Apple's executive shakeup, and tech challenges after a storm halts transportation

A police officer stands behind a barricaded subway entrance near Battery Park during the arrival of Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012 in New York City.

Is there technology to help a city like New York manage disasters like this week's hurricane? With the city's mayor warning it could be the weekend before subway trains are restored, a key question is what are other options for the 5.3 million people that use New York's system on a typical day? Turns out, the Los Alamos National Laboratory has transportation simulation software that can help cities get the planning down to a science. It's called TRANSIMS and FastTrams, and Adel Sadek uses it. He's a University of Buffalo Transportation Systems Engineering professor.

"The basic idea is to try to understand where people live, where they work, what are there daily activities, which routes or which transportation modes they take at any point in time. And then try to simulate or have an animation of what the transportation network looks like, how the system evolves over time," he says.

Sadek says regional planners use this kind of high-tech modeling to prepare for "extreme events" like the Northeast is now living through with tropical storm Sandy.

Sadeck says, "Now with concerns about global climate change, and we know that in the future the sea-levels are going to rise and the like. So, there has been a lot of thinking in New York City itself in terms of how can we adapt."

Even with software modeling, it's tough for New Yorkers to find new ways to work without their 660 miles of subway. "It carries so much traffic that it's really almost impossible to find adequate capacity elsewhere," says Sadek.

And prudence may trump technology. Frank Martin helped run Miami-Dade's transit system during Hurricane Andrew which devastated South Florida in 1992. "I can't think of any really new technology that exists in terms of trying to prepare for Mother Nature. We just have to make sure that we have taken the precautions on the front-end of the storm to put the trains and buses in a safe location, and then going out and doing the proper inspection and bringing everything back online," says Martin, who is now at the engineering and design company Atkins Global. 


Now, how a shakeup at the top of Apple might affect the electronic device in your pocket. The senior executive deemed responsible for the company's clumsy mapping software is out. Apple's mobile software chief Scott Forstall reportedly refused to sign a letter of apology for the maps.

Adam Lashinsky, senior editor at Fortune magazine and author of the book "Inside Apple," says Forstall seems to have run afoul of Apple's culture: "Apple has something called the 'directly responsible individual' -- the DRI -- the person who's on hook to get something done. Scott Forstall was on the hook to get the maps done. Because it wasn't good and because there is this suggestion that he didn't take adequate responsibility for it, that was lethal at a company like Apple."

Some of Forstall's job will now fall to design guru Jony Ive and that could mean new changes in Apple products. "Ive was given more responsibilities in the shake-up, he was given over software in addition to his hardware design responsibilities. It's possible that customers will see a subtle return to the simplicity that Apple has been so well known for," says Lashinsky.

Apple addicts might not have to wait long for a return to simplicity given how new products get released every ten minutes or so these days.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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