Urban Studies

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While WWIII, plague or other large-scale disasters would result in a humanitarian crisis, none of those calamities would do much to slow down the growth of global population, which is currently headed toward 10 billion by 2100. From Mark Tran at The Guardian:

“The pace of population growth is so quick that even draconian restrictions of childbirth, pandemics or a third world war would still leave the world with too many people for the planet to sustain, according to a study.

Rather than reducing the number of people, cutting the consumption of natural resources and enhanced recycling would have a better chance of achieving effective sustainability gains in the next 85 years, said thereport published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

‘We were surprised that a five-year WW3 scenario, mimicking the same proportion of people killed in the first and second world wars combined, barely registered a blip on the human population trajectory this century,’ said Prof Barry Brook, who co-led the study at the University of Adelaide, in Australia. …

Brook, now at the University of Tasmania, said policymakers needed to discuss population growth more, but warned that the inexorable momentum of the global human population ruled out any demographic quick fixes to our sustainability problems.

‘Our work reveals that effective family planning and reproduction education worldwide have great potential to constrain the size of the human population and alleviate pressure on resource availability over the longer term,’ he said. ‘Our great-great-great-great grandchildren might ultimately benefit from such planning, but people alive today will not.'”

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In an L.A. Weekly article, an anonymous Uber driver reveals the company’s scorched-earth strategy, in which its massive capital temporarily rewards drivers and passengers, putting its competition in the gutter. An excerpt:

“Fast-forward to a month later where I found myself ‘Lyfting’ around L.A. as a driver, relatively impressed with the functionality of the app and the casual rapport I was having with passengers. Most were proud converts (‘Taxis suck! Thank God for ridesharing!’) and I couldn’t blame them. Despite the absurd mustache calling card on my front bumper, it was easy-peasy and the money wasn’t bad. I even made a friend or two.

Then, suddenly, a strange passenger appeared. His destination was only a couple blocks away and he used that distance to ‘refer’ me to UberX, claiming I’d get $500 for joining and driving 20 rides plus zero commission for the first month. I had no dog in this fight and money talks, so I did it.

Passenger X was smart. He made his commission for bringing me to the dark side. He knew how to work the system to his advantage. As it turns out, so did Uber.

Once I joined Uber, there seemed to be no looking back. I scored $500 for joining, $500 or $250 for referring friends to the platform, $40 per hour guarantees on Friday and Saturday nights. My first night I made about $300, mainly due to a 7.5 surge price on a trip from West Hollywood to downtown L.A. which cost the passenger more than $100. Unethical? You betcha. Did I care? Not a bit! I finally had a part-time gig that paid like it was full-time. I could make more in a weekend than some people make all week. Having worked many dismal minimum wage jobs, this was a godsend. But even God knows the devil is in the details.

I started to witness the ruthless machinations of a libertarian monopoly. While evading most taxi regulations and delving into ethically murky waters, Uber was aggressively trying to eliminate the competition, free-market style. It wasn’t exactly subtle: ‘Earn $500 for referring Lyft drivers!’ Hmm. The money was good, but where was it coming from? How long could it last? And at what expense? The answers, respectively, are Google, not long and everyone’s expense.

I’ll elaborate.”

The Olympics costs cities far more to host than it returns in revenue. Supposedly, the aura of the Games will make up for the shortfall, magically transforming any metropolis into a tourist magnet. Try telling that to the people of Montreal, which spent big on the 1976 Games and paid for it for next 30 years. In fact, that’s been the experience of most hosts over the last four decades.

In a post at The Conversation, Andrew Zimbalist, the Smith economist who’s long proven the financial folly of American cities building publicly funded stadiums for pro-sports teams, explains why authoritarian countries currently have a great shot at attracting the five-ring circus:

“The games’ promoters, however, claim the real payoff comes in increased tourism, foreign investment and trade. As my own research confirms, the difficulty with this assertion is that there is little evidence to back it up. London and Beijing, for instance, each experienced a drop in tourism when they hosted the summer games. That is, the increase in tourism for the Olympics was more than offset by a decrease in normal tourism, as people decided to stay away from the crowds and high prices. To be sure, the large majority of scholarly studies concludes that there is no positive economic impact from hosting.

There is growing evidence that the IOC has overplayed its hand. The number of bidders for the Winter Olympics has gone steadily down from nine in 1995 for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City to just two in 2014 for the 2022 Games, and for the summer Olympics from 12 in 1997 for the 2004 games in Athens to three in 2013 for the 2020 games in Tokyo.

Potential bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics from Krakow, Stockholm, Munich, Davos, Lviv and Oslo were withdrawn in 2013 and 2014. This leaves only two authoritarian countries, Kazakhstan and China, in the hosting competition. Many analysts have concluded that democratic governments can no longer get away with wasting billions of dollars on dubious Olympic glory.”


From the July 6, 1896 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“The officials of a company which makes a feature of insuring the lives of animals notified the management of Glen Island to-day that they would not pay the policy on the life of Franko, the monkey which committed suicide yesterday. They claim the suicide clause holds good in this instance the same as in the case of a man. It is claimed that Franko deliberately hanged himself and that back of the sad affair is a love story of strong interest which goes to show that Cupid darts can play havoc in a monkey’s cage as well as elsewhere. Franko was desperately in love with a female monkey in the same cage. Last week he was removed to another cage and suicide followed.”


Brad Templeton is a consultant for Google’s driverless-cars division, so he has a dog–a car–in this race, but I think his response to Lee Gomes’ recent Slate piece about the disappointment of autonomous cars, the idea that they may never be viable, is pretty reasonable. Vehicles will be incrementally more robotic and independent in the near-term, offering automated parking and autopilot on highways, and in the longer term, when the final 5% of the process is figured and infrastructure is retrofitted, their function will be even greater. From Templeton:

“Fully functional robocars that can drive almost everywhere are not coming this decade, but nor are they many decades away. But more to the point, less-functional robocars are probably coming this decade — much sooner than these articles expect, and these vehicles are much more useful and commercially viable than people may expect.

There are many challenges facing developers, and those challenges will keep them busy refining products for a long time to come. Most of those challenges either already have a path to solution, or constrain a future vehicle only in modest ways that still allow it to be viable. Some of the problems are in the ‘unsolved’ class. It is harder to predict when those solutions will come, of course, but at the same time one should remember that many of the systems in today’s research vehicles where in this class just a few years ago. Tackling hard problems is just what these teams are good at doing. This doesn’t guarantee success, but neither does it require you bet against it.

And very few of the problems seem to be in the ‘unsolvable without human-smart AI’ class, at least none that bar highly useful operation.”

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Buzz Aldrin, who survived a mission to the moon and an est workshop, wants to send pioneers to Mars and leave them there for awhile, perhaps not permanently as some others have suggested, but for a good, long spell. From Abby Phillip at the Washington Post:

“Buzz Aldrin has been on a mission to the moon. But these days, the legendary Apollo 11 astronaut is fixated on one thing: Getting humankind to Mars — and keeping them there for a long time.

Aldrin has some ideas about what a human mission to the red planet should look like. And unlike his triumphant return to Earth, Aldrin wants the Mars explorers of tomorrow to stay there. Potentially, for a very long time.

‘It [will] cost the world — and the U.S. — billions and billions of dollars to put these people there, and you’re going to bring them back?’ Aldrin said during a panel discussion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this week. ‘What are you going to do when you bring them back here that can possibly compare [to] the value that they would be if they stayed there and Mars wasn’t empty? And then, they helped to work with the next group and it builds up a cadre of people. ‘When we’ve got 100 — or whatever it is — then we start bringing people back.'”

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Cloud robotics is an absolute must if driverless cars and the Internet of Things are going to take off, but it’s also an invitation to mayhem, heretofore unimagined acts of terrorism and war. In Quentin Hardy’s New York Times interview with Berkeley roboticist Ken Goldberg, various angles of the topic are analyzed. The opening: 


What is cloud robotics?

Ken Goldberg:

Cloud robotics is a new way of thinking about robots. For a long time, we thought that robots were off by themselves, with their own processing power. When we connect them to the cloud, the learning from one robot can be processed remotely and mixed with information from other robots.


Why is that a big deal?

Ken Goldberg:

Robot learning is going to be greatly accelerated. Putting it a little simply, one robot can spend 10,000 hours learning something, or 10,000 robots can spend one hour learning the same thing.


How long has this been around?

Ken Goldberg:

The term ‘cloud robotics’ was coined in 2010 by James Kuffner, who was at Carnegie Mellon and then went to Google. I had been doing robot control over the Internet since the mid-90s, with a garden people could connect to, then plant seeds or water their plants.

The cloud is different from my Internet ‘telegarden,’ though. The cloud can have all the computation and memory stored remotely. That means all of the endpoints can be lightweight, and there is a huge collective benefit. These robots can address billions of behaviors and learn how to do important things quickly.


What are some examples of this?

Ken Goldberg:

Google’s self-driving cars are cloud robots. Each can learn something about roads, or driving, or conditions, and it sends the information to the Google cloud, where it can be used to improve the performance of other cars.

Health care is also very promising: Right now radiation treatments involve putting a radioactive seed next to a tumor, using a catheter that has to push through other tissue and organs. The damage could be minimized if the catheter worked like a robot and had motion planning to avoid certain objects. Tedious medical work, like suturing a wound, might be done faster and better. Giving intravenous fluids to Ebola patients is difficult and risks contamination; some people are looking at ways a robot could sense where a vein is and insert the needle.

Another area is household maintenance, particularly with seniors. Robots could pick up clutter, which would help elderly people avoid falling and hurting themselves.”

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Windowless planes, something maybe just a decade away, doesn’t refer to aircraft completely closed but the opposite. In an effort to reduce plane weight, the windows would be gone from the fuselage and lightweight screens on the inside would show what’s on the exterior, making it feel like a house of glass. Of course, some of us would rather not look. From Shane Hickey at the Guardian:

“It is a glimpse into the future that will inspire wonder in some people but perhaps strike terror into the heart of the nervous flyer: a windowless plane that nonetheless allows passengers to see what’s going on outside, as well as checking their email and surfing the net.

In a vision of what the next generation of commercial aircraft could look like in little more than a decade, windows would be replaced by full-length screens allowing constant views of the world outside. Passengers would be able to switch the view on and off according to their preference, identify prominent sights by tapping the screen or even just surf the internet.

The early-stage concept for the windowless plane, based on technology used in mobile phones and televisions, hails from the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), an organisation with sites across north-east England that works with companies to develop new products. It imagines how large, hi-definition, ultra thin and lightweight displays could form the inside of the fuselage, displaying images of the exterior from cameras mounted on the plane’s exterior.

But the real ambition echoes a constant quest in the aviation industry: how to reduce weight, which would cut fuel consumption, thereby bringing down fares. According to the CPI, for every 1% reduction in the weight of an aircraft, there is a saving in fuel of 0.75%.”


From the February 19, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Pittsburgh — Ten dollars added to his board bill for extra bologna eaten during the month was more than Ignac Merter could stand when he was leaving Mrs. Francis Petre’s boarding house at Ford City. He frankly imparted his feelings to the landlady, declaring he had paid all he owed and refused to pay the $10. Alleging he was hit with a club, he hauled the woman before a justice who held her in $300 on the charge of assault and battery.”

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Haunted Painting

I got this painting at a yard sale a few weeks ago. My daughter rides horses so I thought she’d like it. I have no idea how this happened, but the morning after we hung it up in her room, it was on the other wall in her room. (The painting that was there was on the floor.) She was so scared and upset. My husband and I thought she might have been sleepwalking (weird things happen with kids), so we hung it up in our bathroom the next night. We woke up and it was on the wall above our bed. Somehow the painting we had there was propped up against the opposite wall. Needless to say we don’t want this anymore but figure someone else might have interest.

Few academics sweep as widely across the past or rankle as much in the present as Jared Diamond, the UCLA professor most famous (and infamous) for Guns, Germs and Steel, a book that elides superiority–and often volition–from the history of some humans conquering others. It’s a tricky premise to prove if you apply it to the present: More-developed countries have better weapons than some other states, but it still requires will to use them. Of course, Diamond’s views are more complex than that black-and-white picture. Two excerpts follow from Oliver Burkeman’s very good new Guardian article about the scholar.


In person, Diamond is a fastidiously courteous 77-year-old with a Quaker-style beard sans moustache, and archaic New England vowels: “often” becomes “orphan,” “area” becomes “eerier.” There’s no computer: despite his children’s best efforts, he admits he’s never learned to use one.

Diamond’s first big hit, The Third Chimpanzee (1992), which won a Royal Society prize, has just been reissued in an adaptation for younger readers. Like the others, it starts with a mystery. By some measures, humans share more than 97% of our DNA with chimpanzees – by any commonsense classification, we are another kind of chimpanzee – and for millions of years our achievements hardly distinguished us from chimps, either. “If some creature had come from outer space 150,000 years ago, humans probably wouldn’t figure on their list of the five most interesting species on Earth,” he says. Then, within the last 1% of our evolutionary history, we became exceptional, developing tools and artwork and literature, dominating the planet, and now perhaps on course to destroy it. What changed, Diamond argues, was a seemingly minor set of mutations in our larynxes, permitting control over spoken sounds, and thus spoken language; spoken language permitted much of the rest.


Geography sometimes plays a huge role; sometimes none at all. Diamond’s most vivid illustration of the latter is the former practice, in two New Guinean tribes, of strangling the widows of deceased men, usually with the widows’ consent. Other nearby tribes that have developed in the same landscape don’t do it, so a geographical argument can’t work. On the other hand: “If you ask why the Inuit, living above the Arctic Circle, wear clothes, while New Guineans often don’t, I would say culture makes a negligible contribution. I would encourage anyone who disagrees to try standing around in Greenland in January without clothes.” And human choices really matter: once the Spanish encountered the Incas, Diamond argues, the Spanish were always going to win the fight, but that doesn’t mean brutal genocide was inevitable. “Colonising peoples had massive superiority, but they had choices in how they were going to treat the people over whom they had massive superiority.”

It is clear that behind these disputes, is a more general distrust among academics of the “big-picture” approach Diamond has made his own.•

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In a recent conversation at MIT, Elon Musk pointed out that humans already possess the building blocks for a Mars settlement, but so too do we have everything necessary for world peace, alternative energy and the end of hunger. The shift in priorities we have to make to call Mars home may be more major than he believes. It’s not just an external one. From Nidhi Subbaraman at BetaBoston:

“‘The basic ingredients are there,’ Musk told a sold-out crowd in MIT’s Kresge auditorium.

Of course, humans are going to need to figure out a few things if we’re going to make it to our neighbor planet. Robust, reusable landing gear (which SpaceX is tussling with already) is at the top of the list. Also energy: Power generation on Mars is going to be an ‘interesting problem,’ Musk said.

In Musk’s view, an investment in becoming a ‘multi-planet’ species is essential for our longevity.

It could come fairly cheap. ‘One percent of our resources, we could be buying life insurance collectively for life,’ Musk said. And it just requires a small reshuffling of our priorities. ‘Lipstick or Mars colonies?’ he asked.

He envisions an Olympics-style competitive future in which countries compete to build the necessary technology.”

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While the early twentieth-century mobster Arnold Rothstein has entered into American culture in everything from The Great Gatsby to Boardwalk Empire, he most infamously left his mark on major-league baseball. The “Brain,” as he was often called, transformed the often chaotic world of crime into a corporate-type affair, becoming the first “legitimate businessman.” One Rothstein deal saw him and other gamblers entice members of the 1919 White Sox to throw the World Series, a scandal which nearly killed the sport. And then there was the unintended consequence of the fix which occurred when Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis, a federal judge, was subsequently named baseball’s first commissioner with the imperative to clean up the game. In addition to other policies, Landis was steadfast in not allowing players of color to participate in the league, keeping the sport segregated. It’s no sure bet the game would have been integrated without Landis, but there was no way it was happening with him. The following article from the November 5, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on the murder of Rothstein, not shockingly a gambling-related crime.

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Much of American space exploration is being handed over to private enterprise, which I have some qualms about, but even some of the more prosaic elements of our lives have been offloaded from the public sector to technological “innovators.” Certainly that’s not one-hundred percent the case in the U.S., with healthcare, a huge concern, headed in the opposite direction, and the budget, while having grown slower under Obama than under Dubya or Reagan, still formidable. In a new Guardian piece, Evgeny Morozov, that self-designated mourner, looks at the dark side of capitalism and technocracy’s impact on democracy. The opening:

“For seven years, we’ve been held hostage to two kinds of disruption. One courtesy of Wall Street; the other from Silicon Valley. They make for an excellent good cop/bad cop routine: the former preaches scarcity and austerity while the other celebrates abundance and innovation. They might appear distinct, but each feeds off the other.

On the one hand, the global financial crisis – and the ensuing push to bail out the banks – desiccated whatever was left of the welfare state. This has mutilated – occasionally to the point of liquidation – the public sector, the only remaining buffer against the encroachment of the neoliberal ideology, with its unrelenting efforts to create markets out of everything.

The few public services to survive the cuts have either become prohibitively expensive or have been forced to experiment with new and occasionally populist survival mechanisms. The ascent of crowdfunding whereby, instead of relying on lavish and unconditional government funding, cultural institutions were forced to raise money directly from citizens is a case in point: in the absence of other alternatives, the choice has been between market populism – the crowd knows best! – or extinction.

By contrast, the second kind of disruption has been hailed as a mostly positive development. Everything is simply getting digitised and connected – a most natural phenomenon, if venture capitalists are to be believed – and institutions could either innovate or die. Having wired up the world, Silicon Valley assured us that the magic of technology would naturally pervade every corner of our lives. On this logic, to oppose technological innovation is tantamount to defaulting on the ideals of the Enlightenment: Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg are simply the new Diderot and Voltaire – reborn as nerdy entrepreneurs.

And then, a rather strange thing happened: somehow we have come to believe that the second kind of disruption had nothing to do with the first.”


Astrology is complete bullshit, and the leader of the free world being governed by it, as President Reagan was, is a scary thing, though, luckily, those dice rolled well for international relations. The opening of Douglas Martin’s New York Times obituary of Joan Quigley, stargazer to the Reagan White House:

“In his 1988 memoir, Donald T. Regan, a former chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan, revealed what he called the administration’s ‘most closely guarded secret.’

He said an astrologer had set the time for summit meetings, presidential debates, Reagan’s 1985 cancer surgery, State of the Union addresses and much more. Without an O.K. from the astrologer, he said, Air Force One did not take off.

The astrologer, whose name Mr. Regan did not know when he wrote the book, was Joan Quigley. She died on Tuesday at 87 at her home in San Francisco, her sister and only immediate survivor, Ruth Quigley, said.

Mr. Regan said that Miss Quigley — a Vassar-educated socialite who preferred the honorific Miss to Ms. (she never married) — had made her celestial recommendations through phone calls to the first lady, Nancy Reagan, often two or three a day. Mrs. Reagan, he said, set up private lines for her at the White House and at the presidential retreat at Camp David.

Further, Mrs. Reagan paid the astrologer a retainer of $3,000 a month, wrote Mr. Regan, who had also been a Treasury secretary under Reagan and the chief executive of Merrill Lynch.

‘Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House chief of staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise,’ he wrote in the memoir, For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington.

In an interview with CBS Evening News in 1989, after Reagan left office, Miss Quigley said that after reading the horoscope of the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, she concluded that he was intelligent and open to new ideas and persuaded Mrs. Reagan to press her husband to abandon his view of the Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire.’ Arms control treaties followed.”

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Appropriately trippy 1979 ABC News report about the U.S. government’s attempts across three decades to not just know its citizens’ thoughts but to actually control them. There was a Truth Drug Committee, CIA experimentation with LSD and mushrooms on unwitting Americans and Manchurian Candidate-esque goals. Ultimately it aided the establishment of the 1960s counterculture.


Two passages, one from five years ago and one from today, about how the anarchy of the Internet has released the devil inside us all.


In 2009, Jim Windolf of Vanity Fair wrote a good article about Internet trolls even before the term existed, but even though biting blogs have been supplanted by social media, his prediction about the decline of anonymous online hating did not come true–at least not yet–in fact it’s taken on new and even more hurtful forms. An excerpt from his piece:

“Online rudeness probably won’t last forever. I think it’s just a fashion. Things change. Stuff that seems cool gets stale. It feels like it won’t, but it does. So it seems reasonable to guess that online nastiness will fade—not through any enforcement, but just because it will go out of style. There will always be flame wars. There will always be online lunkheads and goons. But in a few years maybe you won’t really want to be the one calling someone else a douche-tard in a comments section.”


From Alex Hern’s Guardian article, Tim Berners-Lee on what he hath wrought, complete unintentionally:

“Tim Berners-Lee has expressed sadness that the web has mirrored the dark side of humanity, as well as enabling its ‘wonderful side’ to flourish.

The developer, who created the web in 1990 while working for the particle collider project Cern in Switzerland, said that the web is a reflection of human nature elsewhere, but that he had hoped ‘that the web would provide tools and fora and new ways of communicating that would break down national barriers and allow us to just get to a better global understanding.

‘Well, maybe it’ll happen in the future … Maybe we will be able to build web-based tools that help us keep people on the path of collaborating rather than fighting.’

Speaking to BBC News, Berners-Lee said that it was ‘staggering’ that people ‘who clearly must have been brought up like anybody else will suddenly become very polarised in their opinions, will suddenly become very hateful rather than very loving.'”

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From the July 11, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“James Driscoll, a boy 14 years old, who lives at 84 Lynch Street, when he stays home, eats and chews cigarettes. At least that is what his mother has to say about him. And according to her, he makes a regular diet of them, for he has the tobacco habit in an advanced degree.”


An Economist article responds to Lee Gomes’ Slate piece about the difficulty of making driverless vehicles truly autonomous, suggesting that the real impediment to such machines might be the large stock of cheap labor created by the disruptive qualities of other technologies. An excerpt:

“Writing at Slate, for instance, Lee Gomes frets that driverless vehicles struggle in unfamiliar territory when they lack good maps, can make errors when sun blinds their cameras, and are occasionally caught out by the unexpected appearance of new traffic signals. Human drivers, of course, share these weaknesses, and others: like difficulty operating in adverse weather conditions. The big difference between driverless vehicles and humans, in these cases, is that the computer can be programmed to behave cautiously when stumped, while humans often plough ahead heedlessly. When critiquing driverless cars it is often useful to recall that human drivers kill and maim millions of people each year.

Ironically, the biggest obstacle to widespread use of driverless vehicles, over the next decade or two at any rate, may be the effects of rapid technological progress in other parts of the economy. As a recent special report explains, technological change over the last generation has wiped out many middle-skill jobs, pushing millions of workers into competition for low-wage work. That glut has contributed to stagnant wages for most workers, and low pay has in turn reduced the incentive to firms to deploy labour-saving technology. Why automate, when there is an enormous stock of cheap labour available? At the same time firms like Uber are making the use of hired cars cheaper and more convenient, reducing the attraction to many households of owning and driving their own personal vehicles.

The combination of Uber and cheap labour could pose a formidable threat to the driverless car. The cost of the sensors and processors needed to pilot an autonomous vehicle is falling and is likely to fall much more as production ramps up. Yet the technology is still pricey, especially compared with a human, which, after all, is a rather efficient package of sensory and information-processing equipment. At low wages, a smartphone-enabled human driver is formidable competition for a driverless vehicle.

It would be a remarkable irony if the driverless car—in many ways the symbol of the technological revolution that is now reshaping modern economies—fails to materialise as an economic reality thanks to the disemploying power of other technologies.”


"She will be great."

“She will be great.” 

Wonder-Chicken (Green Township)

Tipsy is a 10 week old Bantam hen that needs to be adopted as a pet. Tipsy suffered and has survived an infection of Mareks disease. To protect the rest of the flock Tipsy cannot return to the flock (she’s quarantined). If you want a bird as a pet she will be great.

The type of buoyant journalism career the late Ben Bradlee enjoyed barely exists anymore, and that’s both a good and bad thing. It’s great that American media is in far more hands now in our decentralized world, the “barbarians” having stormed the gates, though it would be better if more of those thumbing at keypads aspired to greatness. Of course, that’s not so easy with that industry’s currently complicated financial picture.

In David Remnick’s excellent New Yorker post-mortem of his late Washington Post boss, he shares that Jason Robard’s big-screen depiction of Bradlee was more restrained than the reality: “Younger people watching the actor Jason Robards’s portrayal of Bradlee in All the President’s Men can be forgiven for thinking it is a broad caricature, an exaggeration of his cement-mixer voice, his cocky ebullience, his ferocious instinct for a political story, and his astonishing support for his reporters. In fact, Robards underplayed Bradlee.”

Bradlee’s reaction to the film’s D.C. premiere, recorded in an April 19, 1976 People article, was far less revealing. An excerpt about Bradlee and his “chum” Sally Quinn:

“Jason Robards’ portrayal of Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee drew raves from Sally Quinn, a Post reporter who is a close Bradlee chum. ‘Amazing,’ she gushed. ‘Robards only met him twice, but he had his mannerisms down to a T.’ Bradlee himself would say only: ‘It was an interesting film.’ (The Post reviewer was less kind—he called the movie ‘absorbing,’ but carped at its lack of drama.)

Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, who declined to be portrayed in the movie, said she wanted to play down the paper’s role. ‘We just kept the story alive,’ she said, ‘until the process took over and worked.’ Then, asked whether the film would lure hordes of young people into investigative reporting, she gulped, ‘God, I hope not.'”

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The Ebola “crisis” in America is an example of more than one bias at play. It’s Availability Bias, with so much media focus on an illness that has killed exactly zero American citizens on U.S. soil, when the flu season will likely claim hundreds as it did last year. It’s also Confirmation Bias, with those opposed to President Obama angling to position this domestic “plague” as a lack of leadership on his part. The more important news of the success of the Affordable Care Act, which raises the threshold for plague in this country, is lost in the hollering.

Ebola and ISIS beheadings and other modern challenges deserve attention, to be sure, but there is a more-hopeful parallel narrative we often ignore. From a New Statesmen article by Matthew Barzun, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain:

“We live in challenging, complex, even confusing times. Our world is in constant flux. Charles Dickens’s description of the French Revolution seems just as appropriate today: it is the worst of times. Indeed, it may be even more true now, as the changes are global, rather than confined to one or two countries. Newspaper headlines suggest as much. They are littered with demoralising words such as ‘beheadings,’ ‘aggression,’ ‘hatred’ and ‘fever.’ Of course, ISIL is engaged in barbarity in the Middle East that is reminiscent of some of the most grotesque of the 20th century, while the ebola virus poses a global public health threat on a scale as large as anything we’ve seen in recent decades.

At the same time, the number of refugees and internally displaced people presents a great humanitarian challenge. And human rights violations abound in many parts of the world. But here is an equally valid and, I concede, sweeping narrative that suggests this is also the best of times.

It is a time of levelling. The world has reduced extreme poverty by half since 1990. Global primary education for boys and girls is now equal.

It is a time of enduring. The number of deaths among children under five has been cut in half since 1990, meaning about 17,000 fewer children die each day. And mothers are surviving at a nearly equal rate.

It is a time of flourishing. Deaths from malaria dropped by 42 per cent between 2000 and 2012. HIV infections are declining in most regions.

It is a time of strengthening. Africa is above the poverty line for the first time. Tens of millions have been lifted out of poverty in China. The debt burden on developing coun­tries has dropped 75 per cent since 2000.

It is a time of healing. The ozone layer is showing signs of recovery thanks to global action. And all the while, the technological and communications revolution is making more people better informed than at any time in history.

So why are we intent on fixing our lens on the chaotic?”

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Famed attorney Clarence Darrow was an extremist when it came to criminality, believing in circumstance but not culpability. He saw criminals the way the writer of a naturalist novel views characters, as prisoners of nature and nurture, incapable of circumventing either. Based on the remarks he made as reported in an article in the April 4, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Darrow would have treated all misdeeds as maladies, the perpetrators receiving treatment in hospitals rather than stretches in prison.


In his TED Talk, “New Thoughts on Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” Thomas Piketty has good and bad news. The good: Wealth inequality, although severe now, is not as deep as a century ago. The bad: The shrunken wealth gap post-World War II was an outlier, not a norm that will reestablish itself for any long period under the present system.


Via Google driverless-car consultant Brad Templeton, a report about Singapore’s limited test run of autonomous public transport:

“In late August, I visited Singapore to give an address at a special conference announcing a government sponsored collaboration involving their Ministry of Transport, the Land Transport Authority and A-STAR, the government funded national R&D centre. I got a chance to meet the minister and sit down with officials and talk about their plans, and 6 months earlier I got the chance to visit A-Star and also the car project at the National University of Singapore. At the conference, there were demos of vehicles, including one from Singapore Technologies, which primarily does military contracting.

Things are moving fast there, and this week, the NUS team announced they will be doing a live public demo of their autonomous golf carts and they have made much progress. They will be running the carts over a course with 10 stops in the Singapore Chinese and Japanese Gardens. The public will be able to book rides online, and then come and summon and direct the vehicles with their phones. The vehicles will have a touch tablet where the steering wheel will go. Rides will be free. Earlier, they demonstrated not just detecting pedestrians but driving around them (if they stay still) but I don’t know if this project includes that.

This is not the first such public demo – the CityMobil2 demonstration in Sardinia ran in August, on a stretch of beachfront road blocked to cars but open to bicycles, service vehicles and pedestrians. This project slowed itself to unacceptably slow speeds and offered a linear route.

The Singapore project will also mix with pedestrians, but the area is closed to cars and bicycles. There will be two safety officers on bicycles riding behind the golf carts, able to shut them down if any problem presents, and speed will also be limited.”


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