“Clever” Developers Evade New York City’s “Labyrinthine Zoning Laws”

(p. A1)  Some of the tallest residential buildings in the world soar above Central Park, including 432 Park Avenue, which rises 1,400 feet and features an array of penthouses and apartments for the ultrarich.

But 432 Park also has an increasingly common feature in these new towers: swaths of unoccupied space. About a quarter of its 88 floors will have no homes because they are filled with structural and mechanical equipment.

The building and nearby towers are able to push high into the sky because of a loophole in the city’s labyrinthine zoning laws. Floors reserved for structural and mechanical equipment, no matter how much, do not count against a building’s maximum size under the laws, so developers explicitly use them to make buildings far higher than would otherwise be permitted.

. . .

(p. A20)  “It’s pretty outrageous, but it’s also pretty clever,” said George M. Janes, a planning consultant who has tracked and filed challenges against buildings in New York with vast unoccupied spaces. “What is the primary purpose of these spaces? The primary purpose is to build very tall buildings.”

. . .

New York City’s complicated building regulations are meant to produce predictable developments. Height requirements are imposed in most of the city, though parts of Manhattan are exempt. Every block is also effectively assigned a maximum square footage, which can be spread across smaller buildings on a block or condensed in larger developments.

Savvy, well-heeled and patient developers have worked that system to their benefit. A developer seeking to build a supertall tower might start with one lot on a block and then buy unused square footage from its neighbors.

With advancements in engineering and construction, that developer can take the accumulated square footage and concentrate it in a skinny mega-tower. Floors of mechanical space, exempt from the square footage calculations, make the tower even taller.

For the full story, see:

Matthew Haag.  “Builders Use Ploy to Create the Luxury of Height.”  The New York Times (Saturday, April 20, 2019):  A1 & A20.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story also has the date April 20, 2019, but has the title “How Luxury Developers Use a Loophole to Build Soaring Towers for the Ultrarich in N.Y.”)

“Macron Is Concerned with the End of the World; We Are Concerned with the End of the Month”

(p. A6) “Bosses prefer taking on temporary workers,” says Virginie Bonnin, 40, who works in local auto parts plants. “We are disposable.”

A single mother of three girls, Ms. Bonnin earns €1,900 a month. She learns on Thursday nights what her hours will be for the coming week. When her jobs end, she is sustained by unemployment benefits of about €1,400 a month.

“I’m not the worst off,” she says. “But it’s tricky.  In those times, I will not eat meat so that the kids can eat meat.” Her last summer vacation, a sacred French institution, was two years ago.

Ms. Bonnin was provoked into joining the Yellow Vests by the same measure that mobilized much of the country, a tax on gasoline that was to take effect in January.

Mr. Macron promoted it as a means of adapting to climate change. Outside major cities, where people rely on cars to get nearly everywhere, it supplied proof that the president was indifferent to the working class.  “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” one Yellow Vest slogan put it.  “We are concerned with the end of the month.”

That accusation endured even after Mr. Macron suspended the gas tax in the face of Yellow Vest furor.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2019, and has the title “Inequality Fuels Rage of ‘Yellow Vests’ in Equality-Obsessed France.”)

Efficiency Skills Are “Profoundly Different from” Innovation Skills

(p. A15) How do you deliver performance now while developing the products you’ll need in the future? The skills required to support established franchises, he argues, are profoundly different from those required to develop new ones. Management techniques such as Six Sigma, focused on efficiency and execution, tend to be bad for innovation, which is intrinsically messy and inefficient. Companies need a different approach to nurture the radically original projects, or “loonshots,” that are essential for long-term success.
. . .
In Mr. Bahcall’s view, the principal obstacle to innovation isn’t that there are too few creative ideas–indeed, there are plenty of artists, he says. The problem is that original proposals are both discomfiting and imperfect, hence reflexively rejected before they can develop enough to prove themselves in the field.
. . .
Organizations can miss innovation opportunities by accepting the conventional wisdom, Mr. Bahcall observes, a problem he describes as “false fails.” Consider the Facebook predecessor Friendster. Mr. Bahcall explains that while most investors decided that the failure of Friendster was evidence that social-network efforts weren’t sticky enough to retain customers, Peter Thiel’s investment team wasn’t so sure. They dug into the data and were “stunned by how long users stayed with the site,” despite the irritating crashes that dogged the platform. Hence Mr. Thiel’s fund was an early investor in Facebook, confident that, with appropriate attention to the underlying technology, the platform could succeed. Eight years later, he sold most of his Facebook stake and pocketed roughly $1 billion.

For the full review, see:
David A. Shaywitz. “BOOKSHELF; In Praise of Wild Ideas; Innovative proposals can be both imperfect and discomfiting–and are often rejected before they can develop enough to prove themselves viable.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 19, 2019): A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 18, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Loonshots’ Review: In Praise of Wild Ideas; Innovative proposals can be both imperfect and discomfiting–and are often rejected before they can develop enough to prove themselves viable.”)

The book under review, is:
Bahcall, Safi. Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Boeing Tech Kludge Designed to Avoid Cost of Re-Certification Regulations

(p. A18)  . . . , Boeing engineers created the automated anti-stall system, called MCAS, that pushed the jet’s nose down if it was lifting too high. The software was intended to operate in the background so that the Max flew just like its predecessor. Boeing didn’t mention the system in its training materials for the Max.

Boeing also designed the system to rely on a single sensor — a rarity in aviation, where redundancy is common. Several former Boeing engineers who were not directly involved in the system’s design said their colleagues most likely opted for such an approach since relying on two sensors could still create issues. If one of two sensors malfunctioned, the system could struggle to know which was right.

Airbus addressed this potential problem on some of its planes by installing three or more such sensors. Former Max engineers, including one who worked on the sensors, said adding a third sensor to the Max was a nonstarter. Previous 737s, they said, had used two and managers wanted to limit changes.

“They wanted to A, save money and B, to minimize the certification and flight-test costs,” said Mike Renzelmann, an engineer who worked on the Max’s flight controls. “Any changes are going to require recertification.” Mr. Renzelmann was not involved in discussions about the sensors.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date , and has the title “Boeing’s 737 Max: 1960s Design, 1990s Computing Power and Paper Manuals.”)

Turing Award Winners’ Neural Networks “Are Still a Very Long Way from True Intelligence”

(p. B3) On Wednesday [March 27, 2019], the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest society of computing professionals, announced that Drs. Hinton, LeCun and Bengio had won this year’s Turing Award for their work on neural networks. The Turing Award, which was introduced in 1966, is often called the Nobel Prize of computing, and it includes a $1 million prize, which the three scientists will share.

. . .

Though these systems have undeniably accelerated the progress of artificial intelligence, they are still a very long way from true intelligence. But Drs. Hinton, LeCun and Bengio believe that new ideas will come.

“We need fundamental additions to this toolbox we have created to reach machines that operate at the level of true human understanding,” Dr. Bengio said.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date , 2019, and has the title “Turing Award Won by 3 Pioneers in Artificial Intelligence.”)

Schools Are Safer Today Than 20 Years Ago

(p. A9) Americans believe schools are more unsafe today than they were two decades ago, according to a new poll — even as federal data shows that by most measures, schools have become safer.

. . .

A survey last month of 1,063 adults by The Associated Press and the N.O.R.C. Center at the University of Chicago found that 74 percent of parents of school-age children, and 64 percent of nonparents, believed schools were more unsafe today than they were in 1999. Only 35 percent of parents said they felt “very confident” that their child was safe at school.

. . .

Their fears run counter to the data presented in a federal report released this week. School is still among the safest places an American child can be.

Homicide is a leading cause of death for American youth, but the vast majority of those deaths take place at home or in the neighborhood. Between 1992 and 2016, just 3 percent of youth homicides and 1 percent of youth suicides took place at school, according to the federal report.

School crime levels decreased between 2001 and 2017. The number of students between 12 and 18 years old who reported being the victim of a violent crime at school over the past six months dropped from 2 to 1 percent. Incidents of theft, physical fights, the availability of illegal drugs and bullying also went down.

These changes echo the national drop in crime.

For the full story, see:

Dana Goldstein.  “Schools Are Safer, Even if They Feel Less So.”  The New York Times (Saturday, April 20, 2019):  A9.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story also has the date April 20, 2019, but has the title “20 Years After Columbine, Schools Have Gotten Safer. But Fears Have Only Grown.”)

Vernon Smith Offers More Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

Adam Smith said that we seek security–more cautious than enterprising–because we suffer more in falling from a better to a worse situation than we ever enjoy in rising from a worse to better. Yet Smith provided opportunity for James Watt, an upstart 22 year-old mechanical genius that was denied him by the local corporations; thus launching a spectacular career of innovation. Others, from Tom Edison to Steve Jobs, followed. Diamond’s book is about our need to nourish and reduce the obstacles to that creative engine; to give freedom to the flower of innovation that we all be enriched.

Vernon Smith, Nobel Prize in Economics, received in 2002.

Vernon Smith’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.