Lithium-Silicon Batteries Could Give Your Phone 30% More Power

A new battery technology could increase the power packed into phones, cars, and smartwatches by 30% or more within the next few years. The new lithium-silicon batteries, nearing production-ready status thanks to startups including Sila Technologies and Angstron Materials, will leapfrog marginal improvements in existing lithium-ion batteries.

Recent promises of breakthrough battery technology have often amounted to little, but veteran Wall Street Journal tech reporter Christopher Mims believes lithium-silicon is the real thing. So do BMW, Intel, and Qualcomm, all of of which are backing the development of the new batteries.

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The core innovation is building anodes, one of the main components of any battery, primarily from silicon. Silicon anodes hold more power than today’s graphite-based versions, but are often delicate or short-lived in real-world applications. Sila Technologies has built prototypes that solve the problem by using silicon and graphene nanoparticles to make the technology more durable, and says its design can store 20% to 40% more energy than today’s lithium-ions. Several startups are competing to build the best lithium-silicon batteries, though, and one —Enovix, backed by Intel and Qualcomm — says its approach could pack as much as 50% more energy into a smartphone.

One of the major battery suppliers for both Apple and Samsung is Amperex Technology, which has a strategic investment partnership with Sila. That could point to much more long-lasting mobile devices on the way. The new batteries, Amperex Chief Operating Officer Joe Kit Chu Lam told the Journal, will probably be announced in a consumer device within the next two years. BMW also says it aims to incorporate the technology in an electric car by 2023, increasing power capacity by 10% to 15% over lithium-ion batteries.

China Will Block Travel for Those With Bad ‘Social Credit’

Chinese authorities will begin revoking the travel privileges of those with low scores on its so-called “social credit system,” which ranks Chinese citizens based on comprehensive monitoring of their behavior. Those who fall afoul of the system could be blocked from rail and air travel for up to a year.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission released announcements on Friday saying that the restrictions could be triggered by a broad range of offenses. According to Reuters, those include acts from spreading false information about terrorism to using expired tickets or smoking on trains.

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The Chinese government publicized its plans to create a social credit system in 2014. There is some evidence that the government’s system is entwined with China’s private credit scoring systems, such as Alibaba’s Zhima Credit, which tracks users of the AliPay smartphone payment system. It evaluates not only individuals’ financial history (which has proven problematic enough in the U.S.), but consumption patterns, education, and even social connections.

A Wired report last year found that a user with a low Zhima Credit score had to pay more to rent a bicycle, hotel room, or even an umbrella. Zhima Credit’s CEO has said, in an eerie prefiguring of the new travel restrictions, that the system “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

Though the policy has only now become public, Reuters says it may have come into effect earlier — in a press conference last year, an official said 6.15 million Chinese citizens had already been blocked from air travel for social misdeeds.

YouTube Kids Has Been Promoting Conspiracy-Theory Videos

YouTube Kids, an app that is purportedly more well-policed than YouTube’s own website, contains videos promoting debunked and frightening conspiracy theories. Business Insider discovered that the app, whose users are presumably mostly children, has been suggesting the videos based on otherwise innocuous search terms.

For instance, searches for “moon landing” returned videos arguing that NASA had faked that event. A search for “UFO” led to videos by David Icke, a veteran conspiracist who claims that the Earth is ruled by a secret race of “lizard people.”

The potentially devastating impacts of showing such material to young children were illustrated back in 2009, when conspiracy theorists began circulating the idea that an invisible planet called “Nibiru” would collide with the Earth in 2012, and destroy it. A NASA astrobiologist reported receiving multiple inquiries from young people who were so terrified by the theories that they were contemplating suicide.

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According to Business Insider, YouTube, which is owned by Google, removed specific videos that it highlighted to them, but many similar videos remain accessible through the app. In a statement, YouTube said that “sometimes we miss the mark” on content curation.

But in fact, YouTube Kids seems to quite faithfully following the well-worn path by which YouTube itself has grown. A recent study found that the content-suggestion system on YouTube’s main site consistently promoted more extreme takes on topics users searched for, often including conspiracy theories and fabricated stories.

6 Signs You're About to Be Fired

?No matter how hard you work, there’s a possibility you may someday be laid off or fired, often without much warning. However, after your boss has delivered the bad news, chances are you’ll be able to look back and think of a few warning signs.

But what if you could know in advance that the hammer was about to fall? Those who have been fired multiple times often report similar experiences in the hours, days, and even weeks before they were let go.

Here are a few signs that you may need to dust off your resume.

1. Your boss warns you.

Your boss likely won’t give you an exact date and time of your firing in advance, but many employees do get warnings. The first indication is likely your performance review, which will contain valuable insights into how your boss thinks you’re doing.

Beyond that, you may receive verbal or written warnings about certain behaviors that could put your job at risk. If you ignore those warnings and refuse to make changes, your supervisor may feel there’s no other choice but to terminate.

2. You commit fireable offenses.

Not every fired employee is guilty of an offense, but there are things you can do that will increase your risk. If you’re chronically late, for instance, you could end up on the chopping block.

In fact, in a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, a whopping 41 percent of employers said they’ve fired an employee for being late. You’ll also put a target on your back by having an affair with a coworker or client, blabbing about your company on social media, or behaving inappropriately.

3. The job is a bad fit.

When you landed the job, it may have been the right fit at the time. Or perhaps it was always a bad match, but you needed the money. Whatever the situation, if your job is no longer right for you, you may not be the only one noticing it.

Consider edging your way back into the job market by networking and keeping an eye out for opportunities that are a good fit. Otherwise, you’re not only risking termination, but you’re wasting time in a job that won’t further your career.

4. You’ve been ostracized.

It usually takes a while for employers to fire someone, especially if HR brings pressure to document everything to avoid legal issues. During that time period, any employees who know the termination is imminent can tend to distance themselves from the person. You may notice people have difficulty making eye contact or you are shut out of important meetings. If you start to feel as though people are avoiding you, it might be time to get your resume ready.

5. Your boss’s behavior has changed.

In the months leading up to a termination, an employee often finds his or her boss has a sudden change in behavior. I’ve seen this run in extremes. At one job years ago, not too long before I was let go, my boss began clamping down on me, micromanaging my every move. I’ve also seen it where a soon-to-be-fired colleague found themselves completely abandoned by the boss. Either way, this type of sudden behavior change isn’t usually good news.

6. Your company has changed.

Layoffs and terminations often occur as a result of a company-wide change. It could be something as simple as losing a big client, cutting the business’s income. Mergers and acquisitions also prompt unexpected staff changes, sometimes impacting large groups of people at once.

It’s important to realize that not every company change will result in terminations. However, employers will usually expend a great deal of effort reassuring employees nothing will change, only to turn around and make changes soon after.

As a journalist and employee of television and radio stations, I saw this situation repeatedly because of the ever-changing media landscape and the layoffs that came with it over the years. You sometimes get a little too familiar with that feeling of dread that pops up before an expected layoff. The best remedy for this is to always keep your resume up to date.

Firings often catch people by surprise, even if there were warning signs. But if you begin to feel uncomfortable with your work situation, you can always meet with a recruiter or begin networking in your industry to make valuable connections. Once you are ready to begin looking for a job, you’ll be in a position to quickly move on to something else.

The VR Metaverse of 'Ready Player One' Is Just Beyond Our Grasp

Virtual reality, as it’s been promised to us by science fiction, is a singular realm of infinite possibility. Star Trek’s Holodeck, Yu-Gi-Oh!’s Virtual World, Snow Crash’s Metaverse: Each is the all-powerful experience generator of its world, able to accommodate a character’s any desire. Novelist Ernest Cline sharpened this vision in his 2011 debut, Ready Player One, which hits theaters in March courtesy of Steven Spielberg. While the story is set in the strife-torn meatspace of 2045, most of its action unfolds in a vast network of artificial worlds called the OASIS. And in the tradition of reality playing catch-up to sci-fi, the OASIS has become the endgame for real-world VR developers, many of whom are actively trying to replicate its promise. Are they making progress? Absolutely. Are they doing it right? Absolutely not.

The OASIS is saddled with a terrible acronym—hopefully Spielberg never lets one of his characters say “Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation”—but it offers something attractive: breadth. Some of the environments contained in the OASIS are created by users, others by government agencies; they range from educational to recreational (reconstructions of ’80s fantasy novels are popular), nonprofit to commercial.

Today’s real-life multiuser VR experiences, by contrast, are less OASIS and more ­PUDDLE (Provisionally Usable Demonstration of Dazz­ling Lucid Environments). Some of the constraints are aesthetic: In AltspaceVR, users are limited to a narrow range of expressionless human and robot avatars, while the goofy up-with-people charm of Against Gravity’s Rec Room hinges on you not caring that avatars lack noses. Other constraints are experiential: Facebook’s Spaces lets you hang out only with people you’re already Friends with. Startups with OASIS-size ambitions are hampered by still other issues, whether that’s a noob-unfriendly world-building system (Sansar) or a dark-side-of-Reddit vibe that invites trollery (VRchat).

The problem, though, isn’t such metaphorical boundaries—it’s literal ones. None of these PUDDLEs touch. You can’t hop from Rec Room to VRchat; you’re stuck where you started. That’s why it’s hard to feel truly immersed. To reach Cline’s 2045, developers need to start laying the foundation now for an infrastructure that links each of these worlds. If that sounds idealistic, or even dangerous, it’s not. Think of the days before the internet, when various institutions ran their own walled-off networks. Only when computer scientists came together to standardize protocols did the idea of a single network become possible. Now imagine applying that notion to VR—a metaverse in which users can flit between domains without losing their identity or their bearings as they travel.

The OASIS works because it feels like it has no owners, no urgent needs. It’s a utility, a toolkit available for artisans and corporations alike. If we want to realize this potential ourselves—universal freedom and possibility—let’s start thinking about VR the way Cline does: not as a first-to-market commodity, but as an internet all its own.

Peter Rubin (@provenself) is the author of the upcoming book Future Presence.

This article appears in the March issue. Subscribe now.

All photo references by Getty Images

Bitcoin exchange reaches deal with Barclays for UK transactions

LONDON (Reuters) – One of the biggest bitcoin exchanges has struck a rare deal which will allow it to open a bank account with Britain’s Barclays, making it easier for UK customers of the exchange to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, the UK boss of the exchange said on Wednesday.

Workers are seen in at Barclays bank offices in the Canary Wharf financial district in London, Britain, November 17, 2017. Picture taken November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Large global banks have been reluctant to do business with companies that handle bitcoin and other digital coins because of concerns they are used by criminals to launder money and that regulators will soon crack down on them.

San Francisco-based exchange, Coinbase, said its UK subsidiary was the first to be granted an e-money license by the UK’s financial watchdog, a precursor to getting the banking relationship with Barclays.

The Barclays account will make it easier for British customers. Previously, they had to transfer pounds into euros and go through an Estonian bank.

“Having domestic GBP payments with Barclays reduces the cost, improves the customer experience…and makes the transaction faster,” said Zeeshan Feroz, Coinbase’s UK CEO.

The UK is the largest market for Coinbase in Europe, and the exchange said its customer base in the region was growing at twice the rate of elsewhere.

A collection of Bitcoin (virtual currency) tokens are displayed in this picture illustration taken December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Illustration

Feroz said that it took considerable time to get a UK bank on board, partly because Barclays needed to be sure that Coinbase had the right systems in place to prevent money laundering.

Regulators across the globe have warned that cryptocurrencies are used by criminals to launder money, and some exchanges have been shut down.

“It’s a completely brand new industry. There’s a lot of understanding and risk management that’s needed,” Feroz said.

Despite growing interest in both digital currencies and the technology behind them, some big lenders have limited their customers ability to buy cryptocurrencies, fearing a plunge in their value will leave customers unable to repay debts.

In February, British banks Lloyds and Virgin Money said they would ban credit card customers from buying cryptocurrencies, following the lead of JP Morgan and Citigroup. [nL8N1PU10Y]

Coinbase said it had also become the first crypto exchange to use Britain’s Faster Payments Scheme, a network used by the traditional financial industry.

Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Emma Rumney; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

Hybrid cloud file and object pushes the frontiers of storage

Use of public cloud services have been widely adopted by IT departments around the world. But it has become clear hybrid solutions that span on- and off-premises deployment are often superior, and seem to be on the rise.

However, to get data in and out of the public cloud can be tricky from a performance and consistency point of view. So, could a new wave of distributed file systems and object stores hold the answer?

Hybrid cloud operations require the ability to move data between private and public datacentres. Without data mobility, public and private cloud are nothing more than two separate environments that can’t exploit the benefits of data and application portability.

Looking at the storage that underpins public and private cloud, there are potentially three options available.

Block storage, traditionally used for high-performance input/output (I/O), doesn’t offer practical mobility features. The technology is great on-premise, or across locations operated by the same organisation.

That’s because block access storage depends on the use of a file system above the block level to organise data and provide functionality. For example, snapshots and replication depend on the maintenance of strict consistency between data instances.

Meanwhile, object storage provides high scalability and ubiquitous access, but can lag in terms of data integrity and performance capabilities required by modern applications.

Last writer wins

There’s also no concept of object locking – it’s simply a case of last writer wins. This is great for relatively static content, but not practical for database applications or analytics that need to do partial content reads and updates.

But, object storage is a method of choice for some hybrid cloud storage distributed environments. It can work to provide a single object/file environment across locations with S3 almost a de facto standard for access between sites.

File storage sits between the two extremes. It offers high scalability, data integrity and security and file systems have locking that protect against concurrent updates either locally or globally, depending on how lock management is implemented. Often, file system data security permissions integrate with existing credentials management systems like Active Directory.

File systems, like object storage, implement a single global name space that abstracts from the underlying hardware and provide consistency in accessing content, wherever it is located. Some object storage-based systems also provide file access via network file system (NFS) and server message block protocol (SMB).

In some ways what we’re looking at here are a development of the parallel file system, or its key functionality, for hybrid cloud operations.

Distributed and parallel file systems have been on the market for years. Dell EMC is a market leader with its Isilon hardware platform. Also, DDN offers a hardware solution called Gridscaler and there are also a range of other software solutions like Lustre, Ceph and IBM’s Spectrum Scale (GPFS).

But these are not built for hybrid cloud operations. So, what do new solutions offer over the traditional suppliers?

Distributed file systems 2.0

The new wave of distributed file systems and object stores are built to operate in hybrid cloud environments. In other words, they are designed to work across private and public environments.

Key to this is support for public cloud and the capability to deploy a scale-out file/object cluster in the public cloud and span on/off-premise operations with a hybrid solution.

Native support for public cloud means much more than simply running a software instance in a cloud VM. Solutions need to be deployable with automation, understand the performance characteristics of storage in cloud instances and be lightweight and efficient to reduce costs as much as possible.

New distributed file systems in particular are designed to cover applications that require very low latency to operate efficiently. These include traditional databases, high-performance analytics, financial trading and general high-performance computing applications, such as life sciences and media/entertainment.

By providing data mobility, these new distributed file systems allow end users and IT organisations to take advantage of cheap compute in public cloud, while maintaining data consistency across geographic boundaries.

Supplier roundup

WekaIO was founded in 2013 and has spent almost five years developing a scale-out parallel file system solution called Matrix. Matrix is a POSIX-compliant file system that was specifically designed for NVMe storage.

As a scale-out storage offering, Matrix runs across a cluster of commodity storage servers or can be deployed in the public cloud and run on standard compute instances using local SSD block storage. It also claims hybrid operations are possible, with the ability to tier to public cloud services. WekaIO publishes latency figures as low as 200µs and I/O throughput of 20,000 to 50,000 IOPS per CPU core.

Elastifile was founded in 2014 and has a team with a range of successful storage product developments behind it, including XtremIO and XIV. The Elastifile Cloud File System (ECFS) is a software solution built to scale across thousands of compute nodes, offering file, block and object storage.

ECFS is designed to support heterogeneous environments, including public and private cloud environments under a single global name space. Today, this is achieved using a feature called CloudConnect, which bridges the gap between on-premise and cloud deployments.

Qumulo was founded in 2012 by a team that previously worked on developing the Isilon scale-out NAS platform. The Qumulo File Fabric (QF2) is a scale-out software solution that can be deployed on commodity hardware or in the public cloud.

Cross-platform capabilities are provided through the ability to replicate file shares between physical locations using a feature called Continuous Replication. Although primarily a software solution, QF2 is available as an appliance with a throughput of 4GBps per node (minimum four nodes), although no latency figures are quoted.

Object storage maker Cloudian announced an upgrade in January 2018 to its Hyperstore product which brings true hybrid cloud operations across Microsoft, Amazon and Google cloud environments with data portability between them. Cloudian is based on the Apache Cassandra open source distributed database.

It can come as storage software that customers deploy on commodity hardware, in cloud software format or in hardware appliance form. Hyperfile file access – which is Posix/Windows compliant – can also be deployed on-premise and in the cloud to provide file access.

Multi-cloud data controller

Another object storage specialist, Scality, will release a commercially supported version of its “multi-cloud data controller” Zenko at the end of March. The product promises to allow customers hybrid cloud functionality; to move, replicate, tier, migrate and search data across on-premise, private cloud locations and public cloud, although it’s not that clear how seamless those operations will be.

Zenko is based on Scality’s 2016 launch of its S3 server, which provided S3 access to Scality Ring object storage. The key concept behind Zenko is to allow customers to mix and match Scality on-site storage with storage from different cloud providers, initially Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

Microsoft women filed 238 discrimination and harassment complaints

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Women at Microsoft Corp working in U.S.-based technical jobs filed 238 internal complaints about gender discrimination or sexual harassment between 2010 and 2016, according to court filings made public on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: The Microsoft logo is shown on the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo – RC177D20CF10

The figure was cited by plaintiffs suing Microsoft for systematically denying pay raises or promotions to women at the world’s largest software company. Microsoft denies it had any such policy.

The lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court in 2015, is attracting wider attention after a series of powerful men have left or been fired from their jobs in entertainment, the media and politics for sexual misconduct.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are pushing to proceed as a class action lawsuit, which could cover more than 8,000 women.

More details about Microsoft’s human resources practices were made public on Monday in legal filings submitted as part of that process.

The two sides are exchanging documents ahead of trial, which has not been scheduled.

Out of 118 gender discrimination complaints filed by women at Microsoft, only one was deemed“founded” by the company, according to the unsealed court filings.

Attorneys for the women described the number of complaints as“shocking” in the court filings, and said the response by Microsoft’s investigations team was“lackluster.”

Companies generally keep information about internal discrimination complaints private, making it unclear how the number of complaints at Microsoft compares to those at its competitors.

In a statement on Tuesday, Microsoft said it had a robust system to investigate concerns raised by its employees, and that it wanted them to speak up.

Microsoft budgets more than $55 million a year to promote diversity and inclusion, it said in court filings. The company had about 74,000 U.S. employees at the end of 2017.

Microsoft said the plaintiffs cannot cite one example of a pay or promotion problem in which Microsoft’s investigations team should have found a violation of company policy but did not.

U.S. District Judge James Robart has not yet ruled on the plaintiffs’ request for class action status.

A Reuters review of federal lawsuits filed between 2006 and 2016 revealed hundreds containing sexual harassment allegations where companies used common civil litigation tactics to keep potentially damning information under wraps.

Microsoft had argued that the number of womens’ human resources complaints should be secret because publicizing the outcomes could deter employees from reporting future abuses.

A court-appointed official found that scenario“far too remote a competitive or business harm” to justify keeping the information sealed.

Reporting by Dan Levine; Additional reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Editing by Bill Rigby, Edwina Gibbs and Bernadette Baum

Dropbox sees IPO price between $16 and $18 per share

(Reuters) – Data-sharing business Dropbox Inc (DBX.O) on Monday filed for an initial public offering of 36 million shares, giving the company a value of more than $7 billion at the higher end of the range.

The DropBox logo is seen in this illustration photo July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

Dropbox expects its debut price to be between $16 and $18 per share, the company said in a filing. (

The San Francisco-based company, which started as a free service to share and store photos, music and other large files, competes with much larger technology firms such as Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Inc (AMZN.O) as well as cloud-storage rival Box Inc (BOX.N).

In its regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dropbox reported 2017 revenue of $1.11 billion, up 31 percent from $844.8 million, a year earlier.

The Dropbox app is seen in this illustration photo October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

The company’s net loss narrowed to $111.7 million in 2017 from $210.2 million in 2016.

Dropbox, which has 11 million paying users across 180 countries, said that about half of its 2017 revenue came from customers outside the United States.

The IPO will be a key test of Dropbox’s worth after it was valued at almost $10 billion in a private fundraising round in 2014.

Goldman Sachs & Co, JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank Securities, BofA Merrill Lynch are the lead underwriters for the public offer.

Reporting by Diptendu Lahiri in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

Are You Thinking Of Buying Berkshire Hathaway? Consider Baby Berkshire Instead

Source: Berkshire’s annual letter

A few days ago, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) (BRK.B) released its annual report. Markel Corporation (MKL) has not published it yet, but it released its full year results.

As the readers of Warren Buffet’s letters already know, in 2015, he decided to slightly change the comparison criteria he had been using to evaluate Berkshire’s performance. He had always just compared BH’s book value appreciation against S&P 500 appreciation.

Since 2015, he has been taking into account also Berkshire stock price appreciation. The official reason for the change was that book value could not completely reflect the intrinsic value of the company (arguably, when we also consider good will and intangibles), but the real reason was that, for the first time in history, S&P 500 total return in the previous 5 years had surpassed Berkshire’s book value total return, whereas its stock price delta still performed better.

What is remarkable now is that, in the course of the last 10 years, as reported in its last annual report, even Berkshire stock price total return was beaten by S&P 500, a milestone in the company’s history.


Annual percentage change Berkshire

Annual percentage change S&P 500































Compounded annual gain



Source: Berkshire’s annual letter

The reason is quite clear: Berkshire is too big!

Why Berkshire’s best years are not in sight

That’s right. Berkshire is too big; its huge capitalization of about half trillion dollars makes it what I usually call an index company. Its stocks are good for index ETFs and funds, but not so good for individual investments.

In fact, there is a sort of physical limit to stock growth. If a company is very big, it could be hard to find substantial space for business growth. It could be even harder to do it against the will of the anti-trust entities.

Personally, I rarely own shares of companies exceeding a double digit billion-dollar cap. I would prefer to buy an ETF to avoid risks as well as hours of due diligence, therefore, saving time and energy.

With Berkshire we have an additional problem, which is not solvable, because it is linked to the inner structure of the company.

Berkshire is basically an insurance company that uses its float to invest in the equity market

Since Warren Buffett credo is value investing, he never owns more than a dozen companies for 90% of his publicly quoted companies’ portfolio. Now, this is where it gets tough: let’s say you have a $100B budget and you are committed to using no less than 10% of that budget for each purchase, then your hunting territory will be limited to a tiny fraction of the companies that are listed in the public stock exchanges. If you don’t want to overpay your shares, on average, you will need to only bet on the very fat guys. It could be hard to find value out there.

The same goes with acquisitions. It is increasingly difficult for Berkshire to find private companies to buy. I think that, in the near future, we will witness Berkshire implementing the same suggestion W. Buffett gave individual investors several times: 10% bonds and 90% cheap index ETF.

Ten years from now, Berkshire Hathaway will be a huge holding company, with some insurance companies in its pocket, no more and no less. Its biggest competitive advantage will eventually vanish. Given the lack of investment opportunities, it will most likely even start to pay dividends in order to deploy its enormous cash.

This last option could sound good for some investors, but it is drastically against Buffettology itself.

Now let’s talk about Markel

Although Berkshire is likely to be on the path of giving up its terrific long-term performance in the years to come, there is another company that will continue to grow at the same pace, using the same business model structure as Berkshire’s, but enjoying a relatively low capitalization. I am talking about the so-called baby-Berkshire: Markel Corp.

Markel’s intent is not a secret to anyone and that is to copy the Berkshire Hathaway business model. In other words, using the float of a solid insurance business (which yields an underwriting profit 80% of the time) to acquire private companies or to invest in securities. They even hold their annual meeting at the Omaha Hilton Hotel, just a day or two after Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting in the same town.

The company is co-managed by Tom Gayner: a Buffett fan and smart disciple.

Actually, for being a copycat, Markel performed very well. Here is a direct comparison between the two companies during the course of the last 10 years:

Source: Yahoo Finance

Berkshire vs. Markel

In this table, I put some key figures for the two companies, data in billion dollars, collected as of Dec. 2017:






Equity Securities



Fixed Inc Maturity Securities



Cash and Short Term T-notes



Intangibles and Goodwill



Total Assets



Source: Berkshire Hathaway and Markel official filings, Author’s elaboration

We can note that Markel’s float is about 28% of total assets, compared to 16% for Berkshire. That reveals Markel’s bigger exposure to its insurance business.

I like that, because insurance is the key of the two companies’ business model. They are not simply holding companies, but rather insurance companies that invest their float on equities and acquisitions.

Cash and short-term T-notes, compared with equity securities, are more or less the same for both companies, but fixed maturity securities are much bigger for Markel (170% vs. 13% of equity securities for Berkshire).

This reflects Markel’s more conservative approach and it is also partly due to the recent acquisitions of Alterra and State National, which had numerous bonds and treasuries in their investment baskets.

This over-exposure to bonds could lead to a better performance in the future, as management will eventually shift a bigger part of its portfolio to equity stocks.

Goodwill and intangibles, as percentage of total assets, are much bigger for Berkshire (16% vs. 9.5%). Today, this difference can be explained with Buffett and Munger being in charge, but I cannot guarantee that this would be a realistic scenario when they retire.

The bottom line is that Markel is well-positioned for future growth in all respects. Its business is well balanced and strong. Even during a difficult year, like the last one for insurance companies, due to several dramatic catastrophes, Markel managed to deliver an excellent profit for its shareholders. The net unrealized investment gain of more than $760M together with the income of the fast-growing Markel Ventures operation, which exceeded $100M in 2017, easily offset the net loss brought by the insurance segment.

On the other hand, by comparison, Berkshire appears to be scrambling a little bit after Markel.

Even the P/B value ratio, which is cheaper for Berkshire, does not differ that much, if we consider only the tangible assets. Markel is only 12% more expensive than Berkshire according to this metric.


Berkshire Hathaway has been a legend for all investors. Due to its terrific performance, it earned the well-deserved fame of a modern institution in the financial environment.

Nevertheless, several signs are telling us that its future performance will not be as good as the past ones.

If you are as intrigued as I am by the Berkshire’s business model, you should buy Markel instead, a company that shares the same investment philosophy, but without the size-problems of its larger twin.

After all, a Markel’s buy-out would not be that extravagant for Berkshire in the future. Maybe it is already on Mr. Buffett’s to do list.

Disclosure: I am/we are long MKL.

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.

The Kinder Morgan Dividend Story Is About To Resume

By the Sure Dividend staff

Kinder Morgan (KMI) has been a favorite dividend growth investment for many retail investors, until the company cut its payout by three quarters two years ago. After two years of low payouts, during which the company focused on reducing debt levels and finishing projects, things are about to change soon. Kinder Morgan is one of 294 dividend stocks in the energy sector. You can see all 294 dividend-paying energy stocks here.

Kinder Morgan has aggressive dividend growth plans for the coming years, but unlike in the past, this time they look very achievable. The company is about to increase its dividend meaningfully soon, and investors will very likely benefit from ongoing strong dividend growth rates over the coming years.

Since Kinder Morgan is not trading at an expensive valuation at all, shares of the pipeline giant are worthy of a closer look right here.

Company Overview

Kinder Morgan is proud of its huge asset base, and rightfully so:

(company presentation)

The company operates a giant pipeline network spanning North America, with the focus being put on natural gas pipelines. Kinder Morgan also owns terminals, pipelines and oil production assets on top of its natural gas pipeline network.

(company presentation)

The vast majority of Kinder Morgan’s revenues are fee-based, which means that there is very low commodity price risk. The company’s revenues, earnings and cash flows do not depend highly on the price of oil and natural gas. The only segment with a bigger exposure to the price of oil is Kinder Morgan’s CO2 business. Kinder Morgan is hedging its revenues from that segment, though, thus the short-term price swings for WTI do not matter very much.

Due to the fact that Kinder Morgan is much less impacted by commodity price swings than other companies in the oil & gas industry, its cash flows are not cyclical at all.

(company presentation)

During 2018 Kinder Morgan plans to increase its EBITDA as well as its distributable cash flows slightly. Distributable cash flows are operating cash flows minus the portion of capex that is needed to keep the assets intact (maintenance capex). Distributable cash flows are thus the portion of the company’s cash flows that are not needed to maintain the business, those can be spend in several ways:

– Growth capex, which expand Kinder Morgan’s asset base and lead to higher earnings / cash flows in the future.

– Shareholder returns via dividends & share repurchases.

– Debt reduction, which leads to lower interest expenses and thereby positively impacts the company’s earnings and cash flows.

A couple of years ago Kinder Morgan has paid out almost all of its DCF in dividends and financed growth capex by issuing new shares and debt. That did not work very well once its share price collapsed, which was the reason for the dividend cut, as Kinder Morgan had to finance its growth projects organically from that point.

Right now Kinder Morgan is using its DCF for a combination of growth capex, dividends and share repurchases. The company has brought down its debt levels meaningfully already, but doesn’t plan to reduce its leverage further this year.

Kinder Morgan Has Announced Aggressive Dividend Growth Plans Through 2020

In the last two years Kinder Morgan has produced about $2.00 per share in distributable cash flows, but paid out only $0.50 each year. This has allowed the company to finance billions in growth projects with excess cash flows whilst also paying down debt.

The company has stated that it wants to increase the dividend meaningfully this year as well as in 2019 and 2020:

– The dividend will be $0.80 for 2018 (which means a 60% raise year over year)

– The dividend will be $1.00 for 2019 (which means a 25% raise yoy)

– The dividend will be $1.25 for 2020 (which means a 25% raise yoy, again)

This looks like a very compelling dividend growth rate, especially when we factor in that Kinder Morgan’s current dividend yield is not low at all: Based on a share price of $16.10, Kinder Morgan’s shares yield about 3.1% right now. The forward dividend yields are thus 5.0%, 6.2% and 7.8% for 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.

A closer look at the company’s dividend growth plans and cash flow generation shows that those plans are not unrealistic at all:


DCF per share


Payout ratio

Excess DCF after dividend payments





$2.8 billion





$2.4 billion





$2.0 billion

Assumption: DCF grows by two percent a year

Even in a rather conservative scenario where distributable cash flows grow by only two percent annually, Kinder Morgan’s payout ratio stays below 60% through 2020. At the same time the company would generate $7.2 billion in cash flows that are not needed to pay the dividends. Those cash flows could thus be utilized for growth capex, share repurchases or for paying down debt.

Kinder Morgan Has Significant Growth Potential

The scenario laid out above (2% annual DCF growth) is rather conservative due to the fact that Kinder Morgan plans to invest heavily into new assets over the coming years:

(company presentation)

Management has identified $12 billion of potential investments which fit the company’s strategy and which promise attractive returns. The company could complete a meaningful amount of these projects in the coming years, as high after-dividend cash flows allow the company to spend on growth investments heavily.

According to management these assets could add $1.6 billion to the company’s EBITDA, which means a 21% increase over 2017’s level. When we assume that distributable cash flows would grow by 21% as well, Kinder Morgan’s DCF per share could hit $2.40 in 2022. This calculation does not yet include the positive impact share repurchases would have on the DCF per share growth rate.

Kinder Morgan has recently started a $2 billion share repurchase program and has already bought back more than 27 million shares since December. At that pace Kinder Morgan’s share count would drop by almost five percent a year, this alone would drive DCF per share up by mid-single digits each year, without any underlying organic growth.

Due to its focus on natural gas pipelines Kinder Morgan is well positioned for the future. Natural gas consumption will, according to most analysts, continue to grow for decades, as natural gas combines several positives: The commodity is significantly more environmentally friendly than oil and coal, it is inexpensive and it is available in North America in large quantities. Through LNG terminals natural gas can even be exported to other markets (primarily in Asia).

All the natural gas that gets used in the US or exported to foreign countries needs to be transported through the US by pipelines. Kinder Morgan as the provider of the vastest pipeline network should benefit from that trend, which will lead to ample cash flows for decades.


The US Energy Information Administration expects that global consumption of natural gas will grow from 130 quadrillion Btu to 190 quadrillion Btu through 2040. Since proved reserves of natural gas in the US are growing, it seems opportune to assume that the US will remain a major producer of natural gas going forward. This, in turn, means that Kinder Morgan’s asset base will not only exist for a very long time, but will remain very profitable through the coming decades.

Kinder Morgan Is Trading At A Discount Price

KMI EV to EBITDA (Forward) data by YCharts

Kinder Morgan is trading at the lowest valuation the company’s shares have traded for over the last couple of years right now. With a forward EV to EBITDA multiple of about ten Kinder Morgan is also not looking expensive at all on an absolute basis.

When we focus on the cash flows the company generates, we see that Kinder Morgan trades at eight times trailing DCF and at slightly less than eight times forward distributable cash flows. This means that shares can be bought with a distributable cash flow yield of 12.7% right now. Kinder Morgan is a non-cyclical company which has a solid growth outlook, and at the same time its size and diversified asset base mean that there isn’t a lot of risk. Based on those facts the current valuation looks pretty low.

Investors can currently acquire shares of the company with a forward dividend yield of 5.0% (the dividend increase announcement should come next month) at a DCF multiple of slightly below 8. For long term focused investors who seek an investment that provides a growing income stream that looks like an attractive investment case.

Final Thoughts

Kinder Morgan’s failed dividend growth plans hurt many retail investors in the past, but management has learned from its mistakes. This time the dividend growth plans are well thought out and look very achievable.

Thanks to high cash flows and a big growth project backlog Kinder Morgan should be able to provide a steadily growing income stream over the coming years. This, combined with a low valuation, makes shares of the pipeline giant worthy of a closer look right here.

Disclosure: I am/we are long KMI.

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.

Toyota affiliate Denso buying stake worth $800 million in chipmaker Renesas

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese auto parts supplier Denso Corp (6902.T) is buying an additional 4.5 percent stake in chipmaker Renesas Electronics (6723.T) in a deal worth $800 million based on market prices, as car makers accelerate the adoption of self-driving and other technologies.

FILE PHOTO: Renesas Electronics Corp’s logo is seen on its product at the company’s conference in Tokyo, Japan, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

Denso is an affiliate of and supplier to Japan’s biggest automaker Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T). It has been ramping up spending on research and development of new technologies including “connected cars”. In February, Denso announced an investment in California cybersecurity startup Dellfer.

It is acquiring the stake from Innovation Network Corp of Japan (INCJ), a state-backed fund that owns 50.1 percent in the chipmaker, INCJ said in a statement. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the transaction is worth about 85 billion yen ($796.9 million) based on Renesas’ share price.

As a result of the deal, Denso’s stake in Renesas will rise to 5 percent, while INCJ’s will fall to 45.6.

Renesas Electronics Corp’s logo is seen on its substrate at the company’s conference in Tokyo, Japan, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Renesas shares rose almost 9 percent on Friday after the news, before giving back some of the gains to be up 5 percent. Denso shares were down 0.1 percent. The benchmark Nikkei 225 index .N225 was up 0.2 percent in afternoon trade.

Automakers and auto parts makers have been racing to develop new technologies as the sector shifts to electronic cars and automated driving, boosting the role of chips and software in cars.

In a statement, Denso said it is “essential to further enhance collaboration with semiconductor manufacturers that have profound experience and expertise” to develop vehicle control systems in automated driving and other new fields.

Last week, Toyota said it would establish a new venture with Denso and another group supplier Aisin Seiki Co (7259.T), which would invest more than $2.8 billion to develop automated-driving software.

Reporting by Taiga Uranaka and Minami Funakoshi; Editing by Stephen Coates and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Great Wall seeks to double vehicle sales by 2025, plans electric car push

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Great Wall Motor Co Ltd aims to more than double its annual sales to 2 million vehicles by 2025, with roughly a third of those expected to be all-electric battery cars.

FILE PHOTO: A Great Wall Motors Haval HB-02 concept vehicle is presented during the Auto China 2016 auto show in Beijing, China, April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

The Baoding-based automaker also plans to invest 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) on electric vehicle research and development by 2020, Great Wall Motor President Wang Fengying told a session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.

Wang’s remarks come as China’s industrial policymakers try to engineer a dramatic shift away from conventional gasoline cars with subsidies and strict production quotas for electric and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.

The company “will push forward with a renewable innovation strategy and will aim to assume leading positions” in electric battery vehicle technology as well as hydrogen electric fuel-cell know-how, she said.

Great Wall Motor sold 950,315 vehicles last year, down 1.9 percent from 2016, according to Automotive Foresight, a Shanghai-based consultancy.

Great Wall Motor and Germany’s BMW aim to jointly produce electric Mini vehicles in China, signing a letter of intent last month.

A successful conclusion to the talks would give Great Wall Motor its first foreign manufacturing partner and result in the first Mini assembly site outside Europe for BMW.

Wang also said on Thursday that the company planned to launch three new heavily electrified car models this year and two more next year.

Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Venezuela to sell petro cryptocurrency via Dicom forex system

CARACAS (Reuters) – The Venezuela government will start auctioning its new petro cryptocurrency to private companies via its Dicom foreign exchange platform in a few weeks, Vice President Tareck El Aissami said on Tuesday.

The OPEC country last month began selling the new digital token, which President Nicolas Maduro has said will be backed by oil reserves, in a private sale to investors. Maduro says the petro will help skirt U.S. financial sanctions.

Opposition critics call the petro an illegal debt issue, and the U.S. Treasury Department has warned that it may violate sanctions and thus constitutes a legal risk for investors.

“The petro is going to be auctioned on Dicom,” El Aissami said in a meeting with businessmen broadcast on state television, adding that companies will be able to use petros to pay for imports of raw materials.

“The petro is going to be our powerful international currency, above the dollar.”

It is not immediately evident if and how the petro can function as foreign currency or how it would help Venezuelan businesses with international commerce transactions.

Foreign companies are unlikely to accept it as payment given the legal doubts surrounding it, and few investors have publicly announced having purchased it.

El Aissami also called on local banks to buy the petro at a discount during the preliminary phase, which ends on March 20.

During this phase, petros can be acquired with “dollars, euros or any other currency,” he said, and may be held by banks as assets on their balance sheets.

Reporting by Corina Pons, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Susan Thomas

Cryptocurrencies are risky for consumers, says BoE's Haldane

LONDON (Reuters) – Cryptocurrencies pose a risk to British consumers, though not to the financial system as a whole, the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A collection of Bitcoin (virtual currency) tokens are displayed in this picture illustration taken December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Illustration/File Photo

“There’s lots of potential risks there, one of which is the danger to the consumer from buying into this stuff,” Haldane said in a BBC television interview.

Bitcoin BTC=, the best known cryptocurrency, soared in value from around $1,000 at the start of 2017 to almost $20,000 in mid-December, before tumbling below $6,000 last month and then staging a partial recovery.

Haldane’s concerns are similar to those expressed by BoE Governor Mark Carney in a speech on Friday, and previously by Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority.

Many global regulators have warned about cryptocurrencies this year and China has banned financial institutions from processing them. Carney said this would be a step too far, given the potential of the underlying technology to improve payments and asset clearing and settlement.

Haldane said the BoE continued to monitor cryptocurrencies, and that at less than 1 percent of total global wealth, they did not pose a big danger to the world’s financial system.

But asked if he would invest in cryptocurrencies himself, Haldane said he was very risk averse, and would not.

Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by James Dalgleish

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman Acknowledges Users Shared Russia Propaganda

Russian trolls used Reddit to spread propaganda in prelude to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Reddit said on Monday.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said in a post on Reddit that the company removed a “few hundred accounts” from its social media service that it believed were linked to Russian-based entities that had spread misleading information.

Huffman did not identify the groups, but the Daily Beast reported last week that members of the Russia-based Internet Research Agency had spread misinformation on Reddit’s various message boards as well as on Tumblr blogging service. The IRA was one of three Russian groups identified in a recent Justice Department indictment alleging that Russian individuals had spread fake news and propaganda through popular social networking and messaging services like Facebook (fb) and Twitter (twtr) in an effort to exacerbate existing divisions in the U.S..

“As for direct propaganda, that is, content from accounts we suspect are of Russian origin or content linking directly to known propaganda domains, we are doing our best to identify and remove it,” Huffman wrote. “The vast majority of suspicious accounts we have found in the past months were banned back in 2015–2016 through our enhanced efforts to prevent abuse of the site generally.”

Huffman said that there’s not much evidence that Russian trolls bought online ads on Reddit to disseminate propaganda, as they are alleged to have done on Facebook and Google.

“We don’t see a lot of ads from Russia, either before or after the 2016 election, and what we do see are mostly ads promoting spam and ICOs,” Huffman said.

Huffman also said that thousands of U.S.-based Reddit users may have unwittingly promoted Russian propaganda on the service. He cited the fact that these Reddit users endorsed the postings of @TEN_GOP Twitter account, which they thought were linked to a real Republican group but was actually a “Russian agent.”

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“I wish there was a solution as simple as banning all propaganda, but it’s not that easy. Between truth and fiction are a thousand shades of grey,” Huffman wrote. “It’s up to all of us—Redditors, citizens, journalists—to work through these issues.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee now wants more information from Reddit about the possibility that Russia may have exploited the service, the Washington Post reported Monday. The committee also plans to hold a briefing with Tumblr, the newspaper said citing an unnamed source.

SpaceX is Days Away From a Major Milestone for the Falcon 9 Rocket

This Tuesday’s planned launch of the Hispasat 30W-6 from Kennedy Space Center will be a landmark for Elon Musk’s SpaceX. If everything goes according to plan, it will be the 50th time the company’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully heads into the stratosphere since its inaugural flight in June 2010.

According to Ars Technica’s Eric Berger, who highlighted the imminent landmark, the Falcon 9 should make it to 50 launches faster than some comparable programs. The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket took nine years and seven months to hit that mark, while the space shuttle program launched 50 times in its first 11 years and 5 months.

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Of course, not every Falcon 9 mission has been a success. The rocket’s 19th attempted launch, a space station resupply mission, failed in June 2015. And a particularly embarrassing launchpad explosion destroyed an expensive satellite, partly underwritten by Facebook, in the fall of 2016.

But 2017 was a banner year for the company, with a record 18 Falcon 9 launches, and no major launch mishaps. This year is also off to a good start, with three successful Falcon 9 launches. One of those missions ended with the reported loss of the secretive Zuma satellite, but SpaceX has maintained that wasn’t its fault. On top of that, the long-awaited Falcon Heavy launched successfully in early February.

Assuming Tuesday’s launch is similarly uneventful, SpaceX’s 2018 will be jam-packed. Around a dozen Falcon 9 launches and two commercial Falcon Heavy launches are already scheduled, but there are other payloads waiting, yet still unscheduled. SpaceX is aiming to open a new launch facility in south Texas before the end of the year, so things could get downright hectic.

And The Oscar Goes To… 

On days like this predictions abound. And most often those predictions come from the pundits, the ones “in the know.” But what if the real power of prediction is not in the opinions and the bias of pundits but in the data?

One the most amazing things about the internet is its ability to quickly determine the sentiment of large populations just by listening to what people are talking about. Of course, listening is nothing new. Anyone building a successful business will tell you that the single most important skill to develop and info into a culture is that of listening to the customer. 

What if I told you that was wrong? Anathema, right? Customers always come first! That’s only partially true. The problem with always putting the customer first is that you build an echo chamber which reports that same old biased view of what you should be doing to grow your business based on what you have been doing, while growth comes not only from customer but from those who are not yet customers. 

Companies often try desperately to hang onto customers when their overall business is shrinking and suffering, They put in place loyalty programs and incentives for customers to stay, but they are oblivious to the sentiment of the larger market which is fleeing to other alternatives. It’s like trying to give cabin upgrades to passengers of the Titanic–while it’s sinking!  

Instead, what if you could listen to the entire market, current and potential, in order to direct your resources and align your decisions with where the growth was? What if you could predict the many ways in which the marketplace is changing but which no individual customer, focus group, marketing genius, or existing community of customers could adequately express?

That’s precisely the objective of social listening; to understand the collective sentiment of a marketplace based on what the data is telling your. It sounds simple but it’s amazing how few companies are doing it. Why not? Because we all want to believe that we are smarter than the market; that the data has nothing on us. Because, if it did, what would our value be?

Which brings me to the Oscars. (You knew I’d get there eventually!)

Using a listening analytics platform, Sprout Social captured data around the three major Oscar categories of best picture, best actor in a leading role, and best actress in a leading role in order to project tonight’s Oscar winners. Although this is just for fun, it’s a great illustration of how powerful social sentiment can be in understanding a market’s perspective.

In each category they scoured the web for the number of mentions and the positive versus negative mentions. The results are in some cases straight forward and in others fascinatingly close. 

For example, the data shows that Call Me By Your Name is the projected winner among fans, garnering 152,880 total mentions, 64,758 positive mentions, 18,095 negative mentions and 46,663 net positive mentions (that’s the number of positive mentions less the negative mentions.)  The Shape of Water and Lady Bird follow close behind with 48,039 and 34,268 positive mentions respectively. However, Dunkirk had more total mentions than Lady Bird, but just about 7,000 fewer net positive mentions. Although Get Out had more net positive mentions than Dunkirk! 

None of that is likely to usurp Call Me by Your name, but from a marketing standpoint it provides insight into how close sentiment is about movies that may not be getting an Oscar but are none-the-less neck and neck in terms of popularity. 

Even more fascinating is the ridiculously close net positive ratings for the category of Best Actress in a Leading Role as compared to the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role. Make your own inferences here but the bifurcation of opinions is at the very least a fascinating look at how polarized sentiment can become. 

Call Me By Your Name  152,880 64,758 18,095 46,663
The Shape of Water 115,578 48,039 12,304 35,735
Lady Bird  64,063 34,268 7,249 27,019
Dunkirk  73,586 33,085 12,988 20,097
Get Out  56,196 32,136 9,802 22,334
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) 89,552 37,152 4,698 32,454
Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) 28,527 16,405 1,785 14,620
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) 15,057 8,337 2,573 5,764
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) 2,007 593 589 4
Meryl Streep (The Post) 549 196 183 13
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) 404 188 34 154
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards) 202 81 22 59
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) 131 70 15 55

*Data provide by Sprout Social

So, will the data foretell tonight’s winners? The practical side of this specific scenario is that the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences who vote on the Oscars can do whatever they want, regardless of what the data says. Are they likely to reflect the broader demographic captured in the table above? Probably, but not necessarily. 

Whatever the case, we are at a point when we need to spend more time listening to the data and less time in our echo chambers.

This Blockchain-Based Travel Ecosystem Has Been in the Works for 3 Years

A self-funded startup in San Jose, California has been quietly building a blockchain-based travel ecosystem for the past 3 years and is finally readying itself to launch. Its name is XcelTrip and it is branding itself as the first Decentralized Travel Ecosystem (DTE) in existence.

The problem that XcelTrip primarily seeks to solve is the existence of intermediaries who charge a cumulative gross margin as high as 25% from vendors, which typically ends up resulting in added costs to the traveler. It intends to essentially eradicate that excessive fee through use of blockchain-based tools and components, a system of reservations, fulfillment and settlements along with real-time after sales service.

Xceltrip is working to revolutionize the OTA industry with integration of Blockchain and Tokenomics on its web platform and mobile app. It will implement Blockchain technology in a rapid evolution process, retaining and value adding to functionality of the existing OTAs processes, which seeks to ensure easy adoption and least resistance and progressively create a one of a kind, fully Decentralized Travel Ecosystem on the Ethereum Protocol.

Initially, XcelTrip intends to offer traditional-style search, view and purchase options for airline tickets and hotel rooms on its web portal and mobile application, while also including blockchain-based features and soon plans launch value added services such as “X Talk” and “X Cabs” to its users.

“Being an entrepreneur I had always envisioned a system that empowers the masses at large,” says XcelTrip CEO Hob Khadka. “Imagine being armed with the ability to earn when you travel. You would like that wouldn’t you? Now if you are able to earn when your friends traveled or even better when anyone traveled, wouldn’t that be fantastic? So at the core of XcelTrip we created the IMP (Independent Marketing Partner) program where any individual with an entrepreneurial spirit is entitled to a share from the earnings of XcelTrip by simply doing two things; (1) encourage and ensure listing of vendors at XcelTrip to market, promote and sell their products &/or services and (2) to consistently engage with the vendors giving them an edge over their contemporaries in the market while providing the best quality in products and services and concurrently increasing the gross margins.”

Many entrepreneurs look for an exit after three years of working on a project. Khadka is a bit different, as he has been working on building the infrastructure for that amount of time and also recognizes that it will take a few more years before his system is built to be fully decentralized, which is a core component of the platform he seeks to establish

Hackers Are Stuffing DDoS Attacks with Monero Ransom Notes

After a few months of relative quiet, DDoS attackers are back in full force.

Over the past week, hackers have launched a number of distributed denial of service attacks, as DDoS attacks are known, against all manner of targets. The attackers have landed on a new method of overloading their target’s servers with faux traffic and taking their websites offline by using so-called memcached servers to massively amplify their strength. (Memcached servers are designed to speed up the performance of certain websites; you can learn more about them in this useful blog post from Cloudflare.)

Github, the code-sharing site, on Wednesday fended off just such a DDoS attack, the biggest ever recorded. The battering clocked in at 1.35 terabytes per second of data aimed at its systems.

Security researchers at Akamai, the Internet performance company that helped Github fight off the attack, told Fortune they’ve noticed something novel some of these recent attacks. Hackers have started stuffing the barrage of Internet traffic with ransom notes.

While it’s common for DDoS attackers to attempt to extort targets with threats and demands for Bitcoin in accompanying emails, a new set of perpetrators has started issuing demands within the inbound flood of attack traffic itself.

In one such example, which Akamai shared with Fortune, a note buried in a deluge of DDoS attack data requested payment in Monero, or XMR, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency that’s been gaining traction in cybercriminal circles. The note reads, “Pay_50_XMR_To…,” the equivalent of more than $16,000, followed by a digital wallet address, which takes the form of a long alphanumeric string.

A ransom note buried in DDoS attack traffic.

A ransom note buried in DDoS attack traffic.

Courtesy of Akamai

“It’s actually like a DDoS attack with a phishing attack with an extortion attack all rolled into one,” says Chad Seaman, a senior engineer on Akamai’s security intelligence response team. “When we saw it we were like, huh, clever bastards.”

“This is a first for us,” adds Lisa Beegle, a senior manager for security intelligence at Akamai. “We’ve seen dozens upon dozens of extortion requests, but never in the payload itself, so to speak.”

Normally, Beegle said, ransom notes wind up in people’s junk or spam folders, where they don’t get much attention. Even though DDoS attackers are trying to knock organizations offline, by stuffing the demands within attack traffic, the attackers are effectively ensuring that security analysts will see them, since the analysts are sure to be poring over incoming packets as they seek to defend themselves.

The Akamai researchers said they can’t tell whether any organizations have coughed up crypto-dough yet. Since the prospective payments would be made in Monero, they are far more difficult to trace than they would be in Bitcoin. (You can read more about the transparency of the Bitcoin blockchain, or shared ledger system, in this Fortune feature from the fall.)

Paying the ransom is essentially never a good idea, Beegle notes, and companies should avoid caving to hackers’ demands. Doing so does not assure that attackers will stop their bombardments; in fact, if word got out that an organization has paid up, then more attackers might try targeting it.

Besides, even the attackers would likely struggle to figure out which victims had paid them, given the anonymity offered by Monero.

“If a victim were to deposit the requested amount into the wallet, we doubt the attackers would even know which victim the payment originated from, let alone stop their attacks as a result,” the Akamai researchers write in a blog post. “Even if they could identify who’d sent the payment, we doubt they’d cease attacking their victim as it was never really about the money anyways.”

How Facebook Could Play By Advertising's 'Equal Time' Rule

The spirit (if not the letter) of the law that now hovers over political advertising is the equal-time provision of the Communications Act of 1934. That law stipulates that any broadcaster using the communal airwaves must provide equal time—either free, or if paid at the same price—to all qualified candidates. Most recently, its specter surfaced after then-candidate Donald Trump hosted Saturday Night Live, raising the horrifying possibility that 13 other presidential candidates would seek to do so as well.

The equal-time rule doesn’t apply to the internet, but the recent hubbub over Facebook’s influence on the election—in which both Hillary Clinton and Trump’s 2016 campaign digital director, Brad Parscale, chimed in—illustrates that many feel it maybe should. The spat began with an explanatory piece about how Facebook’s ads auction, which determines who pays what to reach certain people, and rewards what the company politely terms “engagement” (and what we’d call clickbait). The hypothesis is that if one candidate’s rhetoric runs to the virally vitriolic, Facebook would reward that demagoguery or divisiveness with more and cheaper media.

Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED. Before turning to writing, he dropped out of a doctoral program in physics to work on Goldman Sachs’ credit trading desk, then joined the Silicon Valley startup world, where he founded his own startup (acquired by Twitter in 2011), and finally joined Facebook’s early monetization team, where he headed their targeting efforts. His 2016 memoir, Chaos Monkeys, was a New York Times best seller and NPR Best Book of the Year, and his writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and The Washington Post. He splits his time between a sailboat on the SF Bay and a yurt in Washington’s San Juan Islands.

The transparency stakes were upped when Facebook published a time series of both campaigns’ average CPM. The plots fluctuate wildly, but they show Trump generally paying a bit more than Clinton, which seemed to defuse Parscale’s tweeted claim that Trump massively underpaid on media, but doesn’t really answer much else. (A fuller breakdown of what the Facebook data does or does not say is here.)

What’s absolutely true is that the candidates were charged different prices for media, possibly even for the same media if both were contesting swing-state voters. If the company were forced to comply with equal-time, equal-cost rules, how would it even do so?

This is a hard question to answer thanks to how internet monetization has evolved over the past couple of decades. Starting in the now-ancient history of the commercial internet during the late ’90s, online ads were sold much like the TV and radio ads that preceded them: a certain amount of real estate on a certain destination at a specified time, not very different than a Super Bowl ad. Compiled into a so-called rate card, it was the price list that ads salespeople would email around to potential advertisers, like a waiter passing out a media menu.

In that world, equal-time rules would be easy to implement (as they are on TV): whatever items one campaign ordered from the media menu would have to be immediately offered at the same price to the other.

The rise of programmatic advertising in the mid-aughts, where advertisers bid for media in vast online auctions for attention, more like a computerized stock exchange than Mad Men, changed everything. No longer were you buying a set chunk of anything—you were engaging in a ruthless, computer-powered competition for human attention, repeated billions of times a day for millions of eyeballs.

Some advertisers still speak in the old language of reach (i.e. audience size) and frequency (i.e. how many times a user got hit over the head with an ad). But the new marketers speak of CPMs or CPAs (i.e. ‘cost per action’, the cost to finally get someone to do what you wanted, either purchase or install an app). In that world, the notion of ‘equal time’ is non-existent: Facebook couldn’t sell you an ad that sat atop your Newsfeed for a certain period of time if it wanted to, other than by completely wrecking the Facebook user experience.

Thus, any notion of campaign fairness must be baked into the ads auction that’s at the core of the Facebook money machine. A first step would be to eliminate the weight of engagement on the economics. Almost by definition, an auction model that uses historical user actions such as Likes will offer different prices to different advertisers, depending on their relative charisma and/or malice. Clickbait wins when a click prediction is part of the auction economics. Remove that, and the incentive for clickbait is gone.

If Facebook neglected an ad’s history in its engagement modeling, then the estimation of that ad’s clickiness would be a pure function of either the user’s general behavior (do they click on ads often?), or exogenous factors like time of day or geography. Thus, two political ads competing for the same swing-state voter would face the same engagement estimation. Their chance of winning a certain ad auction would depend only on their own bids, plus their rank among whoever else might be bidding on that user’s attention. Facebook is no longer playing kingmaker by favoring one campaign or another and rewarding their use of extreme content. Strictly speaking, this is not in line with equal-time, equal-cost rules: the dueling campaigns could opt to overpay by bidding aggressively for one user. But Facebook’s opinion of their content is irrelevant and clickbait (and like-bait and share-bait) have been removed from the economics.

A much cruder way to accomplish this would be a hybrid solution of rate card with auction, offering both campaigns the same CPM, and let that serve as their bid at auction. They’d need to vary according to geography—Facebook ads don’t cost in Ohio what they cost in California—but equal cost would be absolutely assured.

But there, the campaigns themselves would likely balk. They want to have the control to bid on certain creative, or find some overlooked niche of customers (or voters) via clever bidding and targeting. Like Promethean fire, once technology like Facebook’s hyper-precise Custom Audiences exists, which allows targeting by almost any external data so long as it’s tied to a name or email, there’s just no going back to the old ways of the ‘rate card’ and a broad ads placement. Plus, the gamesmanship of the auction guarantees a starring role to those most capable of exploiting it (or passably claiming to, like Parscale).

We, the citizens of the republic, demand equal time for all candidates, to optimize the democratic outcome. But the contenders to that democratic outcome kind of like the ability to spar for it via clever marketing, at least so long as they win (and if they lose, ‘unfair!’ is the cry). Writing laws that give every candidate a fair shake on the media front might just be a quaint throwback to a less cutthroat era, one where we wrote laws to give every citizen a fair shake as well.

CPM Chaos

Photograph by WIRED/Getty Images

Mexico financial technology law passes final hurdle in Congress

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s lower house of Congress approved a bill to regulate the fast-growing financial technology sector on Thursday, including crowdfunding and cryptocurrency firms, putting it among a small group of countries to establish regulation for the industry.

The bill, which seeks to promote financial stability and prevent money laundering, was approved by Mexico’s Senate in December and now awaits President Enrique Pena Nieto’s signature.

Regulators will soon begin crafting so-called secondary laws, which will determine key details for companies in the sector.

The law will give fintech companies greater regulatory certainty around issues such as crowdfunding, payment methods and rules surrounding cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

The law permits open banking, or the sharing of user information by financial institutions through public application programming interfaces (APIs).

“Open banking recognizes that the information in the hands of the financial institutions is the property of the user, not the institution‘s, and that it can be brought to other financial intermediaries,” said Francisco Mere, president of the association Fintech Mexico.

Under the law, small and medium-sized banks as well as startups would be able to use information from clients of large banks through APIs, provided that users give authorization.

“This will allow better services, better costs and more inclusion,” Mere said.

The law’s backers say financial services in Mexico will improve as new players begin to compete with traditional banks.

The law was crafted in general terms, and key details will be determined in the coming months by banking and securities regulator CNBV, the central bank and the finance ministry.

Reporting by Sheky Espejo, additional reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Tom Brown

Microchip to buy Microsemi for about $8.35 billion

(Reuters) – Microchip Technology Inc said on Thursday it would buy Microsemi Corp, the largest U.S. commercial supplier of military and aerospace semiconductor equipment, for about $8.35 billion.

The deal comes amid a new wave of consolidation in the semiconductor industry that included Singapore-based chipmaker Broadcom Ltd unveiling a $117 billion bid to acquire U.S. rival Qualcomm Inc.

Aliso Viejo, California-based Microsemi supplies high-performance analog and mixed signal integrated circuits and semiconductors to the aerospace and defense, communications, data center and industrial sectors.

Microsemi, which has grown in the last few years through a wave of acquisitions, has said it wants to expand further in aerospace and defense.

Microchip currently gets about 2 percent of its annual sales from the aerospace and defense markets.

The deal would also strengthen Microchip’s base in the computing and communications sectors, which together accounted for less than 15 percent of its full-year sales.

The transaction includes a $68.78 per share cash offer, representing a premium of about 7 percent to Microsemi’s closing price on Thursday.

Shares of Microchip were up about 5 percent at $93.40 in extended trading, while that of Microsemi rose about 5 percent to $67.55, shy of the offer price.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Arizona-based Microchip was in talks to buy Microsemi.

Microchip said on Thursday the deal, which is expected to close in the second quarter of 2018, would immediately add to its adjusted earnings per share.

The chipmaker expects an estimated savings of $300 million in the third year after the deal close.

J.P. Morgan, which is providing $5.6 billion in committed financing for the deal, was Microchip’s financial adviser, and Qatalyst Partners advised Microsemi.

Microchip on Thursday also narrowed its net sales forecast for the fourth quarter ending March to a range of flat to down 2 percent, from up 1 percent to down 3 percent.

The company said it now expects adjusted earnings per share for the quarter to be at between $1.32 and $1.37, compared with $1.30 to $1.39 per share previously.

Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel

House passes bill to penalize websites for sex trafficking

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed legislation to make it easier to penalize operators of websites that facilitate online sex trafficking, chipping away at a bedrock legal shield for the technology industry.

The bill’s passage marks one of the most concrete actions in recent years from the U.S. Congress to tighten regulation of internet firms, which have drawn heavy scrutiny from lawmakers in both parties over the past year due to an array of concerns regarding the size and influence of their platforms.

The House passed the measure 388-25. It still needs to pass the U.S. Senate, where similar legislation has already gained substantial support, and then be signed by President Donald Trump before it can become law.

Speaker Paul Ryan, in a statement before the vote, said the bill would help “put an end to modern-day slavery here in the United States.”

Several major internet companies, including Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc, had been reluctant to support any congressional effort to dent what is known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a decades-old law that protects them from liability for the activities of their users.

But facing political pressure, the internet industry slowly warmed to a proposal that gained traction in the Senate last year, and eventually endorsed it after it gained sizeable bipartisan support.

Republican Senator Rob Portman, a chief architect of the Senate proposal, said in a statement he supported the House’s similar version and called on the Senate to quickly pass it.

The legislation is a result of years of law-enforcement lobbying for a crackdown on the online classified site, which is used for sex advertising.

It would make it easier for states and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep exploitative material off their platforms.

Some critics warned that the House measure would weaken Section 230 in a way that would only serve to further help established internet giants, who possess larger resources to police their content, and not adequately address the problem.

“This bill will only prop up the entrenched players who are rapidly losing the public’s trust,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, an original author of Section 230, said. “The failure to understand the technological side effects of this bill – specifically that it will become harder to expose sex-traffickers, while hamstringing innovation – will be something that this Congress will regret.”

Reporting by Dustin Volz; editing by Sandra Maler and Lisa Shumaker

?Nokia attempts a smartphone comeback with Android

Remember when Nokia was the mobile phone powerhouse? Under a new owner, HMD Global, the brand is trying to make a comeback to the top with Android smartphones.

It’s a smart move. While most of the attention is going to Nokia’s 8110 4G, a modern, low-powered slider phone you may remember from The Matrix, which runs KaiOS, there’s so many users who want to take a nostalgic visit to 1999 feature phones.

Many more people want a smartphone with vanilla Android. Android users tend to hate vendor specific interfaces; glued in add-on programs, which just devour battery life; and annoying customized standard programs. These people may well want a Nokia 8 Sirocco, and the Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 6, or entry-level Nokia 1.

Fancy? No. While the Nokia 8 Siorocco, Nokia’s swanky flagship phone, looks good, what has the people who want high-end luxury smartphones salivating are the new Samsung Galaxy S9 models. But these no-frills Android operating systems — Android One and Android Go for the Nokia 1 — work great for someone who wants a clean Android experience and monthly security updates.

Google calls Android One the “purest form of Android”. What do they mean by that? It’s plain-Jane Android with all the Google programs. That’s what you used to get in Google’s Nexus phones, but those smartphones were built with Google’s help. With Android One, any vendor can make phones using this no-frills version of Android.

Well, I say “no frills”, but Android One comes with built-in Google Play Protect to help secure your phone and it’s optimized for use with Google Assistant. That, and all the Google Apps, really makes it attractive.

The real advantage is for two years, you’ll get all Android major updates and monthly security updates. With this one simple move, Google and Nokia have removed the pain point that afflicts most Android phones: The lack of timely updates and patches.

This is a huge deal if you care about security and software updates. If all you want is the next biggest and thinnest phone, look elsewhere. There’s always another pretty phone. But, if you’re serious about getting work done with your phone, you must check out the new Nokia phones.

Can this work? Can Nokia rise up from the grave? ABI Research analyst David McQueen thinks so. “By resurrecting its distribution partners and building a solid partnership with Google, most notably through Android One with the promise of a ‘pure, secure and up to date’ experience, the company is slowly rising from the ashes as a brand to once again be taken seriously in the mobile phone marketplace,” McQueen said.

I think Nokia can rise again. And I never thought I’d be saying that. What do you think?

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Samsung launches Galaxy S9 with focus on social media

BARCELONA/SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd unveiled its flagship Galaxy S9 smartphone on Sunday with an emphasis on visual applications for social media, hoping to attract tech-savvy young consumers to weather a market slowdown.

With the global smartphone market set to stay flat or even shrink after meager growth of one percent last year, vendors are focusing on features designed to encourage young consumers to ditch their old phones earlier than they would have previously.

Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone maker, showcased the Galaxy S9 at a mobile gadget fair in Barcelona. It features improved cameras, an artificial intelligence-powered voice tool, and social media functions that are easier to deploy than previous offerings.

New features include an automatic super-slow motion camera setting that looks primed to show up on Instagram feeds soon, and software that turns selfies into instant emojis.

Samsung’s AI-powered Bixby service allows S9 users to point its camera to translate a foreign-language sign, without having to swipe through menus or choose settings every time.

Samsung also plans to boost smartphone accessories such as wireless chargers and mobile docking station that allows smartphone features on desktop, a senior Samsung executive said.

Younghee Lee, head of Samsung’s Marketing for the Mobile Business, declined to provide a sales forecast for the S9.

Research firm Counterpoint forecasts it will sell 43 million sets in 2018, 23 percent more than the 35 million S8 models shipped last year.

Global smartphone sales saw an unprecedented decline of 9 percent in the fourth quarter, averaging 2017 growth to just 1 percent, a far cry from growth of about 40 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to research provider Strategy Analytics.

While Samsung kept its supremacy over Apple Inc with about 21 percent of market share, Counterpoint says, it faces tough competition after it lost ground in markets like India, China and Western Europe in the fourth quarter.

Chinese rivals such as Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] and Xiaomi Inc are making major inroads in such markets, aided by strong sales of affordable products that boast many high-end features and sturdy design.

Lee said Samsung’s huge scale and its “agility to listen and learn” ensured it would continue to grow in China and India.

The two versions of the Galaxy S9 have 6.2-inch (15.8 cm) and 5.8-inch wrap-around screens, and will go on sale on March 16 in most countries.

Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Stephen Coates

Chinese Bitcoin Mining Firm Bitmain Made $3 to $4 Billion in Profits Last Year, Says Analyst

Bitmain, a privately held Chinese firm that manufactures Bitcoin mining hardware and runs its own mining operations, made $3 billion to $4 billion in profits in 2017, according to estimates by Bernstein Research released this week.

Bitmain manufactures specialized hardware that performs the cryptographic functions that ensure the security of cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin. According to CNBC, Bernstein found that Bitmain adjusted the price of its hardware as the price of Bitcoin rose, increasing its profits. Bitmain pioneered the creation of specialized chips for cryptocurrency mining, known as asics, and Bernstein estimated it currently has 70 to 80 percent of the market for Bitcoin mining hardware.

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Bitmain also profited directly from the rising price of Bitcoin, which peaked at close to $20,000 last December. According to current data from, Bitmain’s Antpool and mining pools make up just over 40% of the computing power on the network of servers that maintain and secure Bitcoin’s distributed transaction ledger, or blockchain. The operators of those servers are intermittently rewarded in cryptocurrency, though Bitmain doesn’t collect all of those proceeds. Mining pools, as the name suggests, are alliances of server operators who agree to share mining rewards to guarantee steadier returns. Bitmain collects fees in Bitcoin from server operators who join its pools.

Bitcoin’s price has declined by around half since its December peak, and the highly volatile nature of the nascent cryptocurrency sector means Bitmain’s continued profits and dominance are far from guaranteed. A particular risk for the company is the Chinese government, which has recently taken firm steps to constrain cryptocurrency activity. However, Bitmain is cushioned by what the Bernstein report describes as a “massive cash position,” and last year announced it was diversifying into chips designed for artificial intelligence.

Mobile industry promises smarter everything at Barcelona show

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Two words – artificial intelligence – promise to upstage familiar technology industry themes like 5G, the Internet of Things and virtual reality at next week’s Mobile World Congress, Europe’s biggest annual technology industry gathering.

Telecom operators are looking to artificial intelligence as a potential money-spinner to combat stagnating mobile service revenues as once-lucrative features like text messaging have become commoditized and customer growth wanes as almost everyone who can afford a phone and a data plan already has one.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, uses computers to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as taking decisions, recognizing text, speech and images, or translating foreign languages.

Several big-name telecom providers are launching own-brand home digital assistants which are two-way speakers such as those used by Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home.

France’s Orange has Djingo; Germany’s Deutsche Telekom Magenta and Spain’s Telefonica Aura, market research firm Ovum said.

Device makers also spot a marketing opportunity for their latest glass-and-metal phones by including AI features inside to help cameras take smarter pictures or to anticipate the interests of their users.

But the industry needs to show it can do more with AI than play buzzword bingo, Ben Wood, a consumer electronics analyst at CCS Insight, said.

“Although we’re hugely enthusiastic about the technology itself, we’re increasingly concerned about the way in which it’s being marketed,” he said.

Barcelona will feature a series of announcements by mobile operators which want to reinvent themselves as digital ‘platforms’ – offering apps such as video messaging; music streaming or mobile video on demand on top of their traditional voice- and data-driven services.

Turkcell, for example, aims to offer its Lifecell platform, which includes a range of apps for messaging, entertainment, music, TV and e-commerce, to foreign partners at the event.

The industry also wants to do much more with the data it collects from its users which will give network operators insights into spending patterns. Processing new streams of data from networks of industrial or road sensors also holds promise.

Yet this pits them against the likes of U.S. tech giants Amazon, Google or Facebook that have proven adept at recruiting users and exploiting their data to sell products, services or advertising.


Asian smartphone makers will launch an array of new phones this weekend, but many are international versions of models already on sale in China, which with 1.4 billion subscribers is, by far, the world’s biggest mobile market.

The big smartphone launch on Sunday evening by Samsung of its new flagship phone, the Galaxy S9, ahead of the conference will have a focus on dual camera features, Wood said.

Cameras, the more the merrier, are all the rage, with some phone models boasting four to five built-in cameras, said.

The exhibition halls in Barcelona will be full of talk of ultra-fast mobile video, connected cars, factory automation, digital health and smarter cities.

Also, 5G, long the subject of arcane technical debates and an elusive search for concrete applications, is finally getting down to business. The first commercial 5G roll-outs begin this year and next in the United States, Korea and Japan, creating new revenue streams for operators and beaten-down equipment makers.

But 5G remains an abstraction for consumers, Forrester analyst Thomas Husson wrote in a blog post ahead of the show.

Early 5G devices are set to go on show next week after smartphone chip maker Qualcomm earlier this month announced 5G-ready chips with 18 network operators and 19 device makers, analysts said.

Editing by Douglas Busvine and Jane Merriman

Watch the Upcoming Tesla Semi Truck Take Off in This Video

When Tesla’s new Semi truck hits the pavement in the coming years, it might be really fast off the line.

A YouTube user named Richard Fielder this week saw Tesla testing its Semi truck and he quickly pulled out a camera to record it traveling. The video, which shows the Semi without a trailer on the back, only lasts 10 seconds. But it’s the end, when the truck goes from a cruising speed to a quick acceleration, that might be most impressive.

Trucks, of course, are notorious for their slow start as drivers shift gears to pick up speeds and move whatever they’re hauling. By relying on electric technology, however, the Tesla Semi has a clear advantage in acceleration over traditional diesel-powered trucks. And the video shared by Fielder seems to suggest that Tesla will indeed take advantage of that when the trucks hit the road.

Tesla unveiled its Semi trucks last year and has signed on a variety of companies that have pre-ordered units, including Walmart and UPS. According to Tesla, the Semi can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 20 seconds, even when it’s hauling up to 80,000 pounds of cargo. The Semi’s battery will allow it to last up to 500 miles on a single charge before it needs to be recharged.

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Tesla is offering the Semi on pre-order for $150,000 on the 300-mile option. A 500-mile version will cost companies $180,000. Tesla estimates fuel savings of $200,000 per truck. Production on the Tesla Semi will begin in 2019.

Here Are the Next Cities to Get Amazon Go Cashier-Less Stores

Amazon’s attempts at creating a cashier-less convenient store that people actually want to go to are expanding to more cities.

The e-commerce giant will open up to six more Amazon Go cashier-free stores this year, Recode is reporting, citing people who claim to have knowledge of its plans. A few of those locations will be opened in Seattle, home to Amazon’s headquarters and the first Amazon Go stores. The company could also open in Los Angeles, among other cities.

The first Amazon Go store opened last month in Seattle. Unlike a traditional convenience store, there are no humans there to check you out when you buy products. Instead, customers simply walk into the store, pick up what they want, and they’re automatically charged for their purchases on their accounts. The stores use a variety of scanning technologies and algorithms to monitor patrons and verify purchases.

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For now, Amazon Go stores are tests to see if a cashier-less experience is feasible. The company’s decision to expand to more locations across Seattle and Los Angeles suggest that the early experiments are going well. But a true test centers on Amazon testing its Go locations in multiple places where customer behavior could be different. The effort to expand in six more locations this year appears to be a step in that direction.

The report didn’t specify as to when Amazon might open these Go stores and at least so far, the company hasn’t confirmed the news. Amazon also didn’t respond to a Fortune request for comment on the report.