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
Is MiamiCoin for Real?

Written: December 3, 2021

Electronic money is not a new idea. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter 45 years ago (1978). Other forms of electronic money include payment processors, direct deposit, and digital currencies such as Bitcoin. What distinguishes Bitcoin from other electronic money is that it is a cryptocurrency.  Cryptocurrencies are a type of digital currency created on an infrastructure that relies on cryptography, decentralization (no central bank), and peer-to-peer networking. Wikipedia listed 47 cryptocurrencies in 2014. Bitcoin, established in 2009, was the first. As of December 3, 2021, coinmarketcap.com listed 15,134 cryptocurrencies trading on 436 exchanges and with a total market cap of $2.6 trillion, 26% of the market cap of gold.

Will Bitcoin replace the dollar, euro, yen, franc, kroner, et al? Possible, but most authorities have been saying it is doubtful, although they are paying much closer attention now. Will Bitcoin dominate as a new method of payment, replacing Western Union, PayPal, credit cards, and various banking services? Also possible but too soon to say yes or no. Bitcoin has all the trappings of the web circa 1995 when more than a few bank and insurance executives told me the Internet was interesting, but they would never connect their company to it. The web lacked good security, had no authentication, was slow, not always reliable, and was missing the many supporting services needed to make it feasible for electronic commerce. The rest is history.

Banks, credit card companies, and money transfer companies do not like Bitcoin because the new digital model threatens the status quo and the billions of fees they earn. Nevertheless, behind the scenes, they are hiring crypto skilled people as fast as possible and investing in startups which may represent the future of finance. For example, Goldman Sachs along with some other U.S. banks are exploring ways to use Bitcoin as collateral for cash loans to institutions.

Crypto activity is frenetic. Many new startups are using crypto currencies to fuel ideas for reinventing how finance, insurance, and other industries work. After China shut down Bitcoin miners, many new ones popped up in the United States. They are focusing on methods to make Bitcoin mining more eco-friendly. An interesting development, which some are calling Web3, suggesting an evolution of the World Wide Web, is enabling American cities to use cryptocurrency to redefine how cities are funded and how they relate to their citizens.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is a cryptocurrency enthusiast, and he has outlined his vision to make Miami a global hub for blockchain technology and crypto. Working with CityCoins, a new crypto idea which uses smart contracts on the Bitcoin network, Miami has become the first to create its own cryptocurrency. It is called MiamiCoin.

The process is a bit complicated, but it results in the creation of the MiamiCoin cryptocurrency, which anyone can buy. To alleviate the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining, the mayor has offered energy from the city’s nuclear plants. As of December 2, 2021, MiamiCoin was trading at $0.02064 with a market cap of $40,745,738. The mayor’s idea is to enable Miami citizens to become investors in the city. As part of the crypto mining process, a portion of the value of the MiamiCoin goes into the treasury of the city.

The mayor announced citizens of Miami could soon receive Bitcoin as dividends on the growth of MiamiCoin. In doing so, Miami would become the first city in the United States to give residents crypto as dividends.  The distribution will require a clear definition of “Miami People.” Criteria being discussed include residents, taxpayers, voters, or other criteria set by the city. The plan is to create digital wallets for the residents. The city will then deposit the yield from MiamiCoin into the wallets. Authorities are approaching technology companies to help create the digital wallets and a registration and verification system to prevent fraud.

According to mayor Suarez, the revenue generated by MiamiCoin over the past three months equals around $80 million if annualized, potentially covering around one-fifth of Miami’s tax revenue. He was quoted as saying, “You could theoretically at one point pay the entire tax revenue of the city, and the city could be a city that runs without taxes, which I think would be revolutionary.” The mayor is putting his money where his mouth is. He announced he plans to receive his first paycheck in Bitcoin.

CityCoin, the company behind MiamiCoin, announced it has launched a similar token in New York, dubbed the NYCCoin. New York mayor-elect Eric Adams is also a believer in Bitcoin, saying he will take his first three months pay in Bitcoin. As of December 2, 2021, NYCCoin was trading at $0.00005194 with a market cap of $7,467,182.

The CityCoin concept opens many questions about the technology, the partners it requires, and the financial model which returns dividends, just to name a few. The entire idea could go up in a puff of smoke. In my opinion this is the tip of the iceberg of many new ideas we will see evolve from the rise of cryptocurrency. Many will fail, but some will provide disruption to the status quo and introduce some efficient and effective ways to accomplish things.

News from johnpatrick.com

Vaccine

The WHO has a dashboard which shows what is going on country by country. Globally, as of  December 3, 2021, there have been 263,563,622 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 5,232,562 deaths, reported to WHO. A total of 7,859,585,168 vaccine doses have been administered. Barely a week after scientists in Botswana and South Africa alerted the world to a fast-spreading new SARS-CoV-2 variant now known as Omicron, researchers worldwide are racing to understand the threat, now confirmed in more than 20 countries. Everybody wants instant answers but it will take weeks to get a more complete picture, and to gain an understanding of its transmissibility and severity, as well as its potential to evade vaccines and cause reinfections. Early indications are vaccinations work. The biggest problem is not Omicron, it is the 20-30% of the population who refuse to get vaccinated. It is unfair to all of us and especially to our healthcare providers.

Space

On Tuesday (Nov. 23), NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. This first planetary defense mission for the space agency is bold. The DART spacecraft will travel to a pair of near-Earth asteroids and crash itself into the smaller object to see if it can kinetically alter the rock’s orbit. If the course of the asteroid is not altered, we could have some big problems down the road.  

Wall Street

Some early gains on Wall Street turned into a rout of technology stocks. GAMMAT stocks are still above $10 trillion. All the stocks on the GAMMAT and the tech list I have been reporting on are in the red. I attribute it to data divergences. Omicron is bad but the cases have been mild. Unemployment % is down but jobs are up compared to a year ago. Wall St likes trends to be simple and clear. I doubt if they will be for months ahead. 

Crypto

Still no flippening of Ethereal over Bitcoin. Crypto overall at $2.5 trillion. I remain bullish. Bitcoin holders are donating appreciated BTC through Donor Advised Funds and new companies like thegivingblock.com

Happy Thanksgiving
Printed on my Dremel 3D45 3-D printer, except for the small shiny one in the back row. Added coloring by my wife.

I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving season and hope we are all mindful of those not so fortunate. Around the world, more than enough food is produced to feed the global population but, according to Action Against Hunger, as many as 811 million people still go hungry. After steadily declining for a decade, world hunger is on the rise, affecting just shy of 10 percent of the global population. From 2019 to 2020, the number of undernourished people grew by more than 160 million, a crisis driven largely by conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organization which takes decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger. Its staff of 8,300 served more than 25 million people in nearly 50 countries last year. Action Against Hunger is a recognized 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

How Is OCLC Helping the World's Libraries?

 Written: November 19, 2021

My friend, the late Ed Barry, was President of Oxford University Press, USA for 19 years. Before that he was President of The Free Press, a division of Macmillan, Inc. Both firms were in New York. I got to know Ed at Knovel Corporation where he and I were members of the board. Ed and I rode the Metro-North Railroad from Connecticut to New York at least every other month from 2002 to 2012, when Knovel was acquired by Elsevier, a provider of scientific, technical, and medical information.

One day during a train ride, Ed suggested I would be a good candidate to join the board of OCLC where he was on the board. I said, “What is OCLC?” He explained it was an organization in Dublin, OH which has a lot of sophisticated IT systems which support libraries. Some months later, I flew into The Ohio State University Airport, a small private airfield just a few miles from OCLC. After spending a few hours with the CEO and Board Chair, I was enthused about the possibility of joining the board and I was invited to do so. I served on the Board of Trustees for 12 years.

OCLC began in 1967, as the Ohio College Library Center, through a collaboration of university presidents, vice presidents, and library directors who wanted to create a cooperative, computerized network for libraries in the state of Ohio. The group hired Frederick G. Kilgour, a former Yale University medical school librarian, to design a shared cataloging system. Kilgour’s vision was to merge the latest information storage and retrieval system of the time, the computer, with the oldest, the library.

OCLC’s early work centered on the development of a union catalog combining the collections of its participating members and a cooperative cataloging environment. The plan was to merge the catalogs of Ohio libraries electronically through a computer network and database to streamline operations, control costs, and increase efficiency in library management. Kilgour wanted to bring libraries together to cooperatively keep track of the world’s information. The system went into operation in August 1971, running on a Scientific Data Systems (SDS) Sigma 5 mainframe computer connected to terminals in libraries via dedicated telecommunications links. This service was the first online cataloging system in the world.

OCLC expanded beyond Ohio throughout America and around the world. In 2017, the name was changed to OCLC, Inc. OCLC is funded mainly by the fees libraries pay, approximately $200 million annually, for the many different services it offers. The flagship offering is WorldShare Management Services (WMS). WMS is a complete cloud-based library management platform which supports the strategic priorities of libraries. The system saves libraries time and money with efficient management of physical and electronic resources in one integrated solution.

One of my favorites of the many offerings from OCLC is WorldCat. WorldCat.org  allows anyone to search the combined catalogs of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide, making WorldCat the single biggest place to find library materials on the Web. As of February 2021, WorldCat contained over 512 million bibliographic records in 483 languages, representing over 3 billion physical and digital library assets, and the WorldCat persons dataset included over 100 million people.

My 12 years of service finished this past weekend. It was a great experience. I met many brilliant people and learned a lot from them. As sad as it is to leave a great board, I totally favor term limits. If only we had them for Congress.

News from johnpatrick.com

Vaccine

The WHO has a dashboard which shows what is going on country by country. Globally, as of  November 19, there have been 255,324,963 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 5,127,696 deaths, reported to WHO. A total of 7,370,902,499 vaccine doses have been administered.The virus is gaining again. Looks like a 5th wave. Hopefully, the rollout of boosters and vaccine for children will slow it down again.

Space

CREW-2 Returned to Earth. SpaceX tested the engines of the Starship successfully.

Wall Street

Stocks continue to look good. Google and Amazon took a hit but GAMMAT stocks climbed to $11 trillion. They now represent more than 28% of the S&P 500.  Tesla bounced back. Rivian hung in there at an $110 billion market cap. Roblox continued a spectacular rise. Cathie Wood sold at $109. It finished the week at $134. Coinbase gained despite weak crypto.

Crypto

Still no flippening of Ethereal over Bitcoin. Crypto overall at $2.6 trillion and 22% of all crypto. 

How Does Alabama Play a Key Role in Manned Space Flight?

The flight into Huntsville, AL this week was on time and very smooth. My son, Aaron, and I, both space aficionados, planned to learn as much as possible about the history of NASA in Huntsville. The history there was much more significant than I had previously realized.

Huntsville is the home of Redstone Arsenal, which was established in 1943 by the US Army as a chemical munitions plant. After the war, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency was formed and Redstone Arsenal was repurposed as a missile and rocket development site. It was during this time a team of 200 German rocket scientists and engineers captured from Nazi Germany were assigned to to develop increasingly longer range ballistic missiles. The team, under leadership of Dr. Wernher von Braun, improved the German V2 rocket design and went on to develop the Redstone rocket and various descendants. When NASA was formed in 1958, all operations were transferred to the new civilian agency, and the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) was created on land transferred from Redstone Arsenal. The Saturn V rocket was designed and developed under Von Braun’s NASA team at MSFC. The rocket was used by NASA’s Apollo program, which put 12 men on the surface of the moon between 1969 and 1972, and subsequently by the Skylab program. The Saturn V development and operational costs throughout the vehicle’s life were $50 billion in today’s dollars.

We were able to cram a lot of learning into our short four-hour visit. I’ll hit some of the highlights in the paragraphs to follow. We started out at The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, a museum operated by the government of Alabama showcasing rockets, achievements, and artifacts of the U.S. space program. We spent about 10 minutes at the Apollo Virtual Reality Experience. After putting on the goggles and headsets, we experienced the Apollo 11 mission, the greatest journey ever taken by humankind, in virtual reality. The VR technology recreated the events which took place between July 16th and July 24th in 1969, more than 50 years ago. We were able to experience the historic event through the eyes of those who lived it. The interactive documentary used a mix of original, archival audio and video together with accurate recreations of the spacecraft and locations, all set to inspirational music. The experience was not only educational but created a lasting impression and deep respect for the men and women who worked on the Apollo program during NASA’s golden era.

Before heading to the Mars Grill at the Rocket Center for lunch, we took a walk through various mockup modules of the football field sized International Space Station. Then we toured the outdoor space park which included a vertically standing full-scale Saturn V rocket replica. See picture at top of story. The park included numerous jet aircraft, missiles, missile launchers, an Army two-person submarine, and shuttle era exhibits. There is a full-scale mockup of the space shuttle’s huge orange external tank mated with the solid rocket boosters. The external tank is 144 feet long, 28 feet in diameter, and a gross weight of 1.68 million pounds. There is also the Space Shuttle Pathfinder, a mockup currently being restored. MSFC used Pathfinder to practice ground operations during shuttle development. The Shuttle Training Aircraft, a modified Northrop Grumman Gulfstream II, was used by NASA astronauts to practice landing the shuttle.  Also on display is a T-38 Talon supersonic trainer used for pilot proficiency.

A prominent feature at the rocket center was the Space Camp. Launched in 1982, Space Camp has inspired and motivated young people from around the country, and later the world, with attendees from all 50 states, U.S. territories and more than 150 foreign countries. Trainees have an unparalleled environment to spur imagination while being surrounded by space, aviation and defense artifacts. Space Camp was the brainchild of rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun. Space Camp alumni include NASA and ESA astronauts, engineers, scientists and technologists. Camps are available for fourth grade through high school-age students. We saw a lot of them.

The highlight of the day was the Saturn V Hall at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The authentic 363-feet long Saturn V is a National Historic Landmark. The mere size of the rocket is mesmerizing. You have to see it to believe it. The rocket was on its side and there was separation between the first, second, and third stages, the Lunar Excursion Module, service module, command module, and escape tower. The Saturn V first stage has five F1 engines. Each engine is 18ft tall, 12ft in diameter, weighs 18,500 pounds, and produces 1.5 million pounds of thrust. The Hall is full of historic artifacts and interactive exhibits from space exploration. Uniformed NASA guides roamed the floor to interact with visitors and answer their questions. 

The many accomplishments in Huntsville are impressive. What makes it even more so to me is the tools they had to use. There were no iPads, supercomputers, sophisticated design tools, or the ability to digitally model and simulate. The thousands of mechanical parts were designed using protractors, compasses, slide rules, and pencils. Today, Huntsville is leading propulsion development for the Space Launch System and also the Human Landing System, both of which are major components of NASA’s Artemis program to take human’s back to the moon. The future of space flight is bright.

Aaron J. Patrick contributed to this article.

News from johnpatrick.com

Vaccine

The WHO has a dashboard which shows what is going on country by country. Globally, as of  November 12, there have been 251,788,329 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 5,077,907 deaths, reported to WHO. A total of 7,160,396,495 vaccine doses have been administered. The virus is picking up again but, hopefully, the rollout of boosters and vaccine for children will slow it down again.

Space

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a Crew Dragon spacecraft on its fifth flight with astronauts. NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn, European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, and NASA mission specialist Kayla Barron are now beginning a six-month expedition on the International Space Station. My son and I watched the launch from our terrace in Palm Coast. Even 50+ miles away the sight was spectacular. 

Wall Street

Stocks continue to look good. Six of the seven GAMMAT stocks had strong gains. They now represent more than 27% of the S&P 500.  Tesla had a correction after Elon Musk announced he is selling shares. I see that as very temporary unless some operational snags slow down production. Rivian hoped to get an $80 billion market cap with its IPO. It closed at $127 billion. Roblox had a spectacular rise after its earnings report. They may be the most important player in the metaverse. Coinbase gained despite weak crypto.

Crypto

I don’t think the flippening of Ethereum over Bitcoin will happen. Crypto overall has climbed to $2.8 trillion and almost 24% of all crypto. Bitcoin is 43% of it. Many pluses and minuses circle the world of crypto. Looks like the World Wide Web in 1995. Still bullish but patient.

Climate Change: Is It Too Late to Save the Planet?

Leaders and thousands of interested parties from around the world crammed into a giant conference center in Glasgow, Scotland for the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Climate Change Convention, COP26, the 26th such session. Many experts believe we are at a time of crisis. Talks and treaties have been going on for many years but, meanwhile, carbon emissions have continued to climb. There is universal agreement storms, fires, floods, and heat waves have become more frequent and more extreme.

Many say this may be the last chance to avoid a global disaster. Axios reported climate change is spurring people to accelerate their lists of action items. Some are accelerating plans to see the millennia-old redwood trees before they burn, the glaciers before they melt, or Australia’s Great Barrier Reef before the remaining half of its corals die.

Is it too late? Will anything change this time? Two parallel tracks could lead to the needed solutions. One track is by government, the other by business. In this article, I will comment on both.

The 105 world leaders signed the Global Methane Pledge, a U.S. and EU joint initiative to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030. This is what I would call the low-hanging fruit. It should be relatively simple to plug the leaks. It is not rocket science and 30% by 2030 should be a slam dunk.

There are some positive signs by city governments. Some of them are hiring CHOs, “chief heat officers”. When I first read about this, I thought it was a typo. Not so. According to Axios, CHOs are devising cooling strategies to offset rising global temperatures. They are adding tree canopies, reflective roofs, and cooling sidewalks. Athens hired a CHO this summer, when temperatures hit 111°F, and the city of Freetown in Sierra Leone did the same. These initiatives not only address climate but may protect homeless people and outdoor workers. Small initiatives in just a few places but, if successful, will spread.

What about the big and critical initiatives? Scientific consensus is clear as a bell. The carbon problem is urgent. The carbon in our atmosphere, released by human activity, has created a blanket of gas trapping heat and changing the world’s climate. Science tells us if world leaders don’t make urgent and aggressive commitments, the results will be catastrophic. So, what commitments did the leaders make other than the methane slam dunk?

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, among the world’s other biggest carbon emitters did not attend the conference. The commitments made for “at or about mid 2050s” are well beyond the remaining lifespan of the leaders who make them. President Biden’s speech at COP26 was described as not especially lively, and his words were heavy on hope. He can’t even get the Senate to agree to incent power companies to make clean electricity. Steep cuts in carbon are nowhere to be found. The Paris Agreement goals could become even less attainable. Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish activist described the global leaders’ speeches as “blah, blah, blah”. I agree with her. Governments are stuck in the mud. In smaller conference rooms and in the halls were venture capitalists and entrepreneurs discussing opportunities. It is track two, business, which holds the promise of success.

I am betting on tech startups. Climate tech startups have raised a record $32 billion in 2021. Most will probably fail, but there will be breakthroughs by some which will change the world. More than 80% of the funding is going to energy and transportation startups. For example, Boom Technology and others are developing new kinds of fuel which can enable supersonic planes to be flown without adding to the enormous amounts of carbon commercial aviation is spewing into the air. Orca, the world’s biggest commercial direct air capture (DAC) device is pulling carbon dioxide out of the air in Iceland. The CO2 is being injected a thousand feet down into basalt bedrock where, over a period of a few years, the CO2 converts to rock.

Startup NovoMoto is providing clean electricity for off-grid communities in sub-Saharan Africa. NovoMoto’s rent-to-own solar-powered systems are less expensive, safer, and less polluting than the kerosene, diesel, and disposable batteries currently used in these communities. More than 6,500 people have now gained access to reliable and renewable electricity with NovoMoto’s solar kits and there has been a 200-ton reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. There are many other examples. Meanwhile, big tech is totally onboard, and instead of “blah, blah, blah”, they are putting their money where their mouth is, and they are making huge commitments.

I have been reporting on various accomplishments of what I have called the MAGFA stocks: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon. In the following paragraphs I will paraphrase what they are saying and what they are doing.

Microsoft says they will be carbon negative by 2030. The company says, “While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so.” The company has an ambitious goal and a plan to reduce and ultimately remove its carbon footprint. By 2050, Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.

Apple unveiled a plan to become carbon neutral across its entire business, manufacturing supply chain, and product life cycle by 2030. I would call this a major commitment. The company is already carbon neutral for its global corporate operations, and has committed by 2030, every Apple device sold will have net zero climate impact. Unlike the wimpy statements by our global government leaders, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO said, “Businesses have a profound opportunity to help build a more sustainable future, one born of our common concern for the planet we share. Instead of being on the defense, Apple sees its technology innovations as powering an environmental journey not only good for the planet but making its products more energy efficient. The company sees its climate approach as the foundation for a new era of innovative potential, job creation, and durable economic growth. Apple says, “With our commitment to carbon neutrality, we hope to be a ripple in the pond that creates a much larger change.”

Google wants to lead and encourage others to join it in improving the health of the planet. The company said, “We’re decarbonizing our energy consumption so that by 2030, we’ll operate on carbon-free energy, everywhere, 24/7”. Google is also putting its advertising muscle to work for climate. It no longer allows advertising to appear alongside “content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.” 

Facebook (now Meta, still ticker FB) believes sustainability is about more than operating responsibly. The company sees it as an opportunity to support the communities they are part of and have a positive impact on the world. Facebook has achieved net zero emissions in its global operations and plans to reach net zero emissions for its entire value chain in 2030. The company said, “The climate crisis demands urgent action from all of us.” Facebook is also connecting people with authoritative climate information. In an important and related area, Facebook announced a goal to be water positive by 2030. This means Facebook will return more water to the environment than it consumed in its global operations.

Amazon has a more complicated business with thousands of trucks, airplanes, packages, warehouses, etc. Nevertheless, it has committed to building a sustainable business for its customers and the planet. In 2019, Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge, a commitment to be net-zero carbon across the entire business by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. Amazon is designing and manufacturing a complete energy and transportation ecosystem fully vertically integrated. The company said, “By doing so, we are creating affordable products that work together to amplify their impact, leading to the greatest environmental benefit possible”. The company plans to achieve this through research and software development efforts as well as a drive to develop advanced manufacturing capabilities.

Tesla has now joined the trillion-dollar club. I will rename MAGFA as GAMMAT: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Meta, Amazon, and Tesla. Elon Musk has had a clear vision for many years about the need to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Climate change is reaching alarming levels, in large part due to emissions from burning fossil fuels for transportation and electricity generation. Tesla is playing a significant role by making EVs and providing solar roofs and storage batteries to create a fully integrated solution. Tesla said its customers, in 2020, avoided 5.0 million metric tons of CO2e emissions. Equally impressive is the company’s announcement it has the capacity to recover approximately 92 percent of battery cell materials. With the current momentum of Tesla around the world, I believe their climate change numbers will become an eyeopener for others.

The GAMMAT companies are valued at more than ten trillion dollars. Their voices are loud, and their actions are taken seriously. Governments cannot solve the problem. If they work hand in hand with businesses and set some serious goals, the world’s big banks have said they are ready to provide the financing. I am optimistic about the future. Customers and investors are beginning to demand a focus on climate change. Big tech and small tech are showing leadership. It is not too late.

Epilog: If you want to get a taste of what it could be like if things do not go well, I recommend reading The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson.

News from johnpatrick.com

Vaccine

The WHO has a dashboard which shows what is going on country by country. Globally, as of  November 5, there have been 248,467,363 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 5,027,183 deaths, reported to WHO. A total  of 7,027,377,238 vaccine doses have been administered. The Covid breakthrough is the new Pfizer pill. The significance is to take a pill at home and prevent hospitalization. Our hospitals need a break.

Videos

The The Tesla Semi has some amazing features. I don’t know much about trucks but this looks like a winner top me. 

3D Printing

Axios reported, “as 3D printing matures, companies will be able to produce parts on-site, turning “just in time” to “on demand.” I don’t think this will apply to electronic chips, which are the current major problem but in many specialized areas it could be a supply chain problem solver. Astronauts use 3-D printing at the International Space Station. If interested, you can see the updated collection of 3D objects I have printed here. My botched objects are here.

Space

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Crew Dragon spacecraft on its fifth flight with astronauts. NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn, European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, and NASA mission specialist Kayla Barron will launch on the Crew Dragon spacecraft to begin a six-month expedition on the International Space Station. The launch has been delayed by weather more than once. It should happen this coming week. The Crew Dragon will return to a splashdown at sea. My son and I are headed to Huntsville, AL to see what NASA has going on there. More on that later.

 

Wall Street

Stocks look really good now and looking ahead. Jobs gets the credit but another big factor, in my opinion is dysfunctional Washington, DC. As long as the bickering continues, something stupid will not get passed. Google, Amazon, and Meta had strong gains. Tesla had a correction after its huge run up to joined the $trillion club. AirBnB had a big gain after reporting strong results. Zoom had a hiccup. Coinbase declined along with flat crypto.

Crypto

The latest buzz word in the crypto world is flippening. The term refers to the hypothetical point at which ether, the native token of the ethereum network, overtakes bitcoin in market capitalization to become the largest cryptocurrency. Crypto overall has climbed to $2.7 trillion and more than 23% of total of all crypto. Bitcoin is 43% of it. ETH is gaining but I do not see it overtaking BTC. No flippening, in my opinion.

Three Mastercards with notches indicating credit, debit, or prepaid.
Image: Mastercard

Accessibility is not something most of us think much about. The word accessibility refers to the design of products or environments for access by all users. People with disabilities think about accessibility a lot. For example, people with a visual impairment use a technology called computer screen readers. As the name implies, when a visually impaired person displays a webpage, the words on the page are read and the person hears the words. An image on the page is a different situation.

Images should include alternative text (alt text) behind the scenes to describe the image. If alt text is not provided for images, the image information is inaccessible to people who cannot see. When the developer took the time to add the alt text, the information is read by the screen reader for people who are blind, as well as to people who turn off images (for example, in areas with expensive or low bandwidth). The alt text is also available to technologies which cannot see images, such as search engines. When encountering the image at the top of this story, the visually impaired person will hear the words I inserted in the alt text, “Three Mastercards with notches indicating credit, debit, or prepaid.”

More than a billion people struggle with near-vision impairment, 253 million people are visually impaired to some degree, 217 million people have severe or moderate visual impairment, and 36 million people are blind. Adding the alternative text takes the developer seconds. Having it be there means a lot to the visually impaired.

Another aspect of accessibility is keyboard input. Some people cannot use a mouse, including many older users with limited fine motor control. An accessible website does not rely on the mouse. Instead, it makes all functionality available using a combination of keys from a keyboard. I have watched blind people surf the web as proficiently as anyone. Some people with disabilities use assistive technology which mimics the keyboard, such as speech input. Smartphone and desktops can not only transcribe spoken words, they can respond to spoken commands such as “enter”, “tab”, “F3”, “Shift-Command”, etc. I learned to do this when I was recovering from a total shoulder replacement.

A more specific example of accessibility has to do with credit cards. We take them for granted. Most of us (who are not yet using digital wallets) carry more than one debit or credit card. We can easily tell which is which, but a blind person cannot. Some cards have used Braille, invented by Louis Braille (1809–1852), a French educator blind from the age of 3. Braille has been used as an option on the surface of credit and debit cards, but it has fallen out of favor. Only one in ten blind people can read Braille and almost 90 percent of America’s blind children are not being taught Braille. Mastercard came up with an elegant alternative solution.

Mastercard has developed a flat, streamlined design. Putting a notch on the side of the card allows those with sight impairments to gain more financial independence. The debit card will have a square notch, the credit card will have a rounded notch, and the prepaid card a triangular one. Mastercard has also implemented 150 million checkout points worldwide with a signature audio transaction completion jingle, which the company calls a “sonic acceptance sound”.

Screen readers, alternative text, voice recognition, and the notched cards are just a few of many examples of creating accessibility. Those with impairments think about the word a lot. Anyone designing and building anything, should take the extra effort to be sure they are offering accessibility. We need 100% of our population to be productive.

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Vaccine

The WHO has a dashboard which shows what is going on country by country. Globally, as of  October 28, there have been 245,373,039 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4,979,421 deaths, reported to WHO. A total of 6,838,727,352 vaccine doses have been administered. I continue to hear some people say they are waiting. I still cannot imagine what they are waiting for.

Videos

Tesla uses terabytes of real-world data from their huge customer fleet to test safety scenarios beyond industry standards. The video reveals how this data is shaping the way Tesla designs for safety, and how they can make changes in real time using over-the-air software updates. Neat clips from the Tesla Crash Lab.

3D Printing

I continue to learn new 3D printing skills. Printing pumpkins and gourds for Halloween. Won’t be long until I am printing Frosty the Snowman. Have also been printing trays and other shop items for the maobjects is partly a science but partly a trial by trial art. The support team at Dremel is great for solving problems. If interested, you can see the updated collection of 3D objects I have printed here. My botched objects are here.

Space

Hubble took pictures of the oldest galaxies it could – seen here – but the James Webb Space Telescope can go back much farther in time. (Image credit: NASA)

Some have called NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope the “telescope that ate astronomy.” It is the most powerful space telescope ever built and a complex piece of mechanical origami which has pushed the limits of engineering. On Dec. 18, 2021, after years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the telescope is scheduled to launch into orbit and usher in the next era of astronomy. See space.com

Wall Street

Stocks look really good. It is not because of anything in dysfunctional Washington, DC. I am planning to take some portion of some things off the table, but remain bullish. The market is warming up to EVs, with Amazon and Hertz each ordering 100,000 vehicles. It is not just Tesla. Rivian, Lucid, Frisker, etc. all rising. Rivian has gained $1.1 billion so far this year. Amazon revealed it owns 20% of Rivian. A planned IPO before yearend is projected to have a market cap of $80 billion. Tesla has now joined the $trillion club. Investors look at it as a tech/software company, not a car company. Continued pressure, suits, fines, testimony, etc. but Google and Facebook both rose today. 

Crypto

Crypto entrepreneurs are reinventing how things work to make it more attractive.  Ethereum is perceived to be the leader at that and it has risen to half a trillion market cap. I continue to believe Bitcoin will offer some positive tech surprises over the months ahead. For example, The Lightning Network sits as a second layer on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, enabling private payment channels to be established between each other which will allow transfers with no fees. Could that be why Jamie Dimon says Bitcoin is “worthless”? There are now 13,332 crypto currencies, mostly vaporous, but the total value of all crypto has risen to $2.7 trillion, 23.9% of the market cap of gold. Coinbase reflects the positive view of crypto. It is back above $300 at a $67 billion market cap.

Healthcare Common Sense: What Should Congress and the President Do?

Written: March 10, 2017
Edited and Republished: October 23, 2021

The following article was published in LinkedIn four and a half years ago. Except for price transparency, which has not yet been fully complied with, not much has happened. Americans are struggling to pay the continually increasing cost of drugs and Congress continues to be the beneficiary of millions of dollars donated by special interest groups. Politicians who wholeheartedly supported allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of drugs are now saying such a move would jeopardize research and development spending by the pharma industry. A preposterous belief. What they are really saying is they appreciate the checks which pour in from the lobby to support their reelection campaigns. Our Congress puts their reelection to cushy jobs with golden healthcare plans and generous retirement packages ahead of the citizens they are supposed to be representing. Following is the almost five-year-old article. Some details may have changed slightly, but I stand behind all the directions described in 2017.


By John R. Patrick, DHA

Healthcare is approaching 20% of our economy and touches every American. You could say the problems in healthcare have been caused by action or inaction by one party or the other. You could say Republicans want this and Democrats want that, but I don’t think labeling should be the focus. The problem is Congress (both parties) are tied to special interest groups. Insurers, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and legions of lobbyists created our unaffordable healthcare system with the help of Congress. We need a balanced approach which is best for citizens, not best for special interests. That is what our elected officials are supposed to do.

The most prominent solutions so far have come from two extreme positions. One suggests the repeal of Obamacare, every word of it. The other suggests we eliminate the 35 major health insurance companies and provide centralized government-controlled healthcare for every American. In my opinion, both solutions have a zero probability of being adopted. There is plenty of room for a middle of the road set of solutions. What we need are some commonsense healthcare proposals. Following are five examples of solutions to the real problems.

Problem 1: The number one problem in American healthcare is the high cost. It is not the cost of the insurance, it is the cost of the healthcare. Billions of dollars are spent on legal fees to settle suits brought against providers. The result is providers practice defensive medicine. They change how they practice medicine by adding extra and medically unnecessary tests and procedures some estimate to cost between a half and one-and-a-half trillion dollars per year.

Solution 1: Expand the use of accountable care organizations (ACOs). Under the ACO model, providers are paid a fixed amount per month for each consumer under an ACO contract. This provides an incentive for providers to eliminate unnecessary tests and procedures. ACOs are in operation and are producing savings. The ACO model needs refinement, but it has proved it can work and it should be expanded. It is part of Obamacare, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Solution 2: Enact tort reform to limit settlement amounts and eliminate frivolous lawsuits.

Solution 3: Encourage publication of best practices for medical tests and procedures. Numerous studies show what tests and procedures are unnecessary. A strong body of evidence showing the best practice for various situations should provide good legal defense for providers. Incorporate best practices findings as part of the tort reform.

Problem 2: The total cost of American healthcare per person is 50-150% higher than other developed countries. With 10,000 new seniors turning 65 and joining Medicare every day, our country cannot afford the out-of-line cost.

Solution 1: Let the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) attack fraud more aggressively. Congress requires CMS to pay bills from providers within 30 days, even if they are suspected of fraud. Major U.S. companies do not pay their bills in 30 days even for impeccable vendors. Engage Google, IBM, Microsoft, and other technology companies to apply their Big Data and Analytics tools to assist in identifying fraud more quickly.

Solution 2: The inefficient administration of healthcare by the government adds hundreds of billions of dollars to our healthcare cost. A single payer is not practical. It would be too big. Economies of scale would become diseconomies of scale. The VA has shown how size matters. It is so big it is hard to modify. Healthcare.gov showed what happens when a national approach is taken to build a single website to serve the entire country. One size does not fit all. The solution is to combine Medicare and Medicaid processes in order to simplify administration but delegate the combined system to the 50 states. The states already administer Medicaid and have proven they can do it well and with innovation unique to their states. They could do the same for a combined Medicare and Medicaid system.

Solution 3: Require all health insurance companies to use standardized administrative procedures. Germany has 200 payers and Canada has 13, but the federal governments require standards. Health insurance standards should work like the Internet and credit cards. The Internet works the same way everywhere in the world. Credit cards can be used anywhere in the world. Citizens on Medicare do not need dozens of confusing prescription drug plans to choose from.

Solution 4: Require healthcare providers to publish price lists for all tests and procedures. The lack of transparency makes comparison shopping next to impossible. Millions of people are joining the healthcare roles at an affordable cost, but the large deductibles make all their healthcare costs out of pocket and unaffordable. They need to be able to comparison shop for healthcare services.

Problem 3: Double-digit growth in the cost of drugs is a burden for millions.

Solution 1: Allow Medicare, the largest healthcare payer in the world, to negotiate the price of drugs they pay for. Legislation in 2003, designed by lobbyists, prevents Medicare from negotiating. Other developed countries pay far less than we do for the same exact drugs. In effect we subsidize their cost of drugs. This simple change could immediately save at least ten billion dollars per year.

Solution 2: Disallow television advertising of expensive drugs most people do not need. No other developed country in the world allows direct-to-consumer drug advertising. Consumers know how to research symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments on the Internet. The billions of dollars spent on advertising reduce what can be spent on research for new drugs. The AMA, which represents more than 200,000 physicians wants the ads banned. They believe, as I do, TV advertising encourages use of high-cost drugs when lower cost generic drugs can often produce the same or better results.

Problem 4: Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are unpopular with patients and physicians. The data is needed to enable more population health programs and improved patient outcomes through better family doctor and specialist collaboration. However, the EHR software is hard to use and incompatible between various providers thereby defeating the purpose. EHRs cannot be easily exchanged between providers, sometimes even within the same building.

Solution: Require the 250 EHR software vendors to use compatible data formats. Mandate standards like the Internet and credit cards have. Only reimburse providers who use compatible EHRs, when they become available. The vendors can compete on price, function, ease of use, and support, but not on data formats. Such competition can lead to EHRs which are more user friendly and reduce cost.

Problem 5: Approximately 30 million people still have no health insurance. One study showed more than 40,000 people per year die because of their lack of insurance for treatments they need. The emergency departments cannot always meet this need. A review of speeches by Presidents Carter, G. W. Bush, Clinton, Obama, and Trump reveals they all, in different words, agreed healthcare should be available to all who need it.

Solution: The savings from the five common sense sets of solutions would provide more than enough funding to provide health insurance for all Americans and lower the total cost to an affordable level. Each American would pay according to their means. All Americans would pay something. The States would operate healthcare programs to meet the unique needs of all their citizens.

Footnote
All figures in this footnote are from opensecrets.org and for 2020. More than two-thirds of Congress cashed a pharma campaign check. New analysis by STAT shows Pfizer’s political action committee alone contributed to 228 lawmakers. Amgen’s PAC donated to 218, meaning that each company helped to fund the campaigns of nearly half the lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The average received by 244 Democrats was $38,138 and for 235 Republicans was $30,828. The top 20 recipients received between $250,000 and $1,250,000. Legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate prices has passed the House numerous times, including in 2019 with yes votes from the three House members now opposing it, Representatives Kathleen Rice of New York, Scott Peters of California, and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. Why did they change their position? In 2020, Representative Peters received $229,973 from the pharma lobby and Representative Schrader received $144,252. Many people call the content of this footnote corruption. I call it legalized bribery.

Dr. John R. Patrick is author of six books including Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare. He is president of Attitude LLC and former Vice President of Internet Technology at IBM. In addition to holding a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration (DHA), Patrick has degrees in electrical engineering, management, and law. He is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

What Is the Future of Car Maintenance?

Written: October 14, 2021

In August, I wrote about my experience in finishing a second three-year lease and starting a third lease on the Tesla Model S. As discussed, Tesla is determined to automate the entire sales and delivery process for their cars. What about car maintenance after the delivery process?

To discuss maintenance of an electric vehicle (EV), it is helpful to first consider the things an EV does not have.

  • Does not have nearly 200 moving engine parts. An EV utilizes electric motors which have about 17 moving parts, compared to a conventional internal combustion engine, which has about 200.
  • An EV has a single speed “transmission” of sorts, but it doesn’t have gears to turn compared to a traditional motor vehicle with multiple gears and speeds, which are connected by an engine crankshaft. The drivetrain in an internal combustion engine vehicle contains 2,000+ moving parts.
  • No muffler
  • No exhaust system and pipe
  • No radiator water and antifreeze
  • No engine oil
  • No transmission fluid needing replacement
  • No gas tank

There are some maintenance items for an EV. In the case of a Tesla Model S, the company recommends replacing the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) cabin filter every three years. Air conditioning service to replace the A/C desiccant bag for better longevity and efficiency of the air conditioning system is also recommended every three years.

Tesla recommends cleaning and lubricating all brake calipers every 12 months or 12,500 mi for cars in cold weather regions. I have found no need to do this during either of two completed three-year leases. As for brake service, I find I use the brakes very little, even less so with the latest Model S. The regenerative braking system of the Tesla charges the battery while slowing down or going down an incline. When you take your foot off the pedal, the car slows down considerably. I cannot verify this, but an acquaintance told me he drove his Tesla from Poughkeepsie, NY to the JFK Airport without ever touching the brake pedal. This may sound hard to believe but if you drive a Tesla, you can see how it may be possible.

What about warranty issues or need for a repair? The Tesla app has a Service option on the homescreen. You can select the type of issue you have and schedule a visit from a Tesla Mobile Service Technician. I had an occasion this month to see if it would be as easy as advertised. The left rear door handle got stuck while retracting to the flush position. It only happened once, but I decided to have it looked at, and requested service using the app. On the scheduled day, there was a knock at the door. It was the Mobile Service Technician who had just arrived in a company owned Tesla Model X. The car was stocked with all the commonly used parts. He fixed the problem in about 15 minutes. Parenthetically, as he was leaving he said he loves working for Tesla because he gets paid to drive one of their cars every day.

I believe the service experience I had is the future of car maintenance. Use an app to get a mobile technician to come to wherever you are. In today’s system, you make an appointment, drive to a service center which may not be convenient. Wait in a lounge which may or may not have good Wi-Fi and with a TV playing something you may not want to hear. In all my years, I don’t think I have ever experienced an appointment which was on time and fixed the issue quickly.

Electric cars are going to change many things in the world’s economies. Tesla is not alone in the transformation, although I continue to believe they have a considerable lead. As previously discussed, the ordering and delivery processes have been streamlined and automated. Friends have told me they experienced the same thing with other brands. Car maintenance and recalls by Tesla are mostly by over-the-air Wi-Fi. Others have been very slow to adopt the approach, but they will figure it out. The next phase of the evolution is self-driving. The technology is mostly there, the throttle is regulatory. At some point we won’t need to own or lease a car. When we want to go somewhere we will just use an app to request a self-driving car to come get us.

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Vaccine

The CDC lists 26 vaccines which are routinely administered to children and adults. I have had most of them over the years. If you want to see the list, look here. According to HealthDay, vaccines have saved 37 million lives, mostly children, over the past two decades. Unfortunately, one vaccine has been politicized. Nevertheless, the number of vaccinations is impressive. The WHO has a dashboard which shows what is going on country by country. Globally, as of  October 14, there have been 239,007,759 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4,871,841 deaths. A total of 6,495,672,032 vaccine doses have been administered.  I continue to hear some people say they are waiting. I cannot imagine what they are waiting for.

3D Printing

3D printing is an enjoyable hobby, but every week I learn new things. Printing objects is partly a science but partly a trial by trial art. The support team at Dremel is great for solving problems. If interested, you can see the updated collection of 3D objects I have printed here. My botched objects are here.

Space

William Shatner, at age 90, became the oldest person to fly to the edge of space. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company and the New Shepard rocket seem to have things down pat. Musk is on a roll with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The Chinese are not standing still. On Friday afternoon, China launched its Shenzhou 13 rocket with three astronauts onboard. They are headed to their new space station.

Wall Street

We all know the world is plagued with numerous problems. Wall Street tends to look out 12-18 months, and apparently thinks the problems will be solved. I think so also. MAGFA stocks rose with the exception of Facebook which is taking heat from several directions. Government  attacks continue on the upswing with the U.S. Senate crafting some legislation which will provide more regulation of the biggest of techs. I continue to believe the techs will survive and thrive. Tesla is headed toward the trillion dollar club.

Crypto

Crypto has come back strongly after the new pressures from China. As predicted last week, Bitcoin mining has moved a huge share to the U.S. One company is using hydro power created by the Niagra Falls which makes it clean, renewable, and less expensive. Crypto entrepreneurs are reinventing how things work to make it more attractive. There are now 12,778 crypto currencies, mostly vaporous, but the total value of all crypto has risen to $2.5 trillion, 22.5% of the market cap of gold. 

Will We Ever Stop Zooming?

Written: February 12, 1997
Edited: October 7, 2021

During the period of 1995-2001, it was my honor to give more than 50 keynote speeches about “The Future of the Internet” at conferences in countries around the world.  The communications people at IBM gave me a plaque with a big brass key on it. The beautiful plaque, hanging on the wall at my home office, is titled “Mr. Keynote”.

Occasionally I would get an invitation to speak at a university. In the summer of 1996, I visited Lehigh University (my engineering school alma mater) and spoke at a combined session of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). I was named a Fellow of the IEEE in 2008 and have been a Senior Member of the ACM since 2009. I continue to learn a lot from both organizations.

Speaking at conferences is enjoyable but speaking at universities is much better because you learn as much from being there as the audience. The audience at Lehigh was very technical. I asked how many were writing Java software programs for the World Wide Web, and all the hands went up. I learned a lot from the Q&A at sessions like this. Later in the year I went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the invitation of Professor Ron LaPorte of the University of Pittsburgh to visit the College of Epidemiology. Ron was leading a terrific project called the Global Health Network. The Q&A in Pittsburgh inspired Ron and me. Ron believed research was critical to gaining the data needed to solve the world’s biggest health challenges. Ron wanted The Global Health Network to drive faster progress by sharing more effectively. I was able to confirm his view the Internet would be the key to make this happen. I got the chance to meet some wonderful and creative people who were collaborating to improve the health of the world. The Q&A inspired us all.

In February 1997, I visited The JL Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. A group of 100+ faculty and students heard my views about the Internet but equally important stimulated my thinking through an extended Q&A session. I told the students they were the most fortunate graduating class in many years because they were about to enter a networked world of e-business, and they could be the entrepreneurs who would help create it.

Some of the other university visits and speeches took place at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University. In all cases I felt I had learned as much or more as they did. Students asked questions which really made me think. They were not burdened with decades of experience, and asked questions which made my next speech more relevant.

A question one might ask is whether the learning by students and lecturers could be achieved with Zoom, Teams, WebEx, etc.? Many would say no. I believe much of the learning could be. Is it possible to look someone in the eye via Zoom? (The question reminds me of when President Bush met with Vladimir Putin and said, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” I suspect Mr. Bush now deeply regrets making the comments.)

Zoom meetings are not perfect but, given the right attitude and preparation, they can be highly effective, sometimes better than in person. Step one is our attitude. Remote video meetings are very real. They are not virtual, as many call them. Unfortunately, the term “virtual” has been widely adopted. I feel like Don Quixote on this point, so whatever you want to call them, remote meetings are most effective when participants take them seriously and are well prepared.

I have attended more than one remote meeting where, for some participants, you only see the top of their head or maybe just their ceiling fan. The more prevalent and frustrating problem is with audio. A studio quality microphone is not necessary, although they do add greatly to sound quality. The key thing is to have the microphone, be it your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, close to your mouth. All the Zoom-like services provide a test routine where you can see the strength of your audio. It only takes a minute to try it. The other attitudinal step is to be conscious of the mute button. Some leave it off letting the other participants to hear a blaring new program, crying toddlers, or barking dogs. Most of the audio issues are the opposite. It would be so helpful if everyone developed the habit to check the mute status before speaking. It could eliminate the need for the most spoken words, “Can you hear me now?” Zoom has a nice feature which lets you press and hold the space bar while you are speaking. When you finish, you are automatically muted again.

If a remote video meeting is well planned, it can be highly effective and reach a large audience. For example, Zoom supports (for a fee) up to 1,000 video participants, or 10,000 webinar viewers. With proper planning, the presentation of slides, videos, and other content can be very professional and easier to read than from sitting in the back of a conference center. A split screen can show content on one side with the speaker’s head on the other. You can change the size of both. When you have a large view of the speaker’s face, you can pull a President Bush/Putin and look for soul behind his or her eyes. All the various Zoom-like platforms provide for Q&A, chat, raise a virtual hand, or cast a vote on a question.

I follow dozens of technology startup companies, and I have observed over the past 18 months they have gotten really good at communicating remotely. Some of them have weekly investor webinars. The missing ingredient with remote video is camaraderie, and there is not a substitute for chatting in the hall during coffee break and enjoying wine and cheese at the end. In my opinion, a hybrid model for working and sharing will be indefinite. Some companies have announced a mix of working like two days in person, three days by remote video. Some companies are letting employees make the choice, for example to work from a thousand miles away. For board meetings, I suspect companies and non-profits will transition to a hybrid model with every other meeting being conducted with remote video, and the meetings will be very real, not virtual.

Disclosure: I am an investor in Zoom Video Communications, Inc.  

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Vaccine

Friday was my Flu shot day. I waited 30 days after the Moderna booster to reduce possibility of side effects. Doctors are split on whether to get them at same time or not. The biggest vaccination campaign in history is underway. More than 6.42 billion doses have been administered across 184 countries, according to data collected by Bloomberg. The latest rate was roughly 27.3 million doses a day. I still hear some people say they are waiting. I cannot imagine what they are waiting for.

Great Video

Steven Paul Jobs died October 5, 2011 in Palo Alto, CA. Ten years ago. He was just 56. I remember how sad I was that day. I spoke with Steve once in mid 1990s. He was super smart. Steve is labelled as an American business magnate, industrial designer, investor, and media proprietor. He was much more than those words say. His designer visions are what made Apple the most valuable company in the world. Tim Cook has done a great job keeping the vision alive. He posted a great video about Steve on Thursday. You can watch the short video on my Twitter feed. Click the picture.  

3D Printing

3D printing has come a long way and continues to improve. My new Dremel 3D45 was 60% the price of my previous printer and is an order of magnitude faster and with better accuracy. Current projects are printing pumpkins. If interested, you can see a collection of 3D objects I have printed here. The art and science of 3D printing is still not perfect at the hobbyist level. You can see my botched objects here.

Space

William Shatner, who is 90, will become the oldest person to fly to the edge of space aboard Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard rocket. The bad news for Jeff is his lawsuit to prevent SpaceX from getting an exclusive contract for travel to the moon failed. Musk on a roll. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic got clearance from the FAA to continue flying to space. It was another bad week for Boeing. Its Starliner is still not ready for a test flight to the ISS. NASA reassigned 2 astronauts from the Starliner to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Yet another boost for Musk. After a private secondary stock sale by insiders this week, Musk’s SpaceX is now the second-most valuable private company in the world, behind only China’s Bytedance.

Wall Street

MAGFA stocks and many other tech stocks continue to be volatile and are getting hammered in some cases. The MAGFA stocks are valued at nine trillion dollars. Governments  attacks are on the upswing but I continue to believe the techs will survive and thrive.

Crypto

Crypto made a comeback after the new pressures from China. I still don’t think crypto can be killed. Entrepreneurs are reinvent how things work to make it more attractive. I believe we will see things migrate out of China’s reach. There are now 12,500 crypto currencies and the total value of them all is over $1 trillion, almost 21% of the market cap of gold. 

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How Big is the Big Pharma Lobby?

Written: October 12, 2017

Edited: September 30, 2021

At a political rally in Kentucky in 2017, President Donald Trump said drug prices were “outrageous”. The next day, according to Kaiser Health News, the pharmaceutical industry donated more money to political campaigns than any other day of the year. Eight pharma political action committees made 137 contributions to 77 politicians totaling nearly $280,000. Both Republicans and Democrats were beneficiaries. This is nothing compared to the total campaign donations made by big pharma.

According to the Washington Post, there are currently 1,270 registered lobbyists for pharmaceuticals and health products, more than two lobbyists for every member of Congress. A research study which analyzed publicly available data on campaign contributions and lobbying in the U.S. from 1999 to 2018, found the pharmaceutical and health product industry spent $4.7 billion, an average of $233 million per year lobbying the U.S. federal government, $414 million on direct contributions to presidential and congressional electoral candidates, and national party committees. They spent $877 million on contributions to state candidates and committees. Big pharma writes thousands of checks targeting senior legislators in Congress who are involved in drafting health care laws and state committees which opposed or supported key referenda on drug pricing and regulation.

The drug price issue is high on everyone’s radar. I have been writing about it since 2015. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been outspoken about it. People go bankrupt or die because of the high cost of drugs. Quick fixes are obvious to everyone except our political leaders who receive millions of dollars every year from big pharma.  Congress forbids Medicare from negotiating the cost of drugs. The government negotiates the price of just about everything they buy, except drugs. By simply eliminating the restriction, amazing things could begin to happen.

Consider blood thinners for prevention of stroke for example. Millions of people on Medicare with atrial fibrillation take thinners. There are three leading drugs for this purpose: Eliquis, Xarelto, and Pradaxa. The average retail price for a monthly supply of the thinners is approximately $550. The fact the prices are all about the same shows there is no competition. If Congress lifted the restriction, Medicare could put out an RFP. It would say Dear Pharma, we have X millions of Medicare beneficiaries in need of a blood thinner. Please give us your best price for a half-billion pills. No doubt, the price would be much lower.

The effect of competition is significant. Every industry faces competition, except big pharma. A proof of the effect of competition can be seen at Amazon Pharmacy. The most heavily prescribed medication in the United States is levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is a medicine used to treat an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormone which helps to control energy levels. Levothyroxine is taken to replace the missing thyroid hormone. If you have prescription drug insurance such as AARP PreferredRX, the price at Amazon Pharmacy is $14.88. If instead you select the Amazon Pharmacy price for Prime members is $3.80. This simple real example shows how bad our current system is. How can the price with insurance be four times the price without insurance? There are two reasons. First, using your insurance brings in a lot of overhead and middlemen. The second reason is Amazon probably went to Abbott Laboratories, the company which makes levothyroxine, and asked for their best price for X millions of pills. Negotiating drug prices can work, and it is criminal the Congress, under influence from the big pharma lobby, has resisted the idea. They have put campaign donations ahead of consumers. Both parties agree but continue to do nothing about it. Lobbyists have convinced politicians if Medicare can negotiate prices, the pharma industry will have to cut research and development. I don’t believe it.

Big pharma spends millions to influence politicians. The top recipients have been mostly Republicans but the flood of cash in the last couple of years has been bipartisan. Senator Bernie Sanders, after attacking Joe Biden over taking pharma money in 2019, received just under $1.1 million from the industry himself. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who also decried the industry during a 2019 presidential debate, received about $615,000 from pharma.

Other than New Zealand, the United States is the only country which allows direct-to-consumer TV advertising. Big pharma creates demand for their most profitable products by inundating consumers with advertisements convincing them they need treatment. They use actors, actresses, and scenes fine-tuned to look like you. On television, 187 commercials for about 70 prescription medications have collectively aired almost half a million times since the start of 2018. The cost of the ads was nearly three billion dollars. I appeared on Fox Business a few years ago and discussed healthcare technology. I hoped to get into a discussion of pharma advertising. No chance of that. Fox Business was sponsored by Viagra, a top money maker for Pfizer Inc., among the top spenders on lobbying. Lobbyists convinced politicians TV advertising direct to consumers is needed so they can learn about great new drugs. I suggest anyone with a smartphone or computer can find everything there is to know about any medical condition they may have. They do not need to be carpet bombed on TV.

I may sound negative about big pharma. I am not. I am negative about Congress putting their re-election campaigns ahead of consumers. Pharmaceutical innovation is responsible for 35% of the increase in life expectancy from 1990 to 2015. Their drugs save many lives and enhance quality of life for millions. The industry deserves to be profitable. Not to worry. From 2000 to 2018, 35 large pharmaceutical companies reported cumulative revenue of $11.5 trillion with a gross profit of $8.6 trillion. There is plenty of room to operate very profitably without cutting research and development.

What Is the Ultimate Button?

One of my post popular books is Home Attitude: Everything You Need To Know To Make Your Home Smart. There are, admittedly, mixed opinions about making your house smart. Some people, including my wife of 53 years, prefer a not-so-smart house where you can pull a lamp chain, flip a switch, visit doors and windows when it is time to make sure they are closed and locked, and activate the security system by entering a code and hear the confirming beep indicating the house security system is armed. Then there are people like me who love the experience of having the house do these things on its own at set times or based on a sensor being triggered, an algorithm determining it is time to take certain actions, or a press of The Ultimate Button. To me, home automation enables your smart home to do things which enhance your safety, security, enjoyment, and convenience.

My favorite home automation action is what I call “Good Morning”. I would like to share what the action does. First, I will explain some home automation basics for those who may not be familiar. The heart of a home automation system is called a hub. The hub is software on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer, or even a USB key. I have several different hubs, but the main hub runs on the Apple iMac in my office. The hub uses a software app called Indigo.

The hub keeps track of and manages multiple devices such as digital door locks, ceiling fan controllers, smart outlets and switches, wall keypads, garage door opener control, entertainment devices, and sensors which detect temperature, humidity, luminance, and motion. In my house there are almost 150 devices. Indigo can cause a device to do something based on a schedule. Turn on the outside lights at 15 minutes after sunset every day. Indigo can also respond to triggers. If someone walks into a room, turn on the lights, and then turn them off an hour later. The possibilities of the automation are limited only by the imagination.

An action can be set to take place based on a variable. For example, the hub might contain a variable called security status. The value could be set to armed or disarmed. Another variable might be homeStatus with values of home or away. If you are away and the security system is armed, an action could put your lighting in a random mode, so lights go on and off at random during specified hours to make it look as though you are at home. Another action by Indigo could be a notification, which can be done by text, email, or a voice announcement. The message could be about a water leak detected in the basement or reporting the weekly backup generator test failed to run and attention is required.

Indigo can also execute a group of actions. For example, the hub might contain a Good Night action group which includes actions to turn off smart home lights, lower the volume of music for ten minutes and then turning it off, set thermostats to a night setting, and lock the doors.

There is no limit to what you can do with a group of actions. For a complex set of actions, I like to use a script. What follows is an example of a script I developed to execute when I push The Ultimate Button shown in the picture above. One press of the button causes the Good Morning script to begin (two presses starts the Good Night script). I wrote the script using the popular computer programming language called Python. The list of actions the script performs are shown in plain language to make it clearer.

  • Start the Good Morning actions.
  • Get the season, date, and time from the hub.
  • Retrieve current and forecasted weather from the Dark Sky service.
  • Raise the motorized solar shade.
  • Wait 15 seconds and then turn on the night table lamp.
  • Wait 10 minutes and then turn on the ceiling fan light (ease into the day).
  • Wait 15 minutes and then set thermostats based on the morning temperature variable for the current season.
  • Wait 15 minutes and then unlock all doors.
  • Prepare the good morning announcement.
  • Format the date like Saturday, September 25.
  • Format the temperature, humidity, and wind. Remove F from the temperatures and convert wind directions, like ESE, to east south east.
  • String together the components of the good morning announcement.
  • Submit the announcement to the Polly artificial intelligence service at Amazon Web Services to create an announcement using an incredibly human-like voice’ There are many. I use Salli.
  • Use the Sonos feature in Indigo to play the announcement from the master bedroom speaker.
  • “Good morning. Today is Saturday, September 25. The time is seven o’clock. The temperature is fifty-two degrees, and the humidity is 80 percent. Today’s forecast is sunshine and some clouds during the day. The high will be seventy-five, with winds west northwest at 5 to 10 miles per hour with gusts up to 15 miles per hour. The chance of rain is six percent. Have a nice day in Danbury.”
  • Make a music selection at random from a list of favorite playlists at Spotify and Sirius XM. If it is Sunday, select at random from a list of Baroque music sources.
  • Play the selected music on Sonos speakers throughout the house. Set volume levels based on a stored preference for each room.

The Ultimate Button makes my day. If you get interested in home automation, start simple. Push a button and let the music begin. Add things to your action groups or scripts as you gain confidence things are working the way you want. The advantage of Do-It-Yourself is you can experiment with new capabilities, and then modify or scrap them as desired. A great device to start out with is The Ultimate Button by FIBARO. Available on Amazon for $44.50.

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Vaccine

I got my Moderna Booster shot on September 9. Some side effects on the day after but a small price to pay for the extra protection. The latest data I have seen shows 6.06 billion doses have been administered resulting in 2.54 billion people fully vaccinated. That makes 32.6%. A long way to go, especially in developing countries. In the United States, 388 million shots have given with 183 million people fully vaccinated. That makes 55.6%, which means 44.4% have not gotten vaccinated. It is highly unfortunate the subject has become politicized like almost every issue. There is no logic to support not getting vaccinated unless there is a medical contraindication. My simple explanation for the situation is poor marketing communications. As a result of this, our healthcare providers are unfairly stressed to the hilt taking care of unvaccinated Americans, and healthcare facilities are at the brink with inability to get enough employees on board. Unvaccinated Americans have died at 11 times the rate of those fully vaccinated since the delta variant became the dominant strain. Between early April and end of June,  unvaccinated people died from covid-19 at 16.6 times the rate among the fully vaccinated.

iPhone 13

The iPhone 13 Pro Max arrived on Friday at 2 p.m. The setup took minutes by just placing it next to the iPhone 12 Pro Max it is replacing. They have made upgrades really easy. The main benefits of the new model are increased battery life, better cameras, and a big beautiful screen. All three of these attributes were already the best money can buy, but just keep upping the game. The notch at the top of the screen is 20% narrower and the stainless steel around the Sierra Blue back is quite attractive. 

Space

SpaceX’s Dragon completed the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit. In my opinion, this achievement is way beyond what Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin or Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have done. Currently reading and greatly enjoying Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX.

Wall Street

All the MAGFA stocks were down except Microsoft which continues to please investors. Governments around the world are attacking big tech left and right but I believe they will weather the storm. In the other tech category there continues to be a lot of volatility. Coinbase down 17% following the rout on crypto. Startup Upstart is experiencing meteoric gains. They have gone from nothing to a company valued at $25 billion. They are applying AI in an innovative way to modernize how bank loan applications are evaluated. Banks are jumping in probably figuring it is cheaper to use Upstart than to revamp their own outdated systems and procedures. 

Crypto

Crypto took a big hit after China announced crypto is being banned. China is banning more and more things as the Communist party tightens its grip. I could be wrong but I don’t think crypto can be killed. I believe entrepreneurs will reinvent how things work to make it more attractive. I believe we will see things migrate out of China’s reach.

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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.

News from johnpatrick.com

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.

 
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