Category Archives: FastCompany Labs

Homeland Security has banned Kaspersky software over Russian intelligence fears

The department has issued a statement ordering every executive branch agency and department to identify within the next 30 days any Kaspersky products being used, make a plan to discontinue their use within 60 days, and cease using the Kaspersky products by the 90-day mark, reports TechCrunch. The reason? Homeland Security is worried about Kaspersky officials and their ties to Russian intelligence agencies. From the Homeland Security statement:

This action is based on the information security risks presented by the use of Kaspersky products on federal information systems. Kaspersky anti-virus products and solutions provide broad access to files and elevated privileges on the computers on which the software is installed, which can be exploited by malicious cyber actors to compromise those information systems. The Department is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks. The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security.

Apple: Face ID didn’t fail during the iPhone X demo

The hottest new tech of the iPhone X, Face ID, was also the laughing stock of the event’s keynote when it apparently failed to work the first time Apple demoed it on stage. The company was mocked relentlessly for this “failure” on social media and in the press–but it turns out Face ID worked exactly how it should have, as Yahoo’s David Pogue reports.

Apple reached out to him to confirm that the reason Face ID did not unlock the iPhone X for Apple software head Craig Federighi’s live demo was because the phone had already scanned other people’s faces as they were setting up the demo, didn’t recognize those faces because they weren’t set up for Face ID authentication, and thus disabled Face ID after too many false attempts at unlocking the phone with the unrecognized faces. As Pogue writes:

Tonight, I was able to contact Apple. After examining the logs of the demo iPhone X, they now know exactly what went down. Turns out my first theory in this story was wrong–but my first UPDATE theory above was correct: “People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time,” says a rep, “and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face. After failing a number of times, because they weren’t Craig, the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode.” In other words, “Face ID worked as it was designed to.”

Trump claims “the wall” is under construction and says no DACA deal has been reached

Despite reports that Democratic leaders had reached a deal with President Trump over DACA, the president tweeted today that no deal has been reached yet. The reason? Any deal would have to include “massive border security” improvements to be made, according to Trump.

Oh, and in a follow-up tweet Trump also claims the infamous wall is now under construction, but in reality existing structures are just being repaired.


Harvey Destroyed Houston’s Cars–This Program Is Giving Away Bikes To Replace Them

As flooded roads have reopened in Houston after Harvey, it’s still hard to get around: The storm, which killed more than 70 people and damaged or destroyed at least 100,000 homes, also totaled hundreds of thousands of cars in a sprawling city where almost everyone drives. A new program will replace some of those cars with bikes.

“It’s a way for us to put a dent in some of the issues that are going to be facing Houston in the aftermath of the storm,” says Carter Stern, executive director of Houston Bike Share, which is helping coordinate bike donations through a program called Keep Houston Rolling.

After dealing with the most immediate needs–rescuing and sheltering people and providing food and healthcare–transportation is one of the next major challenges for the city.

An estimated half a million cars, and perhaps as many as a million, were destroyed in the flooding.  [Photo: Karl Spencer/iStock]

“I think after the initial shock wears off, there are going to be a lot of people who have been relocated, who lost a vehicle and can’t afford a new one, who work by the hour or need to get around and aren’t going to be able to,” says Stern. “While many of us might be back in our homes or got a new car, there’s going to be a significant portion of the population for whom transportation is going to be a serious problem for a long time.”

An estimated half a million cars, and perhaps as many as a million, were destroyed in the flooding. Car owners have filed more than 160,000 insurance claims so far, which are still being processed. But around 15% of vehicle owners in Texas don’t have insurance (even though it is required by law), and many others lack coverage that includes flood damage. For low-wage workers who were forced to miss work because of the hurricane, and who may also now be homeless, buying a new car may not be an option. In the short term, even for those who have the money to rent a car, rental agencies are struggling to keep up with demand.

During the storm, though several of the bike share stations were out of service, 1,000 bikes were checked out. Others used bikes to deliver food to shelters or to volunteer in places that were inaccessible by car. As Stern watched this happening, he realized that bikes could also help in the aftermath, and began to reach out for support.

“Once you start using it to go to the store or go to work, you realize it’s healthy, it’s easy, it’s good, it’s relaxing.” [Photo: Citysqwirl/iStock]

Trek and Giant agreed to donate 400 bikes. BikeHouston, a local bike advocacy organization, joined the effort to solicit donations for bikes and bike repair. Rice Bikes, an organization that fixes abandoned bikes for students to use at Rice University, also had a bike drive and donated staff time to repair bikes for the effort. Freewheels, an organization that provides bikes to newly arrived refugees in Houston, did the same.

The project aims to help solve an immediate need. But as it exposes more people to biking–in a city with relatively limited public transportation and other options–it may also have some impact on local car culture and attitudes toward bikes. “When I go to city meetings or talk with the community, there’s a lot of skepticism around using a bike for utilitarian purposes, not just for fun,” Stern says. “But once you start using it to go to the store or go to work, you realize it’s healthy, it’s easy, it’s good, it’s relaxing.”

He doesn’t expect that people will necessarily choose not to buy a car when they have the means to do so again. But they may drive less. “I drive a big black SUV,” he says. “I love driving my car, I’m never going to get rid of it. But I ride my bike to work three to four days a week, and that’s great. I think viewing the mobility in a city less as a binary decision and more as giving people a healthy ecosystem of options–whether they want to ride their bike to work, ride their bike to the transit stop, drive their car and then ride their bike to lunch–whatever it is, giving people options.”

Snapchat now lets you animate your Bitmoji in your snaps

Snapchat’s Lenses feature is one of those rare things that brings about pure joy. Over the years, Snap has made Lenses–which let users place animated elements atop camera phone images–more robust. Today it’s announcing a new feature, which will let users integrate animated Bitmoji into their snaps.

For the old (er, or uninitiated), Bitmoji are the insanely popular cartoon-like avatars the young’ins have been using for a few years. Ever since Snap acquired Bitmoji in 2016, users have been able to use the avatars in various ways throughout the app. Today Snap introduces both animation and augmented reality with “3D Bitmoji World Lenses.” What does that mean? Well it simply means that users can place animated Bitmoji scenes of themselves onto the image they are snapping. They can move the avatar around the screen to look like it’s in different places in the real world.

It’s interesting to note the timing of this announcement; earlier this week Apple showed off an upcoming iPhone X feature called “Animoji,” which uses Face ID’s scanning to graft cute animated emojis atop users’ face.

These are ways both Snap and Apple try to show their senses of humor and keep people entertained. Here’s a video showing what the new Botmoji Lenses feature is like:

6 Ways To Improve Your Crappy Salary And Your Career At The Same Time

I grossed a whopping $23,244 my first year out of college–a starting salary that might be manageable in some cities but proved pretty tight in New York. Needless to say, side hustling quickly became a necessary way of life for me in order to supplement my meager income. But while I found I could make decent money babysitting and slinging lattes, it soon became important to find side gigs that benefited my career, too, instead of just my bank account. Here are six ways you can do the same.

1. Build A Side Hustle On The Back Of Your Work Skills

The easiest, and most natural, option for padding a crappy salary is to leverage the skills you’re already developing in the office.

David Carlson, a 29-year-old Minneapolis-based finance manager, supplemented his early job as a staff accountant with a side gig as a spreadsheet consultant, improving financing and operation spreadsheets for small businesses. “My spreadsheet side hustle perfectly complemented my full-time job as an accountant,” says Carlson. “Having advanced technical skills is one of the ways you can differentiate yourself in finance and accounting.”

That’s true in various fields, though; anytime you pick up a specialized skill in your day job–from copywriting to proofreading to web design–you can usually deploy it on a freelance basis, too.

Related: How I Managed To Save Money On A $25,000 Salary In New York City

2. Ask Your Employer About Non-Competes

You might not be able to base a freelance operation around exactly the same work you do at your 9-to-5, though. Developing a side gig that complements your day job may be a dream scenario for you, but not necessarily for your employer. That’s why many organizations add “non-compete clauses” to their work contracts, which restrict employees from taking their talents outside the office. Even “at-will” employees, who work without formal contracts, may face company-wide policies that impose the same limits. So if you know you’ll likely be facing a less-than-generous salary, ask about any non-competes before accepting an offer.

I created my site, Broke Millennial, in 2013 while working in public relations. Fortunately, my agency at the time confirmed that it had no issues with my site or with freelance writing in general, since those created no conflicts of interest. Then I interviewed for a job at a different agency. My freelance financial writing is what drew them to me in the first place, but it proved to be a deal breaker as a prospective employee. When the offer came in, the hiring manager told me that not only would I have to cease all freelance writing, but I’d have to shutter my blog as well. I turned down the job.

Eventually, my side hustle did lead me to a new job, as the brand manager for a fintech startup. The new employer allowed me to keep freelancing, which helped develop my network, and in turn helped the company grow and gain exposure.

3. Pitch An Overtime Project That Lets You Prove What You Can Do

You may not even need to leave your office in order to pad that aggravatingly low salary of yours. Sometimes it just comes down to knowing which opportunities exist inside your own organization. Ask your boss about the ins and outs of your company’s protocol on overtime, and then pitch yourself for additional projects.

Don’t worry if they’re outside your department, either–in fact, looking for “stretch” assignments that take you outside your job description can help you move ahead in the company. Not only will you pick up some much-needed extra money this way, but you’ll also be able to demonstrate your ability to level up in your career and get promoted.

Related: How To Create Your Own Opportunities At Work

4. Pick Up A Customer Service Job (But Not Just Any)

Never discount the value of working in customer service–focused jobs while you’re working on developing your skill set in another field. Seasonal work (think Santa’s elves at the mall) and part-time jobs can not only help with your monthly budget fluctuations, but they also sharpen your emotional intelligence, customer interaction skills, and even managerial duties. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to work a gig that requires less mental exertion than your day job. (Just be wary of commission-based gigs like selling knives door-to-door.)

Cato Johnson, a 31-year-old Arizona-based consumer finance attorney, works as a bartender on the weekends. “Most people assume attorneys are making a six-figure salary straight out of law school,” says Johnson. “Sometimes that’s the case, but it hasn’t been for me.”

Johnson, who has knocked $86,000 in student loans down to $5,000 in four years, puts nearly $2,000 a month toward his loans and maxes out his 401(k) contributions, which, after living expenses, leaves minimal discretionary income. Enter his part-time bartending gig.

“I wanted my side hustle to be something that I enjoyed, rather than merely being a second job,” says Johnson. “Being a bartender and dealing with people face-to-face has definitely forced me to brush up on my people skills, which can come in handy when dealing with clients, coworkers, executives, and other attorneys,” explains Johnson. And since recruiters and hiring managers say that emotional intelligence and other people-based skills are becoming ever more valuable, finding a side job that lets you brush them up isn’t a bad idea.

5. Volunteer In Exchange For Free Classes

Like many a 20-something New Yorker, I’ve paid for improv classes. But I met one woman in one of those class who told me about a loophole she’d discovered. She offered to handle social media and basic administrative work for the founders of the troupe in exchange for free classes. Improv training isn’t just for the comedic or theatrically inclined; MBA programs and major companies now offer improv-based workshops to help people improve their public speaking and listening skills, which always come in handy in the workplace.

Offering to volunteer in exchange for classes can work well in a variety of places, including in the fitness world. Sometimes there are even formal programs based around this type of trade-off. Modo Yoga, in Brooklyn, offers free yoga to “financially challenged” members of its community who are willing to work in its Energy Exchange program.

6. Barter Your Skills, Then Convert Leads Into Freelance Clients

Bartering is the pinnacle of hustle moves, especially for people who are just starting out and might not feel comfortable selling their services on the side right away. Just think: What do you need, and what can you provide in exchange for what others need?

For example, I work with a personal trainer who knows I work in personal finance. My trainer is struggling to get her financial life together, so she’s interested in bartering her services (training) with me, in exchange for help developing and implementing a financial plan. I realize that deciding to work with her may not convert into a long-term paid relationship for me, but she can recommend me to people in her network.

And in addition to leading directly toward paying clients, bartering gives you another great opportunity that can benefit your career: the chance to develop the skill of negotiating–which couldn’t be more critical for improving your crappy salary in the long-term.

Erin Lowry is a personal finance expert, speaker, and the author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, an essential roadmap for going from flat-broke to financial badass.


Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij Is Pop’s Secret Ingredient

Once you know what you’re listening for, it’s easy to identify Rostam Batmanglij’s fingerprints on a song. The former keyboardist for the alt-rock band Vampire Weekend is now a producer who has worked with artists including Solange, Frank Ocean, and Kid Cudi. Batmanglij infuses his penchant for uncommon chord progressions and classical music into every album he touches.

The result is fully realized, often startling pop, from Carly Rae Jepsen’s heady single “Warm Blood” to the eerie instrumental theme song for Netflix’s sci-fi show The OA. On September 15, Batmanglij is releasing his first solo album, Half-Light. Here’s how he uses collaboration as a tool to unleash creativity, in himself and in others.

Performers such as Frank Ocean and Danielle Haim have sought out Batmanglij for his unique perspective. [Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images]

Make Downtime Productive

When he’s producing an album, Batmanglij often invites the artist to meet at his Los Angeles home. The cozy surroundings keep things relaxed, but Batmanglij is ready to work at a moment’s notice: The microphones in his home studio are always turned on and ready to record an instrument within 30 seconds.

Blurring the lines between brainstorming and recording, says Batmanglij, is an effective way to ward off writer’s block and self-consciousness. “I like to be able to work quickly, to capture the spark of an idea before it goes out,” he says.

That sometimes means acting on creative impulses even if there’s no studio nearby. Batmanglij recalls one afternoon sitting in his living room with Haim lead guitarist Danielle Haim when they got an idea for an early version of what would become the bluesy “Kept Me Crying,” which appears on the group’s latest album, Something to Tell You. Not wanting to interrupt the moment, they recorded the riffs and lyrics on their iPhones. Two days later, in the more formal studio setting, they were able to tap into their original flow.

Be Ready To Shift Roles

In addition to playing lead guitar and producing all three Vampire Weekend albums, Batmanglij also played the keyboard, banjo, and drums, among other instruments. Once he left the band, he temporarily set those instruments aside.

But last year, Batmanglij ran into Solange and one of her producers, Raphael Saadiq, at a café in Los Angeles. Saadiq said something to Batmanglij that stuck with him: To produce your best work, “you have to be able to shoot from any place on the court.”

When Solange later asked Batmanglij to collaborate, he recognized it as an opportunity to revisit the instrumental fluencies he’d picked up during his Vampire Weekend days and expand his repertoire beyond pop and alt-rock. Batmanglij played the piano, organ, and shaker on Solange’s 2016 track “F.U.B.U.,” which is part of her critically acclaimed album A Seat at the Table.

Frank Ocean [Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images]

Don’t Make People Too Comfortable

When Frank Ocean brought Batmanglij a rough, early version of “Ivy,” an R&B track from his 2016 album Blonde, Batmanglij had an idea for the instrumentation that was more guitar-driven than Ocean was accustomed to. He isolated the vocal track, plugged in a guitar, and played a new, more atypical chord progression for Ocean, who was convinced.

The distorted, dreamy electric guitar helped turn “Ivy” into a standout ballad. “Artistically I want us to go somewhere that neither of us has been before,” says Batmanglij. “You’ve got to feel a little uncomfortable to push to that place.”

Music producer Rostam Batmanglij uses collaboration as a tool to unleash creativity. [Photo: Dan Monick]

Keep Something For Yourself

Despite Batmanglij’s success working with other musicians, he recognizes that some creative efforts require solitude. Half-Light represents years of personal material that Batmanglij wrote between Vampire Weekend gigs.

The project also allowed him to experience an artist-producer collaboration from the other side; Wet’s Kelly Zutrau and Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian both provided vocals and co-wrote songs. In the past year, Batmanglij has started performing shows under the name Rostam and incorporating a string quartet and dancers in some numbers.

“It’s about building off of one another’s energy,” he says. “There’s a joy I get from collaborating with other artists, and there’s a joy I get from making songs on my own.”


New York Jets Team Up With Academics To Boost Team’s Prospects

The New York Jets have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL over the last decade, but help is on the way from the college ranks. No, not a stud quarterback or defensive lineman, but a crop of undergraduate and graduate students who have been studying the Jets and training to help the team solve some of its most pressing business and marketing problems.

This is thanks to a brand-new partnership between the Jets and the NYU School of Professional Studies (NYUSPS) through which a hand-selected group of the university’s students will take a Jets-themed course every semester taught by NYU faculty working alongside team executives. Students will also have access to a Jets-oriented innovation lab geared toward generating new sports, media, or entertainment ideas through an accelerator, hackathons, and/or demo days, that could be implemented by the NFL team.

[Photo: courtesy of the New York Jets]

“For us, it’s always about trying to be innovative,” Jets president Neil Glat told Fast Company. “Having access and [building] relationship with students doing innovative things, whether in the sports space or media [is] helpful in staying current.”

While it would tempting to think of the partnership as a purely academic exercise–albeit one that could help NYU students land internships or even staff jobs with the Jets–Glat is quick to reject that notion. “We’re interested in real-life applications, business executions, new fan engagement opportunities, and new offerings for our fans,” he said. “This is not meant to be theoretical. This is meant to be something that is actualized.”

That’s why, Glat continued, the first course will task NYUSPS students with optimizing the Jets’ mobile app, coming up with potential improvements to the fan-facing tool within a year. “It’s not just something that’s talked about,” he said. “It’s going to be done.”

Teaming with the Jets is the latest in a string of NYUSPS’s partnerships with industry. Previously, it has offered courses that give students direct access to execs from Fox Sports, ROC Nation, the New York Mets, and espnW.

[Photo: courtesy of the New York Jets]

But NYUSPS dean Dennis DiLorenzo says the Jets partnership is on a different level–the first time students have had the opportunity to take a course, as well as participate in efforts to directly impact and innovate the partner’s business, while also helping to boost its sense of social responsibility. “All of those things are tenets of this relationship,” DiLorenzo said. “We’re hoping to take it to the next level.”

The dean said NYUSPS wanted to work with the Jets because the partnership blends well with the school’s mission of offering students an “experiential learning model.” And that mission, in fact, helped the team and the school design the partnership’s elements.

Part of that was helping the Jets develop better business practices, DiLorenzo said, that are meant to open doors to more diverse perspectives–something that is a key part of the school’s brand of education. “The Jets have always been about grit and welcoming fans from all walks of life,” he said, a similar element of the NYUSPS mission. “So the partnership was born.”

[Photo: courtesy of the New York Jets]

More specifically, he said, the Jets have a very blue-collar fanbase, while NYUSPS strives to attract people beyond those who might normally attend a professional school. That similar focus helped both sides see that they were on the same page. “We’re in the business of making leaders, and building leaders from all walks of life,” DiLorenzo argued, “not just supporting people who’ve already achieved leadership status.”

That philosophy no doubt appealed to the Jets, a team that while having been in the NFL for decades, has struggled to keep up with more star-studded and successful teams like the New York Giants, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, and others.

And are students interested in taking part? Definitely, said DiLorenzo.

“We sent this out to our student population with very specific criteria of experience and academic success,” he said, “and we had students compete to see who could get into that class based on their portfolios and interviews.”

The school put out the call for applicants in July, and got more than 100 students vying for just 18 seats in the class that began last week.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to promote this,” DiLorenzo said, “but they came forward the minute that they saw this.