China

Huawei To Back Off US Market Amid Rising Tensions (nytimes.com) 91

Huawei is reportedly going to give up on selling its products and services in the United States (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) due to Washington's accusations that the company has ties to the Chinese government. The change in tactics comes a week after the company laid off five American employees, including its biggest American lobbyist. The New York Times reports: Huawei's tactics are changing as its business prospects in the United States have darkened considerably. On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to proceed with a new rule that could effectively kill off what little business the company has in the United States. Although the proposed rule does not mention Huawei by name, it would block federally subsidized telecommunications carriers from using suppliers deemed to pose a risk to American national security. Huawei's latest moves suggest that it has accepted that its political battles in the United States are not ones it is likely to win. "Some things cannot change their course according to our wishes," Eric Xu, Huawei's deputy chairman, said at the company's annual meeting with analysts on Tuesday. "With some things, when you let them go, you actually feel more at ease."
Businesses

US Startups Don't Want To Go Public Anymore (qz.com) 154

According to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economics, the number of American firms listed publicly in the U.S. has dropped more than half. In 1997, more than 7,500 American firms were listed publicly in the U.S. Nearly two decades later, in 2016, the number had dropped to 3,618 firms. Quartz reports: The crux of the issue is that U.S. startups are increasingly shunning stock market boards. That could have worrying implications for America's long-term economic prospects. One big reason young companies are shying away from IPOs is that public listings don't offer much benefit to promising startups, say the paper's authors, economists Craig Doidge, Kathleen Kahle, Andrew Karolyi, and Rene Stulz. In fact, going public can hurt them. The upside of public listing is that it lets companies raise huge sums of capital, issue more shares, issue debt with relative ease, and use equity to fund acquisitions. But because of the ways the American economy has evolved, those advantages are less important than they once were.

When industry powered U.S. growth, companies grew by spending on capital investments like factories and machinery. Back in 1975, firms once spent six times more on capital investments than they did on research and development. But as the U.S. shifted toward a services and knowledge-based economy, intangible investments became increasingly important. In 2002, R&D expenditures for the average firm surpassed capital expenditures for the first time. It's stayed that way since; nowadays, average R&D spending is roughly twice that of capital expenditures. The problem is, two features of public listings -- disclosure and accounting standards -- make things tough on companies with more intangible assets. U.S. securities law requires companies to disclose their activities in detail. But startups are wary of sharing information that might benefit their competitors.

Movies

Netflix Executives Say 'Bright' Success Proves Film Critics Are 'Disconnected From Mass Appeal' (indiewire.com) 330

Last month, movie critics slammed David Ayer and Will Smith's Netflix tentpole "Bright" movie. At present, it has less than 30 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But Netflix executives aren't worried. From a report on IndieWire: The abysmal reviews couldn't stop "Bright" from becoming a humongous hit on Netflix and earning a sequel. [...] According to both Netlfix bosses, "Bright's" success is proof that film critics don't matter as much when they're trying to tap into a global audience. "Critics are an important part of the artistic process, but [they are] pretty disconnected from the commercial prospects of a film," chief content officer Sarandos said. "[Film critics] speak to specific audiences who care about quality, or how objectively good or bad a movie is -- not the masses who are critical for determining whether a film makes money." CEO Hastings, chimed in to add "The critics are pretty disconnected from the mass appeal." Do ratings on movie websites matter? It's not a new topic of discussion. Last year, legendary director, producer and screenwriter Martin Scorsese said he believes real movie goers don't care about Rotten Tomatoes. But some people, including especially in the same room as Scorsese, disagree. Brett Ratner, the Rush Hour director/producer who threw the financial weight of his RatPac Entertainment behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice blamed Rotten Tomatoes for convincing people to not watch his movie. Along the same lines, DC fans were angry over Rotten Tomatoes's Justice League ratings .
Businesses

'Reskilling Revolution Needed for the Millions of Jobs at Risk Due To Technological Disruption' (weforum.org) 427

A new report, published by The World Economic Forum on Monday estimates that 1.4 million U.S. jobs will be hit by automation between now and 2026. Of those, 57 percent belong to women. Without re-education, 16 percent of affected workers will have no job prospects, the study finds. A further 25 percent would have one to three job options. The report adds The positive finding from the report is that with adequate reskilling, 95% of the most immediately at-risk workers would find good-quality, higher-wage work in growing job families. Report highlights the urgent need for a massive reskilling programme, safety nets to support workers while they reskill, and support with job-matching.
Transportation

Hardly Anyone Wants to Ride the Las Vegas Monorail (vice.com) 294

Motherboard describes riding the Las Vegas monorail in 2008. "I was literally the only person on a train built to carry 222 people," arguing that "the tale of the Las Vegas monorail is an allegory for almost every other monorail that exists on this planet." An anonymous reader quotes their new report: Las Vegas has struggled to deliver on its monorail promise since the 3.9-mile track opened in 2004. The track runs parallel to the Strip -- behind all the massive, block-wide hotels. When the project was first proposed, promoters hoped to bring upwards of 20 million riders a year. In 2016, just 4.9 million monorail rides were taken. For reference, nearly 43 million people visited Las Vegas last year, according to the city's visitor bureau, and the city has a population of about 632,000.

In 2010, the not-for-profit company in charge, named Las Vegas Monorail, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after failing to repay $650 million in construction loans. (It exited bankruptcy proceedings two years later.) But in true Las Vegas style, instead of taking the loss and heading home with its tail tucked between its legs, the company is doubling down. Now it's anticipating spending an additional $100 million in private financing to extend the monorail from the MGM Grand to Mandalay Bay -- a distance of less than a mile by foot. The company also asked the county to give it $4.5 million of public funds a year for 30 years to support the extension.

A Las Vegas newspaper got a succinct appraisal of the extended monorail's prospects from the director of USC's Transportation Engineering program: "I'm glad it's not my money." Next year ticket sales are expected to bring in just $21.4 million -- "the lowest amount since 2014" -- with the Monorail Co. blaming "additional competition" from Uber and Lyft.

But Motherboard argues that it's not just a Las Vegas problem. "In most cities where monorails exist, most people can't figure out what they're good for. In Mumbai, India, a three-year-old monorail does just 17,000 daily rides -- significantly short of the 125,000 to 300,000 passengers per day planners and backers anticipated."
Biotech

Days Before Christmas, Theranos Secures $100 Million in New Funding (fortune.com) 96

An anonymous reader quotes Fortune: Call it a Christmas miracle -- albeit of a rather perverse sort. Theranos, the digraced medical-technology startup that infamously inflated the capabilities of its devices, has secured $100 million in new funding in the form of a loan. The loan, reported by the Wall Street Journal, will come from Fortress Investment Group. Fortress, whose other underdog bets include a private passenger rail line under construction in Florida, is set to be acquired by Japan's SoftBank. Theranos was reportedly on the verge of bankrutpcy...

By the end of 2016, the company reportedly still had $200 million in cash on hand, but had sharply limited prospects for attracting more capital. It has since settled a major lawsuit with Walgreens, a former client, for an undisclosed but likely substantial sum. According to the Journal, the Fortress loan is expected to keep Theranos solvent through 2018. That will give the company more time for its ongoing effort to reboot as a medical device manufacturer, rather than a testing service.

The loan is conditional on "achieving certain product and operational milestones," notes Fortune, adding "It's unclear whether those might include positive outcomes for the multiple investigations and lawsuits still facing the company."
Republicans

Republican Lawmaker Introduces Net Neutrality Legislation (variety.com) 350

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Variety: Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced net neutrality legislation on Tuesday that prohibits internet providers from blocking and throttling content, but does not address whether ISPs can create so-called "fast lanes" of traffic for sites willing to pay for it. The legislation also would require that ISPs disclose their terms of service, and ensure that federal law preempts any state efforts to establish rules of the road for internet traffic. "A lot of our innovators are saying, 'Let's go with things we have agreement on, and other things can be addressed later,'" Blackburn told Variety. She said that she was "very hopeful" about the prospects for the legislation because "an open internet and preserving that open internet is what people want to see happen. Let's preserve it. Let's nail it down. Let's stop the ping-ponging from one FCC commission to another. This is something where the Congress should act." Blackburn chairs a House subcommittee on communications and technology.
Businesses

The First Women in Tech Didn't Leave -- Men Pushed Them Out (wsj.com) 427

An anonymous reader writes: A column on the Wall Street Journal argues that sexism in the tech industry is as old as the tech industry itself. At its genesis, computer programming faced a double stigma -- it was thought of as menial labor, like factory work, and it was feminized, a kind of "women's work" that wasn't considered intellectual (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). In the U.K., women in the government's low-paid "Machine Operator Class" performed knowledge work including programming systems for everything from tax collection and social services to code-breaking and scientific research. Later, they would be pushed out of the field, as government leaders in the postwar era held a then-common belief that women shouldn't be allowed into higher-paid professions with long-term prospects because they would leave as soon as they were married. Today, in the U.S., about a quarter of computing and mathematics jobs are held by women, and that proportion has been declining over the past 20 years. A string of recent events suggest the steps currently being taken by tech firms to address these issues are inadequate.
The Almighty Buck

Launch of Bitcoin Futures Trading Crashes CBOE Site (thestreet.com) 97

"5PM CT is the start of Bitcoin futures trading and the $CBOE website appears to be down," one market watcher posted on Twitter (and his observation was quickly confirmed by other cryptocurrency-watching accounts and confirmed by CBOE). "I'm guessing watching Bitcoin futures start trading is a more popular spectator sport than anticipated."

Bitcoin futures will also begin trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in eight days. The Street report that the anticipation of that "has triggered wild swings in bitcoin prices over the last week." Overall, trading bitcoin futures is a positive development for the cryptocurrency says the research team at Fundstrat... The introduction of derivatives lays the necessary market structure for institutions to allocate cash towards cryptocurrencies, points out Fundstrat... Short sellers may now express negative views on bitcoin, which could lead to short-term pricing pressure. But the ability for short sellers to hate on bitcoin could be viewed as a longer term positive, Fundstrat says. Shorting essentially creates true price discovery and means that hedge funds could take bitcoin more seriously. This should improve the long-term prospects of bitcoin as it broadens sponsorship, Fundstrat believes.
Education

Many Junior Scientists Need To Take a Hard Look at Their Job Prospects (nature.com) 152

In its careers section this week, science journal Nature surveyed more than 5,700 early-career scientists worldwide who are working on PhDs. Three-quarters of them, they told the journal, think it's likely that they will pursue an academic career when they graduate. How many of them will succeed? The editorial board of the journal wrote in a column published on Wednesday. Most PhD students will have to look beyond academia for a career, the editorial board added. From the article: Statistics say these young researchers will have a better chance of pursuing their chosen job than the young footballers. But not by much. Global figures are hard to come by, but only three or four in every hundred PhD students in the United Kingdom will land a permanent staff position at a university. It's only a little better in the United States. Simply put, most PhD students need to make plans for a life outside academic science. And more universities and PhD supervisors must make this clear. That might sound like an alarmist and negative attitude for the International Weekly Journal of Science. But it has been evident for years that international science is training many more PhD students than the academic system can support. Most of the keen and talented young scientists who responded to our survey will probably never get a foot in the door. Of those who do, a sizeable number are likely to drift from short-term contract to short-term contract until they become disillusioned and look elsewhere.
Businesses

It's the 40th Anniversary of Radio Shack's TRS-80 (smithsonianmag.com) 301

An anonymous reader quotes Smithsonsian: It was with minimal expectations that, on August 3, 1977, Tandy Corporation teamed up with Radio Shack to release the TRS-80, one of the first personal computers available to consumer markets. While Don French -- a buyer for the Tandy Radio Shack consumer electronic chain -- had convinced some Tandy executives of the need to release a personal computer, most felt it was unlikely to gross substantial profits. This bulky item with complex operating procedures would never sell, they thought, more than 1,000 units in its first month... As it turned out, the TRS-80 surpassed even the most cautious sales estimates by tenfold within its first month on the market; the burgeoning prospects of a new era in personal electronics and computing could no longer be denied.
It had no hard drive and four kilobytes of memory, according to the article. Radio Shack's $600 PC was preceded by the MITS Altair, as well as PCs from both Apple and IBM, but "the TRS-80 was one of the first products that came fully assembled and ready to use, bridging the gap in accessibility between hobbyists -- who took interest in the actual building of the computer -- and the average American consumer, who wanted to know what this new, cutting-edge technology had in store for them."

Does this bring back any memories for anyone?
AI

Cook Says Apple Is Focusing on Making an Autonomous Car System (bloomberg.com) 146

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: After years toiling away in secret on its car project, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has for the first time laid out exactly what the company is up to in the automotive market: It's concentrating on self-driving technology. "We're focusing on autonomous systems," Cook said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "It's a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects," Cook said in his most detailed comments to date on Apple's plans in the car space. "It's probably one of the most difficult A.I. projects actually to work on." [...] "There is a major disruption looming there," Cook said on Bloomberg Television, citing self-driving technology, electric vehicles and ride-hailing. "You've got kind of three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame." Cook was also bullish about the prospects for electric vehicles, a market which last week helped Tesla become the world's fourth-biggest carmaker by market capitalization, even as it ranks well outside the top 10 by unit sales."It's a marvelous experience not to stop at the filling station or the gas station," Cook said.
IBM

IBM: Remote Working Is Great! (For Everyone Except Us) (theregister.co.uk) 109

An anonymous reader writes: IBM, the company that just weeks ago said it was doing away with its work-from-home policy, is now preaching the benefits of telecommuting to customers. Big Blue's Smarter Workforce Group says a recent panel it hosted at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conference concluded that customers who work remotely are "more engaged, have stronger trust in leadership and much stronger intention to stay. These findings mirror what an IBM Smarter Workforce Institute study found," the group wrote. "Challenging the modern myths of remote working shares employee research revealing that remote workers are highly engaged, more likely to consider their workplaces as innovative, happier about their job prospects and less stressed than their more traditional, office-bound colleagues." This is posted without any apparent sense of irony, as IBM said just weeks ago that remote workers were not part of its "recipe for success" and could no longer be permitted to work anywhere other than its six regional offices in various techie hubs around the US.
The Almighty Buck

Most Millennials Have an Unrealistic View of Their Retirement Prospects, Analysts Say (hsbc.com) 557

From a blog post on research firm HSBC: HSBC calls for millennials to wake up to living and working longer, as research finds only 1 in 10 expects to work past 65. Most millennials have an unrealistic view of their retirement prospects according to a new report from HSBC. The latest report in The Future of Retirement series, Shifting sands, finds that on average millennials expect to retire younger than other working age generations. Millennials expect to retire at 59, two years younger than the working age average of 61. The survey of over 18,000 people in 16 countries finds that only 10 percent of millennials expect to continue working after 65 -- even as their generation faces unprecedented financial pressures and state retirement ages continue to rise around the world. This is despite 59 percent of millennials agreeing they will live much longer and will need to support themselves for longer than previous generations.
Communications

Customer Feedback Surveys Could Be Considered Harmful (easydns.org) 196

Longtime Slashdot reader Stunt Pope writes: Customer Feedback surveys are now near-ubiquitous, subjecting us all to near-Black Mirror-esque pursuit to "rate your experience" for everything from going to the bank to ordering a pizza. Thanks to The Curse of Goodhart's Law, all of these surveys are beyond useless and even damaging. Mark Jeftovic writes in a blog post: "The shop/hire-rate-reward feedback loop has become baked-in to some systems. Many live marketplaces incorporate these feedback transactions into ratings, which then become a score which then impacts future prospects of whomever is being rated. And that's where the trouble starts. There is a point where this stops being useful and the knock-on effects of a ratings system predicated on feedback results becomes counter-productive. That point is when the ratings become targets. When a company decrees 'All customer feedback ratings must score a minimum of X, or else...' the company has just commenced the process of invalidating and corrupting all useful information to be gleaned from that feedback/survey process. A label which captures this concept is 'Goodhart's Law' -- after economist Charles Goodhart, who posited in essence that 'when a measure becomes a target, it becomes useless.'"
Earth

US Life Expectancy Declines For the First Time Since 1993 (washingtonpost.com) 497

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy for Americans declined last year (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source) -- a troubling development linked to a panoply of worsening health problems in the United States. Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy revealed in a report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. In all, death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death. The new report raises the possibility that major illnesses may be eroding prospects for an even wider group of Americans. Its findings show increases in "virtually every cause of death. It's all ages," said David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Over the past five years, he noted, improvements in death rates were among the smallest of the past four decades. "There's this just across-the-board [phenomenon] of not doing very well in the United States." Overall, life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, according to the latest data. The last time U.S. life expectancy at birth declined was in 1993, when it dropped from 75.6 to 75.4, according to World Bank data. The overall death rate rose 1.2 percent in 2015, its first uptick since 1999. More than 2.7 million people died, about 45 percent of them from heart disease or cancer.
Businesses

Yik Yak Lays Off 60 Percent of Employees As Growth Collapses (theverge.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Yik Yak has laid off 60 percent of employees amid a downturn in the app's growth prospects, The Verge has learned. The three-year-old anonymous social network has raised $73.5 million from top-tier investors on the promise that its young, college-age network of users could one day build a company to rival Facebook. But the challenge of growing its community while moving gradually away from anonymity has so far proven to be more than the company could muster. Employees who were affected were informed of the layoffs Thursday morning, sources told The Verge. Yik Yak employed about 50 people, and now only about 20 remain, the company said. The community, marketing, design, and product teams were all deeply affected, one source said. Atlanta-based Yik Yak was founded in 2014 by Furman University students Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. The app updated the concept of dorm newsletters for the mobile era, letting anyone post comments about school, their campus, or life in general. The fact that comments were anonymous initially helped the app grow, as it encouraged more candid forms of sharing than students might otherwise post on Facebook or Instagram.
Earth

Alien Life Could Thrive In the Clouds of Failed Stars (sciencemag.org) 67

sciencehabit writes: There's an abundant new swath of cosmic real estate that life could call home -- and the views would be spectacular. Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts. The idea expands the concept of a habitable zone to include a vast population of worlds that had previously gone unconsidered. "You don't necessarily need to have a terrestrial planet with a surface," says Jack Yates, a planetary scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who led the study. Atmospheric life isn't just for the birds. For decades, biologists have known about microbes that drift in the winds high above Earth's surface. And in 1976, Carl Sagan envisioned the kind of ecosystem that could evolve in the upper layers of Jupiter, fueled by sunlight. You could have sky plankton: small organisms he called "sinkers." Other organisms could be balloonlike "floaters," which would rise and fall in the atmosphere by manipulating their body pressure. In the years since, astronomers have also considered the prospects of microbes in the carbon dioxide atmosphere above Venus's inhospitable surface. Yates and his colleagues set out to update Sagan's calculations and to identify the sizes, densities, and life strategies of microbes that could manage to stay aloft in the habitable region of an enormous atmosphere of predominantly hydrogen gas. On such a world, small sinkers like the microbes in Earth's atmosphere or even smaller would have a better chance than Sagan's floaters, the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. But a lot depends on the weather: If upwelling winds are powerful on free-floating brown dwarfs, as seems to be true in the bands of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, heavier creatures can carve out a niche. In the absence of sunlight, they could feed on chemical nutrients. Observations of cold brown dwarf atmospheres reveal most of the ingredients Earth life depends on: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, though perhaps not phosphorous.
Space

New Paper Explores The Prospects For Life Around M-Class Stars (arxiv.org) 69

Long-time Slashdot reader RockDoctor summarizes the significance of a new paper describing "The Habitability of Planets Orbiting M-Dwarf Stars": Although Star Trek had a minor smattering of "M-class planets" -- a designation that tells one nothing of substance -- "M-class star" is a much more meaningful designation of color, with two size classes, the dwarfs and the red giants... an M-dwarf of 1/10 the mass of the Sun will burn for around 1000 times the time that the Sun does... Therefore, if humanity ever meets an alien species, the odds of them coming from an M-dwarf [system] are already high. If humanity ever meets an alien species that has been around a billion years longer than us and has technology we can't even dream of, then the odds of it coming from an M-dwarf are overwhelmingly high.
This new paper offers "a comprehensive picture of the current knowledge of M-dwarf planet occurrence and habitability," pointing out that most of these stars are apparently orbited by planets packed closely together, with "a paucity of Jupiter-mass planets and the presence of multiple rocky planets." And more importantly, roughly a third of those rocky planets are orbiting in a "habitable zone" -- far enough away from their stars to support liquid water.

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