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Facebook Will Now Ask People Why They Hid An Ad, Banish Offensive Ones

Facebook needs to know if you just thought an ad was annoying, or if it was actually inappropriate and no one should see it, so it’s now asking people why after they hide ads they see on the service. Ads marked as offensive or inappropriate will be pulled from Facebook’s site and apps, while the individual user will simply see fewer ads like those they mark as annoying. Facebook will also weight hides more heavily in its algorithm if they’re from people who don’t hide ads often. Facebook says both changes lead to people hiding fewer ads because it learns to show them more relevant ones.

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Facebook has become one of the world’s biggest advertising companies, but it has to be careful not to pester its users too much. It walks a fine line, monitoring whether it’s showing too many ads and hurting engagement. If it can use these hidden ad polls to ditch the worst ads and tailor the rest to people who don’t find them interruptive, it can build an even bigger business out of News Feed while still making it fun to read.

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The MOOC Revolution That Wasn’t

Editor’s note: Dan Friedman is the co-founder of Thinkful.

Three years ago this week, Sebastian Thrun recorded his Stanford class on Artificial Intelligence, released it online to a staggering 180,000 students, and started a “revolution in higher education.” Soon after, Coursera, Udacity and others promised free access to valuable content, supposedly delivering a disruptive solution that would solve massive student debt and a struggling economy. Since then, over 8 million students have enrolled in their courses.

This year, that revolution fizzled. Only half of those who signed up watched even one lecture, and only 4 percent stayed long enough to complete a course. Further, the audience for MOOCs already had college degrees so the promise of disrupting higher education failed to materialize. The MOOC providers argue that completion of free courses is the wrong measure of success, but even a controlled experiment run by San Jose State with paying students found the courses less effective than their old-school counterparts.

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Online learning long ago solved the access problem: Between the 8 million people who have signed up for MOOCs, and the more than 1 billion downloads from Apple’s iTunesU (Apple is quietly a larger force in online education than any upstart), we already know people want to take online courses. What we don’t know is whether they can be as effective, or more effective, than sitting in a classroom. It’s time to focus on that harder problem: engagement.

As an online learner myself it’s hard to stay engaged: when I get home after a full day at work, the noble goal of learning new skills often is put aside with Netflix only a click away. Online learning needs to pass that test: it needs to be not only good for you, but enjoyable in its own right. Startups, big companies, and universities are finally focused on the true promise of online education: driving substantial learning at an affordable price. There are three areas that have shown promise towards that goal: mentorship, retention marketing, and new forms of learn-by-doing.

One-on-one mentorship was long ago found to be dramatically more effective than group instruction. Having the full attention of an instructor accelerates an individual’s learning by focusing them on the right problems at the right times, and having a real relationship with one person provides students with accountability. At Thinkful, we see a spike in learning the day before students have sessions with their mentors. Students want to achieve more because of their relationship, and that motivation translates to more efficient learning. We’re now working to apply that same social pressure throughout the week to bring up overall learning time further. Sometimes you just need someone you respect telling you to eat your vegetables.

Second, retention marketing needs to be brought to learning. There’s an entire discipline in marketing to existing customers through email, phone calls and push notifications to keep them engaged with your product.

For example, if a Dropbox user views a page to learn about Dropbox for Teams, Dropbox sends an email saying, “Thanks for checking out Dropbox for Teams! Here’s a few features you might not have known about…” By putting a product in front of the right users at the right time, online learning companies can instill good learning habits. Sometimes all that’s needed is a simple nudge to remind a student to spend more time learning.

Third, new technologies enable methods of “learn by doing” that just weren’t possible before we could deliver immersive experiences to people’s laptops and phones. In the 1960’s, Jerome Bruner expanded an educational theory known as constructivism with the idea that students should learn through inquiry under the guidance of a teacher to grasp complex ideas intuitively. That process of trial, failure, and then being shown the correct path has been proven to drive student motivation and retention of learning.

What we don’t yet know is if that process of trial and failure can become 10x more engaging when delivered through a new medium such as Minecraft or Oculus. There’s been promising early results around using Minecraft for learning, and we’re excited enough about the possibility of using Oculus that we’ve got one shipping to the Thinkful office as we speak. These new immersive worlds promise to hold the attention of students in ways textbooks never could.

Finally, there’s one other trick education startups use that works but hurts everyone in the long-run: making courses easier. Companies see low completion rates and cut important material as a “quick fix” to higher graduation rates.

When Udacity launched, its initial courses dove as deep into subjects as their Stanford counterparts. Now, many Udacity courses take as few as 40 hours to complete; if Stanford were giving course credit for a week of work, it wouldn’t have the reputation. Soon we’ll be hearing about the “dramatic rise” in MOOC completion rates, without a mention of how much easier it is to complete a course.

Those “improvements” hurt the entire industry as the actual outcomes – jobs, promotions, improved productivity – still won’t be delivered. As we’re seeing with the decline of the for-profit universities, quick fixes that sound good in the press don’t work in the long-term.

The future of online learning isn’t about accessibility: it’s about taking what we already know works offline and combining it with what you can only do online to create the most engaging experience. We’re all still searching for the right formula, but the ingredients will be the same as they’ve always been: Learning through exploration, thoughtfully designed for the right behaviors, with great teachers providing support.

IMAGE BY Shutterstock USER monika3steps (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

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MailTime Turns Your Email Inbox Into An SMS Chat Session

There has been no shortage of apps and startups looking to fundamentally change the way we communicate by email. They range from products like Mailbox, which seeks to help users reach inbox zero, to Acompli, which adds file management and scheduling directly into your inbox. But in each case, the format of the emails you receive look more or less the same.

MailTime is different. The app, which launches today as part of the Startup Battlefield, is designed to change the way in which users interact with email and make it more like text messaging.

It starts with the thesis that email hasn’t fundamentally changed much since it was first invented decades ago. Most email clients, either on mobile or desktop, display content in the same way that they always have. And, as a result, users are stuck with a whole lot of information that they don’t need clogging up their messages.

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To deal with that, the app strips out all the unnecessary bits of email — subject lines, email signatures, etc. — and whittle them down to appear as SMS-like chat messages. By doing so, it hopes to make those messages more manageable, easier to read, and quicker to respond to.

The app has an intelligent content parsing engine and the ability to summarize long emails in a way that places messages into a conversation view. Emails that include multiple participants are displayed like a group chat, enabling users to reply-all or easily add and remove people from the conversation.

MailTime has some other interesting features. With the app, users can tag other recipients, which adds them to the conversation and assigns a task to them. It places all mentions in a place that makes them more like to-dos that require attentions and can be completed.

To recipients, messages sent with MailTime won’t look different from any other emails in their clients. And if you ever want to view the full text of a message, subject line and all, there’s a way that you can toggle to a more classic email inbox display.

MailTime’s founders had previously worked on a mobile push-to-talk app called TalkBox , which they developed in 2011. Not surprisingly, that feature has taken off on a number of different other messaging apps. Now the team is looking to reinvent the way users do email.

Question and Answer session

Q: What’s it like for users receiving emails on the other end?

A: We only require you to use the app if you want to use it. If someone receives an email from you, they will receive a very normal looking email.

Q: What insights do you have about your solution that other email providers don’t have?

A: If a normal email providers want to do this, they might do this for their users. But we have built an algorithm and other companies will have to build that.

Q: What problem does this solve?

A: More than half of all emails are sent from a mobile client. Any time people reply by phone, they only type 50 words. The problem is that email clients haven’t adapted to that today.

Q: What’s the security model? When the client connects to email, all you get is that there’s a message waiting? Is that right? I would never use Mailbox because I could never have that mail sitting on someone else’s server.

A: Every single email sent and received by mailtime goes directly from the app to the email server. We don’t make any changes, so when you open the app, you will receive it directly from the mail server.

Q: Do you have any of the Mailbox features?

A: We believe there are many tasks inside mail but don’t believe that every email is a task. We consider what things people ask you to do as a task and that’s it.

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RezGuru By TableGrabber Helps Restaurants Take A Smarter Approach To Pricing And Reservations

TableGrabber aims to help restaurants fill their empty seats, and to that end, it’s launching a new platform today called RezGuru at the Disrupt SF startup battlefield.

The goal, as laid out by co-founders (and siblings) Sonia and Pawan Marwaha, is to adjust things like pricing and reservation availability in a way that maximizes revenue. For example, a restaurant might be so crowded that it’s turning people away between 8 and 10 pm, but it’s half-empty at 6 — so wouldn’t it make sense to encourage people to show up earlier, and maybe offer them better deals if they do?

Pawan (who’s also the company’s “chief grabber”) and Sonia gave me a quick tour of the RezGuru dashboard, which highlights things like a restaurant’s current revenue, as well as revenue averaged out across each available seat per hour. Restaurants identify the numbers that they want to maximize, then RezGuru will create pricing strategies for different times of day to make that happen, complete with detailed predictions about how performance will change.

Sonia told me that RezGuru makes those forecasts based on 21 different data points. Some of the data comes from the restaurants themselves (RezGuru can integrate with their point-of-sale systems), while some of it is external, including things like upcoming events and weather.

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And while the forecasting is RezGuru’s main selling point, TableGrabber actually offers a full content management system, so it can use a restaurant’s photos and digitized menu to create a presence on the web, on mobile, and on services like Seamless and GrubHub. (In India, Brazil, and Chile, where there isn’t a big player in online reservations, TableGrabber runs its own reservation and deal website.) Then it dynamically updates each of those channels to reflect the broader strategy.

There’s less flexibility in physical restaurants, which most likely have printed menus, but Pawan said that even there, restaurants can add special deals and create more customized menus (lunch versus dinner, weekday versus weekend, etc.).

Not only can a restaurant use RezGuru to fill seats, but it can also avoid waste. If they’ve got steaks that will go bad in a few days, they don’t have to frantically try to get rid of them on the final day, because RezGuru can project the likely consumption and recommend whether prices need to be lowered to sell the steaks off more rapidly.

It’s not just about pricing, either. Pawan said that RezGuru can also recommend strategies like splitting four-seat tables into two tables for two people each (if most of the demand comes from couples), or closing an hour early (because late customers aren’t bringing in enough money to justify staying open).

I don’t know much about the restaurant business, but I was struck by a recent Priceonomics blog post about how restaurants are extremely sensitive to alienating their regular customers. So I wondered if RezGuru customers run that risk if they adopt this kind of dynamic pricing. Pawan pointed out that generally speaking, customers won’t pay more than the standard menu price — what they’re going to see are the discounts and deals.

“On the other side, when I’m sitting in an empty restaurant and still have to pay full price, I feel cheated,” Sonia added.

In addition to launching RezGuru for U.S. restaurants today, TableGrabber (which was founded in New Delhi) is opening an office in Palo Alto.

Q&A With Judges

Q: Isn’t there a big incumbent in the space?
A: OpenTable is just a reservation system, not a forecasting system like us.

Q: I don’t like the idea of paying more during peak hours.
A: Yeah, we’re used to doing that in an airline or hotel, but not in restaurants. We don’t encourage restaurants to raise prices, but during peak hours they can set a few tables aside for people who commit to spending a minimum amount.

Q: If a restaurant wants to offer a deal, how do you make them aware of that?
A: We’re not in the business-to-consumer market, but we have open APIs to update other services.

Q: Are you relying entirely on third-party apps for promoting deals?
A: We created our own consumer platform, TableGrabber, in other countries, but in the US we wanted to pick our battles.

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GuiaBolso Brings Mint-style Financial Management To Brazil

Editor’s note: Julie Ruvolo is a freelance writer and editor of RedLightR.io and RioChromatic.com.

In August a new, homegrown entry raced onto Brazil’s top 10 most downloaded apps. It’s a list usually cluttered by American-made social media, music and gaming apps; but GuiaBolso, a Mint-style personal finance app joined the App Store on July 2 when Brazil was midway through a month-long World Cup paralysis and passed Tinder, Facebook and even WhatsApp over the last month to reach the No. 5 most downloaded app in Brazil, with no official launch announcement or marketing budget.

The novelty of one app to rule all of your bank and credit card accounts, and Mint’s ensuing acquisition by Intel in 2009, is already ancient digital history in the U.S. But despite over a billion dollars of investment in personal finance companies, GuiaBolso, a startup co-founded by Benjamin Gleason, former managing director of Groupon Brazil and CFO of Groupon Latin America, and Thiago Alvarez, a long-time McKinsey alum working with the Brazilian banking industry, is the first company to enter the Brazilian market.

“We’re the only ones in Brazil,” Gleason told me on a call from São Paulo, where GuiaBolso is headquartered. “People have been saying, “We finally have Mint in Brazil. Why didn’t this come sooner?” Gleason says everyone he and Alvarez talked to, including a number of companies doing personal financial aggregation internationally, thought it would be impossible in Brazil. “The challenge was building the technology,” says Gleason. “Everyone thinks the banks are giving us their APIs but that’s not the way it works.”

Yodlee, founded in 1999, was the first company to figure out the data integration necessary to launch a financial tracking service, Gleason says They currently power over 500 financial apps, including white-hot LearnVest, a personal finance management startup founded by 30-year-old Alexa Von Tobel that has raised $69 million in venture capital. “The other part is that people were afraid of what the reaction of the Brazilian banks would be, and didn’t want to take that risk,” Gleason says. “So we knew the institutional side would be important.”

Gleason and Alvarez are well-prepared to navigate the political waters of disrupting the financial industry. In addition to their banking industry contacts from stints at Groupon and McKinsey, they have the support of experts like Neil Daswani, a former early Yodlee employee, web application security expert and professor at Stanford, and Gabriel Jaramillo, a founding partner at Valor Capital and former president of Brazil’s Santander Bank.

Kaszek_VenturesValor participated in GuiaBolso’s $1M seed round in March of 2013, along with Brazilian e.Bricks and six angel investors. Valor and e.Bricks returned for a $3 million Series A this May, led by Kaszek Ventures, and Kaszek Ventures’ co-founder Nicolas Szekasy joined the board with e.Bricks’ Pedro Melzer.

Brazil’s decade-long economic boom has lifted some 50 million Brazilians out of poverty and into the working class, but has had some unintended consequences. Even as Brazil’s Central Bank reported that household income has doubled and unemployment has fallen by half,  has meant more purchases, more consumer debt, and ironically, higher prices.

“Wages started rising, unemployment fell and there was a big boom in terms of access to credit cards and car loans, but the consumer-led demand was unsustainable,” Gleason explains. “Default rates started spiking, and with 10-12% interest on credit cards in Brazil, once you get into a hole you can’t get out. So you had this whole drive leading people to not controlling their finances or being able to pay back their loans.”

At the same time, Brazilians were coming online in droves – 100 million people, or half of Brazil’s population, came online in the last decade – and started taking out their credit cards. “Collective buying was a driver, because the ticket price of items on sites like Groupon was lower than big ticket items like TVs and fridges, and it seemed like you were getting a good deal, so literally millions of people joined the ecommerce wave, and that was really the start of it,” Gleason says. “I joined Groupon Brazil right at the beginning and caught the huge boom of the collective buying craze. We went from zero to 700 employees in a few months. It was out of control – we were just trying to keep the wheels from falling off.”

But after Groupon’s IPO in 2011, the startup party turned corporate, and Gleason decided it was finally time to start something from scratch, after years of exchanging ideas with Alvarez since they met at McKinsey in 2007.

“Two things that came out of that experience,” Gleason says. “In Brazil, interest rates don’t really mean much to people. They are only thinking about the installment they have to pay.  The other thing is that people don’t consider themselves in debt if all their payments are current. So if they have a car loan and credit card balance and are paying it every month, they say they don’t have debt, until they start to default.”

“At the same time, Thiago was seeing these extremely lucrative banks with all kinds of money and doing nothing to innovate, while on the other hand you have Brazilian consumers, very low levels of financial education, who really don’t understand the basic banking products being pushed at them,” says Gleason. According to 2014 research by Brazil’s National Confederation of Shopkeepers, 82% of Brazilians say they don’t know how to control their finances. “It became clear that there’s a huge knowledge gap, and the Brazilian banks are not interested in creating new tools for consumers to narrow it.”

Guia BolsoGuiaBolso began as a humble operation out of Gleason’s house in São Paulo in 2012. “We intentionally started out by bootstrapping to manage dilution and know exactly what product we wanted to go forward with,” says Gleason. “We embraced all the lean startup stuff. We threw up a landing page and started to see what people were searching for.

And one of the first things we found is that most people who were looking for financial guidance online were from the emerging “C” class, and most of their problems had to do with debt or not being able to balance their budget.” (Media reports often cite that millions of Brazilians were lifted into the middle class, but it’s a misnomer – Brazil’s “C” class, on a scale of A through E, is what Americans would consider working class, making about 2,500 household income per month.)

GuiaBolso’s first product, launched with their seed round funding in May of 2013, after a year of testing and 4,000 financial consultations in person and via the website, was an online financial consultant that solicited a few data points about the visitor’s financial situation and offered customized and specific advice. But the experience was designed as a one-off tool and required manually inputting your information.

“That wasn’t going to be effective over time, so we looked at other markets in the personal finances management space. Mint dominated but all the offshoots went for different niches, like LearnVest [a platform originally designed for young professional women]. They were all using integration with bank accounts to generate tools and recommendations, and in Brazil there has never been account aggregation where you can see all your accounts together in one place, so we shifted our focus to that.”

Gleason and Alvarez started off looking for bridge financing, but Gleason says the American venture funds wanted to write bigger checks. They ended up closing a Series A after all, led by Buenos Aires-based Kaszek Ventures, which backed the Latin American success MercadoLibre.

GuiaBolso launched their automated product in April of this year, which organizes three months of historical from Brazilian banks Itau, Bradesco, Santander and Banco do Brasil, representing about 80% of the retail banking market, into pie charts and primary colors of spending breakdowns versus goals set. “Brazil is different than the U.S.,” Gleason says. “Everything is usually concentrated in one bank, credit cards are issued via the bank, and all of their investments and debt are with the same bank.”

Gleason says next priorities are to connect to the Caixa Economica (Brazil’s Federal Savings Bank), Citi and HSBC. “Then there are a few independent credit card companies – Amex, and store-issued credit cards like Casas Bahia.”

While GuiaBolso’s first version catered to Brazilians in the working “C” class, the automated product is seeing primary adoption from Brazil’s “A” and “B” classes, for obvious reasons: wealthier Brazilians are more likely to have a bank account and use online banking, have a higher percentage of electronic versus cash transactions, and are more likely to have an iPhone on which they can download the GuiaBolso app.

Gleason sees that changing as internet access and smartphone penetration keep expanding to Brazil’s lower income classes. “Our target market is the 50 million checking accounts in Brazil that are eligible for internet banking,” Gleason says, “and they’re projected to grow 40% by 2017, according to 2012 data from CIAB FEBRABAN.”

“But across all levels of income, people have no clue how to manage their finances,” Gleason says. According to a sample of 6,000 GuiaBolso users, about one-third of all expenses are credit card purchases paid for in installments, regardless of the user’s income level. But while that represents only 4% of monthly income for users making over $5,000 a month, it’s 10% of monthly income for users in the lowest income bracket.  “People making less income are the biggest hostages to installment payments. We were shocked.”

It’s representative of bigger, troubling patterns in Brazil’s economy. Since 2008, consumer loans have more than doubled to around $600 billion, and household consumer debt has almost doubled to 25.6% of Brazil’s GDP. In 2013, Brazilians spent $233 billion on short-term interest payments, representing two months of their annual income. “That compares to about 10% in the US,” Gleason says, “But it’s worse: half of the debt in the US is in mortgages, while in Brazil it’s mostly short-term debt.”

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In other words, it’s an opportune moment to launch free financial planning tools that make it really easy to break down and manage your monthly income and expenses. “Our web product was growing 30% month over month with very little spending on paid marketing,” Gleason says, “and we were pretty happy with that, but our plans changed dramatically after launching the iPhone app in July. We’ve already hit our growth targets for the year and have surpassed $1 billion worth of user financial transactions organized on our platform.”

At this rate, GuiaBolso may have the opportunity to figure out the big question Mint got to bypass after it was acquired by Intuit: How to make money. “It’s a free app, and our focus is to keep growing and see where we can help people,” says Gleason, “so revenue is not on the dashboard for now. But if we can keep engagement high and acquire users cheaply, we can do a lot of experimentation with the LearnVest model for advising and long term planning, as well as offer our users products that are suited for them. But I don’t want to send 100,000 people a credit card offer or serve them any banner ads.”

Image by Flickr user Victor Camilo

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Dealing with fear in the business world: Lessons from fighters

The original version of this article was published in Lantern, a publication that examines the business of living.


As workers in fast-paced, high-pressure, scenarios (entrepreneurs, aspiring business leaders, many folks in technology or a competitive corporate field), a lot of us have to deal with fear. Pitching rich people on ideas that we’re not certain will work out. Attempting to get more clients. Doing battle with external and internal competitors.

It can be terrifying.

Fear can paralyze us

Because of its unpredictability, the mere thought of doing something we fear can induce anxiety in many of us.

Yet it’s also the key to growth. A few occupations require that people work with fear almost daily. For example, most of us run away from even the most minor forms of conflict. Yet fighters and boxers have to deal with it regularly, even if their opponent happens to be four times larger than them (here’s another one).

As it turns out, fighters aren’t just born with more courage than the rest of us. They’re trained to deal with fear – to the point where some need fear to thrive.

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In his autobiography Undisputed Truth, Mike Tyson recalls his trainer Cus D’Amato talking about fear, and how to overcome it:

Fear is the greatest obstacle to learning. But fear is your best friend. Fear is like fire. If you learn to control it, you let it work for you.

If you don’t learn to control it, it’ll destroy you and everything around you. Like a snowball on a hill, you can pick it up and throw it or do anything you want with it before it starts rolling down, but once it rolls down and gets so big, it’ll crush you to death

So one must never allow fear to develop and build up without having control over it, because if you don’t you won’t be able to achieve your objective or save your life.

In order to retain control of it, you should be keeping your fear to a bearable level. Once it crosses a certain threshold, your priority should be reigning it back in – otherwise, all bets are off. That means developing methods to relax or consistently reduce fear – and understanding what triggers fear – could be helpful to maintaining control.

Similarly, Bruce Lee had some words about fear being a potential barrier to learning in Striking Thoughts:

The enemy of development is this pain phobia – the unwillingness to do a tiny bit of suffering. As you feel unpleasant you interrupt the continuum of awareness and you become phobic – so therapeutically speaking we continue to grow by means of integrating awareness/attention.

Lee also believed that fear was the first step of a deeper journey: “To understand your fear is the beginning of really seeing.”

For his book The Fighter’s Mind, author Sam Sheridan interviewed a series of UFC fighters, including Kenny Florian. Florian recalls the journey in the spotlight during his time with the UFC – and how he started his career off by losing a fight he had a good chance of winning:

‘I was so nervous. The real ability now is that I’m mastering that fear. I’ve had way more fights in the UFC than locally, so I did my growing up in the UFC, which is a tough thing to do. It was a blessing and a curse. A lot of doubt and fear, and the uncontrol was scary, but now I use that fear.

It puts the pressure on me in a good way.’

The ability to make fear work for you is essential, and there are no short cuts. It takes experience and time.

There are no short cuts in learning to deal with fear

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If you’re regularly in high pressure situations, it’s possible to frame each day as another opportunity to master your fear. Similarly, just because you start off on the wrong foot, it’s not the end of the world.

Another point to remember is to step back from whatever it is you’re fearing and looking past the situation. In Sheridan’s interview with Randy Couture:

‘The first thing is perspective. I frame things in a positive way and stay reflective. It’s almost a cliché, but in the grand scheme of my life, if the worst thing that happens to me is I lose a wrestling match, even if it’s the Olympic finals, then I’m doing pretty damn good.’ A fight, even a title fight, barely registers.

Right away that takes some of the pressure off. I know I’ll survive it, it’s not the end of the world. I won’t like it; I don’t like to lose, but the people who really care about me don’t care about me because I win. They care about me and want me to be happy.

I think this helps me overcome the classic fear of failure that most athletes set themselves up for. They’re so worried about looking stupid, or making a mistake, they don’t do what they’ve trained to do. They get in their own way.’

This may come as a relief or as an unpleasant truth, but the world cares much less about the thing that your fear than you do.

In his early days, Frank Shamrock was once forced to fight his teacher’s teacher. He knew he was going to take a beating. As he recalled for Sheridan in The Fighter’s Mind:

Frank taught himself to meditate in hotel rooms in Japan. ‘The logic wasn’t there, of a way to beat this guy,’ he says, ‘and I had so much fear and anxiety. I had to try something. I got inside myself, just trying to calm down. I was sitting in the hotel, thinking, ‘Oh my God what am I doing?’ when I realized I had to relax.

So I worked on it. Deep breaths, eyes closed, just thinking about individual techniques. I relaxed and it worked. I started to do technical visualization. Then I went out there and Funaki kicked the shit out of me.’ Frank dissolves into feral cackles, genuine deep amusement. ‘Yeah, he smashed me, but I came back and beat him later.’

Although Frank wasn’t victorious in the fight, he picked up a much more valuable skill as a byproduct: he learned how to cope with his fear. Meditation and visualization may not be able to prevent your fears from coming true, but it can help you stay calm and keep your fear under your control.

Closing thoughts

Fear can be a serious inhibition to progress. In Striking Thoughts, Bruce Lee wrote, “There can be no initiative if one has fear, and fear compels us to cling to tradition, gurus, etc.”

The next time you feel fear’s grips, remember what Cus D’Amato told Mike Tyson:

Well, there is no difference between a hero and a coward in what they feel. It’s what they do that makes them different. The hero and the coward feel exactly the same but you have to have the discipline to do what a hero does and to keep yourself from doing what the coward does.

And if that’s not enough for you, remember: This too shall pass.

Read next: End bad days: We all have bad days, here’s how you stop them

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The real-world benefits of playing a lot of games

The original, concise, version of this article was published in Lantern, a publication that examines the business of living.


Collectively, human beings spend billions of hours playing games every week. It may sound like an epidemic, but gaming has its own benefits.

Companies are starting to consider gaming in potential recruits. Gaming helps people make faster decisions (with equal accuracy as slower decisions). And now, people can make a full-time career of playing video games (one guy makes millions).

Moreover, each individual can learn lessons from games that they couldn’t, or didn’t, pick up from school. For example, author Malcolm Gladwell said in an interview with The Guardian that as a child, he learned the power of relationships through games of Monopoly and Risk.

Gaming and enhanced creativity

While Monopoly taught Gladwell the importance of relationships at a young age, another board game taught a generation of writers how to tell stories. As the New York Times wrote in an interview with award-winning writer Junot Díaz:

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.”

From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”

Gladwell and Díaz aren’t alone in thinking that gaming aided their creative endeavors. A study conducted by Michigan State University, and published in research journal Computers in Human Behavior examined 491 respondents (middle school students) and found a correlation between time spent playing video games and increased creativity in tasks such as drawing pictures and writing stories.

Helping process and adjust to emotions

177128505 730x492 The real world benefits of playing a lot of games

While the jury is still out on video games and violence, studies have shown that video games help youth relax and cope with anger. Gaming also helps people build greater emotional and social resilience.

More importantly, a recent study has shown that children who play video games in small amounts (for up to an hour a day) have higher life satisfaction, and are more sociable and less hyperactive than those who don’t play at all.

Gaming as an alternative to TV or substance abuse

For some, gaming didn’t teach anything. Instead, it served as an alternative to less stimulating activities for budding minds. Novelist Jon Michaud wrote in the New Yorker:

At a certain point, I gave up the war games and board games and retreated to the basement to co-habitate with the TV. A typical Saturday schedule for my twelve-year-old self looked like this: 8 to 11 A.M., cartoons; 11 A.M. to noon, Pro Bowler’s Association; noon to 3 P.M., Notre Dame football; 3 to 6 P.M., Movie of the Week; 6 to 8 P.M., Dinner, chores, family obligations, personal hygiene; 9 to 10 P.M., “The Love Boat”; 10 to 11 P.M. “Fantasy Island”; 11 P.M.: bed.

It was not a glorious time in my life. I hated reading. My grades were mediocre, and my parents were worried about my prospects. I didn’t know it, but I was simply waiting for the right game to come along—a game in which there were no winners or losers. That day finally arrived in the spring of 1979. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Dungeons & Dragons saved my life.

Had it not been for Dungeons & Dragons, Michaud would have likely continued developing his habits as a couch potato – which could have eventually grown into its own addiction.

Even in cases of extreme gaming, it could be helpful to think about it as an alternative for habits or addictions that have much more alarming adverse effects. For example, the most serious gamers tended to avoid booze and drugs in the past:

Though its detractors see the game as a gateway to various forms of delinquency, I would argue that the reverse is true. For countless players, Dungeons & Dragons redirected teen-age miseries and energies that might have been put to more destructive uses.

How many depressed and lonely kids turned away from suicide because they found community and escape in role-playing games? How many acts of bullying or vandalism were sublimated into dice-driven combat? How many teen pregnancies were averted because one of the potential partners was too busy looking for treasure in a crypt? (Make all the jokes you want, but some of my fellow-players were jocks who had girlfriends; sometimes the girlfriends played, too.) How many underage D.U.I.s never came to pass because spell tables were being consulted late into the night? (It’s hard to play D. & D. drunk; it requires too much concentration and analytical thought.)

Today’s challenge is slightly different. In the past, gamers needed at least a few people to start, and perpetuate, a binge gaming session.

Today, it’s extremely easy to immediately find other people available and interested in playing, all the time. Forming social groups with these other binge players also means perpetuating the addiction and habits even further.

Closing thoughts

“Eras are what they are. It’s for us to adapt, not for the era to adapt to us. It’s not made to measure.” – Karl Lagerfeld, The World According to Karl

So gaming isn’t all rainbow and lollipops. Despite all its benefits (here are two more comprehensive reports), gaming can become an addiction with its own challenges.

In fact, with studios building in reward loops, social elements, and in-app purchases, today’s games are designed to be extremely potent. And people have neglected the real-world, to extremely severe and tragic consequences. And undoubtedly, they also come with some unpleasant side effects as well.

But compared to many other vices or substances out there, gaming is far from the most ominous. Understanding addiction becomes a necessity in order to help gamers manage the rest of their lives. In controlled doses, gaming can be viewed as a tool to that enhances thinking rather than damage it.

Read next: The legal loophole of advergames: How ads disguised as video games are impacting today’s youth

Image credits: OLIVER BERG/AFP/Getty Images 

Original post: The real-world benefits of playing a lot of games

BiiSafe Buddy Is A Bluetooth Keyfob For Item-Tracking And Location Alerts

Forgetful folk who regularly misplace stuff are spoilt for a techie fix these days. Connected item trackers that link your valuables to your mobile phone have been crowding onto the market thick and fast, fueled by the rise of the less battery-thirsty Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity tech, and promising to put an end to your ‘where did I put my keys?’ woes. Just a few that spring to mind include Tile, Chipolo, Duet… the list goes on.

Well here’s another: Finnish made BiiSafe Buddy, which was crowdfunded on Indiegogo, offers item tracking via Bluetooth and a location-sharing alerts feature geared towards families by turning the gizmo into a physical button that lets you quickly share your location on a map with your chosen circle of loved ones.

I gave the BiiSafe Buddy a road test for a few days to see whether the concept lives up to the promise.

Basics

  • MSRP: $50/€39 per single buddy, or lower unit cost multipacks
  • Battery life of between 3 to 18 months
  • Bluetooth Low Energy
  • iOS and Android apps
  • Product info page

Pros

  • Tactile, minimalist design
  • Easily share your location on a map

Cons

  • Trigger range not yet customisable
  • Interface has some niggles
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The hardware design of the buddy is pleasingly tactile and non-slippery, given its rubbery face, although this material does attract dust so if you’re sticking it in a bag or pocket expect it to gather some lint. There’s a metal ring running around the edge of the device which offers a secure place to easily attach it to your keys or to the zipper inside a purse/bag. The buddy is not at all heavy — akin to the average key-fob in weight — and its tapered shape means it slips into even a small jeans pocket without adding unpleasant bulk.

Set up is relatively straightforward. First you need to download the companion iOS or Android app. You’ll also need to create your usage circle within the app — which means the group of people (or just yourself) who will able to locate a buddy and receive alerts from it. This is done by entering an email address and a password, both of which will be the shared login credentials for all other people in your circle. That’s a bit awkward but again it’s clearly geared towards families who are likely to be used to sharing login credentials.

NB: Only one circle can be linked to an installed BiiSafe Buddy app at a time. And all the others in the circle have to have the BiiSafe Buddy app installed — with the same username and password credentials inputted — in order to get alerts on their mobile device.

After setting up your circle, next you link and configure each individual buddy by tapping on the add new buddy icon in the app and holding one buddy near your BLE-capable mobile device and pushing the buddy button (up to five buddies can be linked per app installation). Each buddy can be named within the app and a display icon chosen for it, such as keys or a bag, to help manage multiple buddies. And that’s the set up done. The app offers other settings you can play around with, such as changing how loud the alert sound is (although the loudest setting is not very loud at all so there’s probably not much scope or need to make it any quieter).

Operation of the buddy is also pretty straightforward, although the interface does have some niggles. If you want to locate a lost buddy you open the app, tap on the particular buddy you’re after and its last known location is plotted on a map. You can also tap on ‘find buddy’ to trigger a short audio alert and a radar style interface that shows if you’re getting nearer to that buddy as you move around looking for it. Neither lasts very long (probably to save battery life) so unless your lost item is not actually very lost you’re likely to need to trigger this multiple times as you go a-hunting.

If you want to use the buddy to share your location — say with a family member who’s coming to meet you — a short press on the button will share your location to the circle. This type of location share is signaled on the buddy by a short burst of green light. Although, in daylight, the light is easily missed and if you press and hold the buddy button for too long (around 2 seconds) it will send the same location share but this time badged as a safety alert (meaning the app will mark your location with a big red circle). The buddy flashes red lights when you’ve triggered one of these safety location alerts.

The specific message that’s sent when you share your location with your circle can be configured to something of your choosing from within the app.

Given how easy it is to trigger the safety alert by mistake — say when someone only meant to share their location, or accidentally because of items pressing against it in your bag — it seems likely that a lot of false alarms are going to be triggered and sent to your circle. So it’s a shame they didn’t make the two trigger functions more distinct. Or the safety alert a little harder to trigger.

Another feature of the buddy is that it can alert you when you and your mobile device have moved more than 50 meters away from a connected buddy (you can disconnect individual buddies when you want to disable this feature). I found this less useful, because 50 meters is actually quite a distance — and you’re likely to have locked yourself out of the house long before the app gives you a warning that you’ve left your keys behind.

Currently the trigger range for this feature can’t be configured but the buddy’s makers say they are looking at ways to integrate that. It would certainly be a lot more useful if the range could be user-defined, given that the size of people’s houses vary — and a shorter trigger might make sense for your keys than for another item you want to keep tabs on. As it stands, 50 meters is only really going to help you if you drop your keys in the street while jogging. Or leave your bag on a park bench.

The buddy has a few other tricks up its sleeve. For instance the hardware includes a temperature sensor so you can view the temperature of individual buddies in the app, should you be curious about how warm it is where your keys are. Plus there’s a motion detection feature you can enable to trigger alerts when an item is dropped from a particular height. That’s neat if you worry about your keys falling out of your pocket, say, or if your child won’t leave the house without their favourite teddybear but always drops and loses it when they do take it out.

Bottom Line

If you’re the sort of person who loses their keys in their own house the Biisafe Buddy has got your back, although if your household is generally noisy you may have trouble tracking down where its gentle beeps are coming from. But at least you’ll know for sure that the errant keys are somewhere near so you can be all the more zen as you peek under piles of washing. The location sharing feature is also neat, if that’s useful to you. Families with teenage kids to pick up from clubs and events may find it helpful, although teens may be less keen to have their whereabouts tracked and mapped. Privacy considerations are an issue with any tracking tech that can be used to keep tabs on people as well as insentient things. Ironing out those sort of disputes is likely to be more troublesome than dealing with the app’s more minor interface niggles.

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How visiting the Himalayas changed my perception of entrepreneurship

Nihar Sawant is a co-founder at Expojure. This post originally appeared on his Medium blog.


Recently, I was in the Himalayas for two weeks. During those two weeks, I had zero communication with the outside world. Climbing 14,000ft in the dreadful nature left my mind in a complete desolation.

By the time I reached home, my mind was a blank slate like I was reborn. This gave me an opportunity to look back at my life in a new perspective.

In past five years, I introspected a lot and also observed people around me. I realized that most do things which they don’t want to do, own things which they don’t need and most importantly, they don’t think for themselves.

Rather than understanding what their needs are, people buy things which they see in advertisements just to show how ‘modern’ they are. They do not like their work and spend all their weekdays waiting for a weekend or worse tweet about how pathetic their job or boss is.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life – Steve Jobs

I always thought that I am not like ‘these’ people; I am much better, or in other words – superior. Rather than following the trends, I always asked myself – ‘why should I do it?’

I thought I was listening to my own voice rather than the noise around me. I tried to live a simple life instead of filling my life with things which I didn’t want. I believed that I was living my life the way I wanted.

But I was so wrong.

When I came back from the Himalayas, I re-evaluated my life. I saw the people I was following on Twitter, newsletters I subscribed to, blogs which I used to read, events I used to attend and I realized that I was no different than people from whom I claimed to be ‘superior.’

From college days, I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It was not because I loved fixing things, but because I was influenced by people like Paul Graham, Jack Dorsey, Bill Gates, Elon Musk etc.

I wanted to change the world because Steve Jobs said that in a YouTube video. I created a startup because I used to read TechCrunch a lot. Even I was following a trend just like people around me. The only difference is, this trend of entrepreneurship and startups is highly ambitious which can drown people.

What is entrepreneurship about?

After realizing this truth, I hit the reset button of my digital life. I ‘unfriended’ 70 percent of my Facebook Friends (and on the verge of deactivating my Facebook account), emptied ‘read later’ list from Pocket which had more than a thousand unread articles and eventually unsubscribed every possible blog which writes about startups and their valuations.

I was surprised to know how easy it is to let go of your digital life. After being in this absolute desolation for a week, I asked myself ‘Why am I doing this?’ And the answer was crystal clear: Thrill.

Mountain Peaks 730x280 How visiting the Himalayas changed my perception of entrepreneurship

The reason why I went to the Himalayas, rode 650 KM in a scorching heat for a week or turned down a high salary job with an opportunity to settle down in North America was same: it made my heart beat the hardest. Entrepreneurship is not about acquisitions or raising million dollars; it is about thrill, unpredictability, living with constraints, pushing yourself to a new high, being innovative and trusting your own guts over stats.

I crave for this and I love every single moment of it. That is why I chose entrepreneurship.

Life is an empty slate and you are free to do anything you want. You want to change the world? Go ahead and do it… but first ask yourself: do you really like disruptions in your own life? Or is it because you found the thought in an autobiography?

When we were born, our mind was nothing but a void and when we will die it will be the same: void. Whatever we do between birth and death has no meaning. Eventually it will be nothing but a void.

If nothingness is the ultimate truth of life, then why not spend the rest of your lifetime doing things which you love doing without any regrets? When you do things which you love, only then you will enjoy life to it’s fullest.

Otherwise you will die in boredom waiting for just another blissful weekend.

Featured images: Shutterstock/My Good Images, Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Kdan Mobile’s Cloud-Based Apps Are An Alternative To Adobe Products

Kdan Mobile wants to fill the space between Adobe’s mobile products and Evernote by providing cloud-based creativity and productivity apps for iOS and Android, like Animation Desk and NoteLedge, that are targeted toward amateur users and students.

Kdan Creative Cloud allows users to access their content on different devices and in the near future founder CEO Kenny Su says the startup, which is currently raising closing its Series A, plans to parse data from all of its apps to help people organize their content more quickly based on file formats.

“Currently our marketing position is to try to complete the whole mobile content creation experience between Adobe and Evernote. Evernote’s business strategy is to help people keep everything in the cloud, but if people create something more, they don’t have the tools. Adobe has always been targeted to professional users, not mobile users who are amateurs,” say Su.

Two of Kdan’s apps, NoteLedge and Animation Desk, have gained traction through a partnerships with Samsung and Microsoft. The apps are currently pre-installed on several of Samsung’s mobile devices, including the Galaxy 3 and Galaxy tablet, in 13 Asian countries, as well as Microsoft’s Lumia series in Taiwan.

Now Kdan faces the challenge of striking additional partnerships, getting additional users outside of those partnerships, and convincing existing users to sign up for Kdan Creative Cloud. Su says Kdan has already signed partnerships with carriers in North America, but can’t currently talk about them because of a non-disclosure agreement.

In total, Kdan’s suite of apps Kdan Creative Cloud currently has 100,000 registered members and adds an additional 2,000 to 3,000 users per day. The company’s goal is to have one million subscribers by the end of 2015. Su says the company plans to encourage people to subscribe the Kdan Creative Cloud by offering promotions as well as special features to unlock.

Currently eight apps are connected to Kdan’s cloud: Animation Desk ($4.99 in the App Store), NoteLedge ($4.99), PDF Reader ($4.99), PDF Connoisseur ($9.99), Pocket Scanner ($3.99), Write-on Video ($3.99), PazteUp ($4.99), and EleEditor ($2.99).

Of these, Kdan Mobile considers PDF Connoisseur, NoteLedge, and Animation Desk its flagship products.

Animation Desk, which lets users turn drawings into animations on their iPads, is meant as an alternative to Adobe’s Edge Animate for students and amateurs who don’t need all the features of pricier software. It supports four frame rates (or FPS, frames-per-second) from 3FPS to 24FPS and includes pre-loaded dynamic or static backgrounds, so users don’t have to draw their own. Animation Desk is optimized for use with Adonit, Ten One Design, and Hex3 styluses.

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PDF Connoisseur includes a scanner that turns documents into PDFs, a PDF reader, a file converter, downloader, and file transfer tool. Additional features include a text-to-speech reader that supports six languages (English, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean); an optical character recognition (OCR) tool that recognizes 12 languages and turns text from scans into a searchable .txt file; and a PDF editor.

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NoteLedge is an EverNote competitor, but geared towards younger users with options like different notebooks, stylus styles that include crayon and watercolor, and in-app sticker purchases. Like EverNote, NoteLedge also supports audio and video recording.

A subscription to Kdan Creative Cloud currently costs $2.99 a month or $9.99 a year for individual users, and $5.99 a month or $29.99 a year for businesses.

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