How To Track Elon Musk’s Roadster On Its Journey Towards Mars

The successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy earlier this month was a landmark technical achievement, but it has quickly come to be symbolized by something a bit sillier — the image of a red Tesla Roadster floating through space, with a dummy in a spacesuit behind the wheel.

The car and its passenger — known as Starman — were the test payload for the Falcon Heavy, and they’re now on a long journey out into the solar system. If you’re curious what that path looks like, an aerospace engineer and SpaceX admirer has put together a website that uses NASA data to track the Roadster’s course. It’s called Where Is Roadster?, and it’s fascinating, with both live data on the Roadster’s location and an interactive tool that shows its future course.

It’s often mentioned that the Roadster is “on its way to Mars,” which can give the impression that it’s making a beeline for the Red Planet. But the Roadster, like all things in the galaxy, is subject to the tug of gravity, so instead of a straight path, it’s tracing a long arc away from Earth and the sun.

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And the distances involved are truly vast. Right now, the Roadster is still much closer to Earth — 2.25 million miles away — than to Mars, 137.5 million miles away. Meanwhile, Mars is moving too, so when the Roadster first intersects its orbit this July, the planet itself will already be millions of miles away. After that, the Roadster will actually return to something close to Earth’s orbit, though again, Earth itself won’t be anywhere close.

According to the site’s data, which is taken from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Roadster won’t actually be close to Mars until early October of 2020. And as far as we know, it doesn’t have any landing equipment or thrusters that would make it possible to actually get the car down to the surface.

Unless, of course, Elon Musk has another big secret up his sleeve.

Instagram, After Spreading Russian Election Propaganda, Censors Evidence of Kremlin Corruption

On Friday, a new indictment from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller included claims that Facebook-owned Instagram was used by Russian operatives to spread propaganda during the 2016 U.S. election. But just a few days ago, the same platform succumbed to Russian government demands to suppress what one of the Putin regime’s most vocal opponents says is evidence of high-level corruption.

According to the BBC, Instagram has blocked Russian users from viewing posts by an alleged Russian escort that became fodder for an investigation by Alexei Navalny. Navalny is an opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner who has been jailed by Russian authorities and, more recently, barred from opposing Putin in an upcoming presidential election by embezzlement charges that are widely seen as politically motivated.

In the video that helped trigger the backlash, published on February 8th, Navalny used Instagram posts by a woman going by the name Nastya Rybka to lay out allegations that oligarch Oleg Deripaska bribed Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko, including by providing private jet flights. Navalny also raised questions about the source of Prikhodko’s personal wealth. In a statement to the Associated Press, a spokesperson for Deripaska called the allegations “scandalous and mendacious assumptions.”

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The video triggered a Russian court ruling that Deripaska’s privacy rights had been violated, and then a takedown order from Russia’s communications regulator. According to the BBC, Rybka removed some of the related posts herself, while Facebook removed two others in response to the order. Navalny has blasted Instagram’s compliance, writing on Twitter “Shame on you, @instagram!”

A spokesperson for Facebook acknowledged complying with the takedown demand, saying in part that “when governments believe that something on the internet violates their laws, they may contact companies and ask us to restrict access to that content. We review such requests carefully in light of local laws and where appropriate, we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory.”

Navalny’s own website has also reportedly been blocked by some Russian internet providers. By contrast, according to the BBC, Google has not complied with the order, and Russians can still view the Deripaska report on YouTube. It has been viewed more than 5.5 million times.

Oleg Deripaska is also entangled in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election. As detailed in a recent feature in The Atlantic, a multimillion-dollar debt to Deripaska helped motivate Paul Manafort to seek a leadership role in the Trump campaign. Soon after securing that role, Manafort reached out to Deripaska to offer insight into the campaign as a way to repair their relationship.

Uber Is Reportedly Planning to Sell Its Southeast Asia Branch to Competitor Grab

Uber is preparing to hand over its Southeast Asia business to the Singaporean ridesharing company Grab, according to a report by CNBC. Uber would get Grab equity in the deal, if and when it goes through.

CNBC’s sources further said the deal was part of a strategy to help Uber reduce costs ahead of a planned IPO. The company lost a mind-boggling $4.5 billion in 2017 on $7.5 billion in sales – which means there’s plenty of demand for its services, but it needs to do some serious streamlining and focus on its strongest regions.

But a closer look shows there may be more going on than one company’s decision to exit a challenging market.

Asia as a whole has certainly been tough on Uber, with regional services consistently beating the American giant. Uber already threw in the towel in China, where it swapped its operations for an ownership stake in competitor Didi Chuxing in 2016. In India, the taxi platform Ola stole 3% of the market from Uber just in the second half of 2017, despite Uber’s major push to win there. Ola now leads in market share by more than 15%.

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But here’s the thing: Didi, Ola, and Grab have all taken large investments from Japan’s SoftBank. Last month, SoftBank also made a $1.25 billion investment in Uber and became the company’s largest shareholder. Based on those relationships, Quartz recently dubbed SoftBank “the real king of ride-hailing.”

An Uber deal with Grab could serve SoftBank’s push to streamline the competitive environment for ride-hailing services – or, put another way, to divide up its global kingdom into small, relatively sheltered fiefdoms. Rajeev Misra, who joined Uber’s board as part of the SoftBank deal, has argued that Uber should focus primarily on the U.S. and Europe. It has also remained strong in Latin America and the Middle East.

So while the Southeast Asia deal might help nudge Uber’s balance sheet in the right direction, it also represents a non-trivial retrenchment of its ambitions. As Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky chronicled in his 2017 book on the company, Uber once sought global domination. Now, facing regulatory and competitive roadblocks in dozens of markets, and with investors guiding it along a more modest path, it may have to settle for a lot less.

Russians Trolls Used Cryptocurrency Exchanges, DOJ Indictment Says

Russian nationals identified in a Justice Department indictment released Friday used cryptocurrency exchanges as part of an alleged scheme to mislead U.S. citizens leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

The indictment, part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s on-going investigation into possible election interference by Russia, linked 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups to alleged misinformation campaigns spread in the U.S. public through Facebook (fb) and Twitter (twtr).

The Russian nationals and their co-conspirators allegedly stole social security numbers, home addresses, and other information from U.S. citizens to create bogus accounts on PayPal (pypl) as well as unspecified online crytopcurrency exchanges, the indictment said.

The groups also bought fake U.S. driver’s license numbers and other common identification documents that they used to “maintain their accounts at PayPal and elsewhere, including online cryptocurrency exchanges.”

Although the indictment doesn’t specify what the Russian nationals used their cryptocurrency accounts for, it does say that the group’s fake bank and PayPal accounts “were used to purchase advertisements on Facebook” that promoted its messages to misinform the U.S. public.

Criminals have used cryptocurrencies and its promise of anonymity as a way to carry out illegal activities like receiving ransom payments and selling banned goods without being caught.

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In July, the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network levied a $110 million fine against the Russia-based cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e for facilitating “transactions involving ransomware, computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking.”

Although the BTC-e exchange shut down after the fine, tech website Coindesk noted in September that it appears to have been resurrected as a new exchange called WEX that claimed “that it did not receive any funds from BTC-e, while at the same time alleging that it would abide by anti-money laundering and know-your-customer laws.”

The Big Engineering Behind Olympic Snowboarding's Big Air Event

A jump with the exact proportions of the launch ramp for snowboarding’s big air event, which will make its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, does not exist in nature. It must be built. And so, fewer than a dozen times a year, at venues ranging from ballparks to parking lots, impeccably orchestrated teams of engineers, ice suppliers, snowmakers, crane operators, up riggers, down riggers, scaffold designers—you get the picture—do exactly that. And at this year’s Winter Games, from February 19—24, snowboarders from around the world will hurl themselves from one of the biggest big air ramps ever conceived.

“They’re crazy projects—I love them,” says Michael Zorena. The owner of the Massachusetts-based Consultantzee, Zorena has led the construction of awe-inspiring structures around the world, from Ai Weiwei’s 20,000-pound, metal-wire “Good Neighbors” installation in New York City to a geodesic, 360° projection sphere in Dubai. But big air ramps are particularly fun. His company recently built two in as many years—the first inside Fenway Park in 2016, the second in a Los Angeles parking lot, last year, at one of Shaun White’s Air + Style music-cum-snowsport festivals.

Most big air ramps are temporary, purpose-built to fit their particular venues. As a result, each is constructed a little differently, but they share a standard anatomy. At the top of the structure, about 150 feet feet up, is the deck, a flat staging area where snowboarders wait to perform their jumps. There’s the inrun—the long, vertiginous drop, typically at an angle between 38 and 39 degrees, that the athletes descend to gain velocity, accelerating to speeds between 35 and 40 miles per hour. Then there’s the kick, an abrupt upsweep at the bottom of the inrun, which flings riders into the air.

Next comes the landing ramp (another long, steep section with an angle similar to that of the inrun), the placement of which is crucial. Its descending slope helps convert the riders’ downward momentum into forward momentum, sparing them the ruinous impact of a multi-story fall. Placing its center about 70 feet from the lip of the kick gives riders ample room to over- or undershoot, maximizing their odds of touching down on a steep decline. Add in the finishing area—a large, increasingly flat corral of snow beginning some 85 feet from the base of the landing ramp—and you’ve got a run that extends between 400 and 500 feet, from nose to tail.

It’s as challenging to build, and build safely, as it sounds. Underpinning all these features is a combination of snow, metal, wood, and—when their dimensions are close enough to those of the desired feature—existing infrastructure and topography. (At Pyeongchang, for instance, the landing ramp was built by layering snow atop a section of stadium seating.)

Drawings by scaffold engineer Jeremy Thom show the angles and curves of a big air ramp he designed for Fenway Park. A:Deck. B: Inrun. C: Kick. D: Landing.

Jeremy Thom/Atomic Design

But the temporary nature of most big air ramps—and their inruns, especially—results in a strikingly industrial aesthetic. Think soaring skeletons of steel scaffolding; the ramp’s bones and joints comprise tens of thousands of rods, fasteners, and clamps. “It’s essentially a big Erector Set,” says Jeremy Thom, an expert in the design of stage sets, amphitheatres, and similarly tremendous structures. The scaffolds of the big air ramps at Fenway and in LA, both of which he designed, consisted of 25,823 and 22,693 individual parts, respectively. (In his CAD files, he accounted for every single component.) “We assemble the structure one piece at a time,” Thom says. “It’s hand crafted. Bespoke. Like a Savile Row suit.”

On many job sites, workers will often erect a scaffold by forming a passline, handing each component from one person to the next. But then, most job sites don’t accommodate scaffolds as colossal as a big air inrun. Workers on the ground build the repetitive elements of the structure, which crane operators hoist up to riggers, who put them in place. Finally, a wood team adds a reinforcing layer of 4×4 lumber before topping everything off with plywood.

The naked big air inrun in Pyeongchang. Note the stadium seating below, which was covered in snow to create the landing ramp.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

That leaves you with what Zorena calls a “faceted gradient”—a curved incline, sure, but one that’s far from even. To dial in a long, smooth slope, you need a lot of snow, which engineers account for when they design the structure: Dry, fresh powder can weigh as little as three pounds per square foot, while an equivalent volume of wet, heavy stuff can tip the scales at upwards of 20 pounds.

Orders of ice can vary by the hundreds of tons, depending on the local weather. A big air event held in Los Angeles in March needs more than one hosted during a New England cold snap. When Zorena and his team began building the big air ramp at Fenway in 2016, they ordered 800 tons of ice from a local supplier in anticipation of unseasonably warm weather. But when the forecast called for a return to sub-freezing temperatures, they slashed their request by half.

In the end, the snow on the ramp is usually no more than 18 inches deep—any more than that and the weight can overwhelm the underlying structure. (“Plus, removal is a nightmare if it’s too deep,” Zorena says.) Snowmakers add a foundation of crushed ice, then blow powder on top; they point upward-facing snow guns in the landing zone, and another set on the deck, pointing down.

Snowcats can smooth out parts of the jump, but much of the work is done by hand. “It’s super labor intensive, not very glamorous—basically shovels and rakes,” says Eric Webster, who, as the US Ski and Snowboard Association’s senior director of events, has overseen the construction of multiple big air ramps. A week before big air’s Olympic debut, snow-shapers overseen by Schneestern—the German company behind the big air features in Pyeongchang—were still tending to the jump.

But the experts I spoke with say it’s worth the effort. The deck of the big air jump in South Korea towers just over 160 feet above the base of the landing ramp (about 10 feet higher than the jump Zorena built in Fenway Park), and its inramp is a degree or two steeper. Expect those variations to translate to even bigger air than the world has seen in competitions past.

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U.S. probe finds bitcoin mining operation interfered with broadband network

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission said on Thursday an investigation had found that a Brooklyn bitcoin mining operation interfered with T-Mobile US Inc’s (TMUS.O) broadband network.

The company had complained about interference to its 700 MHz LTE network in Brooklyn from radio emissions it said were coming from a Brooklyn residence mining for the cryptocurrency – verifying bitcoin transactions.

The FCC said its investigation determined the user was “generating spurious emissions on frequencies assigned to T-Mobile’s broadband network and causing harmful interference.”

The agency’s enforcement bureau said in a letter dated Thursday that continued use of an operation known as “Antminer s5 Bitcoin Miner” would constitute a violation of federal law and could result in fines, criminal prosecution or seizure of the equipment.

T Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a tweet the “letter has it all: #bitcoin mining, computing power needed for #blockchain computation and #wireless #broadband interference. It all seems so very 2018.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Susan Thomas

I Tried Going Negative With My Advertising–and It Actually Worked. Here's What I Learned

We hear a lot about the power of positivity. Have you ever stopped to think about the power of negativity? This typically shows up in the form of political attack ads, but recently I’ve been experimenting with how I can use the power of negative and comparison advertising to support the growth of my own digital marketing.

At my company, thinking like an underdog both creates a drive within the company to innovate and also attracts a following of consumers who want to see us win and may even want to be a part of our win. We saw this happen specifically when a larger company sued us and it made local headlines. Many of our customers expressed their support, and when we finally won, we saw a bump in sales from new customers, referred by friends who had been backing us the whole time.

Going negative in a strategic and targeted manner, has been a huge competitive advantage for my business. It’s an outlier strategy that has increased my market share and continues to grow my consumers year after year.

Here’s what I discovered.

Comparison, Not Annihilation

Turns out, most of my customers will root for my company when I position myself as the underdog trying to knock out my biggest competitors. Thinking like an underdog both creates a drive within my company to innovate and also attracts a following of consumers who want to see me win and may even want to be a part of my winning growth story.

I have found that the common misconception that leads other CEOs and business owners away from comparison advertising is the (incorrect) assumption that you have to go full mud slinging, abandon all taste, and totally disparage your competition. That’s not what I’m talking about.

In today’s ‘don’t rock the boat’ business culture, my fellow CEOs are so afraid to run comparison ads on their competitors that they won’t even consider the strategy. What are they so afraid of?

I think that they fear any kind of controversy caused by an ad comparing them to their competitor, even if they’re the ones controlling the narrative. They are petrified it might reflect poorly back on them. And no one wants to come across as a bully.

To clarify my position, I’m not talking about total annihilation. Recently, my team carefully used the power of comparison to create underdog status with consumers similar to the “Avis, We Try Harder” campaign. This allowed us to engage with our audience, build our following, and ultimately craft an environment where our customers draw their own negative conclusions about my largest competitor, and chooses our company, all by themselves.

It’s About ROI

When looking to increase profile and brand awareness, I’ve found that going negative is a smart, lean, cost-effective solution, that can yield substantial results. When it comes to digital marketing, we’ve all been taught that differentiation and unique selling propositions are what allows us to stand out, become associated with the category and move to the first consideration when someone is thinking about making a purchase decision.  

To illustrate this point, think about T-Mobile’s recent strike at Verizon, with a single tweet. T-Mobile’s smart and adept CEO, John Legere, tweeted an article that showed that T-Mobile customers are more loyal than Verizon’s, Sprint’s, or AT&T’s. He appended the article with the following line:

Notice how he only called out the biggest competitor, Verizon? He didn’t mention Sprint or AT&T. There was no need–the press picked up the story did all that work for him. That’s what I’m talking about, and it’s a strategy that is highly underutilized in my opinion.

Turning Negative Advertising Into Positive Results

The bottom line is that negativity works. But, it has to be comparison advertising with finesse, including a certain flair, and creativity–especially for a company trying to disrupt their market and its more established competitors.

Going negative with this delicate formula will help position your company as the underdog, attract fans that root for you, and yield big returns. Give it a shot and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Once you realize the power this strategy yields, you’ll find all sorts of creative ways to leverage it for your growth.

7 Phrases Successful People Tell Themselves On A Daily Basis

Successful people tend to have very positive inner dialogues.

They know how to nurture their own personal growth. They believe they can do whatever it is they set their mind to. But most of all, they believe in themselves.

If you look at the differences between those who achieve their goals and those who fail, what you’ll usually find is a lack of self belief. Those who fail tend to plan for failure.

There is something to be said about the relationship you have with yourself–and the way you encourage (or discourage) your actions. If you are overly critical every step of the way, chances are, you’re going to lose your motivation to keep trying.

The key is to be patient, positive, and understanding of the process.

Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds of CEOs, executives, serial entrepreneurs, and successful individuals–for written content, and also my own learning. And I have found, time and time again, that successful people all tell themselves these 7 things on a daily basis:

1. “I will figure it out.”

People who succeed don’t plan for failure. 

Instead, they plan for obstacles. They know there will be challenges. They know they will need to find their own solutions. So, instead of planning on dealing with defeat, they master skill sets that prepare them for the worst.

They tell themselves, over and over again, “I will figure it out. No matter what.”

And they do.

2. “Everything in the world was built by people no smarter than you.”

This Steve Jobs quote has become a mantra for successful people all over the world. 

Those who achieve their goals don’t see the world as fixed, or set in stone. They see it as malleable, constantly moving, ready to be disrupted by the next great idea. And they see themselves as the person fit for the job.

The moment you realize that the world around you was made by other people just like you–people who woke up one day and decided to start working relentlessly toward their vision–is the moment you’re able to take full control over your life.

3. “Never mistakes. Only lessons.”

People who achieve big things in their lifetime operate under the assumption that in every mistake is a lesson.

They don’t get bogged down making themselves feel bad for a misstep. They don’t punish themselves for doing something wrong. They take everything in stride, in order to keep moving in a positive direction.

Calling something a “mistake” is almost counterproductive.

Call it a lesson instead.

4. “Work hard to know what you don’t know.”

There is a misconception that all successful people are egotistical, or “have it all figured out.”

The truth is, most very successful people are the complete opposite. They are extremely open, ready and willing to learn–always on the lookout for the next thing they don’t know.

This is such an important distinction between those who achieve short-term success and those who are able to sustain it over long periods of time. Success is all about being aware of your next weakness, the next thing you can improve.

And in order to do that, you have to know what you don’t know.

5. “Forget your competition.”

While there is absolutely something to be said for keeping tabs on your competitors, I’ve found the most successful individuals to be hyper focused on their own direction and where it is they feel they need to go.

Reason being, focusing on your competition for too long can cause you to be distracted. You end up making decisions based on someone else, rather than questioning what would be best for you, your team, your company, etc. 

Successful people forget their competition. 

6. “Take the time to get it right in the beginning.”

This is a phrase a mentor of mine, fellow Inc columnist Ron Gibori, said often. He’d say, “There is always time to get it right in the end, when everything has fallen apart. So make the time to get things right in the beginning.”

I find that most successful people work very, very hard in the beginning of projects, engagements, deals, etc., to make positively sure every single element is on track. They know that if they take the time to get things right from the start, they don’t have to put out fires half-way through.

It’s all about attention to detail.

7. “Never forget why you started.”

Again, I am constantly surprised by people who have achieved massive amounts of success in their lives, and how connected they are to the beginning of their journey. They remember where they started. They remind themselves often why they got into the business they’re in. Their motivation comes from a love for growth, not necessarily the achievement of an end goal.

In order to maintain long-term success, this is a crucial part of the process. You have to remember why you started down this road in the first place–and do everything in your power to make sure you never forget it.

Drug Labs, Hoarding, and Murder: The Crime Scene Cleanup Industry Is Booming

On November 19, 2017, first responders raced to a home in Coventry, Rhode Island to treat an unresponsive infant. But, it was too late; by the time the medics brought the baby to a nearby hospital, the 8-month-old was already dead. Later, the parents were arrested and charged with felony child neglect after a toxicology report found the powerful opioid painkiller fentanyl was present in the child’s system.

When a tragedy like this happens, someone has to clean up what remains at the scene, whether it’s blood, body fluid, or deadly drugs. In this case, Michael Wiseman was called to the home to get rid of all traces of fentanyl, a particularly potent opioid that, if inhaled or comes in contact with the mouth or eyes, can cause someone to overdose, according to the Center for Disease Control. 

“I’ve been in the business for 30 years and I have never seen anything like this,” says Wiseman, whose Easton, Massachusetts-based crime scene cleanup company, 24Trauma, was commissioned to clean up the grim aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. “Fentanyl has changed the ballgame.”

24Trauma is part of a thriving, little known industry that is as fragmented as it is lightly regulated. At one end of the spectrum are small, untrained ambulance chasing outfits; at the other, are large operations that have contracts with law enforcement agencies and local governments, certified to handle and dispose of biohazard medical waste.

As the opioid epidemic rages across the country, this niche industry is experiencing a boom. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, according to numbers from the CDC. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, fentanyl, which is stronger than heroin and available via prescription, is now being made illegally to boost heroin’s potency. 

In New England, one of regions where the opioid epidemic has hit hardest, fentanyl is involved in over half of all overdose deaths, the New York Times reports. As a result, 24Trauma has become the go-to bio-hazmat contractor for fentanyl contamination sites in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. It’s landed contracts with the DEA, various police departments, along with two major rental car companies (rental cars are a common backdrop for fentanyl users and dealers).

All this has been a boon to Wiseman’s company, which in the past two-and-a-half years has ballooned from 35 employees to 90. “We’ve grown because of the opioid epidemic,” says Wiseman, who’s also expanded from two to five offices. Each week–for between $5,000 to $50,000 a job–his company decontaminates half a dozen rental cars, along with residential homes, where drug dealers typically protect themselves by wearing full-face respirators. Last summer, when a batch of heroin was cut with too much fentanyl, 24Trauma was called in to clean up homes and public bathrooms in Brockton, Massachusetts, where 35 people overdosed.

What remains both the biggest challenge and opportunity for the industry is solving the problem of cleaning up fentanyl safely. “How to effectively neutralize fentanyl is our industry’s million dollar question,” says Thomas Licker, president of the American Bio Recovery Association, an organization that certifies biohazard recovery technicians. For other biohazardous materials or drugs–like blood and crystal meth–there are standards set by federal government or state agencies that mandate environmental limits and remediation guidelines. But no standards or accepted protocols currently exist for fentanyl cleanup in residential spaces, says Licker. “Fentanyl and its analogues are the scariest things we are dealing with on an everyday basis,” he says. “These substances are weapons of mass destruction, in my opinion.” 

Companies are now racing to develop what could become the EPA-registered solution to deactivate fentanyl. First Line Technologies, a Virginia-based chemical company, already has a popular solution on the market called Dahlgren Decon that claims to neutralize fentanyl in five minutes.

The company licensed the chemical from the U.S. Navy to sell to the broader U.S. military market for its original use–cleaning up after chemical warfare attacks. But First Line’s CEO Amit Kapoor found a new application after testing it on fentanyl with a third party lab. In the last year, Kapoor’s business has managed to expand its customer base from the U.S. military to all law enforcement agencies across the federal and state level, as well as private companies including Bio-One, Servpro–and 24Trauma.

“It’s our blockbuster chemical,” says Kapoor, noting that sales for Dahlgren Decon have increased the company’s revenue by millions of dollars. “We’ve found a whole new customer base and we’re trying to keep up,” he says. “We’re growing exponentially.”

A culprit for financial site glitches: you and your apps

BOSTON (Reuters) – Jittery investors and their smartphones stressed out leading U.S. online financial sites last week as heavy volatility shook markets, technology analysts said.

Major firms including Vanguard Group, TD Ameritrade Holding Corp (AMTD.O) and Fidelity Investments reported service slowdowns on their websites amid heightened demand from clients.

For many firms an issue was the growing adoption of financial apps on mobile devices, which make it much easier for clients to check their balances or watch market indexes. That created greater network loads, even when clients were not looking to trade.

“The app is in their hands and they can check it as they get out of the car. That’s different than what many systems were built for,” said Kendra Thompson, a managing director for Accenture, which advises big asset managers on technology.

Delays were magnified as frustrated consumers returned repeatedly, conditioned by social media to expect a quick informational hit.

“Access troubles beget more traffic,” she said.

Rich Bolstridge, chief strategist for financial services at cloud services provider Akamai Technologies Inc, (AKAM.O) described the wide adoption of mobile apps in finance as “the number one factor in the riskier situation that brokers and investment firms face today,” as customers get used to logging in with the ease of a thumbprint.

Richer graphics and video on company websites also put IT systems under pressure.

Akamai shared data with Reuters showing how at one investment firm, traffic to its homepage surged on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6. It spiked at 9:50 a.m. EST (1450 GMT) on Tuesday when it ran to four times where it stood at the same point a week earlier, and remained higher than usual on Feb. 7-8.

Bolstridge said traffic may have eased off as people got used to the market volatility during the trading week, the worst in two years for U.S. stocks.

“My best guess would be that people were a little bit numb to the news,” he said.

Vanguard spokesman John Woerth said rising smartphone use played a role in the heavy online traffic the firm faced on Feb. 5, when some clients had trouble logging in to its website.

“It is now easier than ever to get market updates on your smartphone and be impelled to act on market movements. Impulse is an investor’s worst enemy, and we caution investors from succumbing to emotion,” he said.

TD Ameritrade spokeswoman Kim Hillyer said the firm received unprecedented traffic last week, slowing down one of its mobile apps on Feb. 5 and creating a 45-minute period of slowness on its trading website the next morning. She said the company reminded customers they could use other options, such as another mobile app it offers.

Reporting by Ross Kerber, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien