Archiv für den Monat Juli 2014

Airbnb Is Quietly Building the Smartest Travel Agent of All Time


Airbnb overhauled its logo, its website, and its mobile app this morning. But there’s something deeper going on with the sharing economy’s most popular travel site.

Under the covers, Airbnb has quietly begun an ambitious effort to painstakingly mine the treasure trove of data contained in the site’s customer reviews and host descriptions to create a smarter way of traveling. It turns outs Airbnb is more than a travel website—it’s a stealth big data company.

“For a long time now, Airbnb has been an awesome place to go if you know where you’re going and you know when you’re going,” says Mike Curtis, Airbnb’s vice president of engineering. “But we realized that we have all of this data that other people don’t have. We have travel patterns. We have the reviews. We have the descriptions of the listings. We know a lot about neighborhoods that we can infer from the text in there.”

To do this, the company has formed an eight-person Discovery team. Their mission? To build language processing software that mines Airbnb’s data and figures out what’s really happening out there in the travel world. In other words, Airbnb is building a kind of omniscient, machine-powered travel agent of the future.


You can see the early hints of this in the new recommendations that debut on the site today. Airbnb figures out where you’re from, and then drops you a few travel ideas. “We try to figure out exactly where you are and who the people are around you and where they like to travel,” says Surabhi Gupta, an engineer on the Discovery team.

If you’re booking from Knoxville, Tennessee, for example, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll want to take in the sights in Washington, DC. If you’re from the San Francisco or Brooklyn, you may very well be looking for a booking in the same city (folks in these places are more likely to be using Airbnb to book accommodations for friends or relatives).




The Discovery team figures this out by extracting interesting words from the site’s reviews and descriptions. An open-source tool called the Stanford Part of Speech Tagger comes in handy for this. It then uses custom-build algorithms to assign 150 different attributes—beaches, hiking, sunsets, and so on—to different locations.

What you see on the homepage is a start, but Airbnb wants to get to the point where it can give very specific recommendations based on who you are, not just where you live. “A lot of what we’re doing is the foundational work for user-level personalization,” says Lu Cheng, another Discovery team engineer. That means, in a few years, you may very well be using Airbnb to not only book your next vacation, but to figure out where the heck you want to go.




Audi RS7 Is as Fast as a Ferrari 458 at Half the Price

Wrong world America?

Whereas Europeans in well saturated markets like Germany and Austria pay easily more than double the price Americas customers pay for the same brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Audi, Ferrari only a friction.
Wrong world? Globalisation?
Wrong. The answer is. International brands try to globally subsidise their Americas Sales in order to keep the motor running and Americas Washing machine spinning.

Ferrari 358: America: 230.000 USD, Germany Austria: 390.000 USD (+70 %)
Hilfiger Watch: America 10 USD, Germany Austria 75 USD (+750 %)
Michael Kors Sunglasses: America 44 USD, Germany Austria 150 USD (+340 %)
Audi RS7: America super pricey 122.000 USD, Germany Austria: 182.000 USD (+50 %)


The new Audi RS7 is a conflicted car. It’s a five-door hatchback that can run neck and neck with a Ferrari 458 in the quarter mile. It marries straight-line performance with unexpected utility, and does it at a price that undercuts its similarly power-mad German competitors. Yet it’s not the vehicle you want to take to the track—the power overwhelms, and the Audi S7 is the better choice if you actually want to turn at high speeds.

But, good grief is this thing fast! Full throttle, the RS7 is 4,500 pounds of luxury hurtling forward like anti-aircraft fire. Say another nouveau-riche fellow pulls up next to you at a stoplight in his 458. Fear not. You’ll match him right through a quarter-mile drag race. As the two of you speed forward to 60 mph in around three seconds, he can ponder the fact that his $233,000 (at least) two-seat sports car is holding even with a ride that holds four people and their luggage comfortably.

With the RS7, Audi tips further away from its characteristic tight-lipped restraint than with any other car it makes, including the R8 V10 Plus.

America’s Most Powerful Audi

Based on Audi’s A7 Sportback, the RS7 is the company’s top dog performance sedan, a notch above the S8 in dynamics if not price. It starts for $104,900, we tested one worth $122,545. It’s the most powerful Audi ever offered in the United States, boasting a 4.0 liter twin turbo V8 that makes 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. The engine makes so much power that the regular A7’s 7-speed double-clutch transmission can’t handle the torque.

Instead, the RS7 gets an 8-speed ZF single clutch transmission that sends power to all four wheels via the Quattro AWD system. The resulting 11.5 second quarter mile dash is Gran Turismo easy – just plant your foot, no drama.

Driving the car, these giggle-inducing numbers feel like lowball estimates. After sprinting off the line, the RS7 pulls like a rocket sled to an electronically limited 174 mph (an optional “Dynamic” package bumps top speed to the same 189 mph ceiling you get in the European version of the car).

Audi RS 7 Sportback

A Practical Ride

Yet it’s still a practical car. There really are four habitable seats, though your head will be bowed in the back if you’re over 5’10”. The space available easily exceeds what you get in competitors like Mercedes’ CLS63 AMG, Aston Martin’s Rapide, and BMW’s M6 Gran Coupe. The rear hatch and folding rear seats yield 49.1 cubic feet of cargo space, more than a BMW X1 crossover.

The interior nods to fun, spiced up with aluminum pinstriping across black wood dash and door inlays, web stitching on the excellent seats, a perforated steering wheel wrap, and machined-out aluminum door handles. On startup, little Bang & Olufsen tweeters—ostensibly there to improve acoustics, really made for impressing friends and dates—rise from the dash in sync with the 7-inch MMI display screen.

The exterior signals aggression with 21-inch wheels enclosing 15”/14” wave-design rotors and a huge black gloss grille. Our Misano red pearl test driver had matte aluminum trim and a pattern based on the Audi quattro ring in the tail lamps. The effect is handsome, but borders on vulgar in bright red.

There are other bits of awkwardness. Small aluminum steering wheel shifter paddles indicate Audi doesn’t think you’ll paddle shift much (it’s probably right). The brake ducts on the front splitter are cosmetic only and the plastic cover over the engine keeps you from ogling the fabulous twin-turbo V8. Too bad, because beneath it you find the turbos mounted atop the intake manifold. The layout largely eliminates turbo lag, but Audi doesn’t say how it keeps the turbos cool.

The RS7 doesn’t drive perfectly. It corners and stops very well, until you push the power close to the limit. The chassis is marvelously stiff but the power out-muscles the suspension. The rear sport (electronic) differential over-speeds the outside rear wheels in hard cornering but it cannot defeat the inevitable AWD understeer. Nor can it make up for the RS7’s mass. Steering feel is vague and the air suspension doesn’t communicate what’s happening underneath.

What all that means is that when you barrel into a corner 40 mph quicker than you expected (likely at first) the car lurches, struggling mightily with front-end plow as you add more and more steering. The well heeled toffs who can afford an RS7 may not instinctively understand this.

For all its gobsmacking power, the RS7 really isn’t an emotional car in driving terms. On long highway drives, it’s nice to be isolated from noise and vibrations, but it takes something away when you want to really feel the car. Fortunately for Audi, the competition isn’t much more involving.

But at least it’s the dominant sort of isolation, the kind that allows you to look through dark sunglasses at the sucker next to you and rev the engine with confidence.


What Is inside McDonalds‘ French Fries?

McDonalds Fries


Mickey D’s uses varieties like the Russet Burbank, which have a nice oval shape and just the right balance of starch and sugar. Excess sugar can cause a fry to have brown spots where it’s over-caramelized, leaving a burnt taste and deviating from the uniform yellow-arches color. Just in case, the spuds are blanched after slicing, removing surplus sugar.


Taters can turn a nasty hue even after they’re fried—iron in the spud reacts with the potato’s phenolic compounds, discoloring the tissue. The phosphate ions in SAPP trap the iron ions, stalling the reaction and keeping the potatoes nice and white throughout the process.


In the good old days, McDonald’s fries were cooked in beef tallow. But customer demand for less saturated fat prompted a switch to vegetable oil in the early ’90s. Here, that means oils of varying saturations combined into something reminiscent of beef tallow. There’s canola (about 8 percent saturated fat), soybean oil (16 percent), and hydrogenated soybean oil (94 percent). And to replace the essence of beef tallow? “Natural beef flavor,” which contains hydrolyzed wheat and milk proteins that could be a source of meaty-tasting amino acids.


That’s right, the fries get two batches of vegetable oil—one for par-frying at the factory and another for the frying bath on location. The second one adds corn oil and an additive called TBHQ, or tertbutylhydroquinone, which at high doses can cause nasty side effects in rats (mmmm … stomach tumors). McDonald’s uses this oil for all its frying, so the stuff usually sits around in big vats, which means it can go rancid as oxygen plucks hydrogens from lipids. TBHQ acts as an antioxidant, replacing those pilfered hydrogens with its own supply.


A brief dip in a corn-based sugar solution replaces just enough of the natural sweet stuff that was removed by blanching. The result is a homogeneous outer layer that caramelizes evenly. You’ll add more sugar later when you squirt on the ketchup.


Sprinkled on just after frying, the crystals are a uniform diameter—just big enough to get absorbed quickly by crackling-hot oil. Now add ketchup and you’ve achieved the hedonistic trifecta: fat, salt, and sugar.