Thursday, June 30, 2016

Facebook explains the ‘core values’

 behind the News Feed algorithm for the first time ever
Image result for Facebook news

Facebook lives or dies by its News Feed, so getting it right is crucial.

As the company announces a small but significant tweak to its algorithm – showing more content from the friends you care about, and potentially less from pages – it’s also explaining the ‘core values’ that have served as guiding principles behind every improvement to your feed for several years.”

Facebook says This is the first time these values have been publicly explained. Don’t expect any major plot twists – they’re fairly obvious on the whole – but it’s nice to see the reasoning behind every little tweak the company makes.

“Friends and family come first”

First up, Facebook says it prioritizes posts from close friends and family before any other kind of posts. It tries to learn your preferences for the exact type of posts you want to see depending on things such as how often you like photos from specific people, and moves these to the top of your feed.

After friends and family, the company works with two other main expectations. First, that “your feed should inform,” whether with stories from current events, celebrity stories, or recipes.

Second, that “your feed should entertain.” Sometimes that means watching viral video or seeing funny photos, but it seems that even when it’s prioritizing posts from close people, Facebook always wants to make sure your feed doesn’t get too boring.

“A platform for all ideas”

Facebook says it’s “not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about.” (Some people would disagree, given the recent trending column ordeal, but I digress.)

Instead, it tries to connect people with ideas and stories they find most meaningful. That doesn’t mean only showing stories that people will find agreeable, but rather those they find most engaging.

For example, a Facebook study last year indicated that over a quarter of the links you read on your News Feed are from opposing political views – people are interested in hearing the opposition, no matter how strongly they disagree.

Facebook says that while it doesn’t favor specific types of sources of ideas, showing the stories people most want to see keeps them using the News Feed longer.

“Authentic communication”

In other words, truthfulness. The company says it works hard to disseminate genuine stories rather than hoaxes or things otherwise “misleading, sensational and spammy.”

If only they could get rid of chain mail posts.

“You control your experience”

This is basically things like allowing you to unfollow or hide posts, as well as mark them as “see first” to prioritize them. If you hide a post from someone, it indicates you probably want to read less stories from that person, and the News Feed algorithm reacts accordingly.

“Constant iteration”

Facebook says it views its work as “1 percent finished,” so it’s constantly iterating on the design and using feedback to improve your News Feed. It says it’s looking to be more transparent about the News Feed moving forward, hence today’s updates.

Pages may see less reach as friends and family get higher priority

Going back to the first value mentioned, Facebook says that it’s tweaking the News Feed to reflect it’s number one priority – connecting you with friends and family.

The company is making posts by your friends show up higher on your feed, something it says will particularly impact people with many friends. In other words, you’ll have to scroll less to read up on the people you care about.

As part of the change, Facebook says it anticipates “this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages.”

The amount of decline depends on your audience. If your posts tend to be the type of thing people share with their friends and family, they’ll do better. But if you mainly share dry updates, expect your pages to perform a little worse soon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Microsoft to make saying no to Windows 10 update easier

Microsoft is changing the wording of its 'Get Windows 10' update prompt to make cancelling the free update easier and clearer.

Microsoft officials said late on June 27 that the new update experience -- with clearer "upgrade now, schedule a time, or decline the free offer" -- will start rolling out this week. Microsoft will also revert to making clicking on the Red X at the corner of the Windows 10 update box dismiss the update, rather than initiate it, as it has done for the past several weeks.

Microsoft officials said they are making the change "in response to customer feedback".

Update: Here's the full, updated statement from Microsoft about the coming change, attributable to Executive Vice President of Windows and Devices Terry Myerson:

"We started our journey with Windows 10 with a clear goal to move people from needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows. Towards this goal, this week we'll launch a new upgrade experience for millions of PCs around the world. The new experience has clearer options to upgrade now, choose a time, or decline the free offer. If the red-x is selected on this new dialog, it will dismiss the dialog box and we will notify the device again in a few days. We continue to recommend all of our customers upgrade to Windows 10 before the free upgrade offer expires on July 29. Thousands of engineers have been working on making Windows 10 the most secure version of Windows, helping to protect people from viruses, phishing, identity theft and more. We'd like our customers to upgrade and improve their experience with Windows and Microsoft."

Take note: Clicking the Red X will dismiss the box. It won't automatically commence the Windows 10 update (contrary to what's been happening for the past few weeks, when clicking the X started the update). But the dialog box isn't gone permanently; it will come back some number of unspecified times to nag users about moving to Windows 10. Still not ideal, but better.

Microsoft will also provide free tech support to those having problems with their Windows 10 update, according to a Microsoft senior director for Windows, including support in rolling back from Windows 10 to their previous version of Windows.

Microsoft has been criticized by many, including me, for making onerous the process of postponing and/or declining the free update to Windows 10.

It's great that Microsoft has made Windows 10 a free update for many Windows 7 and 8.X users since last July, but it's been anything but great that the company has made opting out of the update so difficult. It should be up to users -- not Microsoft -- if and when they take advantage of the free update. Microsoft should have made opting out a clear and easy choice from the get-go, but better late than never, I guess...

The offer to move to Windows 10 for free from Windows 7 and 8.X will end July 29, a month from now. Microsoft officials said they'll start phasing out the "Get Windows 10" update prompt starting July 29.

The news of the change in the Windows 10 update prompt wording comes days after Microsoft paid a disgruntled Windows 10 updater $10,000 rather than appeal the case in court.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Windows 10 U-turn: Microsoft admits upgrade push was 'confusing'

Following widespread criticism of earlier changes, Microsoft once again revamps its program to get Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10.

The new user prompt.

Following widespread criticism and allegations that users are being tricked into upgrading to Windows 10, Microsoft has reversed a controversial change to its upgrade program.

In May, Microsoft changed the design of the user prompt shown by the Get Windows 10 app, the software which schedules upgrades from Windows 7 and 8 to Windows 10.

Following the change, clicking X to close the prompt caused the user to effectively agree to the scheduled upgrade to Windows 10, rather than dismiss the scheduled upgrade as had previously been the case. The change put Microsoft in violation of its own user experience guidelines for developers on how to design dialog boxes.

Now, following accusations the change had confused users into inadvertently accepting the upgrade, Microsoft has reversed the decision and will change the pop-up so clicking X once again dismisses the upgrade.

Explaining the change of heart, Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group, said: "Since we introduced a new upgrade experience for Windows 10, we've received feedback that some of our valued customers found it confusing."

Myerson said the new upgrade prompt would show "clear options to upgrade now, schedule a time, or decline the free offer", as can be seen above, and would dismiss the upgrade when the X was clicked to close the prompt. The new prompt will begin rolling out to Windows users later this week.

Microsoft's decision follows a judgement in a small claims court that Microsoft should pay $10,000 to Teri Goldstein, a travel agent based in Sausalitio, California, who said an unwanted Windows 10 upgrade made her PC unstable.

Goldstein claimed the computer, which she uses to run her business, would slow to crawl and crash following the update from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Microsoft first contested the judgement then dropped its appeal, "to avoid the expense of further litigation", according to a spokesperson. Goldstein later urged other Windows users to follow her lead and "fight back" against Windows 10 updates.

Speaking ahead of Microsoft's U-turn, Andrew Dodd, head of the Technology Disputes team at legal firm Fieldfisher, told TechRepublic he expected the payout could push Microsoft to make its Windows 10 upgrade program less forceful.

"Microsoft is now likely to make its update prompts less aggressive in an attempt to take the heat out of the debate."

Microsoft has been determined in its attempts to switch users from Windows 7 and 8 to Windows 10. Earlier this year the company made Windows 10 a recommended update for Windows 7 and 8.x users, which resulted in the upgrade process automatically initiating on most home machines.

However, in spite of a number of complaints from consumers and small businesses about unwanted upgrades, Fieldfisher's Dodd said he didn't believe the case would lead to a flood of similarly successful challenges, as Microsoft hadn't admitted any wrongdoing.

"It's unlikely that this will open the floodgates for further claims. Microsoft is likely to resist similar claims for compensation as the company is sticking to its key proposition that it's done nothing wrong.

"Microsoft has emphasised that customers can continue to accept or decline the Windows 10 upgrade, and also have a 31 day unwind period afterwards. It will likely hold the line, and dismiss the Goldstein case as a one-off on its particular facts."

Microsoft has been pushing hard to get Windows 7 and 8 users to switch to Windows 10 before the free upgrade offer ends on July 29th this year.

In May, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 has been activated on 300 million devices - an adoption rate that, if it continues, would put the firm on track to hit its target of getting the OS onto one billion machines by July 2018.

Monday, June 27, 2016

BREXIT Tech: It’s Complicated

British and EU Flags
The impact of BREXIT is so vast that we may never fully understand its effect. I’m not a political pundit, so I’ll leave the politics of BREXIT to others. Technology is the core focus of my advisory practice, and our solutions group builds digital products for some of the world’s leading multinational corporations. Through that lens, I offer some thoughts about the near-term impact BREXIT will have on the tech sector and make a few educated guesses at the outcome.


The EU and the United States have been trying to reach an agreement about data transfers and personal information. The EU struck down “Safe Harbor” a while back, and there is ongoing negotiation on a replacement called “Privacy Shield.”That negotiation has not been going well. The EU wants to exercise very strict regulatory control over the flow of data in, out and around the EU. By itself, this has been bad news for top-tier, US-based, multinational tech firms and all businesses that need to turn data into action in order to compete in the global economy.

BREXIT will impact privacy regulation in at least three ways:

1. As a lame-duck member of the EU, the UK will not be able to add its weight to the regulatory discussions. As an EU member, the world’s 5th largest economy (now 6th because the British pound got hammered that hard by the BREXIT vote) had a loud voice at the table with Germany and France, which want far stricter controls on EU data flow. The UK’s voice of reason on the subject of EU data flow is now silent.

2. The UK’s data policies are sure to differ from the EU’s, so now every company that wants to collect data in Europe will have to comply with the data policies of both the EU and the UK. This will add an extra layer of administrative expense that will likely be passed on to consumers.

3. Even with BREXIT, the UK will have to comply with the EU’s data policies if it wants to move data freely between itself and the EU. To be sure, BREXIT was a victory for digital sovereignty, but now the UK’s sovereign data policies will have to be brought into alignment with the EU’s. Can it be done? Of course. How long will it take and how much will it cost? Unknown. But one thing is for sure: BREXIT is an expensive, time-consuming blow to the globalization of the Internet.

The Yellow Brick Road to Europe

For the start-up community, London was the Yellow Brick Road to the entire EU. As the financial capital of Europe, London was the perfect place to start your start-up. You had easy access to a diverse workforce, and you instantly had the whole EU as a marketplace.

BREXIT will impact investment, funding and the Yellow Brick Road to Europe in at least three ways:

1. London will no longer be a clear choice for start-ups. For many, Berlin, which has a thriving tech community and relatively easy access to capital, will now be a much better choice. It has a diverse workforce and access to a much larger market. This will be especially true for financial technology start-ups.

2) The EU’s Digital Single Market initiative will not include the UK, unless the UK negotiates its way back in. This will have direct and significant economic impact across the whole of Europe and will affect the bottom line of every tech company that was hoping to have a single set of rules for all 28 EU countries.

3. While it is generally true across every aspect of post-BREXIT business, political and economic uncertainty significantly increase the risk of starting and growing a business in the UK.

Data Roaming and 5G

Hopefully, the UK will be able to make a deal with the EU to continue the relatively new legislation that entitles EU citizens to very affordable data plans and cheap (or free) mobile minutes and txts. Data roaming across country boundaries is remarkably expensive and having to navigate additional international phone plans adds friction to the doing of business. Additionally, 5G, the next generation wireless network is on the horizon. Now, two different standards bodies will have to agree on the use of spectrum (the frequencies used to carry its radio signals) and other technical details. This is not fatal by any means, but it will add time and expense, which in turn will slow the progress of high-speed communication in the UK and the EU.

Direct Economic Impact

In 2015, Tech City UK published a report titled Tech Nation: Powering the Digital Economy. At the time of the report, over 1.5 million people were employed in the tech sector, and more than 300,000 of them worked in London. Importantly, the report stated that the “digital economy” grew one third faster than the entire UK economy. This should not be news to anyone. The tech sector is growing worldwide, and certain sub-sectors are growing at breathtaking speed.

Without the free movement of labor, the UK will have to “home grow” the tech talent pool. Great news in the long run, but in practice, HR is the hardest part of the tech business. Foreign-trained, foreign-born, immigrant talent may be controversial, but world-class coders, product designers, engineers and data scientists come from all over the EU. Now, they will need special visas to work in the UK. With so many excellent tech jobs in Berlin, Munich, Madrid and Paris, will it be worth it? Human beings usually take the path of least resistance.

Time Will Tell

I understand that more than 52 percent of the voters firmly believe that BREXIT was the right thing for the UK. Maybe they are right. None of the problems listed here are insurmountable (although the this list is woefully incomplete). They can be solved with time and money. Which is exactly the point. How much more time and money will be spent to fix the parts that were not considered by those who voted leave?

According to @GoogleTrends, “What is the EU?” was the second top UK question on the EU since the #EURefResults were officially announced. The first was, “What does it mean to leave the EU?” Clearly millions of Britons voted with their hearts and not their heads. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Software The end is near: Say goodbye to the Windows 10 free upgrade

The deadline for a free Windows 10 upgrade is right around the corner. Find out what happens after the offer expires.

Don't look now, but July 29, 2016, is coming up fast. That is the one-year anniversary of the release of Windows 10, which means the ability to upgrade to the new operating system for FREE will soon expire. (If you are interested, you can take a look at the official countdown here.)

In a January 21, 2015, Windows Experience blog post titled The next generation of Windows: Windows 10, we learned that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade. Author Terry Myerson said:

Today was a monumental day for us on the Windows team because we shared our desire to redefine the relationship we have with you—our customers. We announced that a free upgrade for Windows 10 will be made available to customers running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 who upgrade in the first year after launch.

A little over six months later, on July 28, 2015, Myerson penned another Windows Experience blog post, titled Windows 10 Free Upgrade Available in 190 Countries Today, in which he reiterated the free upgrade policy:

From the beginning, Windows 10 has been unique—built with feedback from five million Windows Insiders, delivered as a service with ongoing innovations and security updates, and offered as a free upgrade to genuine Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 customers.

If you've been reading articles by Woody Leonhard or Paul Thurrott in recent months, you know that Microsoft has been upping its game with the Get Windows 10, or GWX, program it built into Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. It really wants every Windows user everywhere to be running Windows 10.

Any holdouts—Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 users who have been sticking to their guns so far—have only a few more weeks to go before losing their chance to get Windows 10 for free.

In a recent Windows Experience blog post titled Windows 10 Now on 300 Million Active Devices - Free Upgrade Offer to End Soon, Yusuf Mehdi, the corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, said:

...we want to remind you that if you haven't taken advantage of the free upgrade offer, now is the time. The free upgrade offer to Windows 10 was a first for Microsoft, helping people upgrade faster than ever before. And time is running out. The free upgrade offer will end on July 29 and we want to make sure you don't miss out. After July 29th, you'll be able to continue to get Windows 10 on a new device, or purchase a full version of Windows 10 Home for $119.

What will Windows 10 cost after July 29?

As Mehdi pointed out in his post, you will be able to purchase a full version of Windows 10 Home for $119.

But how much will Windows 10 Pro cost?

Well, if you head over to the Microsoft Store right now, you'll find that you can purchase both Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro as a download or on a USB flash drive. Windows 10 Pro will cost you $199.99. And moving past the July 29 deadline for the free upgrade, it's a pretty safe bet that prices will remain the same—especially since they're the same price points that the full versions of Windows 8.1 Home and Pro sold for when that operating system was new.

Will there be upgrade versions of Windows 10 after July 29?

Since Microsoft provided free upgrades for a full year, I wonder if there will be upgrade packages for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users who decide to upgrade to Windows 10 after July 29. I suppose that it's possible, but then again, maybe not. When Microsoft introduced Windows 8.1 packages, it offered only the full versions—there were no upgrade versions of Windows 8.1. With that in mind, it's easy to speculate that this may also be the case with Windows 10.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Making a Steak Without the Cow (BW)

The next meat may not come from an animal at all, as researchers find alternatives to unsustainable industrial farming.
Image result for steaks
A lot of people like meat. But the world’s appetite for animals comes with significant costs, both moral and environmental. From animal welfare to greenhouse gases, our history of large-scale, industrial animal farming just isn't sustainable.

That’s why researchers are working on new meat alternatives. No, not Tofurky. Insects. Deep-fried and eaten whole or ground up into a versatile powder, this protein source eaten in other parts of the world for millennia may find its way onto American menus in the next decade.

Even the next meat may not come from an animal at all. Impossible Foods, a California company, has been developing a hamburger patty that is closer to beef than any other simulation, yet has never come near a cow. They’ve even figured out a way to synthesize blood so as to give burgers their characteristic juiciness.

If one way to think about cattle and poultry is that they’re really just natural machines that turn plants (feed) into drumsticks and steaks, we may be approaching an era when we can take the animal out of the equation and make that transformation ourselves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

China Tops U.S. in Supercomputers

Top ranked system uses China custom CPU
The Sunway system in Wuxi used a custom China processor to hit 93 petaflops/s. (Image: Top500)
The Sunway system in Wuxi used a custom China processor to hit 93 petaflops/s. (Image: Top500)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A new supercomputer in China—the first made with processors designed and made in the People’s Republic—has been ranked the world’s most powerful system by far. The news comes as China tops the U.S. for the first time in both the number and performance of systems on the latest Top500 list.

The Sunway TaihuLight at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi hit 93 petaflops/second on the Linpack benchmark and a theoretical peak performance of 125.4 Pflop/s. It uses 40,960 Sunway SW26010 processors designed by the Shanghai High Performance IC Design Center.

China’s Tianhe-2 already held the title of the world’s fastest supercomputer for the last three years, but it was built using Intel processors and an interconnect chip designed in China.

“The Sunway TaihuLight is almost three times as fast and three times as efficient as the [Tianhe-2] it displaces in the number one spot,” said Jack Dongarra, a computer science professor at University of Tennessee and co-author of the twice yearly Top500 list. The system is five times faster than the top ranked U.S. supercomputer, the Titan, a Cray XK7 system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that hits 17.59 pflops/s, making it #3 in the world.

“For comparison, the next large acquisition of a supercomputer for the U.S. Department of Energy which is expected to be approximately 200 Pflops/s will not be until 2017 with production beginning in 2018,” wrote Dongarra in an 18-page report on the Sunway system.

Dongarra sounded a notes of both praise for China and alarm for U.S. technologists in his conclusion of the report:

The Sunway TaihuLight system demonstrates the significant progress that China has made in designing and manufacturing large-scale computation systems…The fact that there are sizeable applications and Gordon Bell [award] contender applications running on the system is impressive and shows that the system is capable of running real applications and not just a stunt machine.

In 2001 there were no supercomputers listed on the Top500 in China. Today China has 167 systems on the list compared to 165 systems in the US. This is the first time the US has lost the lead…It is clear that they are on a path which will take them to an exascale computer by 2020, well ahead of the US plans for reaching exascale by 2023.

The latest rankings are the result of China’s focused spending on supercomputing over the last three to five years while spending in the U.S. slumped, said Horst Simon, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory  and another co-author of the Top500 list. The good news is the U.S. is getting back in the game with projects such as the National Strategic Computing Initiative, he said.

In particular, the competition to deliver the first exascale-class system has “never has been as close a race as it is now,” said Simon.

Monday, June 20, 2016

This $1.28 Million New Watch Is Made From Transparent Sapphire

The Double Tourbillon 30° Technique in an all-sapphire case.
The Double Tourbillon 30° Technique in an all-sapphire case. 

Transparency isn't just a buzzword in politics: For a few years now, it’s been a genuine trend in the world of luxury watches. For example, earlier this year, Hublot introduced its Big Bang Unico Sapphire timepiece cut straight from the sapphire—the first time the material had ever been cut on this scale.

And now from Greubel Forsey, maker of what are some of the most supercomplicated timepieces in the world, comes the Double Tourbillon 30° Technique. It's a watch the company's made for a while, but now it's offered in, you guessed it, an all-sapphire case. Greubel Forsey calls it the “pinnacle of transparency,” and it’s easy to see why. No metal is used at all in the creation of the dial and case (save for the winding pin), allowing for a panoptic view of as much of the movement architecture—and its dynamic interactions—as possible.

Cut from a single large sapphire crystal, including the rounded, multi-angular case horns, the entire movement is flooded with light within its 38.4mm case, allowing a view into its multi-tiered design from all angles. This is a more complicated watch than the Hublot, and uses sapphire in more places, including the crown. 

The reverse of the Double Tourbillon 30° Technique in all-sapphire.
The reverse of the Double Tourbillon 30° Technique in all-sapphire.

Its actual 396-part movement may not be new—the patented tourbillon movement was first unveiled in platinum—but now its prowess is on full display. The hand-wound caliber, with 120-hour power reserve, packs two tourbillon escapements, one inside the other. Two tourbillons that rotate at different speeds are showcased here: An outer tourbillon rotates every four minutes while an inner tourbillon, every 60 seconds. All of this has helped the movement achieve a never-before-seen 915 out of a possible 1,000 points at the International Chronometry Competition.

Exclusive to the U.S. market in an edition of eight pieces to be individually created by hand over the course of the next three years, the watch is priced at $1.275 million.

The Double Tourbillon 30° Technique in sapphire, from the side.
The Double Tourbillon 30° Technique in sapphire, from the side

Friday, June 17, 2016

House lawmakers vote to reject ban on tech backdoors

The bill would have also prevented the federal government from forcing tech companies to include surveillance "backdoors" in their products.


An amendment that would have prevented the US government from conducting so-called warrantless "backdoor" searches on millions of Americans' data has failed.

The bipartisan amendment failed in a vote 198-222 Thursday.

Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY, 4th) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA, 19th) introduced the amendment as an add-on to the annual defense budget bill.

Under existing law, the government doesn't need a warrant to access Americans' phone calls, texts and emails collected as part of its foreign surveillance dragnet.

By closing that loophole and forcing the government to get a warrant, Massie said in a statement on Wednesday that the amendment would strike "the appropriate balance between national security and civil liberty."

The amendment also would have forbid the government from forcing individuals, as well as companies -- like Google and Apple -- from installing backdoors for surveillance purposes in their systems.

It comes in the wake of the Apple-FBI fracas earlier this year, in which the law enforcement agency took Apple to court in an attempt to compel engineers to create a backdoor to an iPhone, used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Apple refused the request.

In an emailed statement, Massie said his colleagues should "not abandon the Constitution in the face of terrorism."

"Unfortunately, proponents of warrantless surveillance mischaracterized our legislation and its bearing on the investigation in Orlando. Our amendment merely reasserts the constitutional requirement that the government have probable cause and a warrant, both of which are easily obtainable in the case of Omar Mateen," he added.

It's not the first time Massie and Lofgren's effort to strike down the so-called "backdoor search" rule has failed to become law.

An identical amendment was passed by the House last year in a 255-174 vote, but wasn't included in the omnibus bill it was set for. A year earlier in 2014, not long after the debut of the Edward Snowden disclosures, the same amendment passed 293-123, but failed to become law despite an overwhelming, veto-proof support.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

World’s Biggest Science Experiment ...

Seeks More Time and Money
  • Another $5.2 billion sought for project to prove fusion works
  • If successful, fusion reactors might enter service after 2050

The world’s biggest science experiment may get more time and money for completion when nuclear officials convene on Wednesday in France.

Image result for International Thermonuclear

Supervisors of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, are gathering for a two-day meeting in southern France to discuss whether to accept a revised timeline and budget, spokesman Laban Coblentz said by telephone. ITER Director General Bernard Bigot said in April that the 500-megawatt fusion reactor may need another five years and 4.6 billion euros ($5.2 billion) before it begins testing.

ITER has become the make-or-break demonstration project that will help determine whether nuclear fusion has a future as a source of energy and electricity. Unlike traditional nuclear plants, where atoms are broken apart, fusion makes energy by smashing atoms together at high speeds so that they merge into plasma burning hotter than the sun.

Scientists working on the ITER are trying to create 500 megawatts of power from plasma burning at 170 million degrees Celsius (338 million degrees Fahrenheit). The project would use only 50 megawatts of energy to cool and contain the reaction, proving the technology is a possible source of electricity and heat.

While fusion is decades away from deployment on any commercially viable project, it has a remained a well-funded goal since Soviet scientists tested the first tokamak reactor in 1956. The ITER reactor follows that design. Should it work, commercial fusion plants might coming online sometime after 2050.

ITER’s cost estimates have doubled to at least 20 billion euros since the project was approved in 2006. Construction began in 2013 in Cadarache, France, after decades of negotiation and planning among the consortium members: the U.S., China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The recurring delays and cost overruns have risked undermining fusion’s potential as a low-carbon-emitting power source to avert global warming.

The U.S. Senate has withheld funding and the Department of Energy -- which estimates costs to cover its 9 percent share in ITER could swell to $6.5 billion -- said last month it will reassess its commitment to the project in 2018.

“The U.S. remains concerned about the ITER members encountering problems in meeting the schedule needs of the ITER project, in particular due to past delays and anticipated funding constraints,” according to the report prepared by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Silicon Valley's Audacious Plan to Create a New Stock Exchange

The author of "The Lean Startup" and his team are in early talks with the Securities and Exchange Commission

Image result for A new stock exchange

Five years ago, when Eric Ries was working on the book that would become his best-selling entrepreneurship manifesto "The Lean Startup," he floated a provocative idea in the epilogue: Someone should build a new, “long-term” stock exchange. Its reforms, he wrote, would amend the frantic quarterly cycle to encourage investors and companies to make better decisions for the years ahead. When he showed a draft around, many readers gave him the same piece of advice: Kill that crazy part about the exchange. "It ruined my credibility for everything that had come before," Ries said he was told.

Now Ries is laying the groundwork to prove his early skeptics wrong. To bring the Long-Term Stock Exchange to life, he's assembled a team of about 20 engineers, finance executives and attorneys and raised a seed round from more than 30 investors, including venture capitalist Marc Andreessen; technology evangelist Tim O’Reilly; and Aneesh Chopra, the former chief technology officer of the United States. Ries has started early discussions with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but launching the LTSE could take several years. Wannabe exchanges typically go through months of informal talks with the SEC before filing a draft application, which LTSE plans to do this year. Regulators can then take months to decide whether to approve or delay applications.

If all goes according to plan, the LTSE could be the stock exchange that fixes what Ries sees as the plague of today's public markets: short-term thinking that squashes rational economic decisions. It's the same stigma that's driving more of Silicon Valley's multi-billion-dollar unicorn startups to say they're not even thinking of an IPO. "Everyone's being told, 'Don't go public,'" Ries said. "The most common conventional wisdom now is that going public will mean the end of your ability to innovate."

Eric Ries.
Eric Ries

To Ries, 37, the public markets encourage self-destructive behavior, and he sees their dynamics as one reason why the number of U.S. public companies has fallen by half since its peak in 1996. Once companies go public, employees “are on Yahoo Finance every day, and it’s palpable how much that is affecting the decision-making of ordinary managers,” he says. The problem begins with stock market investors who favor companies that show big increases in sales, profits, users, or other measures every quarter. When a company falls short, investors flee, and the stock plummets. Managers, hoping to avoid such jolts, spend too much time focusing on short-term performance. Ries said he's heard the same story many times: halfway through a quarter, an executive realizes the company isn’t on track and starts slashing innovative projects to meet the targets.

Ries's seminal book preached a fail-fast method of building startups where teams get a "minimum viable product" in front of customers as quickly as possible to avoid wasting time and effort. "The Lean Startup" made Ries, who previously worked as a software engineer at the failed virtual world maker There and as a cofounder of the more successful social network IMVU, a revered name among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. While readers flocked to his startup lessons, no one picked up his stock market proposal -- it was too polarizing. When he decided to do it himself, he started talking to bankers, venture capitalists and regulators, who told him his idea was ridiculous. "People treated me like a barbarian," he says. Undeterred, he spent three years recruiting a team and weighing different ideas, such as charging higher fees for short-term trades. Eventually, the LTSE settled on three reforms that address how executives are paid, how companies and investors share information and how investors vote.

A company that wants to list its stock on Ries’s exchange will have to choose from a menu of LTSE-approved compensation plans designed to make sure executive pay is not tied to short-term stock performance. Ries complains that it’s common to see CEOs or top management getting quarterly or annual bonuses tied to certain metrics like earnings per share, which pushes them to goose the numbers. Ries wants to encourage companies to adopt stock packages that continue vesting even after executives have left the company, which will push them to make healthy long-term moves.

The LTSE also wants to nudge companies and investors to share more information, such as detail on R&D spending. To get investors to participate, the exchange has to tempt them with a reward, so LTSE plans to use voting rights as a carrot. If investors divulge the real name of the beneficial owner to management (as opposed to hiding behind a "street name") they'll start to gain more voting rights the longer they've held their shares. LTSE hopes to make money mostly by selling software tools to companies and collecting listing fees, which could be a tough business, given most companies list on either NYSE or Nasdaq in the U.S. and often choose based on a trusted reputation. As Ries sees it, an LTSE-listed company will have an extra stamp of approval. “You’re advertising to the markets that you’re willing to be held to a higher standard,” Ries says. “This is the gold standard, the most long-term, the most hardcore version of going public.”

Ries’s reforms may not have the intended effects. For example, granting stronger voting rights to long-term shareholders would make takeovers harder, and that could end up protecting complacent managers, says Larry Harris, a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California business school. “The threat of takeover has done far more to get good behavior out of corporations than perhaps anything else,” he says. "I suspect a sophisticated investor may shun” an exchange that creates obstacles to investors who want to shake things up.

Getting SEC approval can also be a painful process, especially when trying to change the status quo. Like Ries, Brad Katsuyama, a hero of Michael Lewis's 2014 book, "Flash Boys," is trying to address what he sees as the shortcomings of existing markets. Katsuyama has spent the better part of a year trying to get SEC approval for the Investors Exchange, which he says neutralizes high-frequency traders' unfair advantage. Incumbents aren't happy. NYSE slammed the proposal as "unfair" and "opaque" in a November letter to regulators. Nasdaq last month warned the SEC that if it approved IEX's application, a lawsuit challenging the decision would likely succeed. "Any time an exchange wants to do something significantly different, it's likely to come under a lot of scrutiny and take a long time," said Tyler Gellasch, executive director of investor trade group Healthy Markets.

And while Silicon Valley has successfully overturned many major industries, it hasn't had any luck with entrenched Wall Street traditions. Google's 2004 attempt during its IPO to distribute its shares more equitably via a "Dutch" auction led to a disappointing first day of trading and never caught on. Marc Andreessen sees Google's unorthodox IPO as "a great case study and a cautionary tale," he said. "A big part of what Eric's trying to do is make sure that obviously doesn't happen."

If Ries gets the go-ahead from the SEC, he will face what may turn out to be his biggest challenge: persuading a company to be first to list on LTSE. Since it could be years before the LTSE gets SEC approval, Ries isn't courting Uber, Airbnb or its peers. Instead he’s connecting with mid-size startup founders, some of whom have invested in the LTSE. In the next few years, Ries hopes a handful of these companies will emerge as strong IPO candidates. If he’s lucky, one will be confident enough to be a pioneer. “There’s a real collective action problem here,” he said. “As an industry, we all want to see these changes happen, but there’s always a little bit of an incentive for any individual actor to say, this isn’t my fight – I’ll wait and let somebody else take it on. I don’t begrudge those people. But if everyone does that, change doesn’t happen.”