JohnPatrick.com

Thanks for stopping by. My name is John Patrick and Attitude LLC is the name of my company. My activities include writing, speaking, investing, and board service. My areas of focus include healthcare, Internet and mobile voting, and technology. As you will see in the books I have written, I believe most big problems and big solutions involve Attitude. My latest book is Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better (2019). Robot Attitude and all the prior books are part of a Series called “It’s All About Attitude“. You can find all the details about each book here.


My blog below has more than 2,000 stories about technology, music, motorcycles, travel, business, Internet voting, robots, AI, healthcare, and more. Every Saturday morning, I publish an e-brief which contains an easy to read post or two about new developments in my areas of interest. Please sign up and give it a try. If you don’t like it, you can make one click and you will not receive it again. You can find me on social media on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also find my background in Wikipedia.

John R. Patrick
What Is the World Community Grid?

Written: 11/23/2004
Edited: 09/16/2021

Innovation is one of those words that is a bit hard to internalize. Merriam-Webster says innovation is the introduction of something new or a new idea, method, or device. That would be a narrow definition, perhaps even obsolete. Innovation is much more than invention or introducing new technology. Some would say that innovation is more of a state of mind, an attitude. One thing is for sure: innovation is happening more quickly; it is more open and more collaborative. All three of these factors, speed, openness, and collaboration, are caused by or driven by the Internet. Speed for sure. A new idea emerging in a country we never heard of can be globally recognized in minutes. The openness factor is really about standards.

The Internet is not the first thing to be built on standards, but it is arguably the most significant. As one travels around the world you can find cars with the steering wheel on different sides, railroad systems of different track sizes, and electrical and telephone connectors of every size and shape. The Internet, on the other hand, works exactly the same way at every corner of the Earth. Speeds and access vary greatly, but the format of the data and the network protocols to move data from one place to another are the same everywhere.

Collaboration is one of the many applications of the Internet, enabling people in different time zones to share workloads and ideas. On November 16, 2004, IBM convened the Global Innovation Outlook Conference at Rockefeller University in New York City. I had retired in 2001, bit was fortunate to be invited. Many important topics were discussed, but the most significant from my perspective was the introduction of the World Community Grid (WCG).

The World Community Grid has brought tens of thousands of people from across the globe and their personal computers together to create the largest non-profit computing grid benefiting humanity. The WCG is not a Cloud service like Amazon, Dropbox, Google, or IBM provide. The WCG grid provides enormous free computing power to researchers around the world. It does this by pooling surplus computer processing power donated by PC and Mac users.

A desktop or laptop computer is trivial when compared to today’s super computers, but when you connect thousands of them together in a grid, the power is awesome. Most personal computers are utilized a very small percentage of the time. Most users have a screensaver which gets activated whenever the PC is idle for 5 minutes, an hour or whatever the user specifies. If the user joins the World Community Grid at worldcommunitygrid.org, a different screensaver appears, and the idle computing power is made available to the grid. As of April 2021, the WCG had nearly 40,000 active donor accounts, with more than 100,000 of their devices, connected to the Internet, forming a massive grid. The effective computing power made available to researchers is millions of years of donated computing time. I first connected an idle PC in my workshop on November 17, 2004. My cumulative contribution of computing resource exceeds 32 years.

Researchers break their projects into small pieces which can be processed simultaneously on the grid’s computers. Research time is reduced from decades to months. Researchers look at the microscopic world for answers to some the world’s biggest problems but, in many cases, it is hard to know where to start. That’s why many use computer simulations to point them in the right direction, just as explorers rely on maps to find their way. The simulations are run on the grid.

Some of the research projects donated computing resources worked on include:

  • OpenPandemics – COVID-19
  • Help Stop TB
  • Mapping Cancer Markers
  • Microbiome Immunity Project
  • OpenZika
  • [email protected] – Phase 2
  • Outsmart Ebola Together
  • Uncovering Genome Mysteries
  • GO Fight Against Malaria
  • The Clean Energy Project – Phase 2
  • Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy – Phase 2
  • Help Fight Childhood Cancer
  • Nutritious Rice for the World
  • Help Conquer Cancer
  • Discovering Dengue Drugs – Together

These are just a few of the many important projects being worked on by thousands of donated idle computer time. Next time you get a new computer, don’t throw the old one away. Consider putting it in a closet and connecting it to the World Community Grid. If you have more than one computer, you can connect them all to the grid. Your spare computational capacity will be deployed toward finding a cure for cancer and other diseases.

Epilogue

In September 2021, IBM announced it was turning operation of the World Community Grid over to Krembil Research Institute, a leading scientific research institution in Toronto, Canada. Krembil Research Institute is part of the University Health Network, which is North America’s largest hospital research network, and affiliated with the University of Toronto, one of the world’s top public universities.

Is Subway Surfing Stealing?

Written: June 22, 2002
Edited: September 9, 2021

Hard to believe but when I was evangelizing Wi-Fi, there were many critics. NY Times featured an article saying Wi-Fi was a fad and it would go away. I wrote the following story 19 years ago.

I was driving down Main Street in a small New England town in early 2002 when I got a craving for some lunch. I stopped at a Subway Sandwich shop and enjoyed a sandwich while looking at some offline email on my ThinkPad. Just before leaving I got an impulsive idea to see if there might be any wireless local area network signals in the air. To my amazement, I detected a powerful signal. At first, I thought it might be a spurious signal from a microwave oven or a diathermy machine in a doctor’s office.

After starting my browser and seeing the Wall Street Journal homepage, it confirmed my ThinkPad was connected to the Internet. I then started a secure connection into IBM and began downloading my email. At the same time, I started chat sessions with some friends and colleagues. So, here I was surfing the web and using the Internet. I launched a speed checker and found the connection was 1.2 megabits per second, 24 times faster than the ThinkPad’s 56 thousand bits per second modem. Where was this bandwidth coming from? No idea. Who was paying for this bandwidth? Same answer. What was going on here?

It all goes back to the LAN, the local area network. For quite a few years businesses of all sizes exploited the idea of hooking their PC’s together using Ethernet cabling. This allowed them to share files and printers and increase productivity of “work groups”. However, in some buildings it was prohibitively expensive to do all the wiring to make a LAN possible. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (where I am a fellow) developed a networking standard called 802.11which allowed PC’s to connect to each other without the Ethernet cabling. The popular name for 802.11 is “Wi-Fi” (wireless fidelity). Wi-Fi uses radio waves at a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz, the same as most cordless phones. Each PC must have a Wi-Fi transmitter/receiver and antenna. The latest laptop computers, such as IBM’s ThinkPad, have the antenna built into the lid of the laptop and the transmitter/receiver plugged into the laptop under the covers.

PCs could communicate with a “wireless access point” or WAP which is a small box with an antenna on it with a range of about 300 feet. If the WAP and the PC follow the Wi-Fi standard, they can communicate. No wires. Wi-Fi has been a great thing for companies of all sizes. It has enabled employees to use their laptops in conference rooms or at their desk without regard to where “in wall” wiring may exist. Employees have started getting WAPs in their homes which they connect to their cable or telephone modems and thereby are able to work on their email on the deck or at the kitchen island.

In the past year, IBM Global Services setup WAPs in Starbuck’s so people can be connected there too. The Admiral’s Clubs and the Austin Airport also have WiFi. This is the tip of the iceberg. Think about all the places where you must “wait”. Jiffy Lube while your car is being serviced, the doctor and dentist offices, hotel lobbies, restaurants, the hospital lobby, and bus, train, and airport waiting areas. Wi-Fi has great potential.

So, there I am sitting in a booth at a Subway Sandwich shop checking my email and surfing the web. Where is the bandwidth coming from? I suspect there is a lawyer’s office upstairs or across the street. It was a strong signal. The wireless access point name was “tsunami”. That is the default name of a Cisco wireless access point. This means the legal office was probably not aware of the encryption option to keep their Wi-Fi and LAN secure and private.

Later the same week I was talking to some teenagers. They told me they were using a cable modem with Wi-Fi and their next-door neighbors were using a telephone modem with Wi-Fi.t The fearless teenagers decided they could cancel their cable subscription and use the neighbor’s unencrypted Wi-Fi. The issues here are many – security, privacy, business models, scalability of the infrastructure, etc. If you had made a list of the issues and concerns about the Internet in 1993 it would have been the same list! Yes, there are issues but, just like the Internet of ten years ago, the emergence of Wi-Fi is an irreversible grass-roots trend. I believe this is a good thing, and all the issues can be resolved.

As I was sitting in the Subway Sandwich shop, I was thinking about community services. I left Subway and walked down the street. The unencrypted signal was strong for the whole block. There is a park bench across the street. Too cold to use it today but, in the summer, it would be nice! When people are downtown in their communities, they expect to have streetlights, fire hydrants, and parking spaces. I believe soon they will also expect Wi-Fi. Sitting on a town or city park bench and checking email will not seem so strange, in fact it will be demanded. Not everyone needs to be connected to the Internet all the time but when people want to be or need to be connected to the Internet, they should be able.

The Internet has transferred power from institutions to people. I believe it is time to enable this power to become pervasive. Community based networks will evolve. Your next coffee order may not be a “to-go” order, especially when you can relax with your coffee and be connected to the Internet. No longer will people have to look for the fax machine to get connected. Networking companies are beginning to roll out Wi-Fi services in hotels and airport lounges. Eventually, Wi-Fi will be everywhere. The fee structure and relationship to local phone companies will be worked out. People will have high-speed access, no hassles with dialing, and be connected in their homes and everywhere they go. A new version of the 802.11 wireless technology will be launched in 2002 and will be approximately 1,000 times faster than the 56K speed that comes with PC’s today.

There are many issues with Wi-Fi. Is using a nearby tenant’s Internet at Subway stealing? There are different ways to look at it. If you use unlicensed software without permission of the owner, it is ok to use it at will. Is it ok to use someone else’s Wi-Fi signal they have unknowingly made available? What does the owner of the wireless access point intend? If they turn on encryption and you hack your way into it, I say it is stealing. The owner clearly does not want somebody to be using their signal. If encryption is turned off, it could be because the owner doesn’t mind others using it or it could be the owner doesn’t know about the encryption feature or how to turn it on. I think at this stage the “stealing” going on is mostly a result of WAP owners not being aware.

Owners who don’t want to share their WAP should turn on their encryption. Hopefully, many others will help create community wireless networks and purposely make them available as a public resource. The business models for making this happen are not yet clear but I am confident they will emerge.

Will Leather Wallets Become a Thing of the Past?

The Apple Wallet app is built into the iPhone. You don’t have to use it, but you can’t get rid of it either. I suspect most of us will end up using it much more in the days ahead. I use the Wallet app mostly on my Apple Watch. Currently, my Wallet contains the following:

  • American Express credit card
  • Apple (Goldman Sachs) credit card
  • Apple Cash card
  • Best Western Rewards card
  • Boarding passes
  • Carrabba’s Promo card
  • Citi Mastercard
  • Eventbrite tickets
  • Hilton hotel card
  • Marriott BONVoY card
  • Stop&Shop grocery store card
  • Starbucks Card
  • Uber VISA credit card

Most places where I purchase or dine accept Apple Pay, which works with any of the credit cards. You simply double click the button on the side of the watch and twist the crown to pick the card you want to use, based on promotions, points, or rebates. The iPhone is equally as easy, just double click the side button and it opens your Wallet and displays your credit cards, etc. The pandemic accelerated Apple Pay adoption because of its contactless payment method, you don’t have to touch anything other than your own devices.

The potential of the Apple Wallet is far greater than what we can do today. An obvious use would be for storing and displaying your vaccination card and Covid test results. Unfortunately, the idea of a vaccination passport became politicized, and efforts got stalled. A new opportunity on the horizon is to store your driver license.

Apple has been working on the driver license project for years. Each of the 50 states has its own rules and procedures, so it will take a long time to get them all recognizing digital driver licenses. Apple is actively working with Arizona and Georgia. Others which are expected to follow include Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah.

The first organization to begin accepting a digital driver license will be the TSA. Only a state ID is required for domestic flights. The TSA will probably roll out the digital approach at a few airports at first. The way it will work is just like Apple Pay. You would tap your phone or watch close to an identity reader. There would be no requirement to hand your phone to anyone.

The tricky part is how to get your digital license verified by the state and stored on your iPhone in a way a fraudster cannot get stolen or fake IDs on a phone. There have been no announcements about how this will be done, but I am pretty sure I know how. There will probably be a state app or possibly a state button in the Wallet app. The first step would be to authenticate with your iPhone with either Touch ID (fingerprint) or Face ID (faceprint). After authentication, you would take a picture of your license and a selfie of yourself. Next you would upload both pictures. Secure software in the cloud would analyze the two images and determine if you are the person whose picture is on the license. After authentication and authorization, the state will provide a digital version of your driver license which you download and insert it into your Wallet app. Nevertheless, privacy concerns will be raised for sure, but I am confident Apple will convince reviewers the process is safe, secure, and private. I am sure Apple will say they will not have any record of when and where you use the new Wallet digital license feature.

Digitizing driver licenses does not solve any big problems, it simply provides convenience. The Apple Wallet started with event tickets and boarding passes. Later, came credit cards, student IDs, and subway tickets. I suspect passports will eventually live in the Wallet. Other possibilities will be crypto wallet, voter IDs, proof of vaccinations and tests. Some people will still prefer carrying cash if they can find anyone who accepts it but, eventually, leather wallets will be a thing of the past.

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Space

SpaceX's drone ship "A Shortfall of Gravitas" returns to port on Aug. 31, 2021, after its first successful Falcon 9 rocket landing.
SpaceX’s newest drone ship returned to Florida port after its 1st rocket landing at sea. The rocket made a perfect landing coming down through the clouds in the dark. The new ship is named “A Shortfall of Gravitas”. The SpaceX Dragon haul of scientific experiments and supplies to the International Space Station was successful. Coming up will be another SpaceX launch, this time carrying four civilian astronauts. The craft will orbit the Earth and then splash down off the coast of Florida. A lot firsts to look forward to.

Wall Street

All the MAGFA stocks were up, gaining $65 billion. Governments around the world are going after them but, apparently, investors think big tech will survive and remain healthy. In the other tech category there continues to be a lot of volatility. Coinbase up strongly in line with crypto.

Crypto

Crypto had a strong comeback gaining nearly $575 billion in market cap. Bitcoin and Ethereum represented nearly a fourth of the gain. Ethernet gained on Bitcoin, but I believe Bitcoin will remain the leader. The rest of the 11,000+ cryptos gained a lot as a % as more and more investors take a position in crypto.  

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Can Business Processes Be Automated?

Tesla is determined to automate the entire sales and delivery process for their cars. I got my first Tesla in 2015 and put it on a three-year lease, knowing more enhancements would be coming. In 2018, I got the second Tesla, again on a three-year lease for the same reason. The second three-year lease just ran out, and I got a third Tesla (Model S Long Range) on another three-year lease. From the first year to now, the paperwork and processes have been greatly  enhanced.

Ordering a Tesla at tesla.com is as easy as ordering a BBQ grill on Amazon. The options are very clear, and comparisons of the different models and explanations of the features are easy to understand. You link tesla.com to your bank account for the deposit, and then click to order. Reminders come from time to time to complete the pre-delivery process. For example, you scan your proof of insurance and upload it to the site. Order and financing agreements are online. Your credit approval for the lease comes online and the bank link is established for monthly auto-pay (literally).

The lease on the first Tesla was provided by a bank. Near the end of the lease, they sent an inspector to the house. He took tons of pictures. I got charged $300 for a small ding on a fender. The second lease was through Tesla Finance, which is totally integrated on tesla.com. The lease-end steps are done by self-inspection. Using tesla.com on your smartphone, the site prompts you to take pictures and upload them to the site: front, rear, sides, interior, close-ups of wheels. To determine tread wear, you hold a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head pointed down and take a picture showing the wear. A handful of lease-end questions are answered online.

The day before taking delivery, an email prompted me to review documents online and make the first month’s lease payment via the linked bank. If you were not already familiar with how to drive a Tesla, video tutorials are available online. The site confirmed my requested appointment time, and everything was ready for delivery.

Delivery day at Mt. Kisco, NY was the day tropical storm Henri landed, so it was raining hard when I got to the Tesla delivery center. I walked in the front door and was greeted by an enthusiastic young person. He asked me to scan the QR code on a pedestal and offered to do it for me if I didn’t know how. The QR code took me to a simple form on my iPhone where I entered my name and email. The page confirmed I was checked in. The young man said, “You are good to go for your new Tesla, and an associate will meet you at the car within a half-hour. Are you excited?” He pointed to the parking lot where I parked my turn-in and said to look for the new Tesla with a sign in the windshield with my name. It said, “Congratulations!”, and showed my name, the model, the VIN, and my appointment time.

I asked if I could wait inside but he suggested I wait in the unlocked car. Within five minutes, another young associate appeared at my window with his umbrella. He asked me to sign a few things which were prepared in advance, he put the Florida license plate from the old car in the trunk so I could attach it once the registration comes through from Florida. Turning the old car in was simple as parking it in the delivery center lot. The Tesla associate took the paperwork to the office and got clearance to transfer the new car. He asked me to open my Tesla app on the iPhone, sign out and sign back in. Voila! My new car was on the app and the iPhone was now my car key. I was ready to go, and off I went, driving in the storm. Tesla delivered 201,250 vehicles in the second quarter of 2021. The enhanced processes enabled them to do this with far less time and staff than needed by traditional dealers.

Tesla is obviously heavily focused on streamlining every process for ordering and taking delivery of new cars. The process was not perfect, but I was quite impressed. Business processes in other industries need to be automated like Tesla is doing. How about healthcare? Enabling process automation is a new business opportunity called Robotic Process Automation.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an emerging, potentially revolutionary technology which allows businesses to streamline operations to free employees from repetitive manual processes, execute transactions more quickly, reduce costs, reduce errors, and improve customer satisfaction. RPA uses business logic and structured input, which would otherwise be manual. RPA can free administrative personnel from menial and boring tasks, and free their time so they can spend more time with customers.

RPA interfaces with existing processes and can send data and messages between multiple IT applications without human interaction. This is why RPA includes the name robotic. Like robotic surgery and 3-D printing, RPA is not a robot, but the automated way in which it works is considered robotic. One financial services company redesigned its claims process by deploying 85 software bots, short for robots, which ran 13 processes and handled 1.5 million requests per year.  The transaction capability the company was able to add with the RPA was equivalent to adding more than 200 full-time employees at approximately 30 percent of the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training human staff.

Some vendors enable enterprises to combine RPA with artificial intelligence technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, and speech recognition to take their automation efforts to a higher level with judgment and perceptual capabilities which formerly could only be done by humans. According to Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, automation and artificial intelligence will reduce employee requirements in business service centers by 65 percent.  Gartner says the market for RPA software will top $1 billion by 2021, and 40 percent of large enterprises will have adopted an RPA software tool, up from less than 10 percent in 2018.

RPA can be applied in every industry. Yes, including healthcare. I believe banks implementing RPA to make processes speedier and more accurate will have benefits for consumers but implementing RPA does not bode well for bank employees. RPA has the potential to eliminate many jobs. In the short term, employees will have more time to build customer relationships and work on their personal career development. Banks will attempt to transition as many workers as possible to new jobs. However, in the medium and long term, the RPA software will eliminate jobs which are no longer needed. Forrester Research estimates RPA will cause the loss of 230 million or more jobs worldwide, or approximately 9 percent of the global workforce. The job loss introduces the discussion about universal basic income (UBI), which I wrote about in Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better.

The World Bank Blogs published an article titled “The Fintech revolution: The end of banks as we know them?” FinTech refers to new applications, processes, products, and business models emerging in the financial services industry. FinTech startups are exploiting AI, machine learning, facial recognition, voice recognition, distributed ledger technology (blockchain), and crypto. Predictions of banks becoming extinct may be hyperbole. It reminds me of the famous quote by Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  I believe Fintech is in its infancy. However, RPA and AI have already had a substantial impact on how banks operate. Entrepreneurs and investors will find a multitude of opportunities to automate business processes in every industry for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

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Space

SpaceX Dragon is launching a big science haul to the International Space Station for research on astronaut health, plant stress, and more. The ISS is getting old. It is still safe but it gets an occasional air leak and probably other issues we don’t hear about. Two private space companies are gearing up to produce replacement space stations. NASA has converted itself to rely more on private companies like SpaceX and quite a few others.

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks gained 2%. Microsoft was down slightly from a lofty level. Apple was flat. Google, Facebook, and Amazon had nice gains. were mostly flat again, although Microsoft had a nice gain. In the other tech category they were all up. Tesla is now at $705 billion market cap. Investors are viewing it as a tech company, not a car company. I just my third Model S and it is definitely high tech.

Crypto

Crypto had a pullback of nearly $400 billion in market cap. Bitcoin and Ethereum were flat but the rest of the 11,000+ cryptos lost 48%. This is exactly what I have been predicting. Bitcoin, Ethernet, and a handful of others are serious crypto. Most of the rest is not going anywhere in my opinion. Jerome Powell, in a speech at Jackson Hole, said that Bitcoin is a substitute for gold. Crypto is getting taken more seriously by the day. 

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Is Fusion The Energy Of The Future?
Photo courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The frequency, duration, and strength of storms, flooding, and forest fires are increasing, as we see every day in the news. Experts are predicting things will get worse, a lot worse, unless the countries of the world take aggressive action. Even previous conservative naysayers are changing their views on the situation. Most of the debates are over except for what aggressive actions should be taken. The focus item is to reduce the emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere. One of the tools to accomplish the reduction is the use of renewable energy.

Renewable energy is energy from sources which naturally replenish themselves. Although limited in the amount of energy available per unit of time, renewable resources are inexhaustible in duration. The types of renewable energy sources include the following.

First is biomass, which is plant or animal material used as fuel to produce electricity or heat. Examples are wood and wood waste, municipal solid waste, landfill gas (sometimes called biogas), and waste from forests, yards, or farms. Biomass also includes ethanol, an organic chemical compound and biodiesel, a form of diesel fuel derived from plants or animals.

Hydropower, or hydroelectric power, is a renewable source of energy which generates power by using a dam or diversion structure to alter the natural flow of a river or other body of water. In effect water is the fuel which produces electricity. Because hydropower uses water to generate electricity, hydroelectric plants are usually located on or near a water source. For example, where I live in the summer is on Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The Wallenpaupack hydroelectric plant is powered by the water contained by a 1,280-foot-long and 70-foot-high dam, which creates the 5,700-acre recreational Lake Wallenpaupack. The generation process begins when water from the bottom of the lake flows into a 14-foot-wide pipe called a flow line. The water travels 3.5 miles through the flow line to the power plant where the rushing water spins two turbines. The turbines spin within each of two generators to create 44 megawatts of electricity, enough power for about 35,000 typical homes. Hydroelectric power represents approximately 25% of total renewable energy.

Geothermal energy is derived from the heat under the surface of the Earth. Scientists have discovered the temperature of the earth’s inner core is about 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit (°F), which is as hot as the surface of the sun. Temperatures in the mantle range from about 392°F at the upper boundary of the earth’s crust to approximately 7,230°F further below. Consumers are saving thousands by replacing their traditional systems with a heat pump inside the home. Buried under the yard are pipe systems, called ground loops, which circulate heat transfer fluid. The heat pump and circulating fluid continuously transfer heat. During summer, the geothermal system draws heat from the air in the home and transfers it to the ground. During winter, it draws heat from the ground and transfers it to the home. Geothermal energy represents only 2% of renewal energy, but it has potential.

Ocean wave power is very small today but also has potential. A machine that exploits wave power is a wave energy converter. It uses the power of waves and converts it to electricity.

Looking at the big picture, renewable energy represents 12% of energy consumption, but is growing steadily and, I believe, will accelerate. Wind represents 26% and solar 11%. Both are growing rapidly. Nuclear power at 9% has struggled but new technology may make it a key renewable. Petroleum, natural gas, and coal represent 80%. That is the challenge. I am optimistic.

Two additional renewal energy sources are on the horizon, hydrogen and fusion. Some are extolling the virtues of hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative source of electrical power. The fuel cell operates quite differently than a traditional battery. It generates electrical current from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen comes from the air. Hydrogen is compressed, stored in a tank on board a car or truck, and is replenished at a filling station. As of 2018, there were 39 publicly available hydrogen stations. Unlike a battery, a fuel cell creates exhaust, but the exhaust is simply the result of the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The exhaust is water. Hydrogen has been the fuel of the future for decades, always promising to deliver huge benefits in about five years. The potential is great, but we need to see more breakthroughs.

Fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles. The result of the reaction is the release of energy. Tremendous amounts of energy, enough to supply the world with unlimited renewable energy with no emissions. Research is underway in more than 50 countries. Billions have been invested by the U.S. government for its energy labs plus venture investments in startups who claim to have fusion figured out. Many are skeptical but this week revealed a breakthrough.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced a key achievement in fusion research. One hundred ninety-two giant lasers were focused onto a target the size of a BB which resulted in what the laboratory described as, “a hot-spot the diameter of a human hair, generating more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second.” The development is being cheered by industry watchers, but there is still a long way to go before fusion will be commercially viable. The 100 trillionths of a second is not very long, but it spurred a burst of optimism for fusion scientists who believe fusion will be an energy source like the sun and won’t emit CO2.

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Space

SpaceX is getting to send cargo to the ISS with its Falcon 9 rocket. Boeing troubles getting worse. Its Starliner has had serious engineering problems. Could be months to resolve. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, also CEO of Tesla said this week Tesla will have a humanoid robot ready to show off next year. Meanwhile, Boston Dynamics continues to do amazing things with its robots. Take a look at how its bipedal Atlas robot flips and vaults.

 

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks were mostly flat again, although Microsoft had a nice gain. Tesla, Uber, and Zoom each down about 5% due to external factors. Not worried about any of them. Robinhood fell again but still well above IPO price. Remains to be seen if it will be a meme. I do not think so. 

Crypto

Crypto had another big boost this week, up 4% overall. The continued addition of new crypto currencies shows increased interest in crypto. People are putting money into it. Total market cap of all crypto above $2 trillion, I believe for the first time. Most of the crypto will disappear while Bitcoin and Ethereum get more attention. The SEC is warming up to crypto. BlackRock has almost $400M invested in Bitcoin mining stocks.

knows. 

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Do We Need the Interstate Highway System?

Do We Need the Interstate Highway System?

Written: 2002-07-01
Edited: 2021-08-12

 

America’s roads are critical for moving a growing number of goods and people. However, these vital lifelines have been underfunded for years. More than 40% of the system is in poor or mediocre condition. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which gave overall U.S. infrastructure a C-, gives our roads a D. A study published in 1996 titled “40 Years of the US Interstate Highway System: An Analysis. The Best Investment A Nation Ever Made“said, “Many portions of the interstate highway system are strained to capacity, increasing delays and air pollution and dampening economic activity.” Congress has passed a 2,700-page infrastructure bill. The bill faces numerous obstacles to getting passed in the House, most of which are political. Congress is well known for passing bills to do something new but then does not provide funding to keep it new. The Interstate Highway System, which Congress passed June 26, 1956 is a good example. Our Congress is also known for having their fingers in the cookie jar, so no telling what will be in the enormous bill if it gets passed.

During June, 2021, I made an 8-state car trip in the Tesla and found plenty of charging stations (which by the end of the year will accommodate EVs other than Teslas). Every state had major construction underway, but it was clear it will take years to get things in good shape even if the funding becomes available.

A 2002 motorcycling trip gave me a new perspective on Interstates. I had long wanted to take a motorcycle trip from my summer home in Pennsylvania down to southern New Jersey to visit my mother at her assisted living home and then ride back to my home in Connecticut. The challenge I gave myself was to do this without using the Interstate Highway System. My study was to be a motorcycle ride to see for myself the prospective benefits of the Interstate system.

I am not really a road geek, I just wanted to see what the trip would be like and how long it would take. It was forecasted to be a hot day with highs in the 90’s and the possibility of thunderstorms. I departed on the Harley at 10 a.m. from Greentown, Pennsylvania and headed south on route 507 with the Garmin StreetPilot GPS pointing to Pennsville, New Jersey. It would be 126 miles the way the crow flies. The StreetPilot shows color maps and, although it doesn’t tell you when and where to turn, it would always be pointing precisely at Pennsville. I purposely did not do much planning. I would just use a form of dead reckoning, pick interesting back roads, and use the GPS to confirm I was heading in the right general direction. My adventure had begun.

The early phases of the trip were very enjoyable. I picked up route 191 in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania and continued south. It was beautiful weaving through the hills, mountains, and along the creeks and rivers of the Pocono Mountain region of northeastern Pennsylvania. It was fun to see the various farms, businesses, homes, people to wave to, and other scenes I don’t normally notice when driving a car. Avoiding the interstate highway system was no problem until I got to East Stroudsburg. This was the point at which it was time to cross over from Pennsylvania into New Jersey. I knew there was a bridge there but didn’t recall it was connected to Interstate 80 on both sides. So, for a short few miles, I was on the interstate system. I took the first exit I could after arriving in New Jersey and shortly thereafter found myself crossing back over a bridge I didn’t know about back into Pennsylvania!

At this point, I decided to continue down Route 611 which meanders along the Delaware River separating Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I’m glad I did. It was a beautiful ride. I arrived in Easton, Pennsylvania, crossed over a bridge back into New Jersey and used dead reckoning to find my way through Phillipsburg, back into the countryside of North Jersey and continued to head south. I stopped at a Citgo gas station and food mart for some gas and a sandwich. I was 70 miles from my destination, the way the crow flies, probably closer to 100 miles the way the roads go. I continued along the Delaware River but now on the New Jersey side. There are many historical sites along this route. I passed by Washington Crossing State Park, and it conjured up an image of the famous painting of the General standing in the boat with his troops rowing him across the river. Beautiful historical homes were in abundance and later the gold dome of the capitol of New Jersey in Trenton came in view. I had a patriotic feeling for this whole phase of the trip.

Then it was into real South Jersey. No more big buildings. No more mountains or hills visible in any direction. Instead, corn fields, barns, farms, farmhouses, and flat roads make up much of this part of the world. One of the most impressive historical towns in New Jersey is Haddonfield. Cruising on the Harley down Main Street was a treat with stunning 200+ year-old homes with American flags and flowers everywhere. I arrived at Mom’s place around 4 p.m. The odometer reading was 187 miles. This meant there was about a sixty mile and three-hour penalty for my adventure but it was well worth it. Mom was thrilled to take her walker outside to see the Harley.

The return trip was a different story. The forecast was hazy, hot, and humid. All three turned out to be true. The day was to be a brutal endurance test. I was at times tempted to get on the Interstate and shorten the trip, but I resisted. The trip started out with a ride by the house in Salem, New Jersey where I grew up and then off into the countryside. Flat roads and a lot of farms. This lasted for about an hour, but as I headed up the middle of the state, the population, the traffic, the congestion, all increased dramatically. I got to see the inner-city view of North Brunswick and other cities in the Northern part of New Jersey. 

Route 202 was born in 1936, stretching more than 600 miles along the northeast corridor. Over the years, 202 got partially replaced here and there by other highways. In some places 202 just stops. No signs, no detours, just an end where another route picks up. Using my GPS, I continued east or west and then north and eventually picked up 202 again. This happened several times. I made several mistakes in judgment but eventually got to the top of the state.

I didn’t want to take the George Washington or Tappan Zee bridges to cross the Hudson River, so I continued north through the beautiful Harriman State Park (home to a lot of bears) to Bear Mountain and then across the river. The last part of the trip took me through Peekskill, New York and then on to Connecticut.

The trip would have been 185 miles by the Interstate System, my trip was 270 miles and took eight hours. I am glad I did it but won’t be anxious to repeat it for quite a while. Do we need the Interstate Highway System? I don’t believe for one second we can do without it any more than we can do without the railroad system or our airline system. My adventure made me appreciate the back roads, communities, and ways of life I witnessed. The physical drain of the trip made me appreciate the efficiency of the Interstate Highway System. It’s a good thing the nation’s commerce doesn’t depend on back roads and motorcycles.

Epilog. There are vast resources online about every aspect of roads and highways. See Personal Road and Highway Pages and History of the US Highway System. Also, take a look at the Report Card for America’s Road Infrastructure.

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Space

Not much to say this week about space or on the way to space. Boeing continues to have trouble to launch its Starliner to the ISS. 

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks were mostly flat. Coinbase up a little based on the rise of crypto. Roblox had a nice gain but I believe it will continue to be volatile as investors try to figure out if the platform is just 9-year-olds. I believe they will be successful in attracting older fans. Robinhood fell back but still up nicely from the listing price. Remains to be seen if it will be a meme or a surrogate for the modernization of financial transactions. I find it incredibly easy to use.

Crypto

Crypto got had another big boost this week Bitcoin up 12%, Ethereum up 14%, and the rest of the 11,000+ cryptos up 19%. Most of the latter will disappear. Many are a joke or fraudulent. AMC theaters announced they will be accepting crypto for movie tickets by yearend. The new SEC head is pushing for regulation, and I think this is a good thing. He taught crypto for three years at MIT, so he knows what is going on.

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Olympic Advertising

Olympic Advertising

Written: 2016-08-10

Edited:   2021-08-06

 

It was a privilege to be able to attend the Olympics, from opening ceremony to closing ceremony, in Atlanta (1996), Nagano (1998), and Sydney (2000). The ceremonies get more extravagant each year and you have to wonder how they are going to top it the following year. The 2021 Games presented special challenges.

The Atlanta Olympic Games was the beginning of e-business for IBM. A member of my team built an experimental “ticket server” to see if we could sell tickets to the Games online. At the time, 1995, it was the largest e-commerce site on the Internet. The first commercial customer for the technology followed later that year at L.L. Bean.

The athletes who compete to win or lose by a small fraction of a second are truly incredible and a tribute to their countries. The other thing about the Olympic Games which gets more incredible each year is the advertising. Some tell me I am in the minority on the issue, but I think the amount of advertising is over the top. When is enough enough? It is clear NBC’s top priority is advertising revenue. Athletes, consumers, and viewers are second priority. I have seen cases where a race was seconds from ending when the video cut over to an ad. If you watch the Olympics on a mobile device, you will frequently see, “Coverage Will Resume Shortly”. That means they have not sold as many ads as for live TV and have nothing else to show. Dead time.

An analysis of the programming would likely show the following as the most repeated phrases during the Games.

  • Coming up
  • We’ll be right back
  • When we come back
  • After the break
  • Right after this
  • Stay with us

Years ago, I had the privilege of sitting next to Bob Costas at a dinner. What a nice and impressive man. He looked much younger than his then 64 years (he will be 70 next year). When I heard him say on TV, “stay with us”, I detected he was inwardly saying, “I know you have already seen these ads dozens of times and could recite them word for word, and I also know you are likely going to the kitchen or lavatory while they are playing even though consultants who measure viewers are telling the advertisers how many millions of people were watching.

Producers, like journalists and publishers, deserve to be compensated for the value they create. Lugging robotic video cameras and support people plus knowledgeable announcers costs a lot of money. The question is how do consumers pay? One way is to watch two hours of Olympic Games and an hour of droning highly duplicative advertisements, like today. Another model is to pay a fee per view. Instead of watching three hours of Olympic Games loaded with repeating ads, you pay a fee and watch streaming of the two hours of Olympic Games from 8 to 10. Another example is to watch events and news via YouTube TV. I watch the 6p.m. news at 6:30p.m., 100% news. Another model could be, if you are willing to provide some personal preferences, is endure a full load of advertising but the ads are tailored to things relevant to you based on your profile. There are many possible models but the droning of duplicate ads on a high frequency basis may be the worst model to many of us.

I would call giving consumers a choice of various options an advertising attitude. It is a natural extension of Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can’t Survive Without It which I wrote in 2001. The concept lives on with Net Attitude (version 2), Health Attitude, Election Attitude, Home Attitude, and Robot Attitude.

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Space

Another great week in space and on the way to space. The rover retrieved its first rock sample. It will analyze and store it for a future return to Each. The Mars helicopter made its 11th flight.  Elon Musk tweeted pictures today showing the Starship mounted atop the super booster which eventually will take people to the Moon and Mars. The rocket is 400 feet tall and is the biggest rocket ever made. Boeing continues to have trouble to launch its Starliner to the ISS. Space news will continue to grow in the months and years ahead.

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks gained 1% but the S&P 500 gained 5% for the month. MAGFA stocks still about 25% of the S&P. Coinbase gained 10% based on the rise of crypto. Robinhood gained 59% after a post going public decline. Remains to be seen if it will be a meme or a surrogate for the modernization of financial transactions. I find it incredibly easy to use.

Crypto

Crypto got a big boost this week.  on a wild ride. It was a very strong double digit comeback. I continue to believe Bitcoin will lead the way but ethereum has been making very strong gains. Dodgecoin is flat. Dozens of new crypto bring the total to 11,178. Most of them disappear. Many are a joke or fraudulent. The new SEC head is pushing for regulation, and I think this is a good thing. He taught crypto for three years at MIT, so he knows what is going on.

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Let's Get The Politics Out Of Infrastructure

I believe the infrastructure of our country, states, and counties is critically important to our future. If we can get focused on infrastructure and global warming, the future for our kids and grandkids will be bright. All it takes is vision, leadership, and investment. Unfortunately, the issues have become politicized. In the case of infrastructure, the politicians have a tough time just defining what infrastructure is. The news is all political with very little substance about the specifics. Fortunately, the facts are available, thanks to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The ASCE, founded in 1852, is the country’s oldest national engineering organization. It represents more than 150,000 civil engineers in private practice, government, industry, and academia. Every four years, the ASCE publishes a Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. The report card depicts the condition and performance of American infrastructure in the form of a school report card, assigning letter grades A to F based on the physical condition and needed investments for improvement. The most recent report card grade for the country is C-.

In addition to grades, the ASCE report makes specific recommendations for how to improve in 18 categories of infrastructure, with broadband newly added to the list. They also release periodic policy reports on infrastructure issues such as the economic impact of infrastructure underinvestment.

The infrastructure categories include the following:

  • Aviation
  • Bridges
  • Broadband
  • Dams
  • Drinking Water
  • Energy
  • Hazardous Waste
  • Inland Waterways
  • Levees
  • Ports
  • Public Parks
  • Rail
  • Roads
  • Schools
  • Solid Waste
  • Stormwater
  • Transit
  • Wastewater

The ASCE website has a lot of detail broken down by category and by State. To drill down on a particular category, click here. If you want to see the report card and specifics for a particular state, click here. The inclusion of Broadband in infrastructure was challenged by some politicians because it wasn’t brick and mortar. If Congress got an infrastructure report card, it would be a bold F- for lack of vision. The last administration and Congress talked about the need to pass infrastructure legislation and after four years had accomplished nothing. A bipartisan subset of the Senate has reached an agreement, but there is no assurance Congress will pass it.

Let’s take a closer look at Broadband, a generic term for high-speed internet access. The ASCE says, “Broadband enables students of all ages to learn online and businesses to reach customers and co-workers; facilitates electronic and verbal communications; provides access to healthcare and job openings; and can be the deciding factor of where a company chooses to expand. When the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of Americans to stay home in 2020 and 2021, an estimated one in five school-aged children lacked the high-speed internet connection needed to access lessons and other materials.”

How fast is “high-speed” internet access? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines it as a download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) or higher. In my opinion the minimum should be 100 Mbps. The bar is set way to low. Twenty-five Mbps used to be lightning fast but with the rich video content and interactions which are standard today, 25 is slow. There is some debate over how many Americans have access to broadband. According to the FCC, 93.5% of the U.S. population has broadband access. I believe politicians and lobbyists have meddled. The FCC defines having broadband access as one or more locations per census block has it. The low bar of 25 Mbps plus one location per block makes things seem much better than they are. The National Association of Counties estimated, in 2020,  65% of counties had average speeds slower than the FCC’s definition of broadband. It also reported counties of all sizes had connectivity issues, such as failure to connect, connections dropped, speed erratic, etc.

Not surprisingly, disadvantaged and rural communities are worse off. A study by the Center for Public Integrity reported families with household incomes over $80,700 are five times more likely to have access to broadband than a household with income below $34,800. Setting the target for broadband too low distorts the picture. It is much worse than reported.

The demand for broadband is going to continue to grow for education, healthcare, transportation, utilities infrastructure, and e-commerce. An industry group reported data use in 2018 was 73 times higher than in 2010. The telecommunications industry is investing but they can’t do what is needed while satisfying their investors. Expansion of broadband will require a huge amount of civil engineering to solve right-of-way issues, deploying more 5G cell sites, design and installation of poles, underground conduits, and towers.

Federal and state organizations have made significant investments in broadband but not enough. All of the other 17 infrastructure categories are dependent on reliable and fast broadband. We need leadership, vision, and investment. The bar needs to be raised so planning efforts can prepare us for the future and avoid technical obsolescence. If the subject continues as a political battle, we for certain will not get the best solution for our infrastructure needs.

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Space

NASA and China continue to learn enormous amounts about the inside and outside of Mars. The rover is about ready to retrieve some rock samples which, at some point, will be brought back to Earth.  Elon Musk is still ahead in space and is now testing the super booster which eventually will take people to the Moon and Mars. The rocket is 400 feet tall. The Russians docked their spacecraft with the International Space Station. There were no crew aboard the Russian craft but it autonomously fired its thrusters after it had docked. This is not good. It moved the ISS out of position resulting in Boeing having to reschedule its planned Friday launch of a Starliner space craft.

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks got trimmed back a bit, especially Amazon. I believe there report was spectacular, especially AWS which contributed 54% of the profit. Some analysts determined the online ordering was not quite as strong as pandemic time. Incredibly short term thinkers. Congress and other countries are still after big tech but the companies can easily afford the fines and I would say Congress actually doing anything soon seems unlikely. They can hardly agree on anything let alone something as complex as breaking apart the biggest smartest tech companies in the world. Could take a very long time for action.

Crypto

Crypto continues on a wild ride. It was a very strong double digit comeback. I continue to believe Bitcoin will lead the way, although ethereum is doing some excellent blockchain work. Robinhood fell from its go public price but they too have big ideas about revolutionizing how money and markets operate. I remain bullish on crypto and DeFi. Banking and finance startups are going to revolutionize how money is moved, sent, received, loaned, insured, etc.

 

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 Can AI In Healthcare Save Lives?

Some visionary pundits believe the sci-fi genre has correctly predicted artificial intelligence (AI) may revolt against the human race and destroy it. At least in the short to medium term, I believe AI may save lives. As I wrote in Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better, AI is having a significant positive impact in healthcare. The uses vary widely including making stethoscopes smarter, predicting and reducing falling in the hospital, enhancing emergency calls, predicting fatal conditions, assuring the right medications for patients, and enhancing the accuracy of diagnoses from imaging studies. A recent new addition to the list is enhanced diagnoses from electrocardiograms (ECGs).

An ECG is a painless, noninvasive way to help diagnose many common heart problems in people of all ages. Apple has introduced an ECG capability on the Watch. It is equivalent to a one-lead measurement but can be very useful in detecting atrial fibrillation. Kardia has a small device which works with a smartphone and performs the equivalent of a six-lead ECG. Doctor offices and hospitals use a 12-lead device which is the most accurate. The cost billed for an ECG varies from $50 to several thousand. People without insurance are billed much higher amounts for the identical test given to the insured. Medicare reimburses doctors and hospitals about $15. What a system, but that is another story.

An ECG records the electrical activity of your heart at rest. It can identify numerous conditions including your heart rate and rhythm, enlargement of the heart due to high blood pressure, and evidence of a previous heart attack. Another important measurement of the heart is the ejection fraction (EF).

The heart contracts and relaxes. When the heart contracts, it pumps out (ejects) blood from the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). When the heart relaxes, the ventricles fill with blood. Regardless of the strength of the contraction, the heart can only pump a fraction of the blood from a ventricle. The ejection fraction refers to the percentage of blood which gets pumped out with each heartbeat. A normal EF is 50% to 75%, according to the American Heart Association. A borderline EF may be between 41% and 50%. A lower EF indicates your heart is not working as well as it should and can suggest heart failure and increased mortality.

The most common test used to measure EF is an echocardiogram is. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of the heart and the blood pumping through the heart. Enter AI. The Mayo Clinic has developed an algorithm which can significantly increase the number of cases identified with a low ejection fraction. A new study has shown early identification is important because problems are then more treatable. A low EF can imply serious heart problems, but they do not always show symptoms in the early stages.

What is unique about the AI at Mayo Clinic is it can identify low EF from ECG data, not requiring an expensive and time-consuming cardiac echocardiogram. The AI looks at the data in ways which a human cannot and puts any positive results directly into the electronic health record of the patient for follow-up. A study of more than 22,600 patients received an EKG as part of their usual primary care checkups. The group was then randomly assigned to have their results analyzed either by the AI or by a physician. The algorithm produced 32% more diagnoses of low EF compared to what the physician could detect.

Peter Noseworthy, a Mayo Clinic cardiac electrophysiologist and senior author on the study said, “The AI-enabled EKG facilitated the diagnosis of patients with low ejection fraction in a real-world setting by identifying people who previously would have slipped through the cracks.” Some physicians are skeptical, but Noseworthy said, “The takeaway is that we are likely to see more AI use in the practice of medicine as time goes on. It’s up to us to figure how to use this in a way that improves care and health outcomes but does not overburden frontline clinicians.”

There are many Medical AI research projects underway, but widespread adoption in hospitals and medical centers has not grown substantially, yet. The barrier is not the technology. Shinjini Kundu, a medical researcher and physician at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine summed it up very well. He said, “The barrier is the trust aspect. You may have a technology that works, but how do you get humans to use it and rely on it?”  The way AI is being applied in medicine is to absorb a very large amount of data, analyze it, find relationships, and make a diagnosis based on the learning. In effect, a lot of data goes into a “black box” where algorithms are applied, and out comes the diagnosis. This is quite different from how physicians diagnose. If they can’t see inside the black box, they will not trust the accuracy of the diagnosis. AI developers understand this and are addressing it. I believe we will see great progress and saved lives in the days ahead.

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Space

NASA and China continue to learn enormous amounts about the inside and outside of Mars. Much more to come.  Meanwhile, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos and selected passengers blasted off and enjoyed weightlessness on the edge of space. Some view it as billionaire joy rides. I view it as the beginning of a multi-trillion dollar industry and setting the stage for exploration in deep space. Elon Musk is way ahead in that regard but, in addition to the three companies, there are numerous startups with great ideas for how to accelerate gaining the potential of space.

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks had a great week. This is the first time since I have been tracking MAGFA that they all have market caps above $1 trillion. Two more than $2 trillion and two more within 10% of $2 trillion. At more than 26% of the S&P 500 they are on a roll. Congress is after them but I would say Congress actually doing anything are unlikely. They can hardly agree on anything let alone something as complex as breaking apart the biggest smartest tech companies in the world. Could take a very long time for action.

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Crypto

Crypto continues on a wild ride. It is recovering from a big sell off but most cryptocurrencies will continue to be volatile. The big news as I see it is Jack Dorsey putting Square in the game in a major way. He has launched an open source platform for DeFi which will include Bitcoin. I believe we will also see Amazon join in and accept crypto for payment.

 With 75% of Bitcoin mining in China where the government is putting down the iron fist, things are going to change. Technology is improving and bitcoin miners are rapidly setting up shop in the U.S. and other places. Elon Musk has said he will reconsider accepting crypto for car payments when mining gets more eco-friendly. That is happening. I remain bullish. Banking and finance startups are going to revolutionize how money is moved, sent, received, loaned, insured, etc.

 

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Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?

At a hearing over a shareholder suit this week in Delaware, plaintiffs argued Tesla should not have been allowed to acquire Solar City. Elon Musk made many interesting comments, as usual, including telling the plaintiff’s attorney he was a very bad person and he was “reprehensible” for “attacking sustainable energy”. Musk said the combination of the two companies was a marriage made in heaven. He said, “The goal is not to be a car company. There are plenty of car companies, but an electric car company is part of a sustainable energy future, as is solar and stationary storage.” Musk’s brother, Kimbal, said he believed solar “is going to be the biggest industry in the world.” I agree with the Musk brothers.

Solar photovoltaics, the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials, has been studied be researchers for more than 150 years. In 1839, a French physicist, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, discovered light can be converted into electricity. In 1887, Heinrich Hertz discovered voltage can be produced using ultraviolet light. The first silicon solar cells were discovered in 1918, and the first solar cell using silicon monocrystalline was created in 1941.

Silicon solar photovoltaic cells were met with skepticism because of poor efficiency and high cost. The efficiency calculation is quite complicated but, in simple terms, it is the percentage of the sunlight which gets converted to electricity. In 1955, Hoffman Electronics introduced photovoltaic products with only a 2% efficiency and a cost of nearly $2,000 per watt. In 1957, Hoffman introduced cells with an efficiency of 8%. There has been steady progress since then with today’s efficiency at a little less than 20%. The competition between Silicon Valley and China is expected to increase the efficiency by 50% to 30%. The cost has plummeted over recent years.

Back to Elon Musk. I totally bought in to his vision, and last summer it was my goal to implement the vision. The roof of my summer home in Pennsylvania needs new shingles. Tesla Solar makes shingles which look like shingles but are actually very thin solar panels. The solar shingles would power the house, and any excess power would automatically charge Tesla Powerwalls. The Powerwalls are three feet by four feet by six inches. I figured I would need two of them. The Powerwalls are batteries and in effect replace the standby generator. A Tesla adaptor on the garage would charge our two Tesla cars and a regular outlet would charge the ATV, a Polaris Ranger EV. It would be a total system enabling the sun to power everything. That was the vision. Many people are doing it. There is one problem in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, too many trees. Trees are good for the environment as they suck up CO2, but they are terrible for energy if they block the sun. Tesla Solar measured and studied the situation with satellite imaging and a guy on the roof to measure available square footage which gets sun. Bottom line was not enough sun, and I regrettably dropped the project.

Despite the failed project, my interest in solar continues. I decided this summer I would learn some more about solar. I purchased a Jackery SolarSaga 60W Solar Panel for $134. I setup the foldable panel on a table directly in the sun. I purchased a Klein Tools ET920 USB electrical measuring device. I plugged the device into the solar panel and plugged my iPhone into the USB output. The voltage displayed as 5 volts and the current flowed at 1.5 amps. In less than a half hour, the sun charged my iPhone from 77% to 79%. Then the late afternoon sun dipped below the trees and the voltage dropped to a little more than 4 volts and the current dropped to .07 amps, not enough to do much if any charging. My conclusion from this mini research project was solar is for real. It works, as long as there are not too many trees.  See some pictures below.

Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?
Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?
Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?
Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?
Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?
Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?
Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?
Will Solar Succeed As A Power Source?
Getting Physical

I published this Reflection on December 10, 1997. Given what all of us have been through during the last 18 months, I thought it may be of interest. The article was edited on July 9, 2021.


I often get asked whether the Internet as a new medium will reduce people’s desire to get together in person or whether people will just sit in front of their Internet connection and never go anywhere. I consistently said I did not think so. Following are a few examples from 1997.

ThirdAge.com founder and CEO Mary Furlong told me the senior community website has been responsible in part for 14 marriages. I stopped by ThirdAge and met with Mary and her management team. She took me for a tour of the Multimedia Gulch in downtown San Francisco. New Media companies were abuzz with activity. Employee bicycles were in the lobby of the second floor. Computers were on sawhorses with wooden doors as a desktop. We had a small roundtable to talk about the future of the Internet and new media. We also watched a video tape which profiled some seniors and their activities. The Web was taking off, including for seniors, but in-person interactions were essential for all.

I had recently learned about a Web site built by a group of students at Sachem High School in East Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. The students had learned about my personal Website and sent me an email. We had a few exchanges and then the students asked if they could visit IBM. A few weeks later a yellow school bus pulled up in front of our Advanced Internet Technology laboratory in Southbury, Connecticut with a few teachers and a group of a dozen students who called themselves the Web Slingers. We had a wonderful afternoon getting to know these great kids, showing them through our lab, and giving them demonstrations of technology we were working on. Their eyes were as big as saucers when they saw our IBM SP2 supercomputer Web server. My team and I were excited about the enthusiasm, the questions, and the knowledge of the students. Could this visit be duplicated on the Web? I don’t think so.

I had recently gotten a new home gym and decided I needed some wall pictures to help me learn the position of some of the exercises. I searched around the Web using Dogpile search (Google was not founded until 1998) and found a tremendous amount of information but not the pictures I was hoping for. I left a posting at one Web site and quickly got a suggestion to visit another site. I visited the site and learned about another. I was getting warmer. The trail led me to the Global Health and Fitness site. Bingo. Pictures of exercises; video too. I posted a message and within the hour I got a reply from the proprietor of the site, Chad Tackett. Chad told me all about the offerings of the site, suggested exactly how to get the pictures I was looking for, and encouraged me to subscribe to the Global Health and Fitness program for $49 per year. I exchanged several emails with Chad, asking questions, getting fast answers. He said as a member I could email a question at any time and get a reply. I checked out his curriculum vita and looked around the site a bit. I was quite impressed and subscribed. Then I noticed on one of Chad’s emails he was based in Portland, Oregon. Turned out I was going to be in Portland the following Monday to visit an IBM customer so I asked if I could perhaps stop by and meet Chad. I had already gained respect for him, and it occurred to me putting the name and the face together would be a good idea. Chad said not only could I stop by but he would give me a workout at the real gym he owns in Portland. He further offered to develop a custom exercise program for me I could then take back and use with my new home gym. After a full day on Monday, I got a ride to Loprinzi’s Gym in Portland. It has been there for 50 years. I hadn’t been in a gym for many years, and it was a colorful, real as it gets, experience. I changed into gym shorts and had an exhilarating hour of learning exercises tailored to my goals. I put pictures of Chad and Loprinzi’s Gym in my photo gallery.

I changed back into business clothes and rushed off for a flight to San Francisco to give a keynote speech the next morning at the Technologic Partners Personal Technology conference. Before my talk I got to meet Eric Savitz from Barron’s Magazine and after my talk I met with Sam Perry from Reuters. Putting their stories together with faces, gestures, and a short conversation made subsequent stories they wrote more meaningful. From there to Project World in Santa Clara to give a speech. Hearing the 500+ person audience laugh at some of my light humor and having an engaging Q&A session with them is a hard to beat experience. After the talk a woman I had met years earlier at a conference in Moscow came up to say hello.

All this in one week and it was only half over! Will the Web eliminate in-person interactions? I don’t know anybody who loves the Web more than I do but, no, I don’t think people will give up on meeting in person because of the new electronic medium. There are far too many valuable interactions which would be missed.

Can We Cope With Packaging?

I wrote this story originally as what I called a “Reflection” on July 31, 1999. Blogging was not yet ubiquitous. I edited the story on May 28, 2008 and on July 1, 2021.

Packaging is one of those things that most of us may not think about a lot. Packaging can be plastic, glass, paper, Styrofoam, cardboard, or poly-whatever and they contain and protect things we buy. I think of packaging in two categories, one which something is shipped in and the other which something is stored in. I am sure packaging experts have a much more sophisticated way of describing this. I suppose we mostly take packaging for granted but I am beginning to think it is actually a profound topic.

I began thinking about packaging as something discrete quite a few years ago. What initially got my attention was a cereal box I found great difficulty in opening without destroying it, and its subsequent ability to keep the cereal fresh. I have since taken it as a personal challenge to be able to open a cereal box with no resulting damage. This is a non-trivial challenge – maybe an art. If it is a science then I haven’t found the instructions anywhere.

The process starts by using a sharp knife with a long blade. You carefully slide the knife under the tab in the center of the top of the cereal box. Then you slice the material to one side while applying a slight upward pressure via the tab. Repeat for the other side. I give being able to do this without damaging the box about a 75% chance at best. You are now almost a third of the way through the task at hand. Now that you have freed up one of the flaps you have to free the other flap by tearing it from the side flaps. Completing this without damage is also about 75% odds if you are quite careful. You are now two thirds of the way to the cereal. Last comes opening the bag inside the box which actually contains the cereal. This is often the hardest part. If you grasp the two sides of the bag and pull very carefully, you have about a 50% chance of opening the bag without tearing it. After opening the main part of the bag, you need to open the corners of the bag so the cereal can flow smoothly into your cereal bowl. Putting the collective probabilities together gives you less than a 50-50 chance at best of having an open cereal box which pours the contents smoothly and can be closed to protect freshness. 

I could go on about jars that require a hammer to open, pill bottles which can only be opened by children, fresh fruit containers which have to be squeezed until they break. Then there are bottles which are hermetically sealed at the top. The list goes on. I suspect those who suffer from arthritis of the fingers would have many other examples.

Last Christmas, I received a special tool called an Open It, used to open things which come packaged in blisters, clamshells, boxes, DVD cases, and numerous other things which are un-openable — packaged with the vendor in mind — and with no thought about how the consumer might open the package without injuring oneself. The Open It is made from hardened and plated precision alloy steel, has honed, angled, and offset jaws, and an ergo-comfortable handle. It has a built-in retractable utility knife and an interchangeable Phillips & slotted screwdriver. It is quite an impressive tool. If you have ever suffered “wrap rage”, suffer no more. It really works. The only catch is the Open It comes in one of those packages that you need an Open It to open it!

There is an even bigger packaging issue becoming part of our lives. The issue initially struck me when I had received my very first order from NetGrocer (The early online grocer was started in the late 1990s and subsequently folded. NetGrocer and I were ahead of our time). I had ordered an assortment of salsa, condiments, and potato chips. An Australian newspaper wrote a front page story (business section) about how an Internet “visionary” had ordered potato chips on the Internet. Yes, it was me. The amazing part was not the potato chips arriving unbroken, but rather the packaging.

I felt like I wanted to signal the future importance of “packaging” in the way Walter Brooke, as Mr. McGuire, signaled the importance of “plastics” to Dustin Hoffman in his legendary role as Benjamin Braddock in the classic film The Graduate. I opened the two large cardboard boxes and unpacked all the items. Everything was exactly as ordered. I was quite pleased and proud of my e-commerce prowess (e-business hadn’t been invented yet) in walking the talk and acquiring all of my favorite goodies (especially potato chips) online.

I was reveling in my predictions about how everybody would buy everything on the Web. Then I got a lump in my stomach. I looked at these two large cardboard boxes on my kitchen floor and the piles of poly-whatever “worms” (many people called them “peanuts”) all over the place. Some stuck to my hands, arms, and clothing. My wife would be home soon and have a lot of questions about my plans to clean up the mess I had created in the kitchen. All the glory I felt about acquiring Tabasco and potato chips would be nothing compared to the wrath she would unleash if I didn’t get busy. No problem. I’ll just clean it up. All I have to do is separate all the various packaging materials into their respective categories, burst the cardboard boxes, put the “worms” into a bag so they don’t end up decorating our lawn, and then stow everything away ready for the recycling center. Shouldn’t take me more than a half hour. Let’s see — how much time did I save with my NetGrocer purchase anyway? Surely, I am still way ahead?

Then there is the purchase of something really simple — say a cell phone battery. What is the ratio, on a volume basis, of the packaging material to the battery? 2 to 1? 5 to 1? 10 to 1? 100 to 1? Then there are the “worms”. So, what is the answer to all this? First of all, shopping on the Web is here to stay and should be (this was a small minority point of view back then). Retail e-commerce for the first quarter of 2001 was $200 billion. In spite of the packaging, you can shop for virtually anything whenever you want and get quick delivery.

In 1999, I believed at some point web sites would enable us to establish fulfillment models where we can set up a schedule for things we just want to show up outside the garage door on a scheduled basis. Paper towels, a case of oil, printer paper, stockings, and of course potato chips. I envisioned receiving an email at some point from a web merchant saying “Mr. Patrick, we have been shipping you a bag of potato chips every other week for quite some time. We have calculated you could save considerably on your shipping cost if you were to up your order to 12 bags per month instead. Click here if you would like us to modify your fulfillment model as suggested. This has now become routine.

But then there are still the “worms” or poly-whatever. Hopefully marketing will come to the rescue. Good marketing involves paying attention to the “end to end process”, e.g., not just assuming that the job is getting the package to the customer but going the next step and helping the customer unwrap the package, get rid of the packaging material and start enjoying the merchandise which was delivered.

There have been many new business models on the Web and I am confident we will see successful marketers keep uncovering more and more ways of satisfying their customers, by looking at possible annoyances, and solving them. In June 2021, Amazon introduced a new form of shipping box. Good start. We need breakthroughs in the packaging area. As more and more arrive at the door via package delivery companies, what will we do with all the packaging?

In 1999, I wondered if people would buy more and more on the Web but get turned off by all the packaging materials they have to deal with. There is room for leadership here and breakthroughs are possible. I used to get frustrated with opening the half gallon orange juice cartons. Did I say opening? I meant mutilating. Then along came International Paper with a breakthrough idea, adding a screw cap right on the carton. Great! Now what we need is self destructing “worms” and instantly collapsible cardboard. National Starch & Chemical has a product called Eco-Foam which is a starch-based biodegradable packaging material. Metabolix uses microbial fermentation of sugars to create totally biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. The ultimate will be “worms” that do not stick to your clothing and can be put down the drain without hurting the environment.

Should Amazon Be Broken Up?

We had been planning a road trip for some time to be our semi-return to normal. We started out on June 8 and drove to DC to spend a few days with some friends. From there through MD and VA, TN, and into the NC mountains for a stay with friends from FL. Then on to the bottom of NC to stay with other friends. From there through SC and GA to FL for most of a week to visit with daughter and family who flew in from CO. It was a long haul back through GA, SC, NC, VA, PA, NJ, NY, and on to CT.

Our beautiful country is under vast reconstruction. Each Interstate had significant efforts underway. Combined with heavy traffic, it made for very long drives with occasional welcome stops to charge the Tesla. I wrote a story about the pluses and minuses of the Interstates in 2002, “Do We Need the Interstate Highway System in America?”. If interested, you can find it here.  

In addition to the construction delays, a hazmat accident which shut down I-95, some heavy rain, there was another factor which added to the stress of driving, trucks. A lot of trucks. Many were familiar trucking brands: FedEx, Old Dominion, Schneider, Swift Transportation, UPS Freight, and XPO Logistics. The newcomer was Amazon Prime. They were in every state on every Interstate going in both directions.

The record number of Amazon-branded trucks on the road shows the latest sign of the major expansion of the tech giant’s delivery operation. The Amazon fleet of tractor-trailers now exceeds 20,000. This strategic move is part of the plan to facilitate one-day delivery as its new shipping standard for Prime. They now offer one-day delivery on more than 10 million items.

Business Insider reported it has seen a fleet of Amazon-branded tractors, the vehicles that pull the trailers. This likely signals a move to pull more of the company’s multi-billion-dollar transportation cost in-house instead of contracting with third parties. Using their own drivers could help them get tighter control of the shipping process to meet customer demand.

In addition to the 20,000+ tractor trailers on the freeways, Amazon has a fleet of 30,000 Amazon-branded vans making hundreds of stops a day in the neighborhoods of America. The company has ordered 100,000 new electric delivery vans from Irvine, California based Rivian, the startup automaker in which Amazon has invested $700 million to make sure Rivian can deliver the vehicles. Where do all the trucks take and pickup shipments? The answer is in the Amazon fulfillment network which is made up of state-of-the-art technology and a variety of building types and sizes to support processing orders.

Amazon operates more than 175 fulfilment centers around the world with more than 150 million square feet of space, the majority located across North America and Europe. What they call sortable fulfillment centers are around 800,000 square feet in size and employ more than 1,500 full-time employees in these buildings who pick, pack, and ship customer orders such as books, toys, and housewares. The employees are assisted side by side by tens of thousands of Amazon robots. Another kind of fulfillment center is called non-sortable, ranging in size from 600,000 to 1 million square feet and employing more than 1,000 full-time employees. These centers pick, pack, and ship bulky or larger-sized customer items such as patio furniture, ladders, outdoor equipment, or rugs.

What Amazon has created is slick. Congress thinks too slick and want to break them up. A logical way to do this would be to separate the logistics fulfillment business from their retailing business. One of the complaints about Amazon is some say they retail an item for a third party and if it is successful, they use the data about the product and create their own private brand version of it. Amazon denies it but if true this could lead to action by congress. My view is if Amazon breaks a law or antitrust provision of any kind, they should be held accountable, fined, or restrained. Otherwise, I suspect they will outsmart Congress. When Congress broke up AT&T, customers did not care. They didn’t really like AT&T. They tried to break up Microsoft and IBM and got outsmarted. In the case of Amazon, the customers love Amazon Prime so public opinion, which can be powerful, may win the day.

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Space

China’s landing of its Zhurong rover on Mars is a big deal. The NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars saw the Chinese rover Zhurong heading south on the Red Planet

They have also put three astronauts on their new space station in orbit. This is a very big deal. The U.S. is still the leader in space but China is catching up and has incredible focus and resolve.

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks had a great week. All were up, 7% on average. basically flat for the week. Coinbase was flat even though crypto took a big hit. Congress is after big tech, but I predict they will have trouble gaining consensus as the big tech continues to boom. Could take a very long time for action.

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Crypto continues on a wild ride. Bitcoin and most cryptocurrencies continued to be volatile. Ethereum surged downward again. Two blockchain bills passed in the US House, and head to the Senate’s sage tech savvy leaders. HaHa. The bills seek more integrity and security. This is good for crypto as long as the regulation is not too restraining.

 With 75% of Bitcoin mining in China where the government is putting the iron fist, there will certainly be an impact. However, technology is improving and bitcoin miners are setting shop in the U.S. and other place. It will be interesting to see if buyers come in after the sell off or whether crypto will continue to decline. Seems likely to continue down for a while, but who knows. I remain bullish. Banking and finance startups are going to revolutionize how money is moved, sent, received, loaned, insured, etc.

 

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Is Podcasting For Real?

Podcasting was once considered an obscure techie method of sharing audio information. Times have changed, and now podcasting has become a recognized medium for distributing audio content by news media companies, corporations, and individuals. Podcasts are similar to radio programs, but they exist as audio files which can be played by listeners on any device, anytime, or anywhere. Podcasts can be by one person, but most are interviews by well known personalities. Research by PodcastHosting.org showed as of June 2021 there are more than two million podcasts and more than 48 million episodes or programs.

Having arisen from obscurity, 75% of the US population is familiar with the term “podcasting” and 50% of all US households are podcast fans. 155 million of the US population has listened to a podcast, 104 million listen to podcasts at least every month, and 68 million listen to podcasts weekly. About half of the listeners are 12-34, about a third 35-54, and 20% are more than 55.

Podcasting started in the early 2000s. I started podcasting in 2005. One of my first podcasts was called “1-800-FREE-411”. You can listen to it here. I published a half-dozen or so episodes on my website about different topics. I cannot say they were a big hit. I was a bit ahead of my time with the new concept.

Today podcasting is anything but new, early, or obscure. In fact, it is arguably the rage and a lot of money is pouring in to the medium. Joe Rogan is a podcaster, comedian, and commentator. He has interviewed Elon Musk a few times. Spotify is a Swedish audio streaming and media services provider founded in 2006 by Daniel Ek. It is one of the world’s largest music streaming service providers, with more than 356 million monthly active listeners including more than 150 million paying subscribers. In May 2020, Rogan signed a $100 million deal which gives Spotify worldwide exclusive rights to his popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience.

Podcast revenue, which is mostly from advertisers paying to advertise or sponsor podcasts, grew 19% in 2020 to hit $842 million, up from $708M in 2019 and $479M in 2018. Analysts predict revenues are set to exceed $1 billion this year and then double the following year. This is why all the big media and tech companies are jumping in with both feet.

In 2002, armed with a credit card and a dream, two Australian college friends, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar set out to create a software company called Atlassian. Their team has grown to more than 3,000 Atlassians worldwide with offices around the globe. In 2020, Atlassian entered the podcasting sector with the launch of “Teamistry.” The focus of Teamistry is the chemistry within unsung teams which have achieved the impossible.

On April 5th, I received an email from Isabella Zavarise, a podcast producer at Atlassian. She had read an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Waking Up IBM”. The article was about how my colleagues and I got IBM fired up about the Internet. In the early 1990s, IBM saw the Internet as a threat to its highly profitable propriety networking business. I was a pain in the side of the executives who ran this part of the company, but I had no doubts about the future of the Internet and evangelized it day and night. Isabella asked if I would be willing to share the experience for a Teamistry podcast. I said yes, and the next day I was interviewed by Rehmatullah Sheikh, Story Producer from Atlassian in Dubai. The interview lasted a couple of hours and I suggested he also interview two of my colleagues who were key members of my team.

The final 30-minute podcast went live on June 8, hosted by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, documentary and feature film director. You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript here.

Malala and Apple CEO Tim Cook Talk Life After Covid, Activism, and Learning To Code. Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate (2014). She is 23 years old.

On 9 October 2012, while on a bus to home in the Swat District of Pakistan, after taking a school exam, Malala and two other girls were shot by a Pakistani Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt. It was to be in retaliation for her activism toward education for girls. The cowardly gunman fled the scene.

Malala was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious in critical condition at the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology in Punjab, Pakistan. Her condition later improved enough for her to be transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK. The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for Yousafzai, and a reporter said in 2013 she had become “the most famous teenager in the world”. The Pakistani Taliban was denounced by governments, human rights organizations and feminist groups. Pakistani Taliban officials responded saying there was a religious obligation to make a second assassination attempt.

Following her recovery, Yousafzai became a prominent activist for the right to education. Based in Birmingham, UK. She co-founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization, which is supported by Apple. In 2013, she co-authored I Am Malala, an international best seller, which I found a very interesting read. Malala went on to Oxford and earned a degree. She lectures around the world and is inspiring to listen to. 

Tim Cook is impressive with his comments about climate change. His commitment to be carbon neutral across the supply chain and to customer use is remarkable and a great example for others. I am confident Apple will pull it off. The video conversation is less than a half hour.

SpaceX Pulls It Off Again
The SpaceX CRS-22 Dragon cargo ship approaches the International Space Station on June 5, 2021 during docking operations to deliver more than 7,300 lbs. (3,311 kg) of supplies to the orbiting laboratory. (Image credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX hit another home run  as it launched a Falcon 9 rocket this week from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with a Dragon cargo ship perched on top. It arrived at the International Space Station Saturday morning and docked. Now there are two SpaceX Dragons docked at the ISS, one which carried four astronauts and the second one carried cargo. They are orbiting the Earth at 4.76 miles per second.

The Dragon delivered 7,300 pounds of goodies to the ISS. The heavy items were two new sets of roll-out solar arrays to beef up the aging ISS electrical capacity. Four more arrays will be delivered in the months ahead. Hard to believe but the ISS has been continuously occupied for almost 21 years, the longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit, having surpassed the previous record of just shy of 10 years held by the Russian Mir space station.

In addition to the solar arrays, the Dragon is delivering more than 2,000 pounds of scientific experiments, including some interesting organisms like tardigrades (also known as “water bears”) and Bobtail squid. The astronauts keep extremely busy conducting scientific experiments. The return of the dragon in July will make a lot of scientists on the ground very happy. They can’t wait to get their hands on the goodies being returned.

Will Robots Be Part Of Our Personal Lives?

Ray Bradbury, the prolific science fiction writer, in his 1976 book There Will Come Soft Rains, said in the future, homes would be interactive. He envisioned homes would also be able to do things on their own, even after their human owners had passed on. Some of Bradbury’s fiction from more than forty years ago has become a reality with the boom in smart home devices and voice assistants such as Alexa, Bixby, Cortana, Google, and Siri.

Robots are now commonplace in electronic and automobile manufacturing, retail warehouses, healthcare, and flying drones but not yet commonplace in our personal lives. That is beginning to change. Robots can clean floors and wash the windows. Soon they will be bringing us packages to the front door. They will also begin to serve as companions.

Mark Oleynik, an accomplished Ph.D. mathematician, computer scientist, and inventor, founded Moley Robotics in London in 2014. Mr. Oleynik has a vision to enable consumers to have good food at home without the skills to make it. The vision makes some sense. In fact, it could be extended. Since Mr. Oleynik started his robotic company, numerous home meal delivery services have sprung up including Blue Apron, Dinnerly, Freshly, Green Chef, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, Sun Basket, and many more. Imagine leaving the delivered ingredients from one of these services on your robotic kitchen counter. Using your smartphone before leaving work for home, you tell the kitchen robot what time you want to have dinner. You place cooking ingredients prepared in advance in very specific locations for easy access by the robot. At the appropriate time before your selected dining time, the robot takes the ingredients and puts them in an Instant Pot or cooks them in the necessary pots and pans. It adds trimmings just before the serving time and dishes the dinner on to plates. After you have finished enjoying your freshly prepared dinner and have put the dishes back on the robotic kitchen counter, the robot cleans the dishes, cooking utensils and cookware it used. Utopia.

The Robotic Kitchen was slated to launch for consumers in 2018, but as of early 2019 when I wrote Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better, I was not able to find any evidence the product is available for sale. However, other companies are beginning to focus on the kitchen. Leading chip maker, Nvidia, is working with home furniture company Ikea on a robotic kitchen assistant. It appears more development is needed before there is a fully functioning robotic kitchen but, in my opinion, Moley’s vision will happen.

A new idea for robots in our personal lives is aiming to break into the nail salon industry. Three startups are testing technology to automate the process of painting beautiful nails. One of them, Nimble, started in Tel Aviv but is now headquartered in Brooklyn. The company has raised $10 million in seed financing, indicating venture capitalists see potential in the $10 billion nails industry.

Will Robots Be Part Of Our Personal Lives?

The technology for automating nail painting uses optical computer vision and artificial intelligence with machine learning. The AI uses large numbers of pictures enabling it to differentiate nails from skin. A robotic arm does the actual painting in ten minutes. The robotic devices can be at malls, office complexes, or in homes. Part of the appeal is to avoid having to go to a salon to change nail color for an occasion. The devices do not do the trimming, cuticles, and shaping of the nails. You might call it a minicure.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 there were 155,300 jobs in the nail salon industry with average pay of $27,870 per year or $13.40 per hour (before tips). The industry is projected to have double digit growth. The question is whether Nimble and the other startups can disrupt the industry. I would say no because the minicure leaves other tasks to be done. However, the appeal of a ten-minute color change might be enough to build a successful business.

The interesting part to me is the innovation. AI and robotic technologies make a lot of things possible which would have been unheard of not long ago. Some of the ideas will fail but I have no doubt robots and AI will become pervasive in our personal lives.

Is Bitcoin Good For The Environment?

Bitcoin is not good for the environment. However, there are significant changes on the horizon which may change this. As of May 28, there are 10,118 different cryptocurrencies. Most of them are insignificant. The total value of all cryptocurrencies is currently $1.6 trillion. Bitcoin represents 43% of the total and Ethereum is 18%. The rest of them represent 39%. If cryptocurrencies are one thing, it is they are highly volatile. By the time you read this, the numbers just cited will be different. However, cryptocurrencies are 15% of the value of gold, so it is no longer trivial and worthy of being dismissed. I believe they are here to stay. In the grand scheme of things, as I see it, crypto is a key element in the transition from the old-fashioned system of central banks and slow processing to a more digital and innovative system for the future.

Most of the cryptocurrencies use some form of blockchain technology. The concept is instead of a central bank, there is a distributed set of servers each storing part of the distributed set of ledgers called the blockchain. The blockchain insures no money is spent twice, unlike our current system. For example, if I have $100 in my bank account and write two checks for $100 to two people, one of them will be disappointed when the check does not clear. This can’t happen with Bitcoin.

An estimated one million bitcoin miners are in operation. The miners form a consensus network across the blockchain. More than half of the miners have to agree on the details of every Bitcoin transaction. This ensures the transactions are legitimate. The consensus mechanism used with Bitcoin is called “Proof of work”. It involves intensive mathematical calculations to verify transactions and insert them in the blockchain. The process uses a lot of computer power and therefore a lot of electricity. The people performing the calculations are called miners and they are compensated by earning a share of the Bitcoin. In the early days none of this mattered much but, now that there is increased interest, things have changed dramatically. The number of Bitcoin transactions processed reached around 330,000 per day in December 2020 and close to 400,000 in early January 2021. 

According to the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance (CCAF), Bitcoin consumes approximately 110 terawatt hours per year. This represents 0.55% of global electricity production, or roughly equivalent to the annual energy used by small countries like Malaysia or Sweden. The skyrocketing electricity use is not good for the environment and is why Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and others have sounded alarm bells. I remain optimistic as I will now explain.

The “proof of work” methodology takes a lot of work. An alternate idea called “proof of stake” is under development for use to verify new cryptocurrency transactions, add them to the blockchain, and create new tokens, all in a much more efficient way. It is already being used by some cryptocurrencies such as Cardano. Ethereum is testing “proof of stake”. Seems likely to me Bitcoin will move to “proof of stake” once Ethereum has proved the algorithm’s success. The difference in energy use is dramatic and could eliminate the current concerns. The technology is complicated and it will take time to make a transition to a new methodology.

The status of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies reminds me of 1995 and the Internet. Connecting to the Internet back then was not easy. Today, we take it for granted but back then the Internet was just for techies. Bill Gates gave a speech in Paris which I attended. He said something like “the Internet is quite interesting but it has no place in business because it is slow, insecure, and unreliable”. Microsoft was late to buy in but, once they did, they moved very quickly and transformed the company to fully embrace the Internet. 

Like the early days of the Internet, I believe cryptocurrencies are at a liminal stage. Another way to say it is crypto is an infant and is just learning to walk. In 1996, I gave a keynote speech in Paris about the future of the Internet. You can watch it on my YouTube channel here. If you do watch it, keep in mind it was 25 years ago when most business leaders had not heard of the Internet or thought it had no future.

Hacker

The latest major information technology (IT) breach is outrageous. The news coverage has centered on the hackers and ransomeware. The bigger story, in my opinion, is the incompetence of Colonial Pipeline. It got major coverage because of the key dependence of the eastern coast of America for gasoline. I hear people saying the problem is the Internet. It is not secure. The news coverage makes it sound like being hacked is just the way things are, and it is not possible to have servers containing important information to be secure. This is not true. In this post I will be offering a different perspective.

The Internet consists of telephone wires, cables, satellites, wireless access points, and other communications methods and equipment. The Internet is built on global standards which enable any device connected to the Internet to be able to connect to any other device connected to the Internet. There are currently more devices connected to the Internet than there are people in the world, there are a mind-boggling 10 billion connected devices.

The Internet itself is inherently insecure. However, it is possible to make any device connected to the Internet completely secure and not allow a connection from any device not authorized or not wanted to connect. This is done with software which provides a firewall to block unwanted connections, authentication to make sure any connection can be confirmed to be a desired connection, encryption to scramble data so only the owner of the data can make sense of it, and many other sophisticated software tools to make servers connected to the Internet secure. Yes, it is possible to have secure servers. 

Not protecting the servers and other devices from being breached represents gross negligence and incompetence. Securing servers is important for every organization but especially so for companies which provide part of the nation’s infrastructure or contain very personal information like financial, credit reporting (Equifax), or healthcare organizations.

A small company may not have the skills and resources to properly protect their servers, but Equifax has nearly seven billion in assets and nearly four billion in revenue. Colonial Pipeline has more than ten billion in assets and more than a billion in revenue. Both companies have been very profitable, but they obviously have not made it a priority to protect consumer data or infrastructure IT. We should be outraged by the incompetence of Equifax and Colonial Pipeline. They were not the victims. Consumers who lost their privacy or couldn’t get gas for their cars and trucks were the victims. In the case of Colonial Pipeline, the breach of their systems caused widespread anxiety and panic buying which left gas stations in the midlands and across the southeast without fuel. There is no excuse for these companies not protecting sensitive and critical data. In my opinion, such breaches should be treated as criminal offenses.

The Wall Street Journal reported se­cu­rity re­searchers at Cisco Sys­tems Inc. discovered a bug in the web server soft­ware used by Equifax. Apparently, Equifax had not updated to the lat­est ver­sion of the software. They were not following best practices. Keeping current with security patches is IT 101. Something similar was no doubt the problem at Colonial Pipeline.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on the federal government to do more to fight ransomware. This is a cop-out. We don’t need the federal government, which itself has demonstrated incompetency in multiple instances, to tell private companies how to run their businesses. There is however a role for the federal government. In the financial services industry, there are rigid standards for using encryption and other software tools for securing servers. Regular audits occur and are followed with significant penalties for inadequate compliance. This approach should also be in place for any company or organization which stores consumer data or provides infrastructure services affecting millions of people. 

The CEO of Colonial Pipeline said he had been very happy most people had never heard of his company. The firm paid almost $400 million in dividends to investors in 2020. It is hard to find the figure but based on prior CEO’s compensation, it is likely the current CEO is paid more than $10 million. Meanwhile, the CEO authorized a $4+ million payment to hackers to unlock Colonial IT systems which had been breached. 

Every significant organization has a chief information officer (CIO). It is a tough job with a lot of turnover. Many are paid $1 million or more. That is ok, but they have to be accountable. Likewise for the CEO. Paying millions of shareholder money to hackers because of their own incompetence is outrageous. I could not find much about the Colonial Pipeline CEO, but odds are he doesn’t know much about IT. In the digital economy of today, any leader of an organization needs to know quite a bit about IT. Not as much as the CIO, but enough to ask the right questions to ensure the organization’s servers and network are secure. It is not a hacker problem or a government problem. It is a management problem.

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Space

China was able to land its Zhurong rover on Mars successfully. The Chinese rover used a combination of a protective capsule, a parachute, and a rocket platform to make the descent. It was a remarkable achievement. The U.S. is still the leader in space but China is catching up and has incredible focus and resolve.

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks basically flat for the week. The shining light was Roblox which was up 16%. Roblox is showing it is not just a gaming company. It has built a platform which enable anyone to create games and Roblox takes a fee. I gave my granddaughters some Robux which they can use to purchase some clothing or accessories for their avatars.. Coinbase took a 10% hit as crypto about 33%.

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Crypto is on a wild ride. Bitcoin and most cryptocurrencies continued to be volatile. Ethereum surged downward 40%. Cryptos overall declined 33% and Bitcoin declined 27% as China called for a crackdown on crypto mining and trading. This is significant because 75% of Bitcoin mining is in China. This could be the end of Bitcoin but I don’t think so. Mining could move to other countries including the U.S. More on that another time. Barrick Gold CEO panned cryptocurrencies as an inferior store of value compared to gold. Reminds me when AT&T and Verizon panned Voice Over Internet (VoIP) for phone conversations. Virtually all conversations use the Internet in some way. It will be interesting to see if buyers come in after the sell off or whether crypto will continue to decline.

 

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Where Is Bennu?

While reading the news, a story about an asteroid caught my eye. The next I knew, I was doing some research and learning a lot I did not know about asteroids. I am sharing what I learned in this post. I hope you enjoy it.

Asteroids are irregularly shaped rock fragments left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago when a big cloud of gas and dust collapsed. After the collapse, most of the material fell to the center of the cloud and formed the sun. Much like planets although smaller, asteroids orbit the sun in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists think there are probably millions of asteroids, ranging in size from hundreds of miles across to as small as pebbles.

Although the Moon, Mars, and the International Space Station make the most headlines, NASA has done some amazing things with numerous spacecraft to learn what asteroids look like, what they are made of, and what orbital paths they take. One thing NASA has learned is no two asteroids are alike. Asteroids are not round like planets. They are jagged and have very odd shapes, some are square or rectangular.

The current known asteroid count is 1,081,163. Scientists study them, categorize them based on their composition, and even give them names, in addition to a number. The International Astronomical Union’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature controls the naming. Most of the names are based on mythology but there are some exceptions. One giant space rock orbiting the sun was named for Mr. Spock and another is named after rock musician Frank Zappa. Some names are somber tributes such as seven asteroids named after the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia who died in 2003. The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics keeps a fairly current list of the names. A few well known ones include Ceres, Eros, Geographos, Hathor, Hermes, Icarus, Pallas, and Vesta. Asteroids which have been imaged in great detail by NASA spacecraft include Mathilde, Gaspra, and Ida.

One reason asteroids are of interest is they are believed to contain metals such as nickel and iron. We may find out they also have rare minerals which are scarce and in high demand on Earth. This reminds me of a great novel by Michael Suzrez. The bestselling author of Daemon wrote Delta-V, a near-future technological thriller in which a charismatic billionaire recruits a team of adventurers to launch the first deep space mining operation. The plot was for the mission to alter the trajectory of human civilization. A great read.

There is a lot to be learned from asteroids. Since asteroids formed at the same time as other objects in our solar system, the space rocks can give scientists lots of information about the history of planets and the sun. Until now, scientists have had to learn about asteroids by studying meteorites, the small bits of asteroids which have flown through our atmosphere and landed on Earth’s surface. The next step is to actually land on an asteroid and get a sample not contaminated by having fallen through Earth’s atmosphere.

The recent activity on Mars is quite impressive but, in some ways, I find project OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer, likewise impressive. The project began in 2016 when NASA launched the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to study an asteroid near Earth named Bennu and bring a sample of the asteroid back to Earth.
 
Bennu, asteroid #101955, is a carbon-rich asteroid in the Apollo group. It was discovered in 1999. In addition to being scientifically interesting, Bennu is potentially hazardous to Earth and is listed on the Sentry Risk Table, a list of asteroids with the potential to crash into Earth. Bennu has a radius of 861 feet. (See picture at top of the article). The mass of the asteroid is estimated at 172 billion pounds. Bennu is orbiting the sun at 63,000 mph and passes close to Earth every six years. Scientists have calculated there is a 1 in 2,700 chance the asteroid will crash into Earth sometime between 2175 and 2199. Not a worry for us or our children or grandchildren and, by the time it is a real risk, I am sure a method to deflect asteroids will have been invested.

Bennu was selected for OSIRIS-REx because of its ideal proximity to Earth, its size, and its composition. The asteroid contains organic molecules, volatiles, and amino acids which may have been the precursors to life on Earth. The NASA spacecraft took off from Earth in September 2016 and arrived at Bennu in December 2018. On October 20, 2020, the spacecraft made a precision but brief landing on the surface of Bennu. It extended a foot-like appendage which punched the surface and then released a blast of nitrogen to stir up the surface. It then captured the debris in a capsule, closed the lid of the capsule, and headed back into orbit. On Monday, May 10, 2021, the spacecraft turned on its thrusters for seven minutes to begin its journey toward Earth. 

Because of various orbital complexities I don’t understand, the spacecraft will have to make two laps around the Sun and then, if all goes as planned, the spacecraft will travel more than a billion miles and return to Earth after more than two years of travel. When the spacecraft gets within about 6,000 miles from Earth, it will eject the capsule carrying two ounces of invaluable samples. When close to Earth, the capsule will release parachutes which will allow for a smooth landing. NASA expects the capsule will land in the desert in Utah on September 24, 2023. The precious samples will then head to a NASA laboratory in Texas where scientists are eagerly awaiting to begin research which could unlock secrets of the early solar system. If you are interested to see a short and interesting video explaining the OSIRIS-REx mission click here.

 
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SpaceX Launches

SpaceX announced plans to put a StarShip into orbit and then land near Hawaii. It would be a 90 minute flight. They continue with a rapid pace to develop a way to get to the Moon and beyond.

 

 

Meanwhile China prepares to land its Zhurong rover on Mars targeting the six-wheeled Zhurong robot to land at Utopia Planitia, a vast terrain in the planet’s northern hemisphere. The Chinese rover will use a combination of a protective capsule, a parachute, and a rocket platform to make the descent. If they pull it off, it will be a remarkable achievement. The task is incredibly difficult and so far only Americans have mastered Mars landings.

Wall Street

The MAGFA stocks were strong today but down from recent levels. Coinbase took a 13% hit despite tremendous revenue and profits. Investors are concerned their fees will decline. Tesla was down 16%. A Tesla involved in a fatal crash on a Southern California freeway last week was operating on Autopilot at the time, authorities said.

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Bitcoin having continued volatility as expected. Etherum continues to surge. Ethereum is in the DeFi, distributed finance segment. Many new financial and insurance firms are set up to be disrupted by DeFi. This is good in my opinion. Old fashioned ways need to be uprooted. Ethereum is playing a role. Doge coin was up 30+% and is also volatile based on Elon Musk comments. He may get himself in trouble as a manipulator. Crypto is on a wild ride. There are now 9,818 crypto coins out there. Most are a joke but people are buying them. Bitcoin was 75% of total crypto market cap and now it is 40% as ETH has soared.  

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The Big One Who Got Away
A Yangtze sturgeon CREDIT: PEOPLE'S DAILY

During a trip to China a dozen or so years ago, we visited the Three Gorges Dam, and it was a sight to behold. The straight-crested concrete gravity structure is almost one and a half miles long with a maximum height of 607 feet. The structure incorporates 37 million cubic yards of concrete and 463,000 metric tons of steel. The hydroelectric gravity dam spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province in central China. The Three Gorges Dam electricity generation capacity is the largest in the world. When it comes to infrastructure, the Chinese think big and act big. They don’t let impact studies get in their way.

One of the highlights of our trip was a cruise on the Yangtze River. The river is 3,900 miles long, and the river basin is 698,300 square miles. The basin accounts for 40% of China’s freshwater resources, more than 70% of the country’s rice production, 50% of its grain, 70% of fishery production, and 40% of China’s GDP. Approximately 400 million people live along the Yangtze River and its 700 tributaries.

As the river cruise progressed, I noticed huge wooden chutes extending from hundreds of feet up the shores of the gorge sloping steeply down to near the water. At the top of the gorge were coal preparation plants associated with the coal-burning electric plants. The chutes were used to pour the coal slurry, a mixture of solids and liquids, into the river. Not only did the power plants pollute the environment, but the slurry wreaked havoc with the Chinese sturgeon, a critically endangered species native to China. We stopped in a museum along the river and saw a giant preserved sturgeon.

Fast forward to May 5, 2021 when NPR reported, “A Huge, Ancient Lake Sturgeon Has Been Lurking In The Detroit River”. Three scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Alpena, Michigan were doing their annual survey of the lake sturgeon population. After quite a struggle they were able to get a sturgeon in their net and haul it to the deck of their boat. They were amazed at the size of the fish. 

Jason Fischer/USFWS

The sturgeon turned out to weigh 240 pounds and measured nearly 7 feet long with a girth of nearly 4 feet. The scientists believe the fish is a female and is at least 100 years old. You can see the comparison in the picture of Jennifer Johnson, a member of the survey crew, laying next to the massive sturgeon. The scientists tagged the sturgeon with a microchip and released her back to the river.

Scientists estimate there were more than half a million sturgeon swimming in the Detroit River in the 19th century. At the present time, they believe there are fewer than 7,000 due to overfishing and destruction of habitat. The good news is the scientists believe the Detroit River water has improved vastly during the last few decades. Yangtze River conditions are also said to be improving.

Monitoring the trends of fish movement is important for the long term preservation of species. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, Cedar Creek Bioelectronics Laboratory, were early pioneers of using electronic methods to track wildlife. They went on to form a company, Advanced Telemetry Systems, which specializes in creating sensors, receivers, and tracking equipment for biotelemetry. They make sensors which can be injected, implanted, or attached to fish such as the giant sturgeon in Detroit. The big one got away, but she will be tracked for years to come.

Can Aluminum Go Green?

Many emissions from Earth can cause warming, from cars to cows and a multitude of other things. Some of the top contributors to the warming are electricity power plants (40%), transportation (33%), farming, deforestation, fertilizers, and oil and gas drilling. An important single digit contributor is aluminum. It seems like such a clean and benign metal until you learn how it is made. 

In 1886, Charles Martin Hall discovered how to make aluminum, a very strong but light metal used today in countless applications. He formed a company and called it Alcoa. The technique he used was electrolysis, passing an electric current through a mixture of aluminum and oxygen called alumina.  

The process starts with the mining of bauxite. Bauxite is not a mineral. It is simply a sedimentary rock with a relatively high aluminum content. The Huntly mine in Australia, owned by Alcoa World Alumina, is the world’s largest producer.

The electric current passes through the alumina mixture in a large vat which has electrical anodes made of carbon bricks. The resulting chemical reaction causes the aluminum to be separated from the oxygen. Unfortunately, the byproduct is a huge emission of carbon dioxide into the environment. The whole process is very dirty and uses a huge amount of electricity. For every ton of aluminum produced, 11 tons of CO2 are belched upward.

The good news is employees, investors, and customers are demanding action to change the process so it produces “green aluminum”. The demands are especially strong from Europe’s Audi, BMW, and beer producer AB inBev. The industry has been trying to change the process for many years but was about ready to give up without progress. Things are changing now. Strongly aiding and abetting the effort has been Apple, which makes millions of aluminum-cased devices, and is committed to carbon neutrality across its facilities and its entire supply chain. 

Following a big push from Apple, Rio Tinto, and Alcoa, had a breakthrough and formed a new company called Elysis. The founders were able to replace the carbon bricks with an inert material. They are keeping secret what the material is, but they hope to license the new technique later.

There is a lot of enthusiasm about what Elysis is doing. I have no doubt some of the car companies will start promoting “green aluminum vehicles”. Retailers are already advertising green aluminum patio furniture and green aluminum foil. And, of course, aluminum cans are the largest single use of aluminum globally. We use about 180 billion of them every year. Companies are putting their money where there mouth is. Bloomberg reported in February buyers are paying a $14 per ton extra premium for the low-carbon aluminum.

Epilog: The United States Government is making a huge push on climate change. What I have written about in this article is proof positive industrial leaders around the world are pushing too. I am not saying no government help is needed but the power and speed of decision making by Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and many others shows they are not going to wait for Congress to agree on something.

Note: For any British readers, I hope you can tolerate me calling it a.LU.mi.num. I know you call it a.lu.MI.ni.um. 

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SpaceX Launches

SpaceX had another amazing Falcon 9 launch. The StarShip SN15, which will be taking people to the Moon and Mars, was to have a test on Friday but it got scrubbed. Weather. China blasted off which a huge rocket to put the first component of its own Chiina Space Station. It will be all China, a step in its plan to surpass all other countries. 

Wall Street

My MAGFA stocks was mixed bag. Most important is tech revenue and earnings are spectacular and likely to continue to be so. A number of price pull backs. Not worried. Coinbase seems to be following crypto.

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Bitcoin having continued volatility as expected. Etherum has had a huge run-up also but had small gain today. Ethereum is in the DeFi, distributed finance segment. Many new financial and insurers are set up to be disrupted by DeFi. This is good in my opinion. Old fashioned ways need to be uprooted. Ethereum is playing a role.

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What Is The Importance Of A Helicopter On Mars?

If we could just stop polluting and warming our planet, and stop the dozens of wars underway, there would be no need to go to Mars. There are some signs of progress but avoiding nuclear war and major flooding is not a sure thing. In addition to establishing human settlements on Mars, there is a lot which will be learned in the process which can have benefits on Earth. Learning is underway and NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars is leading the way with multiple firsts.

One of the firsts we are learning from is the extraction of oxygen from the red planet. The atmosphere on Mars is very thin but contains 96% carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 molecules consist of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. NASA has developed a  toaster-size experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) which can accomplish the task. MOXIE was tested on April 20. The test was successful. The MOXIE separated oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules. The byproduct was carbon monoxide (CO), CO2 with just one oxygen atom, which was emitted into the Martian atmosphere as a waste product.

Another possibility is to recover water from regolith, a blanket of unconsolidated, loose, heterogeneous superficial deposits covering solid rock. It includes dust, broken rocks, and other related materials. Scientists believe they can extract potable water from the regolith. Developing a supply of oxygen and water from Mars is essential for space exploration because the supply would be too heavy to transport. What the scientists are developing is a strategy of “living off the land”.

NASA said the MOXIE technology demonstration could “pave the way for science fiction to become science fact”. The proof of concept for extracting and storing oxygen on Mars is a really big deal for two reasons. First, the oxygen can help power rockets to lift astronauts from the planet’s surface and head back to Earth or on to other planets. Second, a MOXIE could potentially provide breathable air for astronauts. MOXIE is just one of many innovations onboard the six-wheeled rover.

The Perseverance project cost $2.7 billion, but one of the most exciting projects onboard was the $85 million Ingenuity helicopter. After the Perseverance landed, the helicopter was released from the belly of the rover onto the surface. On April 22, NASA’s Ingenuity lifted off from “Wright Brothers Field” on the surface of Mars for its second flight. The strategy is for each of the planned five flights to be more aggressive in terms of altitude, duration, and maneuvering. This second flight lasted 51.9 seconds.

The first flight went to an altitude of 10 feet, this time to 16 feet. After hovering, the helicopter tilted five degrees enabling the craft to move sideways for seven feet. After angling its camera in different directions, Ingenuity headed back to the center of the airfield and landed. NASA said, “It sounds simple, but there are many unknowns regarding how to fly a helicopter on Mars.” It is much easier on Earth.

Gravity on Mars is about one third that on Earth. One of the challenges is the atmosphere is just 1% of the density on Earth. That means there aren’t as many particles of air to allow the rotating blades to gain lift. The blades are super light and spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute. The four-pound Ingenuity is gathering huge amounts of data which will prove invaluable for planning future missions. The data is also corroborating the modeling, simulations, and tests performed by the incredible engineering team on Earth.

Ideally, the rotorcraft would be flown with a joystick back at NASA but being 170 million miles away and the complexity of getting the data timely makes the joystick approach impossible. Instead, the engineers create software instructions which are transmitted to an orbiting satellite which in turn sends the instructions down to the Perseverance rover and then to the Ingenuity. The instructions allow the helicopter to fly autonomously, in other words on its own. Ingenuity is a robotic helicopter.

Using a helicopter for surveillance on Mars could become very important in future missions. The rover is amazing as it shoots laser beams at rocks, drills into them, and travels around the surface of the planet. However, other areas of interest are cliffs, craters, and mountains. A helicopter might be able to find water seeping from the side of a cliff or deep in a crater. NASA is already sketching out plans for a larger helicopter which can carry additional instrumentation.

Perseverance and Ingenuity demonstrate awesome engineering and science, and are setting an exciting stage for future human exploration and colonization on Mars. In the meantime, we are going to see some amazing video as Perseverance captures the flights of Ingenuity. The plan is to push the Ingenuity to its limit, meaning until it can no longer fly.

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Space Launches

SpaceX had another amazing Falcon 9 launch. On Friday morning, four astronauts from three countries safely lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 5:49 a.m. aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon. On Saturday morning, they will be docked to the International Space Station. There will then be 11 astronauts on the ISS. A lot of important scientific experiments going on up there. Astronauts are amazing people. The current crew of four civilians all have masters degrees in engineering. One has a PhD. They are all enthusiastic and serve as great role models for young people.

Wall Street

My MAGFA stocks were mostly flat after a very volatile week. Not sure why Uber took a hit. They are struggling to find enough drivers but I would think that is a good sign. Coinbase took a very big hit related to crypto. See crypto section to follow.

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Bitcoin and Etherum both fell after experiencing a lot of volatility. The total market cap of all 9,000+ cryptocurrencies fell 16%. A 10% drop in Bitcoin is no big deal from my point of view. It has done that many times. Ethereum has had a huge run-up also but sold off some today. The leading call for why the sell off is the Biden capital gains tax. The threat gave those who have amassed huge crypto gains an excuse to sell now and save on taxes. 

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How To Measure Your Blood Pressure Without A Cuff

I first started writing about mobile device health (mHealth) about seven years ago. When the Apple Watch was announced in 2015, I knew mHealth adoption would accelerate. In March 2015, Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare was published and in July that year a peer-reviewd journal published “How mHealth will spur consumer-led healthcare“. In both of these I expressed my optimism about how mHealth would ultimately have a profound impact on our health. 

Before proceeding, I would like to clarify the difference between mHealth and telehealth, both terms being used more frequently. Telehealth refers to all instances of healthcare using modern technology such as Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, and other healthcare-specific systems to communicate, diagnose, and prescribe. mHealth refers to the concept of mobile self-care. The predominant examples are consumer technologies like smartphone and tablet apps which enable consumers to capture their own health data.

According to IQVIA, an American multinational company serving the combined industries of health information technology and clinical research, estimates there are now 318,000 mHealth apps. Many of these are trivial exercise related apps to record steps or miles. However, some mHealth apps are quite sophisticated. The Apple Watch can perform an EKG of your heart rhythm in 60 seconds and measure your oxygenation level in 15 seconds. In addition to the apps, the FDA has approved hundreds of mHealth devices.

An example of an mHealth device is a digital otoscope which attaches to a smartphone and enables a parent to take a picture of the inside of a child’s ear. A physician looking at the result can make a diagnosis. A more advanced mHealth device is smartphone-based microscopy. The technology is fast approaching the standard of laboratory-based microscopes but with a substantially lower upfront cost. Smartphone-based microscopy is even yielding portable handheld options for fluorescent imaging of viruses and DNA molecules. My book and journal article describe many more examples.

One mHealth device and app many have awaited is a way to measure blood pressure without the cuff. A Swiss company, Aktiia, developed a cuffless blood pressure monitor several years ago, and has now announced their wrist-worn device has received a medical device approval in Europe. The device could have a very positive impact on hypertension detection and management. It is now available for pre-order in the UK through the Aktiia website.

The obvious question is how does this device work without a cuff? The full explanation is quite long and technical, but a high level summary is the heart valve opens and closes and waves are created which propagate through the artery. A standard optical sensor, as shown in the picture above, captures data about what the waves do. The Aktiia technology uses pulse wave analysis to derive the exact blood pressure. Seems like magic but five clinical trials proved it to be accurate.

I will be surprised if Apple doesn’t acquire Aktiia or introduce its own technology using the Apple Watch for the task. We are still in the early stages of mHealth but I believe we will see many more amazing technologies emerge and have a very positive impact on the quality and cost of healthcare.

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Space Launches

SpaceX had a fourth StarShip test on March 30 which blew up. SN15 has been built and is undergoing various ground tests. Elon Musk says it will fly next week. I have my fingers crossed on this important step toward getting humanity to Mars.

The Quest to Understand Mars

The landing of the Perseverance spacecraft on February 18 chalk4r up a lot of firsts. The smallest in size but tremendously important is the $85 million Ingenuity helicopter. A software glitch was discovered. The NASA team will modify and reinstall Ingenuity’s flight-control software. Sometimes it seems software updates are tough to do down the hall. This one is being done from 180 million miles away. NASA is planning to set the flight date sometime next week.

Wall Street

My MAGFA stocks added another 1% to their market cap. The S&P 500 was flat. MAGFA steady at 25% of the S&P. I added Coinbase (COIN) to the watch list of stocks I think are interesting and unique. Coinbase and Roblox, newly listed via the direct listing approach, are over $100 billion combined. These two stocks have been volatile since their listings. I expect that will continue. Some think they are going to grow substantially and others don’t believe it. My granddaughters are the experts on Roblox but I see Coinbase as a proxy for the conversion of the world’s economies to digital. There are many who don’t believe that and think the bubble will break for them. 

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Bitcoin and Etherum continue to rise. The total market cap of all 9,000+ cryptocurrencies is up to $2.2 trillion, and  21% of the market cap of gold. Bitcoin is 52% of the total and Ethereum is 13%. Many big banks and assorted pundits have pooh-poohed crypto, but now they are beginning to participate. Crypto may be the next tulip mania as in 1637, or it may be the world is becoming digital. I believe the latter. One analyst now covering COIN is predicting a price of $500.

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Can Hobbies Enrich Your Personal and Professional Life?

I once asked a friend, who had retired from his decades-long career, what his hobbies were. He said he had no hobbies. I asked him how he spent his time. He said traveling to visit with grandchildren is the activity he always looks forward to. Travel is a hobby loved by people of all ages. Grandparenting doesn’t appear in lists of hobbies, but it is a serious endeavor and, in the broadest sense, spending time with grandchildren easily qualifies as a bona fide hobby.  Jill Savage, founder of Hearts at Home and author of 14 books, put it this way.

Grandparenting allows us a second chance to influence the life of a child. It’s an encore of sorts, where we become part of the supporting cast. A little bit of intentionality partnered with a realistic perspective can forge a special relationship between you and your grandchildren for years to come.[i]

Many people have one enjoyable hobby consuming much of their time.  For example, more than a few friends of mine consider golf to be their primary if not their only hobby. Most of them say the game frustrates them to no end but, nevertheless, they love it and spend an amazing amount of time at it. People engage in other similarly engaging hobbies such as gardening, reading, sewing, writing, and many more.

Hobbies, dozens of them, have been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some, such as various collector hobbies, disappeared due to lost interest. Still others, like aviation, electronics, home automation, and motorcycles have endured for decades and continue to hold my interest. I don’t rule out some new hobbies will emerge as technology continues to expand into new areas of our lives. Some may find my plethora of hobbies an attention disorder of some kind but, to me, they have enriched my personal and professional life for more than 70 years and continue to do so.

In addition to the pleasure and potential relaxation from a hobby, there can be an educational component which benefits a profession or another hobby. For example, as part of the motorcycling hobby, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, a national not-for-profit organization sponsored by the U.S. manufacturers and distributors of motorcycles, offers a highly recommended course which covers the basics of operating a motorcycle and safety-oriented mental strategies. Learning to be defensive and always maintain situational awareness can make you a better and safer automobile driver, boat sailor, or airplane pilot.

Many of my hobbies have been centered on technology. It started with toys and blocks, which were much more than toys and blocks to me. They had practical purposes. The earliest I can recall building things was with Lincoln Logs, after which came Erector Sets. Both founding companies went into bankruptcy, but after multiple ownership changes, the products are still available. There were no Lego construction sets when I was a child. If there had been, I would surely have been an enthusiastic LEGO builder, which I am now. Chemistry sets, junior scientist kits, and ham radio piqued my interest. In my adult years, the trend continued with GPS, digital cameras, personal digital assistants, personal computers, home automation, 3-D printing, virtual reality goggles, airplanes, motorcycles, electric cars, and Pokémon. In the case of ham radio, it became dormant for me at 16 but then roared back to life at 75. When a new technology comes on the scene, it is likely to arouse my curiosity, and I want to be one of the first to get my hands on it. Some refer to people like me as “heat seekers”.

A seventh book, Hobby Attitude: How Hobbies Can Make Our Personal and Professional Lives Better is underway. In some ways, Hobby Attitude will be a general reference book about a range of hobbies. I hope the book poses some potential benefits for the personal and professional lives of the readers. I have taken a very personal approach to writing about hobbies. Hobby Attitude will be somewhat of an autobiography. I decided to take the personal approach based on my experience writing the six books in the It’s All About Attitude series. In each book I made reference to personal experiences whether it was about personal healthcare encounters or how I created my smart home. Feedback from readers has been consistent; they like personal examples and can relate to them. Although Hobby Attitude will not be a pure autobiography, it will include a high proportion of personal examples. It is the best way I can fully describe the passion which hobbies can present. I hope you will go on the journey with me and read about hobbies and how they have enriched my life. I hope you will enjoy reading Hobby Attitude and it will whet your appetite to learn more about hobbies and explore those of interest. Now I have to get busy and finish writing the book.

[i] Jill Savage, “A Grand Influence: How to Bond with Your Grandkids,”  Focus On The Family (2019), https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/a-grand-influence-how-to-bond-with-your-grandkids/

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Space Launches

SpaceX had another StarShip test on March 30. Serial number 11, or SN11, had a beautiful launch but then crashed in a huge ball of fire upon attempting a landing. That makes four in a row. The problem turned out to be some fuel plumbing. SN15 has already been built (12-14 skipped). I predict SN15 will be successful. Getting people to Mars is going to happen, but it will take some time. 

The Quest to Understand Mars

The landing of the Perseverance spacecraft on February 18 will chalk up a lot of firsts. The one I am excited about is the $85 million Ingenuity helicopter. NASA is targeting no earlier than Sunday, April 11, for the first attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet. It will be spectacular to witness this. 

Wall Street

The market continues to set new records. My MAGFA stocks added a trillion dollars to their market cap since the last time I posted the index. The S&P 500 rose even more than the MAGFA stocks. They now represent 25% of the S&P. The government is coming after them but I don’t see them getting slowed down. I replaced Royal Caribbean with Roblox, a newly listed public stock which used the direct listing approach. I have been an investor in Roblox since 2009 as a limited partner in First Round Capital, but it was not until my five and eight year old granddaughters recently demonstrated Roblox to open my eyes to the potential. 

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Bitcoin and Etherum continue to rise. The total market cap of all 9,000+ cryptocurrencies is just shy of $2 trillion, approaching 20% of the market cap of gold. Bitcoin is 55% of the total and Ethereum is 12%. Many big banks and assorted pundits have pooh-poohed crypto, but now they are beginning to participate.

Do We Need A Vaccine Passport?

I started working at IBM Corporation on June 1, 1967. Two years later, in 1969, I received a letter from President Nixon. It said, “Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States”. I entered the U.S. Army on May 29, 1969 weighing 225 pounds. Two years, six months, and 22 days later, I was honorably discharged and weighed 150 pounds. Some day I may write a book about my military experience, but for now my focus is vaccinations. 

The ingestion of recruits and draftees into the Army was quite a process. I remember lining up to get a haircut. No questions were asked, we all cut the same buzz cut. Next was another line (of many) to get vaccinated. They used an air gun. The shot in the arm took a couple of seconds. Each soldier was given a Yellow Card on which the vaccination was recorded.

The International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP), also known as the Yellow Card, or Carte Jaune in French, was the official vaccination record created by the World Health Organization (WHO). As a travel document, it served as a kind of ‘medical passport’ recognized internationally and required for entry to certain countries where there are increased health risks for travelers (or soldiers).

The yellow card is an official medical record, recognized worldwide, of the diseases you’ve been immunized against. It could include a record of vaccination against rabies, shingles, flu, typhoid, pneumonia, diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis, and yellow fever. Various schemes for health passports or vaccination certificates have been proposed for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

In theory, we all have an electronic health record (EHR) which is a complete record of all our medications, immunizations, conditions, etc. In reality, the EHR is a train wreck. Some people on Medicare may have as many as 15 EHRs from the various providers they may access. EHRs are hard to use. In theory the EHR is a database for the patient. In reality, the EHR does not allow a patient to easily access it, make queries of past blood test results, sort records, export them to other providers, etc. The big user of EHR data is law firms who are representing plaintiffs or defendants in medical liability suits. Unfortunately, the EHR is not a practical solution for proof of vaccination for Covid-19.

For now, we have the Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card, a piece of paper courtesy of the CDC. I don’t think this will be adequate for the days ahead. Australian airline Qantas has already announced it will start requiring coronavirus shots for all passengers on its international flights. Our little easy to counterfeit piece of paper will likely not be satisfactory for the various airlines, cruise lines, sports stadiums, schools, etc. who want to protect themselves from lawsuits for allowing infected people to enter.

A number of technology and travel companies are working on a solution. The best I have seen is from The Commons Project Foundation. CommonPass is a digital health app that enables travelers to present standardized, verifiable proof they tested negative for COVID-19. The Commons Project, The World Economic Forum and a broad coalition of public and private partners are collaborating to launch CommonPass, a trusted, globally-interoperable platform for people to document their COVID-19 status  including health declarations, PCR tests, and vaccinations. The goal is to satisfy country entry requirements while protecting their health data privacy.

The premise behind CommonPass is for global travel and trade to return to pre-pandemic levels, travelers will need a secure and verifiable way to document their health status as they travel and cross borders.  Countries will need to be able to trust that a traveller’s record of a COVID PCR test or vaccination administered in another country is valid. Countries will also need the flexibility to update their health screening entry requirements as the pandemic evolves and science progresses.  Airlines, airports and other travel industry stakeholders will need the same.

CommonPass lets individuals access their lab results and vaccination records, and consent to have the information used to validate their COVID status without revealing any other underlying personal health information.  Lab results and vaccination records can be accessed through existing health data systems, national or local registries or personal digital health records on your Apple or Android device where you can store your health records securely and privately entirely under your control.

The CommonPass platform assesses whether your lab test results or vaccination records come from a trusted source and will satisfy the health screening requirements of the country or facility you want to enter.  CommonPass delivers a simple yes/no answer as to whether you meet the current entry criteria, but the underlying health information stays in the individual’s control.

CommonPass is designed to be accessed directly through other apps and services. For example, Lufthansa has announced an integration of CommonPass into their airline app usable on all flights from Frankfurt to the USA. I expect similar integrations will occur at all major airlines which fly internationally because it can give both travelers and governments confidence in each traveler’s verified COVID-19 status.

Currently, COVID-19 test results are presented on a piece of paper from unknown labs or vaccination sites, often written in languages foreign to those inspecting them. There is no standard format or certification system for lab results. Similarly, vaccination records are generally shared on paper cards that can be easily forged. As countries contemplate relaxing border restrictions and quarantine requirements, they need a more trustworthy model for validating the health status of incoming travelers.

CommonPass is currently in trials. I am on the list to get the app as soon as it is available, which I expect to be very soon. Some are skeptical but having read the details of how CommonPass works, I am completely confident it will be easy to use, secure, and with strong privacy protection. I see it as an enduring app. Unfortunately, Covid-19 is not the last significant virus we will see.

Are Most Virtual Things Actually Real?

Last week, I attended a virtual wedding, a virtual cocktail party, and several virtual board meetings. Becker’s Hospital Review reported, “Led by COVID-19 surge, virtual [health] visits will surpass 1B in 2020”. Some schools have said they are all virtual. Everything is virtual. Or is it? I believe none of these things were virtual. They were all real, and we should not call them virtual. To prove my point, let me first describe an example of an encounter which was in fact virtual.

Sometime in the late 1990s when I was Vice President for Internet Technology at IBM, I was invited to visit the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois, outside of Chicago. Argonne is a national science and engineering research lab operated for the United States Department of Energy. It is one of the 17 DOE laboratories which comprise a preeminent federal research system, providing the nation with strategic scientific and technological capabilities.

Part of the tour I received included a review of some advanced work Argonne was doing with virtual reality. Before entering the VR lab, I was asked to wear VR goggles and a pair of VR gloves. The gloves used haptic technology, also known as kinesthetic communication or 3D touch. The VR gloves can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the wearer’s hands. It is similar to the haptic feedback you get from your steering wheel if you cross a highway lane.

After entering the VR lab, I saw a Golden Labrador sitting on his or her haunches with a big tongue hanging out. The executive director conducting the tour asked me to pet the dog. I reached out with my glove and petted the dog on the head. He or she liked it and wagged its tail. Then the executive director asked me to take off my goggles. When I did, I saw an empty room. There was nothing there. The Golden Lab was virtual. The dog was not real.

Contrast this experience with using your iPad for a telehealth consultation with your physician, frequently called a virtual visit. You and your doctor are talking, asking and answering questions. The consult is very real. You and the doctor are real. You might say the consult was remote, connected, or even in the cloud, but not virtual.

Work at home, meetings and conferences from home, and remote medical consultations are here to stay. Perhaps not to the same degree as in the height of the pandemic, but here to stay. Many meetings and consultations just don’t require in person meetings.

For healthcare, more and more mHealth devices and smartphone apps are changing how healthcare is delivered. An Apple watch can take an EKG and check your oxygenation level. The Apple Health app stores a lot of information about your activities, medications, and much more. Smartphone connected devices can enable a parent to place a small snout connected to the phone’s camera in a child’s ear to take a picture using an Otoscope app. The physician can look at the picture and determine if the child has an ear infection. The FDA has approved hundreds of mHealth devices and apps. Digital stethoscopes are available. A fake smartphone x-ray app is out there. At some point the real thing will be. As devices proliferate and apps get smarter and easier to use, healthcare will be transformed.

Remote learning is not a new idea. I wrote about it in Net Attitude in 2001 and it was not even new then. I got my doctorate by studying online for four years. Hopefully, our kids will get back to in-school learning asap, but they can do supplemental learning during summers. Older people can continue learning all their lives with remote learning.

In the case of business interactions after the pandemic, travel will be reduced, real estate square footage will be reduced, and many employees will work from home permanently. In person meetings will come back but not to the level of before, just not necessary in many cases.

Call all these things whatever you want, but don’t call them virtual. They are very real!

How Big Is The Nuclear Threat?

The United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson announced a plan to increase the size of the cap on the UK’s nuclear weapons stockpile. The outcry has been significant with regard to international law and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Iran called the move hypocrisy. I am more interested in the numbers.

The UK government conducted an integrated defense review and concluded the nuclear arsenal should be lifted by 40% to 260 warheads. The UK had previously committed to cutting its stockpile to 180 warheads by the mid-2020s, but the government says the review requires a change in recognition of the “evolving security environment” including the developing range of nuclear, biological, chemical, and doctrinal threats”. The argument is to show a deterrent. More on that shortly.

In 1986, there were more than 70,000 nuclear weapons. Since then, there has been a significant reduction but there still remain nearly 15,000. The numbers vary depending on the source but roughly speaking the United States has about 7,000 and so does Russia. Eight other countries including the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel collectively have about 1,000 weapons.

Two nuclear weapons have been used in the course of warfare, both by the United States near the end of World War II. On August 6, 1945, the day after I was born, a bomb code named Little Boy was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, a second bomb code named Fat Man was detonated over the city of Nagasaki. Combined, these two bombings resulted in the nearly instantaneous death of approximately 200,000 people. The yield of the blasts was 15 kilotons and 22 kilotons. That was two nuclear weapons. Today, the world has about 15,000.

A typical nuclear weapon today weights about 250 pound and has a yield of up to 150 kilotons, ten times the bombs which destroyed two cities and 200,000 people. The Russians have a weapon known as the Tsar Bomba. It is the most powerful nuclear weapon ever created and tested. The bomb is 26 feet long and 7 feet in diameter. It weighs 60,000 pounds. The yield is equivalent to 50 million tons of TNT 3,000 times greater than the 1945 bombs. When the Russian bomb was tested, the mushroom cloud could be seen from 100 miles away. The crown of the cloud was 40 miles high. The United States and Russia each have the power to render Earth an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland.

Unfortunately, the technological barriers to going nuclear are low. Barry McCaffrey, a retired U.S. Army four-star general, said,

The science is available on the internet. With less than 20 lbs. of donated, stolen or manufactured highly enriched uranium, or a plutonium device, even primitive Libya under Gen. Muammar Gaddafi’s rule was close to going nuclear. There are easily some 30 nations that in less than five years, with the help of a rogue power, could cross the nuclear threshold.

Although the total arsenal has declined, it likely remains an irreversible existential threat to U.S. national security. General McCaffrey said,

We are stuck permanently with deterrence as the central pillar to prevent their future use. There is no going back. However, we can dramatically lower the chances of a future Armageddon through smart arms-control negotiations and international diplomacy.

I hope our political and policy leaders clearly understand the horrific magnitude of the devastation which would result from a nuclear exchange. General McCaffrey said that an all-out exchange with the Russians would be over in about 30 minutes, along with most life in the two nations. Some experts believe North Korea is developing a one-megaton weapon which, if they could detonate it over Seattle or Honolulu could kill 50% of the populations within a five mile range. Kim Jong Un may now have 30 to 60 nuclear devices and a prototype of an intercontinental ballistic missile. He is also believed to have the initial design for a sub-launched nuclear missile. An even bigger fear is North Korea making their nuclear technology available to terrorists.

Despite the gloom and doom possibilities, there is hope. The nuclear threat initiative (nti.org) is a non-profit bipartisan organization focused on protecting lives, the environment, and our quality of life now and for future generations. It is working to prevent catastrophic attacks with weapons of mass destruction and disruption, nuclear, biological, radiological, chemical and cyber. I hope the free world will put our brightest arms-control minds to work on multiple approaches to the constraint and reduction of the nuclear global threat.

General McCaffrey outlines some important steps,

Step one should be a U.S. unilateral presidential announcement of “No First Use” in the first year of the next [now current] administration. Step two should be the U.S. unilateral removal of our 150 largely useless B61 gravity nuclear weapons in Europe. Step three would be congressional binding legislation to eliminate the president’s “sole use” authority to employ nuclear weapons.

The hawks will argue the three steps will reduce the U.S. nuclear deterrent capability. General McCaffrey has a lot of experience with issues surrounding nuclear weapons, and he believes that would not be the case. He further believes our sea-based nuclear capability for a massive second strike would create a very clear deterrence. Finally, the General believes we need to freeze in place the further global expansion or modernization of nuclear weapons with verifiable international monitoring. I hope the new administration gives a very high priority to make this happen.

Is The Fax Machine Dead?

During my research for Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare, I discovered Coupon Chile, a website which lists valid coupon codes, voucher codes, and online discount deals. The company had done some research about fax machines and found there are 46.3 million of them around the world, 17.4 million in the United States. They estimated the total number of faxes sent each year is 16.9 billion, representing 853 miles high of paper, which equates to 2 million trees cut down every year.

The fax machine and the Internet have something in common. They both provide integration for incompatible data. Anybody with a fax machine can send anybody a fax and know the recipient will be able to read it or have it translated. The Internet’s World Wide Web allows anyone with a browser to be able to connect to any server and retrieve information, regardless of what kind of server contains the information. In effect the Web provides integration and removes any incompatibilities. If the Internet had arrived sooner, there would have been no need for fax machines, which have since seen a steady decline in usage throughout the business community, except in healthcare.

Jeff Tangney was the founder of Epocrates, a smartphone app which replaced the 3,250 page Physician Desk Reference, and is used by one million Epocrates subscribers. Jeff is now CEO of Doximity, a social media company networking service used by more than 50% of U.S. physicians. Tangney said, “Fax machines are the lingua franca of healthcare.” Faxing is ingrained in the workflow of physicians. When you call most healthcare providers, you will typically not hear, “Our website is…  or our email address is”. You will most certainly hear, “Our fax # is….”.  Tangney added, “It’s still an industry that runs by and large by the fax machine.” It is not that doctors like paper or faxes, but I believe many feel they are chained to the eco-system of which they are a part.

Healthcare is making slow progress toward paperless in some areas. For example, e-prescribing is improving patient safety and streamlining the process of getting a prescription from the doctor to medication in your hands. However, it doesn’t always work that way. Millions of prescriptions are handled by specialty pharmacies operated by all the major pharmacy companies. They handle medications needing refrigeration or some form of special preparation or handling. When a physician completes an online e-script to a specialty pharmacy, the e-script is converted to a fax. When the specialty pharmacy receives the fax, someone manually keys it into his or her system. It usually takes an extra day for an e-script to be filled in this manner, and the extra steps add cost to the fulfillment. When it comes to scheduling an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccination, many seniors are overwhelmed with the poor responsiveness or difficulty to use the available websites. While the healthcare industry is making some strides in adopting the Internet, it has a long way to go. Without the fax machine, healthcare would come to a screeching halt.

In some cases, even fax machines are deemed too progressive. I recently had a routine shingles vaccination. The provider sent me a Health Insurance Claim Form to send to my healthcare insurance payer. I asked to get the form by email. Cannot do. How about fax? No. Paper only. I called UnitedHealthcare, the largest health insurance provider in America, to ask where to send the form. Can I email it to you? No. Surely I can fax it to you? No. Paper only. “And don’t forget to include a receipt”. Called the provider again. Receipts can only be sent by USPS mail. From the day of vaccination to the day my reimbursement gets into my bank will likely be six months.

There are numerous reasons why our healthcare is so expensive compared to other countries, and one of them is not because the care is better. One of the reasons is the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt progressive information and communications technology to reduce waste through improved administration. One study projected the adoption of administrative standards for healthcare billing and payment would save $300 billion. (unnecessary tests and procedures is at least three times that). The other failure is the U.S. government has not demanded standards for healthcare information like we have with the Internet, banking, and railroad tracks. 

In his book, Faxed: The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine, Jonathan Coopersmith, an associate history professor, whose speciality is the history of technology, likens the fax machine to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. He said that the fax machine reached the mighty heights of the business machine world and then crashed spectacularly. There are two places you can find fax machines. One is in technology history museums. The other is in every healthcare provider’s office or in pharmacies.

Is Amazon Pharmacy For Real?

In the early 1960s, I remember regular visits to Mccoubrie’s Pharmacy in Salem, NJ. We called it the drug store, and it had a soda fountain. We would stop by after school for a cherry coke. The back of the store was the pharmacy. Jack Mccoubrie was a distinguished looking man and a friend of my father. I can picture him on the elevated floor behind the counter filling prescriptions.

A lot has changed since then. In 2019, 80 percent of all prescriptions were e-prescriptions. Doctors accelerated e-prescribing when Medicare starting paying a small bonus if they did so. The e-prescribing process automates the creation of the medication order, but it doesn’t include the patient. You call the pharmacy and ask about the prescription, after you go through a monotonous phone tree of choices. “We don’t have the prescription yet”. You call the doctor’s office and go through another phone tree. “The doctor didn’t get to do it yet. She will do it this afternoon.” Eventually, you get the word the script is ready for pickup. You wait in a long line at the pharmacy. When it is your turn, “What is your address?” If you are lucky enough to have a vacation home, the answer is not always the one they expect. All this is going to change big time.

PillPack was founded in Manchester, NH in 2013 by TJ Parker and Elliot Cohen. The founders had a vision to automate the drug store by packing medications in dosage packets using robots to handle the packaging process. Each little packet shows the date and time for when the medications in the packet are to be taken. The medications and dose are listed, and it can include over the counter medications. There may be one, two, or more packets per day. In June 2018, Amazon.com acquired PillPack for a reported $753 million. In November 2019, the company was rebranded as “PillPack by Amazon Pharmacy.”

The secret sauce in the PillPack acquisition is not the packets, although the packets are a good idea and still available from Amazon. I believe the real value is PillPack is licensed for drug distribution in all states. Although Amazon Pharmacy still offers PillPack as an option, I like the Pharmacy option even better. To get started, you register on the site and provide your medications and your insurance information. It is a very simple process, unlike most things related to healthcare. If you have an existing medication coming up for a refill, you just go to the Amazon Pharmacy and select the medication and choose the option to have Amazon contact the existing pharmacy, say CVS, Walgreens, or Rite Aid. Amazon takes it from there. You get an email saying your refill is ready. You click and it gets added to your cart. The cart shows the medication and the pricing. If it is a new prescription, your doctor can e-prescribe, fax, or call, just like with the traditional pharmacies.

As a pricing example, consider Levothyroxine. There are different manufacturers that make levothyroxine. It may be branded Synthroid, Levoxyl, or Tirosint. Levothyroxine is the most prescribed medication, with more than 100 million prescriptions per year. The price in my cart using AARP UnitedHealthcare insurance was a copay of $14.88. The other option shown in the cart was “Price without Insurance” $3.80, “Includes 79% savings with Prime”. I wondered how that can be. Likely Amazon Pharmacy went to Abbott Laboratories and asked for a price on 10 billion levothyroxine pills.

Once you place the order, you get a confirming email, just like when you order anything else from Amazon. In two days, the Amazon Prime van shows up in the neighborhood as it does every day, with a free shipping package with your medications, just like anything else you buy from Amazon. Amazon Pharmacy only offers a 30-day supply “for now”. Not sure why, but it doesn’t matter. If your doctor prescribes 90 days, Amazon Pharmacy sends you 30 days with two renewals. When it is time for a refill, you get an email. You click, it goes in your cart, you pick your price, with or without insurance, and the refill is delivered. No calling, no standing in line at the pharmacy. It is no surprise the pharmacy stocks all declined the day Amazon announced the purchase of PillPack.

This is just the beginning. Our healthcare system is broken badly, and in my opinion, things are getting worse. Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway created a healthcare company to shake up the industry, but it did not work out. I suspect they concluded it is better to take on the industry one segment at a time. Pharmacy is first and it will save billions. Congress is incapable of acting because of the huge lobbying lock on them. I think Amazon Pharmacy is the tip of the iceberg.

The Limits to Growth

If you are a pessimist and revel in the gloom and doom the future may hold, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) can add a lot of fodder. Robots are mostly in manufacturing plants today, but their presence is growing in many other places, including hospitals, restaurants, retail stores, and homes. Millions of jobs will be replaced by robots. AI will become pervasive in finance, insurance, and legal companies, healthcare, and educational institutions replacing lawyers, accountants, financial analysts, radiologists, teachers, and professors. As robots and AI get smarter, some believe there may not be much left for humans to do. Ultimately, the robots and AI could merge, and form a new population of super strong and super intelligent beings. The new beings may look back at history and see how humans have wiped out numerous species over time.  Then, they may conclude humans are no longer needed. The End.

Some experts believe the scenario I just described is a very real threat. They believe humanity is at great risk. The late Stephen Hawking, an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, said efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence. He told the BBC, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”  Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla and SpaceX, said, “If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea. In the end the machines will win.”

There are other threats. The possibility of a nuclear war is hard to imagine, but it could happen. At a lecture I attended some years ago, a scientist from IBM Research said the biggest risk is a terrorist or anarchist getting hold of smallpox or other biological agents and finding a way to initiate infections among a population. We all well know the devastation the coronavirus has caused. For all these reasons, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and other smart people feel we need to colonize Mars as a Plan B in case humanity on Earth gets wiped out. A thoughtful friend of mine sees a different set of risks. He said,

While all of those are real threats that we have no choice but to endure and very well may never experience, Stephen Hawking was more focused on what he considered to be inevitable, we are using up our planet.  When we were kids, there were about 2.5 billion people on this planet.  Today there are about 7.8 billion – far too many to be supported for very long.  We won’t need a bomb or a plague.  Overpopulation and the resultant over use of resources seems to be inevitable.  Also, however real one thinks the threat of climate change is, it certainly would not exist if we had only 2.5 billion neighbors.

In 1970, when I was serving in the United States Army, I read a book called The Limits to Growth, published by The Club of Rome. The heart of the book was about exponential economic and population growth with a finite supply of resources for the world civilization. A computer simulation model at MIT proved the point. The model considered the growth of the population, growth of pollution, and the decline in rare minerals needed for industry and the limit of food sources. The model included many other variables and predicted The End of humanity by the year 2000, 30 years from the publishing of the study. The model considered the effect of breakthroughs in the handling of pollution, discovery of new sources of food and materials. Even with the most optimistic scenario, the year 2000 would still be The End. Needless to say, The End did not occur. Unexpected breakthroughs of all kinds occurred, and growth continued.

Now the question is whether we are once again at or approaching a point of unsustainability as my friend suggests. New policies and new technologies are needed. The basic message of Limits to Growth warned exponential growth of our world civilization cannot continue very long and a very careful management of the planet is needed. The concerns of 1970 remain as valid as ever.

Despite the threats and trends, I am optimistic about the future. The landing of Perseverance on Mars shows the incredible capabilities of humans who are smart, innovative, and motivated. If someone had described the landing feat 30 years ago, no one would have believed it possible. A lot of money is flowing into technology startup companies who are working on new ways to reduce pollution and new ways to grow food. Shortages of rare minerals needed in electronic chips and devices are very real, but within 30 years or less, we may be mining minerals from other planets and asteroids. I am betting on the future of technology and believe it will sustain us, not eliminate us.

Last July 30th, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. On February 18, 2021, 203 days later, and having travelled 293 million miles, the spacecraft reached Mars. The the car-size Perseverance, the centerpiece of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, entered the Mars atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour.

Ideally, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California would guide Percy, as some are calling it, to land at the right place. Unfortunately, this was not possible. Mars is currently 128 million miles away, and a radio signal takes 11 minutes and 22 seconds to get from Earth to Mars. Instead, Percy used onboard computers with artificial intelligence as its autonomous guidance system to avoid hazardous terrain in the target area. Perseverance was going to navigate on her own. The spacecraft encountered a temperature of 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit as it blazed toward the surface of Mars, which caused a temporary blackout, as expected.

After ejecting its heat shield, the spacecraft deployed a 70-foot-diameter parachute while still going nearly twice the speed of sound. After ditching the parachute, the craft lit up its rocket thrusters to slow down further, and then a system known as a sky crane lowered the rover the final distance to the surface. The video above of the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase of the Mars mission is gripping and shows how NASA was able to pull off such an amazing feat. There were thousands of things which could have gone wrong. In a second equally thrilling video, scientists and engineers describe “7 Minutes to Mars: NASA’s Perseverance Rover Attempts Most Dangerous Landing Yet“.

The goal was to land inside the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater, which scientists say is the ideal place to look for signs of life on the planet. It is believed to have previously been a lake as big as Lake Tahoe. The landing put the rover in exactly the optimum place. The rover, about the size of a small car, weighs about 1 ton and is 10 feet long by 9 feet wide by 7 feet tall. It has a 7 foot long robotic arm which has a robotic hand. The hand has a camera, a chemical analyzer, and a rock drill. Perseverance is nuclear powered with a plutonium generator provided by the U.S. Department of Energy. The power supply will generate electricity and charge the rover’s pair of lithium-ion batteries.

The six-wheeled robot will be looking for signs of past Martian life. It will drill and remove samples of soil and rock. The plan is for a future mission to go to Mars and bring the samples back to Earth where they can be studied in laboratories.

Perseverance is the first multibillion-dollar NASA mission to Mars in nine years. It almost immediately produced two low-resolution images of the landing site. In the days ahead we will be seeing high resolution color images from some of the craft’s 23 cameras. One of the many leading edge technologies aboard Perseverance is a four pound helicopter called Ingenuity. The helicopter will drop from the underbelly of the rover, the rover will pull ahead, and the helicopter will fly. The helicopter has been under development for years. It is an aeronautical engineering feat to be able to fly an aircraft autonomously above the surface of another world. The world will be amazed with the incredible scientific and engineering firsts, but the question remains why should be spending billions to explore Mars? I believe there are a number of good reasons.

Scientists theorize Mars was once a relatively warm and habitable world. The curiosity is intense about what the planet was like billions of years ago. It could help us better understand the evolution of Earth. There are also reasons to colonize Mars. Humans could provide more in-depth research than unmanned robots. There is also an economic interest in resources the red planet may have. Pundits believe the settlement of other planets could decrease the odds of human extinction.

I have listened to debates about this. Some say we should spend the money here and fix the problems which could end life on Earth, things such as climate warming and pandemics. Others argue even if we solve those problems, there is still the risk of a nuclear war which wipes out the world’s population. Colonizing other planets is a plan B.

The first step is to colonize the Moon as a gateway to Mars and beyond. An opportunity exists to figure out how to separate oxygen from CO2 and then liquify it to create rocket fuel to return to Earth or on to other planets. NASA has a plan for the Moon called Artemis. I’ll write about this another time.

Where Is Bitcoin Headed?

In November 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto, the presumed pseudonymous creator, posted a paper on the Internet called, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”.  The paper described a system where a digital currency, called Bitcoin, could be used to buy and sell goods and services, transfer Bitcoin to others, or just buy and hold Bitcoin as an investment. Currencies such as the U.S. dollar, the Canadian dollar, or the German Deutschmark are called fiat currencies. Fiat money is currency for which a government has declared it to be legal tender for buying and selling. The government also puts its full faith and credit behind the currency. Some people buy foreign currency and hold on to it as an investment, just like stocks, bonds, or commodities. It now appears investors are eyeing Bitcoin similarly.

For Bitcoin, there is no government standing behind it. It is backed by the strength of cryptography and the mathematical algorithm described in Satoshi Nakamoto’s eight-page paper. The use of cryptography led to digital currencies being called cryptocurrencies. The Satoshi paper was published openly so all could read it. If you are interested, you can see the paper at johnpatrick.com/satoshi.pdf. I read the paper in 2013, multiple times. I cannot say I completely understand it, but I understand it well enough to be a believer. 

To buy, sell, or transfer Bitcoin requires having a digital wallet. I acquired mine in 2013 from Coinbase, a San Francisco startup with more than $500 million of venture capital behind it. Late last year, Coinbase announced it would be going public in 2021. I connected my Coinbase digital wallet to my bank account and purchased 2 BTC for $1,125. Disclosure: I am an investor in Coinbase.

Now that I had some cryptocurrency, I was curious about how a Bitcoin transaction would actually work. I found a list of merchants which accepted Bitcoin for payment. The only name on the list I recognized was Overstock.com. The unusually cold weather in Florida in early 2014 gave me reason to look for a long-sleeved shirt. Overstock offered a nice steel blue canvas thermal shirt for $22.99, and I got a 10% discount for opening the Overstock account.

At checkout, I was presented with a number of payment options including the normal credit cards plus PayPal and several other newer payment methods including BillMeLater, RewardsPay, V.me, and Bitcoin. Overstock clearly did not want to lose a sale for a buyer’s lack of ability to pay. The only thing they don’t take is fiat currency. I selected Bitcoin and clicked the Submit Order Now button. I opened the Coinbase app on my iPhone and then scanned the QR code Overstock presented on my Mac. A dialog presented the details: $23.64 purchase price after discount and shipping, which would result in a debit to my digital wallet at Coinbase of .02862804 BTC. One Bitcoin at the time was worth $825.76, and .02862804 X $825.76 is $23.64. I was not sure of the exact timing used to lock in the BTC price and convert the payment to U.S. dollars for Overstock, but I am sure it works for them or they wouldn’t accept BTC.

Now that I could see exactly how it worked, I was convinced Bitcoin was the future of money. I began to purchase Bitcoin every Monday morning for the next three years with no intention to spend any of it.

There are inhibitors to the transition to a digital economy. Not many merchants accept Bitcoin because of the volatility and fees involved. There are also some technical performance issues. Numerous FinTech startups are focused on this. I believe the issues will be resolved.

A little less than seven years after my Overstock experience, Elon Musk announced Tesla would invest $1.5 billion of its idle cash in Bitcoin. More importantly, he announced Tesla would accept Bitcoin as payment for Tesla products and services. I did not think it would take this long to catch on, but it is clear to me others will follow Tesla. The WSJ today reported CFOs are skeptical. Same as 1995 when most CEOs were skeptical of the Internet.

There are millions of digital wallets out there, and I believe there will be many more merchants willing to accept Bitcoin. In 2019, I wrote wallets and merchants would grow dramatically. 2021 is the beginning of the growth. Gemini, an alternative to Coinbase, has announced a new credit card which will give you back 3% on all purchases. The 3% credit will be in Bitcoin. Bitcoin is one of thousands of cryptocurrencies. Most of them will disappear over time, in my opinion. As of this week, Bitcoin represents 62% of the market cap of all the cryptocurrencies. The current value of all Bitcoin is almost $900 billion. This is about 10% of the market cap of gold. The 10% will continue to grow, in my opinion. I hold several other cryptocurrencies in a digital wallet at Gemini including Ethereum (ETH), which is similar to Bitcoin and also appreciating rapidly.

In the summer of 2019, Facebook announced its new Libra cryptocurrency. Some pundits said  Libra would be the end of Bitcoin. I said it was the beginning, a booster. The Facebook initiative could potentially lead to many new digital currency options for consumers. However, the political winds currently blowing make it unlikely to me.

The billions in fees charged to merchants become part of their cost of business and are passed on to the consumer. For highly competitive consumer products, the credit card fee can be more than the gross profit on the merchandise. The inefficiency of credit cards for online commerce provides a strong motivation for the adoption of BTC.

I think of Bitcoin as the Internet in 1995. Is it any wonder that Jamie Dimon, CEO at JPMorgan Chase said the question isn’t whether the bank accepts Bitcoin, but rather “The question is do we even participate [with] people who facilitate Bitcoin?” Sound familiar? Music companies 15 years ago decided not to participate with downloadable music. Publishers at the time decided not to participate in digital books. The Internet creates disintermediation industry by industry. Look at what Internet streaming is doing to Cable TV. Do you think people will continue to pay $150 per month for 500 channels of content, only a handful of which they watch? Healthcare is not excluded from disintermediation either. I now get my medications from Amazon Pharmacy. It is way more convenient than traditional pharmacies.

Notes

  1. Bitcoin operates over the Internet with a secure distributed database called a blockchain. I did not discuss blockchain in this article. There are 54 articles on johnpatrick.com I have written since 2013. Some are just mentions in the weekly news blurbs, but there are a number which explain blockchain and how it works. You can find them here. Another source of information is Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy. In this book I described how a Bitcoin Blockchain could be used for mobile voting and other civic applications.
  2. I did not comment on the rise of the price of Bitcoin from less than $100 to nearly $50,000. Pundits have various forecasts. The Crypto Research Report has predicted Bitcoin will be worth $397,000 in 2030. A major Tesla investor has predicted Bitcoin could be worth more than $1 trillion in under 10 years. Other pundits forecast Bitcoin will be worth zero. Poof. I have no doubt a financial revolution is underway. What is my forecast for the price of Bitcoin? I don’t have one. When asked by friends whether they should invest in Bitcoin, I say only if you are prepared to lose it all.
  3. Related areas of investment include DeFi and FinTech (decentralized finance and financial technology). I expect these two areas to lead the way to more modern banking, payment, and insurance technology.
Who Owns Publix?

One of the many things I like about Florida is Publix Super Markets. No income tax or inheritance tax is very nice, but having a great place to buy groceries is also nice. In addition to great food selections and a clean store, you get the feeling all the employees really care about what they are doing and about their customers. How was that attitude achieved? Answer: the employees own the company.

Publix has 1,266 stores, with 818 of them in Florida. Other store locations are in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The company has nine distribution centers and eleven manufacturing facilities where they make bakery, deli, and dairy items, and fresh foods. The food is great, but the employees are even greater. 

Publix was founded in 1930 in Winter Haven, FL by George Washington Jenkins Jr. He was born in Warm Springs, GA in 1907 and died in 1996. The company is the largest employee-owned company in the United States and is one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country. Retail sales in 2019 reached $38.1 billion. Publix employs over 225,000 people. They get quarterly dividends just like a public company.

ESOP companies are not new. Benjamin Franklin pursued a form of employee ownership as early as 1733, when he sent the first of many journeyman employees to various cities to set up new print shops. Currently there are more than 4,000 employee owned companies, but Publix is the largest.

Randall Todd Jones, Chief Executive Officer at Publix Super Markets Inc., received compensation of $2.48 million in 2017. The average of U.S. CEO compensation was $14.5 million. How could a CEO of an employee owned company tell the deli worker making $12 an hour that the CEO was worth $14.5 million? I like the Publix model.
News from johnpatrick.com

Moderna Dose #2

Thursday was the day for Moderna dose #2. It was painless. The dozens of volunteers and Flagler County Department of Health employees were impressive, friendly, and efficient. Like many others, I had side effects the next day, roughly after 18 hours. I had a mild fever, chills, nausea, and general discomfort. By dinner time, the fever went away and now I feel fine. Well worth a little malaise go get vaccinated.  

Space Launches

SpaceX had another StarShip test this week. Serial number 9, or SN9, had a beautiful launch but then crashed in a huge ball of fire upon attempting a landing. I view it as a successful mission to gain a ton of data to make the next launch more successful. Getting people to Mars is going to happen. It will take some time. 

The Quest to Understand Mars

The big thing coming up this month will be the landing of the Perseverance spacecraft on February 18. China and UAE will also have landings on Mars this month. 

Wall Street

The market continues to make new records. GameStop (GME)  was up 20%. I can’t see how. The company lost more than a billion dollars over the last two years. Bitcoin and Etherum continue to rise. I’ll have more to say about cryptocurrencies later.

AppleApple’s earnings report this week included a lot of staggering numbers. As of noon Friday the company was valued by the market at 2.2 trillion dollars, the largest in the world. Skeptics have questioned whether the company can continue to grow rapidly, if at all. As written here many times, the skeptics have underestimated the potential of Apple’s services business which includes iCloud storage, Apple Music, and the App Store. Services revenue was just shy of $16 billion for the quarter, approaching the goal of a $50 billion a year business. Sales for every product category showed double-digit growth. Total revenue for the quarter was $111.44 billion up 21% year over year. Growing more than 20% on such a huge base is staggering. 

Skeptics have said people would not pay $1,000 for an iPhone. Turns out people are more than willing to do so and, in fact, paid more than $1,000, helped by financing plans from Apple and carriers. With the Apple Upgrade plan, I pay $58.25 per month and get a new iPhone every year. I order the new iPhone when it open for orders. When it arrives, I place it on my desk next to my old iPhone. The new iPhone copies all my apps, data, and settings from the old phone to the new iPhone. I then put the old iPhone in a box Apple FedEx’ed to me and return it to Apple. Done.

Placing the monthly charge on my Apple Card, I get $1.75 (3%) in Apple Cash which accumulates and can be spent from the iPhone Wallet. I don’t think of it as paying $1,000+ for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. I think of it as paying $56.50 per month for a personal supercomputer. I am not alone in my passion for the iPhone. After the past quarter, there are now more than one billion iPhones out there.

During the quarter, Apple shipped 90.1 million iPhones. Imagine more than one million iPhones every day, 41,713 shipped per hour, 695 per minute, and 11.6 per second. The staggering numbers are hard to imagine. Apple’s revenue was $501,000 per minute. The seemingly flawless supply chain and logistics for delivery are even harder to imagine. 

Behind everything Apple does is an incredible customer support process. Whoever is in second place for support is not even close. I agree no business can grow straight up forever, but I see no signs of things slowing down at Apple. As for the stock price, who knows? A wise friend once told me, “Never confuse a great company with a great stock.”

Disclosure: I am an investor in Apple. I am not making any recommendation about whether the stock will go or down from where it is. I am simply reporting on what I see as a great company doing amazing things.

 
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