July 1, 2016
Disputes quickly erupted over how to divide responsibilities. Some executives appeared not to fully grasp how little money they had to complete a complex project with a tight deadline and a multicultural team whose members did not always see things the same way. ... Internal arguments soon gave way to bigger problems. There would be work stoppages, porous concrete, a risk of earthquakes and at least $3.4 billion in disputed costs: more than the budget for the entire project. ... Seven years later, and nearly two years late, the locks have finally been declared ready to accept the new generation of giant ships that carry much of the world’s cargo but cannot fit in the original canal. To mark the occasion, Panama has invited 70 heads of state to watch on Sunday as a Chinese container ship becomes the first commercial vessel to attempt the passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific through the larger locks. ... For more than 100 years, the canal has been a vital artery nourishing the world economy, a testament to American engineering and one of the signature public works of the 20th century. The new locks, built by Panama without help from other governments, were sold to the nation and the world as a way to ensure that the canal remained as much of a lifeline in the hyperglobalized 21st century as it was in the last. ... one inescapable fact will remain: The expanded canal’s future is cloudy at best, its safety, quality of construction and economic viability in doubt ... In simple terms, to be successful, the new canal needs enough water, durable concrete and locks big enough to safely accommodate the larger ships. On all three counts, it has failed to meet expectations, according to dozens of interviews with contractors, canal workers, maritime experts and diplomats, as well as a review of public and internal records.
Farms, then, are becoming more like factories: tightly controlled operations for turning out reliable products, immune as far as possible from the vagaries of nature. Thanks to better understanding of DNA, the plants and animals raised on a farm are also tightly controlled. Precise genetic manipulation, known as “genome editing”, makes it possible to change a crop or stock animal’s genome down to the level of a single genetic “letter”. This technology, it is hoped, will be more acceptable to consumers than the shifting of whole genes between species that underpinned early genetic engineering, because it simply imitates the process of mutation on which crop breeding has always depended, but in a far more controllable way. ... Understanding a crop’s DNA sequence also means that breeding itself can be made more precise. You do not need to grow a plant to maturity to find out whether it will have the characteristics you want. A quick look at its genome beforehand will tell you. ... Such technological changes, in hardware, software and “liveware”, are reaching beyond field, orchard and byre. Fish farming will also get a boost from them. And indoor horticulture, already the most controlled and precise type of agriculture, is about to become yet more so. ... In the short run, these improvements will boost farmers’ profits, by cutting costs and increasing yields, and should also benefit consumers (meaning everyone who eats food) in the form of lower prices. In the longer run, though, they may help provide the answer to an increasingly urgent question: how can the world be fed in future without putting irreparable strain on the Earth’s soils and oceans?
An underdog ethic is still baked into company lore, even though last year Under Armour overtook Adidas to become the second-biggest sportswear brand in the U.S. In May, the company signed the largest sponsorship deal in the history of college sports, paying $280 million for a 15-year contract with UCLA. The company has invested more than $700 million in fitness apps and activity-tracking technology, and it hired the designer Tim Coppens, a ready-to-wear rising star, to help snag a portion of the lucrative “athleisure” market. ... These days, Under Armour looks like an underdog only when held up against Nike, a company that Plank and other executives refuse to even name. “Five years ago, our largest competitor was 12 times our size,” Plank says. “Then it was 11 times, then 10 times. Today, they’re roughly six times our size. But the fact is, they’re still six times our size. So we have a lot of work to do.” He clearly relishes the idea of the world’s biggest sportswear company feeling Under Armour breathing down its neck. ... Plank’s appreciation for the overlooked and underestimated—he’s the youngest of five brothers—is manifest in his affection for Baltimore. On the surface, there may not seem to be much linking the edgy, gritty city of John Waters and The Wire with Under Armour’s performance-bro aesthetic. But Plank sees an affinity between Baltimore’s hardworking, blue-collar past and his company’s relentless striving to be the best sportswear company out there.
Many companies already have the ability to run keyword searches of employees’ emails, looking for worrisome words and phrases like embezzle and I loathe this job. But the Stroz Friedberg software, called Scout, aspires to go a giant step further, detecting indirectly, through unconscious syntactic and grammatical clues, workers’ anger, financial or personal stress, and other tip-offs that an employee might be about to lose it. ... To measure employees’ disgruntlement, for instance, it uses an algorithm based on linguistic tells found to connote feelings of victimization, anger, and blame. ... It’s not illegal to be disgruntled. But today’s frustrated worker could engineer tomorrow’s hundred-million-dollar data breach. Scout is being marketed as a cutting-edge weapon in the growing arsenal that helps corporations combat “insider threat,” the phenomenon of employees going bad. Workers who commit fraud or embezzlement are one example, but so are “bad leavers”—employees or contractors who, when they depart, steal intellectual property or other confidential data, sabotage the information technology system, or threaten to do so unless they’re paid off. Workplace violence is a growing concern too. ... Though companies have long been arming themselves against cyberattack by external hackers, often presumed to come from distant lands like Russia and China, they’re increasingly realizing that many assaults are launched from within—by, say, the quiet guy down the hall whose contract wasn’t renewed.
Imagine you are Little Steven Spielberg. It’s the early 1950s. You are 7, maybe 8. You are very small in an enormous world. You feel things strongly, as all children do, and seemingly all at once. Awe, dread, wonder, joy, vulnerability, sadness—often these come crashing over you together as a single phenomenon. Later, when people recognize your gift for re-creating the sensations of childhood—when a critic describes your work as going “so deep into the special alertness, loyalty, and ardor of children that it makes you see things you had forgotten or blotted out and feel things you were embarrassed to feel”—it’s this sensitivity they’re often talking about. ... You are exquisitely uncomfortable with yourself. You are pimpled, wimpy, and Jewish, and you are bullied for all of it. Nickname: the Retard. One day your class has to run a mile, and eventually only you and one other boy are left slogging around the track. This other kid actually is intellectually disabled. But now he’s gaining on you, and the entire class is cheering, yelling, “C’mon, beat Spielberg!” You know, intuitively, that you should take a dive; letting him win is the generous thing to do. So you slow down, start fading. Then, once he’s overtaken you and your classmates explode with glee, you make a show of running hard again, so it still looks close. As an adult, in the ’80s, you’ll remember: “Everybody grabbed this guy and threw him up on their shoulders and carried him into the locker room.” But you just stay there, bawling by yourself, not even trying to sort out the conflicting spasms of pride and shame inside you. All you know is “I’d never felt better and I’d never felt worse in my entire life.”