Monday, 25 May 2015

Tesla Energy’s goal? Changing the “energy infrastructure of the world”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk formally announced last week that his electric car company will spin off a new battery business. Tesla Energy—now distinct from Tesla Motors—will manufacture lithium ion batteries for households and businesses that can be used to augment solar or wind-powered systems, or just to provide an extra layer of redundancy for customers connected to the traditional grid.

But over the next several years, Tesla's consumer-grade batteries may not make much financial sense for households in many places around the US. Unless traditional power is very expensive in your state (as it is in Hawaii), it's likely cheaper to stay on the grid when the sun goes down every day, especially if utilities buy back excess solar from rooftop systems (as they do in California). And though consumers might want batteries to use as backup electricity, for a multi-day emergency scenario a generator can still deliver more power for less money. So what's Tesla Energy's business model?

Consumer batteries have garnered most of the media's attention, but Musk admitted in an earnings call this week that Tesla Energy's near-term target demographic is actually business and utilities. “We expect most of our stationary storage sales to be at the utility or industrial scale,” is how he phrased it.

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Indie Designer Pitch Night at This Is Story

bloomsburysq bath
rachel schechtman adam glassman

Entrepreneurs showed their stuff earlier this week in hopes of being a part of NYC's most interesting retail project. Creators pitched STORY  founder Rachel Schechtman and Oprah Magazine's Creative Director Adam Glassman.  The boutique in Chelsea takes the "Point of view of a Magazine, Changes like a Gallery, Sells things like a Store". 

The store is an ever-evolving concept around a central theme or story. Right now, its "HER" story, focusing on women, a DressBar collection, groupings of merchandise curated by prominent women. Previous stories included themes of Love, Home for the Holidays, Style, Tech and Wellness. During the theme, there are related events with prominent speakers, workshops and socials,

Pitch Night at Story is for Makers to be Discovered and Network

I learned about STORY's famous Pitch Night at Martha Stewart's American Made conference. This is a night for entrepreneurs, creators, makers to pitch Schechtman and guests of honor (previous judges included Whoopi Goldberg). Each business owner has exactly three minutes to tell their story and present their product.

mariana leung fashion
Weng Meng Design
I write about opportunities for my fellow designers. I figured it was time for me to put my own skills to use and pitch myself. I pitched my designer's pin-cushion ring I created for my fellow sewers. I also pitched my hand-beaded belts, jewelry and handbags from my Weng Meng Design label. 

My time with Adam Glassman and Rachel Schechtman was not a formal 3-minute presentation. It was more of a conversation. I loved how enthusiastic and engaged each of them were in what I presented. They could make the most nervous artist comfortable.  

The other purpose of Pitch Night was so that the creators and entrepreneurs could gather and network with each other while they waited for their turn to present. Collaborations had been formed, new professional relationships formed among the social atmosphere (and beer and snacks) provided by STORY.

I enjoyed speaking to Niambi Caccioli, founder of Bloomsbury Sq. who produces preservative-free bath products from New Jersey. I am enjoying the refreshing scent of the workout afterglow spray as I write this. I also met jewelry designer Dana Phillips who infuses Reiki energy into each of her Tulaa Jewelry designs. 

So are you ready to tell your story? Is your collection ready to be seen by the most influential retailers and editors out in the industry? Get on STORY's e-mail list to pitch or discover their next theme.
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New Trash and Found Object Murals by ‘Bordalo II’ on the Streets of Lisbon








Artist Bordalo II (previously here and here) uses old tires, bumpers, and other scraps of painted found trash to form towering 3D murals of animals on the streets of Lisbon, Portugal. Collected here are several pieces from the last few months, and you can see much more on Facebook.

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Researchers build new fermion microscope

Fermions are the building blocks of matter, interacting in a multitude of permutations to give rise to the

The post Researchers build new fermion microscope has been published on Technology Org.

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Newly dedicated observatory to search for gravitational waves

Seeking to expand how we observe and understand the universe where we live, the National Science Foundation helped

The post Newly dedicated observatory to search for gravitational waves has been published on Technology Org.

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Can these glasses read your mind? A look at the Wild West of brain gadgets.

The headset I was wearing was supposed to be reading my brain.

Seated across from its inventor, I slid on the sleek wireless device, called Narbis Neurofeedback Glasses. A five-pronged sensor sat on my head, dark lenses shaded my eyes, and two arms hooked behind my ears. As I read a book, the lenses darkened and cleared, allegedly in sync with the drift of my attention.

Devon Greco, the 29-year-old founder of Narbis, wanted to make a brain-training device to help users focus. And unlike most biofeedback tools, his wireless glasses can be used far from a computer screen. Narbis recently raised \$42,997 for its Neurofeedback Glasses in a Kickstarter campaign, and plans to sell the devices at \$295 apiece. The glasses are being targeted at athletes and clinicians who treat ADHD, among others.

But do they really work?

Brain gadgets are becoming ever more popular, as techniques for stimulating or recording from the brain migrate from labs to the garages of do-it-yourself inventors like Greco. Neurofeedback tools like Narbis are one popular trend; "brain zappers" that use transcranial direct cortical stimulation, or tDCS, are another.

The much-hyped tDCS is a cautionary tale. The technique is supposed to ease everything from depression to hyperactivi ty to back pain by electrically stimulating the brain. But amidst hope and enthusiasm, many scientists and entrepreneurs have confused "claims with reality," as Dr. Vincent Walsh cautioned his colleagues in the journal Brain Stimulation. "We constantly sex up our findings for the press, and the result is an understandably overoptimistic public, because we — no one else — have misled them."

Despite a 2008 Harvard study suggesting that tDCS lessens pain, more recent research paints a different picture. In a recent analysis for Cochrane, a World Health Organization-affiliated NGO, Neil O'Connell and colleagues showed that the evidence that tDCS reduces back pain is overwhelmingly weak.

Jared Horvath, a doctoral candidate at the University of Melbourne, used tDCS to study ADHD at Harvard for two years, without success, before deciding to investigate the tool itself. In a large meta-analysis of the brain zappers, he showed that few of the reported effects survive replication by multiple groups. The few that do are small effects that shrink over time, suggesting that the early positive results were misleading outliers.

As a 2012 paper pointed out, the sensationalization of biomedical devices often starts not with entrepreneurs, but with scientists, who spin reports of new discoveries.

"The scientist and the innovative entrepreneur have similar motivations," says O'Connell, a lecturer in physiotherapy at Brunel University in England. "They all want to discover something. Whether your vested interest is academic or entrepreneurial, there is an emphasis on discovery, but not on confirmation, not on rigorous replication."

Narbis' neurofeedback technology is based on work by Devon Greco's father, the late Domenic Greco. Domenic developed a patented brain-feedback device based on a NASA prototype that he used in psychotherapy with ADHD patients. A review of such neuro-feedback technology published last year in the journal Biological Psychology confirmed that the technique may work to reduce inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness, but noted the small sample size and lack of placebo in many studies.

The review also addressed the "theta-beta ratio" on which Narbis' software is based, the measure of attention-related brainwaves developed by pioneering neurofeedback scientist Dr. Joel Lubar. According to research, this variable only affects 20 to 30 percent of ADHD children. So how the gadgets work remains unclear.

Narbis' marketing material, like that of many brain devices, makes claims both broad and specific. "By doing just two short training sessions a week, you can improve the overall performance of the brain," the website says. The company's promotional video adds, "Narbis can help you focus, sleep well, manage stress, and think clearly."

These claims are, of course, "falsifiable," as scientists say: testable hypotheses. But no such studies on the Narbis glasses have yet been done. The assertions are based on prior studies done by outside labs with similar setups, but not on the device the company is selling. The claims are, for now, more wishful marketing-speak than fact.

And while the FDA has approved commercial neurofeedback devices as safe (as long as they are not marketed to treat diseases), they don't have to meet any standard of effectiveness.

None of this means the device doesn't work, just that there is no way yet for consumers to know.

The problem, according to Brunel's O'Connell, starts with the bias toward positive results in science, along with hyperbolic terminology like "neuro-enhancement" and "brain boosting." New discoveries are published far more often than failures to reproduce previous results. These negative results, just as informative as successes, rarely see the light of day. Companies like Narbis have even less motivation to publish negative results.

"The things less incentivized are perhaps most important," O'Connell says. "When we [scientists] don't pay sufficient attention to the uncomfortable questions — low sample size, highly selected sample, loose exploratory statistics — then it isn't just the media who are responsible for hype."

"Of course, the idea of neurofeedback is incredibly intuitive and exciting, so it's no surprise that everyone wants to capitalize on it," says Todd Braver, an expert on cognitive control and a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and radiology at Washington University in St. Louis. "But we should be very wary of placebo effects — probably the most effective neurofeedback device there is: our belief system."

But that doesn't mean we should discourage companies like Narbis.

"I'm very happy for people to keep taking a crack at neurofeedback," says Braver. "That's what science is about anyway. What seem like crazy hare-brained ideas might actually work. But the main tenet of science is also: Show me the evidence. And we know what the history is with these 'neuroscience-inspired' products, software, gadgets: lots of claims and overblown arguments for support without really any direct evidence."

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Don’t (just) blame Facebook: We build our own bubbles

We’ve all heard (or expressed) the concern that the Internet allows us to choose only those sources that agree with our ideology. The same “echo chamber” concern applies to social media, with an added twist—platforms like Facebook filter the content we’re shown based on what an algorithm thinks we’ll want to see. Is Facebook going to make sure we don’t have to see articles shared by the few friends we have that might challenge our views?

Given the fact that all your actions on Facebook leave a data trail, this is logistically a much easier question to answer than most. Several researchers at Facebook, led by Eytan Bakshy and Solomon Messing, dug into all that data to investigate.

They had plenty to work with. They limited the study to just the US users over 18 who listed political affiliations on their profile, logged in at least four times a week over the latter half of 2014, and clicked on at least one news/politics link. But they were still left with a tad over 10 million people to work with. (Names were stripped from the data, but in case you’re wondering, this is the kind of thing covered by the data policy you agree to when you sign up. Unlike the controversial “mood” study last year, there was no manipulation of content on Facebook for this study.)

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Blogger Love: Hot Links of Summer


My fellow bloggers are ready for the warm weather. We’ve got kimono-inspired wraps,turbanssunglasses, and sundresses, just to mention a few topics on the blogging radar this week. Where I live (San Francisco) it just gets cold and foggy in the summer, so I’m living vicariously through all of your summer wardrobe and beauty preparations. Bloggers are also covering some more sober topics including dress codes and marriage equality. There’s lots of good stuff to peruse so let’s get to the links!
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Faster, smaller, more informative

A new technique invented at MIT can measure the relative positions of tiny particles as they flow through

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Anish Kapoor’s Perpetual Black Water Whirlpool Installed in the Floor of a Former Movie Theater in Italy






Churning and frothing just below the old wooden floor of a former movie theater in San Gimignano, Italy, a mysterious vortex of ominous black water seems to perpetually drain into nothingness. The artwork is a new iteration of artist Anish Kapoor's Decension installation that appeared earlier this year in India. The former cinema and theatre space is now the home of Galleria Continua that hosted the exhibition. Kapoor shared about the piece:

All my life I have reflected and worked on the concept that there is more space than can be seen, that there are void spaces, or, as it were, that there is a vaster horizon. The odd thing about removing content, in making space, is that we, as human beings, find it very hard to deal with the absence of content. It’s the horror vacui. This Platonic concept lies at the origin of the myth of the cave, the one from which humans look towards the outside world. But here there is also a kind of Freudian opposite image, that of the back of the cave, which is the dark and empty back of being. Your greatest poet, Dante, also ventured into a place like that. It is the place of the void, which paradoxically is full – of fear, of darkness. Whether you represent it with a mirror or with a dark form, it is always the “back”, the point that attracts my interest and triggers my creativity.

Descension was on view through May 9th of this year. (via My Amp Goes to 11)

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Fresh theories about dark matter

Tom Broadhurst, the Ikerbasque researcher in the Department of Theoretical Physics of the UPV/EHU, together with Sandor Molnar

The post Fresh theories about dark matter has been published on Technology Org.

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