September 8, 2015

The New Yorker - The Death and Life of Atlantic City: Zeno’s paradox down the shore. 5-15min

Most cities exist as a consequence of commercial or strategic utility. Atlantic City is more of a proposition and a ploy. The town fathers of Cape May, the first American seaside resort, weren’t interested in a railway, or perhaps the class of people who’d ride in on one—the well-to-do arrived from Philadelphia by boat—so a group of investors built, in 1854, what became known as a “railroad to nowhere,” to a spot a little way up the coast that was more or less the shortest possible distance from Philadelphia to the sea. Over the decades, and with the industrial-era advent of leisure time and disposable income, this forsaken wedge of salt marsh and sand became “the world’s playground”—a crucible of conspicuous consumption and a stage for the aspirations and masquerades of visitors and entrepreneurs. In some respects, Atlantic City was where America learned how to turn idle entertainment into big business. For a while, it was home to some of the world’s grandest hotels (the Marlborough-Blenheim was the largest reinforced-concrete building in the world, and was later imploded in the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”), as well as some of its more ardent iniquities and diversions. The night clubs were as often as not fronts for backroom gambling halls, intermittently tolerated by the authorities. ... Legalized gambling was supposed to rescue the city from its obsolescence as a resort and convention town ... When word gets out that a city is on the skids, people seem eager to imagine post-apocalyptic desolation, a rusting ruin at Ozymandian remove from the glory days. But American cities don’t seem to die that way. They keep sopping up tax dollars and risk capital, thwarting big ideas and emergency relief, chewing up opportunists and champions. ... “We will keep it in litigation for years. No one will get Revel.”

Rolling Stone - The Rise and Fall of a Bitcoin Kingpin 5-15min

How a bullied geek forged an empire out of digital currency, and became a suspect in a half-billion-dollar heist ... During his reign, bitcoin, the leading form of virtual currency, rose in value from approximately a quarter to more than $1,200. The Wall Street Journal estimated that at one point Mt. Gox was processing 80 percent of all bitcoin transactions in the world. At its peak, the company traded more than $4 million a month. ... in February 2014, it was discovered that a half-billion dollars worth of bitcoins simply vanished from Karpeles' exchange, leaving customers around the world unable to withdraw their funds. It's the largest online heist in history. (Estimates vary on the exact amount. Many have reported $450 million; Karpeles says it could be as high as $650 million.) Some — including even those who worked closely with Karpeles — suspected it was an inside job. ... Mt. Gox was originally a site McCaleb had made for people to exchange Magic cards (thus the name — Magic: the Gathering Online Exchange, or Mt. Gox for short). But by July 2010, he'd devoted it to bitcoin instead, setting it up as the currency's first online brokerage ... According to Karpeles, the problem stemmed from what's called a "transaction malleability," a software flaw that allowed people on the outside to manipulate the bitcoin transactions and steal money from the exchange. At first, he tells me, he had no idea how much bitcoin was missing, but the deeper he dug, the worse it became

IEEE Spectrum - The Secret of Airbnb’s Pricing Algorithm 5-15min

How much should you charge someone to live in your house? Or how much would you pay to live in someone else’s house? Would you pay more or less for a planned vacation or for a spur-of-the-moment getaway? ... In focus groups, we watched people go through the process of listing their properties on our site—and get stumped when they came to the price field. Many would take a look at what their neighbors were charging and pick a comparable price; this involved opening a lot of tabs in their browsers and figuring out which listings were similar to theirs. Some people had a goal in mind before they signed up, maybe to make a little extra money to help pay the mortgage or defray the costs of a vacation. So they set a price that would help them meet that goal without considering the real market value of their listing. And some people, unfortunately, just gave up. ... Clearly, Airbnb needed to offer people a better way—an automated source of pricing information to help hosts come to a decision. That’s why we started building pricing tools in 2012 and have been working to make them better ever since. ... we’ve added what we think is a unique approach to machine learning that lets our system not only learn from its own experience but also take advantage of a little human intuition when necessary.

Bloomberg - Why Gogo's Infuriatingly Expensive, Slow Internet Still Owns the Skies 5-15min

Since pioneering the in-flight Internet business, Gogo has dominated, commanding about 80 percent of the market. And as often happens with near monopolies, Gogo has become a name people love to hate. ... For years, customer perceptions that Gogo is basically Comcast at 35,000 feet didn’t hurt the company’s bottom line. Users were literally a captive audience, and if they didn’t like the service, too bad, read a book. But for the first time since that Louis C.K. rant, Gogo has some serious competition. At least two companies—ViaSat and Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE)—are encroaching on its airspace, winning business by offering faster, cheaper connections that use satellites instead of cell towers. ... It’s spent almost $1 billion developing onboard equipment and a network of transmission towers across North America. Back then, travelers in business class who needed to work used laptops or occasionally BlackBerrys or Palm Treos. ... Today, the company provides service on more than 2,000 commercial aircraft. It employs almost 900 people and had revenue of $409 million in 2014, up almost 25 percent from the previous year. ... What Gogo does in the sky is, indeed, different from what wireless companies do on terra firma. It uses an air-to-ground system that functions similarly to traditional cell service, but its radio towers point up, not down. Gogo’s towers are anywhere from 50 to 200 feet tall and can be located in rather remote locations, such as atop peaks in the Rocky Mountains or deep in the Alaskan tundra.

Nature - The growing global battle against blood-sucking ticks < 5min

Diseases spread by ticks are on the rise around the world, spurred by a combination of factors, including shifting climates and population sprawl into rural areas. Reported cases of Lyme, the most common US tick-borne illness, have nearly tripled in the country since 1992, although some of the increase could be due to heightened awareness. Lyme is also a growing problem in parts of Europe, Mongolia and China. Yet as bad as it is, there are nastier threats on the rise. In parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and southern Europe, ticks can spread Crimean–Congo haemorrhagic fever, which is fatal in 40% of cases. And a tick-borne relapsing fever afflicts as many as 1 in 20 residents in parts of Senegal. In the United States, ticks spread at least 16 illnesses, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, all “serious, life-threatening infections”, Beard says. And many are increasing in incidence more quickly than Lyme. In a July 2015 position statement, the Entomological Society of America argued for a national strategy to combat tick-borne diseases. “The recent confluence of environmental, ecological, sociological, and human demographic factors,” it said, “has created a near 'perfect storm' leading to more ticks in more places throughout North America.”