A Man’s Primer on Tequila

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While tequila tends to have a poor reputation here in the States — often serving as the cheap shot of choice for inebriation-minded college students — in Mexico, it’s a cultural tradition that harkens back to centuries of craftsmanship. While some liquors’ origins are muddy or disputed, tequila is unquestionably a Mexican spirit.

While in shot form tequila is usually served with salt and lime to mitigate the bite and burn of cheap liquor, in its native home it’s usually served neat in a tall shot glass, and meant to be sipped.

If you have an unfortunate history with tequila, it’s time you gave the spirit another chance and learned how to not only drink it the right way, but buy the right product so that you aren’t just writing off the whole category based on the swill that got you drunk in your earlier years.

Before getting into some of those guidelines though, we first need to know what tequila is.

What Is Tequila?

Though slightly more complex than this when you get into the legalities of labeling and what not, tequila is actually a specific type of mezcal. Mezcal is a distilled liquor made from the mashed, fermented core of the agave plant. Tequila is then a mezcal made specifically from the blue agave and in a specific part of Mexico.

Much like champagne — which can legally only be made in the Champagne region of France —  tequila can only be made in a certain region of Mexico. Largely, this is in the state of Jalisco (where the town of Tequila is located), as well as parts of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. These states are in west-central Mexico, where the rich volcanic soil provides the perfect environment for growing blue agave.

What Is an Agave Plant?

A field of blue agave plants. Notice the scale of the man walking between rows. The leaves get to about man-height when matured.  

Whereas rum relies on sugar cane/molasses, brandy on grapes, and whiskey on various grains, the agave is the lifeblood of tequila. To understand one, you have to understand the other.

Agave is a large plant that looks like a big head of spikes. Those spikes are its leaves, and the main body — called a piña — is what’s used to make tequila. Agaves are really big. The piña can weigh 150-250 lbs at harvesting.

The tree-like “flower” of the agave. These are trimmed in tequila fields to extend the life of the plant.

Specially trained farmers/harvesters trim the leaves and harvest the plants, and this process has largely been unmechanized. Agave is a fickle plant that takes 7+ years to mature, and it’s not a foolproof process. The plant has a flowering spike, which emerges from the center just once (reaching tree-like heights), at which point the agave dies because that flower basically takes all its life support. But, farmers trim that flower to prolong the life of the plant, which is necessary for it to fully ripen and become mezcal/tequila ready.

How Is Tequila Made?

After the piñas are harvested, they go into an oven for baking, after which they are functionally juiced, like a giant orange. The pulp is left behind, but the juice is collected, and from here the process looks much like it does for any other fermented/distilled beverage.

That juice sits in vats for a few days while it ferments, resulting in a low-alcohol liquid called wort (beer aficionados should know that word). That wort is then distilled at least twice (which is a legal requirement of tequila), and sometimes a third time — though some purists say that this third distillation removes too much of the agave flavor (many brands put how many times their product’s been distilled right on the label for marketing purposes).

It’s then either bottled right away or put into oak barrels to age.

How Tequila is Classified (or How to Read the Bottle)

You’ll find all the information you need to make an informed choice right on the label. “Don Julio” is the brand. Right under that, in smaller print, you’ll see “100% de Agave.” And you’ll find “Añejo” near the bottom.

When you’re buying tequila, there are a couple things to look for on the bottle that will help you figure out its contents.

The first thing to check is whether it says something along the lines of “100% agave” or “100% blue agave.” According to Mexican laws (which govern tequila production, labeling, exporting, etc.), tequila only has to be made with 51% blue agave sugars in the fermentation process. The other 49% can be other sugar sources, which is usually cane. The tequilas that aren’t 100% blue agave are called “mixtos.” These tequilas won’t be marketed as such — they simply won’t have the “100% blue agave” anywhere on the label. It’s brands on the cheap end of the spectrum that are mixtos, which is why they aren’t trumpeting that fact. And even if it says “made with blue agave,” if the “100%” isn’t there, don’t trust it. Remember, all tequila — for it to legally be labeled as such — has to be made with blue agave.

The “100% de agave” marking may also be on a neck label.

Any of the aging monikers described below can be applied to either mixtos or 100% blue agave tequilas. So first, look for this descriptor, which is usually in small print on the neck of the bottle or on the main label.

Next, you’ll see one of the following aging labels, which is usually printed largely on the bottle. You can’t miss it. I’d categorize tequila into 3 primary varieties that you want to look for depending on what you like, and 1 low-quality variety to avoid.  

Blanco/White/Silver. This is the stuff that is bottled right after distilling, and is unaged. It’s clear, and will be a good entry point into tequila. Since it’s not aged in wood barrels, some folks claim you get a more pure agave flavor, while others say it’s more the vodka of the tequila world — lacking character. What you’ll come to find is a matter of your own taste. Regardless, this is what you’ll most often use to make any sort of tequila cocktail. Keep in mind that even though it’s clear, it can still be a high-quality, sippable product, just like a white, unaged whiskey could be.

Anecdotally, people who really enjoy tequila like to sip the clear stuff, whereas your whiskey fans often like the aged varieties better.  

Reposado. This category of tequila has been aged for at least 2 months (usually in used bourbon barrels, but sometimes other spirits’ barrels are used as well), but not exceeding a year. It’s a perfect middle-of-the-road tequila in terms of flavor profile. It’s not overwhelming and still does well in mixed drinks, but can also be enjoyed as a sipper.

Añejo (or Extra Añejo). This is tequila that has been aged for at least one year (or in the case of the “extra” variety, at least three years). These are products that are indeed made for sipping rather than inclusion in cocktails. To use this in a mixed drink would be like putting a fancy bourbon in a cocktail; much better to sip and enjoy the fine product rather than muddle the flavor. You get a smooth, woody character with these tequilas, which as alluded to above, is why whiskey fans will tend to like añejos.

Avoid “Gold” or “Oro” tequila. This stuff is simply “gold” because it’s had coloring added for the sake of looks. They are usually blends of blanco and reposado, but are always on the cheapo end of the quality scale. Something like Cuervo Gold would be the example to stay away from.

One last example of label markings. All your most important information on a single line of text underneath the brand. You’ll also notice “Triple Distilled” and “Highland Agave” at the bottom. (“Highland” refers to a specific region of tequila fields, much like Scotland has regions for Scotch-making. Only true connoisseurs will be able to discern regional differences in tequila, unlike in Scotch where the different flavors are more distinct.)

How to Drink Tequila

While tequila is often poured directly down the hatch, like whiskey, rum, and even good gin, some tequilas can and should be enjoyed neat or over ice with no garnishes or additional flavors needed. These will often be in the añejo category, but as mentioned, certainly not always. Pour a couple ounces into a snifter-type glass, take some small sips, letting it linger in the mouth, and enjoy. Pretty simple, really.

That said, tequilas of all varieties lend themselves very well to citrus additions. Lose the salt that you usually get when tequila is taken as a shot, but keep the lime. Pour a couple ounces, and squeeze some lime juice into the glass. For me, it really seems to brighten up the tequila and also soften some of natural bite, making for a very nice complement.

And of course, the unique flavor of tequila does very well in summery cocktails, particularly the margarita. We’ll start there. And while the number of classic tequila cocktails does not number very high, there are a couple others to try out as well.

Classic Margarita

There are a million and one margarita opinions and variations. Below, you’ll find a classic margarita recipe that’s so easy you won’t need to bother with the cheap margarita mixes that line liquor store shelves, or resort to drawing one from a frozen slushie machine.

The classic ratio is 3 parts tequila, 2 parts triple sec (or other orange liqueur, typically Cointreau), 1 part lime. That amounts to the measurements below, which can be scaled up or down according to your tastes:

  • 1.5 oz tequila (100% blue agave, blanco or reposado)
  • 1 oz triple sec or Cointreau  
  • .5 oz juice of a lime

Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a glass with a salted rim (moisten rim with lime wedge, then dip onto plate with salt — the coarse, kosher variety rather than table salt).

Paloma

While not nearly as popular as the margarita here in the states, in Mexico the paloma is rather ubiquitous. It’s an easy, delicious drink, though, that should be enjoyed more widely.

  • 2 oz tequila (100% blue agave, blanco)
  • 3 oz grapefruit juice (either fresh, or as often served in Mexico, in grapefruit soda form)
  • Juice of lime wedge
  • Dash of club soda (if using fresh juice rather than soda)

Shaken or stirred, and served in a salt-rimmed glass.

Tequila Sunrise

This drink gets its name from its characteristic look when served in a highball glass. It’s been popular for about 75 years, ever since it was created in the American Southwest. It became especially popular with rock bands in the ‘70s after Mick Jagger had one, and loved it so much that he ordered it all over the country while on tour.

  • 1.5 oz tequila (100% blue agave, blanco or reposado)
  • 6 oz orange juice
  • .5 oz grenadine
  • Orange slice, for garnish
  • Maraschino cherry, for garnish

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add tequila and orange juice and stir. Pour in grenadine, allowing it to sink to the bottom, creating the sunrise effect. Garnish with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.

The post A Man’s Primer on Tequila appeared first on The Art of Manliness.

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DJ Who “Turned Down Wall St.” Is On a Quest to Decentralize Music Festivals

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DJ Who “Turned Down Wall St.” Is On a Quest to Decentralize Music Festivals

Independent DJ Justin Blau (known on stage as 3LAU) didn’t exactly stumble into the cryptocurrency industry — to say so would misrepresent how much thought he’s put into his blockchain-based event network, Our Music Festival (OMF). But at the very least, his introduction to the space came through a touch of serendipity.

Blau became formally acquainted with blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies after a chance meeting with the Winklevoss twins at a music festival in 2014. The Winklevosses were making their own debut into the industry, as they were in the early stages of building their Gemini exchange at the time.

After hitting it off with the up-and-coming DJ, they invited Blau back to their penthouse, a welcome alternative to crashing at an  exorbitant downtown hotel, Blau admitted in an interview with Bitcoin Magazine. That night — and the blockchain-centric conversation that dominated it — had Blau hooked on the young and novel tech.

“I very quickly saw all the ways in which blockchain [technology] could disrupt the music business and all aspects of the music business — from digital music to live music to manager and artist relationships — disintermediating the entire business as a whole. And I just found myself thinking about it all the time.”

Business moguls and financial thoroughbreds as the Winklevosses are, the encounter may have felt a little like looking into a rearview mirror for Blau. Before dropping out of Washington University in St. Louis to pursue a music career — a decision encouraged by one of his finance professors — he was in line for an internship fast track to Wall Street. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps for a career in finance, he set out to ride the momentum of his early days playing frat parties and college shows across the nation, a move that earned him the title “The DJ that turned down Wall Street” from Forbes.

So in connecting with the Winklevosses, the doors of the financial industry were opened to him again — only this time, the door was to a niche and highly stigmatized five-year-old field. Still, this same door opened up the possibility to reimagine his current occupation under a new economic model.

“After I performed my first ether transfer — I paid a Dutch company at 1:00 a.m. on a Saturday night in ETH for some animation work — I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is insane! Instant transfer of value. And that’s when I really started to dive in and learn as much as I possibly could and ask myself, ‘How could I be a part of it?’”

The answer became clear in August of 2017. After consuming crypto-related literature with voracious curiosity and attending blockchain conferences, Blau began mixing with some of the space’s leading innovators and professionals with help from the Winklevosses and some of his old college friends who had made their careers in tech.

“I just had all of these people who were very powerful, making introductions for me, and that’s when I started diving in deeper,” he said.

And Blau has found his place in the industry: on stage, both as host and performer, at the world’s first blockchain-powered music festival. Coming to fruition on October 20, 2018, Our Music Festival’s first iteration will be held at the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley, with German-Russian DJ Zedd headlining, and Big Sean, Matt and Kim, and Charlotte Lawrence on the lineup, as well.

At its inception, OMF began as an effort to tokenize live music events. In essence, Blau explained, it’s goal was to decentralize the entire process, giving fans a degree of control over lineup curation and even a share of the festival’s revenue.

But as the space evolved and tokens entered the regulatory conversation, things became complicated.

“I think it’s important for any blockchain startup to be honest about the scope of the project,” Blau said in the interview. “It became really difficult to keep [to our original model], given the regulatory environment. We shifted to this utility token model, where the token represents demand for the festival as a product. And then we shifted again and asked, ‘So how do we do both?’ And that’s where we are now.”

For its inaugural year, the festival will be blockchain-related inasmuch as fans will be able to pay for tickets in crypto as well as fiat. They’ll also issue paper Ethereum wallets to all fans once they check in to the festival, a gesture in line with the educational insight Blau hopes the festival’s blockchain/crypto information booths will offer to its attendees.

Come next year, Blau hopes to integrate blockchain tech even further into the festival’s features. He wants to enable payments in OMF tokens, as well as to launch a reward system that allows fans to earn OMF by inviting friends to the festival, buying tickets early and committing data and feedback to the OMF ecosystem.

These tokens will also be used for discounts and promotions within the festival grounds, and Blau even intends to leverage them to give fans access to their favorite artists, backstage passes and VIP experiences.

In the far future, Blau wants Our Music Festival to tap into blockchain technology’s decentralized, peer-powered ethos to give fans a say in the festival’s lineup and a share of its revenue.

But to get there, Blau and his startup must reason and reckon with the industry’s technological and regulatory growing pains.  

“We have to adapt as we go and that’s the biggest challenge for any company in an evolving space. Network scalability and regulatory environment are our biggest challenges,” he stated.

From a legal standpoint, Our Music Festival cannot offer revenue sharing, lest the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sees these payouts as dividends and its OMF token deemed a security. On the scalability front, Blau believes that the Ethereum network needs to mature before the festival can fully decentralize and implement more blockchain-driven functions.

If the network fails for whatever reason and someone can’t get into the festival, it’s a huge loss for the technology as a whole.

“In year one, we’re only going to start rolling out features if we know we can execute them. Because our biggest risk is the fan experience. If the network fails for whatever reason and someone can’t get into the festival, it’s a huge loss for the technology as a whole,” Blau reasoned.

“Year one is really kinda a launch event. Year two, start building out some of the tech. Year three to year five, our primary goals are giving fans ownership and enabling fans to vote for the lineups for these events. And in the long-term, even let them create their own small events.”

Until the long-term becomes the immediate present, the festival will “gradually decentralize over time,” Blau said, espousing “a firm belief in minimum viable centralization … to bring [his] concept to the mainstream.”

Helping him in his efforts, OMF features a stacked team of both music and tech industry professionals. COO Adam Lynn serves as co-founder and president of Prime Social Group, a concert and event company responsible for 900 events, 19 festivals and 400,000 ticket sales annually. Kevin Edelson, the company’s CMO, has a history of PR work for Universal Music Group and Red Light Management, among others.

For smart contract and blockchain development, Our Music Festival leverages the work and talents of Zach LeBeau, Shreesh Tiwari and G. Thomas Esmay, the core team at SingularDTV, a blockchain studio that focuses on digital media and entertainment.

Blau hopes that in bringing tech and creative professionals together, OMF will catalyze blockchain integration into the music industry. As for Blau, he’s hoping he can serve as a guiding intermediary between both industries.

There’s a little bit of a disconnect between existing industries and blockchain startups and my goal is to be that bridge. To show the tech people and engineers what people like me need, to bring the music business a little more across the fence into the space. So that’s my personal goal — to be the bridge.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

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The most spectacular meteor shower of the year is coming this weekend — here’s how to watch it

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perseids

  • Every year, the Perseids meteor shower peaks in mid-August.
  • The Perseids are known both for their epic "fireballs" — explosions of light and color that last longer than those from typical meteors — and for their long, streaking tails.
  • This year, the show will be particularly great, since there’s a new moon August 11, meaning there’ll be practically no moonlight to interfere with the show.
  • The best time to watch will be on the night of August 12 and the early morning of August 13, especially in the pre-dawn hours.

The Perseids meteor shower is often considered the most spectacular of the year, and this summer’s show should be particularly excellent because of the phase of the moon.

Every year, the Perseids light up the skies when Earth passes through the debris tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which travels a 133-year-orbit of the sun. Tiny bits from the comet slam into our atmosphere, burning up in fiery, colorful streaks, as NASA explains.

The Perseids are known both for their epic "fireballs" — explosions of light and color that last longer than those from typical meteors — and for the long, streaking trails they leave behind.

This year’s shower lasts from July 14 to August 24, but it reaches its peak from 4 p.m. ET on August 12 through 4 a.m. ET on August 13, according to NASA JPL.

Because the moon enters a new phase on August 11, moonlight won’t interfere with the celestial display. That means the meteors’ fireballs and tails should look spectacular on a practically moonless night.

Watching the show

The Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus, which is where the meteor shower’s colorful streaks appear to come from in the night sky. But you don’t have to look that direction to see the show — the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky overhead.

Depending on when you decide to watch, you’ll have a chance to see something different. In the evening, starting around 10 p.m., you’ll see fewer meteors, but those that do appear will be longer-lasting and tend to have longer tails.

The best time to see the most meteors according to the American Meteor Society tends to be just before dawn, around 4 a.m. local time. If you happen to have trouble sleeping on Sunday night (August 12), that’s a perfect time to step outside.

During the peak, it’s possible to count 50 to 100 meteors per hour. But even if you can’t step outside a couple hours before the sun comes up, it’s worth checking the sky in the late evening and early morning. The days around the peak, especially August 11 and 13, also tend to have good viewing.

Since the Perseids always show up in August, they often coincide with warm summer nights — perfect weather for viewing if you can avoid rain or clouds and get to a dark spot. Enjoy the show.

SEE ALSO: NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars for 6 years now — here’s what the red planet’s surface looks like up close

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why they call Pluto a dwarf planet

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Castlevania characters and so much more revealed for ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’

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Characters from the Castlevania franchise are finally coming to Super Smash Bros.

Simon Belmont and Richter Belmont from Castlevania and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood have entered the fray of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Nintendo revealed in a Nintendo Direct stream Wednesday. Along with those new characters, Nintendo showed off a handful of new and classic stages, items, echo fighters, and in-depth music options coming to the fighting game in December.

Here’s the nearly 30-minute Direct in full:

First, let’s talk about the Castlevania additions. Not only are the two Belmonts coming to Smash with their vampire-hunting skills and whips, they are bringing with them an Alucard assist trophy and new gothic, Castlevania-inspired stage that features the occasional monster including a the rare appearance of Dracula himself.

Richter (front) and Simon Belmont.

Richter (front) and Simon Belmont.

That new stage will include 34 Castlevania music tracks that you can listen to while you brawl. If you’re a video game music lover like me, that’s awesome news, but it’s even better when you learn that Smash Ultimate will include over 800 music tracks. That’s so many songs, and you can even create your own custom stage-specific playlists.

And if you’re really into video game music, you can plug your headphones into your Switch and listen to tracks while the Switch screen is turned off, kind of like an extra-large MP3 player.

Along with the music options and Castlevania additions, Nintendo announced another new fighter: King K. Rool from the Donkey Kong franchise. 

Plus, two new echo fighters (which are kind of like alternate skins for existing characters) are coming to Smash Ultimate: Dark Samus from Metroid and Chrom from Fire Emblem.

Chrom and Dark Samus.

Stepping aside from new characters, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will contain over 100 new and classic stages, many of which have been tweaked to play a bit better. But don’t worry, Nintendo didn’t want to take away from that unmistakeable charm of the Nintendo 64 stages.

Some of the new stages include a New Donk City Hall stage inspired by Super Mario Odyssey and a Magicant stage from Mother. And if you want to keep a more grounded feel while playing Smash Ultimate, you can change each stage to its omega (flat) or battlefield (flat with three platforms) version.

If you’re into items and assist trophies, there were a whole bunch of those revealed too, including a bunch of Pokémon that will fight by your side like Alolan Exeggutor, Mimikyu, Solgaleo, and Lunala.

New items include a banana gun, a terrifying death scythe, an evil mushroom that reverses opponents’ control, and a rage gun that does more damage the higher your own percent meter is.

Assist trophies include Kapp’n from Animal Crossing, Chef Kawasaki from Kirby, Gray Fox from Metal Gear Solid, and Shovel Knight, who digs up food for you.

Nintendo also revealed some new game modes and changes to gameplay, including the ability to charge Final Smash moves during matches and a new tournament mode for large groups of competitive-minded players.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate arrives on Nintendo Switch Dec. 7.

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This Restaurant In Denmark Ages Their Steaks INSIDE Of A Butter Cocoon And Holy Crap Does This Look Amazing

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I haven’t even eaten breakfast yet and here I am, daydreaming about this steak in Denmark that’s aged INSIDE of a block of salted butter for over a month.

There are a lot of chefs and restaurants who go viral for creating outrageous dishes that look cool on Instagram but *probably* don’t taste too great, Chef Casper Stuhr Sobczyk is not one of those chefs.

For his work at the Marienlyst Strandhotel in Denmark, Chef Casper is making headlines all across the world of gastronomy for his pioneering approach to aging steaks. In this clip from INSIDER, the chef from Helsingør, Denmark breaks down the differences between dry aging and wet aging steaks and how aging a steak locked inside a cocoon of butter is the perfect way to create a world-class steak:

Here’s a YouTube version of that video if you’d rather watch on YouTube than Twitter:

Here’s what the finished product looks like:

Instagram Photo

As you can imagine, after this video from INSIDER hit Twitter a lot of food-loving individuals like myself had some very strong and visceral reactions to the idea that you could physically age a steak inside of butter.

I must admit, this reaction pretty much summed up my feelings about this butter-aged steak. It’s not a mere want, it’s a necessity that I try this at some point:

So, who else is ready to book some flights to Denmark? I hear it’s a rowdy place to spend New Year’s Eve.

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Emails show how $2 billion electric scooter startup Bird is copying Uber’s playbook to conquer new markets

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Woman Bird electric scooter

  • US scooter startups such as Bird wouldn’t exist if Uber hadn’t pioneered its ride-sharing model around the world.
  • That’s because Uber paved the way in taking on entrenched transport rules and winning, if not always through legitimate means.
  • Uber came up with a new way of communicating with regulators, selling itself as a solution to city congestion, pollution, and car ownership.
  • Emails obtained by Business Insider show how scooter startup Bird has borrowed this language to try and win regulatory approval.

Make no mistake, if Uber didn’t exist, neither would the new crop of electric scooter startups that are currently exploding across the US right now.

Startups such as Bird, Lime, and Jump have taken off with their concept of spicing up the city commute with rented electric scooters. Riders can simply find an electric scooter, use an app to "unlock" it, and then pay a small amount per minute of use.

All owe a debt to Uber. The ride-hailing company pioneered the idea of on-demand transport powered by an app, and it was nothing short of a revolution. With that concept firmly embedded in commuters’ minds, the idea of dockless bicycles and hired electric scooters doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

As others have pointed out, there are other similarities between Uber and scooter-hire companies. The most obvious is investing huge amounts of capital to expand quickly and flood the market with product, be that private hire vehicles or electric scooters.

And the Uber comparisons don’t end with the business model.

Emails obtained by Business Insider through a Freedom of Information request show how Bird is also copying Uber’s language in its communications with government and regulators as it bids to crack new markets.

Those emails not only reveal how Bird is lobbying to allow electric scooters in the UK, where they are illegal, but also how Uber has influenced the way the company is selling itself to regulators and the government.

Here are five ways Bird is copying Uber:

1. We reduce car ownership

bird scooter

One of the cleverest Silicon Valley tricks Uber pulled off was selling the narrative that its service isn’t about providing cheap cabs, but about killing the car.

The company has long billed itself as the alternative to unsustainable car ownership, a concept it also uses to combat accusations that its drivers increase city congestion and, by extension, pollution.

Bird’s European chief, Patrick Studener, echoed that language in an email to London’s transport regulator, Transport for London (TfL, in April about how electric scooters can reduce car ownership.

"At Bird we are still very young but our mission is to get more cars off the road and help give cities back to the people who live in them," he enthused. "We figured a good place to start might be the roughly 40% of all car rides that are less than 3km long and replacing them with electronic scooters."

Bird email

2. We decrease pollution and congestion

traffic

The natural corollary of boasting about reduced car ownership is that you can also boast that you help reduce CO2 emissions, city congestion, and pollution.

In January 2017, Uber told the UK government that its drivers were "unlikely to contribute meaningfully towards congestion," because most passengers use its service in the evenings, when congestion is low anyway. It also argued that its shared ride service, UberPOOL, could cut congestion and that its service frees up car parking spaces.

Bird’s Studener wrote in his April email that scooters "reduces congestion on the roads, as well as frees up significant amounts of parking space which can be repurposed over time."

He continued: "Most importantly [this] reduces the CO2 that is pumped into our cities which although we can not see it does have a lasting effect on us and future generations."

Bird avoided mentioning issues of oversupply. San Francisco cracked down on electric scooters because they were clogging up pavements.

3. We solve the "last-mile" problem

taxi

When Uber was up before the UK government talking about whether it contributed to congestion, the company consistently argued that it was most popular in the suburbs.

It said it was solving the so-called ‘last-mile problem’, where a person (or an item) can travel most of the way to their destination, but then the last leg — getting from a bus or train station to the home — is more difficult and expensive.

"We found that one in four Uber journeys in London is to or from a tube or train station. As well as using public transport services, people use it for the first and last mile of their journey, whether late at night or early in the morning," policy chief Andrew Byrne said in 2017. Uber even argued that it should receive subsidies for complementing public transport.

Bird likewise argued that it solved the last-mile problem. "Our commitment is to launch Birds in locations where mobility is still an issue. This includes areas of low income / property but also areas with an underserved transport infrastructure," wrote Richard Corbett, Bird’s UK head, in a June message to TfL.

4. Your laws are antiquated and blocking innovation

horse carriage

Before Uber adopted a more conciliatory approach to regulators, the company would regularly criticise "outdated laws" that threatened to regulate its service.

Uber faces regulation as a transport rather than tech company after a European ruling last year and the company responded badly at the time. "[This] will undermine the much needed reform of outdated laws which prevent millions of Europeans from accessing a reliable ride at the tap of a button," a spokesman said.

Both Studener and Corbett from Bird adopted a similar tone in their emails on being told that electric scooters are illegal on UK streets and pavements. That’s per the 1835 Highway Act, which says people can’t use a "carriage" of any description on pavements, and newer legal standards which require scooters to be registered as vehicles.

"The legislation that is in effect is 100+ years old…" complained Corbett, referencing the Highway Act. "I cannot stand back and allow my home country to fall behind — especially when the benefit of our solution would be to reduce car usage… "

Elsewhere, Studener suggests that the law might need an update. "We fully appreciate that this might require reviewing the laws mentioned dating back as far back as 1835… as things hopefully moved into a better direction versus 183 years ago," he said.

Bird email

5. We can help make cities smarter by sharing data

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Uber, with its mountains of data about where people are picked up and dropped off, was until recently unwilling to help city planners design for changes in people’s habits by sharing its data. But it changed tack and began sharing data with cities at the beginning of 2017.

Bird only makes a brief reference to data sharing, but you can hear the echoes of Uber. Bird said it works "closely" with cities to share information, and even promises to share revenue to fund sustainability projects. "The more Birds are used instead of cars, the more projects are funded," Studener wrote.

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SEE ALSO: Private emails reveal how multibillion-dollar startups Bird and Lime are lobbying to launch their illegal scooters in Britain

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Anki’s Vector robot brings us one step closer to ‘Star Wars’ Droids

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In my many years testing all sorts of gadgets, few things have elicited as much spontaneous joy as Anki’s Cozmo, its adorable robot for kids. Mostly, that was because it had a personality. Behind all of the sensors, cameras and other hardware, there was a team of animators breathing life into it. Now, Anki is taking everything it learned from Cozmo and putting it in a bigger, more powerful home robot: Vector. And unlike Cozmo, you won’t need a phone to play with it.

Vector is meant to be always on, always listening and always ready to play. Think of it as your new robot pet — or the closest thing to one of those tiny Star Wars Droids that were always buzzing around the floor. Once you get it connected to a Wi-Fi network with your phone, you won’t need any other device to use it. You could just sit back and watch as it explores its immediate environment, like Cozmo. But since it’s autonomous and cloud connected, you can also treat it like a virtual assistant by shouting "Hey Vector" and issuing a command, like "What’s the weather in Seattle?"

At launch, Vector can do things you’d typically use Alexa or Siri for, like setting a timer, or asking general questions. But like its younger sibling, it can also memorize your face with its camera and learn your name when you say it aloud. That lets it say hello to you properly when you come home after a long day, without any prompting. It’ll probably be a while before we see something like that with Amazon’s Echo.

During my brief demo, Vector learned my name after I said it once, which was impressive enough on its own. In comparison, you have to type out your name for its younger sibling to understand it. After I told Vector who I was, it bopped around the coffee table where its charger was sitting, returned to me, made a face like a toddler trying to concentrate real hard, and said my name aloud. I know it’s just computer vision and algorithms that lets it do that, but that tiny moment was enough for me to feel a connection with Vector.

Devindra Hardwar/Engadget

Like Cozmo, Vector can also be a bit of a spunky jerk, which makes it all the more endearing. If you block its path, or pick it up, it could react like a frustrated child who doesn’t want to be bothered. But it’s still plenty smart: It won’t fall off edges, thanks to its four infra-red cliff sensors, and it’ll make its way back to its charger when the battery gets low. It can even play a game of Blackjack.

While it seems like an expensive toy at first, Anki co-founder and CEO Boris Sofman says it’ll get even smarter over time, since it has a constant connection to the cloud. Under the hood, Vector is powered by Qualcomm’s quad-core APQ8009 processor, which includes support for the robot’s AI capabilities, as well as its ultra-wide 120-degree HD camera.

Vector is Anki’s latest play to bring a robot into every home, Sofman tells Engadget. And while that might seem lofty, the company already had a huge success with Cozmo. Last year, it was the top selling toy on Amazon in the US, Canada and France. Anki has sold over 1.5 million robots so far, which includes Cozmo and its Overdrive racing cars. Sofman is also gearing up for another major product in 2020, which he hints will build on everything Anki has done so far.

Making progress with shipping products is a better way to bring robots into our lives than something like Honda’s humanoid ASIMO bot, Sofman said. That project was announced way back in the year 2000 (Honda had been exploring walking robots since 1986), and was last updated in 2011. In the end, ASIMO was never released and Honda killed it off in June. So long, robot butler.

Vector will cost $249 when it arrives on October 12th, but early adopters in the US can snag it for $199 through Anki’s new Kickstarter campaign until September 6th. Backers will also receive the robot a bit early on October 9th. Anki also plans to launch an SDK for Vector this winter, allowing users to train it in entirely new ways.

Source: Anki, Kickstarter

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Meet Dr. Laser — the mastermind behind holography’s past and future

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Jason Arthur Sapan, more commonly known as Dr. Laser, is the last professional holographer in NYC and, well, probably the world. Dr. Laser takes us on a journey through the world of lasers, holographs, and how this seemingly simple marriage of art and science isn’t just a childhood novelty. Read more…

More about Science, Art, Mashable Video, Lasers, and Holography

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How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Portraits

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We’ve all seen the usual studio set up –  beautifully crisp white light, maybe some strobes, diffusers, and other things of the sort. However, what can you do beyond that to make your portraits stand out? Add some color! In this article, learn how to use colored gels to add some spice to your images.

musician portrait with pink background - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Colored gels are filters that go on your light in order to change the output color. They are usually sold at photography stores and clamped onto your lights. They range in size, thickness, color cast, and most importantly, price. Be very mindful of how hot your lights are because we’ve had gels melt on the set before during long sessions (such as music videos). 

However, you can also make your own colored gels using cellophane and tape. Just take some really saturated cellophane from a local party or art store and wrap them around your softbox or LED light (so long as the LED runs cold and won’t melt the plastic paper) and fasten with tape.

This may not look like the most professional setup, but I suppose that matters little so long as the final outcome is fantastic!

spooky photo with double exposures - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

There are limitless possibilities with gels. In regard to color combinations, I suggest making sure all of your gels are saturated the same in order to match with one another (and not become a headache in the editing room later).

Here are some of my favorite gel lighting arrangements to create some new and unique imagery. As a personal preference, I use continuous light, but the same can be achieved with studio strobes or speedlights.

One Color Gel Setup

The simplest and most traditional gel lighting look. There isn’t any fancy setup for this look, you can photograph your model in any fashion and just replace the white light with a color. Make sure your colored gel is really vibrant or the image may fall flat. 

portrait of a girl with amber gel - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Play with distance, shutter speed, and some light post-processing to see how far you can get the light to spread. That can add a unique and unexpected twist to your one-light setup!

A good use of the one color set up is backlighting! Take your light and place it behind the subject.

backlighting with gels - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Double Colored Gel Setup

My personal favorite is the double colored gel setup. All this requires is two lights, each gelled with different colors. Set them to the side of your model and watch the magic happen!

The division can be very eye-catching and intriguing.

model with red and green lights - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

lighting diagram - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Be mindful of your model’s physical structure. You want to make sure that the color division hits the proper place. Aim for the lighting to (generally) divide right at the center of the nose (split lighting).

Tri-Color Gel Setup

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

You can go as intense with colors as you like, but when I do three color looks, I like one of those colors to be white. The white softens the whole look and doesn’t make it overly exaggerated.

However, if you prefer a color, I suggest placing a lighter color in the center of your arrangement and the darker colors on the sides.

portrait with 3 colors of light - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

For three color looks, my favorite arrangement is the traditional triangle light setup. This includes one light in front of the subject and two lights at the sides.

Depending on the look you want to achieve, you can set up the two side lights behind the model and just turn them towards the model. That keeps the light from being too harsh. For a more intense look, place the lights directly at the model’s sides.

lighting diagram - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Rim Light Colored Gel Setup

girl with rim lighting - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Always a very dramatic and edgy look, using gels for rim lights can bring a bit of flair to your portraits. It does depend on your model’s structure as to where you place the lights. What I do is set up a white light in front of the model and two colored gels on lights to the side pointed forward.

The best colors I’ve found for the rim light look are purples, blues, reds, and greens – oranges tend to get a bit lost with the white light.

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Background Light Gel Setup

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

The quickest way to liven up any location is to aim some lights with colored gels attached toward the background wall.

You can photograph your subject in any traditional studio light manner, and just shoot two gelled lights to the back wall. This allows your subject to be really well separated from the background (something we always strive for in studio photography).

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Now go out there and play with colors!

The post How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Pearl Jam’s benefit concerts will do more than just raise millions for Seattle homelessness crisis

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You might know Pearl Jam as the world’s most famous grunge band, or the soundtrack of your adolescent angst, or a group of talented yet totally reluctant rock stars. But Pearl Jam is also famous for taking a stand — and it’s doing exactly that in Seattle this week. 

The group is currently leveraging its star power to draw attention to the city’s homelessness crisis. With a pair of benefit concerts dubbed the Home Shows, a day of volunteerism between the performances on Aug. 8 and 10, and a successful effort to raise at least $10 million for the community, advocates say Pearl Jam has galvanized Seattleites in unprecedented ways. 

Stone Gossard, one of the band’s guitarists, said it just made sense for him and his bandmates — frontman Eddie Vedder, guitarist Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament, and drummer Matt Cameron — to step up.

“It was the simple fact that we all live here, and like anyone else who’s lived here for awhile — not to mention their whole lives, like some of us — we’ve seen the changes happening in our community,” he wrote in an email. “You can’t not see the increasing numbers of people who need help.” 

What seems obvious to one rock star, though, might look like daunting risk to another. There’s the danger of alienating fans who bristle at being told which causes they should care about, countless opportunities for a public relations nightmare, and the possibility that your good intentions could morph into opportunism or exploitation. Pearl Jam has managed to avoid those pitfalls and given other artists — and their communities — an example of what civic responsibility can look like at the local level when embraced by rock stars. 

The Home Shows are the band’s first Seattle gig in five years, so of course they sold out quickly. The performances are expected to draw 90,000 people from all over the world (full disclosure: this reporter will be in attendance, rocking out). 

The band, along with other members of the community, is matching donations (up to $960,000) to a new fundraising campaign called the Home Fund. It also enlisted dozens of major local businesses and sports teams, including Starbucks, Nordstrom, and the Seattle Mariners, to contribute to that fund. So far the band has raised a total of $11.5 million, which will eventually be distributed to local organizations working to alleviate and reduce homelessness in the Seattle area. 

Though planning for the Home Shows began last fall, the buildup for the performances came at an ideal time. A McKinsey&Company report published in May argued that homelessness has soared  over recent years in King County thanks to the steep rise in home rental prices — not because of population growth or the poverty level. While shelters and nonprofit organizations have gotten better at housing people, more people are becoming homeless, and the system to help them is overwhelmed with demand. 

Nearly 12,000 people are homeless on any given night in King County, and the McKinsey report estimated that spending needs to double to provide permanent shelter to those currently without a home. 

Meanwhile, the city just emerged from a bruising fight over a business tax that would’ve generated tens of millions of dollars for affordable housing. The tax was passed and then, following outcry from companies, repealed by the Seattle City Council in less than a month. (Amazon, which is a Home Shows partner, suggested it might leave the city over the bill.)

So if some homegrown rock stars want to take a crack at encouraging Seattleites to solve this complex problem, advocates are happy — even overjoyed — to let them try. 

“I feel this surge of this enthusiasm for these concerns.”

“I think folks were feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s nothing that can be done,’ but I feel this surge of this enthusiasm for these concerns,” said Lauren McGowan, senior director for ending homelessness and poverty at United Way of King County, which is a key Home Shows partner, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Schultz Family Foundation. “It really has reunited our community and reinvigorated people.” 

Pearl Jam invited ticket buyers to sign up for a Home Shows newsletter and more than 20,000 people signed up. Each issue contains information about how to help, along with videos and interviews with people experiencing homelessness.   

The Home Shows have also created somewhat of a fundraising frenzy. All sorts of initiatives have sprung up to promote the cause. Two winemakers who happen to be lifelong Pearl Jam fans made box sets of its “cult wine,” complete with “Home Show” labels designed by the band’s team, and sold them for $150 to benefit the Home Fund. They ran out of the 450 sets within minutes. More than 80 restaurants will donate a portion of their sales to the Home Shows fund on Aug. 8. 

The band released tickets to local nonprofit organizations for their own fundraising. McGowan said she was pleasantly surprised when new donors started sending in checks for thousands of dollars just to get a pair of coveted Home Show tickets. (Free passes have also been set aside for people who have experienced homelessness.)

The influx of cash is critical for the fund and organizations that serve the local homeless population, which is why there are concerted efforts to ensure it makes a real difference in the community. The band set up an 11-member advisory committee of advocates, funders, and experts to manage the distribution of money as well as to set the tone for the messaging around the effort. Gossard attended some of those meetings and, along with McCready, has appeared in YouTube videos that focus on the work of local leaders.  

Gossard said that highlighting their efforts is “one of the perks that comes with being in a band of some stature.” 

“It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take energy, and it’s going to take empathy.” 

“By focusing attention on the people on the front line — and I mean advocates and people experiencing homelessness — we have a chance to engage people in the issue,” he wrote. “Because making progress is going to take more than money. It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take energy, and it’s going to take empathy.” 

Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, a nonprofit organization that works with American Indian and Alaska Native people experiencing homelessness, appeared alongside both band members in a video, and serves on the advisory committee. 

“They’re bringing together the right people who know this work and who know to tackle it,” she said. “I think the beauty of this process and of the band getting involved is we’re able to reach this broader population that is not involved in the minutiae of [advocacy].” 

Both Echohawk and McGowan are hopeful that the Home Shows will create new momentum and political will to solve the problem of homelessness in Seattle and the broader region. That could translate, for example, into new support and taxpayer funding for affordable housing, new or increased commitment from volunteers, and more financial support for the nonprofit and grassroots organization serving people experiencing homelessness.  

“If it really can be something that helps to change the game and helps to reunite our community and bring folks forward toward a common vision and identifying more resources, that’s going to be a huge win,” McGowan said. 

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