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Juul’s Convenient Smoke Screen – The New York Times





Juul Labs, the company behind the insanely popular vaping device, has a message for the nation’s estimated 37.8 million adult smokers:

It really, really, really cares about them. And it wants them (and only them — got that, teens?) to try vaping instead.

“For smokers. By design,” blares the company’s website. A new $10 million TV ad campaign, called “Make the Switch,” echoes that theme, featuring testimonials from ex-smokers, all comfortably above the legal smoking age, who have swapped their cigarettes for a Juul.

This benevolent-sounding mission — helping nicotine-addicted adult smokers switch to something far less likely to kill them — is Juul’s new pitch, and the way it hopes to rehabilitate its image as one of Silicon Valley’s most problematic start-ups.

You can’t fault Juul for trying. The company, which is valued at $38 billion, has been through the wringer lately, with regulators, public health advocates and concerned parents accusing it of fueling an epidemic of teenage nicotine addiction by marketing to young people with fruit-flavored pods, colorful youth-filled ads and social media campaigns. It has been sued by users and lambasted by lawmakers, and the Food and Drug Administration, which is investigating whether Juul’s marketing practices deliberately targeted underage users, conducted a surprise inspection of the company’s headquarters last year. (In November, Juul announced it would shut down its Instagram and Facebook accounts, and stop selling most flavored pods in stores.)

Adding to the concern is that last month, Juul took a $12.8 billion investment from Altria, the tobacco giant behind Marlboro and other popular brands, in exchange for 35 percent of the company.

Now, after making billions of dollars and joining forces with Big Tobacco, Juul is billing itself as a public-health crusader.

Juul is far from the first company to attempt a humanitarian makeover. Facebook, an outgrowth of a Harvard student’s juvenile attempt to quantify the attractiveness of his classmates, now claims to have been motivated by a virtuous impulse to connect the world; Uber, created by two tech entrepreneurs who wanted to zoom around San Francisco in luxury cars, later tried to convince people that it wanted to provide affordable mobility to the masses.

But in Juul’s case, revisionist history is particularly important, because the way Juul markets itself is central to the question of how it should be treated. Many consumers, investors and ethical technologists would rightly shun a company that knowingly targeted minors with harmful products, and cleaned up its act only after public pressure. But if you believe that Juul had a noble anti-cigarette mission all along, it’s easier to excuse its missteps as the product of innocent naïveté.

Unfortunately for Juul, plenty of evidence suggests that the company didn’t always take its public health agenda so seriously.

In 2015, in an interview with The Verge, Ari Atkins, a research and development engineer who helped create the original Juul, said that “we don’t think a lot about addiction here because we’re not trying to design a cessation product at all.”

He added that “anything about health is not on our mind.”

In other early interviews, James Monsees, Juul’s co-founder and chief product officer, played down the idea of a public health mission.

“We’re not an activist company,” he said in a 2014 interview. “If you don’t like what we’re making better than cigarettes, then have a cigarette, that’s fine.”

In an interview the next year, Mr. Monsees called Juul’s predecessor, a tobacco vaporizer known as Pax, “the dystopian future of tobacco,” and said the company’s vaporizing technology might someday find a market beyond cigarette smokers.

In a statement this week, Mr. Monsees said the company had been forced to be careful about its marketing. Under federal regulations, the company is allowed to bill its device as a “switching product” for smokers, but not as a smoking cessation tool or a health device. He said that while Juul “initiated campaigns in the past that we would not do today,” it was always focused on eliminating cigarettes.

“Since 2005, we have been focused on creating a product to help people switch away from smoking combustible cigarettes — the number one cause of preventable death in the world,” Mr. Monsees said. “That focus has been clear in the key milestone moments in the creation of the company — it is what we said in our 2005 Stanford graduation thesis and our first fund-raising letter in 2007.”

Juul’s founders did, in fact, talk about improving health as a motivating factor early in the company’s existence. In a 2007 email sent to potential investors, Adam Bowen, Juul’s other co-founder, mentioned wanting to “offer a new alternative for health-conscious smokers.” The pair’s graduate thesis presentation, delivered while they were studying at Stanford in 2005, pitches vaping as a healthier substitute for cigarettes.

But Juul’s public marketing told a different story. Few of the company’s early ads made any mention of cigarettes’ risks, or advocated for smokers to switch; most were focused on playing up vaping’s cool factor. As recently as 2017, the front page of the company’s website said nothing about switching from cigarettes at all, only that the Juul offered an “intensely satisfying vapor experience.”

Recently, Juul — now equipped with an army of lobbyists and a slick communications team that includes a former White House spokesman — has studiously revamped its image. Glossy profiles have been written about the company’s “lifesaving mission” and Juul’s new chief executive, Kevin Burns, has gotten on message, emphasizing the company’s focus on adult smokers.

This abrupt about-face has drawn skepticism from critics. Matthew L. Myers, the president of the antismoking advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, characterized Juul’s new ad campaign as little more than a P.R. effort aimed at lawmakers and regulators.

“Juul has engaged in all the traditional tactics of a company that is trying to fend off meaningful regulation, rather than actually change their behavior,” Mr. Myers said. “That is classic Big Tobacco.”

For all the hand-wringing, no one is suggesting that Juul’s nicotine pods are less healthy than cigarettes, or that the company should stop marketing itself as a smoking alternative. There’s every reason to believe that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking, and many adult smokers have in fact used Juul’s products to help them quit.

But motives matter. And Juul’s shifty self-presentation suggests that the company may not be acting entirely on the level.

Juul wants you to believe that it became a teenage sensation entirely by accident, that its products were only ever meant for adult smokers and that taking billions of dollars from Big Tobacco is consistent with the values of a company that has always put a priority on health over profits.

The truth is much hazier than that.


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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal





A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist





Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’





Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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