Posts tagged with "Fast Company"

Brown University researchers find that Adderall and Ritalin don’t improve focus and attention

March 25, 2020

Alert the public! Adderall and Ritalin are frequently prescribed to ADHD patients—and are just as commonly swallowed and snorted as late-night study aids by college students—because they are widely believed to increased concentration and focus.

Except it turns out that these stimulants don’t work that way at all:  Indeed, research conducted at Brown University has determined that Adderall, Ritalin, and other, prescription stimulants interact differently in the brain and the body than previously understood, Fast Company reports.

“We’ve known for a long time that when you give people these types of stimulants, you get enhanced performance,” said coauthor Andrew Westbrook, a post doctoral research at Brown University, in a press release. “But is that due to an increased ability, or is it due to increased motivation? We didn’t know which of these two factors were contributing and to what degree.”

The key phrase is cognitive motivation. The study shows that the medications spike mental awareness of the benefits of completing a difficult task. They do this by increasing the amount of dopamine released into a part of the brain called the striatum. Dopamine moderates motivation, and so the mind downplays the costs and difficulties of a task, while increasing the apparent advantages. The researchers found no increases in ability, Fast Company said.

This is news to the more than 16 million adults who are prescribed stimulants such as Ritalin annually, and the 5 million more who misuse prescriptions, according to a 2018 study from the National Institutes of Health.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Nudity, feline photobombs, and farts: People report side-splitting screw-ups when working from home

March 20, 2020

Right now, millions of Americans are adjusting to working at home—quarantined in small domestic spaces, along with assorted family members and pets. And Fast Company reports, it’s kind of easy to think that you are conducting business as usual, until your child inevitably runs into the room during a video call—cutting off your boss mid-sentence, shouting, “Poo poo!”

So now, the news outlet advises, we all will need to adjust to the new normal work environment, in which toddlers and flatulent dogs are free to roam.

But until we adapt, the following are some of the worst work-from-home (WFH) fails that Fast Company has see online (mostly on Twitter) during the past week. They prove that, however rough your work-from-home experience has been, it could have been a lot worse.

  • Whole house WFH day 1 report: I whispered “I LOVE YOU” loudly into what turned out to be my spouse’s active meeting headset mic.
  • Day 3 of WFH and my family started screaming while I was in a meeting and my co-worker remarked: “Now I understand why you prefer to go into the office everyday.”
  • Pro-tip: if you and your husband are both working from home, check to see if he’s on a four-way video call BEFORE running past the office naked to get a towel from the linen closet.
  • Big WFH learning for me today: Remind Ryan to put some clothes on before he goes into the bathroom first thing in the morning. Today he walked past my team video call BUTT naked.
  • The people on this conference call don’t know, but I BARELY muted my microphone before my dog did something I can only describe as a yell barf.
  • Working from home today and my cat optioned to join me for my work meeting. She means business.
  • First WFH meeting and my dog decides to show his ass.
  • Just started talking to my cat in the middle of a 68-person Zoom meeting—and i wasn’t muted!!!
  • Start meeting. Unmute to speak. Washing machine starts spinning. Hurriedly get up to escape the noise. Do not realize charger is plugged in. Proceed to loudly knock pint of water plus cup of coffee all over *everything.* Continue speaking calmly as if nothing happened.
  • I’m in a WFH meeting and my Google Home just answered a question someone on the video call asked, unprompted. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
  • Every WFH meeting so far: “I’m sorry, you go…” “No, sorry I-” “Well what I was sayi-” “I’m sorry, were you saying something?” “Go ahead, no sorry, you go…” *5 voices speak at once . Suddenly no one speaks SLOW PORTAL ZOOM INTENSIFIES DURING AWKWARD SILENCE**#COVID19
  • WFH Day 3: Was in a 15 person online meeting, thought I was muted, farted.
  • The subject of every WFH Zoom meeting is actually “Oh, so that’s where you live.”
  • WFH diary, day 1: Power went out during recording; construction workers are extra loud today; daughter walked in on a meeting singing “I like banaaaaanas” at the top of her lungs.
  • Day 1 of mandatory #WFH while watching a sick kid: pretty good, other than my 4-y/o running into the middle of a supervision meeting yelling “DADA, I HAVE TO POOP!” Textbook “disorienting moment” pedagogy!
  • My kid just walked into my video conference, yelled “Look at my penis,” and hit the button on his fart machine. Working from home going really great!

We hope that your WFH experience is going just as well—if not better.

Research contact: @FastCompany

The ‘art’ of survival: Illustrators offer free drawing classes for those stuck at home

March 19, 2020

Home is where the art is. At least that’s what a group of empathetic illustrators is offering to parents and children who are stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by Fast Company, the artists have stepped up to create virtual resources and free classes for kids, parents, and anyone else who prefers a creative break to staring at their own four walls.

The following is a list of currently available classes compiled by the magazine. Know of others to add to the list? Email:

Carson Ellis
Frequency: Daily
Where to find it: @carsonellis
Illustrator Carson Ellis is leading art classes for adults and kids alike with her Quarantine Art Club. Every day will offer a different drawing prompt to get the creative juices flowing, so after watching a couple of quick step-by-step video clips, you can take your eyes off a screen for a change and put pen to paper. And don’t just make your own; see what your other club members are working on with the hashtag #quarantineartclub.

Wendy MacNaughton
Frequency: Daily on weekdays; 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT
Where to find it: @wendymac
Wendy MacNaughton, the well-known San Francisco illustrator, has launched a daily drawing class on Instagram for “kids of all ages, parents of kids, parents of parents, aunties/uncles, friends, and pets.” The first class involved both: students drew each other and a dog. While she initially intended it to be a five-minute class, it ended up going for 20. Interested? If you can’t make the set time for the live drawing session, it will be on her Instagram story for 24 hours. Be sure to use the hashtag #drawtogether.

Jarrett Krosoczka
Frequency: Daily on weekdays; 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT
Where to find itKrosoczka’s YouTube channel
Children’s book illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka has launched a daily YouTube series called “Draw everyday with JJK.” If you can’t catch the episode when it goes live, not to worry—all the videos are posted on his YouTube channel. The first episode provides a quick introduction to the series, which will “give you practical tools so you can tell stories using words and pictures on your own.” Or it will just give your kids the opportunity to draw Baby Yoda with the help of a professional. Each episode is about 20 minutes long.

Jarrett Lerner
Frequency: Daily
Where to find it: Lerner’s website
Comic book illustrator Jarrett Lerner is releasing a series of illustrated activities each day, including blank comic book pages, a “character-maker,” blank clothes your kids can help design, and a “Finish This Comic” activity. The activities will be archived on his site so you can access them whenever your kid needs some brain stimulation and you need what one mom called #creativesilence.

E.B. Goodale
Frequency: Daily on weekdays; 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT
Where to find it: @ebgoodale
Children’s book author and illustrator E.B. Goodale is launching a drawing class for toddlers aptly called “Drawing with toddlers.” Goodale will take requests for what to draw live, “or you can just sit back and watch the chaos.” It’s specifically geared toward toddlers “because that’s what I’ve got on my hands,” she says in the post, “and their attention span is short. It will be a messy experiment!”

Thyra Heder
Frequency: TBD
Where to find it: @thyraheder
Heder is breaking out of the 2D with all sorts of creative projects on her Instagram feed and stories: You can make animal costumes inspired by her book, Fraidyzoo, out of cardboard and Scotch tape, or even simpler animal masks out of cereal boxes with step-by-step instructions. The best part is you don’t need to leave the house—all of her projects use basic supplies and kitchen staples.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Kind expands into four new supermarket aisles—including frozen desserts

February 11, 2020

New York City-based Kind, the snack brand—which claims to have created the ubiquitous modern bar category (specifically, to-go bars with easily identifiable ingredientsn 2004, is attempting to extend its success to four new categories, according to a report by Fast Company.

“Since day one, KIND has been obsessed with upholding our brand promise – to create innovative, premium foods that are both healthy and tasty,” Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman of the 16-year-old company, said in a press release. “While these categories are new for us, each is consistent with how we’ve always entered new categories – with an eye to creatively elevate people’s overall experience.”

Starting this month, you’ll see Kind expanding into four grocery sections:

  • Frozen desserts.Kind Frozen bars are plant-based, creamy frozen treat bars made from nutrient-dense nuts, layered with smooth dark chocolate and nut butter;
  • Treats. Kind Bark comes in dark chocolate flavors with various combinations of nuts.
  • Cold foods. Kind Nut Butter Bar is the company’s first-ever refrigerated, smooth and creamy nut butter protein bar.
  • Kind Clusters mix nuts with seed and fruit clusters, halfway between granola and snack mix.

Jumping into new aisles is a risky, high-failure venture for food brands, but, Fast Company notes, these forays are essential for growth: Kind has hovered around 5% of the bar market for years, facing steep competition from copycats and much larger competitors like Quaker Oats (owned by PepsiCo) and Nature’s Valley (owned by General Mills). The company has previously experimented with expansions into breakfast bars, granola, and fruit snacks.

Along with bitter rival Clif Bar, Kind is one of few still-privately owned ambitious food companies. (Kind received a cash infusion two years ago when Mars, the candy bar and pet food company, took a minority stake, paving the way for today’s category expansions.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Sounding off: Most people are annoyed by restaurant music for the same reason

January 29, 2020

Making your voice heard isn’t just hard in politics these days. Try having a quiet conversation at a restaurant.

In fact, based on findings of a recent survey conducted by El Segundo, California-based Cloud Cover Music—a company that offers streaming music to all kinds of businesses, from retailers, to auto dealerships, to pubs, to restaurants—an overwhelming 66.7% of diners cited loud volume as the number-one thing they disliked about restaurant music, Fast Company reports.

And while volume is the top reason for disliking restaurant music, there are plenty of others, the respondents noted—among them:

  • Poor sound quality (21%)
  • Artist they dislike (20.8%)
  • Explicit content (14.8%)
  • Profanity (13.9%)
  • Political content (13.6%)
  • Drug- or alcohol-related content (12.7%)
  • Religious content (12.5%)
  • Outdated (11.8%)
  • Volume too low (10.6%)
  • Evokes sadness (5.2$%)
  • Evokes bad memories (3.5%)

There are a few caveats, along with that data: The survey was conducted online and only included 941 responses, and the responses weren’t weighted. So it can hardly be considered representative. Still, for diners who believe that the loud-music restaurant trend is out of control, the survey results are a satisfying nugget of conformation bias.

You might ask yourself why restaurant owners continue to blast loud music, if everyone hates it so much. One theory, as Vox pointed out in 2018, is that people tend to eat and drink faster in loud environments, which speeds up turnover and therefore boosts business.

Yet another? People with children frequent noisy eateries because they don’t want other patrons to hear their tykes screaming.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Spotify offers to generate a playlist that your dog will love

January 17, 2020

Some romantics fondly remember making mixed tapes and CDs for their objects of affection in days gone by. But for the furry, four-legged kind?

If hand-curating a playlist that you and your pup can agree on seems like a daunting task, streaming digital music and podcast service Spotify thinks it’s up for the job, Fast Company reports.

The Stockholm, Sweden-based music service—which currently operates out of 16 nations worldwide—released Pet Playlists on January 16. The company says the project considers both “your listening habits and your pet’s attributes” to generate playlists “you both can enjoy.”

And ass you might have guessed— no, there’s not a ton of research out there to back any of this up.

However, some studies have suggested that that Fido might prefer a few musical genres over others, Fast Company notes. Indeed,  recent research conducted by the University of Glasgow and the Scottish SPCA has found that dogs chill out while listening to reggae and soft rock. Classical music also “appears particularly beneficial” for dogs, while heavy metal seemed to encourage them to bark.

While Spotify acknowledges that “music for pets isn’t an exact science,” the Pet Playlists tool considers whether your dog is relaxed or energetic, shy or friendly, curious or apathetic. The company says it consulted with cellist and musicologist David Teie, who’s built a business selling music to cat owners, to shape “how the algorithm was programmed.”

Privacy-conscious pets may be reassured by Spotify’s promise to only use the information you share about your pet to make your playlist. According to Spotify’s FAQ, “the information is not stored and is not used for any other purpose.”

Spotify’s new tool also caters to birds and hamsters. Have a different kind of companion animal? The company encourages you to try it anyway:”You may find your rabbit really likes hamster music!”

Spotify: @FastCompany

Moving on up: These five U.S. locales will pay you to live there, so apply right now

December 16, 2019

Moving to a new home can be stressful and costly. You’ll pay anywhere from $800 to $2,000 to move the furnishings of a four-bedroom home locally, according to Home Advisor. The cost to move across country, or out of state, averages about $1,000 per room—and moving an entire house could put you out-of-pocket anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000.

So, imagine how great it would be if you got paid to move.

It’s happening in five U.S. locales, Fast Company reports. This week Topeka, Kansasjoined the list of off-the-beaten-path regions that will pay you to move there.

Upon closer inspection, though, most funding meant to lure you to, say, North Platte, Nebraska, or Grant County, Indiana, involves convoluted applications or home purchases or employer-matching programs. (Topeka’s program requires you to live there for a year, for example.) In other words, nothing you can simply apply for in one step.

Fast Company tracked down the programs that you can easily sign up for right this moment, wherever you are, and lock down funding before you buy your plane ticket:

  • If you’re a full-time remote employee: Think Vermont. Applications open in January for this program, which pays you up to $10,000 over two years just for setting down new roots.
  • If you’re a very recent grad or went to college in Maine: Opportunity Maine will help you pay off your student loans in a state that refunds recent grads for loan payments. The refund comes as a tax credit so, for example, if you pay $2,500 in loan payments and your state income tax bill is $2,100, you would only pay $400 in taxes.
  • If you’re a freelancer or work remotely: Tulsa Remote will provide you with $10,000 and a co-working space. The hip program, funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, initially planned to attract 20-25 people—and was deluged by applications, which organizers capped at 10,000. They’ve recently welcomed over 100 new residents, and now the program is back, looking for Tulsa’s 250 newest movers and shakers.
  • If you’re a recent STEAM grad: Go Hamilton. The one in Ohio, which will pay off up to $10,000 of your student loans over three years. That’s totally worth a three-year detour to Butler County.
  • If you’re still buried by student loans 7-10 years out of school: St. Clair County, Michigan, is calling your name and willing to pay back up to $15,000 of your loans through its Come Home Award.

Happy trails.

Research contact: @FastCompany

This $50 device is trying to disrupt the walkie-talkie market

December 4, 2019

A few months ago, the website for the Philadelphia-based startup, Relay Network, was adorned with smiling children and glowing testimonials from parents, illustrating how the $50 push-to-talk device would enable parents to chat with their kids and track their whereabouts as an alternative to the cellphone.

But, Fast Company reports, despite the family-friendly façade, companies in the hotel, amusement, and concessions businesses saw huge potential in Relay: Instead of using the small, squarish, screenless devices to help parents communicate with kids, what if they could be used to replace bulky and expensive walkie-talkies?

Some of these businesses—among them, Comcast, AAA, Citizens Bank, and DentaQuest—started placing orders, and Relay took note.

“Demand sort of showed up at our doorstep,” Chris Chuang, Relay’s co-founder and CEO told the business news outlet.

Now, Relay is rolling out a proper enterprise version of the product, with staid black and white color options and features specifically for business use— particularly for companies that have large numbers of employees who are out and about; not sitting behind desks.

Relay’s push-to-talk button serves as a quick way for workers to get in touch, and it even doubles as a panic button, letting construction crews or housekeepers rapidly send an emergency message. Relay also now offers a web app for businesses, so managers can communicate with their team’s Relay devices through a laptop.

Instead of just targeting an audience of worried parents, Relay hopes to take a piece of the nearly $3 billion walkie-talkie market, Fast Company says.

Although it doesn’t look like a smartphone from the outside, the Relay is similar on the inside, with 4G LTE radios, Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS for location tracking, a Qualcomm chipset, a headphone jack, and a battery that lasts roughly two days on a charge. The main difference, of course, is that it trades a touchscreen for a big button, which users can press and hold to talk with fellow Relay users over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Parents could then talk to their children through their own Relay devices or through Relay’s mobile app, which would also let them monitor their children’s location. The idea was to provide the connectivity of a smartphone without the addiction of yet another screen.

Chuang says Relay has “tens of thousands of customers” for the family version, but it turns out that the same properties that made Relay work for kids—durability, simplicity, cost-effectiveness—also appealed to businesses. While walkie-talkie apps do exist for smartphones, the touchscreen requires “active workers”—that is, those in fields like construction and hospitality—to stop looking at what they’re doing..

This helps explain why walkie-talkies have stuck around in the smartphone era, but they have their own problems. Most of them are large and heavy, so they’re impractical for workers that don’t have an easy way to tote them around, and the costs are as steep as those for a smartphone, ranging from several hundred dollars to over $1,000 per unit.

“These devices, they haven’t changed much from the Nextel days,” Chuang told the magazine.

And at $50 per device, the Relay is a lot cheaper than a traditional walkie-talkie, even when you factor in $10 per month for cellular service.

“The price point enables people to now arm more of their workforce,” Chuang says. “Our vision is really to connect every active worker, whereas today where you have to ration out the walkie-talkies.”

And although the walkie-talkie business is unglamorous, it’s arguably ready for some disruption. According to Maia Research Analysis, the market has grown in revenue by over 8% every year for the past three years, and the group expects that trend to continue through at least 2024, at which point revenues could exceed $4.8 billion. Despite being more than 75 years old, the walkie-talkie isn’t slowing down.

Relay’s Chris Chuang argues that major vendors such as Motorola—which alone has 50% of the market—don’t have the expertise in smartphone-like hardware, software, and networking to make a product like Relay. But perhaps more importantly, walkie-talkie makers currently enjoy gross profit margins of over 40% on devices that can cost hundreds of dollars; they may not want to cannibalize that business with hardware that sells for a tenth of the cost. He notes that while Motorola has started offering cellular connectivity in some of its radios, the feature is only available on high-end models as a profit booster.

“A disruptively priced product like Relay would threaten their existing revenues greatly,” he says.

Still, Relay may not need to completely upend the walkie-talkie business to succeed. By virtue of being lighter and cheaper, it may appeal to workers who otherwise might not use a walkie-talkie at all. Schools, for instance, might want to equip their teachers with something lightweight for emergencies, and housekeepers could use them as protection against abuse, especially with a wave of state laws mandating panic buttons for hotel staff.

Chuang doesn’t like to say it publicly, but internally Relay thinks of itself as a Slack for active workers, the implication being that it’s a platform whose usefulness will extend as more businesses get on-board.

“As we get with customers, they brainstorm almost as much as we do,” he says.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Snap, crackle, pop: Adobe’s new app puts Photoshop inside your phone camera, with high-impact effects

November 5, 2019

In a demo of Adobe’s new AI-powered camera app conducted recently by the company’s CTO Anjau Parasnis, daytime photos were made to look like they were shot at night; portraits were transformed into Andy Warhol-style pop art, or were altered by different lighting and shadows; and faces were smeared with virtual paint to show team pride at sporting events.

Indeed, according to a report by Fast Company, the Adobe Photoshop Camera app, which launched via an invite-based preview program on November 4, is the culmination of Adobe’s efforts to bring its Sensei AI services to a consumer product, and it’s part of a broader attempt to expand the company’s software beyond the realm of creative professionals.

Fast Company tech reviewer Jared Newman describes the app as, “… a pretty neat-looking tool for both serious photo editing and silly visual gimmickry.”

Parasnis agrees, commenting, “For the engineer in me, this is super, super cool, Consumers can now express themselves in ways that were just impossible before.”

And while other smartphone makers recently have been leaning more into computer vision to improve photos, Newman says, “Adobe’s tools … seem more extreme than what standard camera apps offer.”

He notes, “While looking through the viewfinder, Photoshop Camera will recognize what’s happening in the scene and highlight appropriate effects in a menu below the shutter button. A landscape shot, for instance, may highlight tools that turn a bland sky into a sunny blue one, or that make the whole image look like an oil painting.

The critical difference: Adobe’s AI can recognize what’s going on in the photo—and itt can apply separate lighting and color effects to different parts of the frame. Parasnis showed Fast Company’s Newman how he could brighten an interior shot of a church in one step without blowing out the outdoor scenery in a distant window; and how changing a city skyline photo from day to night would also affect the lighting on buildings in the forefront.

The goal, Parasnis says, is to automate the kind of effects that used to require pixel-by-pixel editing in Photoshop.

“It’s not that it couldn’t be done, but it was very labor intensive, and required super high-end hardware with super high-end skills,” he says.

It’s worth noting that all of this image processing occurs offline. The company isn’t uploading any images to its servers or collecting data on what users are capturing.

“The core genesis was: Can we unleash creativity for everyone, not just professionals?” Parasnis told Newman. “If we’re going to do it, the camera is the perfect app, because capture is the new create

Still, the business model for this endeavor is murky. Adobe Photoshop Camera will be free.

Parasnis says the main goal with Photoshop Camera is to strengthen the company’s overall ecosystem. With the app, users can export images in Photoshop’s .PSD format for further editing, so there’s a chance some users may graduate to paid Photoshop subscribers.

“These free apps do make the core ecosystem that much more valuable and sticky, and drive more users to it,” Parasnis says.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Talent or brain fart? Most creativity can be attributed to mental errors, researchers say

November 4, 2019

Is what we choose to label as “creativity” merely a random mistake in decision-making or reasoning? Similarly, when we choose to veer away from what we have done in the past—rejecting well-known, “safe” options—is it because we are risk-takers or visionaries, or can it be assessed as a failure in cognition?

A study published in the October edition of the journal, Nature Neuroscience,  found that, if our brains excelled at evaluating all options, we would stick to those that have succeeded for us in the past.

Indeed, according to a report by Fast Company, researchers at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, designed a study in which they took brain MRIs of 100 people playing a slot-machine game that presented two options—one of which had won them money in previous tests.

They found that the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region that regulates decision-making, lit up when participants made errors in reasoning and that many of the subjects’ “curious” choices were a result of the brain’s failure to reason.

This is kind of a big deal. Curiosity has been long hypothesized by psychologists to be an exploration of choices with uncertain outcomes, a sort of rational process of weighing out the options.

Interestingly enough, principal investigator Valentin Wyart told Fast Company, “Uh-uh.”

This finding is important, because it implies that many choices in favor of the unknown are made unbeknownst to us, without our being aware of it: Our participants have the impression of choosing the best symbol and not the most uncertain, but they do it on the basis of wrong information resulting from errors of reasoning,” Wyart said.

Wyart points out that errors are not inherently bad: they fuel many of humanity’s great discoveries, such as Christopher Columbus’ accidental navigation to America, and evolution, which often derives from random genetic variation.

Research contact: @FastCompany