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Posts tagged with ‘infrastructure’

Twitter Hints That At-Replies And Hashtags Are About To Be Streamlined →

Charlie Warzel reports on hints and statements of intent at Twitter about moving the ‘arcane’ language of microsyntax (@, #, in particular) down into the infrastructure. He mentions a recent talk by Vivian Schiller:

What will Twitter look like in a year? Two years? A lot less like itself.

At least that’s the impression Vivian Schiller, head of news at Twitter, gave addressing the crowd two days ago at the Newspaper Association of America’s mediaXchange conference in Denver. During her talk, Schiller called at-replies and hashtags “arcane” and hinted that Twitter might soon move them into the background of the service.

When asked about the comments, Twitter replied that Schiller was echoing a similar sentiment that the company’s CEO, Dick Costolo, addressed in a recent earnings call:

By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background, we can increase high-quality interactions and make it more likely that new or casual users will find this service as indispensable as our existing core users do. And we took initial steps in that direction with the introduction of media forward timelines and in-line social actions in October, and we’re already starting to see early signs that those initiatives are working well.

Unlike Schiller’s, Costolo’s statement makes no specific mention of hashtags and at-replies, suggesting that Schiller may have accidentally hinted at specific targets for upgrade. While it’s not immediately clear how this disappearance would work, it’s possible that at-replies will be auto-replaced by formal Twitter names, like they are on Facebook.

Hiding the # and @ characters would be like a city burying all the electric wires and TV cables so that people can see things better.

Twitter has already done away with explicit retweets (the old RT), and streamlined the way that URLs are handled, so why wouldn’t they want to clear out the unintuitive #hashtags and @mentions?

Hiding the # and @ characters would be like a city burying all the electric wires and TV cables so that people can see things better.

And this is coming from the guy that coined the term hashtag. I would be happy to drop the hash and just have real tags. But we still need to be able to tag tweets, even if we won’t be wasting characters with them. And by making tags real metadata, Twitter may finally get around to treating them as something more than just a # and a string of characters.

Here’s a picture of the explicit @mention being suppressed in an Android experimental app:

Robert Frank Makes The Case For Rebuilding Infrastructure Now

Robert Frank is an economics professor at Cornel, and make a sensible sugestion: we should rebuild our crumbling infrastructure now because the longer we wait the more it will cost. Oh, and then there’s the jobs, as a nice side effect.

Robert Frank, Austerity Won’t Work if the Roof Is Leaking

A prudent investment is one whose future returns exceed its costs — including interest cost if the money is borrowed. Opportunities meeting that standard abound in the infrastructure domain. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the nation has a backlog of some $3.6 trillion in overdue infrastructure maintenance. No one in Congress seriously proposes that we just abandon our crumbling roads and bridges, and everyone agrees that the repair cost will grow sharply the longer we wait.

The case for accelerated infrastructure investment becomes more compelling with our economy still in the doldrums. That’s because many of the needed workers and machines are now idle. If we wait, we’ll need to bid them away from other tasks. Also because of the sluggish economy, the materials required for the work are now relatively cheap. If we wait, they will become more expensive. And long-term interest rates for the money to pay for the work continue to hover near record lows. They, too, will be higher if we wait.

Austerity advocates object that more deficit spending now will burden our grandchildren with crushing debt. That might be true if the proposal were to build bigger houses and stage more lavish parties with borrowed money — as Americans, in fact, were doing in the first half of the last decade. But the objection makes no sense when applied to long-overdue infrastructure repairs. A failure to undertake that spending will gratuitously burden our grandchildren.

In 2009, austerity proponents argued against stimulus, predicting that the economy would recover quickly and spontaneously. It didn’t. Later, they said we tried stimulus and it didn’t work. But in the face of a projected $2 trillion shortfall in the spending needed for full employment, Congress enacted a stimulus bill totaling only $787 billion, spread over three years. And much of that injection was offset by cuts in state and local government spending.

Now austerity backers urge — preposterously — that infrastructure repairs be postponed until government budgets are in balance. But would they also tell an indebted family to postpone fixing a leaky roof until it paid off all its debts? Not only would the repair grow more costly with the delay, but the water damage would mount in the interim. Families should pay off debts, yes, but not in ways that actually increase their indebtedness in the longer term. The logic is the same for infrastructure.

Austerity advocates, who have been wrong at virtually every turn, are unlikely to change their minds about stimulus policy. But with continued slow growth in the outlook, it’s time to reframe the debate. Our best available option, by far, is to rebuild our tattered infrastructure at fire-sale prices. If the austerity crowd disagrees, it should explain why in plain English.

But of course, the GOP will block any such rational plan.

America’s schools are in such disrepair that it would cost more than $270 billion just to get elementary and secondary buildings back to their original conditions and twice that to get them up to date, a report released Tuesday estimated. In a foreword to the report, former President Bill Clinton said “we are still struggling to provide equal opportunity” to children and urged the first federal study of school buildings in almost two decades.

School Maintenance Report Shows Need For $542 Billion To Update, Modernize Buildings (via world-shaker)

Add this to ed the $1.6T estimated in 2010 to upgrade out aging infrastructure (bridges, roads, interstates,  railroads, and ports, and you can see what the Federal government should do. We should borrow the money — interest rates are at an all-time low for the US right now — and rebuilt the US infrastructure for the 21st century, including new schools.

(via world-shaker-deactivated2013092)

Time To Rebuild The US Infrastructure For The 21st Century

I hate when economic issues are hashed over without hard numbers. There is a strong incentive for the US to upgrade its aging infrastructure, which was estimated in 2010 as needing $1.6 trillion by the American Society of Civil Engineers: this is dams, bridges, the interstates, the railroads, and our ports. It’s likely to be much higher now, since the Great Recession led to cuts in spending so maintenance has fallen off. And of course, the longer you wait to fix these these, the more they age and fall apart, causing even more expense.

Eduardo Porter, In a Shovel, a Cure for Our Stunted Economic Growth

“We’re almost there in terms of fiscal adjustment,” said Simon Johnson, a former chief economist of the I.M.F. who is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “If we don’t do it now,” he asked, “when will we?” […]

But there is another way to look at our policy options. It just requires analyzing more closely the potential return on public investment over the long term.

Mr. Summers points out that there are many profitable investment opportunities for the government to improve the nation’s physical infrastructure, opportunities that would yield much more than a dollar in economic output for each dollar spent. There is also plenty of idle capacity in the construction industry — unemployed workers, unused machinery. And the government can borrow for 15 years at negative real interest rates.

While he argues that we also need commitments now to reduce future budget deficits, not borrowing the money now to make the investments would be unconscionable. Some of them may even pay for themselves.

Putting fallow resources to work — which also means employing men and women who are becoming obsolete — will, he suggests, bolster growth more than people expect. “It’s not like we’re never going to fix our infrastructure,” Mr. Summers said. “Not doing it now burdens future generations just as surely as more debt does.”

The US has the lowest lending rate available now: it’s actually negative. So President Obama should move as aggressively as possible to attack this grave and growing problem.

And of course, he should use the opportunity to create a much faster nationwide Internet, in partnership with corporations like AT&T and Google, or better yet, to nationalize it, like we did with the highway system. This should also include high speed train between major US cities, to decrease the costs and CO2 of airplanes to the greatest extent possible.

It is your time to lead us in the future, Mr. President.

The Biggest If Of All, Part II

Scott Rafer riffs on my recent post, The Biggest If Of All, where I suggest that this time it might be different, this time we may have moved into a new era, a new economy: the postnormal. Rafer says it’s just the same old same old:

@stoweboyd This purely academic question gets asked every business cycle. It was being asked on the upside in the late 90s if you recall. In this (not very) regulated financial environment, investment managers figure out how to play new conditions which makes the answer to your question “No” +/- 20%. 

Well, logically, just because someone said X would happen 15 years ago and it didn’t doesn’t mean that someone saying X now is wrong. Those are independent events, at least in principle.

My point is something else entirely. We are living in a time where uncertainty is so great that businesses and investors are finding it increasingly impossible to make judgments about where things are headed. Andrew Ross Sorkin recently wrote about this:

The Election Won’t Solve All Puzzles - Andrew Ross Sorkin via NYTimes.com

“Uncertainty” has become the watchword over the last several years for many chief executives, politicians and economists as an explanation — or perhaps an excuse — for the economy’s slow growth, for the lack of hiring by business and for the volatility in the stock market.

“The claim is that businesses and households are uncertain about future taxes, spending levels, regulations, health care reform and interest rates. In turn, this uncertainty leads them to postpone spending on investment and consumption goods and to slow hiring, impeding the recovery,” a group of professors from Stanford University and the University of Chicago wrote in a study that found “current levels of economic policy uncertainty are at extremely elevated levels compared to recent history.” (The professors have created a Web site, policyuncertainty.com, where you can track the “uncertainty” levels.)

image

If you go look at the other charts — like the European Policy Uncertainty Index — economic uncertainty has been steadily rising since 2007.

We are moving from a world of problems, which demand speed, analysis, and elimination of uncertainty to solve, to a world of dilemmas, which demand patience, sense-making, and an engagement of uncertainty. - Denise CaronSo my point is different. Investors and other business people will find it harder to reason about possible futures because we have moved onto shifting ground. It’s a VUCA world, characterized as increased volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

As I wrote in July, regarding our blindness regarding the postnormal climate we’ve made for ourselves,

The biggest problem is that people’s thinking patterns are stuck in the old days, and I don’t just mean their expectations about ‘normal’ weather. No, even worse is that people can’t accept the reality that in the post-normal we will never have the luxury of time to assess and then adapt. Linear problem-solving approaches will simply not work anymore.

But this is not a call for more old world leadership, characterized by moving fast, and looking for permanent ‘solutions’ to well-defined and researched ‘problems’. Instead, we need leaders demonstrating the ‘VUCA Prime’ characteristics, as Bob Johansen has styled it.

image

Denise Caron makes the break between the old world and the new one very clear:

We are moving from a world of problems, which demand speed, analysis, and elimination of uncertainty to solve, to a world of dilemmas, which demand patience, sense-making, and an engagement of uncertainty.

So, in this context, there is no ‘solution’ to infrastructure stress and failure based on more violent weather. We are stuck in a problem space which is fundamentally unsolvable, but we have to try to make sense of this in the context of the larger world.

For example: the financial constraints of our weakened economy mean that we may not be able to repair the interstate highway system, but we might extend and maintain the train system for people moving. Do we have the foresight to disinvest in the highway system? Can we shift from a truck-based logistics system to boats, trains, and airships for long-distance hauling?

image

We are just as trapped in our thinking as we are in a rapidly changing global weather system, and without leaders with the mindset and skillset geared for the post-normal world, we will never find our way out.

The analysis about weather is paralleled by our inability to logically untangle the financial mess the world is in. And it’s not that we need to get smarter, do more analysis, put more brilliant minds on it: the system is so large, interconnected, and complex that it cannot be understood. It is a complex non-linear system, barreling along as fast as we can fuel it, and it cannot be neatly reduced to a set of smaller, more easily understood parts, unless we actually start disconnecting the parts.

But are we taking steps to disconnect the world’s financial markets? To raise trade barriers, and diminish global supply chains? To require companies to only do business in one country, and to only compete in a single marketplace? To break up vertically integrated multinationals? No. And leaving aside whether this would be a ‘good’ thing in some moral or ideological sense, we aren’t doing it. If anything, the world is growing more interconnected and complex. 

At the macroeconomic level, this poses astonishing policy issues, the first of which is seeing the forest for the trees: that we’ve moved into new territory and we have no map. At the microeconomic level, the investor or business leader has a set of tools that used to work, a map that used to show the way, a compass that found north. But they don’t work anymore. They no longer point the way, or suggest that all ways forward are equally uncertain of success.

Specifically with regard to investments in tech, David Lee at SV Angel recently said ‘It has never been easier to start a company, and never harder to build one’, regarding the structural issues in the tech funding world. VC’s don’t see a clear path for a real return on investments in commerce 2.0, games, or apps that rely on Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms. And the result of that uncertainty is being reflected in a decreased amount of later stage investments. This is an echo of the international fund managers I wrote about in the first installment of The Biggest If Of All, many of whom state that uncertainty has never been greater, or of more import in the investment world. So they, like tech VC’s, are holding back, and waiting for a return to normalcy.

But what if it never comes?

We know that the changes we’ve already made to our ecological world will take at least hundreds of years to reverse. Perhaps we’ve turned a similar curve in the economic and policy world. And we don’t know what the world will look like in a hundred years or so, and perhaps there is simply no way to figure out what is going to happen in the next five years, either.

Post-Normal Weather: The Need For New Leadership

As the weather spins into the post-normal — more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) — our aging infrastructure is failing, and we are going to see much more serious disruptions in the future because our governments a/ don’t want to talk about the climate (too scary) and b/ are laying off the workers that we should be using to fix the power lines, train tracks, roadways and bridges.

Matthew Wald and John Schwartz, Rise in Weather Extremes Threatens Infrastructure via NYTimes.com

The frequency of extreme weather is up over the past few years, and people who deal with infrastructure expect that to continue. Leading climate models suggest that weather-sensitive parts of the infrastructure will be seeing many more extreme episodes, along with shifts in weather patterns and rising maximum (and minimum) temperatures.

“We’ve got the ‘storm of the century’ every year now,” said Bill Gausman, a senior vice president and a 38-year veteran at the Potomac Electric Power Company, which took eight days to recover from the June 29 “derecho” storm that raced from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard and knocked out power for 4.3 million people in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

In general, nobody in charge of anything made of steel and concrete can plan based on past trends, said Vicki Arroyo, who heads the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, a clearinghouse on climate-change adaptation strategies.

Highways, Mr. Scullion noted, are designed for the local climate, taking into account things like temperature and rainfall. “When you get outside of those things, man, all bets are off.” As weather patterns shift, he said, “we could have some very dramatic failures of highway systems.”

Adaptation efforts are taking place nationwide. Some are as huge as the multibillion-dollar effort to increase the height of levees and flood walls in New Orleans because of projections of rising sea levels and stronger storms to come; others as mundane as resizing drainage culverts in Vermont, where Hurricane Irene damaged about 2,000 culverts. “They just got blown out,” said Sue Minter, the Irene recovery officer for the state.

In Washington, the subway system, which opened in 1976, has revised its operating procedures. Authorities will now watch the rail temperature and order trains to slow down if it gets too hot. When railroads install tracks in cold weather, they heat the metal to a “neutral” temperature so it reaches a moderate length, and will withstand the shrinkage and growth typical for that climate. But if the heat historically seen in the South becomes normal farther north, the rails will be too long for that weather, and will have an increased tendency to kink. So railroad officials say they will begin to undertake much more frequent inspection.

Some utilities are re-examining long-held views on the economics of protecting against the weather. Pepco, the utility serving the area around Washington, has repeatedly studied the idea of burying more power lines, and the company and its regulators have always decided that the cost outweighed the benefit. But the company has had five storms in the last two and a half years for which recovery took at least five days, and after the derecho last month, the consensus has changed. Both the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Md., have held hearings to discuss the option — though in the District alone, the cost would be $1.1 billion to $5.8 billion, depending on how many of the power lines were put underground.

Even without storms, heat waves are changing the pattern of electricity use, raising peak demand higher than ever. That implies the need for new investment in generating stations, transmission lines and local distribution lines that will be used at full capacity for only a few hundred hours a year. “We build the system for the 10 percent of the time we need it,” said Mark Gabriel, a senior vice president of Black & Veatch, an engineering firm. And that 10 percent is “getting more extreme.”

Even as the effects of weather extremes become more evident, precisely how to react is still largely an open question, said David Behar, the climate program director for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “We’re living in an era of assessment, not yet in an area of adaptation,” he said.

In the post-normal we will never have the luxury of time to assess and then adapt. Linear problem-solving approaches will simply not work anymore.

The biggest problem is that people’s thinking patterns are stuck in the old days, and I don’t just mean their expectations about ‘normal’ weather. No, even worse is that people can’t accept the reality that in the post-normal we will never have the luxury of time to assess and then adapt. Linear problem-solving approaches will simply not work anymore.

But this is not a call for more old world leadership, characterized by moving fast, and looking for permanent ‘solutions’ to well-defined and researched ‘problems’. Instead, we need leaders demonstrating the ‘VUCA Prime’ characteristics, as Bob Johansen has styled it.

Denise Caron makes the break between the old world and the new one very clear:

We are moving from a world of problems, which demand speed, analysis, and elimination of uncertainty to solve, to a world of dilemmas, which demand patience, sense-making, and an engagement of uncertainty.

So, in this context, there is no ‘solution’ to infrastructure stress and failure based on more violent weather. We are stuck in a problem space which is fundamentally unsolvable, but we have to try to make sense of this in the context of the larger world.

For example: the financial constraints of our weakened economy mean that we may not be able to repair the interstate highway system, but we might extend and maintain the train system for people moving. Do we  have the foresight to disinvest in the highway system? Can we shift from a truck-based logistics system to boats, trains, and airships long-distance hauling?

We are just as trapped in our thinking as we are in a rapidly changing global weather system, and without leaders with the mindset and skillset geared for the post-normal world, we will never find our way out.

(via underpaidgenius)

The Economist recently noted that Apple, Amazon, and Google together employ 113,000 people—which is less than 1/3rd as many as a single American success story from the prior generation, GM, employed in 1980.

- Henry Blodgett, THE COUNTRY’S PROBLEM IN A NUTSHELL: Apple’s Huge New Data Center In North Carolina Created Only 50 Jobs

(via jonathanmarcus)

Yeah, except we need to rebuild the entire infrastructure of the country, and the government has abrogated its leadership in that area. So now we can watch our bridges collapse, and our trains running slower than they did in the ’70s. Not to mention high speed rail, solar power, more denser and efficient cities, tearing down the suburbs, and a new generation of local food production.

(via thenextweb)

China’s Swift Trains Are a Boon to Development, but a Costly One - Keith Bradsher via NYTimes.com →

People worrying about the US losing its lead to China should stop the nonsensical talk about declining math SATs, and look to the difference in our investments in high speed rail. The know-nothing GOP have cut our investments to zero, but that’s lunacy:

Keith Bradsher via NYTimes.com

Just as building the interstate highway system a half-century ago made modern, national commerce more feasible in the United States, China’s ambitious rail rollout is helping integrate the economy of this sprawling, populous nation — though on a much faster construction timetable and at significantly higher travel speeds than anything envisioned by the Eisenhower administration.

Work crews of as many as 100,000 people per line have built about half of the 10,000-mile network in just six years, in many cases ahead of schedule — including the Beijing-to-Shanghai line that was not originally expected to open until next year. The entire system is on course to be completed by 2020.

For the United States and Europe, the implications go beyond marveling at the pace of Communist-style civil engineering. China’s manufacturing might and global export machine are likely to grow more powerful as 200-mile-an-hour trains link cities and provinces that were previously as much as 24 hours by road or rail from the entrepreneurial seacoast.

Zhen Qinan, a founder of the stock exchange in coastal Shenzhen and the recently retired chief executive of ZK Energy, a wind turbine producer in Changsha, said that high-speed trains were making it more convenient to base businesses here in Hunan Province. Populous Hunan has long provided labor to the factories of the east, but its mountains have tended to isolate it from the economic mainstream.

Mr. Zhen ticked off Hunan’s attributes: “Land is much cheaper. Electricity is cheaper. Labor is cheaper.”

Around China, real estate prices and investment have surged in the more than 200 inland cities that have already been connected by high-speed rail in the last three years. Businesses are flocking to these cities, now just a few hours by bullet train from China’s busiest and most international metropolises.

Meanwhile, a shift in passenger traffic to the new high-speed rail routes has freed up congested older rail lines for freight. That has allowed coal mines and shippers to switch to cheaper rail transport from costly trucks for heavy cargos.

Because of this shift, plus the construction of additional freight lines, the tonnage hauled by China’s rail system increased in 2010 by an amount equaling the entire freight carried last year by the combined rail systems of Britain, France, Germany and Poland, according to the World Bank.

The bullet train bonanza, and the competitive challenge it poses for the West, is only likely to increase with the opening of the 820-mile Beijing-to-Shanghai line, which will create a business corridor between China’s two most dynamic cities. The railway ministry plans 90 bullet trains a day in each direction.

The trains will barrel along at initial speeds of 190 miles per hour, with plans to accelerate to 220 miles per hour by the summer of 2012, if the first year of operation goes smoothly.

Even at the initial speeds, they will take less than five hours to cover a distance comparable to New York to Atlanta — which requires nearly 18 hours on Amtrak.

China’s huge investment in high-speed rail may be instructive to the United States, whether for proponents of federal rail investments or critics who consider bullet trains a boondoggle.

President Obama, who has proposed spending $53 billion on high-speed rail over the next six years, faced a setback in his budget deal in April with Congressional Republicans, who eliminated money for that plan this year.

Last fall, newly elected Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin turned down federal money their Democratic predecessors had won for new rail routes, worrying that their states could cover most of the costs for trains that would draw few riders.

We need to start building an infrastructure connecting our major cities that scales to what is needed in a post-automobile economy. Imagine a 5 hour train ride between Chicago and New York, or a 1 hour train ride between Boston and New York.

The entrenched mindset of cars and highways is an impediment to real cost savings for business and new opportunities for innovation. There is no possible way to have trucks moving goods or cars driving people at 220 miles per hour, but it is totally possible with trains.

We are also at the perfect time for this investment since the US can borrow money at 2%, which is the lowest it has ever been, and likely to be cheaper than we will see in decades. I won’t even mention the benefits of employing a few hundred thousand unemployed people building the lines and the trains.

And let’s not forget that the US has fallen behind in the maintenance of the current, now obsolete highway infrastructure to the tune of at least $1.6 trillion as of 2008, more like $2 trillion at this point. And most of that is unfunded, so the bridges, on ramps, and streets are falling apart.

There can be no significant change in the ecologies of the city, including the mental and social, without total reorganisation of infrastructure.
climateadaptation:

Urban Renewal
These 10 global infrastructure and tech companies are among the early leaders in smart-city programs.
“Like Siemens and ABB, most of the beneficiaries of urbanization will  be infrastructure and technology outfits that provide or utilize  smartphones, sensors and software and services to track the use of a  city’s assets and commit resources when and where they’re needed. Cloud  technology, which can cut costs while boosting computing capacity, will  play a big role. Even social media will participate, as cities multiply  the ways a citizen can spot a problem–anything from a water-main break  to a traffic snarl–and then alert others to avoid it or do something  about it.
Technology researchers at IDC estimate  the size of the smart-city information-technology market is now $34  billion annually and will gain 18%-plus a year to $57 billion by 2014.  That’s not a huge amount to global giants, but certainly enough to help  drive growth. (The companies don’t break out earnings related to these  projects.) The market has broadened to include items like broadband  connectivity, green belts, renewable energy, green buildings and other  intelligent-city systems. “You are talking about smart water, smart  transportation, better public safety,” says Jennifer Bélissent, a  consultant at Forrester.”
Source: Barron’s “Dawn of the Smart City”

Related articles
"The bias lurking behind every large-scale smart city is a belief that bottom-up complexity can be…" (underpaidgenius.com)
Those Pesky Humans: Urban Planning and its Discontents (blogcritics.org)
Why The U.S. Government Should Embrace Smart Cities (fastcompany.com)

climateadaptation:

Urban Renewal

These 10 global infrastructure and tech companies are among the early leaders in smart-city programs.

“Like Siemens and ABB, most of the beneficiaries of urbanization will be infrastructure and technology outfits that provide or utilize smartphones, sensors and software and services to track the use of a city’s assets and commit resources when and where they’re needed. Cloud technology, which can cut costs while boosting computing capacity, will play a big role. Even social media will participate, as cities multiply the ways a citizen can spot a problem–anything from a water-main break to a traffic snarl–and then alert others to avoid it or do something about it.

Technology researchers at IDC estimate the size of the smart-city information-technology market is now $34 billion annually and will gain 18%-plus a year to $57 billion by 2014. That’s not a huge amount to global giants, but certainly enough to help drive growth. (The companies don’t break out earnings related to these projects.) The market has broadened to include items like broadband connectivity, green belts, renewable energy, green buildings and other intelligent-city systems. “You are talking about smart water, smart transportation, better public safety,” says Jennifer Bélissent, a consultant at Forrester.”

Source: Barron’s “Dawn of the Smart City”

(via thenextweb)


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