Economist 4/26/14

  1. This was the scene at a recent event in London to promote “Hour of Code”, an initiative organised by Code.org, a non-profit, aimed at rousing interest in computer programming—or “coding” in the language of the digital cognoscenti. In September, when computer science becomes part of England’s primary-school curriculum, such games are likely to become a common sight in the country’s classrooms. Many other places are beefing up computer-science teaching, too. Israel was an early adopter, updating its high-school syllabus a decade ago; New Zealand and some German states recently did the same. Australia and Denmark are now following suit.  Israel has about 1,000 trained computer-science teachers, and Bavaria more than 700. Mathematics and computer-science graduates generally choose more lucrative trades.
  2. PAKISTAN only country in South Asia that does not have high-speed mobile internet, because only this week, after eight years of delays and regulatory snarl-ups, did it at last hold an auction of the spectrum required to roll out 3G and 4G services. Successful bids were made by two local operators, Mobilink and Ufone, and two foreign ones, China Mobile and Telenor of Norway. So far less than 10% of the country’s 132m mobile subscribers have smartphones, according to industry figures.
  3. BRAZIL has the world’s biggest reserves of fresh water. That most of it sits in the sparsely populated Amazon has not historically stopped Brazilians in the drier, more populous south taking it for granted. São Paulo state, home to one-fifth of Brazil’s population and one-third of its economic activity, is suffering the worst drought since records began in 1930.On April 21st the governor, Geraldo Alckmin, warned that from May consumers will be fined for increasing their water use. Those who cut consumption are already rewarded with discounts on their bills.And not just in São Paulo; the national water regulator has warned that 16 projects in the ten biggest cities must be completed by 2015 to prevent chronic water shortages over the next decade.
  4. Thanks to personalised “family stickers”: tiny stick-figure depictions of an entire household (most typically displayed in one corner of a minivan’s rear-windscreen). Though the trend’s origins are obscure, there is a consensus that it began in Mexico several years ago and at first involved generic outline figures,Chroma Graphics of Tennessee, a supplier to such firms as Walmart, recently designed its first kits to celebrate households headed by same-sex couples. In Idaho a sign-maker, Woodland Manufacturing, has pioneered hyper-personalised stickers, www.familystickers.com, its online retail arm.
  5. On April 15th a court in Brussels prohibited drivers from accepting passengers through UberPOP, on pain of a €10,000 ($13,800) fine. Last month Seattle’s council declared that Lyft, SideCar and UberX should be limited to 150 drivers each at a time—though a petition has gained enough signatures to put this requirement on hold. A judge has already told Lyft to apply the brakes in St Louis, only a few days after it rolled into town. RelayRides shut down in New York almost a year ago, because it fell foul of the state’s insurance laws. In other states, explains Andre Haddad, the chief executive, the company’s insurance policy kicks in once a car is rented out. New York law, however, insists that the owner remains liable.Airbnb has thus come under fire from Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney-general. He is demanding that the company hand over information about hosts with more than one property listed on the site. According to Skift, a travel-industry website, there are 1,849 of these, accounting for 30% of Airbnb’s New York listings; 102 have seven properties or more.BlaBlaCar, a French ride-sharing company operating in several European countries. Its users share only intercity rides, and so do not annoy urban cabbies.Airbnb has said it is willing to collect hotel taxes in New York, Portland and San Francisco. It has recently revised its terms and conditions, spelling out in greater detail its hosts’ obligations to declare what they earn, as well as to honour their leases. San Francisco is considering the legalisation of some short-term letting. Hosts must live in the property at least three-quarters of the time, register with the city and pay the 14% hotel tax.
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