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 The Fax Machine Dead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Amazon Pharmacy For Real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Limits to Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Is Bitcoin Headed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moderna Dose #2

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

Space Launches

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

The Quest to Understand Mars

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

Wall Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News from johnpatrick.com

Space Launches

Space launches and landings were a record in 2020d, and many more will happen in 2021. SpaceX continues to break records and do amazing things. On Sunday, January 24 at 10:00am, Falcon 9 launched Transporter-1, SpaceX’s first dedicated SmallSat Rideshare Program mission, from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Falcon 9’s first stage booster had previously been launched into space five times. Following stage separation, the booster landed on a SpaceX droneship, stationed off the coast of Florida. The two fairing halves were also retrieved in huge nets mounted on SpaceX ships in the Atlantic. SpaceX now routinely does things long considered impossible by space scientists. SpaceX returns rockets to soft landings on Earth instead of ditching the boosters into the ocean as NASA has done for decades.

On board this launch were 133 commercial and government spacecraft (including CubeSats, microsats, and orbital transfer vehicles) and 10 Starlink satellites – the most spacecraft ever deployed on a single mission. You can watch a replay of the mission here.

The Quest to Understand Mars

The biggest thing will be the landing of the Perseverance spacecraft on February 18. China and UAE will also have landings on Mars this month. We can also look forward to test flights of the SpaceX Starship in Texas. If you want to follow this activity, you can sync with a Google calendar here.  

Wall Street

The market pulled back about 2%, pretty much across the board, except for GameStop. GME was up 68% to $325. I took a look at the company’s latest annual report. It shows number of retail stores down every year since 2015. Revenue is also in decline. The company lost more than a billion dollars over the last two years. At the closing price it had a market cap of $22 billion. Why would anyone buy this stock? Go figure. Concern over COVID-19 vaccines weighed on sentiment. I am optimistic states and counties will get their act together and supply will ramp up. I will get dose #2 of Moderna on Thursday, February 7.

We all probably agree the election of November 2020 could have gone more smoothly. I have been thinking about 2024 and beyond and how the process could be improved. I have written extensively about mobile blockchain voting as an improved method of voting. The purpose of this article is to share my vision for the overall process, not just the method of voting. The changes I am suggesting would require action by Congress, and we all know how hard it is to get Congress to agree on anything, so my vision may not happen soon. Nevertheless, I will share the vision and look forward to your feedback.

The first part of the vision has to do with political parties. What we have today is basically a two-party system. It is quite clear all voters do not nicely fit into one or the other. At a minimum we should have five parties. There are different ways to name the parties but for starters I will call them Democrat, Progressive Democrat, Republican, Conservative Republican, and Independent. There are numerous smaller parties such as Constitution, Green, and Libertarian. Every party would need a leader and an organization to raise funds to make their platforms visible.

The second part of the vision is to make it easy to register to vote. I live in Florida where we have the Motor-Voter Law, which means when a person receives a driver license or makes a change to an existing one, he or she are asked if they would like to register to vote. Some states have gone further with Automatic Voter Registration which means when a citizen has an interaction with any government agency, his or her voter information can be electronically, accurately, and securely transmitted to election officials. Federal control of the process is not needed, but the Federal government should mandate standardized data formats so states can easily identify voters who have moved or died. Modernizing voter registration does not require rocket science, it just needs an election attitude.

Part three includes open primaries. In Florida, I am a registered independent, which means I cannot vote in the primary. I would like to see all states do what North Dakota did, which is allow all registered voters to vote in the primary and vote for whoever they want from any party. The top 5 (could be 7 or even more) candidates from the primary would then become the slate for the general election in November 2024.

The final part of the vision is to use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for the general election. Maine has already adopted RCV, but I would like to see all States use it. Instead of voting for one of the two major parties, with RCV, voters would rank the five candidates, first choice, second choice, etc. If a candidate receives a majority of the first choice votes cast for an office, that candidate will be elected. This is highly unlikely. If no candidate receives a majority of the first-choice votes cast, a runoff process begins.

The candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Next, each ballot cast for the losing candidate would have its second, third, fourth, and fifth choices transferred to the vote totals for the remaining four candidates. Next, the remaining candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and each ballot cast for the losing candidate would have its second, third, fourth, and fifth choices transferred to the vote totals for the remaining three candidates. The elimination process continues until a candidate receives a majority and is deemed the winner. You can see an animated visualization of RCV at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Z2fRPRkWvY.

RCV offers a number of advantages over the traditional voting process. There is no need for expensive runoff elections. In 2014, Alabama had a runoff election for several elected positions. It cost the state $3 million. RCV assures a candidate with a majority will win. With traditional voting, candidates for Mayor and Governor can be elected even when most voters are opposed to them. With RCV, that cannot happen.

A more subtle advantage of ranked choice voting is it can discourage negative campaigning. This is not guaranteed, but in traditional voting elections, candidates sometimes benefit from mudslinging. With RCV, candidates do best by connecting with as many voters as possible, including those voters who support an opponent. Those voter’s second choice might help the leading candidate to get to 50%.

I believe democracy is stronger when more voices are heard. RCV, where more than two candidates compete without fear of splitting the vote, ensures all voices are heard and every vote counts in every election. RCV encourages voting for candidates voters support, not just voting against candidates they oppose. When there are only two candidates, voters may feel they need to vote for the lesser of two evils. By ranking multiple candidates, voters can feel they expressed their preferences without being influenced by mass media or social media about which of two candidates will win. The ranked choices allow people to think about all the candidates, not just one or two. Additionally, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said racial minority populations would prefer ranked choice voting, find it easy to use, and it would increase voter participation significantly.

More than 20 cities and counties are using RCV. There are a couple of obstacles. First, many cities do not have the proper equipment to perform the instant runoff. Existing voting machines are programmed to only count the number of votes for each candidate. Machines could be reprogrammed but that would require funding and lengthy approval processes. The concern about not having the funds to purchase new voting machines presents an excellent opportunity to move to Internet voting where ranked choice voting could be implemented on the existing voting server. A second concern is the potential confusion of voting for multiple candidates.

Voter registration and election voting processes are complex topics.   Because the Founding Fathers gave the States near autonomy to administer elections, it is difficult for standardized changes to be made. In Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy, I examined some of the complexities and provided political leaders and election officials background material to help them as they consider alternatives to the aging voting infrastructure.

Computer scientists across the country have accomplished extraordinary developments in cloud computing, analytics for big data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and an inter-planetary Internet. All of these areas faced skeptics and critics who said, “It couldn’t be done”. I believe working with election officials, voting machine vendors, computer scientists, and software engineers we can solve the challenges and complexities of modernized voting. As a result, Americans could be proud of a stronger democracy with the highest voter participation in the world.

Is Ham Radio Coming Back?

In 1901 Guglielmo Marconi communicated across the Atlantic with a radio device using high power and giant antennas. Once radio communication was proved by private citizen to work, Congress approved the Radio Act of 1912, which required amateurs to be licensed and established regulations for how radio communications would work. In 1914 the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) was founded to represent the interests of amateur radio operators before federal regulatory bodies. Today, the ARRL provides technical advice and assistance to more than 160,000 amateur radio enthusiasts in the United States.

Amateur Radio, called ham radio, has become a globally popular hobby. Ham radio is a service that brings people, electronics and communication together. The word “ham” goes back to 1908 when the first amateur wireless station was launched at the Harvard Radio Club. The amateurs who formed the club were Albert S. Hyman, Bob Almy, and Poogie Murray. At first they called their station “hyman-almy-murray”, but then abbreviated it to ham. From then on, the hobby became ham radio. Today, there are approximately three million hams globally, with 750,000 in the United States. Hams use a variety of equipment and modes of communication to bounce signals off the ground, ionosphere, and the Moon.

Hams are active in nearly every country of the world and from ages less than 10 years to more than 100. Hams have basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles and must pass an examination to receive an FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the “Amateur Bands.” These bands are radio frequencies allocated by the FCC for use by ham radio operators. Not only is ham radio fun, social, and educational, it can provide a lifeline during emergencies when traditional communications are often knocked out. Emergency relief efforts in both Lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon were augmented by volunteer amateur radio operators in the weeks after the attacks.[i]

Hams talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. One of the most exciting opportunities for hams is to chat with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). A ham with a few hundred dollars of equipment or less can connect to ISS, which cost more than $100 billion.[ii] Astronauts and ham radio operators have been talking to each other for years. Science X™, a leading web-based science, research and technology news service, published “Earthlings and astronauts chat away, via ham radio”. The journalist explained why such chats take place,

NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock was just a few weeks into his six-month mission at the space station when feelings of isolation began to set in. Wheelock would be separated from loved ones, save for communication via an internet phone, email or social media. At times, the stress and tension of serving as the station’s commander could be intense. One night, as he looked out a window at the Earth below, he remembered the space station’s ham radio. He figured he’d turn it on—see if anyone was listening.[iii]

Wheelock made a broadcast on an assigned ISS frequency to see if anyone was there. He quickly got a flood of responses from hams who were monitoring the frequency. Astronauts speak with students on a scheduled basis, but some use their time off during evenings or weekends to engage with any hams. NASA set up a ham radio station on the ISS to encourage young people to get interested in science and engineering. The almost-all-volunteer organization called Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) arranges contact between students and astronauts so the students can ask rapid fire questions during a brief 10-minute window before the space station, travelling at roughly 18,000 miles per hour, flies out of range. Astronaut Ricky Arnold II said, “You’re talking to someone and looking right down at where they are.”[iv] Astronaut Owen Garriott, during his 10-day shuttle mission in 1983, spoke with about 250 hams all over the world, including King Hussein of Jordan and Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Read the full article including quotes of the exchanges between hams and astronauts is here.[v]

Epilogue: I got my ham radio license in 1959 at age 14. More on that and my plan to talk to an astronaut to come.

[i] “New York City Arecs Members and the Attacks of September 11, 2001,”  New York City Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Service (2011), http://www.nyc-arecs.org/911.html

[ii] JR Minkel, “Is the International Space Station Worth $100 Billion?,”  space.com (2010), https://www.space.com/9435-international-space-station-worth-100-billion.html

[iii] Samantha Masunaga, “Earthlings and Astronauts Chat Away, Via Ham Radio,”  PHYS.ORG (2020), https://phys.org/news/2020-12-earthlings-astronauts-chat-ham-radio.html

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

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Sync your calendar with the solar system

Space launches and landings were a record in 2020. Many more will happen in 2021. The biggest thing will be the landing of the Perseverance spacecraft in February. China will also have a landing that month. We can also look forward to test flights of the SpaceX Starship in Texas. If you want to follow this activity, you can sync with a Google calendar here.  

 

News from johnpatrick.com

Wikipedia began as a free alternative to encyclopedias, and now it is celebrating its 20 year anniversary. It has become testament to the open Internet. I use it every day. Wikipedia has 55 million articles, across 300 languages, and more than 280,000 volunteers act as the editor. Edits occur 350 times per minute, and are read more than 8,000 times a second. Statistics reported by Axios

Wall Street

The market pulled back pretty much across the board. Concern over a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines weighed on sentiment. Tesla’s joining the S&P 500 was followed by a meteoric rise and the Biden administration focus on green may help further. Elon Musk remains the wealthiest person on Earth.

Can The World Get Vaccinated?

Vaccination is an important topic of the moment. This article will be longer than usual, but I wanted to share what I have learned. I believe the entire world will get vaccinated against the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus which has proved to be deadly and highly contagious causing COVID-19. Equally important is what has been learned about creating a synthetic vaccine based on a sequencing of the virus and using computers to model different scenarios of how the human immune system can be mobilized to prevent the disease. There are trillions of viruses out there and we need to be able to respond quickly without needing an Operation Warpspeed which infused $12 billion into the process.

Bringing millions of doses to the population within just 10 months after the virus was identified and sequenced in a Chinese lab was truly amazing. IEEE Spectrum reported that as of early December, the World Health Organization is tracking 50 other vaccine candidates which have clinical trials underway with human patient volunteers, with 13 of the trials in the final pre-approval stage. Tens of thousands of volunteers are being monitored for side effects and efficacy. As I have written before, I believe the mRNA synthetic vaccine is the future, although at this time, many vaccines will use the traditional approach. 

What we are witnessing is spectacular scientific research to develop effective vaccines and at least equally spectacular engineering to develop processes to manufacture huge numbers of doses and distribute them while preserving the effectiveness. The missing ingredient is information technology (IT) to enable governments to analyze population segments based on front line exposure, age, and underlying conditions and then plan for storage and distribution within the states and countries, and to schedule appointments. IT is often an afterthought because our governmental leaders are frequently clueless about IT. As demonstrated in the CARES Act, many states had decades old unemployment compensation IT systems. Some collapsed and required paper-based backup systems. Our leaders love to debate high level policy issues but rarely ask about IT.

For decades, CEOs ignored IT and viewed it as a boring set of activities which belonged somewhere down the chain under the CFO. Many CFOs don’t like to get into the nitty gritty of IT either, so it all comes down to the CIO. I have witnessed more than a few cases where a CIO was selected from executives who were not going to rise to the top, were “good guys or gals”, but for whom the company didn’t know where to put them, leading to “make him or her the CIO”. There are many great CIOs, but not enough. 

Let me dive a bit deeper on the complexities of getting needles into arms. The manufacturing process to create vaccines for the current world population of 7.8 billion people is daunting. With a number of the vaccines needing two doses, the manufacturing demand is huge. The recipe of ingredients is mind numbing. The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine contains the following: messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glycerol [DMG], cholesterol, 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC]), tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate, and sucrose. To make this highly complex biotech product, the producers and their suppliers have had to construct new factories to mass-produce the vaccines along with the vials, syringes, and other materials needed.

Getting the right amount of each ingredient at precisely the right right time at the right temperature and viscosity and then blended enough to become a vaccine but not enough to break down the synthetic biological mRNA is incredible. Then comes the vials. Corning developed a strong aluminosilicate glass that can be prestressed during vial manufacture. They did this by replacing sodium atoms in the raw materials with potassium atoms, which enables the glass to resist breakage during freezing and transportation. As the doses of vaccine get closer to the arms of Americans, the sophistication becomes a bit reduced.

I am living in Florida this time of year. The state announced a plan to receive 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine before Christmas. The vaccine doses were distributed to 173 hospital locations which did not receive doses in the first allocation of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The hospital locations for the delivery span 43 of Florida’s 67 counties. The public health and emergency management teams take it from there. The variability among counties is quite different than what goes on in the manufacturing.

After Governor DeSantis changed the CDC recommended priority for the second wave to anyone over 65. The news reported how large numbers of Floridians camped out overnight to get in line for a vaccination. I live in Flagler County, which set up a text alert system to notify subscribers of when and how persons older than 65 could make an appointment.

On Monday, January 4, I received a text providing a link to a website to make an appointment. I immediately visited the link to find it was at Eventbrite, a system widely used to sell concert tickets. It turns out the supply of Moderna vaccine was roughly 1,000 to be dispensed on the following Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. Eventbrite was not well suited to the task of making an appointment with terminology and process oriented toward buying concert tickets. I acted quickly and was lucky to get a 10:30 appointment for Thursday. The roughly 300 15-minute appointment slots were sold out in less than 10 minutes. The Eventbrite app did not indicate how many slots there were and how many were left, and many people were understandably frustrated. 

On Thursday morning at 9:45am I left home for Cattleman’s Hall at the Flagler County Fairgrounds in Bunnell, Florida. The process was incredibly well organized and staffed with public health workers and volunteers. Signage was clear and a half-dozen checkpoints were staffed with friendly people. They were organized to handle thousands, but unfortunately there was not enough vaccine supply for so many. At one checkpoint on the Fairgrounds, I was presented with a clipboard to fill out some basic information such as name, address, date of birth, and certain medications and conditions.

At the next checkpoint, a nurse asked a few questions, and then I moved on to tent #1 to which I had been assigned at the prior checkpoint. Remaining in my car, a very pleasant nurse asked a couple of questions, raised my shirt sleeve, and injected a half-milliliter dose of Moderna 012L20A vaccine in my deltoid muscle. I knew from experience to relax my arm to minimize pain. The injection was completed in seconds without getting out of the car, and I barely felt a thing. On to the next checkpoint where another person asked how I felt. Fine. The next few checkpoints were designed to last a total of 15 minutes to ensure no allergic reactions. A Post-it was placed on my windshield to show the last checkpoint person I could be cleared to leave at 10:32. 

I was given a vaccination record card showing my second dose should be within a few days of February 3. An instruction sheet was provided to log in to vsafe.cdc.gov to register my vaccination. The site was very simple to use and requested basic name and address, date of vaccination, which vaccine, and mobile phone number. Later that afternoon I received a text message asking me to log in to the v-safe site with an assigned registration code. I was asked how I felt and about any symptoms. These health checks will continue until some time after the second dose.

Some people don’t like the Federal government having more data about them. I am happy to know the CDC is checking up on me and telling me how to report any side effects I may have. Overall, it was a very positive experience, except for the Eventbrite app. I received a text message from Flagler County saying, “We will not be using the Eventbrite system for new appointments. State has advised that we will have access to a new system next week.”

Can the world get vaccinated. I believe so. In developing countries it will be more complex, but there are organizations which care about getting the vaccine out there. In the U.S., we have about six million people vaccinated with a first dose. The first dose gives efficacy roughly equal to flu vaccine. The second dose will take it up to 95%. The holiday made a quick start difficult, but vaccinations have ramped up to 500,000 per day. The new administration is planning to double that. I suspect priorities will begin to shift to getting it out there to anybody rather trying to perfect a needs/risk based approach. We need to get to 75%-90% in order for the herd effect to take control.

In summary, from my perspective, the scientific research, development, and manufacturing have been miraculous. IT has lagged, but I believe it will catch up because the motivation is high. Work is underway at IBM and other organizations to leverage mobile devices. The Commons Project, based in Switzerland, The World Economic Forum and a broad coalition of public and private partners are collaborating to launch CommonPass, a trusted, globally-interoperable platform for people to document their COVID-19 health declarations, PCR tests, and vaccinations. The plan is to satisfy country entry requirements, while protecting health data privacy.The CommonPass app created by the group allows users to upload medical data such as a COVID-19 test result or a proof of vaccination. The app will create a QR code that authorities can scan. No sensitive personal information other than the health declarations is revealed. The app should be available as early as this month.

Epilogue: I use Apple Notes to keep track of immunizations for flu, shingles, pneumonia, Covid, and others. Not that I don’t trust the government or my healthcare provider, but if I have my data stored in iCloud and available on all my devices, I feel much better.

News from johnpatrick.com

Sync your calendar with the solar system

Space launches and landings were a record in 2020. Many more will happen in 2021. The biggest thing will be the landing of the Perseverance spacecraft in February. China will also have a landing that month. We can also look forward to test flights of the SpaceX Starship in Texas. If you want to follow this activity, you can sync with a Google calendar here.  

 

Wall Street

The big market news was Tesla’s joining the S&P 500 followed by a meteoric rise making Elon Musk the wealthiest person on Earth. This will also be a record year for IPOs with Roblox planning to raise $1 billion with a valuation of $8 billion or more. Coinbase has announced it has filed for an IPO in 2021. This could be a big one also. Coinbase is a digital currency exchange and the most valuable American crypto company. Bitcoin closed at 8 times its 52 week low and Etherum closed at 10 times its low. I believe a successful IPO by Coinbase could signal the legitimacy of cryptocurrency. The IPO stocks are speculative. With interest rates at essentially zero, investors are looking for something they perceive having growth potential. Tech is certainly in that category, but the bubble could break as we saw in 2000. High volatility seems likely to me.

Disclosure: I am a private investor in Roblox and Coinbase.

Dr. Marc Raibert said at a 2018 TechCrunch robotic conference at UC Berkeley he believes the impact of robots will be greater than from the Internet. Marc, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT may be one of the few who has the credibility to make such a statement. In 1980, Marc founded the CMU Leg Lab, and then in 1992, he founded Boston Dynamics, a simulation and robotics company. Knowing a lot about how legs work, Dr. Raibert developed the first self-balancing, hopping robot. This was a significant step forward in robotics. Raibert’s dream is to advance bipedal and quadrupedal robotics to a supernatural state.

Boston Dynamics started out in 1992 as a spin-off from MIT, where it became known for its dog-like quadrupedal robots. The company was bought by Google and then later was sold to SoftBank. It was just sold again, this time to Hyundai for more than one billion dollars. Boston Dynamics just recently started selling its four legged Spot robot for commercial applications with a price tag of $74,500.

The progress made by Boston Dynamics is amazing, even just since I wrote Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better in 2019. To demonstrate the point, think about how awkwardly C-3PO from Star Wars walked and then watch the robots dancing to “Do You Love Me” here.

Epilogue: To learn more about robots and AI, get a Kindle copy of Robot Attitude here for just $4.99.

 

We normally think of the word conjunction as a word which connects clauses or sentences or to coordinates words in the same clause. For example, the words and, but, if are conjunctions. When it comes to astronomy, a conjunction is an alignment of two planets or other celestial objects making them appear to be in the same, or nearly the same, place in the sky. 

Last week, there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn not seen for hundreds of years. The event made a lot of news. Cloud cover made it impossible for me to see it, but many people did.  No doubt some took photos, but nothing like what Jason De Freitas did.

Jason is a fine art photographer who has created a lot of unique and experimental works. He lives on the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia. He has been recognized for his analog astrophotography, aerochrome infrared landscapes, and stereoscopic star trails. I never heard of these, but when I visited his website, I saw some really unique things.

His most unique photography ever may have been last week when he captured the International Space Station passing between Jupiter and Saturn during the conjunction. The ISS is orbiting Earth at 4.76 miles per second, which is 17,136 miles per hour. The 39-second video on YouTube will go down in history.

Jason described the project,

Probably the most unique shot I’ve ever taken. I had the incredible luck of figuring out I could see the path of the International Space Station traveling through the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction. After much planning and scrambling I had to drive an hour (quite a short distance in the scheme of things) to align the shot perfectly and somehow everything on the night worked out. Beyond thrilled with this one. Taken on the 17th of December, 2020 at precisely 21:53:05 for 10 seconds. Location: Jellore Lookout, Mittagong NSW, Australia.

For photography buffs, the equipment he used included Pentax 67 Takumar 600mm f/4 Fujifilm Provia 100f Equatorial Mount: Skywatcher NEQ6 Digital gear: Nikon D750. 

I found the 17 reader comments about Jason’s project in DIY Photography as interesting as the story itself.
 
“I’m telling my kids it’s Santa”
“As a fellow transit chaser, WOW DUDE, what an amazing shot. I absolutely love the adrenaline of planning out a transit that may take all of 1, 2, 5 seconds with only one chance to nail it. Congrats.”
 
“Dude this is epic. This is one giant fish caught on a very well placed lure.”
 
“Someone did a lot of figuring out to land in the right place at the precise moment!”
 
“Best ever ISS pass during the Conjunction!”
 
“Once in a lifetime. 😮”
 
“Phenomenal capture! Congratulations.”
 
“Great footage – thank you for sharing!”
 
“Coolest shot ever!”
 
“That is so amazing.”
 
“Amazing! Good luck needs a good plan.”
 
“Very nice & amazing results! Thanks for sharing it with us!”
 
“Nice!”
 
“Awesome!”
 
“Awesome ! Unfortunately the skies in my area were completely overcast. :-(“
 
“Very cool😀”
 
“SEI un GENIO !!!!”
The Italian comment translates to “You are a genius”
Scientist replacing part of a DNA molecule

Jennifer Doudna was born in Washington, D.C. She grew up in Hilo, Hawaii. After graduating from Pomona College in 1985, she earned a Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1989. Doudna is a renowned American biochemist known for her pioneering work in CRISPR gene editing. She was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In addition to being a professor at UC Berkeley, she is also president and chair of the board of the Innovative Genomics Institute, a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes, and an adjunct professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco. It is brilliant and dedicated people like Jennifer Doudna who are creating breakthrough after breakthrough and saving lives.  

Doudna is the go-to figure for what is referred to as the “CRISPR revolution”. In 2012, Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were the first to propose that CRISPR could be used for programmable editing of genomes. The technique is now considered one of the most significant discoveries in the history of biology.

I first wrote about CRISPR technology in 2016. It is not exactly a household name. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. If you read the details about CRISPR, it might make your head hurt. It is really complex. CRISPR was discovered in 2007 and is partly based on what a yogurt company unearthed about a bacteria which could eliminate viruses. The technology has evolved dramatically over the last few years into a gene editing technique which may become a powerful tool for the cure of multiple diseases, including cancer. You will be seeing the term CRISPR more frequently in the months ahead.

The words cancer and cure will be used together more and more. Laboratory experiments have shown it is possible to literally eliminate cancer tumors. Today’s chemotherapy treatments are aimed at killing the cancer cells. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. The side effects can be severe. The gene editing approach is designed to modify our DNA and have our body fight the cancer instead of the chemo. I think of CRISPR technology like video editing. A video clip consists of a series of video frames. A video editor enables you to remove frames which might be irrelevant or unappealing. You then save the modified video.

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a disease for which those afflicted may benefit greatly from CRISPR. SCD affects millions of people throughout the world, especially those whose ancestors came from sub-Saharan Africa; Spanish-speaking regions in the Western Hemisphere (South America, the Caribbean, and Central America); Saudi Arabia; India; and Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy.

Healthy red blood cells are round, and they move smoothly through our blood vessels to carry oxygen throughout the body. For those with SCD, the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm implement, hence the name sickle. The sickle cells are short lived, and as a result the patient has a constant shortage of red blood cells. When sickle cells move through small blood vessels, they can get stuck and clog the blood flow causing pain and other serious and life-threatening effects.

A clinical trial with ten patients has shown some amazing results. The treatment is complex. Doctors remove stem cells from the patients’ bone marrow and use CRISPR to edit a gene in the cells. The result is the production of fetal hemoglobin, just like what is produced by fetuses in the womb. The patients are given chemotherapy to destroy most of their bone marrow. This is a grueling step but it is needed to make room for the gene-edited cells. The last step is the infusion of billions of new cells into the patient’s body.

Researchers reported this month the first 10 patients treated with the CRISPR gene-editing responded well, although enduring the intense chemotherapy step. Jennifer Doudna was quoted in NPR Health News, “I’m very excited to see these results. Patients appear to be cured of their disease, which is simply remarkable.”

The early stage of CRISPR was difficult and viewed as highly risky. A gene-editing trial with a volunteer teenager in 1999 ended in his tragic death. This was a setback of years, but much has been learned. The University of Pennsylvania, where the trial took place, became very cautious but is now advancing the technology. Other trials have included participants who have sarcoma, melanoma or myeloma. The end goal of the CRISPR technology is to create living drugs which can be put in our bodies to eradicate tumor cells. Progress is much more imminent than when I wrote the 2016 article. What I have read and heard from experts suggests it is not far away to say cancer has finally been eliminated.

See other stories I wrote about CRISPR here.

News from johnpatrick.com

Spy Satellite On The Way

SpaceX called off the planned launch of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a classified spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office due to a sensor flagging high pressure in the second-stage booster. The launch is currently rescheduled for Saturday. Since June 2010, rockets from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 family have been launched 105 times.

Why Are Vaccines So Cold?

Medicine in vials with syringe, ready for vaccine injection , Cancer Treatment , Pain Treatment and can also be abused for an illegal use

Vaccinations are underway, but the distribution and storage are really complex logistically. The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept an ultrafrosty –70° Celsius. The vaccine requires large and expensive ($10,000 each) special storage freezers and complex shipping containers. Pfizer and Moderna both require their vaccines to be super cold. The reason is to protect molecular structure of the synthetic vaccines. Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA carries instructions which enable human cells to build copies of the coronavirus spike protein. The protein enables our immune system to attack the coronavirus if it attacks. The super cold status prevents the vaccines from breaking down and becoming useless.

Wall Street

The big market news will be Tesla’s joining the S&P 500, the most widely tracked stock index. It will be the largest company by market value to ever join the S&P. Tesla’s inclusion will cause dozens of index funds which track the S&P to purchase tens of billions of dollars of stock at Friday’s closing price so they will be tracking the index as closely as possible. Nobody knows exactly what the volatility of Tesla shares will mean. Traders say the ripple is unpredictable. As of 4pm Friday, Tesla was at $695 with a market cap of an astounding $659 billion, an incredible run for 2020. This will also be a record year for IPOs with DoorDash, AirBnB and quite a few others. Next year may be equally hot. Roblox is planning to raise $1 billion with a valuation of $8 billion or more. Coinbase has announced it has filed for an IPO in 2021. This could be a big one also. Coinbase is a digital currency exchange and the most valuable American crypto company. The rise in Bitcoin and an IPO by Coinbase could signal the legitimacy of cryptocurrency. The IPO stocks are speculative. With interest rates at essentially zero, investors are looking for something they perceive having growth potential. Tech is certainly in that category, but the bubble could break as we saw in 2000.

Disclosure: I am a private investor in Roblox and Coinbase.

Warp Speed - A Rushed Job?

Sixty percent of people questioned in November said they would “definitely or probably” take the coronavirus vaccine. In September, the number was 51%, so the trend is good. However, the Pew Research Center said 39% of people polled would definitely or probably not take the vaccine, and 21% of people polled said they won’t take the vaccine and are “pretty sure” more information won’t change their minds. The poll found differences in willingness to get vaccinated based on political affiliation, race, and ethnicity. Whatever the perception, the forecasted numbers are a problem. The exact threshold to achieve herd immunity is not known, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently 75% to 85% of the population will need to get the vaccine to stop the spread of the virus.

What is going through the minds of the nearly 40% naysayers? Some people don’t trust government, and government has been much more visible than usual because of the high stakes of the pandemic situation. Some would say the politicization of the pandemic situation is part of the problem. I believe one of the factors in the doubters’ minds is the perception the vaccine development process was “rushed” and involved a lot of “cutting the corners”. Statements saying it “usually” takes up to ten years and naming the vaccines project Warp Speed fuel those feelings. To me, the key question is what is it which is different between the “years” case versus the “months” case?

My hypothesis is the difference is paperwork and related inefficiency. I don’t know anything about the internal workings of the FDA and CDC, but if it is anything like our healthcare system, there is likely a lot of paper and a lot of inefficiency. Reports said the FDA has 150 people working night and day on the analysis of the data. That doesn’t sound right to me. 150 people to analyze the data from a clinical trial?

Healthcare provider offices are well stocked with clipboards and Post Its. The authors of a new report which collected data from more than 20,000 physicians in nearly 30 specialties described the time physicians are spending on paperwork as “mind-boggling.” Nearly a third of physicians said they spend 20 hours or more a week on paperwork and administrative tasks. I wonder how much time of the 150 people at the FDA is spent with paperwork as opposed to cloud-based analytical and collaborative apps. I know there are many issues involving privacy, incompatible systems which collect the data, etc.

I was in a clinical trial once. It was all driven by paper forms. Just like with paper ballots, clinical trials are research investigations in which people volunteer to test new treatments. Researchers look at how people respond to a new intervention and what side effects might occur. The trials extend over four phases and involves a lot of paper. I believe the time can be shortened, and that is what Warp Speed has done.

Investors think time can be shortened also. When I last looked at angel.co, there were 255 startup companies focused on improving the efficiency of all aspects of clinical trials. There are 13,866 investors who have bet more than $1 billion on the startups. They are promising cloud-based technologies for collaboration and artificial intelligence to accelerate data analysis. I am 100% certain new technologies will have a big impact on the time and cost of getting new drugs and treatments available to patients.  It seems Warp Speed somehow broke through the barriers. Lets hope the trend continues beyond the current work on Covid-19 vaccines.

Mark Toshner is a University Lecturer in Translational Respiratory Medicine at the University of Cambridge and an Honorary Consultant Physician. Somebody referred me to a series of tweets he made last week about the subject I have been discussing in this post. I made some minor edits to make the multiple tweets flow as one story. Following is what Dr. Toshner had to say,

More on vaccines. I’m going to get boring and geeky on this (no apologies) on the 10 year thing. Vaccines “normally take 10 years”. This is being used as a reason to be fearful (ie rushed job). I’m a clinical trials doc. I can tell you most of that time is spent doing …. nothing. It’s spent submitting funding requests, then resubmitting them, then waiting, then submitting them somewhere else, then getting the money but the company changes it’s mind or focus, then renegotiating then submitting ethics, then waiting  for regulators …then having problems with recruitment and having to open other sites, then dealing with more regulatory issues, then finally when you eventually get to the end of all of this you might have a therapy … or not. At this point it may not be deemed profitable or any number of other obstacles.

However we have collectively now shown that with money no object, some clever and highly motivated people, an unlimited pool of altruistic volunteers and sensible regulators. That we can do amazing things (necessity being the mother etc). These trials have been nothing short of miraculous, revolutionary but in the context perhaps it is not surprising given our ability to innovate when we REALLY need to and we really needed to. Safety hasn’t been compromised. 100s of thousands of great people volunteered for experimental vaccines. The world watched closely. The press reported every serious adverse event. There have so far been a handful. A triumph of good people/good process. I am confident that when regulators and scientists pour over the safety data (and we will because we are a bit that way inclined) that vaccines will only be used if we are confident that the risk is definitively outweighed by benefit. This should give you confidence too.

Well said, Dr. Toshner. As I wrote in the Spring, there are a lot of positive things which will come from the silver lining of the dark cloud. One of the many things is what we have learned collectively. Data analysis and processes can go faster. As the startup companies promote their advances, at least one of them will introduce breakthrough technology which will enable warp speed to be part of the new normal.

 

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Learning From a RUD

RUD stands for Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly, and that is what happened at the end of the Starship flight test on Wednesday. The 6+ minutes flight ended with a huge explosion. Was it a failure? No. In fact the test was a great success. The engineers got all the data they need to perfect the next flight test. The Starship is 30 feet in diameter and the height of a 12 story building. Getting it off the ground at all seems like a miracle. Most amazing is the testing of a return to land vertically. This remarkable feat was amazing to watch. The Starship turned over horizontally and literally fell toward Earth.When near the ground it righted itself and fired its rocket engines to slow it down for a landing. Unfortunately, there was a fuel pressure problem and not enough thrust to slow down adequately. Elon Musk’s comments later were, “Mars here we come”. The Starship will be able to carry 100 people to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Vaccinations to Start Soon

Medicine in vials with syringe, ready for vaccine injection , Cancer Treatment , Pain Treatment and can also be abused for an illegal use

The question is what should be the priorities. Healthcare workers and others on the on the front line of assistance to others seems clear. But then who? Seniors and others with increased vulnerability would be pretty high on the list. Uber, in a letter to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said its drivers provide critical transportation for essential workers and allow others to stay home and order food. Other industry groups, including aviation, food production, agricultural, consumer goods, and trucking are also asking officials to prioritize their workers for early vaccine distribution. Governors and local officials will call the shots. Healthcare workers will likely be universally at the top of the list, but after them we will see variations. There will probably be some people jumping ahead in the line.

Wall Street

Bitcoin had a pullback but is still more than double year to date. Stocks pulled back some too but newly public companies soared: DoorDash and AirBnB pulled back but still showed extraordinary gains from the IPO price. This will be a record year for IPOs, and there are more to come including Roblox. My granddaughters love to play Roblox. They know way more about it than I do and they are 7 and 9. Roblox is planning to raise $1 billion and the valuation may be $8 billion or more. 

IBM 50 Years Ago
Click for a full size view of the letter

I have been digitizing documents for many years, decades. If I receive something in the USPS mail, I open it, scan it, and throw it in the recycle bin. I keep the digital documents in Dropbox folders, which I consider a safe and secure place for them. The documents number more than 150,000. I keep them organized in 50+ folders such as aviation, boat, cars, motorcycles, boards, books, education, friends and family, ham radio, health and fitness, etc. Some documents like birth, marriage, and death certificates of ancestors are more than 100 years old. From time to time, I browse through the files for all years of the current month just to see what I find. When I did this in November, I found a letter I had received 52 years ago from Thomas J. Watson, Jr., Chairman of IBM Corporation.

Tom Watson was a great leader and a fine man. I only met him in person once, but I always felt he was there for all the employees. It felt really good to receive a personal letter from him.

When I was in the U.S. Army on military leave from IBM, I remember receiving an unexpected package at Christmas time. I opened the large package as some of my comrades stood and watched. Inside was an Epicurean Gift Box of fruits, nuts, and other goodies. A gift card said Dear John, Merry Christmas, and we all hope you come back to IBM after you complete your military service. It was signed by Vin Learson, then IBM’s chairman and chief executive officer. We were all impressed. IBM felt like family.


I joined IBM in June 1967. The annual report for that year was very positive. Revenue was $5.34 billion, up 26%, and profit was $651 million, up 24%. At the end of 1967, there were 221,866 employees and 359,459 stockholders. As I recall, there were more than 25,000 employees who joined the company that year.

The IBM Electric Selectric typewriter was quite popular, but most of the revenue came from the IBM System 360 line of mainframes which was announced in 1964. A new smaller mainframe, the System 360 Model 25 was announced at the beginning of 1968. The Model 25 was available with “up to” 48K of core (not solid state) memory. That is 48,000 bytes of memory. My iPhone 12 Pro Max has solid state memory of 6 gigabytes. To put that in perspective, the iPhone has 125,000 times more memory.

Data storage for the Model 25 was in a separate device called the IBM 2311, about the size of a medium-sized refrigerator. The 2311 had a removable disk pack 14 inches in diameter. The Model 25 allowed connection of up to four of the 2311s, each with a storage capacity of 7.25 megabytes for a total of 29 megabytes. My iPhone as a storage capacity of 256 gigabytes, almost 9,000 times more storage. The speed and capabilities are not even comparable.

The Model 25 was considered to be a “compact design”, as it was very small compared to much larger IBM System 360 models. You can see from the picture it was not pocket sized, it weighed 1,600 pounds. The purchase price of the Model 25  was $253,000 or it could be rented for $5,330 per month. My iPhone costs $58.25 per month and gets replaced each year. The comparisons are staggering, but in 1968 IBM technology was considered leading edge.

Many people think mainframes are dead. This is hardly the case, with mainframes still hard at work on critical tasks at more than 70% of Fortune 500 enterprises. Mainframes are a small fraction of IBM’s revenue at this point, with the major focus being AI and hybrid cloud services.

1968-1969 were great years. In the middle of 1969 I entered the U.S. Army for two years, six months, and 22 days. More on that another time.

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A Lot Going On in Space

An artist’s illustration of China’s Chang’e 5 moon sample-return ascent vehicle lifting off from the lunar surface. (Image credit: CNSA/CLEP)

China is clearly a threat to the United States leadership in many ways, one of which is in space. This week China launched a rocket to the dark side of the moon. They placed a satellite in orbit to serve as a relay station to send pictures and data back to Earth. The landing portion of the rocket hovered 300 feet above the lunar surface to pick a smooth spot for landing. After the landing, the vehicle drilled holes in the surface of the Moon and extracted 4+ pounds of samples. On Friday, ascent vehicle lifted off the Moon to rendezvous with the Chang’e 5 orbiter while still circling the moon. After a transfer of its precious cargo to a return capsule,  the Chang’e 5 spacecraft will wait in lunar orbit for a number of days for a narrow window in which to fire its engines and head for Earth. The complex mission is quite impressive.

Vaccinations to Start Soon

Medicine in vials with syringe, ready for vaccine injection , Cancer Treatment , Pain Treatment and can also be abused for an illegal use

The question is what should be the priorities. Healthcare workers and others on the on the front line of assistance to others seems clear. But then who? Seniors and others with increased vulnerability would be pretty high on the list. Uber, in a letter to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said its drivers provid critical transportation for essential workers and allow others to stay home and order food. Other industry groups, including in the food production, agricultural, consumer goods and trucking industry, are also asking officials to prioritize their workers for early vaccine distribution. Governors and local officials will call the shots. Healthcare workers will likely be universally at the top of the list, but after them we will see variations.

Wall Street

Bitcoin surged and then pulled back again due to concern about new regulations. In my opinion, some “light” regulation will be a good thing for Bitcoin. The price as of 3pm on Friday was $19,039, up substantially for the week. The market cap for BTC was $353 billion. Gold proponents believe gold is a sound store-of-value and a hedge against fiat currencies losing value. They argue gold has important and valuable attributes such as durability, fungibility, divisibility (into coins of any size), portability, and scarcity (Congress or the Fed can’t print more of it). I would argue Bitcoin has all these same properties. We shall see. Current forecasts for the value of Bitcoin range from $318,000 to Zero.

An AI For An Eye

Machine learning, a key tool in the realm of artificial intelligence (AI) can be applied to data on weather conditions resulting in a forecast of the weather. Similarly, machine learning can be applied to medical data and enable an AI to learn how to diagnose a medical condition. AI systems are learning to diagnose disease across a wide range of medical conditions, and gradually they are becoming as accurate as human doctors.

A good example of AI diagnosing is occurring in London because of a collaboration between researchers from Google’s DeepMind subsidiary, University College London, and Moorfields Private, the private patient division of Moorfields Eye Hospital. The researchers used deep learning, a form of machine learning, to create an AI which can identify more than 50 common eye diseases based on thousands of 3D scans. With a single scan of a patient’s eye, the AI can recommend a specific treatment. While the research is still in the early stage, the results to date are very promising. The Verge, an American technology news and media network, quoted Dr. Pearse Keane, a Consultant Ophthalmologist at Moorfields who was involved in the research, saying,

The number of eye scans we’re performing is growing at a pace much faster than human experts are able to interpret them. There is a risk that this may cause delays in the diagnosis and treatment of sight-threatening diseases. If we can diagnose and treat eye conditions early, it gives us the best chance of saving people’s sight. With further research it could lead to greater consistency and quality of care for patients with eye problems in the future.

The software the researchers developed uses algorithms which can identify common patterns in data from 3D scans of patients’ eyes. The scans are made using a technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT). The researchers submitted data from nearly 15,000 OCT scans from 7,500 patients. In addition to the data from the scans, the researchers included the software diagnoses made by Moorfields doctors. Based on what the AI software learned from the data, it was able to develop a diagnosis without a new scan. The Verge reported the AI’s diagnoses were 94% accurate when compared to the diagnoses made by a panel of eight doctors.

Assuming the AI achieves equal or better accuracy of diagnoses and the software is rolled out to medical providers, there may remain to be issues of concern about the technology. If an AI makes a diagnosis with no human involvement, who is responsible if the diagnosis turns out to be wrong? Doctors are not comfortable with “black box” diagnoses where the basis of a diagnosis is not known.

The researchers at DeepMind and its collaborators are aware of these issues, and they have developed software mitigations. For example, rather than the AI just providing one diagnosis, it can provide several, including information about how the diagnosis was reached and what level of confidence it included. Another ameliorating consideration is the AI can be used for triage. Rather than acting on an AI diagnosis, a provider may look at the diagnoses which are highlighted as the most urgent and consider treatment of those patients with top priority.

Another issue is the ownership of the OCT scan data. Google might argue it owns the data since it expended the effort to store and analyze it. It might argue it has the right to sell the data to other hospitals. Moorfields might argue it owns the data because it came from its patients. Issues such as this are not uncommon in medical research. They are usually resolved with contractual agreements giving the technology company rights to the data for a specific amount of time and then provide royalties to the medical provider.

 Regardless of the various issues, it is clear AI may be of great benefit to patients. The Verge reported,

Some 285 million people around the world are estimated to live with a form of sight loss, and eye disease is the biggest cause of this condition. OCT scans are a great tool for spotting eye disease (5.35 million were performed in the United States alone in 2014), but interpreting this data takes time, creating a bottleneck in the diagnostic process. If algorithms can help triage patients by directing doctors to those most in need of care, it could be incredibly beneficial.

As I wrote in Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better , AI will find its way into every aspect of our personal and professional lives. The potential is there for some bad things to happen, and government and scientific experts must be on the lookout and propose appropriate regulations. However, I believe the benefits are huge, and we should learn about and embrace AI.  

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Election Update

The state of Georgia conducted an audit of the presidential election by performing a manual recount of the five million votes cast. As anyone could have predicted, the results were different than what the machines had counted. However, the difference was not significant. The results showed the winner won by less than a half percent, and a recount has been requested. The State law specified an audit was not the same as a recount. Duh. This is one of many outdated election laws in the 50 states. All different. The anti-Internet voting activists continue to bash the idea of mobile blockchain voting, but a group of researchers at the University of Maryland have written a white paper on how modernized voting can be done safely and securely. See the VoteXX Project.

Tesla Breaks New Ground

Tesla engineering and manufacturing team in Berlin have developed a new way to build their electric Model Y. They will be producing the rear and front underbody in single pieces of casting, and these two pieces will include the battery pack as an integral part of the car’s structure. The pack will include 4,680 battery cells. If successful, the new approach will be exported to other Tesla factories.

Wall Street

Bitcoin has pulled back due to concern about new regulations. In my opinion, some “light” regulation will be a good thing for Bitcoin. The price as of 1pm on Friday was $16,727. This is double a year ago and three times the low in March. The market cap for BTC was $311 billion. The MAGFA five (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon) finished the week at an amazing 27%. If Salesforce pulls off its move to acquire Slack, it may put some pressure on Microsoft. Tesla, Uber, and Zoom continue to zoom.

Will The Messenger Bring Good News?

Humans have been very fortunate to have been protected by vaccines for more than two centuries. The path to get from the identification of an infectious disease to have an effective vaccine is complex, to put it mildly. The issues include research and development, testing, procurement of dependable funding, scaleable manufacturing, equitable and efficient distribution, assured safety, management of public fears of inoculation, and global political considerations. Despite the complexity, what used to take years, now takes months. Politicians pushing to go faster may have helped, but it mostly has to do with bioinformatics, genomics, AI, machine learning, cloud computing, and synthetic biology. As I have said before, I believe the transition from years to months will continue to days and maybe even hours.

Currently, there are nearly 100 vaccines under development for COVID-19. About 20% of them are based on DNA or RNA. Two are about to receive approval, Moderna and BioNtech in partnership with Pfizer. The RNA approach has shown to be best for speedy development. Efficacy of the two vaccines has shown to be more than 90%, compared to 60% for flu vaccine. Safety data is coming in now and so far it looks very good.

The long term implication of the RNA development and manufacturing platform is the potential to respond quickly to new viruses which will surely appear. An antigen from a new virus could be sequenced quickly, and the genetic code for a vaccine could be manufactured using a tested and approved platform. If so, it would eliminate the traditional lengthy process for developing a new vaccine. Axios reported, “This pandemic is a testbed for the next generation of vaccine technologies.”

But what is RNA? A Chief Medical Officer told me when he was in medical school 30+ years ago, very little was known about the role of RNA. In the rest of this article, I hope to shed some light on RNA, but will start with DNA to put things in perspective.

DNA is material found in nearly every cell of every living organism. The structure of DNA is the famed double-stranded helix, some say it looks like a twisted ladder. Our DNA contains genetic information which acts like a recipe enabling us to develop, grow, and reproduce. Although our environment, lifestyle, and nutrition have an influence, our DNA is primarily responsible for our development. The recipe informs our cells how to produce the tens of thousands of human proteins which form our cells, tissues and organs.

Gregor Mendel, has been called the “Father of Genetics”. Like Vint Cerf, who has been called the “Father of the Internet”, there were actually a number of “Fathers”. It started in 1866 when Mendel was the first to note human characteristics get passed down from generation to generation. He coined the terms of dominant and recessive. Numerous discoveries about DNA occurred over the next 87 years. In 1953, Watson and Crick published a detailed paper about DNA’s double helix structure which has become symbolic.

As early as 1939 scientists suspected there was something special which provided the recipe. The something was RNA. There are three types of RNA, but the one most relevant in the current vaccine development is messenger RNA, or mRNA. Using a process called transcription, mRNA copies genetic code to ribosomes, which act like a kitchen where the production of proteins take place.  

Scientists have dreamed about the endless possibilities of synthetic mRNA. STAT is a journalistic site which delivers “fast, deep, and tough-minded journalism about health, medicine, life sciences and the fast-moving business of making medicines.” In “The story of mRNA: How a once-dismissed idea became a leading technology in the Covid vaccine race“, National Biotech Reporter Damian Garde described the big picture,

Researchers understood its role as a recipe book for the body’s trillions of cells, but their efforts to expand the menu have come in fits and starts. The concept: By making precise tweaks to synthetic mRNA and injecting people with it, any cell in the body could be transformed into an on-demand drug factory.

Moderna and Pfizer are quite different companies but in both cases there were dedicated researchers with a passion and a vision about mRNA. The government pouring huge amounts of money into the research was no guarantee but it certainly helped. The idea was to inject the synthetic mRNA into a patient, and the patient’s cells would create a protein which would fight the virus. The challenge was the patient’s body would would treat the mRNA as a bad actor. The two companies, in different ways, devised a tailoring of the mRNA so it could get past the patient’s rejection. The results were 95% efficacy.

Epilogue: It seems the more I read and learn about genetics, the amount I don’t know grows more rapidly. When I finish some other courses I am taking, I plan to take an MIT biology course online at edX.org.  

 

 

 

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The M1 Arrived

The Apple M1 arrived last week for two new MacBooks and the Mac Mini. This is a very significant announcement because it is the beginning of a transition away from Intel chips to using Apple’s own design. The move will surely improve Apple’s profitability but it also introduces incredible performance. It also introduces compatability across all of its computing products. You can run iPhone apps on a MacBook with the M1.

SpaceX and NASA Hooked Up

The SpaceX NASA collaboration has pulled off an amazing feat. The Crew Dragon took four astronauts to the  International Space Station. The astrounauts will stay there for six months, and will perform a lot of research including for space manufacturing.

Wall Street

Bitcoin was the big mover for the week, now above $18,000. The market cap for BTC is close to $350 billion and represents 66% of the total market cap for 3,790 cryptocurrencies. Recent forecasts for the price of BTX range from $300,000 to Zero.

Can You Wait Just A Zeptosecond?
An Electron escaping a helium atom (M. Ossiander (TUM) / M. Schultz (MPQ))

I am sure we all remember learning about atoms when we were growing up. The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. The protons are positively charged, and neutrons are electrically neutral. (Scientists have since learned protons and neutrons are in turn made up of particles called quarks). The other part of atoms consists of electrons, the negatively charged particles of the atom. The electrons’ create a negative charge balancing the positive charge of the protons in the atomic nucleus.

Before I continue, I cannot resist digressing about Larry Fine, Curly Howard, and Moe Howard, the Three Stooges.  The three were an American vaudeville and comedy team active from 1922 until 1970, best known for their 190 short subject films. Their hallmark was physical farce and slapstick. They remain hilarious on YouTube, and you can watch here.  Every time I see the word electron, I think of one of the Stooges’ episodes where Curly said he knew all about atoms. He said they consisted of electrons, protons, and fig newtons!

What was known about atoms and the contents of the nucleus was limited because it wasn’t possible to actually see atoms. That changed in 1981. That was the year I moved from Philadelphia to IBM Headquarters in Armonk, NY. I remember seeing the announcement on the bulletin board (there was no web) highlighting Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, scientists at IBM Zürich had invented the scanning tunneling microscope (STM). The IBM inventors received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986 for their groundbreaking invention. The STM made it possible, for the first time, to actually see at the atomic level, distinguishing features as small as one tenth of a billionth of a meter.

New discoveries have accelerated since the availability of the STM and other technologies. One example is Albert Einstein’s discovery of the photoelectric effect, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. Einstein discovered when light with energy above a certain threshold hits the surface of a metal atom’s surface, an electron bound to the metal gets knocked loose. For example, the picture above shows an electron escaping from a helium atom after getting hit by a photon. 

One of the numerous mind boggling aspects of the research at the atomic level is the minuscule amount of time it takes for an electron to be ejected after a photon strike. In some experiments, researchers were able to measure activities happening in femtoseconds ( 10-15 seconds) or attoseconds (10-18 seconds).  These measures of time are an eternity compared to zeptoseconds. One zeptosecond is a trillionth of a billionth of a second​. The duration of the electron emerging from the helium atom was measured as taking 850 zeptoseconds.

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The iPhone Twins

The iPhone 12 Pro Max (on the right) arrived Friday afternoon. It is busy at the moment copying all the data from the iPhone 11 Pro Max (on the left). It takes about an hour. Meanwhile an Apple Upgrade box is on the way from Apple so I can return the 11 to Apple. My monthly cost for the iPhone will be $58.25, down from $60.33. Turns out the 12 purchase price is down slightly from the 11. The plan works very smoothly, and a new iPhone arrives every year.

An Even Bigger Week Coming Up for SpaceX

SpaceX tested the engines successfully on its Starship SN8 this week. The next test is the biggie — the flight test. SpaceX has announced the window of November 9th to the 11th for SN8, and they are planning for the giant Starship to climb nine miles and then return for a vertical landing. Reusable rockets are the key to a future of us being a space faring civilization. The other biggies, hopefully on Sunday, is the launch of the Crew-1 Mission to the International Space Station. In May, there was the Demo-1 with two astrounauts. This time there will be four astronauts. Stay tuned for the excitement at spaceX.com.

Wall Street

The iPhone 12 Pro Max was delivered on Friday, November 13, well ahead of when all presidential election votes will be counted and verified. Georgia manual counting of 5 million ballots is underway. If you read this column next week, it is unlikely they will be finished. One thing I know for sure is the vote count will be different than what the machines counted. I don’t know if either candidate’s count will be higher or lower, but they will surely be different.  Humans are not as accurate as machines. Bitcoin is now above $16,000, more than double for the year. Stocks were up mostly across the board. A lot is riding on vaccines.   

Ronjini Joshua is an author, speaker, and founder of The Silver Telegram, a tech-focused communications firm. He thinks enough of our outdated voting system is enough. In “After This U.S. Election, the Case for Online Voting Is Stronger Than Ever“, published Friday afternoon in Foreign Policy, he said, 

The gridlock over the U.S. election results is frustrating for voters, embarrassing for Americans, and, perhaps most important, damaging to the spread of democracy around the world. The United States needs to revive its democracy through technology. Online voting can provide transparent, fast, and reliable results. It can also increase voter turnout.

It sounds like Joshua read my book, Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy (2016). We have heard enough from the naysayers. They compare Internet voting (or mobile blockchain voting) to an Internet with no hackers, no cyber criminals, no skilled foreign adversaries, no malware, no old insecure Windows 95 or Windows 7 computers; in other words they compare it to a perfect world we will never have. It is time to compare Internet voting, with all its imperfections, to the paper ballot system we have today, which is full of imperfections, as we see very clearly at this point. Joshua said, 

By embracing online voting, the United States can give voters confidence in the system; after all, voters would be able to see the counts in hours, not days (or weeks). Such a system would also allow both parties to connect with those who would not normally vote, and would put the United States in a position to again lead the world with an example of a political system that does what it’s supposed to do.

Internet voting can also assist millions of Americans with visual impairment. It can offer simplified and much more accurate ballot designs, eliminating numerous errors. When the dust settles, I believe we will find millions of ballots were not counted because of “voter errors”, which could have been avoided with Internet voting. Internet voting could also enable voter education as part of the voting process. It could enable more progressive ways to vote such as Ranked Choice Voting, which can eliminate ties. The eight million overseas voters could become enfranchised. Results could be tabulated in seconds. The list of the benefits goes on. Trials in West Virginia, Utah, and other places have proven the security, privacy, and verifiability of Internet voting.

The only thing holding us back is our political and technological will. I hope Joshua’s article is the first of many. It is time for the naysayers to refocus on how to help, not spread fear. It is time for research centers, think tanks, pundits, investigative journalists, and technology experts to shift the focus to how our democracy can be strengthened by a technological, as Joshua said, reboot.

 

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Mobile Voting Webinar

My sixth and final webinar  about mobile voting for 2020 took place the day after Election Day. The Zoom session with the Ridgefield Men’s Club had 72 participants. The video recording is here.  Hopefully, the paper ballot mess on our hands will result in more questions about why we cannot modernize our voting system. We surely can, if we want to. It just takes some political and technological will.

A Big Week Coming Up for SpaceX

SpaceX and its Starship SN8 will perform an historical flight test  this upcoming week. SN8 (abbreviation for serial # 8) has already performed both the static fire and cryogenic tests. The next test is the biggie — the flight test. SpaceX has announced the window of November 9th to the 11th for SN8, and they are planning for the giant Starship to climb nine miles and then return for a vertical landing.

Twin Shoulders In Place

The twins are now both in place, with the cobalt-chromium alloy balls standing out nicely. The new sockets are made from polyethylene and do not show up in the x-rays. Physical therapy is underway, and I hope I will be somewhat normal by the end of the year.

Wall Street

Apple began accepting pre-orders for its new iPhone 12 Mini and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The pre-order opened at 8am, and my Pro Max pre-order was confirmed at 8:02am. The iPhone will be delivered on Friday, November 13, well ahead of when all presidential election votes will be counted and verified. The big move of the week was Bitcoin, up more than $2,000. I continue to be bullish on BTC and will write a feature article about it sometime soon.   

I was hoping for 100 responses to the SurveyMonkey, and you delivered 146! This is really great! Thanks so much. Your response represents almost 15% of the current 1000+ subscribers, and is definitely statistically significant. In the the following paragraph, I will summarize the results. This will be followed by graphics to show bar graphs depicting the specific feedback you provided.

Most important was question number four which asked about my feature stories. 97% of you said you found them interesting and informative. Two people thought they were too long, and one thought they were too technical. 80% said they read the entire e-brief, while 20% said they just read the feature article. 76% said they liked the news section and the diversity of it. About 20% said they like the wall street section, and 24% said they are not interested in it. Based on this feedback, I will be scaling back the tech stock index data I have been providing, but will continue to make some comments in the news section about various tech companies. The only disappointing part of the feedback to me was only about a third share the e-brief  with someone else. Since 97% said they found the content interesting and informative, it is likely there are many other people who would also enjoy it, if they knew about it. Finally, with regard to how people read the e-brief, it is roughly 50% on laptop or desktop and 50% on phones or tablets or the web.

Following is more detail on the five questions.

Final Survey Results
Final Survey Results
Final Survey Results
Final Survey Results
Final Survey Results
News from johnpatrick.com

Recording of mobile voting webinar

Paper ballot stories continue to be politicized. Facebook reports it has helped register 4.4 million new voters and sign up 100,000 poll worker volunteers. Hard to say what the outcome of mail in ballots will be as millions vote that way for the first time. As I explain in the webinar, there are many ways to make a mistake. A sixth webinar on the subject for Ridgefield Men’s Club on Wednesday, November 4, 2020.

Watch for a Blue Moon Saturday night (10/31). It will be called a Blue Moon because it will be the 2nd of two full moons in a single calendar month. They only occur once every 2 1/2 years. Halloween will be extra spooky this year when the blue moon rises. The harvest moon appeared on the first day of the month.

Wall Street

I watched the senate committee grill Facebook, Google, and Twitter CEOs. It is clear some regulation is needed, and Facebook is actually asking for it. As for breaking them up, I don’t think the senators can outsmart the tech companies. Bitcoin on the rise. More on that later.

Seventy-nine of you responded to the survey. This is great! Thanks so much. I would like to wait until the responses get to 100 before I share the results. That would make the results statistically solid. If you have not taken the survey yet, please click here or on the graphic. Your input is anonymous. I look forward to sharing the results.

Shoulder Joint

All of us are familiar with arthritis, but we may not realize there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in America, and more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have it. The most common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms can come and go, and they can be mild, moderate or severe. That was the case with my knee, but I finally reached the point where the pain and lack of mobility led me to have it replaced. There are a number of stories about my 2008 knee replacement experience in my blog. One that has the details is here.

Ten years later, my shoulders reached the same stage. After evaluating a number of alternative treatments, I decided to get my right shoulder replaced on October 25, 2018, and the left one sometime later. Rotator cuff repairs and other shoulder surgeries are common, but a total replacement of the shoulder joint is much more complex. A top hip and knee surgeon might do 400 replacements per year. A top shoulder replacement surgeon might do 75 per year. There are not as many cases requiring a total shoulder replacement although, with improved technology and experience plus an aging population, the number is growing.

I elected to have my replacement done at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut by Dr. Ross Henshaw. Dr. Henshaw went to medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, his residency and internship was at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and a Fellowship in Sports Medicine was at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery. I have known Dr. Henshaw for many years and entered the OR with complete confidence when the propofol wore off I would wake up in the recovery room with a new and perfectly installed shoulder joint.

For my new shoulder, Dr. Henshaw selected the Tonier Aequalis Ascend Flex shoulder joint made by Wright Medical Group N.V., a Netherlands based global medical device company, soon to be acquired by Stryker, if regulators approve it. I suppose many people would not want to know the details but, as I move along toward becoming a bionic person, I want to know what is going into my body. The video here shows an excellent animation of all the cobalt-chromium alloy and polyethylene components which became part of the new shoulder. When you see the precision engineered components, and considering that the tool boxes and all contents must be sterile, you can see why a joint replacement is complicated. If you have the stomach for it, you can watch an actual shoulder replacement surgery performed at Stanford University here.

The surgery is incredibly impressive, but an equal part of the total solution is physical therapy. I have known Valory Ramsdell, PT, for 15 years. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School Of Medicine, and has more than 40 years of experience in physical therapy. Valory is a hands-on therapist. This is really important, especially at the beginning of the therapy program. A final part of the total solution is me, the patient. I prepared mentally for months and was dedicated to following the physical therapy program fully. It is no fun and much of it is painful, but I know it is critical to the most effective recovery.

Life in an awkward sling and bolster was no picnic during the weeks after surgery. Performing matutinal duties without my dominant right hand was challenging. The pain can be debilitating, but I did not want to take too much pain medication and be a vegetable in my office chair. Fortunately, interactions with the Mac, iPhone, and iPad can be done via voice. Ultimately, we probably will have no keyboards, but at this stage, I find voice recognition to have some shortcomings. It is getting better, but until AI takes a larger role, we will still have to do a lot of editing of what we dictate.

Fast forward two years, and the time has arrived for the left shoulder to become a twin of the other. Dr. Henshaw will be using the same proven technology. By the time you read this, I will be home recovering

Surveys have the potential to be very useful tools for any organization to gain insight about their customers, products, and services. The number of surveys presented to us is on the rise but, in my opinion, most are misdirected. The typical survey basically asks two questions. 

First is “Based on your most recent interaction with our customer service team, how likely are you to recommend our product or service to friends or family?” I remember back 25+ years ago when this question emerged from the bowels of marketing research firms. The question was shown in some studies to show the most accurate correlation to customer satisfaction. The question has lingered now for decades as the gold standard for surveys. I reject the question because I don’t feel it is my duty to make recommendations, pro or con, for any product or service I may have purchased. The question just doesn’t tell the real story about the quality of the product or service.

The other focus of most surveys is to ask about the customer service representative and how they handled your interaction. The questions are focused on the rep, not on the product or service. For example, AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum, Verizon, and other carriers have terrible customer satisfaction. It is not because their reps are bad, it is because their service price, quality, terms and conditions, etc. are terrible, yet they don’t ask about any of that. 

Apple and Amazon understand. Although they both survey about their reps’ responsiveness, they also survey about their products and services. Telecommunications providers are not alone as providers of terrible services. Financial services companies also survey about their reps, not the quality of their products and services.

Healthcare is on a level of its own. Medicare requires all patients to receive a survey called hospital consumer assessment of healthcare providers and systems (HCAHPS). It sounds comprehensive, but is not. They ask about the quality of the food, the level of noise in the hospital room, communications from doctors and nurses, and the level of understanding the patient had. As healthcare has become more digitally oriented with mHealth and Telehealth, none of the HCAHPS questions ask about how well video consults have worked (I have had five video consults and none of the five had working video, although millions, including children, use Zoom every day with no problems.) The survey does not ask how easy it is to retrieve data from lab or imaging studies, how easy it is to transfer that information to another provider, or how easy it is to schedule an appointment.

I don’t take most surveys because I don’t want to add evidence leading to a rep getting fired because their company’s product or service is terrible. Now, it is time for me to practice what I preach. I have created a short five-question, less than one minute, survey about johnpatrick.com. I really want to know what you think about it. Are my e-briefs too long or too short, are they informative, etc. All responses aer anonymous, and I will share the results over the coming weeks. Please take a minute to click on the image at the top of this story or here or click the QR code below. Thanks!

News from johnpatrick

Recording of mobile voting available for viewing

Paper ballot stories continue to be politicized by both parties. It is clear the votes will not all be counted by midnight on November 3. It may take weeks, and possibly longer based on legal challenges. I am hoping things will be orderly at the polls and people will understand the process. I have no doubt millions of the mail in ballots will not count due to errors by the voter. I offered my perspective on this and more about our voting process in four Zoom webinars. The most recent webinar is here

I will be doing a fifth video webinar on the subject on Monday for Founders Hall on Monday, and a sixth for Ridgefield Men’s Club on Wednesday, November 4, 2020.

Keep your eye on SpaceX this coming week. Could be two rocket launches to deploy another 100+ Starlink satellites. Elon Musks dream of worldwide high speed Internet is happening.

Wall Street and the MAGFA Stocks

The big movers this week were Royal Caribbean down 14% and Zoom up 14%. The underlying trends with both ae obvious. Similarly, brick and mortar is losing out to cloud computing. CarMax market cap is $15B although very profitable with 200 stores. Carvana is not making money (yet), has NO STORES, and a market cap of $37B.With regard to big tech, some legislators want to break them, but I cannot see how breaking them up could be done successfully.

Note: My father gave me the following investment advice many years ago, “Don’t give any, and don’t take any.” Wise man. I am not recommending buying or selling any of the stocks, startups, crypto, or indexes I write about.

John’s MAGFA Market Cap (10/16/20 4:00pm ET)
 ClosingMarket CapLastChange in%
 PriceTrillionsWeekBillionsChange
Microsoft$220$1.7$1.6$674%
Apple$119$2.0$2.0$00%
Google$1,573$1.1$1.0$707%
Facebook$266$0.8$0.8$476%
Amazon$3,273$1.6$1.6-$60%
      
Total $7.2$7.1$1783%
      
S&P 500 9/30/2020
 $27.9$27.9  
      
MAGFA/S&P 500 26.0%25.3% 3%
      
Bitcoin$11,303$209.8$204.6$53%
      
Boeing$167$94$94$00%
Royal Caribbean$59$13$15-$2-14%
Tesla$440$409$404$51%
Uber$34$59$65-$6-10%
Zoom$559$159$140$1914%
Note: These five stocks and Bitcoin are in billions not trillions
     
     
     
The Recycling Mess

One of the many things I learned from my Dad was about recycling. Dad was a voracious reader of books and newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the south Jersey Salem Sunbeam. Newspapers would accumulate on the basement stairway landing. Once a week or so, Dad would take the newspapers to the basement and stack them in a corner next to the furnace. The stack was straight as a pin. If a newspaper had some pages hanging out, Dad would unfold and refold the paper. You could place a level on the side of the stack and find it perfectly straight.

The Character Brothers owned a “junk yard” about a half-mile from our house. As I remember it, the yard included junked cars, scrap metal, and newspapers. My older brother would load his red Radio Flyer wagon with sideboards with newspapers and pull it the Characters’. What I recall, sometime in the 1950s, was occasional Saturday morning trips to Characters’ in a pickup truck Dad would borrow from his car dealership. We would make a lot of trips to the basement to fill up the pickup with the papers, and then we would drive to Characters’ right onto a large scale. Mrs. Character, who lived just two doors away from us, would give Dad the thumbs up from the window of her little office by the scale after the truck and papers had been weighed. Dad would then drive to the section of the yard where the newspapers would be converted into bales. He would back in the truck, and then we would heave the papers into the recycling area.

After driving back onto the scale, Mrs. Character would calculate the weight of the papers and give Dad the money. I don’t know what the price was. Currently, the price is about 50 cents per pound. It varies a lot based on supply and demand. When we got home, Dad would put the dollar bills in an envelope and the coins in a little barrel shaped bank. From time to time, Dad would take me to the bank where he deposited the newspaper money in a savings account for college.

Things are quite different today. Although awareness and intentions with regard to recycling are significant, global recycling is a mess. For decades, the United States sent most of its recycling on ships to China. The model was the recycled materials would be made into bags, shoes, and plastic products. That changed in July 2017 when China restricted imports of mixed paper and most plastics, effective in March 2018. A Chinese initiative called the National Sword changed their import policy to reduce the allowable percentage of contaminants from 5 to 10 percent to 0.5 percent. Contamination, for example, meant bales of paper which also contained pieces of metal, glass, plastic bags, etc. Waste-management companies across the country told municipalities there was no longer a market for their recycling. Municipalities had two choices: pay much more to get rid of recycling or throw it all away. Unfortunately, many opted for the latter.

Waste-management companies have since invested heavily in upgrading their materials recovery facilities (MRFs, pronounced “murfs”). The MRFs have adopted a single stream approach where the contents of all the blue recycling cans picked from neighborhoods get dumped onto conveyor belts where workers do their best to separate the various recyclables to try to reach the half-percent target from the Chinese wake-up call. They slowed down the conveyor belts to try to do a better job, but the problem is us consumers. Here is what knowable Magazine reported about the process:

The workers are all wearing yellow vests, masks and heavy gloves, but not just for Covid-19. Their job — and it’s a filthy, dangerous, smelly one — is to pick out all the items that rightfully belong in a landfill or incinerator: Dirty diapers. Garden hoses. Old clothes. Used hypodermic needles. Dead cats. Bowling balls. Filmy plastic bags that will tangle in the sorting machines. Cartons of sour milk that will foul everything they touch once the containers inevitably burst open down the line.

It sounds hopeless, but technology is coming to the rescue. Robots don’t mind filthy, dangerous, smelly jobs. With the addition of AI and computer-vision, the robotic arms are continuously learning about the sizes and shapes of various items. Suction cups on the end of robotic arms suspended over the moving conveyor belt can pre-sort the stream of recyclables and put them in the appropriate bin. It is not perfect, but it is getting better.

Just like the basic responsibilities we can adopt to reduce the Covid-19 spread, we can have a big impact on recycling by following local guidelines on what can go in the blue can. It is not only responsible, but it makes economic sense. If municipalities can’t get good returns from the waste-management companies because contamination is high, the municipalities will have to raise taxes.

knowable Magazine published a very comprehensive article, “Recycling meets reality”. I highly recommend reading it. If you want to see the robot arms in action and how single-stream works, watch the video Rethinking Recycling.

 

 

 

 

  

News from johnpatrick

Recording of mobile voting available for viewing

Paper ballot stories continue to get more exciting. It is clear the votes will not all be counted by midnight on November 3. It may take weeks, and possibly longer based on legal challenges. I am hoping things will be orderly at the polls and people will understand the process. I offered my perspective on our voting process last Tuesday night in a Zoom webinar. Some people had trouble logging in or missed the webinar, so I have a recorded version available. You can watch it here

I will be doing a fifth video webinar about mobile voting and paper ballot issues for Founders Hall on Monday, October 19 and for Ridgefield Men’s Club on Wednesday, November 4, 2020.

Wall Street and the MAGFA Stocks

Other than 1% dips by Boeing and Uber, everything was up. The MAGFA index, is now at 25.3% of the S&P 500. The five companies maintained their market values, still spectacularly high, but nothing goes straight up forever. The techs are strong even though under pressure from both political parties who are picking on them and preparing legislation. I cannot see how breaking them up could be done successfully.

John’s MAGFA Market Cap (10/09/20 4:00pm ET)
 ClosingMarket CapLastChange in%
 PriceTrillionsWeekBillionsChange
Microsoft$216$1.6$1.6$634%
Apple$117$2.0$1.9$1005%
Google$1,515$1.0$1.0$303%
Facebook$264$0.8$0.7$538%
Amazon$3,287$1.6$1.6$463%
      
Total $7.1$6.8$2924%
      
S&P 500 9/30/2020
 $27.9   
      
MAGFA/S&P 500 25.3%24.3% 4%
      
Bitcoin$11,044$204.6$194.0$115%
      
Boeing$167$94$95-$1-1%
Royal Caribbean$71$15$14$19%
Tesla$434$404$390$144%
Uber$37$65$66-$1-1%
Zoom$492$140$138$21%
Note: These five stocks and Bitcoin are in billions not trillions
     
     
     

Note: My father gave me the following investment advice many years ago, “Don’t give any, and don’t take any.” Wise man. I am not recommending buying or selling any of the stocks, startups, crypto, or indexes I write about.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers around the world own pets according to more than 27,000 online consumers who were surveyed in 22 countries.[i] Dogs are the most popular pet globally. The United States is a particularly pet-friendly country with 78 million dogs in their homes.[ii] In the future, many human-owned dogs may be robots. It is possible they will provide companionship comparable to live dogs. This is important, especially in these difficult times. According to Ageless Innovation, a Pawtucket, Rhode Island maker of health, wellness and fitness products, a study of 271 independently living seniors who suffered from loneliness found “there was improvement in their mental well-being, in sense of purpose and optimism” after 30 days with a robotic pet cat or dog.

Bridget Carey is an American technology journalist and host of CNET Update. In November 2018, she had a special opportunity to take the new Sony Aibo robot dog into her New York apartment for a week. What made the review opportunity special was she has a dog and a two-year-old daughter. Watch video of Bridget, her daughter, and Aibo, “My Week with Aibo: What It’s Like to Live with Sony’s Robot Dog“.[iii] and watch a video review of Aibo with the Washington Post at end of story.

Sony has been making robotic pets for more than 20 years. As technology has evolved, so has the robo-pup. The latest version of Sony’s Aibo, pronounced eye bo, became available in the United States at the beginning of 2019. Aibo could be perceived as a home automation device when you consider all of its sensors and cameras. In reality, it is nothing like a smart home device. The giveaway is the wagging tail and the way Aibo trots around your home. Aibo’s goal is not home security or automating your lights. In Japanese, Aibo means “pal” or “partner”, and its sole mission is companionship. Ms. Carey’s two-year-old child found Aibo a delightful addition to the family. Her Golden Labrador did not find Aibo at all interesting. Aibo may cause chronically ill seniors to think less about their aches, pains, and loneliness and more about their pet.

A companion Apple or Android mobile app enables you to set Aibo’s gender to male or female. This affects the pitch of Aibo’s voice and how he or she walks. You can also set the color of Aibo’s eyes, teach it new tricks, and even take photos with the camera in its nose. He or she can understand more than 50 voice commands. All of this is made possible by a plethora of technology components inside the 12 inches tall, 12 inches long, 7 inches wide, 5-pound robot including a super-fast computer chip, OLED displays (eyes), an audio speaker, four microphones, two cameras, a dozen sensors, and Wi-Fi.

In terms of movement, Aibo has 22 degrees of freedom (DOF). To put this in perspective, the human body has 244. For example, our hands have 27 DOF. Each of our four fingers can move in four different ways. The thumb has five DOF, and the wrist has six. Aibo stands out versus any toy or consumer robot with its 22 DOF. Its head can move along three axes, one each for the mouth, neck, and waist. Each leg (front and back paws) has three axes. Each ear has one DOF and the tail has two.

The purpose of all the technology is to make the beagle-looking Aibo seem like a real puppy. Reviewers say the mission was accomplished. A review in TechCrunch said,

A long press of the power button on the collar wakes him up. He stirs slowly, from a near fetal position, his paws extending outward with a stretch. He acknowledges his limbs with a yawn and slowly stands, shaking himself out as though he’d just run through the sprinklers in the yard.[iv]

Aibo uses artificial intelligence and deep learning technology to recognize and remember 100 friends and family. He remembers what makes different people happy based on their reactions. As Aibo learns its environment and develops relationships, its personality becomes unique. As an owner, Aibo becomes uniquely your Aibo. After Bridget Carey at C|NET spent a week with Aibo in her home, she said,

Aibo loves praise with a nice rub on the head, chin and back — or give him some positive verbal feedback. (“Good boy!”) Teach him tricks and watch him respond to voice commands. Cameras and sensors on his front side help the dog sense nearby people, as well as find his signature pink toy ball, bone and charging station. A camera near his bum points to the ceiling to map the layout of your home, so over time he learns how to get around.[v]

Aibo connects to the Sony cloud which uses artificial intelligence to help Aibo become increasingly more real. The nice thing is you don’t have to take him for a walk several times a day. The only downside is the cost – Aibo sells for $2,900. A friend of mine pointed out the price tag is cheap compared to a real dog’s veterinarian and food costs. For those who love their real dogs, Aibo is no replacement. However, for millions of infirmed seniors, Aibo could be heaven sent.

[i] Steve Dale, “World Pet Population Data a Mixed Bag,”  Steve Dale Pet World (2016), https://stevedalepetworld.com/blog/world-pet-population-data-mixed-bag/

[ii] Tammy Dray, “Number of Dogs & Cats in Households Worldwide,”  the nest (2018), https://pets.thenest.com/number-dogs-cats-households-worldwide-8973.html

[iii] Bridget Carey, “My Week with Aibo: What It’s Like to Live with Sony’s Robot Dog,”  c|net (2018), https://www.cnet.com/news/my-week-with-aibo-what-its-like-to-live-with-sonys-robot-dog/

[iv] Brian Heater, “Up Close and Hands-on with Sony’s Aibo,”  TechCrunch (2018), https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/20/up-close-and-hands-on-with-sonys-aibo/

[v] Carey, “My Week with Aibo: What It’s Like to Live with Sony’s Robot Dog”.

News from johnpatrick.com

Recording of mobile voting available for viewing

Paper ballot stories continue to get more exciting. It is clear the votes will not all be counted by midnight on November 3. It may take weeks, and possibly longer based on legal challenges. I am hoping things will be orderly and people will understand the process. I offered my perspective on our voting process on Tuesday night in a Zoom webinar. Some people had trouble logging in or missed the webinar, so I have a recorded version available. You can watch it here

I will be doing a fifth video webinar about mobile voting and paper ballot issues for the Ridgefield Men’s Club on Wednesday, November 4, 2020.

Is Mobile Voting Actually Happening Anywhere?

Amelia Powers-Gardner is the County Clerk in Utah County. She totally gets it. Listen to an interview with her and you will wonder why more of our 3,141 counties don’t think like her. She explains the reasons well.

Wall Street and the MAGFA Stocks

The MAGFA index, is holding steady at 23% of the S&P 500. The five companies maintained their market values, still spectacularly high, but nothing goes straight up forever. The techs will fall under pressure at some point as both political parties are picking on them and preparing legislation. The largest gain in the stocks I track was in Uber. They have made a bold move in freight trucking and have gained approval in London for ride sharing after a long legal battle.

John’s MAGFA Market Cap (10/02/20 4:00pm ET)
 ClosingMarket CapLastChange in%
 PriceTrillionsWeekBillionsChange
Microsoft$208$1.6$1.6-$30-2%
Apple$114$1.9$1.9$00%
Google$1,467$1.0$1.0$00%
Facebook$262$0.7$0.7$00%
Amazon$3,139$1.6$1.6$00%
      
Total $6.8$6.8-$300%
      
S&P 500 8/31/2020
 $28.9$28.9  
      
MAGFA/S&P 500 23.4%23.5% 0%
      
Bitcoin$10,541$194.0$198.0-$4-2%
      
Boeing$168$95$88$78%
Royal Caribbean$65$14$14$00%
Tesla$419$390$380$103%
Uber$37$66$60$610%
Zoom$486$138$141-$3-2%
Note: These five stocks and Bitcoin are in billions not trillions
     
     
     

Note: My father gave me the following investment advice many years ago, “Don’t give any, and don’t take any.” Wise man. I am not recommending buying or selling any of the stocks, startups, crypto, or indexes I write about.

Many thanks to my friend Hansueli in Switzerland for catching the mistake in this morning’s e-brief. The Zoom webinar will be on Wednesday, September 30, at 7pm, not Thursday. Please register here to watch it. Any questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Please join me for a webinar on Wednesday, Septembeer 30, at 7pm. I will be discussing how the future of elections in the United States could be much brighter than what we are currently facing. In research for my book, Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy, I learned a lot about the American election system. It is not a pretty picture. In 2016, 100 million could have voted but did not. Millions of votes are thrown out because of mistakes with the ancient paper ballot system.

The Zoom webinar is sponsored by the Danbury, Connecticut Public Library. Anyone from anywhere can watch, and there will be plenty of time for Q&A. Voting is an important and timely subject, and I know there are many questions. Is mobile voting safe and secure? How does it work? Are the votes verifiable? What about people who do not have a mobile device? How soon could mobile voting be made available? I will do my best to answer these and other questions. 

To register for the webinar, click here or on the picture above. The library registration form will ask for your name, email, and phone number. The email is so you can receive a link to join the webinar. The phone number is for use in case of a technical problem. Your information will be safe. You can trust local public libraries. Any questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I will donate 100% of the proceeds to the Library for any book sales online next week. See the books at johnpatrick.com.

Do Hobbies Have A Role In The Pandemic?

Millions of people are down and out as a result of the pandemic. Each day is a struggle for them, and they have no spare time. Tens of millions stand in line for food to feed their families. Fortunately, there are numerous charities such as America’s Food Fund which has raised more than $37 million to support hundreds of food banks. Websites such as PowerOf.org act as a clearing house to match up volunteers with the many needs, some of them virtual, of people impacted by Covid-19.

Others who are more fortunate and have more time on their hands, turn to hobbies they may have left dormant. I once asked a friend, who had retired from his decades-long career, what his hobbies were. He said he had no hobbies. I asked him how he spent his time. He said traveling to visit with grandchildren is the activity he always looks forward to. Travel is a hobby loved by people of all ages. Grandparenting doesn’t appear in lists of hobbies I have seen, but it is a serious endeavor. It may sound a bit impersonal but, to me, spending time with grandchildren easily qualifies as a bona fide hobby.  Jill Savage, founder of Hearts at Home and author of 14 books, said that grandparenting allows people a second chance to influence the life of a child. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it more difficult for grandparents and grandchildren to get together.

Many people have one enjoyable hobby consuming much of their time.  For example, more than a few friends of mine have a hobby of playing golf. Most of them say the game frustrates them to no end but, nevertheless, they love it and spend an amazing amount of time at it. One friend told me social distancing is easy in golf, and you benefit health wise at the same time.  There are other similarly engaging hobbies such as gardening, reading, sewing, writing, and many more.

Contributors on Wikipedia have compiled a comprehensive list of hobbies. The list is organized into four categories: General, collecting, competitive, and observation. Each category is further segmented into Indoors and Outdoors. The largest segment is General – Indoors with 148 hobbies. A few examples include Acrobatics, Astronomy, Book discussion clubs, Calligraphy, Djing, Furniture building, Glassblowing, Hula hooping, Knot tying, Lock picking, Poi, Sewing, Taxidermy, Wikipedia editing, and Yo-yoing. If some hobbies in this sample are things you have never heard of, you are not alone. The total list of hobbies includes 367.

In our working lives, we generally need approval for things we do, we must follow certain guidelines on the way we do things, and we get evaluated on how well we do things. Our personal lives are quite different. We can partake of hobbies in our leisure time. It is like “play time” in the adult world. Selecting hobbies is totally up to us, and there are no reviews and approvals required.

Hobbies can add fun, excitement, and enjoyment to our daily lives. Hobbies can bring people together, enable us to meet new people, and help us develop new skills which make us a better person. These benefits help us realize a new dimension to our lives. Even if we really love our job, hobbies can add pure enjoyment to the mix of our activities.

Hobbies can have a positive impact beyond leisure time fun. When Goldman Sachs named David Solomon as CEO, the press covered more than his professional background and executive skills. It also wrote about his hobby as a moonlight bona fide disc jockey. Solomon is known for his passion about what he does at work and in his leisure. In the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Why CEOs Devote So Much Time to Their Hobbies”, it was noted Mr. Solomon “is not an isolated case”. The authors of the article identified dozens of S&P 500 CEOs who have what is called “serious leisure” interests.

The focus of the Harvard Business Review study was on serious leisure. They found some CEO hobbies had their roots in a volunteering gig or other activity which may have started at a young age and continued for many years. The HBR team asked the question whether serious leisure makes a CEO a better leader? The data was limited and showed mixed results. They found “CEOs who are also pilots lead more innovative companies, and CEOs who run marathons show better company performance”.  The authors also noted excessive CEO golfing may actually harm shareholder value. I doubt my golfing friends would agree.

The HBR research team examined why leaders invest time in leisure activities they were passionate about. They sought to learn if the activities improved their job performance. All the CEOs they researched were at companies in the S&P 500. They found 56 CEOs who had a known interest in a serious leisure activity. The researchers looked at thousands of articles and social media posts about them. One of the researchers conducted private interviews with 17 of the CEOs. All of the research focused on hobbies and what they meant to the CEOs and their ability to lead.

There is a lot more to hobbies. I have been working on a seventh book, Hobby Attitude: How Hobbies Can Make Our Personal and Professional Lives Better. It is somewhat of a 75-year biography. I have the outline completed, but writing the book is going to take a long time. I had originally planned to publish it this summer but the lock down slowed me down. The last six months have gone quickly, and my focus has been Zoom board meetings, webinars, and my weekly e-briefs. I hope you are enjoying them.

News from johnpatrick.com

Naked Ballots

We are seeing a lot of news about naked ballots. The media tends to make it political. Naked ballots have nothing to do with politics. Voting by mail is new to millions of people and many don’t read the directions. The first step is to fill out the ballot with your choices by filling in the ovals (not circling or checking them). Then you put it in the secrecy sleeve. Its just a plain envelope. You then put the sleeve in the larger envelope, sign it on the outside, and mail it. If you follow those simple steps and USPS delivers it on time (likely), your vote will be counted. The secrecy sleeve protects your privacy.

Wall Street and the MAGFA Stocks

My MAGFA index, rose 5%. The big winner otherwise was Zoom, trading above $500 and market cap rising 13% to $141 billion. 

John’s MAGFA Market Cap (09/26/20 4:00pm ET)
 ClosingMarket CapLastChange in%
 PriceTrillionsWeekBillionsChange
Microsoft$208$1.6$1.5$1007%
Apple$112$1.9$1.8$1006%
Google$1,445$1.0$1.0$00%
Facebook$255$0.7$0.7$00%
Amazon$3,095$1.6$1.5$1007%
      
Total $6.8$6.5$3005%
      
S&P 500 8/31/2020
 $28.9$28.9  
      
MAGFA/S&P 500 23.5%22.5% 5%
      
Bitcoin$10,741$198.0$201.0-$3-1%
      
Boeing$156$88$91-$3-3%
Royal Caribbean$65$14$14$00%
Tesla$407$380$412-$32-8%
Uber$34$60$65-$5-8%
Zoom$497$141$125$1613%
Note: These five stocks and Bitcoin are in billions not trillions
     
     
     

Note: My father gave me the following investment advice many years ago, “Don’t give any, and don’t take any.” Wise man. I am not recommending buying or selling any of the stocks, startups, crypto, or indexes I write about.

What Is The Future of Vaccines?

Humans have been very fortunate to have been protected by vaccines for more than two centuries. The path to get from the identification of an infectious disease to have an effective vaccine is complex, to put it mildly. The issues include research and development, testing, procurement of dependable funding, scaleable manufacturing, equitable and efficient distribution, assured safety, management of public fears of inoculation, and global political considerations. What used to take years, now takes months. Why? It has nothing to do with politicians pushing to go faster. It has everything to do with bioinformatics, genomics, AI, machine learning, cloud computing, and synthetic biology. I believe the transition from years to months will continue to days and maybe even hours.

First, consider how we have developed flu vaccines in the past. It would start with a mucus sample received in the mail. Laboratory scientists and technicians would tediously isolate the virus. Next, they would inject a sample of it into chicken eggs, and then let them incubate. The vaccine selection and production process would take six months or more. Meanwhile, the flu virus has mutated and the vaccine may not work very well. This is why vaccines are administered on an annual basis, to make a best guess as to what the virus will look like by the end of the six month process and then produce enough vaccine to immunize the population.

I first wrote about synthetic vaccines in 2013. It looked like a pipe dream to many, but it is now becoming a reality. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has put $60 million into coronavirus research including for a synthetic biology (synbio) effort. Synbio is mostly about the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems. More specific to the issue of the day, synbio may replace the DNA and RNA ingredients mother nature has provided for the development of vaccines with synthetic ingredients. As I mentioned above, the huge advances in cloud computing, AI, genetic sequencing, and collaborative tools are making timelines possible which were unthinkable in the recent past. The best is yet to come.

A vaccine made from synthetic ingredients can potentially offer some significant advantages. The big one is scalability. Synbio vaccines could be produced efficiently for millions or even billions of doses. Another advantage is synthetic ingredients do not need to be refrigerated. This would be a huge benefit for places like sub-Saharan Africa. The need for refrigeration is one of the barriers to rapid and global distribution of vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidates require ultra-low temperatures, raising questions about storage, distribution. Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine candidate, requires a storage temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit, yes minus. BioNTech and Pfizer’s candidates need to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Synbio vaccines are developed using computer models, not flasks and test tubes. With billions of calculations, a nanoparticle can be designed which has the exact properties desired. The really big breakthrough with synbio is the attachment of viral molecules to the nanoparticle. Neil King at the University of Washington and his synbio colleagues knew there would be another coronavirus epidemic, like the SARS and MERS outbreaks before the current Covid-19 outbreak. King said, “…there will be another one after this,” perhaps from yet another member of this virus family. We need a universal coronavirus vaccine.” One vaccine for all corona viruses. That will be the breakthrough.

Fortunately, there are a lot of very smart people working on this. SynBioBeta is an innovation network for biological engineers, investors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who share a passion for using biology to build a better, more sustainable universe. SynBioBeta hosts The Global Synthetic Biology Summit in San Francisco in October each year. SynBioBeta says the Summit,

Showcases the cutting-edge developments in synthetic biology that are transforming how we fuel, heal, and feed the world. And we provide ample opportunities to meet and explore with the bright minds building the bioeconomy.

Dr. Craig Venter, an American biochemist, geneticist, and entrepreneur known for being one of the first to sequence the human genome, is an advocate for a new and innovative digital approach for the development of vaccines. Venter said the process used for developing the H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu, vaccine took many months and the supply was barely adequate to cover healthcare workers. He said if the H1N1 virus had been as deadly and widespread as some had forecasted, we would have had a very bad situation.

Venter envisions vaccines being developed using synthetic DNA instead of “billions of eggs”. He has written how DNA data about a virus to be protected against can be developed into a digital recipe and emailed to laboratories which could then begin production of the vaccine at facilities all over the world within 12 hours. The Covid-19 crisis has caused an increase in the sense of urgency to approve new ways of thinking such as this.

One final thought about the future of vaccines has to do with syringes, essential for delivering vaccine. I will be the first to admit, I don’t like needles. My wife and daughter, both nurses, think I am a wuss. I am not afraid, I just don’t like the experience. Unfortunately, many people are afraid for themselves or their children and transfer the fear into inaction and, in some cases, spreading the fear. The fear jeopardizes their own health and also the path to a herd effect and strong public health.

Syringes could become a thing of the past. Scientists at the Hilleman Labs in India have developed micro-patches which can be used for routine immunizations. The patches are cheap to produce and easy to store without chilling. The patches don’t need special training to be applied, and potentially will be able to be used by consumers at home. Delivered by drones, the patches could become a potential lifeline for rural and poor families around the world. Vaccination by patches could become a reality before the end of the decade. 

And let us not forget the importance of flu vaccinations. I believe most doctors will recommend October as the ideal time to get the shot. Hopefully, a covid vaccine will be widely available in the Spring or earlier. In the meantime, as Dr. Fauci, Dr. Redfield,  and others have urged, the best thing we can do to avoid spikes in cases and mortality is to do a good job in hygiene, distancing, and masks. Those who are opposed to masks are unknowingly being selfish. The subtly is the mask is not to protect us, it is to protect others. If we all wear them, it is a win-win.

 
News from johnpatrick.com

Politics

Since I started writing my blog in 1995, I have never written about politics or voiced a political opinion. I have opinions like all of us, but I discuss them in quiet with friends, not in my blog. However, when it comes to voting, I have been taking an active position since my friend Tom urged me to write Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy in 2016. In all modesty, the book is becoming more and more relevant each day.

One of the things I wrote about was Ranked Choice Voting. The concept is to have open primaries where voters pick their top five candidates. They can be all from one party or each from a different party. In the general election, voters rank their choices. The method is intriguing and solves a lot of political problems. It is being used in Maine and momentum for it is building across the country. I watched an outstanding webinar on this subject last week.

It was called The Future of American Elections:Innovating for a more reflective government. The two presenters interviewed are experts and they discuss the subject in a non-partisan way. If you are at all interested to learn more about this new approach to democracy, I highly recommend watching it.

Ballot Fiasco Continues

As we approach November, the paper ballot stories will get more and more exciting, to put it mildly. It is clear the votes will not all be counted by midnight on November 3. It may take weeks, and possibly longer based on legal challenges. I am hoping things will be orderly and people will understand the process. Facebook is doing a good job to provide education. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have personally donated $300 million to the States to help them prepare. 

I will be doing a third video webinar about mobile voting and will be discussing paper ballot issues. The webinar will be at 7pm on Wednesday, September 30, 2020. The Zoom event is open to anyone from anywhere in the world. The event will be hosted by Danbury Library and you can sign up here.

Apple iOS 14 for iPhone

The new Apple software released on Wednesday is really great. Many new improvements, especially in privacy. They are really distinguishing themselves from Facebook and Google in this regard. The new updates include a bunch of stuff you can do to change how your home screen on the iPhone works. There will be a flood of Widgets which allows you to see more at a glance and select apps very easily. You can create Smart Stacks of widgets on your home screen that automatically rotate. It takes some practice to get the hang of it, but I am finding it worthwhile. There are many articles which are helpful. For starters, I recommend this one.

Wall Street and the MAGFA Stocks

My MAGFA index, is now at a 23% share of the S&P 500. The five companies lost 11% of their value or $810 billion, still spectacularly high, but nothing goes straight up forever. The tech sell off may be partly a return toward reality but may also be related to Congress which has launched a bipartisan set of threats. Tesla, Uber, and Zoom were all up substantially. Tesla, now the world’s most valuable car company, hit another milestone. Its $400 billion value passed Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday. Barron’s reported there are only seven companies in the S&P 500 index worth more.

John’s MAGFA Market Cap (09/18/20 4:00pm ET)
 ClosingMarket CapLastChange in%
 PriceTrillionsWeekBillionsChange
Microsoft$200$1.5$1.6-$100-6%
Apple$107$1.8$2.1-$300-14%
Google$1,460$1.0$1.1-$100-9%
Facebook$253$0.7$0.8-$110-14%
Amazon$2,955$1.5$1.7-$200-12%
      
Total $6.5$7.3-$810-11%
      
S&P 500 8/31/2020
 $28.9$27.1  
      
MAGFA/S&P 500 22.5%25.3% -11%
      
Bitcoin$10,784$201.0$196.2$52%
      
Boeing$161$91$97-$6-6%
Royal Caribbean$65$14$15-$1-7%
Tesla$442$412$390$226%
Uber$37$65$59$610%
Zoom$439$125$104$2120%
Note: These five stocks and Bitcoin are in billions not trillions
     
     
     

Note: My father gave me the following investment advice many years ago, “Don’t give any, and don’t take any.” Wise man. I am not recommending buying or selling any of the stocks, startups, crypto, or indexes I write about.

As expected, the UBI post generated a lot of feedback.  I have appended a handful of the emails I received below (without identity). I agree with naysayers the UBI solution is far from perfect, but I continue to respond with, “What is your alternative?” There is a high probability millions of jobs will be eliminated, so what do we do?

One factor to consider is overall federal, state and local government safety nets. The 13 federal safety net programs such as food stamps, earned income credits, and other direct subsidies to those in poverty, plus Medicaid, cost $971 billion in fiscal year 2018. Including state and local subsidies, it was more than a $trillion. The cost to give everyone in poverty an amount to bring them just above poverty would cost $172 billion. In 2019, taxpayers spent more than double that to help families and individuals below the poverty line. Could it be the cost of administering the 13 federal programs and dozens of state and local programs is excessive? Is it possible a UBI would be less expensive? Following is the feedback from people I know to be very smart and thoughtful.

John, 
UBI.  There is more and more being written about this approach to a social parachute.  Some years ago I actually listened to a businessman and a labor leader agree on the subject. Now with thousands of evictions looming, UBI may be arriving on a broad scale in 2021.

Hi John,
I think a UBI makes sense although it makes less sense for people earning
say, >75.000/yr.  I would like to see more money spent on rebuilding this
country’s infrastructure and on attempts to mitigate the impending
catastrophe of climate warming   That would include, of course, eliminating
the use of fossil fuels for all energy needs….increasing solar, wind and
atomic (see small atomic devices for individual cities, increased
battery storage, etc.  The problem could well be the lack of necessary
workers.  All these projects should pump a huge amount of money into
the economy and tax revenue.

John, you are right that something has to be done here. I’m not sure either. I know my dad was writing about this in the 50s!  He was a speechwriter for Henry J Kaiser and could see that automation was the future of manufacturing, but what about customers if there were many fewer workers to earn a wage?  And he worried about the leisure time. Many social aspects of this besides the economic impact. Keep beating the drum. Thanks again,

Very interesting blog!!! Unfortunately you only gave the PRO side of the discussion and not the CON side.

    1) Very inflationary.. costing 2-4 trillion a year ….. Every year not just the COVID years. Bringing into play the Law of Unintended Consequences
     2) Lack of incentive to work which is very important to people’s psyche.( results of 2 Negative income tax trials( Seattle and Denver). Owen Cass a senior fellow at The Manhatten Institute says it would make work seem “optional”.
     3) you quote some proponents (Branson)  how about opponents  Bill Gates” we are not rich enough to give up work incentives”
     4) We’ve done a pretty good job being a capitalistic country to take up such a socialistic and communistic approach! Where we can name failure after failure ( Cuba, Venezuela etc)
     5) Has been tried in some studies ( besides Denver and Seattle) like Finland that showed “Disappointing results from the Finnish Basic Income Experience”
As Michael Sykes states ” In a UBI world ,those who choose to work will support those who choose not to- not those who can’t work but those who won’t… that’s not a world I want to live in”. Enjoyed the blog but very one-sided. Of coarse I guess that’s the purpose of blogs! 

John , thanks for your piece on the UBI. I believe the combo of AI and the pandemic will make the jobs and poverty problem serious as soon as we get tired of the current bailout programs. I worry that the UBI proposals for the most part are another simple solution to a very complex problem and don’t think many proponents are studying the results of todays safety net programs. Would love to see you do some writing on the secondary problems of what can we do to deal with the resulting lack of need for individuals to be productive members of society and dependent on the government for their livelihood. Thanks for your articles and best to you.

As always, a very thoughtful blog. I just posted this entry based on a recent essay by two of the co-leaders of MIT’s Work of the Future task force, whose final report comes out later this year.  One of the co-authors, David Autor, is one of the world’s leading labor economists.

Never thought I could support something like UBI but I’ve been thinking more positively about it recently.

Will UBI Follow The Pandemic?

From everything I have read, the looming recession, which some experts are calling a possible recession within a recession, is likely to permanently eliminate millions of jobs. Some economists see visions of 2008 and a long recovery to get lower-income workers back on their feet. If we are lucky, and a well-designed stimulus package emerges, perhaps the impact on workers will be buffered. Even if this optimistic case becomes reality, the long term outlook may turn out to be much worse. 

The impact of robots and AI varies greatly in different countries around the world. Unfortunately, in the United States, we will have a large number of people who lose their jobs. Some will be redeployed to similar positions. Some will be able to be retrained to qualify in new occupations. However, new AI technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are going to have a huge impact. For example, RPA will enable many old-fashioned paper-based or redundant processes to be eliminated. Forrester Research estimates RPA will cause the loss of 230 million or more workers worldwide, or approximately 9 percent of the global workforce.

I cannot think of an industry which is immune. Some pessimists believe nearly all radiologists will be replaced by an AI. Autonomous vehicles will impact millions of taxi, bus, and truck drivers. Robots are immune to viruses, and will flip burgers and deliver packages. I believe the pandemic will accelerate the pace of adopting robots. AI and robotics will create millions of new jobs, but I believe many more millions of people will end up with no job because there are no jobs available or they will end up with dead end low paying jobs. Those jobs won’t provide adequate income to sustain their home and family obligations. The hodgepodge of state, local, and federal government subsistence programs may help, but not sufficiently.

Some of the top dogs in the tech world are thinking about the impacts of robots and AI. They have ideas. Chris Hughes, the 36-year-old cofounder of Facebook, whose net worth is estimated at $500 million, believes the amount of money he received as a cofounder of Facebook is way out of proportion compared to his contribution to the company. He believes automation and elimination of jobs is going to increase income inequality. He believes the time has come to consider new and bold ways to make the economy work better for all Americans. He is co-chair of the Economic Security Project, which is a network of people committed to advancing the debate on unconditional cash and basic income in the United States.

The Economic Security Project believes, in a time of immense wealth, no one should live in poverty, nor should the middle class be consigned to a future of permanent stagnation or anxiety. Hughes believes a universal basic income (UBI) can help solve the inequality problem. He says his proposal could provide stability to every lower-middle income taxpayer by providing a monthly $500 supplement. He proposes to implement the supplement through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). You can find the details of how the EITC could pick up the tab in Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better. Hughes says his UBI proposal would cut American poverty in half. 

Although many politicians are not willing to take on the issue, pilot UBI programs are under way and may reveal whether the concept can be as beneficial as Hughes espouses. Stockton, CA is giving 130 residents $500 a month for 18 months through a program called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED). Stockton has experienced significant financial disarray, and one in four residents live below the poverty line. The 130 residents will receive a debit card which will get $500 applied to it each month with no restrictions on the expenditures.

The experiment will enable researchers to evaluate the following: how people spend the money, whether they spend more time with family, change jobs, quit jobs, get new jobs, whether health and healthcare are affected, and whether people perceive an improved quality of life. There will be many debates about what constitutes success for a UBI pilot program.

UBI has its opponents. Some say it is too expensive and doesn’t really solve the many problems of an evolving economy. Others say, instead of giving cash handouts, the government and companies should work together to create innovative training and redeployment solutions for those who lose their jobs due to automation.

Some tech billionaires have expressed support for UBI or expressed a view it is inevitable because there is no good alternative. I believe Richard Branson, the billionaire serial entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group, summed up the issue very well when he said,

With the acceleration of artificial intelligence and other new technology, the world is changing fast. A lot of exciting new innovations are going to be created, which will generate a lot of opportunities and a lot of wealth, but there is a real danger it could also reduce the amount of jobs. This will make experimenting with ideas like basic income even more important in the years to come.

At a Nordic Business Forum, Branson told Business Insider Nordic in Helsinki,

Basic income is going to be all the more important. If a lot more wealth is created by AI, the least the country should be able to do is that a lot of that wealth that is created by AI goes back into making sure that everybody has a safety net.

Sam Altman is the President of Y Combinator, a top Silicon Valley tech incubator. Altman is a self-made multimillionaire, and he has been vocal about why UBI is a good idea.

Eliminating poverty is such a moral imperative and something that I believe in so strongly. There’s so much research about how bad poverty is. There’s so much research about the emotional and physical toll that it takes on people. I think about the amount of human potential that is being wasted by people that are not doing what they want to do. I think about how great it would be to undo that. And that’s really powerful to me.

Y Combinator is leading an experiment to better understand UBI by giving residents of Oakland, CA cash supplements to see how the money affects behavior. 

Andrew Yang, 45, was a 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate. Mr. Yang was a tech startup entrepreneur for ten years but is a political neophyte. In 2012 Yang was called a “Champion of Change” and in 2015 he was named a “Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship”. He has a devoted following on Twitter at #yanggang. Yang believes one way to help soften the impact of automation is through use of a UBI, and this was a central part of his Presidential campaign. Mr. Yang’s proposal is for the Federal government to give each American adult a monthly check for $1,000, regardless of employment status or income. He has branded the proposed program the “Freedom Dividend.” The proposal would be funded by a Value Added Tax of 10 percent. The proposal would need Congressional support. The Wall Street Journal said it was a near certainty most politicians would balk.

Elon Musk, tech billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, said,

There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.

In May 2017, Mark Zuckerberg Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, addressed the graduating class of Harvard. He talked about the future and the idea of UBI, which he described as a standard base “salary” for each member of society. He said the idea of helping to meet basic needs regardless of the work someone does is worth exploring. He said,

We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.

There are many diverse points of view about the effects of robots and AI. A robot attitude suggests we should embrace the coming technologies because they will have the potential to make our lives better as I wrote in Robot Attitude. I believe this will be true in the short term. In the longer term, the technologies will likely cause disruption in most industries and heavily in some countries and a number of U.S. counties. 

Government intervention of some kind will be needed to protect the financial integrity of individuals and to keep families from being devastated financially by automation. Government and technology leaders need to anticipate these changes and work together to ensure the longer-term effects of automation are as positive as those in the short term. Calling UBI names is not sufficient. If not UBI, well-designed alternatives need to emerge sooner rather than later. 

News from johnpatrick.com

Ballot Fiasco Continues

 As we approach November, the paper ballot stories will get more and more exciting, to put it mildly. It is clear to me the votes will not all be counted by midnight on November 3. It may take weeks, and possibly longer based on legal challenges. I am hoping things will be orderly and people will understand the process. Facebook is doing a good job to provide education. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have personally donated $300 million to the States to help them prepare. 

I will be doing a third webinar about mobile voting and will be discussing paper ballot issues. The webinar will be in at 7pm on Wednesday, September 30, 2020. The Zoom event will be hosted by Danbury Library and you can sign up here.

Wall Street and the MAGFA Stocks

It was an interesting week for my MAGFA index, now at a 27% share of the S&P 500. The five companies lost $214 billion of value, still spectacularly high, but nothing goes straight up forever. Zoom was the star for the week after showing quadruple last year’s revenue for the quarter. The market value zoomed 23% to $104 billion.

John’s MAGFA Market Cap (09/04/20 4:00pm ET)
 ClosingMarket CapLastChange in%
 PriceTrillionsWeekBillionsChange
Microsoft$214$1.6$1.7-$132-8%
Apple$121$2.1$2.1-$35-2%
Google$1,591$1.1$1.1-$16-1%
Facebook$283$0.8$0.8-$27-3%
Amazon$3,295$1.7$1.7-$40%
      
Total $7.3$7.5-$214-3%
      
S&P 500 7/31/2020
 $27.1$27.1  
      
MAGFA/S&P 500 27.0%27.8% -3%
      
Bitcoin$10,608$196.2$212.8-$16,648-8%
      
Boeing$171$97$99-$2-2%
Royal Caribbean$72$15$15$00%
Tesla$418$390$413-$23-5%
Uber$33$59$59$00%
Zoom$370$104$84$2023%
Note: These five stocks and Bitcoin are in billions not trillions
     
     
     

Note: My father gave me the following investment advice many years ago, “Don’t give any, and don’t take any.” Wise man. I am not recommending buying or selling any of the stocks, startups, crypto, or indexes I write about.

One Step Closer To Artificial Eyes

It is widely believed the human body has approximately 100 organs. However, there is no universally standard definition of what constitutes an organ. Generally speaking, an organ is a collection of tissues joined in a structural unit to serve a common function. Our largest organ is our skin. Five organs are considered vital for survival, the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, and lungs. It is fair to say we can’t remain alive if any of the five stops working. Our life does not depend on them, but our eyes are organs vital to a normal life.

Unfortunately, organs are not perfect. They can wear out, get damaged, acquire a disease, or lose functionality due to any number of afflictions. Cancer is perhaps the most devastating. The progress of medical research has produced amazing treatment options over recent years. Traditionally, the options have been cut (surgery), burn (radiation), or poison (chemotherapy) the cancer. More recently, medical research has focused on the cutting edge of immunotherapy treatment where doctors can target markers on the cancer cells and cause the immune system to attack the cancer cells and destroy them.

Another approach, written about quite a few times in my blog, is regenerative medicine. For example, diseased liver tissue can potentially be replaced by using the patients pluripotent stem cells and 3-D printing to create tissue which can be implanted in the liver. The artificial parts of the printed tissue dissolves into the body and the stem cells become liver cells and grow into the diseased organ. Great progress is being made in this area. See Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare.

The ultimate solution in many cases in the future may be to completely replace a defective organ with an artificial one. Replacing defective joints has become commonplace. You can find stories in my blog about my experience in having my knee joint and shoulder joint replaced with artificial joints. In October, my other shoulder will become artificial. One more step toward becoming a bionic man, and another step toward the singularity. For more about the singularity, see
Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better. 

I don’t know for which of all human organs it would be most difficult to create an artificial replacement. The human eye is a likely candidate. An international team of scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has been working on the challenge for almost ten years. The team has recently had a breakthrough and has developed the world’s first 3D artificial eye with capabilities better than existing bionic eyes. Existing artificial eyes are basically spectacles with external cables. They do allow the wearer to see something on a computer screen, but the 2D resolution is poor. 

The Electrochemical Eye (EC-Eye) developed at HKUST, replicates the structure of a human eye for the first time. The breakthrough is a 3-D artificial retina constructed from nanowire light sensors. The nanowire sensors mimic the photoreceptors in human retinas. A research experiment replicated a visual signal transmission of what the artificial eye sees and displayed it on a computer monitor. The complexity of what has been created is mind-boggling. See picture above.

The researchers believe the artificial eye will ultimately have sharper vision than a human eye, and offer additional functions such as the ability to see in the dark. The first beneficiary of the artificial eyes will likely be humanoid robots, but ultimately, the artificial eyes will offer new hope to millions of patients with visual impairment.

Prof. Fan Zhiyong and Dr. Gu Leilei from the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering at HKUST have been working on this research for nine years. They are collaborating with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The next step will be to connect the nanowires to the human nerves and create vision in the brain. Many enhancements are needed, but this is not science fiction. I believe the medical capabilities we see in the next 10 years across all areas of medicine will far exceed what we saw in the last 100 years. 

Note: You may wonder how big is a nanowire. A nanowire has a dimension on the order of a nanometer. Visualize a human hair. One hair could contain 65,000 nanowires. If you think of the relationship between one mile and one inch, one mile is 63,360 inches. A human red blood cell is 6,000-8,000nm across,  and the diameter of the coronavirus is 50-100nm.

Source: World’s first spherical artificial eye has 3D retina — ScienceDaily

Scientists have developed the world’s first 3D artificial eye with capabilities better than existing bionic eyes and in some cases, even exceed those of the human eyes, bringing vision to humanoid robots and new hope to patients with visual impairment.

 

 
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