Sunday, March 31, 2019

"A Magician Explains Why We See What’s Not There"

Very important when studying a price series or for keeping an eye out for magafauna predators.
From Nautil.us:

Our brain is constantly picturing what the future should be. 
Norman Triplett was a pioneer in the psychology of magic, and back in 1900, he published a wonderful scientific paper on magic that, among many other things, discusses an experiment on an intriguing magical illusion. A magician sat at a table in front of a group of schoolchildren and threw a ball up in the air a few times. Before the final throw, his hand secretly went under the table, letting the ball fall onto his lap, after which he proceeded to throw an imaginary ball up in the air.

Described like this, it does not sound like an amazing trick, but what was truly surprising is that more than half of the children claimed to have seen an illusory ball—what Triplett referred to as a “ghost ball”—leave the magician’s hand and disappear somewhere midway between the magician and the ceiling. This was clearly an illusion because on the final throw, no ball had left his hand; the children had perceived an event that never took place.

Triplett carried out several studies using this illusion, and he came to some rather interesting, though not necessarily correct, conclusions. He thought that the illusion resulted from retinal afterimages, or in his own words, “What the audience sees is an image of repetition, which is undoubtedly partly the effect of a residual stimulation in the eye, partly a central excitation.”
Magic_BR 
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?: Why do normal people maintain magical beliefs? They reflect 
the biases and quirks found in our everyday cognition, says psychologist and magician Gustav Kuhn
At the time, this seemed to be a reasonable suggestion. I came across Triplett’s paper in my early days of researching scientific studies on magic, and I was intrigued by this illusion. Triplett’s Vanishing Ball Illusion relies on a principle that I often used to vanish objects, so I had some ideas as to why the illusion worked. I was skeptical about Triplett’s explanation, and I knew from experience that the illusion relies on misdirecting the audience’s expectations so that they anticipate you throwing the ball for real. A person’s eye gaze provides one of the most powerful tools to misdirect expectations, and so I embarked on one of my first scientific projects to study the role that social cues play in driving this illusion.

I recorded two different versions of the Vanishing Ball Illusion. In the normal version, I threw the ball up in the air twice, before secretly palming it in my hand and simply pretending to throw it up in the air (as shown in the image above). Importantly my gaze followed the ball, and in the pretend throw, my gaze followed the imaginary trajectory of the ball. In a different version of the trick, I carried out exactly the same actions, but this time, my gaze did not follow the imaginary ball. Instead, I stared at the hand that was palming the ball. Triplett’s account of retinal afterimages predicts that both versions of the trick should be equally effective, because both groups of participants observed exactly the same sequence of events and thus had the same sensory stimulation.,,,MUCH MORE
Related:
"Magic AI: These are the Optical Illusions that Trick, Fool, and Flummox Computers"

Chartology: Monster “Mega-Phone” pattern breakout near?
You have to be careful with this stuff.
Humans are pattern-recognizing machines and are so good at it that we can see patterns that don't even exist.* In the instant case you really have to beware of imputing meaning to lines on charts; the reason technical analysis has any validity at all is because of "market memory" one example of which is resistance to upmoves caused by prior investors waiting to "get even and get out" and supplying stock to the market.
(one of the reasons to like new highs, no overhead supply)

In these long term chart there is no market memory, for example there are very few people with positions established at the Aug. 24, 1987 2722 DJIA high which is used as the basis of one of the trendlines shown here.

*On the other hand here's an example of what incisive pattern recognition can accomplish. This chart is from early June 2007 and foresaw what was coming:
Technical Analysis: S&P Black Swan Formation
 blackswanchartael4.png

"The very rare black swan formation - note both feet and neck are complete and the 
rare vampire tooth variation is in place. This is very bad. Very very bad."...

....For more on CV Dazzle  we have on offer 2013's How to Hide From Cameras:

http://static.squarespace.com/static/514f916de4b04c6ad186e00d/514f94d2e4b05df537e5224e/514f94d2e4b05df537e5267d/1231283416153/DAZZLE.jpg/1000w

"White gold: the unstoppable rise of alternative milks"

From The Guardian:

How wellness upstarts spoiled milk’s healthy reputation – and built a billion-dollar industry from juicing oats and nuts. 
In the spring of 2018, New York was gripped by a sudden, very particular and, for some, calamitous food shortage. Gaps appeared on grocery shelves. Coffee shops put out signs, turning customers away. Twitter and Instagram brimmed with outrage. The truly desperate searched from Williamsburg to Harlem, but it seemed undeniable: New York was out of oat milk.

It wasn’t just New York, in fact. The entire US was suffering from a shortage of Oatly, a Swedish plant milk whose rapid rise from obscure digestive health brand to the dairy alternative of choice had caught even Oatly by surprise. Since its US launch in 2016, Oatly had gone from supplying a handful of upscale New York coffee shops to more than 3,000 cafes and grocery stores nationwide. The company had ramped up production by 1,250%, but when I spoke to CEO Toni Petersson in late summer, they were still struggling to meet demand. “How do we supply when the growth is this crazy?” Petersson said.

Fortunately, when it comes to milk, in 2019 there is no shortage of alternative alternatives. Visit your local supermarket and you will find a refrigerated aisle overflowing with choice: almond milk, hazelnut milk, peanut, tiger nut, walnut, cashew – and that’s just the nuts. Coconut, hemp, spelt, quinoa, pea – you name it, somewhere a health-food startup is milking it. London tube stations are filled with ads for new plant milks – or rather, “mylks” (EU law prevents dairy alternatives from using the word milk if it isn’t produced by a lactating mammal). Cookbooks dedicate entire chapters to blending and straining your own. Sainsbury’s now stocks around 70 different options. There are the wellness punks (Rebel Kitchen, Rude Health), the dairy puns (Malk, Milkadamia, Mooala) and the nourishers (LoveRaw, Good Karma, Plenish). “People are just looking at every nut that exists and seeing if they can squash it into a milk,” said Glynis Murray, one of the owners of Good, which squashes hemp seeds into oil and milk.

It seems unthinkable now, but as recently as 2008, alternatives to cow’s milk largely meant soya (invariably Alpro in the UK, Silk in the US). For anything else, you’d need to scour health-food shops for drab, clinical-looking, long-life cartons of rice milk buried in the back with the other digestive aids. “It was the deathly aisle,” said John Schoolcraft, Oatly’s global creative director. “It was just for people who were lactose intolerant [or] had an allergy to milk; vegans, vegetarians – people who, at that time, were on the fringe of society.”

Plant milks are no longer fringe. Just over one in 10 of Pret a Manger’s hot drinks in the UK are ordered with dairy alternative milks (organic soya milk or organic rice-coconut milk). According to research firm Mintel, UK plant milk sales have grown by 30% since 2015, buoyed by a surge in vegan and vegetarian diets. In the US, nearly half of all shoppers now add a plant milk to their baskets. Globally, the industry is estimated to be worth $16bn....MUCH MORE

Saturday, March 30, 2019

"'We've returned to the Middle Ages' – life in Venezuela's blackout"

William Manchester made the point very succinctly in the title of his book "A World Lit Only By Fire".
In the repost after the headline story you'll find some details of going medieval that may not spring readily to mind..

First up, AFP via the Buenos Aires Times, March 28:
For Venezuelans today, suffering under a new nationwide black-out that has lasted days, it's like being thrown back to life centuries ago.
Walking for hours, making oil lamps, bearing water. For Venezuelans today, suffering under a new nationwide black-out that has lasted days, it's like being thrown back to life centuries ago.
El Ávila, a mountain that towers over Caracas, has become a place where families gather with buckets and jugs to fill up with water, wash dishes and scrub clothes. The taps in their homes are dry from lack of electricity to the city's water pumps.

"We're forced to get water from sources that obviously aren't completely hygienic. But it's enough for washing or doing the dishes," said one resident, Manuel Almeida.
Because of the long lines of people, the activity can take hours of waiting.
Elsewhere, locals make use of cracked water pipes. But they still need to boil the water, or otherwise purify it.

"We're going to bed without washing ourselves," said one man, Pedro Jose, a 30-year-old living in a poorer neighbourhood in the west of the capital.
Some shops seeing an opportunity have hiked the prices of bottles of water and bags of ice to between US$3 and US$5 – a fortune in a country where the monthly minimum salary is the equivalent of US$5.50.

Better-off Venezuelans, those with access to US dollars, have rushed to fill hotels that have giant generators and working restaurants.
For others, preserving fresh food is a challenge. Finding it is even more difficult. The blackout has forced most shops to close.
"We share food" among family members and friends, explained Coral Muñoz, 61, who counts herself lucky to have dollars.

"You have to keep a level head to put up with all this, and try to have people around because being alone make it even harder."....MUCH MORE
And from May 25, 2018:

How to Think Medieval: Seeking Endarkenment

Over the years we've mentioned a half-dozen of Barbara Tuchman's books, I'll repost a favorite passage* after the jump but first, a review of her "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century" used as an introduction to a sweet little post that proves up the enduring insight of the first line of L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between:

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

From Coins and Scrolls:

Thinking Medieval - Seeking Endarkenment
In his hilarious and angry review of one of my favorite books, Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror", Patrick Stuart has some choice words for 14th century nobility, starting with the title; "A Bunch Of Fucking Idiots". Here are a few more quotes.
[Enguerrand de Coucy] is mainly a hero by virtue of not being an insanely stupid flaky deluded murderous narcissist. Although he is murderous, and a bit of a narcissist, but hes not insanely stupid or flaky and in fourteenth century Europe that puts him in about the top 5% of dudes with swords.  
...the entirety of the ruling class subscribes to an insane Chivalric cult which, not only do most of them not really follow, but, even when they do follow it, it doesn't work... 
Lists of insanity like the one above, are not rare in 'Distant Mirror'. 
Over and over, in the classic arm-waving despair of someone encountering Tuchman's idol-demolishing, beautiful, brutal, and sharp writing, Patrick resorts to "insanity" as an explanation for excesses and failures of the 14th century nobility.

Sadly, he's wrong.

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
What Is Insanity? 
The best we can come up with for a definition is "abnormal mental or behavioral modes". It's not insane to cut down a tree, drag it into your house, and cover it with candles, provided you do it near Christmas and not in June. It's not insane to to pray; it might be insane to pray to Barbra Streisand. The community defines "normal", with a bit of wiggle room.

Here's an early modern example, right when the world seemed to start to make sense. It might seem insane to us that George Spencer, a troublesome one-eye old servant in Connecticut, was tried and executed in 1642 for the crime of bestiality after a one-eyed pig was born in his village. It might also seem insane that both the pig and his own retracted confession were called as the two witnesses required to convict him. But by the standards of the community and the times, the only insane person was that godless trouble-making pig-fucker, George Spencer.

The Nature of the World 
We live in an enlightened era. Our mental toolboxes are full to bursting with evidence-based reasoning, with precedent, with doubt, and with logic. We hold many truths to be self evident. We stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants and we think this plain of shoulders is ground level.

If you want to think medieval, chuck your entire toolbox out the window and start from scratch. You need to un-learn rationality, un-learn concepts you've been steeped in since childhood. It's the opposite of a koan. Seek endarkenment.

Part 1: Forget
-Science. Almost all of it. 

-Medicine too. First aid you can keep, but everything else must be swept away. 

-Equality. A dangerous, almost unthinkable concept in practice. A fine ideal, when paired with religion, but not one you have to worry about. 

-Matter. Forget that stone and flesh are made of the same kind of thing (atoms). Think of each thing as a distinct entity, not as a changed form of an existing substance. 

-Weather. It's scary and unpredictable now, and we have radar and satellites.

-Foreigners. I can read about far-away places in a book or look up a street-view picture of a city on the other side of the world. I live in a multicultural city. I'm not so much tolerant as apathetic, but that's good enough (and might even be better; tolerance implies tension). Anyway, forget all that. Ignorance and fear all around. 

-The Theory of the Mind. Forget the subconscious. Forget hormones and the effect of diet, head wounds, and sleep. 

-Progress. The medieval thinker knows there is a better world; they'll go there after death, probably. Don't worry about this one, and certainly don't try to change it.

Part 2: Remember
Do you remember elementary school? Do you remember how important your school supplies were? Do you remember the almost magical power of a marker, or a pair of scissors, or a shiny new pencil case, or a lunchbox? How deeply an insult could wound?

Take that feeling of importance and apply it to everything....
...MUCH MORE

If interested see also Second Blackout: "'Horror, fear, despair': Venezuela's oil capital shattered by 'tsunami' of violent looting":
This phase of collapse is why we posted "News You Can Use: Imagine The Venezuela Blackout, But 10 Times Worse". When you see sub-heads like:
In the second city of Maracaibo, the crippling blackout sparked a terrifying rampage that police seemed unable to control
You have passed an event horizon into a new reality that requires new skills and new ways of looking at the world....

*In 2017's "Back When I Had The Ability To Tell A Story—'Europe: Media Face Fines for Improper Use of 'Great Britain'" we saw something that may have been a trial run for today's roll-out of GDPR:

Apparently with the activation of Article 50 the Slovaks can no longer use the term "Great Britain."
Henceforth it's "Pretty Good Britain"....

... The "Pretty Good" line is not original to me.

Some years ago I worked with a Moroccan guy named Raissoulli and upon meeting him asked if he was related to Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, the turn of the 20th century kidnapper and brigand known in some parts of the territory between the Atlas mountains and the Mediterranean as "The Great Raisuli".

Raissoulli said yes, he was indeed a great-grandson of Raisuli but sadly he didn't think he had inherited any of the piratical swagger, 
"I'm not the Great Raissoulli, maybe the Pretty Good Raissoulli though".

If interested, the autodidact historian (and two time Pulitzer prize winner) Barbara Tuchman wrote a short account of one of Raisuli's crimes/exploits. It begins:
"Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead"
Barbara Tuchman American Heritage, August 1959
Reprinted in "Practising History", Papermac, 1995

On a scented Mediterranean May evening in 1904 Mr. Ion Perdicaris, an elderly, wealthy American, was dining with his family on the vine-covered terrace of the Place of Nightingales, his summer villa in the hills above Tangier. Besides a tame demoiselle crane and two monkeys who ate orange blossoms, the family included Mrs. Perdicaris; her son by a former marriage, Cromwell Oliver Varley, who (though wearing a great name backward) was a British subject; and Mrs. Varley. Suddenly a cacophony of shrieks, commands, and barking of dogs burst from the servants' quarters at the rear.
Assuming the uproar to be a further episode in the chronic feud between their German housekeeper and their French-Zouave chef, the family headed for the servants' hail to frustrate mayhem. They ran into the butler flying madly past them, pursued by a number of armed Moors whom at first they took to be their own household guards.
Astonishingly, these persons fell upon the two gentlemen, bound them, clubbed two of the servants with their gunstocks, knocked Mrs. Varley to the floor, drew a knife against Varley's throat when he struggled toward his wife, dragged off the housekeeper, who was screaming into the telephone, "Robbers! Help!," cut the wire, and shoved their captives out of the house with guns pressed in their backs.

Waiting at the villa's gate was a handsome, black-bearded Moor with blazing eyes and a Greek profile, who, raising his arm in a theatrical gesture, announced in the tones of Henry Irving playing King Lear, "I am the Raisuli!"...
The story was also made into a movie starring Sean Connery, The Wind and the Lion.

Insurance—"The business of kidnapping: inside the secret world of hostage negotiation"

From The Guardian:
Official policy in the UK and US – unlike in many other countries – is to never make concessions to kidnappers. Those taken sometimes die as a result. Is it time to rethink?
In 1982, a British insurance broker named Doug Milne set out in search of new markets. His speciality was kidnapping and ransom insurance, known in the industry as K&R. Milne enrolled in a Spanish-language course in London, and a month later, with rudimentary skills and only one or two solid contacts on the ground, he boarded a flight to Bogotá. On his first day in the Colombian capital, Milne was walking to a meeting with a potential client when, he recalled, “a guy pulled up alongside and this chap who was walking in front of me, his head just exploded”. It was a drive-by assassination.

Milne cancelled the meeting and spent the afternoon in a bar near Bogotá’s entertainment district. “I missed my meeting and I think I left there about 11pm after having drunk a couple of flagons of Tres Esquinas rum,” Milne told me. He was, of course, horrified. But he also realised that he’d come to the right place. While he knew nothing about the victim or the motive, the murder drove home to him the extent to which Colombian society was at the mercy of criminals and guerillas. His clients needed what he had to offer.
Kidnapping and ransom insurance was created in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the 60s that it began to really catch on, following a spate of kidnappings in Europe by groups such as Eta in Spain, the Red Army Faction in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy. The appeal was simple: in the event of a kidnapping, the insurance would provide reimbursement for ransom payment.
There were caveats to prevent fraud and to ensure that the existence of the policy did not actually increase the risk of kidnapping. The first was that the policy had to be kept secret. In fact, it could be voided if its existence became public. The concern was that if the kidnappers knew of the policy, they would demand more money.
The second principle is that the policy will only reimburse the ransom once it is paid. The insurance company never fronts any money. In order to raise the cash, the victim’s family will probably have to liquidate assets – mortgage the house, sell stocks, pool money from other relatives. This process makes the negotiations credible by dragging them out. This is not just about minimising the payout by the insurance company. Quickly making good on a large ransom raises the expectations of future kidnappers. It can make hostage-taking more lucrative and more common.

When K&R insurance first came on the market, the policyholders were left on their own to negotiate with the kidnappers. But in the mid-1970s, an insurance broker named Julian Radcliffe came up with an idea that would revolutionise the industry. Along with a few colleagues, Radcliffe convinced their company to set up a subsidiary focused on hostage response. The subsidiary, which they named Control Risks, would hire security experts – mostly former military and police – to handle negotiations. The cost of hiring the consultant was included in the policy and borne by the insurance company. In 1982, Control Risks became an independent company.

By the early 80s, hostage-taking was on the rise in Latin America, particularly in Colombia. When Milne arrived in Bogotá, he discovered a vast, untapped market. As an insurance broker, he sold a variety of policies offered by different companies available through the Lloyd’s exchange in London. The job of the broker is to serve the client and to advocate for their interests in the event of a claim. The underwriters represent the insurance companies. Specialised, high-risk policies were placed on the Lloyd’s insurance exchange, and Milne would field offers from different underwriters. He would select the policy that best suited his client.

To his South American clients, Milne was as quintessentially British as James Bond. He attended boarding school in Scotland, and dresses in tailored suits with a perfectly positioned pocket square. He enjoys a stiff drink, sometimes two. “When I went to Colombia, everyone wanted to see me,” Milne told me. “I started with a few contacts, but it grew like Topsy. All their friends at the golf club wanted to meet. It suddenly became a viable business.”

Some grumble that in an industry that values discretion, Milne is a bit of self-promoter. But no one denies his success. By the time he wrapped up his stint in Latin America in the 1990s, he had sold hundreds of new policies, recruited a specialised team in London focusing on the Latin America market, and developed a new service to provide risk mitigation – a “preventative training” programme that educated clients on how to reduce the risk of kidnap and how to respond if it does happen. He then convinced insurance companies that they should foot the bill. (After all, both insurance companies and their clients have an interest in reducing the likelihood of a kidnapping.)...
...MUCH MORE

There are other approaches that also appear to be efficacious.
In 2014's "ISIS Personally Threatens Putin, Vows Caliphate in Chechnya" I retold a story:

...This may be an eror on the part of ISIS.
Back in 2010, during the height of the Somali ship hijackings, we posted "Dealing with Pirates (and terrorists) Russian Style":
While the BBC was reporting last week: "UN backs tougher stance against Somali piracy" yesterday's headline at the Moscow Times said "Somali Pirates Seize State-Owned Tanker".
Uh oh.

If the Somali pirates were up to speed on their history they may have remembered the name Arkady Katkov.

Starting in 1982, and continuing for the remainder of the decade, approximately 100 people were kidnapped in Beirut by various factions of Hezbollah ('the Party of God').
William Buckley, for example. He was the CIA station chief, kidnapped on March 16, 1984.
He was tortured to death. They did it slow, he died in June 1985.

The U.S. did the same thing after his kidnapping that they did after the Marine Corps barracks at Beirut International Airport were bombed in October 1983, killing 241 Marines and Sailors.
Nothing.

On September 30, 1985 four Soviet diplomats were kidnapped and Arkady Katkov was shot in the head by Hezbollah's head of security, Imad Mughniyeh.

The Soviets gave the kidnappers 48 hours to return the hostages and dispatched some guys they call Spetsgruppa A (Alfa Group).

The kidnappers and their relatives were identified by supporting KGB operatives working with the Druze militia, and some of the relatives were taken hostage.

Following the standard policy of 'no negotiation', Alfa proceeded to sever some of their hostages' body parts and sent them to the perpetrators with a warning that more would follow if the Russian hostages were not released immediately. The tactic worked and no other Russian national was taken hostage in the Middle East for the next 20 years, until the 2006 abduction of Russian diplomats in Iraq.

Among the body parts was a decapitated head and some testicles ...

"Even hedge funds investing in Lyft don’t believe in its long-term prospects"

From Recode, March 28 i.e. pre-pop::
A new survey sheds light on what hedge funds think about the ride-sharing IPO.
Investors are excited for Lyft to go public.
So many are clamoring for Lyft’s stock that the bankers bringing the company public have raised its price. But that doesn’t mean investors think the company will be successful in the long run. Indeed, the hedge funds that are investing in Lyft aren’t particularly thrilled about its longterm prospects.
Some 30 percent of hedge funds are bullish about Lyft, the ride-sharing underdog that’s going public this week, according to a survey conducted last week of 40 hedge funds by Titan Invest, a portfolio investment app. But most of those are focused on how the stock will perform in the near term, not necessarily how well Lyft as a company will perform a few years from now.

The primary reasons for optimism were non-fundamental ones like “scarcity value” and “investor demand.” In other words, Lyft is the first ride-sharing company to hit the stock market, having gotten the jump on its bigger rival Uber, and investors are excited about a shiny new tech stock. (Uber has also filed for an IPO and is expected to price next month.)

“Short-term stock prices are not necessarily tied to fundamentals,” Titan Director of Research & Operations Vincent Ning told Recode. “For shorter-term funds, they could be out of the name by the end of the day Friday” — that is, the first day Lyft is expected to trade on public markets....MUCH MORE
And from MarketWatch:
Lyft stock pops on first day of trading in encouraging sign for unicorn pipeline
Lyft’s stock LYFT, +8.74%  closed up 8.7% at $78.29

Trees Can Kill You

From BLDGBLOG:
Buncefield Bomb Garden
[Image: The Buncefield explosion, via the BBC].
In one of the more interesting landscape design stories I’ve read this year, New Scientist reported back in March that the massive, December 2005 explosion at a fuel-storage depot called Buncefield in England, might have been strongly assisted by the site’s landscaping.

“A few years ago no one would have predicted that a row of trees and shrubs could make the difference between a serious fire and a catastrophic explosion,” the magazine suggests. But now, it’s becoming a reasonably accepted notion that the physical layout of the Buncefield site’s plantlife—from the “shrubs and small trees” down to their individual “twigs and branches”—can work to contain and concentrate, and, worse, add explosive surface area to what would otherwise have simply been a gas leak....MORE 
Capability Brown call your office, you missed a trick.
HT: the author's more recent post, "Computational Landscape Architecture".

Quantum Computing For The Very Curious

From Quantum Country:

Presented in an experimental mnemonic medium, which makes it almost effortless to remember what you read
If humanity ever makes contact with alien intelligences, will those aliens possess computers? In science fiction, alien computers are commonplace. If that's correct, it means there is some way aliens can discover computers independently of humans. After all, we’d be very surprised if aliens had independently invented Coca-Cola or Pokémon or the Harry Potter books. If aliens have computers, it’s because computers are the answer to a question that naturally occurs to both human and alien civilizations.
Here on Earth, the principal originator of computers was the English mathematician Alan Turing. In his paper, published in 1936Alan M. Turing, On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem (1936)., Turing wasn’t trying to invent a clever gadget or to create an industry. Rather, he was attacking a problem about the nature of mathematics posed by the German mathematician David Hilbert in 1928. That sounds abstruse, but it’s worth understanding the gist of Hilbert and Turing’s thinking, since it illuminates where computers come from, and what computers will become in the future.

Through his career, Hilbert was interested in the ultimate limits of mathematical knowledge: what can humans know about mathematics, in principle, and what (if any) parts of mathematics are forever unknowable by humans? Roughly speaking, Hilbert’s 1928 problem asked whether there exists a general algorithm a mathematician can follow which would let them figure out whether any given mathematical statement is provable. Hilbert’s hoped-for algorithm would be a little like the paper-and-pencil algorithm for multiplying two numbers. Except instead of starting with two numbers, you’d start with a mathematical conjecture, and after going through the steps of the algorithm you’d know whether that conjecture was provable. The algorithm might be too time-consuming to use in practice, but if such an algorithm existed, then there would be a sense in which mathematics was knowable, at least in principle.

In 1928, the notion of an algorithm was pretty vague. Up to that point, algorithms were often carried out by human beings using paper and pencil, as in the multiplication algorithm just mentioned, or the long-division algorithm. Attacking Hilbert’s problem forced Turing to make precise exactly what was meant by an algorithm. To do this, Turing described what we now call a Turing machine: a single, universal programmable computing device that Turing argued could perform any algorithm whatsoever.

Today we’re used to the idea that computers can be programmed to do many different things. In Turing’s day, however, the idea of a universal programmable computer was remarkable. Turing was arguing that a single, fixed device could imitate any algorithmic process whatsoever, provided the right program was supplied. It was an amazing leap of imagination, and the foundation of modern computing....MUCH MORE
HT: Marginal Revolution

Friday, March 29, 2019

Dan McCrum Did Not Call The Germans Jackbooted Thugs

Yet, the reaction of the company (Wirecard) and the regulators (Germany's BaFin) was almost as if he had.
The summary of events:

On January 30 the Financial Times published a story headlined "Executive at payments giant suspected of using forged contracts" by in London and in Singapore.

Wirecard issued a statement calling the reporting  “false, inaccurate, misleading and defamatory” which is a bit of a word salad.
Also: “This article lacks any substance and is completely meaningless” 

On January 31 Reuters reported:
A Financial Times report on alleged wrongdoings at German payments company Wirecard gave no reason to launch a criminal probe, German prosecutors said on Thursday, adding they had launched preliminary investigations over potential market manipulation.
The prosecutor’s office in Munich said that Wirecard had contacted the authorities after the FT report, which caused the company’s share price to drop by up to 25 percent on Wednesday...
Damn, that's moving pretty fast for prosecutors.

On February 1 the Financial Times published "Wirecard’s law firm found evidence of forgery and false accounts" by the same two reporters.

Wirecard that same day responded with “inaccurate, misleading and defamatory”, leaving out the "falsch" from the January statement.

On February 7 the FT publish "Wirecard: inside an accounting scandal"

On February 8 Wirecard issued a statement that ended with:
We will use all available legal means to protect the company and in particular our employees and their personal rights. Wirecard is taking legal actions against FT and its unethical reporting. 
On February 18 Germany's Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) issued:
General Administrative Act of the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht – BaFin) on the prohibition on establishing and increasing net short positions in shares of Wirecard AG
Which put us firmly into "what the hell is going on" territory.
Although it's probably not unprecedented, I can't recall any regulator banning shorts on an individual issue. Such a move is in itself a market manipulation akin to the commodities exchanges going "liquidation only" to break the Hunt brothers in their silver adventure.

Also on February 18 the Financial Times published "FT statement on Wirecard reporting"

On March 28 Reuters reported:
German payments company Wirecard said on Thursday it was suing the Financial Times over a series of investigative reports that it said made use of, and misrepresented, business secrets.
Wirecard has filed a suit at the Munich regional court against both the FT and its reporter, Dan McCrum, seeking a ruling on the merits of its case. If successful, the company would then press for monetary redress.

“Our objective is to seek a halt to the incorrect use of business secrets for the purposes of reporting, as well as damages,” Wirecard said in a statement. No comment was immediately available from the FT.....
....Wirecard said on Monday that the final results of a probe by outside law firm Rajah & Tann had found that local staff in Singapore may have committed financial crimes, but that these were not material and there was no evidence that its German head office was complicit.
Beg pardon? "May have committed financial crimes"?

And now we are in Cloud Cuckoo Land.
The first red flag is when management start targeting short-sellers.
The second red flag is when you start seeing nonsense in the corporate communications,
As an example, if the reader will indulge me in a short detour. From a 2010 post:

My Favorite Stock Scam Blowhards

After doing this a while you don't even need to call in the forensic accountants to spot the weird ones. A bit of background, Equisure Inc. was purportedly a reinsurer based in Belgium that had, in a remarkably short period of time gone from the NASDAQ bulletin board to the American Stock Exchange by way of a reverse merger with a dormant shell company.

The heart of the scam was to hype the stock by way of news releases to a) gun the stock for the early buyers and b) get the stock on the Federal Reserve Board's list of marginable securities.
That step is a bit more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill pump and dump because it allows the crooks to borrow against the shares rather than having to sell them. The lack of selling pressure makes it easier to maintain the run-up until the plug is pulled.

Of course the scammers also took whatever petty cash was in the company's coffers.
I never saw a complete accounting but a fair estimate of the EQE take was $100 Mil.

....But first, one of my favorite examples of a stock scam (I told you, I have a morbid fascination with the underbelly of the markets, it's like watching the lions approach the wildebeest at the watering hole, you don't want to see it but you can't look away)
..Peter Uttley, Equisure's chairman and a former Lloyds of London executive, took control of the company this week, assuming the chief executive post....

...Uttley said in the press release that his chairman role had been a "passive" one, but he now plans an active reorganization of the company, whose reputation has been stained by allegations that it is a scam insurance operation....

...In an unusually emotional statement to the press, sent from an Equisure board meeting Friday in London, Uttley told his version of events over the summer, which eventually led to the delisting of Equisure shares on the American Stock Exchange.

"The simple truth was consumed in the belly of deception, but now has been vomited for the world to see," Uttley began.

He then proceeded to tell a story of three men, whom he described as "liars," "cheats," and "scallywags," who worked with law enforcement officials and the press to spread false rumors about the company with the intent of buying Equisure out at 50 cents a share, a tiny fraction of the stock's trading price of $15, before AMEX suspended trading Aug. 1.
Roger that, consumed in the belly of deception, vomited for the world to see, over.
Watch for beaucoup bloviating.

Anyhoo here's the editor of the Financial Times with the latest:
Wirecard responded with:
Wirecard Statement 29 March 2019
Today’s FT reporting is part of a larger package of incorrect and misleading information which has been published by the FT since January 2019. We have already commenced legal proceedings against Dan McCrum and the Financial Times in the Munich Court in relation to the repeated and continuing disclosure and false representation of confidential information and/or company secrets as well as misquoting of documents.
The inaccurate information published today has been deliberately misquoted by the FT to further distort fact and fiction....
Distorting fiction?

And a little pre-earnings hype from the CEO:
Oddly enough, after the close of the U.S. markets today I found myself reading about the securities fraud case that opened the floodgates for actions against the professionals usually found in proximity to the fraud; underwriters, lenders, lawyers, auditors...
Especially auditors.
That's a story for another day.

If interested see also:
Duuude, This Paul Murphy Fellow Is Taking No Prisoners

Free Dan McCrum
But first, who is Dan McCrum?

Sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero, 'cause, what's a hero? But sometimes, there's a man.
And I'm talkin' about the Dude here. Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.

Sometimes there's a man, sometimes, there's a man. Well, I lost my train of thought here.
But... aw, hell. I've done introduced it enough.

Where to begin?

"The Bezos '70 percent rule' for decision-making"

There is a history of Decision Making Under Uncertainty as a distinct discipline going back to Pascal and his wager and Bernoulli and his Expected Utility vs Expected Value. It is now taught as the heart of Decision Theory and as a cousin of Game Theory.

From Disciplined Systematic Global Macro Views:
A good decision rule to follow is that there are no simple rules for complex problems, but we can learn from others on how to improve our decision-making.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame has diligently worked on the Amazon decision-making process. As determined by interviews and his shareholder letters, it can be boiled down to two key rules:

1. Make a decision if you have 70% of the information you think you need. You will never have all of the information you think you need so just accept it. Find an acceptable information level of what you think is necessary to make a decision and then act. This makes perfect sense in an uncertainty world. We will never have all the facts. A corollary rule is to "disagree and commit". You don't have to get 100% agreement on a decision but the organization has to commit to action.

2. Get comfortable with uncertainty through flexibility. Don't fret about decisions that can be reversed. Have an exit strategy in case something goes wrongs. Allow for flexibility because you may need it. Make sure you know what decisions can be easily reversed. Don't avoid making decisions. Focus on fixing it, if it is wrong....MORE
HT: Alpha Ideas

"Seattle Is Dying"

From Seattle's own KOMO-4 News:
KOMO News Special: Seattle is Dying


This show, that we've been working on for several months now, is really the third in a kind of trilogy.
The first was called "There But For the Grace of God..." It explored homelessness from the inside out in 2016.

The second was called, "Demon at the Door." It was about the hellish existence of heroin addiction.
This one is about everyone else.It's about citizens who don't feel safe taking their families into downtown Seattle. It's about parents who won't take their children into the public parks they pay for. It's about filth and degradation all around us. And theft and crime. It's about people who don't feel protected anymore, who don't feel like their voices are being heard....
...MUCH MORE, including the videos

And here I was thinking Mr. Bezos wanted out of Seattle because of the certainty of a Cascadia Fault 9.0+ megaquake:
When The Megaquake Hits, The Living Will Envy The Dead
The Cascadia Megaquake Will Just Be The Beginning Of The Troubles: Seattle Natural Hazard Explorer
Risk: "Megaquake Predicted for Pacific Northwest"
"Are all the recent big earthquakes connected? " (and Joe Granville stops by)

Logistics: Trucking Freight Futures Began Trading Today

First up, one of the co-sponsors of the product FreightWaves has a 'spin-y' sort of headline for something that really shouldn't require much spin:
First trade executed within 20 minutes of Trucking Freight Futures launch
FreightWaves, in partnership with Nodal Exchange and DAT, launched the world’s first financially settled Trucking Freight Futures contracts at 9 a.m. Friday, March 29. The first trade came through within 20 minutes of opening, at 9:18 a.m.

The first trade executed was on the U.S. National van lane for April 2019. The trade was executed at $1.340, according to FreightWaves Vice President of Futures Markets Tom Mallon.

The current DAT spot rate national average (DATVF.VNU) is at $1.32, so the futures trade implies that the market believes spot prices will remain stable and edge up slightly next month.
“This is a historic day,” Mallon said. “The first ever Trucking Freight Futures trade shows that there is a market and a need for this.”

Seven origin/destination lane contracts launched, along with four regional or national average contracts. Trucking Freight Futures will be settled against DAT dry van spot rates.
Origin/Destination Lanes:
Los Angeles to Seattle
Seattle to Los Angeles
Los Angeles to Dallas
Dallas to Los Angeles
Chicago to Atlanta
Atlanta to Philadelphia
Philadelphia to Chicago

Regional/National Averages:

West U.S. (Los Angeles to Seattle Van and Seattle to Los Angeles)
South U.S. (Los Angeles to Dallas and Dallas to Los Angeles)
East U.S. Van (Chicago to Atlanta and Atlanta to Philadelphia and Philadelphia to Chicago)
National U.S. (West U.S. and South U.S. and East U.S.)...MORE
Granted it is not easy introducing new futures. As noted in the intro to Feb. 20's "Trucking Freight Futures: Former JP Morgan Marketeer to Head Up FreightWaves Part of the Effort"
Now where were we?
Encourage Poland to invade Germany. posted
Remind Pope of his mortality. posted
Ahhh, freight futures.

The rollout of new financial products is tricky if not downright risky and for this reason derivatives are usually introduced after a considerable run-up in the underlying has generated interest and buzz.
A recent success story was bitcoin futures.

On the other hand the CME's milk futures never really caught on despite (because of?) the opportunity for cow puns when describing them. The expiring February's have traded 184 contracts today while the March's have seen a total of 144 change hands. Not very liquid.

I am so sorry....
See for example the CBOE's announcement that after eighteen months of trading their Bitcoin futures will be no more after the June settlement.

And yesterday's Wall Street Journal story on the introduction:
Will Truckers Trade Futures? A New Market Seeks to Draw Freight Bets
Recent volatility in freight costs bolsters the case for the contracts, but getting firms on board is likely to be an uphill battle  
The first futures tied to the cost of trucking goods across the U.S. are set to launch on Friday, testing whether an old-school industry will embrace a new financial tool designed to protect cargo haulers and shippers against swings in freight rates.

Nodal Exchange, a unit of German exchange giant Deutsche Börse AG, plans to debut 11 new futures contracts linked to trucking costs. Futures allow firms to bet on whether the price of an asset will rise or fall, or to hedge against unfavorable price moves. There is an established market for futures-like contracts on ocean freight rates, but Nodal's trucking futures will be the first of their kind, their creators say.

It is far from certain that trucking futures will take off. Most new futures never gain traction, and the history of exchanges is littered with failed attempts to introduce futures on markets like shrimp or Canadian silver coins.

About $6.4 billion worth of seaborne freight contracts changed hands last year on Singapore Exchange, the largest operator in that market. That is a small slice of the trillions of dollars that trade annually on futures exchanges world-wide.

Still, Nodal and its partners say they're cautiously optimistic. "We think it's going to start very small and build over time," said Craig Fuller, chief executive of trucking data and news provider FreightWaves, which worked with Nodal and DAT Solutions, an online freight marketplace, to develop the new contracts.

Recent volatility in trucking rates has bolstered the case for hedging freight costs. Average national trucking costs hit a record $2.32 per mile in June 2018, up 29% from a year earlier, according to DAT. Since then the market has cooled, with costs averaging $1.87 per mile so far this month.
The 2018 run-up squeezed profits at corporations like Hershey Co. and Procter & Gamble Co. It was fueled by a booming economy and new government rules mandating the use of electronic logging devices, which effectively cut truck drivers' availability by forcing them to adhere more strictly to timekeeping rules.
One potential problem for Nodal's futures is that they will apply only to a narrow slice of U.S. trucking transactions. They will track prices in the "spot" market, in which truckers and shippers enter hauling agreements to be executed over the next week or so. By various estimates, spot deals account for 15% to 30% of the U.S. trucking business. The rest is tied up in longer-term contracts, in which firms lock in freight costs for months in advance....MUCH MORE
If interested see also February 18's "Freight Futures For the Trucking Industry".

Place Your Bets: Predicting a Technology’s Commercial Success

So far, autonomous vehicles look like a sinkhole for an estimated $80 billion in investment, more on that next week.
From IEEE Spectrum, October  2018:

The Rodney Brooks Rules for Predicting a Technology’s Commercial Success
A few key questions will help you distinguish winners from losers
Rodney Brooks was the chairman and chief technology officer of Rethink Robotics, which closed in October 2018. He’s also cofounder of iRobot.
Building electric cars and reusable rockets is fairly easy. Building a nuclear fusion reactor, flying cars, self-driving cars, or a Hyperloop system is very hard. What makes the difference?
The answer, in a word, is experience. The difference between the possible and the practical can only be discovered by trying things out. Therefore, even though the physics suggests that a thing will work, if it has not even been demonstrated in the lab you can consider that thing to be a long way off. If it has been demonstrated in prototypes only, then it is still distant. If versions have been deployed at scale, and most of the necessary refinements are of an evolutionary character, then perhaps it may become available fairly soon. Even then, if no one wants to use the thing, it will languish in the warehouse, no matter how much enthusiasm there is among the technologists who developed it.

It’s well worth considering what makes a potential technology easy or hard to develop, because a mistake can lead to unwise decisions. Take, for instance, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor that’s now under construction in France at an estimated cost of US $22 billion. If governments around the world believe that this herculean effort will automatically lead to success and therefore to near-term commercial fusion reactors, and if they plan their national energy strategies around that assumption, their citizens may very well be disappointed.

Here I present a short list of technology projects that are now under way or at least under serious discussion. In each case I’ll point out features that tend to make a technology easy or hard to bring to market.
img
Not Much Needs to Change 
Electric cars are a relatively easy technology because cars have been mass-produced for more than a century. We have more than 100 years of experience engineering and manufacturing windshield wipers, brakes, wheels, tires, steering systems, windows that can go up and down, car seats, chassis, and much more. We have more than 20 years of experience making digitized drivetrains.

On top of that, we already have a whole infrastructure for driving, including roads, parking spaces, safety standards, auto insurance, and government licensing of both the vehicles and the drivers. So to go from internal-combustion-engine cars to electric cars, you don’t have to invent everything from scratch and then figure out how to deploy it at scale.

True, to mass-produce electric cars at a competitive price, with good range and reliability, you have to be very clever—you need good batteries, for one thing—and well capitalized. But there is much that you do not need to change. For that part, there are plenty of people who have worked on the relevant components for decades and plenty of expertise for building and assembling the components. Electric cars constitute a new technology, but not an unreasonably hard one.

Likewise, reusable rockets may sound revolutionary, but here again there is plenty of prior art. All liquid-fueled rockets derive from the V-2 rockets that Wernher von Braun built for Hitler. The V-2 had high-flow turbopumps (433 kilowatts!) that circulated the fuel to cool parts of the engine, and it carried its own liquid oxygen so that it could fly above the atmosphere. The first flight of the V-2 happened just over 76 years ago. And it went on to be mass-produced, albeit with slave labor.

Since then, over 20 different families of liquid-fueled rockets have been developed around the world, some of those families coming in hundreds of different configurations. Soyuz rockets, a 52-year-old family, all lift off with 20 liquid-fueled thrust chambers burning. In the Delta family, the “Heavy” variant of the Delta IV has three essentially identical cores side by side, each being a first stage of the earlier, single-core Delta IV.

The technology for soft landing on Earth using jet engine thrusters has been around since the 1950s, when Rolls-Royce demonstrated its “flying bedstead.” The following decade came the Harrier fighter jet, which also could take off and land vertically. In 1969, a manned rocket—the lunar module—vertically landed people on the moon. And in the 1990s, McDonnell Douglas built the single-stage Delta Clipper Experimental, or DC-X, rocket, which took off and landed vertically half a dozen times at the White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico....
...MUCH MORE

Former Twitter CFO Joins SoftBank-Backed Farming Startup Plenty

From Bloomberg:
  • Mike Gupta will help company as it expands internationally
  • An IPO pro, Gupta led market debuts for Twitter and Zynga
Twitter Inc.’s former chief financial officer has joined Plenty Inc. in that role as the indoor farming startup prepares for international expansion and improvements to its vertical growing technology.
Mike Gupta helped take Twitter public in 2013 and left for Docker Inc. two years later. Earlier, Gupta was treasurer at gaming company Zynga Inc., helping to lead its initial public offering, and had previously spent about eight years in various roles at Yahoo.

“It’s not new for me to be in hypergrowth companies that are entering unchartered territory," Gupta said in an interview. "This is a very capital intensive business so having someone who can think about how we raise and deploy capital in the long run will be very important.”
SoftBank Group Corp.-backed Plenty has made several high profile hires in recent years, including Tesla Inc.’s former battery directory Kurt Kelty and the electric carmaker’s former vice president of engineering, Nick Kalayjian.


Founded in 2014, Plenty boasts it can yield more produce in a given area than conventional farms, with only a fraction of the water. Its backers include funds that invest on behalf of Eric Schmidt, a director of Alphabet Inc., and Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc. Plenty is betting that with its technology and a previous $200 million investment from SoftBank, it will be able to scale its farms around the world.

The startup is in the process of building a new version of its farms, called Tigris. Matt Barnard, a co-founder and chief executive officer of Plenty, said that the new farm will be able to produce more than 40 times the amount of leafy greens that its current farms can grow, while using less energy. Plenty aims to roll out Tigris later this year....MORE
Previously:
March 8
K@W: "Why Venture Capital Likes Modular Farming"
December 2018
Citi: "How Innovation and Shifting Consumer Preferences Can Help Feed a Growing Planet"
A few notes up front.
1) You have to read past the buzzwords and buzz concepts. There is a lot of good information here but also a lot of hand-waving.

2) The situation is not yet dire. On the other hand, should the world experience two consecutive years of crop failures in any combination of the breadbaskets: northern China, American Midwest, Ukraine/western Russia then there is serious risk of famine.

3) This topic seems to bring out everyone's inner totalitarian and getting past that will be required if there is going to be agreement rather than insurrection.

4) Keep in mind this report was put together by a bank with something to sell. It might be loans, it might be green cred, it might be consulting services, it might be anticipating regulatory actions, it might be propaganda.
Take from it the ideas and data that support your priors and be open to the ideas which which don't.
December 2018
GV, Google’s Venture Capital Arm, Leads $90 Million Round For Indoor Farming Startup, Bowery
July 2018 
Is Vertical Farming Really the Future of Agriculture?
Jan. 2018
Bezos/SoftBank-Backed Indoor Farming Powerhouse Plenty Planning for 300 Farms in China
October 2017
Tesla's Former Battery Director Joins Farming Startup—UPDATED
December 2017
"This Is Why Jeff Bezos Is Spending Millions on an Indoor Farming Startup"

The competition:
December 2017
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Europe’s Huge New Vertical Farm
December 2015
AeroFarms Raises $20 Million for High-Tech Urban Agriculture
   
Related:
The Other Musk: Overthrow Big Agriculture?

"The steady decline in transit ridership"

It's a function of a stronger economy right?
In some systems people will use higher price alternatives as soon as their financial picture allows.

From New Geography:

Transit’s Declining Importance 
The steady decline in transit ridership, combined with the growth of driving, is revealed in passenger-mile data published by the Department of Transportation. The table below shows changes in transit’s share of motorized travel for the nation’s 25 largest urban areas. Outside of these areas, transit’s share declined by more than 10 percent in Sacramento, San Jose, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Charlotte, among many others.


Urbanized Area 2016 2017 Change
New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT 11.6% 11.5% -1.0%
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 1.9% 1.8% -4.7%
Chicago, IL-IN 3.6% 3.4% -5.5%
Miami, FL 1.1% 1.1% -2.5%
Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD 2.8% 2.4% -11.2%
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 0.6% 0.5% -4.9%
Houston, TX 0.7% 0.7% -2.0%
Washington, DC-VA-MD 3.5% 3.2% -9.3%
Atlanta, GA 0.9% 0.9% -6.7%
Boston, MA-NH-RI 2.9% 2.7% -6.5%
Detroit, MI 0.4% 0.4% -0.7%
Phoenix-Mesa, AZ 0.6% 0.7% 14.3%
San Francisco-Oakland, CA 7.1% 6.6% -7.0%
Seattle, WA 3.4% 3.4% 1.2%
San Diego, CA 1.4% 1.3% -7.1%
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI 1.1% 1.1% -1.7%
Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL 0.4% 0.3% -12.9%
Denver-Aurora, CO 1.7% 1.6% -1.4%
Baltimore, MD 2.3% 2.3% -2.0%
St. Louis, MO-IL 0.7% 0.6% -10.3%
Riverside-San Bernardino, CA 0.5% 0.4% -8.2%
Las Vegas-Henderson, NV 1.0% 0.9% -3.0%
Portland, OR-WA 2.3% 2.3% -0.1%
Cleveland, OH 0.8% 0.7% -11.7%
San Antonio, TX 0.7% 0.6% -3.7%

These calculations were made possible by the Federal Highway Administration’s release of table HM-72 for the 2017 Highway Statistics. This table shows the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per day by urbanized area. Multiply daily VMT by 365 to get annual VMT, then by average auto occupancies of 1.67 (based on the National Household Travel Survey) to get annual passenger miles. This can be compared with passenger miles from the 2017 National Transit Database, which was released last October.

You can download the Antiplanner’s updated summary of the 2017 National Transit Database to get my calculations of transit’s share of travel. I copied the daily VMT from table HM-72 into cells AR3881 through AR4367, converted to passenger miles in the adjacent (AS) column, and calculated transit’s share in the AT column. Transit passenger miles are in column L. A handful of urban areas (such as Nampa, Idaho) are in the National Transit Database but not Highway Statistics, while two (Norman, OK and Middletown, NY) are in Highway Statistics but not the National Transit Database.
Among the nation’s 50 largest urban areas, transit share grew only in Phoenix, Seattle, Cincinnati, Virginia Beach, Austin, Richmond, and Hartford. Except in Phoenix, where transit’s share is less than 1 percent, transit’s growth in these urban areas was tiny.

Meanwhile, the 5 to 11 percent declines in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland, and Washington — in all of which transit remains somewhat important — are devastating. Ride hailing is clearly particularly strong in these regions.

Ironically, the San Francisco Chronicle recently listed the Bay Area’s 11 biggest transportation projects: two were bike routes, two were highways, while the remaining seven were transit. Obviously, the region’s transportation planners are basing priorities on wishful thinking....MORE

"China buys more U.S. soybeans as trade talks kick off: traders"

From Reuters, March 28:
Chinese state-owned firms bought about 1.5 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans on Thursday for shipment in July and August, in their second major purchase of U.S. supplies this month, three traders with knowledge of the deals said.

The purchases come as U.S. and Chinese officials meet in Beijing for negotiations aimed at ending a protracted trade war between the two economic giants that has slashed U.S. commodity exports to China, most notably soybeans.

In a positive sign for the talks, U.S. officials told Reuters that China had made proposals on a range of issues that go further than before, including on forced technology transfer, a particularly large obstacle in talks thus far....MUCH MORE

China's AI Dream: The Plan and the Players

From Macro Polo, two of the five sections of their China AI feature:

The Plan
National Goals, Local Implementation
In July 2017, the State Council’s New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan set a bold headline goal: make China “the world’s primary AI innovation center” by 2030. But the plan didn’t present a detailed roadmap for achieving that goal, something that would be impossible for promoting an omni-use technology like AI.

Instead, the headline goal acted as a high-profile signal to local government officials—mayors, university presidents, provincial transportation chiefs, etc.—that they would be rewarded for promoting AI in their jurisdiction. Those officials are responding by procuring AI products, subsidizing AI companies, and adapting both infrastructure and policies to promote the technology.

Though the national plan called for both commercial applications and fundamental research breakthroughs, these local projects have thus far focused heavily on pushing specific AI applications rather than advancing fundamental research in which the US clearly leads....MORE
The Companies
Entrepreneurship and innovation are strongly correlated in China’s AI ecosystem. While many of its traditional industries remain dominated by state-owned enterprises, China’s AI landscape is composed of a vibrant mix of private technology giants, AI startups, and venture capital investors (both private and state-backed).

The alliances and rivalries connecting these players will shape China’s AI landscape for years to come. This web of relationships is complex, which is why we’ve curated a list of China’s top AI-related companies in the interactive feature below....MORE

...MUCH MORE

The navigation sidebar for the series to date:

Newspapers largely shun Apple’s news subscription service

From the New York Post:
Many newspaper publishers — after suffering for a decade from job losses, shrinking ad dollars and circulation declines — are so far shunning Apple’s new “Netflix for news” subscription.
For $10 a month, Apple News Plus offers articles from more than 300 magazines, but only three newspapers.

Despite a potential audience of millions of iPhone users, newspaper publishers may be wise to be skeptical.
“Is this the thing that’s going to save media? The answer is ‘no.’ It’s not one thing,” said Jim Brady, who built a local-news business, Spirited Media, and now consults with media companies.

Media companies have struggled to adapt to readers’ shift online and the surge of free articles the web made possible. Even prominent digital media outlets have had layoffs or been sold off.

More people are getting news through technology platforms such as Facebook. Still, publishers want readers to care about news brands and pay for news and events. For that, they need more control over how they interact with readers. Many publishers want to build their own sites and customer base rather than be at the whim of giant technology companies.

“Publishers have been down this path before, with Facebook,” said Tim Franklin, senior associate dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism....MORE
If interested see also Monday's ""Subscriptions ‘Bundles always dilute the brand’: Publishers grapple with Apple’s new subscription service"".
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