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Archive for May 3rd, 2019

The Australian company that banned work on Wednesdays

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I actually did work for a year teaching at a private school where Wednesdays were a half-day, school ending at noon. It was quite nice. Celina Ribeiro reports for the BBC:

On Wednesdays, while most of her friends are at work, Tiffany Schrauwen is on the tennis court, practising her backhand. The Melbourne project manager has a lesson all to herself at 09:00, and it can’t be bad for her game.

Schrauwen isn’t slacking off. For nearly a year, digital marketing agency Versa – where she works – has shut down on Wednesdays, giving staff a four-day week at five days’ pay.

Employees at the company do a standard-length day on Mondays and Tuesdays, then return for another two on Thursday and Friday. No meetings are scheduled for Wednesdays – however, if a client has urgent work that needs doing, workers will pick up the phone.

When Schrauwen first was told of the plan, she was excited, then wary – she was worried about how it would work; as project manager, she was the main contact for both staff and clients, so she stood to bear the brunt of any missed deadlines, stress or broken lines of communication.

But Versa staff reorganised their work patterns to become more efficient. She’ll arrange to have certain tasks completed by the midweek break, meetings are more focused and idle chatter less appealing. Every two weeks the company also reviews what has worked and what hasn’t.  “Everyone wants it to work because we love having the flexibility,” says Schrauwen. “If I want to keep that Wednesday off, I prep my week better.”

Making it work

The policy was implemented in July last year. Since then, revenue at the Australian company has increased by 46%, and profits nearly tripled, says its CEO and founder Kath Blackham. Blackham is reluctant to credit the four day week with the entirety of the performance. “We win work because we’re known for having great work,” she says, but adds the fact the agency has very low turnover and consistent teams working on briefs can be hugely appealing for potential business partners.

It is vindication for Blackham, who – after a decade of “weird and wonderful goes at flexibility” – had to convince her leadership team to trial the Wednesday-less week and vow to return to five days if it failed. She founded the company with a toddler and baby in tow, determined to head a high-performing enterprise that respected the need for flexibility.

“What I set out to prove was that in one of the most unlikely industries – a service-based industry known for young people working super long hours – it can work if you come up with something innovative,” says Blackham.

A mid-week break lets staff go to the gym, get on top of house work, look after young children, schedule appointments, work on their start-up or just watch Netflix. Sometimes, they’ll catch up on work. Sick days are down, staff satisfaction is up, says Blackham. “You get that Monday feeling a couple of times a week.”

Why Wednesdays?

That Monday feeling of productivity was critical to Blackham’s decision to break the week into two “mini-weeks”, rather than creating a long weekend, which she feared may encourage her predominantly young staff to “have an even bigger weekend”. She’d also found that letting staff choose their own days off meant it was often unclear to other employees or clients when that staff member was available, and that hit productivity.

Professor Jarrod Haar isn’t surprised that dropping Wednesday has proven so successful for Versa. As professor of human resource management at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, as part of his own research Haar has interviewed employees on rotating four-day weeks, and found they most enjoyed the Wednesdays off.

For employers, shutting down mid-week gives “more bang for your buck”. he says. “The Wednesday break means you return to Thursday fresh, and this is when people feel most productive.”

Haar has tracked New Zealand estate management company Perpetual Guardian, which made headlines last year when it trialled a four-day week without any loss in productivity. Sick days were down, staff wellbeing was up, but the company did lose some staff who proved incompatible with flexible, condensed working.

‘A cause whose time has come’

For Andrew Barnes, CEO and owner of Perpetual Guardian, the four-day week is “a cause whose time has come”. While Versa’s Blackham was motivated by a desire to make workplaces more flexible and balanced, Barnes was prompted by a study that found workers were only productive for around two and a half hours a day. There had to be a better way to organise work time, he thought. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 May 2019 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

An Unexpected (Electrical) Current That’s Remaking American Politics

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Mihael Grunwald reports in Politico:

At the annual National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in Washington this month, President Donald Trump made news with some curious remarks about wind power. What went viral was his untrue suggestion that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer, but his warning that home values instantly plunge 75 percent when a windmill is built nearby was equally false. He also claimed wind power is inordinately expensive, when in fact in much of America it is now the cheapest source of electricity. The president then play-acted a scene of a woman complaining to her husband about wind power’s supposed unreliability: “I can’t watch television, darling. Darling, please tell the wind to blow!”

That was baseless, too, yet at the same time it actually did refer to a serious challenge for the clean energy revolution: the “intermittency” of wind and solar electricity. As more renewable power replaces Trump’s preferred coal plants, and more states aim to eliminate fossil fuels from their electric grids, utilities are grappling with how to make sure they can ensure uninterrupted service when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. Some states are already starting to get major portions of their electricity from renewables, and while the president’s exaggerated scenario of weather-dependent TV reflects his general disdain for climate-friendly technologies, reliability could become an increasingly formidable problem as the grid gets increasingly green.

But now another technology revolution is underway that could help solve that problem: an electricity storage boom. The cost of lithium-ion batteries has plunged 85 percent in a decade, and 30 percent in just the past year, so utilities across the U.S. have started attaching containers full of them to the grid—and they’re planning to install far more of them in the coming years. Electricity has always been the toughest commodity to manage, because unlike water, grain, fuel or steel, it has been largely impossible to store for later use. But that is changing fast, and even though the dramatic growth of batteries on the grid will be invisible to most Americans, it has the potential to transform how we produce and consume power, creating more flexible and resilient electricity systems with less waste, lower costs and fewer emissions.

“This will be like the change from analog to digital, or landlines to cell phones,” says Advanced Microgrid Systems CEO Susan Kennedy, whose firm’s software helps utilities optimize their power choices every instant of every day. “The energy industry will never be the same.”

Electricity storage will reshape the grid in many ways, but the most important is its potential to accelerate the already explosive growth of renewable energy—and that will have political implications. Of the 21 states with the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, Trump won 20 of them, and the lone exception, New Mexico, just passed a law committing to 100 percent clean power by 2045. By contrast, Hillary Clinton won the eight states with the lowest emissions per capita. But that carbon divide is not necessarily permanent. Eighty percent of the wind power installed during Trump’s presidency has been built in states he won, and the five most wind-dependent states were all Trump states. And while the storage boom started in blue states like California and Hawaii, it is taking off in Texas, Florida, and the rest of Red America as well. Polls suggest “clean energy” is now popular throughout the country, even though “climate action” is not, and there are now more than 3 million clean energy jobs in America, versus only 50,000 coal-mining jobs. The president’s fossil-fueled rhetoric no longer reflects the reality on the ground. And the politics of energy might become less partisan in a world in which renewable power becomes much more common.

The energy world really is changing at the speed of light. Wind and solar generation has almost quintupled in the past decade, providing 9 percent of U.S. electricity last year without emitting any greenhouse gases. This has further complicated the already daunting task of balancing supply and demand on the grid every instant, forcing utilities to respond to every passing cloud and lull in the wind. The rise of Big Data has helped to identify where more electrons are needed in real time, while new transmission lines have helped move electrons longer distances to meet those needs. But lithium-ion batteries were too expensive to use to capture power on the grid before yet another technology transformation—the growth of electric vehicles, from zero a decade ago to more than 1 million on American roads today—drove down their costs through mass production.

Now grid storage is poised to grow at a faster pace than the electric cars that made it cost-effective, and even faster than the renewables it will help to accommodate on the grid. Last year, Florida Power & Light completed a 10-megawatt grid battery hailed as the largest of its kind in the world; last month, FPL announced a battery project more than 40 times larger. Republican regulators in Arizona recently approved more than twice as much power storage in their state as the entire country installed last year; Hawaii is building more than three times as much, and California nearly five times as much. Tom Buttgenbach, the CEO of 8minutenergy Renewables, says his firm alone has signed contracts to build nearly a gigawatt of grid storage in the U.S., more than two thirds of the current nationwide total, in just the past four months.

Overall, the consultancy Wood Mackenzie expects U.S. storage additions to double in 2019, triple in 2020 and increase 13-fold over the next five years, which would store enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes. The forecasters at Bloomberg New Energy Finance expect more than $600 billion in global investment in battery storage by 2040. The storage boom, like so many green trends in America, first took hold in California, but Ravi Manghani, the head of energy storage research at Wood Mackenzie, says it is spreading much faster than anyone expected, ending the era when power had to be distributed and used the instant it was generated.

“Every time we do a new forecast, we have to revise it up for deployment and down for cost,” says Ravi Manghani, head of energy storage research at Wood Mackenzie. “We’ve been proven wrong again and again.”

Thanks to the dizzying cost declines, utilities are now building new wind and solar farms accompanied by new battery storage for less than they would pay to build new fossil-fuel plants—and in some cases less than they would pay to run existing fossil-fuel plants. Pairing renewables with storage lets grid operators fill in gaps when the weather isn’t cooperating and dispatch power in more predictable ways when it’s needed most. The batteries can hold excess solar power early in the day, for example, to use during the late afternoon peak, reducing the need for costly natural gas “peaker plants” that have to be powered up whenever demand spikes. Manghani of Wood Mackenzie says utilities might substitute battery storage for up to 80 percent of the gas peakers they had planned to build by 2026. Jigar Shah, the founder of the pioneering solar company Sun Edison and now the president of the clean energy finance firm Generate Capital, believes hundreds of billions of dollars worth of fossil-fueled peaker plants that often run just a few hundred hours a year might soon be mothballed for good.

Kelly Speakes-Backman, CEO of the Energy Storage Association that represents the industry, worked for Sun Edison at the dawn of the solar boom, and she’s feeling déjà vu. She remembers that one week she would hear about the largest solar project in the country, only to hear about a new largest project the next week. The idea of converting sunshine into power was starting to capture imaginations then; now the idea of holding onto that power so it can be dispatched where it’s needed is generating the same kind of excitement among energy wonks.

“It’s funny, people have always talked about how it would be awesome if storage happened someday,” Speakes-Backman says. “It’s happening now.”

Shah says the spectacular growth in storage built by utilities alongside solar plants might eventually be dwarfed by homes and businesses installing “behind-the-meter” battery units to store solar power from their rooftops; last year, 15,000 individual battery storage units like the Tesla PowerWall were installed in the U.S., still a tiny slice of the market but a fivefold increase over the previous year. Utilities are also building batteries alongside wind farms, storing excess nighttime generation for use during morning peaks when families are getting ready for work and school. The Southwest Power Pool, which runs the grid serving 14 states in the windy and predominantly Republican middle of the country, now has 5 gigawatts worth of storage projects in its queue, nearly four times the current U.S. total.

“It gives you an idea of the magnitude of interest,” says Bruce Rew, vice president for operations. “We’ve got lots of wind, and storage will help us manage it.”

Rew says grid operators used to fret that they wouldn’t be able to guarantee reliability once renewables constituted 25 percent of their loads, but the Southwest Power Pool now routinely handles 50 percent and even 60 percent generation from wind while keeping the lights on without interruption. There was one afternoon last month when California’s grid was receiving more than two-thirds of its power from solar with no reliability problems at all. . .

Continue reading. There much more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 May 2019 at 1:53 pm

A Sociologist of Religion on Protestants, Porn, and the “Purity Industrial Complex”

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Isaac Chotiner writes in the New Yorker:

In his new book, “Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants,” Samuel L. Perry draws on interviews and survey data to show how the availability of Internet porn is affecting traditional, religious Christians. Focussing on America’s Protestant majority, and specifically its pious members, Perry finds that pornography is leading to depression and unhappiness, and it’s disrupting marriages and communities. His book is not an anti-pornography jeremiad; he’s a sociologist of religion, and his work raises questions about how conservative communities are dealing with easy access to material that they find sinful.

I recently spoke by phone with Perry, who teaches at the University of Oklahoma. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why porn use might be affecting conservative Protestants more than other conservative religious groups, the different ways that religious Americans think about masturbation within the context of marriage, and whether he has changed his views on pornography since starting his research.

How are you defining conservative Protestants?

I went back and forth on whether or not to call this group evangelicals, and I decided not to. For all intents and purposes, we’re talking primarily about evangelical Christians. My decision to avoid the term evangelical is because I don’t necessarily have the political connotations in mind that people think about when they think of white evangelicals, especially since 2016. The people who I’m really talking about are theologically conservative Protestants. People who take the Bible very seriously and take the Christian sexual ethic very seriously.

What was your biggest takeaway from the surveys you studied and your own interviews?

Pornography is becoming more widespread, more prevalent. More people are viewing it than ever, and it’s becoming more mainstream than ever. And so there’s this big debate about whether or not pornography has consequences in people’s lives: whether it can be addicting and whether it can affect us in negative ways; make you chronically impotent or make you a sex monster. What I found is that, whatever we think pornography is doing, those effects tend to be amplified when we’re talking about conservative Protestants. It seems to be uniquely harmful to conservative Protestants’ mental health, their sense of self, their own identities—certainly their intimate relationships—in ways that don’t tend to be as harmful for people who don’t have that kind of moral problem with it.

The effects of pornography aren’t just about watching images on a computer screen but what that activity means to your community. It’s what that activity means to you. And so, with conservative Protestants, you have this fascinating paradox of a group of people who hate pornography morally. They want to eradicate it from the world. And yet, statistically, they will view it slightly less often than your average American. And so you have this paradoxical situation of a group of people who collectively hate it, and yet, as individuals, they semi-regularly watch it. Especially the men. What are the consequences of that kind of incongruence in their lives?

What are the individual consequences, and what are the larger consequences for their communities?

Well, in terms of individual consequences, what we find is that, more often, there’s a connection between viewing pornography and experiencing depression. But we found it’s really only for men who are violating their own moral beliefs when they’re viewing it. In other words, it’s not necessarily that porn makes you depressed. It’s watching porn when you’ve already said that that’s an immoral thing and you don’t want to do it. That can lead to guilt and shame that makes you feel crappy about yourself, that you are immoral, that you’re violating something that’s deeply held and sacred.

And yet they watch it just a little bit less than everybody else does, which means that they are experiencing this kind of moral incongruence quite often, and it has consequences for their mental health. They have a greater likelihood of experiencing depression and depressive symptoms, like feeling bad about yourself, feeling like there’s a sadness that you can’t shake. This also has to do with the experience of feeling like you need to hide or lie about it.

Conservative Protestant women who view pornography experience this even more than men. Conservative Protestants tend to be what we would call “complementarian” in their views of gender—they believe that women have certain roles and that men have certain roles, and that they’re designed by God in different ways. And a corollary of this idea of complementarianism is that women and men believe that they have different sexual appetites, that men are more physical and more attracted to the visual. And so men and porn just kind of go together like hand in glove.

That’s not a good metaphor.

Yeah, sorry. But for women, if they are lusting over things visually—if they are looking at things like pornography and masturbating to them or getting turned on—they really feel like an extreme pervert. They experience what I would call a double shame. They are violating their own sexuality in a way that God doesn’t want. So they’re sinning, but they’re also sinning like a man. And so they feel trapped. They feel like there’s nobody they can talk to, because nobody else understands that experience. They don’t have pastors they can talk to, because most of the pastors are men, and they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing those kinds of experiences. And so a lot of the Christian women feel like you have to deal with that temptation alone.

What are some of the larger cultural consequences?

Let me give you one more example of the individual consequences. One of the things that repeatedly came up is that pornography tends to be associated with poor relationship quality.

So you mean people who view more porn are in worse relationships? . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

3 May 2019 at 10:03 am

The former lead designer of Gmail just fixed Gmail on his own

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Mark Wilson writes at Fast Company:

Michael Leggett is even more annoyed with Gmail than you are.

“It’s like Lucky Charms got spewed all over the screen,” he says to me, as he scrolls through his inbox. It’s true. Folders, contacts, Google apps like Docs and Drive–and at least half a dozen notifications–all clutter Gmail at any given moment. And of course, there’s that massive Gmail logo that sits in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Just in case you forgot that you just typed “” into your browser bar three seconds ago. “Go look at any desktop app and tell me how many have a huge fucking logo in the top left,” rants Leggett. “C’mon. It’s pure ego, pure bullshit. Drop the logo. Give me a break.”

Rather than sit there and stew, Leggett decided to do something about it: He created a free Chrome extension called Simplify, where all the extraneous folders and functions overloading Gmail seem to melt away, leaving you with a calm screen and nothing but your messages. It’s understatedly beautiful, and every button just seems like it’s in the right place. In fact, it feels a little too good for some random free Chrome extension made by some random developer. Let’s just say that Leggett was highly qualified for the job.

You see, Leggett was actually the lead designer for Gmail from 2008 to 2012. He also cofounded the since-discontinued Inbox, which attempted to reimagine Gmail for the modern era. After leaving Google in 2015, he did a short stint at Facebook working on Messenger, before landing at Nori, a company addressing climate change with blockchain where he still works. Still, in his off hours, Gmail’s design continues to haunt him. He’s long known that the platform is something of a necessary evil for most of us. “It’s a survival mechanism,” he says to me. “You look at bad UI all day long and probably get used to tuning it out.”

Leggett has been trying to fix Gmail for over a decade. He remembers developing a massively complex Gmail concept back in 2008, that wrapped many of Google’s services into Gmail itself, with things like your Docs and chat filling tiny windows in a single browser screen. “We gave that to Larry and Sergey, and they were like, ‘This looks awful,’” Leggett recounts. “We walked out of the meeting and said, ‘They’re right. This is awful . . . that’s what led to Inbox.”

It would take six years and two redesigns to eventually launch Inbox, which became known as the better version of Gmail–with swipe gestures, smart categorizing your mail into purchases and finances, and an airier design scheme.

But even Inbox was a consolation for Leggett. “The original vision was much, much bigger than email,” says Leggett. “It was an app to replace every Google app but Search. It was a personal information app. It had a lot of different data sources–some even outside Google. It was like your inbox for the web, News, Calendar, and Docs.” Ultimately, management had decided that Google services should stay disparate. Leggett would grow frustrated by the frequent futility of working inside the big machine. “I jumped off in 2012, in part because I moved to Seattle, in part because I felt like it was dead man walking,” says Leggett. “The best I could hope for is, it’s really good and Google will force people to switch to Inbox, or it’s really good and they take the best features and put into Gmail.” The latter happened, to some extent. Gmail got tools like Smart Reply, Snooze (which allow you to silence an email until later), better gestures, and new emails that popped up in tiny windows, allowing you to multitask.

After leaving Google, and in his spare time, Leggett began developing a Chrome extension that would fix what frustrated him most about Gmail–first and foremost, what he sees as the app’s excessive visual noise. The extension was a personal project for himself and some acquaintances, and it wasn’t the first such extension he’s built. He’s developed over a dozen extensions that redesign sites around the web to his liking. “I’m not the world’s best designer by any means,” he admits. “But when something bothers me, I feel a need to do something about it.”

When Google announced the cancellation of Inbox, a good friend encouraged him to “just put your thing out there.” Mostly working alone, Leggett polished his extension into Simplify. Still, he sat on the project rather than going public. He wanted to give Google one last chance. Knowing that Gmail’s 15-year anniversary was April 1 and the company had teased some announcements, he thought that might include a revamp of Gmail’s design. Instead, the company announced the option to preschedule an email (“something we talked about for years and years,” he says). So he launched Simplify on April 2–the very next day. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 May 2019 at 9:46 am

Barrister & Mann Cologne Russe with the Rockwell 6S

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The fragrance of Cologne Russe is exceptionally nice:

Based on one of the oldest forms of perfume, Cologne Russe is a throwback to a scent created by the House of Guerlain for the Russian royal family and discontinued in the early twentieth century.

We blend lemon, bergamot, petitgrain, and herbs with violet, rose, bay, and amber to produce a rich, beautifully fresh scent derived from the colognes of old. The scent is distinctly warmer than most other cologne-type fragrances, owing largely to its inclusion of castoreum, benzoin, and vanilla. Clean and elegant without the aloofness of some other scents, Cologne Russe is the perfect way to brighten your morning.

And the ingredients are good as well:

Potassium Stearate, Aqua, Glycerin, Sodium Stearate, Potassium Tallowate, Sodium Tallowate, Potassium Ricinoleate, Potassium Shea Butterate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Coconut Milk, Fragrance/Parfum, Sodium Shea Butterate, Carthamus tinctorius hybrid (Hybrid Safflower) Seed Oil, Potassium Palm Kernelate, Allantoin, Lanolin, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Citrate, Tocopherol Acetate, Hydrolyzed Silk Protein

I easily got a good lather with the Mühle Cosmo silvertip shown, and the Rockwell’s R3 baseplate comfortably produced a perfectly smooth result, with a splash of Cologne Russe aftershave to reprise the fragrance.

And here are some shy flowers from Finnerty Gardens:

Written by Leisureguy

3 May 2019 at 7:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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