December 18, 2015

Places Journal - Isthmus > 15min

Now the canal is being reconfigured by a $5.5 billion expansion project scheduled for completion early next year. Approved by national referendum in 2006, the expansion effectively doubles the canal’s capacity by adding a new set of locks to accommodate larger container ships. Chambers with walls 50 feet thick are being grafted directly onto bedrock, like extensions of the isthmus itself. But the construction — monumental as it is — is only a small part of the story. More important is how the Panama Canal expansion is altering logistical relationships and generating new infrastructures throughout the American Hemisphere. ... Almost as soon as the referendum passed, port authorities from Miami to Lima began racing to complete their own expansion programs: dredging deeper shipping channels, installing larger gantry cranes, and building new container yards, in speculative efforts to compete for the ultra-large container ships that will transit the widened canal. An intense wave of anticipation ripples outward throughout the multi-continental network of waterways, ports, inspection stations, railroads, switching yards, highways, warehouses, and distribution centers that enable the global flow and movement of shipped materials. ... The expansion will reconfigure trans-American shipping in three primary ways. 4 First, a higher volume of goods will move faster between the two oceans, decreasing transport costs and altering the delicate financial calculus that determines global shipping routes. Second, as canal traffic increases, there will be a corresponding rise in transshipment, where goods are transferred to smaller ships that service cities with shallower harbors. The canal’s three ports — Balboa, Colón, and Manzanillo — will link distribution centers like Shanghai with smaller hubs like Barranquilla, Colombia, thus increasing Panama’s importance to regional shipping networks. Third, the expansion will provide an attractive alternative for shipping agricultural products from the interior United States to East Asian markets, elevating the Mississippi River corridor relative to the currently dominant overland routes to Pacific ports.

Bloomberg - The First Person to Hack the iPhone Built a Self-Driving Car. In His Garage 5-15min

He says it’s a self-driving car that he had built in about a month. The claim seems absurd. But when I turn up that morning, in his garage there’s a white 2016 Acura ILX outfitted with a laser-based radar (lidar) system on the roof and a camera mounted near the rearview mirror. A tangle of electronics is attached to a wooden board where the glove compartment used to be, a joystick protrudes where you’d usually find a gearshift, and a 21.5-inch screen is attached to the center of the dash. “Tesla only has a 17-inch screen,” Hotz says. ... Hotz was the first person to hack Apple’s iPhone, allowing anyone—well, anyone with a soldering iron and some software smarts—to use the phone on networks other than AT&T’s. He later became the first person to run through a gantlet of hard-core defense systems in the Sony PlayStation 3 and crack that open, too. ... The technology he’s building represents an end run on much more expensive systems being designed by Google, Uber, the major automakers, and, if persistent rumors and numerous news reports are true, Apple. More short term, he thinks he can challenge Mobileye, the Israeli company that supplies Tesla Motors, BMW, Ford Motor, General Motors, and others with their current driver-assist technology. ... Hotz plans to best the Mobileye technology with off-the-shelf electronics. He’s building a kit consisting of six cameras—similar to the $13 ones found in smartphones—that would be placed around the car. ... The goal is to sell the camera and software package for $1,000 a pop either to automakers or, if need be, directly to consumers who would buy customized vehicles at a showroom run by Hotz. ... There are two breakthroughs that make Hotz’s system possible. The first comes from the rise in computing power since the days of the Grand Challenge. He uses graphics chips that normally power video game consoles to process images pulled in by the car’s camera and speedy Intel chips to run his AI calculations. ... The second advance is deep learning, an AI technology that has taken off over the past few years. It allows researchers to assign a task to computers and then sit back as the machines in essence teach themselves how to accomplish and finally master the job. ... Instead of the hundreds of thousands of lines of code found in other self-driving vehicles, Hotz’s software is based on about 2,000 lines.

PIMCO - Serial Financial Crises, r* and the Savings Glut < 5min

Famous German soccer coach Sepp Herberger once said, “After the match is before the match.” The same can be said for financial markets: After the crisis is before the crisis. The complication, of course, is that while soccer players usually know exactly when the next match will kick off, the timing of the next crisis is always uncertain for financial players. All we know is that, eventually, there will be another one. ... What’s perhaps less obvious is that the global savings glut also helps to explain the occurrence of financial bubbles and subsequent crises of the past few decades. ... the global savings glut plays an important role in explaining this evidence. How? Excess savings not only pushed down r* and actual interest rates but also drove up asset prices and caused serial asset bubbles in equities, emerging markets, housing, credit, eurozone peripheral bonds and commodities. Whenever a bubble burst, it sparked financial distress and crisis. ... there is a feedback loop between financial crises and the savings glut. This is because a financial crisis and the related destruction of wealth leads to even higher desired saving (or deleveraging), and because the depressing impact on growth reduces investment and thus the demand for savings. ... now that exhaustion has set in almost everywhere for many unconventional policy tools, such as quantitative easing, there is a significant risk that central banks may not be able to deal effectively with the next crisis. ... It’s likely the only viable way out would be a joint effort by the major countries to raise public spending on infrastructure, education, and more in order to absorb excess savings and raise r*.

The New York Times - The Last Dalai Lama? 5-15min

For much of his 80 years, the Dalai Lama has been present at these strange intersections of religion, entertainment and geopolitics. In old photos, you can see the 9-year-old who’d received the gift of a Patek Phillipe watch from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Another twist of the kaleidoscope reveals him tugging at Russell Brand’s shaggy beard, heartily laughing with George W. Bush in the White House or exhorting you to ‘‘Think Different’’ in an advertisement for Apple. ... The economic potency of China has made the Dalai Lama a political liability for an increasing number of world leaders, who now shy away from him for fear of inviting China’s wrath. Even Pope Francis, the boldest pontiff in decades, report­edly declined a meeting in Rome last December. When the Dalai Lama dies, it is not at all clear what will happen to the six million Tibetans in China. The Chinese Communist Party, though officially atheistic, will take charge of finding an incarnation of the present Dalai Lama. Indoctrinated and controlled by the Communist Party, the next leader of the Tibetan community could help Beijing cement its hegemony over Tibet. ... ‘‘My concern now,’’ the Dalai Lama said, ‘‘is preservation of Tibetan culture.’’

Sports Illustrated - After rehabilitation, the best of Michael Phelps may lie ahead 5-15min

To this day, no one close to Phelps will say that he has a drinking problem ... Sixteen years after his first Olympic appearance, Phelps will be a gold medal favorite in three individual events and, pending the state of U.S. relay teams (they struggled at the world championships), he could contend for three others, a span of excellence that is wildly unprecedented. “My sport is a numbers sport,” says Phelps, the nerdiest of swim nerds, a walking database. “I have goals that I want to hit.” He would become the oldest swimmer to win an individual gold medal (the current record holder is the legendary Duke Kahanamoku, who won a gold medal at age 30 in 1920) and the first to win individual gold medals 12 years apart. (Phelps is one of three swimmers to win gold medals eight years apart.) His medal record, already unimaginable, will become surreal.