Stranger Danger Isn’t as Bad as You Think

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760-733-9969. 46 771 793 336. They may look like ordinary phone numbers (although the European one is cooler), but back in the day, you could dial these digits to reach not your mom or your best friend, but rather a stranger. That 760 number went to a now famous phone booth in the Mojave Desert (its legacy lives on, via the same 10 digits). The second number connected callers to a random Swede. Needless to say, it was a hit.

These pro-stranger examples, however, are not the rule. 

Research shows that people significantly underestimate strangers’ willingness to help.

In a review of her own research, Vanessa Bohns, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, found that people who request help from strangers underestimate compliance by 48 percent. Her work, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science this year, demonstrates that people think they will have to ask far more people for aid than they actually need to — be it asking for a charitable donation, use of a cellphone or answers to a survey.

The finding provides some evidence for the TED Talk above, by Kio Stark. Stark argues that interactions with strangers can be beautiful interruptions to days given over to routines and tasks and commutes —and even a kind of resistance. “Seeing someone as an individual is a political act,” she argues in her TED Talk — an idea she expands upon in TED book out next month. Talking to a stranger, Stark argues, can be better than talking to your significant other or your BFF. There are fewer consequences, for one, which probably explains why your UberPOOL conversations can get deep and heavy very quickly.

Bohns knows just how terrified people can be of strangers, though. At Cornell, she has seen study participants opt out when they’re told they’ll have to ask strangers for help. “They panic,” she says. “They get so anxious. They ask questions like, ‘What if nobody agrees to help?’ ” Early in her career, Bohns worked on an entirely different body of work that required her to get survey results. The results weren’t so interesting — except for the fact that so many people had agreed to help in the first place. She decided to study stranger interaction.  

According to Bohns’ work, strangers report being helpful because they thought awkwardness would arise if they said no. Though it’s counterintuitive, no matter the size of the request — whether it’s filling out a one-page survey or a 10-page survey — people say yes about the same amount in Bohns’ studies. Strangers will work hard to fulfill requests too. In a not-yet-published study, Bohns’ data shows how strangers go above and beyond when told that the more trivia questions they answer in a packet, the better shot a person has at winning a competition. They answer far more questions than expected. In another study, people indicated that they believe strangers will help more if offered money. But that’s not the case — Bohns says strangers will help the same percent of the time, whether paid or unpaid.

Of course, our pessimism about strangers’ willingness to help isn’t totally off. They will help about 50 percent of the time, according to Bohns’ work. Plus, you might not want to go talking to strangers and making lots of requests if they’re in a van that says “Free Candy,” or if they’re wearing a clown suit and it’s not your birthday party. They’ll probably say yes, but you might have been better off DIY.

Is Trump Right on Trade?

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It’s been perhaps the most consistent pillar of an erratic campaign: Donald Trump opposing longstanding U.S. trade policy. In one recent speech, Trump said of the 22-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement: “If we don’t get a better deal, we will walk away.” He’s also threatened the same fate for the 164-member World Trade Organization. And he rejects the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. So if President Trump gets his way, he could usher in a new era — by dumping the U.S. from a global menu of alphabet soup: NAFTA, WTO and TPP, to name just a few.

The bravado-driven talk is meant to re-incentivize American manufacturers to produce domestically, of course, reversing a long trend of companies sourcing goods and services overseas to save money. Trump’s economic plan proposes to do this on two fronts: reduce business burdens in the U.S., such as environmental standards, while raising them abroad, including stiffer punishment for countries that skirt the rules. To his credit, some say, there would likely be certain benefits for the U.S. Erecting new and unpredictable tariffs, for example, could boost domestic manufacturing in the future, says Gary Clyde Hufbauer, of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, pulling out of NAFTA would give the U.S. leverage to negotiate better conditions — such as greater punishment for establishing non-tariff trade barriers, says Peter Navarro, a business professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a Trump policy adviser.

Along with Mexico, China is Trump’s other chief culprit for American manufacturing woes, which he’s said stem from the Asian giant joining the WTO in 2001. But while there is evidence that normalized trade with China has contributed to job losses since 2001, automation and efficiency gains share the blame. Trump has also criticized American leaders for not being tough enough against currency manipulation and intellectual property theft, yet he’s coming under fire for that argument. Robert Manning, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank on international affairs, points out that the WTO imposes rules on China, the world’s largest trader. When the U.S. has brought cases against China to the international body, for instance, “we’ve won most of those,” says Manning.

Withdrawing from painstakingly negotiated deals, in which no one gets everything they want but they all sign, could cost the U.S. credibility.

As the world has seen in the fallout of the Brexit vote, major trade deal withdrawals would likely shake the global financial markets. New tariffs on foreign goods would beget the same treatment from other nations. Many American factories are cogs in an increasingly complex global supply chain — for example, foreign automakers have built plants across the American South — and isolationism could spark a destructive trade war. Hufbauer recalls the brief land-border shutdown after the 9/11 attacks that caused the U.S. auto industry to grind to a halt. “There would be a lot of Americans unemployed as a result of retaliation from abroad,” he says. Boeing airplanes, Caterpillar tractors and GE locomotives would become more expensive abroad and would likely lose market share.

 

These effects also carry over to foreign policy. Withdrawing from painstakingly negotiated deals, in which no one gets everything they want but everyone signs on the dotted line, could cost the U.S. long-term credibility. “Countries have to be as good as their word,” Kim Campbell, the former prime minister of Canada, tells OZY. “The fact of the matter is these trade deals are good for both countries.” But some experts cast aside diplomatic concerns. “Our trading partners have been playing us for fools,” Navarro argues. “They will respect Donald Trump for standing up for Americans against unfair trade practices.”

As the rhetoric heats up, the Trans-Pacific Partnership hangs in the balance. President Barack Obama has pushed a skeptical Congress to ratify the 12-nation pact, and now both Trump and Hillary Clinton have come out against it — with the left’s anti-trade rhetoric forcing a turnabout from the Democratic nominee who helped sell the deal as secretary of state. Amid concerns about whether she would stick to her primary stance, Clinton recently said of the TPP: “I oppose it now. I’ll oppose it after the election. And I’ll oppose it as president.” Clinton’s foes have accused her of insincerity given her and her advisers’ prior support, and Navarro pointed out in a press release after her trade speech that Clinton never said she would withdraw from TPP if Obama is able to push it through a lame-duck Congress.

 

What does that mean for North America’s future? A TPP deal would impose new labor and environmental standards on member states Canada and Mexico, going beyond NAFTA. And the pact is most important for who’s not within it: China. If Congress or the next president blocks the deal, Pacific nations would inevitably move more under the influence of one of Trump’s favorite foils: “China will write the rules,” Manning says.

Trump’s stance on trade should also be seen through the lens of his real estate career, as an extreme starting point for negotiations. Instead of nuking whole deals, Hufbauer says a President Trump could narrowly target his demands to, say, trying to make Mexican state-owned oil giant Pemex buy equipment from U.S. companies first. He could also threaten specific American companies with targeted tariffs unless they agree to build plants at home. It would be a striking use of executive power, but one perhaps well-suited to Trump.

How to Infuse Your Homemaking With Horror

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OZY and JPMorgan Chase have partnered to bring you an inside look at how entrepreneurs and their good business are helping the communities around them. Enjoy the rest of our special series here.

Fancy a cookies-and-scream tombstone ice pop? How about a mac-and-cheese brain salad? These are just two of Kaci Hansen’s most popular offerings. An average day finds the 31-year-old Californian chef elbow-deep in entrails or slicing sausages into finger-size chunks and making Nightmare on Elm Street Soul Pizza. In February, Hansen turned her love for the spooktacular into a popular YouTube channel, creating and hosting “The Homicidal Homemaker,” which has amassed 101,000 views and counting. With jet-black hair, feline eyeliner and a style that merges Morticia Addams with rockabilly, Hansen’s all in.

From Katy Perry’s bedazzled skeleton suit at Moschino’s 2017 resort show to AMC’s Shudder Labs, a “scream-on-demand” streaming service, it’s never been hotter to skip a heartbeat. Hansen has tapped into a growing interest in fear-flavored food, reaching a millennial audience that’s twice as likely to watch a horror movie as the 30-plus crowd. And members of the under-25 demo also make the most adventurous cooks, according to the Hartman Group, a market research firm based in Bellevue, Washington. In fact, 75 percent of millennials use their mobile devices for cooking advice and videos, according to a Think With Google report.

The creepy cooking genre also includes “The Vegan Zombie” YouTube show and restaurants like Vampire Café in Tokyo and Gwar Bar, which serves food with a side of fake blood, in Richmond, Virginia.

“There’s a greater appreciation for the fun that can come from introducing fear into any situation — it’s not as taboo as it was in previous generations,” says scare sociologist Margee Kerr, the author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear. Kerr studies how fear works in different societies and the ways that consciously introducing it can benefit people. She’s seen horror content spike in the past few years and suggests that’s because it resonates culturally. “Everyone is looking for that standout product — fear is a great way to do that.”

Take Halloween. This once-a-year spookfest has bled into everyday life, from skeleton-themed bars to summer blockbusters — hello, Ghostbusters. Nathan Polanco, 24, owner and producer of the Fear Overload haunted houses in Northern California, has expanded operations from the core October–early November shudder season to include Valentine’s Day and Christmas, a holiday he calls Santa’s Scream-Fest. These are not traditionally popular times of year for the macabre. “We specifically target millennials,” Polanco says. “We find that love and fear often intertwine, and this makes for a thrilling and popular [date] event.”

Kerr theorizes that sensation seeking declines as we age, but our need for experience doesn’t. Younger people are more likely to go for the high-thrill startle, whereas older people opt for the less challenging shiver. The popularity of shows like The Walking Dead and Stranger Things have taken these deep-seated impulses mainstream. “When I started, there was a negative idea that horror was bad,” Hansen says of her early fear-food days. “Now it’s acceptable in our culture. Even if you don’t like being scared, there’s an appreciation of it.”

And there’s profit in screams. Joining AMC’s Shudder Labs are CryptTV (backed by Hostel director Eli Roth) and Screambox, both of which launched in the past two years. Horror uniquely appeals to both genders, unlike action or romance flicks. Hansen says her audience is fairly evenly split: More women visit her website, and more men view her YouTube tutorials.

Cooking is one of the most popular YouTube verticals, and it’s hard for a newbie to stand out. That’s partly why Chris Cooney — YouTube moniker, the Vegan Zombie — decided to add a little gore to his recipes. “In our storyline, it’s meat and dairy that caused the zombie infection,” he says. “So vegans are a step ahead in fighting off the zombies.” His entertaining tutorials have a subtle message: Don’t be a mindless zombie, think about what you eat. The message seems to be resonating. Cooney’s channel has 5.5 million views and 119,00 subscribers, and he’s spun off a cookbook and a line of themed hoodies and T-shirts.

What makes the home-economics-meets-horror cooking genre so popular is the genuine enthusiasm of everyone involved. “I’m making food that looks like internal organs,” Hansen says, “and I get a kick out of it.” She’s keen for people to try before they judge. What looks disgusting can taste really, really good, she says. To accomplish this, Hansen has started giving cooking lessons at horror-themed festivals, most recently ScareLA in Los Angeles, a 4-year-old summer convention that celebrates everything scary. Hansen’s classes, which she called “Gruesome Gourmet” and “Killer Cocktails,” were so popular they had a waitlist.

With a new season of The Walking Dead premiering soon, and Google Trends showing searches for “horror” on the rise, the future looks deliciously dark. And with creepy cooking combos getting so much traction, this macabre Martha Stewart and her cohorts plan to stay in the sweet spot for scary and scrumptious.

This editorial article was originally created by OZY Media and published on OZY.com prior to, and independently of its inclusion in this JPMorgan Chase & Co. sponsored series. OZY Media claims the full rights and responsibilities of this article. 

4 Podcasts That Will Make You Smarter

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Do you think everyone in a position of governmental authority is lying to you? Do you believe the world is on its ass?

Thought so. And you might not be able to trust the water, but they haven’t figured out how to control the air yet. At least, not all of it. We’ve identified some podcasts that’ll speak to your inner incredulity and need to be right, especially if that need’s cost you your friends, your job and your personal hygiene.

MAE BRUSSELL: WORLD WATCHERS INTERNATIONAL 

Mae was minting tin foil hats when you were still in diapers. The original talk-radio conspiracy theorist, she got her start with a little light reading — the Warren Commission report — and a seven-year research project to debunk its central premise: that Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy. In 1971, she began a 25-year career on local radio, first as an occasional guest “in the know,” and then as eventual host of “Dialogue: Assassination,” planet Earth’s most exhaustively researched Kennedy exposé. Brussell’s scope gradually expanded to take in the events of the day (Iran-Contra, the Manson family, Jonestown, even an alleged spotting of John Hinckley Jr. in her backyard), and the show was accordingly rebranded “World Watchers International.”

Though she died in 1988, the entire back catalog of “World Watchers International” lives on in internet immortality. Brussell made conspiracy theories as American as apple pie, and hating the CIA a national sport for a large swath of the population. Without her, there’s no magic-bullet theory, no Kevin Costner getting sweatily self-righteous and no one loitering at secluded airfields wondering about those unregistered planes the CIA doesn’t own.

DAN CARLIN: COMMON SENSE / HARDCORE HISTORY

Carlin, a former TV journalist and radio talk show host, delivers exhaustively researched, thought-provoking mega-pods in the ponderous cadence of a man aping Paul Harvey or killing time. Though Carlin’s packaging is odd — his promo voice-over guy sounds like a porn actor kicking the tires of a Dodge Ram — Hardcore History delves into the historical and sociological background of seminal global events (World War I, the fall of Rome, the reign of Genghis Khan) with a level of detail totally unmatched in the pod-sphere. His chronicling of World War I, called “Blueprint for Armageddon,” runs nearly 26 hours, while the comparatively concise tale of Anabaptist anarchy and polygamous orgies in Münster, “Prophets of Doom,” might be the most terrifying four and half hours I’ve spent in years.

With Common Sense, Carlin approaches current events through the prism of constitutionality: He sees threats to the First and Fourth Amendments virtually everywhere, and views the American political system — its politicians, electoral rules, the growing power of the executive branch and secret police/intelligence services, politicization of the courts and overall subservience to corporate money — as fundamentally and irredeemably broken. Common Sense brings an intelligent, libertarian perspective to an arena too long dominated by media elite and the establishment politicians they seem to serve. Podcasts like Carlin’s definitely spark public interest in history, says Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, which she says is a good thing at a time of declining enrollments in the subject at colleges and universities. “Amateur historians like Carlin can take creative freedoms professionals can’t — which makes their material more lively and approachable, if not always totally accurate.” 

DAVE EMORY: FOR THE RECORD

Emory’s For the Record argues that the higher orders of Western politics and business are run by cosseted Nazis who simply rebranded and retreated from public view after the fall of Hitler. His core concept, “The Underground Reich,” identifies German-based multinational business concerns as controlled by, well … Nazis, who have achieved Hitler’s ambitions of global domination through equal parts aggressive commerce, military intimidation and covert action by a Nazi-inspired secret police. Just as Brussell was obsessed with JFK and the CIA, so is Emory with Nazis and fascism — he sees shadows of a Thousand Year Reich in virtually every aspect of Western society, and suggests the CIA itself is little more than a re-creation of Reinhard Gehlen’s Foreign Armies East (FHO), Germany’s Eastern Front intelligence network.

Emory’s a tough listen — his lip-smacking and oddly thespian delivery, coupled with the show’s frequently baffling leaps, blur the line between earnest reporting and absurdist comedy. But he’s also a true original, trumpeting a rationalization for the world’s ills that is as riveting as it is imaginative.

The Servant Who Beat His Masters at Chess — Then Disappeared

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American chess giant Reuben Fine was excited to meet the man he considered “the great chess master,” Mir Sultan Khan, on his 1933 visit to London. But there was a hitch: Khan was not the evening’s host, the “maharajah” was. According to Fine, Khan was merely a waiter.

The young man from India was a servant, brought to England because of his chess talent. He faced off with the era’s best between 1928 and 1933 — the years he played competitively — and often won. The transplant became the British champion not once, but three times. “Grandmaster” was not a commonly used term yet, says Dennis Monokroussos, blogger at the Chess Mind, but it might well have been used to describe Khan. “[He] was a remarkable player, but it took him two decades to become an overnight success,” Monokroussos says.

[It was] billed as East meeting West, and the East won, making Khan nothing short of a sensation.

Born in 1905, in what was then India and now Pakistan, Khan was the youngest of 10 children. His father was a religious Muslim and a great chess player. From him, Khan was schooled in the rules of chess at a young age. By 21, he was famous in India’s chess circles, and his legendary ability attracted the attention of a wealthy fan, Umar Hayat Khan, the man who would bring Khan to Europe and pay for his chess lessons there. “It was very rare to bring someone of a lower caste to England, even just to be there,” says Vinay Lal, a professor of history and Asian American studies at UCLA.

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 Mir Sultan Khan

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In India, Khan had been one of the best; in England, he revealed a knack for refusing to draw if he had a shot at winning. Before long, he won the British Chess Championship, crushing Europeans who had started training in childhood. While Khan didn’t have as much formal training, he was among the best at endgames.

The press loved playing up his underdog image. The Glasgow Herald called him “the Indian genius” and wrote of its surprise when Khan lost two games in a row. After all, one journalist wrote, he “stands in a class by himself.” In 1931, Khan beat Dutch chess whiz Max Euwe and José Raúl Capablanca of Cuba, a former world champion. The latter matchup was billed as East meeting West, and the East won, making Khan nothing short of a sensation. At the time, chess was largely a European game: Some Americans were strong, but outside Western Europe and Russia, talent was rare. Both Capablanca and Khan were considered unlikely contenders.

 

While Khan left behind no known writing to indicate what he thought of London, one contemporary account stated that he probably led an outsider’s life in the Big Smoke. Fellow chess player Harry Golombek claimed that Khan searched for food similar to his family’s home cooking, with the two of them ending up together at a Jewish boardinghouse, where the “cooking was indeed infinitely better” than what they had found elsewhere, Golombek said.  

For fans, sadly, Khan’s reign as a chess champ was short-lived. He followed his patron back to India in 1933, and that’s where the trail seems to fizzle. No reputable documents chronicled what happened next, and while some subsequent reports cropped up, their veracity was questionable. One such report suggested that Khan was working as a concert singer in Durban, South Africa. Another rumor spread that Khan had renounced the chessboard when he lost four times in a row to an elderly man. In any case, nothing concrete surfaced as to Khan’s exact whereabouts following his return to India.

Perhaps Khan’s greatest legacy is how others remember him. “Our top chess players should not feel neglected, and the fate of Sultan Khan — premature retirement — should not fall to their lot,” a 1950s Times of India article stated. Khan became the symbol of allowing for social mobility and freedom when it came to true talent, and modern-day India maintains a robust program for chess. Khan died of tuberculosis in Pakistan, in 1966; decades later, in 1988, Viswanathan Anand became India’s first official grandmaster. Perhaps, though, that record more fittingly belongs to Khan, who overcame class divides to achieve fleeting stardom in the world of chess.

Cashing in on Cryptocurrency in Hong Kong

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Late on a Monday morning, Arthur Hayes is sporting sweatpants and stubble. The ex-banker’s duds are far from what he would have been wearing at this time a few years ago. But it’s not that he turned couch potato; rather, he’s gone deeper than ever into the finance world, entering the land of Bitcoin, which, several years after the craze began, is still a “virgin, untouched market where you can do anything,” Hayes says over the downtown traffic of Hong Kong.

China is a haven for 93 percent of the world’s Bitcoin trades, which puts Hayes’ budding Bitcoin exchange, BitMEX, in a lucky spot. BitMEX allows users to trade Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for cash in the form of yuan, rubles and dollars. His lucrative work all happens behind a few unassuming home computers — none of them as hulking as the Bloomberg Terminal. Bitcoin, for the uninitiated, is stateless internet money — there’s no Federal Reserve or gold standard behind it. And though Bitcoin has been better known in the headlines for its association with crime and hasn’t overtaken credit cards, to say the least, Hayes reckons that cryptocurrencies will be the “future of finance,” with BitMEX as the Goldman Sachs of Bitcoin.

Users sign up for a free BitMEX account online, deposit Bitcoins — for which they’ve traded — and then bet on the value of currencies or financial derivatives that are based on real stocks, bonds and other financial products. BitMEX cuts out the middleman, allowing users to invest Bitcoins in stocks at foreign exchanges like the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. This, of course, was always the Bitcoin promise: a pipeline to democratically available money, no regulatory hoops, no emptying your wallet to an expensive broker. BitMEX may indeed give big banks a run for their money one day, says Chipper Boulas, a fintech venture capitalist in Hong Kong. 

Today, the financial platform boasts more than 5,800 users and a daily volume of $2.5 to $5 million in trades. Since taking off in 2009, Bitcoin’s value has roller-coastered from $1 in 2011 to more than $500 in 2016. And so far, BitMEX has raked in north of $360,000 in revenue in the last two years, culled from trading fees. The startup also went through Chinaccelerator, China’s leading startup accelerator, and has since won pitch competitions, including Slush’s startup challenge and Tech in Asia Singapore 2016, among 475 other contenders.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity Hayes is capitalizing on is — China. To date, Hong Kong hasn’t bothered to classify Bitcoin as a currency, unlike many Western nations. That means traders can still play the game as Bitcoin evangelists originally intended it to be played: unfettered by government regulations. More important: the argument for the little guy. Average traders can, in the U.S., hop on E*TRADE and buy a bundle of Tesla stock if they have a hunch, for instance. But that’s not possible for foreign markets such as China’s, which are generally open only to those who have millions to invest and are willing to hire a middleman, like a broker, who can cut through all the bureaucratic red tape, says Boulas. So, the effectively closed nature of the Chinese stock market remains a tempting opportunity to outside investors, with its average returns of 9.41 percent in 2015 (according to the Shanghai Composite Index), compared to -2.23 percent in the U.S. (according to the Dow Jones). Exchanges like BitMEX, Hayes and others lend an opportunity to get closer to direct foreign currency trading, allowing clients who “only have a few hundred USD in their pockets instead of millions, like at Charles Schwab,” to cash in.

But Hayes isn’t alone. A handful of other Bitcoin exchanges have emerged as well, including BitVC and OKCoin. Plus, the big banking behemoths are mobilizing: Citigroup is reportedly developing its own digital currency, called “Citicoin,” whereas Goldman Sachs is filing a patent for its impending “SETLcoin” (although Citi didn’t respond to requests for comment on how its cryptocurrency scheme is faring so far). Meanwhile, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Santander and Bank of New York Mellon — four other powerful players — are also brewing their own Bitcoin alternatives, a digital cash instrument called the Utility Settlement Coin. “The underlying blockchain technology will pave the way for disruptive change in the way we process securities,” Deutsche Bank’s Frank Hartmann writes in an email to OZY.

In spite of the renewed hype, the currency’s volatility remains frightening. Recently, Bitfinex, a competitor to BitMEX, lost its store of 119,756 Bitcoins, worth around $65 million, due to a malicious hack, causing the value of Bitcoin to plummet again by more than 20 percent. The hack is a good indicator of how many points of failure there still are in the system, says Leonhard Weese, president of the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong. So, before anyone gets their hopes up, “the [Bitcoin] ecosystem is not going to quickly outgrow all other financial markets anytime soon,” says Weese. 

Hayes, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus, didn’t head straight for Wall Street after undergrad. Instead, he bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, off the beaten path. “Anyone who tells you they work on Wall Street because they love their job is lying to you,” he says. He found his joy in learning a little Mandarin and Cantonese alongside his gigs at Citi and Deutsche Bank as a trader. But in 2013, he got the pink slip from Citi, along with 11,000 other employees, in a bid to cut back on expenses. Still, Boulas doesn’t figure the layoff left Hayes with any ugly scars: Hayes has “entrepreneurial skills that you don’t typically find from someone who’s been in corporate America. That’s his recipe for success.”

These days, the Buffalo and Detroit native has the pitch down. He envisions BitMEX as a full-featured platform that will provide reliable, regular returns to freelance financial traders. Most of all, Bitcoin could return some of the finance world’s lost luster in the post-2008 era, Hayes says. Only time will tell whether the sheen of digital currency is fool’s gold.

Hate Pokémon Go? You Can Still Love Augmented Reality

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Never heard of augmented reality before “Pokémon Go”? It’s played second fiddle to virtual reality, but the public is finally catching on to the potential seen by savvy entrepreneurs and do-gooders. It could aid the disabled, translate languages and educate a new workforce, says University of Washington researcher Ryan Calo, who led an interdisciplinary study on the subject last year. It also presents distinct legal challenges, based upon privacy, property and liability concerns. Here are just some of the ways augmented reality is capable of changing your day-to-day … today.

1. Fix your car and learn a new skill.

Making that toasty butt warmer run smoothly is harder than it looks, and it’s also harder than ever for amateur mechanics to fix all the things that can go awry. Cue BMW and Google, which have each created augmented reality glasses that diagnose problems and explain how to replace and repair engine parts. Turning us all into handymen is just the start — augmented training could help plumbers learn their trade without touching a plunger or wrench, or teach inmates how to operate complicated machinery from their jail cells.

2. See what’s on the menu, everywhere around you. 

Walking down the street, looking for something good to eat, you lift your camera and bam … you suddenly have meat-seeking vision. Yelp’s Monocle tool shows reviews of restaurants as you pass them. While most users still pick a place before they go out, the tool is useful in unfamiliar neighborhoods or in countries where a different language is spoken, says Yelp product manager James Hurley. It’s never been easier to point and chow.

3. Look at the heavens — and finally know what’s in front of you. 

Scan Sky Guide at the starry night and it traces, names and describes the constellations, plus the app lets you search by formation. The experience is especially stunning on a tablet, and it’s a safe bet that museums, city tours and art exhibits will adopt similar programs, too.

4. Be someone’s eyes. Or borrow some, if need be.

With the Be My Eyes app, a blind person can send an image to a person with sight, who has volunteered to help answer their question. One day, machines will do the volunteer’s job, says Calo, and the same principle could be used in giving the hearing-impaired subtitles for their life.

5. Picture life-changing purchases … before committing. 

Sometimes you’ve just got to see it to believe. If it’s buying furniture, the IKEA catalog lets you pick, say, a couch and place it virtually in your home, although user reviews say the app can be buggy. (The company told OZY it changed its AR supplier recently, which affected its goal of improving the feature). Like tats? The InkHunter app will let you visualize that new tattoo design ahead of time, helping you decide whether it’s a good or bad look. Unless it’s a face tattoo. Then it’s always a bad choice.

The Fine Art of Getting People Sloshed

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In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?” 

Andrew Willett
Portland, Oregon

It’s been pretty good. I’m currently prepping and going over all my lessons plans for tomorrow’s class — a special class on tiki drinks. My teaching is pretty much the same for people who have never made a drink in their life and people who’ve got 15 years of experience. I focus on the pre-Prohibition tradition — if you’re going to play tennis without the net, you need to know where the lines are. The art of learning mixology for a bartender is in understanding the drinks, like how Neil deGrasse Tyson can talk about astrophysics.

The remnants of the old tradition are all around us, but our sensibilities are dead to them. 

Two dashes of bitters, about a teaspoon of sugar, a jigger of liquor, cracked ice, stir until it’s very cold, strain into a cocktail goblet and garnish it with lemon zest — by understanding basics, you don’t have to memorize anything. My students know how to make a drink without ever looking at a recipe. Everybody in every bar today, no matter how conspicuously they’re hand-cutting ice or whether they’re wearing an ascot or have a handlebar mustache — those things may be evocative of the pre-Prohibition tradition on a superficial level, but I’m trying to give people the tools to understand drinks better than most bartenders. 

The remnants of the old tradition are all around us, but our sensibilities are dead to them. There used to be a term before Prohibition that bartenders used: bar creatures. They would impress their customers by juggling shot glasses or telling wondrous romantic tales about the ingredients. It was sort of like using tricks and tall tales to keep your customers happy even though you didn’t really know your trade.

In a class, it’s usually a race against time to cover as much material as I can in a four-hour session. I’ll teach students how to shake so that they don’t slush the drink and make it too watery. There haven’t been any terrible mishaps. But sometimes people have lost their grip in shaking, so liquid flies everywhere. The ice has to have a dry, clacking sound against the shaker — that’s music to my ears. 

A lot of days are taken up by mundane tasks such as preparing ice, seeing that everything is clean and in place, ruminating on what paradigm-shifting items and drinks I can present. I have every kind of liquor that you can imagine, including liquor that you can’t find anywhere in the United States — the Havana Club rums, the old Fitzgerald pot-still whiskey that isn’t made anymore, the Sunchoke Spirit from Germany.

My first bartending job was in the fall of 1987, but you probably could train a robot to do what I was doing. I was just following directions — not because I understood why, but because that’s what I had been told to do — like almost all bartenders still do. It was culinary school that made it a science, an “-ology.” In addition to wanting to work for myself and my knees starting to go, I started teaching mixology because I realized there was no Escoffier of drinks — I realized that mixing drinks involved very little of the broad, rich understanding that was so often found among traditionally trained cooks. I was compelled to take up that cause. Like biology and sociology, mixology is a straightforward science built upon pre-1910 tradition.

Bartenders aren’t glorified. People come to a bar to drink and they’re willing to pay a much higher per ounce cost for their drink to have some experience they couldn’t have if they stayed on their couch. Maybe it’s to be around other people drinking, or to avoid going home. Maybe it’s because they’re stressed out, maybe they’re alcoholic. But they didn’t walk into the bar to worship you.

Dear Brits, You Suck at Driving

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Londoner Sara Dixon gave up on the dream of getting her driver’s license after her seventh try. For her, it wasn’t a matter of not recognizing basic British road signs — she could identify them one at a time — but rather “the sheer number of them which made them difficult for me to decipher,” she says.

Dixon may try again one day, “but outside London,” and she’s far from alone in struggling to ID the multicolored geometric shapes, swerves and circles that comprise the Highway Code’s myriad traffic signs.

Over 80 percent of British drivers don’t know basic national road signs and rules.

That’s according to a recent online poll involving 250 drivers. The survey, with questions based on those taken directly from the modern theory test, was sponsored by young-driver insurance brand Ingenie — admittedly a firm with skin in the game. It revealed that 82 percent of participants failed to recognize national road rules and signs and that more than a third got fewer than half the answers right. (Ingenie declined to comment for this story.)

Cambridgeshire-based driving instructor Richard King, of Kingsway Driving School, wasn’t terribly surprised by the results. While all British drivers are required to pass a theory test, which involves studying the Highway Code and the signs, he has seen how quickly drivers begin to disregard signage altogether. “When I’m teaching, I’m always asking people, ‘What was that sign we just went past?’ ” The usual response is, he adds, “Uh, what sign?” The biggest problem, in other words, is that drivers tend not to look at them at all, King says. 

The usual response: “Uh, what sign?”

Other factors that lead to unsafe driving include a lack of enforcement. Policing cuts in the U.K. mean it’s highly unusual to be stopped by cops for infractions; speeding, at most, results in a camera snapshot and a fine that comes by mail. Few people even realize that tailgating — what King calls a major problem in Britain — is illegal, to the tune of a 100 pound fine and three points on one’s license. Lack of enforcement results in bad habits, a problem that’s exacerbated by the fact that today’s modern cars feel so safe and comfy. “People tend to be overconfident,” King says. “They don’t appreciate what really happens when things go wrong.”

While most who have studied the British Highway Code should recognize what the signs mean, the danger, King says, comes from people not understanding or not following the posted warnings. The best solution? Reviewing courses and being required to retake one’s driving test every decade — something Dixon would likely dread to see put into place. But King thinks it would be ideal for boosting safety on British roads. Political will for such a change is “extremely unlikely,” King admits, noting that he’s putting his faith in technology and partly in autonomous cars, which he hopes will begin speaking to one another to improve safety and road capacity in the years to come.

A Sneak Peak at ‘The Contenders’: The Reagan Revolution Begins

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By 1976, Ronald Reagan had been a successful actor, broadcaster, corporate spokesman and governor of California. But the story of Reagan the president and conservative icon doesn’t really begin until the year of the American bicentennial, when the 65-year-old upstart challenged the leader of his party, and sitting president, Gerald Ford, in one of the most contested primaries in U.S. history.

Hard as it may be to imagine, Reagan was once a joke in the party that idolizes him today. The GOP establishment despised the telegenic conservative (President Richard Nixon called him a “lightweight” in internal memos), a candidate they believed would fall to pieces if he strayed from his prepared remarks and talking points. A view that seemed validated after Reagan lost the first five straight primary contests in 1976, and found himself with more than $2 million in campaign debt and members of his own staff urging him to quit the race.

Learn more about Reagan’s iconic ’76 run in The Contenders: 16 for ’16, a new TV series from OZY — airing every Tuesday this fall on PBS — that celebrates the men and women who have run the ultimate political gauntlet in pursuit of the most powerful job on Earth.

Reagan’s broke campaign would rally, however, to win in North Carolina in May, and 11 other states, racking up over 1,000 delegates — enough to ensure that President Ford would not be able to clinch the nomination ahead of the party’s August convention in Kansas City. At that convention, the nation at large got a taste of the Great Communicator, and the delegates in the hall were left to wonder whether they had chosen the right man.

Here’s a taste of Reagan’s performance, as seen in The Contenders.