NBA leaps on esports bandwagon with new league

LONDON (Reuters) – The inexorable advance of esports will break new ground next month when the NBA becomes the first American professional sports organization to operate an esports league.

FILE PHOTO: Oct 16, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; IDK LOC (L) plays during the Tekken 7 top 8 pool play at Esports Arena. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

Seventeen of the 30 NBA franchises have confirmed they will own NBA 2K League teams and the Draft Pick takes place in New York on April 4.

To be eligible for consideration for the new league, which will provide $1 million in prize money, players must be over 18 and have purchased a copy of the game for their Xbox or Playstation.

They also need to have graduated from high school and have won 50 games in the Pro-Am mode before January this year. Of the tens of thousands who participated, the top 102 ranked players will take part to the opening round of games in May.

The financial package of the NBA 2K League indicates how seriously it is being taken – first-round picks will pocket $35,000 for a six-month contract while other players will be paid $32,000 basic.

Like their real-world counterparts, the players will be allowed to sign endorsement deals and will receive paid housing and relocation expenses. Every gamer will also get medical insurance and a retirement plan along with travel and food costs.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has kept one eye on online gaming with good reason – there are an estimated 130 million competitive gamers who also watch gaming online, and esports is a huge growth market currently worth one billion dollars a year globally.

Lucrative tournaments are springing up across the world and professional teams compete for huge prize money in front of millions of mainly young viewers online.

“We believe we have a unique opportunity to develop something truly special for our fans and the young and growing esports community,” Silver said.

Nicola Piggott, co-founder of esports communications consultancy The Story Mob, told Reuters the NBA/NBA 2K partnership is a logical step for sports teams.

“Esports has so much to offer regular sport, with its intense tribalism, hyper-connected fanbase and the overlap between the two, so this makes a lot of sense,” she said.

“It also gives the NBA the potential to extend their brand to a completely new global audience. It really is a win-win for all parties.”


The NBA initiative has been the catalyst for other sports to join the esports bandwagon.

World soccer’s governing body FIFA has linked up with long-time licensing partner EA Sports to launch FIFA Ultimate Team, which morphed into the FIFA 18 Global Series and will culminate with the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 Grand Final in August.

Other American sporting organizations have since announced the formation of online tournaments they are not only endorsing but are working on with software companies.

Major League Soccer (MLS) launched the eMLS Cup in January and the National Hockey League has revealed plans for its NHL Gaming World Championship, a global ice hockey competition that will stage matches in the U.S., Canada and Europe before the final on June 19 in Las Vegas.

Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the internet and interactive division of baseball, has been described by Forbes Magazine as “the biggest media company you’ve never heard of”, generating over $1 billion revenue in 2017.

It is developing its own videogame series, R.B.I 18, and is deciding when to make its move, hoping to cash in as fans flock in thousands to watch the first generation of eSportsstars battle it out on huge hi-definition screens.

The world’s first purpose-built esports stadium has opened in southwestern China and others are planned for the U.S. this year.

The most watched esports event last year drew in 80 million unique viewers and records are set to be smashed in 2018 with NBC Sports, ESPN, Viasat, Sportnet, Facebook, Twitch and YouTube all set to screen tournaments.

Editing by Ed Osmond

General Electric's Gem Should Be Sold

One of the largest and most significant assets on the books of General Electric (NYSE:GE) is the company’s Healthcare segment. The operation was founded in 1994, but its roots trace back to the late 1800s under the name Victor Electric Company. Over the years, the segment has grown to be a real powerhouse for the conglomerate, generating several billions of dollars in sales and profits annually. Undoubtedly, this adds value to General Electric and is a bright spot for the company in this time of investor pessimism.

A major player in the healthcare space

By almost every measure, GE Healthcare is a force to be reckoned with. In a prior article, I highlighted the company’s ultrasound operations, but I have yet to piece together the segment as a whole. According to management, and shown in the image below, the segment’s largest source of revenue comes from diagnostic imaging and related services, with sales at about $8 billion per year. However, the segment’s $5 billion in sales from life sciences, followed closely by mobile diagnostics and monitoring at $4 billion, is large as well.

*Taken from General Electric

In all, this major footprint has allowed the company to amass a sizable chunk of its markets. Over 1 million imaging and mobile diagnostics devices that are under the GE Healthcare banner are estimated to be installed globally today. They perform in excess of 16 thousand scans every minute and in aggregate they have over 230 million exams of varying natures under their belts. As you can see in the image below, management has utilized its position to create partnerships with players like Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) AWS, as well as other prominent names like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).

*Taken from General Electric

What’s more, management isn’t done trying to grow GE Healthcare. Last year, the firm launched 26 products and through GE Additive and Stryker Corp (NYSE:SYK) it has more than 50 active projects in its pipeline. Another area (though management hasn’t provided any meaningful detail of it) that has been entered into is providing cloud-related services. This could be a material player for the segment in the future, but until we see evidence that management can compete in what has become a very crowded (but high-growth) space, I can’t warrant putting too much stock into that bet.

Performance has been robust but growth is slow

GE Healthcare has a history of being a great source of profit for its parent company. As you can see in the chart below, sales have slowly risen over at least the past five years, rising from $18.20 billion in 2013 to $19.17 billion in 2017. As you can see in the same graph, despite seeing a tick down from 2013 to 2014, sales of the segment have been pretty flat as a percentage of General Electric’s total industrial revenue.

*Created by Author

In recent years, international exposure has become more relevant for GE Healthcare. Today, the segment employs around 52 thousand employees spread across more than 140 countries and management has listed China as an attractive growth prospect moving forward. In fact, non-US sales for the segment totaled 55.5% of aggregate segment sales for it in 2017. This represents an increase from the 53.6% of sales that came from outside of the US just one year earlier.

As revenue has risen for the segment, so too has backlog. In 2013, this figure totaled $16.1 billion, but it has since risen to $18.1 billion. Without any doubt, this metric has benefited from a growth in orders over time. In 2017, total orders for the segment amounted to $20.4 billion. This represents an increase over the $19.2 billion seen in 2013 and 2016. According to Reuters, the imaging industry is likely to see significant growth over the next few years. In 2016, total industry sales were $29.8 billion, but that number is expected to balloon to $45.1 billion in 2022. That implies an annual sales growth for this space of around 10.9% per annum. Assuming this or anything close to this comes to fruition, backlog will grow over time for the segment.

*Created by Author

From a profitability perspective, the figures over time have been even better. After seeing segment profits decline from $3.05 billion in 2013 to $2.88 billion in 2015, we saw a nice rebound over the past two years that brought profits up to $3.45 billion for 2017. That’s the highest figure I saw on record for GE Healthcare and it accounted for 23.4% of General Electric’s Industrial segment profits, which was also a record high that I could see.

*Created by Author

Based on the numbers provided, this growth in profits, driven not only by higher sales but by cost reductions (according to management) has led to GE Healthcare’s profit margin expanding as well. Over the past five years, GE Healthcare’s segment profit margin grew from 16.7% to 18% (dipping as low at one point as 16.3%). A similar trend can be seen in the graph below, which shows that the return on assets for the segment has grown over time, rising from 10.9% to 12% today.

*Created by Author

Strong growth prospects, combined with attractive and improving margins has led to the formation of a thought in my mind. At this point in time, General Electric is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, the firm has been slammed by insurance reserves, SEC investigations, and other issues in recent months. This has resulted in shares of the business declining by around 54% from their 52-week high, effectively erasing $143 billion worth of market value from the firm.

As concerns grow that cash flow may not be enough to meet spending needs (especially now that GE Capital has cut off its distribution to its parent) and the company’s dividend to shareholders, now might be the time to consider selling off GE Healthcare. It’s difficult to tell what kind of value exists here for shareholders, but one good estimate might be derived from looking at Danaher (NYSE:DHR).

According to the management team at Danaher, 63% of the company’s revenue is split between life sciences and diagnostics operations. These are essentially the same kinds of operations that GE Healthcare engages in. Another 15% of Danaher’s revenue is attributable to the dental space, which isn’t too dissimilar to make the case that Danaher is largely a proxy for GE Healthcare.

*Taken from Danaher

Like GE Healthcare, total segment profits (I’m excluding “other” that shows up as a $170 million loss), carry with them nice margins. Using 2017’s figures, the profit margin for Danaher was 17.4%. With revenue of $18.33 billion, the company is just a bit smaller than GE Healthcare as well. When you consider that Danaher’s market cap is $69.97 billion as of the time of this writing, you come to the conclusion that the firm is trading for 3.82 times revenue and 21.9 times segment profits. Applying the same figures to GE Healthcare would imply a value on the business of between $73.02 billion and $75.51 billion. Such a sale, at the high end, would be enough to reduce General Electric’s debt from $136.21 billion to $60.70 billion if management so desired.


GE Healthcare is a great business. Despite seeing sales grow slowly, margins associated with the segment are attractive and the industry’s upside is material. Additional value would probably be realized from having the company be separated from the conglomerate since a new management team could place a more concerted effort toward growing the enterprise. The value of Danaher suggests that management could also solve a lot of its issues regarding liabilities if it were to decide part ways with the segment, perhaps even freeing up capital to reinvest toward higher-growth prospects like Aviation, Renewables, and Oil & Gas.

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.

Exclusive: 'Where can I buy?' – Google makes push to turn product searches into cash

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google routinely fields product queries from millions of shoppers. Now it wants to take a cut of their purchases, too.

FILE PHOTO: The Google logo is seen at the Young Entrepreneurs fair in Paris, France, February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau /File Photo

The U.S. technology company is teaming up with retailers including Target Corp, Walmart Inc, Home Depot Inc, Costco Wholesale Corp and Ulta Beauty Inc.

Under a new program, retailers can list their products on Google Search, as well as on the Google Express shopping service, and Google Assistant on mobile phones and voice devices.

In exchange for Google listings and linking to retailer loyalty programs, the retailers pay Google a piece of each purchase, which is different from payments that retailers make to place ads on Google platforms.

Google’s pitch to retailers is a better chance to influence shoppers’ purchasing decisions, a move that is likely to help them compete with rival Inc. Google hopes the program helps retailers capture more purchases on desktop, cell phones and smart home devices with voice search – the next frontier for e-commerce.

The previously unreported initiative sprang from Google’s observation that tens of millions of consumers were sending image searches of products, asking “Where can I buy this?” “Where can I find it?” “How can I buy it?” “How do I transact?” Daniel Alegre, Google’s president for retail and shopping, told Reuters exclusively.

Over the past two years, mobile searches asking where to buy products soared by 85 percent, Alegre said.

But the current default choice for many consumers is a Google search that ends with an Amazon purchase, analysts said. The new Google program, Shopping Actions, will be available in the United States to retailers of all sizes and could help retail chains keep those customers.

“We have taken a fundamentally different approach from the likes of Amazon because we see ourselves as an enabler of retail,” Alegre said. “We see ourselves as part of a solution for retailers to be able to drive better transactions … and get closer to the consumer.” For consumers faced with a surfeit of choices, the idea is to make online buying easier by giving them a single shopping cart and instant checkout – a core feature of Amazon’s retail dominance.

Retail chains can also offer products through the Google Home voice shopping device, holding on to those who may be headed to Amazon for better deals and giving them personalized recommendations based on previous purchase history.

For example, a shopper looking for sneakers on Google on his phone can see a retailer’s listing and add that to his Google Express cart. Later, the customer can stand in the kitchen, and use the Google Home voice device to add paper towels to the same cart and buy everything at once.

Retail partners saw the average size of a customer’s shopping basket increase by 30 percent, Alegre said, pointing to early results from the Shopping Actions program.

Ulta Beauty’s average order value has jumped 35 percent since partnering with Google, Chief Executive Officer Mary Dillon said. Ulta sells makeup and skin care products from brands such as MAC, Estee Lauder and Clinique.

Over the past six months, Target said the number of items in shoppers’ Google Express baskets have increased by nearly 20 percent, on average, as a result of its tie-up with the internet company.


The retailers are also eager to get in on the rapidly growing voice shopping market dominated by Amazon’s popular Echo home device, analysts and consultants said.

Both Walmart and Target last year struck deals to appear in search results via Google Home.

Smart voice devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home will be installed in 55 percent of U.S. households by 2022, according to Juniper Research. Amazon’s Alexa platform could generate $10 billion in revenues by 2020, a separate report from RBC Capital Markets estimated.

“Brands are looking at Google as the enemy of the enemy and that makes Google their friend,” said Guru Hariharan, CEO of retail technology firm Boomerang Commerce, referring to the competition between Amazon and chains like Walmart and Target.

Target shoppers “love the ease and convenience of making their Target run without lifting a finger by using a voice interface,” Chief Information and Digital Officer Mike McNamara said.

“This is just the beginning for Target and Google,” he added. Target shoppers will soon be able to link their online account and loyalty card with their Google accounts and get 5 percent off on purchases and free shipping, McNamara said.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in New York; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Jeffrey Benkoe

New FAA Rules Take Aim at Dangerous Helicopter Flights

The Federal Aviation Administration today ordered the halt of open-door helicopter flights that use passenger harnesses without quick-release capability, less than a week after such a flight ended with the drowning deaths of five people.

Last Sunday evening, a doors-off helicopter catering to photographers and tourists crashed into the East River of New York City, killing all five passengers who were harnessed to the quickly sinking aircraft. The pilot, who wore a conventional quick-release restraint, survived, but the passengers had no easy way to free themselves. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, and it will likely issue a detailed analysis in about a year.

The directive marks an unusually quick reaction by the FAA to prevent similar tragedies, and it appears to be a direct reaction to methods used by the two companies involved in the fatal flight, New Jersey-based FlyNYON, which markets such trips to professional and amateur photographers, and charter service Liberty Helicopters, which owns the aircraft.

“A lot of operators may do the occasional doors-off tour or photo flight,” says commercial helicopter pilot and instructor Elan Head, special projects editor of industry magazine Vertical. “But many of these are done without supplemental restraints, as passengers just stay belted in their seats. The FAA’s announcement seems to target FlyNYON specifically, since the focus is on restraints that cannot be released quickly in an emergency, rather than open doors, per se.”

The FlyNYON helicopter shortly before the crash.

Eric Adams

The FAA’s new order also indirectly targets a growing social media trend: the taking and sharing of dramatic aerial photographs of cities and natural environments. FlyNYON was one of the first operators to capitalize on the genre. Its own Instagram account has 132,000 followers, and the company has many relationships with even more successful Instagrammers and professional photographers. For the less social-savvy passengers, its employees [make a big deal] ( of the “shoe selfie,” where you take a photo of the city below with your feet dangling in the frame.

Indeed, much of the company’s recent growth—it has expanded operations to Las Vegas, San Francisco, Miami, and Los Angeles—came from these open-door, photography-focused flights that capitalize on such social media trends. It also makes a degree of business sense for the company, since it enables the operator to sell individual seats for photo flights rather than having to rent out the entire aircraft for individual assignments. “This type of model is becoming popular in the aviation industry as a way to maximize the use of charter aircraft,” Head says.

The NTSB investigation will also look at operational details beyond the harnessing of passengers, including the breadth and content of the preflight safety briefings and the fundamental assumption that inexperienced passengers can even be expected to evacuate a crashed helicopter in the water in the first place. The industry overall has long wrestled with the notion of consumer-oriented open-door flights—the practice is common for industrial and commercial purposes—and this accident and other recent tragedies, including a fiery, fatal crash in the Grand Canyon last month, has spurred them onto more focused examination of all their safety protocols. Just today, the Virginia-based Helicopter Association International announced it would organize a working group to establish guidelines to prevent similar accidents in the future. “Our goal is, and always will be, zero accidents in the helicopter industry,” group president Matt Zuccaro said in a statement.

There’s no reason to believe the East River crash will permanently halt aviation’s open-door policy, but until investigators have a handle on all the factors that contributed to the deaths of five enthusiastic passengers, helicopter occupants—at least those without more advanced harnesses—will have to keep their hands and feet safely inside the craft.

It’s a Chopper Baby

Facebook suspends SCL, Cambridge Analytica for violating policies

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc said on Friday it was suspending consulting firm Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) and its political data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica after it found they had violated its policies.

FILE PHOTO: A Facebook logo is seen at the Facebook Gather conference in Brussels, Belgium January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

Facebook said in a statement that it learned in 2015 that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, Aleksandr Kogan, “lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, which does political, government and military work around the globe. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.”

The company said Kogan billed his app on Facebook as “a research app used by psychologists.” About 270,000 people downloaded the app, and in so doing, gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it.

Facebook said Kogan gained access to the information “in a legitimate way” but “he did not subsequently abide by our rules,” saying that by onpassing information to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Wylie of Eunoia “he violated our platform policies.”

Facebook said it removed Kogan’s app when it learned of the violation in 2015 and asked for certification from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed.

Although Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie certified that they had destroyed the data, Facebook said it found out several days ago that not all data was deleted. Facebook said it is investigating to determine the accuracy of the claims.

Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler

Samsung Electronics says to break ground on new China memory chip line this month

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd plans to begin building a new memory chip production line in China in late March, a spokesman said on Thursday, as the tech giant ramps up efforts to boost NAND flash technology to meet future demand.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its office building in Seoul, South Korea South Korea, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

The tech giant said in August last year that it expected to invest $7 billion over the next three years to expand its NAND memory chip production in China’s northwestern city of Xi’an, but had not specified a future schedule.

The rapidly growing data center market, which needs more memory capacity to handle increasing data traffic, is expected to underpin revenue growth and margins for Samsung’s NAND Flash business in 2018, research provider Trendforce said.

Samsung’s revenue from NAND in the fourth quarter of 2017 rose 9.8 percent from the previous quarter to $6.17 billion, Trendforce said, as demand from both smartphone and server markets lifted shipments and average price.

Samsung will formally begin the process near month-end at Xi’an, earmarked for NAND flash production, the spokesman said, but did not give any other details.

Samsung Electronics shares have risen about 13 percent from early March on an improved outlook for the memory chip market, putting to rest concerns that the recent boom might end, analysts said.

“Memory chips are solid. For DRAM chips, server demand is very strong,” said Kwon Sung-ryul, an analyst at DB Investment & Securities.

“NAND flash chip shipments and price movements are moving within expectations, but there’s a chance that supply will become tighter again in the second half of 2018 due to rising demand.”

The expansion is not expected to affect memory chip supply until 2019 at the earliest, analysts said.

Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

Samsung Electronics says to start building new China memory chip line this month

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd plans to begin building a new memory chip production line in China in late March, a spokesman said on Thursday, as the tech giant ramps up efforts to boost NAND flash technology to meet future demand.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its office building in Seoul, South Korea South Korea, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

The tech giant said in August last year that it expected to invest $7 billion over the next three years to expand its NAND memory chip production in China’s northwestern city of Xi’an, but had not specified a future schedule.

The rapidly growing data center market, which needs more memory capacity to handle increasing data traffic, is expected to underpin revenue growth and margins for Samsung’s NAND Flash business in 2018, research provider Trendforce said.

Samsung’s revenue from NAND in the fourth quarter of 2017 rose 9.8 percent from the previous quarter to $6.17 billion, Trendforce said, as demand from both smartphone and server markets lifted shipments and average price.

Samsung will formally begin the process near month-end at Xi’an, earmarked for NAND flash production, the spokesman said, but did not give any other details.

Samsung Electronics shares have risen about 13 percent from early March on an improved outlook for the memory chip market, putting to rest concerns that the recent boom might end, analysts said.

“Memory chips are solid. For DRAM chips, server demand is very strong,” said Kwon Sung-ryul, an analyst at DB Investment & Securities.

“NAND flash chip shipments and price movements are moving within expectations, but there’s a chance that supply will become tighter again in the second half of 2018 due to rising demand.”

The expansion is not expected to affect memory chip supply until 2019 at the earliest, analysts said.

Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

Elon Musk Says SpaceX’s Mars Rocket Could Launch in Early 2019

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said a rocket that’s intended to put humans on Mars could launch in early 2019.

“We are building the first ship, the first Mars or interplanetary ship, right now,” Musk told screenwriter Jonathan Nolan on stage at the South By Southwest conference in Austin Sunday. “I think we’ll be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, sometime in the first half of next year.”

That timeline is surprisingly aggressive, and Musk admits that “historically people have told me my timelines have been optimistic.” The Falcon Heavy’s first launch was pushed back several times, and the Mars rocket is several times larger and more complex. The most that the public has seen of the rocket at this point is a design concept and a massive carbon-fiber fuel tank.

The rocket is currently code named BFR, of which Musk said: “It’s a bit of a Rorschach test in acronym form. [But] it is very big.”

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However optimistic the timeline, the BFR’s first test flights would just be a preview of an actual crewed trip to Mars. SpaceX’s most recent plan has humans actually heading to Mars in 2022.

Musk predicts that the first flights of the ship will unleash a flood of energy from other shipbuilders. “Once we have it, we’ll have a sort of point of proof, something that other countries and companies will go and do.” Musk says that he expects those other entities to eventually build interplanetary transport vehicles of their own.

Musk also reiterated that he sees SpaceX’s role as simply creating the pathway to Mars, and that he hopes entrepreneurs will build much of the infrastructure of a future Mars colony, including everything from “iron foundries to pizza joints to nightclubs.” He also speculated that “most likely, the form of government on Mars would be somewhat of a direct democracy,” in which residents would vote directly on particular issues.

How YouTube Pushes Viewers Towards Extremism

Search for a political topic on YouTube, and you’re likely to be nudged to watch increasingly extreme, misleading, or outright false content on that topic. If your interest is in left-wing topics, the site’s algorithm will point you towards corresponding left-wing conspiracy theories. The reverse goes for searches on conservative-leaning topics.

That, at least, was the conclusion of communications researcher Zeynep Tufecki after an informal experiment described Saturday in the New York Times. Tufecki’s exercise was unscientific, and she writes that Google doesn’t like sharing hard data with researchers. But a Wall Street Journal investigation came to similar conclusions last month, with the help of a former YouTube engineer.

Similar to recent research showing that fake news spreads faster than facts on Twitter, these findings about YouTube’s algorithm can’t be blamed on any nefarious plot to destabilize the world. Instead, the problem seems inherent to the intersection of human nature and YouTube’s business model.

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Just like Facebook, Twitter, and good old television, YouTube makes money from ads — and therefore, from audiences’ attention. Over time, Tufecki writes, YouTube’s “algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with — or to incendiary content in general.” But YouTube, which like Facebook and Twitter would rather be seen as neutral “platforms” rather than publishers, doesn’t take the same kind of responsibility for its content that a television broadcaster is required to.

If that’s true, even stricter enforcement action on individual videos — such as YouTube’s recent decision to reprimand conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — amounts to little more than a game of whack-a-mole.

As the Journal pointed out in its report last month, it clearly doesn’t have to be this way. YouTube parent company Google weighs the trustworthiness of content when returning web search results, giving priority to mainstream news sites. YouTube has chosen not to implement anything so straightforward. YouTube told the Journal that it had a harder task than Google because of the smaller selection of videos about breaking news events, as compared to written stories.

And of course, YouTube didn’t create political divisiveness. To claim so would be to ignore longer-term trends, including extreme gerrymandering and the rise of political dark money that make elected officials more likely to appeal to extremes.

But YouTube and other digital platforms may very well be making those problems worse, and fast.

Elon Musk's Boring Company Is Now All About Public Transit

From its conception in LA traffic in late 2016, Elon Musk’s Boring Company has had a simple vision: blasting torturous gridlock by putting people in tunnels. “Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…” the Twitter-loving Tesla and SpaceX CEO tweeted.

Musk went ahead and bought that boring machine, then another, and he’s using them to experiment with tunnel building techniques in Hawthorne, California, near SpaceX headquarters. And he’s been pitching government officials on his approach. The Boring Company has proposed tunneling projects in Los Angeles, Maryland, Washington, DC, New York and Chicago.

Transportation experts and urbanists of a more traditional stripe have been less than impressed. Musk’s first Boring Company concept video focused on the personal car, showing Teslas (of course) blasting down underground tubes onboard electric skates, which Musk has promised will move up to 150 mph. How can any form of transit promoting personal cars—vehicles carrying up to five (squished) people at a time, and more likely carrying just one—reduce congestion? What happens if you don’t own a car at all? Musk’s comments during a conference in December didn’t help matters, when he mocked mass transit.

Now, Musk seems to have heard the criticism. Well, at least part of it. In a series of Twitter posts on Friday, the CEO announced his company’s work would “prioritize pedestrians and cyclists over cars,” emphasizing public transit over private transportation.

“Will still transport cars, but only after all personalized mass transit needs are met,” he wrote. “It’s a matter of courtesy & fairness. If someone can’t afford a car, they should go first.”

A new, short Boring Company promo video highlights this new vision for “the Loop”, an eight- to 16-passenger pod, which descends from street level to a series of tunnels below the earth.

(“Better video coming soon,” Musk promised.)

Musk differentiates between these pods and a subway by noting his “urban loop system” would have thousands of small, parking spot-sized stations instead of larger ones, and take passengers directly from their origins to their destinations, minimizing the need to walk.

But the logistics of the system are still unclear. If the system still carries cars, how will the Boring Company ensure that the public pods are prioritized? How many tunnels do there have to be to guarantee your pod won’t get stuck between another pod making one of thousands of stops? If there are no real stations, where will people wait to be picked up? What happens if there’s a crash—does the whole system shut down? Are there emergency exits? Wouldn’t it be much, much, much cheaper and easier to build a bus rapid transit system, where buses can leap through traffic in their very own dedicated lanes?

Cities considering giving Musk real space to build real things face bigger questions. Is the Boring Company actually making strides in tunnel boring technology? Can it expedite an oft-slow, labor intensive, and bureaucratically complex process? (“It’s a disaster, working with the politicians and bureaucrats,” says engineer Gary Brierley, who has worked in tunnel design for fifty years. “These guys make their living making life miserable.”) Is the company considering how its tunnels will fit into the broader transportation network—will this system connect to LA’s struggling bus system, or the Northeast Corridor’s successful Acela train?

In January, the Boring Company appeared before the council of Culver City, in Los Angeles County, with a proposal to build a 6.5-mile “proof of concept” tunnel between the city and LA, without public funding. (The Boring Company said it would not request public funds for the project.) Council Member Meghan Sahli-Wells, who voiced her skepticism of the plan during the meeting, says this latest pivot to some vision of public transit hasn’t won her over.

“I would love it if a car salesman would pay attention to pedestrians and cyclists,” she says. But: “When your job is to pay attention to how a city works or doesn’t work for the people who live in it, a slide deck or video or a cool-looking concept is not something that you can make a plan on.” For now, the Culver City plan is in a holding pattern, as the members wait for more information from the Boring Company, 280 characters at a time.

Elon’s World

Arena Ventures Founder Paige Craig Leaves Venture Capital to Join Electric Scooter Startup Bird

Arena Ventures founder and general partner Paige Craig has a new startup gig. He has joined electric scooter company Bird as its head of U.S. city operations.

In January, Fortune reported that Arena Ventures, the Los Angeles-based early-stage venture capital firm, would pause seed investing “until the seed market corrects.” Craig sent a private letter to limited partners laying out concerns about the seed market — high valuations, excessive capital supply, and imbalanced market forces.

It appears those concerns did not go away.

When asked whether he would be working on something else during Arena’s hiatus, Craig said “No, we’re full time on Arena.” Fortune contacted him today to ask what will happen to his VC firm, and he said, “We stopped seed investing last year, and Jeff [Lo, Arena co-founder] and I decided to oversee the portfolio, but will not make any new investments. I’m full time at Bird.”

Arena made investments in software-focused businesses based in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. Arena’s portfolio includes companies such as ClassPass, Plated, Reserve, and Laurel & Wolf.

While Craig said the seed market has become increasingly crowded and expensive, he joined a company that raised $15 million in Series A funding last month and $100 million in Series B this month at a valuation of about $300 million.

Craig’s new job will focus on helping Bird expand across the nation as the company expects to be in 50 U.S. markets by the end of 2018. Bird is already hitting some regulatory challenges. In February, it had to pay $300,000 in fines for obscuring the public right of way (undocked Bird scooters were left lying across a sidewalk, blocking a doorway or driveway) and operating without a proper commercial business license.

Ola's sputtering India electric vehicle trial a red flag for Modi plan

NAGPUR, India (Reuters) – Indian ride-hailing firm Ola’s pilot project to test a fleet of electric vehicles in the western city of Nagpur was expected to herald a coming revolution in the Indian autos industry. So far, though, it has only exposed fractures in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitions to make all new vehicles electric by 2030.

Mahindra’s, e2oPlus, operated by Indian ride-hailing company Ola, is seen at an electric vehicle charging station in Nagpur, India January 24, 2018. Picture taken January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Aditi Shah

With an initial investment of about $8 million, Softbank-backed Ola launched the project last year at an event that had all the trappings of a state function, including a big gathering and flagging off by Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari.

But nine months later, the program has hit a snag: Ola drivers, unhappy with long wait times at charging stations and high operating expenses, want to return their cars and switch to fuel-guzzling variants.

Out of 20 Ola electric car drivers interviewed by Reuters in Nagpur, more than a dozen said they have either returned their electric taxis and switched to diesel, or are planning to do so.

Ola had said it would make 50 charging points available across four locations in Nagpur – a city of about 2.5 million people – for its fleet of 200 electric vehicles, but on a visit to the city in late January, Reuters found only about a dozen charging points. Ola has since added 10 additional charging points but is still short of its target.

Ola did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Getting infrastructure built in the world’s biggest democracy where a not-in-my-backyard culture proliferates is a barrier for a lot of businesses in India. And it is proving to be the same for charging stations – Ola was forced to close one in Nagpur last year after protests by residents angered by traffic jams caused by drivers. It took more than five months to get government clearances to begin operating another station.

The hurdles faced by Ola in setting up sufficient charging stations for a fleet of expensive electric cars with a limited driving range expose the challenges the Indian government and automakers will face if they are to get anywhere near realizing the 2030 vision.


Global auto makers have repeatedly warned that India is not ready for electrification, saying the government must first lay down a clear, long-term policy, provide incentives to encourage manufacturing of electric vehicles to bring down their cost and create the charging infrastructure.

Gadkari added to uncertainty when he said last month that the government will no longer draft a separate electric vehicle policy. He did not comment on the 2030 vision.

The Ola project has not turned out to be economically viable for either the company or its drivers, said one industry source familiar with Ola’s strategy.

“The project’s not flying as of now and the economics is not working out,” the source said.

Electric car sales in India, one of the world’s fastest-growing auto markets, made up less than 0.1 percent of annual sales of more than 3 million passenger cars. The lack of demand is mainly because they are expensive – due to high battery costs – and as their range is limited and there isn’t a charging infrastructure.

By comparison, in China in 2017, electric vehicles made up about 2 percent of annual passenger car sales of 24.7 million.

The Indian government had been determined to promote electric vehicle use, starting with public transport and taxis, to combat rising pollution and reduce the nation’s dependence on imported oil.

India’s 2030 ambition was part of a broader move by countries like China and the United Kingdom, which have set similar goals. This has spurred billions of dollars in investments by carmakers like Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) and Ford Motor even as many in the industry say they are unsure who will buy the massive numbers of electric vehicles governments want them to produce.

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Mahindra & Mahindra is the only electric carmaker in India and the high cost of even its entry-level model, which starts at 760,000 rupees ($11,665) is a barrier for many first-time car buyers, and a non-starter for taxi drivers who can get a diesel or gasoline propelled car for about half the price.

Ola has deep pockets and while it has tied-up with Mahindra for the pilot project, its struggle to make the fleet viable in a small Indian city with much less congestion and space constraints than the biggest cities like Mumbai, underscores the magnitude of the challenges.

A shortage of stations and the limited range of cars – about 100 kilometers – has meant longer queues to recharge. During summer months when batteries discharge faster and need to be recharged more, the situation may worsen unless more charging points are added, said several drivers, none of whom wanted to be named as they feared retribution from the company.

The cars are owned by Ola and leased to drivers for 1,000 rupees a day, but many complain that the amount is too high and they need to work for 12-16 hours to make a decent living, given they waste 3-4 hours a day on charging.

One of the drivers said that after paying Ola the rent for the car and shelling out 500-600 rupees per day for charging, he is left with about 500 rupees ($7.71) at the end of a 14-hour day giving him little time to rest or spend with his family.

“If they don’t give us the (charging) facility, why should we drive these cars,” said the driver, who had just spent an hour waiting for his turn to charge the car, and would have to wait for another 90 minutes while it charges.

Ola founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal told Reuters last April that the company would pilot a few thousand electric vehicles in several Indian cities in 2017 and then scale up in a major way. However, almost a year later it has still to take the experiment beyond Nagpur.


At India’s biennial auto show in February, electric cars took center stage but most were at a concept stage or sold only in global markets as automakers like Toyota, Honda and Renault took a circumspect approach to the new tilt toward electrification.

“Once we make an investment there are huge risks,” said Akito Tachibana, managing director of Toyota’s India arm, adding as of now there is no clarity on who would buy such cars and what incentives the government will offer.

Charging infrastructure is a big piece of the puzzle that needs to be resolved for EVs to be viable – India has only about 222 charging stations with 353 charging points, according to a January report by global consultancy EY.

Analysts estimate it costs between $500 and $25,000 to set up a station, and that comes on top of expensive land purchases needed to build them. The ministry of heavy industries estimates a subsidy worth 140 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) will be needed to promote EVs and charging infrastructure.

Automakers argue in the near-term the government should make land available and invest in building stations, while over the longer-term it would need to offer incentives to private investors.

One additional problem is that, unlike in Western countries, most car owners in India do not have garages, or formal parking where chargers for cars could be installed.

Another issue is lack of a long-term policy, outlining incentives, which has helped countries like China push electric vehicle sales. Government wrangling over policy formulation in India is making it difficult for carmakers to plan investments.

“Any distraction from the single-minded focus to draw a plan for introducing electric vehicles is going to make this a long-lasting exercise that might not attract the attention of the right kind of investors,” cautions Guenter Butschek, managing director at Tata Motors.

Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Euan Rocha and Martin Howell

Defense Department Is Using Google’s AI Tech to Help With Drone Surveillance

Google is helping the military use artificial intelligence to analyze video from drones to more quickly identify objects like trucks.

The deal is part of the Defense Department’s Project Maven initiative to use technology and automation to sift through huge amounts of data, according to tech publication Gizmodo, which reported on the partnership on Tuesday.

A Google (goog) spokesperson confirmed to Fortune that the search giant is working with the Defense Department and said that the company has “long worked with government agencies to provide technology solutions.” The spokesperson added that Google’s technology “flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only.”

Anonymous Google employees expressed concern in the Gizmodo article that Google is helping the U.S. government improve drone surveillance operations and that the project highlights “important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning.” The Google spokesperson acknowledged that the “military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns.”

“We’re actively discussing this important topic internally and with others as we continue to develop policies and safeguards around the development and use of our machine learning technologies,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

As part of the partnership, the Defense Department is using Google’s free, open source TensorFlow software, used by developers to create powerful software that rely on machine-learning and can quickly recognize objects in photos like cats. For this project, the Google spokesperson said that the military would only use the technology to recognize images “on unclassified data.”

In July, the Defense Department described Project Maven as an initiative to explore how cutting-edge AI technologies could eventually be used in warfare.

“People and computers will work symbiotically to increase the ability of weapon systems to detect objects,” Marine Corps Col. Drew Cukor said in a statement. “Eventually we hope that one analyst will be able to do twice as much work, potentially three times as much, as they’re doing now. That’s our goal.”

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The Defense Department had said that it would be undergoing “a competitive selection process to find vendors that can provide algorithms against DoD data.”

“You don’t buy AI like you buy ammunition,” Cukor said. “There’s a deliberate workflow process and what the department has given us with its rapid acquisition authorities is an opportunity for about 36 months to explore what is governmental and [how] best to engage industry [to] advantage the taxpayer and the warfighter, who wants the best algorithms that exist to augment and complement the work he does.”

Chinese Startups See Latin America as a Land of Opportunity

Two years ago, Tang Xin had never set foot in Mexico and didn’t know a word of Spanish. While his grasp of the language hasn’t improved much since then, he has built one of the country’s hottest apps.

Noticias Aguila, which translates as News Eagle, now has 20 million users and became the No. 1 news app in Google Play’s Mexico store late last year, according to App Annie. That has come as Tang and his development team remain based in Shenzhen, the Chinese technology hub just across the border from Hong Kong.

Tang, who worked for Tencent Holdings (tctzf) before striking out on his own, is among an emerging group of Chinese developers and investors betting the next technology gold rush will come from Latin America and its 600 million-plus people. Fueled by deep-pocketed mainland venture capitalists and success at home, the 40-year-old and his peers are exporting a formula honed in China of pursuing rapid expansion over profitability.

Chinese venture capital investment in Latin America jumped to $1 billion since the start of 2017, compared with about $30 million in 2015, according to data collected by Preqin.

“China used to copy from overseas, but now we see more opportunities by helping replicate business models that’ve taken off and exporting them,” said Tang, who now spends a quarter of his time in Mexico. “Competition is so fierce in China that smaller companies feel it makes sense to look for opportunities elsewhere.”

Chinese startups pushing into the region include Hangzhou-based Tian Ge Interactive Holdings, which wants to build an internet finance platform in Mexico. Phonemaker Transsion Holdings is preparing to set up operations in Colombia. China Mobile Games & Entertainment Group plans to distribute mobile games in Mexico. Ofo, the Beijing-based bicycle sharing service, is preparing to make its first Latin America foray by entering Mexico, said Chris Taylor, who runs its U.S. operations.

The push by the tech sector piggybacks on years of state-driven Chinese investments in infrastructure in Latin America, with a pool of 2,000 companies pouring more than $200 billion in the region as of January.

When the startups arrive in Latin America they don’t exactly have the place to themselves. MercadoLibre and, both of which are based in Buenos Aires, have become major players in e-commerce and online travel respectively.

For more on Chinese startups, watch Fortune’s video:

Like China’s infrastructure investments in the region, there’s the possibility of pushback from locals. The road to Latin America has also been littered with cautionary tales of crippled projects. China’s automakers have struggled to establish themselves in countries such as Brazil even after building local plants.

“It’s risky and these companies will need to localize their products,” said Tang Jun, a deputy director at the Institute of Latin American Studies at Zhejiang International Studies University. “There will be political environment risk, as many parts of Latin America often go through quick cycles and turbulence.”

That hasn’t stifled investment interest. Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent are scouring for projects, while Didi’s acquisition of Brazil 99 showed deals can get done quickly, unlike the political opposition Chinese companies face in the U.S.

The trend has captured the attention of investors like Santiago-based Nathan Lustig who joined forces with a Beijing-based partner. Together they want to bridge Chinese investors with projects focusing on Latin America. Lustig’s goal is to scoop them up cheaper and earlier.

“We think Chinese acquisitions will be an important exit strategy for startup investors in Latin America,” said Lustig, managing partner of Magma Partners. “This will be a major theme over the next five years.”

Noticias Aguila’s Tang, whose company is formally known as Shenzhen Inveno Innovation Technology Co., doesn’t just want to sell out. His goal is to become the biggest internet company in the region. The company got its start by scraping news sites, mostly independent outlets and social media because it didn’t have the rights to larger publications. It hired locals to help with translation and build partnerships while the team back in Shenzhen developed algorithms to aggregate and sort the news for users.

It took the company about two months to be able to aggregate as least 100,000 articles a day. The next step was signing up media partnerships and now it has distribution deals with seven of the 10 largest publications in Mexico, including El Universal and Publimetro.

Unlike traditional publications that decide what users get to read based on editor recommendations — Tang’s company aggregates, labels and matches content to user preferences. It’s an approach that has found success in China, with the owner of Jinri Toutiao valued at $11 billion, according to CB Insights.

“It all comes down to how accurate you label items,” Tang said by phone from Shenzhen. “The more accurate and detailed the label, the more accurate you can target and push the content that the users want.”

In keeping with the Chinese model of spending to win over users, irrespective of profits, Tang has bought at least $2 million of advertising on Facebook to reach potential customers, even though the U.S. social networking giant is a competitor with its news feed. The app sat at No. 2 among news apps in Mexico in February, a notch down since November, according to App Annie. That’s part of the reason why this year Tang plans to quintuple spending on promotions and work with phone carriers and makers to pre-install its app.

“Organic growth is picking up but we rely on promotions mostly, because we need to expand fast,” Tang said. “That is key.”

Two 11%+ Yielders To Buy After Earnings Reports (REITs/MLPs)

This research report was jointly produced with High Dividend Opportunities co-author Jussi Askola.

We are currently in a raging bull market, and since November 2016, “growth and momentum stocks” have strongly outperformed “value stocks”. Many high-yield sectors, notably Property REITs, BDCs, and Midstream MLPs, were out of favor and became value sectors.

There is plenty of good news that income investors should take into account:

  1. High Dividend Sectors are Cheap! The good news is that today, several high-yield sectors are trading at their lowest valuations in years and currently offer investors a unique entry point.

  2. Value Stocks outperform growth stocks over the long term: Investors should note that over the long term, “value stocks” tend to outperform “growth stocks”. Based on a study by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch over a 90-year period, growth stocks returned an average of 12.6% annually since 1926. At the same time, value stocks generated an average return of 17% per year over the same time frame. “Value has outperformed Growth in roughly three out of every five years over this period”.

  3. Downside Risk is Limited: In a world where equity markets keep trading at “all-time highs” and looking “expensive”, value dividend stocks, such as REITs, MLPs, and BDCs, still trade at very cheap valuations. Therefore, in case of any market turbulence or market correction, the downside potential should be very limited.

Currently, the high yield space is offering some unique buying opportunities. At “High Dividend Opportunities“, we focus on stocks trading at low valuations, or in other words “value stocks”. Today, we highlight two cheap stocks that investors should consider after they reported their 4th quarter earnings – with yields above 11%.

ETP Earnings Report: A Stellar Quarter – Yield 11.8%

Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE:ETP), a stock we recently covered on Seeking Alpha, reported its 4th quarter earnings, swinging to huge profits.

  • Revenue came in at $8.61 billion, up 32% year over year.
  • Adjusted EBITDA totaled $1.94 billion for the 4th quarter, up more than 30%.
  • Distributable cash flow increased by $240 million to $1.2 billion, or 25% higher compared to the same quarter a year ago.
  • The dividend coverage ratio soared to 130% for the quarter and 120% for the year.

In addition, the company raised nearly $2 billion in two transactions that significantly increased parent liquidity. These two transactions included the sale of Sunoco LP common units for $540 million and the sale of the compression business to USA Compression Partners LP (NYSE:USAC) for $1.7 billion (of which $1.3 billion was in cash and the rest in equity). In the meantime, these shares will demonstrate to the market that ETP, as the new partner, is aligned with the limited partner interests of USA Compression Partners LP.

Investors can look forward to more good news this year. Many capital projects have come on-line. That once-ambitious schedule of growth will now result in a lot of cash flow. The acquisition of the general partnership of USA Compression Partners by ETP’s parent company Energy Transfer Equity (NYSE:ETE) opens another avenue of growth. There is great chance that more good earning news is on the way this next fiscal year. ETP’s credit line with the banks now has about $4 billion unused. This could provide an excellent way to acquire more assets and grow in the future.


Source: Q4 ETP Presentation

In order to conduct an accurate valuation (using full-year numbers), it is best to back out any “distribution incentive rights” (including relinquishment) and any general partner interest from the “distributable cash flows” (“DCF”). DCF for the 12 months was at $3,494 million; less IDR relinquishment and GP interest of $672 million, we get $2,822 million in DCF.

At the most recent price of $19.21 per share, we get a valuation of 8.0 times DCF, which is a real bargain considering that ETP is one of the largest and fastest-growing midstream MLPs.

The outlook of the midstream sector seems to be solid, with many midstream MLPs having reported solid quarters, including Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD) and Buckeye Partners (BPL). This can be attributed to record crude oil and natural gas production in the United States.

The future looks bright for the midstream sector. At the current cheap price and yield of 11.8%, ETP is one of our favorite midstream MLPs to own for the year 2018.


WPG Earnings Report: Operational Resilience vs. Strategic Challenges – Yield 14.6%

Washington Prime Group (NYSE:WPG), a Retail Property REIT, reported its 4th-quarter and full-year 2017 results, and while the market keeps focusing on strategic challenges, we are encouraged to see continued resilience in operational figures.

To give a little bit of context here, we need to keep in mind that we are discussing about a firm that is trading at 4.0x its cash flow, which is extremely cheap in today’s market place. In this sense, the expectations of the market are very negative and the sentiment very low. WPG, just like CBL, is a class B mall owner, and as such, it is widely expected to eventually become obsolete due to the growth of e-commerce.

The perception is that no one goes to class B malls anymore; and yet, the NOI went down by just 1%, the average sales per square foot remains at close to all-time-highs, and the leasing performance suggests strong demand for space by retailers.

A 1% drop in NOI is really nothing for a firm selling at such a ridiculously low valuation, and shows once again that class B malls remain relevant even in today’s highly digitalized marketplace. What the market seems to ignore is that unlike CBL, WPG owns on average higher-quality properties. In fact, Tier One and Open Air properties accounted for as much as 81.2% of the NOI in 2017, and these properties even showed a 0.9% increase in NOI for the year! It is the remaining 18.8% which are causing the temporary dilution in FFO, but clearly, the large majority of the portfolio has great value which is highly sustainable.

This was the main news to us: Operationally, the great majority of the properties are performing just fine. Therefore, the reason why the FFO is dropping year over year is not due to problems at the property level, but rather, strategic decisions such as dispositions and continued deleveraging.

As the CEO notes:

“Very simply, the $0.12 of annual dilution was attributable to our unsecured notes offering, the second joint venture with O’Connor Capital Partners and the disposition of six noncore assets. As the result was an overall reduction in indebtedness of approximately $400 million, it’s silly to question the prudency of such actions.”

Put in other words, the company is improving its portfolio and balance sheet quality to lower its risk profile at the expense of some short-term dilution in FFO figures. Short term-oriented investors may not like it, but this is the best approach to maximize and sustain long-term value. Eventually, as WPG ends its disposition and deleveraging plan, the FFO will stabilize and the market will realize the progress made and reward the firm with a higher FFO multiple. Given that it stands currently at 4.0 times FFO (using 12-month adjusted FFO of $1.63), even a small bump would result in material upside.

Other relevant highlights

  • WPG is making a new acquisition, which was rather unexpected! It suggests that we are approaching the end of the deleveraging plan. Moreover, the property appears to be an attractive investment as a dominant hybrid format retail venue situated in Missoula, Montana. The asset features a Lucky’s Market and a nine-screen dine-in AMC Theater – both newly built – and yields about 10%.
  • The dividend is maintained and remains well-covered.
  • Redevelopments continue, with 36 projects underway ranging between $1 million and $60 million with an average estimated yield of 10%.
  • Property NOI is expected to continue show resilience in 2018.

Bottom Line

Overall, we are happy with the news and glad that the market seems to, for once, agree with us – rewarding WPG with a huge bump after earnings. This is the story of short-term dilution versus long-term potential reward to patient investors. Just like in the case of CBL, we remain optimistic long-term holders and are happy to keep cashing a yield of 14.6% while we wait for upside to materialize.

If you enjoyed this article and wish to receive updates on our latest research, click “Follow” next to my name at the top of this article.

Disclosure: I am/we are long ETP, WPG, CBL, EPD, BPL.

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.

Prominent Tech Conference Faces Backlash for Keynote Lineup: 19 Men, 1 Woman

One of the most prominent technology conferences has 19 men scheduled as a keynote speakers out of 20 total, highlighting the continued challenges the industry faces with diversity.

The one lone woman keynote speaker at RSA, a computer security conference to be held in San Francisco next month, is Monica Lewinsky, who has become an anti cyber-bullying activist after her role in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

The tech industry has faced intense criticism for its lack of gender diversity at conferences. In January, CES, the electronics trade show in Las Vegas, faced similar complaints for the skewed gender makeup of its solo keynote speakers, all of whom were men.

Fortune contacted RSA for comment and will update this post if it receives a response.

RSA told news site Axios that 20% of its overall speakers will be women, albeit in less prominent roles. “This year, RSA Conference will feature more than 130 female speakers tackling everything from data integrity to hybrid clouds to application security, among other topics,” the organizers told Axios.

They also pointed out to USA Today that the conference keynote lineup is not yet final and other speakers may be added later. Additionally, it shifted some of the blame to the technology industry itself, in which women fill a minority of technical roles including in the computer security field.

Elon Musk Is Putting Wireless Service on the Moon (So If You Go There, You Can Watch Netflix)

It’s been 50 years since humans first landed on the Moon and we haven’t done much there since. But Elon Musk is hoping that will change very soon. He already believes there should be a base on the Moon to fire up public interest in space exploration. Then in December, President Donald Trump announced that he wanted to send astronauts back to the moon as a first step toward more distant objectives, such as Mars, where Musk is already planning to land humans sometime within the coming decade.

Musk has also said that his company SpaceX would not build a moon base although it might ferry people and materials there from Earth. But it apparently is ready to help with something else every lunar visitor needs: a way to contact people at home, communicate with other lunar visitors–and watch Netflix during off hours.

So SpaceX, along with mobile network company Vodafone, Nokia, and Audi, will be building a 4G network on the moon in 2019. Even though 5G networks are being built here on Earth, the partners chose 4G because its technology is both more stable and more able to withstand space travel. 

OK, but why build a wireless network on the Moon so soon, when nobody lives there? It’s true that Musk has said he would take space tourists to the moon in late 2018, and indeed had already collected large deposits from two wealthy individuals for the first such trip. But the planned trip is only a Moon fly-by with no landing, so the lunar tourists won’t get much of a chance to use the Moon’s wireless network. And they won’t need it, having the ship’s communication system at their’ disposal. Besides, the pricey lunar fly-by was meant to take place using a Crew Dragon capsule carried by a Falcon Heavy rocket, the same rocket that spectacularly took off earlier this month with a red Tesla Roadster and mannequin dubbed “Starman.” But Musk has said SpaceX is now focusing its attention on its BFR Rocket (for Big Fucking Rocket) and he indicated it may not do much more testing on the Falcon Heavy after all, possibly leaving Moon tourism in limbo. 

According to one report, the purpose of lunar 4G would be to support future lunar missions. Without it, humans and vehicles (such as the lunar rovers Audi is building) could only communicate by beaming signals down to the Earth and back up again. The fact that the planned network will have enough bandwidth to support video streaming raises the appealing prospect of a lunar webcam all of us could watch over the Internet. 

And of course, it’ll come in very handy for space tourists visiting the lunar surface or astronauts working to build a Moon base or on other projects. Maybe someday soon.

America's Most-Hated CEO Got Buff in Prison, and People Actually Like Him There. (Here's What Happened)

Maybe you remember Martin Shkreli, who first became famous as the so-called “Pharma Bro” back in 2015 (and then, the “most hated CEO in America.”

This was after his company increased the the cost of a drug used to treat malaria, cancer, and AIDS by 5,455 percent (from $13.50 to $750 a tablet).

Then, he started a PR and social media campaign to suggest that anyone who didn’t like what he did was stupid. 

It explains the explosion of schadenfreude when he was later indicted and found guilty in a completely unrelated stock fraud case.

And it also explains the metaphorical gasp that was heard across the Internet when Shkreli’s bail was revoked, and he was sent to the Brooklyn federal detention center in September. 

It’s a rough place, and a lot of people wondered whether a skinny, young, rich guy like Shkreli, who seems to have a really hard time keeping his mouth shut, might also have a really hard time not getting pushed around–or worse.

Heck, even one of his good friends out here in the free world told a newspaper she was worried for his safety in jail, because “he’s not a popular person. “People threaten him on the Internet every day.”

But it turns out, they needn’t have worried. Shkreli apparently has turned on the charm–and also reportedly hit the gym.

Shkreli was back in court, where the federal government is trying to get him sentenced to a lengthy prison term, and also convince a judge to make him forfeit $7.3 million in assets. 

There was no decision from the judge–he’ll be sentenced in March and faces a possible 20 years. But the New York Post reports Shkreli has “bulked up in prison” and is getting along fine.

There are no photos, only courtroom sketches, but at least according to the Post, Shkreli looked a lot harder and stronger under his blue jail uniform. 

“He’s got his prison muscles, the Post quotes a “source close to the defense” as saying. “They like him in there. … They don’t put their arms around him and say ‘Give me your money’ like they do to other new prisoners… they like him.”

Shkreli’s real danger might stem from how the judge in his case calculates the amount of money (if any) that his victims lost as a result of his fraud and conspiracy convictions.

Shkreli’s lawyers claims they didn’t actually lose anything–the government contends it’s between $9 million and $20 million, and possibly more. The distinction could mean the difference between a sentence of 16 months or less, or else one that could potentially last decades, according to CNBC.

In addition to Shkreli’s appearance in court, we’ve had a few other insights over the past few months into how he’s been faring behind bars.

For one thing, he’s still posting on Facebook occasionally–or at least, a friend with access to his account is apparently doing so on his behalf. 

There are also two letters that he’s sent which have been made public–one to a friend named Lisa Whisnant, and the other to a Brooklyn-based media company called The Tab. He seemed like he was doing okay in both letters.

“Jail has some redeeming qualities,” he wrote to The Tab. “It’s probably the most social environment I’ve been in. … [T]here is camaraderie akin to a military setting. You learn just how lucky you are, you help others out, learn cool slang, watch BET all day. Great times!”

Separately, he wrote Whisnant, “Things are not THAT awful here. … There are some bright sides. I am teaching these prisoners some new things and hopefully some ways to change their lives.”

As part of that effort, Shkreli was looking for books–including a dozen copies of Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese. Self-help books like that are a coveted commodity behind bars, the Post reported.

In case you’d like to get to know the so-called world’s most-hated CEO, or else just do something nice for a few thousand men confined at the federal detention center in Brooklyn (or, if you’re just curious), here’s the list of books Shrekli apparently wanted.

You’ll also need the federal website where you can look him up to send mail or packages from direct-mail retailers.

Three Ways Business Leaders Can Use AI Right Now

AI has enormous potential to reshape business, as most business leaders recognize. In a global study published by the Boston Consulting Group and MIT Sloan Management Review, 84 percent of the 3,000 business leaders interviewed expect AI to give them a competitive advantage.

Despite the anticipation, though, AI is still vastly underutilized in many of today’s industries. Only 23 percent of the leaders surveyed had already incorporated AI into their business models. This could put businesses that aren’t utilizing AI at a huge disadvantage compared to companies that have already adopted the technology and excelled at its integration.

Each industry has unique uses for any technology, including artificial intelligence. By understanding those uses and investing in the appropriate AI solutions, businesses that lag behind can still catch up in time to participate in the AI revolution.

Three Techniques For Any Business To Utilize AI

Much of what we hear about AI is presented in a futuristic manner, but the technology is already becoming a vital part of numerous industries. While a majority of business leaders have yet to implement it, many others are already taking advantage of the edge that AI gives them in several different ways.

1. Using anomaly detection to monitor equipment health

The focus of maintenance has always been prevention. Routine, often redundant, service schedules have been necessary for companies to avoid equipment failure. But routine maintenance also produces a lot of waste, and it isn’t always successful.

Instead, companies now are turning more toward cognitive anomaly detection and prediction, which utilizes AI to harness terabytes of real-time data about a machine’s operations. DataRPM, a Progress company, which provides predictive maintenance solutions and products that help detect anomalies through Cognitive Anomaly Detection and Prediction (CADP), explains that data collected from machinery can indicate when performance is declining. That means a technician can get involved before the equipment fails or shuts down.

Consequently, companies can address anomalies long before they lead to equipment crashes, lengthy downtimes, and lost productivity and revenue.

2. Managing IT security intrusions

Computers interact best with each other, and the IT realm uses that fact for a variety of IT security and support functions. As hackers and bad actors from around the world continue ramping up cyberattacks, IT teams can use AI to more easily track hackers’ movements within a system and shut them out faster.

As reported in Harvard Business Review, a 2017 global study by Tata Consultancy Services found that 44 percent of companies surveyed were using AI “in detecting and fending off computer security intrusions in the IT department.”

As one of the most significant technological advances in modern times, AI has–not surprisingly–made the biggest impact on IT professionals. In addition to its cybersecurity applications, AI also helps resolve tech support issues, makes it easier to adopt new technologies, and ensures that no unsafe machines are connected to corporate networks.

3. Engaging better with customers

At first glance, marketing may not seem on par with manufacturing and IT security when it comes to AI adoption. Yet marketers and brands are beginning to use the technology to greatly enhance how they interact with consumers.

AI helps companies create the products and services that customers want, and it enables them to improve customer relationships in a world where interactions are increasingly digital.

How does AI do this? Dara Treseder, CMO for GE Ventures, discussed AI during a presentation at MediaLink + CDX Brand Innovation Salon in January, explaining that CMOs can start to leverage data to better understand who their customers are and adopt a deeper, more personal approach to customer engagement.

Like Amazon and Netflix, which use AI to personalize recommendations based on user activity, other companies can leverage the technology to keep their consumers engaged as well. Treseder mentioned the San Francisco Museum of Art, which uses an AI bot to serve up art on demand, as a prime example of this engagement.

Art lovers can text a keyword–even an emoji–and receive a text back directing them to a piece of art in the museum’s collection that matches what they sent. Treseder also pointed to Nike’s AI-driven interactive design experience, which uses motion capture and projection mapping to allow customers to customize their shoes in-store.

When we think of artificial intelligence, many of us still consider it somewhat of a sci-fi notion or even a threat that should be avoided at all costs. The truth, though, is that AI is a current technology, not a future concept. Business leaders must start recognizing its importance, or their consumers will migrate toward businesses that do.

With 5 Short Words, Mark Cuban Made An Admission That Nobody Else Would Touch. Now He's In Big Trouble For It

Even billionaires have bad days.  In the last 24 hours, here’s what’s happened to Mark Cuban:

His Dallas Mavericks were rocked by a harassment schedule. (More on that in a second.)

Then, news broke–because he let it slip–that he’d told his Mavericks players that “losing is our best option,” so the team would wind up with a worse record and increase their odds of landing the first pick in the 2018 NBA draft. 

Now, he’s been fined $600,000 by Commissioner Adam Silver, as a result of that admission.

First, the harassment allegations, which are the most serious–but also the least settled.

Sports Illustrated investigation painted a really ugly picture of misogyny and sexual harassment by some front office staff within the Mavericks–including the team’s former president. 

There are no allegations against Cuban himself, but he admitted to ESPN that keeping employees over the years, after several allegations had arisen, had been a “horrible mistake in hindsight.”

In the #MeToo era, it’s untenable. (I mean, it should’ve been untenable forever, but this is the world we live in.)

Now, the Mavericks have hired a firm to investigate their own workplace culture. If Cuban is found to have known more about what was happening, the NBA could reportedly suspend him or fine him up to $2.5 million.

Which brings us to the current NBA fine. Because for now, Cuban is being punished for  admitting something everybody already knows about, or at least strongly suspects.

Toward the end of the season, especially in the NBA, teams with bad records have a strong incentive to play even more badly, all in the quest for that coveted number-1 draft pick.

If it weren’t such common knowledge, then the league wouldn’t be moving to make the change that will come about next year–when the bottom three teams will all have the exact same chance at the top pick (to remove the incentive to lose).

They call it “tanking,” and the Shark Tank star is simply the first to admit it so forthrightly. And it’s going to cost him–$120,000 per word in that five-word statement.

Cuban’s consolation? He’s worth about $3.4 billion, and $600,000 is only about .0176 percent of that. If you have a $500,000 house and make $100,000 a year, it might be the equivalent of about a $100 fine.

In other words, he’ll be fine with the fine. His Mavericks are still losing (they’re 3-12 in their last 15 games). And they’ll have a great shot at the first pick.


Israeli visual aid company OrCam valued at $1 billion

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s OrCam, which has developed a visual aid for the blind, has completed a funding round that values the company at $1 billion, putting it on track for a planned initial public offering (IPO), its chief executive said on Tuesday.

The company raised $30.4 million by selling an approximate 3 percent stake to investors including Israel’s Clal Insurance (CLIS.TA) and Meitav Dash (MTDS.TA). That brought the total amount OrCam has raised from investors so far to $130.4 million.

“We have sufficient reserves of money to finish our development, but part of our investment rounds is also preparing the company for the next phase, which is IPO,” Ziv Aviram said.

In about a year, he said, the company would look to raise an additional $100 million from larger, global funds before going public on a U.S. exchange. He is hoping the company will be valued at $1.5-$2 billion when it lists.

Ziv Aviram, CEO and co-founder of OrCam, poses for a portrait wearing the OrCam MyEye 2.0 device attached to a pair of glasses in his office in Jerusalem, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Nir Elias

The latest fundraising coincided with the launch of a new version of OrCam’s product – a wireless smartcamera that attaches to the side of spectacle frames. The device reads texts, supermarket barcodes and recognizes faces while speaking the information into the user’s ear.

Aviram said he saw OrCam’s growth surpassing that of the previous company he co-founded – autonomous vehicle technology provider Mobileye, which was bought last year by Intel (INTC.O) for $15 billion.

“I think the potential for OrCam is even bigger than Mobileye,” he said from his office in a high-tech neighborhood of Jerusalem, down the street from where Mobileye’s expanded complex is being built. “This technology is endless. We just started to understand the tip of the iceberg of what can be done.”

That means expanding the customer base beyond the blind or partially-sighted to those suffering from dyslexia or who get fatigued while reading. Aviram even sees the device evolving into a sort of artificial intelligence personal assistant.

Next year’s forecast is a bit more modest.

After revenue of $10 million in 2017, Aviram expect sales to jump to $20-$30 million in the coming year and for the company to become profitable in 2019.

Editing by Mark Potter

'Black Panther' Discussion: This One's Gonna Be Fun

In case you haven’t been near a theater, TV, mall, or interstate overpass, and haven’t seen the news, Black Panther opened this weekend. And it opened big. Like, history-making box office numbers big. With good reason—T’Challa (aka Black Panther) is a hero fans have been anticipating for a long time. As WIRED’s Jason Parham noted last week before Marvel’s latest movie “black superheroes were never afforded the same deification” as their white counterparts, but now Panther director Ryan Coogler has made a movie that shows what a superhero movie can truly be. A lot of us here at WIRED saw the movie over the weekend, and now that the worries of spoilers have receded (yes, this post will have them, continue at your own risk), it’s time we finally talk about it at length. Here we go—Wakanda forever!

Angela Watercutter: OK, I’m not going to say too much right off the bat because I want to know what my colleagues thought, but I will just say that Black Panther lived up to the hype. Like, the anticipation for this movie had been building for months and I was starting to worry that nothing could live up to what fans were hoping for with this movie, no matter how talented everyone working on this film is, but judging from the reaction at the screening I saw, people are thrilled. Did you guys have the same experience? How did you feel walking out of the theater? Did you sense that your fellow theater-goers were satisfied?

Peter Rubin: Angela, we were both in Hall H for Marvel’s panel at Comic-Con last July, and after Ryan Coogler surprised the crowd with some BP footage, we both know what was possible. The mood in that room—among attendees, Comic-Con staffers, and the crew itself—was not your usual “ah, this looks cool!” anticipation. Something cathartic happened in there. And even though I had the opportunity to go to a press screening earlier last week, I skipped it, because I wanted to see it for the first time in a theater full of people who were invested in it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Not by the movie, and not by the feeling of joy and lightness (and yes, Oakland pride) that was occupying every chair at in that theater. Two seats over from me was a young kid, seven or eight years old, in a full-on T’Challa suit; in the 24 hours since I saw the movie, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the T’Challas (and Okoyes and Shuris) all over the country, stepping out into recess feeling like heroes. Justice, you’ve already seen it twice, right? What kind of differences did you notice in the two screenings—either in the crowd’s reception or in your own enjoyment?

Justice Namaste: The first screening I went to (second one is today!) was in Oakland on opening night. The only screening I’ve been in that nearly matched the energy in the theater during Black Panther was during the opening weekend of Get Out, when one of my friends actually fell out of their chair during the pivotal scene.

Visually, no other Marvel movie has ever come close to Black Panther—the lush Wakandan landscapes, the vibrantly colored costumes, even the wearable tech was beautiful. And that moment where the Royal Talon Fighter dips below the veil and we get an aerial look over the Golden City? Jawdropping.

But even with all this to mull over, when I left the theater, what was left ringing in my ears was Erik Killmonger’s last words: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ‘cause they knew death was better than bondage.” In my opinion, the driving relationship in the film was that between T’Challa and Killmonger. (Or, thought of another way, the one between T’Chaka and N’Jobu, but realized through their sons.) T’Challa and Killmonger didn’t spend much time together on screen when they weren’t trying to murder each other—their lack of real dialogue was one of the movie’s more disappointing choices—so the tension between them was largely ideological, but it still drove the story. The “son reckoning with his father’s legacy” trope is a staple of the MCU, but it’s a limited one. Using a villain like Killmonger to complicate the idea of what heroism actually looks like, though? That’s a much more fascinating story.

Phuc Pham: As much as I enjoyed watching T’Challa grapple with both his opponents and his emotional demons, I couldn’t shake the sense that his heroic arc was a copy-paste of the superhero’s journey that Marvel has come to rely on. I mean, this is the fourth guy that has had a plot twist regarding his father upend his world.

Killmonger, on the other hand, was much more interesting to me. While T’Challa does his whole superhero thing, his archenemy points to actual systemic oppression, grounding Marvel’s universe in the real world in a way that feels new and bold. His motivation, essentially, is black liberation the world over—which to me qualified as the biggest heroic endeavor in the film. (At least until you realize that the means to achieve that end are vibranium weapons and a high body count.) Like you, Justice, I wish T’Challa and Killmonger had spent more screen time hashing out their ideological differences. The scenes when they engage in ritual combat are visceral—no Black Panther powers allowed!—but also seemed like wasted opportunities for some fight chatter about how best to rule Wakanda as well as improve the lives of the African diaspora.

Watercutter: Totally. I also wanted Killmonger and T’Challa to have more time to actually talk about their differences. Because, unlike almost every other Marvel villain before, Killmonger didn’t just want to rule to be a ruler. He wanted liberation, and in that he and T’Challa weren’t too far apart—they just had different ideas of how to achieve it. In that final scene that Justice mentioned, I truly didn’t want Killmonger to go. I wanted him to join T’Challa and stay in Wakanda. That, to Jason’s point, doesn’t happen often in these films. Maybe it happened a bit with Loki, but he’s always been a character with many allegiances. (And yes, Peter, I remember that Comic-Con Hall H panel—I’ve never felt anything like that a SDCC, and doubt I ever will again.)

Jason, in your great review last week you talked about how Black Panther showed what a superhero movie could do. What do you think it demonstrated in how it portrayed both its heroes and villains?

Parham: I didn’t think Michael B. Jordan’s acting was particularly strong, but I do agree that Killmonger as a character was perhaps the film’s most compelling—because he really wasn’t your typical antihero. I think Jelani Cobb at The New Yorker was correct in that the real villain was history itself. Killmonger’s rage was merely a product of the times, and all the despair he’d seen firsthand around the world. That’s a heavy burden to reckon with, but not an untrue one. In doing this, Coogler positioned the film in a really smart way, giving it historical currency but also contemporary heft, and all without feeling like he was trying to make some obvious political statement.

One of the more brilliant aspects of the movie—a credit to Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s fine script—was its insistence on complicating character arcs, especially with people like W’Kabi and M’Baku, who expertly straddled the line between good and bad. Then there’s someone like Okoye, who is fiercely loyal to Wakanda in every regard. Her inner confliction felt so palpable—being forced to serve an unfit king and wage war against her lover (Danai Gurira’s Okoye was maybe my favorite character, along with Shuri and M’Baku). Everyone felt like they were doing what was best for Wakanda, which you can’t really fault them for. It felt like a truer reflection of what it means to be alive in the world today. Black Panther succeeds on so many levels. I’m curious: what did everybody think were some of the stronger aspects of the film?

Namaste: This is the obvious answer, but I just have to say it—the women. The strongest part of the film was undoubtedly all of the women characters. And that extends to the women behind the scenes as well. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Angela Bassett’s Ramonda, Letitia Wright’s Shuri (and of course Okoye and the rest of the Dora Milaje) were complex characters whose identities and motivations did not revolve solely around men. The audience saw Okoye as both a warrior and a lover, Nakia as an undercover spy who’s more concerned with protecting human rights than gathering intelligence, and Shuri as a younger (and better?) Tony Stark.

Not to mention the fact that their actions and beliefs are key to driving the story forward. Nakia is the first character who really pushes T’Challa to consider what Wakanda’s responsibility is to oppressed people across the rest of the world. And T’Challa would likely be dead 10 times over without Shuri’s engineering brilliance. Speaking of which, I’ve seen Letitia Wright being called the breakout star of the film, a title she most certainly deserves. As Shuri, she delivers some of the funniest lines, while also masterfully navigating a series of tense and heart-wrenching moments. Sure, T’Challa might be the Black Panther, but these women are far from secondary characters.

Pham: I’m so glad the writers decided to adapt Nakia and the Dora Milaje away from the ways they’re set up in some of the older comic book runs, where Nakia has an unrequited crush on T’Challa and the Dora Milaje—in addition to their role as royal guards—are a pool of potential queens. So extra kudos to film-Nakia for asserting she doesn’t want to be a Dora.

There hasn’t been an MCU film that’s as focused on technology since the Iron Man trilogy, and I was struck by how hopeful Black Panther, both the movie and the character, are how a future shaped by it doesn’t have to be dark and bleak. Production designer Hannah Beachler has said how Blade Runner inspired her vision of Wakanda’s capital Birnin Zana, and it shows. The dense urban landscape, replete with pristine skyscrapers and dusty merchant stalls, certainly hearken to traditional cyberpunk environments. Here, though, Afrofuturism shines figuratively and literally. Wakanda forgoes the dim and damp settings of futuristic cities (why are the streets always slicked with rain?) for a warm glow that almost makes you root for Killmonger’s vision of an empire upon which the sun never sets.

Thematically, the film also bucks the trend of Marvel movies in which new technology always begets catastrophe. Tony Stark’s bleeding-edge armaments always seem to end up in the hands of terrorists while Chitauri tech enables a middle-aged megalomaniac to hunt high schoolers in his spare time. Meanwhile, T’Challa not only prevents vibranium from being weaponized but also closes the film with plans to open a Wakandan outpost in Oakland—a city adjacent to Silicon Valley wealth yet wracked by a 20 percent poverty rate—to share and exchange knowledge. In an age when technology is often abused for nefarious and disruptive ends, the Black Panther’s techno-optimism seems to be a call for fewer divisions, not more.

Rubin: The rest of you have already ticked off just about everything that made this movie so appealing, so in hopes of adding something new to the mix, I’ll close with the idea that Black Panther created an entirely new lane for the MCU. After all 4,000 characters band together to (presumably) defeat Thanos in the two Avengers: Infinity War movies, Marvel is going to need a way to move forward, and Wakanda’s entry onto the global geopolitical stage is one of those ways. The MCU has its cosmic arm, its street-level arm, its mystical arm—and now Wakanda links the political intrigue of the Captain America movies with the deeply personal stories of a fully-fleshed world.

Does that mean we’ll see a Dora Milaje prequel movie in 2021? An M’Baku standalone? Only time will tell, but with a roster of new characters, ready-made internal conflict, and a rising cadre of filmmakers who are ready and able to tell these stories, the MCU’s prospects as a long-range paracosm have never been better.

Airport Controllers Trade the Tower for a Screen-Filled Room

The next time you fly into Florida’s Fort Lauderdale airport, look out the window and see if you can spot what’s missing. The answer? A 160 feet high tower.

That’s what airport officials at the airport say would have been necessary for them to be able to safely control the movement of planes on the ground, taxiing to and from gates and runways at the recently expanded airport. That would be doing things the old fashioned way, by line-of-sight—aka looking at the planes. Instead of an elevated perch, ground controllers at FLL have an even better view from inside a nearby squat, building.

“They have no windows in their building,” says Mike Nonnemacher, the chief operating officer for Broward Country Aviation Department, which controls FLL airport. “It’s all done by radar, and augmented by a system of CCTV and infrared cameras.” A new computer system takes the data from those cameras, and other sensors, and stitches it together into one giant virtual vista.

Controllers sit in front of a video wall, which shows them what’s happening in real time. The infrared images offer improved visibility at night and in the fog. Wearing headsets, they calmly issue cryptic sounding instructions to pilots, and then track the plane moving. It’s the first of its kind in the US, and could set the bar for other airports around the country.

Gregory Meyer/Broward County Aviation Department

In the US, the FAA runs air traffic control, which sees planes safely onto the tarmac. But responsibility for moving these huge machines around on the ground falls on the airport or airline. Their wingspans, which look so elegant in the air, are just a protruding hazard on the ground. Pilots don’t have great visibility out of the cockpit windows, so they rely on ground controllers to tell them which gate to taxi to, where to hold, which path to take, and to warn them of other vehicles like fueling trucks or passenger busses crossing active taxiways. It’s a complicated dance, becoming ever more so as air travel booms and airports expand, allowing takeoffs and landings with barely 30 seconds between them. Airfields usually have one or more towers, so ground controllers can see everything that happens from the runways to the gates.

The layout of the Fort Lauderdale airport makes it a great test case for something new. One row of gates is hidden from direct view of ground controllers, so they used to send someone on foot to scout the scene, report back, and help them keep track of aircraft on a dry-erase board. Tired of all the back and forth and eager to avoid the cost of building a looming tower, they went the virtual route.

The result is that windowless building, inside which ground controllers take in feeds from 66 CCTV cameras, and FAA radar data that includes each plane’s location and call sign. “We take a lot of information, from lots of sources,” says Betros Wakim, the head of Amadeus Airport Technology in the Americas, which designed the software to stitch all that together and present it to controllers in useful ways.

When a plane is ready to leave its gate, ground controllers first make sure it’s safe to move. With their virtual views, they can train cameras toward the plane, check its flight number, and then check the surrounding area. Pushback can be rather hazardous.

“You always have construction and maintenance people who need to be on the runway to do repairs,” says Patti Clark, aeronautics professor at Embry Riddle University, and a former airport manager. Wild animals might be taking a stroll through the grounds. By combining cameras with the radar data, ramp controllers should be able to spot all that, and ward off disaster. “The human factor is always involved, but the more useful and reliable tools you can provide to the human, the better the situational awareness is,” says Clark.

No surprise then, that Nonnemacher says he has already had phone calls and visits from other airports interested in recreating the system, including Tampa, Dallas, and Toronto.

One day, virtual airfield control could remove ramp control centers from airports altogether, freeing up space for terminals or cargo handling areas. It’s all just data, it can be piped anywhere. There’s precedent in Europe; London City airport has just replaced its air traffic control tower with a remote system, and controllers sitting 120 miles away. That same tech is being used in Australia, Sweden, Norway, and Ireland.

So the next time you come in to land at FLL, don’t bother looking for that non-existent tower. Instead, see if you can spot the little building, with the folks inside making your path to the gate—to freedom—quicker and safer.

At the Airport

What Trump Still Gets Wrong About How Russia Played Facebook

Special Counsel Robert Mueller released a bombshell indictment Friday, implicating 13 Russian nationals and detailing a multi-year, costly, and widespread effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. At the center of that effort were Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram, which the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) used to recruit American followers, plan real-life rallies, and spread propaganda about issues like religion, immigration, and eventually Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Facebook and Instagram were mentioned in the indictment far more times—41—than other online platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and PayPal, which were each mentioned less than 12 times. Still, Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice president of advertising, tweeted Friday that Russia’s ultimate goal “very definitively” was not to influence the election, but to “divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media.”

On one hand, Goldman is correct: Russia certainly aimed to deepen partisan divides and stir up chaos. But he is incorrect to assert that the Russians were not interested in influencing the election. That idea is at odds with both what we know about Russia’s use of social-media platforms and with Mueller’s indictment itself. For example, Goldman overlooked the massive impact Russians had with ordinary posts, as opposed to paid ads. Most important, he also appears to misunderstand what the Russians really used the ads for.

Saturday, President Trump seized on Goldman’s tweets to argue that Russia didn’t influence the election. The president implied that media organizations were falsely reporting that it had.

Goldman maintains that the Russians were not trying to influence the election, in part, because they organized protests on “both sides,” which is true. Some of the Russians’ propaganda efforts were designed simply to cause confusion, distrust, and sow division. However that doesn’t mean they weren’t also attempting to do everything in their power to ensure Clinton wasn’t elected. The IRA had dozens of full-time employees and spent over $1 million a month on its efforts, according to the indictment.

Mueller’s indictment clearly indicates Russia’s operatives were aiming to influence the 2016 election against Clinton, and in favor of Trump and Bernie Sanders, a task they began working on as early as 2014. Russian operatives were instructed to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them),” according to the indictment. The operatives behind the Facebook group “Secured Borders” were even criticized for not having enough posts dedicated to disparaging Clinton.

Most troubling, the Russians encouraged minority groups like African Americans to stay away from the polls. In October 2016, an Instagram account called “Woke Blacks” published a messaging saying that voting for Hillary was “the lesser of the two devils…we’d surely be better of without voting AT ALL,” according to the indictment.

“It’s far more concerning that they were taking and targeting groups to remove them from the process of voting,” says Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, who has been tracking Russia’s propaganda efforts since before the election. “It underscores the fact that you don’t know whether people are inauthentic or real.”

Goldman’s tweets not only contradict the indictment, they also indicate he doesn’t understand the true purpose of the ads. “The ads were just to get the ball rolling on this and to find the right people. It was really just an efficiency thing,” says Albright. “All the ads did and all they were meant to do was to refine targeting. It initiated the process of persuasion over long periods of time, like two years.” In other words, the ads were just designed to get people to like certain Facebook pages or to follow specified Instagram accounts. They themselves weren’t always designed to be the propaganda, but instead meant to lure people in.

The propaganda was often distributed later. For example, one ad innocuously instructed people to follow a Facebook page if they were a follower of Jesus, but the page later spread a meme of Hillary Clinton with devil horns.

The Internet Research Agency’s ads on Facebook also only made up a tiny portion of its overall strategy. Facebook estimates that 10 million people saw paid ads, whereas up to 150 million people saw other content from fake accounts.

But the Russians’ influence was even broader, because of how other Facebook users reacted to their posts. Posts on just six of the IRA’s most popular Facebook pages received 340 million shares and nearly 20 million interactions, including likes, comments, page shares, and emoji reactions, according to Albright’s analysis. The Russians were similarly successful on Instagram: A single Russia-linked account received nearly 10 million interactions from January 2016 to August 2017.

Albright was careful to say the Russians may have gamed Facebook’s algorithms in order to produce such high engagement. It’s also possible that there are cracks in the way that Facebook measures user engagement, according to Albright. “There’s no question that some of these metrics and some of these total numbers of shares are inflated,” he says.

Since it was discovered that the Russians used Facebook to influence the election, the company has hired thousands more people to monitor ads and has also crafted stricter policies for buying political advertisements. “We proactively disclosed the IRA activity and have worked with investigators to give the public a fuller understanding of what occurred,” Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of Global Policy said in an emailed statement He added that Facebook is working closely with federal agencies, including the FBI, “on better ways to protect our country and the people on our platform.”

But at least one of the company’s top executives still seems unable to fully grasp with how Facebook was used to influence the election organically. Facebook did not respond to a follow-up request for comment regarding Goldman’s tweets. His statements only address Russia’s purchase of online ads, which, of course, is the focus of his job. But he fails to mention other ways Russia co-opted Facebook and makes it appear as though there are simple ways to resolve issues about foreign meddling online. In reality, Facebook, Congress, and the US public are still grappling with how Russia weaponized internet platforms to influence an election.

“There’s literally propaganda all over their platform still,” says Albright. “Some of these memes are still getting circulated, they’re very easy to find.”

Russia Revelations

  • It’s now undeniable that Russia attempted to disrupt the 2016 election, following the indictment of 13 Russians.
  • The indictment contained many revealing new details, but its description of the work of the Internet Research Agency was striking for its blandness.
  • The indictment also revealed how Russians appropriated American identities to hide in plain sight.

After Rocky Year, CEO Evan Spiegel Is Still Happy Snap Went Public

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says he doesn’t mind having to report quarterly financial results to pesky investors, whose disappointment could send the company’s stock plummeting.

“We love it,” the young executive enthused Thursday during a Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

Snap’s (snap) first three quarters as a public company last year were tough. The messaging company consistently reported disappointing user growth along with sales that failed to meet Wall Street’s expectations, causing its shares to fall.

Earlier this month, however, Snap shared some good news —that it now has 187 million daily active users, which beat analyst projections of 184.2 million, while its sales jumped 72% year-over-year to $285.7 million. After the report, investors sent Snap’s shares up nearly 30%.

For six years as a private company, Snap was insulated from fickle investors and could concentrate on developing its Snapchat messaging app without much distraction. Now that the company is public, however, all eyes are on Snap to show huge growth, especially as Facebook’s (fb) competing Instagram service consistently debuts copycat features and tries to steal users.

Spiegel said that it’s “been energizing” for Snap since going public, and said the company is at an interesting intersection of still being a young company spending lots of cash for growth while being scrutinized each quarter by Wall Street.

Working at Snap is not for the faint of heart, Spiegel said. He likened the company’s tough work culture to how water appears calm right before it boils, using an obscenity in front of the audience of bankers and financial officers.

“For people that are excited about pushing themselves, I think it’s a great place to be,” Spiegel said.

To keep up growth, Spiegel said Snap is focusing on expanding the service outside of the U.S. and Europe, and partnering with wireless carriers worldwide to bundle the Snapchat app into various packages that they in turn sell to their customers. Spiegel previously discussed these carrier deals during the company’s last earnings call with analysts, saying that these partnerships with unspecified carrier companies in “over a dozen markets” would “begin reducing cellular bandwidth costs for Snapchatters around the world.”

He didn’t say how much Snap spent on these types of carrier partnership deals.

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About the big cloud computing bills Snap pays to companies like Amazon and Google to run its service, Spiegel argued that it would have to spend even more and if it had to build and operate it’s own data centers. Snap has agreed to pay Amazon $1 billion over the next five years for cloud services, and another $2 billion to Google over the same time.

Lately, some Snapchat users have been complaining about a recent redesign that splits the disappearing videos of their friends from videos shot by celebrities and media companies. Some investors and analysts fear the redesigned app could cause Snap’s users to disappear.

But Spiegel said it’s the right decision because it makes a clear distinction between the private communications of users and their friends, and those of broadcasting networks and big-time stars.

To people who feel that the new Snapchat makes them feel less connected to celebrities who may have appeared to be their friends in the app, Spiegel said “Exactly!”

“They’re not your friend!” he said.

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse Talks Bitcoin, Banks, and Payments

Despite the perception that high-flying startup Ripple is either a blockchain or cryptocurrency company, CEO Brad Garlinghouse believes it’s something simpler and not merely a business trying to latch onto the latest tech buzzwords.

“We are a payments company,” Garlinghouse said on stage Tuesday at a Goldman Sachs (gs) technology conference in San Francisco.

He explained that Ripple uses blockchain technology—one of the underlying accounting technologies used for Bitcoin—to record transactions between banks. And he said that his company uses its own XRP cryptocurrency as a payment method to make it easier for banks to move money internationally.

The hope is that major banks will use Ripple’s xCurrent payment software and related XRP crytocurrency instead of the industry standard SWIFT software to transfer money across borders. Unlike some cryptocurrency advocates, Garlinghouse believes the best way to bring cryptocurrency to the mainstream is to “work within the system” as opposed to using cryptocurrency to circumvent government regulation and financial institutions.

“While contrarian and unpopular in the crypto space, in retrospect it’s very smart,” Garlinghouse said.

He compared the proliferation of crytocurrencies like XRP and Bitcoin to the advent of different kinds of databases, rather than “one database to rule them all.’ Most of these digital currencies will die out, he says, because it’s unclear what problem they solve.

He contrasted Bitcoin with XRP by saying that the typical Bitcoin transaction costs users around $13 and takes three to four hours to complete, making Bitcoin ill-suited to solve the payments problem between banks. In contrast, XRP “is about 1,000 times faster than a Bitcoin transaction” and costs “a fraction of a cent.”

For Ripple to grow, it needs large banks to buy its payment software and use its XRP cryptocurrency, a major challenge considering it must convince financial institutions to change how they’ve been doing business for years. The biggest obstacle in convincing banks to use Ripple’s services is that many banks have other IT-related projects that are a greater priority to them than Ripple, Garlinghouse said.

When asked whether the large banks will eventually accept cryptocurrencies, Garlinghouse voiced optimism but gave no specific time frame. He said he discussed the matter with senior executives at unspecified investment funds about trading cryptocurrencies and that it could take more than six months, possibly even later than 2019.

“Despite the prognostication of Jaime Dimon, this is an asset class that I don’t think is going away anytime soon,” Garlinghouse said, referring to the JPMorgan Chase CEO negative comments about Bitcoin earlier this year.

Toshiba says to appoint ex-banker as next CEO

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Toshiba Corp said on Wednesday it is appointing Nobuaki Kurumatani, a former executive of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, as its chairman and chief executive.

Incumbent CEO, Satoshi Tsunakawa, will become chief operating officer and retain his role as president, the company said.

Kurumatani, currently the president of the Japanese arm of European private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, is a former deputy president of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp, one of Toshiba’s main lenders, which often have a strong influence on its management decisions.

Reporting by Makiko YamazakiEditing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Alibaba signs deal to offer Disney shows on video platforms

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s entertainment arm has signed a licensing agreement with Walt Disney Co in a deal that will provide the Chinese group’s Youku video streaming platform with the largest Disney animation collection in China.

Alibaba said in a press release on Monday that the multi-year licensing agreement signed between Alibaba Digital Media and Entertainment Group and Disney subsidiary Buena Vista International Inc will see more than 1,000 Disney episodes released on Alibaba platforms which include set-top boxes.

The deal comes as Disney has faced obstacles in getting digital television content into China. In 2016, its DisneyLife online content venture, which it launched with Alibaba, was shut down by Chinese regulators less than five months after operations began. The reason for the shutdown was not made public.

FILE PHOTO: The sign of Walt Disney Studios Park is seen at the entrance at Disneyland Paris ahead of the 25th anniversary of the park in Marne-la-Vallee, near Paris, France, March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

“The addition of Disney content greatly enriches the library of quality international content on Alibaba’s media and entertainment ecosystem, giving us a leading edge in foreign content distribution in China,” said Yang Weidong, president of Youku at Alibaba Digital Media and Entertainment Group.

Alibaba did not disclose the value of the deal.

Youku reaches 580 million devices and gets about 1.2 billion views each day, according to Alibaba’s news website Alizila. It said the platform already has similar licensing deals with Warner Bros., Paramount, Fox, NBCUniversal and Sony Pictures Television, among others.

Reporting by Brenda Goh

Alibaba kicks off sponsor deal in Pyeongchang

PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) is launching a project that will create a “smarter” and more connected athletes’ village and stadia and make all Olympics stakeholders “more money”, its executives said on Saturday.

Many of Alibaba’s plans are still concepts since it has not had enough time to implement its technology after signing a deal last year worth hundreds of millions of dollars as a cloud and e-commerce partner with the International Olympic Committee.

But IOC president Thomas Bach said some of Alibaba’s plans “can become operational pretty soon” while Alibaba founder Jack Ma said they expected to be realized at the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022.

“We want to make the Olympic Games so everyone can make more money,” Ma said, adding that “everyone” meant groups such as host cities’ organizing committees, athletes and sponsors.

Alibaba is one of the few top Olympics sponsors signed with the IOC until 2028.

It has said it wants to upgrade the technology that keeps the Games running.

It also unveiled its “sports brain,” on Saturday, a suite of software products designed to improve the back office of how sports events are run.

Ma, who appeared onstage with Bach, said he was moved by North Korea and South Korea marching together in the opening ceremony on Friday since it reflected “peace and prosperity”.

Former NBA player Yao Ming was in the audience at the media conference, which featured an interpretive dancer and a magician pulling a bird out of a hat.

Alibaba has about 200 to 300 employees on the ground in Pyeongchang to study how the games run and help find ways to save future host countries money.

Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao shopping platforms dominate online retail in China. But it is not well known in many parts of the world, including in the United States where Inc is the e-commerce leader.

It is using an international branding campaign focused on the Olympics to help introduce it to markets such as the United States and Great Britain.

Editing by Greg Stutchbury

6 Kitchen Gadgets for the Elderly Could Change Your Life

According to the USDA, Americans spend 37 minutes a day preparing and serving food. Home meal kits like Blue Apron and Plated attempt to reduce that time with pre-cut and measured ingredients (as a result they are now a $2.2 billion business). But, for people who want to have more control over what they eat, new timesaving kitchen gadgets may be a better solution.

This is especially true for older individuals and those with disabilities or physical limitations. According to the World Bank, 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability and a 2015 study by the US Census Bureau projected that by 2050 nearly 17% of the world will be over the age of 65. For those with limited mobility, simple meal prep tasks can be daunting. As the population in the United States ages, the market for redesigned elder-friendly products grows too.

Here are some of the coolest additions to the market this year that everyone can benefit from.

1. An Ice Cream Scoop You Push

We can thank Michael Chou, an aerospace engineer, for the wild looking Midnight Scoop device. This scoop arrives in a Apple-like packaging, which opens to reveal something akin to a space-aged weapon. The Midnight Scoop features a heavily weighted curved handle and a scoop with sharp edges on either side for carving. The design changes the way you interact with ice cream, where instead of pulling and turning, you push and shovel  – thus protecting your wrist as you use your body strength instead of your arm. The curved edges force the ice cream into balls as you push forward so you end up with the same perfect scoops you get traditionally. While not a space-saver in your drawer, the Midnight Scoop is worth its weigh – making it a must-have gadget for weak-handed ice cream lovers everywhere.

2. One-Handed Bottle Opener

Imagine if opening a bottle of beer was as easy as pulling a trigger – in a good way. That is the what the design of GrabOpener is like. Instead of pushing down or pulling up on a stiff

board with a hole or hook on the end – both of which often send the sharp cap flying – the GrabOpener lets you use your second and third fingers in a trigger-grip to lift the cap up and away from you. The magnetized metal it is made from keeps the caps from getting away. The result is a quick, one-handed solution that makes opening bottles a party trick – literally (at least according to one enthusiastic Amazon reviewer). An added bonus is that the design keeps caps unbent for those who collect or make jewelry out of them.

3. Herbs on Demand

Using fresh herbs can make your cooking extra delicious, but for many people with limited space outside or physical limitations that make bending over to garden impossible, outdoor gardening is not a viable option.  Smart Garden has invented a counter top Click & Grow kitchen herb garden that is similar to a Keurig but with seed pods instead of coffee.

Just plug in what you want to grow, add water, and turn it on, and the garden system takes care of the rest. The Smart Garden delivers herbs in 20 days (or less if you just use a few and trim as it grows). When you are ready for new herbs, just plug in replacement pods.

4. Effortless egg peeler

Anyone who makes deviled eggs regularly knows that peeling hardboiled eggs can be a time consuming mess. When Connecticut resident Bonnie Tyler got fed up with peeling

(and was forced to arrive at a potluck empty handed), she had had enough. Her invention, the NEGG®, is a brilliantly simple and effective solution. To use it, you place your hard boiled egg into the plastic container (lined with raised bumps), add water, and shake. That’s it. You really have to see it to believe it, but the shell when you remove the egg from this contraption literally slips away. No more delicate finger work required and lots of time saved!

5. The Watermelon slicer/server

Seedless watermelon was the first great timesaving invention for this favorite summer fruit, but now there is a much faster (and easier) way to slice and serve rind-free pieces without fancy knife skills. The Angurello watermelon sliver and server looks like a double-bladed

handheld scythe. To slice, you push down and pull towards yourself in one swoop. To remove the slice, you squeeze the blades together and lift. Suddenly, you can slice up a melon in less than a minute. No more juice all over the counter, either. No more hacking away in chunks or balling. This simple solution is great for those with limited hand mobility, but also every day melon lovers (a.k.a. the rest of us).

6. Push and twist jar opener

My husband makes fun of me every time I open a jar because I now yell, “I’m unstoppable!” as I turn and pop the lids. As a petite woman with small hands, opening pasta sauce and jelly jars ranged from humiliating (when my husband was home and I needed his help) to infuriating (when he was not home and I was left to smack tops, run hot water and scream in frustration).

That all changed when I got my hands on the OXO Good Grips Jar Opener with Base Pad. You place the jar on the silicone pad, move the opener into position and push down and away from you. Like with the Midnight Scoop, this allows you to use you whole body to do the work. It is a brilliantly simple and game changing design.

While these kitchen “upgrades” may seem frivolous to some, they represent real independence for others. In an era where we are trying to empower people of all ages, small changes can have a bigger impact than one might think.