Month: April 2012

The IKEA-ization of life?

The people who run the Swedish home-furnishings behemoth are launching a bold push into the business of designing, building and operating entire urban neighbourhoods. Where once they placed a couch in a living room, the Swedes now want to place you and 6,000 neighbours into a neglected corner of your city, design an entire urban world around you, and Ikea-ize your lives. Their bold, high-concept notion of an urban ’hood could be an important solution to the housing-supply shortages that plague many large cities – but it could take some getting used to.

…In a model that is the norm in Sweden and other parts of continental Europe, but alien to English-speaking countries, this will be an all-rental private neighbourhood, run and overseen by a private company.

Here is more, that is for England, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Newt for President!

Sixty-five million years ago, a Manhattan-size meteorite traveling through space at about 11 kilometers per second punched through the sky before hitting the ground near what is now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The energy released by the impact poured into the atmosphere, heating Earth’s surface. Then the dust lofted by this impact blocked out the sun, bringing years of wintry conditions everywhere, wiping out many terrestrial species, including the nonfeathered dinosaurs. Birds and mammals thus owe their ascendancy to the intersection of two orbits: that of Earth and that of a devastating visitor from deep space.

We humans need not wait, like dinosaurs, for the next big rock to drop.

From a good piece in IEEE Spectrum analyzing the various methods available to deflect asteroids. Tyler and I have a special interest in this since we discuss asteroid deflection as a public good–a public good that as of yet neither private firms nor governments provide–in Modern Principles.

With better and more complete telescope coverage we are learning that there are a lot more near-misses than we previously thought. As the public becomes more aware of the dangers, I hope that we will see more action on this front.

Hat tip: The Browser.

The economics of cholera (water)

From Haiti:

Recently, just behind the base’s barbed-wire periphery, Dieula Sénéchal squatted with her skirt hiked up, scrubbing exuberantly colored clothes while a naked 6-year-old girl, Magalie Louis, defecated by the bank, gnawed on a stalk of sugarcane and then splashed into the water to brush her teeth.

Approaching with a machete on his way to hack some cane, her gap-toothed father, Légénord Louis, said Magalie had contracted cholera late last year but after four days of “special IVs” was restored to health. He knew the river water was probably not safe, he said, but, while they brushed their teeth in it, they did not swallow.

For drinking water, Mr. Louis said, his family relies on a local well. But he lives from hand to mouth and cannot afford water purification tablets; the free supply he got in 2010 ran out long ago. So he gambles.

“If you make it to the hospital,” he said, “you survive the cholera.”

The NYT feature article is interesting throughout.

Richard Branson tries to fool people with his new currency

Richard Branson and Virgin Holidays have reacted to holidaymakers’ frustrations over exchange rates and poor value by launching a new currency today.

The ‘Branson’ will be accepted as legal tender at all Virgin Holidays destinations from April 2nd and can be bought through one of the company’s 100 retail outlets in the UK as well as in resorts upon arrival.

The ‘Branson’ launch follows research commissioned by Virgin Holidays and think tank Gray HL Division which found poor exchange rates polled highest in reasons for not travelling to a holiday hotspot, followed by bad weather, having to take vaccinations and deadly insects.

The story is here, and for the pointer I thank Angry Accountant.

Am I too rude to call this a lock-in effect, and perhaps price discrimination to boot?  How is this for a cynical sentence?

With two Bransons the equivalent of one British Pound, Virgin Holidays holidaymakers can forget about being stuck by fluctuating exchange rates – and enjoy more for their money.

Clubsterben, the culture that is Berlin

Not everyone thinks gentrification is a good thing:

Politicians in Berlinhave launched a campaign to rescue the city’s legendary nightclub scene from the spectre of property investors in the hope of salvaging the capital’s reputation as one of Europe’s party hotspots.

A ‘Music Board’ fund of around €1m (£835,000) has been set up to help protect the city’s shrinking club scene, which has been a mainstay of the economy since the fall of the Berlin Wall but has found itself increasingly squeezed out by real estate investors.

Berlin’s clubs have even coined the word ‘clubsterben’ – literally, ‘club death’ – to describe the phenomenon. The €1m fund will be used to help stricken clubs find new locations and hold fundraising concerts.

Around 15 clubs are currently under threat of closure according to Spiegel, while three prominent clubs have closed within the last few months. The nightspots, which are often housed in grungy urban buildings, breweries, or former factories situated on prime land, are increasingly being converted into apartment blocks and loft homes.

Here is more.  Here is an article on whether Berlin can afford its billion dollar arts subsidy programs.  This sentence is interesting:

Since German reunification in 1990, the capital has seen about half of its population leave and be replaced by newcomers.

For both pointers I thank

The cost of development

From Angus:

The indefatigable Michael Clemens reports that a new Millennium Village project in Ghana plans to spend a minimum of $12,000 per household in the project. This is something north of 30 times higher than average annual household income in the region where the project is going.

I have no doubt that many of these households will be “lifted out of poverty” during the years when these expenditures are made.

But, I don’t think it can be called development.

Clemens proposes an interesting cost -benefit hurdle for the MVP by noting that if the money was placed in a trust that earned 5%, each household would receive $600 / year FOREVER (which would be triple the average annual household income in the region). He asks if the MVP method of spending the money will permanently triple the average incomes of these households.

The new casinos and how they induce you to spend money

From Jonah Lehrer.

Using the Panoscope method, Finlay compared the mental effects of classic casinos, with low ceilings and a mazelike layout, to those of casinos designed by Thomas. Subjects surrounded by footage of Thomas’s interiors exhibited far higher levels of what Finlay terms mental “restoration”—that is, they were much more likely to say that the space felt like a “refuge” and reduced their stress level. They also manifested a much stronger desire to gamble. In every Panoscopic matchup, gamblers in Thomas’s rooms were more likely to spend money than those in Friedmanesque designs. Although subjects weren’t forced to focus on the slot machines, the pleasant atmosphere encouraged them to give the machines a try.

Finlay refers to Thomas’s environments as “adult playgrounds,” since they provide an atmosphere in which people are primed to seek pleasure. “These casinos have lots of light and excellent way-finding,” she told me. “They make you feel comfortable, of course, but they also constantly remind you to have fun.”

…Thomas’s designs have a particularly marked effect on those guests who normally don’t gamble. The seduction of his décor, perhaps, is that it doesn’t feel like a gambling environment. The beauty is a kind of anesthesia, distracting people from the pain of their inevitable losses.

I just noticed exactly this from my trip yesterday to the newer complexes.  While I felt no temptation to gamble, I found them far more pleasant than the traditional casinos, and if I were going to gamble, I would do it there.  My refuge I found in Jose Andres’s restaurant China Poblano (in the Cosmopolitan), which I recommend if you are also here for the APEE meetings.