TIME Economy

Revised Data: U.S. Economy Grew Faster in 2nd Half of 2013

(WASHINGTON) — Fueled by healthier consumer spending, the U.S. economy grew in the second half of last year at the strongest pace in a decade and more than previously estimated, new government data show.

Revised data released Wednesday also suggest a possible factor behind the pickup: Americans saved much more in 2012 than previously thought, leaving more to spend in 2013.

The economy grew at an annual rate of 4.5 percent in last year’s third quarter, up from a previous estimate of 4.1 percent. Growth was 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 2.6 percent. The average 4 percent annual pace was the best six-month showing since 2003.

The government’s newly revised figures show that growth was accelerating before harsh weather in the first quarter contributed to a sharp contraction.

But growth was weaker in 2011 and 2012 than the government had previously estimated, the revisions show. Overall, the growth trend since the Great Recession was little changed by the government’s updates. The new figures show that growth has averaged 2.3 percent at an annual rate from the end of the recession in June 2009 through last year. That’s a scant downgrade from the previous estimate of 2.4 percent.

In 2013 as a whole, the economy expanded 2.2 percent, up from the previous estimate of 1.9 percent. It grew just 2.3 percent in 2012, down from 2.8 percent. And growth in 2011 was marked down to 1.6 percent from 1.8 percent.

The changes stem from a comprehensive revision the government conducts each year to the nation’s gross domestic product data. GDP, the broadest measure of the economy’s output of goods and services, includes everything from restaurant meals to television production to steel manufacturing. Most of the changes were made to the previous three years’ figures.

The revisions are based on updated data from agencies such as the Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service. Many monthly surveys of consumer spending, manufacturing and retail businesses are updated with more comprehensive annual reports.

Newly available tax data showed that Americans earned more than was previously thought in 2012. Personal income, after taxes and adjusted for inflation, grew 3 percent that year, much higher than the previous estimate of 2 percent.

But the bulk of that gain likely went to wealthier Americans. Most of the upward revision resulted from a sharp increase in interest and dividend payments. Business income was also revised higher. Wealthier Americans own the vast majority of stocks and other financial assets.

The higher interest and dividend payments probably included many one-time payments that were made ahead of tax increases that kicked in at the beginning of 2013.

With income much higher, so was savings. The saving rate was revised to 7.2 percent in 2012, up from the previous estimate of 5.6 percent. Americans also saved more in 2011 and 2013. Though more savings can slow growth in the short run, it can lay a foundation for faster growth in the future.

TIME equality

What Our Culture of Overwork Is Doing to Mothers

Zia Soleil—Getty Images

Just as women were catching up to men in the workplace, the rules changed again

A slew of new research suggests that equality between the sexes, the rise of which seemed to stop in the 90s like a three day old helium balloon, is back in the ascendant. But it also suggests women aren’t paid as much as men because of the longer hours that are now required of employees to get ahead.

In one of several papers released for an online symposium on gender balance by the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF), researchers analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which monitors attitudes in the U.S. towards various social trends. They found that after a negative turn in the late 90s and early 2000s, attitudes toward working mothers had become more positive in recent years. In 2012 fewer people believed that working mothers were less ideal than stay at home mothers, had a lower chance of bonding with their children and that their pre-school kids suffered for their absence.

In one of the biggest changes, only a third of the people surveyed in 2012 (down from 42% in 2000) think that the best type of family set up is the so-called traditional one: where the father is the breadwinner and the mother is the one who turns it into little sandwiches with the crusts cut off then cleans it all up afterwards.

But according to researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington (IUB), changes in heart about working mothers are only a subsection of the path leading to equal pay. In a little noticed study published in April’s issue of the American Sociological Review, the authors pointed to the culture of “overwork” as one of the drivers of lower pay for women. “One reason for the stall in gender equity during the 1990s was a change in typical work weeks and remuneration patterns,” wrote Youngjoo Cha, assistant professor of Sociology at IUB in a companion presented at the CCF symposium. “This period saw a significant rise in ‘overwork,’ the practice of consistently working 50 hours or more a week, along with a dramatic increase in the financial incentives for working long hours.”

Cha’s research suggests that, along with the higher rewards offered, higher expectations for productivity have been placed on salaried workers. Because mothers, who tend to be the primary parents, feel pressure to be at home and with their children, they sometimes cannot find the extra 10 to 15 hours in their week to keep up with these expectations, nor can they reap the rewards. ‘These trends may have encouraged some couples to revert to a more traditional division of labor, by increasing the likelihood of wives’ quitting their jobs and prioritizing husbands’ careers,” writes Cha.

Moreover the “overwork” trend creates a bit of a vicious cycle, in which those who cannot keep up with the pace, but do not wish to, or cannot afford to leave fulltime employment get seen as lazy or less productive. Sociologist Joan Williams refers to the new “ideal worker norm,” in which employees are expected to be available around the clock on any day of the week, whether by email or phone or in person. “Those who do not work long hours, or those who take time off from work for family responsibilities,” says Cha, “are viewed as uncommitted, not serious about their careers, and lacking in loyalty to the organization.” So they tend to get left high and dry when promotion and bonus time comes around.

“As of 2007, 17% of men, but only 7% of women were working 50 or more hours a week,” writes Cha in the report. The “overpay” that the mostly men are receiving for their “overwork” could account for as much as 10% of the pay gap since 2007.

The upshot is, that while attitudes towards mothers who work outside the home may have softened, there seems to be a keep-up or shut-up system in place at the office. This doesn’t just affect women of course, but, as even successful women can tell you, the social penalties for being an too-busy-to-parent father are much lower than those for the too-busy-to-be-a parent mother.

It wasn’t all grim news on the gender front though. The gap between the views of liberals and conservatives on the role of mothers has been narrowing, for one. “In fact, during the ‘restart’ of the gender revolution in the 2000s the greatest increase in the extent of egalitarian views has occurred among conservatives,” writes David A. Cotter Professor and Chair of Sociology at Union College in New York, one of the authors of the study on attitudes towards working moms.

And from the home office, a happy bulletin. That whole when-housework-is shared-there’s-no-nooky story that made waves recently? That’s based on old data, according to another paper. When looking at data from 2006 “couples who shared domestic labor had sex at least as often, and were at least as satisfied with the frequency and quality of their sex, as couples where the woman did the bulk of the housework,” wrote Sharon Sassler, a Professor in Policy Analysis & Management at Cornell University. “It’s good news for couples, not bad, that men have more than doubled the amount of housework they do since the 1960s.”

TIME Transportation

4 Ways the TSA Could Really Speed Up Airport Security Lines

TSA line
We've all been there Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

There's actually a science to these things

The Transportation Security Administration needs your help. The organization that scans your bags and invariably yanks your spouse out of line for the hairy-eyeball treatment when you are late for a flight desires to do something about wait times. I’m presuming that the TSA wants to make the lines shorter. Maybe I should double check.

This doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult goal in some respects. Here’s the way the TSA worked at the Delta terminal at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on a busy afternoon the last time I was flew: There were two positions open to check IDs and three screening lines for bags and people. The line was nearly out the door. I’m no math expert, but I’m thinking that increasing the number of screening lanes by one increases throughput by 33%. Just a guess.

Increasing capacity—that is, adding ID checkpoints and scanning lanes—or at least manning all available lanes, seems like the most obvious way to shorten the lines. But that would involve spending more money, and Congress has proven again and again that it cares little for the flying public, which helps explain the current state of flying.

So instead, TSA is trying to crowdsource a solution. It is looking for someone or some group that can create the Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model. Your model will have to incorporate the TSA’s (very successful) Pre Check program, along with plans to accommodate coach, business/first, crew and special needs passengers. Do that successfully and the TSA will reward you. The agency is handing out $15,000 in prize money for the best ideas, including a $5,000 top prize.

Glad to help:

Ban mobile phone calls in the queue. People who talk on the phone while simultaneously trying to get out their laptops and take off their shoes ought to be shot, but I’m willing to merely silence them to speed things up.

Start a Spirit Airlines line. Passengers on ultra-low cost carriers like Spirit and Allegiant are, let’s say, inexperienced at air travel; okay, hopeless. Even with their own line, they’ll still take forever.

Make every airline charge more for using the overhead bins than for checked baggage. Higher fees=fewer bags=shorter waits. Stop hating me. In an ideal world, all baggage would go underneath—for free—and show up 10 minutes after landing.

Fine the TSA for delays. Airlines get fined, so why not the TSA? If it takes me more than 20 minutes get through, the TSA is not doing its job right.

Have a giant, discount health and beauty store at every airport. No need to bring all that product in 3-oz. bottles. Just order in advance and buy’em at the airport, cheap.

There is indeed a science to lines, whether it’s applied to supermarkets, tollbooths, amusement parks, fast food joints, or in the bakery chain Le Pain Quotidien in my office building, where the front end system was designed by people who think dentistry isn’t painful enough. The science is known as queuing theory, and it was invented in 1909 by Danish physicist and mathematician A.K. Erlang to try figure out the optimal size of a central telephone switch to accommodate the most customers most of the time. One of queuing theory’s later advances is something called Little’s Law, expressed as L = λW , where L is the expected number of users in a queuing system, W is expected time in queuing system per user, and λ is the arrival rate. Seems easy, right?

Nope. The TSA’s problem is far more complex because it’s not a steady state system—it ebbs and flows based on the time of day and number of flights, among other factors. “The math gets really hairy, really fast,” says Dick Larson — “Dr. Q” — who teaches queuing theory at MIT. “No human knows how to derive the actual equations.”

Companies like Disney use simulations even before they create rides to try to predict the lines, says Larson, but the math attached to security lines is surely beyond the TSA. “I wish them luck,” he says.

Larson believes that half of the problem in queuing is psychological. People are stressed out about making their flights, about their cranky kids, about setting off an alarm and being groped by TSA agents. Larson’s suggestion for improving matters isn’t mathematical, it’s behavioral. “The key idea is stress reduction versus duration reduction,” he says. “If you can reduce the stress, the complaints would plummet.”

That could be done by guaranteeing that people who arrive at the security line within the airline’s minimum will make their flights, for instance. Diversion may help too. In post World War II New York, office workers in skyscrapers often faced long waits for elevators. The solution wasn’t more elevators, which was not possible. Instead, landlords mirrored the walls at the elevator banks; complaints dropped as worker bees had something to take their minds off the wait.

You can’t do that in airports, but maybe there’s a similar approach. Comedians? A brass band? Magicians? Or how about security-line mimes? Then passengers would have something to hate more than the TSA and the airlines.

MONEY Shopping

The Stunning Sales Figure That Shows Nobody Wants to Grow Up

Businessman carrying backpack and briefcase
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Working professionals seem to be trying really hard to look like they're still in college.

It’s not exactly like Wall Streeters have started wearing hoodies to the office, but it’s in the same ballpark. In a sign that indicates working professionals are embracing the delusion they could still pass for college students, many are skipping the tired old briefcase and turning to the youthful backpack as their go-to office bag of choice.

AdAge and GQ, among others, have noticed the trend, quantified by data from the NPD Group, which has it that for the 12-month period ending in May 2014, backpack sales among adults 18 and over were up 33%. Among adult women, backpack sales were up 48% over that time span, though men still outspend the gals on backpacks annually: $385 million vs. $311 million.

Clearly, one reason that backpack sales are soaring is simply that they’re practical: They can handle your gym gear, sunglasses, snacks, and an ever-increasing amount of gadgets that just wouldn’t fit in even the largest briefcases. Backpacks are also easier to tote around, especially if you’re on a bike or have a long walk.

We also must acknowledge that the rise of work backpacks goes hand in hand with a turn to more casual dress in the workplace, prompted as least partly by all of those scruffy, hoodie-wearing tech workers. By now, the Swiss Army backpack has become a key component of the official Silicon Valley tech uniform, alongside Warby Parkers, skater sneakers, and a general lack of grooming.

Professionals are allowing themselves to strap on the kind of bag they used when they were 15 without embarrassment or totally looking foolish thanks to the introduction of a wide range of packs that are more, well, professional. Tumi lists dozens of understated, black and earth-tone backpacks in the category of being appropriate for business.

What’s more, the backpack’s versatility and youthful cachet sends a certain message, to the wearer if not the entire world. The message is one of adventure and possibility—that you can jump from the boardroom, to a mountain bike, to an impromptu flight to Copenhagen. The backpack says I may work in an office, but I’m not just another drone commuter. I have more going on in my life than any sad, slim briefcase can handle.

Then again, maybe instead it just says you like pretending you’re still in college.

TIME broadband

Report: You Could Be Overpaying For Your Data Plan

GAO Report Data Usage
An iPhone 5 streaming video from Netflix during a demonstration of the new Google ChromeCast at an event in July 2013. Bloomberg via Getty Images

Internet providers are swapping their unlimited data plans for usage-based plans on both mobile and at-home Internet, but consumers aren't aware of how much data they're burning up

Lost amidst usage-based pricing and ISPs, MBs and GBs, many U.S. customers are unaware of just how much data they consume, and they are in turn purchasing plans with unnecessarily robust allowances, according to a new report.

The findings come by way of a preliminary report released Tuesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO conducted a survey about usage-based plans (UBPs), in which consumers pay for a capped amount of data. Such plans are offered by various Internet service providers (ISPs) of wireless and wireline (e.g. at-home broadband) services, including AT&T and Comcast, among others. Consumer focus groups and interviews with top ISPs and industry experts revealed that customers may tend to overestimate data usage of common activities, or on the other hand, underestimate usage and unknowingly exceed data caps.

One wireless provider interviewed by the GAO indicated that only a small percentage of users are on 500 megabytes-per-month or smaller data plans, while half of North American wireless customers use fewer than 102 megabytes per month, according to a report by ISP research firm Sandvine.

Additionally, all wireless ISPs interviewed and over half of wireline ISPs surveyed by the GAO offer usage-based plans to various extents. Users who exceed their data caps on such plans can be fined up to $15 per 1GB of additional data or experience throttled-down connection speeds. An AT&T spokeswoman told TIME 90 percent of the company’s DSL customers don’t exceed their monthly data plan, but Sandvine’s report suggests that more customers will do so in the future, as cord-cutting users depending on the Internet as a TV replacement are already consuming roughly 212 GB of data per month, close to many existing data allowances.

But even users with unlimited wireline plans are subject to restrictions, especially if they’re consuming massive amounts of data.

“Last year we discovered a small number of residential customers [of Verizon's un-capped Internet plan] consuming many terabytes of data each month with their home connections – far exceeding usage levels ever intended for Verizon’s home broadband service,” a Verizon spokesman told TIME in an e-mail. “To put this in context and just for example, these are customers who would have to watch over 4,000 hours, or 166 days-worth of non-stop HD movie viewing over a month’s time to equal their usage levels.”

Verizon—which does not have wireline broadband caps—subsequently requested those customers to move to a business grade service, a move that could be seen as generous, considering some ISPs are slashing unlimited at-home Internet altogether. Verizon came under fire in March when a spokesman inadvertently suggested it would cap its FiOS fiber broadband service, before later posting that it was a miscommunication. In 2011, AT&T implemented monthly limits for its home broadband subscribers. Recently, Comcast announced that it may roll out a wireline data plan with monthly allotments, a suggestion that’s facing harsh criticism as ISPs claim non-unlimited wireline plans may be more fair.

“Explosive Internet use has driven the need for broadband allotments to continue to invest in a sustainable network,” an AT&T spokeswoman told TIME. A Comcast spokesman confirmed to TIME that the company believes the capped approach is more flexible, allowing those who use more broadband can pay more, and those who use less can pay less.

The GAO report indicated that customers had “strong negative reactions” to usage-based pricing on wireline Internet plans. Though the preliminary findings didn’t elaborate on specific reasons for consumers’ harsh reactions, the congresswoman who requested the report—California Democrat Anna Eshoo—warns that capped Internet plans could discourage users from watching Netflix and Amazon Prime, thus encouraging customers to subscribe to more expensive cable TV packages offered by the very same companies potentially switching to capped Internet plans.

“Data caps, particularly when they’re applied discriminatorily, could have the same damaging effect on the free and open Internet as we know it,” Eshoo told the National Journal.

The consumers surveyed by the GAO, however, expressed fewer negative sentiments to wireless mobile plans with usage-based pricing, a trend that’s grown increasingly popular as wireless providers drop unlimited mobile data plans. Major players like AT&T have taken that leap, cutting its unlimited mobile data plan offerings to new customers in 2010 while marketing the change as one that would save customers money. Reports have estimated that 44% of AT&T’s customers are still grandfathered into the unlimited data plans—potentially a lot of overpaying customers, if not all are big data users.

Still, the unlimited wireless data plans that remain on the market are laced with fine print. Sprint and Verizon, two wireless providers that haven’t eliminated their unlimited mobile data plans, announced in May and July respectively they would throttle speeds for some unlimited data plan holders, a sort of data “prioritization,” as Sprint called it. These are among the “loopholes” customers fear their providers will use to overcharge them, according to the GAO report. Still, most customers’ understanding of their basic data use remains clouded, the GAO report suggests.

So just how much data does certain activities use? Online shopping and general surfing is one of the least data-heavy activities, contrary to popular belief, according to the GAO’s report. Meanwhile, video streaming like Netflix is known to be a data hog.

Here are a few wireless data consumption estimates for common smartphone activities to keep in mind:

Smartphone Data Consumption
AT&T
TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Liable for Employees’ Treatment, Labor Board Rules

Fast Food Workers Across U.S. Rally For Increased Wages, Unionization
Fast food workers and activists demonstrate outside McDonald's downtown flagship restaurant on May 15, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

If upheld, the decision could make it easier for fast food workers to unionize

In a key decision that could pave the way to unionization for thousands of fast food workers, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for employees’ treatment by the brand’s franchise owners.

McDonald’s has long held that it isn’t liable for the treatment of its employees at the approximately 90% of its 14,000 restaurants that are owned by franchisees. But the recent decision could make McDonald’s liable for the labor practices of thousands of independent operators at its locations, and where employees have claimed they were fired for trying to unionize.

The NLRB said in a statement that of the 181 complaints involving McDonald’s since November 2012, McDonald’s will be named as a joint respondent in 43 of them, making it responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants.

Labor organizers have long argued that McDonald’s should be held accountable as a joint employer because it controls menus, uniforms, supplies and many other terms of operations. The New York Times reports that in the past McDonald’s has urged franchises to lower wages.

“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” Micah Wissinger, an attorney at Levy Ratner who brought the case on behalf of McDonald’s workers in New York City, said in a statement.

The International Franchise Association criticized the decision, saying it could hurt the franchise business model and jeopardize jobs in the fast food industry.

“If franchisors are joint employers with their franchisees, these thousands of small business owners would lose control of the operations and equity they worked so hard to build,” Steve Caldeira, CEO of IFA in a statement. “The jobs of millions of workers would be placed in jeopardy and the value of the businesses that employ them would be deflated.”

The mean hourly wage at restaurants as of mid-last year was $8.74, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fast food workers have been calling in recent months for the right to form a union without retaliation and $15 hourly wages.

Other chains, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King and Taco have a franchise model similar to McDonald’s.

McDonald’s said in a memo to its franchisees that it believes there is “no legal or factual basis for such a finding” and that it is appealing the decision, the Wall Street Journal reports.

TIME Data

Meet the Man Who Turned NYC Into His Own Lab

Steven Koonin, under secretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy, listens during the 2011 CERAWEEK conference in Houston on March 11, 2011.
Steven Koonin, under secretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy, listens during the 2011 CERAWEEK conference in Houston on March 11, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Using big data to make a difference

In the mornings, Steven Koonin often dons a light blue shirt and khaki suit jacket, walks out of his apartment above Manhattan’s chic Washington Square park and heads for the subway. As he beelines down the sidewalk, the West Village buildings burp up black clouds of smoke as their boilers are fired on. At Sixth Avenue, an express bus screeches to the curb and blocks the pedestrian crosswalk. And as Koonin sits in the subway, he notices some of the signs are badly placed. “Can we fix this?” he wonders. He gets off at Brooklyn’s Jay Street-Metrotech station and rides an elevator to the 19th floor of a commanding building perched high above his native city. Then he gets to work.

Koonin is the director of New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), which is to say, he is the big data guru of New York City. He’s been given a lot of cash, millions of data points and a broad mandate by the city of New York: make it better. No big data project of this scale has been attempted before, and that’s because the tools never existed, until now. “There’s an enormous amount of data out there,” Koonin says with the vestiges of a Brooklyn accent. “If we can use the data to understand what’s going on in cities, we can improve them in a rational way.”

CUSP is both a research laboratory and a school. This year, it will have more than 60 students and 8 full-time faculty members. The students collaborate with the faculty and the city on big projects while they work toward either a Master of Science degree or an educational certificate. About a quarter of students this year will have social science degrees, another quarter each are engineers or scientists by training, and the rest will hail from fields as miscellaneous as film and fashion design. Their collective challenge is to turn numbers, spreadsheets, graphs and charts into a model that makes New York City work faster, cleaner, and more efficiently.

The program is already starting to make policy recommendations to the city, and as the institute attracts more talent, it will begin to play an important role in everything from easing Manhattan’s nasty rush hour traffic congestion, advising on prekindergarten school placement, cutting back on city pollution and helping businesses decide where best to open a franchise. “CUSP is able to work on those projects and take it to a deeper level of making more vetted recommendations,” says Nicholas O’Brien, the chief of staff in the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics. “They bridge the gap between city data and creating actionable policy for city agencies.”

Koonin grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and in the late 1960s attended the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, where he and his friends once tried to use an old IBM computer (“it clunked along and had less power than your phone,” he says) to try and figure out the shortest time a subway rider could visit every single city stop on one fare. Koonin would go to the MTA headquarters to copy down timetables and input them into the computer.

Forty years later, Koonin has more data than he knows how to use. There are figures for household water consumption, purchases of goods, noise levels, taxi ridership, nutrition, traffic levels, restaurant inspections, parking violations and public park use; subway ridership, bus deployment, boiler lifespans, recycling rates, reservoir levels, street pedestrian counts; granular demographic breakdowns, household income, building permits, epidemic monitoring, toxin emissions, and on, and on and on. The challenge is making sense out of it, and that’s where CUSP comes in.

“The city has very little time to stand back and ask itself, ‘what are the patterns here?’” Koonin says. “That’s because they’re up to their asses in alligators, as you almost always are in government.”

Koonin would know. After receiving a Ph.D from MIT, he taught as a theoretical physics professor at Caltech before eventually working for BP and then the Obama administration. As Undersecretary of Energy for Science in the Obama administration, he was frustrated by the glacial progress on energy policy. To get things done, Koonin concluded, he needed a novel approach. “I came up with this notion of, ‘I’m going to go instrument a city as a scientist would,’” he says. In April 2012, he was announced director of the newly created CUSP program to make New York a living laboratory for urban improvement. Since then, Koonin has overseen a rapidly growing operation as it dances between 13 city agencies, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the mayor’s office, and NYU, taking chunks of data and imagining actionable city policy.

CUSP’s temporary location (before it moves into the retrofitted Metropolitan Transit Authority headquarters) is an eclectic mix of high-tech and deep retro. The foyer, with firm orange chairs and dull wood paneling, looks like an Ikea designer recreated a 1970’s-era therapists’ office, but inside, two robots patrol the halls wielding touchscreens. A glass-enclosed conference room has 60 high-resolution monitors that on one Wednesday displayed the city’s taxi pick-up and drop-off data from the evening of May 1, and hundreds of teal and black taxi icons are scattered around a detailed digital map of Manhattan. In Koonin’s impressive corner office with magisterial vistas of downtown Brooklyn, he keeps a classic slate blackboard next to a keyboard. He can fluidly play “You Go To My Head,” the J. Fred Coots jazz standard, and “The Way You Look Tonight.”

“My dream is to be a lounge pianist,” Koonin the data-meister says drolly.

Like a doctor holding a prodigious stethoscope to New York City’s skyscrapers, Koonin needs to give the city a thorough physical before he can write a prescription. “The city has a pulse, it has a rhythm. It happens every day. There’s a characteristic pattern in the rise of economic activity, energy use, water use, taxi rides, et cetera,” Koonin says. “Can we measure the physiology of the city in its various dimensions? And define what normal is? What’s normal for a weekday, what’s normal for a weekend?”

“Then you can start to look for abnormalities,” he continues. “If subway ridership was low, was that correlated with the weather? When subway ridership is low, is taxi ridership high? You get a sense of what’s connected to what in the city. Can we look for anomalies, precursors of things? Epidemics, economic slowdown. So measuring the pulse of the city is one of the big things we’re after.”

CUSP is creating a system to measure microbiological samples from the city’s sewage system, using genomic technology to learn more about people’s nutrition and disease based on their waste. Do certain neighborhoods need better nutritional or hygienic practices? Another project involves a camera fixed to the roof of CUSP headquarters that can see anonymized data of when people’s lights turn on and off and monitor energy usage. When do people go to sleep? How regular are people’s sleeping hours? The institute is also working out a way to help the city’s Parks Department measure how many people use city parks, and what they do in them. (Hint: it could involve lots of infrared video.) The city could then much more intelligently design its public spaces.

“This is opening the door to the possibility that we would very accurately and very comprehensively understand how people would use our public spaces,” says Jacqueline Lu, director of analytics at the Parks Department.

The city’s 8.3 million-strong crowds, packed together on the subway like brightly colored gumballs or streaming through the streets like grains of sand blown by the wind, will be the ultimate beneficiaries of Koonin’s work. On his morning commute, he notes how the city has changed since he was a kid coming up in the public schools. “Everyday it’s really interesting to look at the crowds and see how they interact with one another,” he says. “The city works better. The trains are pretty much on time. So it’s pretty good.”

TIME Earnings

Twitter Shocks Wall Street With Big Growth in Revenue, Users

Twitter Goes Public On The New York Stock Exchange
(L-R) Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone applaud as Twitter rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) while also celebrating the company's IPO on November 7, 2013 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Stock shoots up 25% in after-hours trading

Updated July 29 at 6:18 p.m.

Twitter shares leapt more than 25 percent in after-hours trading Tuesday following stellar results in the company’s latest quarterly earnings report.

The social network posted greater-than-expected growth in both revenue and monthly active users during the second quarter. Twitter added 16 million monthly active users to bring its total to 271 million, the biggest period of user growth since the first quarter of 2013. Revenue for the quarter was $312 million, blowing past analysts’ estimates of $283 million. Adjusted earnings for the company were 2 cents per share, beating expectations of a 1 cent per share loss. Overall, the company posted a net loss of $145 million for the quarter when including stock-based compensation expenses and other line items.

Pundits have been writing Twitter’s eulogy for months as its user growth slowed in the last year and the company has regularly posted losses. But the latest report shows that Twitter’s plan to make its platform more user-friendly may be paying off. Features such as a more Facebook-like profile pages and a mute button that lets users remove certain users’ tweets from their timelines are aimed at making Twitter novices feel less overwhelmed by the deluge of messages.

The World Cup, which became the most tweeted-about sporting event in Twitter history, was also likely a big boost for the social network during the quarter. Twitter organized conversations around individual matches, featured real-time score updates and attached countries’ flags to hashtags representing each team. “We made progress on multiple fronts across the business and our financial performance was truly exceptional,” CEO Dick Costolo said in a conference call with investors.

A negative point for the quarter were timeline views. At 640 per monthly active user, they were down 7% year-over-year. In the U.S., views are also down from the first quarter. Twitter regularly attributes these drops to changes in its interface that make it easier for users to see interesting tweets without scrolling through a deluge of messages. Also, some of the content on Twitter’s specially curated World Cup pages didn’t count toward the metric.

As Twitter works to differentiate itself from Facebook in the eyes of investors, Costolo spent a lot of time discussing the audiences Twitter serves outside of its monthly users. He said the total number of people who visit Twitter each month is two to three times its official user base when including those who don’t log in. He also touted what we called syndicated viewers, people who see tweets while reading news sites or watching television broadcasts.

Eventually, the company hopes to monetize these less dedicated users somehow, though Costolo said for now the company is just focused on improving the user experience of Twitter’s many casual visitors. He also wouldn’t rule out the idea of a version of the timeline that selected tweets based on an algorithm, like Facebook’s News Feed, rather than showing them in chronological order. “We’re not ruling any any kinds of changes that we might deliver in the product in service to bridging that gap to signing up for Twitter and receiving that value,” he said.

Challenges still remain for Twitter, which won’t have another World Cup to goose its metrics for another four years. But the company reversed some ominous trends this quarter and proved it can take advantage of global events tailor-made for the Web’s water cooler.

TIME Video Games

Xbox One Owners Can Now Pay $4.99 Month for EA Games

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana
NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana (L) walks on stage to join the head of EA Sports Andrew Wilson (R) as they introduce the new EA Sports Madden 13 game with Kinect voice functionality at the Microsoft Xbox E3 2012 media briefing in Los Angeles on June 4, 2012. Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

Only four games are available so far

Electronic Arts is adapting the subscription service model to the video game industry with a new offering for Xbox One. The new service, called EA Access, will allow Xbox One owners to download and play hit EA games for an unlimited amount of time for $4.99 per month or $29.99 per year. A release date was not announced.

Netflix this is not, so far. EA Access will launch with four games: FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2 and Battlefield 4. Combined, the games retail for more than $150, so the offer is a steal if you happen to enjoy some combination of sports games, first-person shooters and puzzlers. EA says more games will be added to the lineup in the future.

In addition to the catalog of older titles, EA Access members will get a 10 percent discount on the digital version of upcoming Xbox One games like Dragon Age Inquisition and NHL 15. Members will also have access to free trials of upcoming games five days before their official release.

Video game makers are keen to get gamers used to buying and downloading games online because they get to avoid manufacturing and distribution costs while often charging just as much as versions sold in brick-and-mortar stores. So far, there’s no word on a PS4 version of EA Access, but Sony is currently rolling out a new service called PlayStation Now that will allow users to stream older games to a variety of Sony devices.

TIME Transportation

Here Are the Craziest Ideas to Speed Up TSA’s Security

Not everyone is taking the "simulation modeling concept" approach

While the TSA ramps up its security checkpoints, it’s also boosting lines and wait times. That’s why the agency is crowdsourcing the most creative ideas for the “next generation checkpoint queue,” dangling a $15,000 prize for the best suggestions. But just because entrants are asked to “apply a scientific and simulation modeling approach” hasn’t discouraged more casual ideas from floating on around on social media.

In fact, some believe the solution may be much simpler:

Others took the dismissive route, too:

Some flyers took the opportunity to express their frustrations with TSA:

Another user appeared frustrated, but a different kind of frustration:

Meanwhile, ideas targeted burdensome passengers:

Some ideas were more realistic:

And others less so:

But if security is all about checking belongings, there’s one method that’s foolproof:

Then maybe, after all, this is the future of airport security:

 

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