Checked Out – By Siva Vaidhyanathan – JULY 28 2015 11:11 AM

The Library of Congress has let itself become obsolete. It needs a new leader who can steer it into the digital age.

The Library of Congress needs more than a respected scholar. It needs a visionary leader. Photo by Alexey Rotanov/Shutterstock

The Library of Congress needs more than a respected scholar. It needs a visionary leader.
Photo by Alexey Rotanov/Shutterstock

Last month, Librarian of Congress James Billington announced that he will resign as of Jan. 1, 2016, after 28 years in office. Filling this vacancy may not seem like the most pressing matter before President Barack Obama, but in fact the decision is one that could help define his legacy. He has the opportunity to name a visionary leader who can nudge the nation toward a richer, more open information ecosystem appropriate for a democratic republic in the 21stcentury.

Traditionally, the Librarian of Congress has been an esteemed scholar who does not threaten conservative sensibilities. Billington is a revered historian of Russia. For much of his tenure, especially early on, he was regarded as a stable and effective advocate for the institution. But he never seemed to grasp the potential of digital media to expand the influence—and thus the value—of the library.

There is some push now to encourage Obama to appoint a professional librarian with administrative experience from one of America’s outstanding academic research libraries. But the library needs more than a respected scholar or librarian. It needs a visionary who can leverage the position to lead us through some essential upgrades and debates that could push this vital institution into public consciousness.

Thomas Jefferson reseeded the Library of Congress with his own impressive book collection after British troops burned the library and its 3,000 books in 1814. Over the ensuing 200 years, the library became a national treasure to researchers and tourists, a repository of our rich tradition of American publishing, and an essential resource for congressional staff. For more than a century, the library was fully stocked as the official copyright repository: You can’t register a copyright without submitting a work to the library. But as the collections have grown—they now include music, film, television, and radio recordings, as well as video games, software, and electronic records of Web publications—the library has increasingly depended on congressional appropriations to keep its operations going. And funding has been far below what the library needs to perform its functions of preserving all this material and making it available to the pubic.

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Future Highways Could Be Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles – BELINDA LANKS 07.13.15. 4:16 PM


Plastic bottles are recycled into jeans, toys, furniture and, yes, more plastic bottles. The Dutch city of Rotterdam wants to turn them into highways.

The city is seriously considering the technology, which is called PlasticRoad. Construction firm VolkerWessels calls it a greener alternative to asphalt that is stronger, easier to maintain, and more resistant to temperature extremes than conventional blacktop.

Asphalt, which is dark bituminous pitch mixed with sand or gravel, has long reigned as the road construction material of choice because it is relatively quick and easy to install, cheap, and remarkably durable. It’s also an environmental scourge: Its production releases 96 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.

That’s led inventors to ponder planet-friendlier materials and applications, including solar-panel arrays and luminescent paint designed to absorb solar energy. And in India, plastic refuse (including bags) already has been used in place of bitumen in 3,000 miles of roadway.

PlasticRoad may not look as cool as some tech-laden proposals, but it’s practical. It doesn’t rely on technical breakthroughs, making it a suitable replacement for asphalt within a few years, according to VolkerWessels. Since the highway is hollow, cables and pipes can easily pass through. It can also be prefabricated and transported as and where needed, reducing construction and traffic disruptions.

Another benefit not to be overlooked: PlasticRoad makes use of our waste. The US generated 33 million tons of plastic waste in 2013, only 9 percent of which was recycled.

However promising, the idea is still just a concept. A prototype must be built and tested to ensure it’s safe to drive on, or if a plastic road will give new meaning to “slippery when wet.”

The Stock Exchange and United Outages Weren’t Hacks But They Were Just As Scary – By Lily Hay Newman JULY 9 2015 7:50 PM

 A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during Wednesday's outage. Photo by Lucas Jackson

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during Wednesday’s outage.
Photo by Lucas Jackson

On Wednesday, an hour-and-a-half-long reservation system failure grounded United Airlines flights, the New York Stock Exchange was down for almost four hours, and the Wall Street Journal’s website suffered intermittent outages. At an intelligence committee hearing that afternoon, Sen. Barbara Mikulski firmly told FBI Director James Comey, “I don’t believe in coincidences.” But no matter how hack-like the situation seemed, all three companies and law enforcement have been adamant that bad actors were not behind the failures. And that’s just as scary.

A United representative told the Los Angeles Times that a router issue had “degraded network connectivity for various applications,” causing the company’s system problems. And after consistently but opaquely claiming that there weren’t bad actors behind the stock exchange outage, NYSE said in a statement on Thursday that a software update was to blame. “As is standard NYSE practice, the initial release was deployed on one trading unit … [but] there were communication issues between customer gateways and the trading unit with the new release.” NYSE attempted to correct the problem, but this caused new complications and “the decision was made to suspend trading.” The Wall Street Journal is still investigating the cause of its outages, with some speculating that heavy Web traffic brought the site down.

Between the Office of Personnel Management hack and the breach at Sony, the idea of large-scale malicious cyberattacks has become markedly more real for consumers in recent months. But Dave Chronister, who founded the cybersecurity firm Parameter Security and formerly did IT management at financial institutions like A.G. Edwards, points out that there doesn’t have to be a bad actor on the other end for something to be a cybersecurity problem. “We’re in a hypersensitive time right now where everybody’s worried about the malicious attacker, but the chances are you’re going to have a lot more incidents like [those on Wednesday] than actual attacks,” he said. “These were security incidents. The systems went down. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t an attack.”

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Warren Buffett was right, trains are awesome at telling you what’s going on in the economy – BOB BRYAN JUN. 14, 2015, 12:43 PM


Warren Buffett once said that if he was stuck on a desert island and only allowed one number to know how the economy is doing, he would pick railcar traffic.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Ethan Harris and Alex Lin ran the numbers and found that of six weekly indicators (railcar traffic, electricity output, steel output, lumber, chain store sales, and initial jobless claims), railcar traffic is most closely linked to changes in quarterly GDP.

Rail car traffic 06-12-15

Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Railcar traffic can account for 34% of the variance in quarterly GDP, higher than any other weekly economic measure. Jobless claims, generally the most talked about of the weekly measures, can only account for 23%. It also is significantly in sync with manufacturing output and monthly GDP changes.

Obviously, it’s not perfect.

“One of the shortcomings of the railcar data is that it captures only about 10% of shipments by weight and only about 3% by volume,” the economists noted. “By contrast, truck shipments capture more than two-thirds of both volume and value … On its own, railcar growth only explains only 12% of the monthly variation in manufacturing output growth. However, that is a lot better than the trucking data and railcars are statistically significant in all our tests.”

Similar to GDP growth, railcar traffic has confirmed the lackluster start of 2015.

“There has been softness recently, but the recent trough coincided with unusually bad weather in February and the dock strike,” wrote Lin and Harris.

Much like other recent indicators, it seems to be making a rebound with a 1% increase over last month’s average in the first week of June.

On The Line: Charlie LeDuff Discusses Inequality in America – Published on Jun 8, 2015

It wasn’t too long ago that American power and the wealth of the nation was created by cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Newark. Now, as wealth has been concentrated among the elite, these and many American cities are in decline. Infrastructure is crumbling, the middle class is struggling, and the effects of urban poverty are becoming harder to ignore.

VICE News contributor Charlie LeDuff ( looks at these issues in his work for VICE News and joined On The Line to take your questions.

Read “Baltimore, Wilmington, Philly, and Newark — Inside the Forgotten Corridor” –

Elon Musk’s big announcement: it’s called ‘Tesla Energy’ – MATTHEW DEBORD MAY 1, 2015, 12:16 AM

Elon Musk

REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk reveals a Tesla Energy battery for businesses and utility companies during an event in Hawthorne, California April 30, 2015. Read more:

REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk reveals a Tesla Energy battery for businesses and utility companies during an event in Hawthorne, California April 30, 2015.

Late Thursday night in Los Angeles, Tesla announced “Tesla Energy,” described by the company in a statement as “a suite of batteries for homes, businesses, and utilities fostering a clean energy ecosystem and helping wean the world off fossil fuels.”

The statement continued: “Tesla is not just an automotive company, it’s an energy innovation company. Tesla Energy is a critical step in this mission to enable zero emission power generation.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk made the official announcement onstage at the company’s design studio in Hawthorne, CA, just south of LA.

“We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the Sun,” he said, stressing that solar power is the best way to end the world’s addiction to fossil fuels and head off a disastrous future in which we are overwhelmed by CO2 in the atmosphere.

What’s the problem? The Sun doesn’t shine at night. So you need to store the power gathered by solar panels. But existing batteries, as Musk quipped, “suck.”

The “missing piece,” according to him, is Tesla’s suite of batteries. And they will not suck.

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