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Shanghai Urban Commuter Challenge Highlights NYU Poly Incubator Company

The Ford Motor Company recently invited digital developers to come to the aid of commuters in major world cities by designing software that could help enhance their quality of life.
One of the submissions came in from a company called Bandwagon. It is based at Urban Future Lab, the innovative clean-tech incubator in Brooklyn, N.Y., a partnership between NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering and The City and State of New York. Bandwagon’s submission to the Ford Shanghai Urban Commuter Challenge turned the judge’s heads – the company’s rideshare entry came in second place overall, garnering a $7,000 prize.
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For its Shanghai rideshare submission, Bandwagon – launched in 2013 – conducted extensive research on the city’s transportation infrastructure, while developing the mobile web version of its software for this context.
The Bandwagon team ultimately developed a mobile web application and “hub-view” that lets commuters at crowded airports and other transportation hubs see passengers and departing rides in the vicinity. This mobile web application, light-weight and relatively easy to deploy, reduces the need for physical hardware. It would enable Shanghai residents to deploy Bandwagon’s sharing networks at their most crowded transportation centers.
And the Shanghai Urban Challenge judges were clearly impressed by its potential to help commuters in the city, population 14.35 million, and home of NYU Shanghai.
Bandwagon is led by CEO David Mahfouda, and its top staff includes Ugur Inanc, Director of Operations. Inanc is a graduate of NYU Polytechnic who completed his master’s degree at New York University’s Management of Technology. The company operates in several U.S. metropolitan hubs, such as Newark International Airport, where it partnered with United Airlines Eco-Skies as the program’s ridesharing provider, and the Las Vegas Convention Center. Internationally, Bandwagon works in the Quebec region, and is in talks with other major transportation hubs in the North Atlantic region.

NYU Prague Site Director launches the English translation of his novel

Jiří Pehe is well-known as a political analyst, a prolific writer of news commentary and the former political adviser to President Vaclav Havel. Fewer people know that he is also a novelist who has published three books in Czech over the past ten years. In December, he launched the first English translation of one of his novels – Three Faces of an Angel – at the Vaclav Havel Library in Prague and at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London as well as at the Czech Embassy in London. Another launch is planned for the spring of 2015 in New York City.
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[Photo Credit: (c) Vaclav Havel Library / Vojtěch Stádník]
Described by Czech award-winning author Ivan Klima as “one of the most outstanding novels written in the Czech lands since 1989,“ Pehe’s book tells the story of three generations of a Czech-German-Jewish family in the 20th century. The tragic events of this period of Central European history are intertwined with the characters‘ stories: a talented musician is forced to become a soldier for the Austrian Empire during WWI… a teenage girl hides from the Nazis in a cellar for a year… an idealist joins the Communist party and is then persecuted by its leaders … a student fights for freedom during the Prague Spring….. Characters grapple with questions about history, politics, identity and religion. In the forward to the book, Dr. Marketa Goetz-Stankiewitz writes that „the novel uncovers this turbulent period with its linguistic, national and racial complexities: its brutality occasionally tempered by humour, and ultimately its absurdity.“
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[Photo Credit: (c) Vaclav Havel Library / Vojtěch Stádník]
Language plays a central role in the book: characters grow up speaking Czech and German, and the choice of which language to speak is closely linked to their sense of identity. Translator Gerald Turner had to find distinct voices for the three narrators: a man educated in German but writing in Czech, a woman with only an elementary-school education writing her memoir, and a Czech university professor living in the USA.
Jiří Pehe says: “I was pleasantly surprised by the large audiences at all three book launches as well as the lively discussions the novel’s themes provoked. Hopefully, many English-language readers will agree with the quote on the back cover by Tomas Halik, this year’s winner of the prestigious Templeton Prize; that this is an unusual novel about the 20th century, the Holocaust and in particular also about God. Those three topics were foremost on my mind when I starting writing the novel.“

NYU Prague Hosts Journalists from around the World

The collapse of the Iron Curtain led to the sudden creation of free media – so what does the media in post-Soviet countries look like today?
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Over 50 journalists, scholars, and media analysts from around the world met at NYU Prague last week to talk about this question – and many more – at a conference entitled 25 Years After: The Challenge of Building the Post-Communist Media and Communications Industries.
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The conference was co-organized by two Prague-based NGOs: Keynote and the newsmagazine Transitions Online. Jeremy Druker, Professor of Social Media Networking at NYU Prague and the co-founder of Transitions Online, explained their motivation for organizing the event: “Academics and working journalists don’t often mix. So we decided to create a rare opportunity where researchers on the media’s transition would sit side-by-side on panels with journalists experiencing that very transition from the inside.”
The variety of countries represented brought extremely different perspectives: in addition to numerous delegates from the Czech Republic, there were also speakers from Poland, Hungary, Belarus, Serbia, Italy, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Albania, Romania, Georgia, Austria, Belgium, France, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Canada, and the US. Their professions were also divergent, including professors, the senior communications manager of Google, activists, journalists, and analysts.
The shadow of Russia and her influence over post-Soviet countries loomed large in discussions. Keynote speaker Jeffrey Gedmin, former President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, noted that “Communism is not coming back, but history is coming back to this part of the world.”
Jiri Pehe, Director of NYU Prague, said he believes that media is more balanced and more pluralistic than it was initially after the fall of Communism, but it is now especially vulnerable to the rise of local oligarchs who are buying up media organizations. “You can establish democratic institutions quickly, but it takes a few generations to establish a democratic culture,” said Pehe. “We aren’t over the stage of post-Communism at all.”