Browsing Tag: interesting

    Why the UK Runs Trains to Nowhere
    Articles, Blog

    Why the UK Runs Trains to Nowhere

    September 6, 2019


    This video was made possible by Squarespace. Build your website for 10% off at
    squarespace.com/HAI. This train should not exist, and, if were
    up to the train company, it wouldn’t, but it’s not. You see, in the UK, trains work off a franchising
    system where the UK government awards contracts to different private companies to
    operate rail services. For example Virgin Trains East
    Coast operate the east coast route, ScotRail operates most trains in Scotland, TransPennine
    express operates many trains to and from Manchester, and there are about two dozen other
    operators, but this particular train that shouldn’t exist is operated by Chiltern
    Railways. They
    mostly operate trains to smaller towns between London and Birmingham and all of their trains
    to London terminate at Marylebone station…
    except for one—this one. This particular train
    operates from the nearby London Paddington station—the terminus for Great Western and
    Heathrow Express services. But Chiltern railways has to operate services
    to London Paddington because this document says so—their franchise
    agreement. This document is basically the
    contract between the railway company and the UK government so to modify this document they
    have to ask the government and, as we all know, sometimes governments aren’t very
    efficient. So here’s your super simple guide to closing
    a railway route in Britain. Step one: perform
    a “transport appraisal.” This is basically an analysis of the effects
    that the line closure will have on passengers, the environment, and the economy. The strait-forward three stage fourteen step
    process of creating a transport appraisal is explained in this handy 35 page document
    featuring this super user-friendly flowchart. Once you’ve completed that, just give it
    to the UK Department of Transport who will analyze your
    analysis. Step two: publish your proposal of
    closure including the findings of your transport appraisal six months before the proposed closure
    in one local newspaper circulating near the proposed closure and in two national newspapers
    for two weeks continuously. Step three: open a twelve-week consultation
    period including public hearings where anyone who disagrees with the
    closure can protest. Once you’ve completed those
    three easy steps, then you’ll hand everything over to the Office of Rail and Road who will
    decide whether or not you can close the line. As you might have been able to tell from my
    not-at-all-sarcastic explanation, it’s not easy
    to close a franchised rail route, but nowhere in the agreement does it say how often Chiltern
    Railways has to operate their route to Paddington—it just says they need to. So they operate it…
    once per day. Now compared to the US where cities as big
    as Houston, Texas only see three trains a week and have stations that look
    like this, a daily service from Paddington probably
    seems normal, but the station this service goes to, High Wycombe, sees 95 trains a day
    from the normal London station—Marylebone. One train per day is nothing for a UK train
    route, especially from London. Chiltern Railways, like many other train companies,
    have decided it’s just easier and cheaper to operate an infrequent
    service to fulfill their franchise agreement instead
    of going through the rather expensive formal closure process. But some rail companies have pushed the boundaries
    of what is considered “service” to an extreme. Northern’s franchise agreement requires
    them to operate a train between Stockport and Stalybridge which they fulfill by running
    one train, one-way, once per week. Between
    Stockport and Stalybridge there are two stations which are therefore serviced by one train
    per week. Closing stations is just as difficult as closing
    lines so they won’t do it. Denton station
    therefore recorded only 144 passengers in the past year while Reddish South saw just
    94. Thirty
    miles to the north, London Midland is required to operate services to Barlaston Railway Station,
    but companies are allowed to temporarily operate rail replacement buses during maintenance. This company, however, has interpreted “temporary”
    as 13 years as they’ve operated rail replacement busses to this station since 2004
    to fulfill their obligation. The Chiltern Railways service from London
    Paddington to High Wycombe is definitively unprofitable. On many days there are zero passengers. On the day this footage was filmed, there
    was only one. This bureaucratic closure process is meant
    to protect the public by preventing companies from closing unprofitable smaller
    stations, but in reality most of what is does is make
    these ghost trains. If you’ve just realized “ghost train”
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    The Fake Neighborhoods on Google Maps
    Articles, Blog

    The Fake Neighborhoods on Google Maps

    August 28, 2019


    This video was made possible by Brilliant. Start learning with Brilliant for 20% off
    by being one of the first 200 to sign up at brilliant.org/HAI. If you’re from San Francisco there’s a
    few things you’ve probably never heard of: toast without avocados, three figure rent,
    republicans, and the East Cut neighborhood. If you go on Google Maps though and search
    for East Cut it’ll tell you that’s this neighborhood between Market Street and the
    Bay Bridge even though, before a year ago, nobody had even tried to call this area the
    East Cut. Nowadays, however, the “East Cut” name
    is seeping into the real world all thanks to the world’s benevolent dictator—Google. Now of course Google is amazing and lovely
    and I don’t mean to be critical at all of such a fantastic organization but they do
    have a certain amount of power over, well, everything. More than half of the world’s smartphone
    users have used Google Maps in the past month and, considering that there are 2.5 billion
    smartphone users in the world, that’s a lot. Google Maps is the most popular mapping service
    in the world and that means that when someone wants to figure out what something is, they
    check Google Maps. Quite bafflingly, the benevolent dictator
    almost almost started a war in 2010. You see, where Nicaragua and Costa Rica meet
    on the Atlantic Ocean Nicaragua believes the border to be this while Costa Rica believes
    it to be this. In 2010 a Nicaraguan military troop was sent
    to the area to do dredging work on the San Juan River. While there, though, the troop just happened
    to meander onto Calero Island which, as far as Costa Rica was concerned, was Costa Rica. Now, having a foreign military strut into
    your country with no prior warning doesn’t look great. It looks a whole lot like an invasion so Costa
    Rica, being, interestingly, the most populous country in the world without a military, sent
    70 police officers to make sure that this wasn’t the beginning of the Nicaraguan annexation
    of Costa Rica. In response, Nicaragua sent an additional
    50 troops and the two parties sort of just had a stand off while the two country’s
    leaders had a discussion. As it turned out, the few dozen troops that
    entered Costa Rica had no intentions to singlehandedly overthrow a country of five million. Their commander was just using Google Maps
    to navigate which showed the border as this. Costa Rica then went to the International
    Court of Justice, and complained and then, after years of back and forth, the court ruled
    that this area was in fact Costa Rica and so now Google Maps shows it as Costa Rica
    and Nicaragua lays off the invasions. Unfortunately Apple missed the opportunity
    to create a great Apple Maps ad. Google Maps does try more or less to follow
    what people say places are but sometimes some people disagree on what a thing is. For example, some say New Zealand, other say
    “where?” Some say Machias Seal Island is part of Canada,
    other say it’s part of the US so if you search it on Google it won’t tell you which
    country it is like it does for the rest of the US or Canada. It’ll do the same if you look at a town
    in Western Sahara, Kashmir, the South China Sea, or any other disputed territory. But perhaps the biggest issue for Google Maps
    is what to call neighborhoods. You see, in most cases, neighborhood names
    aren’t official—they’re just decided through what people colloquially call places. People just refer to this area in San Francisco
    as Russian Hill or this area Telegraph Hill, this area Jackson Hill, and at least a few
    people call this area the East Cut. In 2015, you see, an organization was founded
    to improve what was then called Rincon Hill. For some inexplicable reason they decided
    they needed a rebranding and they settled on the neighborhood name “the East Cut.” They updated street signs and their website
    and everything but still, when asked, the mayor of San Francisco said he had never heard
    of the neighborhood. Lucky for the East Cut organization, one of
    their board members just happened to work at Google, whose offices are in the East Cut,
    and, according to the New York Times in an article about this debacle, was able to persuade
    the company to switch the name which is the most San Francisco story ever. Some neighborhood names on Google Maps are
    even more baffling, though. In Detroit Google Maps refers to this area
    as “the Eye” even though really nobody has ever referred to this area by that name. A blogger did some detective work and was
    able to figure out that Google Maps copied the neighborhood names from a map that some
    random website published in 2003. Google Maps even copied the misspellings from
    that map. As it turns out, “the Eye” was the name
    of a community watch organization in the area so there were signs around the area saying
    “the Eye” and somewhere along the line someone got confused and assumed it was the
    neighborhood name. Still today that name shows up on Google Maps
    and, if you really want, you can search and buy real estate in the prestigious Eye neighborhood. In true Detroit fashion, houses start at $8,000. Nobody’s really sure exactly how Google
    determines neighborhood names but, once they do, that name essentially becomes official. According to Google Maps Machias Seal island
    is both Canada and the US at the same time but you know what’s also two things at once—Quantum
    objects since, thanks to Quantum superposition, these particles can be in two or more quantum
    states at the same time. This is what Schrodinger’s Cat is about—it’s
    like if a cat was both dead and alive at the same time. Quantum mechanics is like magic that’s happening
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    How Airlines Price Flights
    Articles, Blog

    How Airlines Price Flights

    August 27, 2019


    This video was made possible by Blue Apron. Get three free meals from Blue Apron by being
    one of the first 100 people to sign up at the link below. Airline ticket pricing probably seems like
    a crapshoot. The numbers change seemingly arbitrarily every
    week, day, or hour, but there’s some real science behind these prices. People spend their whole lives figuring out
    what to charge you to fly. Let’s take a look at one flight on one route
    by one airline to understand. American Flight 33 leaves New York’s JFK
    airport every day at 7 AM bound for Los Angeles arriving at 10:51 AM pacific time. This transcontinental route is one of the
    most competitive in the world with over 3.5 million yearly passengers and five major airlines
    connecting the country’s two largest cities. There’s nowhere where pricing strategies
    are more important for airlines than here. Looking at three months of fares for this
    flight, there are eight distinct prices for economy ranging from $129 to $472. These all get you on the exact same flight
    in the exact same seat but each and every price has a purpose and place. The lowest price, $129, is the most competitive
    price. This fare only shows up three times in our
    three month span—each time on Tuesdays. Now, Tuesdays are very often the cheapest
    days of the week to fly. Business travelers tend to make up much of
    the demand during the week and they most often want to fly out on Monday and return on Thursday
    or Friday so Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays tend to be the most expensive travel days
    while Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often the cheapest. The average ticket price for this flight shows
    this—Tuesdays average $182 and Wednesdays $173. Even if the demand is lower American Airlines
    runs the flight anyways and they have to fill seats to break even so they sell the flight
    at rock-bottom prices. The next price, $144, actually demonstrates
    a very interesting phenomenon. Whenever American prices their flight at $144,
    they are not alone. Take March 6th for example. American, Delta, Virgin America, JetBlue,
    and United all have flights from New York to LA at around 7 in the morning selling for
    $144. They’re doing what is called price matching. Because this is one of the most competitive
    routes in the world and because the number one determinant for travelers on which airline
    they take is price, all five airlines flying this route match each others prices. This way, travelers make their decision based
    off the reputation of each airline rather than the price. The price stays at $144 because it’s in
    each airlines best interest to keep it there. In a normal market, if Delta, for example,
    dropped their price to $119 they would get more travelers since they were the cheapest,
    but in this price matched market all the other airlines would drop their prices as soon as
    Delta drops theirs so all of them would get the same amount of travelers as before while
    earning less money, but there are some cases where it can make business sense for airlines
    to drop prices to below even being profitable. Around the year 2000, WestJet and the now
    defunct CanJet airlines started flying from central Canada to Newfoundland. These routes were historically operated exclusively
    by Air Canada and they were expensive. A one-way flight from Montreal in 1999 cost
    over $600, but when the budget airlines WestJet and CanJet started flying the route, prices
    dropped dramatically and Air Canada was threatened, so they dropped their prices even lower. The $600 Air Canada fares then cost $89. Now, it wouldn’t make sense for anyone to
    fly a budget airline over Air Canada at the same price so WestJet and CanJet were almost
    driven out of business on these routes, until Canada’s Competition Bureau stepped in. They concluded that Air Canada was engaging
    in the uncompetitive action of predatory pricing since they were pricing flights below what
    it cost to operate them, so they were forced to stop. Airlines in the US, with some newly strong
    budget competitors, are engaging in similar actions nowadays. United airlines, for example, is matching
    Frontier’s $40 fares on many days from Denver to Chicago, among other routes, in order to
    maintain their market stronghold in Denver and Chicago even though their cost to operate
    the route is drastically higher than Frontier so they are almost certainly loosing money
    on those fares. But back to the New York to LA route. $159 is the lowest regular fare for this flight. The $129 and $144 price points were both basic
    economy fares—the most restrictive type with no seat selection, no carry on bags,
    and no changes or refunds. Every flight has a bunch of different booking
    classes each with a fare code. For example, the basic economy fare code for
    the $129 and $144 price is B, but the $159 price books into fare code N. These different
    booking classes are sometimes known are fare buckets. Essentially the airline decides it’s going
    to sell a certain number of tickets at the $159 price with fare code N, let’s say 10,
    then when those ten tickets are sold the airline then sells economy at fare code G for $204
    then when those are sold it sells economy at fare code V for $269 then fare code L for
    $318 and so on and so forth. There are also some cases where a ticket will
    default to a more expensive fare bucket because of reasons other than the lower fare selling
    out. Many fares, including each mentioned so far,
    have advance purchase requirements meaning that, even if a flight is not full at all,
    the price will increase closer to departure. All the fares below $204 have an advance purchase
    requirement of two weeks meaning that you can only purchase them more than two weeks
    before departure while the $269 fare, for example, has an advance purchase requirement
    of only one week. Although, the cheapest fare without an advance
    purchase requirement at all, that is, the cheapest fare that you could buy day-of for
    this flight is fare class K at $472 which happens to be the most expensive economy class
    fare. And now for some caveats. Not every fare for this flight is going to
    be priced at one of these eight prices. Airlines have mechanisms to adjust fares from
    these buckets. In the short-term, they can adjust things
    like the fuel surcharge to raise the price if other factors, like oil prices, increase. In the long term they can adjust the actual
    prices of the different fare buckets. Airline often increase the base fares for
    busy seasons like summer. American Airlines does exactly that on this
    New York to LA route where their fare class M, for example, increases from $357 to $410
    in August. But so far we’ve looked at this at a micro
    level—how prices differ on one flight—but we also have to consider the macro level. Why if you leave on Tuesday February 6th and
    fly 2,469 miles to the west to LA do you pay $129 while if you fly 3,442 miles to the east
    to London—only a thousand miles further than LA—you pay $2,772. Well, the second figure is a bit deceptive
    because that’s the price of a one-way ticket. If you switch the LA flight to a round-trip
    ticket returning a week later it will cost $257—exactly double—while if you turn
    the London flight into a round-trip returning a week later the price will drop to $602—almost
    five times less. This is understandably confusing—a one-way
    ticket that costs more than a roundtrip—but the reason this is goes back to the fare codes. Embedded within each fare code are a bunch
    of little restrictions that dictate when you can use that fare. On the New York to LA trip those restrictions
    are just things like blackout dates for the fare and advance purchase requirements, but
    the New York to London ticket has loads more restrictions and the ones that make one-ways
    more expensive than round-trips are the minimum stay requirements. These requirements dictate how soon your return
    flight can be in order to get a particular fare. The idea is to price discriminate—business
    travelers should pay more because they can pay more. Meanwhile, airlines try to give the lowest
    prices to leisure travelers since they’re the ones paying for their own tickets and
    therefore they’re the ones that are the most price sensitive. Business travelers often want to be home for
    the weekend, so many of these minimum stay requirements, like with fares Q, N, and S,
    just require a Sunday at your destination. Others, trying to accomplish the same thing,
    require seven days, a full week, which would also require a traveller to stay the weekend
    at their destination. Now as the prices go up the requirements go
    down so once you get to paying around $2000 you can stay for as few as three days, but
    the cheapest roundtrip base airfare with no stay requirement at all is $5,544 in fare
    class Y—exactly double the one way price. So that explains this—the one way ticket
    is so expensive because, since the airline doesn’t know how long the traveller will
    stay at their destination the one-way fare has to be booked into the least restrictive
    fare class without the minimum stay requirement. You’ll see this idea of price discrimination
    all over ticketing structures. It’s a genius pricing concept that allows
    different people to buy products at the prices they can afford and therefore its allows businesses
    to sell the same product to more people. Tickets increase in price closer to departure
    because leisure travelers buy tickets far-out and business travelers buy their tickets close
    to departure and flexible tickets are more expensive because that’s what business travelers
    need, but there’s another pricing difference going on that’s less fair—between routes. It’s all about competition. Different routes of the same distance cost
    different amounts generally not because they cost different amounts to operate, but because
    of how much the competitors are charging. This is part of why flights into small airports
    are so expensive—because they lack competition. You can fly the 240 miles from Detroit to
    Pellston, Michigan on a CRJ 200 for $242 or you can fly the 170 miles from Detroit to
    South Bend, Indiana on a CRJ 200 for $76. The only difference is that South Bend Airport
    has flights from United, Delta, and Allegiant while Pellston only has flights from Delta. The same phenomenon happens over the Atlantic. There’s more competition on the six hour
    flight from New York to LA than on the six hour flight from New York to Dublin so you
    can fly to LA for $250 round trip while Dublin costs $500 round trip. Of course, travelers from New York to LA can
    drive, take the bus, take the train, or take a flight connecting halfway there while travelers
    to Dublin only have one choice—to fly. In all, the truth is that prices reflect what
    people will pay and so people will pay what flights are priced. If you’re a busy person like me, you know
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    Why Cities Are Where They Are
    Articles, Blog

    Why Cities Are Where They Are

    August 27, 2019


    This is a Wendover Productions video made
    possible by Squarespace. Make your next move with a beautiful website
    from Squarespace. The Cumberland valley is home to six towns
    lying between Hagerstown, Maryland and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania— Greencastle, Chambersburg,
    Shippensburg, Newville, Carlisle, and Mecanicsburg. What’s exceptional about these small Pennsylvania
    towns is that they’re each almost exactly 10 miles from each other. The distances deviate by no more than a mile
    from this rule. This isn’t a coincidence and this isn’t
    planned. Drawing equal sized radii around each town
    shows you their spheres of influence. Assuming each town has the exact same shops
    and services, rational people will just go to whichever town is closest to buy or sell
    goods. Towns ten miles apart mean that nobody has
    to travel more than five miles to reach a town. Each one of these towns was founded before
    the formation of the United States, so that means that, of course, nobody had cars and
    pretty much everybody walked everywhere. 10 miles, or 5 miles each way, is about the
    distance a person can comfortably walk in a day with enough time to buy or sell goods
    at a central market. Back in this era before cars, a 5 mile radius
    was essentially the largest possible commuter zone to small agricultural towns and therefore
    having towns ten miles apart was the most efficient possible use of rural land. When you get a chance, take a look at map
    of a rural area that existed before cars. You’ll see that the distance between medium-sized
    towns is almost always somewhere between about 10 to 15 miles. Because the Cumberland valley is a valley,
    towns really could only develop in a line, but in most cases towns develop in all directions. This is what the ten mile rule looks like
    going out in all directions. Each of these points is a town and the hexagon
    around it is the area from which people will go to the town. In the real world, each of these towns probably
    has a small grocery store, a pharmacy, a bank, and maybe a restaurant. Since everybody uses these services, there
    doesn’t have to be many people in a towns sphere of influence in order to sustain these
    shops. But where do you put something more specialized,
    like a mechanic. People only need to go the mechanic every
    once in a while so you need more people to sustain one mechanics shop than one grocery
    store. Well, some of these small towns develop into
    larger towns with more people that can support more specialized shops and services. Putting these larger towns with more specialized
    shops closer together would be unsustainable since there wouldn’t be enough people going
    to those shops but putting them farther apart would be inefficient since there’s land
    that people would not go to a city from. This happens once or twice more until you
    have cities. These cities have the largest spheres of influence
    and the most specialized shops. You of course still have grocery stores and
    pharmacies in cities, but you also have things like luxury car dealerships, brain surgery
    centers, and airports. The city’s sphere of influence is enormous
    because people will travel hundreds of miles to buy an expensive car or get brain surgery
    or fly from an airport. Think about it within a city. How far would you walk to buy a latte. Probably only a few blocks and that’s why
    you see Starbucks or other coffee shops on almost every block. Since almost everyone buys coffee, you only
    need a few blocks of people to sustain one coffee shop. But how far would you walk to buy a MacBook? Probably quite far since its a infrequent
    and substantial purchase. That’s why Apple stores are rather rare
    even in cities. You need an enormous amount of people to sustain
    one Apple store and we can actually figure out roughly how many. In Connecticut, the Trumbull Apple Store is
    about 20 miles away from the New Haven store to the north-east and the Stamford store to
    the south-west. In the 10 mile radius around the Trumbull
    Apple Store there are about half a million inhabitants which tells us that you need about
    half a million people to sustain one Apple store. We can compare that to the Starbucks’ of
    lower Manhattan which are spread out at an average distance of about 600 feet. Drawing a 300 foot radius around one Starbucks
    in lower Manhattan covers around 6,000 people which means that one Starbucks needs 6,000
    people to sustain it. Of course both Connecticut and New York are
    places with higher than average incomes which means less people are needed to sustain one
    Starbucks or Apple Store. The numbers would be very different in, say,
    rural Kansas, but since each store generally only builds in areas with higher-than-average
    incomes this gives a good sense of how many people Apple and Starbucks looks for in an
    area before opening up a store. So, our model shows where cities should be,
    but its not like this in reality. This is the most efficient spread of cities
    if you’re assuming that the cities are on a perfectly flat plane with no geographic
    features, no social influences, no variability of income, equal distribution of resources—essentially
    assuming the world is one homogeneous place… which its not. In reality, of course, our world has an enormous
    effect on where and why cities develop. To start out, let’s cut this down to one
    city on a flat, featureless plane for simplicity. What affects the location of cities more than
    anything is water. If we put an ocean on one side of our isotropic
    plane, our city will almost certainly locate near it. Oceans have always been and still are what
    connects the world. There’s no other means of transport that
    can move such enormous amounts of cargo for so little. Any city needs to be economically efficient
    to grow and it will cost more to bring goods to a city that’s 1000 miles inland than
    one right by the ocean. Just look at Europe. 6 of the 10 largest European cities are within
    100 miles of the coast. But oceans aren’t the only bodies of water
    to affect cities. Rivers are just as or perhaps even more influential. Milan, the 19th largest European city, is
    the largest to not be either directly on the ocean or on a river, and even then its only
    15 miles from a river and 75 miles from the ocean. Until the last century or so, cities could
    not survive without direct water access. If you need more proof, 14 of the 15 largest
    cities in the world are within a few dozen miles of the ocean. Perhaps the most obvious attractor for cities
    is resources, so going back to our isotropic plane, putting natural resources anywhere
    on this map will draw cities near it. Cities that existed before the last century
    or so generally sprung up right near the resources, much like Pittsburgh, since they acted as
    manufacturing and transportation hubs for those resources, but more recently new resource
    dependent cities don’t need to be as close to the resources themselves. New transportation technologies can bring
    the resources from their source. Just look at Dubai. Of course the UAE has enormous oil deposits,
    but they’re much closer to Abu Dhabi and the South-West than Dubai. In 1900, Dubai had 10,000 residents, less
    than half that of Carlisle, Pennsylvania—one of the farming towns we talked about at the
    beginning. That only grew to 40,000 by 1960, but today
    its known worldwide and has more than 2.5 million residents. It was able to grow at this enormous rate—even
    faster than Abu Dhabi—since it cemented itself as the economic and administrative
    hub for the oil industries of the region. Another geographic feature that we can add
    to the plane is mountains. Now, mountains don’t always have a uniform
    affect on cities. Mexico City, Bogota, and Addis Ababa are all
    enormous cities at elevations above 7,000 feet. Mountains do make transport and trade difficult,
    but they also provide protection. Many ancient cities grew in these locations
    since they were easy to protect, which left more time to focus on growing the city, but
    mountains can also hinder development. For quite a while, the United States could
    not develop west of the Appalachian mountains. They just served as an enormous barrier. In 1800, the average center of population
    for the entire United States was here even though the US had sovereignty over this entire
    area. Of course technology eventually conquered
    this barrier and moved the mean population center all the way out to Missouri today,
    but if the Appalachian mountains didn’t exist American history and geography would
    be completely different. We would have seen urban development much
    earlier in the mid-west. But mountains can have another effect. You see, coal, silver, gold, and other mineral
    deposits are all often located in mountainous regions, and, just like Dubai, cities can
    develop in less hospitable and easy places due to resources. The economic advantage of exploiting the resources
    overpowers the economic disadvantage of being in an inhospitable location. Denver, Colorado grew 650% between 1870 and
    1880 with the opening of a railroad branch connecting with the transcontinental railroad. It served as an access point to transportation
    to the gold miners in the rockies. So mountains can either push cities away or
    bring them nearer—it really just depends on the circumstance. Let’s exchange our isotropic plane for a
    world map. Where should cities be on here? Well, our world’s cities are not necessarily
    all in the most geographically efficient locations. While there is a certain level of natural
    selection that grows the efficiently placed cities and shrinks the inefficiently placed
    cities, humans are not always able to put cities in the most efficient locations. Let’s put up the 224 cities in the world
    with a population over 2 million. You can immediately see some patterns. Putting up the equator, you can see a clear
    divide. Only 32 of these cities lie in the southern
    hemisphere. One might think this is because there is so
    much more land in the northern hemisphere, but that’s not entirely true. You see, the southern hemisphere still has
    32% of the world’s land, but only has 14% of the world’s large cities. There’s clearly a higher density of cities
    in the northern hemisphere. You can pretty much trace this all back to
    Europe and Asia. The first large civilizations and empires
    were on these two continents even though the human race likely originated in Africa. There’s hundreds of different theories on
    why civilizations succeeded in some places and failed in others, but one of the more
    plausible and interesting theories is that Europe and Asia succeeded because they’re
    wide instead of tall. The very shape of the continents may have
    changed the course of human history. You see, when a continent is wide, you have
    a ton of land with roughly the same climate. Climate tends to change when you go north
    and south rather than east and west as a nature of how the earth rotates around the sun. Much of the success of early civilizations
    had to do with the domestication of plants and animals and the corresponding technology. When expanding horizontally, the climate is
    similar enough that an empire can use the same successful plants and animals, while
    expanding vertically requires the domestication of new plants and animals. If a civilization started in central-america,
    for example, there would be very little land on the continent with a similar climate and
    their expansion would be severely limited. In Europe and Asia, on the other hand, theres
    thousands upon thousands and miles of similar climate that can be reached just by traveling
    east or west. There’s evidence to back this up. Just look at the maps of the four largest
    early empires—the Qing Dynasty, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Umayyad Caliphate, and the
    Mongol empire. They were all in Eurasia and they all expanded
    horizontally. When some of the more modern empires expanded,
    they had the technology to do so overseas. The three major modern empires were the British,
    Spanish, and French empires—each of which came from relatively similar climates. A major reason why America was able to succeed
    is because all the agriculture from Europe worked there. Climatically, Europe and America are nearly
    identical. The majority of developed colonized countries
    are in the northern hemisphere just because they were closest to Europe, but formerly
    British countries like South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are all highly developed and
    in the Southern Hemisphere. Their success over more northern countries
    in the southern hemisphere can also be partially attributed to their greater climate similarity
    to Europe. Let’s ask one more question. If our world only had one city, where would
    it logically be? Well if you take the location of every person
    in the world and average it out, you come to south-central Asia. That means that this general region is the
    optimum place to live on the planet, but where more specifically should our world city go. Well, this region is already in the Northern
    Hemisphere and in Eurasia, so we’ve already covered those two criteria. We want a place within a hundred of so miles
    of the ocean, on a navigable river, near mountains with rich mineral deposits—the single best
    place for a city on earth just might be… Dhaka, Bangladesh. Every geographic model and theory says that
    there is no better place on earth to put a city than here. There’s evidence to back this up: Dhaka
    is between the 4th and 18th largest metropolitan area on earth depending on how you define
    metropolitan area, and Bangladesh is the sixth densest country on earth—there are 161 million
    people living in an area about the size of England. History has affected geography enough that
    the largest and most advanced civilizations are not all in South-Central Asia, but if
    we started all over again, did humanity a second time, every geographic model says that
    this region could be the origin and central point of human civilization. I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Productions
    video. This video was made possible by my amazing,
    brand new sponsor, Squarespace. Squarespace is an all-in-one platform to make
    your beautiful, professional website. Months before Squarespace signed on to sponsor
    Wendover Productions, I used them to make my website—WendoverProductions.com. Now, I wasn’t looking for anything fancy. I just wanted to make sure that nobody else
    got their hands on the WendoverProductions.com domain and also to create a great-looking
    landing page. This way, I can give people one link that
    goes to all my different social accounts. I know that most of you guys are smart, upstart,
    entrepreneurial people that want to make your mark and what’s so much more professional
    than a LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook account is a standalone website and its cheaper than
    you’d think, especially because if you sign up using the link squarespace.com/wendover
    and use the code “Wendover” in your order, you’ll get 10% off. This is hopefully the beginning of a long
    and prosperous relationship between Wendover Productions and Squarespace. They’re really committed to helping independent
    creators like me and perhaps you make great things, so definitley take a look at what
    they have to offer and make your next move with Squarespace. You can support Wendover Productions by contributing
    on Patreon where 100% of the funds go right back into the channel. I even release expense reports at the end
    of each month. You can also get great rewards over there
    like early access to videos, stickers, hand-written letters, and most recently, t-shirts. You can also order a t-shirt by itself for
    only $20 through DFTBA. The link is here and also in the description. Other than that, please make sure to follow
    me on Twitter @WendoverPro, watch my last video on Every Country in the World here,
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    you in two weeks for another Wendover Productions video.

    The Time China Had a 12 Day Long Traffic Jam
    Articles, Blog

    The Time China Had a 12 Day Long Traffic Jam

    August 25, 2019


    This video was made possible by Brilliant. Learn intuitively with Brilliant for 20% off
    by being one of the first 200 to sign up at brilliant.org/HAI. If something’s crammed, communist, and a
    country it’s probably China. China used to look like this but now it looks
    like this. The country’s grown enormously in the past
    few decades both in population and wealth. Now, of course global warming isn’t real
    and the earth is flat, but in a world where global warming was real and the earth was
    some other shape, the best thing you could do to combat turning Minneapolis into Miami
    would be to be poor. The poorest half of the world’s population
    only contributes 10% of all carbon emissions. This does make sense as the richest .01% of
    the world eat their imported truffled wagyu filets on their private jets traveling to
    Ibiza for the day while the poorest .01% eat their meals by, well, not but the bigger factor
    is what happens as people get into the upper 10 or 20 or 30% of world wealth. China, for example, was poor but now it’s
    somewhat rich which means that its population now eats things like hamburgers which, no
    joke, are slowly killing the environment as cows fart huge amounts of methane which is
    a greenhouse gas. More importantly, though, more and more people
    in China own cars. There are now 217 million cars on Chinese
    roads which, considering there were only 59 million ten years ago, is a lot. That means that in ten years, China has essentially
    had to triple the capacity of its roads which is basically impossible. Hence, traffic. Now, this is one of China’s busiest roads—National
    Highway 110. This highway connects inner Mongolia, the
    part of Mongolia that’s in China, to Beijing, the capital. G110 didn’t, however, used to be so busy. What happens when your country transforms
    from being mostly composed of poor rural farmers to relatively rich urban populations is that
    suddenly you need energy to power everything. See, here’s a graph that says a thing! China didn’t really go for that hippy wind
    or solar energy, they went for coal. 70% of their overall energy need is fulfilled
    by this rock. Of course this isn’t sustainable long term
    as coal isn’t a renewable resource like wind or Batman reboots but for now, it’s
    a cheap and easy source of energy. That’s helped by the fact that China has
    about 13% of the world’s coal in its ground while Mongolia, China’s neighbor, has about
    10%. A good amount of China’s coal is in inner
    Mongolia, the region, and they also import plenty of coal from Mongolia, the country. What China doesn’t have, though, is coal
    transportation infrastructure… or YouTube, a free press, a market economy, freedom of
    movement, freedom of speech, a freely floated currency, or time zones, but the transportation
    infrastructure is the important thing it’s missing in this case. There are, for example, only seven roads that
    cross the border from Mongolia, the country, to China, the country. What’s worse, there are barely any railways
    and trains are the primary means of transportation worldwide for coal as it’s really not very
    dense and trucks can’t carry that much. This lack of railways means that there are
    huge amounts of trucks driving from inner Mongolia to Beijing carrying coal each and
    every day. There are a few routes these trucks can take
    into Beijing but the most popular one is G110. That’s because much of the coal coming from
    inner Mongolia comes from illegal, unlicensed mines and, while the other routes from inner
    Mongolia have inspection stations to combat illegal mining, G110 does not. All these factors compounded to create the
    beginnings of a traffic jam on August 14th, 2010. It was the busy summer season and the highway
    just couldn’t handle the amount of trucks but the real problem started five days later
    as maintenance work began on the highway to fix damage from overuse. That shut down half the lanes at points and
    this traffic jam, which had already been going on continuously for five days to a lesser
    extent, just became a parking lot. At its worst, the congestion lasted for 60
    continuous miles and drivers were only able to move as little as 0.6 miles per day. It took some close to a week to make their
    way through this stretch of highway—a journey that would normally take an hour. This whole mini-economy sprung up as villagers
    from near the highway walked or biked up and down selling food and drinks. Water, which normally sells for 1 yuan, went
    for 15. Drivers took naps under their trucks, played
    cards, took walks, there really was no reason to be behind the wheel as nothing was moving. Throughout this all, authorities desperately
    tried to reduce the traffic by sending trucks on different routes and telling people not
    to drive. As the jam entered its second week nothing
    seemed to be working although, with time, as it gained national and international media
    attention, people eventually stopped taking the highway and then, finally, after twelve
    whole days of bumper to bumper traffic, the congestion dissipated and National Highway
    110 was back to normal. China has since built railways, expanded highways,
    and cracked down on illegal mining which has prevented any more apocalyptic jams but this
    August 2010 one on G110 is now believed to have been the worst traffic jam in world history. If you want to learn how to make apocalyptic
    jam unfortunately Brilliant does not have a course on that but they actually do have
    a course on how to make regular jams, traffic jams. Their physics of the everyday course includes
    a whole section teaching how traffic jams form and work. Brilliant, as you know by now, is the best
    place to be taught complex concepts as they teach the intuitive principles so you understand
    rather than just learn. If you want to become the sort of person who
    can explain the physics of traffic jams, Brilliant is the place for you as they have courses
    on that and plenty of other interesting topics such as artificial neural networks, number
    theory, and solar energy. Best of all, you can try Brilliant classes
    for free by signing up at brilliant.org/HAI and then, if you decide to upgrade to their
    premium account, the first 200 to do so at that link will get 20% off.

    Why Iceland Imports Ice
    Articles, Blog

    Why Iceland Imports Ice

    August 22, 2019


    This video was made possible by Squarespace. Build your beautiful website with Squarespace
    for 10% off at squarespace.com/HAI. Chances are that somewhere on the internet
    you’ve heard the “fact” that Iceland was named Iceland by its viking settlers to
    stop their enemies from coming to the island. Well, that fact is about as wrong as pineapple
    on pizza. The truth is that the first norse settler
    of the island was feeling a little bummed out upon arrival since his daughter and livestock
    died en route so he just stayed for the winter before returning to Norway and, since the
    particular area he stayed in happened to be icy he figured all of the island was icy and
    therefore called it Iceland. Of course that’d be as absurd as, you know,
    seeing that the sidewalk was flat and deciding the whole earth must be flat, or something. Iceland is cold and has plenty of snow and
    ice during the winter but as a whole, the country is fairly green. Still, for such a northern and wintery country
    the idea that it imports ice is pretty absurd. Nonetheless that is reality but Iceland’s
    ice importation has a surprisingly rational explanation. Now, taking ice from one place and selling
    it in another is nothing new. El Chapo was great at it but as it turns out,
    centuries ago people’s refrigerators didn’t have ice dispensers. For the majority of history people just dealt
    with having warm drinks like cave-people but when the 19th century rolled around that all
    changed. An entrepreneur named Frederic Tudor started
    taking ice from cold places like Maine and selling it in hot places like Cuba. Genius, right? Only problem, ice melts. Frederic understood this and insulated his
    cargo with sawdust and, with enough ice, at least some of it would make it through the
    1,600 mile journey from Maine to Cuba. At first Frederick received a frosty reception
    from the hot place people as they were doubtful that they needed ice so Frederic channeled
    his inner drug dealer and gave them their first bit of ice for free to get them addicted. Soon, business was booming. Now, places like New York and DC get too cold
    in the winter for people to want ice but in the summer, they too get swelteringly hot
    so Frederic wanted to make a way to be able to sell ice in the mid-Atlantic summers. Really the only solution was to take a whole
    lot of ice, put it in an insulated building, and hope some of it lasts until summer and,
    crazily enough, that worked. Most of North America started to rely on ice
    so it was time for Frederick to take the ice trade intercontinental. The rest of the world also had hot places
    like India so Frederic Tudor set up a regular shipment of ice to Calcutta, India which became
    hugely popular with the rich English colonialists who were used to cooler temperatures. Amazingly, he had the process refined so well
    at that point that the ice from New England was selling in India for, adjusted for inflation,
    only $1 per pound. Soon after, ice from New England was shipped
    and sold in London, in Rio de Janeiro, in Cape Town, in Hong Kong, the New England ice
    even reached as far as Sydney, Australia where it sold for only $2 per pound. So, was it a coincidence that the climate
    starting rapidly warming only a century after the world’s elite started using ice shipped
    from the other side of the world by steamship all so they could have a chilled beverage? I’m not saying the ice trade singlehandedly
    caused climate change, but it certainly didn’t help. Of course, with time artificial refrigeration
    became cheap and widespread but not before making Frederic Tudor a very rich man. Iceland today, despite what some may think,
    is not some backwards heathen society that shuns the use of refrigerators. Its importation of ice has to do with something
    else—economics. You see, Iceland is a very expensive place. Like many isolated, northern counties, Iceland
    relies on imports for many things like oil, wood, wheat, and other food. It just doesn’t have the ability to produce
    these items domestically due to its geography but shipping to Iceland is also relatively
    cheap since its economy is export-driven. While fish is Iceland’s biggest export this
    is mostly shipped by plane but the country also has an enormous aluminum industry thanks
    to its low electricity cost. Aluminum, along with most everything else
    Iceland makes, is exported by ship which means that there’s demand for shipping from Iceland. That means that ships are already coming to
    Iceland to bring items elsewhere so its relatively inexpensive to fill those ships with other
    goods to bring to Iceland. At the same time, the average Icelander makes
    about $57,000 per year, it’s one of the highest income countries in the world, so
    that means making things in Iceland, in most cases, is expensive. If you go and check your handy dandy Icelandic
    schedule of tariffs, though, you see that water, ice, and snow have no import duty if
    imported from the European Economic Area. Therefore, Iceland imports ice from other
    less expensive countries in the EEZ such as Scotland and the only additional cost is the
    cheap shipping. While there are plenty of other countries
    that don’t charge import duties on ice, there are few that have the mix of high domestic
    labor costs and cheap inbound shipping that make it worth it for Iceland to import ice. That’s why Iceland’s grocery stores are
    stocked with this imported ice from hundreds or thousands of miles away as it ends up being
    about 40% less than Icelandic ice. If you want to sell a different kind of ice
    you definitely need a Squarespace website. You can build a fully functional online store
    within minutes using their website builder so you can put all your attention into building
    your ice cream empire. In fact, if you run any sort of business whether
    that be a brick and mortar store, a podcast, a youtube channel, or anything else you want
    to make a great first impression for your potential customers and Squarespace helps
    you do that because their beautiful designer templates make it easy to build a website
    that looks great. Best of all, you can start building your website
    for free at squarespace.com/HAI and then, when you’re ready to launch, that same link
    will get you 10% off.

    The US’ Plan for a Hypothetical War with Britain
    Articles, Blog

    The US’ Plan for a Hypothetical War with Britain

    August 18, 2019


    This video was made possible by Skillshare. Learn what you want to learn for free for
    two months by being one of the first 500 to sign up at the link in the description. American Civil War—bad. Captain America: Civil War—good. War star-ting—bad. Star Wars—good. War of the Worlds—bad. World War—go… wait, no. No War—good, for most. One of the few downsides for a lack of war
    is that there’s not much for generals and the like to do so they need activities to
    fill their time. One such activity is planning for war. After all, the US for example, has only been
    at war for 224 years of its 243 year existence—a measly 92%. That’s a lot of downtime. During the 20’s, there wasn’t much war
    stuff going on—only this small four decade-long war in central America where the US was fighting
    to be sure the bananas kept flowing—and so in order to prepare for a possible Great
    War part deux the US started making plans for what their strategy would be for hypothetical
    wars with possible contenders like Japan, China, Mexico, and the UK. Now, despite their very public break-up in
    the late 1700’s, relations between the US and UK mostly improved up until World War
    One when relations improved greatly after the US did Europe a solid by rocking up in
    the forth quarter and helping finish the job. Nonetheless, Britain was still a big scary
    empire—by some measures still the most powerful nation in the world—so the US still prepared
    a plan in the 30’s for war with the red coats. It was called War Plan Red and the idea was
    as follows. Of course, after the US quite boisterously
    declared itself as not part of the UK in the 1700s, one of the not-quite-united States
    of America, that is, Canada, remained part of the British empire. By the 1900s, Canada was independent but still
    very much integrated in the commonwealth and it had some fancy features like a 5,500 mile,
    9,000 kilometer border with the home team in this hypothetical UK-US war. It was therefore believed that the UK would
    use Canada as a jumping-off point for an invasion of the mainland US so the idea was for the
    US military to yankee doodle doo its way up into Canada before the British could arrive. There were five main areas that the US would
    invade—Halifax and St. John, Montreal and Quebec city, the Great Lakes area, Winnipeg,
    and Vancouver. Step one was to launch an offensive towards
    Halifax by land and sea. Halifax was a crucial port for British-Canadian
    trade and therefore occupying it would greatly slow down the movement of British forces into
    Canada. From there, a land assault from New York and
    Vermont would be launched to occupy Montreal and Quebec City. These act as major ports on the St Lawrence
    River and controlling the St Lawrence would essentially split Canada in two preventing
    goods from the agricultural areas in the Maritimes from getting to the rest. The US would also seek to control the Great
    Lakes area around Toronto both because this area was and is one of Canada’s major population
    and industrial centers and because it’s dangerously close to the American midwest
    which, at the time, was a crucial industrial area of the US. They didn’t want the British to be able
    to set up bases here. Winnipeg was next on US’ wish list largely
    because it acted as the center of Canada’s trans-continental railroad so controlling
    Winnipeg would mean controlling and cutting off rail transportation. Lastly, Vancouver, while lower importance,
    was included in invasion plans to prevent Britain using it as a back-up port by going
    through the Panama Canal and in order to disrupt Canada’s pacific trade. It was believed that if the US controlled
    these five areas, they would effectively control Canada and this would be a significant enough
    blow that the UK would seek a peace deal—no conflict outside the western hemisphere was
    planned. Interestingly, this plan included a short
    little casual little line mentioning that the US had no intention of returning the captured
    territory. Canada would become part of the US. Who knows, maybe they have oil or something
    well that sure would be convenient, hahahahaha-please-give-us-oil. That being their worst nightmare, Canada developed
    their own war plan against the United States. They recognized that their own military alone
    did not have a great chance at defending their territory against the US long-term. The general idea was therefore to distract
    US forces by, as soon as credible intelligence about an impending US invasion was received,
    launching a surprise invasion on Seattle, Spokane, Portland, Fargo, Great Falls, Minneapolis,
    Albany, and Maine. Eventually, as American forces arrived to
    defend these cities the Canadians would retreat destroying infrastructure like bridges, roads,
    and railroads on their way back to slow an American invasion. Hopefully, according to the Canadian plan,
    by this time British troops would have arrived from the UK. Now, while they were far from the most credible
    threat to the US, some people really believed in the 30s that war with the British empire
    could happen. Today, any sort of conflict between the US
    and UK or Canada—two of the most culturally and economically linked countries to the US—seems
    ridiculous although, War Plan Red, the US’ plan, was only declassified in 1974. The US won’t acknowledge whether or not
    there’s a modern day equivalent. As far as we know, the American military could
    be prepping for war with the UK right now. Of course, what we can be pretty certain of
    is that if the US and UK go to war, the missiles’ll be flying! In the post-war apocalyptic nuclear wasteland
    you’ll want to re-build your social status through humblebrags like, “Oh well you know
    I’ve been soo busy with my candle business recently, it’s just doing so well, but I’ve
    finally gotten around to watching that Skillshare course I had downloaded on my iPad on how
    to make roast chicken and you know what, I think the recipe would work for cockroach.” You can do that because Skillshare’s iOS
    and Android apps let you download any of their more than 25,000 classes for viewing off-line. With Skillshare, you can learn pretty much
    whatever you want to learn whether that be knife skills, pilates, memory skills, animation,
    or more. To get started, visit the link in the description
    or skl.sh/hai19. Also, the first 500 visitors get 2 months
    of unlimited access to over 25,000 classes for free.

    A Bridge Between the USA and Russia
    Articles, Blog

    A Bridge Between the USA and Russia

    August 15, 2019


    The relationship between the USA and Russia is complicated. JFK: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile, launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States.” *Intense laughter* JFK: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Their rivalry defined the second half of the 20th century. Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” Millions are spent each year trying to improve relations, and even more spent undermining them again. To many their opposites; chalk and cheese, vodka and apple pie, Oceania vs Eurasia, East vs West. It’s easy to forget that only 51 miles separates them. If we’re going to spend so much time, energy and money trying to build bridges between Russia and America, then why not just build an actual bridge? In 1986 Ronald Reagan gave engineer Tung Yun Lin a National Medal of Science, Lin handed back to him a 16-page plan for an intercontinental peace bridge. Whether for environmental, financial, or political reasons a bridge across the Bering Strait has been on someone’s agenda ever since. Most of this talk has come to nothing, but in 2015 Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping started to make some actual plans. *Theme music* The Bering Strait is a 51 mile sea passage separating Siberia and Alaska. In 1867 the US bought Alaska for 7.2 million dollars or 2 cents an acre. This created a new border right down the middle separating two small islands, Big Diomede (Russian), and Little Diomede (now American). The same boundary is followed today by the International Date Line, giving the Diomedes the adorable nicknames of “Tomorrow Island” and “Yesterday Isle”. Ever since the Cold War Big Diomede and most of Russia’s Eastern Shore has been a military zone. No travel is permitted. In fact, you can’t arrive or depart there even with a Russian visa. The closest you can get is the port of Provideniya, and even then you should probably get permission before rocking up. This hasn’t stopped people trying though, in 2006 Karl Bushby and Dimitri Kieffer navigated the strait’s ice floes on foot. However Lynne Cox swam between the Diomedes in 1987, The public support was so immense that Reagan and Gorbachev thanked her at the signing of the nuclear forces treaty. Gorbachev: “It took a daring American girl by the name of Lynne Cox a mere two hours to swim the distance separating our two countries, By her courage she showed how close to each other our two peoples live.” Trump: “We’re not gonna let them violate a nuclear agreement, and go out and do weapons. So we’re going to terminate the agreement. We’re gonna pull out.” We could really do with another Lynne Cox right now. Something to bring the US and Russia together. The whole world a little closer. Even if it has to be marketed to us as a trade deal or a “Trans-Pacific Infrastructure Investment”. A bridge would be a common project, a physical link forcing superpowers to cooperate. But ignoring all political and financial hurdles for now. Is it even possible? Currently the world’s longest sea bridge is 34 miles across, Connecting Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Macau in China. And although the Bering Strait is 51 miles, the longest bridge you’d actually have to build would only be 26. The Diomedes make two perfect stopping points. You could build a US bridge on one side and a Russian bridge on the other. In fact, make it a race the loser has to build the three-mile bridge connecting the two. Construction would be slow, for seven months of the year the temperature is well below freezing, and although the Strait rarely freezes large chunks of ice are funneled through the passage from the Arctic. These ice floes would exert enormous pressure on any structure we built. There may be engineering solution around this, but perhaps the simplest would be to scrap the bridge and dig a tunnel. Tunnels may not lend themselves to metaphors as well, but they’re warmer, often cheaper over long distances, you can lay gas, oil, and electricity alongside. They’re protected from harsh weather, and ships can still pass above them. With the Arctic ice caps melting, the Bering Strait could become a very busy shipping lane in the next 20 years. The Strait is relatively shallow, the maximum depth is only 55 metres. The Channel Tunnel is a hundred metres below sea level. That opened in 1994 connecting the UK to Europe, and that relationship is going swimmingly. A tunnel (unlike a bridge) doesn’t have to intersect the Diomedes, it can start and end at more convenient points. But therein lies the problem. There are no convenient points. Here’s a map of the Alaskan and Siberian road networks, the closest highways are 2,000 miles apart. In Russia anything east of Magadan is impossible to get to by car. And although there are plans for major Alaskan routes, anything west of Fairbanks is tricky. Tunnelling under the Bering Strait would be the easy part, you’d also have to build thousands of miles of roads, over rough terrain, in incredibly harsh conditions. And after all that you’ve still got to persuade people to drive it. The only sensible option would be a train. You’ll still face all the same obstacles during construction, but a warm high-speed railroad from Anchorage to Vladivostok is way more convenient than a 60 hour drive through the Arctic. The main use of such a railroad would be freight. If we extend the network through North America and into China, it could transport a significant amount of the world’s cargo. But now we’ve got one of the biggest engineering projects in the world, costing hundreds of billions of dollars. Is there a need for it? An Arctic railroad would have to compete with our existing freight network, boats and planes. The busiest shipping route in the world by cargo is China to North America. So let’s say we want to ship one metric ton between the two busiest ports, Shanghai to Vancouver. We’ve got four options; ship, air, rail ,and road. A boat can do it in 15 to 20 days, cost us $300, and produce 225kg of CO2. Plane: 1 day, $3,500, 4,400kg. A train: 2 to 4 days, $400, 630kg. And a truck: 7 to 10 days, $900, 1,050kg. If speed is the priority and money no object, a plane is the way to go. But if speed doesn’t matter and you want the best value for money then shipping is the clear winner. Ships and planes account for 90% of global trade, that is a lot of fuel being burned all day, every day. Diesel trains are not environmentally friendly, but both Alaska and Siberia have stores of untapped geothermal energy. We need to replace as many major transport routes as possible with renewable alternatives, and high-speed electric trains are one of them. There’d definitely be a market for an Arctic railroad, it would dramatically improve travel time without an enormous increase in price. Whether it would be profitable for whoever built it though is another matter. It would have to be a financier with very deep pockets, and probably an ulterior motive. That pretty much leaves three options; Russia, America, or China. China are building railways and shipping ports everywhere. They’re already building high-speed railways connecting Europe, Africa and Asia. All with China as the central hub. They don’t just want to be at the crossroads. They want to be the crossroads, for all future international trade and transport. That means North and South America are definitely on the agenda. In fact, they proposed a high-speed railway connecting china to the US in 2007. Putin has given China approval to build through Siberia. And then in 2015 China and Russia announced they were collaborating, to build the Siberia and Alaska passage together. This is mostly just talk, but it’s getting louder and more frequent. There’s a reasonable chance of it happening with or without US involvement. It would be a real shame if multiple countries didn’t cooperate on this project. Not to mention the dangerous power dynamic it could create. An Arctic railroad connecting China, Russia, and the US would be an amazing achievement. An opportunity for three superpowers, currently jostling for their place in the century, to collaborate on a common project. One that could genuinely improve the world, environmentally, financially, and politically.

    Brazil’s Geography Problem
    Articles, Blog

    Brazil’s Geography Problem

    August 14, 2019


    This video was made possible by Skillshare. Learn from 21,000 classes for free for two
    months at https://skl.sh/wendover3. There are plenty of lines you can draw on
    the globe but perhaps none is more consequential than the equator. Of the 15 wealthiest countries
    in the world as measured by GDP per capita, all are in the northern hemisphere. Only 800
    million of earth’s 7.6 billion residents live south of the equator. There is a clear
    divide between north and south but of those 800 million people a quarter of them, about
    207 million, live here in Brazil. The country is an exception to the global trend. Brazil
    is the fifth most populous country in the world and the most populous entirely within
    the southern hemisphere. Its economy has grown enormously and the country is quickly developing.
    Although, the very land it sits on stacks the odds against it. Its location gives it
    a disadvantage. Given this, the question is whether Brazil can develop into a world superpower
    by the likes of the US, Europe, Russia, India, and China or if the country is doomed to fail? Brazil, of course, looks like this but in
    reality almost 80% of the country’s population lives here—within 200 miles of the coast.
    You do see a concentration of population near the coast in any country as it provides a
    cheap and easy means of transportation by boats and a source of food through fishing
    but few countries have such a severe concentration of people by the oceans as Brazil. This small
    area, for example, is home to three of Brazil’s six largest cities. Normally this would help
    development as the area in between cities will urbanize but this map doesn’t tell
    the whole story—this one does. You see, this area of Brazil is rather mountainous.
    The major cities mostly exist in small pockets of low-altitude, flat land on the ocean. This
    is because major cities need easy water access to get goods in and out. The majority of Brazil’s
    coast is defined by steep, sheer cliffs. Petrópolis, for example, a suburb of Rio, is a mere 13
    miles from the ocean and yet it sits at almost 3,000 feet of altitude. The rare areas with
    low-altitude land on the water are where cities like Porte Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife
    are but this pattern has two consequences. First, these cities, while being on flat land
    themselves are surrounded by cliffs and mountainous regions which means their growth is limited.
    There are plenty of cities that exist in mountainous regions but the world’s largest and most
    influential cities like London and Delhi and Beijing all exist in areas with absolutely
    no geographical features limiting their growth. The fact that Brazil’s cities locate in
    rare low-altitude coastal land means that the country will likely never have a megalopolis
    by the likes of the Pearl River Delta or the US Northeast. It takes a surprising six hours
    to drive between Rio and Sao Paolo and since there’s no low-altitude coastal land in
    between them, there are really no major cities in between them too. Brazil’s cities are
    confined to the geographically convenient areas which are spread out from each other.
    This means the cities can’t collaborate easily with each other thereby limiting Brazil’s
    impact on the world stage. Like any large country, Brazil’s development
    potential is also linked to how it gets its food. This, in fact, might be Brazil’s greatest
    obstacle as it really doesn’t hav e much great farmland, at least yet. The country’s
    main agricultural region is its south which is blessed with great soil and great rivers
    that help transport crops away from their farms. Interestingly, the same elevation that
    leads to steep coastal cliffs causes rivers to run in a counterintuitive direction. The
    Tietê river, for example, starts near Sao Paolo a mere 10 miles away from the Atlantic
    ocean but then runs inland almost 500 miles where it flows into the Paraná River which
    eventually flows out into the ocean near Buenos Aires, Argentina. If a farmer wants to export
    their food abroad, it’s often cheaper to first ship it the thousands of miles by boat
    on these rivers than just hundreds of miles overland to Brazil’s coast due to their
    poor road infrastructure. This means that Argentina gets the business of packing up
    and shipping Brazil’s food to other countries. That’s just lost money for Brazil as a result
    of their geography. Brazil’s south, though, does not even have enough land to feed the
    country’s own 200 million residents. Given that, the question is where to put the rest
    of the farms. In Brazil’s north is the Amazon basin. The
    central feature of this region is, of course, the Amazon River which is navigable for boats.
    Normally this feature would lead to a significant population as navigable rivers serve as cheap
    and easy transport for crops and goods but the banks of the Amazon are a tough place
    to farm or live. Not only are they muddy and unstable which makes building difficult, but
    the Amazon also regularly floods which means that every year many of the communities on
    the banks of the Amazon can have their streets underwater for months. Building and living
    in the Amazonian cities is difficult, but what’s more difficult is building the roads
    in and out. The largest city in the Amazon, Manaus, is home to 2.6 million people, it’s
    as big as Baltimore, and yet there are only three roads connecting the city to the outside
    world. Many of the smaller towns around the Amazon have no roads going in and out as its
    just incredibly costly and difficult to build roads through the rainforest. In fact, rather
    unbelievably, there is not a single bridge spanning over the Amazon so there is no way
    to drive from the northernmost region of Brazil to the rest without taking a ferry. Overall,
    this whole area is just empty. Even if there was the infrastructure to transport crops
    to market, farming in the Amazon involves clearing huge amounts of land and even then,
    the soil is relatively infertile which leads to poor yields. Despite being Brazil’s largest
    state, Amazonas is home to just 1.8% of its population. It just costs too much to build
    the infrastructure needed to live there. To the south of the Amazon, though, is an
    area known as the Cerrado. This vast savanna used to be in the same category as the Amazon—it
    was empty. The problem was not only that there was no natural network of rivers to get crops
    out of the area but also that the soil was too acidic and lacking enough nutrients to
    easily grow large quantities of crops. Between both the Amazon and the Cerrado being off-limits
    for large-scale farming, that meant that Brazil really didn’t have much land at all for
    farming. 30 years ago, with only the south to farm, Brazil was actually a net importer
    of food—it bought more food from other countries than it sold. That was until researchers discovered
    that all you needed to do to fix the soil was add phosphorous and lime. The phosphorous
    served as a fertilizer in the place of natural nutrients and the lime worked to reduce the
    level of acidity. In the early 2000’s, the country spread more than 25 million tons of
    lime per year and so today the Cerrado accounts for 70% of Brazil’s farmland. In addition,
    Brazil has begun growing soybeans. This plant is normally grown in more temperate climates
    such as the US, northern China, or Japan, but through cross-breeding and genetic modification
    it can be modified to grow in warmer and acidic environments such as the Brazilian Cerrado.
    Thanks to the enormous amount of land Brazil has and these technological advancements the
    country has gone from producing 16% of the world’s soybean in 2005 to 31% today.
    A country’s level of development is often to linked to how good its natural transportation
    system is. That’s part of why the US developed so much so fast—it has a great system of
    navigable rivers right in its agricultural heartland that helps get goods from the fields
    to cities fast and inexpensively. The Brazilian Cerrado, though, does not have that. It doesn’t
    even have much of a preexisting network of roads since before this recent agricultural
    advancement barely anyone lived there. Therefore anyone who wants to farm in the Cerrado has
    to find land, level it, treat it with phosphate and lime, and build roads to get supplies
    in and crops out. Cerrado farms can be profitable but it takes an enormous amount of money to
    build the infrastructure needed to start a farm. It’s not like the US or France or
    China where all you need is some land. The consequence of this is that farms in Brazil
    tend to owned by corporations rather than individuals because only corporations have
    the money to build farms. That therefore increases the level of wealth disparity in Brazil. According
    to the World Bank’s Gini index, Brazil is the 11th most economically unequal country
    in the world. Lower wealth disparity and the emergence of a middle class are indicators
    of economic development so the country should want to fix this. Brazil’s government has
    recognized its infrastructure problem as a source of its wealth disparity and has therefore
    worked to build roads in the interior so that more individuals can run farms but the government
    only has so much money to spend and it’s a big country.
    Brazil does, though, understand the importance of its core. It understands that the coastal
    cities are constrained and that economic development will come from the center. It was partially
    for that reason that the country decided to move its capital from Rio de Janeiro to here—Brasília.
    The thinking was that putting the capital in the core would stimulate the economically
    underdeveloped region and, in many ways, it worked. The city simply did not exist before
    1960 yet today more than 4 million people live in its metropolitan area. Being located
    on relatively flat land unlike Rio, the city can just grow and grow and grow without hinderance.
    Brazil has potential, but its defining issue is that it’s an expensive place. It’s a
    vicious cycle. In order to make money, Brazil needs to invest in its infrastructure but
    without people making money it doesn’t have the tax money to build what it takes t o transition
    into the first world. The question of why tropical countries are less developed is an
    enormous one without a clear answer, but Brazil is one of the most likely candidates to break
    this trend. It certainly lags behind other developing countries like China, but as its
    agriculture industry develops it will become a bigger and bigger exporter which will bring
    more money in. With time, its average income will inch up. The country already does have
    major companies in other industries such as banking, manufacturing, and oil but with how
    big Brazil is, agriculture is the one that’s the world’s focus right now. Only France,
    Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States export more agricultural products per year
    which is good company to be in. Brazil may not have the explosive growth rate of some
    other less developed countries but by continuously taking what it earns and reinvesting it to
    open up more of the country to agricultural production it will continue its path to superpower
    status. One of the common questions I receive is how
    I started making these videos. The first step was learning the skills needed from writing
    to research to sound design and editing, but for each and every one of them there’s a
    course on Skillshare. Skillshare, you see, is an online learning community that has more
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    learn skills to help you make videos, to show off at parties, or even to help you get a
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    months exclusively by going to skl.sh/wendover3. Skillshare makes this show possible and its
    a great place to learn or improve your skills so please do check them out, once again, at
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    Wendover Productions video.