TIME Apple

These 5 Facts About Apple Will Blow Your Mind

Berlin Apple Store Opens For Business
Apple Inc. iMac computers are seen on display at the new Apple Inc. store located on Kurfurstendamm Street in Berlin, Germany, on Friday, May 3, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even in a slow quarter the iPhone by itself generates more revenue than all of Amazon

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

After Apple reported its quarterly earnings Tuesday, Slate’s Jordan Weissmann offered several eye-opening comparisons. Among them:

  • If the iPhone were a company in its own right, it would be bigger than McDonald’s and Coca Cola combined.
  • The iPad generated more revenue last quarter than Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Groupon, and Tesla combined.
  • Apple’s sales from hardware accessories is larger than Chipotle’s revenue.
  • Apple’s iTunes, software, and services businesses are bigger than eBay.
  • While sales of the old iPod line may be shrinking, it’s still 77% larger than Twitter.

LINK: If Apple Products Were Their Own Companies, They’d Be as Big as …

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at@philiped. Read his Apple AAPL coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.

TIME apps

For a Few Hours, Uber Riders Could Learn Their Client Rating

An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2013.
An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2013. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

The app's software team quickly repaired the glitch, and passenger rankings were once again controversially private

Uber, as Valleywag’s Sam Biddle writes, “doesn’t care about being hated.” After all, the taxi service application earned a cool $18.2 billion valuation last month, in spite of a gallery of controversial corporate practices that has prompted critics of Silicon Valley to make a litany of accusations. Uber incommensurately raises prices during peak hours, holidays and weather emergencies. Uber sabotages its competition. Uber ranks its customers.

It ranks its customers, yes. At the end of a ride, the application asks the passenger to give his or her driver a ranking on a five star system; the drivers, as the internet has only recently learned, are asked the same of their clients. The underlying logic is obvious and not really anything new — if your credit score is bad, a bank is going to hesitate before doing business with you — but users were nonetheless kind of perturbed, given the secrecy surrounding the passenger rankings. (“Uber Anxiety,” New York Magazine calls it.)

On Sunday, however, a software engineer named Aaron Landy posted to Medium step-by-step instructions on how a client can find his or her aggregate score, via some very simple skullduggery on the app’s mobile website. Uber’s programming team naturally caught wind of this and quickly swooped in to patch things up, but not before a number of Uber riders sought revelation.

By early Monday morning, one user’s attempts to learn his worth in the eyes of the benevolent transit god proved futile.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 2.39.06 PM

Uber is, however, exploring ways of sharing passenger ratings in future versions of the app, or so they say. Meanwhile, the company expands — they celebrated the launch of service in Hong Kong and mainland China in the last few weeks — with the habit of incurring the wrath of local taxi drivers in each new territory.

MONEY

What Six Californias Would Really Look Like

Under a tech mogul's proposed breakup plan, some "states" are more equal than others.

Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist behind companies like Tesla and Skype, has a crazy idea. In order to make California more responsive to the needs of local communities, it should be broken up into six separate states: South California; Central California; North California; West California; Silicon Valley; and Jefferson.

This concept might seem more fit for a speculative novel than reality, but Draper’s dream may actually get its moment in the sun. On Tuesday, he informed USA Today that his Six Calfornias campaign had received 1.3 million signatures—far more than the roughly 808,000 required for the initiative to appear on the 2016 ballot.

Draper’s proposal still has virtually zero chance of ever happening. Even if the ballot initiative is approved (a December Field Poll showed only a quarter of residents support it), a California breakup would require the approval of Congress. And it is all but impossible to imagine a GOP-dominated House ever approving a plan that could potentially create 10 new Democratic senators.

That said, the venture capital mogul has apparently captured the imagination of many Californians who yearn for a more representative and responsive government than the one in Sacramento. In that light, it’s worth examining what six new Californias would really look like.

The major flaw in Draper’s plan is that the six new states he has outlined are not economically equal. In fact, they’re so unequal that many have wondered if the whole concept isn’t just a techno-libertarian plot to free Silicon Valley from having to share its wealth.

Under the breakup plan, some new “states” would be getting a pretty good deal. Others, well, not so much. Here’s a breakdown of each region and how it compares on various economic metrics. (All state comparisons are relative to the current United States.)

The common theme: Things look pretty darn good for Silicon Valley and West California (which includes Los Angeles), at the expense of making Jefferson and Central California two of the poorest states in the union.

Major Cities

Silicon Valley: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose

North California: Sacramento, Santa Rosa

West California: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara

South California: San Diego, Anaheim

Central California: Fresno, Bakersfield

Jefferson: Redding, Chico

Population

West California: 11.5 million (8th in the U.S., similar to Ohio)

South California: 10.8 million (8th in the U.S., similar to Georgia)

Silicon Valley: 6.8 million (14th in the U.S., similar to Massachusetts)

Central California: 4.2 million (27th in the U.S., similar to Kentucky)

North California: 3.8 million (29th in the U.S., similar to Oklahoma)

Jefferson: 949,000 (45th in U.S., similar to Montana)

Personal Income Per Capita

Silicon Valley: $63,288 (1st in U.S., similar to Connecticut)

North California: $48,048 (7th in U.S., similar to Wyoming)

West California: $44,900 (15th in the U.S., similar to Illinois)

South California: $42,980 (21th in the U.S., similar to Vermont)

Jefferson: $36,147 (40th in the U.S., similar to Arizona)

Central California: $33,510 (50th in the US, similar to Idaho)

Percentage Living in Poverty

Silicon Valley: 12.8% (35th highest U.S., similar to Colorado)

North California: 13.7% (28th highest in U.S., similar to Illinois)

West California: 15.2% (21st highest in U.S., similar to California)

South California: 17.8% (7th highest in U.S., similar to West Virginia)

Central California: 19.9% (2nd highest in U.S, similar to New Mexico)

Jefferson: 20.8% (2nd highest in U.S., similar to New Mexico)

Median Home Price in Largest City

Silicon Valley (San Jose): $708,500

West California (Los Angeles): $520,500

South California (San Diego): $494,500

North California (Sacramento): $247,400

Jefferson (Redding): $207,600

Central California (Fresno): $165,000

Number of State Universities

West California: 9

Silicon Valley: 7

South California: 7

North California: 4

Central California: 4

Jefferson: 2

Sources: Zillow.com, U.S. Department of Commerce, United States Census Bureau, Huffington Post, California Legislative Analyst’s Office, 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.

TIME health

The 10 Healthiest Places to Live in America

From Honolulu to Plano, Texas, here's where to move for fitness, nutrition and aging well

In a new TIME book, Healthiest Places to Live, we name the best cities for your well-being. The book is now available on newsstands everywhere.

MONEY Odd Spending

Finally, a Subscription Service for Laundry Quarters

Putting quarters in laundry machine
iStock

You pay $15 per month and get … $10 worth of quarters. Apparently, it's not a joke.

File this under the category of Solutions to Problems You Didn’t Know You Had, or perhaps Ways for Extremely Lazy and Disorganized People to Drop an Extra $5 Per Month.

On Thursday, a startup called Washboard launched a quarter subscription delivery service, which is just what it sounds like. Customers sign up—OK, in theory, they sign up—for $10 or $20 worth of quarters to be delivered to them on a monthly basis. The service costs $14.99 for a $10 roll of quarters per month, or $26.99 for $20 worth of quarters monthly. The latter is the option that’s “great for high volume folks, couples, or roommates,” according to Washboard’s website.

Understandably, the reaction at large has been one of puzzlement, with people alternately assuming that the service is a joke or pointing out the obvious—that such a subscription doesn’t seem remotely necessary, and certainly doesn’t seem anywhere near worth the money. “Ever hear of a bank?” a typical Twitter comment says of Washboard.

Washboard’s founders, who say they already some customers (“less than 10″), are apparently cool with being a magnet for mockery in social media. “I’ll admit, it’s a little bit of a negative critique for the most part on Twitter, which is good,” cofounder Caleb Brown told Valley Wag. “I think it’s good. I think it’s a polarizing thing.”

He also insists it’s a completely valid, practical, worthwhile service, because many of the young people he encounters would pay a few bucks in order to skip a regular trip to the bank. “Banks close at 5, maybe they’re open Saturday, but they close at noon. I’m rarely out of bed by then,” he said.

The company follows in the footsteps of many other startup subscription services, such as viral hit of 2012, Dollar Shave Club, which sends subscribers razors for as little as $1 per month (plus shipping and handling). But Dollar Shave Club offered more than just convenience; there was a true value proposition. The service saves time and money. By most accounts, it’s been successful, and has even welcomed a sidekick subscription service, One Wipe Charlies, which are butt wipes for guys. (That’s no joke either.)

Washboard must also be discussed in light of Silicon Valley’s ongoing “bubbly race to wash your clothes better, faster, and cooler,” as New York magazine, put it, with startups like Washio offering drycleaning pickup and delivery at your door, sometimes with cookies as a scrumptious bonus.

Such services charge a premium, of course, but they save the customer a substantial amount of time. Anyone using Washboard still must do his or her own laundry, and whatever time is saved on gathering quarters comes at a 50% premium on a $10 roll of quarters. Nonetheless, the founders claim that the service legitimately eliminates one of laundry’s “pain points,” and that therefore it’s not silly. They also have ambitions to move on to detergent and fabric softener subscription services.

And who knows? The idea is probably pretty appealing to those who want to turn off their brains and never have to think about getting quarters for laundry ever again. But even after signing up for Washboard, you can’t turn your brain off entirely. After getting your monthly shipment delivered, you still have to remember to actually bring the roll of quarters to the laundromat.

MONEY

Yo! I Tried New Messaging App Yo. And Think I Know What It’s For

A new messaging app lets you send just one message. Which raises just one question: Why?

Yo, a free messaging app that allows you to send and receive only one message—”Yo”—has reportedly received $1 million in funding.

Which is crazy.

Granted, that’s not a lot of money in Silicon Valley right now. It’s like 1/19,000th of a WhatsApp unit. Or half of a ranch house in Palo Alto.

But is it even remotely possible that there’s something to this thing? Let’s play along briefly.

I downloaded the app onto to my phone. I set up an account, and then I got stuck on Yo’s basic problem (besides the whole “Yo” thing): Who do I know who might also be willing to join a social network that only lets you say “Yo?”

 

So I talked my wife, Kathy, into downloading the app on her phone. And then I Yo-ed her from across the room. She Yo-ed me back. I Yo-ed her again. She asked me to please stop.

I went out to the store to pick up some milk. Kathy Yo-ed me four times while I was out. And that got me thinking: Kathy has my total attention with this message. My Yo network is small—just me and her right now—and that means this one simple “Yo” breaks through the clutter of the emails, texts, Facebook alerts, Google+ notices (did I even sign up for that?), and HipChat messages.

Yo may be 24-hour fad, but maybe this explains why there’s always a market for new messaging tools. We’re looking a way to talk to a just-right-size group of people.

Nice sounding theory, anyway.

“Hey, you Yo-ed me,” I said to Kathy when I got home.

“Yeah,” she said. “I figured if I annoyed you enough, you’d get bored with this thing and I could take it off my phone.”

TIME 2014 Election

Primaries Pit Parties’ Old Guard Against New

Thad Cochran Primary Election
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, greets supporters at a pre-election day rally at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, Miss., on June 2, 2014. Joe Ellis—AP

The headlines scream of surreptitious videos, nasty intramural spats and Silicon Valley influence peddlers. But among the eight states holding primary elections on Tuesday, the two marquee contests can be distilled to a simple choice: whether Republican and Democratic primary voters decide to jettison the old guard for a taste of the future.

In Mississippi’s Republican Senate primary, incumbent Thad Cochran’s seat is the Tea Party’s best remaining shot this year to topple an incumbent. A six-term incumbent with a patrician’s manner and a taste for pork-barrel spending, Cochran, 76, can seem like a relic of a different era. He has served Mississippi in the Senate since the Carter administration, and his skill at securing federal dollars for this cash-strapped state is borne out by the facilities across it that bear his name. He has said he doesn’t “really know a lot” about the Tea Party movement that has been shaking up the GOP for five years running now.

In normal times, Cochran’s earmarking prowess and Washington clout might have made him a model senator. This year it makes him big game for RINO-hunting groups across the GOP’s right wing. And if Cochran is an icon of the party’s past, his insurgent challenger is an emblem of the party’s new regime. Chris McDaniel, a 41-year-old state senator, disdains earmarks and has skirted some questions about whether he would have voted for a relief bill that ameliorated the damages of Hurricane Katrina. He presents himself as a pure conservative, and makes clear that he would eschew the federal dollars on which Cochran—the ranking member on the Senate appropriations committee—has partially staked his re-election. “I’m not going to do anything for you,” McDaniel told a local audience recently. “I’m going to get the government off your back, then I’m gonna let you do it for yourself.”

While the personalities and the politics are different, the juxtaposition between old and new is equally stark in Tuesday’s primary in California’s 17th Congressional District. Since 2001, the Bay Area region has been represented by Democrat Mike Honda. Like Cochran, Honda is a popular septuagenarian with support from his party’s traditional base. As such, he also became the target of a hostile takeover attempt from a group that may represent the party’s next generation.

The 17th district encompasses swaths of Silicon Valley, and tech titans like Sean Parker, Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg have plowed cash into the campaign account of a challenger they hope will better represent the industry’s interests. That candidate, 37-year-old Ro Khanna, has drafted some of the same bundlers and data whizzes who powered President Barack Obama to reelection. An Ivy league-educated intellectual property lawyer, Khanna is the kind of centrist technocrat that Silicon Valley—and the Democratic Party that increasingly relies on its largesse—has come to prize.

Honda has the edge in name recognition, the support of labor unions and a long record that resonates in the district. But if Khanna survives Tuesday’s “jungle” primary—in which the top two vote-getters regardless of party move to the general election—he could prove a disruptive political force come November.

TIME technology

Meg Whitman Has the Hardest Job in Silicon Valley

Technology Business Leaders Address Salesforce Conference
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

See correction below.

Meg Whitman has vowed to turn around HP, a task that many thought impossible in her early years at the company. Judging from the company’s stock performance over the past year, she may finally be gaining ground but it could come at a cost. In slashing costs to fix HP, is Whitman slashing too aggressively?

In October 2011, a month after Whitman took over, HP employed 350,000 people. That wasn’t as big as IBM, which employed 431,000 at the time, but it’s vastly larger than most of the startups that are having a big impact on the tech innovation these days. (WhatsApp, to offer an extreme example, had 35 employees when Facebook bought it.)

The following spring HP announced it would lay off 27,000 employees through the end of 2014. By fall, headcount had fallen to 318,000 and HP upped the number of layoffs to 34,000 jobs – equal to about a tenth of its peak employment. To manage that, HP said it would take $4.1 billion in charges related to the layoffs, a figure that exceeds its annual budget for R&D spending by a good margin.

When HP reported its earnings last week, the company said it would cut as many as another 16,000 jobs. Many of those positions are expected to come from declining businesses like personal computers, traditional printers and enterprise services, areas that all declined in 2013.

The idea, in theory at least, is to reduce spending enough to generate more corporate cash that can be invested in new innovations like tablets, cloud computing or 3D printers. But more often these savings go into the stock buybacks and dividends that placate antsy investors. HP’s board allocated $10 billion worth of stock to be repurchased in 2011, and the company still has $7 billion to spend.

The broader issue facing HP and others is that big tech is very often old tech. Companies that have grown successful in the past decade years are less dependent on hardware manufacturing and are able to benefit from technological efficiencies. As a result, Google can boast revenue per employee of $1.3 million while Facebook’s sees $1.2 million per worker. HP’s revenue per employee is $354,000.

So even while the tech industry is growing in revenue, it’s not really growing as a source of jobs. Technology jobs grew through the 1980s and 1990s but have declined in Silicon Valley and the US during the past decade. In 2000, technology accounted for 5% of jobs in California, but that ratio has since settled down to around 4.3%, even as the share of technology companies contribute to California’s economy has remained stable.

The layoffs are helping HP’s performance in the short run. HP’s stock rose as high as $34.09 on Friday on the news that Whitman was axing even more positions. That price marks a 175% increase since November 2012, when HP’s stock hit a decade low. The last time HP’s stock traded above $34 a share was in August 2011, a month before Meg Whitman was named CEO.

Whitman was left with a difficult hand to play. A series of scandals and a longer series of ill-advised and costly acquisitions by her predecessors, coupled with a decline in PC sales left the company in a tough spot. Layoffs were widely expected to be part of the process of stabilizing HP, but they come with a catch: Cut too many employees and you weaken the company’s ability into the kind of growth investors are demanding.

In words that must sound callous to departing HP employees, Whitman declared her willingness to cut more jobs if things don’t turn around soon. “Listen, I’m not at all disappointed. I think it’s the natural course of what makes sense in a turnaround of this size and scale,” Whitman said on a conference call with analysts last week. “HP must be manically focused on continuous improvement in our cost structure.”

Some on Wall Street, mindful that endless rounds of layoffs can both help and harm, doubted whether HP’s newfound mania was a good thing. “Serial restructuring cannot solve HP’s secular challenges, particularly following years of underinvestment,” wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope in a research note. Kubinder Garcha of Credit Suisse wondered if the restructuring charges, now estimated at $4.9 billion, would undo any cost-savings benefit. “HP is turning into a perennial restructuring story,” Garcha said.

Neither is HP’s maniacal focus on cutting jobs certain to position it against an ever competitive market for enterprise IT. While HP is defensively cutting costs, companies at the high-end are investing in improving their strengths, while those on the low end, including Asian companies like Lenovo, are growing by aggressive pricing.

HP may be, as Whitman says, “making us a more nimble and decisive company” and putting it back on a track to revive revenue growth. But it’s also true that the slashing jobs, while pleasing to investors in the short term, maybe hobbling the HP’s ability to become, in the longer run, a company that can keep growing in the growth-driven tech industry.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly identified WhatsApp as another company.

TIME Television

Bill Hader to Create and Star in His Own HBO Show

2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter - Arrivals
Bill Hader attends the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. Pascal Le Segretain—Getty Images

The Saturday Night Live veteran moves to premium cable

Bill Hader has signed on with HBO to create and star in a new comedy series, Deadline reports.

The Saturday Night Live alum is best known for characters like the club expert Stefon on the sketch comedy show, but he has also written for the Emmy-winning South Park and played supporting roles in comedy films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Superbad.

Hader’s series will join a robust lineup of comedies currently offered by the premium cable channel including Girls, Veep and Silicon Valley.

The actor/comedian left SNL in 2013 after eight seasons on the show when he and his wife decided to move to Los Angeles so that she could direct The To Do List (in which Hader also starred). Since he left, he has starred in the Sundance Film Festival breakout drama The Skeleton Twins opposite another SNL alum, Kristin Wiig. He’s also in production for the Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer movie Trainwreck.

[Deadline]

TIME Environment

How I Almost Got to Decide the Next XPRIZE

XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis
XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis takes the stage at Visioneering Donald Norris for XPRIZE

Some of the smartest and most influential people gathered in outside L.A. this weekend to brainstorm the next great innovation contest

Pro-tip: if you’re trying to pitch a winning concept for an XPRIZE contest, get NY1 news anchor Pat Kiernan on your team. I’m pretty sure Kiernan’s presence — and his smooth, TV-honed baritone on stage — was the main reason why the idea designed by Pat, myself and TIME’s Siobhan O’Connor made it to the finals here at XPRIZE Visioneering. We didn’t win — in what I would describe as grand larceny, we lost out to a contest focused around developing forbidden sources of energy. But for three journalists with pretty much zero experience in the digital innovation field, I’d say we did pretty well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was in sunny Palos Verdes in southern California for XPRIZE Visioneering. It’s a now annual summit that brings together some of the smartest and most influential people in the world — and a few journalists like myself — to brainstorm what could become the next multi-million dollar XPRIZE concept. XPRIZE was founded in 1995 by the engineer, entrepreneur and relentlessly positive futurist Peter Diamandis, to incubate prize-driven contests meant to inspire innovation. The first XPRIZE is still the most famous — the Ansari XPRIZE, which offered $10 million to the first privately-financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 62 miles (100 km) into space twice within two weeks.

It took 26 teams investing more than $100 million dollars for eight years before the prize was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which completed their flights in the custom-built SpaceShipOne. Private space travel was a dream before Diamandis established the XPRIZE — today, the industry is worth more than $2 billion, as entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and his SpaceX company successfully put satellites in orbit without NASA’s help. “It used to be only governments and big companies that could play on a scale like this,” Diamandis has told me before. “But times have changed and accelerated in the direction where agents of change are small entrepreneurs who are enabled by new technologies to do extraordinary things.”

As you might be able to tell from the buzzwords, XPRIZE is extremely Silicon Valley. The contests the foundation has formulated unleash digitally-empowered entrepreneurs on some of the very problems where the government has failed, like ocean health and oil spills. Diamandis himself isn’t shy about the scale of his ambitions. “This is where we imagine the future and create the future,” he told the audience at the opening of the Visioneering conference. “We’re living in a world where you can solve ideas and not just complain about them.” It’s a vision where doing good also means doing well, where an intractable problem like child poverty isn’t a failure of global will, but a market failure. Those who can innovate successful solutions won’t just help the world, they’ll be helping themselves — starting with the multi-million dollar checks that come with an XPRIZE win.

But such contests actually aren’t new. Before centralized government and corporate R&D boomed in the post-WWII era, one of the best ways to encourage innovation was through a prize contest. Some group or person — the government or an individual tycoon — would set out a challenge with a cash reward. The British government did this back in 1714 with the Longitude Prize, to be awarded to the first person who could develop a way for a seagoing ship to measure longitude. The prize was won not by a navigator or ship’s captain — the class of experts who had been trying and failing to discover a solution — but by a clock maker named John Harrison. The 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927 in order to win a contest established by a hotelier named Raymond Orteig. (It was the Orteig Prize that directly inspired the Ansari XPRIZE for space travel.) Lindbergh took home the $25,o00 winnings — and everlasting global fame — but more importantly, the prize kicked off global air travel, seeding an industry of vastly greater value. “Within 18 months of the contest, air passenger traffic had gone up 30 times,” says Chris Frangione, the vice president of prize development at XPRIZE. “This is why prizes are so powerful — they leverage resources.”

The point of the Visioneering conference was to brainstorm the next contest. No one thought small. Bill Gross, the CEO of Idealab, urged the audience to try to solve Beijing’s killer air pollution problem. Shaifali Puri, the executive director for global innovation at Nike, told us to aim for a “moon shot for girls,” to find a way to ensure that tens of millions of girls around the world received the education and protection they needed to flourish. Ratan Tata, one of India’s richest men, said we should focus on the malnutrition and housing woes that still hold back the developing world. “It’s not just tech and it’s not just start-up companies,” he said. “It’s making a difference for disadvantaged people.”

To do that, we needed ideas, and we slotted ourselves into different tracks for brainstorm sessions. I took the future of cities on the first day, where New York University’s Paul Romer, who told us that “cities are where the action is.” We were broken into groups and asked to devise, bit by bit, a new contest that could produce an innovation that would improve life in cities, for the poor and for the rich. Once we’d completed that task — a process that used a lot of Post-It notes and whiteboard space — we pitched our ideas to the larger group, and voted on which one would move to the next stage. I should have known that my group’s idea — loosely centered around finding a way to provide infinite water to urban households — might be in trouble when we began debating whether to play Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during the pitch. (Our title: “What a Watterful World.” I know.) We did not advance.

But that experience was useful for the next day’s session, on disaster prediction and response. The seismologist Lucy Jones — whom Los Angeles residents know as the “Earthquake Lady” for her ubiquity on TV every time a temblor strikes Southern California — told us the unsettling fact that the next big quake that strikes the San Andreas Fault could essentially cut off water to L.A. for months. We were broken into groups again, and tasked with designing a contest that would help cities prepare and bounce back from the next big natural disaster.

I roped in Siobhan, who had come to Visioneering as my guest, and NY1’s Kiernan, who had also come as a guest and who had only landed in L.A. that morning. None of us were disaster experts, unless you can count living through Superstorm Sandy in New York City. But between the three of us — though sleep-deprived and inexperienced — we managed to come up with a pretty decent idea. We’d called it Web in a Box: to win our proposed contest, a team would have to design a piece of technology capable of providing backup internet service on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis in the event of a sustained blackout following a disaster. Our rationale was that the Internet is now the most important communication hub we have, as vital a resource in the aftermath of disaster as food and water — and not just because you can’t tweet about a disaster if you can’t get online.

We honed our pitch and made it through the initial stages, where the entire Visioneering conference is brought together to vote on different ideas. We were even one of the five pitches that went up against each other in the finals on Saturday night—but no fault of Pat’s, we eventually went down in defeat, as the entire conference cast their votes in what felt a bit like a high school election contested by very rich and powerful people. The winner was a contest that offered $20 million to anyone who could prove an effective, entirely new form of energy. Ambitious, but I still say we were robbed. (We also came out behind a contest that offered prize money to develop a water cleaning system capable of filtering out the microscopic amounts of prescription drugs that are now found in our drinking water. This pitch memorably featured the actress Patricia Arquette asking the audience if they’d taken Viagra that day.)

The winning Visioneering idea won’t automatically become the subject of the next contest, but it will get automatic consideration by the foundation’s board as they decide the subject of the next XPRIZE. The winners also received a trophy created by a 3D printer, which might be the most XPRIZE thing that happened all weekend. We live in a strange age where we seem beset by enormous problems that seem to have no realistic solution: climate change, global inequality, the Alzheimer’s epidemic. As a society, we seem helpless in the face of those ills, gridlocked before looming catastrophe. Sometimes it’s hard to share Diamandis’s relentless optimism. And yet, he’s not wrong: the spread of information technology and education has made it possible as never before for anyone to put forward their solutions — and to be heard. “There is no problem that can’t be solved,” Diamandis said at the close of the conference. “We are heading towards an extraordinary world.” That’s a prize we can all share.

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