How to watch the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards live without cable

How to watch the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards live without cable
[Video: courtesy of MTV]

Strap yourself in, because MTV’s 2020 Video Music Awards are about to happen, and this year they’re going to look a little different.

We know, everything looks different in the era of COVID-19, but the VMAs might actually be a good kind of different. MTV’s annual celebration of popular music will feature “epic performances from various iconic locations” across all five boroughs of New York City. (Translation: This is not just another glorified Zoom meeting.)

Keke Palmer will host the event, which will include performances from Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, BTS, Miley Cyrus, The Weeknd, Black Eyed Peas, and others. You can see the full list of performers on the VMAs website. And while you’re there, vote for your favorite.

Where and when to watch

The 2020 VMAs take place tonight (Sunday, August 30) at 8 p.m. ET and will air on MTV in addition to several other networks owned by ViacomCBS. (The pre-show at 6:30 p.m. ET will air on MTV only.) Networks airing the VMAs include:

  • BET
  • BET Her
  • CMT
  • Comedy Central
  • Logo
  • MTV
  • MTV2
  • Nick at Nite
  • Paramount Network
  • Pop
  • TV Land
  • VH1

The ceremony and performances will also air on the CW broadcast network—a first for the VMAs. If you’re a cable cord-cutter who wants to stream the awards show on your phone, computer, or smart TV app, we’ve rounded up some choices below:

Streaming services with ViacomCBS

  • Philo: This low-cost streaming service has ViacomCBS networks. Find it here.
  • FuboTV: This service has ViacomCBS networks and the CW in some markets. Find it here.
  • YouTube TV: This service has ViacomCBS networks. Find it here.
  • Sling TV: This service has ViacomCBS networks. Find it here.
  • AT&T TV Now: This service has ViacomCBS networks and the CW. Find it here.

Streaming services with the CW

  • CW apps: These apps are free and available in most areas. Find them here.
  • Locast: This free nonprofit streaming service offers the CW in some markets. Find it here.
  • Hulu With Live TV: Hulu’s paid live service has the CW in some markets. Find it here.

OTA antennas

If you have an over-the-air antenna with good reception, you might be able to watch the CW for free that way. Good luck and enjoy the show!


Apple has terminated Epic Games’ App Store account, slaying ‘Fortnite’ (for now)

Apple has terminated Epic Games’ App Store account, slaying ‘Fortnite’ (for now)
[Source Photo: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash]

After removing Fortnite from its App Store over an alternate billing system that violated its policies, Apple has officially terminated the Epic Games account.

Two weeks ago, Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite and Infinity Blade, uploaded an updated version of Fortnite to the Apple App Store and Google Play. That version featured an alternate billing system that circumnavigated the app stores, allowing for in-app purchases directly through Epic’s payment system.

Apple responded to that rule violation by pulling the game, and Epic then sued Apple, alleging antitrust law violations.

Following that lawsuit, Apple said it would terminate Epic’s account, and on Friday, it did. “The court recommended that Epic comply with the App Store guidelines while their case moves forward, guidelines they’ve followed for the past decade until they created this situation. Epic has refused,” Apple said in a statement, according to The Verge. “Instead they repeatedly submit Fortnite updates designed to violate the guidelines of the App Store. This is not fair to all other developers on the App Store and is putting customers in the middle of their fight. We hope that we can work together again in the future, but unfortunately that is not possible today.”

This means Epic won’t be allowed to submit any apps or even updates to the Apple App Store through its Epic Games developer account, and App Store users won’t be able to download (or re-download, if they previously purchased and then deleted) any of those games.

But the battle between the two isn’t quite over. Although Apple won the right to boot Epic Games in the most recent hearing, the next one, according to Gizmodo, is scheduled for September 29, 2020.


$300-400 extra unemployment update: These states are sending out payments this week

$300-400 extra unemployment update: These states are sending out payments this week
[Photo: Louis Velazquez/Unsplash; Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash; GDJ/Pixabay]

Residents of four states are already receiving an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits, which was authorized by President Trump’s August 8 memorandum. Here’s the latest update:


What states are already paying out?

Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Arizona sent out checks last week, while Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee began paying this week. Missouri is right behind them, planning to send out payments ASAP.

Phew. So if I live in one of those states, I’m saved?

No. Though the president’s memorandum authorizes weekly payments through the end of the year, he repurposed $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to do it. FEMA is only guaranteeing states’ funding for the first three weeks of payments. After that, FEMA will disperse funds to states on a week-by-week basis. Key detail: The $44 billion could run out in as little as six weeks, depending how many people receive it.

Has my state applied?

Most have. These are the states that have not yet applied: Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, New Jersey, Kansas, Florida, and Nebraska. And South Dakota is declining the program. All other states have either applied or been approved.

7 reasons to sign up for the sixth Fast Company Innovation Festival

Is there any hope that I’ll receive another stimulus check?

Not before October. Talks resumed yesterday between Democrats and the White House on a coronavirus stimulus bill, following the implosion of negotiations earlier this month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she again offered to meet Republicans halfway with a $2.2 trillion package (Republicans want smaller; Dems want bigger), and the White House has not yet responded. Congress is on recess until after Labor Day.

Why is it only $300 a week in my state? Wasn’t it supposed to be $400?

Yes, good for you for noticing: $100 per week has disappeared! The president’s August 8 memorandum provides $400 per week, but “called on” states to fund $100 per week. Most states responded to this calling with a big fat no, due to not having billions budgeted for the payouts, on top of already-dire financial outlooks due to the pandemic.

What’s happening with my state?

Delaware, Wyoming, West Virginia, and Ohio are awaiting approval from FEMA.

Many remaining states have received approval, but are facing logistical challenges. For example, Colorado and Alaska say to expect a respective four-week and  six- to eight-week delay before payments start.

Meanwhile, these states have received approval: Ohio, Virginia, Maine, Arkansas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Alaska, Georgia, Vermont, Mississippi, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Alabama, California, Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, Maryland, Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Utah, Colorado.

For further details about your search, do a Google News search of  “$300 unemployment [your state].” You can also check the FEMA website, which posts announcements about the approved states.


It’s not vodka! The FDA warns of hand sanitizer in booze bottles

It’s not vodka! The FDA warns of hand sanitizer in booze bottles
[Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash]

You’d better take a second look at that bottle of vodka.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning that hand sanitizer is now being sold in packaging that makes it look like drinks and foods.

The product, widely used in the response to COVID-19, is also masquerading in beer cans, water bottles, and children’s food pouches and sometimes contains food flavors, such as chocolate or raspberry.

Manufacturers have to be on top of their product packaging and marketing to ensure people don’t mistakenly think their products are consumable, the FDA says. Hand sanitizer can be toxic if a person ingests it, and it’s potentially lethal for a child.

The FDA says that it “continues to see an increasing number of adverse events with hand sanitizer ingestion, including cardiac effects, effects on the central nervous system, hospitalizations, and death, primarily reported to poison control centers and state departments of health.”

The best way to keep hands clean is to wash them with soap and water, but when that option isn’t available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.


87% of people with past or current eating disorders say their symptoms are worse during COVID

87% of people with past or current eating disorders say their symptoms are worse during COVID
[Photo: Matt Popovich/Unsplash; Pexels/Pixabay]

The coronavirus pandemic has not been kind to people with tendencies toward disordered eating. A new study from Northumbria University finds that 87% of people with past or current eating disorders say that their symptoms are “worse,” and one-third say “much worse.”

The study traces 129 people in recovery or treatment, providing a detailed look at a common scenario, and it joins growing indications that those with eating disorders are struggling. Beat, the UK charity, reports roughly double the crisis hotline calls and online group attendance since the pandemic began. And a similar recent study of over 1,000 people in the UK and the Netherlands, published last month, reported that the pandemic is having “strong and wide-ranging effects” on eating disorder behaviors. That study found that anorexics were were eating less, bulimics were binging more, and nearly all reported increased anxiety—which is relevant given that eating disorders are partially an unhealthy coping mechanism for stress and anxiety.

The study participants reported feelings of being out of control, upended routines, low socialization and social support, and an increased preoccupation with food. Some also described concerning changes in access to healthcare, ranging from early discharge from inpatient programs to suspended treatment plans.

At least 13% of women experience an eating disorder during their lives. Experts expect this year’s eating disorder spinouts to have long-lasting effects.

“We must not underestimate the longevity of the impact of the pandemic. Individuals with experience of eating disorders will likely experience a long-term effect on their symptoms and recovery,” says lead author Dawn Branley-Bell, a psychology research fellow at Northumbria University.

Branley-Bell calls for increased awareness and support services on an ongoing basis.


7 reasons to sign up for the sixth Fast Company Innovation Festival

7 reasons to sign up for the sixth Fast Company Innovation Festival

The Fast Company Innovation Festival is going online—and going global.

The annual festival, “Innovation for Good,” will highlight companies and individuals applying their creativity to solving some of the world’s most pressing societal and business challenges.  The editors and organizers of this year’s event, which takes place Oct. 5-9,  are making a virtue of it being virtual, highlighting speakers and cool workplaces and venues from around world.

Here are just seven reasons you won’t want to miss the festival:

  1. Interviews with cultural game-changers such as Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey, cofounders of Team Downey; Michelle Pfeiffer, actress and founder of Henry Rose, a clean fragrance company; and writer, producer, and actress Lena Waithe.
  2. Sessions with Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, and Intel CEO Bob Swan—executives who are leading the conversation on the role of the corporation in the world.
  3. A panel on how the music industry will support artists post-pandemic, featuring Scooter Braun, singer/songwriter Jessie Reyez, and Shara Senderoff, president of music investment firm Raised in Space.
  4. NEW! One-on-one mentoring with executives from companies such as digital agency Work & Co. and brand studio Mythology.
  5. Workshops for attendees at every stage of their careers, from people just starting out to senior leaders, all with an eye toward thriving in a teleconferencing world.
  6. Virtual visits to cool companies and organizations all over the U.S. and beyond. Go behind the scenes at London’s Abbey Road Studios and designer Nate Berkus’s home.
  7. Opportunities to meet fellow attendees inside the festival’s unique platform. Think of it as purposeful networking, 2020 style.

The Fast Company Innovation Festival is sponsored by presenting partner Booz Allen Hamilton and Boston Scientific, Facebook, Honeywell, Lenovo, PepsiCo, and Verizon.

Visit the Innovation Festival website for ticket purchase information, a list of speakers, and more details on sessions and virtual visits. Additional speakers and sessions will be announced in the coming weeks.


What computer scientists learned about 2020 politics from 138 years of Congressional speeches

What computer scientists learned about 2020 politics from 138 years of Congressional speeches
[Photo: Shealah Craighead/The White House/Flickr]

If you want to truly understand what’s happening in your country, plug its political speeches into text analysis algorithms. Researchers from Kansas State University did just that with nearly two million Congressional speeches dating back to 1873, and found that today’s speeches are really different than the speeches of yore.

Modern speeches:

  • use smaller vocabulary and simpler language
  • express more positivity overall (because everything is great!)
  • are less neutral, expressing more negative and positive sentiments
  • include wider chasms between Democrats and Republicans
  • are shorter (the Democrats underwent an intensive verbosity peak in 1900-1909)

Women were not a priority of either party until the 1980s, as indicated by the low overall use of words like she/hers/woman from 1873 through 1980. Lady words have been on the rise ever since, timing that correlates with more women-related bills and more Congresswomen. Today, Congresspeople use words like she/hers/woman five times more than in the 1950s. They are much more often spoken by Democrats, but still far below usage of he/his/man.

Mean frequency of words that identify women (left) and words that identify men (right) in congressional speeches in different years. View image larger here. [Image: L. Shamir, E. Tucker, C. Capps]
Reading level was mostly on the upswing from 1870 until late 1976, peaking at nearly 10th grade reading level; it has since fallen to 8-9th, and is heading south. The 1970s downturn correlates with Congressional legislators beginning to address the public directly, via media, through their speeches.

Fun fact: Congresspeople’s speeches become more negative when the sitting president is not from their party. Because, you know, everything is awful.


March on Washington 2020: What to know about today’s MLK anniversary march and protest

March on Washington 2020: What to know about today’s MLK anniversary march and protest
[Photo: Cooper Baumgartner/Unsplash]

Today, thousands of protesters will converge in the nation’s capital to march for police reform and racial justice. The 2020 March on Washington comes 57 years after the original 1963 March on Washington that demanded racial justice and civil rights for Black Americans. Here’s what you need to know about the event:

  • The 2020 March on Washington was originally announced by Rev. Al Sharpton at George Floyd’s funeral in June. As CNN reports, at the time, Sharpton said, “On August 28, the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, we’re going back to Washington. We’re going back this August 28 to restore and recommit that dream [of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] . . . We need to go back to Washington and stand up, Black, white, Latino, Arab, in the shadows of Lincoln and tell them this is the time to stop this.”
  • The march is being held on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s organized in conjunction with Sharpton’s National Action Network and the NAACP.
  • The 2020 march is dubbed the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March. The original 1963 march it is based on was officially called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
  • The march will be led by the families of George Floyd, Eric Garner, and others who “know the pain” of police brutality and racial injustice.
  • Marchers will be called upon to do more than just show up. Besides marching to let their voices be heard, attendees will also be encouraged to register to vote, fill out the 2020 US Census, and sign up to be poll monitors and poll workers for the upcoming November elections, reports CNN.
  • The march’s permit allows for 100,000 people, which is the number event organizers are planning for.
  • Coronavirus safety precautions will be in full effect. Holding mass gatherings in the time of COVID-19 is always a challenge, but the march’s organizers have gone to great lengths to make sure marchers can maintain a safe social distance and that the march complies with all local public health regulations. Face masks for marchers will be required and hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks will also be provided on-site. People will only be granted entry to the site once they have had their temperature checked and are wearing a face mask.
  • The march will be live-streamed. You can watch it on Nation Action Network’s Vimeo page.

The March on Washington 2020 kicks off at the Lincoln Memorial today, August 28, 2020, at 7 a.m. ET. A preprogram will run from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. At 11 a.m. is when the majority of speeches will begin. Speakers will include civil rights leaders and members of families impacted by racial injustice. The march itself officially begins at 1 p.m. It runs from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The march is scheduled to conclude around 3 p.m. (all times local).


Xpeng IPO: Another Tesla rival from China is climbing the American stock market

Xpeng IPO: Another Tesla rival from China is climbing the American stock market
[Photo: courtesy of Xpeng]

The Chinese electric-vehicle manufacturer Xpeng has raised $1.5 billion in its initial public offering today.


Shares were priced at $15 each, but opened at $23.10. The stock climbed to close to $25 and closed at $21.39.

The Alibaba-backed company joins white-hot EV stocks, such as China-based Li Auto, which raised an estimated $1.1 billion in its July 30 IPO, and Phoenix’s Nikola, which boasted a $12 billion IPO on June 4.

Xpeng’s ticker on the New York Stock Exchange is XPEV.

Founded in 2015, the company makes an SUV, called the G3, and a four-door sports sedan, the P7, with a price range of RMB150,000 to RMB300,000 (about $21,771 to $43,541), according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Xpeng had just under 3,700 employees in China and the United States, as of June 30.

“In order to optimize our customers’ mobility experience, we have strategically chosen to focus on developing full-stack autonomous driving technology and in-car intelligent operating system, as well as core vehicle systems, including powertrain and the electrical and electronic architecture, or the [electrical/electronic] architecture, in-house,” the company wrote.

The stock debut comes as U.S.-listed Chinese firms face additional scrutiny from Congress. In the wake of an accounting scandal earlier this year that decimated shares of Luckin Coffee, lawmakers have called for the delisting of China-based companies that fail to meet more stringent audit requirements.


Abbott’s rapid COVID-19 test: Here’s how it’s different from the rest

Abbott’s rapid COVID-19 test: Here’s how it’s different from the rest
[Photo: courtesy of Abbott]

Abbott Laboratories has just been granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for its pocket-sized, $5, 15-minute COVID-19 antigen test.


The test, called the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card, has already been dubbed a “game changer” by the likes of Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Brett Giroir. Here’s what you need to know:

How does it work?

To use BinaxNOW, you stick a nasal swab into the device, and a colored line will show up if results are positive for the coronavirus. The swab, by the way, is shorter than the nasopharyngeal Q-tip you may have heard of.

The test is linked to a free mobile app, which lets users whose results are negative for the coronavirus display a “digital health pass.”

What’s different about it?

BinaxNOW is an antigen test, meaning it detects proteins that are present on the surface of the coronavirus. This differs from the standard polymerase chain reaction test, which detects the genetic sequence of the virus itself. While antigen tests are considered less accurate than PCR tests, they’re much faster—PCR tests typically take days to return results, stymieing healthcare providers across the country, but BinaxNOW has a turnaround time of just 15 minutes.

Also, BinaxNOW is cheap, costing just $5 compared to $15-$50 for other rapid tests on the market.

This all matters because public health officials say rapid, widespread testing is critical to stopping COVID-19 and would be key to letting citizens safely go back to schools and offices. Abbott’s rapid testing quickly identifies infectious patients for containment, and its low-cost, mass-production capabilities ensure those who need tests get them.

Furthermore, BinaxNOW can be used theoretically anywhere since it requires no lab equipment, as opposed to lab-based PCR tests. This means it could be employed in places that lack medical resources, which could “democratize testing,” according to former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

How accurate is it?

According to Abbott, BinaxNOW has a correct positive diagnosis rate of 97.1% and a correct negative diagnosis rate of 98.5%, when used within the first seven days of symptoms.

When will I be able to get one?

Abbott said it plans to start shipping tens of millions of test kits in September and will ramp up to 50 million test kits per month in October. The tests will be conducted by medical professionals at their facilities—such as doctors, school nurses, and pharmacists—and will not be sold to consumers.


Lord & Taylor will close all stores with steep liquidation sales, starting today

Lord & Taylor will close all stores with steep liquidation sales, starting today
[Photo: Flickr user JJBers]

Lord & Taylor is going out of business.


The iconic luxury retailer, which became the country’s first department store in 1826, announced it will close all of its remaining stores with liquidation sales kicking off today.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 2, initially planning to keep 19 of its 38 locations open, but cutting that number to 14 just a few weeks later. Now, it’s deciding that everything must go.

And indeed, everything must go. “Deep discounts plus departmental promotions will be effective throughout the sale process in store and online,” the company said in a statement. “Discounts apply to existing inventory, new store arrivals and on new categories not previously sold at these stores. The historic event will also feature the sale of in store fixtures, furniture, and equipment.”

Lord & Taylor, which was sold to clothing rental upstart Le Tote in 2019, has a long history of trailblazing: As America’s first department store, it pioneered the idea of the personal shopper, and following World War II, it was the first major retailer to be led by a woman.

It’s now the latest in a line of retail bankruptcies during the coronavirus pandemic. Fellow department stores J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, and Stein Mart all filed for bankruptcy in recent months, with J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus staying in business while Stein Mart is liquidating.

And as department stores fall, the retail apocalypse marches on: Coresight Research estimates that roughly 25% of America’s 1,000 malls will shut down within five years as the pandemic devastates apparel vendors, experiential shopping, and movie theaters, which make up roughly 90% of all mall tenants.

It’s a gloomy forecast—but perhaps you can make the best of it by getting to your local mall today, to snag 40%-off tags at Lord & Taylor.


What’s the deal with those mysterious ‘FCM Messages’ notifications in Microsoft Teams?

What’s the deal with those mysterious ‘FCM Messages’ notifications in Microsoft Teams?
[Photo: courtesy of Microsoft]

Users of Microsoft Teams recently took to social media to complain that they were getting mysterious notifications from the app with captions like “FCM Messages.” Microsoft said in response that it was aware of the problem, which appears to be linked to testing related to a recently disclosed issue with Google’s Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) cross platform notification tool.

Security researchers had uncovered a flaw in FCM that could have let them send bogus notifications to users of apps that rely on the tool for messaging, potentially enabling phishing or spam attacks.

In recent days, users of both Teams and Google Hangouts have reported receiving apparent test notifications mentioning FCM through the app. Both Google and Microsoft have indicated that they’re looking into the issue, which has sent confused users to Twitter and other platforms and to their IT departments looking for answers. Duke University’s Office of Information Technology, for example, issued a blog post telling users that while there doesn’t seem to be a security risk, they might continue to receive the notifications.

Neither Google nor Microsoft immediately responded to inquiries from Fast Company. We’ll update this post if we hear back.


Amazon steps up its grocery ambitions with an Alexa-powered Fresh supermarket in Los Angeles

Amazon is venturing even further into the grocery game today with the debut of its first-ever Amazon Fresh store. The 35,000-square-foot supermarket in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles embraces technology for what it calls a “seamless grocery shopping experience.”


Don’t expect “Alexa, clean up in aisle five” announcements over the loudspeaker, though.

  • Customers can use the new Amazon Dash Cart, activated using a Fresh QR code and charged to their selected payment method on the way out of the store. “A combination of computer vision algorithms and sensor fusion” notes what’s in the cart, explains Amazon vice president Jeff Helbling.
  • Shoppers access their Alexa shopping lists to figure out where the items they want are located in the store and to check off what they need as they wind their way through the store.
  • Amazon Echo Shows are placed throughout the store, inviting customers to help them locate what they’re looking for by asking, “Alexa, where can I find cereal?”

Supermarkets and grocery stores are a $682 billion industry in the United States, according to the market research firm IBISWorld.

The main players in the retail food space are Walmart and Kroger. Other national heavies include Albertsons, Costco, and Target, while companies, like Publix, Ahold Delhaize, Meijer, H-E-B, and Wegmans are regional players. Also noteworthy are national dollar-store chains serving as grocery purveyors and the growing popularity of the German discount food chains Lidl and Aldi.

The Amazon Fresh store features the sort of products you’d expect at a local supermarket, such as well-known national and local brands (Coca-Cola, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and Groundworks Coffee); fresh meat, seafood, and produce; and in-store prepared foods and bakery items.

Hold the “prime” beef jokes, because this isn’t the Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth’s first foray into grocery. It bought Whole Foods in June 2017 for $13.7 billion.

Nor is it Amazon’s brick-and-mortar debut. That came in 2018 with the public launch of the Amazon Go convenience store.

Amazon’s Fresh grocery delivery service has been around since 2007.

The new Amazon Fresh store is open by invitation only right now, but the public will be allowed in in a few weeks. There’s also same-day delivery and pickup during store hours, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.


Here’s how to make sure your mail-in ballot actually counts

Here’s how to make sure your mail-in ballot actually counts
[Photo: Cindy Shebley/iStock]

Millions of Americans, far more than ever before, will cast their ballots by mail in the November election. For many it’ll be a first. Given that, and the huge stakes of this election, there’s plenty of worry to go around over whether all those mail-in ballots will find their way to being counted.


Those fears were stoked anew last week when NPR’s Pam Fessler and Elena Moore reported that more than 550,000 ballots were rejected during this year’s primary elections—far more than the 318,728 mail-in ballots rejected in 2016’s general election, which had far more turnout.

The rules around requesting and casting an absentee ballot vary somewhat between counties and states. (You can find instructions and rules for your state here.) These relate to whether or not the voter needs an “excuse” to vote absentee, how an absentee ballot can be requested, and the windows in which ballots can be requested and submitted.

But a few general best practices will go a long way toward making sure your mail-in ballot gets counted, regardless of where you live. Those best practices address the most common reasons that mail-in ballots are rejected. In short, they are: Sign the ballot, sign it right, follow the instructions, and send it in on time.

Signing correctly

In both the 2018 election and the 2020 primaries, thousands of ballots were rejected by election officials because the voter forgot to sign the ballot. Don’t let this be you. You’ll need to write your signature on the ballot envelope. If election workers see no signature there, they will reject the ballot and may not notify you your ballot has been rejected.

The way you write your signature is very important, too, says Debra Cleaver, founder of the voter-enablement tech nonprofit VoteAmerica. County election workers will look at your signature, then compare it to other versions of your signature they may have on file. They may check your signature against a signature they get from the DMV, or against one you wrote on your voter registration form. If the signature you write on your mail-in ballot doesn’t match, the ballot might be rejected.

Attorney and election integrity advocate Jennifer Cohn points out that every state’s mail-in ballot has its own rules and instructions for how to fill it out. Make sure to read the instructions, and follow them to the letter.

Returning the ballot on time

Many thousands of mail-in ballots are rejected each year because voters fail to return them to county election officials on time. Some states require that the ballot arrive in the hands of election officials on or before Election Day, while many others have changed voting laws to require only that the ballot is postmarked on or before election day. It’s very important to know your state’s deadline for mail-in voting. You can find this information in the elections section of your Secretary of State’s website, or at your county elections website.

Given the increased volume of mail-in ballots, it’s better to do it early, like now. “And when you return it, put it in a drop box rather than relying on the U.S. Postal Service, which has been gutted by the Trump Administration,” says Cohn. The U.S. Postal Service has removed 10% of its mail sorting machines across 49 states, and has no plans for reinstating them before the election.

Some of the responsibility falls on county election officials. Even before the coronavirus descended earlier this year, there were already well-documented problems with voters not receiving their mail-in ballots on time, or at all. For example, in early March, Los Angeles county failed to send out 17,000 mail-in ballots in time for people to return them by the deadline.


Even if you fill out your mail-in ballot perfectly, there’s still a chance that something will go wrong. And in most cases it’s up to you to find out. Only 19 states notify absentee voters if their ballot was rejected because of a signature discrepancy. Nineteen states have passed laws requiring election officials to provide a website where mail-in voters can check the status of their ballot, and another 14 states have built such sites voluntarily. You can see an example of one such website, Maryland’s, here.

After you mail in or drop off your ballot, it’s a good idea to find out if your state has a “ballot status” website, and then use it. If no such website exists, consider calling your county elections board to ask for confirmation that your ballot was received and scanned.

High anxiety

Voting by mail is nothing new, of course, and the numbers of people who prefer to vote that way has been steadily rising. But the coronavirus changed everything, and suddenly county and state election officials are faced with an election where mail-in ballots will be a primary mode of participation. Election officials are working to prepare for the flood of mail-ins, but they have other problems to devote time and money to, like defending against election system hacks.

According to Cleaver, NPR’s finding that higher numbers of mail-in ballots were rejected during the primaries must be seen in that context. It could have been much worse. “The first thing that I thought of when I saw that was that 10 times more people voted by mail in those elections, so the fact that the number of rejected ballots was not 10 times more is actually good news,” she says.

Younger and minority voters are more likely to have their mail-in ballots rejected, according to a study from Stanford and MIT.”

All those ballot rejections—and the ones they suggest are coming in November—might be easier to accept if they were distributed evenly across demographic groups and political affiliations. But they’re not. Stanford and MIT researchers found in a study of the 2020 Florida primary that younger and minority voters were more likely to have their mail-in ballots rejected. Only 1.3% of the total number of mailed ballots were rejected in the election, yet 3.56% ballots cast by 18-to-29-year-olds were rejected, and 2.32% of Black voters’ mailed ballots were not counted. (The researchers do not speculate on the reason for this.)

That effect could be amplified in a very close election, which this year’s presidential election may turn out to be. If it’s like the 2016 race, it could be decided by less than 100,000 votes across a handful of swing states.

There are bound to be snags, holdups, and errors in the collection and counting of mail-in ballots by the more than 3,000 counties in the United States. So a final word of advice: Be patient. We may not get the dramatic election-night conclusion that we’re used to. It may take a week or more to tabulate both the mail-ins and the in-person ballots correctly. With so much on the line in this election, officials should be given time to get it right. We can do our part by resisting the urge to share speculation on the winners before the counting’s done.


Here’s why TikTok’s American CEO just quit three months into the job

Here’s why TikTok’s American CEO just quit three months into the job
[Photo: Kon Karampelas/Unsplash]

TikTok isn’t having a good 2020 (but hey, who is?). For months, the social media app has been under a sustained attack from the Trump administration over its alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The app has had similar troubles in India, where it’s been banned. And as of today, TikTok’s troubles have only increased because it just lost its American CEO, Kevin Mayer.

Mayer had only been on the job for three months when he resigned from the company on Thursday. When he joined, it was a big coup for the company. Mayer is a highly respected American business leader who previously worked for Disney and was one of the driving forces behind Disney’s acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm. His last feat at Disney was launching Disney Plus, which has been a resounding success.

It would have been interesting to see what Mayer could have done with what is becoming one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. But, as of today, we’ll never know. So why did Mayer quit? It comes down to the changing political landscape, which is not leaning in TikTok’s favor. As The Financial Times reports, Mayer told TikTok employees the following:

“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for. Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.”

Mayer went on to explain that “I understand that the role that I signed up for — including running TikTok globally — will look very different as a result of the US administration’s action to push for a sell off of the US business.”

As for who leads TikTok from here, that’s unknown. In the interim, the company’s current general manager, Vanessa Pappas, will take over the duties of running TikTok while the search for a new CEO goes on.


Women say working from home is hurting their careers. Men believe they are thriving

Women say working from home is hurting their careers. Men believe they are thriving
[Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels]

A new study of over 1,000 working adults conducted by Qualtrics and theBoardlist reveals that working from home during the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted the careers of women, parents, and people of color.

Color me completely unsurprised.

Working women who have children at home reported that they’re not as productive since the pandemic. A majority (77%) of men said that they’ve been more productive working from home with kids versus 46% of women. The majority of men (57%) actually believe that working from home has had a positive effect on their careers. Fewer than a third of women (29%) could say the same. The report also revealed a stark difference between races when it came to productivity. “White workers are 62% more likely than Black workers to say they’ve been more productive during the pandemic,” according to the authors of a blog post that accompanied the report.

Among the findings:

  • Promotions—34% of men with children at home got one versus 9% of women with children at home
  • Pay raises—26% of men with children at home versus 13% of women with children at home
  • Increased leadership duties—29% of men with children at home versus 10% of women with children at home; 15% of white workers took on additional responsibilities versus 9% of Black or Asian workers (regardless of parenting status)
  • Household duties—Men with a household income between $20,000 and $50,000 reported that they went from doing chores from nearly 11 hours to 16 hours each week.

“Because women often earn less than their male partners, women more often choose to leave their careers at the height of their advancement and earning power in order to raise children and keep their households running. The hardest part of that equation is that employers often judge female employees as less dedicated to their jobs as a result when often it is the farthest thing from the truth,” Shannon Gordon, CEO of theBoardlist, said in a statement. “Our study findings would indicate that women are cognizant that their careers could be impacted more than men if they were to work from home often. This discrepancy should be a red flag for employers.”

You can read the full results of the report that includes more data on perceptions around diversity programs here.


Amazon’s Jeff Bezos just became the world’s first $200 billionaire

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos just became the world’s first $200 billionaire
[Photos: Seattle City Council/Wikimedia Commons; Sahand Hoseini/Unsplash; NeONBRAND/Unsplash]

As Americans devastated by the coronavirus pandemic sit in their homes—jobless, cooking in bulk, praying for a single $1,200 check to arrive by mail—Amazon founder Jeff Bezos casually became the world’s first-ever $200 billionaire.

Bezos’s net worth cleared the record $200 billion mark Wednesday when shares of his online shopping company reached $3,403.64. Around $82 billion of his net worth was added this year after the pandemic catapulted e-commerce and contactless purchasing into the stratosphere. The tech titan, who also owns space company Blue Origin, is one of only three people on Earth with a 12-figure fortune—and his wealth now dwarfs that of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, with $123 billion, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with $106 billion (scrubs!).

Amazon shares continued to climb midday Wednesday, reaching $3,434.09 hours before the closing bell. Who knows how high they’ll go?! The rest of us can only watch as King Bezos counts cash from atop his contactless throne.


Is your home in a high-risk flood zone? Here’s how to find out

Is your home in a high-risk flood zone? Here’s how to find out
[Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash]

As Hurricane Laura intensifies over the Gulf of Mexico and the United States braces for catastrophic landfall, many residents within the storm’s destructive path may be flood-uninsured.


Such was the case in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey blew through Houston. Most of the homes destroyed by flooding had no insurance, according to the National Flood Insurance program, because they were not in flood zones designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. While FEMA requires homes in flood zones be insured, its maps are often outdated, neglecting to factor in projected data such as rising sea levels or heavy rainfall wrought by climate change.

Nonprofit First Street Foundation is one of many groups stepping in to fill the gap in flood awareness. It uses future data to create a more comprehensive map—assigning millions of properties nationwide a flood risk score from 1 to 10, and providing detail on a home’s current risk and its risk 30 years from now.

While FEMA’s maps have nine million properties in flood zones, First Street’s map has a staggering 14.5 million at-risk properties.

And starting today, both FEMA and First Street data will be published on real estate website

Publishing flood data is not as simple as it seems—while it’s important for homebuyers to know a property’s flood risk, a high-risk classification could also greatly decrease a property’s value, making homeowners more skittish about listing their sales on the website for fear of lowering their own net worth. Competitor real estate sites Zillow and Redfin told NPR that they have no plans yet to publish flood data.

But argues people must know the full cost of purchasing, maintaining, and potentially insuring or repairing a home before they make an offer. And for those living in flood zones, company executive Leslie Jordan told NPR, there are preventative measures that homeowners can take. “They can elevate their home on stilts. They can add a sump pump into the basement. They can install a rain garden outside,” said Jordan. But they must know their risk first.

You can check your home’s safety rating on, or by using First Street’s Flood Factor and FEMA’s Map Service Center. Knowing could save you thousands of dollars—or in some cases, even a life.


Victoria’s Secret responds to viral videos claiming its bras track customers

Victoria’s Secret responds to viral videos claiming its bras track customers
[Photo: Flickr user torbakhopper]

Victoria’s Secret has responded to a wave of videos circulating on social media claiming that the company has implanted chips inside bras to track customers. One TikTok video in June generated nearly three million hearts, and there now more than a dozen YouTube videos making this claim. Some conspiracy theorists have even referred to these trackers as “sex trafficking tags.”


According to Victoria’s Secret, these are simply RFID tags, which are commonly used in the fashion industry to track and manage inventory throughout the supply chain. In a statement provided to Fast Company, a spokeswoman for the company said:

“Like many other retailers, this technology helps us deliver a great store experience by ensuring we have the right products available for our customers. We only use this technology in our back room and sales floors to help us manage inventory so that our associates can efficiently support our customers’ needs.”

Snopes, a fact-checking organization, has published an article debunking the claim that the chips track customers. “These tags only have a range of a few meters,” the article reads. “Furthermore, these tags don’t have any sort of battery in them, meaning they are only of use within range of a scanner.”

The claim is not new, but it seems to have found new life this week with recently posted videos, some of which have attracted thousands of views on YouTube.

Yesterday afternoon, YouTube created a “fact check” panel that links to the Snopes article that pops up when you search for “Victoria’s Secret” and “tracker.” It clearly states that the claim that the lingerie brand is tracking customers with RFID tags is “false.” But videos continue to pop up making the claim.

We’ve reached out to YouTube to ask about whether it might take down these videos, and a spokesperson for the company said, “When conspiracy theories… violate our hate speech policies, harassment policies, or harmful & dangerous policies they will be removed. For example, we remove content that spreads Covid-19 misinformation, or denies that a well-documented, violent event (like the holocaust) took place.” However, he did not comment specifically on whether the videos about Victoria’s Secret fit within the criteria for removal.

This is just the latest scandal Victoria’s Secret has found itself in over the past few months and years. In February, the New York Times published an exposé about the toxic workplace culture at the company. Last year, the Times revealed how Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who committed suicide in prison, used his relationship with Victoria’s Secret’s founder to lure women and abuse them. Victoria’s Secret’s sales have been in a downward spiral, and its parent company, L Brands, has been in talks to try to sell it, but has so far been unsuccessful.

It seems that many customers have also lost their faith in the brand and are willing to believe conspiracy theories about it.


Airbnb is the hottest startup for stock options right now, and it’s not even close

Airbnb is the hottest startup for stock options right now, and it’s not even close
[Photo: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash]

Massive disruptions to the travel industry have not dimmed interest in Airbnb as an investment vehicle.


The home-sharing giant, which is expected to move forward with an IPO this year despite the coronavirus pandemic, was cited as the most wanted stock option in a poll of accredited investors this summer. That’s according to EquityBee, a company that helps startup employees acquire stock options by pairing them up with investors and providing them with capital.

Investors on the EquityBee platform showed more enthusiasm for Airbnb than any other startup, and it wasn’t even close. According to internal data EquityBee collected from the “wish lists” that investors mark on their dashboards, twice as many investors marked Airbnb as their most preferred stock option when compared to the No. 2 company on the list—the trading platform eToro.

Here are the top 10 companies:

  • Airbnb
  • eToro
  • Houzz
  • Palantir Technologies
  • JFrog
  • Databricks
  • Stripe
  • Hippo
  • Snowflake

A few of those companies filed paperwork for initial public offerings in just the last few days—including Snowflake, JFrog, and Palantir—so the race to be the next hot exit is definitely on.

But Airbnb has the most buzz of the bunch, even if its sheen has diminished over the past few months with would-be travelers saying closer to home. According to CB Insights, the company is still among the world’s most valuable startups. Count investors among those who are banking on a triumphant return for the travel industry.

The IPO market has been surprisingly robust this year, with well-received offerings from the tech-focused companies like Lemonade and ZoomInfo making headlines in recent months.


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