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Archive Monthly Archives: January 2018

Contract workers get tax cut under new law – The Ledger

The Ledger

Contract workers get tax cut under new law
The Ledger
The 41-year-old said that, before business deductions, she took in around $40,000 through several freelance gigs last year, including driving for Uber and video blogging under the title Drive Girl Drive, where she gives advice to female drivers. The

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Are the Cowboys about to watch another Mike Zimmer get away in Matt Eberflus? – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

Are the Cowboys about to watch another Mike Zimmer get away in Matt Eberflus?
Blogging The Boys (blog)
On Sunday, the Cowboys mothership noted the 18 people to be affiliated with this weekend's conference championships that were at one point involved with Dallas. There are six Jaguars, two Patriots, two analysts, and eight Vikings. Those are the same

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Amazon releases Lumberyard, a new game development engine

Amazon has decided that selling video games is not enough. Now it wants to help developers create the games that line Amazons virtual shelves.

Lumberyard is a new game engine that Amazon is giving away to developers. A game engine is software that unifies all the sights, sounds, physics, and rules of a video game into a unified whole. Without an engine, your game doesnt work.

Amazons profit model for Lumberyard is tied into the Amazon Web Services cloud computing platform. Lumberyard is designed with multiplayer games specifically in mind. Amazon is banking on developers using its web services to do things like create multiplayer servers.

In terms of understanding the advertised quality of Lumberyard, it incorporates technology from a game engine called CryEngine, that was the engine running underneath Everybodys Gone to the Rapture, which markedly raised the bar on what photorealistic graphics means.The game graphics that look so real, you might mistake them for the real thing.

Lumberyard is also built from the ground up to deeply integrate with Twitch, the giant of online game streaming services that helped build theesportsindustry into the monstrous success it is today.

Amazon is advertising Lumberyard as a development option for PC games, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games, and Oculus Rift, with upcoming support for iOS and Android devices, as well as Mac. Ubiquity of compatible platforms is key for the success of any game engine.

Unity is a game engine thats particularly popular among indie devs because its relatively easy to take a game developed in Unity and port it over to any platform.

The mobile game Infinity Blade was such a huge deal because it demonstrated that Unreal Engine, one of the giants of game engine technology that you see employed all over the place by countless developers, could also run on mobile devices.

You can take all of this to mean that Amazon wants to make Lumberyard a serious new software option for game developers.

While Lumberyard itself is free, Amazon also hopes to make money off another, new service announced today called GameLift.

Whenever you create an online game, your need for servers to handle all the incoming data doesnt necessarily remain constant. When the game is first released, you might have a rush of new players. Six months later you might have fewer players as they leave to try other games. Then, when you release a new expansion for the game, theres a rush of players who are coming back to try the fresh content.

GameLift is software that among other things allows game developers to dial up or dial down the number of multiplayer servers they are renting from Amazon. This is where Amazons profit structure becomes obvious: Developers pay $1.50 per 1,000 users per day. When a good multiplayer game can attract tens of millions of players, well, you can do the math.

Lumberyard has been released in beta state and is currently available for download.

Illustration via Max Fleishman

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‘Paranormal Activity’ director Oren Peli launches a new social app

Oren Peli, who wrote and directed the enormously successful film Paranormal Activity, is launching a new iOS and Android app designed to help users create, find and join local events.

Spots launch might be doubly surprising not only is Peli launching an app, but it seems like an odd idea to come from someone best known for horror movies (he also produced the Paranormal Activity sequels and the Insidious films).

However, Peli told me that before moving into movies, he actually started his career as a developer of animation software and video games. So in some ways, hes simply returning to his old career.

The app also addresses a problem Peli said he was facing after finding himself single again and feeling that standard one-on-one coffee dates were starting to feel a little monotonous. What if, instead, there was an app that helped people connect around shared activities and interests?

There have plenty of startups sitting in the intersection of social, local and mobile, enough that the industry spawned its own obnoxious buzzword, but Peli is hoping Spot can rise above the rest by making it as simple as possible to join these events.

The Spot app allows people to create events in four categories: Hobbies, sports, community events and singles events. You can search for events by keyword, or just bring up a map showing whats nearby. Events can be public or private, theyre shareable via social media and participants can chat with each other through the app.

Spots technology means I can create events for just a few people or large events, Peli said. Its an easy way to say, Hey, I want to go hiking this afternoon, does anyone want to come with me?

When asked about safety, Peli noted that users create a Spot account by connecting to Facebook, Google or email, and they also can earn a verified user sticker by verifying their phone number over SMS. In addition, event organizers can ban users from their events and report inappropriate behavior.

Still, it seems like Spot is taking a fairly hands-off approach to the issue.

I think that with a little bit of common sense, we can have a very nice and positive community, Peli said. We wont allow anything unpleasant. If anyones harassing anyone, well take care of that [by warning or banning users].

Spot is available globally, but Peli said the initial focus is on building a community in Los Angeles. The app is free. Eventually, Peli said Spot could make money through advertising and by featuring deals from local businesses.

As for whether Pelis time in Hollywood has affected the way hes approaching his new startup, he said it was really the other way around: When I got into film with Paranormal Activity, my experience as a video game programmer made me comfortable with all the technological aspects of it. I dont know that the Hollywood experience had a similar effect.

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Cowboys 2018 offseason priorities by position group: Wide receiver – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

Cowboys 2018 offseason priorities by position group: Wide receiver
Blogging The Boys (blog)
What a difference a year makes. In 2016, with the Cowboys offense humming, the Dallas receiver group looked solid, with only minor complaints here and there. After 2017, perhaps no group is under more scrutiny by observers of the Cowboys. Is it time

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I did everything right. So why am I in debt? | Nikko Mitrano Schaff

This is not a woe is me story. It is a testament to how people in my generation can make the right decisions and still be taken advantage of

Debt: $17,000

Source: College

Estimated years until debt free: Five

Im doing debt right, so why do I feel like a failure?

Like most high school seniors applying for college, I didnt know what I wanted out of life at the time, but I was sure of what I wanted out of higher education: an experience that would prepare me for the 21st century.

I enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology with a major in computer science and a double minor in entrepreneurship and Mandarin Chinese. I figured that whether software or China takes over the world, Id find a way to make money. In my sophomore year I started a business with my buddies and we even got seed funding from the college to develop it over the summer. It didnt work out, but the experience landed me an amazing internship with Apple.

The gold rush mentality of Silicon Valley didnt quite win me over so I set my sights on something closer to home. After graduation, I was fortunate enough to find a job as a web developer at Cornell University, which was also my parents employer for most of my childhood.

My father worked at Cornell for decades, so his employment benefits included covering one-third of undergraduate tuition for my brother and me. Add in my generous merit scholarships and my parents equally generous college savings and Im home free, right? Hardly: I graduated with $21,000 in debt.

Fast forward a couple years and Im doing everything right. I have two employer-matched retirement accounts and a Roth IRA; I routinely clear the balance on the credit card Ive held since I was 18, so my credit score is through the roof. But I still have to pay $300 in student loans every month.

Every time I pay my student loans, I am that much further away from a down payment on a house. Mortgage interest is tax-deductible; rent is not. The longer I wait to get a mortgage, the more expensive it will become, and the more I will have to make up the difference in the future with more debt. If the costs of property and higher education continue to increase at this rate, whatever college savings I can accumulate for my future children will hardly matter by then: they will likely be paying student loans for the rest of their lives.

This is not a woe is me story. Instead, it is quite the opposite: this is a testament to how people in my generation can make the right decisions with their education, employment, and finances and still be taken advantage of in ways which will have ripple effects throughout their entire lives.

Instead of trying to take on the system as a whole, I simply want to focus on one, inequitable business practice: federal student loans should not be collected by private corporations.

The US Department of Education which has financed 100% of my student debt does not need to make a profit on my degree. In many ways, the profit to society has been made many times over: I have a stable job, I do not require government assistance to make ends meet, I have a retirement plan which lessens the future burden on social security and I pay plenty in taxes.

But my student loan provider even as a non-profit corporation does need to make money on my student loans to exist. Someone had to be paid to make all of those FAQ page animations of a wizard waving a magic wand at piles of money. Someone had to be paid although I would assume not very much to create their glitzy repayment planner chart, which is useless unless you never plan on paying more than the minimum. Of course, someone ought to provide this information, so why not the Department of Education?

I am a web developer. In less than a day I could create a website that lets you sign up for automatic, recurring bank withdrawals. Hook it up with the Stafford loan database and the government will have everything it needs to get its money back from me. If anyone at the Department of Education is reading this, contact me! Ill make this site for you Ill even do it for free just promise you can give me a more reasonable interest rate than 6.55%.

I dont think Im asking for much. I dont need the newest gadgets. I dont need to visit every continent. I just dont want to have to choose between having children and having a home for them.

I did all the right things, so why does this feel wrong?

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Atlanta Falcons: Matt Bryant wants to return; Aims For 2-3 More Seasons – Blogging Dirty (blog)

Blogging Dirty (blog)

Atlanta Falcons: Matt Bryant wants to return; Aims For 2-3 More Seasons
Blogging Dirty (blog)
In the Falcons' wild card game vs the Rams, four field goals were knocked down which included a 54-yarder to earn a 26-13 win over a Los Angeles team that lead the NFL in scoring in 2017. Over the course of his 16 year career, Bryant has earned the

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Free agent focus 2018: Taylor Gabriel could make Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly” – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

Free agent focus 2018: Taylor Gabriel could make Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”
Blogging The Boys (blog)
We're likely to hear the term “Dak-friendly” a lot this offseason as the Cowboys' offense tries to upgrade the talent around Dak Prescott. The main focus this offseason has to go to the offensive side of the ball as Scott Linehan hires a new coaching

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Story of cities #29: Los Angeles and the ‘great American streetcar scandal’

When LA was stripped of its beloved streetcar in the 1960s, the city was quickly thrust into a traffic-clogged world of private cars and diesel buses. But with the involvement of automobile and oil companies, was this the work of a conspiracy?

The last train on the last line of greater Los Angeles Pacific Electric streetcar network made its last run on 9 April 1961. You can see the final days of this once-robust public transport system for yourself in the short film Ride the Last of the Big Red Cars.

This footage of the remaining red cars (as the Pacific Electrics fleet was commonly known) strikes an elegiac tone, especially to modern Angelenos. They have little more than history books and the rose-tinted memories of old-timers from which to reconstruct the heyday of urban rail in Los Angeles, a city which spent decades after the disappearance of the red cars saddled with the reputation as a car-dependent, smog-choked, freeway-bound yet traffic-paralysed dystopia and not without cause.

The Pacific Electric, along with the yellow cars of the Los Angeles Railway, made up the young southern California metropolis rail transit system throughout the first half of the 20th century. At the peak of their combined coverage and accessibility, they made Los Angeles public transportation the best in the country, if not the world. Why, then, did they vanish from the cityscape by the mid-1960s, their tracks yanked from the streets and their rolling stock tossed on the heap (or sent to Argentina)? What forces could have replaced the proud red and yellow cars with a fleet of plain old buses, the likes of which so many Angelenos still disdain today? It looks, to some, like the work of a conspiracy.

One of the last journeys on Pacific Electrics Long Beach line, filmed on 31 March 1961

Between 1938 and 1950, one company purchased and took over the transit systems of more than 25 American cities. Their name, National City Lines, sounded innocuous enough, but the list of their investors included General Motors, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Trucks, and other companies who stood to benefit much more from a future running on gasoline and rubber than on electricity and rails. National City Lines acquired the Los Angeles Railway in 1945, and within 20 years diesel buses or indeed private automobiles would carry all the yellow cars former passengers. Does that strike you as a coincidence?

It didnt look that way to the Federal District Court of Southern California, which in 1947 indicted nine corporations and seven individuals on counts of conspiring to acquire control of a number of transit companies, forming a transportation monopoly and conspiring to monopolise sales of buses and supplies to companies owned by National City Lines in violation of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. The conviction came in 1949, with GM, Firestone, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, and Mack Trucks found guilty and subsequently slapped on the wrists. (GM paid a fine of $5,000.)

The 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? set its story in the year 1947, pitting workaday Los Angeles private detective Eddie Valiant against the villain Judge Doom, a cadaverous, black-clad personification of all these backroom-dealing companies. In the films final act, Judge Doom reveals to Valiant his plot to build eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena.

A streetcar on Broadway in 1930. Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images

And who, asks Valiant, would drive on such a monstrosity when they could ride the Pacific Electric the best public transportation system in the world for five cents? Oh, theyll drive, replies Judge Doom. Theyll have to. You see, I bought the Red Car so I could dismantle it.

The notion of a plot not just to monopolise the bus-and-supply market but to deliberately destroy the rail transit systems of urban America only came to wide attention in 1974, when a young anti-trust attorney named Bradford Snell argued to the US Senate that the introduction of noisy, foul-smelling buses turned earlier patrons of the high speed rail systems away from public transit, and, in effect, sold millions of private automobiles and that General Motors destruction of electric transit systems across the country left millions of urban residents without an attractive alternative to automotive travel.

Snell called upon testimony from Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, which he gave in absentia but in unambiguous terms, describing GM as having, through its subsidiaries, scrapped the Pacific Electric and Los Angeles streetcar systems, leaving the electric train system totally destroyed. GM, in the face of such harsh accusations, made no recorded public response except to admit to its investment in American City Lines, a company with which National City Lines merged in 1946.

It didnt matter that National City Lines, even with GMs money, never actually got around to buying the Pacific Electric system like they bought the Los Angeles Railway, nor that the public Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority oversaw the last of its dismantling; the Great American Streetcar Scandal was already well on its way to the public consciousness.

In the second half of the 20th century, Los Angeles had little or nothing in the way of rapid transit infrastructure, and certainly nothing of the efficiency that car-owning Angelenos felt could compare to simply driving themselves. Transit had been reduced largely to poor service on decrepit buses, writes Brian Ladd in Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age. Why had American mass transit, especially the streetcars that were once the envy of the world, been so thoroughly dismantled? How could Americans have been so shortsighted?

The answer begins with the very nature of the Pacific Electric and the Los Angeles Railway: neither began as the sort of publicly owned and operated transit systems we expect in the 21st century, but as mere tools in a larger, for-profit, real-estate development development operation. Both entered service in 1901, as the descendants of the electric trolleys that first appeared in Los Angeles in its booming 1880s, under the ownership of magnate and Southern California booster Henry E Huntington. Unprofitable in and of themselves, Huntingtons streetcars grew into such an extensive system in large part because he needed them to take newly minted Angelenos out to far-flung tracts where they could purchase a lot of their own from the massively land-owning Huntington himself. The streetcar system itself, in other words, was a kind of conspiracy.

Just as the Pacific Electric-connected land around Los Angeles sold off and built up, the automobile craze swept through America. Los Angeles embraced the automobile at a much faster rate than in other places around the country, says Ethan Elkind, author of Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City, in part because of the flat terrain and nice climate, but also because the previous streetcar system subdivisions ironically lent themselves well to automobile driving as an appealing alternative to the streetcars, at least in the beginning when the population was small and traffic was minimal. And when even 10% of Los Angeles population got behind the wheel, their presence so slowed the streetcars, which lacked their own lanes, that they could no longer make their schedules, and their level of service declined overall.

All across America, writes Ladd, streetcar transit had been expected to pay for itself, but after ridership ceased to grow in the 1920s, the private franchises that operated most transit systems were unable to make money under the regulations imposed on them by local governments. As they cut service, former passengers bought cars, ridership and fare revenue declined further, and a death spiral ensued, leaving cities to pick up the bankrupt pieces and offer grudging subsidies to keep a bare-bones system running, even as, due to their much lower infrastructure and operating costs, transit companies across the country, whoever controlled them, were seeking to switch many lines to the promising new technology of motor buses.

An early evening traffic jam on an LA freeway. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

This conversion process had begun well before General Motors and the others involved in National City Lines started buying up streetcar systems. By the end of the 1920s, about 20% of the countrys cities used buses only, and even in 1923 the Pacific Electric had put their order in for buses to run instead of trains on some routes. NCL did indeed replace more trains with buses after purchasing the financially troubled Los Angeles Railway in 1945, but that just continued a process that had begun much earlier, and which took place similarly across the country and indeed the world. Streetcars vanished in almost every metropolitan area in the United States, and only in 10% of those cases did NCL have anything to do with it.

One can confidently accuse General Motors and their National City Lines of nothing worse than scheming to profit from a trend already in motion. As far as who took away the streetcars, more of the blame lies at the feet of the United States federal government, whose suite of anti-urban post-war policies from building freeways on a colossal scale to incentivise single-family home ownership not to mention the local voters who both refused to bring the Los Angeles rail systems under public ownership in the 1920s and repeatedly shot down rapid-transit proposals in favour of improved automotive infrastructure for decades thereafter.

Yet even without strong evidence of a car company-driven streetcar-dismantling conspiracy, we can see all around us, especially in America, that just the well-documented social and economic forces acting on cities in the mid-20th century an obsession with cars and the consequent rise of auto-centric planning along with white flight from the central cities and the suburban living that the Pacific Electric itself encouraged did more damage than could even the most malevolent cabal.

So why does the Great American Streetcar Scandal live on in the hearts and minds of Los Angeles? Angelenos are rightfully frustrated by being forced to buy cars and sit in traffic to get around, and many feel like this situation was foisted on them without the consent of residents, says Elkind. Its easy to blame car companies because theyre the logical economic beneficiary of this car-oriented system. But the reality is more complex, and if theres any conspiracy here, its on the part of local officials who kept approving sprawling subdivisions that have led to the present inefficient land use patterns.

Or, in the words of Judge Doom, to strings of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My god, itll be beautiful.

Does your city have a little-known story that made a major impact on its development? Please share it in the comments below or on Twitter using #storyofcities

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