Exclusive: Facebook brings stricter ads rules to countries with big 2019 votes

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc told Reuters on Tuesday that it would extend some of its political advertising rules and tools for curbing election interference to India, Nigeria, Ukraine and the European Union before significant votes in the next few months.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

As the largest social media service in nearly every big country, Facebook since 2016 has become a means for politicians and their adversaries to distribute fake news and other propaganda.

Buying Facebook ads can widen the audience for such material, but some of those influence efforts may violate election rules and the company’s policies.

Under pressure from authorities around the world, Facebook last year introduced several initiatives to increase oversight of political ads.

Beginning on Wednesday in Nigeria, only advertisers located in the country will be able to run electoral ads, mirroring a policy unveiled during an Irish referendum last May, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s director of global politics and outreach, said in an interview.

The same policy will take effect in Ukraine in February. Nigeria holds a presidential election on Feb. 16, while Ukraine will follow on March 31.

In India, which votes for parliament this spring, Facebook will place electoral ads in a searchable online library starting from next month, said Rob Leathern, a director of product management at the company.

“We’re learning from every country,” Leathern said. “We know we’re not going to be perfect, but our goal is continuing, ongoing improvement.”

Facebook believes that holding the ads in a library for seven years is a key part of fighting intereference, he added.

The library will resemble archives brought to the United States, Brazil and Britain last year.

The newfound transparency drew some applause from elected officials and campaign accountability groups, but they also criticized Facebook for allowing advertisers in the United States to obfuscate their identities.

The Indian archive will contain contact information for some ad buyers or their official regulatory certificates. For individuals buying political ads, Facebook said it would ensure their listed name matches government-issued documents.

The European Union would get a version of that authorization and transparency system ahead of the bloc’s parliamentary elections in May, Leathern said.

The ad hoc approach, with varying policies and transparency depending on the region, reflects local laws and conversations with governments and civil society groups, Harbath said.

That means extra steps to verify identities and locations of political ad buyers in the United States and India will not be introduced in every big election this year, Leathern said.

In addition, ad libraries in some countries will not include what the company calls “issue” ads, Leathern said.

Facebook’s U.S. archive includes ads about much-debated issues such as climate change and immigration policy even though they may not directly relate to a ballot measure.

Australia, Indonesia, Israel and the Philippines are among nations holding key votes this year for which Facebook said it is still weighing policies.

Leathern and Harbath said they hoped to have a set of tools that applies to advertisers globally by the end of June. They declined to elaborate, saying lessons from the next couple of months would help shape the worldwide product.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Facebook is pictured during the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

“Our goal was to get to a global solution,” Harbath said. “And so, until we can get to that in June, we had to look at the different elections and what we think we can do.”

Other Facebook teams remain focused on identifying problematic political behavior unrelated to ads.

Last month, researchers working for a U.S. Senate committee concluded that the Russian government’s Internet Research Agency used social media ads and regular posts on inauthentic accounts to promote then presidential candidate Donald Trump to millions of Americans. Russia has denied the accusation.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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On the autofarm: China turns to driverless tractors, combines to overhaul agriculture

Xinghua, China (Reuters) – A brand new combine harvester buzzes up and down a field in eastern China without a driver on board, chopping golden rice stalks and offering a glimpse of what authorities say is the automated future of the nation’s mammoth agricultural sector.

Staff members taking part in the experiment on automated farming machinery load fertilizer onto an automated tractor near a field in Xinghua, Jiangsu province, China October 30, 2018. Picture taken October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Hallie Gu

The bright green prototype was operating last autumn during a trial of driverless farm equipment as the government pushes firms to develop within 7 years fully-automated machinery capable of planting, fertilizing and harvesting each of China’s staple crops – rice, wheat and corn.

That shift to automation is key to the farming sector in the world’s No.2 economy as it grapples with an ageing rural workforce and a dearth of young people willing to endure the hardships many associate with toiling on the land.

Other countries like Australia and the United States are taking similar steps in the face of such demographic pressures, but the sheer scale of China’s farming industry means the stakes are particularly high in its drive to automate agriculture.

“Automated farming is the way ahead and demand for it here is huge,” said Cheng Yue, general manager of tractor maker Changzhou Dongfeng CVT Co Ltd, which provided an autonomous vehicle that was also used at the trial in the rice field in Xinghua, a county in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

However, the road to automation is long and littered with obstacles such as high costs, the nation’s varied terrain and the small size of many of its farms.

“I have heard of driverless tractors. But I don’t think they are practical, especially the really large ones,” said Li Guoyong, a wheat farmer in China’s northern Hebei province.

Most farms in his area are only a few hectares in size, he said by phone.

GOING LOCAL

To try to achieve its ambitious 7-year goal, Beijing is supporting trials of local technology across the country organised by industry group Telematics Industry Application Alliance (TIAA).

Members include state-owned tractor maker YTO Group, navigation systems producer Hwa Create and Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science & Technology Co Ltd, which helped develop the combine harvester used in the Xinghua trial along with Jiangsu University.

The next trials are slated for the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and for the hills around the southwestern city of Chongqing in the first half of this year.

Those come after a string of automated developments in the sector.

YTO developed its first driverless tractor in 2017 and is aiming to start mass production soon, depending on market demand, said Lei Jun, an executive at the firm’s technology center, without giving a more detailed timeline.

Lovol Heavy Industry Co Ltd signed a deal with Baidu in April to apply the tech giant’s Apollo automated driving system to its agricultural machinery.

“China is expected to climb the autonomous technology ladder very quickly, mainly because Chinese companies can access the local navigation satellite system, which gives them an advantage over their international peers,” said Alexious Lee, Head of China Industrial Research at Hong Kong brokerage CLSA.

He was referring to China’s ‘Beidou’ homegrown satellite navigation system, a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).

Beijing has included agricultural machinery in its ‘Made in China 2025’ campaign, meaning the vast majority of its farm equipment should be produced at home by that time.

Semi-automated technology is already fairly common on farms in places such as the United States, but fully-automated tractors and combines have yet to be mass-produced anywhere.

TOO SMALL

But with many Chinese farms still too small for a regular tractor, driverless ones that could be as high as four times more expensive at around $90,000 will be a long way out of reach for many in the short-term.

More than 90 percent of farms in China are less than 1 hectare, while in the United States nearly 90 percent are larger than 5 hectares.

“It is not about whether you have the product. It is about the entire system. It is about commercializing agriculture,” said Lee.

Although analysts and industry officials said that the underlying trend would be for farms to get larger as ongoing reforms to land rights should allow farmers to lease more space.

Sensors in equipment that help monitor crop conditions also need to be improved so that machines can adjust more quickly to different situations, said Wei Xinhua, deputy director of the school of agriculture equipment engineering at Jiangsu University.

China’s $60 billion farm machinery industry has been burdened by overcapacity and low profit-margins after a years-long subsidy scheme to promote mechanization in farming led to mass production of low-quality tractors. Analysts said it was too early to say how much the automated farming machinery sector could eventually be worth.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Automated farming machines are also useful in recording data on details such as volumes of fertilisers or other materials used in churning out crops, potentially helping farmers target consumers demanding higher-quality produce as some of that information could be included on food labels.

“Take a bowl of rice. I want to know exactly how it was planted, and how much fertilizer or pesticide was applied to it,” said Cheng at Changzhou Dongfeng.

($1 = 6.8450 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Joseph Radford

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3 Smart Things Top Performers Do to Stand Out at Work

How do I stand out at work? originally appeared on Quora the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

The big raise. The promotion you’ve been after. The new job that accelerates your career’s momentum. These may be in your sights, but the fact is, everyone is after those same things.

Which begs the question, how do you differentiate yourself from your peers?

Everyone’s career is different, and it’s hard to make blanket statements about the exact skills that will be necessary to make an individual stand out in their industry. But over the course of a long and varied career, I’ve noticed several broad traits that high-performing employees tend to have. These aren’t specific skills that are applicable to one aspect of a job–they’re high-level abilities that set certain people apart from the crowd.

The good thing is, none of these traits are innate. They’re all learnable if you take the time to examine how they work and what you need to do to incorporate them into your life.

These are the three characteristics you can use to stand out from the crowd, even in the most competitive industries:

1. Transforming Knowledge Into Expertise

The ability to transform knowledge is a dead giveaway for employees with potential.

When I say transform knowledge, I’m talking about an ability to take some type of received information, digest it, and synthesize it into something new. For example, if a team goes to a conference and hears a lecture they really enjoy, for some, that might be the end of it. But the type of person that stands out won’t leave it at that. She’ll type up a summary of the speaker’s points and send it to colleagues who may be interested.

By creating something new with the information you receive, you’re internalizing it and gaining greater insight.

The method doesn’t really matter, either. It could be a presentation, an essay, or even a deliberate conversation with someone else that transforms the knowledge into a new model. That habit is crucial, though, because it shows a readiness to learn, grow, and find hidden connections.

2. Building A Cognitive Surplus

Everyone likes a hard worker. Bosses know these employees put in the time to get the job done, even going above and beyond the call of duty.

However, there does come a point when people may begin to wonder why this person always appears to be working so hard, for such extended periods of time. And that can actually be detrimental because the person who performs at a high level in a relaxed manner looks much more professional than the person who has to spend all night in the office.

They also have time to build up a cognitive surplus–the free time and mind space to work on complex problems or practice new skills. In fact, this behavior probably led to the level of skill where they can look so relaxed.

If you’re always working overtime and devoting all your conscious thought to your daily tasks, you’re actually missing out on opportunities to grow and stand out from the crowd. But if you can take the baseline set of skills you need for your job–Excel, SAS, Powerpoint, and beyond–and make them second nature, you’ll free up time to increase your mastery in different areas.

That cognitive surplus is what allows you to learn new skills, improve your existing abilities, and set yourself apart from other talented employees.

3. Developing A Kick

Some people naturally tend to finish strong. They know when they need that extra effort to get across the finish line or bring a project to completion. They know when they need their kick to close a deal.

Those people stand out.

This is what I like to call the “Law of Increasing Effort.” The closer you get to the finish line, the more effort you need to cross it. In fact, executing the last 20% of an endeavor often takes as much work as the original 80%.

You may have heard this term if you’re a runner–it’s called the “kick.”

Luckily, anyone can develop a kick. All it takes is a determination to put yourself in new and unfamiliar situations. Why? Because each situation is a step to new and more difficult projects, where the finish line is even harder to reach. As you succeed, you’ll begin to build a kind of career momentum. New projects aren’t as nerve-wracking or difficult because you’ve been in that uncertain realm before.

You know that all it takes is determination and a strong kick to see you to the end.

And being someone who finishes things–the type of person who wills them to completion–is exactly the type of trait that makes you stand out.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

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Furloughed Workers Are Taking Extraordinary Measures to Survive the Shutdown as it Sets New Records Every Day

The uncertainty about how long the shutdown will go on can make it difficult to impossible to find stopgap employment, as few employers are excited about taking on and potentially having to train a new worker who could be called back by Uncle Sam any day.

As a result, a number of federal agencies and even the Coast Guard have posted sad survival “tip sheets” for furloughed workers that suggest taking on babysitting gigs or having a garage sale, among other potential humiliations. 

So much for all the great benefits of a government job. 

The endless scroll is a catalog of furlough horror stories and public servants basically engaging in digital panhandling. Most have raised from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and come from all across the country. 

Whatever your feeling on the shutdown and who’s to blame, it’s pretty clear that it’s the product of a break down. This is simply not the way things are supposed to work, either in Washington, D.C. or in the homes of thousands of workers who are nothing more than innocent bystanders at a record-setting train wreck. 

Published on: Jan 14, 2019

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How Red Hat Scaled From an Unlikely Startup to a Major Global Enterprise

By the mid 90s, Microsoft ruled over the technology world. Through its Windows operating system, which ran roughly 95% of the world’s computers, it was able to leverage control over much of what other companies did and built commanding positions in productivity software and other facets of the industry.

Yet even as the tech giant was at its peak, a danger loomed. Like barbarians at the gate, hordes of developers banded together in online communities to collaborate on their own software. Unlike Microsoft’s proprietary products, nobody owned these and anybody was able to alter or customized them as they pleased.

Steve Ballmer would come to regard open source software as a cancer. Yet where the Microsoft CEO saw danger, two entrepreneurs saw an opportunity. They created a company called Red Hat that was focused wholly on the Linux open source software, a seemingly crazy idea at the time. Today, however,  it has grown into a major global enterprise. Here’s how they did it.

A Wild Idea

When Bob Young and Marc Ewing combined their efforts to create Red Hat in 1995, it seemed like an unlikely idea. Microsoft launched Windows 95 that same year and had begun its rise to dominance. It had invested billions to develop its technology and was determined to protect that investment. How could a fledgling firm with no products of its own compete?

Yet as Paul Cormier, President of Products and Technologies at Red Hat explained in a blog post, “open source is a development model, not a business model.” An open source community can develop technology, but it can’t deliver customer service, help fix the inevitable day-to-day problems that crop up or train staff. What Red Hat did was essentially transform Linux from a technology project to a technology product that customers could use with confidence.

It was also to find an unlikely ally. IBM, which had fallen from grace in part because of Microsoft’s rise, saw open source software as an opportunity to take control of its own destiny once again. It began shipping its mainframes with Linux and eventually would donate hundreds of its own patents to protect the community.

Perhaps the most important factor to the rise of open source was the Internet and the freewheeling culture it brought with it. The LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) became standard for many developers building websites. Red Hat went public in 1999 and achieved the eighth-biggest first-day gain in the history of Wall Street. It was on its way.

Scaling Up To The Enterprise

By 2000, Red Hat, when Matthew Szulik took over as CEO, Red Hat was a public company and, with the Internet already becoming a powerful force, the idea of open source software was becoming more accepted. Yet the company was still distributing its product in shrink-wrapped boxes. Clearly, it needed a new business model.

So in 2001, Szulik took a leap of faith and launched an enterprise version of Linux on a subscription basis, and “Red Hat Linux Enterprise” became its flagship product. The move proved to be enormously successful. Large businesses could now both get the benefit of using open source software, while at the same time gaining a reliable partner that could help them run it.

Yet it also meant that the company had to evolve. It was no longer a scrappy startup, but increasingly a key partner to many of the world’s most trusted brands, That meant it had to build more than technical excellence, but also to deliver great customer service and build industry expertise so that it could provide more full-scale solutions.

“As we’ve moved up the stack and closer to the application layer, we’ve become much more of a strategic partner to our customers, which has resulted in an increase in our average deal sizes,” Eric Shander, Red Hat’s CFO told me. “That also means a much more involved sales cycle, where we need more specific technical and industry expertise, which has required us to become more planning intensive around where and how we deploy our critical resources.”

“For example,” he continued, “when we’re talking to retail customers, these customers are having to actively innovate their business models and that eventually leads to IT implications. They don’t need just a stable IT environment, they need the kind of flexibility that enables agility and the ability to perform system changes rapidly to respond
to changes in the industry.”

Servicing The Cloud

By 2012, Red Hat’s customers faced a new challenge. Cloud technologies were becoming increasingly important, but as with operating systems, they didn’t want to get locked in to a single vendor. Unlike operating systems, applications delivered through the cloud are not one-size-fits-all, but need to be specifically designed for a specific business function.

“The buyer’s journey over the last five years has been for large enterprises to increasingly adopt the hybrid cloud, to match the the infrastructure to the particular needs of each application and use case,” says Mike Kelly, Red Hat’s CIO. “That means we’ve had to invest is tools to help our customers do that.”

Today, the company offers a suite of products that help manage the cloud for over 90% of Fortune 500 companies, including its OpenStack Platform, which acts as an operating system for the cloud, OpenShift, which helps manage container technologies like Docker and Kubernetes and Ansible, which helps automate basic repetitive tasks.

Still, Red Hat has stayed true to its open source roots. All of its software is available for free to anyone who wants to use it, even previously proprietary software from companies it acquires. Still the it has been able to build a fantastic business, earning almost $3 billion in revenue during the 2018 fiscal year at better than 20% margins. IBM acquired Red Hat in October for $34 billion. 

The Next Phase

The IBM deal opens up new possibilities for Red Hat. “Joining forces with IBM will provide us with a greater level of scale, resources and capabilities to accelerate the impact of open source as the basis for digital transformation and bring Red Hat to an even wider audience,” said Jim Whitehurst, CEO of the company.

In a way, the acquisition is a replay of Lou Gerstner’s early support of Linux at IBM back in the 1990’s. Much like 20 years ago, the century-old tech giant is today being threatened by powerful competitors, Amazon and Microsoft, who are dominating the cloud market. Red Hat gives it the ability to not only compete, but to preserve independence and flexibility for its enterprise clients.

Customers also seem to be excited by the possibilities. “What I’m looking for is for IBM to use Red Hat’s tools to speed up development of hybrid cloud integration which would reduce the amount of work we need to do on the back end and enable us to better serve our customers,” Tim Beerman, CTO at Ensono, a company that provides hybrid cloud services, told me.

Yet the potential may be even greater than that. With Moore’s law ending, we will need new computing architectures, such as quantum computing and neuromorphic chips, to advance the field. IBM has made long-term investments in both technologies and both will need new software to run them. Red Hat gives them a unique vehicle with which they can build an open source ecosystem to do that.

What few people realized back in the 90s was that open source software doesn’t mean the end of proprietary technologies. Rather, it provides a stable environment upon which proprietary technologies can be built. That’s the opportunity that Red Hat siezed more than two decades ago, with a new era of computing dawning, that is what lays before it today.

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Samsung, Huawei supply majority of own modem chips, Qualcomm says

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) – The two largest smart phone makers in the world supply a majority of their own modem chips to help their devices connect to wireless data networks, according to evidence presented at an antitrust trial for chip supplier Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O).

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Qualcomm is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

A trial between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Qualcomm kicked off in a federal courtroom in California on Friday, with the regulators arguing that Qualcomm engaged in anticompetitive patent licensing practices to preserve a monopoly on modem chips. The case is being closely watched because it may shed light on the likely eventual outcome of the global legal battle between Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Qualcomm.

Apple has alleged that Qualcomm engaged in illegal business practices, and Qualcomm in turn has alleged Apple violated its patents, scoring victories in China and Germany last month.

Qualcomm has argued its licensing practices follow long-established industry norms and that it charges broadly the same licensing rates that it had for many years before it ever started selling chips.

That has become a big market for Qualcomm, which controlled 59.6 percent of the $15.3 billion market for 4G modem chips in 2017, according to IDC’s Phil Solis, who studies mobile chips for the research firm.

But Bob Van Nest, an attorney representing Qualcomm in the case, also sought to show that Qualcomm is not dominant in the world’s two biggest handset makers.

During opening arguments, Van Nest’s presentation said that Huawei [HWT.UL] internally sources 54 percent of the modem chips it puts in its devices and gets only 22 percent of its modems from Qualcomm, with the remainder coming from other unnamed makers. Samsung (005930.KS) internally sources 52 percent of the modem chips it uses, with 38 percent from Qualcomm and the rest from other makers, according to the presentation.

Huawei and Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Also, the FTC’s case centers not on the overall modem chip market – which includes slower chips that go into cheaper handsets – but rather the market for speedy “premium” chips where Qualcomm is among the only options.

Huawei and Samsung are both large diversified technology corporations that make many other products aside from premium-priced smart phones. Huawei’s HiSilicon unit supplies the chips for its high-end phones such as its Mate and P series. Samsung’s chip division supplies processors and other components for many of its handsets and is also a dominant global supplier of memory chips beyond its own products.

The two firms are also Apple’s fiercest rivals in the market for premium smart phones costing $700 or more. Apple depends entirely on Intel Corp (INTC.O) and Qualcomm for modem chips, though the iPhones released in 2018 use Intel modems exclusively.

Technology news publication The Information last month reported here that Apple was designing its own modem chip, citing Apple job listings and a source briefed on Apple’s plans. Apple declined to comment on its plans.

For the second quarter of 2018 – the most recent figures available from IDC – Apple was the third-largest smart phone supplier by volume, with Samsung and Huawei in first and second place, respectively.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by James Dalgleish

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The Simple Engineering That Will Keep NYC's L Train Rolling

Ever since the last of the brackish water slithered out of the Canarsie Tunnel in the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, New Yorkers have been bracing for the pain. Public transit officials have long warned that the water damage to the 94-year-old tunnel, full of just-as-old subway equipment, would eventually require a long, painful, deeply inconvenient rehabilitation. That’s the tunnel that runs under the East River, carrying many of the L subway train’s 400,000 daily riders from popular Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick into Manhattan.

The surgery was scheduled for April 2019, when the stretch of L train that takes New Yorkers across Manhattan and into Brooklyn was scheduled to shut down for a 15-month repair job. Ahead of what they officially deemed the “L-pocalypse,” local officials created piles of plans to ramp up bus service, encourage biking, and run new ferry routes, and everything else they could think of to keep all those commuters from taking to cars and making already bad traffic fully catastrophic.

Those plans (as well as wilder ones proposed by concerned citizens) became a lot less necessary Thursday morning, when Governor Andrew Cuomo called a surprise press conference to proclaim that no, the L train won’t close completely, and yes, it will still be fixed for the future.

The new plan for the next few years is to keep the train open and running as normal during weekdays, whilst doing repairs on nights and weekends (the details remain fuzzy). The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, has yet to adopt the new plan, which was proposed by a commission of half a dozen engineers based at Columbia and Cornell Universities that Cuomo assembled last month, two years after the decision was made to close the line. But the agency put out a press release Thursday afternoon saying it “accepted the recommendations.”

Curious politics are clearly at work here, but New Yorkers are unlikely to care, as long as the subway keeps running. And if it does, it’ll be thanks to two bits of subway engineering infrastructure: benchwalls and cable racking.

Let’s start with benchwalls. If the train stopped in the tunnel and you had to get out, these are the stretches of concrete, running along each wall and resembling big benches, that you’d be walking on. Facilitating emergency exits is one of their main functions—without them, you’d have to jump out of the train, onto the ground and risk hitting the third rail. Benchwalls also hold most of the goodies that make the subway work, including the power and communications cables. When workers were building the line, which started service in 1924, putting the cables in the concrete was the best way to protect them from things like hungry rats and water damage.

Over the past century, those benchwalls have started to deteriorate, a process accelerated by the flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Explaining its full shutdown plan in 2016, the MTA said the tunnel’s bench walls “must be replaced to protect the structural integrity of the two tubes [east and west] that carry trains through the tunnel.”

Replacing these things involves jackhammering away concrete, removing the rubble, replacing the cabling inside, setting new concrete, and having it dry. It’s work you can’t do overnight or on weekends, because any one section takes several days. And you can’t run trains without leaving a walkway to lead people to safety in an emergency.

The new plan involves giving those benchwalls a bit of a demotion. They’ll still be used for emergency egress, but they won’t hold the cables anymore. Instead, the L train will use a “cable racking” system, in which new power and comms lines will be strung up and attached to the sides of the tunnel, above the benchwalls. Turns out, their protective jacketing has advanced since the Prohibition Era. “We’ve had tremendous progress in materials,” says Peter Kinget, a Cornell electrical engineer who served on the panel. , If the jacketing catches fire, it doesn’t produce noxious fumes. It’s impervious to vermin and H2O, obviating the need for the concrete armor. The workers will also shore up the sections of benchwall that are crumbling with fiber reinforced polymer, Cuomo says, leaving the old, inactive cables entombed inside.

That decoupling of the benchwall’s duties is a big deal, because it makes the work much easier to execute. You can cut back service at night and on weekends (by running trains in just one of the tunnel’s twin tubes) and have workers slip underground, setting up the racks and new cables segment by segment. During normal hours, the train operates as it usually does, pulling power from the cables already in the benchwalls. Once the work is done, the MTA will switch the trains over to the new set of cords.

Cable racking has been used for new metro lines in London, Hong Kong, and the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Cuomo says. This would be its first use in the US, and the first time it’s been used to fix up an existing line.

“It’s a clever solution,” says Matt Cunningham, a civil engineer and global director of infrastructure for Canadian engineering firm IBI. It’s cheaper and easier than replacing all the cable-filled benchwalls, and it’s a proven method. “It’s going to work.”

Which brings up the unanswered question of why this idea is just surfacing now. Why not before the MTA decided on the full shutdown, then spent two years preparing for it? It makes Cuomo the politician who averted the traffic-spewing L-pocalypse—but it also makes one wonder why he didn’t come to the rescue earlier. (He’s been governor of New York since 2011.) In his press conference, he presented this as new solution, which is true if you compare it to the techniques used to build the subway in the previous century, but not if you take a slightly narrower view. “It’s not new technology that’s only now become available,” Cunningham says.

Of course, limiting service during nights and weekends to make this fix will still inflict some suffering, and the MTA has a terrible record of mismanaging this sort of operation, so any promises about deadlines or costs should be doubted. “You’re not getting a root canal on five teeth, you’re getting a root canal on three teeth,” says Allan Rutter, of Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute. “There’s gonna be pain.”

In infrastructure as well as in dental surgery, you’ve got to accept some drilling and discomfort. But less is definitely more.


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It's Time to Ditch New Year's Resolutions. Do This Powerful 25-Minute Exercise Instead

I have always found new year resolutions difficult (with the exception of Woody Guthrie’s beautiful 1942 version). I prefer writing manifestos when it comes to the future.

I wrote about the Manifesto Exercise around this time last year. Denny Post, CEO of Red Robin, shared it on Facebook at the end of this year, recommending it to her friends as a different way of doing their new year resolutions. That inspired me to do mine, below, and update it with some new categories.

“Ayse Birsel authored this piece last year in INC – it’s a practical, efficient and inclusive approach to setting yourself up for the New Year!” Denny Post

The Manifesto Exercise will help you think like a designer about your work for 2019.

I recommend that you do one alone and then do it again with your team. Remember you’ll be thinking like a designer–with optimism, looking at the big picture, and with empathy for yourself (and each other, if you’re doing it with your team).

Ground rules are the same as last year: Give yourself 25 minutes total. If you run out of time, take a short break before you complete it. Speed is part of the game in that it helps you go with your gut and leaves less room for unnecessary self-judgment. Remember to do it playfully, because when we’re playful we’re like kids, fearless and open to learning by doing.

Time: 25 minutes, sometime in early January 2019.

A. DECONSTRUCT:

Map out your work life in 2018 across the following 6 categories (see my diagram and use it as a cheat-sheet). 

Note: This year I found it useful to make loose notes for my deconstruction, adding items as things popped into my head, before sitting down to do it all in one go.

1. Emotion: Start with how you feel in this moment. Then think back to how you felt in 2018 and how you want to feel in 2019. List your feelings as they come to mind in one column. 

Note: Emotions at work often run in opposite pairs–love/hate, success/failure, having a sense of purpose/feeling lost.”  

2. Information: Think about what you know about your work going into 2019. This can be your salary, the size of your team, the number of projects you’re working on. List tangible information or data in this column.

3. Constraints: What holds you back you back or limits you? Your own constraints, like procrastinating and leaving things to the last minute, and constraints that you cannot control, like budgets. 

4. Joy: What brings you joy at work? Thinking about what makes you happy will help you think about what matters to you at work and will help you to be more intentional about increasing your instances of joy.

Note: Last year Opportunity was #4. I intentionally moved it to #6, wanting you to circle through joy and gratitude (#5) first, to inspire your opportunities.

5. Gratitude: What were you grateful for in 2018? While joy is more personal, gratitude is often in relation to others. It’s about getting the relation between ourselves and others right, one of the three foundations of happiness according to Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

6. Opportunity: What are your opportunities as you start in 2019? These are things that align with your values, purpose and personal growth. They’re positive, exciting, empowering.

Tip: Try turning your constraints into opportunities (for example, as one of our clients put it, many voices and opinions can be a constraint but it is also an opportunity.)

Note: Last year #5 was Out-of-the-box Opportunity (OOBO) for big dreams and leaps, “revolutions” versus “evolutions”. This year they’re inside the Opportunity column (See my OOBO in my diagram, daring me to think big.) 

B. REFLECT:

Reflect on your deconstruction, above. Deconstruction helps you break a complex idea into its parts to make it more manageable. It visualizes your life at the cross-section of 2018 and 2019 so that you can decide what to keep, what to discard and what to change. 

Now do your own dot-voting, picking one thing that rises to the top in each column. Go with your gut. You can put a star next to it (I underlined mine in red.) These are your 6 key ingredients for 2019. 

C. WRITE YOUR MANIFESTO:

Your Manifesto is your declaration for 2019 based on the top 6 ingredients you chose above. Write it by combining them together in a paragraph:

Your Manifesto = Emotion + Information + Constraint + Joy + Gratitude + Opportunity.

Once you have your manifesto, gather your team–this can be over breakfast or lunch–to do the exercise together and to share your manifestos. Based on each other’s manifesto, talk about what you need help with, what you can do together, and who can be your mentors, mentees or an accountability partners to collaborate with to bring your vision to life in 2019.

We use this tool to shift with our clients’ mindsets from problems to opportunities, from feeling stuck to action, with great success. The process is almost mathematical in its simple formula yet vision-creating in its results. It’s a key component of Design Quotient (DQ), our practice to teach leaders how to think like a designer and imagine tomorrow based on what you know today.

Wishing you a happy and creative 2019.

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Want to Work From Home in 2019? Starting Today, You Can Get Paid $10,000 Extra to Do It. (There's Just 1 Catch)

Perhaps you’ve been thinking that 2019 is the year that you’ll finally do it: You’ll take control of your destiny and do what’s required so that you can work from home.

Of course, it’s not as if most people who work for someone else can just flick a switch and suddenly have the right to work from home. They have to negotiate with their employers, make their case, and act.

But, if you’ve been on the fence about doing it, one U.S. state might have just the impetus you need to make the jump: $10,000 for up to 1,000 people who can show that they work from home for an out-of-state company.

I wrote about this when the Vermont government first approved the program, but now it’s finally here: One of the requirements is that you have to move to Vermont after January 1, 2019, since the government didn’t want to pay people who were already going to live there and work from home anyway.

But that day is finally here today (assuming you’re reading this on the day it was published): New Year’s Day, 2019).

Beyond that, the restrictions seem pretty easy to comply with, assuming you truly and legitimately are working remotely from an out of state company. You have to:

  • be a full-time employee of a business “with its domicile or primary place of business” outside Vermont
  • perform “the majority of…employment duties remotely from a home office or a co-working space located in the state”
  • demonstrate qualifying expenses

In theory, the payment is supposed to reimburse you for the cost of moving to the Green Mountain State (you’ll have to learn that nickname if you’re going to live there). And note that you can actually work from a co-working space, not only out of your house.

That last point seems like a good idea if you’re going to move to a new state; many of us meet people through work, but you’d otherwise literally be working alone and from  home. It turns out there are at least 19 co-working spaces in Vermont, spread around a state of only 625,000 people. 

That last number — the population of only 625,000 — mostly explains why the state is doing this to begin with.

That, combined with the fact that the population is aging, and that the tax base is dwindling. (There’s a similar program now for people who want to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma, by the way).

So what can you expect if you move to Vermont? In short: a relatively exercise-conscious, healthy living state with a high intelligence and a quaint New England standoffishness, apparently. Over the past year we’ve seen that it’s:

Oh, and it’s cold in the winter–but beautiful almost all year round.

If you’re thinking about it, I’d recommend visiting now or in February, so you’ll see if you’re really the kind of person who can thrive in that climate. 

Then check out the fine print — including being aware of just how many people wind up qualifying — and get ready to apply.

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One Simple Way to Experience Less Drama in 2019

Anyone who’s serious about success understands this truth: the people in your circles determine your trajectory. It seems like a simple concept, but it can seem remarkably difficult to curate the people you spend time with, considering your family members and people you work with can seem like factors outside of your control. But according to Ivan Misner, Stewart Emery and Rick Sapio, authors of Who’s in Your Room? The Secret to Creating Your Best Life, you’re the only one who can ensure that the people you spend time with are positive influences.

Your life is one room

The mind trick they put forth is this: Imagine that your entire life is lived in one very large room (as big as an auditorium) and its one door only leads in. Everyone who comes into your life can never leave. Of course, in real life people do come and go, but when it comes to your psyche, everyone who enters “your room” leaves a permanent imprint which affects your daily experience.

Think about your positive and negative emotional states

The book’s authors suggest thinking about the times when you’ve experienced harshness and anger, as well as when you’ve felt love and kindness. Who are the people playing into these states? Even if you can’t remove someone from “your room,” being aware of how people influence you can help when it comes to setting boundaries.

Create an imaginary doorman who screens the people who want to come into your room

First, though, you need to identify the key values your doorman needs to be aware of. Then, when people ask something of you, you can mentally discuss the matter with your doorman who will remind you of your list of values so you can commit or decline accordingly.

Get better at saying no

You can do this gently by telling someone you don’t have the time or expertise to do a good job. You can also point them in the direction of another person who could perform better than yourself. Or, offer a different solution.

Increase the number of mentors in your room

The authors suggest creating a two-column list. On one side name all the people who are positive forces in your life and enhance it personally, professionally or spiritually. In the other column identify at least one thing you can do to fortify each of these relationships, whether it means spending more quality time with the person or inviting him or her to lunch or coffee. “Then pick up the phone, send the email, or attend the social gathering,” they write. “Take steps today to strengthen your relationships with mentors by engaging them and, when appropriate, expressing the value they have in your life.”

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Got a McDonald's or Burger King Coupon? Here's the Smart, Surprising Thing to Do With It. (You Only Have 3 Days)

This is a story about a smaller restaurant chain trolling McDonald’s, Burger King, and other giants of the business. And it’s kind of brilliant. Before the details, a quick explanation.

The fast food industry is a smart and fun one to follow no matter what business you’re in, and for two big reasons.

First, there’s the pure scale. Make a menu change at McDonald’s for example, and you’re upending the routines of hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans. You can learn a lot just by watching how they develop and test new products.

But second, there’s the marketing.

Think of McDonald’s, which spends $2 billion a year on marketing and ads. That’s half the entire value of its much smaller competitor, Wendy’s. It’s an incredible chance just to unpack what they do, and figure out why they think that various ideas will work.

Which brings us to some shoot-the-moon marketing campaigns that can actually turn the big chains’ efforts on their heads.

The only catch? You had to place the order from a McDonald’s restaurant. (Technically, just being within 600 feet was close enough to trigger the offer.)

Of course, Burger King isn’t small; just smaller than McDonald’s. But it shows how if you’re creative, you can use a competitor’s strength–in that case the fact that there are roughly twice as many McDonald’s in the U.S. than there are Burger King locations–to your advantage.

But what if you don’t have 1.7 million Twitter followers and a full time social media marketing operation, like Burger King, to get word of your deal out.?

What if you don’t even have a mobile app (or a burning desire to get people to download your app, which is what the Burger King promotion and so many others these days are all about)?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Smoothie King.

Again: not exactly tiny, although very small compared to McDonald’s and Burger King. Smoothie King has close to 800 stores, heavily concentrated in warmer weather parts of the country.

It’s privately held, and even if you’ve never tried it, you might recognize the name from the $40 million naming deal it has for the NBA New Orleans Pelicans home arena (“Smoothie King Center“).

Now, like its bigger competitors, Smoothie King also has a rewards app, and it’s launched a contest to try to incentivize people to download and use it. (The “Change-a-Meal Challenge.”)  

But what attracted me to this whole thing is how Smoothie King is kicking off its promotion: By letting you use any coupon from any other fast food restaurant — McDonald’s or Burger King included — at Smoothie King.

It’s good for only one day, New Year’s Eve, and regardless of the competitor’s coupon’s value, it gets you $2 off a smoothie at Smoothie King on December 31.

And in truth, I don’t know how many people would take advantage of it. But that doesn’t really matter in a way; what matters in this social media age is whether you can find a truthful, fun way to troll your competitors and turn their strengths to your advangage.

As a marketing strategy, I think it’s brilliant.

As for the Smoothies, well, I don’t know. I’m writing this from New Hampshire, and it looks like the nearest Smoothie King would be a three hour drive away. You’ll have to let me know in the comments.

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2019 Is The Year Of A New Economic Expansion Record

I will say, flat out, that I didn’t think December would be a down month, and it is shaping up to be the worst December since 1931. Needless to say, the economic environment today is very different than the time of the Great Depression, so the parallels are difficult to draw, despite the similarity of the stock market performance. Based on the latest consensus estimates from Factset, EPS growth for the S&P 500 is going to be 20.6% in 2018 with another 7.9% in 2019, along with 5.3% revenue growth to boot. If the S&P 500 ends 2019 where it is today, that would mean that share prices would have failed to respond to a compounded EPS growth rate of over 30% in two years (1.206 x 1.079 = 1.301).

If the economy is still growing in the second half of 2019, this will become the longest economic expansion in the history of the United States. I think it will continue for all of 2019. This means that, with a growing economy and growing earnings, this latest selloff is unlikely to be the start of a bear market.

My 2018 annual prediction – that the U.S. dollar would rally in 2018 – has worked out well, despite a very poor performance in the first quarter (for my full prediction, see December 18, 2017 Marketwatch article “Ivan Martchev’s 2018 predictions: Gold will sink, and the dollar will rally”). It needs to be noted that the dollar is up a lot more against emerging markets currencies than the old U.S. Dollar Index, which contains only developed market currencies. This more notable outperformance against emerging markets currencies for the dollar is likely to persist in 2019.

Recessions do not start with unemployment at a 49-year low of 3.7% (charted, below) and the economy growing at around 3%. Before a recession can start, the economy needs to slow, and the unemployment rate needs to stop falling and begin turning higher because of the economic slowdown. That takes time.

UnemploymentRate.png

Graphs are for illustrative and discussion purposes only. Please read important disclosures at the end of this commentary.

While a slowdown is likely to begin in 2019, the recession will most likely happen in 2020 or 2021.

Can the Stock Market Go Down in a Good Economy?

Yes, a stock market can go down in a good economy, as it is has been doing recently. For a protracted bear market, we need to see a shrinkage in earnings per share for the S&P 500 Index. The more the EPS for the Index shrinks, the more the index goes down. This happened in the recessions of 2001 and 2008

In the year 2000, the stock market was overvalued but it took a while for the air to come out of the bubble before it bottomed in March 2003. In the year 2007, the financial system almost blew up with unregulated mortgage lending and repackaging of no-documentation loans into fascinating securities with oxymoronic names for AAA-rated sub-prime CDOs. The 1929 and 2008 declines were most similar, as they had to do with financial system leverage and cascading losses as the leverage was unwinding. Unfortunately, there were also serious mistakes on the fiscal side (tariffs that caused a collapse in global trade) and monetary front (tightening that caused banks to fail) in the 1930s. The 1974 decline was due to a big oil price shock.

While there is monetary tightening at present, it is not being done in a weak economy. And where tariffs are concerned, they are, so far, being used as a negotiating tactic. The Trump administration would argue that there has been progress on the trade front with Canada, Mexico, South Korea and even with the European Union, so this does not seem to be a full-blown global trade war, at least for now.

The most extreme example of the stock market going down in a good economy would be 1987.

DJIAversusFundsRate.png

The 1987 market was the new Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s trial by fire, where he felt compelled to jump in with a few interest rate cuts, the same way he cut interest rates after the market sold off 25% in August and September of 1998 at the tail end of the Asian Crisis and the Russian sovereign debt default. Regrettably, the fortitude displayed by the famous Time magazine cover (below), dubbed “The Committee To Save The World,” is hopelessly missing at this very moment.

TimeMagazine.jpg

I think the present volatility of the stock market is not due to the hiking of the fed funds rate alone, but also to the more disruptive overall quantitative tightening, which demonstrates itself via the rising Fed balance sheet runoff rate, which went from $20 billion in January to the present $50 billion/month rate.

BalanceSheetVersusDJIA.png

Letting bonds mature (and not reinvesting the proceeds) also results in large repurchase agreement activity, which sucks excess reserves out of the financial system. Sucking electronic cash out of the financial system may be the simplest possible explanation as to why the stock market is doing what it is doing. (Enterprising minds are urged to carefully read the paper “The Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet and Earnings: A Primer and Projections” by Fed economists Seth Carpenter, Jane Ihrig, Elizabeth Klee, Daniel Quinn, and Alexander Boote. There are other similar papers available from the Federal Reserve.)

ExcessReserves.png

In my experience, sharp selloffs in a good economy tend to reverse themselves as the economy keeps growing and so does the earnings-per-share (EPS) for major stock market indexes like the S&P 500. Some of those “good economy” sharp selloffs – as in 1987 and 1997 – required active government intervention in order to stabilize the market, while others took care of themselves.

Still, in the present uncharted territory of quantitative tightening, I would have felt a lot better if Gary Cohn were the Fed Chairman. He ran a large investment management organization (Goldman Sachs Asset Management) and had extensive experience as a trader before becoming an executive and a CEO-in-waiting. One certainly needs a lot of theoretical experience to be a successful Fed Chairman, like Ben Bernanke proved, but in the situation that we have now, practical experience would also count for a lot.

Disclosure: *Navellier may hold securities in one or more investment strategies offered to its clients.

Disclaimer: Please click here for important disclosures located in the “About” section of the Navellier & Associates profile that accompany this article.

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Ready, headset, go: Retailers racing ahead with VR for staff training

The circa 5,000 virtual reality (VR) videos viewed over two weeks by Costa Coffee staff, looking to understand how best to prepare the company’s Christmas drinks range, highlight the appetite for learning in the organisation using this technology.

That is the view of Laura Chapman, head of learning at Costa, who says festive-themed training videos were not mandatory for its workforce, but they really captured the imagination of its people at this busy time of year.

“It’s still early days for us, but feedback show us teams are motivated to learn this way,” she says, commenting on the recent introduction to over 1,500 Costa stores of Google Cardboard headsets and associated tools, enabling teams to access 360-degree footage of coffee-making tips and techniques.

The move was announced at the end of October, and was primarily a way of helping induct new staff in the ways and methods of Costa baristas ahead of the busy Christmas trading period. However, it’s a platform that can be used for training all year round.

Chapman says the VR element is embedded into what she describes as an already comprehensive training programme, and currently includes tips on how to make an Americano or the Black Forest Hot Chocolate which appears on the menu in December.

And as consumers continue to seek out more compelling experiences, expertise and different types of engagement during a trip to a retail or food and beverage outlet, there are several ways the Costa VR staff training tool is catering for these demands by preparing staff accordingly.

“We have a high volume of millennials in the workforce, so we wanted to be able to provide an engaging and innovative way of training them, one which would really excite them to learn,” says Chapman.

“The VR 360 videos we currently have provide a wider insight into the coffee growing process with footage of coffee plantations in Peru along with sneak peaks inside our state of the art roastery and coffee lab in Basildon.

“In addition to this, we also feature drinks tutorials on our key products, so teams can learn faster by immersing themselves in a real-life environment.”

Walmart is another big retail business that is well under way with its use of VR for operational gain. Facebook-owned Oculus Go VR headsets are being used by the grocer’s staff across the US, with the STRIVR-created content teaching people about technology and compliance, and aiding soft skill development like empathy and customer service.

To indicate the scale of the technology’s usage, the plan is for four VR headsets in every Walmart “supercenter”, and two units to every neighbourhood market and discount store. In total, the retailer says 17,000+ headsets are in use at Walmart today.

VR training must run deep

Ed Greig, chief disruptor at Deloitte, agrees that some of the best cases of VR usage in retail are around staff training.

“If you want to change the behaviour of your staff, that’s something you can do with VR in a way you couldn’t do with text-based e-learning,” he says.

“Some organisations are still using paper-based learning, and these are organisations that in other areas are very technical, but VR can enhance this process.”

Greig backs VR’s ability to improve the soft skills of store associates to align them with company values or to provide a platform for helping more senior staff improve management and empathy, but ultimately he sees the biggest gains for retailers coming from its wider deployment by human resources departments.

Wider recruitment

He acknowledges the idea of VR being used as a staff training tool has opened up conversations with Deloitte clients about their wider recruitment and subsequent learning strategy. As retailers embark on widescale digital transformation, he sees VR playing a central role in improving store design, supply chain operations, and general processes.

“Our motto is ‘fall in love with the problem not the solution’,” says Greig.

“There is a real danger with a new tech like VR and the subsequent modifications to that tech that people can fall in love with the solution [and forget why they need it in their businesses]. If you’re going to use VR, it should be about reshaping your entire learning strategy and how you look to develop people throughout the organisation.”

“It’s really effective when it’s used as part of the recruitment process, providing a consistency of experience for employees right from the first moment they have contact with a certain company,” he says.

“If retailers can nail that, it gives them a whole load of additional time where they’ve got people thinking about their brand values, and they can hit the ground running once they’re on the team.”

In a future internet of things (IoT) environment, Greig predicts multiple ways VR could play a part in the “digital twin” process, where a retailer’s physical premises are effectively digitally cloned. One can imagine staff using VR in this format to remotely change a retail store’s lighting or signage setting in real time, he asserts.

VR as standalone entertainment

VR is cropping up in various guises across retail, be it Virgin Holidays using Google Cardboard in stores to help customers experience locations before they book them, or Tommy Hilfiger kitting out global flagships with WeMakeVR-loaded SamsungGear devices to showcase its catwalk shows to in-store visitors.

But some of the most impactful uses of it revolve around creating an event out of VR technology. At Westfield Stratford City in 2016, Samsung ran an in-shopping-centre pop-up, enabling around a quarter of a million people to try out its Gear VR to experience roller coaster rides in North America or holidays in remote destinations.

Judging by that success, it is perhaps clear why ImmotionVR, a company that designs content for VR and operates simulators in public places around the UK, is continuing to scale its business based on a similar cinematic-like premise.

With 12 locations across the country, including at Manchester’s Arndale Centre, Birmingham’s Star City, Intu Derby, and most recently, Wembley’s London Designer Outlet, the company is creating theme-park-like, family-friendly experiences starting from £5 in shopping centres around the UK.

Martin Higginson, CEO of Immotion Group, says his company is looking to help the wider retail industry not by selling it VR technology as an internal solution, but by setting up its simulators and VR installations deep within retail – in the aisles of shopping centres or in locations left behind by collapsed or down-sizing retail chains.

“We’re focused on delivering an out-of-home experience,” he says.

“Currently shopping in general needs to bring theatre, because without that retail will wither on the vine. The high street and shopping malls need to change and start creating more theatre be it additional dining spaces, VR or something else; there needs to be a unique mix that creates a ‘theme park’ within shopping centres.”

Incentivising shopping mall visits

Higginson argues that venues from ImmotionVR, which creates its own content from its Manchester studios and offers VR experiences covering scenarios ranging from roller coaster rides to swimming with sharks off the coast of Tonga, can give families an added incentive to visit a shopping mall.

There is also a focus within the business on providing VR-enabled destinations for work parties and educational trips for schoolchildren.

“We want to create Disneyland in Westfield or Lakeside, or wherever – shopping centre owners have massive challenges with the likes of House of Fraser and Debenhams going through turmoil,” he says.

“We can bring experiences to shopping centres and fill them with guests throughout the week, helping malls become leisure destinations rather than venues for straight-out shopping.”

Higginson also argues the continued growth of his brand will open up VR to the mainstream. As a result, the tech might become more widely used in the home and in the workplace. In short, society could be about to see more of it in its various forms.

Costa and Walmart are clearly on the start of their VR journeys, but the staff engagement it has resulted in, and – in the case of Walmart – the rapid extended roll-out of the technology to date, suggests further exploration and usage is imminent.

VR roll-out a reality

Walmart announced in September that its VR technology was set to be accessible for all employee training across its entire US store portfolio, following initial usage solely for staff development in Walmart Academies. More than one million Walmart associates will now receive the same level of training as those in the academies, the retailer said.

Meanwhile, all of Costa’s fully owned stores – as opposed to its franchise and concession partners – have a Google Cardboard headset that allows staff to experience VR. And Chapman acknowledges the business is looking to make them available to its partnerships and international stores, while additional ideas for its usage keep arising.

“We could provide ‘on-the-job’ experiences to potential candidates so they get an idea as to what it’s like working in one of our stores,” she says.

“The coffee growing process and following the coffee journey from bean to cup is also something that we feel would be useful for inductions for everyone in the Costa family both among our store teams and in our support centre.”

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'Go Fund the Wall' is a Brilliant Success, Except for This 1 Shocking Problem. (How Did Nobody Notice This Before?)

You’re probably aware of the viral GoFundMe campaign to raise $1 billion to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. It’s a big success by some metrics.

So far it has 250,000 donors as I write this, and almost $14 million. (I know that’s a tiny fraction of the cost of a wall–but it’s really hard to raise tht kind of money for anything.) 

The story could serve as an example for anyone trying to build support for a big effort or trying to make their marketing go viral–except, there’s a potentially enormous problem.

In fact, it might be a fatal flaw that could undermine the whole effort. Here’s the background, the issue, and how this could fast become a different kind of lesson.

#GoFundtheWall

The organizer and creator of the GoFundMe campaign is Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who was badly wounded in Iraq. His personal story is very compelling.

As he says on his website, he was on Balad Air Base one night in 2004 when it came under a rocket attack, and he lost both legs and his right arm. He’s now “the most severely wounded U.S. Airman to survive his wounds.” 

Today, Kolfage is a married father of two children, and has a degree from the University of Arizona in architecture. He’s a motivational speaker, and he gained notice this year on Fox News and elsewhere, after Facebook shut down a right wing news page he ran, calling it a “conspiracy theory page.”

Koflage’s GoFundMe campaign on the wall took off in a way that no similar effort has before. You’d suspect it’s because of at least two things:

  • Koflage’s personal story and social media savvy.
  • The fact that all of this is happening as President Trump pledged to veto any budget plan that doesn’t include funding for the wall–which is now leading to a partial government shutdown, as of Friday evening.

But there’s also an enormous threshold problem with the campaign, right in the first two sentences, where it talks about whether it’s even legal to raise money like this for the government:

“The government has accepted large private donations before, most recently a billionaire donated $7.5 Million to fund half of the Washington Monument repairs in 2012; this is no different.”

Actually, it seems very likely that’s incorrect. It’s highly questionable whether that can be done legally.

Gifts to the United States

You can certainly make gifts to the U.S. Government. There’s a trust fund for it, according to the Treasury Department’s website, which was established in 1843. But, as the government website says:

Money deposited into this account is for general use by the federal government and can be available for budget needs. These contributions are considered an unconditional gift to the government.

The last six words are crucial: Unconditional.

In the Washington Monument example described above, Congress had to enact a special law to let it accept the donation. And Koflage has been trying to get supporters to lobby Congress to create a special law here, too–one to let the government “accept public donations to fund the construction of a barrier on the border between the United States and Mexico.”

As far as I can tell, the House budget bill didn’t include that language, according to the official Congressional website. (I’m writing this on a Friday night, so it’s possible the website isn’t updated. I haven’t seen anything from Kolfage talking about a victory, however.)

Anyway, if it didn’t pass then, then, it’s almost certainly not going to pass. Even even if it did pass the House, it’s unlikely to pass the Senate.

‘Anything is possible’

In a way, this is more a political problem than a legal one. If the law doesn’t allow this donation, but people actually wanted it to happen, Congress might move fast to make it happen.

The problem is, people don’t really want the wall to begin with.

For example, there’s a new Quinnipiac poll about the wall that many supporters were excited about, because it showed support for the wall at a “record high.”

But even that poll shows a majority of Americans don’t want a wall: 54 percent oppose, while only 43 percent support it. So, it seems there’s a passionate minority–the 250,000 people or so who have made donations, and will probably get bigger.

But that’s in a country of 350 million.

On January 3, Democrats will take over the House of Representatives, and since Democrats overwhelmingly think a massive, expensive physical wall is an insane, costly, and inefficient way to keep the border secure, it would seem even less likely Congress would act in a way Kolfage wants it to.

I emailed out to Kolfage for comment, but did not hear back. If there’s an update on some legal way I haven’t thought of that the government could accept this money, I’ll post an update.

However, as news of his campaign’s success grew, and as people started to question the legality, Kolfage summed up his thinking to The Washington Post:

“There’s always a way to do something. People who say you can’t would never survive living in my life,” he said. “I keep hearing, ‘you can’t,’ or ‘It’s not even legal,’ but those are the people who will never step up to try to make a difference. Anything is possible.”

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Delta Just Announced Something So Insanely Unexpected That It Puts Other Airlines to Shame

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Airlines aren’t always good at the simple things.

You know, the basic, feel-good, marginally obvious things.

Yet I’ve just bumped into an announcement from Delta Air Lines that made my eyebrows twitch in a vaguely upward direction.

No, the airline isn’t merging with American. Neither is it going to offer passengers First Class tickets for $200.

Still, this news is, in its own way, quite remarkable.

You see, the airline says it has already managed to experience 243 days in a single year without a single cancellation.

This, for the airline, is a record. 

A peculiar record, too. Delta flies some of the oldest planes among the major airlines. 

You’d imagine that they’d break down more than, say, American’s planes. 

How can it be, then, that Delta still manages to maintain so many cancellation-free days?

How can it be that Delta boasts a 99.62 per cent flight completion factor rate — the number of flights flown versus scheduled?

And how is it that the airline has already managed 313 days this year without a cancellation due to a mechanical issue?

Its COO Gil West offered reliable corporate speak:

Continuing to take operational reliability to new heights, together with our service-from-the-heart focus, is what makes the Delta Difference.

Some might translate this as: 

You know, we’re just a better-run airline.

What’s a touch embarrassing for United and American is how often they attempt to mimic Delta’s moves. 

But creating reliability takes years of work from an enormous number of people who actually want to do the work. Somehow, Delta’s labor relations seem a little more stable currently than do either United’s or American’s.

Oh, Delta’s had its enormous ego-deflating downfalls in the not-too-distant past. Surely you remember its spectacular computer failures that seemed to strand half of America in unfavorable climes.

But if you’re going to boast about something, better that it’s an essence that might please passengers, rather than some spectacular financial achievement.

Not canceling flights is one little way you can gain a little loyalty. 

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You Should Definitely Work Over the Holiday Break

I’ve written about this previously but in brief but it’s that time of the year, so I’ll emphasize the point: if you have and office job and you’re given a choice and don’t have family commitments, it’s a smart move to work over the holiday break.

Now, you probably think I’m about to spout one of those rah-rah posts about how you’ll be getting more done than your coworkers, you’ll get a head start on the New Year, you’ll impress your boss by your commitment, and so forth. 

Screw that stuff.

IMHO, you should work over the holiday break because going into the typical office between Christmas and New Year‘s is like going on vacation… without getting charged for (and wasting) any of your real vacation days.

The typical office is pretty much empty during the holiday break. Nobody expects to get any work done because there aren’t enough coworkers to hold a meaningful meeting. Plus your customers figure you’re off, so they’re not going to bother you.

What happens over the holiday break is that people come in at around 10am, hang around, drink coffee, shoot the bull, flirt, goof off, play computer games, and so forth until about 2 or 3pm, and then go home.

I once worked in an office where the culture was so dysfunctional that calling it a “snake pit” would be an insult to serpents. During the holiday break, though, that office was downright pleasant. Everyone was relaxed and in a good mood.

When January 2nd came around it was a real shock and not a pleasant one when everything returned to its usual hellishness. But even then, because I “worked” over the holiday break, I had five extra vacation days to escape later in the year.

Even better, I could tell my boss and the coworkers who were out that I was so committed to the job that I worked over the holidays so that I could get a running start on the new year. It was hard to deliver that line with a straight face but somehow I managed.

Of course, I had to summon up the courage to actually TAKE those vacation days, since there was significant pressure to not to take vacations (it was seen as a lack of team commitment), but I’ve always been pretty impervious to peer pressure.

I’ve also worked in environments that weren’t that negative and even then, working over the holiday break was a good idea. Because while the snake pit was fun over the holiday break, the non-snake pit was an absolute riot. Every coffee (at least the ones I drank) were distinctly Irish.

As somebody who’s freelanced for the past two decades, the only things that I really miss about working a regular office job were the paid vacations and working over the holiday break. Heck, if I could, I’d drive back to the ol’ snake pit and hang out, even today.

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China watchdog flags video game approvals; Tencent shares jump

FILE PHOTO: A Tencent sign is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, Dec. 4, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Tencent Holdings Ltd’s shares jumped by as much as 4.2 percent on Friday after a regulatory official said that some new games have been cleared for sale after a lengthy freeze in approvals.

Feng Shixin, a senior official of the ruling Communist Party’s Propaganda department, said in a speech at a gaming conference in Haikou on Friday that a first batch of approvals for games had been completed, according a transcript of the speech and the organisers of the event.

China, the world’s biggest gaming market, stopped approving new titles from March amid a regulatory overhaul triggered by growing criticism of video games for being violent and leading to myopia as well as addiction among young users.

The freeze on new approvals has pressured gaming-related stocks and clouded the outlook for mobile games, rattling industry leader Tencent and smaller peers.

“We hope through new system design and strong implementation we could guide game companies to better present mainstream values, strengthen a cultural sense of duty and mission, and better satisfy the public need for a better life,” Feng said.

Earlier this month, state media reported that Chinese regulators set up an online video games ethics committee, raising hopes the government was preparing to resume an approval process that has been frozen for most of this year.

“This is clearly exciting news for China’s gaming industry,” a Tencent spokesman said in written comments.

“We’re confident that after the publishing license approval, we will provide more compliant, high-quality cultural works to society and the public.”

The gaming freeze in China has dragged down Tencent’s shares this year and wiped billions of dollars of its market value. The Hong Kong-listed firm’s stock is down around 23 percent this year.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and Pei Li in BEIJING; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Christopher Cushing

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Dark Matter Theorists Explore Axions as WIMPs Come up Short

Physicists are remarkably frank: they don’t know what dark matter is made of.

“We’re all scratching our heads,” says physicist Reina Maruyama of Yale University.

“The gut feeling is that 80 percent of it is one thing, and 20 percent of it is something else,” says physicist Gray Rybka of the University of Washington. Why does he think this? It’s not because of science. “It’s a folk wisdom,” he says.

Peering through telescopes, researchers have found a deluge of evidence for dark matter. Galaxies, they’ve observed, rotate far faster than their visible mass allows. The established equations of gravity dictate that those galaxies should fall apart, like pieces of cake batter flinging off a spinning hand mixer. The prevailing thought is that some invisible material—dark matter—must be holding those galaxies together. Observations suggest that dark matter consists of diffuse material “sort of like a cotton ball,” says Maruyama, who co-leads a dark matter research collaboration called COSINE-100.

Jay Hyun Jo/DM-Ice/KIMS

Here on Earth, though, clues are scant. Given the speed that galaxies rotate, dark matter should make up 85 percent of the matter in the universe, including on our provincial little home planet. But only one experiment, a detector in Italy named DAMA, has ever registered compelling evidence of the stuff on Earth. “There have been hints in other experiments, but DAMA is the only one with robust signals,” says Maruyama, who is unaffiliated with the experiment. For two decades, DAMA has consistently measured a varying signal that peaks in June and dips in December. The signal suggests that dark matter hits Earth at different rates corresponding to its location in its orbit, which matches theoretical predictions.

But the search has yielded few other promising signals. This year, several detectors reported null findings. XENON1T, a collaboration whose detector is located in the same Italian lab as DAMA, announced they hadn’t found anything this May. Panda-X, a China-based experiment, published in July that they also hadn’t found anything. Even DAMA’s results have been called into question: In December, Maruyama’s team published that their detector, a South-Korea based DAMA replica made of some 200 pounds of sodium iodide crystal, failed to reproduce its Italian predecessor’s results.

These experiments are all designed to search for a specific dark matter candidate, a theorized class of particles known as Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPs, that should be about a million times heavier than an electron. WIMPs have dominated dark matter research for years, and Miguel Zumalacárregui is tired of them. About a decade ago, when Zumalacárregui was still a PhD student, WIMP researchers were already promising an imminent discovery. “They’re just coming back empty-handed,” says Zumalacárregui, now an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley.

He’s not the only one with WIMP fatigue. “In some ways, I grew tired of WIMPs long ago,” says Rybka. Rybka is co-leading an experiment that is pursuing another dark matter candidate: a dainty particle called an axion, roughly a billion times lighter than an electron and much lighter than the WIMP. In April, the Axion Dark Matter Experiment collaboration announced that they’d finally tweaked their detector to be sensitive enough to detect axions.

The detector acts sort of like an AM radio, says Rybka. A strong magnet inside the machine would convert incoming axions into radio waves, which the detector would then pick up. “Given that we don’t know the exact mass of the axion, we don’t know which frequency to tune to,” says Rybka. “So we slowly turn the knob while listening, and mostly we hear noise. But someday, hopefully, we’ll tune to the right frequency, and we’ll hear that pure tone.”

He is betting on axions because they would also resolve a piece of another long-standing puzzle in physics: exactly how quarks bind together to form atomic nuclei. “It seems too good to just be a coincidence, that this theory from nuclear physics happens to make the right amount of dark matter,” says Rybka.

As Rybka’s team sifts through earthly data for signs of axions, astrophysicists look to the skies for leads. In a paper published in October, Zumalacárregui and a colleague ruled out an old idea that dark matter was mostly made of black holes. They reached this conclusion by looking through two decades of supernovae observations. When a supernova passes behind a black hole, the black hole’s gravity bends the supernova’s light to make it appear brighter. The brighter the light, the more massive the black hole. So by tabulating the brightness of hundreds of supernovae, they calculated that black holes that are at least one-hundredth the size of the sun can account for up to 40 percent of dark matter, and no more.

“We’re at a point where our best theories seem to be breaking,” says astrophysicist Jamie Farnes of Oxford University. “We clearly need some kind of new idea. There’s something key we’re missing about how the universe is working.”

Farnes is trying to fill that void. In a paper published in December, he proposed that dark matter could be a weird fluid that moves toward you if you try to push it away. He created a simplistic simulation of the universe containing this fluid and found that it could potentially also explain why the universe is expanding, another long-standing mystery in physics. He is careful to point out that his ideas are speculative, and it is still unclear whether they are consistent with prior telescope observations and dark matter experiments.

WIMPs could still be dark matter as well, despite enthusiasm for new approaches. Maruyama’s Korean experiment has ruled out “the canonical, vanilla WIMP that most people talk about,” she says, but lesser-known WIMP cousins are still on the table.

It’s important to remember, as physicists clutch onto their favorite theories—regardless of how refreshing they are—that they need corroborating data. “The universe doesn’t care what is beautiful or elegant,” says Farnes. Nor does it care about what’s trendy. Guys, the universe might be really uncool.


More Great WIRED Stories

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The Best Sales App I've Seen in 15 Years and OMG It's Free

What makes a sales app great? Three things: 1) it helps you sell, 2) it’s easy to use, and 3) it costs nothing or next-to-nothing. Using that criteria, it’s obvious why CRM isn’t a great sales tool because while 1) it (arguably) helps you sell, it’s also 2) difficult to use, and 3) can cost you big time in lost opportunity cost, even if you’re using freeware.

Because of that, for the past 15 years, the most valuable sales tool has been LinkedIn. Sales is all about building relationships and that’s impossible without knowing who works inside a company and the role they play in the decision-making. Thus while LinkedIn was designed originally for recruiters, it’s been a total godsend for Sales and Marketing.

However, while LinkedIn has been the king of sales tools since it was launched in 2003, its own email system (InMail) has never caught on as an alternative to regular email. As one of my clients put it a couple of days ago: “I just don’t get many responses when I use it.” And that’s too bad because InMail is theoretically much better than regular email.

Email has become increasing important to sales and marketing because now that most people (especially decision-makers) no longer answer their phones making cold calling obsolete. Today, the only effective form of outbound sales is email marketing which everyone is doing (but most aren’t doing it very well.)

The big challenge with email marketing, however, has always been getting the decision-makers’ email addresses. While you can buy email lists on the open market, the data is often inaccurate or out-of-date. Also, email lists encourage one-to-many email marketing (aka SPAM), which isn’t all that effective.

What IS effective with email marketing is a well-researched personalized email that doesn’t attempt to sell but instead just makes contact and opens up a conversation. I’ve written extensively on how to execute this strategy and helped dozens of companies develop the technique. BTW, if you want to fix your cold emails so that you get geometrically more responses, I’m still available for an hour each week… at least for now.

Once you’ve identified a decision-maker on LinkedIn, the difficult part has always been getting that decision-maker’s real email address (business or, better yet, personal). In the past this involved a online research, guesswork, and even calling the reception desk and asking. None of these approaches were ideal and all consumed a fair amount of time.

Well, no longer, because there are now some very easy-to-use tools that troll through big data on the web and give you the email addresses and even the telephone numbers of the profiles that interest you. I’ve tested several of these tools and have concluded the best is Contact Out, which runs as a Chrome Extension.

Contact Out took me 5 seconds to install and 5 seconds to learn to use (it’s a one-click drop down). To test it, I looked up some of my former editors. Not only did I get their current work emails, I also got personal emails for most of them, and even work telephone numbers. If I’d tried this by hand, it would have taken hours of tedious effort.

Contact Out lets you harvest 50 profiles a day for free, but that’s far more than any salesperson needs if they’re doing personalized emails which, again, is the only form of email marketing that actually works.

I also tried two other Chrome Extensions, Lusha and Hunter, but they didn’t seem to harvest as much data. Hunter was interesting, though, because it got me email addresses associated with a specific website, even if the people in question didn’t have LinkedIn profiles. Since neither tool is expensive, you might want to add them to your tool box, too. 

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Oracle sees strong third quarter on cloud strength, share rise

(Reuters) – Oracle Corp on Monday forecast current-quarter profit above estimates after growth in its cloud services and license support unit helped the business software maker surpass Wall Street expectations for the second quarter.

FILE PHOTO: People gather prior to the start of a keynote speech at the All Things Oracle OpenWorld Summit in San Francisco, California September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jana Asenbrennerova/File Photo

Shares rose 5 percent, with the company saying that excluding fluctuations in exchange rates, it expected third-quarter adjusted profit to be between 86 cents and 88 cents per share.

Analysts on average were expecting 84 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Revenue at its cloud services and license support unit, its biggest, rose 2.7 percent to $6.64 billion and beat analysts’ estimate, as more companies shifted to cloud computing from the traditional on-premise database model to cut costs.

Oracle’s in June created a new revenue reporting structure that merged its cloud and software license businesses, which analysts have said gives little insight into the standalone performance of its cloud unit.

Oracle is a late entrant to the rapidly growing cloud-based software business, but has aggressively stepped up its efforts to catch up with rivals such as Workday Inc, Microsoft Corp and Salesforce.com Inc.

“Oracle’s growth in cloud services and license support of just 3 percent appears to be contradicting the strength in the overall cloud market,” said Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager of Synovus Trust Co, which hold 152,500 shares in the company.

Last month, Workday reported a 35 percent jump in cloud subscription revenue, while Salesforce’s flagship product Sales Cloud grew 11 percent.

“Oracle is still dragging behind other old line enterprise software players like Microsoft in its transition to becoming a top cloud company,” said Morgan, whose firm also hold shares in Salesforce and Microsoft Corp.

The company’s net income rose to $2.33 billion, or 61 cents per share, in the second quarter ended Nov. 30. Excluding items, the company earned 80 cents per share, beating the average analyst estimate of 78 cents.

Total revenue fell marginally to $9.56 billion, but brushed past analyst expectation of $9.52 billion.

Shares of the company were up at $48 in after-market trading.

Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

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2019 – The Game Changers

Looking back is not always that easy and sometimes painful. Your vision may not be 20/20 but reasonable clarity may be had by sticking to the facts and the actual data. Having said this, looking forward is a much tougher proposition. You are looking into the unknown. We haven’t gotten there yet.

However, staring into the future is a task that must be undertaken from time to time. I stare hard at pending “Risks.” Others stare hard at pending opportunities. “Preservation of Capital” demands that “Risks” come first, as “avoidance” is often the key to success. If you can stay out of the potholes, you can keep going and proceeding ahead is what gives us all the ability to win at the “Great Game.”

One of the biggest “Game Changers” is the breakage of a fifty year cycle where the United States, and Europe, had to depend upon hostile nations for oil and natural gas. We were hemmed in by them and many political decisions and economic decisions were based upon the fact that we needed their energy. With fracking and re-fracking and horizontal drilling, this has all changed and to the significant benefit of the Western world.

Last week the United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced a groundbreaking oil and gas discovery in the West Texas Permian Basin. According to the organization’s statement, 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids are now believed to lie untapped in the Texan and New Mexican Permian Basin. The figures in last week’s announcement are more than double the previous resource assessment.

“Christmas came a few weeks early this year,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in response to these rather incredible numbers.

American strength flows from American energy, and as it turns out, we have a lot of American energy. Before this assessment came down, I was bullish on oil and gas production in the United States. Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.

Dr. Jim Reilly, the Director of USGS, a part of the U.S. Department of Interior, highlighted how remarkable the discovery was in the larger context of the industry.

In the 1980’s, during my time in the petroleum industry, the Permian and similar mature basins were not considered viable for producing large new recoverable resources. Today, thanks to advances in technology, the Permian Basin continues to impress in terms of resource potential. The results of this most recent assessment and that of the Wolfcamp Formation in the Midland Basin in 2016 are our largest continuous oil and gas assessments ever released. Knowing where these resources are located and how much exists is crucial to ensuring both our energy independence and energy dominance.

What this all means is that we are now capable of breaking OPEC’s back. They have lost control. The United States has gained control. We can now tell them to “Stuff It,” as we not only gain energy independence but a whole new source of revenues, and taxes, that can be used to our advantage, as we export oil and natural gas to both Europe and Asia.

Any fool can know. The point is to understand.

– Albert Einstein

The next, far less pleasant “Game Changer” is the Democrats taking over the House. This is going to cause all kinds of turmoil, in my estimation. They are likely going to try to impeach President Trump and the markets may take a bath if this happens. Bonds or equities, the rancor of serious political infighting is never good news.

Then we have Brexit becoming quite unwieldy, Italy still fighting over its budget with the European Union and the economy of China slowing down as both their internal and external debts rise to record levels. Then there is the Chinese currency, which could get “re-evaluated” several times during the next year. The tariff stand-off with the United States is, in fact, a “Game of Thrones” as each nation vies for global power and influence. All of these issues could change the Game and cause roller coaster rides in the markets.

Next, there is the Fed. They are the central bank of the United States and the continual raising of interest rates is not helping the economy of the country. “Will they stop or will they go on,” is the central question. The Governors have 14 year terms and they can brandish their “Independence” as they wish, but the Fed was created by the Congress in 1913 using the Federal Reserve Act and what is given can be taken away, or muted, if the Congress does not feel that the Fed is acting in the best interests of the country. The Fed is NOT a Constitutional mandate, I remind all of you.

Then there is the CLO market. There are some large financial institutions that are worried that the bottom is about to drop out of this market. As an observation, the total outstanding volume of leveraged loans is about $1,130 billion or 5.5% of the U.S. GDP. CLOs, which are repackaged corporate debt, has made up most of the appetite for these loans.

These instruments hold approximately half, or $600 billion, which is roughly 3.0% of the U.S. GDP. The catalyst for the concern is not so much the drop in prices as the fund flows, with Lipper reporting that loan funds saw a record outflow of $2.53 billion in the week ended December 12, as we are now in the fourth consecutive week of selling. A significant “Game Changer” could be happening here.

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces.

– Will Rogers

“Game Changers” now abound all around us. Look closely, think, plan, execute, don’t slow down. Stay out of harm’s way. Avoid the Risks. Choose wisely!

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Amazon Releases $30 Echo Wall Clock

In September, Amazon announced plans to launch an Echo-powered wall clock to help users visually track their timers.

Today, the clock officially became available to the masses.

On the surface, it looks like any other wall clock. The device, however, has 60 LEDs around the clock face to show any active timers you’ve initiated.

For example, if you set a timer for when you need to take a pie out of the oven and another for when your kids absolutely need to stop playing video games and get ready for dinner, you’ll see two LEDs on the clock.

While the clock sports the Echo name, you’ll need to have Alexa set up on another device such as an Echo Dot or your phone to use it. The clock itself doesn’t have any speakers or microphones. It’s meant to work in tandem with another Echo device.

You can snag one of the wall clocks from Amazon for $29.99.

And if you want something a little different, that Billy Big Mouth Bass Echo device has a speaker and microphones, so it works like a traditional Amazon Echo and is definitely bound to start a few conversations with your guests this holiday season.

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Richard Branson Says He Will Travel to Space in Mid-2019, With Tourists to Follow Soon After

Following a successful test launch of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Thursday, Richard Branson said he’s planning on heading up to space “in the middle of next year” and that space tourists will also make the trip shortly afterward.

Thursday’s test, the fourth so far by Virgin Galactic, carried two pilots and a passenger dummy on a spacecraft more than 50 miles into the air, high enough to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of space. Afterward, Branson was asked on CNBC when the company would start ferrying human passengers.

Branson said that SpaceShipTwo would first be examined to see if changes are needed before facing a few more rounds of tests. “Then we will move the operation to a space port in New Mexico,” he said. “Then I will then go up, and we’ll do another set of tests. If every box is ticked we will start to be able to take members of the public up.”

In the past, Branson noted, his timing estimates have erred on the side of the optimistic. “I always get these estimates wrong. It’s been 14 years to get to this stage. I thought it would be seven,” he said. “But I would hope sometime in the middle of next year, I’ll be going up and quite soon after that members of the public will go up.”

The cost of a trip on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft has been estimated to be between $200,000 and $250,000. In the interview, CEO George Whitesides said that the price for early trips might be higher than that range, although the company hopes it will eventually be lower in the longer term.

To accommodate more passengers, Virgin Galactic is building two more spaceships. Branson said all three may be taking humans to space “in the not too distant future.”

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Starbucks sales growth to be steady despite UberEats deal, plans for China expansion

FILE PHOTO: A Starbucks store is seen inside the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, United States, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) said on Thursday it was partnering with UberEats for delivery from about 3,500 U.S. stores and would nearly double its outlets in China over the next four years, but forecast that same-store sales would remain steady, sending shares down 3 percent.

The company said it expects its global same-store sales growth between 3 percent and 4 percent annually in the long term, roughly in line with a forecast that estimates sales growth to be at the lower end of 3 percent to 5 percent this year.

Starbucks has been struggling to lure diners to its restaurants as it faces severe competition from smaller coffee chains that offer exotic coffees as well as fresh food.

In its attempt to withstand competition, the Seattle-based chain that owns about 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. has been revamping its owned and licensed businesses, improving delivery, closing Teavana stores, laying off workers and adding new food as well as drinks to its menu.

The latest delivery initiative, which will commence from the beginning of 2019, builds on a pilot program launched in Miami in September, the company said.

The company said last month it was partnering with UberEats to deliver coffee and food in Tokyo, as part of its plan to boost sales in Japan, one of its major Asia-Pacific markets.

Starbucks also said on Thursday it would raise its store footprint in China, its fastest growing market, to 6,000 stores across 230 cities over the next four years, up from 3,600 stores in 150 cities.

Starbucks has partnered with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) earlier this year for delivering food and coffee in China, as it looks to compete with local coffee chains.

The world’s biggest coffee chain’s shares were down 3 percent at $64.84 in after-hours trading.

Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel

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9 Trumpworld Figures Who Should Fear Mueller the Most

Wednesday’s sentencing of onetime Trump fixer Michael Cohen to 36 months of prison continues a frenetic pace of revelations around the Russia probe. Nearly every single day since Thanksgiving has brought fresh developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.

Even as the president continues to rail about the “Witch Hunt” on Twitter, Mueller’s strategy looks like anything but. Nearly every defendant he’s targeted has pleaded guilty, meaning he’s moving against people with overwhelming evidence. Those targets have mostly, in turn, cooperated—naming more alleged crimes and suspects. Similarly, in the one instance he has been forced to go to trial, Mueller prevailed handedly, winning convictions against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in every category of charges he brought. Mueller has also assiduously handed off certain crimes to other prosecutors, be it identity theft stemming from Russia’s Internet Research Agency, foreign lobbying questions, and even referring the original Cohen case to the Southern District in New York.

Together, those facts paint the picture of a conservative prosecutor, focused on demonstrable crimes and clear cases of criminal behavior. Mueller famously sees the world in black and white, right versus wrong, and all of his investigations have Russia and Russian influence as their core focus. Thus far he’s stayed clear of anything that might appear gray.

The pace of developments shows no sign of slowing, either. Thursday apparently will see a guilty plea from alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, whose role in the 2016 election and ties to gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association remain perplexing.

CNN’s John Berman has described it as the “12 days of Mueller.” The filings thus far, taken together, have clarified where Mueller is heading, and appear to help delineate who is likely on the special counsel’s “naughty list” this holiday season. The past two weeks of rapid-fire filings, court appearances, and news reports show several people and entities potentially in Mueller’s sights.

Here are the reasons you should be concerned if you’re:

Jared Kushner

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s original plea deal made clear that he called Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the direction of a “very senior” transition official, which media reports have identified as presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Subsequent court filings have made clear that Flynn’s early cooperation encouraged others to cooperate as well. That likely includes at least K.T. McFarland, another national security aide, whose memory reportedly evolved after Flynn’s plea. Her revised memory likely also ratchets up the scrutiny of Kushner’s role on the campaign, where he was in the room for the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, and the transition, where he reportedly tried to create a communications backchannel with Russia and met with the head of the Russian development bank, Sergei Gorkov. Mueller has outlined in recent court filings his view that “senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards,” which sounds like an as-yet-unfired warning shot against other “senior government leaders.” Kushner, as a senior White House adviser, now fits that bill.

Donald Trump, Jr.

Michael Cohen’s plea agreement never mentions the presidential son by name, but it potentially implicates Don Jr. in at least two critical areas. First, vis-à-vis the Trump Tower Moscow deal, Cohen says he kept the Trump Organization and family members up to date on the conversations with Russia, which appears to undercut Don Jr.’s testimony to Congress that he didn’t know much about the proposed development and, besides, the deal never went very far anyway. Cohen, and thus the special counsel, appears to possess evidence that both halves of that dismissal were false. With the Cohen plea agreement 10 days ago, Mueller has made clear that he considers lying to Congress within his purview.

Second, and more intriguing, is how Cohen discusses the November 2015 approach by a Russian intermediary offering “political synergy” with the campaign. One of the most confounding puzzle pieces of the investigation remains publicist Rob Goldstone’s email initiating the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, at which Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Russians who had promised to help the campaign. Goldstone’s email said, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” We’ve never known what “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” meant specifically, but the way Goldstone phrased it seems to imply that such help wouldn’t come as a surprise to Don Jr. The Cohen plea agreement now lays the groundwork that such help might have been quite well known inside Trumpworld, given that 2015 overture. The offer of “political synergy,” a synonym that sounds a lot like “collusion” or “conspiracy,” makes it much harder to imagine a naive acceptance of the Russian help come June 2016.

President Donald Trump

While the president tried to brush off recent developments as “peanut stuff” Tuesday night, the potential criminal liability focused on the White House seems to grow with nearly every court filing. Prosecutors have now made clear their belief that the president himself, aka “Individual-1,” directed Michael Cohen to commit campaign finance violations, a felony. Given Cohen’s general slipperiness in court, they’re almost certainly basing that allegation on precise documentary evidence, potentially even the covert recordings that Cohen liked to make. On Wednesday, SDNY reached a deal with National Enquirer publisher AMI that explicitly states that the Cohen payments were intended to prevent a story about Trump’s alleged affair with Karen McDougal from “influencing the election.”

The court filings contain growing signs, too, that Mueller could be building not just a case around conspiracy during the 2016 campaign, but also about “expansive obstruction.” A case like that could include the possible coordination of lies following Russia revelations, such as Cohen’s in front of Congress. A specific line from the special counsel’s filing in Cohen’s case also jumps out: “By publicly presenting this false narrative, the defendant deliberately shifted the timeline of what had occurred in hopes of limiting the investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.” It’s not hard to imagine that same line cut-and-pasted into a future obstruction case regarding Donald Trump’s personal handling of a false narrative put out by the White House after reports first surfaced of the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Maybe the firing of FBI director James Comey—which has seemed central to any obstruction investigation—will ultimately end up just part of a larger, longer, more coordinated attempt to mislead and misdirect attention around the Russia investigation. After all, there’s historical precedent for this: Part of the Watergate articles of impeachment charged Richard Nixon with “making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States.”

The Trump Organization

In one of my first columns on the special counsel’s investigation, I noted that the FBI focuses on taking down entire, corrupt organizations: mafia families, drug cartels, terrorism rings. That’s its DNA, and why federal investigations take so long; they work step-by-step, from the bottom up, to dismantle the whole enterprise. There are increasing signs that the Trump Organization—the family business built around the Trump brand—might be in its crosshairs. Corporate malfeasance expert Kurt Eichenwald, who literally wrote the book on Enron, points out how closely the Trump Organization appears to be implicated in Cohen’s hush money payments, and the apparently narrow circle of people who could have participated in them. Cohen’s plea deal also alleges that the Trump Organization’s business was closely tied into the Trump Tower Moscow project; BuzzFeed broke word that the company had floated the idea of offering the $50 million penthouse to Putin himself. It’s been known, too, for some time that Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has been cooperating with investigators. Between him and Cohen—and Cohen’s voluminous seized records—a clear trail may appear for prosecutors to follow. With the Trump Foundation already under legal fire, will the president’s namesake company follow suit? And that’s all before New York’s new attorney general takes office too, promising a fulsome investigation into Trump’s world.

Jerome Corsi and Associates

The alleged criminal liability of conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi has already been laid out in the aborted plea agreement that he leaked after the deal with Mueller’s office fell apart. How far Corsi’s role may stretch to encompass WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Trump associate Roger Stone remains an open question too.

Michael Cohen

Even after Wednesday’s prison sentence, which settles the nine (nine!) felonies he has currently pleaded guilty to, there’s some reason to believe that Cohen might not be out of the woods. The Southern District of New York in its sentencing filing made clear its unhappiness that Cohen didn’t fully cooperate, providing a full and complete list of the crimes he’d participated in over the years. As they wrote, “Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge.” Given that those federal prosecutors in Manhattan are likely continuing their reported investigation of the Trump Organization, it seems like Cohen could still face potential criminal liability as the other cases proceed.

Business partners of Michael Flynn

One of the most intriguing aspects of the sentencing memo filed by Michael Flynn’s lawyers was its reference to how Flynn met with prosecutors for over 62 hours, across 19 meetings, and “produced thousands of documents to the Department of Justice,” including “sweeping categories of documents held by his two companies, rather than fight over the breadth of subpoenas, and facilitated the production of electronic devices.” Given that the court filings reference Flynn’s business work—not the Trump campaign—and that part of Flynn’s plea agreement focused on his plotting with the Turkish government, it appears one of the undisclosed criminal investigations he has helped with involves those interactions.

Konstanin Kilimnik

The Ukrainian businessman who served as Paul Manafort’s onetime business partner—and alleged Russian intelligence asset—is all over the Manafort court filings in a way that makes clear the special counsel has a unique, focused interest in him and his role in the campaign. He’s already been implicated in Manafort’s alleged witness tampering scheme, but there’s no reason to think Mueller is done with him. Franklin Foer, who has written the most in-depth coverage of Manafort’s world, says Kilimnik’s appearance in the new documents “foreshadow[s] an ominous return.”

Alexander Torshin

The Russian politician and banker has been linked in court documents to Maria Butina, the alleged spy likely to plead guilty on Thursday. Torshin appeared to “handle” Butina, building ties to the NRA; her guilty plea will likely shed additional light on Torshin’s role, particularly if she provides active cooperation with investigators.


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Garrett M. Graff (@vermontgmg) is a contributing editor for WIRED and the coauthor of Dawn of the Code War: America’s Battle Against Russia, China, and the Rising Global Cyber Threat. He can be reached at garrett.graff@gmail.com.

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8 Signs Your Startup Is a Zombie, and 3 Things to Do About It

Even the best investors in the world aren’t right all the time. So most investors apply a portfolio approach to spread their risk and increase the chances for backing a billion-dollar opportunity. In any investor’s portfolio you have three types of ventures: the dogs, the stars, and the zombies.

  • Dogs run out of cash before finding a scalable business model. These companies return nothing to the investors.
  • Stars are the home runs–the investments that generate 10x returns and make up for all the dogs.
  • Zombies are companies that are neither dogs nor stars. They make revenue, perhaps enough to break even, but not enough to generate a huge return for investors. Their growth seems stagnant and they can’t consistently generate more revenue than costs. They are constantly raising money, are focused more on investors than on customers, and rarely have a unique value proposition that generates exponentially more value to customers than existing solutions. Investors see zombie startups as no longer attractive, and not worth a follow-up investment–which can be the kiss of death for those companies.

What Creates a Zombie

From there, one of two things happens: The dip bounces back and starts to trend upward to scale, or the dip turns into a cliff and never bounces back. Godin proposes that at the bottom of the curve–in the dip–founders have to choose to double down or cut their losses. The ability to know when to hold them and when to fold them is the difference between dogs and stars.

Zombies happen because some founders get caught up in the dip, and neither flame out nor take off to greatness.

How to Tell If Your Startup Is Doomed

There are many signs that can alert a founder (or investor) that a venture is stalling and zombie-bound. Danielle Morrill is an outspoken founder on the issue of zombie startups. A few years ago, she published the following signals that you may be in a zombie phase:

  • You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
  • You don’t want to go out in public for fear you’ll have to explain what you do.
  • You haven’t hit 10 percent week-over-week growth on any meaningful metric (revenue, active users, etc).
  • You’re working on the same idea for than a year and still haven’t launched.
  • You’ve launched a consumer service and have less than 2 percent week-over-week growth in signups.
  • You’ve launched an enterprise service and have less than 2 percent week-over-week growth in revenue pipeline.
  • You are the CEO and hole yourself up in the offices so you don’t have to talk to employees and can read TechCrunch.
  • You’ve hired consultants to figure out revenue, culture, or product in a company of less than 10 people.

What You Can Do About It

  1. Accept it. Call it a day, or as some founders choose to, flame out big. Double down on your efforts and fail large instead of quietly fading away.
  2. Pivot one of the parts of your business model. To become a startup unicorn, you likely need an exponential advantage in one of these areas to shift from zombie to star (think: Netflix offers 10x the entertainment of a movie theater for less than half the cost). There are lots of examples of how a pivot evolved a zombie into a star: Yelp, YouTube, PayPal, Flickr, Groupon, and Shopify.
  3. Organize an acquihire and make lemonade from your lemons. Sometimes, others can leverage what you have built to drive growth at their business. This is often done through an acquihire (buying a company as a means of hiring that startup’s people). While this may not be an optimal outcome, it is often the best choice for zombies.

Unlike on the TV show The Walking Dead, zombie status isn’t forever. There are examples of startups pivoting and becoming stars (and many more examples of startups pivoting and becoming dogs). 

But what’s more important that the decision you make is making a decision. Do not delude yourself. Let the data set you free. 

Published on: Dec 11, 2018

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5 Business Lessons Entrepreneurs Often Ignore When They're in Love With Their Product

Most aspiring entrepreneurs are convinced that their idea and passion are so great that failure is not a possibility.

They relate quickly to one of the big successes out there today, including Facebook, Airbnb, or Snap, and can give you a dozen reasons that they are in the same category. It’s a good way to get some inspiration, but not an accurate representation of reality.

As a startup advisor and angel investor, I tend to focus on the much longer list of ways your startup can fail, based on my own experience and inside knowledge from peers who you will never see highlighted on the Internet.

I’m convinced that you can learn more from failure than success, so it pays to take these as lessons to improve your success odds before you start:

1. Creating a new technology doesn’t make a business.

Based on my experience, creating a new business is at least as difficult as creating an innovative solution, and it takes a knowledge of finance, operations, customers and the marketplace.

If you don’t have all these interests and skills, even your most “disruptive” products will likely fail.

For example, the personal motorized scooter Segway was announced as disruptive technology way back in 2002, but is still not a successful business. Despite the technology, the fears of pedestrians and government regulations strangled the business. 

2. If there is no competition, there is likely not a market.

Every potentially successful product has competition, or an alternative, or customers with no interest in change.

If you really believe your idea has no competition, perhaps you haven’t looked, or there is no real business. Competitors arrive rapidly these days, so make sure you look often.

I often hear funding pitches on “nice to have” products, combining the features of several known winners, such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, there are no competitors for this combination, but people rarely pay real money or incur change for nice-to-have solutions.

3. Focus on doing one thing well rather than many things.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. You will likely confuse your target customers, and do everything poorly, because of the limited resources of a startup.

Later, as you scale the business, is the time to add products or service offerings that customers demand to make the business more robust.

For example, Uber built their initial success by simply connecting people looking for intra-city car rides via a smartphone app. Only later did they expand this offering to multiple classes of cars, Uber for business use, package delivery, and even freight hauling.

4. Plan to and assemble the right team, including co-founders.

Building and running a business is not a solo operation. You need skills in finance, operations, and marketing to supplement product development, and more hours of work than one person can manage.

A team with the right skills, chemistry, and culture makes all the difference in business.

I find that most investors invest in the team, more often then they invest in an idea. If you have the right team, you will be able to execute effectively, multiply the impact of your solution by an order of magnitude, and build relationships with customers quickly.

5. Calculate your projected costs, and double the amount.

Both the business and your solution will take more time and money to develop than you expect.

Entrepreneurs always assume everything will go right the first time, and it never happens. Count on at least one required pivot, and several crises that you could never anticipate.

Can you believe that Facebook, for example, required an investment of nearly $350 million before turning cash-flow positive? Even the best entrepreneurs tend to underestimate their requirements, and finding emergency funding is very costly.

There are many more lessons to be learned by listening to advisors, and peers who have gone before you. Even if you fail on your first startup, you should wear it as a badge of courage and lesson learned, rather than be devastated.

Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs experienced early failures, but obviously never gave up. Your legacy will be how far you have travelled, rather than where you started.

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Waymo’s Self-Driving Launch, and More This Week in Cars

Baby steps.

This week, the WIRED Transportation team highlighted (as we often do) a few exciting developments in self-driving cars. The Senate is finally considering self-driving car legislation, and might finalize it before the end of the year. An autonomous vehicle shuttle company bagged some new government contracts, and will open its six-seaters to members of the general public this month. Waymo, the putative leader in the space, finally launched its self-driving car service in metro Phoenix, Arizona.

And then there were some asterisks. That Waymo launch? There will still mostly be safety drivers in the front seats of its cars, monitoring the tech for boo-boos. And Tesla’s Autopilot was under the microscope again this week, with the news that police stopped a Model S on a California highway—while its driver snoozed behind the wheel. The autonomy thing is going slowly, it turns out, and there have been some brakes applied along the way. We are not there yet.

Also this week: Scooters are the best! Maps are too! It’s been a week: Let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • We still don’t know whether the Tesla Model S stopped last month by some quick-thinking cops as its driver snoozed in the front seat was on Autopilot, the electric carmaker’s semi-autonomous highway driving feature. But as editor Alex Davies points out, the incident highlights an issue with the feature: that it can fooled into “believing” that its human driver is paying attention, even when they really aren’t.

  • Waymo officially launched its self-driving robotaxi service this week, with some serious caveats. The cars will still mostly have safety drivers in their front seat, which means they’re not totally driving themselves. And the Waymo One program is only open to people who have already taken part in the company’s secretive Early Rider program. Which means: If you’re not one of a handful of Arizonans, your self-driving car is not arriving now.

  • Still, the site of Waymo’s launch is an interesting place. Welcome to Chandler, Arizona, the unlikely birthplace of the self-driving car service.

  • Here’s another company that’s seeing some self-driving success: the small, Michigan-based startup May Mobility, which announced two impending autonomous shuttle launches this week. Right now, the company is tackling the easier parts of self-driving—shorter, repetitive routes—but it’s tackling them in big, busy cities. And actually signing contracts.

  • Here we go again. This week, Senators suddenly began circulating new language for a self-driving car bill that has been in congressional limbo for more than a year. The draft is supposed to be a compromise, setting loose guidelines for AV developers. But will the bill pass before the end of the year?

  • The hot new gig for bike messengers in Seattle right now? Riding a tricycle for a 111-year-old delivery service. UPS is now testing electric delivery trikes in the city, just as a major infrastructure promises to snarl city traffic. Nice timing!

  • Porsche hooks up with the mapmakers at Mapbox, who make slick cartographic interfaces for all sorts of industries. The Germans are hoping a new approach to mapping will add a bit of pizzazz to their in-car infographics, and maybe even convince drivers to go to exploratory pleasure drives. (Yeah, that’s gotta be a challenge for Porsche owners.)

Fun Efficiency Graphic of the Week

We get it—we’re visual learners, too. If you don’t have time to read Levi Tillemann and Lassor Feasley’s fun piece about scooters, make some time for the chart below, which shows how much less it pollutes and costs to power an e-scooter than your other car-based mobility options.

LEVI TILLEMANN/LASSOR FEASLEY

Stat of the Week

40%

The share of older Americans who say they can’t do the activities or chores they’d like because they do not drive, according to a survey by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center. The group advocates for more transit options for those who can’t drive because of age or disability.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s canon

Bad news for world records, great news for you, deep-pocketed car lover: The supersonic Bloodhound, powered by a jet engine bolted to a rocket, is now for sale after the team that was trying to set the land speed record ran out of money. WIRED reported on the supersonic car back in 2015.

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50 Years Later, We Still Don't Grasp the Mother of All Demos

Fifty years ago today, Doug Engelbart showed 2,000 people a preview of the future.

Engelbart gave a demonstration of the “oN-Line System” at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco on Dec. 9, 1968. The oN-Line System was the first hypertext system, preceding the web by more than 20 years. But it was so much more than that. When Engelbart typed a word, it appeared simultaneously on his screen in San Francisco and on a terminal screen at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. When Engelbart moved his mouse, the cursor moved in both locations.

The demonstration was impressive not just because Engelbart showed off Google Docs-style collaboration decades before Google was founded. It was impressive because he and his team at SRI’s Augmentation Research Center had to conceive of and create nearly every piece of technology they displayed, from the window-based graphical interface to the computer mouse.

“It made the interaction with the machine almost compelling, it was intimate,” says Don Nielson, a retired SRI engineer and executive who wrote a history of SRI called Heritage of Innovation. “Up til then, unless you were a programmer you didn’t spend much time in front of a terminal or a teletype or whatever the medium.”

You can draw a line from the technologies introduced at the “Mother of All Demos,” as WIRED writer Steven Levy dubbed the event in his book Insanely Great, to the internet, the web, Wikipedia, the Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, Google Docs, and a host of other technologies that dominated daily life by the time Engelbart died in 2013. To Engelbart, his work was never about the technology itself, but about helping people work together to solve the world’s biggest problems.

“I don’t believe that as he looked around that he thought ‘Oh I had a hand in that,'” says Nielson. “He would say ‘They still don’t understand me.'”

It’s not hard to see why people didn’t understand. Engelbart concluded the 1968 presentation by explaining what he believed he had demonstrated. “It’s an augmentation system that’s provided to augment computer system development,” he says. “And beyond that, we’re also hoping that we’re developing quite a few design principles for developing our augmentation systems. And these, I hope are transferable things.”

In other words, he wasn’t presenting a collection of hardware and software, but a system for developing hardware and software—a system that ideally could be useful in other endeavors. He was demonstrating a way of working.

Bootstrapping Tools

Engelbart founded the Augmentation Research Center in the early 1960s with an eye towards helping humanity tackle its biggest problems, such as poverty, disease, and the effects of war, his daughter Christina Engelbart says.

To solve those problems, Engelbart believed humanity needed new ways of working. “Man’s population and gross product are increasing at considerable rate but the complexity of his problems grows still faster and the urgency with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater,” he wrote in his 1959 paper “Augmenting Human Intellect.”

He believed that computers would be an important part of enhancing human abilities, but he also believed technology needed to be part of a systematic approach to problem solving and collaboration. Engelbart believed people should focus on creating feedback loops to improve their own effectiveness explains Jeff Rulifson, the computer scientist who developed much of the software on display at the Mother of All Demos. “The idea was to create tools and then use those tools to improve the tools,” Rulifson says. Instead of making the tool once, it would be continually improved, based on the experiences of its users. As the tools improve, they make it possible to make new, more useful tools. Engelbart called the approach “bootstrapping,” named for the bootstrap circuit in radar systems.

The Augmentation Research Center team put the bootstrapping idea into practice. They used the oN-Line System to build the oN-Line System, learning what did and didn’t work as they went. That was the group’s real purpose.

At the event in 1968, Engelbart didn’t just show off the mouse and hypertext documents as cool. He, Rulifson, and fellow Augmented Research Center engineer Bill Paxton demonstrated how the team used the hypertext system to collaborate.

“What we’re saying, we need a research subject group to give them these tools, put them to work with them, study them and improve them,” Engelbart said during the demo. “We’ll do that by making ourselves be the subject group and studying ourselves, and making the tools so that they improve our ability to develop and study these kinds of systems, and to produce in the end, this kind of system discipline.”

From the GUI to Lean Manufacturing

Engelbart’s ideas no longer seem so out there, thanks to management philosophies like lean manufacturing and agile software development that encourage companies to make continuous improvements to their products and processes.

Open source software is perhaps one of the purest embodiments of the Engelbart philosophy. Open source developers from around the world, often from competing companies, collaborate to build the tools they use to build more tools that they use to solve complex problems, such as building artificial intelligence systems. But the struggles of the open source community also expose some of the limitations to Engelbart’s thinking.

Making tools to solve complex problems can create new problems, and tools can be used in ways the creators might not have intended. Facebook used open source software to build a web application capable of serving more than 2 billion people. Now it stands accused of enabling bad actors to foment hate, divide societies, and manipulate elections. Meanwhile, the National Security Agency is using some of those same open source tools as part of its surveillance efforts.

In other words, bad actors can continuously improve too. Just as environmental activists can get better at trying to raise awareness of global warming or creating sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, the fossil fuel industry can get better at convincing the public that global warming doesn’t exist or find better ways to extract oil and gas.

Christina Engelbart, now the executive director of the Douglas Engelbart Institute, says her father was well aware of this issue, and believed it was important for good people to get better as quickly as possible. “He used to call it a race,” she says.

She says her father was pleased with the development of the lean manufacturing methodology and the earlier “total quality management .” But he wanted to see those ideas applied everywhere, not just manufacturing and product development. To that end, the institute will host a series of events beginning Sunday that aim to help people finally understand Engelbart.


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Want to Increase Your Revenues Radically? Call a Designer

This week’s New Yorker magazine has The Back Page by Roz Chast and it’s a cartoon called The Big Book of Parent-Child Fights. The Table of Contents has 12 entries starting with Food Arguments and ending with Miscellaneous Battles. It left me in stitches–I have two teens at home. It also made me love the way it takes a complex idea, the relation between parents and their children, and makes it super simple to understand.

Most organizations and leaders don’t know why they need designers. To put it into perspective, think about when you need a lawyer. Or when you need a plumber. Easy, right? The answer is not as easy or intuitive with design. 

If you know why you need design, you can double your growth. You can build trust with your customers. You can get better at navigating the world of uncertainty with agility. I call this having a high Design Quotient (DQ).

If you don’t know when to call a designer, or how to have design embedded into your company culture, you fall behind. You follow versus lead, others eat you for lunch. 

With inspiration from Chast, here is The Big Book of When to Call a Designer. If you answer Yes (Y) to any of the points, it’s time to talk to a designer.

1. You want to increase your revenues radically, and faster. Y/N

“Top-quartile MDI scorers increased their revenues and total returns to shareholders (TRS) substantially faster than their industry counterparts did over a five-year period–32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher TRS growth for the period as a whole.” The Business Value of Design, Mc Kinsey

2. You need to lower your risks but want to increase your rate of innovation. Y/N

The design process inherently reduces risk–its multiple ideas, iteration, rapid prototyping, testing, and reiteration means you can fail fast and at a low cost until you have a winning idea.

“Prototype ideas from low fidelity to high fidelity with increasing evidence that your ideas are going to work.” Alex Osterwalder, author, Business Model Canvas

3. You want to build your customers’ trust and be close to them. Y/N

Organizations that use design tools regularly, such as co-creation and user-journey maps, develop empathy for their users. This leads to a better understanding of their needs, leading to better solutions, and eventually and most importantly, leading to trust. 

4. Your C-suite doesn’t include a design function. Y/N

Most organizations do not have a design function in their C-suite. Yet design can bring user experience-centered, multi-functional vision building and decision making at the highest levels.  Having someone at the top who does this helps to embed it internally and creates long-term returns as noted in point #1.

5. Your organization is siloed, and it gets in the way of effective collaboration. Y/N

Design is collaborative. Designers are generalists. Often what they don’t know, and want to learn, that makes them great at bringing cross-functional teams together. In fact, their superpower is synthesizing diverse knowledge and input into a coherent vision.

6. Your research generates insights that everyone has. Y/N

If you want innovation, you need innovative research tools. Designers constantly invent new qualitative and quantitative research tools–researching other industries, studying outliers, using AI and machine-learning to generate permutations–that bring new insights to old problems.

7. You listen to the customer’s voice, but do not imagine the customer experience. Y/N

Channeling Henry Ford for a moment, the customer’s voice gives you a faster horse. Customer experience, on the other hand, gives you a Model T. Design brings physical, digital, and service together to define experiences that improve our lives. 

8. You have dichotomies, but do not know how to resolve them. Y/N

“Less is more” is my favorite dichotomy. Good design at an affordable price is Target’s. Simple and high performance is Apple’s. Each is a strong design organization with an embedded design culture, and each creates long-term, high value through the resolution of dichotomies.

There’s no one easy answer to when to call a designer; there are many good reasons. But can you afford not to? The answer to that is simple and best said by, Ralph Caplan, author, and National Design Mind Awardee:

“Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”

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