Ma, a former hedge fund analyst, makes bets on student admissions the way a trader plays the commodities markets. Using 12 variables from a student’s profile—from grades and test scores to extracurricular activities and immigration status—Ma’s software crunches the odds of admission to a range of top-shelf colleges. His proprietary algorithm assigns varying weights to different parameters, derived from his analysis of the successes and failures of thousands of students he’s coached over the years. Ma’s algorithm, for example, predicts that a U.S.-born high school senior with a 3.8 GPA, an SAT score of 2,000 (out of 2,400), moderate leadership credentials, and 800 hours of extracurricular activities, has a 20.4 percent chance of admission to New York University and a 28.1 percent shot at the University of Southern California. Those odds determine the fee ThinkTank charges that student for its guaranteed consulting package: $25,931 to apply to NYU and $18,826 for USC. “Of course we set limits on who we’ll guarantee,” says Ma. “We don’t want to make this a casino game.” ... Some 10,000 students—sixth graders to junior-college grads—use ThinkTank’s services now, generating annual revenue of more than $18 million. Nearly all are Asian immigrants like Ma, 36, who moved to Northern California from Taiwan when he was 11. He reels them in at free seminars, held in Holiday Inn ballrooms on Saturday afternoons. The standing-room-only events, advertised in Bay Area Chinese media, include a raffle of free SAT prep classes and a pep talk for the college-obsessed. Ma reassures the bewildered, multigenerational audiences that top-ranked American universities aren’t nearly as capricious as they seem, once you know their formula. ThinkTank boasts that 85 percent of its applicants get into a top-40 college, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. “Our model knows more about how to get into many colleges than their own admissions officers know,” he says. ... College admissions officers and other educators scoff at Ma’s guarantees; they say no one can predict acceptances to elite colleges because grades and scores are only one part of the highly subjective process.
The biggest exporter has let prices plummet—delaying the day when climate concerns, efficiency, and fuel switching break the world’s dependence on crude. ... Naimi and other Saudi leaders have worried for years that climate change and high crude prices will boost energy efficiency, encourage renewables, and accelerate a switch to alternative fuels such as natural gas, especially in the emerging markets that they count on for growth. They see how demand for the commodity that’s created the kingdom’s enormous wealth—and is still abundant beneath the desert sands—may be nearing its peak. This isn’t something the petroleum minister discusses in depth in public, given global concern about carbon emissions and efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But Naimi acknowledges the trend. “Demand will peak way ahead of supply,” he told reporters in Qatar three years ago. If growth in oil consumption flattens out too soon, the transition could be wrenching for Saudi Arabia, which gets almost half its gross domestic product from oil exports. ... Last week, in a speech in Riyadh, Naimi said Saudi Arabia would stand “firmly and resolutely” with others who oppose any attempt to marginalize oil consumption. “There are those who are trying to reach international agreements to limit the use of fossil fuel, and that will damage the interests of oil producers in the long-term,” he said. ... The peak that has the Saudis more worried is peak demand.
Inside the rotunda of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, a circular walkway spirals down from the street level, like an underground version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York. A series of galleries branches out from there, giving up astonishing secrets from one of the finest—if forgotten—collections of 20th century art in the world. ... The galleries are a ghost town, except for a dozen photography students who, for the $1.50 price of admission ... Built by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi, just before the 1979 revolution, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art amassed the greatest collection of modern Western masterpieces outside Europe and North America ... As revolutionary mobs protested in the streets in January 1979 after the shah and his wife fled, the museum spirited its 1,500 works of Western art into a basement vault. ... The collection’s survival is part of the larger Iranian paradox—the struggle of one of humanity’s oldest and most refined civilizations to overcome an historic spasm of fundamentalism and xenophobia.
“From the first 12 hours, decisions were issued,” says Prince Mohammed. “In the first 10 days, the entire government was restructured.” He spoke for eight hours over two interviews in Riyadh that provide a rare glimpse of the thinking of a new kind of Middle East potentate—one who tries to emulate Steve Jobs, credits video games with sparking ingenuity, and works 16-hour days in a land with no shortage of sinecures. ... The prince plans an IPO that could sell off “less than 5 percent” of Saudi Aramco, the national oil producer, which will be turned into the world’s biggest industrial conglomerate. The fund will diversify into nonpetroleum assets, hedging the kingdom’s nearly total dependence on oil for revenue.
Hampton Creek never publicly admitted its numbers were wrong. It scrubbed its site of sustainability claims, and the Cookie Calculator vanished. Such quiet backpedaling might be forgivable at many young companies—overeager math isn’t unheard of in Silicon Valley. But at Hampton Creek, it fits a pattern of mistaken or exaggerated claims that may prove to be deliberately deceptive. ... the company deployed a national network of contractors to secretly buy back Just Mayo from grocery store shelves. ... Tetrick used supermarket sales figures much as he used the environmental claims—to raise venture capital ... His pitch: He would liberate billions of hens from the fetid misery of overstuffed cages—and in the process save water and grain and cut carbon pollution. Profane, charismatic, and built like the linebacker he once was, Tetrick became a tenacious evangelist for eliminating animal protein from the world’s diet. ... Tetrick contends that the mayo buyback program was primarily for quality-control purposes and cost just $77,000. ... A former accounting employee who worked with the company’s profit and loss statements says costs for the buybacks were included in several expense categories on the P&L, including one line item called “Inventory Consumed for Samples and Internal Testing.” As buybacks surged in 2014, Hampton Creek expensed about $1.4 million under this unusual category over five months, compared with $1.9 million of net sales in the period.