Mass Extinctions Lead to Better, Faster Evolution in Robots

Robot

A pair of researchers at the University of Texas, Austin has discovered that mass extinctions can be good for developing better robots. Risto Mikkulainen and Joel Lehman have been working with computer models of robots with the intention of getting them to evolve to walk smoothly on two legs. In a recent computer model, they found that mass extinction helped to propel that evolution forward.

The basic idea is that, despite wiping out significant genetic information from the Earth, mass extinctions actually give the most adaptable lineages opportunities to evolve. As whole species have vanished after, say, the extinction of the dinosaurs, other creatures have a wealth of new niches that they can adapt to survive within. Destruction brings about a flowering of new creativity, as it were.

What Mikkulainen and Lehman did was to start with some simple robot designs, or computer models of them anyway, and let them evolve over subsequent generations until they filled a number of provided niches, many of which had nothing to do with walking, much less walking upright on two legs. After a while, they randomly killed off the robots in 90% of the niches through a “mass extinction.”

The surviving robots were able to evolve much faster than previous generations had, as they had a huge variety of niches that they could fill. And, overall, the simulations that including mass extinctions developed better walking systems than those that did not include mass extinctions.

Not only do these computer models support biologists who think that mass extinctions are followed by a boom in new species, but they can also help us develop better robots in the future. The idea of essentially evolving the best robots for specific tasks may sound like something form science fiction, but it’s something we’re working with already, and now we might be able to evolve robots better and faster for all kinds of important tasks.

Adult Women Play More Video Games Than Anyone Else

Girl playing video game

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has released a recent study that proves something that some of us have been suspecting for a while now: adult women are the single largest demographic among people who play video games. This will likely come as a shock to some men, and it will assuredly be greeted with bile by some of the sexist pigs that like to think they own gaming, but the ESA has done a lot more research than them.

Real quickly, the numbers break down like this. 52% of people who play video games are women, while 32% of players are aged 18-35, and 39% are 36 or older. That means that women over the age of 18 represent 36% of video game players, while boys under 18, generally considered the “target demographic” only represent 17% of game players. Another fun fact, the number of women 50 or older who play video games increased by 32% between 2012 and 2013.

This reflects a broadening of who plays video games across the spectrum. While back in the day young players may have dominated video game demographics, those players grew up, and they’re still playing video games. More over, their parents are playing video games as well. Social media and mobile platforms, namely smart phones, have had a lot to do with the widening demographic of players. The so-called “casual games” are still video games, and they exist on platforms that are more welcoming to a wider variety of people. Not everyone has, or wants, an XBOX, but how many people have smart phones, or Facebook accounts, or both?

All of this should be very interesting to video game publishers, especially the larger companies that have routinely ignored women gamers, sometimes explicitly removing women from box art to not “alienate the core demographic.” According to the study, the average adult woman gamer has been playing games for 13 years, well before Candy Crush or even the introduction of games on Facebook. It’s time to take those women seriously.

Bachelor’s Degrees with the Highest Earning Potential

Bachelor's degree

It comes as no surprise that STEM degrees lead to careers with the highest earning potential. Petroleum engineering tops the list with an early-career salary of $100,000 a year and mid-career wages of $168,000, according to Payscale’s 2014-2015 College Salary Report. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that the top-earning jobs are all in the engineering field, but here are the top four most lucrative bachelor’s degrees this year, following petroleum engineering:

  1. Nuclear engineering, at $68,200 for early career and $121,000 by mid-career
  2. Actuarial mathematics, at $58,800 for early career and $119,000 by mid-career
  3. Chemical engineering, at $69,500 for early career and $118,000 by mid-career
  4. Electronics and computer engineering, at $65,000 for early career and $116,000 by mid-career

Nothing too surprising there, as those fields require very specific skills and abilities to be done correctly. But here’s something slightly more surprising: Forbes’ list of the top ten bachelor’s degrees with the lowest earning potential. What is interesting is that while those high-earning skilled careers require a lot of education to enter the field and to perform well, those that make the least amount generally have degrees in education. Here are the lowest-earning bachelor’s degrees from Payscale’s report:

  1. Child development, at $32,200 for early career and $36,400 by mid-career
  2. Early childhood education, at $29,700 for early career and $38,000 by mid-career
  3. Child and family studies, at $31,200 for early career and $38,600 by mid-career
  4. Early childhood and elementary education, at $32,300 for early career and $40,400 by mid-career
  5. Human services, at $33,800 for early career and $41,300 by mid-career

Take a look at the links above for more information about which degrees yield the highest—and lowest—salaries.

Are Engineers Better Entrepreneurs?

Engineer

Do engineers make better entrepreneurs? It might sound like a silly question, but it makes sense when inspected closely. There are many characteristics that are common among both groups that allow them to become successful. Both of these professions attract people who are a healthy mix of meticulously analytical (a must when dealing with lots of numbers, people, and moving parts) and boundlessly creative (a skill useful for coming up with new and ambitious ideas).

These skills help entrepreneurs and engineers create new markets and new systems, respectively, from the conceptual level to the actual groundwork where the rubber meets the road. In the spirit of this duality (concept and practical application), let’s explore some professionals who actually prove the point—that engineering and entrepreneurship can be the perfect companions.

DocuSign CEO Keith Krach is our first example of engineer turned successful entrepreneur. He studied engineering at Purdue and pursued this passion by entering the GM Scholars program. However, instead of falling for engineering, he showed a deep interest in business. He went into the GM Fellowship program, which made it possible for Krach to attend Harvard Business School. Fast forward, and he is now the CEO of DocuSign, one of many “unicorn” small business companies and one that can boast of being the world’s leader in Digital Transaction Management.

Next, we have Sam Lytle, who is a civil engineer turned entrepreneur and business owner. Lytle is a licensed civil engineer and owner of Civil FX, a business that provides premium 3D visualization and animation services associated with civil engineering projects. Lytle’s situation is a good example of how both professions can coexist naturally, allowing Lytle to use his engineering background as a business platform. Learn more about Lytle’s story by listening to The Engineering Career Coach Podcast!

Finally, we have Terri Stripling, an engineer turned entrepreneur. Stripling has a background in chemical engineering at Georgia Tech University as well as at Merck, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. However, Stripling followed her inspiration (in a similar way to Lytle) and put her engineering expertise and passion into a business: Ten80 Education. Ten80 is a company that aims to foster students’ understanding of STEM subjects in the classroom. As a woman engineer, this subject hit close to home, as she had to experience an education system that is infamously difficult for women. Luckily, she is able to give back through Ten80 Education!

What do you think about the relationship between engineering and entrepreneurship? Do you think that engineers can make great entrepreneurs, and perhaps the other way around? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Best Hotels for Business Travel

Business hotel

People who travel for business have a lot of options for where they want to stay, but not every hotel—or chain—is the same. The hotels that cater to business travelers are, obviously, the ones you’ll want to go with. Some of them are quite fancy, but many of them are well-priced and well-suited for the average traveler.

  1. Hyatt Hotels. The Hyatts, located all over the U.S., offers free Wi-Fi in all rooms and public spaces, says The Week. While many hotels, especially those geared towards business guests, offer an annoyingly expensive tiered system of internet, the Hyatt’s universal and universally-free Wi-Fi is a great perk.
  2. Ritz-Carlton. Though these hotels can be pricy, they top nearly every list out there about hotels for business. The hotel chain’s new app allows people to order things from the pool, mobile room service, and pretty much any other request a guest might need. Additionally, business travelers can also earn and redeem Marriott Hotel points through the Ritz-Carlton locations.
  3. Hotels in the IHG Rewards Club. This program caters to travelers who visit large cities like New York often, but the club offers literal thousands of places to stay, ensuring you’ll find one that suits your needs. Places like Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas are covered, and the program offers a great rewards point system that you can redeem online for a wide range of treats.
  4. Andaz Wall Street. Named on CNN Money’s list of best boutique hotels for business travel, this ritzy hotel offers 10,000 square feet of comfortable meeting space. Planning services are personalized to your business needs, and the hotel even offers a communal kitchen area with a chef. Wi-Fi is also complimentary.

The possibilities are endless, but these hotels are always sure to take care of their business guests in all the ways they can.

AT&T Helped the NSA Spy on the United Nations

Spying

It turns out that the NSA had access to United Nations communications for 2003 to 2013, and they had that access with the help of AT&T, who acts as the service provide for the international body within the United States. In light of this information, the UN has stated that they expect member states to respect their privacy, and live up to standards established in 1961 concerning the international body.

It came out in 2013 that the NSA had access to UN communications following the 2013 leak of NSA information by Edward Snowden. It turns out that AT&T was recruited to help the NSA with a wiretapping operation against the United Nations following a secret court order. In 2013, after this came to light, the United States pledged not to spy on the United Nations, but that came after earlier claims that the country wasn’t, and would not, spy on the UN.

It is unclear whether or not the UN will retain AT&T as a service provider, but it’s hard to blame them for their actions. After all, they faced a secret court order from a government spy agency, what would happen if they said no? To put AT&T in that position is hardly fair to the company, and it certainly doesn’t make the NSA look any better. Since the Snowden leaks in 2013 it’s been a pretty much constant parade of people complaining abut the NSA, everyone from private citizens to the president of Germany, and now to the United Nations.

Spying on the United Nations, an organization with the goal of furthering international diplomacy and world peace, not promoting terrorism against any state, much less the United States of America, seems like the height of paranoia. To think even that officials from any countries that did wish to support terrorist actions against the US would be stupid enough to have those conversations at the United Nations is absurd.

How to Become a CEO

CEO

Being a CEO of a company is one of the most stressful yet rewarding jobs in the business field. It is a demanding role that generally attracts only the most talented and dedicated business people, pushing them to work harder than they ever have before. Do you feel like you have what it takes to become the CEO of a company?

There are multiple paths to becoming a CEO, and actually hitting it big will make becoming a CEO easier as time goes on. An example from both sides: your career might go something like Thierry Porté’s (he has served as CEO of Shinsei Bank, Tokyo and currently serves as CEO for NPG Wealth Management) or more like Lloyd Blankfein’s (he has worked for Goldman Sachs since 1981, but only became CEO in 2006).

First and foremost, you have to have the education to cut it as a CEO. Most likely, you’ll have to follow a path that results in going to business school, getting an MBA, and working your way up the corporate ladder. While this is not the only path to becoming a CEO, it is undoubtedly the most common.

Next, your career path has to make sense for becoming a CEO. You can’t just change your career in the middle and decide to become one. Due to the requisite skills and the great deal of preparation required to become a CEO, you can very rarely become one without having it as your career goal for a very long time. The lesson here: make your goal of becoming a CEO a priority in your life.

Beyond all of the training, experience, and determination, there are also intangibles that make becoming a CEO much easier. There are many personality traits that are advantageous for anyone who wants to become a CEO. There are skills like charisma and courage that are useful for leading others, as well as the ability to critically think, to plan events ahead of time, and to play political games that are often required of a CEO. While aptitude with these skills isn’t necessary at the beginning of your career, they certainly do help.

While CEOs can be understandably stressed and tired, there are also many great perks to being a CEO. You get to build a team in your image, make your own rules, and have control over your own salary. On top of that, there is the gratification that comes from knowing you run an entire business and that you positively influence the lives of other people.

So what do you think: do you have what it takes to become a CEO?

American Apparel Warns it May Go out of Business

American Apparel is hanging on a thread and the Los Angeles Company warned Monday that it may not have enough liquidity to keep operating for the next 12 months according to a filling with the Securities & Exchange Commission. The company is experiencing sales sliding and cash dwindling and the losses may continue through the rest of 2015.

The company ousted their founder and former CEO Dov Charney last year and they’ve reported that sales for their second quarter fell 17.2% to $134.4 million and the downward trend has been continual from the last several years of draining. The company has stated that they do not expect business to improve materially in their next four quarters and they are expecting to not have enough cash to get through that period.

The company also announced plans to reorganize its debt and extend an existing line of credit from $50 million to $90 million even with its expected losses for the rest of the year. The company has also looked into alternatives to right themselves like refinancing or restructuring its existing debt. They are also looking at a “strategic turnaround plan” that will try to cut $30 million in costs over the next 18 months.

The news comes after extensive press about the brand’s attempts to redefine itself under their new chief Paula Schneider and to distance itself from the overly sexual imagery that happened in Charney’s heyday. The company promised new commentary and emphasis on its Made in USA credibility, but now we will see if they even stick around long enough to drive that message home.

Private Equity Leaders and Their Philosophies

The leaders of private equity firms all have a lot of things in common that have helped them to become successful. Despite these similarities, however, they all have a unique take on what it takes to be successful and what the role of a leader exactly is.

To show the breadth of the difference in opinions and professional philosophies, we have gathered videos from several private equity leaders speaking about their leadership styles and business strategies. Check it out!

George R. Roberts

In this video, George R. Roberts of KKR discusses the importance of partnership in business. Roberts stresses the importance of sharing values with those you work and do business with. After all, he says, “people do business with people they like and trust.”

 

David Rubenstein

In this video, David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group discusses the early part of starting his company and speaks about every person having a specialty at which they are indispensible. Rubenstein also discusses the best way to deploy humor in a business setting. Skip to ~27:00 for this content, though the entire video is a good watch.

 

Stephen Schwarzman

In this video, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone talks with the Stanford Graduate School of Business about the importance of hiring phenomenal people. “You don’t do well unless you’re hiring people who are consistent with your values,” Schwarzman says.

 

Larry Fink

In this video, Larry Fink of BlackRock talks about the importance of adaptability and how it intersects with hiring and leadership to achieve long-term business success. “You have to adapt and be harsh, you have to make sure you have the best talent pool,” Fink says. Fink provides examples from his experience at BlackRock.

 

John Reed

In this video, John Reed, formerly of Citigroup, talks about how people are affected by vision in the business world. Reed explains that his vision is a large part of his leadership style. Reed believes his vision attracted people to him and allowed him to maximize his opportunities.

Businesses That Do Good Do Better

Mean Businessman

Don’t be like this guy. There are many reasons why being mean is a bad business practice.

The word businessperson conjures up a distinct image: someone in a crisp suit, worried about profits, and likely snapping at employees. But it doesn’t pay to be mean in business, and often ill treatment and unkindness will end up actually hurting a company.

Even Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and one of the world’s leading business heads, doesn’t believe that being cutthroat in the industry is a good thing: “Almost everybody will choose the products or services of an ethically sound company over its less scrupulous competitors,” he says, adding that a good place to look when starting a small business is to companies that do good in their communities because they are more likely to be successful.

Entrepreneur outlines a few of the reasons it’s bad practice to make meanness a part of your business. For one thing, if you are unkind to others or treat others disrespectfully, it will come back to you—the people you’ve hurt are likely to be unkind in return, and, perhaps worse, they could speak up about your tactics, which will hurt you in the long run. Additionally, employees with mean bosses might themselves incorporate meanness into their work and their teams, making for one hostile work environment.

Being unkind in the office stifles creativity and innovation, too. If people are scared to share insights and ideas, they won’t—the business won’t profit from the creativity of the people it pays to be creative, and the business won’t grow. While being an unpleasant person in life has its own repercussions, being mean in business has measurable disadvantages.

But not all bosses are mean, and many of them are wonderful, effective guides. Forbes offers useful tips on being a great mentor. Part of doing the job well, the article specifies, is to “believe in the employee, both personally and professionally,” cultivating a relationship of compassion and trust between employer and employee. Be committed to the people you take on board—remember that to help them is to help yourself.

If kindness and helpfulness pervade the work environment instead of harsh criticism and unkindness, employees will be creative, committed, and focused—all necessary traits to establish a solid business foundation. A company built on ethical practices and trust is very likely to outlive its nasty competitors.

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