Has the metaverse missed its moment? Three recent misses explored

If you were looking at “metaverse” mentions alone in 2022 earnings calls, you might be fooled into thinking massive adoption is underway, a-la Facebook in 2007.

Mentions of “metaverse” in earnings calls (Q1 2016-Q1 2022)

Source: Axios

And in the last three years, three concurrent forces emerged that could have catapulted the metaverse into the next ubiquitous computing platform, similar to how the iPhone turned cell phones into pocket computers in 2008. These cultural moments have been catalyzed or amplified by the forced isolation of the a pandemic. They are:

  1. The loneliness epidemic
  2. Remote school and work
  3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Below we look at these three cultural moments and consider what the missed opportunities with each mean for the future of the metaverse.

1. The loneliness epidemic

As Luminary Labs summarized it, “before the coronavirus pandemic, there was the loneliness pandemic. Three in five Americans say they are lonely.” Forced isolation and social distancing during the pandemic exacerbated loneliness, but also jolted us into trying new ways of interacting remotely. Zoom Christmas became a thing that even grandma attempted.

Source: Business Insider

But the change in circumstance didn’t change the underlying mental health crisis. Loneliness leads to depression, and depression saps motivation, especially motivation to try new things. Ironically, virtual reality (VR) — the metaverse’s cornerstone technology — can effectively treat depression and anxiety, among other psychological and physical disorders. But outside of a few medical vanguards, no metaverse investor made significant strides to bridge the user motivation gap.

2. Remote school and work

Remote school and remote work are both here to stay. At a minimum, remote school will be a supplement to in-person schooling. (Goodbye snow days!) At a maximum, remote school will continue to unlock access, including for disabled, rural, and other student populations. Similarly, remote work will continue, as demand from workers is clear and employers are trending towards offering it in a competitive labor market. Metaverse solutions could arguably be the highest quality and lowest cost tech for both. An Oculus Quest 2 costs less than many Chromebooks, and offers many more capabilities. Further, two of VR’s biggest applications to date are in education and professional training, from surgeons to customer service reps.

Despite the high potential use cases and cost efficacy, no big employers or schools have announced the launch of internal metaspheres. This is likely for the same reason accounting firms issue buggy five-year-old laptops to employees making six figures: internal infrastructure is viewed as a cost center, not a value-generator. Why give employees infinite screens on their Oculus when they can still eke out the “same” work on their tiny laptop screens? Metaverse investors have done little to reverse this myth. So educators are likely to continue cobbling together free and lower cost resources, and employers are unlikely to significantly revise their budgets for remote work systems development.

3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

For as little as $15, anyone can begin to experiment with VR and, thus, the metaverse, via Google Cardboard. With one download, you can fly around the globe in Google Earth, visiting the Coliseum or the Pyramids. And on Oculus, popular games like Beat Saber cost half as much as Nintendo Switch games. This affordability presents an epic inclusion opportunity. Oculus Quest 2 sales have already topped 15 million, making the barriers to participation pretty low. In addition to being relatively affordable, the diversity of subcultures and self-expression possibilities are endless. Inclusion could be easier with the freedom to choose avatars that reflect your identity. A woman can choose a male avatar, a man could choose a wolf avatar, and perhaps in the future, a gender fluid person could change their avatar daily if they so chose.

Despite the metaverse’s economic accessibility, and its potential to welcome diverse populations equitably, most people don’t seem to see themselves participating. Critics hesitate to become legless floating bodies, and some women feel awkward in the currently male-dominated spaces. As many companies have learned in the great return-to-office debate, cultivating a sense of belonging is not as simple as just creating the persistent space. And its not clear that metaverse investors are creating welcoming on-ramps to expand inclusion.

Did metaverse miss its moment?

Why did the metaverse’s biggest advocates, from Microsoft to Facebook, not double down on pushing products like Mesh, the holographic collaboration tool, or experiences like Meta Quest meet-ups (surely a welcome alternative at the height of Zoom fatigue)? The problem seems to be two fold: lack of focus and premature hype.

The metaverse remains so loose a concept that even tech evangelists are confused about what it is. In theory it’s such a flexible concept — inclusive of most shared, persistent digital spaces — that, with some interest and ingenuity, early investors should be able to find pockets of growth. But instead that flexibility has cultivated a lack of focus. A very expensive lack of focus at that — Meta’s investors hammered the stock for having too little to show for its $10 billion of losses per year. While Oculus hardware is making great strides, the virtual experiences themselves haven’t reached the quality level that can attract everyday use. And with very public tech flubs like Facebook’s virtual Foo Fighter’s concert mishap, the technology clearly isn’t ready to support mass adoption.

The metaverse today is like QR codes in the 2000s — useful, but not convenient, intuitive, or ubiquitous enough to see mass adoption. That took a pandemic to change. And the metaverse has (hopefully) mostly missed this one. But that doesn’t mean it won’t catch the next growth opportunity. And we certainly can’t call the three cultural moments discussed above — loneliness, remote school and work, and DEI — solved problems. The metaverse is on its way. Just more slowly than its proponents would have you think.

May the ranked choice be with you, New York!

NYC is rolling out ranked choice voting for key city offices.

This June, New York will be the largest city in the U.S. to roll out a new* voting system that is regaining popularity: ranked choice voting. But what’s the big deal, you might ask. How is this better than our old system? We here at MBA in the City will explain it the best way we know how: with Star Wars.

*New unless you live in Ireland, Australia, San Francisco, France, Finland, or many other countries.

How rank-choice voting brings balance to the force

Every election it’s the same old choices: Jedi or Sith. You’d love to vote for a Droid candidate, but they always meld into the Jedi party, so as not to split the vote. It’s the strategic best thing to do, but you end up choosing between the lesser of two evils instead of a candidate who really represents your priorities. But something new is stirring in Tatooine. This election will be ranked choice voting.

A more diverse candidate pool

Suddenly, instead of the usual two candidates, there’s a half-dozen campaigning. A lot of fringe candidates have been emboldened to discuss their ideas. The Mandalorian party are usually the swing voters and have some intriguing ideas about “the way”. The Tusken Raider party is arguing for a wholesale shift in property rights. To your delight, among the new candidates with unique platforms is your true favorite, R2-D2. He’s running on a clean energy platform, pushing for universal free electric vehicle and droid charging.

Incentive for civil discourse and coalition-building

The debates took a notable turn this year. You’re used to some severe name calling in the thick of the Clone Wars, but the tone is remarkably civil. You think the Sith realized that slander will alienate the Mandalorian voters, and the Jedi and Droid parties are at least hoping to be each other’s supporters’ second place. The Jedi and Droids even ended up cross-promoting each other in campaign speeches, urging for voters to give their second choice to their competitor.

Invitation to express true preferences

Often you only vote on close elections. If the race is tight, you vote for Jedi, since the Sith alternative is so horrible. And if the election isn’t close, you don’t bother voting at all, since you already know the likely outcome, and your preferred party still won’t win. But under ranked choice voting, all the closet Droids supporters have a chance to make their voices heard without risking a worse election outcome.

This election day is different. You feel true motivation to vote. You rank Jedi second, knowing that as candidates are eliminated, your vote will transfer to your next preference.

In a galactic republic, every vote should count not just be counted

No vote should be a “thrown away” vote in a galactic republic. And this election, you cast your underdog vote knowing that for the first time, this is truly the case.

Election night is a true nail-biter. In the first count of first place votes, Droids take the lead with 27% of the vote, higher than you could have ever guessed. As the Tusken Raiders come in last with 4%, their redistributed votes bring the Sith into the lead in the second count. But when the Mandalorians are eliminated, the vote becomes overwhelmingly Jedi.

While Jedi are a more neutral and traditional choice, they acknowledge the success of the Droid platform in their victory speech. In the following months, the strong Droid vote leads the Jedi to adopt multiple pro EV policies.

Stories as real as reality

Everything in the above anecdote is based on real-life events from ranked choice voting elections in the U.S. The 2013 Minneapolis mayoral election launching that ranked choice voting was famously diverse and polite, with 35 candidates running on a congeniality contest. And the 2002 San Francisco mayoral underdogs campaigned by co-endorsing each other, only to lose to the centrist incumbent.

But those are the tales of other cities. And it is time for New York to write its own story. So read up on our candidates! Good luck, and happy voting.

How to ranked choice vote in NYC

Number candidates in order of preference, where first place is your first choice.

If your vote cannot help your top choice win, your vote is transferred to your next choice.

Last place candidates are eliminated, and their votes are transferred until one candidate receives the majority of votes.

Note: Don’t feel obligated to rank all five candidates. Just pick anywhere from one to five people you like.

(Don’t?) try this at home: DIY biotherapeutics are on the rise

Brinter, a modular bioprinter platform pending patent.

Last May, a YouTube video with a fascinating lede caught my eye: a biology student claimed to have cured himself of lactose intolerance through DIY gene therapy. He’d literally grown a cure, popped it in some capsules, and swallowed. Just a few months later, Stanford scientists posted the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine sequence on Github. And in the same time frame, Feles demoed their direct to consumer, all-in-one desktop science lab. Together, these puzzle pieces are building a picture of a more personalized and decentralized future of health. And COVID-19 has only accelerated the trend towards knowledge-sharing and accessible tools for biotherapeutics.

The DIY biology movement was already well underway before COVID-19. Curious students like Justin Atkin of the Thought Emporium wanted to take their health into their own hands. As a fellow lactose intolerant, I know such persistent health issues take a toll. I simply accepted my fate. But not Justin. He combined what he knew about cells and viruses to design a lactose intolerance cure — by growing a virus programmed to make the lactase enzyme. What makes Justin’s work powerful isn’t simply his success. It’s his commitment to making his insights accessible. He published a cheap, safe, and effective theoretical alternative on Creative Commons.

While bioscience knowledge is becoming more accessible through the open source movement, so are bioscience tools. While most scientific labs cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to outfit, a growing number of science-minded entrepreneurs are bringing equipment costs down. Feles developed a full science lab the size of a printer, priced at just $3,000. The accompanying software allows you to run reproducible experiments at the molecular level.

Feles was developed by biology students seeking to make biology experimentation accessible to everyone.

With the growth of the open source bioinformatics movement and the falling cost of scientific tools, Stanford’s publication of a reverse engineered Moderna vaccine sequence raised some natural questions: How many biology savvy people are as frustrated with limited COVID-19 vaccine access as I am with my lactose intolerance? How many self-empowered individuals would make their own vaccine? How feasible would that be now and in the future?

There is no question that COVID-19 has brought the future closer. Most notably, it has accelerated the trend towards open source scientific collaboration. The urgent needs to develop a COVID-19 vaccine unleashed a wave of scientists sharing their research. The Wall Street Journal reported a spike in publishing preliminary findings (prior to peer review) as researchers work to limit the number of dead ends their peers pursue.

Yet while the accessibility of knowledge has gone up vis-a-vis COVID-19 vaccine development, material costs are not trending downward as quickly. While Stanford scientists indicated use of typical biology lab materials for their reverse engineering, the vaccine production process is an entirely different matter. Unstable biological agents, like mRNA require careful handling, which does not lend itself to distributed manufacturing.

We also can expect some regression to the mean with scientific knowledge sharing. Solutions unvetted by clinical trials or peer review will continue to pose risks that the public may not fully appreciate. Yet the field appears to be becoming less risk averse. I expect a sustained shift towards rapid experimentation and sharing early insights.

While “nobody will be making an mRNA vaccine in their garage any time soon,” it may not be so far fetched in our lifetime. Just as 3D printers have become a household item, perhaps one day doctors will email us vaccine scripts that we run on our household bio-printer, eliminating all storage problems. When mutations arise, your doctor could email you a revised script. It may sounds futuristic, but Codex DNA could be as little a year away from going to market, and they aim to have their vaccine printer in every hospital, pharmacy, and doctor’s office. Then personalized medicine may know no limits. I look forward to seeing what Justin Atkin and the open source bioscience community do once this tech becomes direct to consumer.

Modern community: three levels being re-shaped by social distancing

Well before COVID-19 struck, the U.S. faced a loneliness epidemic: 61% of Americans reported feeling lonely prior to the pandemic. Compare this with a November 2020 study, where 80% of participants reported significant depressive symptoms. People have felt isolated because, well, they have been. Self-isolation and social distancing are our best prevention methods for mitigating COVID-19’s spread. While we protect our psychical health, people have also needed to find way to bolster mental health.

More than three in five Americans are lonely, with more and more people reporting feeling like they are left out, poorly understood and lacking companionship.

Elena Renken, NPR

In a testament to human resilience and ingenuity, with each social door that has closed, people have tested and tried a dozen alternative doors to open. I’ve seen social connection re-imagined at three levels: one-on-one, affinity groups, and the workplace. Below I share the trends that have warmed my heart to see, and my favorite examples within each.

Three levels of community

One-on-one

With space in our calendars, our collective memories have been stirred, to think of loved ones and old friends far and wide. We’ve felt the urge to connect with them using tools we almost forgot existed: telephones and pen and paper. Paper Source Inc.’s greeting-card sales jumped 1,200% following social distancing orders in March. And phone call volume surged more than internet use in the weeks following lock-down, as people wanted to hear the sound of each other’s voices.

Favorite for one-on-one: Lovepop cards are the notes I have both enjoyed sending the most and gotten the warmest responses for. In a world that feels mostly 2D right now because of excessive screen time, it’s revitalizing to inject some 3D into it.

Lovepop cards range from the lovely to the nerdy.

Affinity groups

Lockdowns across the globe have re-shaped and consolidated our social networks. People have focused on connecting with those they have the most in common with over people that are geographically near. This includes revived interest in hobbies and affinity groups. In Ireland, over 250,000 people joined Facebook hobby groups following lock-down orders, with 30,000 people joining Irish Gardening alone.

When social interactions moved online, only certain kinds of relationships seemed to survive.

Dr Marlee Bower, loneliness researcher, University of Sydney

While incumbent social media has done well, new platforms for online social interaction have proliferated. Clubhouse has enjoyed huge engagement. I’ve been invited to many Sims-esque social spaces, from Gather to Kumospace.

Favorite for affinity groups: Toucan wins for small (less than 15 people) social e-events. It’s essentially a virtual cocktail room where you can move between different social circles. Among the ‘organic’ platforms that permit free movement, it has been the easiest to interact with. However, the organic movement of participants starts to feel chaotic if the event gets too big.

Toucan lets you mix and mingle across different audio circles in the same event.

The workplace

Remote work has changed much of how we communicate with coworkers. For many, social distance has also created emotional distance. In a study by Sharehold, mental health was the top-reported factor that impacted employees after New York’s March 2020 stay-at-home orders (due to COVID-19). Another international survey showed 40% of employers felt concern for how remote work might impact workers’ mental health.

Many employers have tried to address our yearning for informal chats and ‘micro-interactions’ with new tools (Slack, Zoom) and new norms. My company started including personal checkins at the beginning of Monday stand-ups. And working sessions quickly transitioned from ‘business-first’ to ‘catch-up first’.

Favorite for the workplace: My company instituted quarterly ‘cafes’ with trivia pulled from our personal Readmes and Slack. It gamifies getting to know each other and is full of laughs.

Community in the long run

Loneliness experts hypothesize that people will recover from the lock-down-induced loneliness spike and return to their previous baseline over the long-term. So while we’ve explored new ways to engage in community virtually, nothing can supplant the human need to be with one another in person.

We are creatures of habit. . . I think we will revert back to our social groups [in the long run].

Michelle Lim, loneliness expert

The Index Card Summary of “Unapologetically Ambitious”

Shellye Archambeau is one of Silicon Valley’s first female African American CEOs. She shares her life’s story and every decision-making principle that has guided it in: “Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms.”

Her book is rich with 39 chapters of life decisions and insights. Across it, three key themes stood out:

  1. Master your mindset
  2. Prepare for opportunity
  3. Learn from others

The Index Card Summary

Your professional success, Archambeau argues, depends on three self-guided processes:

1. Master your mindset

Archambeau believes three feeling are prerequisites to professional confidence: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Competence is the ability to handle yourself no matter what arises. Autonomy is the confidence to make your own choices. And relatedness is feeling like you fit in. If you are missing any one of these three, you are more likely to withdraw from challenges. But if you have all three, you will feel prepared to set goals and reach them.

To feel competent, you must accept your circumstances while owning your agency. To feel autonomous, you need to know your values. Naming your values will give you a standard for decision-making. And to feel relatedness, you must feel empathy towards your teams while earning their respect and building alliances.

Your personal and professional cheerleaders can bolster all three elements. Cheerleaders can especially build your confidence in your own decision-making.

2. Prepare for opportunity

Once you’ve got the right mindset for taking action, you can set goals according to what you want and need, and make a plan to achieve them. But how does one make a robust plan with a good chance of success? Archambeau focuses on identifying patterns associated with power.

Archambeau knew in high school she wanted to be a CEO. She then made choices that minimized the friction for achieving her goal. She picked a growth industry — technology — that would offer more opportunities. And she looked for patterns to decode how her industry and roles worked. When she noted that executives are all great speakers, she joined Toastmasters. Throughout her whole career, she acquired skills and experiences common to top candidates. She also time-boxed her plans. If promotions were slow to come, even with her top performance, she looked for opportunities outside of her company.

But you can’t prepare for every possible workplace situation, and you can’t plan for the macroeconomic environment. So how does this advice jive with managing the unexpected? Archambeau recommends identifying worst-case scenarios based on the current environment. Validate your plan based on a clear fact base. After that, there’s no time for second thoughts! Once you begin to act, you can adapt to changing circumstances with creative problem-solving. To move with conviction, you must accept that your choices mean saying yes to one path and no to another.

3. Learn from others

There’s almost nothing new under the sun. So you might as well learn from someone who’s done what you’re trying to do. Ask someone who’s achieved what you’re trying to achieve for advice. Then following up on how that advice worked out. This is the simplest way to attract a mentor: make your ask small and share what the mentor’s advice yielded.

You will need to do the upfront work of networking to find the right people to ask for advice. At the same time, don’t limit your thinking about who can help support you in achieving your goals. Tell everyone you know what you’re trying to accomplish. Broadcast your intentions. This will keep you top of mind when opportunities appear.

Learning from others also includes learning from your team. Ask for help when you need it. And be willing to delegate. Embracing your limits will empower your team to take the lead when they are better placed to do so.

Requisites and truths

Each of the three key themes holds underlying requisites. Mastering your mindset requires you to know yourself — one of the hardest things to do for most people. This, for me, felt especially hard when I had limited work experience. Preparing for opportunity presupposes you buy into the institutions that dominate your industry. Archambeau recommends ‘finding the current’ of power and jumping in it. But if you disagree with the system, it will be hard to position yourself to move with it. And learning from others can be hard to balance against confidence in your own decisions. Not all advice is good advice, so how do you filter in only the good advice? In addition, garnering advice in the first place will be difficult if you haven’t learned how to network in a way that suits you.

Still, none of these caveats reduces the wisdom of Archambeau’s advice. Once you have your own inner foundation firm, decision-making will become easier. Preparing for the future you want can only aid you in achieving your ambitions. And finding sources of advice and support will put the wind at your back. This includes ‘micro-mentors’ — people willing to give timely advice — and supportive teammates.

Success, Archambeau notes, is a continuous process. If you’re moving in the right direction, every day is a success.

Out with the old: How to make resolutions you’ll keep

We’ve all heard that the journey is more important than the destination. And the most important part of the journey is the next step. But how does this apply to New Year’s resolutions? Below is a simple guide to nixing the lofty end-goals and re-centering around continuous improvement.

Your brain on resolutions

Run a marathon. Learn beginner guitar. A classic resolution names exactly the outcome you want. It gives you a mountain to climb, literally or metaphorically. While it’s nice to have a vision to work towards, these kinds of goals can often have negative psychological effects.

First, lofty goals can dampen your self-esteem. When you set a goal, you place yourself in an immediate state of failure, by definition. And since most resolutions relate to self-improvement, this may provoke feelings of inadequacy. Second, we are particularly susceptible to “false hope syndrome” when making resolutions. A variant of the planning fallacy, we can assume that achieving a goal will be easier or faster to achieve than is realistic. When reality sets in, we give up or experience de-motivation.

False hope syndrome is characterized by a person’s unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease and consequences of changing their behavior.”

Mark Griffiths, Psychology Professor, Nottingham Trent University

Third, a narrowly-defined goal may lead to de-motivation once we achieve the goal. We can mentally disconnect the goal from its underlying aspiration or principle. That’s why most dieters quickly regain all their lost weight, and then some. People who decide to adopt a healthy lifestyle, by contrast, often sustain success.

But how do you hold yourself accountable for self-improvement without a resolution? By changing your mindset to focus on the journey. That means prioritizing continuous improvement over specific milestones.

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

Tim Harford, Author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure

From resolutions to themes

For the last few years I have swapped out resolutions for annual themes. C.G.P. Grey describes themes as something you want more of in your life, a principle that you will use to make decisions. For me, last year was the “Year of Intentionality.” I wanted to do fewer things better. I wanted to avoid weaker interests that might crowd more important areas of my life. This theme gave me the grace to “Marie Kondo” my life. I said “thank you and goodbye” to the things that I like doing but didn’t have space for. And pandemic not withstanding, this was my most successful New Year’s resolution yet.

C.G.P. Grey explains how to make an annual theme that supports your growth.

From planner to navigator

It’s an unpredictable world out there. Having detailed life plans that you regularly scrap or revise can feel like a waste. Of course an initial plan can provide a valuable starting place. Plans can help you test assumptions and approaches. And the goal you are mapping towards can give you an inspiring vision and a sense of urgency. But the scale of the plan directly relates to the probability of success. A plan to get from your couch to the front door is more likely to succeed than a plan to get from your couch to Times Square, which depends on whether your E train became an F or your Q became a 2 train.

“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

If resolutions are truly meant to help improve your life, themes are much better suited to the job. They provide clear decision-making principles that enable you to plan your next step, no matter what life throws at you. And because the locus of control is with you, in a year’s time, you will look back and see visible growth.

Winter is coming: 10 must-haves for quarantine survival

This summer, as we broke out of our quarantine cocoons, we all became nature enthusiasts as we sought out wide-open spaces. The air was sweet and social distancing was easy. But as the leaves are changing, so is the COVID case count trend line — and not for the better. Seeing the Wall in the north signals the worst, and we must be ready for it. Like any epic sequel, we have learned a thing or two since facing the last big bad. Consider last winter’s self-isolation a practice round. This time, you’re going to be ready. With this survival kit, you can stay healthy all winter long, body, mind, and soul.

Body

Your physiological well-being is tier one on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Here are three things beyond sheltering in place that will keep you healthy this winter.

1. Roborock

If the pandemic has showed us nothing else, hygiene and health go hand-in-hand. The Roborock S6 MaxV robot vacuum and mop literally does all the dirty work for you by keeping your floors gleaming. With the bad germs gone, you can fully enjoy the Great Indoors.

2. Fitbod

Whether you love working out or hate it, Fitbod really does fit any user. It generates custom workouts based on (1) how often you want to workout, (2) your available equipment, and (3) your freshest muscle groups. You can also adjust the suggest workout modules as you go, so it can truly fit the time you have available and your fitness level. Because of Fitbod, I exercise more than I ever have before: three times a week for 20 minutes. My mother would be proud.

3. Baldor

Baldor is a New York restaurant supplier that started delivering direct-to-consumer at the start of the pandemic. It’s higher quality than Whole Foods, yet less expensive. You can buy European, preservative-free canned tuna and Hudson Valley farm CSA boxes. Their “peak season” and “local” buttons point you to the freshest food available and help you support local businesses. The minimum order size is $200, which isn’t hard to meet if you freeze some of your order. Watch out for item sizes — some SKUs are definitely intended for high-volume restaurants!

Now that you’ve got a plan for your physical health, it’s time think about your mind. (So meta.)

Mind

Boredom ranks as the most common quarantine complaint. But your livingroom doesn’t need to be where creativity goes to die. Below are sources of stimulation and tools that provide some of the interactive flexibility that you had when working in-person.

4. An Ipad + Apple Pencil

When you’re trying to map out an idea or ideate with a team, sometimes you just need a whiteboard. Using tools like Microsoft OneNote or Google Jamboard can enable visual collaboration in real time. And if you want to draw things other people will recognize, mouse scribbles just don’t cut it. An Apple Pencil instantly gives you the same articulation as a whiteboard.

5. Zoom virtual backgrounds

This may seem like a small one, but I think I’ve been around the world and back with all the creative backgrounds I’ve seen and employed. It keeps viewers stimulated in a time of screen fatigue.

6. Books

Remember those? They are what people read before online news and Netflix. Take the opportunity this winter to rediscover what’s on your book shelf, join a book club, or renew your library card. And if you’re not afraid of endless screen time, the New York Public library has an extensive e-book collection.

Now that your body and mind are feeling like well-oiled machines, it’s time to think about the things that make life worth living, the things that feed your soul.

Soul

As I’m sure you learned in the first quarantine, operating at your best takes more than just a healthy body and engaged mind. Below are three things that nourish the soul.

7. WakingUp app

Bestselling author Sam Harris created a guided meditation platform called Waking Up. Through it, you can both practice meditation, and learn the theory behind the practice. It offers a 30-day free trial beginners course that introduces many types of mindfulness meditation, along with access to other mindfulness content. If there’s anything we all need after the crazy year of 2020, it’s help clearing our minds and centering ourselves.

Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others. 

– Sam Harris, best-selling author and neuroscientist

8. Pod buddies

Introvert or extrovert, relationships are rejuvenating. I almost forgot people came in three dimensions until I started meeting a pod body every other week. And now, the world feels a bit more human.

9. A furry pet

If you haven’t yet joined the animal adoption bandwagon, it’s not too late! Even the CDC recommends pet ownership for its physical, emotional, and interpersonal benefits.

The trifecta

There’s one product that offers physical engagement, mental stimulation, and soul-stirring joy rolled all into one.

10. Oculus Quest

The Oculus Quest‘s Beat Saber offers immersive entertainment, that gets you moving and brings the inexplicable soul highs of electronic music. With the Quest’s new wireless capabilities, it’s a huge upgrade from the Oculus Rift.

Ready Player One was closer than we thought, and with the state of the world in 2020, it’s perfect timing.

Ready for Round 2

Tie a bandana around your head and put on some boxing wraps, because you are ready for the next round of lock down. God speed.

NY children solve Halloween’s deadweight loss problem

Every year economists cringe at the “deadweight loss” of Christmas gifts — the monetary loss that comes from spending more on presents than people value them. And the level of deadweight loss can be horrifying for Halloween trick-or-treaters. Nerds given to chocolate lovers. And saltwater taffy just thrown in the trash. But a solution has arisen from the hallways of NYC public schools.

The youth of New York recognized the importance of a robust secondary market for Halloween candy. Markets began to formalize a decade ago, following one Brooklyn classroom’s trading flows making national news. Soon after, the New York Candy Exchange (NYCE), located in Tribeca, opened its hallways for trading. For the last five years we’ve seen heavy trading the day after Halloween, tapering off into the second week of November.

While this year has made in-person trading difficult, hall monitor Sally McCoy of P.S. 32 remains optimistic. “We’ve seen extensive preparation in primary markets to ensure continued candy supply. With this encouragement, secondary markets are displaying a real appetite to continue trading.” To reduce in-person exposure, both the NYCE and the Chicago Candy Exchange (CCE) unveiled new digital exchanges, which debuted for initial futures trading last week. Savvy children have started creating options markets for candy that doesn’t exist yet.

In one-week options with November 1 maturities, Snickers is the clear Halloween favorite. But not everyone is sweet on this option. We spoke to Johnny “Mars-slayer” Malone of P.S. 46, who had decided to short Snickers this year. “Normally I do a straddle trade, going long on full-sized Snickers and short on minis. But this year, I think it’s a bubble. The writing is on the wall.” Yes, Johnny read the notices on the lunchroom wall about peanut safety.

With potential peanut regulations looming on the horizon from the New York Board of Education, Johnny feels confident in his position.

The number of Almond Joys (ALJ) needed to buy one Snickers (SNK) is forecast to reach an all-time high this Halloween.

We reached out to Mars Inc. for comment on peanut regulation, and the Investor Relations Officer had this to say: “Everyone cares about the safety of children, but what we need is smart regulation… We recognize the frothiness of the market in these turbulent times, but this spike is supported by strong nougat fundamentals.”

But the market can stay irrational longer than Johnny can stay solvent. Fortunate for Johnny, he’s successfully negotiated favorable margin limits with Mrs. Malone, on the agreement that Johnny maintains his allowance reserves at 200% of his original trade. Johnny sealed the deal with a clause allowing Mrs. Malone to keep 10% of all discounted primary market purchases made on November 1st.

Rising like the phoenix: The rebirth of NYC restaurants

“We had to keep reinventing the business every week to two weeks.”

Caitlyn Morrissey, store manager. Source: The New York Times

New York small businesses have seen the full financial force of the pandemic, and restaurants have born the brunt of it. Roughly 7,000 NYC small businesses have shut down permanently since the start of the pandemic. The New York Times reported that a third of these small business closures are restaurants. So when I see a tattooed old man out with his DeWalt circular saw and 2x4s procured from the Flatiron Home Depot two blocks away, building outdoor seating as structurally sound as any residential building, my hat goes off to him. This post is a homage to those who have recreated the restaurant.

Reinvention: Not just by restaurant owners

We’ve heard various narratives about the “multiplier effect” of a job. Once one person is employed, they have money to spend that helps employ someone else. The same is true of restaurants setting up outdoor seating. From local contractors to florists to set designers looking for very off-Broadway work, skilled builders have redeployed expertise for the local restaurant. Design firms like Rockwell Group and Pink Sparrow have mocked up modular, prefabricated platforms, barriers, and parklets — which they may make available as DIY kits. And of course, most scrappy New York restaurateurs literally scrapped something together.

Best of NYC outdoor seating

In celebration of NYC creativity, we’ve identified a few outdoor dining “winners” who categorically stood out.

Most creative social distancing: Cafe du Soleil, French cafe, Upper West Side

The Covid bubble is real.

Best outdoor indoor seating: Kyuramen, ramen house, Flushing

Am I on the outside looking in, or on the inside looking out?

Best use of public infrastructure: Hudson Clearwater, American restaurant, West Village

Public seating upgrade or restaurant oeuvre, you decide.

Most European-inspired: Le Zie, Italian restaurant, Chelsea

The closest thing to a vacation you’ll get this year.

Most authentic: Smithfield Hall, sports bar, Flatiron

Sometimes, all you need is a nice, cool pint.

Mo’ seating, mo’ permanent

It’s not just restaurants that are allowed to apply for street seating —it’s anyone with a ground-floor store front. And it’s not just a pandemic “perk” now to dine outside. Our mayor wants to embrace our new sidewalk cafe seating year-round. While our city is evolving out of necessity, some of it will be for the better. Especially for all the new puppy owners who can bring their four-legged family members out for lunch and dinner.

On a personal note, it’s great to see the Keynsian multiplier in full effect, increasing the velocity of money and driving trickle-out economics. As in we’re trickling out into the streets.

The Quarantini: A recipe for the times

Source: New York Post

Since being locked away, we’ve all had to spent a little more time in the kitchen. With a bit of experimentation, I’ve captured the quarantine experience in a recipe that redefines mocktail: The Quarantini.

Ingredients

Heavy amount social distancing
5 new face masks
4 electronic devices
3 Netflix series
2 new app downloads
1 new hobby
1 new subscription service
1 adopted pet
1 bicycle
A dash of social isolation
Sourdough starter
A gallon of hand sanitizer
Unlimited social unrest

Optional:
1 bucket of coronas
1 new escape plan

Directions

To gather all your ingredients, first walk outside. Realize you are in a real-life I am Legend scene. Walk back inside. Embrace the “Spaceship you” and decide to become a better version of yourself. Download one fitness and one mindfulness app. Adopt a puppy. Reignite your love of puzzles with a 1000-piece monthly subscription box. Read blogs about whether your sourdough baby is normal. Add a dash of social isolation that sinks you deeper into your four devices. Binge your favorite three Netflix series. Decide you’re ready to go outside, with a heavy dose of social distancing. Realize that spring fashion is all about mask fashion now. Give the evil eye to anyone not wearing a mask, making loud comments about how some people don’t know what “six feet” means until people sheepishly back off or become enraged. Stir in increasing amounts of social unrest, until the street protests are daily, and hand sanitizer flows freely as city budgets dry up.

Realize that this is bigger than you and requires systems change. Break out your optional buck of coronas on the rocks, best enjoyed in makeshift outdoor seating. Mix a dash of homelessness as shelters become less safe and the eviction moratorium ends. Hatch your emergency escape plan in case the city loses its je-ne-sais-quoi. And finally, watch a man in a beret cycle by, playing gentle french music from his speakers, and remember why you love New York. Pop open one more corona and pour one for your hommies.