Alternative facts are fine in business — but too dangerous for politics


When President Trump promised to run the United States like his businesses, supporters imagined efficiency, strict budgets, and better ‘deals’ for America. As a startup founder who spent 20 years in marketing, I saw something different: A collapse in the use of facts. In many businesses, stretching or denying facts is a strategy for winning deals or internal political battles. Many executives, including Trump, don’t want common facts. In a company, that has company cultural and financial consequences. In a society, it’s corrosive and destructive to the fundamentals of democracy. As President Barack Obama said on David Letterman’s new Netflix…

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Learn to code for Python — and the entire training package is just $10


This Ultimate Python Coding Bundle introduces you to all things Python as well as some of the major support tools to get a fully interactive, fully responsive Python-powered app or website on par with any developer out there. And just to knock any remaining stragglers right off the fence, the entire package is on sale right now for the cost of a fast food lunch, just $10 (an over 90 percent savings).

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3 reasons why a ‘live personality’ can take your brand from drab to fab


The concept of “going live” in the business world has been steadily picking up steam for a few years now. The implementation of Facebook Live back in 2016 thrust this practice into the spotlight. Nowadays, creating a live presence, whether it is through things like behind-the-scenes videos, podcasts, Q&A sessions is more than just advisable; it’s practically a requirement to rise above the noise in any given industry. By 2021, the livestreaming market is predicted to exceed $70 billion. The key to gaining traction with livestreams is a memorable host personality. The significance behind this goes much deeper than many people initially…

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This creepy thought experiment about a serpent king brought Grimes and Elon Musk together


  A reptile of legend recently reared its head. The basilisk is a fabled serpent king who, according to European bestiaries, can cause death with a single glance. Its most recent incarnation, however, looks to the technological future rather than the mythological past. Roko’s Basilisk is a thought experiment that first appeared on the artificial intelligence discussion board LessWrong about ten years ago and was named after Roko, the user who posted the conundrum. It also, bizarrely, was the spark that brought tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and the musician Grimes together. What, Roko asked, should we do if we are…

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Hey entrepreneurs: Here’s how to fix your sucky product


Sales are a puzzle game and even top sale champions are daily facing challenges of reaching out to potential customers, developing business cases, convincing different stakeholders, and closing deals. Things are even more complex when it comes to new entrepreneurs who worked hard to develop their product or idea and need to get their first contract signed. Many first-time entrepreneurs take it personally that they have difficulties closing their first deals or that their ideas are not working out. However, there could be many other reasons that contribute to the failure of closing your first or first few deals. Here are some of…

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Webmail wars: Why Google and Microsoft are doubling down on their free email services and apps

Google and Microsoft both announced updates to their email services and apps recently, offering up a new crop of features and fresh designs. For consumers, the e-mail services are largely free to use, so why are Microsoft and Google still locked in what appears to be a heated horse race e-mail?

The answer comes down to a very large number of enterprises that haven’t updated their productivity software in years and are expected to eventually switch to cloud suites like Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G Suite. By investing in free email now, the companies hope to lure enterprises to those more lucrative productivity apps later.

“Email is still a very large tool for businesses,” said analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. “Sure, chat-based workflow (like Slack) is new and cool, but it’s also very small right now and needs to be augmented by email. Both (Microsoft and Google) are upping their game to be more useful tools to people. Google uses mail as a front door to mine data and create profiles where Microsoft is focused on driving preference for their productivity tools.”

A survey of IT pros found that 68 percent of companies are still running at least one copy of Office 2007, which Microsoft stopped supporting last fall. In addition, the survey, by the IT pro online community Spiceworks, found that 46 percent of companies are still using at least one instance of Office 2003 and 15 percent are running Office XP.

Moorhead said “none of these companies ‘win’ the big ‘future of work’ prize with email, but they need to be constantly improving the experience and capability as email is still a critical tool.”

Most growth in email usage has been in mobile devices, but use of webmail has also been increasing, growing 4 percentage points in the past year to a total of 31% of all opened e-mails, according to, Litmus Email Analytics. Gmail has been the biggest driver of that growth, with 21 percent of market share, up from 16 percent in 2015, according to a Litmus study.

Source: Litmus Email Analytics

Microsoft introduced bill pay reminders in Outlook.com, its email and calendar. Outlook also serves up suggested locations for meetings as well as improved RSVP tracking.

Google, which generally targets consumer e-mail users, introduced features designed to appeal to workplace users. In addition to a fresh design and added smart replies, G-mail can now snooze emails so they pop up again later.

But it will be difficult for Google to significantly undercut Microsoft’s market share, according to Spiceworks analyst Peter Tsai. After dominating workplace productivity for decades, Microsoft’s Office is still the most used productivity software software in the workplace, with 82 percent of companies in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom using an on-premises version of Microsoft Office.

By contrast, 17 percent of organizations are using G Suite by Google, and another 16 percent are using Google’s free apps. Three percent of businesses are expected to adopt G Suite and an additional 2 percent plan to adopt google’s free productivity apps, according to Spiceworks.

Tsai pointed out that Microsoft “has been thoroughly entrenched” in companies in virtually every sector of the economy since the 1990s, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Still, he said, Google is a formidable “upstart” that can gain market share over the long haul. For example, he said, Google’s productivity apps are popular in schools. Fifty-four percent of educational organizations are using G Suite, he said. (Twenty nine percent of them are using Google’s free apps, according to the study.)

A strong presence in schools could pay off over time, Tsai said. “Millennials are going to be more influenced by what they used at home,” he said. “It might take a long time for Google to gain more of a foothold. It might happen eventually, but not in the next few years.”

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Small seeds on Cygnus cargo ship could lead to giant leap for farming in space

Plant habitat
Plants grow in a prototype of the habitat that will be used on the International Space Station to study which strains of crops do best in a weightless environment. (Washington State University Photo)

When Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket launches a robotic Cygnus cargo spaceship toward the International Space Station, as early as Monday, it’ll be sending seeds that could show the way for future space farmers.

The Antares liftoff is currently set for 4:39 a.m. ET (1:39 a.m. PT) on Monday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather. NASA’s live-streaming coverage of the countdown begins at 1 a.m. PT Monday.

More than 7,200 pounds of supplies, equipment and experiments will be packed aboard the Cygnus. One of the smallest payloads consists of seeds for the Final Frontier Plant Habitat — part of a $2.3 million, NASA-funded initiative that involves researchers from Washington State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The automated habitat was delivered during previous cargo resupply missions and set up for planting. Once the Cygnus’ cargo arrives, astronauts can proceed with the habitat’s first official science experiment, which is aimed at determining which genetic variants of plants grow best under weightless conditions.

“The overall significance is what it could mean for space exploration,” WSU biochemist Norman Lewis, the project’s leader, said in a news release. “Whether it’s colonizing planets, establishing a station or for long-range space travel, it’s going to require maintaining air and food for artificially supported environments.”

The experiment builds on decades’ worth of previous plant-growing efforts in space — including the Veggie experiment, which yielded space-grown lettuce for the space station crew. (“Tastes good … kinda like arugula,” NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said.)

This time, the astronauts will plant six different types of Arabidopsis, a flowering plant that’s closely related to cabbage and mustard. Five of the plant varieties have been genetically altered, either to affect they way the plants capture carbon or affect their ability to produce lignin, a fibrous substance that provides structural support for plants. The same varieties will be grown under Earth-gravity conditions at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After several weeks of growth, the zero-G plants will be harvested and shipped back to Earth for comparison. The plants’ proteins will be analyzed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to see whether a particular genetic mix is better-suited for cultivation in space.

Another experiment that’s due to be delivered by the Cygnus is the Cold Atom Laboratory, which was designed by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to produce temperatures colder than anywhere else in the universe.

A research team that also includes physicists from WSU and the University of Colorado will use data sent back from the laboratory to study the behavior of atoms chilled to just a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero.

The researchers are interested in the transition that atoms make from particle-like behavior to wave-like behavior as they’re chilled, in accordance with quantum physics. The phenomenon is hard to study on Earth due to the perturbing effect of gravity, but should be easier to monitor in the space station’s zero-gravity environment.

“Cold atom research on the ISS will give us a fundamental understanding for a part of physics that is so complicated that, even with the most powerful computers on Earth, we cannot find answers,” WSU physicist Peter Engels said. “Our work will, in turn, provide new insights into systems that may be important in the design of future materials and electronics, like ultraprecise gravitational sensors to detect caves underground or hidden oil fields.”

But wait … there’s more. Here are some of the other science payloads packed aboard the Cygnus:

  • The Sextant Navigation investigation will test the use of a hand-held sextant, like the ones used on ships in centuries past, for emergency navigation on missions in deep space as humans begin to travel farther from Earth. The ability to sight angles between the moon or planets and stars offers crews another option to find their way home if communications and main computers are compromised.
  • Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology, or BEST, advances the use of sequencing processes to identify microbes aboard the space station that current methods cannot detect, and to assess mutations in the microbial genome that may be due to spaceflight.
  • The International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service, will make use of a sliding framework permanently installed in the station’s European-built Columbus module and “plug-and-play” Experiment Cubes. The system is a partnership between the European Space Agency and Space Application Services, aimed at increasing commercial access to the station as a research platform.

Other payloads include high-definition cameras that will be installed on the space station’s exterior next month; and 16 CubeSats that will be deployed into orbit, either from the space station or from the Cygnus itself.

Orbital ATK has named this Cygnus craft after J.R. Thompson, a company executive and former NASA manager who passed away last year. If all goes as scheduled, the Cygnus is due to be pulled in for its berthing at the space station a few days after launch.

Over the course of several weeks, the space station crew will unpack the cargo, put trash inside the Cygnus and set it loose. The craft will then deploy its satellites, make a controlled descent and burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

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Traditional publishers’ ebook sales drop as indie authors and Amazon take off

BigStock Photo

Ebook sales are dying. Ebooks are insanely popular.

If the short definition of cognitive dissonance is holding two contradictory ideas to be true, ebooks are about as dissonant as digital content gets.

Yet ebooks may also represent a chapter in the still-being-written story of how keeping track of what’s happening with content hasn’t always kept pace with the technology that’s transformed it.

Let’s start with the bad news. Two new sets of numbers covering 2017 show ebook sales are on the decline, both in terms of unit and dollar sales.

The first, released in April by market research firm NPD’s PubTrack Digital, saw the unit sales of ebooks fall 10 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. In absolute numbers, that meant the roughly 450 publishers represented saw ebook sales drop from 180 million units to 162 million over a year’s time.

The second, just released by the American Association of Publishers, reported a decline in overall revenue for ebooks, a year-to-year decrease of 4.7 percent in 2017. AAP tracks sales data from more than 1,200 publishers.

This ebook decline occurred in an overall publisher revenue environment that AAP said was essentially flat in 2017. So some other kinds of book formats that AAP watches, like hardback books, went up as ebooks went down. For its part, NPD says when combining print and ebook unit sales, ebooks’ percentage of the total dropped from 21 percent in 2016 to 19 percent in 2017.

GeekWire File Photo

It turns out this downward ebook trend isn’t new. It may actually be an improvement, of sorts. “The pace of ebook decline appears to be cooling,” AAP’s Marisa Bluestone said, noting 2017’s drop was, “significantly less than the double-digit declines experienced in 2015 and 2016.”

Among the categories showing a decline in both NPD’s and AAP’s figures were kids’ ebooks. Children’s ebooks had the most dramatic decline in unit sales, and children’s/young adult ebooks have suffered double-digital revenue drops every since year 2015.

And yet, NPD reports, even though it’s also declining, adult fiction remains the most popular ebook category, with 44 percent of all adult fiction sales in digital form.

On the surface it would seem like all of this is going to come as a surprise to boosters who thought ebooks would replace traditional paper book publishing completely.

But there are three key words to keep in mind: “traditional book publishing.” And that’s the good ebook news.

Because the very same technology that allowed traditional publishers to create and sell ebooks also allowed authors to do the same — directly to readers.

NPD and AAP don’t measure those indie sales. Centralized reporting of direct-from-author sales is tougher to come by, but by all anecdotal measures the independent market has taken off, notably in the also-still-large category of adult fiction.

(An aside on terminology: When at a book launch or retro cocktail party, you’re likely to find that writers who sell their work directly to readers may prefer being called “indie” or “independent” authors, not “self-published” authors. To many, “self-published” still implies crappy work being published by a vanity press which makes its money taking cash from writers, not readers, just so said writer can have ego support in book form.)

One source of numbers for online book sales, including for indie ebooks, is the website Author Earnings. It recently estimated that traditional publisher reporting is, “now missing two-thirds of U.S. consumer ebook purchases, and nearly half of all ebook dollars those consumers spend.”

For online sales of adult fiction, ebooks outsold print for Q2-Q4 2017. (Author Earnings chart)

Certain adult fiction genres are standouts. “Ninety percent of all romance purchases are ebooks,” the site’s latest report for Q2-Q4 2017 stated. “And we can see that science fiction and fantasy, with roughly 75 percent of sales now ebooks and audio, is not that far behind.”

For all categories of ebooks, Author Earnings figures purely “indie” publishing accounted for at least 38 percent of ebook units and 22 percent of ebook dollars in the last nine months of 2017. And that doesn’t include micro presses, Amazon’s imprints, and what it calls “single-author mega imprints” (think J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore).

“The indie share of the entire U.S. ebook market … now looks like what the indie share of Amazon alone used to be,” Author Earnings concluded. “In other words, far from losing ground, the overall indie market share has grown.”

J.K. Rowling’s “single author mega-imprint,” Pottermore.

So you may be wondering: Are people buying more ebooks or more print books, overall? It’s hard to tell, across all kinds of books. Author Earnings doesn’t track physical bookstore sales, and NPD and AAP only track traditional publisher sales.

But the democratization of ebook publishing is borne out by the authors themselves — and their publishing channels.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), an association of professional writers, began accepting indie publishing credits for membership in 2015. Last year, SFWA surveyed its more than 1,700 members. It found that 14 percent of members characterized their career as “indie,” 38 percent as hybrid (both indie and traditional), and 48 percent as traditional only.

Or, put another way, more than half of SFWA’s membership has done some kind of independent publishing. Importantly, SFWA said, there was no apparent difference in range of income between indie and traditionally published members.

Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon distributes a lot of independently published ebooks, made it a point to note in his annual letter to shareholders that, “Over a thousand independent authors surpassed $100,000 in royalties in 2017 through Kindle Direct Publishing.”

SFWA President Cat Rambo. (GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane)

Part of the apparently increasing shift of authors to indie status may be about that money. “In traditional publishing, the writer sees a sliver of the profits — 5-15 percent,” SFWA President Cat Rambo, herself a hybrid author, told me. “In small press publishing, that number goes up significantly, and indie writers get to keep the biggest portion of the pie.”

Rambo said there are reasons to stick with traditional publishers, even for ebooks, such as discoverability of an author’s books through established marketing and distribution channels. “The other advantage is expertise in things many writers lack: book design, editing, formatting, cover work, etc.,” she said. “That’s work, real work, and many people would rather spend that effort on writing.”

But Rambo also suspected the decline in traditional publishers’ ebook sales may due to pricing, a potentially Titanic-sized problem of publishers’ own making.

“When I see an ebook that sells for twice the price of the paperback version, either someone has lost their mind, is asleep at the wheel, or is deliberately steering the ship towards an iceberg,” she said.

That’s led Rambo to buy more less-expensive, indie-published books to read on her tablet. And ebook reading does appear to be at least holding steady, reflected in climbing digital circulation at public libraries last year.

But the future of ebook publishing may increasingly belong to the independent author, especially as traditional publishers shift more marketing weight onto the writers while charging a premium for their traditionally published product.

“The publishers who treat writers like partners in this industry have become rarer,” Rambo said.

That, combined with more cash and control, seem to be doing a lot to spur a growing independent streak in ebook authors.

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Photo Of The Day By Gail Edelen

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Flight of the Cranes” by Gail Edelen. Location: Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado.
Photo By Gail Edelen

Today’s Photo Of The Day is Flight of the Cranes” by Gail Edelen. Location: Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado.

Photo of the Day is chosen from various OP galleries, including AssignmentsGalleries and the OP Contests. Assignments have weekly winners that are featured on the OP website homepage, FacebookTwitter and Instagram. To get your photos in the running, all you have to do is submit them.

The post Photo Of The Day By Gail Edelen appeared first on Outdoor Photographer.

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Microsoft wants to revolutionize MRIs with quantum-inspired algorithms and HoloLens


Microsoft gained some ground in the quantum computing race today by announcing it was using its technology to advance medical imaging beyond the capabilities of today’s computers. The Redmond company, through a partnership with Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), will bring HoloLens technology to a new form of MRI called Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting (MRF). In order to do so, the company’s quantum computing division will develop quantum-inspired algorithms capable of processing greater amounts of data than is typically feasible with traditional computers . Microsoft announced the collaboration in a blog post today, explaining why quantum technology was necessary for MRF:…

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