The Verge - Welcome to Uberville 15min

Both Uber and Lyft tell The Verge that the past year has seen a surge in public officials interested in giving the companies taxpayer dollars for public transit contracts. For the companies, it’s an appealing new way to establish themselves as vital infrastructure, especially in low-density communities like Altamonte where running traditional mass transit can be expensive. Given the pace at which these partnerships are coming together, it’s possible to imagine ride-hail companies taking on the role of all-encompassing, smartphone-driven public transit providers, one town at a time. ... The pilot program is unusable for people without a smartphone or credit card, and the company attempted to have the city sign an unusually far-reaching nondisclosure agreement. ... At a subsidy rate of 25 percent — and assuming the ridership would grow annually by 100 percent — Uber would receive roughly a million dollars per year from the city. A potential indication of Uber’s aspirations, the chart also included a scenario in which Altamonte would pay Uber a full 100 percent subsidy, putting the town on the hook for up to nearly $7 million in ride-share funding over a two-year span. ... Martz settled on a 20 percent subsidy for any trip within Altamonte, and 25 percent for rides to and from the city’s commuter rail station. Martz foresees the yearlong pilot costing taxpayers less than a hundred thousand dollars, far cheaper than building a new bus system. Nor does it involve navigating the regional transit authority or negotiating with potentially unionized public employees.

Bloomberg - Will Amazon Kill FedEx? 12min

Starting in September 2015, people in the city noticed more planes flying in and out of the airport, loading and unloading those black-wrapped boxes. This March, Amazon announced that it was leasing 20 Boeing 767s from Air Transport Services Group, a cargo company that operates out of the air park. Amazon had also negotiated an option to buy nearly 20 percent of the company. ... Two months after the Ohio announcement, Amazon leased 20 more jets from Atlas Air, an air cargo company based in Purchase, N.Y. Amazon has also purchased 4,000 truck trailers. Meanwhile, a company subsidiary in China has obtained a freight-forwarding license that analysts say enables it to sell space on container ships traveling between Asia and the U.S. and Europe. In short, Amazon is becoming a kind of e-commerce Walmart with a FedEx attached. ... Amazon’s ambitions depend on the continued success of its Prime service. For $99 a year, Amazon Prime customers get two-day delivery at no extra charge. Those who sign up tend to spend almost three times as much as their non-Prime peers. The company zealously guards its numbers, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that Amazon had 63 million Prime members as of late June—19 million more than the year before.

Wired UK - An Italian rapper, a 'hangman's noose' and a $250m lawsuit: the chaotic race to build Elon Musk's hyperloop 20min

Between them, they employ hundreds of engineers and have raised millions in venture capital. They have met with world leaders, signed deals with sovereign nations and partnered with global engineering firms. Earlier this year, WIRED set about to document their progress. ... Newspapers quickly proclaimed that the hyperloop would heal regional divides. Others argued that the hyperloop would transform the economy, moving packages across continents in hours. Others were more sceptical. ... HTT now boasts more than 400 volunteers, including engineers from Nasa, SpaceX and Boeing. Unlike most startups, its employees are not paid, instead dedicating at least ten hours a week contributing to the project remotely – suggesting materials, building simulations, designing marketing materials – in exchange for stock options. ... One cost proved too high: both companies have abandoned the idea of a hyperloop from LA to San Francisco. The land is simply too expensive – and even Musk couldn’t work out a way to build stations close enough to the cities’ centres. Hyperloop One is instead exploring an LA-Vegas route, but more likely the first hyperloop will be outside America, in emerging markets, or somewhere with a long stretch of privately held land.

The Economist - Water scarcity: Liquidity crisis 9min

If water is not managed better, today’s crisis will become a catastrophe. By the middle of the century more than half of the planet will live in areas of “water stress”, where supplies cannot sustainably meet demand. ... Where water is available, when and in what condition matters hugely. About 97% of the water on earth is salty; the rest is replenished through seasonal rainfall or is stored in underground wells known as aquifers. Humans, who once settled where water was plentiful, are now inclined to shift around to places that are less well endowed, pulled by other economic forces. ... As people get richer, they use more water. They also “consume” more of it, which means using it in such a way that it is not quickly returned to the source from which it was extracted. ... To make matters worse, few places price water properly. Usually, it is artificially cheap, because politicians are scared to charge much for something essential that falls from the sky. This means that consumers have little incentive to conserve it and investors have little incentive to build pipes and other infrastructure to bring it to where it is needed most. ... around a fifth of the world’s aquifers are over-exploited. This jeopardises future use by causing contamination. It also damages the layers of sand and clay that make up aquifers, thereby reducing their capacity to be replenished. ... People do not drink much water—only a few litres a day. But putting food on their tables requires floods of the stuff. Growing 1kg of wheat takes 1,250 litres of water; fattening a cow to produce the same weight of beef involves 12 times more. Overall, agriculture accounts for more than 70% of global freshwater withdrawals. ... estimated that agricultural production will have to rise by 60% to fill the world’s bellies. This will put water supplies under huge strain. ... Hydrologists expect that a warming climate will see the cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation speed up. ... There is no single solution for the world’s water crisis. But cutting back on use, improving the efficiency of that use and sharing out water more effectively would all help.

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McKinsey - The US economy: An agenda for inclusive growth > 15min

While the United States may be outperforming other advanced economies, it is underperforming relative to its own potential. Slower growth has been feeding on itself in a vicious cycle of weak demand, low investment, and slowing productivity growth. In real terms, the median US household income is back at its level of two decades ago. Meanwhile, the vast majority of income gains have gone to households in the top quintile, which do not have the same propensity to spend. This in turn hobbles aggregate demand in the short term—and when businesses do not see the need to invest, it reinforces the cycle. US productivity growth recently turned negative for the first time in 30 years. ... A new briefing paper from the McKinsey Global Institute, The US economy: An agenda for inclusive growth, suggests that the United States can regain its dynamism and restore the sense that everyone is advancing together. This effort can take many forms: reengaging more workers in the labor force, enabling them to move to more productive jobs and locations, creating an environment that fosters new business formation and healthy competition, and helping declining cities reinvent themselves. When the economy is firing on all cylinders, income gains tend to be more broad-based and less easily concentrated.
- Digitization
- Globalization and trade
- America’s cities
- Skills
- A resource revolution

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The Verge - Flying Cars Are Closer Than You Think 16min

In the industries where there’s rapid productivity growth, everybody is freaked out, because what are people going to do after everything gets automated? In the other part of the economy, that second part, health care and education, people are freaked out about, "Oh my God, it’s going to eat the entire budget! It’s going to eat my personal budget. Health care and education is going to be every dollar I make as income, and it’s going to eat the national budget and drive the United States bankrupt!" And everybody in the economy is going to become either a nurse or teacher. It’s really funny, both sides of the economy get polar opposite emotional reactions.  ... We are very much not present, in what we would consider to be a healthy way, in education, health care, construction, childcare, senior care. The great twist on that is that second category — that’s most of the GDP. Most of the spending is most of the GDP, and these are the areas where we have not yet been able to crack the code. ... How audacious or insane is it to think that you could bring tech to health care or education? It’s probably 50/50. ... What’s interesting is there are probably more new computer companies in the valley today than there were probably since 1982 — it’s just that the products are all these different shapes, sizes, and descriptions. ... Basically, the entire way we live today is a consequence of the invention of the automobile. Because, before that, people just never went anywhere. Therefore, everything that you travel to is a consequence of the automobile.

Aspen Institute - American Prosperity Project: A Nonpartisan Framework for Long-Term Investment 20min

America’s economic health depends on sustained, long-term investment to support our families and communities and to reinvigorate the economic engine that creates jobs and prosperity. There is no viable model under which either business or government can or should shoulder the responsibility for long-term investment alone; both are required. ... The time is right for a national conversation about long-term investment in infrastructure, basic science, education and training for workers who feel the brunt of globalization and technology. We need to focus on the critical levers for economic growth along with sources of revenue to help pay for it, as well as ways to overcome the short-term thinking currently baked into government policy and business protocols. … The ideas offered here have been developed under the auspices of the Aspen Institute in consultation with a non-partisan working group of experts in public policy formation, tax and regulation, business, and corporate law and governance. While these ideas enjoy support across party lines, breaking the log jam and taking action will require a coalition of leaders across the private and public sectors who are committed to the health of the commons and America’s prosperity.

Blackstone - The Ten Surprises of 2017 6min

1.   Still brooding about his loss of the popular vote, Donald Trump vows to win over those who oppose him by 2020.  ...
2.   The combination of tax cuts on corporations and individuals, more constructive trade agreements, dismantling regulation of financial and energy companies, and infrastructure tax incentives pushes the 2017 real growth rate above 3% for the U.S. economy.  Productivity improves for the first time since 2014.
3.   The Standard & Poor’s 500 operating earnings are $130 in 2017 and the index rises to 2500 as investors become convinced the U.S. economy is back on a long-term growth path.  ...
4.   Macro investors make a killing on currency fluctuations.  ...
5.   Increased economic growth, inflation moving toward 3%, and renewed demand for capital push interest rates higher across the board.  The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield approaches 4%.
6.   Populism spreads over Europe affecting the elections in France and Germany.  ...
7.   Reducing regulations in the energy industry leads to a surge in production in the United States. Iran and Iraq also step up their output.  ...
8.   Donald Trump realizes he has been all wrong about China.  Its currency is overvalued, not undervalued, and depreciates to eight to the dollar.  Its economy flourishes on consumer spending on goods produced at home and greater exports.  Trump avoids punitive tariffs to prevent a trade war and develops a more cooperative relationship with the world’s second largest economy.
9.   Benefiting from stronger growth in China and the United States, real growth in Japan exceeds 2% for the first time in decades and its stock market leads other developed countries in appreciation for the year.
10. The Middle East cools down.  ...

The Atlantic - Inside LAX's New Anti-Terrorism Intelligence Unit 17min

In the summer of 2014, Anthony McGinty and Michelle Sosa were hired by Los Angeles World Airports to lead a unique, new classified intelligence unit on the West Coast. After only two years, their global scope and analytic capabilities promise to rival the agencies of a small nation-state. Their roles suggest an intriguing new direction for infrastructure protection in an era when threats are as internationally networked as they are hard to predict. ... their current operation falls somewhere between a start-up and a think tank. Because she came from an intelligence background, Sosa had an eye for big-picture narratives; McGinty’s 25 years as a street detective and war veteran gave him tactical insights and a deep knowledge of police culture. Together, the two of them have brought classified in-house intelligence analysis to one of the world’s busiest airports ... Their work promises to propel the city’s aging airport to the forefront of today’s conversations about what it means to protect critical infrastructure and, in the process, to redefine where true power lies in the 21st-century metropolis. ... More than 50,000 badged employees report to work there each day, many with direct access to the airfield—and thus to the vulnerable aircraft waiting upon it. More than 100,000 passenger vehicles use the airport’s roads and parking lots every day, and, in 2015 alone, LAX hosted 75 million passengers in combined departures and arrivals.

Financial Times - How China rules the waves 9min

Investments into a vast network of harbours across the globe have made Chinese port operators the world leaders. Its shipping companies carry more cargo than those of any other nation — five of the top 10 container ports in the world are in mainland China with another in Hong Kong. Its coastguard has the globe’s largest maritime law enforcement fleet, its navy is the world’s fastest growing among major powers and its fishing armada numbers some 200,000 seagoing vessels. ... The emergence of China as a maritime superpower is set to challenge a US command of the seas that has underwritten a crucial element of Pax Americana, the relative period of peace enjoyed in the west since the second world war. ... China understands maritime influence in the same way as Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th century American strategist. “Control of the sea,” Mr Mahan wrote, “by maritime commerce and naval supremacy, means predominant influence in the world; because, however great the wealth of the land, nothing facilitates the necessary exchanges as does the sea.” ... The five big Chinese carriers together controlled 18 per cent of all container shipping handled by the world’s top 20 companies in 2015 ... The total size of these investments is difficult to calculate because of sketchy disclosure. But since 2010, Chinese and Hong Kong companies have completed or announced deals involving at least 40 port projects worth a total of about $45.6bn

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Bloomberg - What Happens When Two Bankers and an Engineer Get a Billion Dollars? 8min

They settled on three investment categories: transportation, energy, and water/waste. Global Infrastructure Partners, founded in May 2006, now manages about $40 billion in assets ranging from ports and pipelines to London’s Gatwick Airport, a liquefied petroleum gas storage facility in Visakhapatnam, India, and a vast wind farm in the North Sea. Over 10 years, GIP has expanded its roster of backers to include some of the world’s biggest sovereign funds and a slate of U.S. pensions. The firm operates three funds. GIP I raised $5.7 billion in 2008. GIP II closed in 2012 with $8.3 billion. In January it announced its latest and largest pool, a $15.8 billion fund, the largest-ever dedicated to infrastructure. ... Fixing deteriorating infrastructure, combined with new projects in the U.S. and in emerging and frontier economies across Asia and Africa, has given rise to a market that Bain & Co. estimated is worth $4 trillion. As many governments face budget shortfalls that curb such spending, private money is stepping in. ... The two recovering engineers marveled at how you could theoretically use a lot of the industrial processes they’d learned at GE to retool an airport. “An airport is ultimately about moving planes, passengers, and bags through a series of steps,” Woodburn says. “That’s a familiar process to people with experience in manufacturing.”

IEEE Spectrum - Innovative Direct-Current Microgrids to Solve India’s Power Woes 9min

In the industrialized world, the power grid is so reliable that we take it for granted. But in India, where blackouts are a sad fact of daily life, being connected to the grid is no guarantee of reliable electricity. In a 2015 study of villages in six Indian states [PDF], for example, the vast majority reported having fewer than 4 hours of electricity per day; nearly half of the households that reported having a grid connection nevertheless had effectively no electricity. Chief among the reasons they cited were poor reliability, quality, and affordability. In many parts of the country, even middle-income households still find themselves held hostage to frequent power cuts that can last anywhere from a few hours a day to most of the day. Those who can afford to often install diesel generators, an expensive and polluting option. ... Then, too, roughly a quarter of a billion Indians, or one-fifth of the population, live without access to any electricity at all ... The Indian government has taken a traditional approach to electrification, which focuses on building up generation, transmission, and distribution. But there’s a better way that’s more affordable, more efficient, and much faster and easier to deploy.

The Economist - Parkageddon: How not to create traffic jams, pollution and urban sprawl 9min

Parking can seem like the most humdrum concern in the world. Even planners, who thrill to things like zoning and floor-area ratios, find it unglamorous. But parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else. Many cities try to make themselves more appealing by building cycle paths and tram lines or by erecting swaggering buildings by famous architects. If they do not also change their parking policies, such efforts amount to little more than window-dressing. There is a one-word answer to why the streets of Los Angeles look so different from those of London, and why neither city resembles Tokyo: parking. ... For as long as there have been cars, there has been a need to store them when they are not moving—which, these days, is about 95% of the time. Washington, DC, had a parking garage in 1907, before Ford produced its first Model T. But the most important innovation came in 1923, when Columbus, in Ohio, began to insist that builders of flats create parking spaces for the people who would live in them. “Parking minimums”, as these are known, gradually spread across America. Now, as the number of cars on the world’s roads continues to grow (see chart), they are spreading around the world. ... Free parking represents a subsidy for older people that is paid disproportionately by the young and a subsidy for the wealthy that is paid by the poor.

The New York Times - Is China the World’s New Colonial Power? 24min

Driven by economics (a hunger for resources and new markets) and politics (a longing for strategic allies), Chinese companies and workers have rushed into all parts of the world. In 2000, only five countries counted China as their largest trading partner; today, more than 100 countries do, from Australia to the United States. The drumbeat of proposed projects never stops: a military operating base, China’s first overseas, in Djibouti; an $8 billion high-speed railway through Nigeria; an almost-fantastical canal across Nicaragua expected to cost $50 billion. Even as China’s boom slows down, its most ambitious scheme is still ramping up: With the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — its name a reference to trade routes — President Xi Jinping has spoken of putting $1.6 trillion over the next decade into infrastructure and development throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The scheme would dwarf the United States’ post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe. ... China’s relationship with Africa goes back to the 1960s, when Chairman Mao Zedong promoted solidarity with the developing world — “Ya Fei La,” as he called it, using the first syllables for Asia, Africa and Latin America. Though it was poor and mired in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, China won new allies in Africa by finishing, in 1976, a 1,156-mile railroad through the bush from Tanzania to Zambia. Aid continued to trickle in, but there were no other big projects for nearly 30 years

CityLab - Cities Seek Deliverance From the E-Commerce Boom 11min

Pick any other major city or metropolitan area in the U.S., and the situation’s probably the same: a massive surge in deliveries to residential dwellings, one that’s outstripping deliveries to commercial establishments and creating a traffic nightmare. ... It’s estimated that, on average, every person in the U.S. generates demand for roughly 60 tons of freight each year, according to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board. In 2010, the United States Post Office—which has overtaken both FedEx and UPS as the largest parcel-delivery service in the country—delivered 3.1 billion packages nationwide; last year, the USPS delivered more than 5.1 billion packages. The growth in e-commerce is fueling a commensurate rise in the number of delivery vehicles—box trucks, smaller vans, and cars alike—on city streets. ... While truck traffic currently represents about 7 percent of urban traffic in American cities, it bears a disproportionate congestion cost of $28 billion, or about 17 percent of the total U.S. congestion costs, in wasted hours and gas.

Wired - India’s Silicon Valley Is Dying of Thirst. Your City May Be Next 15min

Bangalore has a problem: It is running out of water, fast. Cities all over the world, from those in the American West to nearly every major Indian metropolis, have been struggling with drought and water deficits in recent years. But Banga­lore is an extreme case. Last summer, a professor from the Indian Institute of Science declared that the city will be unlivable by 2020. He later backed off his prediction of the exact time of death—but even so, says P. N. Ravindra, an official at the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, “the projections are relatively correct. Our groundwater levels are approaching zero.” ... Every year since 2012, Bangalore has been hit by drought; last year Karnataka, of which Bangalore is the capital, received its lowest rainfall level in four decades. But the changing climate is not exclusively to blame for Bangalore’s water problems. The city’s growth, hustled along by its tech sector, made it ripe for crisis. ... Through the 2000s, Bangalore’s urban landscape expanded so quickly that the city had no time to extend its subcutaneous network of water pipes into the fastest-growing areas, like Whitefield. Layers of concrete and tarmac crept out across the city, stopping water from seeping into the ground. ... 44 percent of the city’s water supply either seeps out through aging pipes or gets siphoned away by thieves. ... Everywhere, the steep ascent of demand has caused a run on groundwater. Well owners drill deeper and deeper, chasing the water table downward as they all keep draining it further. The groundwater level has sunk from a depth of 150 or 200 feet to 1,000 feet or more in many places.

The New Yorker - The World Is Running Out Of Sand 16min

Sand covers so much of the earth’s surface that shipping it across borders—even uncontested ones—seems extreme. But sand isn’t just sand, it turns out. In the industrial world, it’s “aggregate,” a category that includes gravel, crushed stone, and various recycled materials. Natural aggregate is the world’s second most heavily exploited natural resource, after water, and for many uses the right kind is scarce or inaccessible. In 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report titled “Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks,” which concluded that the mining of sand and gravel “greatly exceeds natural renewal rates” and that “the amount being mined is increasing exponentially, mainly as a result of rapid economic growth in Asia.” ... Geologists define sand not by composition but by size, as grains between 0.0625 and two millimetres across. Just below sand on the size scale is silt; just above it is gravel. Most sand consists chiefly of quartz, the commonest form of silica, but there are other kinds. Sand on ocean beaches usually includes a high proportion of shell pieces and, increasingly, bits of decomposing plastic trash ... Sand is also classified by shape, in configurations that range from oblong and sharply angular to nearly spherical and smooth. Desert sand is almost always highly rounded, because strong winds knock the grains together so forcefully that protrusions and sharp edges break off. River sand is more angular. ... Aggregate is the main constituent of concrete (eighty per cent) and asphalt (ninety-four per cent), and it’s also the primary base material that concrete and asphalt are placed on during the building of roads, buildings, parking lots, runways, and many other structures. A report published in 2004 by the American Geological Institute said that a typical American house requires more than a hundred tons of sand, gravel, and crushed stone for the foundation, basement, garage, and driveway, and more than two hundred tons if you include its share of the street that runs in front of it. A mile-long section of a single lane of an American interstate highway requires thirty-eight thousand tons.

Wired - How An Entire Nation Became Russia's Test Lab For Cyberwar 24min

The Cyber-Cassandras said this would happen. For decades they warned that hackers would soon make the leap beyond purely digital mayhem and start to cause real, physical damage to the world. ... Now, in Ukraine, the quintessential cyberwar scenario has come to life. Twice. On separate occasions, invisible saboteurs have turned off the electricity to hundreds of thousands of people. Each blackout lasted a matter of hours, only as long as it took for scrambling engineers to manually switch the power on again. But as proofs of concept, the attacks set a new precedent: In Russia’s shadow, the decades-old nightmare of hackers stopping the gears of modern society has become a reality. ... And the blackouts weren’t just isolated attacks. They were part of a digital blitzkrieg that has pummeled Ukraine for the past three years—a sustained cyber­assault unlike any the world has ever seen. A hacker army has systematically undermined practically every sector of Ukraine: media, finance, transportation, military, politics, energy. Wave after wave of intrusions have deleted data, destroyed computers, and in some cases paralyzed organizations’ most basic functions. ... In a public statement in December, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, reported that there had been 6,500 cyberattacks on 36 Ukrainian targets in just the previous two months.

Wired - Inside Cuba’s D.I.Y. Internet Revolution 17min

In Cuba, where Wi-Fi is both slow and terrible, you will be an emissary from the future, a hint of the degeneracy to come. You’re a full-on mainlining internet junkie with the world’s uproar piped into your head 24/7, your emotional landscape terraformed and buffeted by whatever some narcissist just posted on Instagram or some windbag on Twitter. But like the “not even once” warnings around drugs like meth, you know that after the internet is in Cubans’ pockets, it’s over. Even backward, bitter-ender communist Cuba will become part of the vast data Borg ... The real irony is that if the internet does topple the government and bring democracy to this democracy-starved island, it’ll happen just as democracy itself is being undone by Facebook and every other filter-bubble-­creating, political-polarization-amplifying, algorithm-optimized feed. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and also oversimplifying, because the Cubans—the very resourceful Cubans—haven’t exactly been sitting around sipping mojitos as the digital revolución passed them by. They have workarounds. Oh, do they have workarounds. ... the first workaround. Every week, more than a terabyte of data is packaged into external hard drives known as el paquete semanal (“the weekly package”). It is the internet distilled down to its purest, most consumable, and least interactive form: its content.

Wired - An Oral History Of The DARPA Grand Challenge, The Grueling Robot Race That Launched The Self-Driving Car 10min

On March 13, 2004, a gaggle of engineers and a few thousand spectators congregated outside a California dive bar to watch 15 self-driving cars speed across the Mojave Desert in the first-ever Darpa Grand Challenge. (That’s the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s skunkworks arm.) Before the start of the race, which marked the first big push toward a fully autonomous vehicle, the grounds surrounding the bar teemed with sweaty, stressed, sleep-deprived geeks, desperately tinkering with their motley assortment of driver­less Frankencars: SUVs, dune buggies, monster trucks, even a motorcycle. After the race, they left behind a vehicular graveyard littered with smashed fence posts, messes of barbed wire, and at least one empty fire extinguisher. ... What happened in between—the rush out of the starter gate, the switchbacks across the rocky terrain, the many, many crashes—didn’t just hint at the possibilities and potential limitations of autonomous vehicles that auto and tech companies are facing and that consumers will experience in the coming years as driverless vehicles swarm the roads. It created the self-­driving community as we know it today, the men and women in too-big polo shirts who would go on to dominate an automotive revolution.