Uber’s first test of crisis surge cap went unnoticed in October

All eyes are on New York, where along with a massive incoming storm, Uber is rolling out its emergency surge pricing cap. On Monday, there was a flurry of coverage by media outlets from Bloomberg to Time, with some saying this marks, “a chance for Uber Technologies Inc. to show it has learned from past mistakes.”

But this isn’t the first time Uber has capped surge pricing during a state of emergency — it’s the second.

According to a source familiar with the testing, Uber used its new surge price capping system in October during Hurricane Ana in Hawaii, which appears to have gone unreported by media. The company didn’t make a fuss of the development, choosing to introduce the system without scrutiny. Although Hawaii declared a state of emergency during that time, Hurricane Ana didn’t cause much damage.

Here’s how Uber calculates surge pricing in states of emergency: It chooses the fourth highest surge rate in the 60 days prior and makes that the capped rate for the storm. The top three highest surge rates from the prior two months will be ignored, in hopes of keeping the fare reasonable. It’s not clear why Uber won’t just cap surge at a designated amount, like 2x. The company will donate all of its revenue, which is 20 percent of each ride, to the American Red Cross during this time.

Uber announced the new emergency surge pricing policy in July, in light of tropical storm Arthur, which hit the East Coast. But according to an SF Examiner story, the pricing cap never went into effect because a state of emergency was never declared during the storm. Hawaii’s Hurricane Ana was its first test in October, but the New York blizzard will be its biggest.

The capped fare for New York’s upcoming blizzard Juno comes after the state’s attorney general penned a New York Times op-ed shaming Uber for what he called “price gouging” in the wake of surge pricing during Hurricane Sandy. The blowback for Uber surge pricing during times of crises stretch across the globe, with the recent outcry notably occurring after a hostage situation in Sydney. During instances like these, Uber has initially repeated the company line about how surge pricing gets more drivers on the road during times they might not otherwise drive.

This is true, but it doesn’t subvert the ethical quandary of leaving those who can’t afford the surge pricing in a potentially dangerous situation. The reoccurring outcry appears to have prompted Uber to have a change of heart.

US weather agency to boost supercomputers to 2.5 petaflops each

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plans to upgrade the performance of its two supercomputers with a roughly tenfold increase of capacity by October 2015, the agency said Monday. With the upgrade, the agency is hoping for more accurate and timely weather forecasts.

The supercomputer upgrade comes courtesy of a $44.5 million contract with [company]IBM[/company], which is subcontracting with Seattle-based supercomputer-maker Cray Inc. to improve the systems. Of that $44.5 million, the NOAA said that $25 million “was provided through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 related to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy.”

The National Weather Service (part of NOAA) will reap the benefits this month when the two supercomputers triple their current total capacity from 0.776 petaflops to 1.552 petaflops as part of the first step of the overhaul. With the bump in power, the National Weather Service will be able to run an upgraded version of its Global Forecast System with better resolution and longer weather forecasts.

Global Forecast System

Global Forecast System

When the upgrade is finished, each supercomputer should be able to handle a capacity of 2.5 petaflops, which makes for a total capacity of 5 petaflops.

While that’s a sizable increase of capacity, the world’s fastest supercomputer, China’s Tianhe-2, can deliver 55 peak petaflops.

In November, IBM announced that it would build two new supercomputers based on IBM’s OpenPower technology for the U.S. Department of Energy. Those new supercomputers should be functional by 2017 and will supposedly deliver more than 100 peak petaflops.

Instagram CEO: Sandy was probably Instagram’s biggest moment

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said Hurricane Sandy was probably the company’s biggest moment, with users tagging 800,000 photos with the “#Sandy” hashtag, compared to about 85,000 photos tagged with the Super Bowl hashtag this year. He said they embraced the participatory nature.

How NBC is using Instagram to report the 2012 election

Services like Instagram provide a huge trove of photos for traditional news outlets to enrich their coverage of major events like the election or Hurricane Sandy. A novel approach by NBC shows the opportunities and challenges of user photos.