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Mobile Technology News, April 1, 2015

As developers for tablets and smartphones we like to keep abreast of the latest mobile technology developments . This is a daily digest of mobile development and related technology news gathered from the BBC, the New York Times, New Scientist and the Globe and Mail to name a few. We scour the web for articles concerning, iPhone, iPad and android development, iOS and android operating systems as well as general articles on advances in mobile technology. We hope you find this useful and that it helps to keep you up to date with the latest technology developments.

  • 'Artoo In Love' Shows R2-D2 Getting His Little Metal Heart Broken By A Mailbox
    Dating isn’t easy, even for droids.

    The new short film “Artoo in Love” looks at the astromech’s travails as he struggles to find love in San Francisco and Berkeley.

    And just when he thinks he’s found it… a rival steps in.

    Check it out in the clip above.

    “Artoo in Love,” which made its debut over the weekend at the Sonoma Film Festival, was written and directed by Evan Atherton, an Autodesk engineer who works on “experimenting with new technologies as they relate to digital design.”

    People have definitely been having real emotional reactions to it,” Atherton told Mashable. “I think that stems from what always made Artoo special: He was more than just a machine. So seeing that play out, and seeing Artoo really sad, tugs on some childhood heartstrings.”

    Gizmodo reports that Atherton spent two years working on the film, using a 3D printer at Autodesk’s San Francisco offices to make the parts for the pink R2 unit.

    Animation World Network has some of the technical details of the production.

    (h/t SFist)

  • Silicon Valley: Where Men are Wrong and Women are Wronged
    In the early ’90s, as one of the first women editors of a technology magazine, my female employees would plop themselves down in my office to recount the humiliations, the come-ons, and the frustrations over the lack of a clear promotion path relative to their male office mates. With a young family at home waiting for me to get dinner on the stove, I probably lacked the patience and diplomacy to tackle the war for equal rights.

    I did the best I could. For each roadblock they posed, my MO was to fire back a humorous salvo on the perks of being a woman in a male-dominated field. Look at the bright side, I’d say. Bill Gates remembers you in the crowd. The lines at the bathroom are really short. You don’t have to wear that silly khaki pants uniform. It’s a lot easier for you to talk your way into the “no-press” area.

    Today, I find my comments cringe-worthy and slightly tone deaf. The only comfort I take is that I made these women smile in the face of very real obstacles. Though ineloquent, I was telling them to get out there and mark their turf in their own way.

    Watching the Ellen Pao case brought the old struggle into a new focus. Only, in the world of Silicon Valley ventures, there is less humor, and more self-aggrandizement. By the end of the court case that pit her against Kleiner Perkins, Pao took on a larger than life role as the voice of all women who’ve ever been wronged on the job. Though she lost the case, the discussions continue.

    I have no doubt that Pao worked with single focus to get where she did. Not many get a JD, an MBA and an EE degree from Ivy League schools without having the right stuff. I have no doubt that the cowboy culture of a VC company is tough on a woman.

    What I do doubt is that, with a few exceptions, women will beat men at their own game. They should be hell bent on changing the playground, not worried about competing on the same over trodden ground. The best woman VCs and entrepreneurs are listeners, collaborators and puzzle solvers. They bring an aesthetic and authenticity to their work. And now that the digital world is inextricably intertwined with the worlds of art, fashion, medicine, athletics, retail and more, they’ll bring a holistic sensibility and a new discourse.

    I’m sighing as I watch history repeating itself. Despite me joining leaning-in circles, writing for publications about women in technology, being a member of Women in CE, and taking on the personae of the woman’s voice in a high tech world, not much has changed since I ran a male-dominated magazine in a male-dominated world. Men still swagger to the top; women fill the ranks of marketing and PR. It’s the 2015 version of Mad Men. As digital projects become more collaborative and interdisciplinary with less of the “guy in the garage” mentality, women will bring their own stamp to technology.

    I had a smart boss (also a man) early in my career. He told me I should join women’s networking groups because it would be good for my career. I grumbled and asked: what about you? Why don’t you have join networking groups? “I do,” he answered. “I play golf.”

    Sexist? Separate but equal? Definitely. But the guy saw a chance for me to be a leader on my own terms, not by playing with the boys.

    Robin Raskin was the editor of PC Magazine and went on to found FamilyPC, a magazine for families entering the digital world. Today she runs a conferences and events company, Living in Digital Times.

  • Stop Playing 'Whack-A-Mole' With Toxic Flame Retardants, Health Advocates Urge
    As the public has learned of health risks tied to chemicals in everyday products, many companies have responded by eliminating, one by one, the suspected cancer causers, brain damagers and hormone disruptors. But even prompt action doesn’t entirely appease some health experts, who warn of a problematic pattern.

    “We’re playing toxic whack-a-mole,” said Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and executive director of the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute. “When after a great deal of research and testing, a chemical is found to be harmful, then the tendency is to replace it with as similar a chemical as possible. That’s the easiest thing to do.”

    History has shown, however, that the substitutes may prove equally harmful. Take, for example, the widespread replacement of bisphenol A with bisphenol S in products such as hard plastic water bottles and cash register receipts. New research suggests the latter chemical may be just as harmful to human health.

    On Tuesday, a coalition of medical, consumer and worker safety groups attempted to halt this cycle for flame retardants. Led by Blum’s institute and Earthjustice, they produced a petition asking federal regulators to block an entire class of the chemical concoctions called organohalogens from their widespread use in four categories of consumer products.

    When Congress banned polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in 1977 due to health concerns, the flame retardant industry replaced them with a chemical cousin, polybrominated diphenyl ether. When PBDE was discovered to be just as toxic, it was phased out in 2005, and the industry looked again for easily swappable substitutes to continue meeting flammability standards. Among the popular picks were chlorinated Tris and Firemaster 550, both of which have now been linked with their own growing lists of health concerns, including heart disease, obesity and cancer.

    All of these chemicals are organohalogens, still the most common class of flame retardant additive. They can migrate out of consumer products to permeate, and persist in, the environment — riding house dust, even infiltrating jars of peanut butter and the bloodstreams of nearly all Americans.

    “The evidence is quite convincing that exposure in the womb to these flame retardants causes brain damage, lower IQs and persistent behavior problems in children,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

    “It’s just been one bad actor after another,” added Landrigan, who signed the petition. “You’d think we’d be smart enough to do a little better.”

    In addition to developing fetuses and young children — the latter of whom tend to crawl on dust-laden floors and put their hands in their mouths — chemical and manufacturing workers and firefighters are at increased risk from exposure to flame retardants.

    Tuesday’s petition, aimed at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, targets four categories of consumer goods: children’s products, furniture, mattresses and the casings around electronics. While chemicals themselves are generally under the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency, they enter the CPSC’s domain as part of a consumer product.

    “This falls squarely within what CPSC is set up to do. They have the authority,” said Eve Gartner, a staff attorney at Earthjustice. “In some ways, products with these flame retardants are like toys with small parts. They have inherent dangers. There’s not really anything consumers can do to protect themselves against these chemicals.”

    Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesman, noted that the commission had received the petition. The next step, he said, is determining whether it “meets the requirements set out in the Commission’s petition regulations.”

    “CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye has said publicly that in the course of CPSC’s work on issues like preparing a federal standard for upholstered furniture (which is ongoing), he does not want children to be exposed to harmful flame retardants,” said Wolfson in an email.

    He highlighted previous comments in which Kaye had lamented the lack of a “clear, systematic and holistic organization or plan to the way federal agencies are tasked with studying the basic toxicity and exposure scenarios of chemicals.” That, combined with a “severe lack of federal funding as well as authorities to quickly and comprehensively address chemical toxicity and exposure,” said Kaye, has forced agencies, including the CPSC, to “proceed in piecemeal fashion.”

    The American Chemistry Council, meanwhile, criticized the petition. “It’s unfortunate these groups are presenting families with the false choice between chemical safety and fire safety when we can have both,” the national industry group said in a statement. “Flame retardants have been proven to be a critical component of fire safety and can help save lives.”

    “This petition unfortunately lumps together a broad range of substances with different properties and uses without any consideration of their individual safety or benefits,” added Bryan Goodman, a spokesman with the American Chemistry Council, in an email.

    Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, shared a similar concern about the petition’s broad reach. “I’m not a big fan of flame retardants being used,” she said. “But I think a blanket banning of anything with a halogen on it may not be the best approach.”

    Birnbaum suggested there might be some circumstances in which certain organohalogen chemicals may still prove critical for fire safety. “And I’m not convinced that some of the non-halogenated flame retardants are any better,” she said.

    While organohalogens still make up the majority of flame retardants in consumer products, another class — phosphates — is coming into use. Blum noted that these chemicals, too, are “looking worrisome.” Yet she added that there was not yet enough evidence regarding their toxicity to add them to the petition.

    Health experts and advocates seem to agree that before looking for a safer alternative, manufacturers should determine if a substitute is even necessary. Can a couch — or mattress or children’s toy — be constructed differently so that chemical additives aren’t needed in the first place? It turns out that flame retardants added to furniture may not actually slow fires.

    Spurred in part by mounting evidence of health problems associated with flame retardant additives, as well as a Chicago Tribune investigation that found the additives may offer no meaningful fire protection, the state of California last year revised its Technical Bulletin 117 to remove a decades-old requirement that flame retardants be included in the stuffing of upholstered furniture. The state rule, which became the de facto standard for the rest of the nation, meant use of the chemicals flourished for years. However, as Blum noted, California’s updated standard still does not forbid flame retardants outright.

    How a CPSC ban on organohalogens would affect the furniture industry, one of the major users of flame retardants, is not yet clear. “We have just become aware of this petition and have not had the opportunity to fully investigate its potential impact on our industry,” said Andy Counts, CEO of the American Home Furnishings Association, which has previously opposed measures that could increase chemical risks to its customers or employees.

    Organohalogen flame retardants are the first of six entire classes of chemicals that Blum and her colleagues intend to address. This broader approach, they argue, could prove a more effective way to increase the chemical safety of household products.

    Under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the EPA has banned just five chemicals and has required testing for only about 200 of the more than 80,000 permitted for use in the United States. A bipartisan bill unveiled in Congress earlier this month shows some promise of reforming the outdated law. Yet the legislation has also set off heated debate. Some public health advocates warn, for example, that a federal law could stymie swifter chemical safety efforts by states, several of which have already proposed bans on flame retardants.

    “Bans take a really long time. TSCA reform is taking a really long time,” said Blum. “And then there are so many chemicals and so much testing that needs to be done. So let’s find a way to act on what we know, rather than wait for such a long time for a process that may or may not turn out to be effective.”

  • Stress Conversations-A Journey through Poetry, Art, Tech and Wearables
    “If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

    Maybe Wearables provide us with the opportunity to get a step closer to nature-within ourselves and in the environment around us.

    In that vein, I would like to share some of the thoughts around Wearables and our relationship with the IoT from the WearablesTech conference in Santa Clara, CA that I attended last week.

    Further questions that came to mind were:
    How can we use the latest innovations in Tech to improve our well being, sink into our bodies and revel at the insights that come through self awareness more. Can we use technological tools for this purpose? How can we link ourselves more clearly to the world in us and the world around us? How can we use Wearables for stress relief and increase our clarity of thinking and quality of life with them and maybe even through them?

    What truly is the “quantified self”? And how useful is it really?

    As we walk through our own journey of stress
    Let us remember
    the functions
    of the body-
    2015-03-23-1427149361-3227194-shutterstock_220001788.jpg

    We know
    that
    the one thing
    that we-
    all humans-
    have in common
    is
    A body
    The one common denominator
    which unites us all
    A body

    We all feel through it
    We all experience through it
    We all live in it

    Stress
    2015-03-23-1427147015-1893186-IMG_2948.jpg

    The buzzing thoughts
    the whirls
    of our minds
    regularily
    take us out of our bodies
    we run
    we forget
    that we are even in one

    We are in a body
    A body we are
    And
    maybe sometimes it even is a nuisance
    not efficient enough
    not fast enough
    not productive enough
    SLOW
    Sick
    Painful
    Edgy

    We can adorn it
    2015-03-23-1427147976-3365915-images20.jpeg

    We can now measure it
    We can dialog
    with it
    like we never have before
    We can climb out of the box with it
    and go beyond
    what is expected of us
    into the realm of the divine
    2015-03-23-1427147527-2756672-619869018a.jpg

    By listening in
    into our body
    For that
    we can nourish it
    appreciate it
    sink into it
    Move it
    Love it
    and

    Breathe it
    or let it
    breathe us

    Move with it
    let it move us
    sink deeply into our needs
    and
    use it as
    a springboard
    to replenish
    the body of the environment
    Earth
    2015-03-23-1427148663-1524131-Depositphotos_9446924_original.jpg

    We can communicate
    through it-
    Dance
    2015-03-23-1427149485-1049669-shutterstock_171562598.jpg

    We can use it to integrate-
    Walk

    We can communicate
    to the outside environment-
    Facial expression

    We can communicate with others through it-
    Team sports

    We can use it to shake off nagging thoughts-
    Sports

    Or we can wage war with our body-
    against others
    and against ourselves2015-03-23-1427147096-8262349-sturmtruppegehtuntergasvor.jpg

    Or we can learn to understand ourselves
    and our bodies
    as well as our emotions

    We have a choice
    on how to do that-
    Imagine
    We can direct objects through focus
    We can even make drones fly*2015-03-23-1427147272-9291130-IMG_35232.jpg

    When we come back into the house of our bodies fully

    We can stay there
    peacefully
    in acceptance
    and growth

    We can use motion as a healer
    We can tap into wearables
    as a thermometer
    We can fall back into nature
    2015-03-23-1427147335-2243437-2013090114.21.37.jpg
    to ground back into ourselves
    at the deepest level

    Shift to move
    and change some of the patterns
    Rewrite the brain paths
    2015-03-23-1427148095-4033524-red1510.jpg
    And with that change the chemistry of our bodies
    Understand our chemistry
    and-
    because of that-
    rewrite
    our brain paths
    Become one with the movement of what already is
    Attune to the reality
    without veils

    In the midsts of stress thorns
    2015-03-23-1427147673-5137742-IMG_00012.jpg
    find the possibilities of light

    Connect to our
    information highway from the body
    our lamina 1
    2015-03-23-1427147180-6196188-SensoryPerceptionChairECG.jpg

    in a peaceful way to our
    somatosensory cortex
    Heal
    our ravaged
    and stressed amygdala

    Enjoy the
    flow
    of serotonin
    coming to the prefrontal cortex
    by walking
    by moving
    by expressing the rhythm of
    our heart*2015-03-23-1427148446-2374393-IMG_2876.jpg

    Maybe with the help of a wearable?

    How do we connect with ourselves and others-
    What are the tools that could make us more aware, less stressed.
    Maybe more in synch with our own flow and that of the flow of the environment around us.

    So that we know what we need, when, what the situation requires or, what the next successful action is. So that we manage to avoid stress loops and instead notice that where we are off balance. That we need to take care of ourselves and readjust adequately.
    2015-03-23-1427149260-3084576-images7.jpeg

    In an ideal world none of us would need these pointers, there would be no trauma, no chronic stress, no violence and no dis-ease. To fine tune ourselves to our bodies and our environment we may be better served to put on a wearable instead of swallowing a pill to numb us.
    What wearables could help us help ourselves and each other in the most effective way?

    The WearablesTech Conference opened up a whole world of possibilities of new wearables, and creative possibilities.
    Wearables that can be swallowed(Motilis Pill), put into your eyes (Sensimed Triggerfish), listened to, and, of course, made. Technical workshops abounded as to the how of Wearables, the tech inside, the new designs the possibilities of bringing it all together. Hardware, software, app development and new materials were explained, shown and demonstrated. A heaven of circuits that can be thin as paper (by FlexibleCircuit Technologies), materials that can resist any weather changes (UICO technology that looks like a see through plastic), even a trip to the north pole. Older wearables such as HeartMath were also sharing some of their approaches with a presentation on Heart Rate Variability and how it is applied in, influenced and changed through a Wearable. The conference was a deep dive into the still evolving tech movement and a new maker movement on the rise.

    So far, it seems clear to me that the quantified self is useful when it provides us with an insight into our own bodies and minds.

    Other than the familiar iWatch, Sony wearables, Fitbit and more, there are specific wearables that target chronic stress symptoms in a different way.
    Here is a short list of Wearables for stress relief through training of self awareness that I have found most interesting up to date. I have included their specific area of connection to the body.

    The Muse-EEG brainwaves. Wearable to calm the mind.

    HeartMath wearable– Heart Rate Variability. Slows the organism to a state of relaxation where the brain waves are in synch with the heart beat patterns.

    Spire-the breath. A wearable that attaches to you and provides feedback on breathing patterns. Let’s one know when it is time to catch one’s breath.

    Votsh Waves-Emotions. Light lamps that soothe your mood and can be placed on your desk or mounted on the wall. They are connectable to various wearables and music sources.

    Mindspa-Brainwaves. A deep relaxation tool using glasses with light patterns, sound and guided meditations for various occasions.

    There are of course others that are more complex but just as fun even though they are used more typically for Consciousness Hacking and research
    Neurosky pro
    or the Emotiv EPOC for research as well as hacking

    Art
    Woman climbing out of a box
    Marck

    Sensory Perception Chairs
    by Alan Macy

    Sturmtruppe-geht-unter-gas-vor

    VR guided meditation snippet
    Your house

    Science
    *It is scientifically proven that our connections in the brain ultimately function more effectively when lamina 1 and the somatosensori cortex are lined up with the pre frontal cortex rather than being caught in the side loop of the stressed out amygdala. What a beautiful flow results when all the circuits are connected through an ever fluid flow of seratonin rather than cortisol.
    See Dr Daniel Siegel’s work at the Mindsight Institute and Peter A. Levine PhD therapies to let go of trauma for more information.

    Live demonstration at the WearableTech Conference-
    *Live demonstration of how to command drones through focus in the presentation by Jim Mc Keeth of Embarcadero

  • VIDEO: App helping locals improve slum life
    How an app and mapping technology is making life better for residents in a Nairobi slum
  • VIDEO: The app that uploads to Congress
    StoryCorps has launched a smartphone app that directly uploads recordings to the US Library of Congress
  • Virtual reality take on refugee life
    Virtual reality looks for a role in journalism
  • VIDEO: Big leap in 4K video streaming tech
    A new method of compression could see ultra-HD video streamed to TVs and other devices using around 50% of the bandwidth currently needed.
  • Turkey hit by massive power cut
    A huge power cut hits dozens of provinces across Turkey for several hours, causing transport chaos.
  • Uber Driver Allegedly Tried Burglarizing Passenger After Drop-Off
    By Keith Coffman
    DENVER, March 31 (Reuters) – Police arrested a 51-year-old driver for the Uber car service on Wednesday who is accused of trying to burglarize a Denver woman’s home after he dropped her off at the city’s airport, authorities said.
    Gerald Montgomery was taken into custody in the suburb of Golden after a warrant was issued for him on suspicion of attempted burglary, Denver police spokeswoman Christine Downs said.
    Police say he drove the woman to Denver International Airport last week, but then allegedly returned to the home in the south of the city where he had picked her up and tried to break in through the back door.
    Montgomery did not realize his passenger had a roommate who was still in the house, and he fled when the “homeowner observed his actions,” according to a police report.
    Uber representative Taylor Patterson said the company immediately suspended Montgomery after it learned of the incident.
    “We spoke with the rider, refunded her ride and informed her that the driver has been deactivated,” Patterson said in a statement. “We remain committed to supporting Denver law enforcement in any way we can.”
    Patterson said drivers must undergo “full criminal and driving history background checks,” which include local, federal and multistate screenings.
    Uber drivers use their own vehicles, which the company says gives consumers access to a cheaper means of transport than traditional taxicabs.
    But the San Francisco-based company, now among the most valuable U.S. start-ups, is facing mounting legal challenges from drivers, passengers and the government.
    Uber drivers in Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., and other cities have been arrested for assaulting passengers, prompting multiple lawsuits from victims.
    (Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Beech)
  • Here's What Happens When Internet Providers Have Zero Competition
    It’s basic economics: Competition drives down prices.

    So it’s no surprise that AT&T is charging way more for its highest-speed Internet service in Cupertino, California, where it’s the only provider of superfast gigabit speeds, than in cities where it has a competitor.

    AT&T’s pricing power in the small and expensive enclave of Silicon Valley illustrates the state of broadband in the U.S. Because of the huge infrastructure costs of deploying a network, there is very little competition — nearly 75 percent of households in the U.S. have one or no options for broadband Internet, according to the FCC. And as speeds go up, competition goes down.

    AT&T’s GigaPower Internet service, which launched in Cupertino on Monday, will cost consumers $110 per month if they want the top speed of up to 1,000 megabits (one gigabit) per second for downloads. That’s $40 more per month than AT&T charges in other cities where it offers the service, like Austin and Kansas City, Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin reports.

    The difference is that in Austin and Kansas City, AT&T competes with Google Fiber, the search giant’s own superfast Internet network. In those places, both Google Fiber and AT&T offer gigabit service starting at $70 per month.

    AT&T GigaPower Pricing In Austin, Texas:
    att austin

    And in Cupertino, California:
    att cupertino

    AT&T’s price is contingent upon giving the company access to your browsing information and what you search for online, so AT&T can better target ads to you — you have to pay more if you opt out.

    The company declined to comment about the price discrepancies in its GigaPower service. In a statement, it said, “We’re excited to offer the fastest high-speed Internet in Cupertino at a price that is competitive for the market.”

    Competition appears to have prompted AT&T to cut prices before. Earlier this month, it dropped the price of its GigaPower service in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, after Google said it was planning to launch its network there.

    Cupertino, which is home to Apple, is among the most expensive places to live in the U.S., so AT&T can get away with charging people a premium for the service.

    “We’d love to see other companies come in and offer competitive speeds to what AT&T now offers,” said Rick Kitson, a spokesperson for city of Cupertino. “Everyone needs the speed and the access that’s now certainly possible but still isn’t universally available.”

    broadband
    This chart from the FCC shows how few Internet options most people have.

    Karl Bode, a technology writer and the editor of the industry site DSLReports, said that inexpensive access to broadband in the U.S. is a much bigger issue than the current deployment of gigabit networks, which he says is “overhyped.” After all, gigabit service is only available to 3 percent of the entire U.S. population.

    “So while gigabit is great if you can get it, a far more important conversation to be having is in regards to price — and how the general lack of competition in the majority of markets has people paying an arm and a leg not just for slow service, but some of the worst customer support in any industry,” Bode wrote in an email. “There’s still a pretty notable digital divide and competitive shortfall, and deploying gigabit services to select portions of a small number of cities isn’t doing much so far to seriously impact this.”

  • Vine Star Marcus Johns Keeps His Prom Promise After A Fan Gets 100,000 Retweets
    When a fan direct messaged Marcus Johns on Twitter asking if he’d go to prom with her if she got 100,00 retweets, he agreed, figuring it was practically impossible. It turns out he was wrong.

    On January 12, Mimi Dickerson messaged the Vine star with her prom proposition. When he wrote back saying he’d go if she kept her end of the deal, she quickly got to work.

    OMG IM DEAD YALL RETWEET THIS pic.twitter.com/4iSmLnE6Uq

    — mimi dickerson (@mimidickerson7) January 13, 2015

    Mimi tweeted the next day that she had gotten 60,000 retweets. She got the remaining 40,000 soon after, and on January 14 Marcus got in touch to make plans.

    @mimidickerson7 let me know what color your dress is so I can start looking at ties❤️

    — Marcus Johns (@marcusjohns) January 15, 2015

    What a wonderful night. Thanks to every1 that helped make this happen. Prom is defiantly goin 2 b the best night of my life @marcusjohns ❤️

    — mimi dickerson (@mimidickerson7) January 15, 2015

    Two months later, Marcus traveled to Alabama to escort Mimi to the dance at Gulf Shores High School on March 21. A video on his YouTube channel documents their prom adventure and shows the two taking pictures with her friends, eating dinner and killin’ it on the dance floor.

    So @mimidickerson7 got 100k retweets, and I promised I would fly 3000 miles to her prom if she did. I’m here… pic.twitter.com/G52LwSQRrX

    — Marcus Johns (@marcusjohns) March 21, 2015

    pic.twitter.com/2FDLD2lKdf

    — Marcus Johns (@marcusjohns) March 22, 2015

    PROM PICS R SO CUTE #MarcusGoesBackToProm pic.twitter.com/DKGBZ6c6WD

    — mimi dickerson (@mimidickerson7) March 22, 2015

    While being able to take one of her favorite celebrities to prom was incredible for Mimi, Marcus also had a blast. After the big night, he took to Twitter to share his appreciation for Mimi and her community.

    Prom was amazing thanks to @mimidickerson7 and her friends. Blessed and thankful.
    #MarcusGoesBackToProm

    — Marcus Johns (@marcusjohns) March 22, 2015

    Thanks to a little help from the Internet, prom was certainly a night to remember — for both of them.

    H/T ANDPOP

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  • Some RadioShacks Will Survive After All
    By Nick Brown and Tom Hals

    (Reuters) – A plan to salvage RadioShack Corp’s business by co-branding most of its 1,740 surviving stores with cellular phone provider Sprint Corp earned U.S. bankruptcy court approval on Tuesday, ending four days of contested court hearings.

    The stores are what survived of more than 4,000 outlets after RadioShack went bankrupt in February. Founded in 1921, the chain was a go-to retailer for electronics before becoming increasingly irrelevant in the digital age.

    Judge Brendan Shannon, in Delaware bankruptcy court, approved a sale of the stores to the Standard General hedge fund, which plans to keep most of them open under a deal in which Sprint will occupy one-third of each space.

    The sale could preserve about 7,500 jobs, and allow RadioShack to stay in business, a big challenge for retailers who file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

    The deal had been in doubt when RadioShack’s largest lender, Salus Capital Partners, on Friday said it would make a more lucrative bid over the weekend.

    The bid never came, but Salus still fought the proposed Standard General deal, alleging this week that the auction was a sham in which RadioShack chose Standard General despite Salus’ better, $271 million, all-cash offer.

    RadioShack insisted that Standard General’s bid was worth $56 million more than Salus’, even though most of it would be paid in the form of debt forgiveness rather than cash.

    Time was of the essence, with RadioShack saying it needed to finalize a deal by Wednesday to avoid paying April rent.

    On Tuesday, Shannon sided with RadioShack, calling Standard General’s bid “economically superior” even before accounting for the “terribly important benefit of saving more than 7,000 jobs and saving a century-old American retail icon.”

    RadioShack also faced protest from a separate lender group demanding indemnification from a $129 million lawsuit against it related to RadioShack’s bankruptcy. RadioShack agreed to set aside $12 million in reserve to help the group defend that lawsuit, though Shannon denied other protections sought by the group.

    Federal bankruptcy rules give companies in Chapter 11 only a few months to decide whether to keep or break leases, making restructuring particularly tough for retailers. Chains like Borders Group, Loehmann’s Inc and Coldwater Creek all went out of business after filing for bankruptcy in recent years.

  • How Cell Phone Companies Are Getting You To Pay More
    If you think your cell phone bills are out of control — well, you have no idea.

    A study published earlier this year in the American Economic Review suggests smartphone owners might overpay on their monthly bill because of a U.S. industry policy that’s actually supposed to help people save money.

    Under the policy, which went into effect in 2013, wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T send text messages to customers to let them know if they’re burning through their monthly data too quickly. The idea behind this practice is to prevent “bill shock,” that horrible feeling you get when you look at your phone bill and see a much higher charge than you expected because you went over your plan. It’s also supposed to warn customers to curb their data usage so they don’t spill over their monthly limit.


    A sample notification indicating that a customer is about to go over her data plan.

    But cell phone companies are padding their subscription plans to make up for the fact that they have to warn customers about lucrative overage charges, according to study authors Matthew Osborne and Michael D. Grubb.

    “Cell phone companies make a lot of money from overage fees. If you implement these alerts, then they’re going to lose money on that, so they’re going to try to make up that money, in other words, by increasing fixed fees,” Osborne, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Toronto Mississauga, told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. “While [customers] get more information, they’re paying more.”

    Additionally, people aren’t good at estimating their data usage ahead of time. So even if they get a warning message, they’re still likely to go over their limit.

    It should be noted that the researchers looked at cell phone bill records from 2002 to 2004. While phones today let us access high-speed Internet, watch feature-length films, send high-quality photographs to large groups of people and so on, phones from 2002 to 2004 couldn’t do much beyond place calls, send texts, play “Snake” or maybe store a limited number of MP3s. Billing at that time was based on minutes, rather than gigabytes of data. In other words, they examined a completely different beast than we’re accustomed to.

    There’s a good reason the authors used old stats, though: It allowed them to create theoretical models of the “bill shock” warning policy’s impact in the real world and suss out different ways both consumers and companies could be affected.

    “While our 2002–2004 data are imperfect to directly resolve the policy question today, we use them to predict what effect the policy would have had,” the study reads.

    The researchers found that keeping track of talk minutes was a challenge for people. “Our study implies that people basically underestimate how much they use their phone, and they underestimate by about an hour. If you think you’re going to use 100 minutes, you actually go over by about 60 minutes,” Osborne told HuffPost.

    It’s easy to see how there would be a similar problem with modern-day data usage.

    When signing up for a new phone plan, the average consumer probably has no idea how much data they’ll need per month. And carriers aren’t exactly great at helping make this decision. Take a look at the plans offered on AT&T’s website:


    What does any of this even mean?

    Is it safer to pay $65 a month for up to 3GB, or should you bump that up to the next tier? What does 3GB mean in terms of everyday usage, anyway? How much data does it take to download a video a friend sends you?

    Make the wrong choice and you’ll pay for it, because overage charges will mount. If you’re on Verizon or AT&T, you can expect to pay $15 for every GB over your plan’s limit. An hour of Netflix video can use up to 3 GB, so if you’re using your phone’s plan to watch a two-hour movie on a bus when you’re at your plan’s limit, you’ve potentially added $90 to your bill right then and there.

    And let’s say you receive a warning message from your carrier telling you you’ve used 75 percent of your monthly data. In order for that to be helpful, you first have to remember which data plan you’re on. (3GB, let’s say.) Then, you have to do the math to figure out that you’ve basically used 2.25 GB of the 3 allotted. Finally, you have to adjust your behavior for the rest of the month to avoid an overage charge, or upgrade your existing plan to a costlier one that allows more data consumption.

    As the study notes, people probably won’t do all of this, which means they’re probably going to be stuck paying a fee, despite the warning from their carrier.

    “Overconfidence causes consumers to choose overly risky plans and underestimate the likelihood of paying overage charges,” the study reads.

    So, what’s to be done?

    “Some of these plans are tailored to exploit people’s mistakes,” Osborne told HuffPost. “That would be one place potentially for the government to step in, by having the cell phone companies provide people with more detailed statistics monthly.”

  • Let's Stop Sharing Photos of Our Kids' Crying, Snot-Nosed Meltdowns
    Listen, we’ve all been there.

    The house is somehow a disaster even though the kids have only been up for an hour. You can’t seem to find your grip on life, let alone the dishes, and your 2-year-old just threw himself to the floor in tears because the mayonnaise on his sandwich touched his hand. Or you’ve saved up for a year to take your kids to Disneyland. You’re finally in the happiest place on earth and you’re trying your damnedest to make everything magical and your 5-year-old is throwing a fit because you forgot to pack her green sneakers instead of her blue ones and OH MY GOSH, MOM. DON’T YOU KNOW THAT DISNEYLAND ISN’T THE SAME IN THESE STUPID GREEN SHOES? Or it’s just another day. And your 3-year-old is seriously about to lose her mind because the Lego fort you built isn’t big enough to hold her teddy bear and basically the world is ending and her screams are the harbinger of the apocalypse and oh my gosh, is it nap time yet?

    As parents, we all deal with these meltdowns differently. There are harsh words and soft words, capitulating and grandstanding. Sometimes we are proud of our responses, sometimes not so much. I imagine parents have been reacting to the kid conniption in the same varied ways since Adam and Eve finally decided to put down the parenting books and start, you know, parenting.

    Nothing much changed. Until it did.

    Now when their kids lose their cool, parents don’t just reach for words of comfort or frustration. They also reach for their cameras on their phones.

    We’re all pretty well-acquainted with the result — the photo of the sobbing child accompanied by a funny comment and witty hashtag. Heavens, we haven’t just seen those photos — if you’re anything like me, you’ve also posted them. And it isn’t just for the laughs we’ll get for sharing the oversized agony about a silly little kid problem.

    No, we share them because parenthood is hard. It is as shockingly difficult as it is shockingly beautiful. We’ve all heard it takes a village to raise a kid. Well, I think it might take a village to keep a parent from going absolutely bleeping crazy. In so many ways, sharing the hard parts of our days — including that kid crying over something small or ridiculous for the hundredth time — is how many of us search for our village.

    It’s all well-meant. They are just little kids having big fits over little silly things. They’d laugh, too, if they knew what we knew. There’s no harm intended.

    But I think we are hurting our children and ourselves by posting photographs of them in their extreme moments, even when we know everything is going to be all right.

    A few thoughts.

    1. Ridiculous is relative.
    Yeah, that one time my 3-year-old cried until she threw up because she was so upset her shoelaces were uneven WAS pretty crazy. I mean… what the hell, kid? But somewhere between searching for scissors to even the laces and cleaning up the puke, I took the time to really look at her. Sure, the problem seemed imaginary to me, but her distress was real. She was torn up inside. She doesn’t like crying hysterically. I guarantee she would have bypassed the whole experience if she could have managed to do so. But she couldn’t. Because something about that uneven shoelace upset her perspective or introduced just a little more disorder than her already disordered toddler world could handle. So, she cried. And she screamed. And she gasped in air until she expelled the contents of her stomach. And it was gross.

    You know who else freaks out over things that other people could take in stride? Me. When it’s one of those days when I am positive I’m never going to think of another thing to write… ever. Like, not even enough words for a grocery list. Or when my husband is driving and I AM REALLY, REALLY SURE THAT CAR ALMOST HIT US. Or, you know, any of the three days before I start my period. I don’t need people to pander to me when I am being irrational. Heavens, please give me a talking-to when I start hiccup-crying over the grown-up equivalent of uneven shoelaces. We all need help with our perspectives now and then. But I cannot imagine how violated and invalidated I would feel if my husband started taking photos of me mid-breakdown and posted them to Instagram with witty hashtags.

    2. We do not want to teach our children that the Internet is the dumping ground for all emotions.
    I know that when I take that picture of my kid mid-tantrum in Target, I am really trying to express my emotions about HER emotions. But what does she see? She sees me taking a photo of her in a vulnerable moment and posting it online. Kids may be consistently irrational, but they aren’t dumb. They’re watching us. And they are going to take the behavior we model and apply it to themselves. Do we want our kids exposing their vulnerabilities on Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat? Do we want them to think a screen is the correct receptacle for their heartbreaks or triumphs? Do we want our children to spend more time tagging their experiences than actually, you know, experiencing them?

    3. Parents do need a village, but sharing photos of crying kids isn’t the surest way to build one.
    Listen, parenting is a hard, messy, lonely, beautiful, peanut-butter-covered business. We need to be able to share our experiences — not just as an act of edification, but also as a sign of solidarity. Oh, your kid screams in the middle of parking lots sometimes, too? Thank goodness. I thought I was the only one. But the most effective means of communicating both our need and our support does not have to come at the cost of our children.

    As parents, we get to witness the highs and lows of our children’s lives. That’s a privilege that we don’t need to share with everyone who follows us. Let’s acknowledge that and find other ways to communicate the hard, ridiculous, funny ways our kids freak the heck out. Call a friend or walk outside and talk to a neighbor. Engage with your community online, by all means. I have found so much solace and support from women on social media. Maybe post about your hard day from your perspective with a picture that doesn’t include your kid’s tears. There is something incredibly intimate about portraiture, even the kind snapped with a cracked iPhone. Those break-apart moments belong to them. Even though it’s hard to recognize at times, it’s a privilege that they feel comfortable enough to share them with us. I want my kids to know their irrational, out of control, crying-on-the-floor selves are just as safe with me as their well-behaved selves. Safety doesn’t mean I always tolerate, give into, or encourage freak-outs, but it does mean I respect the kid behind them.

    We never completely outgrow an occasional inability to see beyond the moment that holds us. We need to teach our kids how to navigate that reality, not publicly mock their failed attempts to do so. Can we chuckle about puking over shoelaces? Of course we can. Hell, not just CAN, we SHOULD. Laughter is healing, and sometimes, as a parent, a sense of humor is the only thing that gets me through the day. (There are a few Instagram accounts that basically feature kids standing proudly next to the incredible messes they’ve made. These crack me up. Kids: 1 Parents: 0.) But let’s be more discerning about what we publish permanently to the Internet about our kids. And let’s see what happens when we reach for our kids before we reach for our phones. Who knows?

    We just might learn something worth sharing.

    (Hey, guys, we’ve got this. And you’re doing a good job. Past kid crying photos, puke and all.)

    Let’s chat! Find me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. This post was originally published on megconley.com.

  • Amazon launches home ordering kit
    In an attempt to attract more household shoppers, Amazon unveils a button for replenish items such as washing powder and razors.
  • Social Media Makes Us All Bullies, Say Monica Lewinsky And Jon Ronson
    If anyone understands public shaming, it’s Monica Lewinsky — making her a perfect person to interview journalist and author Jon Ronson about his new book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.”

    A tendency to go to emotional extremes on social media contributes to public shaming today, Ronson told Lewinsky.

    “It’s like on social media we’ve set a stage for constant high dramas,” Ronson said. “So, like, we either have to do something wonderful and heroic or something like, ‘We have to shame this terrible person.'”

    “I sort of think that’s not how we are as human beings,” Ronson added.

    Now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Lewinsky was publicly shamed nearly 20 years ago, long before the social-media era, for her affair with then-President Bill Clinton. Her experience is included in Ronson’s book.

    Another subject of the book is Justine Sacco, the former senior director of corporate communications at IAC, who was publicly shamed for a tweet she wrote in 2013: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

    News outlets picked up the insensitive tweet, and Sacco was quickly fired. Ronson suggested that Sacco’s treatment was unfair.

    “We like to pretend that Justine Sacco’s badly worded tweet is a clue to her inherent evil, but that’s not true,” Ronson said. “We know that’s not true about people, but we’ve tricked ourselves into believing that’s true.”

    Context is key, Lewinsky said.

    “What’s happened with the Internet is that we lose context for a story, but mainly we lose context for a person,” she said. “This is someone’s daughter. This is someone’s sister. This is somebody that has a sense of humor that might be different from mine. This is someone who has a long range of life experiences, which inform how they themselves, view the world, or how they articulate themselves.”

  • A Biomass Mountain Rises
    2015-01-29-DonWillmott.jpgBy Don Willlmott

    When is the last time you saw a truly pretty power plant? Looking something like a Middle-earth mountain topped with a Dubai skyscraper, a radically new biomass-powered plant will soon rise in northern England on an unused plot of land on the banks of the River Tees. Its goal? To power 50,000 homes while cutting carbon emissions by 80 percent.

    The $770-million, 299-megawatt Teeside combined heat and power plant has been on the drawing board of London’s Heatherwick Studio for a while now, but in January, the European Commission approved the UK’s plans to provide state aid to eight renewable energy projects, including Teeside, under its 2013 electric market reforms. Such aid is given to the plant’s operator as a variable premium above the market price for electricity to compensate for biomass energy’s higher cost.

    While you might expect such a plant to be powered by a local resource like Scottish peat, the actual fuel will be palm kernel shells — a waste product recovered from palm oil plantations and imported from the tropics. Even factoring in the transportation (ships will pull up riverside to unload the shells), the plant should be far less polluting than the aging coal- and gas-fired plants it will replace. After it comes online in July 2018, it should offset about 32 million tons of carbon dioxide over its projected 30-year lifetime.

    2015-03-31-1427845802-8419817-Biomass_Main_960X435.jpg

    The fun part, however, is the look of the thing. The artificial mountain will be hidden beneath a thick mat of local vegetation that it’s hoped will attract flora and fauna to the site. The idea is to make it so green, so beautiful, and so symbolic of the alternative energy movement that it becomes not only a revenue-generating tourist attraction for the region but also an alternative energy education mecca, complete with its own visitors’ center.

    Americans should also note that Thomas Heatherwick, the visionary designer of the plant, has been on a roll lately. It was announced last month that he was named co-architect of Google’s sprawling new campus in Mountain View, California. And he was recently commissioned by billionaire Barry Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, to design a new $130-million, 2.7-acre park on New York City’s West Side that will hover over the Hudson River on concrete piers. So in a few short years, New Yorkers will also be able to enjoy Heatherwick’s Tolkienesque style.

    Interested in energy and the environment? Click here for more XPRIZE Grand Challenges and to vote on future prizes. You can also sign up for our exclusive newsletter!

    Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org; follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+; and get our newsletter to stay informed.

    Don Willmott is a New York-based journalist who writes about technology, travel and the environment for a wide variety of publications and websites.

  • IT Experts Voluntarily Supercharging Nonprofits' Websites To Help Them Do More Good
    The nonprofit industry is booming but its web efforts have been lagging behind, which is what prompted a group of IT professionals to code an instant fix.

    Charitable giving is up and nonprofits are set to outpace the private sector in hiring this year, but NGOs’ social media approach and engagement has been sorely lacking, a recent study conducted by NonprofitHR found. To help organizations beef up their websites, branding and infographics strategies, a new volunteer matching site is pairing tech experts who are eager to offer up their talents for free with nonprofits who need their skills.

    Launching in April, HashtagCharity invites nonprofits and IT professionals to create profiles on LinkedIn, and then employs an algorithm that pairs a volunteer with a group seeking help.

    Nonprofits often simply don’t have the budget to cover such projects, with 68 percent of groups saying that they don’t even have a method for recruiting staff on social media, according to NonprofitHR.

    And while a number of such nonprofit-specific volunteer sites exist, HashtagCharity says it’s distinguishing itself from the others because of its technology focus and its custom-project management software, according to Philanthropy.com.

    In addition to giving back, volunteers are enticed to join because it gives them an opportunity to update and fine-tune their skills with side projects.

    “I feel as if this is a way I can really hone my passions in order to make a difference,” Alex Guffey, who has a background in web development, told the HashtagCharity in an interview. “If you could use your passions to make a difference, why wouldn’t you?”

    The Hungary-based group, which plans on working with organizations in the U.S. and Britain, is still developing its business model. For now, it’s dubbing itself a “not-just-for-profit” company and has received $250,000 in venture capital from an Austrian firm, according to Philanthropy.com.

    The group already has 600 volunteers and has about a handful of organizations its debuting its efforts with. Those include Action Against Hunger, which helps malnourished kids around the world and 1girl, an Ohio-based group that empowers middle-school girls.

    Though HashtagCharity hasn’t officially launched yet, its participating nonprofit groups have already reaped the benefits of the partnership.

    In February, the organization held a 15-hour hackathon with Action Against Hunger (AAH) and revamped the nonprofit’s visual storyboard and its messaging for fundraising.

    “We are so grateful to #Charity for sharing their skills, time and energy to create valuable tools to help us carry out our work and ultimately save more lives,” Alex Cottin, AAH associate director of partnerships, said of the experience.

    Find out more about HashtagCharity and how you can get involved here.

    To take action on pressing poverty issues, check out the Global Citizen’s widget below.

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