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Inside Gobi Heaven, China’s Burning Man-style desert festival

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Gobi Heaven

In the weeks before the annual Burning Man festival sets up camp in the Nevada desert, a Chinese version of it played out in Inner Mongolia.

For the price of a nine-hour drive from Beijing—and 560 to 2800 yuan ($80-400) for a ticket—revelers gathered in a wide-open Gobi desert space the size of six soccer fields, about one-tenth the size of Burning Man’s Black Rock City, which will be assembled starting Aug. 25. Gobi Heaven organizers say about 6,000 to 8,000 “residents” stayed the entire five days of the festival, though some participants and event volunteers interviewed by Quartz offered lower estimates on the size of the crowd.

The half-built entrance to Gobi Heaven

The half-built entrance to Gobi Heaven, one day before the opening of the event.

Festival goers endured five days of extreme, windy weather: Heat in the mid-90sF° during the day followed by temperatures dropping into the low 50s at night. A sandstorm blew apart many tents one afternoon. Another day, everyone got soaked in pouring rain.

Sand storm at Gobi Heaven

The sandstorm came on Aug. 9.

Sand storm at Gobi Heaven in Inner Mongolia, China on August 9th, 2019

Artist Jinsong He saw his bamboo-structured installation fall in the Aug. 9 sandstorm.

Chinese and international artists presented music, fireworks, light and art installations amid campsites that also showcased artwork. In the same spirit as burning the Temple on the last night of Burning Man, festival goers dressed up and burnt a bamboo-structured center installation called “The Guardian of Life and Death.”

Gobi Heaven art installation

Dragon, by David Han

Gobi Heaven art installation

Memory-Youth, by Jianzhang Li

Art Installation (100 Wolves)

Wolves Are Coming, by Ruowang Liu

Gobi Heaven music stage

Electronic music organized by Great Wall Festival played at the center music stage.

Campers dressed up for the burning ceremony.

Campers dressed up for the burning ceremony.

Burning Temple

The burning ceremony on the last night.

Getting into Gobi Heaven

Gobi Heaven founder Le Chen had prepared two years for the festival. He had worked in creative advertising in Beijing for almost two decades and wanted to create a Chinese version of the countercultural American festival. He struck a partnership with the San Francisco-based nonprofit Burning Man Project, attended the festival last year, and established a company. Backed by the state-run China Cultural Media Group (link in Chinese) and private capital, it now has a total of more than 50 million yuan ($7 million) to run the project in China for five years.

The Chinese version isn’t called Burning Man. “The Burning Man trademark extension was denied by [China’s] Trademark Office. They saw Burning Man as an unconventional American carnival and thought it didn’t align well with the ethics and morals of China,” Chen told Quartz. The Chinese festival thus got a new name, Gobi Heaven, and is legally independent from Burning Man.

Gone with the name were other Burning Man ideals. Adapting the 10 Principles of Burning Man, Chen developed his own “10 principles” (link in Chinese) for Gobi Heaven, encouraging human interaction and an open mind. There’s no mention of the “radical self-reliance” and “radical self-expression” as endorsed by Burning Man in the US.

Here’s how the principles compare:

Burning Man Gobi Heaven
Radical inclusion Make friends
Decommodification Resist unnecessary consumption
Participation Put in your best effort
Communal effort Honor collaboration
Leaving no trace Pick your liter
Civic Responsibility Don’t complain
Gifting Put down your phone
Immediacy Stay foolish
Radical self-reliance Stay unique
Radical self-expression Don’t rush to judgement

Single-day tickets were sold at much-discounted prices, around 80-280 yuan ($11-40). Chen said that drew in single-day spectators from nearby communities, giving them rare direct exposure to modern artwork.

Local participants visit Gobi Heaven.

Burning up the rules

Chen planned to limit cellular service on the site to one in every three hours, just eight hours a day, to simulate an isolated environment. He abandoned that plan on the first day. “I needed to call the workers responsible for equipment and food supplies. Campers couldn’t pick up their friends, performers couldn’t coordinate, and the emergency line was blocked,” Chen said.

Some festival goers didn’t bring their own tents or water. They were able to buy supplies from local merchants who came to the event entrance. Pre-cooked food delivery such as braised beef noodles and large chicken plates was not allowed initially, but Chen changed that rule, too. “Some camps wanted to host a meal for a friend gathering. Some wanted to make dumplings. As long as they had a good time, we would allow it,” he said.

Now Chen wants to separate Gobi Heaven from any Burning Man hype. “Not all human activities happening in a desert setting with fire should be called Burning Man,” he said as the event concluded its last day. “What we’ve built here is culture.”

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Where the World’s Banks Make the Most Money

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Where the World's Banks Make the Most Money

Where the World’s Banks Make the Most Money

Profits in banking have been steadily on the rise since the financial crisis.

Just last year, the global banking industry cashed in an impressive $1.36 trillion in after-tax profits ⁠— the highest total in the sector seen in the last 20 years.

What are the drivers behind revenue and profits in the financial services sector, and where do the biggest opportunities exist in the future?

Following the Money

Today’s infographic comes to us from McKinsey & Company, and it leverages proprietary insights from their Panorama database.

Using data stemming from more than 60 countries, we’ve broken down historical banking profits by region, while also visualizing key ratios that help demonstrate why specific countries are more profitable for the industry.

Finally, we’ve also looked at the particular geographic regions that may present the biggest opportunities in the future, and why they are relevant today.

Banking Profits, by Region

Before we look at what’s driving banking profits, let’s start with a breakdown of annual after-tax profits by region over time.

Banking Profit by Year and Region ($B)

Global ($B)$388$530$635$703$859$963$1,070$1,065$1,144$1,356
United States$19$118$176$263$268$263$291$275$270$403
Western Europe$78$34$21-$70$28$95$154$159$186$198
Rest of World$196$243$265$285$309$327$348$361$387$421

In 2018, the United States accounted for $403 billion of after-tax profits in the banking sector ⁠— however, China sits in a very close second place, raking in $333 billion.

What’s Under the Hood?

While there’s no doubt that financial services can be profitable in almost any corner of the globe, what is less obvious is where this profit actually comes from.

The truth is that banking can vary greatly depending on location ⁠— and what drives value for banks in one country may be completely different from what drives value in another.

Let’s look at data and ratios from four very different places to get a sense of how financial services markets can vary.

CountryRARC/GDPLoans Penetration/GDPMargins (RBRC/Total Loans)Risk Cost Margin
Global Average5.1%124%5.0%0.8%
United States5.4%121%5.0%0.4%

1. RARC / GDP (Revenues After Risk Costs / GDP)
This ratio shows compares a country’s banking revenues to overall economic production, giving a sense of how important banking is to the economy. Using this, you can see that banking is far more important to Singapore’s economy than others in the table.

2. Loans Penetration / GDP
Loans penetration can be further broken up into retail loans and wholesale loans. The difference can be immediately seen when looking at data on China and the United States:

CountryRetail LoansWholesale LoansLoan Penetration (Total)
United States73%48%121%

In America, banks make loans primarily to the retail sector. In China, there’s a higher penetration on a wholesale basis — usually loans being made to corporations or other such entities.

3. Margins (Revenues Before Risk Costs / Total Loans)
Margins made on lending is one way for bankers to gauge the potential of a market, and as you can see above, margins in the United States and China are both at (or above) the global average. Meanwhile, for comparison, Finland has margins that are closer to half of the global average.

4. Risk Cost Margin (Risk Cost / Total Loans)
Not surprisingly, China still holds higher risk cost margins than the global average. On the flipside, established markets like Singapore, Finland, and the U.S. all have risk margins below the global average.

Future Opportunities in Banking

While this data is useful at breaking down existing markets, it can also help to give us a sense of future opportunities as well.

Here are some of the geographic markets that have the potential to grow into key financial services markets in the future:

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa
    Despite having 16x the population of South Africa, the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa still generates fewer banking profits. With lower loan penetration rates and RARC/GDP ratios, there is significant potential to be found throughout the continent.
  2. India and Indonesia
    Compared to similar economies in Asia, both India and Indonesia present an interesting banking opportunity because of their high margins and low loan penetration rates.
  3. China
    While China has a high overall loan penetration rate, the retail loan category still holds much potential given the country’s population and growing middle class.

A Changing Landscape in Banking

As banks shift focus to face new market challenges, the next chapter of banking may be even more interesting than the last.

Add in the high stakes around digital transformation, aging populations, and new service opportunities, and the distance between winners and losers could lengthen even more.

Where will the money in banking be in the future?

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Visualizing the World’s Sleeping Habits

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Visualizing the World's Sleeping Habits

Visualizing the World’s Sleeping Habits

Sleep quality, patterns, and duration may vary among countries, but one thing’s clear─people still aren’t getting enough sleep. While some people can function on a few hours, others find themselves reaching for that second cup of morning coffee instead of getting those extra Z’s.

Today’s graphic comes from Raconteur and highlights some startling takeaways from the 2019 Philips Global Sleep Survey, answered by over 11,000 adults from 12 countries.

Let’s settle in to discover what impacts our sleeping habits, also known as sleep hygiene, and what helps people sleep better and longer.

Why Sleep Is Important

Roughly 62% of adults worldwide feel that they don’t sleep well when they go to bed. Losing just one or two hours of sleep per night can have the same impact on motor and cognitive functions as going without sleep for a full day or two.

Experts have long emphasized that developing good sleeping habits can help to maintain our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Ongoing sleep deprivation can also cause severe, long-term health conditions:

  • Heart disease and heart failure
  • Weak immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Drowsiness has been a significant factor in roughly 100,000 car accidents every year, causing an estimated 1,500 deaths. Sleep deficiency has also been linked to a number of disasters, such as airplane and boat accidents, and even nuclear reactor meltdowns.

The Science of Sleep

The human body follows the circadian rhythm─a 24-hour repeating rhythm that operates as an internal clock. This clock is controlled by two things: external cues such as light and darkness, and internal compounds that trigger and maintain our sleep.

These chemicals work together to keep our sleep/wake cycles in harmony.

  • Adenosine: slowly builds the desire for sleep throughout the day
  • Melatonin: produces drowsy feelings that signal your body is now ready for sleep
  • Cortisol: naturally triggers your body to wake up

While sleep duration can vary greatly around the world, most adults are still not getting enough shut-eye. The average person gets 6.8 hours of sleep on a weeknight, which is significantly lower than the recommended 8 hours.

One company in the UK has even developed a real-time map of social media posts from people who say they can’t fall or stay asleep.

What Prevents Better Sleep?

People can suffer from a lack of sleep for many reasons─below are the top six culprits.

  1. Worry and Stress
    Job, family, health, financial, and a myriad of other concerns plague people from all walks of life. Adults living in Canada and Singapore tend to be the most worried.
  2. Environment
    The physical space where you sleep plays a large role in the quality and duration of your sleep. Nearly 35% of adults fall asleep somewhere other than their bed. Interestingly, Chinese adults are the least comfortable when sleeping, while Japanese adults are the most comfortable.
  3. Work and School Schedules
    Hectic careers and heavy school workloads have a direct and lasting impact on sleeping habits. Many forego sleep in favor of completing work, social, and household responsibilities.
  4. Entertainment
    In the age of technology, natural rhythms of daytime and nighttime perception have been skewed, especially from the effects of blue light emitted from our device screens.
  5. Disruptors
    Eating food, or drinking alcohol or caffeine within the last few hours before bedtime can prevent our brains from knowing it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep. Adults living in the fast-paced developed nations of China, Canada, the United States, and Singapore are the most caffeinated.
  6. Health Conditions
    Over three-quarters of adults experience at least one health condition that impacts sleep. These include insomnia, sleep apnea─which affects roughly 22 million people in the U.S. alone─snoring, restless leg syndrome (RLS), narcolepsy, and chronic pain.

Developing Good Sleeping Habits

Sleep is often the first to be neglected with our hectic schedules. Here are a few ways to practice better habits for a good night’s sleep.

Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day─even on weekends─to establish a more ingrained rhythm for your body clock and help your brain better prepare for sleep.

Pick a time of day that suits your schedule and energy levels, and be sure to stick with it. Exercise helps to balance melatonin and cortisol levels throughout the day.

Get outside often during the day and reduce the time spent outside at night. Limit screen time at least 30-60 minutes before sleep.

Food and Drink
Avoid eating large meals or drinking alcohol or caffeine in the last couple of hours before you go to sleep. Caffeine effects can linger for up to 8 hours, which breaks natural sleep rhythms.

Recent studies have shown that mind-body treatments for insomnia such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation had positive impacts on improving sleep quality.

Set the bed for success—keep your room cool and dark, buy a high-quality mattress and comfortable bed linens and use a white-noise machine to help you fall asleep.

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our health; it’s also one of the easiest to neglect. Don’t put yourself into sleep debt─get enough shut-eye to enjoy those sweet dreams.

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The US State Department’s 2017 hiring freeze put classified information at risk

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The US State Department’s hiring freeze in 2017, ordered by Rex Tillerson, its leader at the time, caused staffing shortages that “placed at risk highly classified information,” among other issues. That’s according to an Inspector General’s report released today (pdf) that lays out a broad range of deleterious impacts the freeze had on America’s diplomatic corps.

An unidentified bureau within the State Department “worked with Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information systems,” and members of it told the IG’s office that “extended vacancies in its information security positions” had endangered the data, the report states.

Another bureau explained it was unable to fill an Information Systems Security Officer position for the entire duration of the 16-month freeze, which, the report says, “affected its ability to ensure IT security for a major Department system.”

A State Department data-encryption initiative was also delayed due to the freeze, as was the implementation of an identity-management system, an enterprise risk management program, and the development of “tools and procedures to react and respond to malicious cyber activity targeting Department personnel and information assets.”

Donald Trump has vowed to reduce the size of the federal workforce, at times threatening to shutter entire agencies. His administration has also described reports of promises to cut Washington’s payroll as “untrue and misleading,” although nearly 20,000 federal jobs were eliminated during Trump’s first 15 months in office.

Beyond cybersecurity, the department’s 2017 hiring freeze also undermined overseas youth programs, AIDS initiatives, counternarcotics programs, and more.

Unfilled job openings within the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Office of Children’s Issues “hampered its ability to support parents whose minor US citizen children had been abducted by family members,” explains the report.

One agency was “unable to fill a position to support an urgent need related to counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and Syria.”

And the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration chose “not to fund certain humanitarian programs in the early stages of the Venezuela crisis in 2017 because it lacked staff to oversee the work.”

Morale suffered badly during the freeze, State Department staffers told IG auditors, with 100% of bureaus and officers and 97% of embassies and consulates describing it as having been “somewhat” or “very” negative.

“[I]t is impossible to overstate the negative impact of the hiring freeze on employees,” says the report. “Employees felt both overburdened and stuck in their careers, as there was no mechanism for lateral movement or promotion. The hiring freeze conveyed a message from Department top leadership that our work and mission, and the talents and well-being of our employees, were not valued.”

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Maps of the movies and their characters

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Andrew DeGraff painted maps that show the geography in movies and their characters’ paths. Above is the map for Back to the Future, with 1985 Hill Valley on the top and 1955 Hill Valley on the bottom.

There’s also a book version. [via kottke]

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India is the epicenter of rethinking air conditioning

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Humans have seemingly perfected the science of staying cool. Air conditioning and refrigeration units are relatively cheap, the mechanics are pretty simple, and access to them is on the rise.

The downside is that they’re horrible for a planet grappling with a growing climate crisis.

Globally, about 12% of non-carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to refrigeration and air conditioners, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. That number is expected to increase as the earth heats up and populations swell in already-warm climates such as India, which, by launching an air conditioning innovation competition, is on the front lines of the effort to re-envision the globe’s cooling technologies.

In Delhi, where temperatures during the summer regularly crest 40.5 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit), cooling currently comprises 40% to 60% of summer peak electricity generation. And that’s in a city where a minority of residents use air conditioning at all; about 5% of residents have cooling in their homes. As more Indians enter the middle class, they’ll likely spend disposable income on basic luxuries that include energy-intensive air conditioning units.

And who can blame them? Research shows that by 2100, in a best case scenario, close to half the Earth’s population will face 20 days of potentially-fatal heat and humidity each year. Some areas of northeast India, research has shown, will become so hot that being outside for more than a few hours could be deadly, according to The Verge.

With that in mind, the Indian government in November 2018, along with two global energy nonprofits, launched The Global Cooling Prize. It’s a competition worth $3 million to find new and sustainable technologies to cool the planet’s workspaces and homes. More than 440 applications for the prize were submitted from 56 countries, including from some of the world’s largest air conditioner manufacturers and rising startups.

It’s an effort to totally re-think how we cool the spaces in which we live and work. Currently we use compression technology, which circulates coolants through a compressor and condenser to remove heat and moisture from indoor air. Rethinking that approach means throwing out every aspect of the compression technology we use today to embrace newer, environmentally-friendly approaches, says Vitalij Pecharsky, a scientist at the Ames Laboratory, a US Department of Energy facility in Iowa.

“In my mind, at least, the future of refrigeration is really not in the traditional compression technologies as we know them,” Pecharsky says.

The globe is expected to add about 700 million new air conditioning units in the next decade, and close to 1.5 billion by 2050, according to research out of the US Department of Energy. But the technology used to cool public and private spaces hasn’t fundamentally changed much since it was invented more than 100 years ago. And that lack of innovation is now a bad thing for the planet.

Air conditioners and refrigeration systems pose a two-pronged challenge:

  1. It takes a lot of energy to power them. In the US, for example, about 90% of homes have at least one air conditioning unit, and they account for close to 6% of the nation’s total residential energy use. That alone contributes close to 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. In India, the International Energy Agency estimates the peak electricity load from air conditioning could climb by 10% by 2050 if the technology doesn’t modernize.
  2. Common in all these machines are hydrofluorocarbons, a type of industrial chemical used for cooling. These chemicals aren’t harmful unless there is a leak in an air conditioning unit—but leaks are common. When HFCs are released into the atmosphere, they wind up trapping many times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

There are no shortage of ideas to make air conditioning greener and better. Some of these ideas make current units more efficient, some incorporate a combination of old and new technologies, and still others re-envision cooling entirely. One concept plays with the idea of ditching coolants and using rare earth materials and magnetic fields to generate heat and cold air. Another idea uses an electric field to change the polarization of a material—a rare earth metal—to warm and cool.

The problem with deploying any of these ideas? Our current units have had more than 100 years to become exceptionally cheap.

“The incumbent industry has cost-optimized the existing product to a point that it’s very, very, very hard for a new technology to get onto a cost curve that enables it to achieve sufficient scale,” says Iain Campbell, an air conditioning industry veteran and official with The Global Cooling Prize. “For new tech to be able to access the channels of distribution is almost impossible.”

For that reason, several startups have run into difficulties trying to compete with the cheaper, bad-for-the-planet status quo.

But the race to create a better way to cool ourselves has already begun. In November 2019, The Cooling Prize will announce 10 finalists, each getting $200,000 to develop prototypes to be tested. In keeping with India’s role with the prize, some of that testing will be in Delhi. For two months straight, contestants will keep their prototypes running in local apartments, judged on efficiency—and the ability to work under intense heat.

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