Tag Archives: society

Beijing’s Simple Yet Effective Idea to Get People to Recycle (Video)

China has become notorious in recent years for its high levels of air pollution. This, however, is only one of many issues facing China as the country’s middle class continues to grow.

Beijing, China’s capital city, is home to around 20 million people. As a result, the city produces a lot of trash.

On a number of occasions, academics have attempted to estimate just how much trash Beijing produces. They have all failed, due in large part to the fact that the massive trash collection industry in China is extremely unorganized.

So back in 2012, the government of Beijing came up with an innovative solution to their trash problem: reverse vending machines that reward people who recycle with credits that can be applied to phone cards or public transit costs.

A woman uses one of the new kiosks in a Beijing subway station (Courtesy of CCTV)

The machines are equipped with scanners that can identify what type of bottle you are recycling to determine its value. More valuable bottles get you more credit.

Beijing has contracted Incom, the company building the kiosks, to build 100 of the machines across the city (Incom thinks the number will eventually be in the thousands).

34 kiosks have been built so far. Check out the video below to see one of the machines in action and hear how local people are responding to them:

(h/t Pangea Today, The Guardian)

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How To See A Map of Every Location Where Google Has Tracked You

I’m not here to bash Google or Google Maps. I use both regularly and I definitely appreciate the convenience they’ve added to my life (the time before Google Search seems more and more like the dark ages these days).

But with added convenience often comes added cost. One of those costs is allowing Google to track your movements using GPS satellites.

This allows them to give you a very high level of accuracy during navigation, but it also allows them to store your movement history, just like they’ve stored every Google search since the website launched. We can only speculate on what they do with that data.

The good news is, there’s a way to see everywhere that Google knows you’ve been: an interactive map that allows you to see your tracking history.

The map includes a timeline (below it) that you can scroll over to see exactly where you were at certain times, as well as how far away you were from your home base at that time.

But the coolest feature: the map can be “played” as an animation, allowing you to go back in time and watch your movements as they unfolded.

Login to whichever Google account you use the most (or if you have a specific one for your phone, use that one), and then click on the picture below to try it out.

Tip: Use the calender to the left of the map to select a wider range of days and see a more complete picture of your movements:

For any of you that are familiar with Austin, Texas, I promise I don’t go to 6th as often as the map above makes it seem. Apparently, I just always seem to need my location services when I’m there for some reason…

What things will you learn about yourself when you check out your own tracking history?

BONUS: While doing research for this post, I tried to find the total number of Google searches since Google’s official first year in 1998.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that number, at least not from a credible source. But I did, however find some statistics about recent years.

In 2013, for example, there were nearly 6 billion Google searches every day, for a total of about 2.16 trillion searches for the year.

Source: Google Official History, Comscore. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of statisticsbrain.com)

(h/t Business Insider)

Mesmerizing Visualization Shows the Spread of Western Culture Over the Past 2,000 Years (Video)

Dr. Maximilian Schich is a professor of art and technology at the University of Texas at Dallas. His current research focuses on how the spread of the arts and sciences affected the spread of culture.

To illustrate this process, he decided to map the movements of 100,000 of the most influential figures of western culture from the past 2,000 years.

Among the names were people like Apple founder Steve Jobs, Pride and Prejudice author Jane Austen, and the famous artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci.

Schich gathered information about the birth and death places of all these great figures, and plotted it on an interactive map. Being able to actually see culture as it spreads over time is a truly fascinating experience:

(h/t Quartz)

Why This World Famous Gunmaker’s Newest Gun Has Gun Rights Activists Up In Arms

Ernst Mauch is a legend in the firearms industry.

In his 30 years at the legendary German gunmaker Heckler & Koch, Mauch became a sort of folk hero in the gun world, designing some of the most deadly firearms in the world, including the one which reportedly killed Osama bin Laden.

The HK-416 that is rumored to have killed Bin Laden. The gun was originally designed by Mauch while he was working for Heckler & Koch. Click to enlarge

But Muach’s new gun has turned him from hero to villain overnight in the eyes of many gun rights activists. But how could a famous gunsmith make gun-lovers mad by designing a new weapon?

Well, Mauch’s new gun, the iP1, is a “smart” gun. The gun is programmable, and can only be fired when its rightful owner is wearing a special watch that is wirelessly connected to the gun.

Mauch began working on designing smarter guns following an unfortunate tragedy in the 1990s: after a child accidentally killed one of his friends using a gun that Mauch had designed, the German gunmaker was called in for questioning by the authorities.

A Heckler & Koch poster display’s the company’s motto: NO COMPROMISE

The officers asked him a number of questions, including why the boy didn’t know that the gun was loaded or that there was a live round in the chamber.

He was questioned for four hours. Afterwards, he told his wife,

“My dear, I will never forget these last four hours.”

The tragedy weighed on Mauch heavily, as did all of the innocent lives lost due to weapons he had designed. He was a deeply religious man who knew that his career making instruments of death was somewhat at odds with his faith in God:

“It hurts my heart… It’s life. It’s the lives of people who never thought they’d get killed by a gun. You have a nice family at home, and then you get killed. It’s crazy.”

The more Mauch thought about all of the gun-related tragedies, the more he realized that the problem wasn’t with guns being bad- the problem was with guns being “dumb”.

So, while running Heckler & Koch in the early 2000s, Mauch awarded research funding to a small company working on smart gun technology designed specifically to address this problem.

In 2005, disputes with H&K over their investors prompted Mauch to leave the company. Shortly afterwards, he joined a spin off of the smart gun firm he had awarded the funding to a few years earlier. The company was called Armatix.

Mauch poses with an iP1

By 2006, Mauch and Armatix had designed the first round of .22-caliber iP1 smart guns, and set about targeting the biggest gun market in the world: the United States.

To Mauch’s surprise, however, his smart gun has terrified many gun activists in America. Their biggest worry is that once the iP1 starts becoming popular, the government will begin mandating that all guns come with these “smart” computer systems built into them.

Jim Schatz is a gun industry consultant who worked for Mauch at Heckler & Koch. He had this to say:

“I love Ernst, and his contributions to firearms are incredible…But he doesn’t understand that the anti-gunners will use this to infringe on a constitutional right. They don’t have a Second Amendment in Germany.”

Jim Schatz (left) watches as a new weapon is tested out. Click to enlarge

The NRA and other gun rights groups are pointing to a new law in New Jersey to substantiate their worries. The law mandates that all guns sold in the state must be smart guns within three years of smart guns becoming available there.

But despite all of the negative feedback from gun rights activists in the United States, Mauch is still pushing to popularize smart guns like his iP1:

“When it comes to the end, you are responsible for what you did. There will be one question asked of you: What did you do to help others? I cannot sit still. There are tragedies that could be eliminated. Bingo. End of story.”

Read the full story from the Washington Post here.

The Streets of Chicago Are 4 Times More Deadly Than the Battlefields of the Middle East

This Fourth of July weekend saw joy, laughter, fellowship and fun. It also saw another rash of murders in the streets of Chicago.

The 3-day weekend starting on the 4th saw eight murders in Chicago. Two more have already been reported for today.

While this weekend was slightly more violent than others, it is definitely not an aberration. Easter weekend this year saw 45 separate shootings in Chicago. The weekend before that, there were 35 shootings in 36 hours.

In recent years, Chicago’s violence has the nickname “Chiraq”. Since the start of this year, the city has has seen 196 murders. That’s more than four times as many American fatalities as the 46 so far in Afghanistan and Iraq this year.

The homicides this weekend were a result of multiple shootings at Independence Day celebrations around the city which left another 60 people injured.

Total murders per year in Chicago from 1991 to 2011. Click to enlarge

Murder totals in Chicago actually peaked at 943 in 1992, and steadily declined in the decade that followed. But that number spiked again in 2012, which saw 521 murders. The majority of these murders were related to gang activity and the increasingly lucrative drug trade in Chicago.

To combat the rise in violence, Chicago dispatched hundreds of extra police into particularly dangerous neighborhoods, and reached out to community leaders for support.

“We will keep building on our strategy, putting more officers on the street in summer months, proactively intervening in gang conflicts, partnering with community leaders,”

said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a recent statement.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy

It seems to be working. Last year, Chicago tallied 415 murders, the lowest that number has been since 1965. And as of June 30, Chicago had experienced nine fewer homicides than in that same period last year.

But these rates are still much higher than most cities. By comparison, New York City (which has three times more residents than Chicago) only had 350 murders in 2013.

So why is the murder rate so high? Many people would point to high rates of poverty, but Chicago actually has lower poverty rates than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Poor schools also play a major part in the crime, but Chicago actually has a higher percentage of high school graduates over the age of 25 than New York City, Los Angeles or Houston.

A breakdown of the victims of Chicago’s 2012 murders. Click to enlarge

There is no one reason for the violence in Chicago, but there are a few other major factors that have contributed to it. One of these factors is depopulation and gang fragmentation.

In the 80s and early 90s, the majority of the homicides in Chicago centered around low-income government-subsidized housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes.

A picture of Cabrini-Green before it was demolished

Starting in the late 90s, the city carried out an aggressive campaign to demolish these high-rises as part of a plan to reduce crime. However, this just displaced tens of thousands of residents, exacerbating the issues of poverty they faced while simply spreading the criminals who had been sharing the buildings with them out to new neighborhoods.

The demolition of these centralized crime hubs has also led to a fragmentation of the gangs in Chicago. During the early 90s, much of the drug trade was controlled by Larry Hoover, who was head of the Gangster’s Disciples street gang.

This gang (which controlled a number of Chicago’s subsidized high-rises) was no stranger to violence, but it also had a very strict hierarchy that maintained unity and order amongst its gang members.

The arrest of drug lords like Hoover and the destruction of their headquarters created a power vacuum that broke Chicago’s gangs into countless smaller “sets”, which now battle amongst themselves for turf, power and money.

Larry Hoover is currently serving a life sentence for a murder in August of 1973

But maybe the biggest reason for Chicago’s high crime rates is the lack of jobs. Despite the fact that Chicago has higher levels of education than other large cities like New York, Houston and Los Angeles, it still has a much higher rate of unemployment (13.7%) than these other cities.

The gang violence exacerbates this problem by driving potential employers out of the inner cities, leaving only a handful of low-paying jobs to the residents who remain. This de-population also reduces property values which in turn further limits the public funds (ie. taxes) available to help fight crime and improve conditions.

Whatever the reasons are, the reality is inarguable: Chicago has a serious violence problem, and the fact that it doesn’t get the media airtime that Iraq, Al Qaeda ad ISIS do won’t change the fact that for every soldier we have lost overseas this year, we’ve lost another four youth in Chicago.

Continue reading The Streets of Chicago Are 4 Times More Deadly Than the Battlefields of the Middle East

Update: I Owe Hobby Lobby an Apology… Sort Of

Yesterday I took Hobby Lobby to task for what I saw as blatant corporate hypocrisy.

My goal for The Higher Learning is to always provide our readers with all the facts surrounding a story, even if they might contradict or weaken a claim that we made in the past.

So, I feel that it is my duty to revisit the issue and add some key information that I discovered earlier today.

In my post from yesterday, I criticized Hobby Lobby for including companies that produce contraceptives in their investment portfolios while celebrating the recent Supreme Court ruling which said they couldn’t be forced to provide contraceptives to their employees.

The nine current members of the Supreme Court

This is an oversimplification. First off, while Hobby Lobby provides employees with a number of different options in terms of their 401(k) investments, it’s ultimately up to the individual employees to decide how these investments are allocated.

Some people may have also gotten the impression that these investments are direct investment in the companies creating the contraceptives. They are not, they are part of mutual funds which often include hundreds of companies.

However, since the investment options are ultimately selected by Hobby Lobby’s owners, they should have just omitted the funds that include contraceptive companies, right?

Well it turns out that the pension law surrounding corporate retirement plans make this pretty difficult to do. The law states that owners can’t sacrifice returns or increase risk for the sake of pursuing religious preferences. Because of this, most companies will offer both a socially conscious option and an alternative that is based solely of financial factors, leaving the decision up to the individual employee.

Also, if a company official (like an owner or human resource officer) offers advice to an employee to invest based off of religious ideals and their portfolio loses value, that official can be held personally liable for the losses.

So, Hobby Lobby moving all of their employees’ pensions out of funds containing companies that produce contraceptives is unrealistic under current pension law.

But this brings up a new issue. The pension law forces companies to exclude their religious views from their decisions about retirement investments. The current version of the law was passed back in 2006.

President Bush signs the Pension Protection Act in 2006

That means for six years before the Obamacare lawsuit, the pension law was limiting Hobby Lobby’s religious expression by forcing them to include pension plans which invest in companies who make contraceptives.

But Hobby Lobby never complained about this law. It wasn’t until they were asked to provide contraceptives as part of their health-care plans that they decided their religious rights were being violated.

If Hobby Lobby steps up and demands that the pension law be reformed to allow them to avoid investing in contraceptive companies without facing financial liability, I will applaud them for being genuine and consistent in their religious convictions.

But I don’t see that happening any time soon, so I won’t be holding my breath.

Here’s the Forbes article about pension law which prompted me to write this update.

NOTE: The article above suggests that it is nearly impossible to create a portfolio using only “Christian” companies. I looked up “christian retirement plans” on google and found a number of organizations claiming to do just that.

Obviously, I haven’t looked through all of their various portfolios, but claiming that it’s virtually impossible to create a successful portfolio that avoids contraceptive companies is misleading at best.