Items tagged with: our
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19958899
Posted by kowabit (karma: 51)
Post stats: Points: 104 - Comments: 97 - 2019-05-20T10:13:55Z
#HackerNews #how #our #security #states #the #threatens #united
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#Nakba #Catastrophe #Exodus #Dispossession #EthnicCleansing #Refugees #Occupation #Remembrance #Palestine #May151948 #RememberPalestine #Nakba71 #Our #World
Al Nakba | The Catastrophe النكبة
Nakba 71 years later, We Will Never Forget
REMEMBER PALESTINE / May 15th 1948
The Palestinian people were ethnically cleansed from their homes, lands, and villages by the Zionists before and after the creation of the State of Israel on May 15th 1948. More than 750,000 Palestinians were made homeless refugees, forced to live in inhumane conditions and squalid refugee camps that were set up by the UN. These refugee camps were only supposed to serve as a “temporary” solution until the refugees were permitted to go back home according to UN Resolution 194 (The Right of Return):The Geneva Conventions regarding refugees, and other Internationally Recognized Laws.
Now after more than 71 years, Palestinian refugees are still living in camps while Israel continues to ignore countless UN Resolutions.
In fact, till this very day, Israel continues to create yet more homeless refugees in Palestine.
The 1948 Palestinian Exodus (Arabic: الهجرة الفلسطينية, al-Hijra al-Filasṭīnīya), also known as Al Nakba (Arabic: النكبة, an-Nakbah), meaning the “disaster”, “catastrophe”, or “cataclysm”, occurred when more than 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes by Yishuv or Israeli forces, during the creation of the state of Israel and the civil war that preceded it. The term “Nakba” was first used in this way by Syrian historian Constantine Zureiq in his 1948 book, Ma’na al-Nakba (The Meaning of the Disaster).
We commemorate the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) today - 71 years since the creation of the illegal state of Israel on Palestinian soil. And though the devastation is ongoing, Palestine lives in the hearts, minds and souls of its people.
The struggle for justice and freedom continues…
We shall return.
LONG LIVE PALESTINE
To view more photos, or watch documentaries, and read past articles on the Nakba - Please go to #May151948
This is our small wallet, it can carry 6 cards and keep your coins, bills and more!
Full image: Link
#photography #CC0 #Unsplash #APIRandom #This #is #our #small #wallet #it #can #carry #6 #cards #and #keep #your #coins #bills #and #more #Venice
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19754696
Posted by Garbage (karma: 32985)
Post stats: Points: 135 - Comments: 66 - 2019-04-26T03:49:57Z
#HackerNews #about #fold #galaxy #our #teardown
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HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19756125
Posted by saintamh (karma: 65)
Post stats: Points: 148 - Comments: 40 - 2019-04-26T10:35:21Z
#HackerNews #eating #google #mail #our
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HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19728544
Posted by sarapeyton (karma: 86)
Post stats: Points: 158 - Comments: 67 - 2019-04-23T13:53:11Z
#HackerNews #app #killer #leisure #our
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I was just hired as the first permanent data scientist in a big corporation. They’ve previously relied on consultants to build the infrastructure and the data science pipelines. We’re still around 10 people in the team.
The code is not pretty to look at, but this is not our biggest problem. We inherited a weird infrastructure: a mix of files in HDF5 and Parquet format dumped in S3, read with Hive and Spark.
Here are the current issues:
- The volume does not require a solution that is this complex (we’re talking 100Gb max accumulated over the past 4 years)
- It’s a mess: every time we onboard a new person we have to spend several days explaining where the data is.
- There is no simple way to explore the data.
- Data and code end up being duplicated: people working on several projects that require the same subset write their own transformation pipeline to get the same results.
I was thinking about building a pipeline to dump the raw data in a Postgres and then build other pipelines to denormalize and aggregate the data for each project. The difficulty with this, and any data science project is to find the sweet spot between data that is fine-grained enough to allow to compute features, but fast enough to query to train models. I was thinking that in a first iteration, data scientists would explore their denormalized, aggregated data and create their own feature with code. As the project matures we could tweak the pipeline to compute the features. Do you have any experience with this?
Finally, I love data science and I really don’t want to end up being the person who writes pipelines for everyone. Everyone else is a consultant, and they don’t have any incentive to care about the long-term impact of architecture choices: their management only evaluates delivery (graphs, model metrics, etc.). How do I go about raising awareness?
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19705461
Posted by remilouf (karma: 64)
Post stats: Points: 120 - Comments: 65 - 2019-04-20T08:45:18Z
#HackerNews #ask #data #how #improve #infrastructure #our
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HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19692451
Posted by roskilli (karma: 146)
Post stats: Points: 135 - Comments: 35 - 2019-04-18T16:39:04Z
#HackerNews #compiler #forking #halving #ingestion #latency #metrics #optimizing #our #the
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Google’s AMP project is harmful to publishers, and there’s nothing they can do about it
Article word count: 1351
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19629614
Posted by luu (karma: 55588)
Post stats: Points: 176 - Comments: 98 - 2019-04-10T23:13:57Z
#HackerNews #amp #and #but #choice #google #lowered #our #page #speed #theres #use
For those that don’t know, a very quick primer. AMP is a set of rules that publishers (typically news and analysis content providers) must abide by in order to appear in the “Top Stories” section of Google’s search results, a lucrative position at the top of the page. It’s also required for your content to appear as a “rich” result, meaning emphasized links with images, which can receive a lot more attention from users. AMP must be implemented by the publisher on their site, and it’s not trivial.
Google puts the onus on publishers to, effectively, rejig large tracts of their websites layout, content, and functionality, in return for preferential treatment. Google promotes AMP as a way to make websites faster. That’s supposed to be the primary benefit, and the reason Google is pushing AMP so forcefully.
AMP can make your site slower
We here at unlike kinds decided that we had to implement Google AMP. We have to be in the Top Stories section because otherwise we’re punted down the page and away from potential readers. We didn’t really want to; our site is already fast because we made it fast, largely with a combination of clever caching and minimal code. But hey, maybe AMP would speed things up. Maybe Google’s new future is bright.
Google doesn’t need AMP to rank pages by speed
But maybe this humble publication is so darn well made, our coders’ abilities so incredible, that when you consider all the slow sites out there, the greater good is served by bringing all sites up to scratch, performance-wise, even if fast sites are forced to slow down.
But Google already ranks websites by speed. This tells us that every crawled site’s performance is measured in some way that Google finds accurate enough to use for a site’s ranking - you know, the position on Google’s results that can literally mean the difference between a failed business and one that makes millions of dollars, that an $80 billion industry is built upon.
So you’d imagine that Google’s existing page speed ranking could easily be used to limit which sites appear in the carousel. Anything with a performance score below an 80 could appear as a performance issue in Google Search Console, and the site demoted.
But no, Google insists you build your website with their technology.
AMP isn’t about speed. It’s about control.
AMP is an open source project. That evokes images of open, honest, collaboration amongst equals. But that’s not what’s happening. For a start, anyone contributing to AMP is required to sign a contributor license agreement (CLA) for their code to be accepted into the project. The CLA requires that you “grant to Google and to recipients of software distributed by Google a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable copyright license”. There’s also a clause for much the same regarding any patents. Note, you don’t grant these rights to the AMP Project, you grant them to Google. Google owns the code and patents.
The issues on AMP’s GitHub page is littered with revolts. Most notorious was Google’s attempt to co-opt email itself. The issue is full of non-Google developers in open revolt against Google’s power-grab, with users describing it as misguided and user-hostile, complete with frequent use of the thumbs-down emoji. Google’s response? They’ve labeled the issue Priority 2: “Soon” and “INTENT TO IMPLEMENT”, and are powering ahead regardless.
Then there’s users begging Google to allow them to use more than 50kb of CSS. Yes, most site’s CSS is bloated. But 50kb is an absurdly small, arbitrary limit. Stylesheets these days handle resets for normalising behaviour between browsers, grid systems so you can lay things out without resorting to murder-suicide, and responsive queries so that your site looks great on mobile and desktop (and tablet and landscape and Android and iPhone.) These essential components will take you a decent way to to the 50kb already. If you’re looking to create an advanced layout or something unique and attractive, you’re shit out of luck.
This is the core of the problem. If you’re trying to build a brand with something unique or distinctive, Google forbids you. And let’s not forget, it’ll be served from a Google domain, further diminishing your brand.
Sure you can build 2 sites, one AMP, one non-AMP. But it won’t help. Instead you’ll confuse your users (and certainly not entice them) with links like “visit the full version of the site to comment”. Google even encourages publishers to make one version of their site. An AMP version. An internet where every publisher is using the same 30 components controlled by one company? No thanks.
Google’s in an incredible position of power. According to the Wall Street Journal: Publishers who are critical of AMP were reluctant to speak publicly about their frustrations, or to remove their AMP content. One executive said he would not comment on the record for fear that Google might “turn some knob that hurts the company.”
Sure, there’s a technical steering committee. 3/7 of them are Google employees, and the others are platforms: Microsoft, Twitter, Pinterest, and Pantheon (a web host, for some reason) - not the people actually making the content. Not the publishers like the New York Times, just the gatekeepers.
Why can Google do this?
Because they own the web. The top positions on Google’s results pages are highly lucrative. If you want to build a business around a website, you need to be up there. If you’re publishing news, you need to be in that Top Stories section. You can’t rely on hits from DuckDuckGo or Bing, you need Google. They own the web as much as they own Android’s Play Store. But at least on mobile you’ve got the option of choosing iPhone. For the web? You don’t. It’s only Google.
From instant answers where users read content scraped from your site without visiting it, to Google assistant reading your site with barely a nod in your direction, to AMP with plain, samey sites served on different coloured paper, and from a Google domain no less, they want people to visit Google. Not your site. Your site just feeds Google. All these recent initiatives see users consuming your content without even visiting your domain, and in some cases, without seeing your ads or your pleas to subscribe.
If Google’s users were all served by scraped content in Instant Answers and Assistant answers, and dull, non-interactive websites served from Google’s domain, publishers become nothing more than a dumb pipe. But unlike ISPs, no one’s paying them.
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Today we’re announcing the beta of Cloud Run, our new serverless compute platform for containerized apps with portability built-in.
Article word count: 934
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19616265
Posted by wilsynet (karma: 191)
Post stats: Points: 138 - Comments: 78 - 2019-04-09T16:22:00Z
#HackerNews #cloud #compute #member #newest #our #run #serverless #stack
Today, we are announcing the beta availability of a new serverless compute offering called Cloud Run that lets you run stateless HTTP-driven containers, without worrying about the infrastructure. Cloud Run is a fully serverless offering: It takes care of all infrastructure management including provisioning, configuring, scaling, and managing servers. It automatically scales up or down within seconds, even down to zero depending on traffic, ensuring you pay only for the resources you actually use.
Veolia, a global leader in optimized water, waste, and energy management solutions, is already benefiting from Cloud Run:
“Cloud Run removes the barriers of managed platforms by giving us the freedom to run our custom workloads at lower cost on a fast, scalable, and fully managed infrastructure. Our development team benefits from a great developer experience without limits and without having to worry about anything.” —Hervé Dumas, Group Chief Technology Officer, Veolia
Cloud Run is also available on GKE, meaning you can run serverless workloads on your existing GKE clusters. You can deploy the same stateless HTTP services to your own GKE cluster and simultaneously abstract away complex Kubernetes concepts.
Using Cloud Run on GKE also gives you access to custom machine types, Compute Engine networks, and the ability to run side-by-side with other workloads deployed in the same cluster. It provides both the simplicity of deployment of Cloud Run and the flexibility of GKE. Customers such as Airbus Aerial are already using Cloud Run on GKE to process and stream aerial images.
"With Cloud Run on GKE, we are able to run lots of compute operations for processing and streaming cloud-optimized aerial images into web maps without worrying about library dependencies, auto-scaling or latency issues." —Madhav Desetty, Chief Software Architect, Airbus Aerial
We are continuing to strengthen our serverless portfolio through deep partnerships with industry leaders such as Datadog, NodeSource, GitLab, and StackBlitz. These partnerships provide integration support for Cloud Run across application monitoring, coding, and deployment stages.
Enabling portability with Knative
We recognize that you may want to run some workloads on-premises or across multiple clouds. Cloud Run is based on Knative, an open API and runtime environment that lets you run your serverless workloads anywhere you choose—fully managed on Google Cloud Platform, on your GKE cluster, or on your own self-managed Kubernetes cluster. Thanks to Knative, it’s easy to start with Cloud Run and move to Cloud Run on GKE later on. Or you can use Knative in your own Kubernetes cluster and migrate to Cloud Run in the future. By using Knative as the underlying platform, you can move your workloads across platforms, substantially reducing switching costs.
Since it launched eight months ago, Knative has already reached version 0.5, with over 50 contributing companies and 400 contributors, and more than 3,000 pull requests. Click here to learn more about Knative and how you can get involved.
New enhancements to Cloud Functions
For those developers looking to quickly and easily connect cloud services, we’ve got you covered. Google Cloud Functions is an event-driven serverless compute platform that lets you write code that responds to events, without worrying about the underlying infrastructure. Cloud Functions makes it simple and easy to connect to cloud services such as BigQuery, PubSub, Firebase, and many more.
Today, we are also announcing a number of new and frequently requested features to help you adopt functions easily and seamlessly within your current environment:
* New language runtimes support such as Node.js 8, Python 3.7, and Go 1.11 in general availability, Node.js 10 in beta; Java 8 and Go 1.12 in alpha. * The new open-source Functions Framework, available for Node.js 10, will help you take the first step towards making your functions portable. You can now write a function, run it locally and build a container image to run it in any container-based environment. * Serverless VPC Access, which creates a VPC connector that lets your function talk to your existing GCP resources that are protected by network boundaries, without exposing the resources to the internet. This feature allows your function to use Cloud Memorystore as well as hundreds of third-party services deployed from the GCP Marketplace. It is available in beta starting today. * Per-function identity provides security access at the most granular function level and is now generally available. * Scaling controls, now available in beta, help prevent your auto-scaling functions from overwhelming backends that do not scale up as quickly in a serverless fashion.
Functions provide agility and simplicity to make your developers more productive. But not all applications need to be broken down into granular functions. Sometimes you want to deploy large applications, while still leveraging the benefits of serverless.
New second generation runtimes in App Engine
Google pioneered serverless computing more than 11 years ago with App Engine, a serverless application platform for deploying highly scalable web and mobile apps. Since its inception, App Engine has evolved to meet developers where they are, whether it’s adding capabilities or support for new runtimes.
Today, we are announcing support for new second generation runtimes: Node.js 10, Go 1.11, and PHP 7.2 in general availability and Ruby 2.5 and Java 11 in alpha. These runtimes provide an idiomatic developer experience, faster deployments, remove previous API restrictions and come with support for native modules. The above-mentioned Serverless VPC access also lets you connect to your existing GCP resources from your App Engine apps in a more secure manner without exposing them to the internet.
Build full-stack serverless apps
Perhaps the biggest benefit of developing applications with Google’s approach to serverless is the ease with which you can tap into a full stack of additional services. You can build end-to-end applications by leveraging services across databases, storage, messaging, data analytics, machine learning, smart assistants, and more, without worrying about the underlying infrastructure.
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A popular DNA-testing company seems to be targeting true crime fans with a new pitch to let them share their genetic information with law enforcement so cops can catch violent criminals.
Article word count: 487
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19590695
Posted by kaboro (karma: 2092)
Post stats: Points: 129 - Comments: 47 - 2019-04-06T13:46:13Z
#HackerNews #access #dna #familytreedna #fbi #give #its #moral #our #responsibility #your
Illustration for article titled Ancestry-Testing Company: It’s Our ‘Moral Responsibility’ to Give The FBI Access to Your DNA
Photo: Andreas Rentz (Getty)
A popular DNA-testing company seems to be targeting true crime fans with a new pitch to let them share their genetic information with law enforcement so cops can catch violent criminals.
Two months ago, FamilyTreeDNA raised privacy concerns after BuzzFeed revealed the company had partnered with the FBI and given the agency access to the genealogy database. Law enforcement’s use of DNA databases has been widely known since last April when California officials revealed genealogy website information was instrumental in determining the identity of the Golden State Killer. But in that case, detectives used publicly shared raw genetic data on GEDmatch. The recent news about FamilyTreeDNA marked the first known time a home DNA test company had willingly shared private genetic information with law enforcement.
Several weeks later, FamilyTreeDNA changed their rules to allow customers to block the FBI from accessing their information. “Users now have the ability to opt out of matching with DNA relatives whose accounts are flagged as being created to identify the remains of a deceased individual or a perpetrator of a homicide or sexual assault,” the company said in a statement at the time.
But now the company seems to be embracing this partnership with law enforcement with their new campaign called, “Families Want Answers.”
The company plans to air a new advertisement this week in San Francisco that features Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted in 2002 and held captive for nine months before being rescued.
In the ad, Ed Smart makes a plea for people to share their DNA so they can help families who have lost a child. “When a loved one is a victim of a violent crime families want answers,” he says as the ad shows footage of a child’s shoe on a playground, crime scene tape, and parents embracing. “There is more DNA available at crime scenes than any other evidence. If you are one of the millions of people who have taken a DNA test your help can provide the missing link.”
FamilyTreeDNA did not immediately respond to a Gizmodo request for comment on whether the new ad campaign was a response to recent reporting on the company’s arrangement with FBI.
In a public statement, FamilyTreeDNA’s president and founder, Bennett Greenspan, seemed to appeal to both genealogy hobbyists and true crime fans. “The genealogy community has the ability to crowd-source crime solving,” Greenspan said. “If FamilyTreeDNA can help prevent violent crimes, save lives, or bring closure to families, then we feel the company has a moral responsibility to do so.”
The press release states that the company’s terms of service only allow law enforcement to receive private customer information through a “valid legal process such as a subpoena or a search warrant.”
FamilyTreeDNA users may have a “moral responsibility” to decide if they want to opt out of sharing their data with law enforcement or risk having their DNA narc on them or their family members.
[FamilyTreeDNA via ZDNet]
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Save our Planet – Fridays for future (March 15 2019)
Location: Schlossplatz, Erlangen
Full image: Link
#photography #CC0 #Unsplash #APIRandom #Save #our #Planet #– #Fridays #for #future #March #15 #2019 #Schlossplatz #Erlangen
30 Mar 2019 - Adriaan van Rossum - Help improve this post As the founder of Simple Analytics, I have always been mindful for the need of trust and transparency for our customers. We would like to be…
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19526521
Posted by soheilpro (karma: 401)
Post stats: Points: 105 - Comments: 31 - 2019-03-29T23:37:58Z
#HackerNews #iceland #moved #our #servers
30 Mar 2019 - Adriaan van Rossum - Help improve this post
As the founder of Simple Analytics, I have always been mindful for the need of trust and transparency for our customers. We would like to be held accountable for our customers needs, so they can sleep in peace. The choices we make has to be optimal, in terms of privacy, for the visitors and our customers. One of the crucial choices to consider was, choosing the location of our servers.
Join the discussion on Hacker News
In the last few months, we moved our servers gradually to Iceland. In this blog post, I’d like to explain how we’ve achieved that, and most importantly, why. It wasn’t an easy process and I would like to share our learnings. There are some technical parts in this article which I’ve tried to write in an understandable way, but forgive me if it’s too technical.
Why moving our servers?
It all started with our website being added to EasyList. It’s a list with domain names which are used by popular ad-blockers. I asked why Simple Analytics was added because we don’t track visitors of our customers’ websites. We even respect the “Do Not Track” settings in the browser.
So I replied the following to the Pull Request on GitHub:
[…] So if we keep blocking the companies that do good, and respect the privacy of the users, what kind of sign is it to just block those companies? I think it’s wrong and we shouldn’t put every company on the list just because they are sending a request. […]
I got a reply to my comment from @cassowary714:
Everyone says what you are saying, but I don’t want to see my requests sent to a US company (in your case, Digital Ocean […]
I didn’t like this reply at first, but after sharing it with my community, people pointed it out to me that he indeed was correct about the fact the US government is able to access the data of our users. At that time, our servers were indeed running on Digital Ocean and they could pull out our drive and read our data.
The solution is somewhat technical so bear with me. You can make a stolen drive (or detached for whatever reason) unusable for others. This can be solved by encrypting the data on the drive which makes it very difficult to read the data for people without the encryption key (Note: only Simple Analytics has this key). It would still be possible to get little parts of the data by physically reading out the memory of the server. Memory is easy explained as a type of a drive, which is small but super fast which allows the processor of the server to run efficiently. A server does not function without memory so we kind of need to trust the hosting provider.
This challenged me to think where to move our servers.
Our next location
I started with some basic searches and I found a Wikipedia page on Internet censorship and surveillance by country. It contains a list of “Enemies of the Internet” by the Reporters without Borders, a Paris-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press, which classifies a country as an enemy of the internet when “all of these countries mark themselves out not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of Internet users.”
Apart from this list, there is an alliance called Five Eyes a.k.a. FVEY. It’s an alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In recent years, documents have shown that they are intentionally spying on one another’s citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on spying (sources). The former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, described the FVEY as a “supra-national intelligence organization that doesn’t answer to the laws of its own countries.” There are other countries working together with the FVEY in other international cooperatives including Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden (so-called 14 Eyes). I couldn’t find evidence of the 14 Eyes alliance abusing their combined intelligence.
At this point, we were pretty sure not to use any of the listed countries from the “Enemies of the Internet” list and just to be sure to skip the countries on the 14 Eyes alliance list. For Simple Analytics, this gave enough reason to avoid those countries for storing the data of our customers.
The Wikipedia page earlier mentioned reads the following for Iceland:
Censorship is prohibited by the Icelandic Constitution and there is a strong tradition of protecting freedom of expression that extends to the use of the Internet. […]
While researching the best country, privacy-wise, Iceland kept popping up. So I did some thorough research on Iceland. Please keep in mind that I don’t speak Icelandic which may have resulted in missing important information. Let us know if you have any feedback.
According to the Freedom on the Net 2018 report (from the Freedom House), Iceland together with Estonia scored a 6/100 (lower is better) on the Internet Freedom Score. This makes them the best privacy-friendly countries. Be aware that not every country has been rated.
Iceland is not a member of the European Union, although the country is part of the European Economic Area and has agreed to follow legislation regarding consumer protection and business law similar to other member states. This includes the Electronic Communications Act 81/2003 which implemented data retention requirements.
The law applies to telecommunication providers and mandates the retention of records for six months. It also states that companies may only deliver information on telecommunications in criminal cases or on matters of public safety and that such information may not be given to anyone other than the police or the public prosecution.
Although, Iceland is somewhat following the laws of the European Economic Area, it has its own approach to privacy. For example, the Icelandic Data Protection Act encourages anonymity of user data. ISPs and content hosts are not held legally liable for the content that they host or transmit. According to Icelandic law, its not the domain name provider, but the registrant of an .is domain name that is responsible for ensuring the use of the domain is within the limits of the law (ISNIC). The government does not place any restrictions on anonymous communication and no registration is required when purchasing a SIM card.
Another advantage from moving to Iceland is the climate and location of the country. Servers produce a lot of heat and while Reykjavík (Icelands capital where most data centers are located) is on average 40.41°F (4.67°C) it’s a great location to cool down the servers. Meaning that for each watt used to run servers, storage and network equipment, proportionally very little is used for cooling, lighting and other overhead. On top of that Iceland is the world’s largest green energy producer per capita and largest electricity producer per capita, with approximately 55,000 kWh per person per year. In comparison, the EU average is less than 6,000 kWh. Most hosting providers in Iceland get 100% of their electricity from renewable energy sources.
If you draw a straight line from San Francisco to Amsterdam you will cross Iceland. Simple Analytics has most customers from the US and Europe, so it makes sense to pick this geographical location. The privacy-friendly laws and the environmental friendly approach of Iceland made it even more easy for us to choose them as the new location for our servers.
Moving our servers
First, we needed to find a hosting provider in Iceland. There are quite a few and it’s really hard to know if you have the best. We didn’t have the resources to try them all, so instead, we set up some automatic scripts (Ansible) while setting up the server so we could easily move to another provider if we needed to. We choose 1984, a company with the slogan “Safeguarding privacy and civil rights since 2006”. We liked that slogan and asked them a few questions about how they would handle our data. They reassured us and we proceeded installing our main server and they only use electricity from renewable energy sources.
However, we hit a few roadblocks during this process. This section of the article is quite technical. Feel free to skip to the next. When you have an encrypted server you’ll need to unlock it with a private key. This key can’t be stored on the server as it defeats the purpose of encrypting. So if the key isn’t on the server you need to enter it remotely. That’s right, we need to enter the key when the server boots. Wait, but what happens with a power failure? Are all requests with page views to your server failing after a reboot?
That’s why we added an extra server in front of the main server. This server is kind of stupid. It just receives the requests with page views and sends it directly to our main server. When the main server is failing it will store the requests in its own database and re-attemps those requests to the main server until it succeeds. So after a power failure, there is no data loss anymore.
Back to booting up the server. When the encrypted main server boots we need to enter a password. But we don’t want to travel to Iceland or ask somebody there to enter it, for obvious reasons. To access a server remotely you usually use SSH. SSH - is a secure communication protocol, that most people use to communicate with their servers. SSH is a program which is accessible when a server or computer is running. But we needed it to connect before the server was completely started.
Then we found Dropbear, a very small SSH program, that you can run via the initial ramdisk (initramfs). This means we are able to allow external connections via SSH. We don’t have to fly to Iceland to boot our server, yeah!
After moving our data from our old server to our new server in Iceland we were finally done. It took us a couple of weeks from start to end, but we are glad we did it.
Only storing the data you need
At Simple Analytics we live by the saying: “Only store data you need.” We only collect the minimal.
It’s common practice to soft delete data in applications. This means that the data is not really deleted but it’s made inaccessible by the end user. We don’t do this, if you delete your data, it’s gone from our database. We use hard delete. Note: it will be in our encrypted backups for a maximum of 90 days. In case of a bug we can retrieve this data.
We don’t have delete_at fields ;-)
For customers, it’s important to know what data is kept and what is deleted. When somebody deletes their data we show them a page with exactly that. We delete the user and their analytics from our database. We also delete the credit card and email from Stripe (our payment provider). We keep the payment history, which is needed for taxes and keep our log files and database backups for 90 days.
Question: If you only store little sensitive data, what’s the need for all this protection and extra security?
Well, we want to be the best privacy focused analytics company in the world. We will do everything within our power to deliver the best analytics tools without invading the privacy of your visitors. By even protecting our massive amounts of unidentifiable information about visitors we want to show we take privacy super seriously.
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Are you willing to move your business analytics to a privacy-friendly company? Learn what we can do for you.
Written by Adriaan van Rossum (follow on Twitter)
Found a mistake or a typo? Please submit a PR to my GitHub-repo.
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This is my friend Maliek Jones. We recently went on a leisurely walk in the mission to capture some portraits for his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. Among the shots we captured, this one was our favorite.
Location: Mission District, San Francisco, United States
Full image: Link
#photography #CC0 #Unsplash #APIRandom #This #is #my #friend #Maliek #Jones #We #recently #went #on #a #leisurely #walk #in #the #mission #to #capture #some #portraits #for #his #girlfriend #on #Valentines #Day #Among #the #shots #we #captured #this #one #was #our #favorite #MissionDistrict #SanFrancisco #UnitedStates
The 8-year-old refugee who last week was thrilled to have a trophy suddenly has so much more.
Article word count: 871
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19478401
Posted by diego_moita (karma: 2609)
Post stats: Points: 115 - Comments: 73 - 2019-03-24T19:53:40Z
#HackerNews #champion #chess #has #home #our
The 8-year-old refugee who last week was thrilled to have a trophy suddenly has so much more.
By Nicholas Kristof
Tanitoluwa Adewumi in his familyʼs new apartment.CreditCreditChristopher Lee for The New York Times
Tanitoluwa Adewumi, age 8, skidded around the empty apartment, laughing excitedly, then leapt onto his dad’s back. “I have a home!” he said in wonderment. “I have a home!”
A week ago, the boy was homeless, studying chess moves while lying on the floor of a shelter in Manhattan. Now Tani, as he is known, has a home, a six-figure bank account, scholarship offers from three elite private schools and an invitation to meet President Bill Clinton.
“I think I am still dreaming,” said Tani’s dad, Kayode Adewumi. “I hope I don’t wake up.”
I wrote in my column last weekend about Tani as a reminder of the principle that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not. A Nigerian refugee who had learned chess only a bit more than a year earlier, he had just defeated kids from elite private schools to win the New York state chess championship for his age group. He lugged a trophy nearly as big as he is back to the homeless shelter.
Now the story gets even better.
After my column about this hard-working family, a GoFundMe drive raised more than $200,000 for Tani, his parents and his brother. A half-dozen readers offered housing — in a couple of cases, palatial quarters. Immigration lawyers offered pro bono assistance to the Adewumis, who are in the country legally and seeking asylum. Three film companies are vying to make movies about Tani.
The Adewumi family: Tani and his brother, Austin, and their parents, Kayode and Oluwatoyin.CreditChristopher Lee for The New York Times
“I want my mom’s cooking again!” Tani mused as he explored the apartment. It was bare, but another donor had offered furniture, sheets and towels. Someone else was sending 100 chess books.
Heartfelt thanks to all my readers for this generosity: I truly have the best readers.
And now the story gets even better.
The Adewumis have decided that they will not spend a cent of the $200,000 GoFundMe money on themselves. They will take out a 10 percent tithe and donate it to their church, which helped them while they were homeless, and the rest will be channeled through a new Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation to help African immigrants who are struggling in the United States the way they were a week ago.
“Anybody who is coming from Africa who is in the position we were in, we will help them,” Mr. Adewumi said, acknowledging that details need to be worked out.
I asked them how they could turn down every penny of such a huge sum. Didn’t they want a celebration dinner? New iPhones? A vacation?
“I’m a hardworking guy,” Mr. Adewumi explained. He has two jobs: He drives for Uber with a rented car and sells real estate through Brick & Mortar. Someone has now offered him a free car so that he can keep more of the money he makes driving, and Tani’s mom was just offered a job as a health care aide at a hospital.
I asked Tani if he was O.K. with seeing the $200,000 disappear. He shrugged. “I want to help other kids,” he said. “I don’t mind.”
CreditChristopher Lee for The New York Times
Surely, I pressed him, there was some material object he coveted. There was a long silence. “Maybe a computer,” he acknowledged.
The family was tempted by the offers of full scholarships at top private schools. But Tani and his parents decided that while he might accept such a scholarship for middle school, he would be loyal and stick with the public elementary school, P.S. 116, that taught him chess and waived his fees for the chess club.
“This school showed confidence in Tanitoluwa,” his mom, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, told the P.S. 116 principal, Jane Hsu. “So we return the confidence.” And then, overcome with emotion, the mom and the principal hugged.
There’s a risk that a triumph like this leaves the impression that charity is the solution rather than a way to fill gaps: Fundamentally we need comprehensive systems in place to support needy kids. We would never build a bridge or subway with volunteers and donations, so why entrust an even more urgent cause — homeless children — to charity?
Tani thrived because everything fell into place: a good school, a dedicated chess teacher and devoted parents committed to taking their son to every chess practice. The challenge is to replicate that supportive environment for all the other Tanis out there with public services and private philanthropy alike.
One challenge I face is that readers often want to donate just to a particular individual I write about, without addressing the larger social problem. So it’s thrilling to see Tani and his parents use their good fortune to help other anonymous kids in need. In that, there’s a lesson for all of us.
“God has already blessed me,” Mr. Adewumi told me. “I want to release my blessing to others.”
Nicholas Kristof has been a columnist for The Times since 2001. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for his coverage of China and of the genocide in Darfur. You can sign up for his free, twice-weekly email newsletter and follow him on Instagram. @NickKristof • Facebook
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I’ve been on holiday in Austria, Styria. In the evening iI went out of our house and saw a beautiful sunset shining on this wood, I quickly pulled out my phone and made this great picture!
Full image: Link
#photography #CC0 #Unsplash #APIRandom #Ive #been #on #holiday #in #Austria #Styria #In #the #evening #iI #went #out #of #our #house #and #saw #a #beautiful #sunset #shining #on #this #wood #I #quickly #pulled #out #my #phone #and #made #this #great #picture #Austria
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19417797
Posted by jseliger (karma: 47892)
Post stats: Points: 143 - Comments: 29 - 2019-03-18T00:36:11Z
#HackerNews #build #cars #cities #future #get #must #our #out #the
This story appears in the April 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.
The purpose of cities is to bring people together. In the 20th century, we blew them apart. One day last year, Peter Calthorpe took me on a drive through some of the wreckage. He wanted to show me how he proposes to make cities whole again.
Calthorpe is an architect who in the late 1970s helped design one of the first energy-efficient state office buildings, which still stands in Sacramento, California. But he soon widened his focus. “If you really want to affect environmental outcomes and social outcomes, it’s not shaping a single building that matters,” he says. “It’s shaping a community.”
Today he runs a small but globally influential urban design firm, Calthorpe Associates. In his spare, airy office in Berkeley, the charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism hangs framed on the wall, denouncing “the spread of placeless sprawl.” Calthorpe helped launch the group in 1993. The struggle is long and ongoing.
We waited until late morning for the traffic to settle a bit, then got into Calthorpe’s midnight blue Tesla and set a course for Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco on the far side of the distended metropolis.
WELWYN GARDEN CITY, ENGLAND A century ago, when British urban planner Ebenezer Howard envisioned two “garden cities” north of London, people were starting to flee overcrowded cities in Europe and America. Some of Howard’s ideas still seem forward-looking, such as the way he gave Welwyn residents easy access to both green spaces and the metropolis—London is just a half hour away by train.
“The problem with urban environments that are auto oriented,” he said, as we wound our way toward the Bay Bridge, “is that if there’s no choice, if the only way to get around is in a car, lo and behold, people are going to use cars too much. Too much for the climate, too much for people’s pocketbooks, too much for the community in terms of congestion, too much for people’s time. I mean, every way you measure it, it has a negative—no walking is a prescription for obesity. Air quality feeds into respiratory illnesses.”
In the 1990s Calthorpe scored a breakthrough: He helped persuade Portland, Oregon, to build a light-rail line instead of another freeway and to cluster housing, offices, and shops around it. “Transit-oriented development” sealed his reputation as an urban visionary; in Beijing, I met an environmental scientist who has taken many Chinese planners to visit Portland. It was less of a new idea, Calthorpe said, than a call “to reinvent the old streetcar suburb, where you had fabulous downtowns and you had walkable suburbs, and they were linked by transit.”
On the bridge, despite leaving late, we hit stop-and-go traffic.
In Calthorpe’s utopia, in China or America or elsewhere, cities would stop expanding so voraciously, paving over the nature around them; instead they’d find better ways of letting nature into their cores, where it can touch people. They’d grow in dense clusters and small, walkable blocks around a web of rapid transit. These cities of the future would mix things up again: They’d no longer segregate work from home and shopping, as sprawl does now, forcing people into cars to navigate all three; they’d no longer segregate rich from poor, old from young, and white from black, as sprawl does, especially in the United States. Driving less, paving less, city dwellers would heat the air and the planet around them less. That would slow the climate change that threatens, in this century, to make some cities unlivable.
To do all this, in Calthorpe’s view, you don’t really need architectural eye candy or Jetsons technology—although a bit of that can help. You need above all to fix the mistakes and misconceptions of the recent past.
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN This oil-rich capital, the country’s largest city, has followed the Dubai model of urban development: trophy buildings first, an overall plan later. The Flame Towers are meant to evoke flares at natural gas seeps; at night, simulated flames dance on their facades, which are covered with LEDs. The skyscrapers house an upscale hotel, luxury apartments, and a mall with a Lamborghini showroom.
South of the San Francisco airport, Calthorpe turned off the Bayshore Freeway. We were headed for Palo Alto, where he grew up in the 1960s, but we’d really come to drive El Camino Real—the road once traveled by Spanish colonists and priests. “It was the old Mission Trail,” he said. “And right now, it runs through the heart of Silicon Valley, and it’s just low-density crap.”
Town after town spooled by, tire shop after U-Haul dealer after cheap motel. El Camino is one of the oldest commercial strips in the western United States, and it’s not the ugliest. To Calthorpe, its interest is not as an eyesore but as an opportunity. Not many people live on the road, because it’s mostly zoned for commercial use. Yet Silicon Valley is desperately short of housing. Tens of thousands of people commute in cars from throughout Northern California. In Mountain View, home of Google, hundreds actually live in parked cars.
Along the 45-mile stretch of El Camino between San Francisco and San Jose, within half a mile of the road, there are 3,750 commercial parcels occupied by a motley collection of mostly one- or two-story buildings. Calthorpe knows this from the software he and his colleagues have developed, called UrbanFootprint, which draws on a nationwide parcel-by-parcel database and a series of analytical models to game out visions of the future for cities to consider. If El Camino were lined with three- to five-story apartment buildings, Calthorpe explained, with stores and offices on the ground floor, it could hold 250,000 new homes. You could solve the Silicon Valley housing shortage and beautify the place at the same time, while reducing carbon emissions and water consumption and wasted human hours.
ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS In the city’s historic district, the new Market Hall aims to inspire with its originality—but also to create “a space where we could celebrate and we could meet each other,” says architect Winy Maas. The arched apartment building covers a food market that’s open daily, as well as bars and restaurants.
In that 45-mile “ribbon of urbanism,” children would walk to school again. Their parents would walk to the grocery store and walk or bike to work—or jump on public transit to head up or down the strip. Transit is the key: It would have to be ubiquitous and fast. But it wouldn’t be light rail this time, Calthorpe said. That’s too expensive now, and a better technology is coming.
It’s one many urban planners are terrified of: driverless autonomous vehicles, or AVs. Calthorpe himself thinks that, if AVs are left to individuals or the likes of Uber or Lyft, they will metastasize sprawl. He wants to harness the technology to benefit communities. Down the center of El Camino, on dedicated, tree-lined lanes, he would run autonomous shuttle vans. They’d arrive every few minutes, pass each other at will, and stop rarely, because an app would group passengers by destination. On their protected lanes, as Calthorpe envisions it, the little robots wouldn’t run over people—and the technology wouldn’t run over our world with its unintended consequences.
Calthorpe is a onetime hippie, but of the techno-friendly Whole Earth Catalog kind. In the late 1960s he taught at an alternative high school in the Santa Cruz Mountains, helping the kids build geodesic domes. The valley below wasn’t yet nicknamed for Silicon; it was still the Valley of Heart’s Delight, covered in fruit orchards. In the foothills, an interstate highway was under construction, to relieve congestion on El Camino and the Bayshore Freeway. “In those days, you couldn’t even see the valley,” Calthorpe recalled. “It was just a sea of smog. It was just really clear that something was profoundly wrong.” Today there’s less smog, but the city is still broken, and on his good days, it still seems fixable to him.
When the Congress for the New Urbanism held its annual meeting last year in Savannah, Georgia, the keynote speaker was Jan Gehl, an urban designer from Copenhagen. An oracular octogenarian, Gehl is revered for his simple insights: Architects and urban designers should build “cities for people” (the title of one of Gehl’s books, translated into 39 languages), not cars. They should pay attention to the “life between buildings” (another book title), because it’s crucial to our well-being. Gehl has spent decades observing how people behave in public spaces, collecting data on which kinds encourage civic life and which tend to be dispiriting and empty.
“There is great confusion about how to show the city of the future,” he said as we sat at an outdoor café on a square shaded by live oaks. From time to time a horse clopped by, pulling a carriage full of tourists. “Every time the architects and visionaries try to paint a picture, they end up with something you definitely would not like to go anywhere near.”
SINGAPORE Can a high-rise city be a garden city? Singapore subsidizes vertical gardens like these on the 627-foot Oasia Hotel. Designed by a local firm, the building is cooled by 54 species of trees and flowering vines, which attract bugs and birds—and soothe jangled nerves.
He opened his laptop and showed me a Ford Motor Company website called the City of Tomorrow. The image showed a landscape of towers and verdant boulevards with scattered humans and no sign of them interacting.
“Look at how fun it is to walk there,” Gehl said dryly. “There are only a few hostages down there among the autonomous cars.”
“Towers in the park,” as New Urbanists call this kind of design, is a legacy of modernist architecture, whose godfather was Le Corbusier. In 1925 he proposed that much of central Paris north of the Seine be razed and replaced with a grid of 18 identical glass office towers, 650 feet high and a quarter mile apart. Pedestrians would walk on “vast lawns” gazing up at “these translucent prisms that seem to float in the air.” Cars would whiz by on elevated expressways. Cars, Le Corbusier thought, had made the streets of Paris, “this sea of lusts and faces,” obsolete.
Like most of Le Corbusier’s ideas, the Plan Voisin was never built. But his influence was nonetheless global. It’s seen in the notorious housing projects of American city centers—some since demolished—and in the corporate office parks that dot the suburban landscape. It lives on too in the dozens of entirely new cities now being planned and built all over the world, especially in Asia. Many of those cities claim to prioritize walking and public transit, says Sarah Moser, a McGill University urban geographer who has studied them, but most in fact don’t. Putrajaya, Malaysia’s new federal administrative center, is a good example: Half of it is devoted to green space. But as Moser points out, “it takes a lot of walking to get from building to building.”
The influence of Le Corbusier is felt especially in the new urban districts that China has slapped up over the past four decades. Calthorpe, who spoke at the Savannah conference, argued that those regiments of identical apartment towers, lined up on quarter-mile-long “superblocks,” have something in common with American suburbs, as different as they appear.
“There’s one unified problem,” he said, “and it’s sprawl.” The essence of sprawl, he explained, is “a disconnected environment.” People living in high-rise towers in a park can be just as disconnected—from their neighbors and from the unwalkable street below—as people living on suburban cul-de-sacs. In China’s new towns, narrow streets lined with shops have given way to 10-lane boulevards, crowded with cars rather than bicyclists and pedestrians. “The social and economic fabric is being destroyed,” Calthorpe said.
Sprawl happened in the United States for reasons that made it seem like a good idea at the time. Millions of soldiers had come home from World War II to overcrowded, run-down cities; their new families needed a place to live. Driving to the suburbs felt liberating and modern. In China, sprawl happened for good reasons too.
In People’s Square in Shanghai I toured an exhibit on the city’s history with Pan Haixiao, a transportation researcher at Tongji University. When he arrived as a student in 1979, traffic was already terrible, he said—not because there were so many cars but because of “the very fine urban fabric,” the dense network of narrow streets. In those days, it could take Pan two hours to go downtown from the university, less than four miles away.
Wouldn’t it have been quicker to walk? I asked.
“At that time, we didn’t have enough food,” Pan said. “If you walk, you’ll feel very tired. We were always hungry when I was a student.”
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA Transit binds a city: When La Paz sent its first cable cars sailing over congested mountain roads in 2014, it linked mostly poor El Alto to downtown, 1,300 feet below. By 2018 nine lines were carrying 250,000 people a day. Cabins arrive every 10 to 12 seconds.
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA The Orange Line cable cars pass over La Llamita cemetery. A 10th line is scheduled to open this spring and an 11th in the future.
In the 40 years since Deng Xiaoping decreed the “reform and opening” of China, as its population swelled to 1.4 billion, the country has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. It has done so essentially by drawing them from the countryside to factory jobs in cities. China’s breakneck urbanization is all the more remarkable for having been preceded by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, which sent millions of people the other way, from cities into the country.
“After the Cultural Revolution, the first thing was to make everybody have a home and have enough food,” said He Dongquan, a Beijing environmental scientist who is China director for Energy Innovation, a U.S.-based think tank. He grew up in the ’70 and ’80s in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, an industrial city his parents had helped build. It’s now economically distressed—but in its prime it gave young He access to electricity, clean water, and education, for which he considers himself lucky.
As the urbanization drive began, He said, there was a rush to build apartments—and the quickest way was to churn out cookie-cutter towers on superblocks. The financial incentives were powerful, and not just for developers; Chinese city governments can get half or even more of their local revenue from selling land rights. Urban design niceties were overlooked—although following the dictates of feng shui, the towers generally were lined up in orderly, south-facing rows.
Just as with American suburbs, which helped realize millions of American dreams, the results are great, to a degree. The average Chinese family now has 360 square feet of space per person, four times the average of two decades ago. But the spaces between the buildings are uninviting, He said, so people don’t use them.
“Everybody feels lonely and nervous,” He said. Fearing crime, residents demand fences, turning superblocks into gated communities. The city becomes even less friendly and walkable.
Meanwhile, in the past 20 years, the number of private cars in China has gone from negligible to nearly 190 million. Beijing now has seven concentric ring roads rippling outward from the Forbidden City. Seventy percent of the transport infrastructure investment in rapidly developing cities is for cars, said Wang Zhigao, director of the low-carbon cities program at the Energy Foundation China, an internationally funded nonprofit.
Public transit is excellent, by American standards, but not good enough to lure enough people out of cars. Part of the problem, in Beijing and other cities, is the sprawling urban form—the legacy of all those years of building hastily. “If we don’t make the urban form right, it will be there for hundreds of years,” Wang said. “If we continue to provide a driving environment, people will drive, and we’ll still be high carbon, even with electric vehicles.” China still gets most of its electricity from coal.
How will we get around cities in the future? One promising possibility is driverless minibuses, which are getting a trial at Gardens by the Bay. Photograph by Andrew Moore
A decade ago, Wang and He got wind of a new development called Chenggong, in the southwestern city of Kunming. Planned for 1.5 million people, it was a typical Chinese new town: The main street was 90 yards across from curb to curb, 200 from building to building. “We contacted Peter and some other experts then, and they were shocked,” Wang recalled. “They said, ‘This street is not for human beings.’ ”
The Energy Foundation flew Calthorpe and an architect from Gehl’s firm to Kunming to talk with city officials. “That first lecture, they started buying into the ideas,” Wang said. Ultimately the Energy Foundation paid for Calthorpe to redo the plan for Chenggong. “It was already planned, and they already had started the infrastructure,” Calthorpe recalls. “They had already laid out the superblocks.” Where it was still possible, he divided each one into nine squares, like a tic-tac-toe board, with smaller roads. He put the buildings closer to the street, with stores on the ground level below offices and apartments.
The project, still under construction, became the first of many that Calthorpe and a young colleague, Zhuojian (Nelson) Peng, have worked on in China. It got the attention of the national housing ministry. And it reinforced a change in mind-set that already was bubbling up from Chinese urban planners—one that then got ratified in a startling way. In 2016 the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council, the highest organs of the state, issued a decree: From now on Chinese cities were to preserve farmland and their own heritage; have smaller, unfenced blocks and narrower, pedestrian-friendly streets; develop around public transit; and so on. In 2017 the guidelines were translated into a manual for Chinese planners called Emerald Cities. Calthorpe Associates wrote most of it.
“We were a little surprised,” said Zou Tao, director of the Tsinghua Tongheng Urban Planning and Design Institute in Beijing, who also contributed to Emerald Cities. “For more than 10 years we’ve been telling people to do this. We’re still getting used to it—and still figuring out how to make it happen in the real world.”
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
One of sub-Saharan Africa’s first light-rail lines, financed and built largely by China, opened in 2015. Carrying more than 100,000 passengers a day in packed cars, it has begun to transform the capital, allowing workers to reach jobs far from their homes. In Africa’s rapidly growing cities, sprawl is an epic challenge.
Chinese urbanization is at a turning point. The government aims to move nearly 300 million more people—almost equal to the entire U.S. population—into cities by 2030. China faces both a shortage of decent affordable housing and a housing bubble, because many people invest in apartments and keep them off the market, said Wang Hao, a planner who spent 20 years at the Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design. “Half the people have moved into the city; the other half can’t afford it,” she said. The government is trying, all at once, to design cities more humanely and sustainably and deflate the housing bubble without crashing the economy. No one is sure how to do all that, Wang said.
The key test may come in Xiongan, a 680-square-mile stretch of swampy land, including a heavily polluted lake, about 65 miles southwest of Beijing. In April 2017 President Xi Jinping announced, again to general surprise, that he wanted to build a new city there. Ultimately it could house five million people and relieve congestion and pollution in Beijing. Last summer, when I visited the site with He and a vanload of planners, all that had been built was a temporary city hall complex. Chinese tourists strolled the treelined streets. An autonomous shuttle bus circulated experimentally and emptily.
PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA The federal administrative center was planned in the 1990s to relieve congestion in nearby Kuala Lumpur. The new city has devoted more than a third of its area to green space—but walking distances are long.
Xi has declared Xiongan a project for the millennium. A video in the visitors center shows a low-rise, small-block, and extremely green city. It isn’t supposed to be completed until after 2035—an eternity by Chinese standards—but the master plan approved in December suggests it will be consistent with the Emerald Cities rule book. Calthorpe hopes to design part of it.
“We’re trying to solve all Chinese city problems,” said a landscape architect I met, a woman who preferred not to be identified. “We’re not sure we’re going to. This place will be an experiment.”
The next morning, He took me to see a more spontaneous experiment: a trendy arts district called 798, which lies in northeastern Beijing between the fourth and fifth rings. We waited until midmorning for the subway crowds to thin out—during the morning rush, the queues at some stations stretch all the way outside, because everyone is leaving one district to work in another. The nearest station to 798 was a few superblocks and about a mile away. Fortunately, dockless shared bikes have lately invaded the capital. We rented a couple and pedaled off.
It was a warm late-summer day, with a blue “meeting sky”—African heads of state were in town, He said, so the government had shut down smoke-spewing factories outside Beijing. The 798 district occupies the site of old factories that used to be outside the city too, before the city engulfed them. After the government closed the complex in the 1990s, artists began occupying the low brick buildings. Gradually a neighborhood of galleries, bars, and shops emerged. The blocks are small because they were laid out for a factory compound.
“This is very close to Portland,” He said, as we strolled the narrow streets. “We always take Portland as a good example.”
Planners face a big challenge: fighting the sprawl that has disconnected so many communities.
In an alley under a large, idle smokestack, we sipped cappuccinos, discussing the dramatic ideological change in Chinese urban planning. Undoing the effects of 30 years of superblock construction, He said, won’t be easy. “Given the scale and the economic challenges, it will take 20 to 30 years. You see points, small pieces here and there. We hope that over time, all the urban landscape will change.”
In the U.S. landscape too, islands of hope are emerging in the sea of sprawl.
Ellen Dunham-Jones, an architect and urban designer at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, one of the most sprawling cities on Earth, keeps a database of them. In 2009, when she and June Williamson of the City College of New York cowrote their book Retrofitting Suburbia, they reviewed around 80 cases of suburban spaces being transformed, mostly into something urban—that is, denser and more walkable. Today the number of projects in the database has grown to 1,500. Across the country, Dunham-Jones told me, developers are adding buildings mixing residential and retail to some 170 office parks. As online shopping kills hundreds of malls, she said, around 90 are in the process of “becoming the downtowns their suburbs never had.”
Market forces are driving the transition. The nuclear family for whom suburban subdivisions were envisioned is no longer the statistical norm; only a little over a quarter of all U.S. households consist of people with children. Young people are looking for an urban lifestyle, and so are many of the parents they left behind in the suburbs. In the little towns around Atlanta, as elsewhere in the U.S., Dunham-Jones said, “main streets were mostly killed off in the 1970s. Now that the malls are dying, those main streets are coming back.”
SHANGHAI, CHINA An elevated walkway allows pedestrians to survive the Mingzhu Roundabout in Pudong and to navigate among the widely spaced office buildings and malls. Roughly a quarter million Chinese die on the roads each year; more than half are pedestrians or cyclists.
In Duluth, Georgia, 25 miles northeast of Atlanta in Gwinnett County, I visited one. Gwinnett was farm country until sprawl hit like a tsunami, Chris McGahee, Duluth’s economic development director, told me. From 1970 to 2008, the county’s population ballooned from 72,000 to 770,000, Duluth’s from 1,800 to 25,000. “When you leave to go to college, you come back and can’t find anything you remember,” McGahee said. “Except in downtown Duluth, there’s a little string of eight buildings that are more than a hundred years old. For some reason, they survive.”
McGahee started work in October 2008, at the height of the financial crisis. Out of the pain grew opportunity. “What the recession did for us is make land affordable,” he said. Over the next few years the town managed to buy 35 acres around those eight buildings along the railroad tracks. The buildings were nothing special, just little brick relics from the late 19th century. But they had charm and emotional weight.
They’ve now become the nucleus of a restaurant district with a music venue that offers experiences people can’t get online. Around that Main Street, the town is working to have 2,500 units of housing within a 10-minute walk. Townhomes are selling out before they’re finished, McGahee said. He lives in one and walks to work at the monumental city hall, which faces a large green.
The most ambitious revitalization project in the Atlanta area is the BeltLine: an effort to breathe new life into a 22-mile loop of abandoned railway lines around the city center. Five segments of the loop, about a third of the total, are now a paved trail for walking and jogging, biking and skating.
“The economic story is a wild success,” said Ryan Gravel, who first envisioned the BeltLine in 1999 for his master’s in urban planning at Georgia Tech. The $500 million that Atlanta has invested in it has stimulated four billion dollars in development, Gravel said, mostly on the city’s east side. Where the Eastside Trail crosses Ponce de Leon Avenue, for example, a giant old Sears, Roebuck warehouse has become the Ponce City Market, a food hall, mall, and office complex. A Ford factory that once made Model T’s is now loft apartments.
But Gravel’s idea was that the BeltLine could bind the fragmented city more powerfully: It was meant to be a streetcar line as well, one that would spur economic development and affordable housing in the places that needed it most—the African-American neighborhoods in the south and west of the city. MARTA, the Atlanta transit authority, has built one small streetcar line and has a $2.7 billion expansion plan. But it has no plans to build the whole 22-mile loop anytime soon. Gravel worries that “the promise won’t ever be delivered.”
He grew up in Chamblee, a suburb to the northeast, “going to the mall, stuck in traffic on I-285,” he said. “Practically every year they added another lane.” Then in college he spent a year in Paris. He discovered a functioning subway and the joy of wandering the streets aimlessly. “I learned how to walk in Paris,” he said. He came back to Atlanta to be part of changing it.
From the Ponce City Market, we walked south to an old telephone factory, where Gravel plans to open a café and forum to bring people together to talk about the Atlanta they want. Joggers and cyclists and pedestrians streamed by us on the trail. The rail line had always been a physical barrier that separated neighborhoods; now it’s a place that connects people.
“That’s kind of beautiful,” Gravel said.
A century ago, as the Ford plant on Ponce de Leon was starting to churn out Model T’s, Atlanta was shooting outward along streetcar lines. Many major cities in the U.S. were doing the same, stretching tentacles of rail into the countryside and building villages around the stations. Until after World War II, Los Angeles had the world’s most extensive urban rail network, more than a thousand miles of track.
“That is what creates the urban form,” said Joe DiStefano, a longtime colleague of Calthorpe’s who runs the UrbanFootprint business. “Berkeley is a walkable place because the urban form was generated by the investment in a streetcar system.” Even in spread-out Los Angeles, most places were within walking distance of a transit stop, until the city and the country shifted, DiStefano said, “until the automobile made it possible for us to travel broader distances on our own—the automobile, and trillions of dollars of investment in the infrastructure to move it.”
Los Angeles became the paragon of car culture. But these days it’s trying to move out of that trap—back to the future. Since 2008, Los Angeles County voters have twice approved, by two-thirds majorities, half-cent hikes in the sales tax to pay for an extensive transit expansion—in part, no doubt, because they hope it will get other people off the freeway. “We have soul-crushing congestion,” said Therese McMillan, chief planning officer for Metro, the transit authority. The Expo light-rail line to Santa Monica was completed in 2016; the Purple subway line is being extended nine miles, from downtown to near UCLA; and a light-rail line is planned to the southeast—along an old streetcar right-of-way.
Transit alone can’t fix Los Angeles; ridership actually fell last year. “Driving’s too cheap, housing’s too expensive,” said Michael Manville, an urban planner at UCLA. People have to pay to ride transit, but not to drive the freeway or to park in most places. Meanwhile, an affordable-housing crisis brought on by gentrification and citizen resistance to multifamily housing pushes low-income people, the ones most likely to ride public transit, to the fringes of the metropolis, where public transit is sparse.
Change is happening: In Santa Monica I met one architect, Johannes Van Tilburg, who has designed 10,000 units of housing near transit lines in the past 15 years. But can the whole fabric of a sprawling city be changed?
“I think the answer is absolutely yes,” DiStefano said. It took us only 50 years to blow up a walkable urban form that had endured millennia, he said; we could undo that in another 50. DiStefano worked with Calthorpe on the El Camino thought experiment. “That corridor is Anywhere, U.S.A.,” he said. The same opportunity exists on strips around the country—the same opportunity to create walkable, connected cities to house a growing population, without cutting another tree or paving another mile.
Before Anywhere, U.S.A., is reimagined, however, it’s likely to be hit by the next explosive new technology. Self-driving cars should ultimately be safer than human-driven ones. Bombing along bumper to bumper in 60-mile-an-hour platoons, they may increase road capacity and reduce the space we devote to parking. But by the same logic, they could also dramatically increase the number of vehicle miles traveled, as robotic Uber and Lyft taxis deadhead around the metropolis 24/7, waiting for fares, and as personal-AV owners leave them spinning in traffic to go shopping. And consider, finally, the new impetus that robotic chauffeurs could inject into urban sprawl. If your car becomes a self-driving office or living room or bedroom, how far would you be willing to commute in it?
How about if your car were a plane? In a hangar south of San Jose, I got a glimpse of a future that may not be far off. The hangar belonged to a company called Kitty Hawk, and it contained four little aircraft with cheerful yellow fuselages. Each wing had six electric propellers pointed upward. Cora, as the plane is called, takes off like a helicopter and runs on battery power. It has two seats, and neither is for a pilot—Cora flies itself. A pilot on the ground monitors its progress, taking control remotely if necessary.
Former Virgin America CEO Fred Reid, who oversaw Cora until early this year, explained the rationale for self-flying planes. He began by showing me a video of that soul-crushing traffic in Los Angeles. “There’s no doubt in any thinking man’s or woman’s brain that this is not only going to happen, it has to happen,” he said. Kitty Hawk has a bunch of competitors.
Across the U.S., renewed desire for an urban lifestyle is sprinkling suburbia with new ‘downtowns.’
The initial market for Cora would be as an air taxi, Reid said. You’d arrive at LAX, say, and a Cora would whisk you a thousand feet above the traffic, flying a predetermined route. It would be relatively cheap, he said, closer to an Uber Black in price than to a helicopter. Being electric, it would be quiet and relatively green. Also, Reid added, “we try to make our planes pretty.” He pictures thousands in the skies above L.A.
I’d take one in a heartbeat, I realized.
But what will it be like, I asked Reid, to have thousands of these zipping around the skyline? You’re inventing a new technology that has just as much revolutionary potential as automobiles. What kind of world will it make?
“We’ll figure it out,” Reid said.
Maybe we will. But it might be wise to do some of the figuring first. We didn’t have to go completely nuts about cars, allowing them to become the tail that wagged the urban dog. We didn’t have to rip up all the streetcar lines. We didn’t have to forget that cities are for people—and we don’t need to do it again.
When Gehl started his career in 1960, Copenhagen was choked with cars too. Gehl began as an architect in the modernist tradition, designing the kinds of buildings that he now dismisses as “perfume bottles”—sculptural compositions rather than humanistic ones. But he changed course, and so did his city. Copenhagen has committed to becoming the world’s best city for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s working. Two-fifths of all commutes now are by bike.
The point is not that bikes are the answer; it’s that we can be thoughtful about the shape of our cities. “Waking up every morning and knowing that the city is a little bit better than it was yesterday—that’s very nice when you have children,” Gehl said. “Think about that … Your children have a better place to live, and your grandchildren have a better place to grow up than you could when you were young. I think that’s what it should be like.”
Senior editor Robert Kunzig focuses on environmental issues. Photographer Andrew Moore is known for his large-format documentary photography. This is his first feature for the magazine.
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