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These San Francisco doctors flew to New York to fight the coronavirus — and they have a warning for us



Dr. Ethan Weiss making his way to New York in late April to treat Covid-19 patients.

Source: Dr. Ethan Weiss

When Dr. Ethan Weiss arrived in New York in late Aprilhe started his first shift almost immediately.

Dr. Weiss is a cardiologist based in San Francisco, which has had relatively few hospitalizations related to Covid-19. He decided to help out with New York’s massive Covid-19 outbreak because he felt helpless sitting at home.

Dr. Weiss was just one of the doctors and nurses from University of California San Francisco’s hospital system who risked their lives by flying out to Manhattan. New York City has now reported more than 20,000 deaths. Another group headed to the Navajo Nation, another hotspot, which has lost 6,000 people to coronavirus.

In total, about 40 doctors and nurses from UCSF across a variety of specialties flew out to Covid-19 hotspots, according to the chairman of medicine, Dr. Bob Wachter. 

It’s now been about a month since Weiss got back to San Francisco. He’s glad that he went, but calls it one of the most challenging experiences of his life. And he’s vexed that so many people still aren’t taking the public health guidelines seriously. 

“I’m in a dark place right now,” he told me by phone in late May. “Everyone is impatient. A lot of people are feeling done with this pandemic. They don’t understand this is how it is going to be for a while.”

Covid-19 is still a major part of the national conversation, but researchers have found growing evidence of a “pandemic fatigue.” Many people are itching for life to resume as normal after months of sheltering in place. Moreover, many states are re-opening shuttered businesses, and President Trump has stated that he’s planning to hold rallies, all which is sending a signal that the pandemic is under control. 

But as of June, Covid-19 is still spreading in the United States. Arizona, Texas and Utah, among other states, are reporting an increase in diagnosed cases and hospitalizations. Epidemiologists and public health experts remain worried.

Now, these doctors are urging anybody who will listen to take the pandemic seriously and keep observing precautions. 

“There’s no way to describe how awful this disease is until you see it,” said Dr. Michelle Yu, a pulmonary and critical care doctor from UCSF, who worked at a hospital in the outer boroughs of New York City. “The nurses kept showing up every day, and they will keep showing up, but you could see the fatigue on their faces.”

“It was just horrible,” added Dr. Weiss. 

Dr. Michelle Yu, in red in the front row, at the New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York on one of her last days treating Covid-19 patients.

Source: Dr. Michelle Yu

Otherwise healthy patients in their forties and fifties

The San Francisco team noticed that the New York providers, who had been dealing with the situation for weeks, were seriously burnt out by the time they arrived. Some weren’t trained to care for patients with severe viral illnesses, but were asked to step in nonetheless.

Dr. Maya Kotas, a pulmonary and critical care doctor from UCSF, found herself working with nurses and physicians assistants who were trained in specialties like neurology or neurosurgery. Many of these providers were learning on the fly. Dr. Yu said she gave lectures to the residents and nurses as frequently as she could. 

One of the most challenging aspects was the lack of clear clinical guidelines for treatments. Scientists still don’t know a lot about the disease.

“I’ve worked in a lot of settings,” said Dr. Michael Peters, a pulmonary critical care doctor, was assigned to a hospital in Queens overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases. “These patients were very sick, and they had a disease that we didn’t know how to take care of yet.”

All of the UCSF doctors said they saw patients in their forties and fifties, who didn’t meet the “typical” profile for Covid-19 because they were otherwise healthy. In the Queens hospital, where Dr. Peters worked, many of the patients were Black or Hispanic. Data shows that the virus has hit racial and ethnic minorities worse, and studies are underway to better understand why.

Dr. Kotas said she was thrown outside of her comfort zone almost immediately once she arrived to New York. She was stationed at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center alongside several colleagues, including Dr. Yu. 

“We are used to dedicated ICUs (intensive care units) with space and equipment,” said Dr. Kotas. “And sliding glass doors to get patients in and out.” But she and her team were constantly facing a shortage of necessary medications, supplies and personnel in their converted ICU, and the patients were extremely isolated to preserve resources. 

“They were alone in their sickness…they didn’t have families see them, and our contact was limited to preserve personal protective equipment,” she explained. “Sometimes we would call to say that a patient had died, and they hadn’t even seen them in three weeks.”

Dr. Maya Kotas volunteering at the New York Presbyterian Hospital during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Source: Beth Higgins

Dr. Weiss said sometimes he would just sit in patients’ rooms for a while just to keep them company, even though they weren’t responsive. Dr. Yu recalled having to Facetime family members to provide updates via the one functional iPad that was being passed around across three ICUs (that’s one iPad for every 36 critically ill patients). He sometimes had to inform them that the patient had died. 

Many of the Covid-19 patients who were on ventilator but survived seemed very frail to the doctors. “People were so weak that they came off a ventilator and three weeks later, they still couldn’t wiggle their toes,” said Dr. Kotas. 

All of the doctors were aware of the risks to their own health, but took their chances. Dr. Yu insisted on doing procedures on her own, such as removing breathing tubes from patients, to reduce the risk that anyone else would be exposed to the virus if it aerosolized.

Fortunately, she and the other doctors tested negative after they returned to California and were able to resume treating patients at home.  

‘I hope we have the stamina’

One of the most devastating aspects of the virus is that it’s known to sweep through families.

Dr. Kotas recalls working with a nurse whose own parents were in the ICU a few floors up at Cornell, and one of them died.

Dr. Weiss immediately observed that many of his patients were related. He doesn’t typically see that in cardiology, where it’s extremely uncommon to see two members of the same family dying of heart disease at the same time. 

None of the doctors are public health experts, so they didn’t feel qualified to advise people about how to stay healthy and safe. But on their return to San Francisco, they all implored their network of friends and family-members to take Covid-19 seriously and listen to the advice of public health officials. They know what happens when health systems get overwhelmed.

“I hope we have the stamina and spirit and sense of collectivism (to avoid outbreaks like New York),” said Dr. Weiss. “If there’s one thing I’d recommend, it’s to keep wearing masks.”

“I know everyone is getting tired,” added Dr. Kotas, who said she’s willing to fly out again to the next potential hotspot if she’s needed. “But please take it seriously. People really suffer when we don’t take care of each other and contagion gets out of control.”



Tide is making the first laundry detergent for space



Astronauts don’t have the luxury of tossing clothes in the hamper after a single use — without laundry equipment, they’re often left wearing items multiple times. Tide thinks it can come to the rescue, though. The Procter & Gamble brand has teamed with NASA to develop the first laundry detergent meant for space. The fully degradable detergent should take care of stains and odors while working properly in a closed-loop water system like the one you’d find aboard the International Space Station.

It won’t take long before you see a rea world (or rather, real off-world) trial run. NASA will test Tide’s detergent aboard the ISS in 2022. “Mission PGTide,” as it’s called, will gauge ingredient stability in space as well as the effectiveness of the stain removal ingredients using Tide’s pens and wipes.

Other studies will explore the possibility of a washer-dryer combo that could be use for long-term Moon and Mars missions.

The advantages for space are fairly self-evident. Those lunar and martian explorers won’t have any choice but to clean their clothes — this detergent could make that possible without subtracting from their precious water supply. It could also save weight and space aboard both the ISS and cargo capsules, as NASA wouldn’t need to send so many clothes into orbit.

 This could also be helpful for laundry back on Earth, for that matter. A fully degradable detergent would be more environmentally friendly, reducing waste and conserving water. Don’t be surprised if you eventually buy detergent that’s kind to the planet precisely because it’s designed to be used off-planet.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Merlyn Mind emerges from stealth with $29M and a hardware and software solution to help teachers with tech



We’ve chronicled, in great detail, the many layers of technology, services and solutions, that have been wrapped around the world of education in recent years — and especially in the last year, which became a high watermark for digital learning tools because of Covid-19. Today, a startup called Merlyn Mind is coming out of stealth with a proposition that it believes helps tie a lot of this together in the K-12 classroom — a “digital assistant” that comes in the form of a piece of custom hardware and software to “read” natural voice and remote control commands from a teacher to control multimedia apps on a screen of choice. Along with this, Merlyn Mind is announcing $29 million in initial funding to build out its vision.

The funding is being led by specialist edtech investor Learn Capital, with other unnamed investors participating. It comes after Merlyn Mind spent about three years quietly building its first release and more recently piloting the service in 50+ classrooms in more than 20 schools.

Co-founded by longtime IBM scientists Satya Nitta (the CEO), Ravi Kokku, and Sharad Sundararajan — all of whom spent several years leading education efforts in IBM’s Watson AI research division — Merlyn Mind is coming to the market with a patented, vertically integrated solution to solve what Nitta told me in an interview he believes and has seen first-hand to be a fundamental pain point in the world of edtech.

In effect, education and technology may have now been merged into a single term as far as the tech world is concerned, but in terms of practical, on-the-ground application, many teachers are not making the most of the tools they have in the classroom. The majority are, he believes, facing “cognitive overload” (which is not to mention the kids, who themselves probably are facing the same: a problem for it to tackle down the road, I hope), and they need help.

To be fair, this problem existed before the pandemic, with research from McKinsey & Co. published in 2020 (and gathered earlier) finding that teachers were already spending more than half of their time on administrative tasks, not teaching or thinking about how and what to teach or what help specific students might need. Other research from Learn Platform found that teachers potentially have as many as 900 different applications that they can use in a classroom (in practice, Nitta told me a teacher will typically use between 20 and 30 applications, sites and tech services in a day, although even that is a huge amount).

Post-Covid-19, there are other kinds of new complications to grapple with on top of all that. Not only are many educators now playing catch-up because of the months spent learning at home (it’s been widely documented that in many cases, students have fallen behind), but overall, education is coming away from our year+ of remote learning with a much stronger mandate to use more tech from now on, not less.

The help that Merlyn Mind is proposing comes in the form of what the startup describes as an “AI hub.” This includes a personal assistant called Symphony Classroom, a kind of Alexa-style voice interface tailored to the educational environment and built on a fork of Android; a smart speaker that looks a bit like a soundbar; and a consumer-style remote that can be used also for navigation and commands.

These then work with whatever screen the teacher opts to use, whether it is a TV, or an interactive whiteboard, or something else; along with any other connected devices that are used in the classroom, to open and navigate through different apps, including various Google apps, NearPod, Newsela, and so on. (That could potentially also include kids’ individual screens if they are being used.)

The idea is that if a teacher is in the middle of a lesson on a specific topic and a question comes up that can best be answered by illustrating a concept through another app, a teacher can trigger the system to navigate to a new screen to find that information and instantly show it to the students. The system can also be used to find a teacher’s own materials on file. The demo I saw worked well enough, although I would love to see how an ordinary teacher — the kind they’re hoping will use this — would fare.

Everyone knows the expression “hardware is hard,” so it’s interesting to see Merlyn addressing its problem with a hardware-forward approach.

Nitta was very ready with his defense for this one:

“I’ll tell you why we built our own hardware,” he told me. “There’s a bunch of AI processing that’s happening on the device, for various reasons, including latency and security. So it’s kind of an edge AI appliance. And the second thing is the microphones. They are designed for the classroom environment, and we wanted to have complete control over the tooling of these microphones for the processing, for the environment, and that is very hard to do. If you are taking a third-party microphone array off the shelf, it’s impossible, actually, you simply cannot.”

The startup’s early team is rounded out with alums from the likes of HP Education, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Broadcom and Roku to help build all of this, knowing the challenges they were tackling, but also the payoff once it would be finished if it all works.

“We have a very, very talented team, and we basically said, right, this is going to be a lot of hard work that will take us three and a half years. We have to build our own piece of hardware… and we ended up building the entire voice stack from from scratch ourselves, too,” Nitta continued. “It means we have end to end control of everything from the hardware all the way to the language models.”

He did point out though that over time, there will be some elements that will be usable without all the hardware, in particular when a teacher may suddenly have to teach outside the classroom again in a remote learning environment.

It’s a very ambitious concept, but where would education and learning be if not for taking leaps once in a while? That’s where investors stand on the startup, too.

“Just as we saw with the breakthrough edtech company Coursera which reached IPO this year and was started a decade ago by two machine learning professors, in today’s hypercompetitive market the best edtech companies need to start with an advanced technological core,” said Rob Hutter, founder and managing partner of Learn Capital. “Merlyn is one of the first companies to focus on the enhancement of live teaching in classrooms, and it is developing a solution that is so intuitive it allows teachers to leverage technology with mastery while using minimal effort.  This is a very promising platform.”

The proof will be in how it gets adopted when it finally launches commercially later this year, with pricing to be announced later.

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Several Anker charging gizmos hit record low prices for Prime Day



All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

A slew of Anker charging gadgets are on sale for Prime Day, with several products dropping to the lowest prices we’ve seen for them to date. Take the Anker 63W 4 Port PIQ 3.0 & GaN Fast Charger Adapter, for example. It’s a slim charging hub with two USB-A ports and a pair of USB-C ports, allowing you to juice up four devices at once. One of the USB-C ports supports fast charging at up to 45W and the other at up to 18W. The adapter is currently on sale for $39, down $22 from the standard price of $61.

Buy Anker 63W 4 Port Fast Charger Adapter at Amazon – $39

Several powerbanks are on sale as well. The PowerCore III 10K Wireless has a 10,000mAh capacity, as the name suggests. The Qi-certified product can charge devices wirelessly at up to 10W, or up to 18W through the USB-A and USB-C ports. It’s currently $32, down from $50.

Buy Anker PowerCore III 10K Wireless at Amazon – $32

If you’re looking for a powerbank with slightly faster charging and a larger capacity, consider the PowerCore Essential 20000, which can provide up to five full battery charges to an iPhone 12, according to Anker. It has a 20W USB-C port, and it’s currently down from $50 to $35.

Buy Anker PowerCore Essential 20000 at Amazon – $35

Elsewhere, you can save on the Anker PowerCore 26800 Portable Charger, which usually costs $65, but is $40 for Prime Day. The external battery can juice up most phones at least six times on a single charge, Anker claims. It doesn’t have a USB-C port, but you can charge up to three devices at the same time through USB-A connections.

Buy Anker PowerCore 26800 at Amazon – $40

There’s a smaller discount on the PowerCore 10000, a compact 10000mAh powerbank. It’s down from $20 to $17. Anker has other products on sale for Prime Day, including headphones, earbuds and cables. You can check out all of the deals on the company’s Amazon storefront.

Buy Anker PowerCore 10000 at Amazon – $17

Get the latest Amazon Prime Day offers by visiting our deals homepage and following @EngadgetDeals on Twitter.

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How much to pay yourself as a SaaS founder



“If you’re the founder of a seed-stage [company and] you’re worried about your electricity staying on this month, then your salary is too low. If you’re saving $10,000/mo, then your salary is probably higher than necessary,” investor Leo Polovets wrote in a Twitter thread.

Ultimately, a good test is to ask how you’ll feel if your startup fails: Will you wonder if your salary contributed to its fall? Or will you regret sacrificing more than you can recover?

This tweet is just one of many in a now burgeoning conversation about how founder pay needs to change. The startup and investor communities are beginning to realize that many founders can’t go without pay for months.

Founders of SaaS startups are at an advantage in this scenario as the sector now has many companies generating revenue almost from day one, sometimes without needing to raise any funding at all.

However, the success still doesn’t tell founders how much to pay themselves, or what others are doing. To help with this, we’ve gathered insights from founders and VCs and narrowed down the most important factors and benchmarks to guide your decision.

A framework for compensation

Founder compensation is often referred to as a “founder salary,” but anchoring the conversation around the salary framework can create the wrong expectation. For example, you could try to establish a correlation between what you plan to pay yourself and your past or current value on the job market. Instead, the data we gathered indicates that founders typically take a pay cut from their previous salaries.

Chris Sosnowski is an interesting example: Before he “took the plunge” at the beginning of 2020 to work full time on his water data management startup Waterly, he used to earn “well over” $100,000. But he says his previous salary wasn’t a key factor when he set his compensation. “I decided to pay myself based on what I thought it would take to keep the company running,” he wrote to TechCrunch.

That brings to mind deferred compensation, which will be familiar to anyone who owns equity. Having put his own money into the company and owning the majority of it, Sosnowski is set to be compensated for his efforts if all goes well. “For the record, I do hope to pay myself back [a] salary for the year or so [it is] reduced like this,” he said.

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