Chicago e-cigarette users create vaping culture

By Michael Epstein

Jared Yucht started vaping — inhaling nicotine and water vapor through devices like e-cigarettes — to quit smoking, but it has come to play a central role in his life, both for work and play.

“It’s fun,” said Yucht. “It’s a hobby.”

It’s not just a hobby for Yucht who owns Smoque Vapours, a chain of specialty vape shops in Illinois and Wisconsin that sell a wide range of hand vaporizers, essentially e-cigarettes, and the chain’s own brand of artisanal “e-liquids.” These flavored nicotine solutions for vapers use refillable tank-based e-cigarettes and customizable hand-vaporizers called “mods.” Vape shops, which are exempt from Chicago’s citywide e-cigarette ban, are becoming natural havens for those who vape for a hobby.  Continue reading “Chicago e-cigarette users create vaping culture”

Say it slowly: ‘Audio dilation’ could enhance hearing comprehension

By Michael Epstein

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PhD candidate John Novak prepares to demonstrate his audio dilation software at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Electronic Visualization Lab in November. (Michael Epstein/MEDILL)

John Novak thinks that we all need to slow down and listen if we want to really hear a conversation or even your favorite song.

Novak, a P.h.D. candidate studying computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Electronic Visualization Lab, has spent the last four years developing software he calls “audio dilation,” which can reduce the speed of audio streaming through a smartphone or laptop — music or a phone call — in real time with little to no effect on its clarity. Continue reading “Say it slowly: ‘Audio dilation’ could enhance hearing comprehension”

Experts say jobs will sway voters on clean energy

A screenshot of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking to the Making Progress 2014 policy conference in Washington D.C. Wednesday.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says clean energy means more jobs. She gave the keynote address at the Making Progress 2014 policy conference in Washington D.C. Wednesday. Screenshot from a livestream.

By Michael Epstein

Environmental leaders stressed job opportunities as a key strategy in advocating for environmental policies, such as the push for more clean energy.

Experts gathered a pair of environment-themed panels at the Making Progress 2014 conference Wednesday in Washington D.C. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s keynote address connected the Obama administration’s 56 months of private-sector job growth to the renewable energy sector. Continue reading “Experts say jobs will sway voters on clean energy”

Virtual reality room brings the brain, Mars and research into CAVE2

The Cave2 hybrid reality environment at University of Illinois, Chicago's Electronic Visualization Lab.
The Cave2 hybrid reality environment at University of Illinois, Chicago’s Electronic Visualization Lab.

By Michael Epstein

The  “CAVE2” hybrid reality environment takes virtual reality from head-mounted devices to virtual reality rooms. The environment is the creation of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A massive supercomputer-powered “theatre” comes to life through the choreography of more than 35 3-D-capable high-definition displays, motion trackers and cameras. Continue reading “Virtual reality room brings the brain, Mars and research into CAVE2”

Illinois fracking hops final hurdle – Regulations approved Thursday

Anti-fracking advocates line up outside the Michael A. Bilandic building to protest the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules, which approved regulations for hydraulic fracturing on Thursday.
Demonstrators who oppose fracking line up outside the Michael A. Bilandic building in Chicago to protest approval of regulations that open the way for hydraulic fracturing. Michael Epstein/MEDILL

Fracking could begin in Illinois as early as February after regulations governing the process were approved Thursday.

The Illinois Joint Commission on Administrative Rules approved a finalized version of the regulations governing hydraulic fracturing at a meeting at the Michael A. Bilandic building in Chicago. The commission’s consent and finalized regulations opens the way for the Department of Natural Resources, which governs fracking, to accept applications and issue permits for energy companies to implement the controversial process.

“In this case, I think the department tried to strike a balance between the industry advocates who want to commence fracking and environmental advocates who are concerned about the consequences,” said commission Co-Chair Don Harmon, a State Senator (D-39th) who supported a ban on hydraulic fracturing. “I think the final ruling will displease both groups in equal measure, which is usually the sign of a successful legislative effort,” he said.

The process of setting regulations for fracking extended debate on the contentious practice since before Illinois passed legislation to allow fracking in 2013. Continue reading “Illinois fracking hops final hurdle – Regulations approved Thursday”

Five labs to blow your mind at Chicago Ideas Week

Click here to check out our interactive preview of Chicago Ideas Week. Map by Michael Epstein.
Click here to check out our interactive preview of Chicago Ideas Week.
Map by Michael Epstein.

By Michael Epstein

Chicago Ideas Week kicks off Monday with a deluge of more than 180 enlightening things to do, including tours and hands-on activities at some of the city’s most innovative businesses. Now celebrating its fourth year, Chicago Ideas Week brings together world-class minds for discussions, events and demos.

“You go the West Coast,” said Chicago Ideas Executive Director Jessica Malkin. “You go the East Coast. There tend to be a lot of ideas-style platforms that bring lots of thinkers together and people from a lot of different sectors come to one place to interact and learn. Despite the fact you have so many Fortune 500 companies here in the Midwest and a good deal of major educational institutions, we were in a desert.”

Here are a few upcoming highlights to get excited attendees out their seats and into these new ideas. If you’re looking for more, you can check out the complete schedule for Chicago Ideas Week 2014 on the Chicago Ideas Week website. Continue reading “Five labs to blow your mind at Chicago Ideas Week”

User data privacy fuels Ello’s continued growth surge

Ello is growing. Logos from Ello.
Ello is growing. Logos from Ello.

By Michael Epstein
Are you tired of getting chased by your browser profile on Facebook, Twitter and Google? They won’t be able to reach you on Ello, the site producers promise.

Proudly declaring that Ello will never run ads or track and sell user information, the new invite-only social network, continues to sign on thousands of new users every hour. Ello became a seemingly instant internet sensation in late September by rolling out the welcome mat for social network users frustrated by the business-minded data policies of Silicon Valley giants that sell profile information and browsing habits to advertisers. Continue reading “User data privacy fuels Ello’s continued growth surge”