China's Huawei books record sales in its smartphone business

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd said on Thursday its consumer business sales exceeded a record $52 billion in 2018, on strong demand for its premium smartphones, even as it continued to face heightened global scrutiny of its activities.

The head of Huawei’s consumer business group, Richard Yu, speaks during a presentation in Beijing, China, January 24, 2019.REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The jump of around 50 percent in the technology giant’s consumer business revenue saw that unit replace its carrier business as its largest segment by sales, Richard Yu, the head of the consumer division, said in Beijing.

Huawei last month flagged that total revenue in 2018 rose 21 percent to $109 billion without providing a breakdown of segment performance.

Huawei on Thursday also unveiled its first 5G base station chipset called Tiangang as well as its 5G modem Balong 5000, which it described as the most powerful 5G modem in the world.

Yu said it was the world’s first 5G modem that fully supports both Non-Standalone (NSA) and Standalone (SA) 5G network architecture.

The firm has been using its chipsets in its high-end phones and server products, though it has said it has no intention to become a standalone semiconductor vendor that competes against the likes of Intel Corp and Qualcomm Inc.

Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecommunications equipment, has been facing intense scrutiny in the past year over its relationship with China’s government and U.S.-led allegations that its devices could be used by Beijing for spying. The firm has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Some countries such as the United States and its allies, including Australia and New Zealand, have restricted Huawei’s access to their markets.

The firm’s finance chief Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, also daughter of its founder, was arrested in Canada last month at the behest of the United States.

She has been released on bail but is still in Canada as the United States pursues her extradition on allegations she defrauded banks with Iran-related sanctions. Huawei has denied wrongdoing.

Reporting by Sijia Jiang in HONG KONG and Cate Cadell in BEIJING; Editing by Christopher Cushing

Google, Facebook spend big on U.S. lobbying amid policy battles

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google disclosed in a quarterly filing on Tuesday that it spent a company-record $21.2 million on lobbying the U.S. government in 2018, topping its previous high of $18.22 million in 2012, as the search engine operator fights wide-ranging scrutiny into its practices.

FILE PHOTO – The outside of the Google offices is seen in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

In its filing to Congress on Tuesday, Facebook Inc disclosed that it also spent more on government lobbying in 2018 than it ever had before at $12.62 million. That was up from $11.51 million a year ago, according to tracking by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Google’s spent $18.04 million on lobbying in 2017, according to the center’s data.

Google and Facebook declined to comment beyond their filings.

U.S. lawmakers and regulators have weighed new privacy and antitrust rules to rein in the power of large internet service providers such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.com Inc. Regulatory backlash in the United States, as well as Europe and Asia, is near the top of the list of concerns for technology investors, according to financial analysts.

Microsoft Corp spent $9.52 million on lobbying in 2018, according to its disclosure on Tuesday, up from $8.5 million in 2017 but below its $10.5 million tab in 2013.

Apple Inc spent $6.62 million last year, compared to its record of $7.15 million in 2017, according to center data going back to 1998.

Apple and Microsoft did not respond to requests to comment. A filing from Amazon was expected later on Tuesday.

Google disclosed that new discussion topics with regulators in the fourth quarter included its search technology, criminal justice reform and international tax reform. The company is perennially among the top spenders on lobbying in Washington along with a few cable operators, defense contractors and healthcare firms.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai, who testified in December before a U.S. House of Representatives panel for the first time, has said the company backs the idea of national privacy legislation. But he has contested accusations of the company having a political bias in its search results and of stifling competition.

Susan Molinari, Google’s top U.S. public policy official, stepped down to take on an advisory role this month.

Facebook said discussing “election integrity” with national security officials was among its new lobbying areas in the fourth quarter. The filing said the company continued to lobby the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating its data security practices.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Sonya Hepinstall

Logitech raises FY outlook after gaming-powered third quarter

FILE PHOTO: Chief Executive Bracken Darrell of the computer peripherals maker Logitech gestures during an interview with Reuters in Zurich, Switzerland March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

(Reuters) – Logitech International SA raised its full-year profit outlook on Tuesday, after strong growth in its gaming hardware business helped the computer peripheral and mobile speaker maker beat third-quarter expectations.

The Swiss-U.S. company got a boost from strong sales of its gaming products such as superfast keyboards, headphones and computer mouse used in multi-player online games like League of Legends and Fortnite.

Logitech’s diverse portfolio drove double-digit growth across gaming, video collaboration and creativity & productivity, said Chief Executive Officer Bracken Darrell.

The company now expects its fiscal year 2019 non-GAAP operating income to be between $340 million and $345 million, up from its previous guidance of $325 million-$335 million.

Logitech expects sales to grow between 9 percent and 11 percent in constant currency during the fiscal year, which runs to the end of March.

The company had raised its guidance earlier in July, following big increases in sales of its products used in video collaboration, gaming and for computer tablets.

For third quarter ended Dec. 31, net income rose to $112.8 million, beating forecasts of $99.3 million in a Reuters poll of analysts.

Net sales rose 8 percent to $864.4 million in the quarter, traditionally Logitech’s biggest sales period, beating forecasts of $852 million.

Sales from its gaming business rose 23 percent to 213.7 million.

Reporting by Rishika Chatterjee in Bengaluru and John Revill in Zurich; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier

An Astonishing 773 Million Records Exposed in Monster Breach

There are breaches, and there are megabreaches, and there’s Equifax. But a newly revealed trove of leaked data tops them all for sheer volume: 772,904,991 unique email addresses, over 21 million unique passwords, all recently posted to a hacking forum.

The data set was first reported by security researcher Troy Hunt, who maintains Have I Been Pwned, a way to search whether your own email or password has been compromised by a breach at any point. (Trick question: It has.) The so-called Collection #1 is the largest breach in Hunt’s menagerie, and it’s not particularly close.

The Hack

If anything, the above numbers belie the real volume of the breach, as they reflect Hunt’s effort to clean up the data set to account for duplicates and to strip out unusable bits. In raw form, it comprises 2.7 billion rows of email addresses and passwords, including over a billion unique combinations of email addresses and passwords.

The trove appeared briefly on MEGA, the cloud service, and persisted on what Hunt refers to as “a popular hacking forum.” It sat in a folder called Collection #1, which contained over 12,000 files that weigh in at over 87 gigabytes. While it’s difficult to confirm exactly where all that info came from, it appears to be something of a breach of breaches; that is to say, it claims to aggregate over 2,000 leaked databases that contain passwords whose protective hashing has been cracked.

“It just looks like a completely random collection of sites purely to maximize the number of credentials available to hackers,” Hunt tells WIRED. “There’s no obvious patterns, just maximum exposure.”

That sort of Voltron breach has happened before, but never on this scale. In fact, not only is this the largest breach to become public, it’s second only to Yahoo’s pair of incidents—which affected 1 billion and 3 billion users, respectively—in size. Fortunately, the stolen Yahoo data hasn’t surfaced. Yet.

Who’s Affected?

The accumulated lists seem designed for use in so-called credential-stuffing attacks, in which hackers throw email and password combinations at a given site or service. These are typically automated processes that prey especially on people who reuse passwords across the whole wide internet.

The silver lining in Collection #1 going public is that you can definitively find out if your email and password were among the impacted accounts. Hunt has already loaded them into Have I Been Pwned; just type in your email address and keep those fingers crossed. While you’re there you can also find out how many previous breaches you’ve been a victim of. Whatever password you’re using on those accounts, change it.

Have I Been Pwned also introduced a password-search feature a year and a half ago; you can just type in whatever passwords go with your most sensitive accounts to see if they’re out in the open. If they are, change them.

And while you’re at it, get a password manager. It’s well past time.

How Serious Is This?

Pretty darn serious! While it doesn’t appear to include more sensitive information, like credit card or Social Security numbers, Collection #1 is historic for scale alone. A few elements also make it especially unnerving. First, around 140 million email accounts and over 10 million unique passwords in Collection #1 are new to Hunt’s database, meaning they’re not just duplicates from prior megabreaches.

Then there’s the way in which those passwords are saved in Collection #1. “These are all plain text passwords. If we take a breach like Dropbox, there may have been 68 million unique email addresses in there, but the passwords were cryptographically hashes making them very difficult to use,” says Hunt. Instead, the only technical prowess someone with access to the folders needs to break into your accounts is the ability to scroll and click.

And lastly, Hunt also notes that all of these records were sitting not in some dark web backwater, but on one of the most popular cloud storage sites—until it got taken down—and then on a public hacking site. They weren’t even for sale; they were just available for anyone to take.

The usual advice for protecting yourself applies. Never reuse passwords across multiple sites; it increases your exposure by orders of magnitude. Get a password manager. Have I Been Pwned integrates directly into 1Password—automatically checking all of your passwords against its database—but you’ve got no shortage of good options. Enable app-based two-factor authentication on as many accounts as you can, so that a password isn’t your only line of defense. And if you do find your email address or one of your passwords in Have I Been Pwned, at least know that you’re in good company.


More Great WIRED Stories

Huawei Canada executive leaves post as scrutiny of company grows

NEW YORK/OTTAWA (Reuters) – One of Huawei Canada’s top executives on Friday disclosed he was leaving his post after more than seven years with the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, which is facing heightened scrutiny over security issues from Canada and its allies.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei Canada Vice President of Corporate Affairs Scott Bradley stands outside after the B.C. Supreme Court bail hearing of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was released on a $10 million bail in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Scott Bradley disclosed his departure as the company’s senior vice president for corporate affairs in a post on LinkedIn that did not give a reason for the move. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Huawei Technologies Co is under intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with the Chinese government and U.S.-led allegations that its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying.

On Friday, sources told Reuters that Poland arrested a Huawei employee and former Polish security official on spying allegations, a move that could fuel Western concerns about the security of the company’s technology.

Bradley was a key public spokesman for Huawei Canada, which has been under the spotlight since Canadian authorities in December arrested the chief financial officer of its parent company at the request of the United States.

Huawei is a major supplier of telecommunications equipment in Canada, where Bradley had served as chair of the 5G Canada Council, a national trade group promoting adoption of next-generation high-speed wireless technology.

The Canadian government last year launched a new security review of Huawei’s 5G technology, which at least two major Canadian carriers have said they plan to test in small-scale pilots.

Bradley will serve as special adviser to the company, assisting the company “as required,” Huawei Canada President Eric Li said in a memo to staff that was obtained by Reuters.

“We are saddened to see him leave but grateful for the tireless work he has put in to help us grow our brand and public image, and build various relationships with government,” Li said.

Bradley confirmed on LinkedIn that he intended to advise the company.

“As we start 2019, it is time for a change,” Bradley said in the post. “I continue to believe passionately in all of the values our Canadian team represents, and I believe that our team is one of the most innovative in the world.”

Jim Finkle in New York and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Tom Brown

Ockam provides easy to deploy identity, trust, and interoperability for IoT developers

Featured stories

Maybe you’re not going to buy a $7,000 smart toilet, but the Internet of Things (IoT) is on its way to your home and office. Silly gadgets aside, IoT device inventors face many programming challenges. It’s hard adding identity, trust, and interoperability to IoT hardware. The Ockam startup will change this for the better.

Customers want IoT devices to be trustworthy and work with other vendors gear. Programmers know that’s easier said than done. Many IoT vendors’ answer is to not bother to add sufficient security or interoperability to their gadgets. This leads to one IoT security problem after another.

Ockam’s answer is to make it easy to add identity, trust, and interoperability by providing programmers with the open-source, Apache-licensed Ockam Software Developer Kit (SDK). With it, developers can add these important features to their devices without a deep understanding of secure IoT network architecture or cryptographic key identity management.

Also: Internet of Things (IoT): Cheat sheet TechRepublic

This is provided by a Golang library and a Command Line Interface (CLI). Additional languages, features, and tools will be supported in future releases.

Once properly embedded within a device’s firmware, the Ockam SDK enables the device to become an Ockam Blockchain Network (OBN) client. OBN provides a decentralized, open platform with high throughput and low latency. It also provides the infrastructure and protocols underpinning Ockam’s SDK.

Devices are assigned a unique Decentralized ID (DID). The DID is cryptographically secure identities for an array of entities. While used primarily to identify devices, it can also represent people, organizations, or other entities. With this, developers can codify complex graph relationships between people, organizations, devices, and assets.

Once on OBN, devices can can share data as verified claims with any other registered network device. This is secured by Ockam-provided, blockchain-powered Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).  Devices can also verify data that they receive from other registered OBN IoT devices. OBN is free of charge for developers until its general availability release later this year.

This may all sound complex, but the complexities are hidden away behind its serverless architecture: A developer only needs the SDK. OBN’s complications, such as PKI, are abstracted away.

Some of Ockam’s structure may sound familiar. That’s because it’s taking a page from Twilio. Just like Twilio provides a common layer between telecommunications infrastructure and developers, to make it easy to incorporate messaging into applications, Ockam provides a “common rail” for adding secure identify to IoT devices. With a single line of code, Ockam enables developer to provision an immutable identity to a device.

Also: 7 ways to use Alexa around the office CNET

OBN is built on Microsoft Azure confidential compute. Microsoft Engineering is a dedicated technical partner, and Ockam CEO Matthew Gregory led Azure’s open-source software developer platform strategy.

Together, Ockam and OBN provides a backbone for the next generation of high performance IoT ecosystems. Ockam is interoperable and built for multi-party IoT networks. So, in theory, your devices will be able to work with other vendor’s gear.

According to Yorke Rhodes, co-founder of blockchain at Microsoft Azure: “Ockam’s team is best in class, bringing together skills and experience in enterprise, IoT, secure compute, scale-up, and Azure. We are thrilled to be collaborating with them on their innovative solution for the IoT developer community.”

I don’t know about “thrilled,” but I do know if I were building IoT devices, which I want to work and play well and securely with other devices, I’d be working with Ockam. It promises to make high-quality IoT development much easier.

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Start-ups hopeful as China readies Nasdaq-style tech board

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s ambitions for a Nasdaq-style board for start-ups have galvanized the country’s tech companies who are hopeful they can sidestep complex IPO hurdles and access easier funding.

FILE PHOTO: Investors look at computer screens showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

The surprise announcement for Shanghai’s planned “technology innovation board” by President Xi Jinping in early November paves the way for a lower listing threshold, potentially scrapping a requirement that aspiring companies must be profitable.

For Beijing, the move is seen helping to counter U.S. curbs on its technology companies and may draw the next generation of high-tech firms to list at home. Some of China’s best known brands such as e-commerce firm Alibaba Group and gaming and social media giant Tencent Holdings have listed in New York and Hong Kong.

Last year, Chinese companies raised $64.2 billion globally – almost a third of the worldwide total – via initial public offerings (IPOs), but just $19.7 billion of that came from listings in Shanghai or Shenzhen, according to data from Refinitiv, compared with $35 billion in Hong Kong.

The intense interest in the new board, even before rules are finalised, underscores the significance to private Chinese companies of having an alternative source of funding.

“Our business is in the field of network information security and coding technology, and we’re regulated by the (Communist) Party. So we cannot receive foreign capital or list overseas,” said Tan Jianfeng, Chairman of PeopleNet.

“The new board is a very good (funding) opportunity for companies like us, and we have plans to list there.”

According to the Hurun Report, China had 181 unicorns at the end of September, surpassing the United States as the country with the biggest number of start-ups worth at least $1 billion.

SPRING IS COMING

Since plans were unveiled by President Xi, officials have been scrambling to draw up detailed rules, expected to be published this month, with the aim of launching by June, the 21st Century Business Herald reported.

The new tech board, to be set up by the Shanghai Stock Exchange, will include a registration system – in effect removing official control of the IPO process that has for years produced a stop-start pipeline of listing candidates with a waiting time measured in years not months.

The board is also expected to allow listings from companies yet to make a profit – a common practice in tech-heavy markets such as New York and, more recently, on Hong Kong’s main board.

“For the venture capital industry, spring is coming. But I hope the spring is enduring, not a short-lived one,” said Andrew Qian, chairman and CEO of New Access Capital, a Shanghai-based investment and financial advisory firm.

    Qian has recommended 11 prospective firms, or a sixth of his portfolio, to the Shanghai government, which will pick the city’s first batch of candidates to go public on the new tech board. Forms have been distributed to start-ups by various government bodies probing their appetite to list.

The excitement, however, has stirred memories of China’s previous tech-friendly efforts that drove Shenzhen’s tech-heavy ChiNext board to dizzying heights in 2015 before the broader market’s spectacular collapse.

But unlike its rival boards, ChinNext continued to slide and has lost around 38 percent over the past two years, compared with about 11 percent for the blue-chip CSI300.

The New Third Board, an over-the-counter market for start-ups begun in 2006, has also fallen out of favour with investors and is struggling to generate interest as liquidity runs dry.

Bankers said IPO candidates may still be carefully scrutinized to protect investors.

“You need to pay attention to a company’s core technologies…if a pig farmer wants to list on the tech board, you need to screen it out, unless it makes epoch-making breakthroughs in breeding technology,” said Liu Guangfu, investment banking director at TF Securities.

Zhang Yu, executive director of China Equities at UBS Asset Management, warned that stocks on the board could easily become the target of pump-and-dump, because “many investors in China are not mature enough”.

DaoCloud, a Shanghai-based cloud computing start-up that has not yet broken even, said the new board meant it was considering an earlier IPO. It had planned to list around 2021 on ChiNext, which typically requires two consecutive years of profit.

“The launch of the new tech board is good news to us,” said Roby Chen, founder and CEO of DaoCloud, but he too is wary of bubble risk as many provincial governments begin mobilizing start-ups to prepare for listings on the new board.

    “I’m quite worried. In China, when something like tech becomes a hot topic…it’s easy to become bubbly.”

Editing by Jennifer Hughes and Jacqueline Wong

Before You Quit Your Day Job for a Startup, Make Sure You Can Answer These 7 Questions

I’ve heard pitches from more than 20,000 entrepreneurs over the last two decades.  The top question I’m asked (other than “Will you invest in me?”) is, “Is my idea any good?”

Wantreprneuers from far and wide track me down to get my blessing before they quit their well-paying job to start a startup. Over the decades and in conjunction with other angel investors and venture capitalists, I’ve developed a seven-question list that potential founders should ask themselves before coming to ask me.

If your answer to all seven of these questions is “yes,” your idea is probably excellent. If not, you have some work to do.

1. Are you obsessed with the industry, customers, or problem?

Successful founders love what they do. They would learn about the industry, customer segment or problem even if they weren’t being paid. To be successful, you must be obsessive about your startup opportunity.

The difference between obsessive and caring is quite large. Caring is a given, and it’s not enough. Being obsessive means that you think about something dozens a time a day. If you aren’t obsessive, you won’t be able to accumulate the insights needed to garner strategic advantage–insights that only come from focusing on something for thousands of hours. 

2. Can you build the solution? 

Ideas are worthless until combined with relentless execution. You must be able to execute both your idea and your product. At the very least, you need to be able to create a prototype or minimum viable product, something you can get into the hands of early adopters and generate early proof of concept traction.

3. How elastic is demand?

Pain killer or vitamin? Cost saver or revenue generator? The best opportunities solve unmet market needs where demand is inelastic. This yields better margins in the long run and quicker traction in the short run.

Your opportunity must satisfy a need, not a want. A need is something you can’t live without. Air, water, and food are the classic examples. A want is something you can live without, like fancy shoes or expensive cars.

As the price of wants go up, demand for them peters out. Startups that satisfy needs will always have easier times attracting early adopters and generating revenue. 

4. Is the market large and growing?

Today, the market for anti-hacker security is hot. The market for thoroughbred horseshoes is not. Why focus on a small win? You’re investing your blood, sweat, and tears. Make sure the win is worth it.

By the way, the risk is actually much greater when you focus on a niche. Since you have less pool to swim in, you have less chance to learn through iteration. Always focus on bringing your solution into a market that is large and growing. It’s OK to start with a niche, but there must be lots of room to grow.

5. Are you exponentially better?

If you’re entering an extant market, you’re automatically at a disadvantage with sunk costs and less brand recognition than your competitors. To overcome that, you must be ten times faster, cheaper, stronger, and lighter than every other company in your industry to get people to switch from incumbent products.

Netflix killed Blockbuster by offering ten times the quantity of content at one-tenth the cost. Your solution must be exponentially better than any alternatives.

6. Are you ready to go all in? 

Design thinking and the Lean Startup method allow you to start most businesses as a side hustle. Your long-term goal still needs to be full time, all the time, all in. No one has ever changed the world with half measures.

7. Do you have frictionless access to early adopters?

Early adopters are customers who have the problem you solve, and are currently trying to solve that problem with a radically less efficient method. Before spell-check software, we used third party proofreaders, which were ten times more expensive and time consuming.

To be successful, you need a clear and low cost to get early adopters and turn them into your beachhead. Make sure you’re able to get your product directly to customers.

Samsung, Huawei supply majority of own modem chips, Qualcomm says

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) – The two largest smart phone makers in the world supply a majority of their own modem chips to help their devices connect to wireless data networks, according to evidence presented at an antitrust trial for chip supplier Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O).

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Qualcomm is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

A trial between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Qualcomm kicked off in a federal courtroom in California on Friday, with the regulators arguing that Qualcomm engaged in anticompetitive patent licensing practices to preserve a monopoly on modem chips. The case is being closely watched because it may shed light on the likely eventual outcome of the global legal battle between Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Qualcomm.

Apple has alleged that Qualcomm engaged in illegal business practices, and Qualcomm in turn has alleged Apple violated its patents, scoring victories in China and Germany last month.

Qualcomm has argued its licensing practices follow long-established industry norms and that it charges broadly the same licensing rates that it had for many years before it ever started selling chips.

That has become a big market for Qualcomm, which controlled 59.6 percent of the $15.3 billion market for 4G modem chips in 2017, according to IDC’s Phil Solis, who studies mobile chips for the research firm.

But Bob Van Nest, an attorney representing Qualcomm in the case, also sought to show that Qualcomm is not dominant in the world’s two biggest handset makers.

During opening arguments, Van Nest’s presentation said that Huawei [HWT.UL] internally sources 54 percent of the modem chips it puts in its devices and gets only 22 percent of its modems from Qualcomm, with the remainder coming from other unnamed makers. Samsung (005930.KS) internally sources 52 percent of the modem chips it uses, with 38 percent from Qualcomm and the rest from other makers, according to the presentation.

Huawei and Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Also, the FTC’s case centers not on the overall modem chip market – which includes slower chips that go into cheaper handsets – but rather the market for speedy “premium” chips where Qualcomm is among the only options.

Huawei and Samsung are both large diversified technology corporations that make many other products aside from premium-priced smart phones. Huawei’s HiSilicon unit supplies the chips for its high-end phones such as its Mate and P series. Samsung’s chip division supplies processors and other components for many of its handsets and is also a dominant global supplier of memory chips beyond its own products.

The two firms are also Apple’s fiercest rivals in the market for premium smart phones costing $700 or more. Apple depends entirely on Intel Corp (INTC.O) and Qualcomm for modem chips, though the iPhones released in 2018 use Intel modems exclusively.

Technology news publication The Information last month reported here that Apple was designing its own modem chip, citing Apple job listings and a source briefed on Apple’s plans. Apple declined to comment on its plans.

For the second quarter of 2018 – the most recent figures available from IDC – Apple was the third-largest smart phone supplier by volume, with Samsung and Huawei in first and second place, respectively.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by James Dalgleish

The Simple Engineering That Will Keep NYC's L Train Rolling

Ever since the last of the brackish water slithered out of the Canarsie Tunnel in the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, New Yorkers have been bracing for the pain. Public transit officials have long warned that the water damage to the 94-year-old tunnel, full of just-as-old subway equipment, would eventually require a long, painful, deeply inconvenient rehabilitation. That’s the tunnel that runs under the East River, carrying many of the L subway train’s 400,000 daily riders from popular Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick into Manhattan.

The surgery was scheduled for April 2019, when the stretch of L train that takes New Yorkers across Manhattan and into Brooklyn was scheduled to shut down for a 15-month repair job. Ahead of what they officially deemed the “L-pocalypse,” local officials created piles of plans to ramp up bus service, encourage biking, and run new ferry routes, and everything else they could think of to keep all those commuters from taking to cars and making already bad traffic fully catastrophic.

Those plans (as well as wilder ones proposed by concerned citizens) became a lot less necessary Thursday morning, when Governor Andrew Cuomo called a surprise press conference to proclaim that no, the L train won’t close completely, and yes, it will still be fixed for the future.

The new plan for the next few years is to keep the train open and running as normal during weekdays, whilst doing repairs on nights and weekends (the details remain fuzzy). The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, has yet to adopt the new plan, which was proposed by a commission of half a dozen engineers based at Columbia and Cornell Universities that Cuomo assembled last month, two years after the decision was made to close the line. But the agency put out a press release Thursday afternoon saying it “accepted the recommendations.”

Curious politics are clearly at work here, but New Yorkers are unlikely to care, as long as the subway keeps running. And if it does, it’ll be thanks to two bits of subway engineering infrastructure: benchwalls and cable racking.

Let’s start with benchwalls. If the train stopped in the tunnel and you had to get out, these are the stretches of concrete, running along each wall and resembling big benches, that you’d be walking on. Facilitating emergency exits is one of their main functions—without them, you’d have to jump out of the train, onto the ground and risk hitting the third rail. Benchwalls also hold most of the goodies that make the subway work, including the power and communications cables. When workers were building the line, which started service in 1924, putting the cables in the concrete was the best way to protect them from things like hungry rats and water damage.

Over the past century, those benchwalls have started to deteriorate, a process accelerated by the flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Explaining its full shutdown plan in 2016, the MTA said the tunnel’s bench walls “must be replaced to protect the structural integrity of the two tubes [east and west] that carry trains through the tunnel.”

Replacing these things involves jackhammering away concrete, removing the rubble, replacing the cabling inside, setting new concrete, and having it dry. It’s work you can’t do overnight or on weekends, because any one section takes several days. And you can’t run trains without leaving a walkway to lead people to safety in an emergency.

The new plan involves giving those benchwalls a bit of a demotion. They’ll still be used for emergency egress, but they won’t hold the cables anymore. Instead, the L train will use a “cable racking” system, in which new power and comms lines will be strung up and attached to the sides of the tunnel, above the benchwalls. Turns out, their protective jacketing has advanced since the Prohibition Era. “We’ve had tremendous progress in materials,” says Peter Kinget, a Cornell electrical engineer who served on the panel. , If the jacketing catches fire, it doesn’t produce noxious fumes. It’s impervious to vermin and H2O, obviating the need for the concrete armor. The workers will also shore up the sections of benchwall that are crumbling with fiber reinforced polymer, Cuomo says, leaving the old, inactive cables entombed inside.

That decoupling of the benchwall’s duties is a big deal, because it makes the work much easier to execute. You can cut back service at night and on weekends (by running trains in just one of the tunnel’s twin tubes) and have workers slip underground, setting up the racks and new cables segment by segment. During normal hours, the train operates as it usually does, pulling power from the cables already in the benchwalls. Once the work is done, the MTA will switch the trains over to the new set of cords.

Cable racking has been used for new metro lines in London, Hong Kong, and the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Cuomo says. This would be its first use in the US, and the first time it’s been used to fix up an existing line.

“It’s a clever solution,” says Matt Cunningham, a civil engineer and global director of infrastructure for Canadian engineering firm IBI. It’s cheaper and easier than replacing all the cable-filled benchwalls, and it’s a proven method. “It’s going to work.”

Which brings up the unanswered question of why this idea is just surfacing now. Why not before the MTA decided on the full shutdown, then spent two years preparing for it? It makes Cuomo the politician who averted the traffic-spewing L-pocalypse—but it also makes one wonder why he didn’t come to the rescue earlier. (He’s been governor of New York since 2011.) In his press conference, he presented this as new solution, which is true if you compare it to the techniques used to build the subway in the previous century, but not if you take a slightly narrower view. “It’s not new technology that’s only now become available,” Cunningham says.

Of course, limiting service during nights and weekends to make this fix will still inflict some suffering, and the MTA has a terrible record of mismanaging this sort of operation, so any promises about deadlines or costs should be doubted. “You’re not getting a root canal on five teeth, you’re getting a root canal on three teeth,” says Allan Rutter, of Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute. “There’s gonna be pain.”

In infrastructure as well as in dental surgery, you’ve got to accept some drilling and discomfort. But less is definitely more.


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Netflix Just Made a Truly Insane Announcement on Twitter. (But Wait. It Might Actually Be Brilliant)

Now, Netflix has another big tweet — this time making an announcement about the insane social media challenge that the Netflix movie spawned. And if the first time people reacted with disbelief, this time they’re reacting with awe, because it’s truly brilliant.

The movie, if you haven’t seen it, stars Sandra Bullock, and involves some kind of supernatural power that tracks her and her children. The only way to escape it, is to blindfold themselves and rush to safety.

This being 2019 (happy new year by the way), if you combine a viral piece of entertainment with a weird physical twist, you get a challenge that goes viral: people doing (or pretending to do) all kinds of dangerous things while being blindfolded, and posting them to social media. 

Emphasis on dangerous, of course. My colleague Chris Matyszczyk has a perfect example.

Netflix, naturally, took to Twitter (where else?) to warn people to dial it back:

Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don’t know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in the hospital due to memes.

Now, here’s the thing. There’s viral, and then there’s “Netflix tweets about it viral.”

Because as The Washington Post reports, some of the #BirdBoxChallenge videos didn’t actually have that many views until after Netflix posted its tweet.

But once Netflix said things were dangerous: Look out.

Within 24 hours after the tweet, the Netflix warning has another 54,000 retweets and 271,000 likes — all of which adds even more publicity to the big hit the company already has. 

It all adds up to something pretty amazing. On the one hand, Neflix has done the super-responsible thing and asked its viewers not to behave dangerously while posting online homages to Netflix’s super-popular movie.

And on the other hand, Netflix is also pouring gasoline on the fire and ensuring that even more people pay attention to the challenge, the movie, and Netflix itself.

I’ve reached out to Netflix to ask for context. No reply yet. While we wait, let’s just reflect on the challenge, the tweet, and the fact that insanity and brilliance so often seem to be two sides of the same coin.

That, and also how whomever posted the tweet for Netflix started out by saying, “Can’t believe I have to say this…” instead of the corporate “we.” I kind of love that.

Saudi Arabia Won't Be the Last Country to Censor Netflix

When news broke on New Years Day that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had censored an episode of the Netflix series Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj that’s critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it wasn’t a surprise. An outrage, yes. But not a surprise.

Saudi Arabia has a long history of censorship and human rights abuses, and the anti-cybercrime law the kingdom says the episode violated dates back to 2007. And though the rise of bin Salman was greeted by the US and Silicon Valley with enthusiasm, his reforms (women are finally allowed to drive) have come alongside continued abuses (hundreds of women “disappeared” for their activism). But the Netflix incident is also indicative of the pressures tech companies face beyond Saudi Arabia amid a global trend toward digital authoritarianism that shows no sign of slowing.

Minhaj, an American comedian, devoted an episode of his show to the Saudi regime on October 28, weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its embassy in Istanbul. The CIA later concluded that bin Salman directly ordered the hit on Khashoggi. “But he has been getting away with autocratic shit like this for years with almost no blowback,” Minhaj says during the show, and suggests that after years of human rights abuses, it’s finally time for the US to reassess its relationship with the strategic ally.

The episode was available to watch in Saudi Arabia for two months, until Netflix took it down last week in response to a request from the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission. Officials allege that the episode broke Article 6 of its anti-cybercrime law, which criminalizes the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of materials impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information Network or computers.” The episode is still available to watch on Netflix outside Saudi Arabia.

“Free speech and the free flow of information are heavily restricted in Saudi Arabia by way of laws, institutional and cultural norms, and various other mechanisms of social control,” says Ellery Biddle, advocacy director at the free speech nonprofit Global Voices. “There have been robust efforts to restrict public knowledge and perception of the Khashoggi case, so it’s not surprising that this happened.”

Critics admonished Netflix for complying with the kingdom’s request to take down the comedy show. “By bowing to the Saudi Arabian authorities’ demands, Netflix is in danger of facilitating the Kingdom’s zero-tolerance policy on freedom of expression and assisting the authorities in denying people’s right to freely access information,” Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns, said in a statement.

Netflix defended its action, pointing out in a statement that it only took down the episode after the kingdom sent the company “a valid legal request.” Netflix, like most American tech companies, goes to great pains to comply with local laws in order to operate globally.

The situation with Saudi Arabia is a notable portent for the near future if the rest of the world continues its slide toward digital authoritarianism. That slide, a decade in the making at least, is becoming precipitous. A recent report from the nonprofit Freedom House noted that at least 17 countries have proposed or passed regulations curbing free speech online since June 2017. Egypt passed a law banning any websites “deemed to threaten national security,” and people who visit such sites can be jailed for up to a year. Iran, where Netflix became available only two years ago, strengthened its internet censorship laws last year, too, with new rules about what can be posted in messaging apps. Tunisia introduced a bill to criminalize defamation online. The list goes on. All of this leads to an internet that is less free and more balkanized, where each nation has different rules—and where companies like Netflix will face the question of how, or whether, they can ethically operate in some markets.

“It’s now clear that as digital streaming services launch in new markets, governments will treat them in the same manner they regulate the local film or television industry,” says Adrian Shahbaz, lead author of the Freedom House report. “That means that in countries where the authorities have little regard for freedom of expression, companies will come under increasing pressure to censor political, social, or religious content they wouldn’t normally worry about under US or European law.”

While Netflix’s removal of the Minhaj episode has drawn criticism, it is not the first time the company has taken down shows in certain countries. It removed three episodes of different shows in Singapore that allegedly violated a law against positive portrayals of drug use. But generally, Netflix says, the company makes all its global originals available in every country where it operates and only removes shows if legally required to do so in the jurisdiction.

Shahbaz says that Netflix’s response to the Saudi takedown request was in line with an emerging set of best practices for companies dealing transparently with such censorial pressure. “They should state precisely what law they are complying with, what piece of content is being removed, and what steps they’re taking to ensure the action has the smallest possible impact on human rights,” he says. “From what I can tell, Netflix has done those three things fairly well. They’ve stated the law and episode in question and complied by taking the most minimalistic action available to them—censoring only that one episode and only within Saudi Arabia.” He also notes that the company left the episode up on its YouTube channel.

If Netflix didn’t comply with such requests, the site could be blocked entirely. “Unlike in a democracy, where a company can appeal an unjust order using the courts, companies face far fewer options in a place like Saudi Arabia: essentially, either comply or risk being banned,” notes Shabhaz. That’s obviously bad for the company’s bottom line, but it would also curtail access to information. Saudi Arabia, for instance, had a prohibition on all public movie screenings until just last spring (it lifted the 35-year ban just in time to screen Black Panther), making Netflix a crucial way for people to watch television, movies, and documentaries. “On balance, I think it is more important for Saudis to have some access to the service than none at all,” says Biddle.

That kind of complex trade-off is what companies like Netflix face when navigating local laws around the world. (It’s even trickier for social media companies, who don’t have Netflix’s control over the content uploaded onto their sites, but still have to comply with local laws.) Netflix doesn’t operate in China, since it has not been able to square its platform’s model with China’s strict content rules.

More than an issue of Netflix acquiescing to Saudi pressure, this incident underscores the power and appeal of local laws that determine the kinds of materials allowed online. Although the takedown appears to have drawn more attention to Minhaj’s criticisms—“Clearly, the best way to stop people from watching something is to ban it, make it trend online, and then leave it up on YouTube,” the comedian tweeted—the impact of such laws goes far beyond a single episode of a Netflix show being forced offline. People are thrown in jail, silenced, even murdered; they’re prevented from accessing vital information. “The Saudi government only confirmed what Hasan Minhaj so brilliantly argued—that the crown prince’s so-called ‘reform agenda’ is smoke and mirrors at best, or as is increasingly becoming clear, actually represents a further deterioration of political freedom in the country,” Shahbaz says.

In what would be his final column, published posthumously in The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi wrote, “There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet.” The title of his column: “What the Arab World Needs Most Is Free Expression.”

Countering oppressive regimes and laws requires collaboration between civil society, tech companies, and democratic nations willing to fight for digital freedoms. For the US to take the lead in advocating for an open internet, it would need to do what Minhaj asked in his show: stop turning a blind eye toward the abuses of an ally.


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The Day Apple Dreaded: iPhone Sales Falter in China and the Company Revises Sales Down

Trading on Apple shares was halted as the company warned of much lower sales than the guidance it had issued just two months ago. A punishing holiday season turned into lower than expected iPhone sales, which are the economic engine of the company. After-hours trading immediately sent shares down by more than 7 percent.

The guidance issued at the company’s last earnings announcement was for revenue between $89 billion and $93 billion, expenses of $9 billion to $9.1 billion, and gross margins between 38 percent and 38.5 percent.

The new guidance pegs revenue expectations at $84 billion, sharply below the low end of the previous estimates. Gross margin will be roughly 38 percent, at the low end of the previous range. Total expenses will be about $9.25 billion, or above prior estimates.

The earnings announcement for the holiday quarter won’t happen for a few weeks yet.

According to a letter from Tim Cook to investors, there are multiple reasons for the cut. He said that the company knew the timing of its iPhone launches could be a problem, shifting back as they did by a fiscal quarter. The number of launches was complex and caused logistics problems getting everything built and shipped. In addition, a strong dollar made overseas sales costlier for buyers.

But those were constraints on the top end of sales. The big issues were “expected economic weakness in some emerging markets.” Specifically, the big slowdown was in Greater China. “In fact, most of our revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline, occurred in Greater China across iPhone, Mac and iPad,” the letter said.

At the heart was a slowing economy in China, in part likely because of the trade war with the U.S., but also a result of purely internal problems in the country. Whatever the balance, the result was “fewer iPhone upgrades than we had anticipated.”

Cook went on and tried to put some shine on the situation, pointing to almost 19 percent year-over-year growth in the combination of services, Macs, iPads, and wearables and other products. But while good for the future, that doesn’t matter.

Apple faces what happens to many businesses, particularly smaller ones. They become prisoners of one product line or a particularly big customer. When that happens, all you can do is try to diversify, because the day will come when the source of money trips and what was a profitable dependence begins to hit financial results.

Apple has tried to do that, but none of the new growth comes close to the magnitude of the iPhone contribution. And China was supposed to be the new engine of growth when none of the other product lines–iPads or Watches–showed itself possessing the potential once shown by the company’s smartphones.

The 10,000 Foot View of Your Business You Must Take Before Picking a Software System

That’s so vague, and that’s exactly the reason why so many companies struggle to make meaningful process working “on the business”, year after year. Let me help to clarify these confusing terms, and give you the direction that you need to make a dent this year.

The “system” is the tool that you use to get the job done. It could be a big piece of machinery, but for most of us, it is the different software tools that your company runs on.

“Processes” are the sequence of steps that you and your team take to do the work — the actions, regardless of the system. The problem is, too many entrepreneurs start with the system.

Instead of focusing on how you manage a client project, you focus on how the project management tool works.

You can get lost in a sea of software, and end up jumping ship from one to the next chasing features that may or may not matter to your business. But, if you understand your process first, it’s like going to the grocery store with a list, and not an empty stomach.

I was working with a retail store once that used spreadsheets to manage their inventory, credit card terminals for each sale, PayPal for online transactions, handwritten sheets for their packing lists, and a bloated database tool for customer information. Instead of stepping back and looking at the business as a whole, they solved one problem at a time with another software, creating a complicated mess of their operations.

It shouldn’t be so hard. Whatever industry you’re in, here’s how to fine tune your process first to make sure you’re investing in something that can stick. 

Map your process.

Break out the sticky notes! I’ve banned those little yellow clutter-causers from my office, except for when we’re working on processes. Then, we break them out of their special hiding place and go nuts!

If you don’t have sticky notes, use a whiteboard or a blank sheet of paper, and draw each linear step in your product fulfillment or service delivery process. Each step (or sticky) should represent a significant step in your process. So, combine small things like “open this URL” and “go to this page” and “enter this password” into something broader like “log into online store.”

Your core company process should stretch from how you attract prospects, close a sale, onboard the customer, deliver the product or service, collect payment, and and continue to engage the customer. 

Find your bottlenecks.

The simple act of writing out the steps of your process is bound to surface some inefficiency. Where in your process are there bottlenecks — or slow downs — today? Where are there too many handoffs where information or tasks could flow more seamlessly from one person or department to another?

Now, you don’t need to fix your entire process in one sitting. That isn’t the point. But, you do want to identify where you have some work to do. These inefficiencies or areas for improvement could be supplemented or solved with the right system. You are building your shopping list. 

Become a ‘manual’ master.

A client hired me once wanting to build a custom software for a new way to facilitate meetings. The idea was full of assumptions about how the users would behave, and what problems they were trying to solve. 

Instead, I suggested that he use index cards to replicate the functionality manually, and offline, for a full month before we quote out the software. That way he could validate some assumptions before investing a dime in a custom software project. The idea was dead a weak later, and he saved a lot of money. 

Similarly, think of the software tools and systems that you invest in a way to improve the efficiency of your manual process, not a gamble on a brand new, untested way to work.

Scale with a system.

Now, with a proven manual process and a wish list of requirements, you are ready to go system shopping. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the thousands of tools available. If you’re software shopping, check out review sites like Capterra an G2Crowd, or maker communities like Product Hunt to see how each system is differentiated before diving into demos. 

With hardware, consider renting a device before making a big purchase, or talking to another customer that is successfully using the equipment. 

The system you ultimately select should increase your capacity by eliminating bottlenecks and making your proven process more efficient. Your process shows you generally how to get from point A to point B, like a path through the woods. As you test that process, the “path in the woods” gets more and more defined, and perhaps you invest a little in clearing the leaves and branches, or building stairs on a steep hill. 

When do decide to build a highway from point A to point B — your system —  you should be confident in the path, and eager to increase the traffic down the route. 

The 10 Most Googled People of 2018 (Who'd You Look Up?)

There’s perhaps no better log of what’s on your mind than your browser search history. (Who hasn’t deleted their search history on a shared computer?)

It stands to reason, then, that getting a window into our collective psyche is as simple as perusing Google’s list of most-searched terms of the year. Google recently released The Year In Search–a comprehensive breakdown of everything we searched for this year, organized by category.

So what was on our minds in 2018? When it comes to people, these individuals were. Don’t worry–if you don’t know one … I Googled it for you:

10. Cardi B

American rapper whose standout hits include Bodak Yellow and this year’s breakout, I Like It, which currently has 674M streams on Spotify and counting. 

9. Stormy Daniels

Her legal name is Stephanie Clifford, and she is an American stripper, porn star, and director who got into a legal battle with Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen this year. Trump and company paid Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet about an affair she says had with Trump in 2006.

8. Hailey Baldwin

Daughter of Stephen Baldwin, she’s a model and TV personality who married Justin Bieber this year. While legally married, the couple has yet to stage a large-scale wedding with family and friends.

7. Brett Kavanaugh

A polarizing figure, Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court this year following what some described as an excruciating and exhausting battle for confirmation. Multiple allegations of sexual misconduct were levied against him. 

6. Jair Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October, 2018. A very right-wing figure, many have compared him to Trump.

5. Khloé Kardashian

Younger sister of Kim Kardashian, Khloe nearly broke the internet this year when she had her baby girl, True Thompson, in April 2018.

4. Logan Paul

On December 31, 2017, controversial vlogger Paul uploaded a YouTube video showing the corpse of a suicide victim. The video gained 6.3M views within 24 hours, sparked outrage on many fronts, and almost cost Paul his YouTube channel. Paul has since been reinstated on the platform and contributed $1M to suicide prevention agencies.

3. Sylvester Stallone

Stallone did not die this past year, but a lot of people feared otherwise. In February, popular searches included “Sylvester Stallone dead 2018” and “Did sylvester stallone die.” The countries where the hoax was passed around the most? South Africa, Ghana, and Bolivia (the U.S. came in 22nd on the list of Stallone searches).

2. Demi Lovato

A Grammy-nominated musical artist, Lovato was hospitalized this year for a suspected overdose. “I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction,” Lovato said on social media. “What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet. I will keep fighting.”

1. Meghan Markle

Markle married Prince Harry in a royal wedding this year, the guest list of which included Serena Williams, George Clooney, Oprah, Elton John, and the Spice Girls.

This Evening of Food Theater Goes Beyond Inspiring Innovation. It's a Master Class in the Art of Possibility

Entrepreneurs and other creators want to innovate, to create meaningful new things that people love. Once in a while someone delivers at an extraordinary level, devoting themselves to expressing themselves so personally and authentically that they inspire us to seek greatness in ourselves to share.

I was fortunate enough to experience such a leap forward–unexpectedly and contrary to my expectations, as I’ll explain. I’m not a restaurant critic, nor a musician, but an evening at an innovative dining establishment in Culver City, California, has me convinced that its proprietor, Jordan Kahn, may be a Mozart of food. Stay with me. 

My goal is not to praise Kahn or his establishment, Vespertine, whose name is derived from the Latin vesper, “of the evening” or “evening star.” Few readers will be able to experience Vespertine in person. As a teacher and writer on leadership and initiative, I’m compelled by my experience to share how, even in a field such as fine dining, combed over for novelty for generations, even centuries, dimensions of new possibility are available.

Envisioning the Scope

If you lived in the time of Bach, could you have imagined a Mozart opera or Beethoven symphony? Very few could. It took Mozart and Beethoven to create them. 

To say that the later musicians added new dimensions to music takes nothing from Bach as an artist. I love the Brandenburg Concertos and always will, but Mozart’s operas involve many more instruments, many more performers of different types (singers, players of instruments, a conductor), architectural design, ornate sets, wardrobes of clothing, and the contributions of teams of people, many geniuses themselves, who devote careers to deliver a complete, comprehensive work–performers, architects, financiers, carpenters, and others.

Every great artist cares about every detail, but Mozart added dimension and scope of type of details to care for. Earlier generations could not likely have envisioned the scope.

The Paris Opera House and New York’s Lincoln Center are not just other buildings to play music in and seeing an opera in a great opera house is not just hearing some music. It’s an event. An evening at a world-class opera or symphony will affect you for years, maybe the rest of your life. I remember operas I saw in decades ago. The experience begins months before an evening’s performance, before buying the ticket. You learn about the event, its history, the artists. You see how it fits into your life. You accommodate it.

It unfolds in countless ways beyond “just” the music: How you arrive at the venue, walk up the entry stairs, interact with other patrons, are greeted and directed by staff, applaud, and so on.

Mozart’s operas required vision and execution beyond Bach’s and his contemporaries’. We can’t compare Bach to Mozart as artists–each is unique–but we’re glad Mozart did what he did. No one wants music to stagnate with later composers fiddling around the edges of what Bach nearly perfected.

Experiencing Added Dimensions

Kahn’s Vespertine is a Mozart opera amid Bachs in the culinary arts.

To say you ate dinner at Vespertine implies a regular restaurant experience, which it isn’t. An evening at Verpertine involves more dimensions, evolving in space, time, color, sound, and more. It involves the whole building. You actively move from room to room and floor to floor, unpuzzling food you remember seeing prepared as you passed the kitchen an hour or two before. The architect’s voice matters. The manufacturer of the bowls and the land from which its materials were mined matters.

Every great chef pays attention to every detail. Kahn added dimensions and scope of type of detail. The experience begins months before, with research and figuring out how to fit it into your life, figuring out what to expect from articles like this one. It unfolds in countless ways beyond “just” the food, and stays with you for a lifetime.

Composition in the Culinary Arts

I’ve long marveled how the same elements–color, shape, line, form, rhythm, melody, and composition, for example–apply in different arts with parallel meanings. A novel or poem contains rhythm as a song does. Composition involves space in painting, time in music, and multiple dimensions in sculpture, yet we recognize the same underlying meaning of composition.

Before Vespertine, I hadn’t noticed culinary artists using all those elements. Composition might mean how the chef arranged food on a plate or designed a room and matching menu. At Vespertine, it involves more. It uses elements I’m not aware of chefs using, as Mozart expanded beyond the limits of his time.

One early hint in my evening: When making reservations, I mentioned that I was staying within walking distance and could meet my companion at Vespertine. They suggested we arrive by car together–the valet and greeter receiving us would be part of the experience. They were, as was the space where we waited outside, the temperature of the furniture we sat on that chilly evening, the sight lines to Vespertine the building (the restaurant uses the entire several-story building, which reveals itself throughout the evening), the scents, the garden, the first tastes of the evening, how we entered the building, and how we came to expect the evening to unfold.

The night unfolded in distinct scenes and acts, using elements in time and space, with rhythm and melody, of color, form, shape, and composition. Kahn told a story beyond what I thought a restaurant could.

The Evening Begins

I’m risking florid language because of how my evening began, when I was predisposed to dislike the experience. As a New Yorker, I learned of Kahn and Vespertine while researching food and sustainability panelists at an industry event in Greenwich Village a few months before.

Online, I read Kahn’s interviews in which he said he transformed food so you couldn’t tell where it came from. I prefer my food minimally processed, to show off the vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and all the ingredients for their innate beauty and taste. I’ve been known to describe processing or covering food with salt, sugar, and fat with such as “assaulting” or “molesting” it.

I found the videos on the site over the top. I didn’t see the point of talking about the building in interviews so much. I could go on, but I wasn’t that interested in seeing more.

Things changed at the food and sustainability event. Each panelist talked about revenue models, funding sources, and other business first, taste second. Kahn wasn’t a panelist. He came on after and prepared food, interactively, describing each ingredient’s origin, its place in nature, its role in sustainability, his experiments to learn it, how and why he processed each as he did, the point of his combining them, and other parts of his craft. His presentation struck me as more honest than rehearsed, from the heart as much as from the hands and head.

Experiencing the ingredients transformed–yes, processed, but the opposite of assaulted–after knowing why, then tasting the results revealed a different purpose to the processing, based in caring and personal expression. The result told a story in flavors and textures over time of tart, sour, sweet, crunch, chewy, oil, crisp, and so on. He didn’t process to cover, hide, or assault, but, in my view, to express his appreciation for the plants, fungi, and microorganisms that went into a simple dish.

I felt I experienced art amid businesspeople. Since I knew I would visit L.A. a few months later, I began looking into an evening there. The place seats only 22 people per evening.

The Evening

The actual experience began with a lunch at Kahn’s casual restaurant across the street, Destroyer, whose layout is more mainstream, though its open kitchen allowed me to see Kahn and his team at work and to speak briefly. Vespertine, the building, was visible, but mysterious. What was the relationship between its style and the food that Kahn’s videos and interviews described?

About 24 hours later, my companion picked me up from around the corner, and we arrived. After the aforementioned welcome, the staff walked us in, told us to take the elevator up, to where Kahn greeted us, standing before another open kitchen, or area of food preparation, because it didn’t look like a kitchen. What his team was preparing, I couldn’t guess from looking. He walked us up more stairs, giving more view of the floor.

A staff member sat us at a bench. The staff alternated between bringing us food, giving us space, serving neighbors, explaining what was in the food, and answering questions. The descriptions created as much mystery as they answered. The dishes, utensils, and napkins were various shades of black, their textures various shades of earth. There was rhythm between the architectural design and clothing, between seeing the food prepared an hour before its presentation, and between the periods of sitting and walking to new rooms.

There was line, shape, color, and form also in time and space, not merely physical lines of the tables or walls, but of the experience. Every restaurant composes the food on the plate. Vespertine’s composed our countless and various interactions–walking, talking, eating, listening, overhearing, climbing, descending, entering, exiting, and so on–into a composed, curated, orchestrated evening.

Each dish was a character in its scene, with a back story giving it depth, development to carry me forward, relationships with every other character, and plot twists to keep me interested. How the giant kelp was served related to the spruce about 10 courses later. The split cone from which emerged a hidden garden (I can’t explain it better) resonated with the open sphere I spelunked to find submerged treats beneath subterranean pools of frankly I don’t know what.

Every dish was presented simply, yet became complex as you broke it open, cracked the surface, sought the ingredients the server mentioned, and otherwise solved what Kahn and his team riddled for you. Initial discoveries yielded new mysteries, which yielded delights, wonderment, and fun. Each scene stood on its own while arising from the scene before and propelling to the next. That is, each dish, absent the rest of the Vespertine experience, was delicious, harmonious, and the equal of any dish I’ve had at any ordinary restaurant, as each Mozart song would stand on its own.

It would be a mistake to think the food, wine, and service dominated the evening. On the contrary, despite the artistry, it prompted and supported meaningful reflections and conversation. Great art adds to, not distracts from life and relationships. For all its artistry, Vespertine didn’t overpower but nourished.

Over a dozen courses later–a story with many plot twists–we left, amid curtain calls of tastes, scents, and staff members as we traversed and explored the outdoor garden nearby which we entered.

I received an email reminding me of some of the evening’s players: giant kelp, sea lettuce, burnt onion, black currant, salsify, abalone mushrooms, concord grape, tradescantia (a wildflower), rose apple, almond, radish, yam, smoked soy, salted plum, leek, rose, begonia, pumpkin, guava, sunchoke, lovage, parsnip, juniper…that’s about half the list.

I’m writing these words six weeks after the event. The writer in me felt challenged to communicate the experience authentically and accurately, and it took this long to digest.

General Electric: My Best Stock Pick For 2019

General Electric (GE) has been the worst performer in my portfolio this year, by far. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that 2019 will be a much better year for the industrial company, and I believe investor pessimism with respect to GE has seen its low in 2018. General Electric is my top rebound bet for 2019 that could produce high risk-adjusted returns for investors. Though GE could test its most recent lows, the risk/reward remains very attractive as long as General Electric is out-of-favor.

A Year In Review

It was a devastating year for General Electric: The company continuously disappointed investors throughout 2018 with poor earnings, the announcement of an SEC investigation with respect to the company’s insurance reserves, a scrapped dividend, and the appointment of yet another Chief Executive Officer. To top things off, General Electric has so far failed to restructure its ailing power business which is in a prolonged slump. Adding insult to injury, General Electric’s stock got booted from the Dow Jones Industrial Average earlier this year, too.

On the back of such developments, General Electric’s share price slumped 58.3 percent this year, making it the worst performing investment for a lot of investors.

Testing New Lows?

Market volatility roared back in the fourth quarter with a vengeance. On the back of deteriorating investor appetite and decreasing investor confidence in the U.S. economy, stocks have corrected sharply to the downside since October. General Electric’s shares, for instance, dropped to a devastating 52-week and multi-year low @$6.66. Two years ago, GE traded at ~$30.

Though GE is now longer oversold, and managed to bounce back up to $8 in December, shares could very well test this year’s lows in case investor sentiment takes another hit. Should GE fall through its latest lows, this would point to more downside for GE’s stock over the short haul.

Source: StockCharts

GE In 2019

General Electric will focus on three major businesses going forward: Aviation, Power and Renewables, which will make up GE’s new core business.

The power business, which brought in ~$35 billion in revenues in 2017, will be the center of investors’ attention in 2019. GE took a $22 billion impairment charge in its power division in the third quarter of 2018, and investors will closely monitor management’s progress with respect to the restructuring. Should GE’s new management be able to turn things around in light of a weak gas turbine market (and in the absence of a U.S. recession), investor sentiment could gradually recover and improve prospects for share price appreciation.

In any case, General Electric will not be the same company in the future that it is now. General Electric will execute on its strategic actions plan in 2019 that calls for a healthcare spinoff and the divestiture of its stake in Baker Hughes, an oil field services company General Electric bought in 2016.

Here’s GE strategic action plan:

Source: General Electric

There are also more asset sales in the cards for 2019. General Electric has loosely guided for $20 billion in asset sales, and the company could step its divestiture game up next year in order to shed underperforming businesses and raise cash. Together with the dividend, General Electric could potentially invest billions of dollars in new growth initiatives in sectors such as aviation, digital and renewable technologies. In 2018, for instance, General Electric sold its rail business to Wabtec in a $11.1 billion deal and agreed to sell its Distributed Power Business to private equity company Advent International for $3.25 billion.

Valuation

General Electric is dirt cheap, and has a very attractive risk/reward, in my opinion. Though downside risks exist with respect to both the U.S. economy and General Electric’s ability to restructure its power business, GE’s shares are priced for disaster, selling for less than nine times next year’s estimated earnings.

Chart

GE PE Ratio (Forward 1y) data by YCharts

General Electric has widely underperformed its peers in the sector, Honeywell International (HON) and 3M Company (MMM), especially since October.

Here’s how GE compares against its industrial peers in the sector in terms of forward P/E-ratio. GE’s earnings multiple today is about half the earnings multiple of its closest peers.

Chart

GE PE Ratio (Forward 1y) data by YCharts

Risk Factors Investors Need To Consider

There are three major risk factors that could affect the investment thesis negatively:

1. General Electric fails to turn around its power division, and, as a result, cash flow and margin problems continue to weigh on GE’s financial performance and investor sentiment in 2019;

2. A U.S. recession (should it manifest itself) could hit GE’s cyclical industrial businesses, such as aviation and oil & gas, hard;

3. Should GE’s stock price fall below the most recent low at $6.66, more downside looms over the short haul.

Your Takeaway

General Electric is taking massive action right now, and there are reasons to be optimistic and give management time to execute on its turnaround plan. Management is super focused on driving this restructuring home, and will leave no stone unturned to show improved capital efficiency going forward.

Honestly, I can’t see how things could get much worse from here, and GE’s shares are already priced for disaster. So much bad news is already baked into General Electric’s valuation that the industrial company can almost only surprise to the upside in 2019.

GE remains widely out-of-favor, which points to huge recovery potential next year as investor sentiment could gradually shift if GE’s financial performance improves. I am prepared to add to my long position if GE drops below the latest low at $6.66. GE is my top stock pick for 2019.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GE. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

3 Ways to Eliminate Self-Doubt

I specialize in confidence training and research, which means I have an interesting view into the minds and thoughts of numerous high-level individuals with a significant level of wealth, fame and success–and most struggle with negative self-talk. I’ve heard it described as a megaphone playing your deepest doubts and fears at the moment you are about to take the greatest leap of your life.

Negative self-talk happens to everyone. It is a fear-based reaction that is designed to protect you from the “threat” of potential failure. I’ve struggled with it–and I’ve developed accountability strategies that limit the megaphone in my mind from drowning out my optimism.

Hopefully, they help you too. Here are three ways to eliminate negative self-talk once and for all:

1. Stop confirming your fears .

I gave a talk at a university recently where I discussed the impact of confirmation bias for founders. I discussed how fear is an emotional response to moving forward in unknown territory without knowing the outcome. As a result, we look for data and information that support our fears, and remain paralyzed by the thought of challenging ourselves.

Fear has a natural kinetic reaction to language. Avoid words and phrases which imply doubt and skepticism, so you can challenge yourself to avoid confirming your fears. Phrases such as “what if I can’t,” “I don’t know how,” or “I don’t think I can” are disabling to your confidence. The most powerful illusion of negative self-talk is what we chose to believe.

2. Focus on the life you desire, not the challenges you’re facing.

I believe in proximity and visualization. Most of the professional aspirations that I have focused on, I have achieved. I understand it may seem a bit cliche, but it’s the story of my life.

A while back, I wrote an op-ed about Steve Harvey. It launched a thought into my head: I want to appear on his talk show. I began following his journey and other charity work. I visualized myself on his show. A year later, the producers from the show called.

It’s not that simple all the time. Here’s the secret: If you focus on your challenges, you will continue to feed your own limitations. Your language will begin to reflect your reality, rather than the optimism of the journey ahead. Your language and vision will set the intention for your growth as a leader. Focus on what’s ahead. 

3. Network with other established founders and leaders  .

Find the time to fill your calendar with networking events to meet established founders. You will gain the assurance that you are not alone and gain the confidence to continue moving forward.

You may think you don’t need this, or you already have it. You do need this, and you should always seek out more of it.

Avoid events that don’t fit your goals. Gaining the sound advice from people who have overcome challenges and achieved a level of measurable success is an effective way to change your relationship with doubt.

Your presence “in the room” has a lasting and powerful impact: It mutes the noise in your mind. Socializing outside of your comfort zone will reprogram your mind to believe that your goals are possible, while providing you with a person to reference who has achieved what you want to do.

Advice for New Managers: Meet Your People As Soon As Possible

I had a client who hired a brand-new director to manage an eight-person team. Three weeks into the job, the new director still hadn’t met everybody on their team. He had eight peopleHowever, when we checked in with him, he was “upset” that his boss had only met with him once, and for half an hour. Self-perspective…

We live in a global world where companies have people all over the world reporting to one another. But if you’re in a domestic situation in your first month of employment, there isn’t an excuse to not meet with your reports. If you can’t get on a plane, use technology. It’s easy in today’s day and age. And if you’re international, you should set a timeline, either six months or a year, to meet with everybody; all of your direct reports all over the globe. It sends a positive message to people.

Establish time parameters for these meetings. Tell people, “Hey listen. I’ve got a cramped schedule. My boss has me running around like crazy. However, I wanted to make sure that I got 15 minutes with you to introduce myself and to hear any tidbits of wisdom you can lay on me or areas of frustration you’re experiencing. Then, depending on where it goes, we can have a follow-up with some other people to make sure that we’re moving forward.”

Use your empathy skills, and ask yourself, “What would happen if I had a new boss, and a month, six months or a year went by, and he or she never took the time to meet me. How would I feel?” Remember, people are the most important asset you have. If you’ve got hundreds or thousands of people under you, you might choose to meet them all in a big town hall-type forum, but again, what you do and how you do it sends a message. Doing nothing sends an even louder message.

If you like this post, follow @TomGimbel for more.

Saving Your Retirement From A Stock Market Crash

Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. The advice given below is not a financial advice, even though my excitement might make it look like such. In fact, what follows below are just my thoughts, those of an ordinary person who works hard and tries to save and invest as sensibly as he can.


I received a call from a 59-year-old gentleman, a distant relative, yesterday. We have not met in the past two decades, so the sudden call was surprising. But it was not after the first minute of our talk when he asked, “I’ve heard from your aunt that you work in the stock market. I wanted to discuss my investments. Can you please help?”

“Hmmm… sure,” I said, almost sensing that he wanted to discuss his stock portfolio with me. But he started talking about his upcoming retirement – planned for 2019 – and about a plot of land sitting in his hometown waiting to build his retirement home next year.

He said he had been saving and investing as much money as he could for his retirement and for building this home. He had almost 90% of his money invested in stocks and equity funds, a lot of those bad decisions – and mis-selling by his advisor and broker – as I realized on knowing his portfolio. The stock market’s recent volatility – and especially in the banking and finance space, where my uncle is invested heavily – has made him lose around 30% of his portfolio value in a span of just a few weeks.

Now, this discussion is not about banking and finance stocks, how good/bad they are, and how quick/long they would take to recover. This discussion is about lessons from how my uncle’s retirement seems to have gotten compromised at least for another few years, thanks to the decline in his stock portfolio less than a year from his retirement, and how you may avoid a similar fate when you stare your own retirement on the face.

My uncle told me how the recent dip in his portfolio brought back some painful memories, like from 2008, when he had seen his retirement portfolio lose around 50% value. At the time, while he was more than a decade away from retiring, the decline in portfolio value was still a significant portion of his total family savings.

He now worries it will be harder to recover another big loss so close to retirement. “It’s impossible to try and time the market,” he told me. “To sit there and watch your investments fall apart is hard, but if you take it out and it goes up, that’s not good either. It’s hard!”

* * *

I am not a financial advisor, but when people ask me how much money they should invest in stocks versus other avenues like bonds and fixed deposits, etc., my response is consistent – “It depends on when you need the money.”

My general rule of thumb is that any money that you need in less than three years (maybe five years, if you so want) must be protected as far as the core capital is concerned. You are not seeking growth here but safety. And thus, this kind of money may be kept in liquid funds, fixed deposits, and some part cash. Don’t invest this money in the stock market, because if the tide turns for the worse during this period (like it had done for my uncle), your financial life and retirement may get compromised.

Any money you need between the third and fifth year from now may be invested in stocks/MFs versus bonds/FDs in a ratio of 50:50 (again, choose your own ratio based on your comfort levels).

This leaves us with money that is needed beyond the next five years. This may be invested fully in equities. History has proven that equity returns improve with an increase in holding periods. So, the probability is on your side when you invest your long-term money (needed beyond five years) in equities.

You may also divide this long-term money into two separate buckets. The first bucket could be the money you need between the fifth and tenth years of your retirement, say between 65 and 70 years of age (assuming you will retire at 60). This money could be invested in high-quality, well-diversified mutual funds or high-quality, stable businesses that provide not just the possibility of some growth but, more importantly, capital preservation.

As for the second bucket of your long-term money, which you will require beyond ten years from retirement, you can be more aggressive and invest that part in high-quality mid- and small-cap stocks and/or funds. Here, the risks you take will be higher than the first bucket, but the probability of growth is higher too. Just that you must ensure that you don’t buy businesses that may lose you capital permanently here too. This is a non-negotiable, even when you extend your investment horizon.

The idea of such allocation across buckets is that the more time you have before you need the money, the more aggressive your investment strategy. You may probably live another fifteen to twenty years or more after you retire, leaving you more than enough time to ride out not one, but multiple stock market crashes. So why not take advantage of the potential time on hand?

However, that’s not a mandatory thing. As Warren Buffett has said, “It’s insane to risk what you have for something you don’t need.”

* * *

Let’s move ahead from the allocation part to a bit about cash flows.

Having enough cash on hand to avoid withdrawing funds during severe market declines can be reassuring to people in or close to retirement. That means if you are three years away from retirement, a good rule of thumb will be to keep one year of expenses out of the market and then increase that for every year closer to retirement you get.

So, by the time you retire, you will have three years of expenses as cash in hand. Combining this with the allocation part mentioned above, keep this cash safe in liquid funds, fixed deposits, and some part cash.

I am assuming here that we don’t have a period of negative equity returns that extends beyond three years. So, with three years’ cash in hand and the market crashing around the time you retire, you don’t need to touch that money and can live off the cash. And replenish the three-year buffer every year.

(All that I have mentioned above assumes that active income stops coming in after you retire, which is true in most cases. But then, starting a part-time work or a second career that does not take a toll on your time and can be managed easily is a great idea. Just ensure that you don’t become a full-time investor.)

* * *

If you’ve still got more than a decade to go before you retire, you can follow the above-mentioned rules too. Both in terms of allocation and cash flows. Just that you can be more aggressive in terms of allocation to (high-quality) equities, as doing so would likely increase the long-term growth potential of your savings – which could increase your chances of achieving a secure retirement even more.

Also, save more, especially if you’ve been delaying it and effectively relying on market gains to compensate for your savings deficit in recent years. Markets have no obligations to carry your bidding.

When you save more, you create for yourself a buffer to deal with big declines in the stock market and your portfolio value and raise the chances of success back to where it was before the market setback.

The bottom line is this: You can’t predict when a bull market will stumble or know for certain how severe the ensuing bear market will be. No one can. But giving your retirement planning a stress test before the market slumps and thinking rationally about how to react will put you in a much better position to weather any crisis than making decisions on the fly while you’re under duress.

Hope this makes some sense.

Grande Arrival: The Year Digital Native Pop Stars Took Over

Within the first 24 hours that Ariana Grande’s music video for “thank u, next,” went live in late November, it broke the internet. Well, sort of. YouTube reported that comments on the video, an extended homage to rom-coms like Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Bring It On, and 13 Going on 30, were delayed from posting—likely due to the record-setting 55.4 million views Grande garnered as she bopped from one re-enactment to the next. Grande’s response, though, wasn’t elation or even concern: it was a practiced online apathy so palpable you could almost see the eye roll.

The dispassionate tone continued over the next day. “true love might exist i was just hungry,” she tweeted at one point. No caps, no comma, no period. Barely a whiff of Emotional Sincerity, that deceptive fragrance sprayed by pop stars (and publicists) to dial online cacophony down to a mere murmur. What excitement she did express forced its way out through the proper social-media idioms: When Mark Hamill praised the video, she responded, “thanks, luke skywalker. i’m gonna go sob in a corner and watch all your movies again now. have a good one.”

But what did you expect? In 2018, the first generation of digitally native pop stars truly came of age—maneuvering across social platforms as comfortably as they do musical scales. Hayley Kiyoko shares a picture of her feet before trying to goose her video for “Girls Like Girls” over 100 million views. latest video. Singer Halsey calls herself “sad little bitch™,” then criticizes the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for the company chairman’s recent comments about trans inclusion. And Grande’s semiotics are perfectly calibrated to match her followers’, from emoji to punctuation (or lack thereof). This is the online identity of a new class of female artists: savvy without being sentimental, sensitive but decidedly still cynical.

Someone at a party once told me that tweets are like texts you send to your best friend, only made public. They’re snippets that require little explanation, context, or—much to our own detriment—research. They don’t even need to be grammatically correct; punctuation is reserved for distant acquaintances and extended family.

Grande seizes on this, sprinkling her captions with deadpan language and using capitalization sparingly. All the song titles on her 2018 album Sweetener are lowercase. She spells “you” phonetically, hence “thank u, next,” which is either Grande pandering to our nostalgia for early 2000s SMS-based text or inviting us in—or maybe it’s both.

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The effect is humorous, even warm. When Grande tells us she “sobs” over a praising tweet from 13 Going on 30 co-star Mark Ruffalo, it’s the online behavior of a real person versus yet another celebrity with a promotional agenda. (Even if it’s really kinda both.) For contrast, look at the way Taylor Swift or Blake Lively wiped their Instagram accounts clean, replacing their personal photos with posts foreshadowing their latest projects. Swift posted videos of a snake, a harbinger of the serpentine imagery in to her video for “Look What You Made Me Do.” The intent was to make something eerie and exciting, something fans and conspiracy theorists alike could wade in for hours (which they did). But mostly it fell flat, the silver penny in the background gleaming a bit too brightly.

In many ways, Grande is no different, teasing her followers with hazy countdowns to each new video. But it feels less like the work of a public-relations campaign than the excitement of a person who just wants people to see what she’s been working on. That spills over into her appearances on shows like Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, where she wrings laughs from her spot-on singing impersonations of Britney Spears’ nasal tone or Celine Dion’s soprano.

Or, most recently, the “thank u, next” video, an empowering bit of pastiche. Its genius isn’t just the movies Grande selects to reenact—the lot of which appeal to multiple generations of rom-com fans—but the moments within them. There’s the toothbrush exchange from Bring It On, Legally Blonde’s “bend and snap,” and the jingle bell rock performance in Mean Girls. In articulating the moments of camp and casting herself as the protagonist, Grande weaponizes them, effectively making herself the only heroine we’ll ever need. It’s Grande-ganda, subtly working in her own agenda within the context of something familiar.

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But even beyond the self-anointment by homage, the video acts as an exercise in subliminal messaging. There’s the Immigration and Refugee Law and Politics textbook Grande’s version of Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods reads on the Harvard lawn. The “Needy” t-shirt she wears as Mean Girls’ Regina George, which fans believe to be a clue for the title of Grande’s next album. The note to her ex-fiance, Pete Davidson, that Grande scrawls across a faux burn book (“sry i dipped”). These glimpses keep us watching more closely, desiring to better understand Grande The Enigma who somehow looks good in the myriad of personas she tries on (activist, ex-girlfriend, comedian, businesswoman), each one looking a bit like us.

Are we mistaking marketing for authenticity? Maybe. Grande is made that much more potent in her ability to sound just like her followers. She and her cohort have relinquished the role of the editor, passing their thoughts unfettered into the world with the same vulnerability that we might send a text to an ex without running it by a friend first.

That’s not to say an editor wouldn’t come in handy sometimes. Last week, Kanye West reignited his simmering feud with Canadian rapper Drake via prodigious tweetstorm. Ever the keen observer, Grande flipped the moment to tout her latest music–as well as a new song from friend and fellow superstar Miley Cyrus—by couching it as a reclamation of spotlight. “guys, i know there are grown men arguing online rn,” she wrote in her now-deleted tweet, “but miley and i [sic] dropping our beautiful, new songs tonight so if y’all could please jus behave for just like a few hours so the girls can shine that’d be so sick thank u.” Kanye accused Grande of taking advantage of his mental health to promote her single (a sentiment Davidson echoed, much to the chaos of the internet). The singer apologized for her initial tweet but denied any opportunism, tweeting, “regardless of how i feel about a situation, i can also care about their mental health.”

Grande is skilled in the art of the tactful apology, recognizing those mistakes that are actually hers—like a 2015 incident in which she licked a doughnut in a shop and said “I hate America”—and identifying those larger concerns that are often projected onto her as a public figure. Her delicate sidestepping shows that Grande is actually listening to what we’re saying. And, at the end of the day, whether on Twitter or IRL, don’t we just want to be heard?


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12 Best Xbox One Games (2019): Sidescrollers, Shooters, and More

After 2006’s macabre platformer Limbo proved to be one of the most enjoyable indie titles available for the Xbox 360, people wondered—OK, we wondered—if Danish studio Playdead could meet its own bar for the current generation. we shouldn’t have worried. Inside begins with the same gloomy monochrome that made Limbo so affecting, and adds a healthy dose of danger; it’s not just the treacherous environment you have to worry about as you navigate the world, but people and things that are actively looking to kill you. You will die, and you will die often. But when the game enters its final act, you’ll be treated with that rarest of gaming moments: a sincere “what the f*ck?” spectacle, a jaw-dropping hybrid of body horror and slapstick that you’ll feel, fittingly enough, inside.

A Looming Government Shutdown Tops the Week's Internet News

Welp, 2018 is going out with a bang. In the last week, America got a reminder that Russia hacked the 2016 US election by hijacking social media; acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker rejected legal advice to recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe; drones attacked British airports; and California dealt with potential UFOs. Actually, considering how the rest of the year has gone, that’s not much of a bang at all—just a standard week in 2018. But what else are people talking about on this wreck that is the internet? Let’s find out, shall we?

Trump’s Big Move

What Happened: President Trump announced the US would be pulling troops out of Syria, leading to some instability, to say the least.

What Really Happened: Trump’s surprise holiday gift to the Middle East arrived early Wednesday, as reports surfaced suggesting that the United States was about to withdraw troops from Syria. Those reports were soon confirmed via Twitter, because of course.

No, wait; I mean these tweets—but please remember that Trump announced that the US has defeated ISIS all the same.

It was, to put things mildly, not a popular decision, even within Trump’s own, traditionally kowtowingnomatterwhat party.

The decision came as a surprise to many, with a lot of people unsure how, exactly, the decision had been reached, especially considering the president’s own national security team was apparently against it. Others believed that he had a pretty good idea.

So, if his own defense secretary had no say, who exactly was consulted?

OK, sure; for any other administration, that would seem like a wild conspiracy theory. However, when you look at who benefits from this decision, you do start to wonder just a little

Funny thing about those actually arguing in favor of this move: the president doesn’t seem to be aware that it’s happening, judging by his public statements.

Wait. They have to fight ISIS? Wasn’t ISIS defeated, according to a tweet made by exactly the same person just a day before? Man, international politics moves so quickly these days.

The Takeaway: An unexpected casualty of the decision might point to larger problems with Trump’s attitude towards geopolitics: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned Thursday over the matter, penning a letter that makes his feelings on the matter clear.

The Incomplete Sentencing of Michael Flynn

What Happened: Just in case anyone forgot: There’s still an investigation into potentially illegal activity surrounding the presidential campaign of the man currently in the White House, and it’s continuing to bear strange, surreal fruit.

What Really Happened: As if anyone could forget the ongoing legal trouble surrounding the Trump administration, this week saw a sentencing hearing for one of the president’s former advisors—in this case, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. If it seems like it was just last week that one of Trump’s former advisors had a sentencing hearing, that’s because it was. But like the seasoned pro he is, the president was eager to get out in front of the story.

Still, it’s just a sentencing. How exciting or surprising could that be, unless you’re Michael Cohen making statements about being free once you get three years in jail? Turns out, the answer was “very surprising.”

These would be the circumstances alleged by Flynn’s lawyers that he was, essentially, hoodwinked into confessing because no one at the FBI told him that lying to the FBI was a crime. Things only continued from there.

Well, yeah; that sounds pretty wild, especially the whole not hiding disgust thing. But that was just the start.

So, that was a surreal event. Who saw an abrupt postponement coming? Definitely not Flynn’s attorneys, who were judged to have badly miscalculated by the media. But, at least it ended well, at least in regards to the irony of the whole thing.

Roll on, March, I guess?

The Takeaway: When it comes to the surreal developments in a legal case like this, there’s a sensible response and a non-boring response. Guess which one this is.

Paul Ryan’s Retirement Party

What Happened: Paul Ryan is just days away from retiring as Speaker of the House, so clearly it’s time for a farewell tour that perhaps doesn’t get the response he’d like.

What Really Happened: We’re not saying that some politicians have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, but outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had a “farewell address” at the Library of Congress last week, and the invitation looked like this:

Actually, never mind the invitations, the actual speech didn’t look too much better—

—but let’s not think about the optics. Let’s focus on the substance, shall we? Ryan complained about the “broken politics” of Washington, while congratulating himself on a tax bill that hurts the poor. So, you know, pretty much what you might expect, all things considered.

Let’s just say that not everyone was impressed with Ryan’s speech—or, for that matter, his legacy as a political figure. Headlines like “Good Riddance, Paul Ryan,” “So Long, Paul Ryan, You Won’t Be Missed,” “Paul Ryan Is the Biggest Fake I’ve Ever Seen in Politics,” and “Paul Ryan Was a Villain and No One Will Miss Him”—all of which are actually real, and from a 24-hour period, amazingly—might give that away.

In fact, we’d go so far as to say that some were particularly unimpressed.

So, uh, happy retirement…? (We’ll always have your creepy workout photoshoot, Paul. Nothing will ever take that away from you. Sadly.)

The Takeaway: Meanwhile, the woman who is likely to replace Ryan had perhaps the greatest response to the entire thing.

Shaft the Messenger

What Happened: You weren’t being paranoid after all; someone else really was able to get access to all your messages on Facebook. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

What Really Happened: In case you thought that things couldn’t get much worse for Facebook considering its recent public relation woes, guess what: It could get much worse. Take it away, New York Times.

Yes, you read that right, as unbelievable as it may sound.

Not enough yikes for you just yet? Oh, just keep going, because it gets worse.

Many people were wondering what the solution was. A recurring theme kept popping up.

Meanwhile, the media took a different, and far less surprising, tack, with everyone talking about deleting Facebook a lot.

How serious was this as a threat? Well, Facebook released two different responses to try and clear up rumors … by pretty much confirming the reporting. That’s almost a start, kind of?

The Takeaway: On the plus side, at least this was the only PR disaster for Facebook this week related to other people having access to private information on the platform.

The Shutdown Looms

What Happened: It’s been teased throughout 2018, but as the year draws to a close, perhaps the US has finally reached the point where the government is going to shut down. Just in time!

What Really Happened: The US government has been wavering around a shutdown for some time now. There have been short-term fixes and last-minute deals for months in an attempt to ensure that there isn’t what Rep. Nancy Pelosi memorably called a Trump Shutdown. Last week, for example, with just days to go before funding ran out, there was a move towards one more before-the-buzzer save—not that anyone seemed to think it would work.

Funny story; it never even got a chance to fail in the Senate.

Yes, it’s Paul Ryan again, a day after bemoaning “broken politics,” helping politics be that little bit more broken.

So … maybe the shutdown is back on?

Well, perhaps not…

President Trump, at least, spent Friday morning doing what he could. Which is to say, he tweeted about the subject a lot.

People were not incredibly impressed.

At the time of this writing, it’s not been voted on by the Senate. But here’s a funny story: the president is refusing to sign a bill that doesn’t fund the border wall that was, originally, going to be paid for by Mexico (hey, remember those days?), but … what if there was an alternative? What if someone else wanted to pay for the wall so that the government could stay open?

Well, that seems entirely legit.

It’s surely a sign of 2018 that it’s actually impossible to reject this plan entirely out of hand. Maybe we should just run a GoFundMe to keep the government open? Oh, no, wait; that’s called paying taxes.

The Takeaway: Assuming that we are almost certainly going to have a shutdown for the holidays—everyone’s favorite gift—let’s just take a moment to appreciate what’s happening, shall we?

See you all in 2019!


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Robocars, Elon, and More This Year in the Future of Cars

Well, it’s been a year in transportation. There were self-driving cars and electric trucks. There was the old guard of tech—now-ancient companies like Uber and Lyft—and new upstarts, like the scooter mavens at Bird and Lime. Lots of people got in trouble. Some emerged victorious. CEOs said outrageous and surprising things. We got to go and see very cool places: control rooms, helicopters, Senegal, Detroit.

So in honor of 2018, this week we’ve got a roundup of roundups—a meta-roundup, if you will. Here you will find some of our favorite stories we’ve written in 2018. You’ll find some usual suspects, like Elon Musk and Dara Khosrowshahi. And also some more surprising characters: mathematicians willing to chat airplane peeing, members of the British Royal Air Force, a bunch of transportation planners. It’s been exciting. It’s been a year. Let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Our favorite stories that you might have missed from WIRED this year

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“Hey, buddy, this doesn’t work!” Musk shouted at the engineer, according to someone who heard the conversation. “Did you do this?”

The engineer was taken aback. He had never met Musk before. Musk didn’t even know the engineer’s name. The young man wasn’t certain what, exactly, Musk was asking him, or why he sounded so angry.

“You mean, program the robot?” the engineer said. “Or design that tool?”

“Did you fucking do this?” Musk asked him.

“I’m not sure what you’re referring to?” the engineer replied apologetically.

“You’re a fucking idiot!” Musk shouted back. “Get the fuck out and don’t come back!”

Tom Cruise Transportation-Adjacent Content of the Year

Jack and WIRED’s intrepid video team flew to Texas to learn how Tom Cruise does helicopter stunts. Everyone survived, mostly because we weren’t allowed to recreate the gnarliest Cruise movies.

Stat of the Year

26,000,000

The number of scooter- and bike-share rides that Lime users have taken since the company launched 18 months ago, according to a year-end report.

Required Reading

Our favorite 2018 stories from elsewhere on the internet

After What President Trump and Congress Did on the Friday Before Christmas, the Government Is (Partially) Shutting Down. Here's What That Really Means

Less than two weeks ago, President Trump warned he’d shut down the U.S. Government if he didn’t get $5 billion for his border wall with Mexico in the new budget.

Democrats called his bluff; Trump didn’t blink. And so, a partial shutdown began at midnight.

So, what does it mean in practical terms to have a partial shutdown, which Trump himself predicted could go on for a “very long time?”

1.    About 75 percent of the government stays open.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s just a “partial” shutdown. There are some agencies that will be hit much harder than others, but most of the truly essential functions of government will continue.

Among these, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Health and Human Services are already funded through 2019, so they shouldn’t be affected.

2.    But about 38 percent of employees will be hit.

There are 2.1 million federal employees. Of them, about 400,000 will be sent home without pay, and another 400,000 will be required to come to work, but won’t be paid.

Some of the affected departments here include Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, and Treasury. As an example, all 60,000 employees of the Customs and Border Protection would be required to go to work without pay. 

This also includes Transportation Security Administration officials — so airports should remain open and more or less unaffected. It also includes the Border Patrol — ironic, since Border Patrol officers will have to work without pay, in a dispute over funding a border wall.

Also, “air-traffic controllers, prison guards, weather-service forecasters and food-safety inspectors, and would continue coming to work. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Forest Service firefighters” have to work, according to the Journal.

3.    The National Parks stay open

This is interesting — in earlier shutdowns, the spectacle of National Parks closing became big symbols of government ineptitude in a shutdown. But this time, the Parks Service is keeping most of its facilities open, even as about 80 percent of its employees will be furloughed.

On the National Mall for example, you’ll still be able to tour the monuments, but there won’t be Park Rangers available to offer information and assistance. The Smithsonian museums will remain open, too– at least through Jan. 1.

4.    It’s a good time to cheat on your taxes.

That’s because nine out of 10 IRS employees will be furloughed, so far fewer audits and return exams. That also means less chance of being able to call the IRS to ask for help on a tax issue.

5.    The Mueller investigation continues.

About 85 percent of Justice Department employees still have to go to work, even if they don’t get paid. The special counsel investigating possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election however, will continue apace. That office’s funding is guaranteed.

6.    You can get your passport (probably) and the mail will still be delivered.

The Postal Service basically continues unaffected too, “because the Postal Service funds its operations through its own sales rather than tax dollars.”

7.    We sort of get a four-day repreive.

The shutdown began at midnight on Saturday December 22, which also happens to be the first of a four-day weekend for the government, since next Tuesday is Christmas.

All of which means that many of the 800,000 employees who won’t be paid, weren’t planning to work anyway the next four days. (In most past shutdowns, they ultimately got back pay when the government reopened.)

So, next Wednesday is that day when people will really start to notice — and then, if it lasts long enough, into the day after New Year’s Day.

8.    Weirdly, many workers have to come in, only to be told to go home.

Acording to the Post: Some will have to — briefly, anyway.

“This is what’s known as an “orderly shutdown,” during which employees who are furloughed can be allowed up to come in for up to four hours to preserve their work, finish timecards or turn in their government-issued phones. … What can we tell you? The federal government is a quirky enterprise.”

9.    Meat will be okay

At the Agriculture Department, the government will still inspect meat and other food. And support programs like food stamps will keep going.

10.    Sandwiches will be free. 

This is mostly for Washington DC area employees anyway, but if they’re affected by the shutdown, celebrity chef Jose Andres says his restaurants will offer free lunch sandwiches

China watchdog flags video game approvals; Tencent shares jump

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Tencent Holdings Ltd’s shares surged on Friday after a local regulatory official said some new video games had been cleared for sale, ending a lengthy freeze in approvals that has spooked players in the world’s largest gaming market.

FILE PHOTO: A Tencent sign is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, Dec. 4, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

Feng Shixin, a senior official of the ruling Communist Party’s Propaganda department, said in a speech at a gaming conference in the southern city of Haikou that a first batch of approvals for games had been completed, according to a transcript of the speech and the organizers of the event.

That helped propel Tencent’s shares up by as much as 4.6 percent, putting the gaming-to-social media giant on course for its steepest daily share price jump in over a month.

China stopped approving new titles from March amid a regulatory overhaul triggered by growing criticism of video games for being violent and leading to myopia as well as addiction among young users.

The freeze on new approvals has pressured gaming-related stocks and clouded the outlook for mobile games, rattling industry leader Tencent and peers like NetEase Inc.

“We hope through new system design and strong implementation we could guide game companies to better present mainstream values, strengthen a cultural sense of duty and mission, and better satisfy the public need for a better life,” Feng said.

Earlier this month, state media reported that Chinese regulators had set up an online video games ethics committee, raising hopes the government was preparing to resume an approval process that has been frozen for most of this year.

“This is clearly exciting news for China’s gaming industry,” a Tencent spokesman said in written comments.

“We’re confident that after the publishing license approval, we will provide more compliant, high-quality cultural works to society and the public.”

The gaming freeze in China has dragged down Tencent’s shares this year and wiped billions of dollars off its market value. The firm’s stock is down more than 20 percent in 2018.

According to a Hainan propaganda department official at the gaming event, a new pilot approval mechanism is set to be rolled out in the tropical province, which would include positive and negative lists, combining artificial intelligence audits and expert censorship.

Some industry insiders, however, said they remained cautious to see what the new mechanism would look like in action.

“While there is no clear legislation on video game regulation, it’s up to the regulator to decide what they pass and what they don’t. There is still a lot of uncertainty,” said an executive at Tencent’s game division, asking not to be named.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and Pei Li in BEIJING; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Christopher Cushing

An online battle for 900 million hearts and minds: India braces for election

JAIPUR/TONK, India (Reuters) – When India votes in a general election next year, it will be the world’s largest democratic exercise, and the biggest ever test of the role of social media in an election.

Volunteers of India’s main opposition Congress party monitor TV news channels and social media inside their war room which was setup for a state assembly election, in Jaipur in the desert state of Rajasthan, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Aditya Kalra

As the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) readies for battle with the newly energized Congress party-led opposition in the election that must be held by May, the role of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp could be crucial in deciding who wins.

India already has close to 900 million eligible voters, and an estimated half-a-billion have access to the Internet. The country has 300 million Facebook (FB.O) users and 200 million on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service – more than any other democracy. Millions use Twitter (TWTR.N).

“Social media and data analytics will be the main actors in the upcoming India elections. Their use would be unprecedented as both parties now use social media,” said Usha M. Rodrigues, a communications professor at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, whose research has focused on social media and Indian politics.

The potential for abuse is also immense, with incendiary news and videos capable of fanning violence in the sprawling multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation.

Fake news and messages circulated on social media have led to more than 30 deaths since last year, data portal IndiaSpend says, mostly rumors about child kidnapping gangs.

Political differences have in the past been no less deadly.

“Social media discourse, already bitter, will turn bilious,” Milan Vaishnav, a senior research fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said of the coming campaign for the general election.

“It will be no-holds barred on social media given that the opposition smells blood and the ruling party has its back against the wall.”

Both the main parties accuse each other of propagating fake news while denying they do so themselves.

Nevertheless, the battlelines between them are clearly drawn. Congress has attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic policies and his party’s Hindu nationalist ideology, while the BJP dismisses the Congress as incompetent liberals out of touch with the people.

This month, Congress won elections in three major states that have been the bastion of the BJP, setting the stage for a tight contest in 2019. Helping the opposition party was a revamped social media strategy.

WAR ROOMS

At the last election in 2014, Congress was crushed by the techno-savvy Modi and his array of social media weapons, including a flurry of Tweets from his personal account, a BJP campaign on Facebook and holographic displays of Modi in remote villages.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi got a Twitter account only in 2015. But the opposition party is catching up and the playing field has gotten a lot bigger.

India now has 450 million smartphone owners against 155 million at the last election in 2014, according to Counterpoint Research. That’s more than the entire population of the United States, the crucible for election campaigns on social media.

Reuters visited one of the hubs of Congress’s online operations in Rajasthan, one of the three states it won this month – a drab three-bedroom apartment up a dimly lit staircase in the city of Jaipur.

Inside, party workers tracked news channels and social media posts on a wall of television screens. A three-member team of audio, video and graphic experts designed campaign material that was posted to public websites, while other volunteers used WhatsApp to send instructions to party workers.

“We were kids back then, but we are going to outmaneuver them now,” said Manish Sood, 45, who runs his own social media marketing business and was managing the Congress volunteers at the Jaipur war room.

Still, fighting Modi online isn’t easy. With 43 million followers on Facebook and 45 million on Twitter globally, he is among the world’s most followed politicians. Congress’s Gandhi still only has 8.1 million followers on Twitter and 2.2 million on Facebook.

A request by Reuters to visit the BJP’s social media center in Jaipur was declined, but a member of the party’s Rajasthan state IT unit, Mayank Jain, said it ran similar social media operations from two city apartments.

“Congress understands social media a bit now, but they do not have the volunteer manpower,” Jain said in an interview, showing dozens of BJP WhatsApp groups on his phone, one of which was named “BJP RAJASTHAN’S Warriors”.

RISE OF WHATSAPP

While Twitter and Facebook were embraced by Indian politicians – mainly in the BJP – in 2014, it’s WhatsApp that has now become the social media tool of choice.

In Jaipur city and the nearby rural town of Tonk, where traditional methods like public speeches and poster campaigns were widely used during the state poll, Congress and BJP party workers showed a Reuters reporter dozens of WhatsApp groups they were part of and used for campaigning.

Congress said its volunteers managed 90,000 WhatsApp groups in Rajasthan, while the BJP said it controlled 15,000 WhatsApp groups directly, with its workers campaigning through roughly another 100,000 groups.

But WhatsApp has been at the center of controversy. After the false child kidnap messages were spread on the platform in India, it was flooded with falsehoods and conspiracy theories ahead of the October election in Brazil.

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange texts, photos and video beyond the purview of authorities, independent fact checkers or even the platform itself.

“WhatsApp is the biggest challenge for us right now on the social media front,” said Nitin Deep Blaggan, a senior police officer in charge of monitoring online content in Jaipur.

WhatsApp has limited the number of messages a user can forward in one go to 20 but in India specifically the ceiling was fixed at five. The company blocked “hundreds of thousands” of accounts in Brazil during the election period, and the same was expected ahead of India polls, a source aware of the company’s thinking said this month.

“We have engaged with political organizers to inform them that we will take action against accounts that are sending automated unwanted messages,” Carl Woog, WhatsApp’s head of communications, told Reuters in a statement. He did not name any parties.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company was “committed to maintaining elections integrity” and making efforts to “weed out false news”. Twitter said it had made efforts to protect the electoral process and better detect and stop malicious activity.

During the Rajasthan election, police ran a 10-man social media monitoring unit, tracking tweets and Facebook posts related to the state polls. Inside the monitoring room, the posts were shown on wall-mounted screens and automatically filtered into neutral, positive or negative sections.

The negative posts received special attention – they were manually checked and, sometimes flagged to senior police officers for further investigation and action.

An officer looks at computer screens inside a police war room setup to monitor social media posts in Jaipur in the desert state of Rajasthan, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Aditya Kalra

The sole aim, members of the monitoring team said, was to ensure that no online post spilled into violence.

One of the posts flagged by police when Reuters visited was a video from a Congress leader’s rally where people appeared to be shouting slogans in favor of Pakistan, India’s old enemy.

Congress’ nearby war room had already debunked the video they said was doctored. Within hours, party workers posted what they said was an “original” video, that showed that nobody shouted such slogans at the rally.

Reporting by Aditya Kalra in Jaipur; Editing by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Micron sales, profit miss estimates as chip glut hurts prices

(Reuters) – U.S. chipmaker Micron Technology Inc (MU.O) gave on Tuesday quarterly sales and profit forecasts well below Wall Street estimates, citing a market glut of memory chips as consumer and business demand for phones and computers is weakening.

Memory chip parts of U.S. memory chip maker MicronTechnology are pictured at their fair booth at an industrial fair in Frankfurt, Germany, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

Micron said it expected industry output, including from South Korean rivals Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) and SK Hynix (000660.KS), to outstrip demand from the makers of phones, PCs and servers, pushing down Micron chip prices.

Samsung had already warned of a slowdown in demand and drop in chip prices, flagging an end to a two-year boom in memory chips as global demand for mobile and other electronics devices wanes and fresh supplies from Hynix and Toshiba Corp (6502.T) hit the market. Hynix has also offered a downbeat outlook.

Micron Chief Executive Sanjay Mehrotra told investors on a conference call on Tuesday that the company was taking “decisive actions in terms of reducing our production output” to hold the line on prices.

“We are always reviewing how to best align our output with market demand to focus on delivering healthy profitability,” Mehrotra said in an interview.

But the glut will hammer Micron in the short term, with the company estimating revenue of $5.7 billion to $6.3 billion for its fiscal second quarter and gross margins of 50 to 53 percent, compared to analysts’ estimates of $7.3 billion and 55 percent, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.

Shares of the Boise, Idaho-based company fell as much as 8.5 percent in extended trading after the forecast, before paring losses to 2.8 percent.

Asked about Micron’s comments, Hynix told Reuters that in the short term, the memory chip sector would struggle through a period of relatively low growth due to weak demand in the smartphone and PC markets, but the outlook would brighten in the long term.

Hynix shares were down 1.6 percent in late morning trading in South Korea. Samsung shares were up slightly.

“The worse may not be over yet if the end-market demand weakens further,” said analyst Kinngai Chan of Summit Insights Group.

Micron is responding to the oversupply of DRAM and NAND memory chips by investing more in its next generation of chips. Major suppliers to smartphone makers such as Apple Inc (AAPL.O) have lowered their sales forecasts, citing weak demand from device makers.

Data centers, which have been a boon for Micron as cloud computing providers like Amazon.com’s (AMZN.O) Amazon Web Services have become massive businesses, were a weak spot in Micron’s earnings. On the post-earnings call, Mehrotra cited “inventory adjustments” at data centers for the pressure on revenue.

Several chipmakers have cited strong demand in the months before U.S. tariffs were imposed on some Chinese goods, leaving analysts wondering if data center owners had tried to get in orders ahead of the levies.

“We expect this headwind will persist for a couple of quarters. We are seeing some cloud customers go through a digestion period following very strong growth over the last two years,” Mehrotra said.

Stifel analyst Kevin Cassidy said Micron was making the right move by slashing output instead of cutting prices to gain market share as it had in the past.

“We see today’s announcements as prioritizing profitability over market share gains,” he said.

Micron’s gross margin was 59 percent for the fiscal first quarter, and executives said U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods cut its gross margins by about half a percentage point, at the lower end of the negative impact it told investors in September.

Micron is ahead of schedule in addressing the expected impact of U.S. tariffs on its products, Manish Bhatia, Micron’s executive vice president of global operations, said in an interview.

“We made very good progress across multiple sites in our (factory) network taking the products that were being made in China and destined for the United States and quickly transferring them to other sites outside of China,” he said.

Net sales rose 16 percent to $7.91 billion, short of analysts’ expectations of $8.02 billion.

Excluding items, Micron earned $2.97 per share, narrowly beating the analyst average estimate of $2.96, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.

Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; additional reporting by Heekyong Yang in SEOUL; Editing by Richard Chang and Muralikumar Anantharaman

How Dense Does a Body Have to Be to Break a Concrete Floor?

I often miss some cool stuff the first time I watch a movie. This is probably a good thing—it shows that I’m focused on the story and not the small details. In this case, the movie is 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and the scene involves the density of a character named Vision.

OK, I am going to give a SPOILER ALERT—but if you haven’t seen this movie yet, I have a feeling you won’t be upset about spoilers. Anyway, this scene doesn’t reveal any huge plot points.

So here’s the deal. Vision is trying to keep Wanda (Scarlet Witch) safe in the Avengers’ headquarters. Hawkeye comes to help her leave, but Vision catches them. Although Vision could easily defeat Hawkeye, the same cannot be said for the powers of Scarlet Witch. Scarlet Witch has some ability to control matter—and in this case it appears that she can activate Vision’s powers. One of Vision’s primary powers is his ability to change his density.

So with a bit of magic, Scarlet Witch increases Vision’s density up to the point were he becomes too massive to move. He grows so massive that he breaks through the floor. With Vision out of the way, Wanda and Hawkeye are free to leave and finish the rest of the movie.

Density and Mass of Vision

Now for the fun part. What was the density and mass of Vision when he crashed through the floor? How about a quick review of density? Take a look at these five objects.

Rhett Allain

These blocks are all different, but there is something similar about them. If you took the three blocks on the left, they all have the same mass (about 45 grams). The three blocks on the right all have the same volume (I’m disappointed that they are almost exactly 1 cubic inch—they should have some value in cm3). But wait! What if you take the mass of each block and divide by its volume? This is how we define density. The density is a property that doesn’t depend on the size of the object, just its material. So the two white objects (on the ends) have different volumes and different masses, but the same density. The same is true for the two black objects.

To estimate the mass and density of Vision, I need some particular event that gives a hint about his mass since you can’t “see” the mass of an object. Yes, you guessed it: I can use moment that Vision breaks through the floor to estimate his mass.

Here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to assume the floor is made of concrete and that the gravitational force on Vision (due to his large mass) is enough to exceed the compressive strength of concrete to initiate the break.

What is “compressive strength”? This is the pressure a material can withstand before breaking. Yes, it’s the pressure and not the force (remember that pressure is the force divided by the contact area). This is why you can more easily break a material with a sharp pointy object than you can with a big flat object. The pointy object has a smaller area and therefore you get a bigger pressure for the same amount of force.

But what about the compressive strength of concrete? It’s perhaps between 20 and 40 mega Pascals (MPa) where a Pascal is the same as one Newton per square meter. This means that if the floor breaks, I know the pressure from the force between Vision and the floor. If I estimate his contact area, I can then calculate the force and next his masses.

Really, the only thing left to estimate is the contact area. I could perhaps do a more detailed analysis, but I think it’s fine to just get a rough value. What about a contact area that is a rectangle with a length of 1 meter and a width of 0.5 meters? That would put the area at 0.5 m2. I’m going with that.

Oh, one more thing. If I want to calculate the density of Vision, I also need his volume. He looks like a normal human—at least in terms of size. Humans have a density close to 1000 kg/m^3 (the density of water). If a human has a mass of 75 kg, the volume would be around 0.075 m3. I’m going with that value.

Let’s crunch the numbers. I’m including the calculations in this python script so that you can put your own values in (if you don’t like mine). Just click the “pencil” to edit and “play” to run it if you change any of the values.

Just to be clear, that is massive. The density is extreme (it’s not neutron-star-level density though). Actually, it’s sort of difficult to visualize a mass that large. How about this? What would be the size of a spherical asteroid of that same size? If the asteroid is made of normal stuff, it might have a density of 3,000 kg/m^3. With the same mass as Vision, a spherical asteroid would have a diameter of around 10 meters (30 feet). That’s one big old rock.

Homework

You know (or you should know) that I can’t just stop there. There are many questions left unanswered. I would normally just assign these as homework, but let me answer two of these questions for you.

Would there be a noticeable gravitational force between Vision and Hawkeye due to the large mass?

There is a gravitational interaction between all objects with mass. Normally on the surface of the Earth we only deal with the gravitational force between an object and the other. Interactions between two objects (like people) are usually so small that you would never be able to measure them. In this case, however, one of those people has a giant mass.

The magnitude of the gravitational force depends on both the masses of the objects and the distance between them. If you assume the objects are point masses (not true but an OK approximation), then the following equation calculates the force.

The G is just the universal gravitational constant with a value of 6.67 x 10-11 Nm2/kg2. If I assume a distance of 1.5 meters between Hawkeye and Vision, the gravitational force between them would be 0.0034 Newtons. That is a pretty tiny force. In fact, if you put a paperclip on top of Hawkeye’s head, the weight of this paperclip would be more than twice the gravitational pull from Vision. I don’t think Hawkeye would notice it.

Assuming Scarlet Witch increases Vision’s density at a constant rate, how long will it take for him to have a mass equivalent to the Earth?

If you watch a clip of the scene, it seems clear that Scarlet Witch starts influencing Vision’s mass when his head gem turns from yellow to red. Vision drops to his knees 13.9 seconds later. The floor also starts to crack at this point. Finally, after 20.4 seconds, Vision crashes through the floor.

Assuming a constant rate for the increase of mass (and thus density), the mass increases at 100,000 kilograms per second. If this mass increase rate stays constant, it would take 5 x 1019 seconds to get up to the mass of the Earth (6 x 1024 kg). Hint: that time is super, super, super long. It’s not going to happen. But it was still fun to calculate.

Here are a few more homework questions for you:

  • How long (assuming a constant mass increase rate) until Vision’s mass reaches the point where Hawkeye gets pulled to Vision?
  • If you consider the relationship between mass and energy (E = mc2), how much energy would it take to increase Vision’s mass? What about the power? How does this compare to the power output of the Sun?
  • How large would Vision’s mass need to get before he became a black hole?

More Great WIRED Stories

If Your Business Strategy Looks Too Complicated, It Probably Is. Here's Why

Once a year, I spend two days with my client companies developing their annual plan. While we continuously review strategy throughout the year, the annual plan is a chance to do a deeper dive into the internal and external factors that inform how to go to market.

Getting this strategy right, and keeping it right, is key to long-term growth and success. However, many teams get it wrong. They don’t get it wrong because the strategy they develop won’t work, but because it’s impossible to explain it in simple terms. If it’s not easy to explain, it will be impossible to execute.

Your employees, your partners, and your customers are the ones who will actually be implementing your strategy. If it’s too complicated to understand, they won’t understand it.

After you’ve decided on all of angles you’re going to play and all of the moves you’re going to make, set to work developing a simple, clear, and effective way to communicate it to everyone on the team. Here are three things every strategy must communicate easily and effectively to all stakeholders.

1. Set a clear (and limited) set of focused priorities.

In essence, strategy is about choice. And the first objective is to set a clear and decisive set of priorities for the organization. The fewer the better. These need to be above and beyond the day-to-day work and focused on long-term goals and key moves needed to get there.

Strategic moves include things like creating new products or services, developing new capabilities, entering new markets, scaling up capacity, or even researching technology. While all of these might help the organization, trying to do all of them at once won’t. Pick three to five for the year, max.

Another trick I often employ is to list all of the strategy options that the team  eliminated or de-prioritized. By publishing these strategies as well, you’re making specifically clear what you’re NOT doing in the coming year.

2. Set a clear definition of success and a timeline.

Beyond direction, a good strategy needs a clear desired outcome and definition of success. Too many strategies stop at big ideas without nailing down specifics. The devil lies in the details. Too often, I see a team of people agree to a high level strategic priority, only to discover they are on vastly different pages when the details are fleshed out.

For each strategic direction, create a set of specific goals that are both measurable and time bound. It should be clear to everyone what constitutes completion, and it ideally should include a handful of objective criteria. I generally suggest a simple checklist or short description of the outcome or product.

3. Create a compelling vision of future success.

Now that you have a clear set of priorities and a definition of success, it’s time to paint a vivid picture of success. As humans we’re wired to be compelled by stories and visual images. Turn the goals you’ve selected into a narrative  explaining why you’ve chosen these objectives, why they are the most important ones, and how achieving these will lead to organizational success.

If someone on your team has a creative bent, try illustrating your desired future with photos and illustrations. If you’re developing a new product or service, find images that reflect the impact you want to create on your customer. If you’re expanding into a new geography, create a slideshow highlighting the city or region and explain why it’s such an attractive market.

Having a strategy with a clear set of priorities and objectives with actionable outcomes will increase your stakeholder alignment. By creating a rich vision for future success you’ll drive engagement and motivation. When in doubt, keep it simple, clear, and compelling. A basic strategy, well-executed, will always beat a brilliant one whiffed.