Convergence of Brains and Chains

After many stops and starts it finally appears that we are on the verge of a true convergence explosion between Internet of Things (IOT), AI, and blockchain. Or in other words, the production of data, the consumption of data and the distribution of data.

To review:

IoT, pertains to the interconnectivity of the world around us—basically how all of our personal and home devices work together to optimize daily human life.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has previously been described as the ability of computer systems to perform tasks that previously had required human interaction, but today it pertains more to algorithms that assemble and analyze personal data which is then used to facilitate and streamline human existence.

Blockchain is a digital ledger in which transactions are recorded chronologically and publicly. The technology often involves bitcoin or other similarly cryptocurrencies. The main benefit of blockchain is that it catalogues data into a permanent record along a chain that is transparent and linear.

The convergence of these technologies come with both enormous benefits and also significant risks. Industries have been looking at blockchain as a way to streamline their processes and make tracking and data collection simpler and more transparent. In the past, there have been those who worried about the susceptibility of IoT and AI to the hacking of encryption services. Those security concerns are one of the main reasons why we haven’t yet seen a true explosion of the convergence of IoT, blockchain and AI but the tide has begun to turn as blockchain advances have now made the aforementioned hacking more difficult.

What are the key convergence highlights? One of the main ideas at the interaction of AI and Blockchain is the data marketplace. If everyone owns their own data and can make it available as they choose in a private manner, we could have more data in aggregate.  To truly achieve its potential, each of the three building blocks of AI must be made available in a centralized, private, and secured manner.

Outlier Ventures explains the need for the Convergence Ecosystem by saying, “The Internet of Things is creating an unmanageable data environment, and artificial intelligence is giving those who control the most data more power than any company in history.”  Outlier adds, “The integration of these technologies will see markets become increasingly open-sourced, distributed, decentralized, automated, and tokenized.”

Observers are closely watching which sectors and companies will emerge atop the convergence industry bracket. Interestingly, this convergence war echoes what occurred several years ago with cloud/mobile convergence. The companies who emerged victorious from that battle were not initial sweetheart companies like Lycos and Yahoo but rather Microsoft, Amazon and surprisingly, IBM, a company once associated with hardware who has made significant inroads into this space, especially as of late.

Several budding convergence sectors will undoubtedly determine the winners and losers. The Government Accountability Office recently identified eight industries where convergence has the greatest upside. They include the health care industry, transportation (both personal and commercial), smart homes and buildings, manufacturing, supply chains, wearables, agriculture and energy. Other industries that appear primed to take full advantage of the technology include farming, marketing, retail and the financial services arena.

So if you’re making your convergence picks who should be in your Final Four? Not surprisingly the smart money is on the companies that are already leaders in the digital economy like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and, despite their recent Cambridge Analytica issues, Facebook. These behemoths have access to a wealth of data and already have established footholds in the IoT landscape. Google, for example, has cornered the market on geographic mapping. But the companies who could become major convergence players aren’t simply limited to the GAFA Four. Metromile, for example, is a San Francisco based company which provides per-mile auto insurance along with an app called The Pulse, which collects data about trips and car health. Ecobee is a Canadian home automation company that makes thermostats and smart light switches for both residential and commercial use and a company like Ring is already a major player in the home security field.

In the health care field, Chrono Therapeutics is focusing on improving clinical outcomes for patients battling addiction and living with neurological disorders via their Integrated Dosing Solution. The company integrates timed drug delivery with personalized, mobile-based digital support and data analytics which seeks to maximize compliance and improve overall patient health. Several smaller start-ups have a real shot at establishing and solidifying a hold on a market that escapes the view of one of the aforementioned tech giants.

Why You Should Start Your Business as a Side Hustle Before You Quit Your Job

I was recently going down memory lane as I am about to celebrate 15 years as a full time business owner and founder. The road has been filled with tremendous highs and many learning curves (I will never call them lows), which have made me stronger and more valuable as a leader. 

None the less, when I decided to start my first business, I started it as a “side hustle.” I had a full time job during the day that was not in line with my purpose, passion, nor my degree; it was strictly a way to pay the bills. However, I knew that I wanted to build my own company, but like anyone who is earning a lofty, steady income with great benefits, it was difficult to take the plunge and quit. 

So, I devised a plan and started my first company in the basement of my home as a “side hustle.” It was a legal consultancy that supported law firms and solo-practitioner attorneys with family law document preparation and filing. Within months, my night hustle was becoming profitable and I began taking time away from my lunch break at work to facilitate calls and meetings during that hour. 

After a year, I realized the side hustle stage was over and I needed to make a decision. I worked my corporate job from 9am to 5pm and my business from 5:01pm to 4am. The lack of sleep was worth it as I was living my dream. The decision was not hard to make at all, but I was still apprehensive to take the risk, until I was forced to make a decision. 

The trap of the gig economy and side hustle creates a false reality that you just need some “extra income.” It is worth it to ask yourself if your side hustle is your passion or if you are settling. Here are five ways to create and grow a side hustle that is in alignment with your passion into a successful company, before quitting your current job. 

Treat your job like your first investor .

Funding your start up is the most difficult part of growing a successful company. A side hustle that is in alignment with your passion will need funding to grow. Before you approach investors to invest in your business, fund it yourself. Once you have “skin in the game,” it is easy to attract capital. Think of your job as your investor. Make sure you are accountable for where you invest in the early stages

Know that long days are worth the sacrifice  .

I experienced several years of 18 hour days in the early stage, but the transition from full time employee to full time founder requires a specific level of personal and professional sacrifice that is often overlooked in the average success story. Before you hand in your resignation and publish your website, make sure you are up for the “side hustle sacrifice” of long days with at least one non-negotiable daily goal on the list. Use your “hustle” time wisely, 

Build your Proof of Demand .

The purpose of the long hours and sleepless nights are to validate your business model. Before you quit your job, use your “hustle” hours as your exploratory time to make adjustments and changes. It is less risky during the side hustle phase to go through this process. The purpose is to prove that your business model solves a problem, while compiling data on customer/client retention.

Set a time frame for your side hustle  .

Start your hustle with your exit plan for your employer in mind. Your exit strategy can be either a time frame or a specific profit margin that will allow you to see the concept is valuable in the market and sustainable. Remember, you cannot hustle forever. 

Treat it like a business, not a hobby  .

I survived the early days of my dual role as a full time employee and business owner by prioritizing both roles, while treating the business as a business. There were very few days off and I was committed to growing the company. Although it is a side hustle, it needs your attention through advertising, networking, SKU’s/UPC’s, quality control, case studies, pricing, monitoring EBITA, market volatility, etc. Monitor the growth of your side hustle. 

Netflix subscriber growth misses estimates; shares tumble

(Reuters) – Netflix Inc’s subscriber growth and forecast fell short of Wall Street expectations, sending shares of the normally high-flying stock crashing 14 percent on Monday.

The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The company’s total monthly customers reached 130 million worldwide, 1 million fewer than forecasts from Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, as it added new programming including “Lost in Space” and new episodes of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” and “13 Reasons Why.”

“We had a strong but not stellar Q2,” Netflix said in a quarterly letter to shareholders.

Netflix said it had “over-forecasted” quarterly fluctuations in the pace of new customers.

The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Before the earnings report, Netflix shares had doubled in 2018, far outpacing the 3.7 percent gain for the S&P 500 index. In after-hours trading on Monday, Netflix shares sunk 14 percent to $343.60, down from an earlier close of $400.48.

“Investors are devastated by Netflix’s Q2 projection that went down in dramatic flames. Now future projections are suspect and that decimates valuation,” said Eric Schiffer, chief executive officer of private equity firm Patriarch.

(GRAPHIC: Netflix subscriber additions – tmsnrt.rs/2Nm9YsK)

Wall Street had been betting that the streaming video pioneer would deliver outsized growth as demand for online entertainment increases around the globe. The company is spending heavily to hook new customers, budgeting $8 billion for programming and $2 billion for marketing in 2018.

Netflix added 670,000 subscribers in the United States, well below analysts’ estimates of 1.19 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Netflix signed up 4.47 million subscribers internationally, while analysts were expecting 4.97 million.

Earnings per share came in at 85 cents, beating the 79 cents predicted by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Total revenue rose 40.2 percent to $3.91 billion. Analysts had expected revenue of $3.94 billion.

For the current quarter, Netflix projected it would add 5 million customers. It is making a big push in India. Earlier this month, it debuted its first Indian original series, “Sacred Games,” part of a slate of new shows aimed at the vast Bollywood entertainment market.

But it also faces growing competition.

Amazon.com Inc plans to add more regional content in India as it builds the Prime video service around the world. Apple Inc is pouring money into original programming, signing up A-list names including Oprah Winfrey. And AT&T Inc has promised to boost investment in HBO after taking over the network in its recent acquisition of Time Warner.

At the same time, cable distributors are offering smaller and cheaper bundles of channels.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Lisa Shumaker

Netflix shares tank after subscriber numbers miss targets

(Reuters) – Netflix Inc’s subscriber growth and forecast fell short of Wall Street expectations, sending shares of the normally high-flying stock crashing 14 percent on Monday.

The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The company’s total monthly customers reached 130 million worldwide, 1 million fewer than forecasts from Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, as it added new programming including “Lost in Space” and new episodes of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” and “13 Reasons Why.”

“We had a strong but not stellar Q2,” Netflix said in a quarterly letter to shareholders.

Netflix said it had “over-forecasted” quarterly fluctuations in the pace of new customers.

The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Before the earnings report, Netflix shares had doubled in 2018, far outpacing the 3.7 percent gain for the S&P 500 index. In after-hours trading on Monday, Netflix shares sunk 14 percent to $343.60, down from an earlier close of $400.48.

“Investors are devastated by Netflix’s Q2 projection that went down in dramatic flames. Now future projections are suspect and that decimates valuation,” said Eric Schiffer, chief executive officer of private equity firm Patriarch.

(GRAPHIC: Netflix subscriber additions – tmsnrt.rs/2Nm9YsK)

Wall Street had been betting that the streaming video pioneer would deliver outsized growth as demand for online entertainment increases around the globe. The company is spending heavily to hook new customers, budgeting $8 billion for programming and $2 billion for marketing in 2018.

Netflix added 670,000 subscribers in the United States, well below analysts’ estimates of 1.19 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Netflix signed up 4.47 million subscribers internationally, while analysts were expecting 4.97 million.

Earnings per share came in at 85 cents, beating the 79 cents predicted by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Total revenue rose 40.2 percent to $3.91 billion. Analysts had expected revenue of $3.94 billion.

For the current quarter, Netflix projected it would add 5 million customers. It is making a big push in India. Earlier this month, it debuted its first Indian original series, “Sacred Games,” part of a slate of new shows aimed at the vast Bollywood entertainment market.

But it also faces growing competition.

Amazon.com Inc plans to add more regional content in India as it builds the Prime video service around the world. Apple Inc is pouring money into original programming, signing up A-list names including Oprah Winfrey. And AT&T Inc has promised to boost investment in HBO after taking over the network in its recent acquisition of Time Warner.

At the same time, cable distributors are offering smaller and cheaper bundles of channels.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Lisa Shumaker

Purchases Under $20 That Make a Significant Difference in Your Business

We were in a big group grabbing drinks when a man reached for his phone and realized he had 20% battery left. Having been in this situation many times myself, I felt for him. I walked over and offered him my extra charger. 

It was a small thing that made a huge difference, not just for this guy’s phone but also for my social capital. I was now the person who’d saved his phone. The charger cost me $20, but the relationship forged that night thanks to my charger led to many other priceless opportunities. 

It got me wondering what other items under $20 have unexpected business benefits I’d overlooked. Here’s what I found:

Aqua Notes for taking notes in the shower. 

Cognitive Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman’s famous 2014 “shower study” showed that “people report more creative inspiration in their showers than they do at work.”

Turns out, when you’re relaxed and undistracted, your best ideas “pop up” out of nowhere. Most of us forget our brilliant idea by the time we get out of the shower or (worse) cut our wonderful showers short in order to rush to our desk and write down our idea. 

Aqua Notes fixes that problem by letting you capture your ideas, literally, in the shower. It’s a waterproof notepad and pencil for all your brilliant shower thoughts. 

Greetabl for making customers and your team feel special. 

Greetabl is the world’s easiest way to make people feel valued. And, frankly – these boxes are fun. For under $20 you can surprise your staff, clients, colleagues, or customers with a custom box and surprise gift. 

It takes no time to put together and is a thoughtful way to show someone you appreciate them. There’s a place to put a personal note and a lot of ways to customize the gift, including the box design, images, and physical good inside. It’s like a kinder egg for adults. 

Last Past for sharing passwords without sharing passwords.

I was a late adopter to LastPass until a friend made a compelling argument for why any password keeper is better than no password keeper to protect against hacks. But turns out, that wasn’t the actual benefit. 

Aside from making it faster and more efficient to access the 200+ sites I have logins for (for real, I counted), LastPass made it easier to work with my team. If I need to give someone access to Zapier to fix up an automation for my virtual coworking space, for example, I can give them the login through LastPass, without ever sharing the actual username and password.

I feel safer and more protected and so does my team. They don’t have to worry about misplacing the passwords. And I can revoke access at any time. Worth every penny.

Dry Shampoo for the days you just don’t have time.

This one is more relevant to the ladies, but if you’ve ever needed to look professional in a rush, there is nothing better than dry shampoo. I was a dry shampoo skeptic until my aunt forced a ton of it in my hair after a particularly dreadful day of meetings, rain, and sweatiness. 

The result? It looked like I was showered and blow dried in a matter of minutes. I swear by the stuff now. It is a lifesaver if you have little time to make yourself presentable after a long day of work. 

I’m particularly grateful for it when I want to hit the gym, but don’t want the hassle of blow drying and straightening my hair in order to look professional later.  

Dry shampoo = life saver. 

Charge Cords because you always need to charge your phone. 

Today our phones are our computer and office, so keeping them powered (should be) a priority, yet, somehow we are constantly running out of battery. I’ve personally managed to break every charger I have and forget to charge every backup battery I get, which is why I’m obsessed with Charge Cords.

Charge Cords don’t break because they’re covered in “tangle-proof” fabric and you don’t have to charge them. You just have to remember to put them in your purse…And as I mentioned in the beginning, having a colorful charger on hand is a great way to meet new people and make friends. Someone always needs a charger.

Silver Siphon for sifting out those pesky Stripe fees 

Founder of SkyBlueBooks and expert on all things accounting, Tam Nguyen, introduced me to this one. For as little as $9/month Silver Siphon will literally “siphon” out the fees from Stripe so they’re properly accounted for in your books. It takes away having to do this all manually since it’s automated and syncs up nicely with Xero. 

If you have items under $20 that make your business run smoother, save you from headaches, and keep you sane, I want to hear about them! Tweet to @inc and@margoaaron and tell us what (under $20) purchases you swear by.

Here's How That Person With the Perfect Life is Different From the Rest of us

“Biohacking is the use of self-experimentation to upgrade your mind, body, and life. I’m a big believer in biohacking, and self-experiment daily to ensure I have the energy I need to run not only my business but to also have the energy I need to be active with my family every night. I believe in taking care of myself through exercise, nutrition and proper supplements, and biohacking has allowed me to find the right formula for myself and my life.”

–Russell Brunson, cofounder and CEO of ClickFunnels, an online sales and marketing software which in three years has helped over 300 business owners cross over the $1 million mark, with 18 of them continuing to scale to $10 million and beyond

“When running a small business, you must be purposeful. You have to change your mindset and realize that while it’s easier to say yes, it’s not a bad thing to say no. Each time you say yes, you’re also saying no to something else.”

–Will Holsworth, CEO of SAFE + FAIR, an allergy-friendly food company which has quadrupled its website traffic in the four months since launching its new platform

3. Get 30 minutes of quiet every morning.

“I set two alarms every morning. The first one isn’t to create a window of time to snooze, but to allow me 30 minutes of quiet time every morning. It’s the calm before the action. During this time I tackle my confidence level and insecurities. I meditate, pray or give myself a pep talk. I take a moment to be mentally aware of the thoughts in my mind that could potentially hold me back from my accomplishments for the day, and I work on tucking them far away. By the time the next alarm goes off, I usually feel less fragmented and very centered. Thirty minutes later the second alarm goes off, usually playing a song–a positive, upbeat song which signals that it’s go time! Time to conquer the day!”

–Andréa Richardson, leader of multicultural and diversity engagement across Hilton’s portfolio of more than 5,000 properties

4. Work out, then focus on family and work.

“I wake up by 5 a.m. to work out with a trainer before my boys wake up. Working out reduces stress and makes me a better mom and boss. I have breakfast with my kids and drive them to school to start our days together, and nearly every evening I make them a home-cooked dinner. I also find it’s important to make time for a one-hour clarity break during my work day to focus on the business.”

–Shelly Sun, founder and CEO of BrightStar Care, a national private duty home care and medical staffing franchise with more than 300 locations in 38 states 

5. Set goals the night before.

“Every evening, I spend a few minutes planning my goals for the following day. More than just a to-do list, I think about what I accomplished that day and what I need to get accomplished in the next few days. I then write out, by hand, all the people, processes and programs in which I want to invest time improving in the following day. The list doesn’t always get accomplished the next day, as a good leader needs to be flexible, but by committing them to paper, I’m able to prioritize my time and my goals.”

–Paul Koulogeorge, CMO of Goddard Systems, Inc., franchisor of The Goddard School, which is on track to open its 500th school in 2018

6. Unplug and work out first thing.

“I like to start my mornings at the gym. It is helpful for me to get up, be active and disconnect first thing when I wake up. It’s a rare-moment that I am not on my iPhone, checking emails, calling franchise partners, or making notes about new ideas for our guests to play at our parks. I learned early that missing my morning workouts left me with a lack of focus for the day ahead, so I’ve made it a daily practice to start my day off at the gym.”

–Jeff Platt, CEO of Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline and aerial park with over 200 franchises across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait

7. Take the time to be personal.

“I start my day early, which means I’ll usually catch one or two employees before the work day technically ever starts. They’ll usually come in my office and we will talk about work, but it quickly turns into conversations about what’s going on in their lives and things much bigger than work. I really enjoy those talks and I think having a pulse on people’s personal lives helps me be a better boss, too. One habit I’ve gotten into and really held myself to is making rounds to say hi to everyone every morning. It’s a small gesture, but I think everyone enjoys the engagement and I want to feel as accessible as possible.

–Bart Silvestro, CEO of Chef’s Cut Real Jerky Co., a jerky brand with profits which rose from more than $460,000 to $47.5 million in four years

8. Determine your workday rhythm.

“I get my best work done in the morning. After my husband Ted takes our boys to school or camp, I sit at my desk with a large mug of coffee and don’t stop working until 1 p.m. I keep meetings, calls, errands for afternoons, when my brain is less focused. And of course, evenings are family time, dinner with friends and oft-needed rest. Determining a workday rhythm that gives energy (vs. depletes energy) is a worthwhile exercise for everyone.”

–Molly Fienning, cofounder of Babiators, maker of sunglasses for babies and kids which has sold more than 2 million pairs worldwide

9. Utilize your calendar as a daily to-do list.

“I prefer to use my calendar as my to-do list. I not only have my conference calls and meetings on my calendar but I also put three to five of my top items on the calendar each day that I want and need to get done. I also schedule some sort of workout or yoga class because it’s a necessity for my mental wellbeing and keeps me performing at the top of my game.  Each evening I look back at my calendar for the day and feel very accomplished. This technique helps me keep moving forward throughout the day otherwise I’d get bogged down with mini fires and items that keep me in the weeds.”

–Danielle Dietz-LiVolsi, founder and CEO of NuttZo, a multi-nut and seed butter brand sold in more than 16 retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods, Costco and Sprouts

10. Build relationships with colleagues.

“One of the best habits I’ve gotten into is making sure that I walk around to connect with each member of our team as often as possible. I try to do it daily, and especially in the morning, because it’s a really nice way to start the day. It’s so important to me because our team is our greatest asset, and the best way I’ve found to show appreciation and gratitude is to take time to build relationships with my colleagues. Even though sometimes it might not feel productive to be talking about things outside of business, I think it’s some of the most valuable time I spend every day because it aligns us as a team and strengthens our culture.”

–Alex Bingham, president and CEO of The Little Gym International, a children’s enrichment and development franchise with 400 locations worldwide

11. Stop overthinking it.

“Once you make a decision, take action that moment. Write the letter, make the call, send the email. Show up in a bigger way than you ever have before, but don’t wait for the planets to align. Take action now and, by next week, your anxiety will start to dissipate because you are going for it. I am always so impressed by persistent people, whether they are getting the results they want or not. No matter what, if they keep pushing forward, the big break they are waiting for is just one step away. Why would you ever want to miss that opportunity?”

–Allison Maslan, serial entrepreneur who built 10 companies to seven-figure success and author of “Blast Off!: The Surefire Success Plan to Launch Your Dreams into Reality” and “Scale or Fail: How to Build Your Dream Team, Explode Your Growth, and Let Your Business Soar”

“It is so easy to immerse yourself in work that you forget to stand, stretch, and reset. Believe it or not this enables you to be more productive. I often get up check in with staff and take a lap around the office or the building if the weather permits. Also, I started wearing wrist and ankle weights. This helps keep me alert and ready for the day-to-day challenges, not to mention the additional calorie burning.”

–Julia Biancella Au, cofounder and CEO of removable wallpaper company Tempaper, which has seen average annual growth of about 34 percent each year since launching in 2008

13. Talk to people and get to know them.

“Unengaged employees are a company’s biggest liability. People will feel more positively about coming to work if they feel they can engage with the business and those around them. Therefore, take time out of your day to physically get up and start conversation with those around you. Each day, engage with employees and coworkers on a personal and professional level. This makes them feel valued, heard and understood, leading to that constructive engagement.”

–Mike Whalen, founder of Heart of American Group which employs more than 3,500 people across more than 40 restaurants, hotels and other retail; and CEO of Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, an expanding restaurant franchise with 15 locations across nine states

14. Look for inspiration.

“I work very hard to do things every day that inspire me. This includes walks in cities, architecture, restaurants, bars, cars, stores, magazines, and mostly just working. I love the process–I am always excited to start new projects and investigate the next idea. People always ask how I come up with so many designs but in fact it is hard for me not to because everything I see and experience excites me. Because I am driven by what’s next, I am very fortunate to be so engaged by the challenge and its process.”

–Robert Sonneman, founder and chief creative officer of award-winning SONNEMAN-A Way of Light, with a product line which includes 1,800 SKUs, with over 100 new introductions annually, and has experienced over 40% revenue growth in 2016, and 20% growth month over month in 2017

15. Mark up your to-do list.

“Every morning I go through my entire to-do list (ranging from 10 to 30 items), and I highlight high versus low priorities so that at the end of the day the mission critical tasks are guaranteed to be completed.”

–Lex Corwin, founder of Stone Road Farms, a premium cannabis company which has done over $100,000 in sales since obtaining its license earlier this year and secured large scale manufacturing and multi-state distribution deals

16. Take time for silence each morning.

“For more than 25 years now I begin my day with an hour-long practice I refer to as the Sphere of Silence (SOS). It is not meditation, and it is not a religious practice of any kind. It’s derived from the art of silence I learnt from my grandfather at a very young age. My grandfather believed that abstaining from speaking brought him inner peace and made him a better listener. I have been practicing the Sphere of Silence for most of my life now and attribute my success to it. I find that practicing the SOS is the ultimate weapon against the assault on our senses and the insanity that prevails around us today. To many, it may seem that no quiet could exist amidst the din and racket of an ever-blaring world. Practice it for 21 days and it becomes a habit. The silence and introspection make you a better you, because it helps you channel your energies to maximum effect. And being a better you, makes you better at everything you do.”

–Vijay Eswaran , one of Forbes’ top 50 wealthiest Malaysians, one of Forbes Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy, bestselling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist and founder and executive chairman of the QI Group of Companies, a multi-business conglomerate with headquarters in Hong Kong, offices in more than 25 countries and customers in over 100 countries

17. Write down all the good and bad every day.

“One the easiest ways that has proven to increase my effectiveness is the habit I have created to write in my journal every day. I put pen-to-paper and write down the things which are important to me, the things that were both good and bad during my day and ideas on how I can improve. I write lists, goals, gratitude and sometime write to simply vent my frustrations. Writing requires engagement from both sides of my brain, making the brainstorming or problem-solving process more complete and innovative. Further, writing is crucial when it comes to settling emotional reactivity. It unwinds emotions caused by stress or conflict by providing a much needed disconnect from the daily grind of consistent talking, emailing, taking calls, and other distractions which come alone with electronic devices. I deeply value the process of writing because it puts me in touch with the more existential aspects of life, reminding me of the bigger picture of I am striving for.”

–Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a nationally recognized expert in clinical psychology, speaker, former radio host of the Dr. Sherrie Show for the BBM Global Network and TuneIn Radio, with over two decades of clinical training experience providing counseling and psychotherapy services to residents of Orange County, California, and author of “Success Equations: A Path to Living an Emotionally Wealthy Life”

18. Use flora and fauna for energization.

“I always have fresh flowers and green life in my office and at home, in order to keep
the air in these spaces fresh and have an inspiring atmosphere. On the fauna front, I
bring my three fur-babies–my dogs–to the office every day. I find that the research
stands true–pets in the office reduce stress and increase collaboration!”

–Terry Eaton, founder, president and chief curator of Eaton Fine Art, a firm that last
year marked its 25th anniversary with recent projects including the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and Holston House in Nashville

19. Take care of yourself.

“I recently saw a survey that said 80 percent of Americans have tension headaches or feel overwhelmed or depressed at least one day during the month. Those are sad symptoms of living in our society. At its worst, stress is making us sick, but it’s also sapping our productivity and stealing our success. The irony is that what’s causing our stress–the pace of life and the never-ending demands–are the very things that keep us from doing something about it. We’re busy taking care of business and for many of us, self-care is one of the first things that come off our list. I think that’s a big mistake and comes with a heavy cost, which is why I dedicate time every day, to taking care of myself no matter what’s going on. That might be a massage, but it can also be a run outdoors or a walk in the beach, talking to my kids or just taking a few minutes to close my eyes and take some deep breaths. The point is to make it a daily habit.”

–Joe Magnacca, CEO of Massage Envy, a provider of therapeutic massage and skincare services with a franchise system that collectively employs over 35,000 wellness professionals across 1,180 locations nationwide servicing more than 1.65 million members

“[I read] at least 10 pages from each of the books I’m reading (prayer, professional and enjoyment.)  Always have three books open and I personally prefer physical books over e-readers.”

–Ellie Johnson, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties which has $375 million in sales inventory and has grown its agent population five-fold since launching in January 2017

“I’m a huge proponent of rest. I take the weekends off and I believe in regular, relaxing vacations. Once a year, I go back home to pick olives with my family. It’s amazing how this time away from the office re-energizes my body and spirit. My downtime is essential.”

–Aytekin Tank, CEO of JotForm, an online form builder used by more than 3.5 million people

22. Lead a life with grace (in and out of the office).

“When I was younger, my father worked during the day and took classes at night to earn his college degree to make a better life for himself and our family. He taught me from an early age that no matter what life throws your way, it’s important to earn the respect of others by working hard and being honest, fair and trustworthy. I apply this advice to both my career and my personal life. No matter how difficult a situation may be or how frustrated I may be with someone, it is so important that I always keep my composure, lead with grace and give others the respect that they deserve. If you don’t respect others, you cannot expect to earn their respect in return!”

–Lisa A Haude, founder and president of Paradigm Design Group, an award-winning luxury-lifestyle hospitality interior design firm with offices in Houston, San Francisco and Chicago and ranked as one of the top design firms in the United States since 2006

Ask Ethan: How Large Is The Entire, Unobservable Universe?

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a massive galaxy cluster, PLCK_G308.3-20.2, glowing brightly in the darkness. This is what huge swaths of the distant Universe looks like. But how far does the Universe as-we-know-it, including the unobservable part, go on for?ESA/Hubble & NASA, RELICS; Acknowledgement: D. Coe et al.

13.8 billion years ago, the Big Bang occurred. The Universe was filled with matter, antimatter, radiation, and existed in an ultra-hot, ultra-dense, but expanding-and-cooling state. By today, the volume containing our observable Universe has expanded to be 46 billion light years in radius, with the light that’s first arriving at our eyes today corresponding to the limit of what we can measure. But what lies beyond? What about the unobservable Universe? That’s what Gray Bryan wants to know, as he asks:

We know the size of the Observable Universe since we know the age of the Universe (at least since the phase change) and we know that light radiates. […] My question is, I guess, why doesn’t the math involved in making the CMB and other predictions, in effect, tell us the size of the Universe? We know how hot it was and how cool it is now. Does scale not affect these calculations?

Oh, if only it were so easy.

The history of the Universe, as far back as we can see using a variety of tools and telescopes, has been well-determined. But our observations can only, tautologically, provide us with evidence about the observable parts. Everything else must be inferred, and those inferences are only as good as the assumptions which underlie them.Sloan Digital Sky Survey

The Universe is cold and clumpy today, but it’s also expanding and gravitating. When we look to greater and greater distances, we see things as they were not only far away, but also back in time, owing to the finite speed of light. The more distant Universe is less clumpy and more uniform, having had less time to form larger, more complicated structures that require more time for gravity’s effects to take place.

The early, distant Universe was also hotter. The expanding Universe causes all the light that travels through the Universe to stretch in wavelength. As the wavelength stretches, it loses energy, becoming cooler. This means the Universe was hotter in the distant past, a fact we’ve confirmed through observations of distant features in the Universe.

A 2011 study (red points) has given the best evidence to date that the CMB used to be higher in temperature in the past. The spectral and temperature properties of distant light confirms that we live in expanding space.P. Noterdaeme, P. Petitjean, R. Srianand, C. Ledoux and S. López, (2011). Astronomy & Astrophysics, 526, L7

We can measure the temperature of the Universe as it is today, 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang, by looking at the leftover radiation from that hot, dense, early state. Today, this shows up in the microwave portion of the spectrum, and is known as the Cosmic Microwave Background. Coming in with a blackbody spectrum and a temperature of 2.725 K, it’s easy to confirm that these observations match, with an incredible precision, the predictions that arise from the Big Bang model of our Universe.

The Sun’s actual light (yellow curve, left) versus a perfect blackbody (in grey), showing that the Sun is more of a series of blackbodies due to the thickness of its photosphere; at right is the actual perfect blackbody of the CMB as measured by the COBE satellite. Note that the “error bars” on the right are an astounding 400 sigma. The agreement between theory and observation here is historic.Wikimedia Commons user Sch (L); COBE/FIRAS, NASA / JPL-Caltech (R)

Moreover, we know how this radiation evolves in energy as the Universe expands. A photon’s energy is directly proportional to the inverse of its wavelength. When the Universe was half its size, the photons from the Big Bang had double the energy, while when the Universe was 10% of its current size, those photons had ten times the energy. If we’re willing to go back to when the Universe was just 0.092% its present size, we’ll find a Universe that’s 1089 times hotter than it is today: around 3000 K. At these temperatures, the Universe is hot enough to ionize all the atoms in it. Instead of solid, liquid, or gas, all the matter in the entire Universe was in the form of an ionized plasma.

A Universe where electrons and protons are free and collide with photons transitions to a neutral one that’s transparent to photons as the Universe expands and cools. Shown here is the ionized plasma (L) before the CMB is emitted, followed by the transition to a neutral Universe (R) that’s transparent to photons.Amanda Yoho

The way we arrive at the size of the Universe today is through understanding three things in tandem:

  1. How quickly the Universe is expanding today, something we can measure via a number of methods,
  2. How hot the Universe is today, which we know from looking at the radiation of the Cosmic Microwave Background,
  3. and what the Universe is made out of, including matter, radiation, neutrinos, antimatter, dark matter, dark energy, and more.

By taking the Universe we have today, we can extrapolate back to the earliest stages of the hot Big Bang, and arrive at a figure for both the age and the size of the Universe together.

The size of the Universe, in light years, versus the amount of time that’s passed since the Big Bang. This is presented on a logarithmic scale, with a number of momentous events annotated for clarity. This only applies to the observable Universe.E. Siegel

From the full suite of observations available, including the cosmic microwave background but also including supernova data, large-scale structure surveys, and baryon acoustic oscillations, among others, we get our Universe. 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang, it’s now 46.1 billion light years in radius. That’s the limit of what’s observable. Any farther than that, and even something moving at the speed of light since the moment of the hot Big Bang will not have had sufficient time to reach us. As time goes on, the age and the size of the Universe will increase, but there will always be a limit to what we can observe.

Artist’s logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe. Note that we’re limited in how far we can see back by the amount of time that’s occurred since the hot Big Bang: 13.8 billion years, or (including the expansion of the Universe) 46 billion light years. Anyone living in our Universe, at any location, would see almost exactly the same thing from their vantage point.Wikipedia user Pablo Carlos Budassi

So what can we say about the part of the Universe that’s beyond the limits of our observations? We can only make inferences based on the laws of physics as we know them, and the things we can measure within our observable Universe. For example, we observe that the Universe is spatially flat on the largest scales: it’s neither positively nor negatively curved, to a precision of 0.25%. If we assume that our current laws of physics are correct, we can set limits on how large, at least, the Universe must be before it curves back on itself.

The magnitudes of the hot and cold spots, as well as their scales, indicate the curvature of the Universe. To the best of our capabilities, we measure it to be perfectly flat. Baryon acoustic oscillations provide a different method to constrain this, but with similar results.Smoot Cosmology Group / LBL

Observations from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Planck satellite are where we get the best data. They tell us that if the Universe does curve back in on itself and close, the part we can see is so indistinguishable from “uncurved” that it much be at least 250 times the radius of the observable part.

This means the unobservable Universe, assuming there’s no topological weirdness, must be at least 23 trillion light years in diameter, and contain a volume of space that’s over 15 million times as large as the volume we can observe. If we’re willing to speculate, however, we can argue quite compellingly that the unobservable Universe should be significantly even bigger than that.

The observable Universe might be 46 billion light years in all directions from our point of view, but there’s certainly more, unobservable Universe, perhaps even an infinite amount, just like ours beyond that. Over time, we’ll be able to see a bit, but not a lot, more of it.Frédéric MICHEL and Andrew Z. Colvin, annotated by E. Siegel

The hot Big Bang might mark the beginning of the observable Universe as we know it, but it doesn’t mark the birth of space and time itself. Before the Big Bang, the Universe underwent a period of cosmic inflation. Instead of being filled with matter and radiation, and instead of being hot, the Universe was:

  • filled with energy inherent to space itself,
  • expanding at a constant, exponential rate,
  • and creating new space so quickly that the smallest physical length scale, the Planck length, would be stretched to the size of the presently observable Universe every 10-32 seconds.

Inflation causes space to expand exponentially, which can very quickly result in any pre-existing curved or non-smooth space appearing flat. If the Universe is curved, it has a radius of curvature that is at minimum hundreds of times larger than what we can observe.E. Siegel (L); Ned Wright’s cosmology tutorial (R)

It’s true that in our region of the Universe, inflation came to an end. But there are three questions we don’t know the answer to that have a tremendous influence on how big the Universe truly is, and whether it’s infinite or not.

  1.  How big was the region of the Universe, post-inflation, that created our hot Big Bang?
  2. Is the idea of “eternal inflation,” where the Universe inflates eternally into the future in at least some regions, correct?
  3. And, finally, how long did inflation go on prior to its end and the resultant hot Big Bang?

It’s possible that the Universe, where inflation occurred, barely attained a size larger than what we can observe. It’s possible that, any year now, the evidence for an “edge” to where inflation happened will materialize. But it’s also possible that the Universe is googols of times larger than what we can observe. Until we can answer these questions, we may never know.

A huge number of separate regions where Big Bangs occur are separated by continuously inflating space in eternal inflation. But we have no idea how to test, measure or access what’s out there beyond our own observable Universe.Ozytive – public domain

Beyond what we can see, we strongly suspect that there’s plenty more Universe out there just like ours, with the same laws of physics, the same types of physical, cosmic structures, and the same chances at complex life. There should also be a finite size and scale to the “bubble” in which inflation ended, and an exponentially huge number of such bubbles contained within the larger, inflating spacetime. But as inconceivably large as that entire Universe — or Multiverse, if you prefer — may be, it might not be infinite. In fact, unless inflation went on for a truly infinite amount of time, or the Universe was born infinitely large, the Universe ought to be finite in extent.

As vast as our observable Universe is and as much as we can see, it’s only a tiny fraction of what must be out there.NASA, ESA, R. Windhorst, S. Cohen, and M. Mechtley (ASU), R. O’Connell (UVa), P. McCarthy (Carnegie Obs), N. Hathi (UC Riverside), R. Ryan (UC Davis), & H. Yan (tOSU)

The biggest problem of all, though, is that we don’t have enough information to definitively answer the question. We only know how to access the information available inside our observable Universe: those 46 billion light years in all directions. The answer to the biggest of all questions, of whether the Universe is finite or infinite, might be encoded in the Universe itself, but we can’t access enough of it to know. Until we either figure it out, or come up with a clever scheme to expand what we know physics is capable of, all we’ll have are the possibilities.


Send in your Ask Ethan questions to startswithabang at gmail dot com!

Microsoft Calls For Federal Regulation of Facial Recognition

Over the past year, Silicon Valley has been grappling with the way it handles our data, our elections, and our speech. Now it’s got a new concern: our faces. In just the past few weeks, critics assailed Amazon for selling facial recognition technology to local police departments, and Facebook for how it gained consent from Europeans to identify people in their photos.

Microsoft has endured its own share of criticism lately around the ethical uses of its technology, as employees protested a contract under which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses Microsoft’s cloud-computing service. Microsoft says that contract did not involve facial recognition. When it comes to facial analysis, a Microsoft service used by other companies has been shown to be far more accurate for white men than for women or people of color.

In an effort to help society keep pace with the rampaging development of the technology, Microsoft President Brad Smith today is publishing a blog post calling for government regulation of facial recognition. Smith doesn’t identify specific rules; rather, he suggests, among other things, that the government create a “bipartisan and expert commission” to study the issue and make recommendations.

Smith poses a series of questions such a commission should consider, including potential restrictions on law-enforcement or national-security uses of the technology; standards to prevent racial profiling; requirements that people be notified when the technology is being used, particularly in public spaces; and legal protections for people who may be misidentified. But he doesn’t detail Microsoft’s view of the answers to those questions.

“In a democratic republic, there is no substitute for decision making by our elected representatives regarding the issues that require the balancing of public safety with the essence of our democratic freedoms,” Smith writes. “Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act.”

Like many technologies, facial recognition can be useful, or harmful. Internet users tap services from Google, Facebook, and others to identify people in photos. Apple allows users to unlock the iPhone X with their faces. Microsoft offers a similar service through Windows Hello to unlock personal computers. Uber uses Microsoft’s facial-recognition technology to confirm the identity of drivers using its app. Facial analysis can be a form of identification in offices, airports, and hotels.

But there are few rules governing use of the technology, either by police or private companies. In the blog post, Smith raises the specter of a government database of attendees at a political rally, or stores monitoring every item you browse, even those you don’t buy. Given the political gridlock in Washington, an expert commission may be a convenient way for Microsoft to appear to be responsible with little risk that the government will actually restrict its or any other company’s, use of facial-recognition technology. But Smith says such commissions have been used widely—28 times in the past decade—with some success; he points to the 9/11 commission and subsequent changes on the nation’s security agencies.

Outside the US, facial recognition technology used extensively in China, often by the government, and with few constraints. Suspected criminals have been identified in crowds using the technology, which is widely deployed in public places.

Beyond government regulation, Smith says Microsoft and other tech companies should take more responsibility for their use of the technology. That includes efforts to act transparently, reduce bias, and deploy the technology slowly and cautiously. “If we move too fast with facial recognition, we may find that people’s fundamental rights are being broken,” he writes. Smith says Microsoft is working to reduce the racial disparities in its facial-analysis software.

Concern about the ethical uses of technology is not new. But the increasing power of artificial intelligence to scan faces, drive cars, and predict crime, among other things, have given birth to research institutes, industry groups, and philanthropic programs. Microsoft in 2016 created an internal advisory committee, cosponsored by Smith, on its use of artificial intelligence more broadly. In the post, Smith says the company has turned down customer requests to deploy its technology “where we’ve concluded there are greater human rights risks.” Microsoft declined to discuss specifics of any work it has turned down.

Microsoft’s approach wins praise from Eileen Donahoe, an adjunct professor at Stanford’s Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. “Microsoft is way ahead of the curve in thinking seriously about the ethical implications of the technology they’re developing and the human rights implications of the technology they’re developing,” she says. Donahoe says she expects the post to spark conversations at other technology companies.

Some critics have suggested that tech companies halt research on artificial intelligence, including facial recognition. But Donahoe says that’s not realistic, because others will develop the technology. “I would rather have those actors engaging with their employees, their consumers and the US government in trying to think about the possible uses of the technology, as well as the risks that come from the use of the technology,” she says.

Michael Posner, director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, says he welcomes Microsoft’s statement. But Posner cautions that governments themselves sometimes misuse facial-recognition technologies, and urges companies to ensure that “those who develop these technology systems are as diverse as the populations they serve.” He also urges companies to develop “clear industry standards and metrics” for use of the technology.


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Judd Legum's Popular Information Is a Politics Newsletter for Everyone

One of the few things people agree on in 2018 is that the news industry is broken. The old business models don’t work. Meanwhile, audiences feel overwhelmed and underserved: According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, seven in 10 Americans say they are exhausted by the news. The consensus stops with the diagnosis, though; when it comes to prescribing a treatment, everyone has different ideas.

To Judd Legum, editor-in-chief and founder of left-leaning political news website ThinkProgress, the two biggest problems are ads and social media. Digital ads aren’t sustainable as a business model for online publications and they create incentives for clickbait and other poor-quality journalism. Social media is a firehouse of information and leave readers and outlets alike at the whim of algorithms. This is especially worrisome to Legum right now, given the upcoming midterm elections and the need for voters to be informed on the issues.

“People need to make more intentional choices and to regain power over what news they read,” says Legum. “There’s something fundamentally broken about news delivery as a process. The power is too concentrated. I’ve felt more and more strongly that I wanted to start something new that could circumvent the system.”

Today, Legum is joining a small but growing group of journalists and readers who think one way to fix this is through a good old-fashioned email newsletter. And he is going all in. After 13 years at the helm of ThinkProgress–a site that garners around 10 million unique visitors a month–he’s leaving the 40-person newsroom he runs to launch a paid political newsletter called Popular Information, which he will write himself. Starting July 23, Legum will publish Popular Information four days a week. He says it will be a mix of deep reporting and analysis, focused on national issues with a progressive lens.

The benefits to both journalist and reader of a direct-to-inbox newsletter are clear: there’s no middleman between reader and writer, no algorithm deciding what you see and what you don’t. And it’s a relationship built on trust—something that the media needs to rebuild with Americans after years of declining public opinion. Readers explicitly opt in to receive newsletters, with the expectation that they will deliver something of value. “It’s intimate to come into somebody’s inbox every day. Email is a more intimate medium than just publishing on the web,” says Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at NYU’s Arthur L Carter Journalism Institute.

That’s part of what is so appealing to Legum, who came up as a blogger in the early aughts, when loyal readers visited and often commented on their favorite blogs every day. Once social media rendered that behavior obsolete, Twitter became the place for writers and readers to have a direct relationship, but that introduces a host of new problems.

“Twitter is very ephemeral,” Legum says, adding that most of what he tweets is in reaction to something immediate. “What I’m trying to do with the newsletter is provide some perspective and organization for people who might have a real job during the day. This is for people who are feeling overwhelmed.”

And he’s hoping a good number of his readers will pay for that curation. Popular Information will be free for everyone for the first six to eight weeks in order to gain an audience; after that, the Monday edition will be free, and the other three days accessible only to paying members. Luckily, the overhead will be low. Legum will work out of his small apartment in Washington DC and has enough money saved to live off for a little while he builds up his subscriber base.

“There’s a hustle to it,” says Legum. If he succeeds, he might expand Popular Information to have a staff larger than one. Even if he does there are downsides to the paid model: cost of entry makes information inaccessible to some.

“All the idealism of journalism is that you can equip the public with information so that it knows what’s going on in its world. So there is an element of all subscription products that is in a sense anti-public,” Rosen says.

It’s a tension that besets any paywall, and it’s something Legum has considered. The name of his newsletter comes from a line James Madison wrote in a letter in 1822: “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.” To make Popular Information as accessible as possible, Legum plans to keep the subscription cost low. Though he hasn’t decided exactly how much yet, it’ll be less than $10 a month.

Newsletters have long been a way for media outlets to directly reach their audiences, for free or for a price. So why doesn’t Legum just launch Popular Information as part of ThinkProgress?

“ThinkProgress is a full-time job. We produce about 25 pieces per day and have three dozen staffers. So, in my view, I don’t have time to do this and my current job. I need to be able to focus my attention on this so I can do it right,” he says. Think Progress Managing Editor Tara Culp-Ressler will take over his duties until a new EIC can be found. She told WIRED in a statement: “The ThinkProgress team is grateful for the newsroom that Judd built. Obviously we’re sad to see him go, but we’re excited to watch his next chapter unfold.”

Legum’s also ready for something new, and sees a dearth of low-cost, high-quality newsletters focused on politics for a general audience, even as newsletter-first publications have taken off.

In recent years some have gained massive audiences, like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, which has morphed into a lifestyle brand, or The Skimm, which aggregates news from across the web and this year raised $12 million from the likes of Google. The model Legum plans to follow most closely comes from tech analyst Ben Thompson, whose daily newsletter Stratechery costs $10 a month or $100 a year, and is required reading for many people interested in tech.

But the biggest political newsletters right now come from news organizations like Axios and Politico. Legum notes that Axios’ morning and evening newsletters are sponsored by Wall Street–Goldman Sachs, Bank of America. Politico’s Pro subscription, which includes much more than newsletters, is so expensive that even with only 20,000 subscribers it accounted for half the company’s revenue in 2017; at the time, a five-person subscription started at $8,000 a year. Its free newsletter, Playbook, grows out of that insider perspective, in Legum’s opinion, treating politics like a spectator sport for elites rather than something that affects people’s lives. He hopes by offering something without corporate money, paid instead in small amounts by individual stakeholders who want to read what he has to say, that Popular Information will act as a guide to politics that matter.

The other thing Legum’s counting on to pull this off is a streamlined back-end. Whereas Thompson, who launched Stratechery in 2014, had to cobble together the means to produce his newsletter himself, Legum has Substack, a startup founded last year by Hamish McKenzie, a former journalist, and Chris Best and Jairaj Sethi, both formerly of messaging app Kik. Early on, they consulted with Thompson and other newsletter producers and recall hearing over and over that half of their time was spent renewing subscriptions and managing the newsletter.

Substack deals with all of that, taking payments, distributing the newsletter to people’s inboxes, renewing subscriptions, and making sure everything works technically. In exchange, it takes a 10 percent cut for newsletters that charge subscribers (for everyone else, publishing is free while the service is in beta).

“We were thinking about how bad incentives for online advertising have sort of broken the media,” says Best, Substack’s CEO. “They incentivize clickbait and cheap outrage in a way that’s dissatisfying for everybody. We’re caught in this bad equilibrium where everybody has to write clickbait stuff.”

Substack graduated out of YCombinator last winter and has raised $2 million in funding. Earlier this week, Best and McKenzie told Nieman Lab that across its hundreds of existing newsletters it has hit 11,000 paid subscribers, who are paying an average of just under $80 a year. And approximately 40 newsletter creators are making what Best and McKenzie told Nieman Lab was “meaningful money”–though “meaningful” can mean different things to different people.

“I don’t really have any expectations on money except I’m going to put my full effort into this and see what I can make of it,” Legum says. “Whether I succeed or not I think depends on whether it ends up being good.”

One challenge facing Legum, and any other newsletter creator, is that at some point people will hit a limit on how many newsletters they want to receive and are willing to pay for. Popular Information will be competing for your money with all other paid publications, like newspapers and websites like WIRED, which has a paywall. For now, Legum hopes he’s getting in to the political newsletter game at a time when people are hungry for in-depth information, and interested in receiving it from someone who doesn’t have a corporate sponsor. He also has the benefit of a loyal readership at ThinkProgress who he hopes will sign up, credibility working in and covering politics for 15 years, and 280,000 Twitter followers.

As Rosen notes, the first hurdle to a business model like this is to get anyone to sign up. Having an already established audience certainly helps. So far Substack’s biggest hits are written by well-known writers such as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi and Slate’s Daniel Ortberg. Taibbi has teamed up with an anonymous drug-dealing friend to write a fictional work in newsletter installments, and Ortberg writes a quirky humor newsletter called the Shatner Chatner. Popular Information will be the first political dispatch for the company.

And though Legum will be a bit busy in the weeks and months to come, he promises to keep tweeting.


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8 Key Elements of an Investor Pitch (That You Won't Find in a Product Pitch)

As an occasional angel investor, I always ask for a business pitch to get me in the mood. I’m still amazed at how many technical entrepreneurs don’t have a business pitch, and offer me their product pitch or product spec instead.

I’m a technologist, so I love to learn about the product–but every investor needs to make sure you have a business, as well as a product.

As a technology buff, I’m all too sensitive to the common investor complaint that technical people often end up selling yet another “solution looking for a problem,” because they are so impressed with their technology. Unfortunately, customers look for value in solving their problem, and new technologies alone scare them, so these solutions don’t get bought by customers, or funded.

In reality, there isn’t much overlap between the business pitch I expect, versus a product pitch. Certainly a slide or two needs to carry over describing the product and features at a high level.

Beyond that, the why and how of the business are more important to investors than the what. Attracting business investors is as tough as attracting customers, but it’s a different challenge.

Investors are looking for motivation to buy a chunk of the business, not the product. Thus using product features to attract investors won’t work. Here are the unique business elements that I expect to hear as a potential investor:

1. Target market size and growth projections.

Most investors won’t be interested unless you can show them a large market (billion-dollar opportunity), with a double-digit growth rate.

This implies high odds of a scalable business, simply needing an investment to lead to success. Of course, you wouldn’t include this data in your customer product pitch.

2. Business model showing costs, pricing, and margins.

Potential investors love to see gross margins in the fifty percent range or greater, with recurring revenue through subscriptions, follow-on sales, or services. Online and ecommerce businesses are especially attractive here, since they are instantly worldwide and not people-intensive. 

3. Team skills depth, domain experience, and track record.

In my experience, the team’s credentials are more important to the business than product features.

Customers may be attracted to product features, but investors look harder at the team (bet on the jockey, rather than the horse). Solo entrepreneurs have a hard time finding an investor. 

4. Intellectual property and sustainable competitive advantage.

Patents, trade secrets, and trademarks are very attractive to investors, since these are not easily overcome by competitors. Your solution may include leading technology, but if available to competitors, the lead won’t last. “First to market” is not sustainable with normal startup resources. 

5. Customized marketing strategy and realistic sales plans.

“If we build it, they will come” and “word of mouth” are not credible marketing strategies these days. I expect to see specific plans for distribution, partnerships, and sales channels, as well as the use of social media and conventional marketing, with budgets for the major elements. 

6. Five-year financial projections of revenue and expenses.

Of course, investors want to see a positive return on their investment, with timeframes and growth expectations. These are not meant to be an accuracy test, but a check on your commitment level, understanding of business norms, and an assessment of company valuation over time. 

7. Specific investment size request, and equity offered.

Every investor pitch must include the size of the desired investment, followed by the percentage of equity offered, thus supporting a realistic valuation today. Equally important is a projected use of these funds in scaling the business, including time frames for future investment requirements. 

8. Discussion of likely liquidity events and exit strategy.

Since startup stock has little market value for several years until the company goes public or is purchased, investors want to hear your strategy for offering them a good return on their investment. Examples of similar events in your industry are especially helpful. 

Creating a great investor pitch is probably more difficult for technical entrepreneurs than creating a great product pitch. But it’s critical to have one. Just as a great business can’t exist without a product, a great product won’t survive without a business to sell it.

It’s up to you to create both and cultivate the ability to pitch either one to the right people.

GE Is Finally Ready To Move Higher

It has been a long and painful ride to the bottom for General Electric (GE) shareholders. Shares lost nearly half of their market value between the departure of CEO Jeff Immelt and the nine-year low of $12.75 achieved late last month.

Credit: CNN Money

I have been cautious about this stock, to put it nicely, since I first wrote about it in October of last year. I have defended that, even as GE continued to see lower valuations and a resilient yield despite the recent dividend cut (see graph below), significant risks to further share price decline existed. In my view, equating a battered stock with good value was too speculative a stance in the face of the company’s restructuring plan that had yet to take shape.

But contradicting my early skepticism, I now start to see very early signs that GE’s stock may have found a bottom from which it can climb once again – even though there is still quite a bit of work ahead for CEO John Flannery and his crew to do as the company’s turnaround has barely gotten under way.

Chart

GE PE Ratio (Forward) data by YCharts

Struggling Portfolio, Reshaped

Earlier this year, I stated that “about 50% of the company had been facing severe headwinds, contracting organically and in most cases struggling to find a viable path forward towards growth and margin improvement”. In this case, I had been referring primarily to the Power and Oil & Gas divisions, more specifically as of the second half of 2017.

While the former will continue to be an important piece of the GE product portfolio going forward, one whose long-term prospects on the large gas turbine side of the business continue to look grim (see graph below), the Boston-based company has already done some crucial cleaning up. Baker Hughes (BHGE), transportation and healthcare are coming off GE’s umbrella, and the conglomerate seems committed to becoming a more focused (albeit much smaller) industrial powerhouse. Even within the struggling GE Power segment itself, I perceive energy services (more than a third of the division’s total revenues) to be in slightly better footing, despite some pricing softness, with service-relevant fleet growth likely to stay healthy in the next few years.

Source: Siemens presentation

At the very least, shareholders may now have better visibility into what GE might look like in 24 months or so, and the dreaded “conglomerate discount” that some believe may have capped GE’s valuation in the past could play less of a factor in allowing share prices to head back up.

Potential Dividend Cut Already Priced In?

The dividend factor is a tricky one to model out. On the one hand, the November cut already made history as GE’s second-ever dividend reduction since the Great Depression of the 1930s. At least one reasonable argument has been made for why GE might need to pull the trigger on a second, back-to-back dividend payment slash if the company is to succeed at bringing net debt levels from 3.5x EBITDA down to 2.5x by 2020, as per the current plan.

I, on the other hand, remain a bit less worried about an additional dividend cut lurking on the horizon. This is not to say that I am convinced one will not happen. But for starters, I believe GE’s executive team will be very cautious not to pull the dividend reduction lever again unless or until it is left with no other option available in the toolbox to manage its liquidity. The move might be necessary in case the power business’ deterioration lasts longer or becomes more damaging than I currently expect it to. In any case, I anticipate that a decision to further trim the dividend would not take place until GE is able to measure the efficacy of its current turnaround plan over the next few quarters.

Regardless of what the future may hold, I also believe that GE’s stock price already reflects, to some extent, the risk of an additional dividend cut materializing in the foreseeable future. With shares currently trading at $13.85, even a 25% reduction in the current 12-cent quarterly dividend payment would likely still keep the yield hovering between 2.5% and 3.0% on a forward-looking basis – roughly on par with peers Honeywell (HON) and United Technologies (UTX). Such yield might help to set a floor that could prevent the stock price from digging further into the low teens.

About Restatements And Write Offs

Another of my arguments against owning GE in the past, one that pertains to restatements and write offs, has become just a bit less of a concern for me. A few months ago, GE issued a recast of its 2016 and 2017 financial results that resulted in nearly 20 cents per share worth of earnings being wiped out from the books. The accounting adjustment happened in addition to the sizable reinsurance-related charges and other accruals that hit the financial statements in 2017.

While I defended that such matters put into question GE’s credibility and raised uncertainty for investors, I do not see much more in terms of large, hidden charges and adjustments that may still catch shareholders off guard. On my list of lingering issues yet to be put to rest as of the beginning of the year, for instance, was the ongoing review of GE’s contract assets. The company’s methodology for recognizing revenues on long-term contracts seems to have been addressed last quarter, resulting in another $4.2 billion hit to the P&L that has already flushed through the system.

Subprime mortgage is still a topic that concerns shareholders and has for the past several years. But with GE having recently put on the table the possibility of the WMC division having to file for bankruptcy, I believe investors have already prepared for the worst to come – as GE set aside another $1.5 billion in reserves associated with the mortgage investigations last quarter.

Final Considerations

I have made bets on successful turnaround stories like those of Target (TGT) and Nokia (NOK). In both cases, I waited for early signs that it was safe to buy shares and participate in a recovery that, in my opinion, was likely to take hold. When it comes to GE, however, I think those indications are still very incipient. But I also have reasons to believe that the worse for GE shareholders may have been left behind.

Buying GE today is, in my opinion, a move that might make sense primarily for speculators looking to time an entry into the stock, and less so for “traditional” GE investors – i.e. those who seek low volatility in share price and rely on dividend payments for a living. With shares having bounced off a couple of times from what seems to me like a bottom at $13/share, risk-seeking players could be well compensated for catching the stock in the early stages of a potential rebound.

Disclosure: I am/we are long TGT.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Twitter shares fall after report says account suspensions to cause user decline

(Reuters) – Shares of Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) fell 9 percent on Monday after a report said the social media company had suspended more than 70 million fake accounts in May and June, which could lead to a decline of monthly active users in the second quarter.

FILE PHOTO: The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The slump wiped about $3 billion from the microblogging site’s market valuation, which had stood at about $35 billion on Friday. Twitter shares were last down 8.6 percent at $42.62.

“Such reaction is due likely to the assumption that the lower user count would attract less ad dollars,” Morningstar analyst Ali Mogharabi said.

Mogharabi, however, pointed to big advertisers now paying more attention to the quality content alongside which their ads are placed.

The company has suspended more than one million accounts a day in recent months to reduce the flow of misinformation on the platform, the Washington Post reported late on Friday, citing data it obtained.

Twitter declined to confirm the figures reported by the Washington Post.

“MAU may continue to be negatively impacted in future periods due to our ongoing information quality efforts… While the magnitude of any potential future impacts is difficult to predict, we believe that DAU (Daily Active Users) will be less affected than MAU,” Twitter had said in a letter here to shareholders during the first quarter.

Twitter reported 336 million MAU in the first quarter. MAU is expected to grow nearly 3 percent to 337.06 million in the second quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr

The Court Case that Enabled Today's Toxic Internet

There once was a legendary troll, and from its hideout beneath an overpass of the information superhighway, it prodded into existence the internet we know, love, and increasingly loathe.

That troll, Ken ZZ03, struck in 1995. But to make sense of the profound aftereffects—and why Big Tech is finally reckoning with this part of its history—you have to look back even further.

In 1990, an online newsletter called Rumorville accused a competitor, Skuttlebutt, of being a “scam.” Skuttlebutt sued the online service provider that hosted Rumorville, CompuServe, for publishing false, damaging statements. A judge ruled that CompuServe was not responsible for content that it simply distributed.

A few years later, in the forums of another service provider—remember Prodigy?—an anonymous user called the firm Stratton Oakmont “a cult of brokers who either lie for a living or get fired.” Unlike CompuServe, Prodigy had tried to monitor its message boards. For that reason, when Stratton Oakmont sued, the court held that Prodigy was responsible.

The Feds needed an official policy. Tech lobbyists, who considered the Prodigy decision unreasonably restrictive, pushed lawmakers to adopt the CompuServe standard. They succeeded, and then some: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, states that platforms are not liable for the content they host—even when, like Good Samaritans, they try to intervene. Ken ZZ03 would be its first test.

Days after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Ken ZZ03 posted ads on an AOL message board for T-shirts celebrating the tragedy (“Visit Oklahoma … It’s a BLAST!!!”). To order, the ads said, call Kenneth Zeran, whose phone number was included.

Zeran was a Seattle-based TV producer and artist, and he had nothing to do with the ads. (Ken ZZ03’s motives and identity remain unknown.) Yet tons of people called to berate and threaten him, to the point that police were notified. Zeran asked AOL to take down the messages. AOL demurred. Zeran sued in 1996; a decision was reached in 1997. The judge, invoking Section 230, sided with AOL.

Ask many web scholars and they’ll tell you that Section 230 in general, and the Zeran case in particular, created the modern internet. CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL became Google, Facebook, and Twitter, companies that have for years relied on Section 230 as a legal shield against claims of publishing abusive content.

Yet the law never could have anticipated the unchecked growth of Big Tech.

In the mid-’90s, AOL was just a bunch of guys “in an office park behind a Cadillac dealership” in suburban Virginia, said their then-lead attorney, Randall Boe, in a recent interview. “We had no idea what was to come.”

CompuServe’s attorney, Robert Hamilton, believes his winning argument was wildly misunderstood by the authors of Section 230, who gave platforms absolute immunity. “It was only a matter of time,” Hamilton says, before Congress would have to make amendments.

In March, Congress passed the first reform of Section 230 in 22 years, saying platforms can be found liable, but only if their users are participating in sex trafficking. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who coauthored Section 230, didn’t support that particular bill but argued nonetheless that tech companies have failed to honor the spirit of the law. “In years of hiding behind their shields … too many companies have become bloated and uninterested in the larger good,” he said. Indeed, under Section 230, it’s fine for tech companies to act like Good Samaritans—they simply forget to.

As for Kenneth Zeran, he doesn’t think about the AOL case much these days. But, he says, “I always felt that I was correct—and that history would show that I was right.”


Michael Fitzgerald is a writer and editor based in New York.

This article appears in the July issue. Subscribe now.


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In Immigration Fight, Silicon Valley Must Stop Feigning Neutrality

Last month, the Trump administration announced that it would halt its policy of separating young asylum-seekers from their parents. For those Americans angered by their government’s cruel treatment of children as young as a few months old, this was a hard-fought victory. It came only after relentless lobbying of Congress; after the defection and shocking testimony of Department of Homeland Security contractors; after a torrent of heartbreaking images and videos and the work of a legion of activists, who shut down ICE facilities and even chased senior Trump officials from restaurants.

WIRED OPINION

ABOUT

Emerson T. Brooking (@etbrooking) is a Washington, D.C.-based writer. Peter Warren Singer (@peterwsinger) is strategist at New America. They are the authors of LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media, to be published in October 2018.

The sinew that bound these efforts together was social media. More specifically, it was Twitter. Although only about one in five Americans use the fast-moving, foul-mouthed platform, it has become the cornerstone of modern US politics. It is where journalists gather facts and where the president puts his brain. It is where stories gather viral momentum before breaking out into the mainstream. Increasingly, it is also a battlefield, where competing armies of activists battle it out in “like wars,” seeking to define a contentious issue one hashtag at a time.

But Twitter also has administrators: a small group of real and fallible human beings. And this is where the trouble starts. In their efforts to disrupt the world, the masters of Silicon Valley are finding it harder and harder to stand apart from the politics of it.

Two incidents of Twitter policy-making stand out amid the fierce online lobbying effort against forcible family separation. The first came when software developer Sam Lavigne created a database of 1,500 ICE agents, drawn from publicly available data on LinkedIn, as well as a Twitter bot to push their personal information out to the world. Lavigne’s project was quickly banned for “doxing”—the sharing of an unwilling party’s personal information.

The second incident came when journalists at the left-leaning Splinter news organization acquired and published the cell phone number of Stephen Miller, a senior White House advisor and gleeful foe of immigration. The journalistic outlet’s Twitter account was promptly deactivated by administrators, effectively put in “Twitter jail.” As other Twitter users shared or retweeted the number, their accounts were also deactivated.

Soon enough, user accounts were being deactivated for simply sharing a link to the Splinter story—the kind of escalation typically used to block the spread of terrorist propaganda. Eventually, users were deactivated for merely noting the deactivation of other users. In an ironic twist, alt-right activists—many previously banned from Twitter for their embrace of violent white nationalism—returned to the platform long enough to help hunt down and report the offending users.

Neither of these events meant much for the millions-strong struggle to end the Trump administration’s internment of children. But to those of us who study Silicon Valley’s growing role in politics, they signal a great deal. They mark the most prominent occasions that Twitter—a service born from the progressive, free-speech ideals of early internet culture—has used its power to stymie activists on the left. That it comes during protests against 21st-century internment camps makes it all the more striking.

Although the founders of Twitter and all such services claim to administer their platforms as impartial observers, this was never really true. This small club of Silicon Valley titans has rapidly accumulated so much political power that any decision they make about the content that transits their platforms—even the absence of a decision—has a clear social impact. History would have taken a different course if Facebook had not hesitated to police viral falsehoods and Russian disinformation offensives until after the 2016 election, or if YouTube had not taken years to seriously study how its algorithms steered users toward terrorist content.

And when Twitter leaps to vigorously safeguard the privacy of government agents and high-level administration officials—the exact kind of protection it has been slow or unwilling to extend to journalists under similar threat—that decision also carries weight. It joins a pattern in which Twitter has prostrated itself to placate far-right media personalities, or looked past its own rules to justify playing host to the toxic tirades of the 45th president. Through these choices, a platform built to empower the crowd is increasingly becoming a sanctuary for the powerful.

Over the past five years, events have forced the traditionally apolitical titans of Silicon Valley to reckon again and again with their burgeoning political responsibilities. First was the terrorist use of their platforms, which saw carefree engineers sitting down to awkward meetings with senior US diplomats and military leaders as they discussed the particulars of beheading videos. Next was the election of Donald Trump amid an internet-empowered Russian disinformation operation, which showed that Silicon Valley platforms could be effectively weaponized against the nation of their birth. Third was the deadly 2017 white-nationalist rally at Charlottesville, fomented by social media, which shifted the how the companies saw hate speech virtually overnight.

Right now, a fourth such revolution is brewing. From the outside, it is being driven by left-leaning activists who are horrified by the increasingly cruel policies of the Trump administration and who are using technology to fight back. From within, it is being driven by tech employees protesting their companies’ business with arms of the US government whose practices they abhor. And in the middle stand the administrators of Twitter and other platforms, who would like to do nothing so much as buckle down and weather the storm.

If the recent history of Silicon Valley and the Trump administration are any guide, it won’t work. Already, Wikipedia editors are debating whether the military holding facilities for families of asylum-seekers can better be described as “internment” or “concentration” camps. Soon enough, there will come a moment when the stakes are ratcheted even higher—when one too many immigrants die fleeing the US border patrol or tragedy strikes one of America’s new 100-degree tent-city internment camps—and the social media giants see themselves swept up in the protests and facing a moment of profound moral clarity. They will either aid the activists, taking a direct hand in political protests, or they will double down on their role as “neutral” platforms. Each course of action will represent a clear choice. Each will favor one side over the other.

On June 19, as anger over US-administered internment camps reached a fever pitch, Jack Dorsey, cofounder and CEO of Twitter, tapped out a simple question to his 4.2 million followers. “What are the highest impact ways to help?” he asked.

But Dorsey and his peers already know the answer. The real question is whether they are willing to accept the consequences. They hold the reins of the most influential communications systems on Earth. Through actions as small as featuring fundraising links on the homepages of their users to as large as fundamental shifts in their algorithms, they tilt the balance of our politics every day.

American government is in a sorry state. It will get worse. It is time for these “neutral” social media platforms, never particularly neutral to begin with, to cast aside their excuses and consider the greater good in how they govern their own digital empires.

WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here.

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The Evolution Of Storage And Private Clouds

Chief Scientist at Cloudistics. IBM Fellow Emeritus. Previously served as Global CTO for multibillion dollar businesses at IBM and Dell

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In this article, we’ll discuss the evolution of enterprise data centers, with a particular focus on two areas where we see the most significant change — enterprise storage and private clouds.

Enterprise Storage

• Shared SAN storage is back in vogue: SANs provide shared block storage to multiple servers. There was a trend away from SANs to direct attached storage because of high SAN latencies and because of the expense of SAN arrays. This trend is being reversed because of the emergence of a new SAN. SANs have traditionally used the SCSI protocol over FC. Future SANs will use the emerging, low-overhead NVMeoF (NVMe extended to work on fabrics) protocol over Ethernet. Also, SAN arrays are being built as software on standard x86 servers, and there is no premium on pricing.

So, I see shared storage SANs making a resurgence. However, FC, which has long been synonymous with SANs, will fade away.

• A new storage hierarchy will emerge: The current storage hierarchy consists of server-attached NVMe flash, followed by shared storage using flash, high-speed disk drives, near-line disk drives and, finally, tape or cloud.

The future storage hierarchy will be much simpler. It will consist of persistent memory, flash and then cloud. Persistent memory is an emerging new layer between DRAM and flash that will be accessed using memory protocols. It will be non-volatile, have latency close to DRAM (hundreds of nsecs), and provide four times higher capacity and a lower price than DRAMs. Many technologies are vying to be this persistent memory layer, including Optane/3D XP from Intel.

The next layer after persistent memory will be NVMeoF shared flash. There will be little need for disk drives for primary storage. Flash prices are dropping very fast. I believe neither 15k nor 10k rpm disk drives will be available beyond 2018.

Finally, we see most future archival and backup storage being in the cloud.

• Stand-alone primary storage fades: Customers used to (and continue to) select and purchase compute, storage and networking products separately. The problem with this three-tier approach is that it can take several months of integration and testing by the customer before they are able to run their first application on this separately purchased infrastructure.

Integrated systems where compute, storage and networking were purchased together emerged in 2007. First-generation integrated systems were called converged infrastructure systems (CI). Starting in 2012, a second generation of an integrated system called hyperconverged (HCI) became available. Since everything is pre-tested and pre-integrated by the vendor, this reduces the time it takes a customer to run their first application.

More and more, storage will be sold as part of an integrated system such as converged or hyperconverged. Due to the compelling ease of use and fast time to value of integrated systems, I expect to see standalone storage products diminish in importance and gradually disappear.