats. Katrina Spigner, a South Carolina–based executive coach, says job seekers often have more leverage than they think, even those with job hoppers’ resumes. Crunching U.S. government data last week, Pew researchers overturned one of many stereotypes about millennials—the false notion that they change jobs more frequently than their elders did—but “rather than step away from how you show up generationally,” Spigner suggests, you should just “lean into it.” That narrative goes like this, she explains: “I’ve gained tremendous lessons from each one of those stopping points. Those lessons are now portable. I help an organization become a learning organization because I can deposit that [knowledge] into your company.” You don’t even need to be a millennial to turn this stereotype to your advantage. If a hiring manager thinks job hopping is something younger people do, let them: You bring the same fresh perspective, no matter how old you are. When You’ve Been In Your Job For Two To Five Years How do you stand out when you’re looking for a job after a pretty ordinary length of time? Spigner suggests going old school. “There’s a lost art of conversation,” she says. “There’s a lost art of developing a relationship.” So since you’re already researching employers you’d like to work for by checking out their Glassdoor rankings and hitting up past and current employees on LinkedIn, offer to take it offline. “I don’t mean being on the buddy system with them”—i.e., trying to get a referral from somebody you don’t know—”I mean having coffee,” Spigner explains[...]
Wed, 26 Apr 2017 07:28:21 GMTFox and director Ridley Scott are increasingly dipping their toes into virtual reality—and that’s good news for science fiction and horror fans. Today, Fox is launching a new virtual reality experience for Oculus Rift called Alien: Covenant In Utero that lets users see the world through the eyes of a newly hatched neomorph alien. Those neomorphs–not the xenomorphs of past Alien movies but an entirely new breed of icky genetically engineered science fiction monster–are at the center of this virtual horror show. In Utero isn’t a game, but more of a virtual reality short film where participants are put into the neomorph’s point of view during a crucial part of the upcoming Alien sequel. David Karlak, In Utero’s director, says the short is about “how a neomorph would perceive the world–a creature engineered through an evil version of Mother Nature to be a hunter.” According to Karlak, Alien: Covenant director Scott contributed significantly to the look and feel of the virtual reality experience. Scott even weighed in on whether a neomorph in virtual reality should have a heartbeat (it should, but only a faint one) and recommended looking at crocodiles as a source of inspiration. Turning a science fiction franchise into a virtual reality experience also requires departures from the movie. Matthias Whittmann, a VR-VFX supervisor at Technicolor’s MPC, which worked on this project, noted that what works in a movie won’t necessarily work in a virtual reality setting. A chase scene in a movie, for instance, would disorient a user wearing a virtual reality headset. “You have to think about what you keep in virtual reality and what you discard,” he adds. Alien: Covenant In Utero also plays into Fox’s larger strategy of promoting their properties using emerging virtual reality tech. Fox worked on the Alien project with Scott’s RSA Films, which launched a virtual reality section earlier this year. Fox and RSA previously worked together on a virtual reality project for The Martian. A group inside Fox called the Fox Innovation Lab worked on both projects. One of Fox’s partners on the project, AMD, is also taking the virtual reality project (and Oculus Rifts to experience them on) to movie theaters across the country as well. The experience is launching on the Oculus Video app today (April 26), and will be available for Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream View, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR when the film is released on May 10. Fox Next’s next VR project? A VR experience for the next Planet of the Apes film. [...]
Wed, 26 Apr 2017 06:30:48 GMTFirst, the bad news: GDP is slowing all over the world because productivity has been in decline for two decades. The result has been higher unemployment (especially among young people) and economists talking about 20 more years of slow growth. According to new numbers from Oxfam, just eight people are as rich as half the globe. In addition to this unprecedented inequality, we face climate change that’s taken us into the sixth extinction wave in the history of the planet, and the last time that happened was 65 million years ago. To turn things around before it’s too late, we need a plan that’s both compelling and doable. Economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin thinks he has just that plan: creating what he calls the third industrial revolution, which will be sparked by harnessing renewable energy and enabling automation and the internet of things to result in a prosperous new economy powered by clean energy. The good news is that people are listening. On February 7, the European Union unveiled its “Smart Europe” plan influenced by Rifkin’s work, which outlines how the 350 regions of Europe will start building out the road maps to transition into a new infrastructure of 5G internet, renewable energy, and automated driverless transport internet, all riding on top of an internet of things platform. Regions in the north of France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands have already begun their transition over the last few years. There’s a similar plan taking place in China: After Premier Li Keqiang read Rifkin’s seminal book, The Third Industrial Revolution, he made Rifkin’s strategies core to the country’s 13th Five-Year plan that was announced last March, and includes billions in renewable energy investment by 2020. The Revolution Will Be Televised While his plans are in the works in Europe and Asia, The Third Industrial Revolution, a new film about Rifkin and his work, that recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, aims to explain his framework for a plan for the U.S. While President Trump and Republican and Democratic lawmakers have made some attempts toward putting together a massive $1 trillion infrastructure plan, any details remain murky. Rifkin wants a plan that instead would take power from the bickering tug-of-war of federal politics, and give it to the people, businesses, and local officials who can affect change on the ground. The film (a Vice production) is based around the theories Rifkin presented in his book of the same name, and two other of his books, The Empathic Civilization (2009) and Zero Margin Cost Society (2014). The film explores the challenges of climate change and globalization, the opportunities created by the rise of the internet and automation, and how governments and corporations should be preparing for–and working to build–a society and economy driven by sustainable innovation, and powered by renewable and distributed energy. “I think the green shoots are coming up everywhere; we’re seeing telltale signs of what’s in the film,” Rifkin tells Fast Company. “My hope is if people see the film it will make sense to them because it’s already on the tip of their tongue. They know all the sentences, they just hadn’t put the chapters together. Then it just makes sense. And once that happens, they never go back. I think a lot of people are right there.” The doc takes place in an empty Brooklyn warehouse. It’s a version of speeches Rifkin has been giving around the world, told over two hours in An Inconvenient Truth-style, lo-fi lecture. Rifkin is in his 70s, and looks a bit like if the Monopoly Man was a college professor. In addition to being a best-selling author, he’s also a senior lecturer at the Wharton School’s Executive Education Program, and president of the Foundation on Economic [...]
Wed, 26 Apr 2017 06:00:19 GMTIn the mid-’90s, when he was 10 years old, Mark Lopez walked around his home of East Los Angeles, knocking on doors to tell people about the dangers of lead in their house paint. Lopez’s grandmother had, in 1986, helped to found the advocacy group Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA), which made it their mission to protect their community from harmful practices of the state or local corporations. When Lopez was an infant, he rode in a stroller as MELA successfully protested the development of a new state prison in East L.A.; by the time he was old enough to take action himself, the issue was lead poisoning. “There was an understanding that if the company would put its own workers at risk, it would not hesitate to put its surrounding community at risk.” [Photo: courtesy The Goldman Environmental Prize]But as Lopez–now the executive director of the local advocacy group East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) and a winner of the 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize–would learn over the next 20 years, the issue of lead in Los Angeles could not be eradicated through protest alone. As Lopez was going door-to-door as a child, his mother and grandmother requested a tour of the 15-acre lead-battery recycling plant, owned by Exide Technologies, at the edge of East L.A. As they moved through the facility, “the Exide folks were trying to tell my family that everything was fine, there was nothing to worry about,” Lopez tells Fast Company. “So my grandmother responded by saying that if there was nothing to worry about, why did they make her put on protective gear—and why aren’t the workers wearing any?” At that moment, Lopez says, “there was an understanding that if the company would put its own workers at risk, it would not hesitate to put its surrounding community at risk.” The suspicions that the Exide plant–which opened in 1922 and operated without a full permit since 1981–was, in addition to house paint, poisoning the residents of East L.A. were borne out by unnaturally high levels of lead in the soil of local homes and schools. In some cases, the lead was found to be 100 times over the California health standard, enough to cause brain damage and developmental issues. When Lopez returned to East L.A. after completing his degree at U.C. Santa Cruz and learned from his grandmother that Exide was still operating, he began to advocate for its closure–and for the state to take responsibility for the cleanup of the more than 10,000 homes estimated to be tainted by the plant’s unregulated release of lead into the communities. For his ongoing effort, Lopez was honored with the $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize–along with five other activists from each continent who made standing up to corporate environmental injustices their personal responsibility. With Exide, Lopez says, there was a sense that the state had abandoned East L.A. “They allowed Exide to operate without a permit; they allowed this to happen to our communities,” Lopez says. Through EYCEJ, Lopez agitated for an investigation into Exide’s operations that eventually brought about the closure of the plant in 2015. The reason: The plant had failed to comply with a new more stringent emissions standard–and standard that Lopez had worked with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to pass. But when it came to community remediation, Lopez turned to the governor’s office. Framing the lead poisoning of East L.A. as “Jerry Brown’s Flint,” he and EYCEJ lobbied the state to funnel $176 million from the general fund into testing and cleaning up the contaminated properties in the area. It’s not enough, Lopez says–to reach every one of the 10,000 homes affected by Exide, it will take half a billion dollars–but it’s a star[...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 17:50:51 GMTOn the eve of its earnings report for the first quarter of 2017, things aren’t looking too good for Twitter. This has, of course, become something of a pattern, as Twitter’s user growth has stagnated over the past two years. Is it any surprise that the company has been reporting earnings at the crack of dawn? Bleary-eyed tech journalists be damned! But this quarter, analysts are predicting that even Twitter’s revenue could take a hit. For the first time since it went public, analysts are expecting a drop in year-over-year revenue. Their prediction: Twitter will see a 14% decline in revenue, from $595 million in Q1 last year to $512 million this quarter. As Twitter noted in its letter to shareholders last quarter, this is to be expected, given a decrease in ad revenue during Q4 and the “escalating competition for digital ad spending” (read: Snap and Facebook are gobbling up ad dollars). Plus, Twitter reportedly cut back on ad products like promoted tweets, in favor of investing more in areas like video. Can Live Video Save The Day? One bright spot in last quarter’s earnings report was indeed its live video push: Twitter streamed 600 hours of live video in Q4, attracting 31 million unique viewers. But those gains could be attributed to the election cycle and its Thursday Night Football streaming deal with the NFL, which Twitter has since lost to Amazon; it’s unclear what its video scoreboard will look like for this quarter. Twitter has recently attempted to shift the focus from its sluggish growth in monthly users by emphasizing an upswing in daily user activity. This also explains why most of Twitter’s announcements over the past couple months have centered on curbing abuse—from limiting the reach of abusive tweets to nixing the default egg icon, which became synonymous with troll accounts. This isn’t to say Twitter has given up on acquiring new users, but the more optimistic goal now, it seems, is upping the engagement of existing users. As Recode wrote earlier today, we might see renewed talk of a sale now that Twitter’s market cap has dipped to just over $10 billion. In fact, Twitter’s shareholder meeting next month will address a proposal to turn the company into a co-op—the unlikely result of a petition penned by users who worry a sale might compromise the platform. There might be hope after all. [...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 15:15:58 GMT
“For those of us who commute, we’ll spend over a year of our lives stuck in traffic.” So said engineer Todd Reichert as he introduced an alternative at TED 2017: a 100% electric flying vehicle under development now. A recreational version of the vehicle, called the Kitty Hawk Flyer, is expected to launch in late 2017.
Using electronic sensors similar to those found in cell phones, the device controls and stabilizes eight electric rotors. “With this kind of control, we can make flying as simple as playing a video game, using a very similar set of joysticks,” Reichert says. The vehicle, with room for one person, is designed to make it possible for anyone to learn to fly in minutes.
Rapidly advancing battery technology makes it possible to run the vehicle on electricity. “We’re just crossing this threshold now where [batteries] start to make sense for flight,” he says. “This is incredibly exciting for us–it opens up an entirely new set of design possibilities. We can design with multiple, small, lightweight electric motors in a variety of different configurations.”
The first version of the vehicle, classified as an “ultralight” aircraft, somehow doesn’t require a pilot’s license and can avoid complex regulations. With current battery technology, it can fly about 15 miles before it needs to be recharged, though that range will increase as batteries continue to evolve. For now, it’s designed to be flown only above water, at a low height, to keep it as safe as possible. But the team plans to rapidly iterate other models that they want to be used more widely–and over city streets.
The Flyer takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter, so it doesn’t require a runway. Ultimately, a future version might replace a car for your morning commute. The company, which is backed by Google founder Larry Page and run by Sebastian Thrun, the founding director of Google’s X lab, envisions it as a new form of transportation. In theory, it could help provide more room on congested roads–though if the technology succeeds, it’s not clear how cities could avoid equally crowded skies.
“This is the first step in a new type of freedom,” Reichert says. “We’re on the brink of a very exciting future, where safe and accessible flight will be a part of our everyday lives.” For now, though, probably best to stay above the lake.
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 14:00:45 GMTRight now, someone with depression has only two clinical options: antidepressants (that often don’t work particularly well) and therapy. But there soon may be a third possibility: a vaccine that could prevent depression rather than attempting to treat it after the disease occurs. Neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman is working on the development of a drug that increases resilience to stress–and because exposure to stress can trigger depression, the drug could help prevent the disease. Before someone enters a high-stress situation, they could take a dose of the drug. Brachman is working on developing a related drug that could be used as a “resilience enhancer” to protect against depression. [Photo: Ryan Lash /TED/Flickr]“Imagine a scenario where we know someone is predictively at high risk for exposure to extreme stress,” Brachman, cofounder of the startup Paravax, said at TED 2017 (Brachman is a TED Fellow). “Say, a Red Cross volunteer going into an earthquake zone. In addition to the typhoid vaccine, we could give her an injection of a resilience enhancer before she leaves, so when she is held at gunpoint by looters or worse, she will be protected against developing depression or PTSD. It won’t prevent her from experiencing the stress, but it allows her to recover from it. That’s what’s revolutionary here. By increasing resiliency, we can dramatically reduce her susceptibility to depression and PTSD.” While in a doctoral program at Columbia University, working with neurobiologist Christine Denny, Brachman studied the effects of giving mice an injection of ketamine, the drug known as special-K. When the mice were later put through a series of stressful situations, they were less depressed, less afraid, and more social than a control group. That effect lasted at least a month, long after the drug had left a mouse’s system. Through her startup, Brachman is working on developing a related drug that could be used as a “resilience enhancer” to protect against depression. “It’s important because we don’t have any cures,” Brachman tells Fast Company. Anti-depressants aren’t fully effective (and for some people aren’t effective at all, or can stop working over time), and can cause unpleasant side effects. The preventative drug would also have the advantage of potentially needing only one dose. From testing, the researchers know that the preventative effects of ketamine last at least a month, and may last longer. “Preventative interventions, especially if they give a long lasting protection, have a much higher likelihood of making it to underserved communities,” she says. “That’s why when people go into Africa they bring vaccines. It’s easier to get governments to invest, and it’s easier to administer if it only needs to be done once.” It’s possible that the drug, or a variation of it, could also be potentially be used to prevent addiction, OCD, bipolar disorder, or a variety of other mental illnesses. “It’s a whole new field–preventative psychopharmacology,” Brachman says. [...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 14:00:00 GMTIn early January, the artist and technologist Daniel Howe opened an email from Google informing him that his three-year-old ad-blocking app, AdNauseam, had just been banned from the company’s Chrome Web store. Overnight, he discovered, the free app’s 60,000 users had lost access to the app on Google’s popular browser, and all comments, ratings, reviews, and statistics had vanished. Ads are the economic powerhouse of the internet, supporting much of its “free” content and services, this website included. But they are also easy to hate, making the internet distracting, ugly, slow, and more costly to use. This partly helps explain the demand for ad blockers: Installations grew by 30% last year to 615 million computer or mobile devices, or 11% of the world’s online population, according to estimates by Page Fair, an industry group. Google and its parent company, Alphabet, which dominates the market for online ads and made an estimated $79 billion from them in 2016, has taken a largely hands-off approach to the potentially existential threat of ad blockers. And, according to recent reports, it now plans to include “ad-filtering” software pre-installed in Chrome—an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to making the web less annoying. But AdNauseum isn’t like the other ad blockers: It takes a more activist approach. Rather than just concealing them, the app sends noise into the system by automatically clicking on ads in the background, muddling efforts by advertisers and ad networks like Google’s to determine your preferences and your identity as you browse the web. Alan Toner, a policy consultant at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who studies ad blocking, calls AdNauseum affectionately, “a piece of agitprop theater” designed to “creatively protest the surveillance mechanism behind advertising.” “No Clarity At All” Google, however, didn’t complain about AdNauseum’s approach to protesting ads. Instead, it pointed to a developer agreement that gives the company “the right to suspend or bar any Product from the Web Store at its sole discretion,” and offered a more prosaic reason for the ban: An extension should have a single purpose that is clear to users. Do not create an extension that requires users to accept bundles of unrelated functionality, such as an email notifier and a news headline aggregator. Baffled, Howe wrote back to ask Google how this rule applied to AdNauseum. In a second email, a company representative explained that an extension should not perform both blocking and hiding ads. In an email, a Google spokesperson confirmed to me that the company’s single-purpose policy was the reason for the app’s removal, not because it automatically clicked on ads, but wouldn’t comment further. To Howe and his cofounders, designer and activist Mushon Zer-Aviv and NYU information science professor Helen Nissenbaum, this explanation is hard to accept at face value. Many ad blockers, including uBlock, Adblock Plus, Adblock, and Adguard, both hide and block ads, trackers, and malware, and yet all of these are allowed in the Chrome Web store; AdNauseum had been in the store for two years. Instead, the team suspected a simpler motive behind Google’s decision: AdNauseum directly conflicts with the way that the company makes most of its money. Murshon Zer-Aviv [Photo: Erhardt Graeff/MIT]“Why would [Google] allow almost any other ad blocker to also block malware and only block us for doing so?” said Zer-Aviv. Alok Bhardwaj, the f[...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:45:37 GMT
Student loan collectors have become notorious in recent years for abysmal service and allegedly illegal practices. With trust in these market giants hitting new lows, fintech startup CommonBond has decided to make its move into the sector. Today the New York-based company announced that it will start lending directly to undergraduate and graduate students at all nonprofit higher education institutions.
“Education finance is a massive industry, and we’ve just begun to scratch the surface,” says cofounder and CEO David Klein. Student loan debt passed $1.3 trillion last year, and continues to rise.
CommonBond, like Earnest and SoFi, made its name as a refinancing solution for borrowers who had graduated from top colleges and universities. Since its 2013 launch, the company has funded over $1 billion in loans.
But on the side, unlike its competitors, CommonBond has been offering direct student loans to MBA students at a select group of schools, including Dartmouth and Yale. At those campuses, to Klein’s surprise, the company quickly became the top private lender.
Klein attributes the rapid growth to CommonBond’s attentive customer service and slick modern technology. “This is something that a lot of people are clamoring for,” he says.
Now he and his team will have a chance to test that theory more broadly. Their loans will now be available to undergraduate and graduate students across the country, with the exception of those enrolled in for-profit or online-only institutions. Variable rates will be as low as 2.87% and fixed rates as low as 5.50%, for borrowers who enroll in auto-pay.
In addition, CommonBond has built tools to facilitate the involvement of a cosigner, which has been a pain point in traditional systems. (Parent co-signers will also help reduce CommonBond’s risk.)
Klein plans to first target students at those campuses where CommonBond has already been lending to MBAs, and expand from there. When financial aid offices send students information regarding their financing packages, CommonBond will be listed as an eligible private lender.
In the meantime, CommonBond’s competitors are moving beyond student loan refi; SoFi, for example, has introduced mortgages. Klein has similar aspirations—just not quite yet.
“It’s a safe bet that in 2018 you’ll see us expand beyond education finance,” he says. But for now: “We believe in the value of focus.”
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:02:04 GMTLook, up in the sky. It’s…a taxi! That could become reality in six to 10 years if Uber fulfills its vision of a flying cab system. Ahead of its Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas today, the ride-hailing giant shared exclusively with Fast Company its plans for urban air travel—expanding on ideas included in a white paper published last year. They include the choice of cities to start testing the technology and the initial lineup of five aircraft makers it will task with building economical, four-passenger, electric craft that will—eventually—fly themselves. (Uber is live-streaming the three-day conference from the Elevate Summit home page.) Whether they are helicopters, quad copters, or space-age airplanes, all the craft will have to be capable of vertical takeoff and landing, called VTOL, in order to fit into mini-airports, known as vertiports, spread around cities. And they will have to be quiet enough to take off and land near homes and offices without driving people crazy. Uber’s vision for air taxis and landing pads in Dallas [Image: courtesy of Uber] Convincing Cities That last challenge could be the greatest one of all—at least in the U.S., where a hodgepodge of local, state, and federal agencies all have to get on board and convince the public that the technology is safe and not too intrusive. In Dubai, it should be easier to get it started. “It’s a monarchy, so they have the ability to move very quickly with things that they get behind strategically,” says Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer. “The certification of machinery and the approach to getting the aircraft through could be a much faster path [than in the U.S.].” In fact, Dubai has already green-lit a program by Chinese drone maker EHang (unconnected to Uber) that will start sky taxi flights in July. Dubai hopes to have at least a demonstration Uber vehicle ready to show off in three years when it hosts the 2020 World Expo. “We’re still not exactly positive what we’ll deploy there,” says Holden. “It could be a simple demonstrator; it could be something further along.” In the U.S., Uber has won over the mayors of both Dallas and Fort Worth. “Every part of this marketplace, we’re seeing tremendous growth, says Dallas Mayor Michael S. Rawlings. “So it’s going to need innovative transportation answers.” Dallas-Fort Worth is one of the largest urban areas in the U.S., and it’s also an airplane-friendly town. “We have a history of aviation,” says Rawlings. “We have American Airlines, Southwest, Bell Helicopter, so many.” Uber has pitched Elevate as a cheap alternative to building new roads and expanding public transit. But Rawlings isn’t buying that, saying Dallas has to be “multi-modal,” with many ways to get around. He touts the construction of a high-speed rail link to Houston, for instance. “Anytime there’s innovation in the marketplace, I don’t think anybody truly knows the results of these things, or the costs,” he says. “We’ve got to be multimodal—there’s no question—in this city.” UberAir App [Image: courtesy of Uber]Uber is also tackling the big challenge of finding places to take off and land. “To make [an air taxi business] happen is going to require infrastructure, because it doesn’t make sense to take a 15-minute flight if you have to drive a half hour out of town to get to the nearest airport,” says Yolanka Wulff, executive director of the CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) Foundation. (Neither Wulff nor CAFE are[...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:00:03 GMTYou’re probably familiar with the advice to not talk about politics at work. But the etiquette around participating in political activities outside of work can be a little more hazy. Whether it’s attending a protest or publicly tweeting at a politician, your political activities can have a major impact on your job. Related: Brands In The Age Of Trump: A Survival Guide Of course, the right to participate in political activities is a key part of living in a democracy, and ideally, attending a rally shouldn’t really impact your professional prospects. Corporations, however, are free to come up with their own policies, including limiting some political participation. To find out what employees should know about how taking part in political activities can affect their job, Fast Company contacted two workplace experts. Here’s what they told us. Get A Feeling For Where Your Company Stands From The Start Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, says that ideally, the best time to figure out whether or not your political activities could cost you your job is right before you start. “So many people right now are looking for positions, and I suspect that not many of them are even thinking about this. It’s not even on their radar because they’re just focused on what the best job is, what the best salary is, where can I get the best opportunity for growth—but they can be out of a job if they’re politically active.” Related: The Unexpected Political Influence Your Boss Has On Your Vote She recommends that job candidates should check out sites like Glassdoor, talk to people they might know at the company, or speak directly to HR or recruiters to find out as much as they can about the workplace culture and what’s deemed acceptable or not. For those currently employed, Taylor suggests checking out the company handbook to find out what policies they have—if any—on employees and political participation. “Look around you,” Taylor says. “What’s the treatment of others who are politically active? “If you just keep your ears to the ground, it’s amazing how much information you can find out that would otherwise go under the radar. And while you’re at the job, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t go on social media and still do your due diligence and see what’s being said about the company.” Freedom Of Speech Doesn’t Always Apply In The Workplace Political activism is a privilege, but the workplace doesn’t always see it that way. As a private citizen, what you say with regards to your political views—as well as how you express them—is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. But this protection doesn’t always necessarily extend to guarantee of employment in the workplace—private organizations can make their own rules, and in some cases that includes regulating what you can and can’t say in the office. Edward Yost, an HR expert from the Society for Human Resource Management, tells Fast Company that recently, the National Labor Relations Board—the government agency that enforces the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)—has taken the stance that an employer cannot take disciplinary action based on an employee’s social media posting, unless it threatens the organization in some way. This rule, however, doesn’t give employees a blanket protection to make controversial political statements on social media. Employment[...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 11:30:36 GMTIt’s not easy to communicate excitement around energy efficiency because it’s all about HVAC upgrades, incremental improvements to boiler systems, and LED lightbulbs. But with the Better Buildings Challenge SWAP–an Apprentice-style energy efficiency face-off in which teams from two organizations try to find wasted energy in the other’s operations–the Department of Energy makes a good show of it. Watching teams of energy professionals nitpick each other’s facilities is surprisingly good viewing, even if the made-for-TV rivalry and portentous voiceover feels too much like The Apprentice at times. The first installment last year saw Whole Foods take on Hilton Worldwide, before a second pitted the Air Force Academy against the Naval Academy. The latest turns to cities, with Boston taking on Atlanta. Teams from each city visit a range of properties, including airports, libraries, water treatment works, and streets. They find faults in corridor airflows, rhapsodize about rooftop solar panels, and needle each other about phantom light fixtures and the height of heating fans. It’s great fun. The serious point, says Maria Vargas, head of the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings program, which commissions the web series, is to show how organizations can learn from each other. “Hopefully by seeing real world situations and obstacles, SWAP provides a place for people to learn and feel empowered about making energy efficiencies,” she tells Fast Company. “There’s money investment involved here and people are naturally risk-averse. Seeing other cities do it, and seeing the investments work out, is good information to have.” The first two SWAP series have been viewed about 2 million times on YouTube. Started by the Obama Administration, the Better Buildings program looks to spread efficiency to the nation’s commercial stock, including offices, schools, and city works. Buildings in total account for at least one third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and in many cases there’s good money to be had from the cost savings earned from efficiency upgrades. The U.S. spends $200 billion to operate its commercial property, Vargas says, and frequently older buildings can deliver 20% savings just from doing basic things, like installing better lighting, heating systems, or windows. “A lot of organizations will say they’re energy efficient, but when you probe it a little, you find they’ve done one building or they’ve changed some lights. We’re pushing a deeper, more thorough approach,” she says. Stephanie Stuckey-Benfield, Atlanta’s chief resilience officer, says appearing in the SWAP helped her learn a few useful things, including how Boston does procurement of energy-efficiency technology. It also made her jealous that Georgia doesn’t have Massachusetts’s regulatory framework, including energy-efficiency targets and a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard that requires utilities to increase their use of renewables over time. The lack of such measures in Atlanta makes funding projects harder, she says. “The city of Atlanta is a bit of bubble where we get [energy efficiency]. That’s not the case with the rest of the state necessarily,” she says in an interview. “We still have some climate deniers that we have to grapple with.” Austin Blackmon, Boston’s chief of environment, energy, and open space, says having outsiders inspect your facilities can reveal “things even in buildings that were renovated no[...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 11:00:52 GMTI once worked at a company that held positivity as a core value. Employees were so encouraged to remain positive all the time that I was once reprimanded by my boss at this company for posting a personal tweet about wanting to stay in bed one cold weekend morning. Apparently, positivity extends so far as always being happy to get out of bed, even when it’s cold outside, it’s not a workday, and your bed is toasty warm. I thought I was a fairly positive person in general before I joined that company. But that experience made me think I’m more of a cynic. Being positive about everything all day long just didn’t come naturally to me. In fact, it turns out few of us can be positive every minute of every day—even if it’s just while we’re at work. And the side effects of a workplace that enforces positivity (and, as a result, the suppressing of any negative emotions) can be downright dangerous. Why Suppressing Negative Emotions Is Worse Than Venting Them Perhaps the most dangerous effect of a workplace culture focused on positive emotions is that none of us are positive all the time. Which means to fit in at work we end up suppressing our negative emotions. Much worse than venting, suppressing negative emotions is bad for our health. One study found people who suppressed anger had a three times higher risk of heart attack than those who let their anger out. Studies of people in rehab and addiction treatment facilities have also found suppressing negative thoughts can be harmful. Those who suppressed thoughts relating to their addiction and cravings tended to harbor more of those thoughts overall. Suppressing addiction-related thoughts also made study participants have stronger stress reactions to cues relating to their addictions. Other research has found suppressing negative emotions can lead to emotional overeating, and emotional exhaustion. And suppressing thoughts tends to lead to an effect called dream rebound, where the more those thoughts are suppressed, the more likely they are to show up in dreams later. The Downsides Of Positivity It might seem counterintuitive to talk about the downsides of being positive, but there are two main ways positivity can lead to negative effects: when we’re overly positive, or when we’re trying to be positive always. And though studies have shown benefits to a positive attitude, experts say the link between positivity and better health or wealth is generally undemonstrated, and we’re lacking any proof of positive emotions causing any related benefits. On the other hand, research has shown too much positivity can lead people to be less motivated, pay less attention to detail, be more selfish, and indulge more in risky behaviors like binge drinking and overeating. One reason positive emotions lead to risky behavior is because we tend to equate happiness and safety. When we feel happy and connected to others, we’re also likely to have higher oxytocin level. Often called the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin makes us feel safe, and tends to peak when we’re feeling close to others emotionally and physically. With higher levels of oxytocin in our bodies, we feel more safe, and thus pay less attention to danger. While that might have meant being vulnerable to predators for our ancestors, today it’s more likely to mean indulging in risky behaviors like unsafe sex or binge drinking. Other studies have found we’re more gullible when we’re in a good mood. Researchers used films to put people in go[...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 10:26:53 GMTIt was while performing onstage at New York’s famed Gotham Comedy Club that Dave Scott realized comedy was more than just tough—it was bad business. The former CEO of Marketfish, a VC-backed data management platform startup, always wanted to pursue his passion of comedy. After selling his company in 2013, he did just that. Scott left Silicon Valley to try his hand in the late-night club circuit in Manhattan. It was fun—he found himself touring with Janeane Garofalo and hanging with Amy Schumer (“before she got huge,” he clarifies)—but he wasn’t making any money. “If you’re a comedian, expect to be at this for five or 10 years before you become [successful],” says Scott. “Until then, it’s really harsh . . . the distribution method that exists for musicians don’t exist for comedians.” The frustration over the inability to disseminate his jokes beyond 20 people a night led Scott to found Laugh.ly, the first streaming app built solely around stand-up comedy. Launched last August, the startup offers thousands of hours of comedy from well-known comics like Louis CK, Daniel Tosh or Sarah Silverman, current breakouts like Hannibal Buress and Ali Wong, as well as up-and-coming acts. There are two listening options—one that’s ad-supported and free of charge or a premium service for $3.99 per month. Laugh.ly App The app is intended for die-hard comedy fans looking for obscure albums as well as casual fans in the need of a midday lift. Users can search two to five-minute tracks and full albums by topic, comedian, or discover new talent based on humor preferences, be it dry, dirty, family-friendly or observational. If you skip or favorite a track, the algorithm learns your sense of humor, helping you craft a personalized playlist. Laugh.ly also patented a speech-text algorithm which scans for text (and profanity) within a joke so one can filter for subject matter. For example, search for “hot pocket” and be led to Jim Gaffigan’s famous rant. Or search “Trump” and stumble upon John Mulaney observing the tycoon is “what a hobo imagines a rich man to be.” In a way, it sounds like Spotify for jokes. That’s because Scott modeled his company on what the music industry offers artists—a functioning distribution model. It wasn’t too long ago that exact model once catered to comedians. During radio’s heyday, musicians and comedians alike benefitted from airplay, securing them exposure and thereby album and ticket sales. You could walk into any record store and purchase a Rolling Stones record alongside a Steve Martin album. “Standup comedy is an audio format and it was created and perfected on radio,” says Scott of legendary comics like Jack Benny, Jackie mason or Richard Pryor. The latter didn’t do his first video till the late ‘70s. The concept of people watching stand-up comedy, says Scott, is a relatively new phenomenon. “I’m not even convinced video is the best way to listen to comedy,” he asserts. Today, however, “comedy has no outlet like radio,” bemoans Scott. Once consumers began downloading content, albums made way for single sales. Shortly thereafter, streaming took hold, opening the market for companies like Spotify and Pandora. Popular artists understood that people didn’t need to buy the full cargo when they could rent one hit. “But you can’t do that for comedy,” says Scott. “What are gonna do—sell a joke? [Charge] 99 c[...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 10:00:49 GMTGrowing up, I was unbeatable at H-O-R-S-E, the basketball game kids play when there’s just a few of them around and only one hoop on hand. Basically, everyone gets a chance to skin a basket from a certain spot or in a certain way, then each subsequent player’s got to follow suit. I’d invite friends to come play in my driveway after school. When the game got close, I’d pretend to have a new idea: “Hey — I wonder if I can make a shot from way back on the grass off one bounce? Ha! Wouldn’t that be crazy?!” I’d really sell it. Then I’d drain the shot and win, every time. My poor victim had no idea I’d taken that shot hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. That I knew exactly which crack in the driveway to aim for, and that if I threw the ball hard enough off that crack, I couldn’t miss — our worn-down backboard would deaden every shot, and the ball would drop right in. I’d even named the shot after one of my favorite Knicks players at the time, Rolando Blackman: You weren’t beating me when I broke out the “Rolando Crackman.” Your startup idea probably won’t work any better than my friends’ efforts to replicate the Crackman back then. That’s not news — you know that 95% (or whatever that number is) of startups fail. What is news is why you’ll fail. After being pitched 571 idea-stage, pre-product startup pitches in the past 24 months — most as applications for my pre-product accelerator — I’m convinced it’s not just because “startups are really hard.” Startups are hard, obviously, but the majority of founders make them impossible. You’re doomed from day one because you’re starting with the wrong thing. You never had a shot. It’s not your fault. The way most people think about startup ideas is fundamentally wrong. And the right way — like any startup theory worth its salt — is counterintuitive. You’ll only have a handful of opportunities to completely immerse yourself in a project, so you need to identify the ones that give you an unfair advantage. I’m here to help you find your Rolando Crackman. Related link: Your Startup’s First Thousand Decisions Don’t Matter (But These Two Do) “Whisper Ideas” Are Your Enemy ClassPass for meditation studios isn’t a bad idea. I got pitched ClassPass for meditation studios the week before last (the founder gave me permission to tell this story in this post). I’ve been pitched this idea before, and theoretically it could work. It certainly sounds like something that would exist. ClassPass for meditation is what I call a “whisper idea,” because whenever founders pitch them to me, they lean in real close. They’re the category that includes Waze for crowded bars, Waze for parking spots, an app for daily wardrobe recommendations, an app for groups of friends to date each other, and about 50 other Uber/Waze/Airbnb-for-X variations. I’d guess that 90% of the ideas I hear are whisper ideas. And I hear them in hushed tones. A founder and I are usually at a coffeeshop, they’ve usually asked me to sign an NDA, and they’re always giving everyone in the place the side-eye emoji. Founders who possess whisper ideas never know who’s listening. This particular founder was razor sharp[...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 10:00:25 GMTA few years ago, I managed to receive 1,000 emails between boarding a plane in San Francisco and landing in New Orleans five hours later. Maybe 40 of those 1,000 were emails that I needed to respond to, but given the overwhelming volume in my inbox, a lot of them ended up going unanswered. I’m not the only one with that problem. 2.6 billion people send over 200 billion emails every single day. Filters help organize things a bit, but now a new email app is bringing in the big guns to tackle the problem: artificial intelligence. Called Astro, the app essentially offers many of the same features as previous aspiring inbox-zero apps. You can snooze messages you see so they surface at your convenience, mute particular senders, and set a priority inbox that surfaces those emails from VIP senders that otherwise might end up buried amid Bed Bath & Beyond coupons. What makes Astro different is how it creates that priority inbox. Just like other programs, you can designate people you’d like to prioritize. Astro takes care of that automatically by putting a few people in there based on whom you’re chatting with on a regular basis. For instance, the algorithm might notice that I’m chatting with a new person a lot about planning a friend’s upcoming birthday party and prioritize their emails. If I forget to respond to an email discussing cake flavors or party decorations, Astro can also pay attention to that, and a few days later send me a chat message suggesting I follow up. Rather than assume you’re one of those rare individuals who’s proactive with your settings, Astro handles all of its organization using a bot that makes suggestions to help you reach the bottom of your inbox faster. Sort of like a traditional chat conversation, the bot shows up by the side of your inbox on desktop and is located behind a button in the mobile app. And it’s pretty useful. For instance, it noticed that I no longer open emails from Fry’s, something I subscribed to back when I was in the market for a new television, and sent me a chat message suggesting that it unsubscribe me from the list and archive all the messages I’ve received from the company. Last week someone emailed me trying to set a meeting time, and Monday morning I received an email suggesting I respond to the message, even specifically noting the question: “What time is good for you?” Each thing individually is pretty minimal, but together, you’re able to streamline your inbox by answering just a few questions. In addition to organizing, Astro can also do things like let you know that someone has opened an email you sent them, or schedule emails you write late at night to be sent during working hours so they don’t go MIA. And it’s only just the beginning for Astro’s founders. Their goal is to ultimately bring the service to more platforms. It’s been in beta for Mac and iOS for the past month, and today the company is launching on Android, with support for Android Wear and Kindle Fire. It also hopes to launch an Alexa app in the near future to bring voice into the mix as well. The service currently supports Gmail and Office 365 accounts, and you can add as many accounts as you’d like to the same unified inbox to keep everything organized at once. You can sign up to take the beta for a spin yourself on the company’s website. [...]
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 09:00:09 GMTShortly after I was hired to be a columnist for Time’s website, I was asked to write about a book called The Confidence Code. Having actually been recruited and hired as a columnist, one would assume there’d be certain things I was capable of, such as writing a column. But this was my first column as a “columnist,” and I was rattled. I labored over my introduction, writing and rewriting, deleting and retyping, cutting, pasting, moving sentences around, moving them around some more, then spending the next 10 minutes command–Z’ing my way back to where I’d started. Eventually, hunched over my sad desk (kitchen table) in my office (living room), clad in my freelancer’s uniform (pajamas), I decided I had no business having a column at all. In fact, I was pretty sure my new contract would be revoked by the end of the week. It wasn’t—but the irony was that the book I was supposed to write about was about imposter syndrome, or that crippling sense of self-doubt that women often feel in the face of challenge, which in this case was the very thing that was making it impossible for me to complete the task at hand. “Imposter syndrome” wasn’t coined as a term until the 1970s, but it’s safe to assume women have always felt it: that nagging feeling that, even after you’ve just done something great, maybe you actually don’t deserve the praise. Imposter syndrome affects minority groups disproportionately: women, racial minorities, the LGBT population—or as Valerie Young, the author of a book on the topic, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, explains, people who have the pressure of “accomplishing firsts.” It’s common among high achievers, creative people, and students, and it persists in college, graduate school, and the working world. Imposter Syndrome Comes In Multiple Flavors That feeling comes about in different ways, though. Here’s a quick sampling: Being absolutely 100% sure you’re going to fail. Even Sheryl Sandberg, the unflappable COO of Facebook, has said she often feels this way. As she described it in Lean In, “Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even excelled—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.” Feeling like a complete fraud. Every so often, even when we’ve “made it,” we’re somehow unable to shake the feeling that it’s all smoke and mirrors, that we’ve still got everyone tricked, that at any moment we’ll be found out and exposed. Three days before this manuscript was due to my editor, when I was alone in my apartment, running on no sleep, I remember walking into the bathroom and thinking to myself: Why would anybody actually want to read about a bunch of experiences that are just . . . my own? To which my editor, also a woman, later replied, “I constantly ask myself the same question about my editing.” Devaluing your worth—even as somebody else is actively supporting it. In my case, that recently manifested as me talking somebody out of giving me money for work. “Why don’t I just do it for free?” I wondered. To which a male friend—who happened to be in the room where this phone conversation was happening—practically shook me. “Jessica! Ju[...]