IBM’s Jeopardy-Winning AI Is Now Ready to Debate You

As long as there have been personal computers, there have been people yelling at them. And before that, angry couch potatoes argued with their TV sets.

Now artificial intelligence technology that IBM has been developing over the past six years can give the machines a chance to argue back. The company took the wraps off an AI system Monday that it calls Project Debater, staging a couple of debates between it and experienced human debaters that show how far its capabilities have come.

IBM, which has been staging in-house debates between humans and Project Debater for a few years, said the demonstration represented the first such public debate. While Debater scored points on marshaling ample evidence for its arguments in a short period of time, the answers sometimes rambled and the delivery at times fell flat. Still, the technology, which remains in its early stages, represents a step forward in conversational AI.

Debater is designed to digest a single debate question, then scan billions of sentences from documents ranging from Wikipedia to magazine and news articles to craft its arguments, rebuttals, and closing summaries. Debater spells out its arguments in the placid monotone that is familiar to users of Siri and Alexa.

The demonstration in San Francisco involved two debates against professional debaters who have been working with the project. The two topics at hand on this day: Whether to subsidize space exploration and whether to increase the use of telemedicine.

Both topics were chosen from a larger list of potential questions, and aside from a brief introduction, none of Debater’s arguments were pre-arranged, IBM said.

Debater and its human opponents each had four minutes to state their arguments, another four minutes for rebuttals, and two minutes for their closing statements. In contrast to a warm body standing behind a dais, Debater was represented by a black obelisk the height of a human with three dots that indicated when it was listening or preparing an argument.

The program hewed tightly to the debate format, outlining arguments and responding directly to points its human opponents made with facts drawn from scientific research and world events. At one point, Debater accused an opponent—with some accuracy, it appears—of getting his facts wrong. While such a move is common in political debates, it carried a certain extra weight coming from an AI system.

Such moves, along with the attempts at humor, were part of Debater’s design to approximate the dynamics human debates. It was also able to anticipate potential counterarguments and rebut them ahead of time, a classic debate strategy.

For nearly 70 years, AI systems have developed in part by learning to play games such as checkers and chess. In 2011, IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy A few years later, Google’s Alpha Go defeated the top-ranked champion of the board game Go.

After Watson’s Jeopardy!win, IBM researchers took stock of its AI technology to determine what its next challenge would be. Noam Slonim, a researcher in IBM’s Haifa lab in Israel suggested an AI system that could debate a human being. The challenges of such a project were daunting.

“The challenge was a departure from the tradition of games where, even as complex as they may be, in the end you have a self-contained universe. There’s a set of rules,” Dario Gil, vice president of AI at IBM, told Fortune. “The thought of bringing AI into an area where, by its very definition, the problem is unbound was really intriguing. The question was, is it even possible?”

In 2012, Slonim and other researchers began working on Debater with an early prototype working by October of the next year. To succeed, Debater needed to accomplish three basic tasks, each of which marked new ground in AI: identifying key concepts and claims in spoken language; digesting a massive amounts of documentation and extract a clear argument; and modeling human dilemmas and controversies to create principled arguments.

For example, Gil said, if Debater is preparing a debate in favor of vegetarianism, it may extract an argument from something not explicitly related to that topic, such as a scientific study that suggests animals can feel fear and other emotions. The AI system would also need to eliminate redundant words and present its argument in a manner that could be persuasive to humans.

One IBM’s chief goals with Debater was to help an AI system master human languages. Speech dictation programs like Dragon passively transcribe language between text and speech without analysis. Voice-powered AI assistants like Alexa, meanwhile, engage in limited interactions that typically last a few seconds at time. But Debater was built to comprehend an argument that can last for several minutes, and then respond with its own.

In time, IBM plans to commercialize Debater, Gil said. The technology could have applications in a variety of fields, from education to law, and from government to businesses. Sales teams and trial attorneys could sharpen their arguments through an AI system capable of debating, while researchers and decision-makers could benefit from the pro and con arguments that Debater could generate.

Another potential application may be addressing fake news by examining how much, if any, evidence supports bogus claims and disclosing how much credibility they carry, Slonim said. “There’s no doubt the underlying tech we are developing will be valuable against fake news,” he said.

Beyond that, IBM hopes to keep developing the AI system powering Project Debater to tackle even more ambitious achievements.

“If you look at the horizon, you’re going beyond just information retrieval to a paradigm where you’re entering true reasoning – composing language that could give answers that we’ve never seen before” Gil said. “For AI to manifest itself and truly realize its potential, it’s going to have to live in the messy world where humans live.”

Rare Japanese unicorn Mercari closes up 77 percent in market debut

TOKYO (Reuters) – Flea market app operator Mercari Inc’s shares surged 77 percent in their Tokyo stock market debut on Tuesday, underscoring strong investor appetite for a rare Japanese unicorn bent on U.S. expansion.

FILE PHOTO: Novelty goods are displayed at Mercari’s Tokyo headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Shares rose as high as 6,000 yen in early afternoon trade, hitting their daily limit high and valuing the company at as much as $7.4 billion. The listing makes Mercari the most valuable firm on the Tokyo bourse’s Mothers market for startups, ahead of games and social network company Mixi Inc and robotics firm Cyberdyne Inc.

A popular smartphone app that allows people to trade used items online, Mercari has been downloaded 71 million times in Japan where it has 10.5 million active users. It makes money by charging sellers commission, and expects sales to jump 62 percent to 35.8 billion yen ($325.93 million) this financial year.

Mercari shares already look expensive, said Masayuki Otani, chief market analyst at Securities Japan. While the app is well known in Japan and still growing, it is likely to face more competition at home, he said, with companies such as Rakuten Inc and Start Today Co Ltd offering used-goods services.

Mercari shares opened at 5,000 yen versus their initial public offering price of 3,000 yen. They closed up at 5,300 yen, compared with a 1.8 percent decline in the benchmark Nikkei 225 index.

The IPO, the biggest in Japan this year, raised $1.2 billion through the sale of around a third of Mercari’s shares, with the majority bought by overseas investors.

The company is profitable at home but is losing money in the United States, where its expansion plans are being headed by former Facebook Inc executive John Lagerling.

Its U.S. expansion dragged it to a net loss of 4.2 billion yen in the last financial year through June 2017, with a further loss of 3.4 billion in the nine months to March as the company committed funds to improving its brand recognition through advertising.

“We can’t be successful globally without success in the U.S.,” Chief Executive and founder Shintaro Yamada told Reuters in April.

In a country that has many successful giant corporations but lacks a vibrant startup culture, Mercari gained attention as one of Japan’s two unicorns – startups with valuations above $1 billion – according to data provider CB Insights. The other is information technology startup Preferred Networks Inc.

Mercari’s growing popularity as Japanese shoppers shed their inhibitions about buying and selling used goods has seen it join the ranks of companies such as Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing Co Ltd that have grown by appealing to consumers’ economizing instincts.

The app has outperformed rivals with its focus on mobile, its ease of use – with users able to trade goods with just a few taps – and by offering anonymity to its privacy conscious Japanese audience.

Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Christopher Cushing

This Week In Mobile: Vivo Nex, Samsung Tops Mobile Sales, Apple Shuts iPhone Loophole, Lumen Privacy

, Vice-President and Principal Analyst at Atherton Research Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

This Week in Mobile is a weekly podcast produced by Atherton Research that reviews the main news of the mobile world from the past 7 days

This Week in Mobile is a weekly podcast available on Apple iTunes or Google Play where I bring you up to speed on the top mobile news stories of the week:

  1. The Nex S (~$700) by Chinese smartphone maker Vivo is the very commercially available first all-screen (6.59-inch Super AMOLED display with a full-HD+ resolution) smartphone with no notch, no front earpiece speaker – it uses its Screen SoundCasting technology to turn the screen into a speaker – an under-the-display fingerprint scanner and an 8-megapixel selfie camera that pops up from inside the phone. Other features include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, dual-SIM support, 128GB or 256GB of storage, a rear dual camera (12-megapixel and 5-megapixel), and a 4,000-mAh battery. At 8 mm thick, the Vivo NEX is just 0.3 mm thicker than the iPhone X. However, the virtual fingerprint scanner is slower than a physical one and doesn’t work all the time, and we will have to see how the pop-up mechanism survives the test of time.
  2. For the second quarter in a row, the iPhone X remained the world’s most popular smartphone. For the first 3 months of this year, Apple sold between 12.7 and 16 million iPhone Xs according to estimates from IHS Markit and Strategy Analytics, respectively. For Strategy Analytics, the iPhone X was closely followed by the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus which shipped 12.5 million and 8.3 million units, respectively, and then followed by the iPhone 7 with 5.6 million units. IHS Markit also ranked the iPhone 8 second, followed by the $116 Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus. However, this will certainly change during the current quarter, when sales of the Samsung S8 will surpass iPhone X shipments and become the world’s best-selling Android smartphone globally in the second quarter of 2018.
  3. Overall, Samsung was the best selling smartphone manufacturer last quarter with 78 million units, according to Counterpoint Research, followed by Apple (52.2 million), Huawei/Honor (39.3 million), Xiaomi (27 million), Oppo (22 million), Vivo (19.5 million) and LG (11.4 million). Interestingly, despite a 14% decline of the Chinese smartphone market last quarter, Apple’s market share in China grew 32% year-over-year while most of the other local smartphone makers saw theirs declined, forcing them to look at other growing markets like India, Southeast Asia, Middle East, Africa, Europe and Latin America.
  4. Shenzhen-based OnePlus, a sister company of Vivo and Oppo and part of the BKK Electronics conglomerate, announced that they sold 1 million OnePlus 6 (~$530) in less than a month (22 days to be exact). In comparison, it took 3 months to reach the same milestone for the 2 previous OnePlus phones, while Apple sold more than 3 million iPhone X in just 22 days last quarter.
  5. Apple confirmed that starting with the next generation of its mobile operating system (iOS 12), expected in the fall, it will deactivate the data function of an iPhone lightning/USB port if the device has not been unlocked in the past hour. This “USB Restricted Mode” will prevent anyone (mostly law enforcement agencies) to crack into an iPhone using the lightning port and siphon all of its data.
  6. App of the week: the Lumen Privacy Monitor is a VPN application for Android that monitors applications on the device for connections to servers tracking users and collecting data.

Joining me this week to discuss these top mobile news stories and more is tech veteran Eric Leandri, the co-founder and CEO of search-engine Qwant.

Author: Jean Baptiste is a Vice-President and Principal Analyst at Atherton Research, a global technology intelligence firm helping clients deliver successful go-to-market strategies.

The Best Blockchain Jobs And Careers Available Today

, Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Blockchain expertise captured the No. 1 position on the latest skills index by Upwork for being the hottest in the U.S. job market. This is just one of the many indicators of how high the demand is for people with blockchain skills. Blockchain may have begun in finance to support cryptocurrencies, but now blockchain technology and the solutions it can provide are being explored by industries from healthcare to insurance to manufacturing and more. The only way companies can explore and achieve goals with blockchain is to hire those who have the skill-set to navigate this new technology. Here we’ll spotlight what blockchain technology is, who wants those with blockchain skills and some of the best blockchain jobs and careers that are available today.

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock

What is blockchain technology?

Although blockchain technology was first developed to use with the cryptocurrency bitcoin in 2008, it is essentially a distributed database that can store any type of record. Users can only edit the parts of the blockchain they own, making it highly secure, but anyone with access to the blockchain can see it, so it is also highly transparent. Some have described blockchain as the “internet of value”—anyone can send value anywhere the blockchain file can be accessed just like anyone can publish information that others can access on the internet no matter where they are in the world. Now that blockchain technology has expanded beyond the financial sector, many companies representing many industries are researching and exploring how adopting blockchain could help their business.

Where is the demand for blockchain skills?

Blockchain has become what the “cloud” was in the mid-2000s, poised to be the most highly talked about technology and one that offers tremendous professional opportunity. According to Upwork’s skills index, blockchain is the fastest-growing skill out of more than 5,000 on the site. Currently, demand is far outpacing supply. According to Burning Glass Technologies, there were more than 5,743 largely full-time job openings posted that required blockchain skills in the last 12 months. Even though as a skill-set, blockchain technology is in its infancy, it’s in demand from start-ups as well as established companies such as IBM and Samsung. Organizations are exploring not only cryptopcurrencies powered by blockchain but how the distributed ledgers that are the backbone of blockchain can be applied in other areas such as supply chains, legal, contracts and more.

Blockchain research and adoption requires the leadership and skills of professionals who can build the strategy and develop the blockchain solutions. Here are a few of the hottest positions:

Blockchain developer

Since there is virtually no industry leader who isn’t somewhat intrigued by the potential opportunities made possible through blockchain technology, blockchain developers who have the expertise to help companies develop blockchain platforms are in high demand. Blockchain development might offer the most robust career path at the moment, because until solutions are developed, all the benefits of blockchain can’t be realized. Some organizations call this role a blockchain engineer. This is a highly technical position that requires tremendous attention to detail.

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KFC Just Announced the Unthinkable. Here's Why It's a Bad Idea

Kentucky Fried Chicken is turning into Kentucky Fried Tofu later this year. This comes as a result of the US brand’s recent announcement that they will be catering a new menu item to new sections of the market in the United Kingdom, who don’t eat chicken.  

This mystery meat, may contain less calories, but the larger question worth asking is will it contain the same authentic brand experience for KFC customers?

I think that it goes without saying that this is a bad move.

Although this isn’t as dramatic as the IHOP to IHOB rebrand, it does raise a few concerns from my perspective. If KFC changed their name to KFU, I think some towns would riot.

So let’s get to the basics of this announcement and why I think it’s a bad idea.

For starters, KFC is a world-renowned fast food chain. Being a leader in the fast-food industry means that they aren’t catering to health enthusiasts.

In fact, they have been doing the opposite–very profitably–for decades, now.  

However, every company goes through periods where they feel they need to catch onto the next big thing. Unfortunately for KFC, I don’t think they’ve established a proper market fit.  

The Colonel’s secret sauce is in their branding. The white-haired founder lives on posthumously in commercials and franchise logos, and represents a staple in American comfort food.

What do you think about KFC what comes to mind?  

Probably their home-style biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, and of course their famous chicken.  This is because they’ve done an excellent job of creating something that everyone in the world can easily recognize.

Despite this recent blunder, there are still a few takeaways we can glean from this experience.

So what can other companies learn?

1. Continue doing what made you successful

As businesses strive to increase profitability, it’s important to make sure that the main thing, remains the main thing.

Jamba Juice, Protein Bar, and even Subway cater to a health-conscious demographic. Customers who choose to eat at these restaurants aren’t going to start eating at KFC suddenly. It’s important that you let your competitors deviate into newer markets where you don’t have a presence, while you stay tried and true for your loyal customers.  

2. Don’t try to please everyone.

Imagine if KFC began offering a variety of new products: buttered popcorn to complement the popcorn chicken, BBQ ribs for a true Southern experience, and even chicken and waffles to make sure that everyone got what they wanted.

The menu would become too convoluted, kitchen staffs would be in pandemonium over entirely new food items, and sales would plummet.  

The perfect recipe for pleasing no one is trying to please everyone.

3. Improve strengths, not weaknesses.

Everyone has weaknesses. There isn’t a single company on the planet that is perfect. However, working on strengths is the fastest way to get better and stay in your own lane.

When everyone else is trying to compensate for weaknesses, focus on improving what is already working. If a particular product line is doing well, devote more research and developent money towards that. If another product is undesirable, ditch it and move on to something else.  

Being able to launch successful products can be challenging. There’s a reason that Apple doesn’t make driverless cars, and Tesla doesn’t make smartphones.

Being a leader in any market means having sound judgment in terms of what not to focus on.

From my own personal experience, I’d suggest that anytime you are thinking of going into a new market, you make sure that it won’t alienate current customers, or deviate too far from your current successful product lines.

Companies I’ve worked with in my career, usually are best served to stick to the plan and continue doing what’s been working well for them. When companies try to take on too much, too fast–in multiple directions–that energy often tapers out and sales start to fall. Momentum and timing are keys to success in business, as in life.

Don’t try to make everyone happy, and don’t cater to vegetarians if you are the world’s leading chicken chain!

Android Circuit: Radical Galaxy S10 Leaks, Huge Note 9 Revealed, Google Confirms Expensive Pixel 3

Taking a look back at seven days of news and headlines across the world of Android, this week’s Android Circuit includes the futuristic Galaxy S10 hardware, the latest leaked details of the Galaxy Note 9, the unique logo that confirmed Google Pixel 3 XL, the Nokia 5.1’s upcoming American adventure, OnePlus 6’s latest security issues, a review of Huawei P20 Pro, and a new font for Android.

Android Circuit is here to remind you of a few of the many things that have happened around Android in the last week (and you can find the weekly Apple news digest here).

Supersizing The Galaxy Note 9

If Samsung wants to have a hashtag for the upcoming Galaxy Note 9, I suspect #big is in the running. By Reporting on the latest leaks and information around the South Korean phablet, Forbes’ Gordon Kelly writes that everything is bigger, from the storage and memory, to the camera and the battery:

The Galaxy Note 8 was rightly criticised for its meagre 3,300mAh battery and the Galaxy S9 Plus only improved on this slightly at 3,500 mAh. But now Ice Universe points out that, thanks to clever camera positioning, the Galaxy Note 9 will be the first mass-market Samsung phone with a 4,000 mAh battery.

More here on Forbes.

Galaxy S10’s Futuristic Speaker In Display

As smartphone designers around the world look to reduce bezels and facias on the front of the device. Almost every manufacturer is turning to notched displays, but Samsung has another twist to add to the equation. It looks like the Galaxy S10 will not need to have an earpiece speaker at the top of the handset, because new bone conduction technology will allow it to use the display to generate the audio. I looked over the new details here:

Of course the more hardware you can remove from the front of your smartphone, the smaller the notch has to be. Samsung has a trick up its sleeve to reduce the amount of forward facing technology that takes up space either in the notch or the top bezel. It can use the screen to act as the earpiece and produce the audio when a user is on a voice call.

…This doesn’t mean that the Galaxy S10 will not have any speakers, but it does mean they can be side mounted, freeing up vital space on the front of the S10 so that Samsung’s design team can – presumably like every other smartphone design team – reduce the fascia and bezels and create an all-display front-facing profile.

More on Forbes.

Samsung president of mobile communications business DJ Koh presents the new Samsung Galaxy S9 (Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images)

Pixel 3 XL’s Mystery Logo ‘Confirms’ Google Leak.

Leaked photos that many believed represented the upcoming Pixel 3 XL handset have a subtle sign that ties them back to Google. While the handsets may not have the stylised ‘G’ logo as found on production models of the Pixel handsets, the placeholder logo has been used before… on prototypes of the Pixel 2. Stephen Hall sums up the details:

A photo of a Google Pixel 3 XL prototype leaked earlier today, showing its notch-and-chin design, its ‘crosshatch’ code name, and the first look at what seems to be an all-glass back. If you had any doubt in your mind that it’s a real Google prototype, then I think those doubts can be settled. I found the mystery placeholder logo on the device’s back on an official Pixel 2 prototype from last year.

More on 9to5Google. Meanwhile it looks like one of the curious Pixel 2 features will return in the Pixel 3, according to a deep cut on the Android P source code:

Because XDA Forums’ member meraz9000 attained a prototype Pixel 3 XL which Google accidentally confirmed is the real deal and that user has been able to confirm Active Edge works on their model. Furthermore, after digging around in Android P beta code, XDA Developers found reference to Active Edge commands for the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL codenames (Crosshatch and Blueline). Slam dunk.

More on that feature find here.

Next: Nokia 5.1 heading to America, OnePlus 6 security issues, Huawei P20 Pro reviewed, and Google’s new font…

Could Google Image Search Help Fight Fake News On Social Media?

Shutterstock

Last month an image purporting to show children in cages as a result of current immigration policies went viral on social media, accelerated by a number of high profile journalists, activists and former government officials who shared it widely – their visibility and stature leading many to trust the image at face value without the level of suspicion and verification that users might apply to other viral images. The image was real, but taken out of context and spread virally before users began to realize it actually dated from a 2014 news article. Yet, when I first saw the image I simply right-clicked on it and ran a reverse Google Images search that immediately turned up the original 2014 source. Could social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook automate such image searches to help combat fake news at scale?

Social media today is an ocean of false and misleading information spread for nefarious purposes, but far more often by well-meaning individuals who share first and ask questions later. The ease and rapidness with which a 2014 news image went viral, made famous by the very individuals ordinarily tasked with helping to combat false information stands testament to just how easy it is for false information to spread in today’s speed-over-accuracy information ecosystem. In contrast to unverifiable citizen imagery that lacks provenance, professional news photography is particularly easy to verify, yet such ease of verification did little to slow the spread of this image.

The problem is that social media norms encourage sharing over understanding, creating an informational ecosystem in which users act more as transmission nodes, receiving and passing onwards information, than as true consumers that digest and reason about the information they receive. According to one study, 59% of links shared on social media were never actually viewed, while an increasing body of research emphasizes that in our click-happy world of social media, our social capital is dependent on being the quickest to share new information with our connections, with little incentive to take the time to actually read and digest that information to vet it first.

The mobile interfaces that dominate social media consumption today worsen this effect, entrenching the walled garden in which we consume social content and making it difficult to perform extensive research to verify a post. After all, juggling multiple browser tabs and wading through multiple websites to verify the provenance and context of an image seen on social media takes time even on a desktop, but is especially hard in the resource and screen-constrained environment of mobile devices.

On a desktop using the Google Chrome browser it is relatively trivial to right click on a questionable image, click “Search Google for image” and instantly see all of the places on the web that Google’s search engine has seen that image before. Google’s commercial Cloud Vision API goes a step further and can even OCR the image to recognize all text seen in it in 55 languages, making it possible even to fact check visual memes that contain textual quotes or statements. Even more usefully, the Cloud Vision API scans all previous appearances of the image on the web for the captions associated with the image in each case across all of the languages it supports, assigning it topical labels that summarize the most common descriptions of the image online.

Imagine if the major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook adopted a similar reverse images search and OCR for all images shared on their platform. Every single image shared on their platforms would be compared against a database of unique images and for each new image seen for the first time, the system would perform an open web image comparison to find all previous appearances of that image online. The date the image was first seen on the web and a links to a few high-profile appearances of it would be displayed prominently under each instance of the image being shared online.

In the case of the immigration image, the photograph was shared with a link to the article it came from, which was clearly dated 2014, but when shared on Twitter and Facebook, the presentation display formats used by those platforms do not clearly and prominently emphasize the publication date of a link, meaning that all most users saw was the photograph and a citation to azcentral.com. Displaying the publication date of shared links more prominently might have slowed the spread of the image if users could immediately see that the article dated to 2014.

William Shatner Promotes Solar-Powered Cryptocoin Mining

Ever the showman and pitchman, William Shatner isn’t shy when he’s passionate about something. So onlookers may have expected something more from Star Trek’s original Capt. Kirk when he announced that Solar Alliance Energy, a company for which he’s the spokesperson, had purchased a 165,000 square foot warehouse in Murphysboro, Ill. as the first of many solar-powered facilities it plans to lease to cryptocurrency miners. Maybe a full-voiced, head-titled-back, “COOOOOOINNNNNNNNN!” as a camera pulled up and away? Alas, no, not today.

Instead Shatner made anodyne statements about the future of currencies that existed solely as bits. “I am proud to be a part of the group that is powering the digital currency revolution,” he said in a statement. “Blockchain technologies, and cryptocurrencies specifically, are at the cutting edge of a new distributed technology infrastructure.”

Shatner’s connection to tech is tenuous — and always has been, from Priceline to LottoGopher — but it highlights a significant and rapidly increasing problem associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies: they require vast amounts of electrical power. The distributed worldwide Bitcoin network employs specialized server hardware that performs over 80 million trillion operations a second worldwide to find a mathematical needle in a haystack that allows them to collect a hefty reward and add transactions to a global ledger, called a blockchain. By comparison, the world’s fastest supercomputer performs 200,000 trillion operations a second.

The need for that much calculation comes with accompanying needs for power. A recent peer-reviewed paper that performed a rigorous analysis of the likely energy consumed by Bitcoin alone said the currency consumes nearly as much energy as all of Ireland, with a current annualized rate of 22.3 trillion watts of power (TWh) a year at minimum, compared to Ireland’s consumption of 25 TWh. Bitcoin’s electrical use could power roughly 2 billion average American homes. The paper’s author believes this could triple by the end of 2018.

Solar Alliance Energy’s Murphysboro facility will get a 3-megawatt solar panel array, which at a theoretical peak capacity could generate about one-tenth of 1% of power consumed by Bitcoin globally. But because solar only works during daylight hours and only at peak efficiency for part of the day, actual production will likely be far less.

While cryptocurrency advocates have promoted the idea of green power stoking the Bitcoin furnaces—especially off-the-grid sources devoted exclusively to mining—the scale and location of large-scale mining operations make any dramatic shift to solar unlikely.

Murphysboro has just 8,000 residents, which is typical of cities in which cryptocurrency mining operations locate. Small towns with cheap hydroelectric or other forms of power around the United States have increasingly wrestled with miners who come into town and start asking for tens of megawatts of power, the equivalent of large-scale industrial operations. Some public utility districts have imposed advance payment requirements for infrastructure upgrades, frozen new mining operations, or created new tiers of service to charge miners more.

Shatner was once a cryptocoin skeptic, but told the Chicago Tribune he’s now a convert. While he lives in California, he has a home in Kentucky, and expects he might visit the facility, which Solar Alliance Energy plans to start leasing out to mining clients by the end of 2018.

Senators Demand Answers From Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos About Alexa Mishap

Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) have sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a number of privacy-related questions about Amazon’s Echo voice-controlled speaker, reflecting the growing concern about how the device records and retains users’ conversations, according to Wired.

The senators, who serve as chair and ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, specifically referenced a widely reported incident last month in which a Portland couple had their conversation recorded by the Alexa voice-recognition software used in the Echo. The device then sent the recording as an attachment to one of their contacts without them requesting it.

Amazon confirmed that the event occurred, and explained that it was caused by a series of unlikely triggers. In their letter to Bezos, the senators demanded action that would prevent the same thing from happening again, said Wired, which obtained a copy of the still unreleased correspondence.

Wired reported that the letter contained almost 30 questions, including about some of the nitty-gritty of Alexa’s data management like when Alexa sends data to Amazon’s servers, how often it does so, how long that captured data is stored, and what period of time after someone says “Alexa” (which cues the technology to perk up) does an Echo record a conversation. The senators also asked whether consumers can delete recordings.

All voice-recognition devices—whether those from Apple, Amazon, Google, or startups—must listen continuously in order to know when its trigger is hit. (On smartphones, a user may opt to use a different trigger.) While Amazon and Google have characterized their respective systems’ privacy components relatively thoroughly, with Apple erring on the side of sending relatively little voice data off of devices, Amazon’s particulars are less well known.

Sen. Coons tweeted a link to the Wired story about their letter shortly after it appeared, and both senators are quoted in the article.

NASA’s Mars ‘Opportunity’ Rover May Be Lost in Massive Dust Storm

It outlasted its 90-day initial mission by over 14 years, but a massive Martian dust storm could put an end to the solar-powered Opportunity rover’s travels. The storm has blanketed 14 million square miles of Mars, or about a quarter of the planet, which is currently inhabited only by active and inactive robots.

Opportunity began its lonely sojourn Jan. 25, 2004, and helped Earth-bound scientists examine meteorites on the Meridiani Plains, and discovered traces of ancient acidic lakes.

NASA says the solar-powered craft stopped responding on June 12, but all hope isn’t lost. The agency expects Opportunity shifted into a “low power fault mode,” which disables all systems except the mission clock, reducing power usage from scarce energy stored in its batteries.

The clock will regularly wake an onboard computer to check power levels. If power ever returns to an operational level, the rover will slowly bring itself back into service—or at least start communicating.

While the craft derives its energy from the sun, it’s critical for it to charge its batteries fully enough to run heaters that keep components from failing in the cold, ironically including the batteries. Mars’ average temperature—its average!—is -81°F.

Scott Maxwell, a former Mars rover driver who led the team driving Opportunity and its twin Spirit for the first several years, says via email to Fortune, “I refuse to believe that anything can kill Opportunity—I half think she’ll still be roving Mars when humans are forgotten!”

Maxwell, who left NASA in 2013 for Google, notes in the spirit of anthropomorphizing common to those involved with rovers, “She did more than anyone expected from her or ever could have expected from her, and if we can all say that at the end of our lives, then we’ll be as lucky as she is.”

NASA’s Curiosity rover is elsewhere on the planet, on the edge of the current dust storm, but it also doesn’t need sunlight. It relies on radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTGs): plutonium-powered devices that convert the heat of radioactive decay into electricity.

This isn’t Opportunity’s first dust rodeo. In 2007, just a few years into its extended mission, a planetary dust storm blocked the sun for two weeks, during which time the craft stopped responding as well. However, the current storm is twice as opaque as the 2007 one, providing even less marginal sunlight.

Opportunity landed with a twin craft, Spirit, which stopped communicating in 2010. Spirit is believed to have given up the ghost due to a failed wheel and being mired in soft sand, which led to a bad position relative to the sun for charging. Without enough power, Spirit likely froze too deeply to revive itself.

The agency has plenty of eyes on Mars that may help it discover Opportunity’s fate if it doesn’t wake from slumber. Besides Curiosity and Opportunity on the surface, a whopping six orbiters circle the red planet, gathering data for NASA, the European Space Agency, Russia’s Roscosmos, and the Indian Space Research Organization.

More help is on the way, too. NASA recently launched towards Mars the Insight lander—and two tiny CubeSats, satellites that are 14.4 by 9.5 by 4.6 inches when packed tight. Unfurled, they contain full propulsion systems. The CubeSats, named Mars Cube One and Two, won’t collect science data or land, but they’re tests for future small-scale deployments.

NASA says it will be several days after the storm abates before Opportunity’s fate becomes clear.

ZTE, Trump, and China: Here’s What the Fuss Is All About

The U.S. government’s decision to ban China’s ZTE has been simmering in recent months and is now starting to reach a boil. The issue has made for a rare wedge between President Trump and Republicans congressional leaders. It also has implications not only for trade ties between the U.S. and China, but also for technology companies and national security in both countries.

Here’s some background on the tensions that the ZTE affair is generating.

The trade ban

ZTE is one of China’s leading makers of Android phones and wireless-network equipment. The company had $17 billion in revenue last year and, in March, a market value of $24 billion. That month, the company admitted to illegally exporting technology to Iran and North Korea in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. The U.S. Commerce Department fined the company more than $1 billion. At the time, ZTE vowed to reprimand employees who violated the sanctions.

Instead, the company fired a handful of employees and gave bonuses to others responsible for the violations. In response, the U.S. banned U.S. companies from exporting components necessary to ZTE’s survival. The components include everything from Qualcomm chips to Google’s mobile operating system.

The move was effectively a death sentence for ZTE, which a few weeks later announced it was shutting down. Shortly after, President Trump tweeted he would work with Chinese president Xi Jinping to reverse the ban, since it would lead to “too many jobs in China lost.” ZTE employs 75,000 workers and says it has business operations in more than 160 countries.

The New Settlement

On June 11, ZTE agreed to a settlement with the U.S. government that imposed heavy penalties: a $1 billion fine, another $400 million set aside in escrow to cover any future violations, and a pledge to replace its board and executive team by mid-July. ZTE must also allow U.S. inspections of its plants and public disclosure of its supply chain.

The agreement will allow ZTE to resume operations and update its financials to reflect the impact that the ban and the fines will have on its earnings. Following ZTE’s confirmation of the settlement, shares in the company resumed trading in Hong Kong and Shenzhen for the first time in two months on June 13.

Once trading resumed, however, the stock plummeted 42% in a single day.

The Political Fallout

Trump’s efforts to reverse the ban haven’t gone over well in Washington. Members of Congress as well as defense officials expressed concern about reversing the ban early on, arguing that ZTE’s practices posed a threat to national security. The resistance included the rare pushback from leaders in Trump’s own party.

Following the White House’s new deal with ZTE, a bipartisan group in Congress quickly moved to reverse it. Republican Senate leaders set up a vote to retroactively reimpose financial penalties and uphold the ban on ZTE selling products to the U.S. government. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other administration officials lobbied against such a vote.

The Senate plans to fold the provision blocking the deal inside a defense bill that contained other measures supported by the Trump administration, which could prompt the president to sign it into law.

“Their technology is a national security threat, according to our defense and law enforcement authorities,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said of the efforts to block the deal. “Why on earth is the Trump administration considering relaxing penalties on such a bad actor?”

The Spying Game

Another wrinkle in the ZTE affair is the potential for cross-border espionage. In early May, the Pentagon told U.S. military bases to stop selling phones made by ZTE and its Chinese peer Huawei, saying they “may pose an unacceptable risk to personnel, information and mission.” The Pentagon also urged U.S. retail stores against selling the phones as well.

For its part, China wants to wean itself from products and services from U.S. technology companies, citing security threats such as the possibility that Washington could use American technology to spy on China. In December, the Chinese Government Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a five-year plan to build out its own optical chips industry, while reducing its exposure to foreign firms.

The New York Times has suggested recently that the near collapse of ZTE may be a Sputnik moment for China, in that it’s a wake up call to build out its technological independence. In 1957, the launch of the Sputnik 1 artificial satellite by Russia inspired the U.S. to get serious about its ambitions in space technology.

Deliveroo steps up Just Eat battle, letting restaurants use own riders

LONDON (Reuters) – Deliveroo will allow restaurants to use their own riders for orders placed through its takeaway food app, in a move which will boost the number of available outlets by 50 percent as it intensifies a battle with rival Just Eat.

FILE PHOTO: Deliveroo food delivery bags are seen in Nice, France, June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

All orders currently placed on the platform in Britain are delivered by one of the firm’s 15,000 riders, well-known for their distinctive black and teal jackets and delivery boxes emblazoned with its kangaroo logo.

Just Eat, however, works with restaurants which mainly supply their own drivers in Britain, and in limited cases uses third-party couriers.

Deliveroo hopes the change, which is called Marketplace+ and comes into effect in July, will boost the number of available restaurants from 10,000 to 15,000 by the end of the year with thousands more riders likely to be taken on.

Restaurants will be able to accept orders and assign them to either their own drivers or those on Deliveroo’s platform.

“Traditionally we’ve been unable to work with those restaurants … because they already have their own delivery fleet and so they thought ‘well we don’t really need Deliveroo,’” co-founder and Chief Executive Will Shu told reporters.

“We’re changing the game. We’re enabling these restaurants to tap into our delivery fleet,” he added.

Just Eat said in March it would spend an extra 50 million pounds ($67 million) this year to battle competition from rivals such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo, in a fiercely competitive market which has burgeoned in recent years.

Since making its first delivery in London in 2013, Deliveroo has expanded into 11 other countries with new markets due soon, prompting questions about whether the firm will pursue an initial public offering (IPO) as it continues to grow.

“An IPO – I’m not saying it’s off the cards,” said Shu. “It’s definitely something that we’ll consider but just not now. We’re not in any rush, we’re heads-down on trying to really grow this business,” he said.

Editing by Stephen Addison

Biggest Surprises (and Missed Opportunities) of the E3 Press Conferences

It’s Tuesday, which means the E3 show floor is now open. It also means we’re finally at the end of a four-day slog of press conferences from some of the gaming world’s largest publishers. While Activision Blizzard still doesn’t do its own pre-E3 event, just about everyone else does, which means these 96 hours have been a deluge of announcements and reveals that we did our best to get our arms around. We didn’t even cover them all: the Square Enix press conference was basically devoid of new information, and the PC Gaming Show, while compelling, was mostly a long list of indie game announcements—some of which we’ll be getting to later this week.

So, for now, here’s everything you need to know about every press conference you need to know about. Get through this, and you’ll be ready for all the other E3 news that starts….well, now.

Electronic Arts

E3 kicked things off on Saturday (yes, Saturday) with a quiet, largely uneventful press conference from Electronic Arts, broadcasted from their annual EA Play event at the Hollywood Palladium. The presser opened with Battlefield V, set during World War II, which will have heavily destructible environments and a Battle Royale Mode a la Fortnite. Respawn Entertainment gave up some details about their in-progress Star Wars game—more on that shortly—and a bit of an update on the ongoing service for Star Wars: Battlefront II.

In new games, EA revealed Unravel 2, a follow-up to its game about a precocious, cuddly little yarn man (this time, he has a friend!) and Sea of Solitude, a compellingly brooding small game introduced by a compellingly earnest German developer. The publisher also took the wraps announced a mobile Command & Conquer game and gave a lengthy demo of Anthem, BioWare’s upcoming shared-world mech game that seems to be aiming to be a Destiny killer. Even better, Anthem now has a date: February, 22, 2019. (Also FIFA was there, because FIFA is always there.)

Biggest Surprise: We got a name for Respawn’s new Star Wars game: Jedi: Fallen Order. Respawn has made great first-person shooters with the Titanfall series, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with the Star Wars license.

Biggest Missed Opportunity: Jedi: Fallen Order was announced sans logo or even concept trailer, which felt like a letdown. It’s hard to get excited about a name, even when it’s a good name.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s last couple of Xbox press conferences haven’t exactly succeeded at articulating the future of the Xbox—even if that future is unexpectedly bright. This year, then, was a pleasant surprise: Microsoft brought a lot of material, and a lot of surprises.

First, the publisher has quietly been getting very acquisition-happy, and is hoping to bolster its first-party games with a slew of studios that they now own. These include Ninja Theory, who made last year’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Undead Labs (State of Decay), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), and Compulsion Games (We Happy Few). It’s hard to say whether or not acquisitions like this are good for studios; creators get a payday, but history is riddled with instances of big publishers buying small studios and slowly running them into the ground. Time will tell whether or not this is good for gaming, but it’s certainly a good move for Microsoft.

Then, there were games. A lot of games. There’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a game about ninjas from the developers of Dark Souls, coming in 2019. Forza Horizon 4, a new installment that takes the racing franchise to Britain. The Division 2, which brings the shared world shooter to Washington, DC. Devil May Cry 5, with the franchise’s original creator back at the helm. Dying Light 2, a sequel to my favorite zombie parkour game. Gears of War 5, a Gears of War tactics game, and a Gears of War themed, uh, Funko Pop game. And Halo: Infinite, a new installment in the Halo franchise that we know just about nothing about. Also, fans got a new trailer for Kingdom Hearts 3, which is officially coming out January 25, 2019.

Biggest Surprise: Halo: Infinite could be a big deal, as could the expanded effort into Microsoft Game Pass, a subscription service that gives subscribers the Netflix-like ability to download and play a swath of the Xbox library for a flat monthly fee. But after Microsoft made so much noise about the PC at last year’s press conference, this year’s relative silence spoke volumes.

Biggest Missed Opportunity: Offering just about no details on a new Halo title made the announcement fall pretty flat.

Bethesda

The Bethesda E3 Showcase was huge this year. We got a closer look at Rage 2, a massive open-world shooter co-developed by id Software and Avalanche Studios, complete (?) with an on-stage appearance by Andrew WK. A short trailer played for Doom Eternal a sequel to the excellent Doom 2016 reboot; just like the old-school Doom 2, Eternal is apparently set on Earth. QuakeCon in August should provide many more details in that realm.

There will also be a new Wolfenstein game next year, set in an alternate-universe 1980s and starring the twin daughters of Nazi-murder-machine BJ Blaskowicz. And then there’s the big stuff: a lengthy look at Fallout 76, an impressive-looking, fully online, open-world Fallout game coming November 14; Elder Scrolls Blades, a mobile phone game that strives to be a fully featured, complete Elder Scrolls experience; and two projects much farther out on the development pipeline, sci-fi title Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI. Both are unlikely to show up on the current generation of consoles.

Biggest Surprise: Any glimpse at Elder Scrolls VI is a bit of a surprise, actually. As was the jokey-but-maybe-real Announcement of Skyrim: Very Special Edition for the Alexa.

Biggest Missed Opportunity: Andrew WK, whose presence seemed to confuse and even tranquilize the crowd. (To be fair, this is mostly a missed opportunity for Andrew WK.)

Ubisoft

Ubisoft’s presser opted for meatiness, giving fans a long look at Beyond Good and Evil 2, which looks to be a huge earthy space opera, though detail are scarce about gameplay or release. As Microsoft also revealed, The Division 2 will be set in Washington, DC, and will feature raids and free DLC as it tries its hardest to become the Tom Clancy-verse Destiny-killer it aspires to be.

New properties showed up as well. There was a lot of Skull & Bones, a gritty pirate adventure in a shared online world, and Starlink: Battle for Atlas, a sci-fi toys-to-life game (think Skylanders) bringing its dogfight-heavy combat to the Nintendo Switch—and featuring Fox from Star Fox. Finally, there was a big look at Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which takes place in Ancient Greece and lets the player choose between two characters. Also, you can talk to Socrates, so … there’s that. Odyssey comes out October 5.

Biggest Surprise: Unlike the past couple of years, Aisha Tyler didn’t host. Aisha! Where’d you go? (Probably one of your gazillion jobs.)

Biggest Missed Opportunity: Despite teasing it with recent DLC for Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Ubisoft did not announce a new entry in the Splinter Cell stealth game franchise. Color me disappointed.

Sony

Sony’s Monday-night press conference this year was a bit odd. It started in a small “church” set, which ended up being a recreation of a location from The Last of Us, Part II, which was also the first game shown of the night. The showcase focused on lengthy demos for a handful of major Sony titles: The Last of Us; Ghost of Tsushima, a samurai game developed by Sucker Punch, which looks like a Kurosawa fan’s dream game; Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima’s surrealist eco-pocalypse starring mo-capped digital versions of Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen along with what was, frankly, a weird number of babies; and Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man, which is looking like quite a romp.

Between each of these big showcases, we got canned commentary along with other announcements: A Resident Evil 2 full HD remake, coming next January 22; va sequel to the samurai Souls-like Nioh 2 developed by Team Ninja; and Control, a fascinating-looking game from Remedy Entertainment (Alan Wake) about the director of a supernatural agency. There was also another Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer, showcasing a Pirates of the Carribean world, which brought the week’s KH3 trailer total to three (so far).

Biggest Surprise: The footage of The Last of Us, Part II, along with being just as dizzyingly hyperviolent as its predecessor, featured what might be the first and only lesbian kiss ever featured on an E3 stage. The presentation of queerness in a game by a company like Sony isn’t without reproach by any means, but that’s honestly still pretty cool.

Biggest Missed Opportunity: Fair warning: I’m not going to stop hollering about Bloodborne 2 until they release Bloodborne 2.

Nintendo

Nintendo’s press conference somehow felt both huge and underwhelming. First, we got some new announcements, in the form of Daemon x Machina, a neat-looking mech action game, coming in 2019; some DLC for Xenoblade Chronicles 2; a new snazzy-looking Fire Emblem; and Super Mario Party, which will include the novel feature of linking together two Switch consoles to make one big board-game simulation. Next: that game you like is coming back in style! Yes, it was the Nintendo Switch port montage, featuring a ton of games, like Dragon Ball FighterZ, Hollow Knight, Wasteland 2, and the JRPG classic The World Ends With You (which we’d heard about but was still nice to see).

The rest of the show was devoted to one title, and one title only: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which arrives for the Nintendo Switch December 7. They ran down the characters (all of them, from every Smash Bros game ever, are here), and went over a long list of very detailed changes that are sure to delight hardcore fans but might have been a bit dull to everyone else. And that was, uh, it.

Biggest Surprise: Ridley, the giant dragon alien baddie from Metroid, is coming to Smash Bros, which seems like a logistical nightmare for the developers.

Biggest Missed Opportunity: Nintendo completely failed to mention Metroid Prime 4, which the company had announced last year, or their online service, which is supposedly still slated for this fall and yet is still a huge unknown.


More Great WIRED Stories

Craigslist Founder Donates $20 Million To Endow Journalism Program

Craig Newmark, founder of the online classifieds site Craigslist, donated $20 million to the endowment of the graduate journalism school at the City University of New York (CUNY), which is changing its name to the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.

The school has focused on ways to instill more trust in journalism, including a program Newmark helped underwrite, the News Integrity Initiative, to which he gave $1.5 million, and which ultimately raised $14 million. The school will continue to pursue that initiative, as well as hire more faculty, and create new programs. The school says Newmark will not be involved in choosing how money is spent. A relatively new school, it can’t yet rely on donations from alumni.

This may seem like an ironic gift for a man who newspaper publishers once railed against as the destroyer of classified ads, a high-margin pillar in broadsheet and tabloid profits. Craigslist, founded in 1995, gained steam as the decade progressed, and a 2013 report in the journal Management Science estimated papers lost $5 billion to Craigslist between 2000 and 2007.

Newmark, however, has nourished an interest dating back a decade in better understanding the future of journalism, partly by funding investigations into that topic, and by underwriting non-profit reporting organizations and academic institutions and publications. In recent years, he has donated millions to investigative news site ProPublica, the Sunlight Foundation, the Columbia Journalism Review, Data & Society Research Institute, and others. In 2015, Newmark founded Craig Newmark Philanthropies, through which these gifts now flow.

His operational involvement with Craigslist has been minimal for many years, though he remains a key shareholder in the privately held firm. Some estimates suggest the site nets hundreds of millions of dollars a year from charging small fees for jobs, apartments, and a few other categories. Forbes lists him as a billionaire, but Newmark hasn’t commented precisely on his wealth.

Though Newmark has no direct history with CUNY, he does with Jeff Jarvis, a professor at and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY journalism school, as a key influence in guiding his understanding of the field. The center focuses on researching a viable financial future for journalism and training students in creating sustainable editorial ventures.

Newmark has credited Jarvis, a veteran journalist and editor, and at CUNY since 2005, with providing an education for him as newspapers faltered following the rise of Internet-based advertising and information sources. Jarvis, in a blog post today, knocked the idea to the side that Newmark deserved blame (or credit) for the shift in cost for short ads and its impact on the news business: “Craig didn’t invent the internet. He created the most prominent example of what the internet could do in directly connecting buyers and sellers, reducing inefficiency in a market.”

iPhone Exclusive: Apple's Radical Design 'Confirmed'

In May my exclusive story confirmed Apple’s new iPhone line-up and one cancellation. Now, I can reveal the designs of the most exciting models and the radical move Apple will make… 

Working in collaboration with popular accessories maker Ghostek, a partnership which previously saw me leak Samsung’s final Galaxy S9 design in December, I have obtained schematics for both the so-called ‘budget iPhone X’ and the super-sized iPhone X Plus. And while I expect the former to be the bestseller, it is the latter which will shake-up the smartphone world.

Let’s break them down.

Ghostek, Gordon Kelly

iPhone X Plus schematics show a triple rear camera

iPhone X Plus – A Triple Threat

The headline news is the schematics show iPhone X Plus will introduce triple rear camera. Huawei beat Apple to market with this technology in the excellent P20 Pro, the iPhone X Plus will be the handset to bring it to the masses.

Apple’s triple lens setup is currently unknown, but it would make sense to copy Huawei’s approach of a monochrome camera aiding the primary and telephoto modules. This produced class-leading low light photography. Low light is also an area where Apple has struggled against rivals (one in particular) over recent years.

Interestingly, I understand the second generation iPhone X will stick to two cameras so – once again – Apple will save its flagship photography for the largest (and most expensive) model.

In addition to this, the schematics show Apple has managed to cram a massive 6.5-inch display into the iPhone X Plus yet kept its footprint smaller than the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus: 157.2 x 77.1 mm (6.18 x 3.03-inches) compared to 158.4 x 78.1 mm (6.24 x 3.07-inches). That said, its steel chassis means it should weigh more than the 202g aluminium iPhone 8 Plus.

‘Budget’ iPhone X – Goodbye Mini iPhone X

In my May exclusive, I revealed there would be no ‘mini-iPhone X’ and again these schematics show Apple is thinking big.

Ghostek, Gordon Kelly

‘Budget’ iPhone X schematics confirm size and a single rear camera

The budget iPhone X (which I believe will simply be called ‘iPhone’), will measure 147.12 x 71.52 mm (5.79 x 2.81-inches) which is longer and wider than the current 5.8-inch iPhone: 143.6 x 70.9 mm (5.65 x 2.79-inch).

Yes, as widely rumoured, this will be a 6.1-inch phone.

Its budget roots can be seen in the single rear camera (it will also lose 3D Touch), while you’ll note the notch looks more pronounced.

To this end, I have been told the budget iPhone X will have first generation Face ID technology while the new iPhone X and iPhone X Plus have gen two. But take that with a pinch of salt as it comes from an unproven source.

Of course, the real appeal of the budget iPhone X will be the cost with Apple expected to slash prices across the range by as much as $300 compared to last year.

Needless to say, this far out it is possible for designs to change but with mass production taking several months to ramp up there would be no time for anything other than the most minor of tweaks.

So, ladies and gentlemen, you are indeed looking at two of Apple’s most exciting iPhones in years…

___

Follow Gordon on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

More On Forbes

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Cyber Saturday—Apple iPhone Phishing Trick, Zscaler as Best Tech IPO, Facebook Fails

Good morning, Cyber Saturday readers.

A month ago I was milling about a hotel room in New Orleans, procrastinating my prep for on-stage sessions at a tech conference, when I received a startling iMessage. “It’s Alan Murray,” the note said, referring to my boss’ boss’ boss.

Not in the habit of having Mr. Murray text my phone, I sat up straighter. “Please post your latest story here,” he wrote, including a link to a site purporting to be related to Microsoft 365, replete with Microsoft’s official corporate logo and everything. In the header of the iMessage thread, Apple’s virtual assistant Siri offered a suggestion: “Maybe: Alan Murray.”

The sight made me stagger, if momentarily. Then I remembered: A week or so earlier I had granted a cybersecurity startup, Wandera, permission to demonstrate a phishing attack on me. They called it, “Call Me Maybe.”

Alan Murray had not messaged me. The culprit was James Mack, a wily sales engineer at Wandera. When Mack rang me from a phone number that Siri presented as “Maybe: Bob Marley,” all doubt subsided. Jig, up.

There are two ways to pull off this social engineering trick, Mack told me. The first involves an attacker sending someone a spoofed email from a fake or impersonated account, like “Acme Financial.” This note must include a phone number; say, in the signature of the email. If the target responds—even with an automatic, out-of-office reply—then that contact should appear as “Maybe: Acme Financial” whenever the fraudster texts or calls.

The subterfuge is even simpler via text messaging. If an unknown entity identifies itself as Some Proper Noun in an iMessage, then the iPhone’s suggested contacts feature should show the entity as “Maybe: [Whoever].” Attackers can use this disguise to their advantage when phishing for sensitive information. The next step: either call a target to supposedly “confirm account details,” or send along a phishing link. If a victim takes the bait, the swindler is in.

The tactic apparently does not work with certain phrases, like “bank” or “credit union.” However, other terms, like “Wells Fargo,” “Acme Financial,” the names of various dead celebrities—or my topmost boss—have worked in Wandera’s tests, Mack said. Wandera reported the problem as a security issue to Apple on April 25th. Apple sent a preliminary response a week later, and a few days after that said it did not consider the issue to be a “security vulnerability,” and that it had reclassified the bug as a software issue “to help get it resolved.”

What’s alarming about the ploy is how little effort it takes to pull off. “We didn’t do anything crazy here like jailbreak a phone or a Hollywood style attack—we’re not hacking into cell towers,” said Dan Cuddeford, Wandera’s director of engineering. “But it’s something that your layman hacker or social engineer might be able to do.”

To Cuddeford, the research exposes two bigger issues. The first is that Apple doesn’t reveal enough about how its software works. “This is a huge black box system,” he said. “Unless you work for Apple, no one knows how or why Siri does what it does.”

The second concern is more philosophical. “We’re not Elon Musk saying AI is about to take over the world, but it’s one example of how AI itself is not being evil, but can be abused by someone with malicious intent,” Cuddeford said. As we continue to let machines guide our lives, we should be sure we’re aware how they’re making decisions.

Have a great weekend—and watch out for imposters.

Maybe: Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’sdaily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

It Is Mind-Bogglingly Easy to Rope Apple’s Siri into Phishing Scams

A month ago I was milling about a hotel room in New Orleans, procrastinating my prep for on-stage sessions at a tech conference, when I received a startling iMessage. “It’s Alan Murray,” the note said, referring to my boss’ boss’ boss.

Not in the habit of having Mr. Murray text my phone, I sat up straighter. “Please post your latest story here,” he wrote, including a link to a site purporting to be related to Microsoft 365, replete with Microsoft’s official corporate logo and everything. In the header of the iMessage thread, Apple’s virtual assistant Siri offered a suggestion: “Maybe: Alan Murray.”

The sight made me stagger, if momentarily. Then I remembered: A week or so earlier I had granted a cybersecurity startup, Wandera, permission to demonstrate a phishing attack on me. They called it, “Call Me Maybe.”

Alan Murray had not messaged me. The culprit was James Mack, a wily sales engineer at Wandera. When Mack rang me from a phone number that Siri presented as “Maybe: Bob Marley,” all doubt subsided. Jig, up.

There are two ways to pull off this social engineering trick, Mack told me. The first involves an attacker sending someone a spoofed email from a fake or impersonated account, like “Acme Financial.” This note must include a phone number; say, in the signature of the email. If the target responds—even with an automatic, out-of-office reply—then that contact should appear as “Maybe: Acme Financial” whenever the fraudster texts or calls next.

The subterfuge is even simpler via text messaging. If an unknown entity identifies itself as Some Proper Noun in an iMessage, then the iPhone’s suggested contacts feature should show the entity as “Maybe: [Whoever].” Attackers can use this disguise to their advantage when phishing for sensitive information. The next step involves either calling a target to supposedly “confirm account details” or sending along a phishing link. If a victim takes the bait, the swindler is in.

The tactic apparently does not work with certain phrases, like “bank” or “credit union.” However, other terms, like “Wells Fargo,” “Acme Financial,” the names of various dead celebrities—or my topmost boss!—have worked in Wandera’s tests, Mack said. Wandera reported the problem as a security issue to Apple on April 25th. Apple sent a preliminary response a week later, and a few days after that said it did not consider the issue to be a “security vulnerability,” and that it had reclassified the bug as a software issue “to help get it resolved.”

What’s alarming about the ploy is how little effort it takes to pull off. “We didn’t do anything crazy here like jailbreak a phone or a Hollywood style attack—we’re not hacking into cell towers,” said Dan Cuddeford, Wandera’s director of engineering. “But it’s something that your layman hacker or social engineer might be able to do.”

To Cuddeford, the research exposes two bigger issues. The first is that Apple doesn’t reveal enough about how its software works. “This is a huge black box system,” he said. “Unless you work for Apple, no one knows how or why Siri does what it does.”

The second concern is more philosophical. “We’re not Elon Musk saying AI is about to take over the world, but it’s one example of how AI itself is not being evil, but can be abused by someone with malicious intent,” Cuddeford said. As we let machines guide our lives, we should be sure we know how they’re making decisions.

This article first appeared in Cyber Saturday, the weekend edition of Fortune’s tech newsletter. Sign up here.

Medical firm puts vTax and SAN to sleep to save £30,000 with Scale

Oxford-based medical equipment manufacturer Penlon has saved about £30,000 by ditching its HPE server and SAN infrastructure for hyper-converged infrastructure from Scale Computing.

The move enables the company, which specialises in anesthesia systems, to avoid spend on physical servers and SAN hardware, as well as VMware licensing costs.

Penlon has about 200 employees at two Oxford sites and in Minnesota, US, and serves 90-plus countries.

Its IT infrastructure is centred on one of the Oxford sites, with key applications that include Microsoft Exchange, enterprise resource planning (ERP), financials and document management systems.

The company had reached a situation of “server sprawl”, said IT manager Tony Serratore, and moved to VMware-based virtualisation. But then it experienced “storage sprawl” as virtualisation made extra demands for storage capacity.

“We are a heavily regulated organisation and we need storage to retain records,” he said. “Adding more disks to expand the SAN was a pain, and because of downtime, it also cost the business.

“To expand the SAN was extra cost and also brought technical challenges with having to move data around.

“We were looking for a simple solution to which we could add services with minimum hassle.”

Serratore said his team evaluated hyper-converged products from Nutanix and Simplivity but at the time these required the use of VMware. Meanwhile, Scale Computing offered hyper-converged with its own hypervisor and following a proof-of-concept test period, nodes were deployed at primary and secondary locations.

Serratore said: “With Scale there was no VMware, with all its licence costs and complexity. That is one reason to get excited about it because costs were getting big with VMware, for high availability, for example. And Scale is so simple to set up. There’s no need to hire a VMware certified engineer. I could show a cleaner how to configure a new VM.”

Penlon started with a deployment of three HC4000 nodes totalling about 16TB (with two out of eight drives being flash) at its main site, with three HC1000 nodes for “limp mode” disaster recovery provision at a second location. To handle storage traffic, 10Gbps Ethernet switches were deployed.

Key benefits of the move to Scale hyper-converged appliances included savings on servers, storage and hypervisor licensing, as well as ease of deployment and management, and quicker recovery from outages.

“We saved a hell of a lot around admin with the physical servers,” said Serratore. “We can deploy VMs a lot quicker and our time to recover from outages is down from days to hours.

“We spent £12,000 on our last SAN, a server averaged about £5,000 and we were quoted £15,000 for a dedicated ERP server, so we have probably saved close to £30,000 over two years.”

Serratore added: “There are no licensing costs or ongoing support costs for VMware. Now it’s just about licensing Windows, not the servers or infrastructure. We have improved capacity to meet business needs and reduced management time and the ability to plan use of our IT budget.”

Now Penlon has only one throat to choke in terms of compute, storage and virtualisation, said Serratore.

“We used to ring up VMware and they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s Vizioncore [backup software] – call them’, but that can’t happen any more.”

Lyft Redesigns Its App—and Strategy—for the Age of Sharing

Before Lyft was Lyft, it was a struggling California startup called Zimride. Cofounder and CEO Logan Green launched it in 2007 (the name was an ode to Zimbabwe’s carpooling culture), aiming to connect college kids who needed rides with those who had cars. John Zimmer, now Lyft’s president, signed on with the idea that putting more people into existing cars could help cities fight emissions and traffic, all at once.

In 2012, Zimride spawned Lyft, after Green and Co. decided to put the whole thing on an app, Uber style. At first, drivers were just fellow carpoolers, picking up incidental passengers as they went. (This was the era of the “first bump,” when drivers were less harried gig economy workers than potential friends.) Today, 30 percent of the ride-hailing company’s trips are shared by multiple passengers, at least in markets that offer the option. That’s a lot, but less than satisfying for a company with sharing in its DNA.

This week, Lyft comes full circle. It just unveiled an app redesign that tries, very hard, to convince users to grow up and share. To go with the revamp, which will be rolled out in all markets throughout the month, Lyft has a new goal: By 2020, it wants 50 percent of its trips to be shared.

Lyft’s new app design gives pricing and estimated trip times for all service options.

Lyft

Lyft plans to promote sharing in a few ways. It’s renaming its Lyft Line service as “shared rides,” a moniker that’s both easier to understand and vaguer, so perhaps easier to experiment with. Lyft will also sometimes start asking shared ride customers to walk a block or so to the closest main drag, to cut down on inefficient detours. (Uber rolled out a similar option in February, called Express Pool.) Plus, the app will prompt any user with a very similar itinerary to another to take a shared ride at the beginning of her trip, in exchange for a price cut.

Lyft is also introducing a new transit integration, which lets users plan trips using public transportation, Google Maps style. The point here is to nab more passengers heading to or from major transit hubs, and become the go-to travel app for world that loves apps.

The company says it’s working to promote sharing because it likes being green and good for cities. More butts in empty seats might mean fewer cars on the road overall. (Lyft recently pledged to invest millions in making its service carbon neutral.) But—surprise!—sharing should be good for business. Lyft may be worth $11 billion, but it still loses money. If it can squeeze more fares out of one trip, that’s more profit—and a step toward profitability.

Sharing should also ease the concerns of city officials who increasingly worry that ride-hailing companies are behind (or at least contribute to) worsening traffic. The more cars circle for passengers and loop-de-loop around the block dropping off fares, the more crowded the roads and smoggy the air. If Lyft can take cars from the street by making trips more efficient, that’s better service for everyone. And perhaps less scrutiny from government types who could make its business hard to operate.

And sharing matters a lot in the coming age of autonomy. When the first robotaxis hit the streets, they need to be shared, to recoup the staggering costs of research and development. Lyft is invested in this future, too: It launched its own autonomous vehicle development center in Palo Alto last summer, and is collaborating on the tech with Ford, Waymo, and General Motors, among others.

‘Sharing,’ They’re Blaring

Lyft’s pulled some canny design tricks to convince users to take slightly longer rides with strangers. The new app puts the prices and estimated trip lengths for its various services on one screen. No more navigating through “Line,” “Lyft,” “Plus,” “Lux,” and “Car Seat” choices before seeing how much the dang ride will cost. The app will even “remember” what sort of trip you took last—an SUV devotee, are ye?—and prompt a trip on that service right from the get-go.

Once you enter your destination and your choice of service, there’s about a 10 percent chance Lyft will shift you to a new screen. If another user is heading in exactly your direction, Lyft will prompt you to take a detour-free shared ride for a multidollar fare cut. In beta tests, says design VP Katie Dill, this feature change alone has generated a 5 percent jump in shared rides.

This new strategy follows a few that did not pan out. Lyft Carpool, killed after five months of Bay Area testing in 2016, let regular Bay Area commuters earn up to $10 by picking up others heading in the same direction. Lyft Shuttle picked up rush hour riders at set locations for a fixed fare (and received widespread flak for being a lot like a bus). When this new app rolls out, Shuttle will be no more. “The good news is that we have 11 years of trials, from the early days of dressing up in costume, and going to people’s dorm rooms and asking them to carpool and many, many things in between,” says Zimmer. They were frog and beaver suits, FYI.

Lyft has never been short on whimsy (RIP, pink mustaches) or feel good vibes, especially when compared to Uber, which for years embraced a bad boy reputation. But Lyft is still a company seeking profit, just like all the others, and its future hinges on convincing everybody to get along—even in the backseat.


More Great WIRED Stories

YouTube's Slow-Mo Guys Break Down Their Quick Thinking

High-speed cameras, commonly known as slow motion cameras, imbue milliseconds with the weight they’re so rarely granted. A balloon pops, with the water inside it still holding its shape; a bullet shot underwater leaves an attenuated cone of air in its wake. Daniel Gruchy and Gavin Free, known on YouTube as The Slow Mo Guys, have captured these moments and more than 150 others in painstakingly slow detail. (In one personal favorite, the duo recorded the fracture pattern in glass that was heated and then rapidly cooled. At 343,000 frames per second, five seconds of IRL action resulted in 19 hours of footage.)

“Everything looks cooler in slow mo,” says Free, who aside from his involvement in multiple RoosterTeeth productions also works as a slow-motion cinematographer on big-budget features (Dredd, Snow White and the Huntsman).

Since November 2010, the Slow Mo Guys channel has amassed millions of subscribers and nearly 1.5 billion views—which is a lot of frames, feats, and stories to share. In this Tech Support, the guys answer viewers questions about where they get all of the food they blow up, and which stunts were the messiest, the hardest and the most painful (like having a soccer ball thrown against your face). Gruchy shares that he’s tried much of that exploded food, and Free reveals his sound design technique for filling lapses in sound during the videos.

Watch the video to learn more. Don’t worry, it plays at regular speed.


More Great WIRED Stories

Apple Said It’s Going to Help Us With Our Phone Addiction. This Study Indicates That’s Probably a Good Thing

At its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote this week, Apple said it’s going to try to help us with our phone addiction. And judging by a new study, that might be a good thing.

In a survey of 1,137 people conducted in March, cellular signal booster company SureCall found that people are really, really addicted to their phones. The study found that 69% of smartphone owners check their devices at the toilet and 22% are on their handsets even while they’re in the shower. Among the 10% of people who admit to checking their phones during sex, 43% of them have done so multiple times in the past year.

But it gets worse. According to SureCall, 27% of people said that they feel fear and anxiety when they’re without their phones and 30% feel anxiety when they’re not within cell service. Nearly three-quarters of people sleep with a phone on or near their beds and 16% of respondents told SureCall that they believe their romantic relationships are affected by their phone addiction.

Apple on Monday unveiled its new mobile operating system iOS 12 during its WWDC keynote. The operating system includes a variety of feature and performance upgrades and has added a new function that allows users to gain much better insight into the apps they use, when, and how. The idea is to surface for users just how much they’re tied to their smartphones and hopefully get them to step away.

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Indeed, phone addiction is not a new phenomenon and has been discussed for years. But as an increasing number of people—and especially young people—focus so much of their time on their handsets, some industry giants are eyeing ways to curb that.

One of the features Apple unveiled in iOS 12 to address youth phone addiction is Allowances. It aims at giving parents tools to stop their kids from spending too much time in apps or categories of apps. Most importantly, it stops children from spending so much of their time on their phones.

According to SureCall, age appears to be a factor in phone addiction. Eighty-five percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34, for instance, admit to using their phones on the toilet. But 53% of people between the ages of 52 and 70 do the same. Similar differences in phone use appear in all the other metrics SureCall evaluated.

North Korea Uses Microsoft and Apple Technology for Cyberattacks, Researchers Say

North Korea has been cited by several governments and organizations for its hacking activities. Now, a new study of network data shows much of the technology North Korea employs for hacking comes from the U.S.

Despite trade sanctions, North Korea’s government has found a way to obtain products from Apple, Microsoft, and Korea-based Samsung to carry out cyberattacks around the world, researchers at cybersecurity intelligence company Recorded Future revealed on Wednesday. The company found that North Korea is using Windows 10, Apple’s iPhone X, and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Plus, among other technologies, to conduct operations. However, most of the technology North Korea is using is older. For instance, Recorded Future found an iPhone 4S and Windows 7, among other products, still in use.

North Korea has been isolated from the rest of the world for decades. During that time, the country’s economy has suffered and the U.S., among others, has imposed sanctions that limit a company’s ability to export to and sell in North Korea.

To circumvent those sanctions, according to Recorded Future, North Korea has engaged in a variety of activities to obtain access to U.S. and Korean technologies.

In its report, Recorded Future said that North Korea has created fake addresses and names to sidestep sanctions — and also used shell companies and aliases outside of its borders to obtain equipment and bring it back. North Koreans living in countries where equipment from Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung can be obtained legally also play a role in the effort, according to the report.

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“Technology resellers, North Koreans abroad, and the Kim regime’s extensive criminal networks all facilitate the transfer of American technology for daily use by one of the world’s most repressive governments,” Recorded Future wrote in its report.

In other cases, however, North Korea has obtained equipment legally. Since 2002, in fact, the U.S. has exported nearly $484,000 in computers and electronics to North Korea.

But, since that’s hardly enough for all of the ruling party, hacking efforts, and “elites” in the country who need the technology, North Korea has employed the other schemes, Recorded Future said.

The data sheds some light on the secretive country and could explain to some degree how it’s been able to pull off some major cyberattacks. North Korea’s hackers have previously been linked to the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack that affected computers around the world. North Korea was also accused of hacking Sony in 2014.

“Unless there’s a globally unified effort to impose comprehensive sanctions on the DPRK, and multilateral cooperation to ensure that these sanctions cannot be thwarted by a web of shell companies,” Recorded Future wrote, “North Korea will be able to continue its cyberwarfare operations unabated with the aid of Western technology.”

Retirement Strategies: Post-Job Perspectives And Is GE A Stock To Consider?

GE, debt, cash, retirement, dividend

Source: GE

As mentioned in other articles, I found myself retiring a few years ahead of plan. I always knew that I wanted to ‘retire’ as soon as I could be comfortable. There is no reason to work until you die. Like me, you probably have had friends die that were going to retire after ‘just one more year’ or die soon after retirement.

While retirement is not a bad thing, one has to get the right perspective on money, health, relationships, and time. What follows is a discussion on various stocks that one might consider in a retirement portfolio with a detailed review of General Electric (GE). In addition, I share with you the softer side of ideas to consider in retirement from my experience.

Which Stocks Might Be Part Of A Retirement Portfolio?

There is a lot to be said for building a portfolio of stocks for the long haul. As you get older, your time horizon is reduced and one would tend to allocate more to lower beta stocks and ‘safer’ investments that pay dividends. Stocks like the following should be reviewed as part of a portfolio: Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Medtronic (MDT), Coca-Cola (KO), Colgate-Palmolive (CL), Procter & Gamble (PG), 3M (MMM), Lowe’s (LOW), as well as stocks in the Internet of Things (IoT) space such as Amazon (AMZN) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

https://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2017/5/4/48350476-14938905785039449.jpg

Source: News

What About General Electric?

Many retirees are holding shares of General Electric. What was not to love about the company – until the last two years. Ouch! Concerns over cash flow, a struggling power unit, and a dividend cut in the last quarter of the 2017 has many long-term investors way under water on GE.

GE reported better than expected earnings for the 1Q2018 and it appeared that investor sentiment was finally improving. However, GE’s shares crashed again as the Power restructuring drags on.

Check out this ugly chart:

Source: Fidelity

GE shareholders have been in for a very rough ride these past 12 months – the stock is down 49% – yes, 49%, over the last 52 weeks! CEO John Flannery has laid out a slow and steady turnaround of GE. He’s replaced almost half of the management team and cut GE’s dividend in half.

Many readers will say that it is all about dividend and that the stock price is secondary. However, I would prefer to have both. If you are a buy-and-hold investor, dividends often provide investors with the power of compounding. Dividend stocks can have a place in your portfolio, but be careful of the trap – paying a high dividend, but having a stock with lousy fundamentals. One is looking for a high dividend-paying stock with strong operations to ensure that dividend payouts are well covered by earnings. The total package matters, not just the dividend yield. GE’s dividend is a tempting 3.4%.

Recovery

Things were looking better for GE in 1Q18 with an earnings beat. According to GE, they reported adjusted earnings of $0.16 per share, beating estimates. The company continues to see strength in its GE Aviation and GE Healthcare units with operating profit margin up 26 percent and 11 percent, respectively. The company said it remains on track to deliver $1-1.07 earnings per share for the year. Per GE:

“The first quarter is a step forward in executing on our 2018 plan, and we are seeing signs of progress in our performance,” said GE Chairman and CEO John Flannery. “Industrial earnings, free cash flow and margins all improved year over year. We reduced industrial structural costs by $805 million and are on track to exceed our cost-reduction goal of $2 billion in 2018.”

Cash Flow

However, the bottom fell out again on May 23 when the CEO said that he expects GE’s power division to continue to struggle through 2020 and sees no profit growth for that division – nothing really new there except that it would take into 2020 to finish the restructuring surprised some. In addition, the CEO whispered that the dividend might have to be cut again. Just on June 4, a JP Morgan analyst noted that GE will need to de-risk, raise cash and cut the dividend – again.

The number tossed around that GE needs? $40 billion. Asset sales will help, but will they be sold fast enough? General Electric recently sold some of its transportation unit to rail equipment maker Wabtec in an $11.1 billion deal. GE will receive a $2.9 billion up-front payment in cash and its shareholders will own 50.1% of the combined company, while Wabtec shareholders will own the rest.

Flannery told GE shareholders late last year he plans to pare GE down to three core businesses: power, aviation and healthcare. Even with the sale of Baker Hughes (BHGE) which might fetch $20 billion, where will GE get the other $20 billion? Unless GE can generate enough cash, the dividend will have to be cut again.

Technicals

Currently, GE’s relative strength index (RSI) is below 50 which is bearish. The MACD is below its signal line and positive. The MACD must penetrate its zero line to expect further downside. The stock is trading under its 20-day moving average of 14.56 and below its 50-day moving average of 14.01. A price point of 14.8 appears to be the next resistance level while 12.4 appears to be the support. Overall, there appears to be continued short to mid-term weakness. Time will tell if there is a bottom here in the next 9-12 months.

Source: Trading Central

Insider Trading

While not a perfect indicator, it is interesting to view (legal) insider trading activity over time. Some investors believe there is a direct correlation to insider trading activity and the future stock performance. However, I generally do not believe that insiders are that much better than the public in determining the direction of a stock. Many times, insiders exercise shares for a number of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with where they think the stock is headed.

Shown below are insider transactions for the last two years by transaction type. Also shown is the corresponding stock prices. In addition, the top key insiders are shown detailing shares held, percentage change in ownership and market value. There does not appear to be any direct correlation between insider activity and stock price during this time.

Source: Morningstar

Summary On GE

While GE appears to be doing the best they can for the shareholders – restructuring its power division, cutting costs, selling assets, changing management, etc. However, like most big companies, real change takes time – does GE have the time it will take to execute a turnaround with the cash it has and at the current dividend level?

I have been watching GE closely and keep thinking that the pain is over and that a buying opportunity has materialized only to be wrong time and time again. How much longer do we have to wait and should retirees continue to hold out for a rebound in prices when there are so many other companies that are stronger and creating shareholder value such as Lowe’s (NYSE (NYSE:LOW). See my recent LOW article here.

On the other hand, if GE can speed up its asset sales and continue to slash costs while improving margins in their core businesses, GE might be considered for a longer-term, speculative investor.

How Much Money Do You Need?

Circling back to the original question of how much money do you need to retire – it really depends on two main things: how long will you live and how much you will spend, net of earnings. Fidelity suggests this broad rule of thumb:

  • By 30: Have the equivalent of your salary saved
  • By 40: Have three times your salary saved
  • By 50: Have six times your salary saved
  • By 60: Have eight times your salary saved
  • By 67: Have 10 times your salary saved

For money saving tips, see my previous article here.

Post-job/Retirement Perspectives

What follows below is a brief discussion on the softer issues of retirement.

Image result for retirement

Retirement – in all its variations – can be a challenging part of life. There is newfound freedom of time but one might feel financially constrained as a regular paycheck is not being received. Many find it difficult to change their life patterns moving from 30+ years of working in an office in a structured environment to one of more freedom and with less personal interaction.

While you need to manage your finances, estimate your spending and your income, there are softer concepts that people sometimes don’t consider.

Behavioral and emotional aspects of retirement should be considered. This includes areas such as: personal development, activities, mental health, and interpersonal relationships.

Personal Development

You most likely learned and had personal development courses during your professional career. Why stop when the job does? In a post-job environment, it is even more important to find meaning in what you do (or in many cases, to start to find meaning). Now that you have more time to learn, it is a great time to acquire new skills. You can learn about completely new areas and experience new things.

For instance, I just volunteered on a goat farm for a period of time. We learned so much about farm life and gleaned new skills including: animal feeding; proper stall cleaning methodologies; medication and other special care needs; field raking; hay moving; tractor work; goat milking; egg gathering and candling; making animal dairy products, and how to make soap.

Would we have had time to do that during our ‘real’ job? No way. However, I can tell you though that it was in the top 20 experiences of my life.

There are so many things that you can learn outside of your profession – master a new language, start a business based on a hobby, take courses at the local university, travel. Consider what you are passionate about and execute a plan to what spending more time in that activity would be like.

Activities

Travel

As many of you know, we have traveled extensively throughout the world – over 90 countries and counting. In our post-job world, we are finding that we are super busy building our new website business, blogging, vlogging, and traveling. We routinely will work until 2-3am as we are so excited about what we are doing. Our traveling now consists of much longer trips helping people around the world with our skills and foundational insight. We are meeting tons of new people and experiencing life outside of the office – awesome.

Traveling takes planning. Traveling on a budget takes a lot of planning. Fortunately, we have had 15+ years of traveling worldwide on a budget. Having the internet is the key – it’s probably more important to me than running water – in order to keep up with the markets and Seeking Alpha readership.

Working in Retirement

No one says that your post-job life can’t also include a different career. Do you want to stay in your same field or try something new? For me, it’s a mix – stay with the investment side of my brain with Seeking Alpha and my other investment activities; however, I’m also venturing out into writing non-finance articles and books, participating in work programs, disaster relief, etc. Consider what type of work you would want to try. Define why you want to continue to work – money, authority, feelings of worth, status, etc. Determine if you want to work on a consultant basis, full time, or part time. Another great area to consider is volunteering.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a great thing. Many people don’t like the overused term of ‘giving back’. However, that is exactly how I feel about volunteering – you are giving back – with your skills, strengths, and talents for, in many cases, people that have fallen on hard times due to poor choices or due to other social-economic issues. Maybe your skills can be leveraged to help an organization. I find it very rewarding and very humbling. Things that I take for granted – food, shelter, safety, etc. – are not givens for many people, even in the USA.

Mental Health

Attitude is everything. You know this. You have probably said it. After you retire, there is a lot more time to think – sometimes that is not a good thing. We spend a lot of life before retirement being busy, staying busy, telling people how busy we are – it’s almost a badge of honor these days. Post-job life gives one time to evaluate the past – the good and the bad that you have done or left undone. While it is healthy to be introspective some of the time, there is a place for keeping a positive attitude to contribute to your happiness. Letting go of negative feelings and grudges are important, just as important as it is to lose weight, get proper sleep, exercise, eliminate tobacco use, and reduce your alcohol intake.

Relationships

Retirement could mean less interactive time with a wider audience. You might find that you need to get to know your spouse again as now you spend a lot more time together. All types of relationships play a larger role in your satisfaction. Are you an extrovert, an introvert? Where will you meet new people? What do you want to obtain from your relationships? How do you balance time between other activities mentioned herein and developing new relationships and kindling older relationships?

Determining what you will do in your post-job life is an important aspect your happiness and search for meaning. Of course, health and finances will play a major part of your outlook.

Additional Disclosure

Thank you for your time in reading the above article. I read and write on a wide range of companies on a regular basis. If you would like to stay informed with articles like these, please click the “Follow” button at the top of this report and select “Get email alerts.” If you have additional insights on the topic or contrasting views, please kindly share them in the comments section.

This article is intended to provide educational information to readers and in no way constitutes investment advice. Investing in public securities is speculative and involves risk, including possible loss of principal. The reader of this article must determine whether any investments mentioned in this article are suitable for their portfolio, risk tolerance and accept responsibility for their decisions. Neither information nor any opinion expressed in this article constitutes a solicitation, an offer or a recommendation to buy, sell, or dispose of any investment or to provide any investment advice or service. An opinion in this article can change at any time without notice.

Disclosure: I am/we are long LOW, GE, AMZN, APPL.

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.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

Adversity Is Bitter, But Its Uses May Be Sweet

I first recommended shares in CorEnergy (CORR) in January 2015 and I even titled my article, My REIT Underdog Pick For 2015, and then in November 2015, I wrote another article explaining that CORR was My Worst REIT Pick For 2015. I keep riding the bull hoping that CORR would eventually bounce back, and boy did it bounce.

A close up of a map Description generated with very high confidence

Over a year ago, I wrote an article titled, Could CORR Soar, Again?, in which I explained that:

“CorEnergy demonstrated success on both pillars of our thesis, suffering no economic changes to either lease…2016 proved to be a year of validation for CorEnergy and for the real estate investment trust structure as a way for investors to access the benefits of the infrastructure asset class.”

At the time I wrote the article (May 2017), I decided to upgrade CORR from a HOLD to a BUY and increased my target price to $31.00 per share. Since that time, CORR shares have increased by ~7% (closing at $36.17).

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Given the strong growth potential for “dedicated infrastructure” assets — mostly pipelines and storage assets — CORR offers a compelling value proposition driven by stable, high-cash-generating business models in the midstream that provide very desirable investment characteristics.

CORR owns assets that are critical to upstream counter-parties, that are located in desirable fields that are integral to their overall operations. CORR has proven that the revenue stream is reliable, even in periods of distress, as long as the assets are critical to the upstream operators. Having come out of the energy crisis with its strategy validated, CORR has become a battle-tested REIT that is now better prepared to scale into a safer investment platform. As Benjamin Graham famously said:

“Adversity is bitter, but its uses may be sweet. Our loss was great, but in the end we could count great compensations.”

A person in a boxing ring Description generated with very high confidence

Photo Credit

What Are The Risks?

CORR is a guinea pig of sorts – the Kansas City-based REIT is the first Infrastructure REIT so there is somewhat of an acceptance risk. Although I now cover a number of other infrastructure companies like Hannon Armstrong (NYSE:HASI), Landmark Infrastructure (NASDAQ:LMRK), and InfraREIT (NYSE:HIFR), CORR is a unique player in the energy space. In other words, many investors don’t really understand what the company does and there are certainly no true peers to compare.

However, there’s also an opportunity: CORR can build a foothold – as the premier partner of choice in energy infrastructure sale/leaseback transactions. Instead of competing for deals in the open market, CORR can source off-market deals and essentially be the “go to” landlord of choice.

Because the leases are net lease structured (tenants pay for taxes, insurance, and maintenance), the only way the company would lose revenue is if the tenant defaulted under its lease contract. However, if one of its properties fails for whatever reason, it would have an enormous impact on earnings and dividends.

As a measure to combat these risks, CORR is continuing to grow in size such that it can mitigate tenant concentration.

CORR owns mission-critical assets and lease payments are “operating” expenses, not “financing” expenses. It’s important to note that in bankruptcy, real property operating leases are subject to special provisions.

Operating leases have priority in payment and bankruptcy. The CORR revenue stream, therefore, is resilient and protected even during bankruptcy. Therefore, the stock price moved with commodity prices in this cycle, while revenues and AFFO did not, demonstrating the benefit of CORR’s business model for investors seeking infrastructure assets in their portfolio.

The Portfolio

With commodity prices seeming to have firmed up, energy companies want to get back to production stability and growth, making them hungry for lower-cost capital. CORR can provide a source of funds from something that already exists on their balance sheet. They can sell relatively low-returning, critical assets and then redeploy those dollars into higher-return opportunities, thereby enhancing the value of their enterprise.

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Grand Isle: The GIGS includes 153 miles of undersea pipeline that transports oil and water from six Energy XXI fields and one field operated by Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) in the Gulf of Mexico. The 16-acre terminal includes four storage tanks, a saltwater disposal facility with three injection wells, and associated pipelines, land, buildings and facilities. At the time of acquisition, the GIGS system transports approximately 60,000 barrels/day (18,000 oil and 42,000 water) and has a total capacity of 120,000 barrels/day.

The Grand Isle Gathering System is CorEnergy’s largest asset and is leased to Energy XXI Gulf Coast (NASDAQ:EGC) (continues to serve production from the Gulf of Mexico). Energy XXI announced that they will continue as a standalone company following their strategic analysis by Morgan Stanley, and they recently released their 2018 capital budget.

They anticipate drilling six new wells in 2018, which is the most robust drilling plan for that company in the last four years. Drilling will be focused in the West Delta and South Timbalier fields, both of which are located in what Energy XXI deems its core properties and each field is partially served by CorEnergy’s Liquids Gathering System in the Gulf of Mexico.

A small boat in a body of water Description generated with very high confidence

Grand Isle Photo

The Pinedale Liquids Gathering System (LGS) consists of more than 150 miles of pipeline, with 107 receipt points and four central storage facilities located in the Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming. The system was acquired in 2012 and leased to a subsidiary of Ultra Petroleum (NASDAQ:UPL) (guaranteed by the parent company) under a triple-net participating lease with a 15-year initial term.

Ultra Petroleum has had much success in the Pinedale field this past year, particularly with its horizontal drilling test announced recently. In 2017, CorEnergy received approximately $0.5 million of participating rents from UPL based on higher levels of production.

Given CorEnergy’s conviction in the reserve profile of this field and demonstrated level of utilization, the company purchased a minority equity interest in the Pinedale LGS, which was previously held by CORR’s partner for initial capital of $32.9 million. Pru also was going to remain involved in the asset and provided CORR with $41 million of asset level debt, which was utilized for the equity buyout.

CorEnergy has been evaluating the purchase of the remaining interest in the Pinedale LGS as if it were a new asset, subject to the same level of diligence, processes and procedures as any other unrelated asset.

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Pinedale Photo

Acquired in January 2014, the Portland Terminal Facility is a 39-acre rail and marine transloading terminal on the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. The site has 84 tanks with a total storage capacity of approximately 1.5 million barrels and is capable of receiving, storing and delivering crude oil and refined petroleum products. The property is leased to Arc Terminals (guaranteed by Arc Logistics) under a triple-net lease with a 15-year initial term.

At the Portland Terminal, Zenith Energy (OTC:CANIF) completed its acquisition of Arc Logistics in December. This provided Zenith with options including an option to buy the terminal from CorEnergy, which remains live through the end of the lease as well as early termination options at the 5th and 10th anniversary of the lease.

In January, CorEnergy agreed to extend that first notification period from February 1 to August 1 due to the recent fee of the acquisition by Zenith and the ongoing discussions with their new management team around long-term plans for the terminal. CorEnergy believes the Portland Terminal’s strategic location at the Pacific Northwest as well as the versatility of that terminal make it a valuable asset, and CORR is not anticipating that Zenith will exercise their termination option.

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Portland Terminal Photo

Omega Pipeline Company owns and operates a natural gas distribution system primarily serving the U.S. Army’s Fort Leonard Wood in south-Central Missouri. In addition, Omega provides natural gas marketing services to several customers in the surrounding area. Omega has a long-term contract with the Department of Defense. CorEnergy provides REIT-qualifying intercompany mortgage financing to MoWood, a taxable REIT subsidiary of CorEnergy that owns Omega, secured by the 70-mile pipeline system.

Also with regard to the Omega Pipeline, CorEnergy received a private letter ruling from the IRS which enabled the company to designate the income from its contract with Ford Leonard Wood as REIT qualifying income. CORR subsequently converted Omega into a REIT subsidiary from a taxable REIT subsidiary. As the energy infrastructure real estate world continues to take shape, this PLR helps to solidify CorEnergy’s position as a pioneer in this front.

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Omega Pipeline Photo

The MoGas Pipeline System is an approximately 263-mile interstate natural gas pipeline system which originates in northeast Missouri and extends into Western Illinois and Central Missouri. The pipeline maintains receipt points with Mississippi River Transmission Corporation in Eastern St. Louis and with Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Company and Rockies Express Pipeline on the northern end of the system.

With regard to the MoGas Pipeline, CORR continues to look at options available to offset the impact of the upcoming decline in rates and the new Spire contract, which is effective in November of this year. CORR anticipates filing a rate case in the second quarter of 2018.

Despite the upcoming decrease in rates charged to Spire for usage of CORR’s MoGas pipeline, CORR expects the decreased revenues to be adequately mitigated by the accretion from the increased ownership interest in the Pinedale LGS, the results of deferred rate case for MoGas, and growth from existing contracts through CPI based escalators as well as participating rents.

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MoGas Photo

The Balance Sheet

CORR’s capital structure remains largely unchanged from year-end, with total debt to total capitalization ratio at the low-end of the target range at 25%. Also, there remains some capacity to issue additional preferred shares as the company is under its target of 33% preferred to total equity.

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CORR has around $142 million of availability at quarter-end, as the company continues to prudently manage its utilization, considering the status of the borrowing base assets and potential uses for growth. CORR has access to diversified pools of capital, using its existing financial tools as well as potential for co-investors and project level debt.

In a recent interview, CORR’s CEO, David Schulte, said:

“We expect to transact on one or two acquisitions per year. Although we didn’t acquire a new third-party asset in 2017, we feel we have gotten back on stable footing after the recent energy crisis. We had five significant investigations of assets, one of which is still ongoing. The others were at various stages of due diligence or documentation, but we decided to not proceed due to our strict underwriting criteria.”

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He went on to say that “the $50 million-$250 million size range is suitable for our capacity to transact by ourselves. If it’s much smaller, the documentation and process may not be worth it. For larger transactions, we have developed many promising relationships with well-known infrastructure investors who have expressed interest in co-investing with CorEnergy”

CORR has broad access to capital and appeal to investors that have low risk, long-term horizons for their investment capital. As Schulte explained:

“Investors that buy utilities and REITs generally want to sleep at night. They don’t need high growth, but they want limited risk. We acquire critical assets that have long-duration, contracted cash flows that will enable our investors to have peace of mind, while we selectively provide much-needed capital to energy companies as they return to growth.”

Its Uses May Be Sweet…

As viewed below, CORR’s diluted net income, NAREIT FFO and FFO adjusted for securities are higher sequentially, largely due to the increased income tax expense back in the fourth quarter associated with the impacts of tax reform.

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Each of these earnings metrics displayed, including AFFO, was impacted in the first quarter by adoption of the new revenue recognition accounting standard.

While the majority of CORR’s revenue was not impacted under the new guidance, revenue from MoGas’ long-term contract with Spire, which has the downward revision in rates starting in November of this year, is required to be recorded ratably over the contract’s 13-year term on a straight line basis. Previously, CORR had recognized revenue from this contract as it was invoiced.

As a result, the AFFO coverage ratio to dividends for the quarter declined to 1.35x, which after adjusting for the prior target coverage ratio of 1.5x for the nearly $1 million impact of the straight line revenue change, it is approximately in line. Also, CORR recently declared its 11th consecutive $0.75 common dividend for Q1-18.

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Although CORR does not have the diversification of the peers, we like the company’s conservative capitalization strategy, and modest payout ratio (also CORR continues to receive participating rents, which contribute to increase the dividend coverage). While CORR has capacity to grow the dividend, the company recognizes the dividend is already attractive, as viewed below:

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Over the last few years, we have learned a lot about CORR and the company’s ability to manage and control risk. While we were skeptical of the REIT during the energy cycle, we remain bullish in regard to the company’s business model and specifically the diligence in sourcing critical mission assets.

In 2018, CORR expects to generate $61.4 million of rental income and that could jump about 25% by 2021. FAST Graphs estimates similar growth potential, as viewed below:

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Keep in mind, this estimate is just an analyst scorecard and there are only 4 analysts referenced in the estimate, but the potential for growth cannot be underestimated. Fellow Seeking Alpha writer, Kevin Cavanagh, has a 12-month price target pegged at $40.00. I’m going to be a tad more aggressive based on the estimates above and forecast the company to hit $40 year-end.

The primary catalyst is tax reform, as I believe we will continue to see growth in corporate spending and CORR’s sale/leaseback platform is perfectly aligned for companies to lease back the critical real estate to generate higher ROE. While the retail REIT market is continuing to understand the implications for a dark Sears or Toys-r-Us store, there is little doubt that CORR’s assets are critical and the potential for vacancies is extremely low. Besides, I like to see a company that can weather a storm and is battle-tested. “Adversity Is Bitter, But Its Uses May Be Sweet”.

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All Strong Buy picks can be viewed in my Marketplace service (The Intelligent REIT Investor).

Note: Brad Thomas is a Wall Street writer, and that means he is not always right with his predictions or recommendations. That also applies to his grammar. Please excuse any typos, and be assured that he will do his best to correct any errors, if they are overlooked.

Finally, this article is free, and the sole purpose for writing it is to assist with research, while also providing a forum for second-level thinking. If you have not followed him, please take five seconds and click his name above (top of the page).

Source: F.A.S.T. Graphs and CORR Investor Presentation.

Other REITs mentioned: (AMT), (CCI), (HASI), (LMRK), and (UNIT).

Disclosure: I am/we are long ACC, AVB, BHR, BRX, BXMT, CCI, CHCT, CIO, CLDT, CONE, CORR, CTRE, CUBE, DEA, DLR, DOC, EPR, EXR, FRT, GEO, GMRE, GPT, HASI, HT, HTA, INN, IRET, IRM, JCAP, KIM, KRG, LADR, LAND, LMRK, LTC, MNR, NNN, NXRT, O, OFC, OHI, OUT, PEB, PEI, PK, PSB, PTTTS, QTS, REG, RHP, ROIC, SBRA, SKT, SPG, STAG, STOR, TCO, TRTX, UBA, UMH, UNIT, VER, VNO, VNQ, VTR, WPC.

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.

France's BlaBlaCar bets on Russia's ride-sharing culture

ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – Russia has overtaken France as the biggest market for French ride-sharing startup BlaBlaCar, a growth driven by long distances between Russian cities and a culture of giving lifts to strangers, the company’s co-founder and CEO told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: A sticker of French ride-sharing start-up BlaBlaCar is seen on a car May 27, 2017 at Le Coudray-Montceaux, near Paris, France. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Nicolas Brusson said the unlisted company, which entered the Russian market four years ago, plans to invest 10 million euros in Russia next year, more than BlaBlaCar’s total investments over the past three to four years.

“We are talking about 15 million members in Russian which means that more than one Russian of ten is already signed in BlaBlaCar. We are speaking about over 3 million Russians that are transported by BlaBlaCar every month,” he said.

BlaBlaCar’s app works by matching passengers with drivers who have spare space in their vehicle and are heading to the same destination.

The company, founded in Paris in 2006, describes itself as the world’s largest carpooling community. It has two models of making money in Europe, taking a service fee from passengers for every journey or allowing the use of its app under subscription.

Brusson said the first reason for the firm’s success in Russia was cultural.

He said it had to work hard in Europe to persuade customers BlaBlaCar was a safe service. “In Russia people are more used to sharing and got the features of the service faster,” he said.

Before ride-sharing services like Uber came to Russia, it was normal for citizens to flag down a private car in the street, and share the ride, for a modest fee. The practice grew out of the fact that car ownership was not widespread, while taxis were heavily regulated and expensive.

Brusson said the second reason BlaBlaCar did well in Russia “is the size of the country, the shape of the country. It’s a kind of perfect for long distance cooperation because of big population, lots of big cities we can help connect.”

Russian economic growth is slowly recovering after two years of recession, but is also under pressure from U.S. sanctions imposed in April on Russian businessmen and big companies.

Brusson said those factors might play to BlaBlaCar’s strengths. “People are going to be more cost-conscious so people will choose services like ours because people can save money and drive cheaper,” he said.

BlaBlaCar is ramping up investment in the Russian market even though its operations in Russia, unlike in European Union markets, are not yet monetized, passengers in Russia pay for their journeys in cash directly to drivers not to the service.

Brusson saw Russia as a very strong financial contributor for BlaBlaCar in terms of four to five years.

“Next year we will invest as much as we’ve done in the last 3-4 years. Because the activity is just doubling year on year, and there is a real need we can help address, so it leads us to invest,” he said.

Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by David Evans

Qualcomm asks EU court to scrap $1.2 billion antitrust fine

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm (QCOM.O) has asked Europe’s second-highest court to throw out a 997 million euro ($1.2 billion) fine levied by European Union antitrust regulators, citing numerous errors in the EU decision.

Visitors are seen by a booth of Qualcomm Inc at the China International Big Data Industry Expo in Guiyang, Guizhou province, China May 27, 2018. Picture taken May 27, 2018.  REUTERS/Stringer

The European Commission penalized the company in January for paying Apple (AAPL.O) to use only its chips in its iPhones and iPads, giving rival Intel (INTC.O) no chance of getting a share of the market.

The EU competition enforcer’s ruling was marked by errors in procedures and law, Qualcomm said in its appeal to the Luxembourg-based General Court, according to a filing in the Commission’s Official Journal on Monday.

Judges typically take several years to rule on such cases.

Qualcomm is also involved in another EU antitrust case where it has been accused of selling chipsets below cost to drive out British phone software maker Icera, which is now a unit of Nvidia Corp (NVDA.O).

The appeal is Qualcomm/Commission T-235/18.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Jane Merriman

T2 Biosytems: The Story Is Just Beginning

Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” ― Warren W. Wiersbe

It was a big week for a ‘razor & razor blade’ company called T2 Biosystems (TTOO). On Tuesday, the FDA blessed its bacterial panel that will dramatically reduce the time needed to detect and treat sepsis.

Source: Company Presentation

This is a huge development. First, this panel will reduce the time to hours from days it currently takes to process a sample to determine if sepsis is present. This deadly infection that takes numerous forms kills more people in the United States than prostate cancer, AIDS and breast cancer combined yet gets little mention in the press. It is a continuing scourge made worse by the overuse of antibiotics resulting in more and more drug resistant forms of this type of infection. In trials, T2’s new panel provided 90% sensitivity (correctly identifying true positives) and 98% specificity (correctly identifying true negatives)

Second, this approval significantly increases the potential market for T2 Biosytems. This was nicely captured by an analyst over at Leerink Swann this morning which upgraded the stock to an Outperform and increased its price target from $5 before approval to a current $12.50 a share. Here is what Leerink’s analyst had to say about T2’s improved prospects post FDA approval.

This week’s T2bacteria FDA clearance expands the company’s market opportunity “dramatically” from $1.4 billion to over $3 billion. T2 is “highly underpenetrated” in its core markets, but feels it can now penetrate the broader $1.5 billion-$2.0 billion bacterial sepsis market with an immediate entry into the hospital emergency departments, which the analyst values at $300 million.”

On Wednesday, H.C. Wainwright reiterated its Buy rating and lifted its price target to $14.00 a share from $8.50 previously. I expect other analyst firms to follow suit in the coming weeks which should provide a nice tailwind for further price appreciation. The company also will be presenting at the Jefferies 2018 Global Healthcare Conference that runs from June 5th through June 8th which could generate additional analyze ‘buzz’ around this name.

Not surprisingly, the company used the positive news to raised some additional capital via a secondary offering priced at $7.50 a share this week. This added some $40 million to the company’s coffers. Combined with the almost $30 million it had on hand at the end of the first quarter, this provides an adequate cash cushion for the company probably into 2020. The company is burning through roughly $10 million a quarter currently.

The burn rate should start to lessen as the company’s installed base of T2DX machines grows and sales escalate significantly from the newly approved panel.

The stock has doubled over the past six months. However, the shares are still trading at less than 40% of the highs they reached soon after their debut in mid-2014. Given T2’s market opportunity, a market cap of under $300 million still makes the stock significantly undervalued from a long-term perspective in our opinion.

I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.” ― William F. Buckley Jr.

To get these types of articles and Instablogs on attractive biotech and pharma stocks as soon as they are published, just click here for my profile. Hit the big orange “Follow” button and choose the real-time alerts option.

Disclosure: I am/we are long ttoo.

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.

Editor’s Note: This article covers one or more stocks trading at less than $1 per share and/or with less than a $100 million market cap. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

Though Currently At Historic Lows, In 2-3 Years Deutsche Bank Could Rally Immensely

Deutsche Bank (DB) replaced its CEO in April and reignited hopes that the bank’s restructuring would soon accelerate and reignite the long-troubled bank. However since then the bank has declined significantly, with a recent S&P downgrade from A- to BBB+ and a relatively weak Q1 2018, amid declines in net revenues and a significant drop in net income.

To add icing on the cake, it was also recently revealed that a year ago the Federal Reserve had secretly labeled Deutsche Bank in “troubled condition,” with various oversight measures.

A bank like Wells Fargo (WFC), which has also seen increased Federal Reserve oversight lately, seem to constantly face speed bumps and detours due to regulatory scandals that drags down an otherwise generally upward financial performance.

In contrast, it seems Deutsche Bank has faced numerous regulatory incidents that have resulted in slaps on the wrist, but couldn’t cushion the volatile financials of the company nonetheless. As a result Deutsche Bank has still showed sluggish financials and guidance that now have resulted in its stock hitting an all-time low, below even its levels during the financial crisis or 2016.

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DB data by YCharts

Nonetheless, I think Deutsche Bank still has hope. The restructuring has had some impact in terms of keeping costs controlled and reducing headcount, with increased impact expected to only manifest itself over the upcoming year. The restructuring aims to be completed by 2020, by which the bank aims to be far more efficient in its investment bank.

Deustche Bank Has A Big Safety Net, Making It Less “If” It Will Eventually Rally But Rather “When”

The upcoming quarter likely will be rough, as Deutsche Bank has both issued generally negative guidance. Furthermore, it expects to cut an additional 7,000 jobs over the quarter, or almost 7% of its current 97,000 workforce. Such a cut during that time will undoubtedly be relatively disruptive to the bank.

Deutsche Bank’s market capitalization only stands at a mere $22.8 billion now, far below its historical highs over the past decade.

Yet, despite all the gloom and doom, short interest in Deutsche Bank only stands at roughly 2.13% of float and over 34.61% of the stock is still held by institutions. How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory public reports with “smart money” and market action?

The fact is that Deutsche Bank is very unlikely to go out of business, be sold off in pieces, or face any kind of other undignified and financially messy end. The bank is considered extremely systematically important in Europe and retains longstanding lines of business, brand, talent, and potential.

Even the European Central Bank and China’s HNA Group, Deutsche Bank’s largest shareholder, have recently expressed confidence in Deutsche Bank’s fundamental financial health.

It also should be remembered that Deutsche Bank is not merely one institution among many, as here in the United States where banks are let to fail frequently and often, though the 2008 financial crisis saw a stop-gap to that avalanche.

Rather, major banks in Europe (EUFN) are considered national institutions and are carefully cultivated to essentially never die. Though the comparison does not bring warm feelings, let’s even look at Greece (GREK) where the banking system went out of control back during the 2015 debt crisis.

Since then, remarkably, the major Greek banks have survived amid continual government intervention and support whenever it seemed they were on the brink of total collapse. Because of this constant nudging, Greece’s banks have now returned to a mild level of stability.

As shown by the performance of fellow German mega-bank Commerzbank (OTCPK:CRZBY), the German economy’s (EWG) continued expected strength makes it so that once Deutsche Bank finishes restructuring it likely can capture profit greatly from its still-German focused operations.

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DB data by YCharts

Even the long-persistent worry for Deutsche Bank, its practice of share dilution, is seemingly less likely. As the bank stops the bleeding and its restructuring moves forward, it likely will avoid the need to raise capital through share dilution.

The bank will not not want the negative publicity and investor reaction from dilution, particularly as it tries to show it is really pulling itself up from its situation of the past few years.

Conclusion

With Deutsche Bank, even though the institution has had a rough spot over the past few years, it likely will survive and eventually return to a financially profitable level. The only question is how long the restructuring will take and how many years investors will have to wait.

I believe it may still be a year before we see enough of a turnaround in Deutsche Bank’s public financials for the market to react. However when it does, Deutsche Bank likely will rally again to a level fitting its sheer size and operating scale.

As a stock for the 2-3 year term, I think the company at this level is worth consideration. To me, its current historic lows even look like potentially a unique price point to get in.

(Source: Deustche Bank)

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

Weekend Tech Deals: Cheap iPads, Graphics Cards, and Laptops

Ready for the summer? We are! Whether you have road trips, camping, or other outdoor activities coming up, it’s a great idea to bring a computer or tablet with you. Throw your itinerary in a doc, use it for editing photos on the go, and post your latest brilliant missive to your blog once you get to the hotel. We have discounts on a Lenovo notebook and an awesome Apple iPad that are worth looking at. But, then again, maybe you’re more of an indoor person. Love playing PC games? Peep the Asus graphics card we found. If you’ve been reluctant to upgrade your rig because of skyrocketing component costs, it appears that the long wait is finally over.

$100 off Last Year’s iPads

Good things come to those who wait, and this also applies to Apple products. Last year’s iPad is on clearance, with Walmart offering a generous $100 discount on the 128 GB model. It’s time to ditch your old iPad 3 and upgrade to this modern, fast tablet. Sure, it might not have Apple Pencil support like the 2018 version, but it’s still a pretty great tablet for the money.

Buy the 2017 iPad 128 GB for $329 ($100 off)


A Discounted Quad-Core Lenovo Laptop

Need a new thin laptop to accompany you on summer journeys? This aluminum Lenovo IdeaPad 720s looks like it’ll fit the bill nicely. Featuring AMD’s newest quad-core Ryzen chip along with integrated graphics, it’s fast enough to tackle average tasks without breaking a sweat. A 13-inch matte 1080p display, 8 GB of memory, and a zippy 256-GB PCIe SSD should have this computer performing well for years to come. Normally $699, you can save $100 with coupon code RYZEN300.

Buy the Lenovo Ideapad 720S with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD for $599 ($100 off)


Powerful Graphics Cards at Sane Prices

It’s been tough to get your hands on a new graphics card lately. Cryptocurrency miners have been snatching up all the top-end models ever since Bitcoin took off. We’re finally seeing some mid-range models return to sane prices, and this Asus Radeon RX580 card even has a $30 rebate on its price right now. If you’ve been waiting to upgrade, now might be the time to finally pull the trigger. With its 8 gigs of GDDR5 memory and a twin-fan configuration, it’s powerful enough to help you smooth out those intensive AAA games like PUBG.

Buy the Asus Radeon RX580 8 GB Graphics Card for $289 ($30 rebate)


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Questioning Truth, Reality, and the Role of Scientific Progress

It’s an interesting time to be making a case for philosophy in science. On the one hand, some scientists working on ideas such as string theory or the multiverse—ideas that reach far beyond our current means to test them—are forced to make a philosophical defense of research that can’t rely on traditional hypothesis testing. On the other hand, some physicists, such as Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking, were notoriously dismissive of the value of the philosophy of science.

Quanta Magazine


author photo

About

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

That value is asserted with gentle but firm assurance by Michela Massimi, the recent recipient of the Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal, an award given annually by the UK’s Royal Society. Massimi’s prize speech, delivered earlier this week, defended both science and the philosophy of science from accusations of irrelevance. She argues that neither enterprise should be judged in purely utilitarian terms, and asserts that they should be allies in making the case for the social and intellectual value of the open-ended exploration of the physical world.

In addition to serving as a defender of the value of science, Massimi investigates issues surrounding “realism” and “anti-realism”: how, if at all, science relates to an objective reality. Her work asks whether the process of science approaches a singular, true conception of the world, or whether it is content with simply describing physical phenomena, ignoring any sense of whether the stories it tells about the world are true. Massimi, Italian-born and currently based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, comes down on the side of the realists, and argues, in a position she calls “perspectival realism,” that science can make progress—a much-contested word in philosophy—despite being inevitably shaped by social and historical factors. Quanta caught up with Massimi as she prepared to deliver her prize lecture. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.

Richard Feynman is often quoted as saying that the philosophy of science is of much use to scientists as ornithology is to birds. How do you defend it?Dismissive claims by famous physicists that philosophy is either a useless intellectual exercise, or not on a par with physics because of being incapable of progress, seem to start from the false assumption that philosophy has to be of use for scientists or is of no use at all.

But all that matters is that it be of some use. We would not assess the intellectual value of Roman history in terms of how useful it might be to the Romans themselves. The same for archaeology and anthropology. Why should philosophy of science be any different?

What use, then, is philosophy of science if not for scientists themselves? I see the target beneficiary as humankind, broadly speaking. We philosophers build narratives about science. We scrutinize scientific methodologies and modeling practices. We engage with the theoretical foundations of science and its conceptual nuances. And we owe this intellectual investigation to humankind. It is part of our cultural heritage and scientific history. The philosopher of science who explores Bayesian [statistical] methods in cosmology, or who scrutinizes assumptions behind simplified models in high-energy physics, is no different from the archaeologist, the historian or the anthropologist in producing knowledge that is useful for us as humankind.

Many scientists in the early 20th century were deeply engaged with philosophy, including Einstein, Bohr, Mach and Born. Have we lost that engagement?Yes, I think what we have lost is a distinctive way of thinking about science. We have lost the idea, dating back to the Renaissance and the scientific revolution, that science is part of our broader cultural history.

In the early 20th century, the founding fathers of relativity theory and quantum mechanics were trained to read philosophy. And some of the most profound debates in physics at that time had a philosophical nature. When Einstein and Bohr debated the completeness of quantum mechanics, what was at stake was the very definition of “physical reality”: how to define what is “real” in quantum physics. Can an electron be ascribed “real” position and “real” momentum in quantum mechanics even if the formalism does not allow us to capture both? This is a profound philosophical question.

It is hard to find similar debates in contemporary physics, for many reasons. Physicists these days do not necessarily read other subjects at university or get trained in a broad range of topics at school. Large scientific collaborations enforce a more granular level of scientific expertise. More to the point, the whole ethos of scientific research — reflected in institutional practices of how scientific research is incentivized, evaluated, and research funding distributed — has changed. Today, science has to be of use to a well-identified group, or it is deemed to be of no use at all.

But just as with philosophy, we need fundamental research in science (and in the humanities) because it is part of our cultural heritage and scientific history. It is part of who we are.

One criticism made is that science moves on, but philosophy stays with the same old questions. Has science motivated new philosophical questions?I think that again we should resist the temptation of assessing progress in philosophy in the same terms as progress in science. To start with, there are different views about how to assess progress in science. Is it defined by science getting closer and closer to the final true theory? Or in terms of increased problem-solving? Or of technological advance? These are themselves philosophical unsolved questions.

The received view up to the 1960s was that scientific progress was to be understood in terms of producing theories that were more and more likely to be true, in the sense of being better and better approximations to an ideal limit of scientific inquiry—for example, to some kind of theory of everything, if one exists. With the historical work of Thomas Kuhn in the 1960s, this view was in part replaced by an alternative that sees our ability to solve more and more problems and puzzles as the measure of our scientific success, regardless of whether or not there is an ideal limit of scientific inquiry to which we are all converging.

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Philosophy of science has contributed to these debates about the nature of scientific success and progress, and as a result we have a more nuanced and historically sensitive view today.

But also the reverse is true: Science has offered to philosophers of science new questions to ponder. Take, for example, scientific models. The exponential proliferation of different modeling practices across the biomedical sciences, engineering, earth sciences and physics over the last century has prompted philosophers to ask new questions about the role and nature of scientific models and how they relate to theories and experimental evidence. Similarly, the ubiquitous use of Bayesian statistics in scientific areas has enticed philosophers to go back to Bayes’ theorem and to unpack its problems and prospects. And advances in neuroscience have invited philosophers to find new accounts of how the human mind works.

Thus, progress accrues via a symbiotic relation through which philosophy and the sciences mutually develop, evolve and feed into each other.

You say there has been a debate between realist and anti-realist views of science. Can you explain this?The debate has a long history, and it is fundamentally about philosophical stances on science. What is the overarching aim of science? Does science aim to provide us with an approximately true story about nature, as realism would have it? Or does science instead aim to save the observable phenomena without necessarily having to tell us a true story, as some antirealists would contend instead?

The distinction is crucial in the history of astronomy. Ptolemaic astronomy was for centuries able to “save the observable phenomena” about planetary motions by assuming epicycles and deferents [elaborations of circular motions], with no pretense to give a true story about it. When Copernican astronomy was introduced, the battle that followed—between Galileo and the Roman Church, for example—was ultimately also a battle about whether Copernican astronomy was meant to give a “true story” of how the planets move as opposed to just saving the phenomena.

We can ask exactly the same questions about the objects of current scientific theories. Are colored quarks real? Or do they just save the empirical evidence we have about the strong interaction in quantum chromodynamics? Is the Higgs boson real? Dark matter?

You have argued for a new position, called perspectival realism. What is that?I see perspectival realism as a realist position, because it claims (at least in my own version of it) that truth does matter in science. We cannot be content with just saving the observable phenomena and producing theories that account for the available evidence. Yet it acknowledges that scientists don’t have a God’s-eye view of nature: Our conceptual resources, theoretical approaches, methodologies and technological infrastructures are historically and culturally situated. Does that mean we can’t reach true knowledge about nature? Certainly not. Does it mean we should give up on the idea that there is an overarching notion of scientific progress? Absolutely not.

You have written about the role of evidence in science. This has become a hot topic because of the efforts in some parts of physics to push into realms for which there is scant evidence that might be used to test theories. Do you think true science can be done even where empiricism is not (at this point) an option?This is an important question because, as I mentioned, the answer to the question of how to be a realist despite the perspectival nature of our knowledge depends also on how we go about collecting, analyzing and interpreting evidence for hypothetical new entities (which might or might not be real). Not only is such evidence very difficult to gather in areas like cosmology or particle physics, but also the tools we have for interpreting the evidence are very often a matter of perspective. And so how we put those tools to the service of “finding the truth” about, say, supersymmetric particles or dark energy becomes crucial.

Take, for example, the research program on supersymmetry. Here, the old philosophical ideas—that scientists start with a theoretical hypothesis, deduce empirical consequences and then run an experiment to test whether the consequences are verified or not—proves totally out of date and inadequate to capture what goes on in real scientific practice. It would be too time-consuming and inefficient for experimental physicists to test every single theoretical model produced in supersymmetry, considering also the wealth of data coming from colliders.

Instead, particle physicists have devised more efficient strategies. The goal is to rule out energy regions where no evidence has yet been found for new physics beyond the Standard Model. Our ability to survey the space of what is physically conceivable as a guide to what is objectively possible—and to fix more stringent constraints on this realm of possibilities—counts as progress, even if no particle were to be detected at the end of all those efforts.

From a philosophical point of view, what has dramatically changed is not simply old ideas about the interplay between theory and evidence, but, more importantly, our ideas of progress in science and realism. Progress here is not just about discovering a new particle. It is also—indeed, most of the time—being able to carve out the space of what might be possible in nature with high confidence. That is progress enough. Conveying this message to the public is important to rectify misconceptions about, say, whether taxpayers’ money should be spent to build more-powerful colliders if these machines don’t actually discover a new particle.

At the same time, our realist commitments should be reconsidered. I personally believe that a realist viewpoint can include our ability to carve out the space of what might be objectively possible in nature, rather than in terms of mapping onto some actual states of affairs. This is what perspectival realism is driving at.

How did you start thinking about all of this?A turning point for me happened one day in 1996 when I was browsing through dusty old issues of Physical Review in the basement of the physics library at the University of Rome. There I bumped into the famous Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paper of 1935 [“Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete,” the first paper to point to the phenomenon now called quantum entanglement]. I was struck by the “criterion of physical reality” that featured on their first page—if without in any way disturbing a system, we can predict with certainty the value of a physical quantity, then there exists an element of physical reality corresponding to this physical quantity. I wondered why a physics article would start by asserting a seemingly very philosophical claim about “physical reality.” Anyway, I thought, what is a “criterion” of physical reality? And is this one justified? I remember then reading Niels Bohr’s response to that EPR paper, which chimed in my mind with more modest, knowledge-based claims about how we come to know about what there is in the world. And I decided at that point that there was a philosophical treasure trove in this area, waiting for me to explore.

Your prize address at the Royal Society is about the value of science. What do you think philosophy can bring to that discussion?A lot! Obviously it is not the job of philosophers to do science, or to give verdicts on one theory over another, or to tell scientists how they should go about their business. I suspect that some of the bad press against philosophers originates from the perception that they try to do these things. But I believe it is our job to contribute to public discourse on the value of science and to make sure that discussions about the role of evidence, the accuracy and reliability of scientific theories, and the effectiveness of methodological approaches are properly investigated.

In this respect, I see philosophy of science as delivering on an important social function: making the general public more aware of the importance of science. I see philosophers of science as public intellectuals who speak up for science, and rectify common misconceptions or uninformed judgments that may feed into political lobbies, agendas and ultimately policy-making. Philosophy of science is an integral part of our public discourse on science, which is why I have always endeavored to communicate the value of science to society at large.

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.