It's Never Too Late to Be a Reader Again

It was a book that drove me away from books. This wasn’t a trauma of distaste, or indulgence: not a literary bad mussel, not waking up on the floor of someone’s house with a swimming head and the knowledge that I could never again be within smelling distance of their first editions. My aversion was borne of fear.

The fear took root in 2016—which, while decidedly not-great in general, was very much a great year for books. Especially fiction. Especially especially speculative fiction. Between new releases and neo-classics I finally got around to reading (*cough* American Gods *cough*), not to mention the WIRED Book Club, the year remains the most consistently pleasant span on my otherwise dusty and shame-ridden Goodreads page. The books were an escape. Early in the year I’d been fortunate enough to get the opportunity to write a book of my own, and responded by getting as far away from the project as possible, diving into imaginary worlds as though I could take up residence there.

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Knowing the task I faced and my keen desire to avoid it, you’d think I would be able to find a balance. You’d think that once I settled into some sort of writing routine, that groove would accommodate pleasure reading. Not so much, as it turns out! Instead, books became daunting. I’d start a novel, and my focus would atrophy almost immediately. I’d get 100 pages in, or 60, or 20, and put it to the side. The reason was never dislike, but rather a host of other culprits. Seeing a published book, I’d remember that I wasn’t finished—and that I’d never be finished. I was consumed with the idea that I’d be intimidated by someone else’s gift, that I’d subconsciously mimic another’s voice. These weren’t rational concerns so much as they were whispers of pettiness and self-doubt, the same ones that haunt us all in tiny ways; still, their small voices massed in a choir that out-sang any note a book could strike. (What made this sadder still is I was working on a nonfiction book. Novels should have been a DMZ for my insecurities, not an incubator.)

That’s how 2016 ended; that’s how 2017 passed; that’s how 2018 began. Somewhere along the way, I finished my book, and the cloud began to lift. I started going to bookstores again, taking pictures of covers and spines so I’d remember them later. I started buying novels once more. But while they helped me to think of myself as a reader again, they didn’t get read. Instead, they stacked—on my coffee table, next to my bed, crowding the front page of my Kindle. As the BBC kindly pointed out recently, this was a textbook case of tsundoku: good-faith purchases that start as literature but become architecture. Turns out, though, that having a Japanese term for something doesn’t make it feel any better.

Gaining traction again was a matter of steering into the skid. Sometimes you—OK, sometimes I—don’t need challenging prose or epic scope or shifting perspectives and unreliable narrators; sometimes you need a fucking yarn. Which, for me, means crime novels. My father sparked the habit by feeding me Robert B. Parker’s Spenser books when I was a kid, and I’ve been a junkie ever since. Patricia Cornwell’s innumerable books about forensics expert Kay Scarpetta; Andrew Vachss’ series starring Burke, the child abuse survivor who took down creeps with extreme prejudice. I can’t remember what introduced me to Jack Reacher, but I read the first eight of Lee Child’s books about the ex-soldier-turned-do-gooder in rapid succession, never caring that by the fourth one I could see their templated structures like so many 1s and 0s in the Matrix. Donald Stark’s Parker novels? God, yes, that’s the good stuff.

In 2018, the hit came courtesy of—who else?—Stephen King. Reading Amazon comments while considering an impulse buy of The Outsider, I saw someone mention that it was a cousin to King’s so-called Bill Hodges trilogy of detective novels. So I got the first, Mr. Mercedes. Two weeks later, I’d devoured all three. Where they great? They were not. Did I care? Not even a little. If story is the carbohydrate of fiction, King makes a mean baguette.

Besides, they’d given me at least a degree of mojo back. I was back in that place where I would look forward to reading, where I’d reach for a book instead of my phone. But instead of starting to scale my tsundoku mountain, I surprised myself by going looking for one of the novels I’d abandoned during my exile: Paul La Farge’s The Night Ocean, the fictional tale of a journalist who had gone missing after writing a book about H.P. Lovecraft’s hidden gay affair. Crossing the hundredth page— the same one that had felled me more than a year before—I felt something in my chest settle. And when I got to the last page, I realized I’d found something more than a beautifully unresolved ending. I’d found a reckoning.

Look, I’m just gonna say it. Reading is hard. Not the act, but the pursuit. There’s always something else to do—something easier, something bigger or louder, something that makes you feel better, something that makes you feel worse. (Looking at you, social media.) But none of that changes the fact that we all want to be readers. That’s why Goodreads elicits hope and inadequacy in equal measure; it’s why you keep that paperback in your bag even if you haven’t opened it since you bought it two months ago. And it’s why putting a book down unfinished creates a little scar tissue. I couldn’t do it, you think. I failed. Couple that with the ever-growing list of books you want to read, and the only choice is to march grimly on; looking back is grief.

Something happened when I went back to that fallen book, though. I found myself appreciating not just the rest of the book, but everything that had happened since the time I’d first closed it. It was story and sacrament in one, a healing that I never expected. So, instead of beginning one of the many new titles I’d amassed, I returned to the scene of the crime again. And this reunion—with Babylon’s Ashes, the sixth book in the Expanse saga of sci-fi novels—was even sweeter.

With so much life waiting in my reading list, I’m ready to leave my other ghosts behind. But next time you put down a book, remember this: It’s not you. It’s not the book, either. (OK, maybe it’s the book.) It’s the timing. A year down the road, maybe more, that book might be just the thing you need. Maybe you need to grow into it; maybe it needs to grow into you. But you’re not going to discover that connection if you pretend it never happened. Anything can drive you away from reading—but only a book will bring you back.

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Tesla shares spike, dealing short-sellers a $1.7 billion loss

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) shares soared 16 percent on Thursday, a day after the electric car maker’s better-than-expected quarterly report, and financial analytics firm S3 Partners said short-sellers were slammed with $1.7 billion in paper losses on the day.

FILE PHOTO: The Tesla logo is seen at the entrance to Tesla Motors’ new showroom in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District in New York City, U.S., December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

S3 said the day’s losses pushed the aggregate year-to-date performance of short-sellers in Tesla into the red. Short-sellers aim to profit by selling borrowed shares, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price. Tesla is the most shorted U.S. stock.

Until Wednesday, Tesla short-sellers had, on paper, been up $276 million for the year. Following Thursday’s stock surge, they now have losses of $1.4 billion for the year, S3 data showed.

“We are not seeing a large amount of buy to covers yet,” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research at S3 in New York, referring to traders buying shares to close out an existing short position.

“With such a large price move on the open, most short-sellers that are looking to cover are waiting for a retracement before placing buy-to-cover orders,” he said.

Tesla shares rallied $48.70 to $349.54 a day after the manufacturer said it would produce its new Model 3 sedan at a profit, following several recent weeks in which output had stabilized.

The update buoyed hopes that the company led by Elon Musk will stanch its losses.

Tesla’s rapid cash burn and struggles at turning a profit have made it a favorite target for shorts, including big names such as Jim Chanos, head of Kynikos Associates, and billionaire hedge fund manager David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital fund.

Since the beginning of 2016, Tesla is the fourth-worst performing U.S. short bet, and short-sellers have lost $4.70 billion on a net basis over that period, according to S3 data.

A sharp rally in the electric car maker’s shares since early April has hurt short-sellers.

On Tuesday, Einhorn told investors that his bet against the stock had turned into heavy second-quarter losses at his Greenlight Capital fund.

Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by David Gregorio and Phil Berlowitz

Reddit Got Hacked Thanks to a Woefully Insecure Two-Factor Setup

Reddit said in a blog post Wednesday that a hacker broke into the company’s systems in June and gained access to a variety of data, including user emails, source code and internal files, and “all Reddit data from 2007 and before.” And it likely could have been avoided if some Reddit employees were using two-factor authentication apps or physical keys instead of their phone numbers.

“On June 19, we learned that an attacker compromised a few of Reddit’s accounts with cloud and source code hosting providers by intercepting SMS 2FA verification codes,” a Reddit spokesperson said in a statement. (Advance Publications, which owns WIRED publisher Condé Nast, is Reddit’s majority shareholder.) “We are working with federal law enforcement, and have also taken measures to both address this current situation and prevent similar incidents in the future. A small number of users were affected and have been notified.”

Among the compromised information was a 2007 Reddit database backup, which means if you were using the platform back then, your account information from that time—like your email address, username, and password—has been exposed. Reddit says the passwords were protected by cryptographic salting and hashing defenses, but if you still use that old password for your Reddit account, or any online account, you should change it to a strong, random password in case the Reddit trove can be cracked.

“Since the salting and hashing is going back to 2006 or 2007, it’s likely sub-optimal,” says Kenn White, director of the Open Crypto Audit Project. “Everyone should probably change their passwords.”

Reddit also noted that logs from June 3 to June 17, 2018 related to the platform’s “email digests” were exposed. This is a problem, because access to that information would allow attackers to see the usernames connected to each user email address—helpful information if you’re trying to compromise accounts. The digests also make suggestions about posts and subreddits a user might like, which potentially gives attackers additional information about individuals on Reddit.

Those are the main user impacts the company is highlighting, but chief technology officer Christopher Slowe mentions in the blog post that the breach also compromised “Reddit source code, internal logs, configuration files and other employee workspace files.” All those things combined could give hackers deep insight into Reddit’s fundamental structure and architecture, which creates a long-term risk the company will need to address.

“Once a criminal sneaks in through a window in your house in the middle of the night, yes, they can steal your china, snap a picture of your bank statements, and drink your beer,” White says.

Attackers got into Reddit’s systems by compromising some employee administrative accounts for company cloud storage and source code storage. Slowe notes in the blog post that the employees were using two-factor authentication to protect these crucial accounts, but some number of them had that layer of protection set up with SMS—meaning someone would need a code texted to their mobile number to complete an account login. The problem is that SMS-based two-factor is known to be insecure, because attackers can launch a “SIM swapping” attack to take control of a user’s SIM card and all the data coming to their phone number.

Though the average consumer may not have heard about the dangers of using SMS in two-factor authentication, the tech community has known about the risk for a few years. Yet somehow Reddit missed the memo. “We learned that SMS-based authentication is not nearly as secure as we would hope, and the main attack was via SMS intercept,” Slowe wrote on Wednesday.

“What they are saying is that their cloud infrastructure had high-privilege accounts secured by crappy two factor protections and one of their admins was popped,” White says. “A high-value property like Reddit secured with some dude’s mobile number is no bueno.”

Reddit says that it will notify users whose current account password relates to credentials compromised in the breach, and will prompt those affected individuals to change their passwords. The company is encouraging everyone to “think about whether you still use the password you used on Reddit 11 years ago on any other sites today. If your email address was affected, think about whether there’s anything on your Reddit account that you wouldn’t want associated back to that address.”

The company also says users should do as it says, not as it (apparently) does, and only use authentication apps or physical authentication tokens for two-factor protection. As Slowe notes, SMS-based two-factor is not an option for Reddit accounts.

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Trump's Treasury Supports Fintech, Now What?

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Trump administration Treasury Department has called for dramatic changes in fintech regulation and have voiced their support for a new fintech charter as well as the introduction of sandboxes and opening access to consumer data.

Secretary Steve Mnuchin said: “American innovation is a cornerstone of a healthy U.S. economy. Creating a regulatory environment that supports responsible innovation is crucial for economic growth and success, particularly in the financial sector.

“America is a leader in innovation. We must keep pace with industry changes and encourage financial ingenuity to foster the nation’s vibrant financial services and technology sectors.”

In a report, the US Treasury made 80 recommendations across 222 pages and explored the government’s aim of embracing customer data in a similar way to how PSD2 is being embraced in Europe and transform regulation with the use of sandboxes, so that it innovation is encouraged.

As reported in The Hill, policymakers have found it difficult to keep up with advancements in fintech and the impact on the traditional financial industry. But with the new attitude towards the burgeoning industry, those that create the regulations will be able to work closely with industry advocates to adapt the rules.

States are also encouraged to work together to remedy money transfer rules that regulate payment systems and cryptocurrency marketplaces and prevent unnecessary regulatory burdens.

The report also encourages the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to move forward with the charter that would give fintechs a license to operate across the US in the same way that banks do.

The Treasury said the charter could “provide a federal approach to reducing regulatory fragmentation and supporting beneficial business models.” The report also makes other recommendations to expand access to financial services.

The department called for repealing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) payday loan rule and went on to support the use of alternative data such as utility and rent payments to form credit reports for consumers with limited loan history.

But what does this mean? Despite Trump promising to do away with Dodd-Frank, which was signed into law by former President Barack Obama to prevent another financial crisis, this move by the current leader will be beneficial for the fintech industry and somewhat mimics what is being done in Europe.

Collaboration is the way forward because fintechs do not have legacy and trust on their side, especially in the US where people swipe and sign, instead of using contactless cards and apps to make payments.

I currently work as an SEO Content Executive for DMG Media, optimising content across the UK, US and Australia. Before this, I was the Editor of financial technology website bobsguide and this is where my interest and expertise in global fintech was achieved. Acting as the D…


San Francisco Marathon App Lets Runners Visualize Course Before They Race

Admit it, we’ve all sniggered slightly at the sight of a bobsleigh pilot mentally visualizing the track before he and his teammates hurl themselves down the ice.

But with speeds approaching 90 mph and medals decided by a fraction of a second, its an important part of their preparation. After all, it’s up them to navigate the ice quickly and safely and ensure the months and years of training – especially before a Winter Olympics – isn’t all in vain.

Virtual Reality (VR) applications are already being used to assist with the process, so athletes can train without the risk of injury and don’t have to travel the world to try out different tracks.

A runner passes by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California on December 24, 2017. San Francisco is a major travel destination with over 24 million visitors a year, frequenting famous landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge,Pier 39 and Alcatraz Island. (Photo by Ronen Tivony) (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Amateur technology

But professional-grade tools such as VR, GPS and analytics are increasingly finding their way into amateur sport too. And it should come as no surprise that the San Francisco Marathon in the heart of Silicon Valley should be among the events to promote their use.

Last weekend more than 27,500 runners participated in the 42nd staging of the race, with the route taking in iconic landmarks like Fisherman’s Wharf, AT&T Park and Golden Gate Bridge. Participants could choose to take on the full course, the first or second halves of it or even to complete it twice in an ultra-marathon.

Technology plays a significant part for many people’s race day, with wearables increasingly used to track speed and distance, but runners in the San Francisco Marathon were able to use a dedicated application to prepare for the big day.

Neurun allows runners to join a community of like-minded athletes who share similar goals and to access tips from professional coaches and runners in a particular group. However, the most intriguing aspect of the application is the ability to visualize the entire course beforehand.

Users can check terrain, elevation and other variables such as the wideness of roads and the location street furniture that might hinder progress. If a tricky section of the route is identified, then it’s possible to take a screenshot and make a note of its location on the timeline.

Neurun also shows the location of key amenities like water and nutrition stations, first aiders, public toilets, emergency phones and even photographer locations. These can also be added to the timeline so runners can plan breaks ahead of time or if they need to take an impromptu pit stop should they find themselves in need of assistance.

And all these notes can be shared with your groups too, enhancing the community aspect of the platform.

Marginal gains

With many people hoping to achieve personal bests, the little details can make a difference over a distance as long as 26 miles. That’s why Team Sky make such a big deal about ‘marginal gains’ when competing in the Tour de France.

It will be interesting to see how the application expands given the popularity of long-distance races held around the world and whether other famous marathons follow suit. Could we see competitors in the London Marathon be able to use this technology for example?

Although runners in the marathon had access to the application over the race weekend, the firm’s official website says the public version is still unavailable.

You can sign up to find out when it will be released or you can check out the video of the course below. The footage was captured by a cyclist and the full route can be viewed in 35 minutes below – much faster than it would take to cycle the route, never mind to actually run it!

Blueair Sense+ Review: Breathe Easy With This WiFi-Enabled Air Purifier

Your home might be your sanctuary, but the air inside it is probably not that great for you. Especially during the summer, open windows let in exhaust from passing vehicles, on top of dust, and pollen. My dogs shed constantly, putting dander and hair in the air, too. I can usually find my spouse happily drilling into walls or cutting holes in the floor, and my kids leave sopping wet towels to incubate mold in bizarre, hidden places. Although I vacuum every day, it’s not nearly enough.

Seasonal wildfires and summer heat in the western United States also contribute to poor air quality. While many people are fine with washing their sheets, vacuuming, and changing filters in their HVAC system, those might not be adequate measures if you’ve ever stepped outside to find your entire neighborhood veiled in a fine, ashy haze.

Many parents of small children buy and run an air purifier during the summer. As an allergy and asthma sufferer with two small kids, I do, too.

Just Breathe

Founded two decades ago by an Electrolux alum in Stockholm, Sweden, Blueair makes some of the best air purifiers available. I elected to test the Sense+, their Wi-Fi-enabled model. While it isn’t quite as visually striking as the Dyson Pure Cool, the sleek cuboid does come in a range of vivid colors. My tester model was in a brilliant leaf green.

At 19 inches tall and 18.5 inches wide, the Sense+ is a floor unit. It doesn’t have an exterior fan, so you have to be a little thoughtful about placement in order for the maximum amount of air to get contact with the filter. Blueair recommends that you place it about 10 centimeters, or almost four inches, away from other objects. In my bedroom, the only place that both fit the unit and had an electrical outlet was in the path around the foot of our bed.

Setup is simple. Just plug it in, download the Blueair Friend app to your phone, and swipe your hand over the top of the unit, which will start to glow like something out of Minority Report. Then, you follow the in-app instructions to connect the Sense+.


The LED screen on top of the Sense+ looks pretty cool, and it’s fun to adjust the fan speed or turn it off by merely waving your hand. But for more fine-tuned control, you have to use the app (the Sense+ is also Alexa-compatible). On your phone, you can adjust the fan speed or the LED brightness. You can also set night mode, which will dial down the fan speed and LED intensity during a set of pre-programmed time constraints. Finally, there’s a child lock feature, if you also have a toddler who is thrilled to discover that he can turn the purifier on and off by waving a tiny fist.

And unlike the Pure Cool, the Sense+ does not come with a built-in air quality monitor. For that, you need to purchase the optional Blueair Aware, which is a small device that both does not look like it costs $200, and also seems to be comparably priced to other consumer-grade air quality sensors. AQ monitors evaluate your indoor air quality based on a number of different factors, like temperature, humidity, or particulate matter.

The manual recommends setting the Aware at “nose level”, but since the purifier is in our bedroom, a bedside table seemed to be the best place for it. The Aware requires a week’s worth of test readings before it’s calibrated.

The Aware monitors particulate matter that are up to 2.5 micrometers in size, which could range from everything from fine dust to odors; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as acetaldehyde from cooking or tobacco smoke; and carbon dioxide, in addition to temperature and humidity. The Aware sends you alerts on your phone when the air quality in your room is poor. You can also link it to the Sense+ to increase the purifier’s interior fan speed automatically when the room is more polluted; examine charts for each pollutant over time; and compare your indoor air quality to outdoor air quality.

The app uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for calculating the air quality index (AQI), and the Blueair Friend’s outdoor AQI readings tallied with the live local readings from my state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

As might be expected, when I first set up the purifier and turned on the app, it registered that our bedroom was highly polluted with both total VOCs and carbon dioxide (it should be noted that high levels of carbon dioxide are a ventilation issue, and cannot be fixed with an air purifier). It took about an hour during the day for the Sense+ and Aware to reduce the readings from polluted to excellent.

Looking back at the timeline of the Aware’s readings was like looking back at a timeline of my day. Yup, those particulate matter spikes are at the exact same time when my spouse and I fall into our dusty sheets at the end of the day. The carbon dioxide spikes are timed exactly when we get up in the morning, and when our dogs walk (or run) past the air purifier at night to chase skunks or possums. Everything flatlines during the day, while we’re at work. And as with the Dyson Pure Cool, I have stopped waking up to note our neighbor skunks’ nighttime journeys past our bedroom window. Maybe they’ve started taking another route?

In the Air Tonight

At $400, the Sense+ is very expensive. A $200 air quality monitor on top of that is pricier still. And after running the Sense+ for about a month, my Blueair Friend informs me that I have a mere 122 days left on the filter, a replacement for which appears to cost around $80. This is not a cheap investment, although the Blueair does offer more affordable options. For example, the Blueair Pure 211 is almost half the price and purifies the same square footage.

As someone who has chronic asthma-induced bronchitis, it’s nice to know when your indoor air quality worsens—even if it’s just because your toddler has started breathing directly into the top of the AQ monitor. Improving your indoor air quality can improve your quality of life, even if you’re not an asthmatic or a data hound who likes poring over charts. Vulnerable demographics, like young children or the elderly, can especially benefit.

After all, if I’m going to endure the constant aromas of fish sticks, scented markers, and Play-Doh while hiding from the sun this summer, I’ll gladly take all the help I can get.

New York, in Unprecedented Move, Votes to Kick Spectrum Cable Out of the State

The New York State Public Service Commission has moved to kick Charter Communications’ Spectrum cable and internet service out of the state, citing Charter’s “repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments”. The commission voted Friday to rescind approval of Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable, which would effectively end its ability to do business in the state.

The commission approved the Charter-Time Warner merger in 2016 on a number of conditions, including expanding services to 145,000 homes within four years, with a focus on rural areas. The commission says the company has failed to meet milestones for that expansion, and has now given the company 60 days to come up with a plan to hand over its customers to other providers—that is, to sell its assets in New York.

That transition is unlikely to actually happen. Charter has said it will contest the order, calling the commission’s actions “politically motivated.” Experts speaking to speculated that the move is intended to “give Spectrum a kick in the pants” towards providing more rural broadband access, and said the dispute could spiral into a yearslong court battle. Charter is the largest cable provider in New York, with more than 2 million subscribers.

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The commission fined Charter $2 million this June for failing to meet milestones for expanding services, after the company improperly claimed more than 12,000 New York City addresses as counting towards the commission’s targets. The Friday vote imposed another $1 million in fines for missed deadlines, bringing the total to $3 million. Charter has in part blamed competitor Verizon for slowing its expansion, claiming Verizon has limited its access to telephone poles.

But the commission hasn’t been convinced by that explanation, and on Friday hinted at broader issues, citing Charter’s “brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers”. Charter has been among the U.S. cable providers ranked lowest by its own customers, a situation widely blamed on lack of competition between providers. Though New York’s kick in the pants might motivate Charter to do some things better, that basic condition is unlikely to change until high-speed 5G wireless service becomes a reality.

45 Percent of Millennials Expect This From Brands (It Can Also Help Grow Your Business)

The power of Millennials is no joke: They’re now a leading group of consumers, at 75 million strong. With roughly $200M in annual buying power and a strong voice on social media, discerning (and some say demanding) Millennials dictate not just what happens with their wallets, but also often with national conversations.

So what Millennials want–and expect–from brands is worth grasping if you want to market to them successfully.

Ross Paquette, founder and CEO of tech startup Maropost, has built a business around customer input–improving and innovating based on customer needs, many of whom are Millennials. While the company began as an email service provider, Maropost grew to span cross-channel marketing, total sales cycle management, and everything in between–largely through customer feedback.

For Paquette, it all comes down to one thing: “Customers are more than just the people buying from you–or at least they should be. Your success depends on taking company-customer relationships from transactions to connections.”

Your success depends not on transactions, but on connections.

The old-school version of business was to see customers as passive recipients of things, whether that thing was an ad or a product someone bought in a grocery store. Before the advent of social media, for example, it was nearly impossible for a big (or little) brand to have any kind of dialogue with consumers, let alone a public one like those that now regularly take place on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Now, taking your business to the next level requires seeing customers in a fundamentally different way. They’re not passive recipients; they’re active participants–a fact that can be either intimidating or galvanizing, depending on how you look at it.

According to recent research by TotalRetail, 45 percent of Millennials expect more engaging experiences with brands than with retailers. In other words, they expect brands to build relationships with them, to listen to them, and to engage with them. They want to be part of the innovative process (especially if something isn’t working for them).

For Paquette, this approach was a founding principle of the startup: “Customer-first innovation directs every decision we make–everything we create, we create for our customers.” It’s not just lip service, either. At Maropost, everything from feature tweaks to entire platforms have been created based directly on customer feedback.

Obviously this requires investing energy into building the right kind of structure: you need a robust feedback loop that goes from customers, to customer support, to development, and back to customers.

It’s worth investing that energy, though. “We’ve been able to build out our capabilities to a level you only see at much larger companies,” says Paquette, “and we’re winning against some of the industry’s biggest players.”

In fact, Maropost is now a leading enterprise digital marketing startup, with customers that include Rolling Stone and Mercedes-Benz. Many of their key customer decision-makers are Millennials, and they keep in close touch with them.

In the past, one-way relationships were the norm. You made the sale and were done. Few companies were interested in nurturing a relationship. Now, not only does that attitude not fly, but it constitutes a missed opportunity.

When companies are committed to true partnership with their customers … it shows. They prioritize smart feedback loops that connect people in social media with people in customer support with the development team. The things customers say (and Millennials don’t tend to hold back) are crucial–and smart companies know that they’ve got to make sure those comments aren’t wasted.

Treating customers as collaborators also ensures you’re answering real business needs–instead of operating in an echo chamber. When you collaborate directly with the people using your product and consistently seek out their feedback (instead of just assuming they’ll tell you), you don’t lose sight of what they need. It’s right there, in their words. 

Obviously not every comment is worth a feature update. But wise is the company that has a strategy in place to capture those that are–and who actively, consistently, and intentionally focus on building connections rather than transactions.

Today, You Need More Than A Market Strategy, You Need An Ecosystem Strategy

In the 1960s and 70s, Route 128 outside of Boston was the center of technology, but by the 1990s Silicon Valley had taken over and never looked back. As AnnaLee Saxenian explained in Regional Advantage, the key difference was that while Route 128 was a collection of value chains, Silicon Valley built an ecosystem.

Clearly, ecosystems are even more important today than they were back then. In fact, a recent study by Accenture Strategy found that ecosystems are a “cornerstone” of future growth and that 60% of executives surveyed viewed ecosystems as a way to disrupt their industry. A similar number saw them as key to increasing revenue.

The problem is that competing successfully in an ecosystem environment is vastly different than a traditional value chain strategy. While a value chain is driven by efficiencies, an ecosystem is driven by connections in a network. So we need to do more than adapt our strategy and tactics, we need to learn how to play a whole new game. The first step is to learn what the rules are.

First, Start Early

One of the key aspects of ecosystems is that they don’t seem all that important at first. By the time it becomes clear that a change is underway, it is often too late to adapt. The demise of Boston’s technology companies is a great example of how that can happen. Dominant firms such as DEC, Data General and Wang Laboratories found themselves irrelevant so quickly that they never recovered.

Network scientists call this an instantaneous phase transition and it happens because connections tend to form slowly. They start as isolated clusters that, even taken in sum, don’t seem to amount to much. However, when those clusters connect, a cascade ensues and what once seemed inconsequential suddenly becomes predominant.

That’s why it’s so important to become active in an ecosystem before those clusters connect, when things are moving relatively slowly, everybody wants to talk to you and the price of admission is still fairly cheap. Once an ecosystem begins to thrive, things move much faster and costs for entry raise exponentially.

Consider the automobile industry, which is now spending billions to set up research centers in Silicon Valley. Just think of how much cheaper — and more effective — it would have been for those companies to have started 20 or 30 years ago.

Not Just Spinning Out, But Spinning In

A typical strategy for an enterprise looking to leverage an ecosystem is to spin out a division to focus on activities that are relevant to it. These spinoffs tend to have a lot more in common with the ecosystem firms than the parent company and therefore are much more able to connect. However, because links to the parent company become more tenuous over time, benefits are limited.

A potentially more successful strategy is to spin ecosystem firms in. For example, the National Labs have set up programs like Cyclotron Road, Chain Reaction and Innovation Crossroads that invite entrepreneurial firms to come work at the labs, make use of the scientific facilities and be mentored by top scientists.

In the private sector, corporate venture capital operations, as well as incubators and accelerators, can be a great way to connect with small entrepreneurial companies early in the ecosystem lifecycle. Beyond the actual investments made, these programs give you the opportunity to connect with hundreds of small firms, some of which can become important partners, suppliers and customers later on.

What’s crucial is that you are not seen as an interloper, but a true source of value, whether that value is in actual monetary investment, access to facilities and expertise or connection to points of market access. What may be insignificant to your company may be incredibly valuable to a small, entrepreneurial firm.

Maintaining Open Nodes

One of Saxenian’s most interesting findings in Regional Advantage was how differently the Boston technology firms treated outsiders compared to the Silicon Valley companies. The Boston firms were vertically integrated and sought to keep everything in-house. The Silicon Valley companies, on the other hand, thrived on connection.

For example, in Silicon Valley if you left your employer to start a company of your own, you were still considered part of the family. Many new entrepreneurs became suppliers or customers to their former employers and still socialized actively with their former colleagues. In Boston, if you left your firm you were treated as a pariah.

When technology began to shift in the 80s and 90s, the Boston firms had little, if any, connection to the new ecosystems that were evolving. In Silicon Valley, however, connections to former employees acted as an antenna network, providing early market intelligence that helped those companies adapt.

So while it is necessary to reach out to evolving ecosystems, it is just as important to ensure that there are also paths for small entrepreneurial firms to engage within your enterprise. Ecosystems thrive on personal connections. Those may not show up on a strategic plan or a balance sheet, but they are just as important as any other asset.

The New Competitive Advantage

Ever since Harvard professor Michael Porter published his seminal book, Competitive Strategy in 1980, strategists have sought advantage through driving efficiencies in order to maximize bargaining power against customers, suppliers, substitute goods and new market entrants. By doing so, they could achieve higher margins and invest in greater efficiencies, creating a virtuous cycle.

Yet today things move much too fast for that kind of chess game. To compete in a networked world, you must constantly widen and deepen connections. Instead of always looking to maximize bargaining power, you need to look for opportunities to co-create with customers and suppliers, to integrate your products and services with potential substitutes and form partnerships with new market entrants.

Power no longer resides at the top of value chains, but rather at the center of networks and collaboration has become the new competitive advantage. Value is no longer merely a target for extraction, but an asset for connection. You need to be seen to be adding value to the ecosystem in order to get value out.

The truth is that we can no longer manage for stability, we must manage for disruption. We can’t predict the future, but we can connect to it, nurture it and profit from it. Yet to do so requires far more than a simple shift in strategy and tactics. It requires a fundamental change in mindset.

Disney Announces Plan To Drop Plastic Straws And Stirrers By 2019

The Walt Disney Company is the latest in a series of large corporations recently bent on eliminating plastic drinking straws and stirrers, which some disability activists say could pose new problems for customers.

The company announced Thursday that it plans to scrap single-use plastic straws and drink stirrers at all Disney-owned and operated locations by mid-2019. In a news release, Disney said its internal ban will amount to “a reduction of more than 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers annually.”

Disney is the latest company to announce a ban on plastic straws in recent weeks, which have seen the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s UK renouncing this form of single-use tableware.

See also: Chemists Find New Method Of Recycling Common Plastics As Fuel

As CNN reported, activists have long been working to cure America of its estimated 500-million-a-day plastic straw habit, which gained fresh attention after a 2015 video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral.

In lieu of plastic straws, Disney and other companies have said they’ll offer versions made out of paper, bamboo, or other more sustainable materials.

Despite the proposed environmental benefits, however, some critics say this recent trend of forsaking plastic straws could put disabled persons at a real disadvantage with drinks.

Server Alissa Dow holds a handful of new paper straws, left, and remaining plastic straws no longer in use, right, at Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, Maine on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Credit: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

As NPR reported, disabled persons who rely on plastic straws to drink have argued for more flexibility in companies’ bans as the technology for sustainable straws catches up with demand.

Katherine Carroll, policy analyst at the Rochester, New York-based Center for Disability Rights, told TIME earlier this month, “The disability community is concerned with the ban because it was implemented without the input of their daily life experience … Plastic straws are an accessible way for people with certain disabilities to consume food and drinks, and it seems the blanket bans are not taking into account that they need straws and also that plastic straw replacements are not accessible to people.”

Environmental and manufacturing researchers have also pointed out that plastic packaging like bottles and bags account for significantly more waste than straws do.

Disney also announced this week that it has plans to reduce single-use plastics in other areas down the road.

In the next few years, the company says it will transition to providing refillable toiletries and in-room amenities on cruise ships and in its hotels, reduce its plastic shopping bags at resorts and on cruises, and drop polystyrene cups entirely. When single-use plastics are unavoidable, the company says it will continue its recycling practices in these areas.

Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Consumer Products, commented in the release, “These new global efforts help reduce our environmental footprint and advance our long-term sustainability goals.”

And the sooner companies take steps to truly reduce their plastic footprints, of course, the better; humanity is literally and figuratively already swimming in the stuff.