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Month: March 2015 (page 1 of 4)

US outlines how it will cut 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 | The Verge

The United States began to outline today how it will achieve the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by the end of 2025. In a submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United States says that it will use executive actions, largely under the Clean Air Act, to cut carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, improve fuel economy standards, and limit methane emissions from landfills and the oil and gas sectors. The submission comes ahead of a UN climate conference in Paris meant to coordinate a global response to climate change and prevent the Earth from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius, a widely accepted target for limiting the effects of warming.

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via US outlines how it will cut 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 | The Verge.

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

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

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 U.K.’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.

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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, CA. 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.

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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 the 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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Amazon Introduces New Product Everyone Thinks Is A Joke, Confirms It’s Real

Less than 24 hours before April Fools’ Day, Amazon unveiled its newest innovation to extract money from your bank account: the Amazon Dash Button.

The gadget bears the logo of your favorite brands — Tide laundry detergent or Maxwell House coffee, for instance — and sticks directly onto a flat surface in your home. When you run out of the corresponding product, you just push the button and a refill is dispatched to your house.

Twitter users wondered if it was a prank, but the company assured us it’s not fooling around.

“Yes, it is real,” an Amazon spokesperson said of the Dash Button.


PURCHASE, CONSUME, PURCHASE, CONSUME, PURCHASE, CONSUME

A wide range of products from paper towels to cat food are available with the Dash Button. But it’s only for Amazon Prime members, meaning plebs will have to stick to the crushingly slow method of opening an app on their pocket-sized miracle computer to order fresh garbage bags. (You do need a smartphone to set the device up, however, according to the Dash Button website.)

Perhaps to allay concerns that tykes could repeatedly slam on a Dash Button to send a torrent of Huggies to your front door, the device will register only the first press until the item is delivered.

Best of all, the buttons are free, presumably because they’ll help you spend vast quantities of money on Amazon.

If you simply must have it, you can ask for an invitation here.

Harvard’s ‘Frankenstein’: The 70s Controversy Over Mixing DNA

In the 1970s, two inhuman creatures—one hairy and tall, another with orange eyes—were spotted in New England. The mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, blamed these monsters not on unreliable testimonies, but recombinant DNA technology, then a new and promising laboratory technique.

This outrageous claim was leveled by one Alfred Vellucci, a Cambridge mayor who reserved a unique animosity for academia, and Harvard, especially. He was fond of threatening, for example, to pave the university’s grassy quad over for a parking lot—obviously the best solution to Cambridge’s parking woes.

Europe’s Remarkable New War on Facebook

2015-03-29-1427660260-298313-images.jpeg Remember the name Max Schrems. He’s a European David firing his slingshot at the modern-day Goliath you know as Facebook. Last August, the Austrian law student and privacy advocate filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook, claiming the company’s privacy policy violates European Union (EU) law.

Now, as part of that investigation, the European Commission has just admitted to the Court of Justice (CJEU) that it could not “ensure” privacy for the personal information of its citizens or for data transfers sent outside the union. In other words, Europeans who use Facebook and other U.S. Internet companies, which enable the U.S. government to access user data for law enforcement, espionage, and anti-terror purposes, do so at their own risk. How do you think the U.S. feels about that?

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All of this emanates from Europe’s long history of supporting and protecting the online privacy rights of its citizenry. Case and point, look at its reaction to Google. Numerous European countries have filed lawsuits and levied fines against Google for privacy violations. The EU has threatened to declare Google a monopoly. And just last year, Google lost a European decision that forced it to remove information on individuals from search engines when requested by that individual.

Did you know the EU used to not allow its citizenry to send personal data outside of Europe? It’s a true story. In 2000 however, the European Commission passed a Safe Harbor directive, a voluntary framework that allowed personal information of Europeans to be sent to the United States as long as the United States maintained adequate levels of data privacy protection.
The European Commission’s admission this week calls into question the whole Safe Harbor directive it helped create. The EU Parliament has said as much with its multiple calls for the Safe Harbor agreement to be suspended. The European Department of Privacy Supervisor similarly requested that the United States take responsibility by improving its privacy protection.

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To those who laughed at Schrems’ lawsuit, be forewarned that Schrems has a long history of success against Facebook. He was the first European to request Facebook disclose any information the social network had on him. That request led to his receiving more than 1,000 pages of content. And In 2012, he made Facebook retire its photo-tagging suggestion feature after successfully arguing that it violated people’s privacy. That’s why in part he was featured in the 2013 award-winning documentary film by Cullen Hoback; Terms and Conditions May Apply.

Schrems’ lawsuit has received very little coverage in the United States, mainly because it only indirectly involves us and secondly because Facebook has gone silent on the whole topic, in hopes that by ignoring the claim, it could show the claim lacks merit. In the rest of the world however, this story has become much bigger news. How big? When Schrems filed his lawsuit, he offered any Facebook user outside the U.S. and Canada the opportunity to join. Within days of his filing, Schrems found himself with requests from close to 7,000 Facebook users per day from more than 100 countries. At peak times, someone joined Schrems’ suit every six seconds. Not bad for a day’s work.

Schrems has since locked the number of backers at 25,000, which he reached many months ago. Users can still register as interested parties however, should the suit expand. In the meantime, Schrems has lined up government representatives from Austria, Belgium, Poland, and Ireland on his behalf.

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Schrems quest for user privacy reiterates the power that we as law-abiding citizens have to express our right to privacy. It has to be maintained as a natural right, plain and simple. It makes us who we are and gives us the freedom of thought and expression. It’s not an entitlement issue nor is it another oppressive cog in our class struggle. It’s a natural born right. This is why we are seeing a revolution by people in support of their rights and privacy supporting apps such as MeWe, DuckDuckGo, and Wickr.

So what now? The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice will give his opinion on June 24th. Where the suit goes from there, who knows? What we do know however, is that the rock fired by Schrems at Facebook, although not a direct hit between the eyes, could still prove a painful blow to the social media giant and a decisive victory for privacy advocates.

Will Jay Z’s Tidal Survive The Wave Of Streaming Music?

Jay Z officially announced Monday his foray into the digital streaming music market with his star-studded press conference launch for Tidal.

Unlike its established rivals Spotify and Pandora, the mogul has enlisted a slew of A-list musicians to partner with him on the premium monthly subscription service, which is offered at two price points: $20 for “lossless high fidelity sound quality” and $10 for standard sound quality.

Prior to rolling out Tidal at Monday’s event in New York City, Hov sat with Billboard magazine for an in-depth interview about his latest business venture. Among the many topics discussed, the 45-year-old Brooklyn native described his initial pitch to attract artists –including Madonna and Jack White — to partake in what he envisions to be a groundbreaking business model for the music industry.

“I think there was a bit of nervousness because of how things work: This is something new and unknown. But at the core everyone was super-excited at the idea,” he said.

“Like ‘Yes, let’s do this. Let’s not only create a place that has great music — let’s protect the future generation of artists,’” he continued. “I think this thing changes the world for them. It makes everything different, you know? Between those things it was like, ‘We have to do this, we are almost charged in this position to do it.’”

Jay’s selling points may have resulted in a slight blow to Spotify when Taylor Swift removed her entire catalog of music from the streaming service last November, four months before the multiplatinum singer chose Tidal as one of the paid streaming platforms to offer her music.

Despite Tidal’s intentions to protect the artist, some music industry insiders are skeptical about the company’s appeal to consumers and questioned its sustainability in the streaming music business. Bob Lefsetz, music pundit and author of The Lefsetz Letter blog, believes the idea of Tidal is “raw insanity” and that artists should focus more of their attention on their current record deals.

“I’d be much more impressed if they all ankled their deals, got rid of the major labels and went it alone. That’s why they’re not making much money on Spotify, not because of the free tier, but because their deals suck,” he wrote on his site in response to Tidal’s launch.

“But these same deals apply on Tidal! They’ve got to license the music from their bosses!” Lefsetz wrote. “It’s utterly laughable, like nursery school kids plotting against the teacher, or a kindergartner running away from home. Grow up!”

Read more of Jay Z’s Billboard interview on Tidal here.

How My DIY Computer Got Confused for a Cookie Box Because I’m a Girl

“Are those cookies?” I held our carefully constructed wooden box awkwardly in my hands, as I felt my cheeks start to flush. I remember feeling stunned, shocked even, that, as a fellow colleague at a prestigious technology entrepreneurship conference, the man in front of me could suggest that I was just handing out cookies for the real entrepreneurs.

My cofounder, Mark, recovered quickly, laughing it off, and opening up the wooden toolbox I held in my hands to reveal electronics pieces of the kit we had created to teach kids about building with hardware through playing Minecraft. It was easy for him to shrug it off. During his two hours holding the box, the product hadn’t been mistaken as a cookie box even once. During my hour, it happened three different times.

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I grew up in Texas, as the daughter of Indian immigrants who had started their own company and worked hard every single day to make our opportunities and our lives better than theirs had been. As the younger sibling, I remember learning about everything from my older brother, Pinaki, and finding fascination and beauty in the worlds of science and technology from the way my brother could explain it. Surrounded by brilliant people who would always know more than me, I learned to work hard. Very, very hard. And there was nothing I felt I couldn’t do if I put my mind to it.

With that mindset, when my grandfather passed away of cancer when I was 15, I knew I wanted to understand more about the disease, and undeterred by my own complete lack of experience, I started emailing dozens of professors working with cancer research in my area. The responses were rejection after rejection after rejection, until finally I received a response from Dr. Alakananda Basu, a professor of immunology at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, inviting me to come speak with her about possibly working in her lab. The next two summers became a fascinating whirlwind of learning techniques, designing experiments and conducting groundbreaking research on drug resistance in ovarian cancer. In 2011, this research won me the Grand Prize of the first ever Google Global Science Fair from over 10,000 projects all over the world.

My year, girls, working with subjects from carcinogens in food to environmental health in homes, won every age category of the Google Science Fair. In the whirlwind of experiences that followed, from getting to meet the President of the United States twice to being one of Glamour magazine’s Amazing 21 Young Women of the Year, I remember getting asked about what it was like to be a girl in science. I remember having no stories to tell, no newsworthy quotes about any discrimination I had faced or any anecdotes about being labeled a “nerd” derogatorily. To be completely honest, in my own naivety, I had never realized gender imbalances were even one of the major problems in STEM education.

It was the questions I kept receiving which made me really start reflecting on what had made me feel like I could “do” science in the first place. Was it a complete obliviousness to social cues? Was it a conscientious disregarding of the statistics I had heard repeatedly about gender in STEM? I suppose it was a little of both, but the biggest thing for me was being surrounded by women who I could look up to as role models. My professor was a woman, the Ph.D. students I had worked with were women and, above all, I had a support system which never had insinuated that gender even played a role in scientific ability.

Three years later, after having the incredible opportunity to speak around the world advocating for better STEM education and recognizing the need for better gateway tools to start building with technology, I teamed up with my cofounder Mark to create Piper, a Minecraft toolbox to get kids more engaged with technology through a DIY electronics kit. In piloting with over 400 kids, we had seen faces light up as kids assembled their own computers and built gadgets (like switches/buttons/LED lights/etc.) to solve Minecraft challenges. It’s a powerful product because it can inspire real invention and creation, and we were excited to create a company and a brand around it.

Before Piper, I had read the articles, the stories about the casual sexism in the world of startups and entrepreneurship, but I brushed it aside. STEM fields are also supposed to be biased, and I haven’t experienced much discrimination there, I told myself. Entrepreneurship will be okay too. I was very wrong.

The thing about gender biases are that they aren’t always overt. Girls aren’t told that they are bad at science. That idea is reinforced each time learning how to dress up pretty is prioritized over doing homework. Girls aren’t told that they can’t be entrepreneurs. That idea is reinforced every time a technology product in a box held by a girl is mistaken for a cookie box, and every time a product demo is automatically assumed to be created by the guy rather than the girl. Gender divides are more subtle than that; they seep into public perception, and they are damaging to everyone in suppressing ideas that can change the world.

It’s not practical or fair to say that these attitudes will change overnight or that frustrated rantings will solve everything. And progress is being made in STEM, in small nudges by dedicated people like those at Girlstart (an organization out of Austin, TX running camps for girls in STEM) and even legislators in the Office of the White House who are pushing to close that divide in science. But where is that for entrepreneurship? Where are more strong female role models starting companies and breaking down those barriers?

I am not special. I was surrounded by special people — role models who lifted me up and made me feel like being a woman wasn’t a disadvantage in STEM. The fact that these people exist shows me that STEM has made incredible progress in closing the gender divide. Yes, there is a ways to go, but it’s happening. And it’s happening now. But now, it’s time to push entrepreneurship to do the same. Hopefully much, much faster.

Shree Bose is the cofounder and COO of Piper, which is currently raising funds on Kickstarter at http://kck.st/1Bvntcx. She is currently a member of Harvard’s Class of 2016.

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Ancient Egyptian Brewery Unearthed In Tel Aviv

Think Tel Aviv became a party city only in recent times? Think again.

Pottery shards unearthed recently at an archaeological dig in the city’s downtown area suggest the presence of an ancient Egyptian brewery where the locals quaffed some cold ones back in the Bronze Age.

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A fragment of a basin that ancient Egyptians used to produce beer.

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A bowl dating to the Early Bronze Age (around 3500 B.C.E.).

“Already thousands of years ago Tel Aviv was the city that never sleeps!” Diego Barkan, the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist who was directing the excavation, said in a written statement.

An unexpected find. Conducting a so-called “salvage excavation” before the construction of new office buildings, Barkan and his team found 17 pits believed to have been used to store produce around 3500-3000 B.C. Inside the pits, they discovered a 6,000-year-old dagger and flint tools, along with animal bones and hundreds of pottery shards dating back 5,000 years.

Some of the fragments — including pieces of large basins — contained straw and other materials that were consistent not with local pottery but with the ancient Egyptian pottery-making tradition.

A boozy staple. The finds suggest that the basins were used to brew a barley-and-fruit-based beer known to have been popular with ancient Egyptians of all ages. And that has the archaeologists rethinking conventional wisdom about the area’s history.

“On the basis of previously conducted excavations in the region, we knew there is an Early Bronze Age site here, but this excavation is the first evidence we have of an Egyptian occupation in the center of Tel Aviv at that time,” Barkin said in the statement. “This is also the northernmost evidence we have of an Egyptian presence in the Early Bronze Age.”

Archaeologists are calling for additional research to determine whether the vessels were brought from Egypt or crafted by Egyptians living in Tel Aviv, according to the History Channel website.

Previous excavations suggested Egyptians were brewing beer in the Nile Delta region as early as the mid-fourth millennium B.C., according to AFP.

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