Tag: Wall Street Journal

Ireland, Apple and the three-comma club

Thursday, 1 September, 2016 0 Comments

Definition via the Silicon Valley Dictionary: “Three commas to imply a billion dollars as $1,000,000,000 has 3 commas. To be in the three commas club is to be a billionaire.” In the wild, as it were, the term was spotted last month in the Wall Street Journal in an article by Veronica Dagher titled “The Rich Get Richer as Billionaires Increase in Number.” Here’s the usage: “For most billionaires, however, it takes more than an inheritance to join the so-called three-comma club.”

The three-comma club and the meaning of membership made a memorable appearance in the HBO series Silicon Valley, Season Two, Episode Seven:

And now, Ireland and its three-comma Apple tax windfall. Most countries don’t tax non-residents so there’s a constant enticement for states like Panama to offer a low-tax environment and attract the world’s richest people. Similarly, Ireland lures the world’s biggest corporations by having lower taxes than other EU countries and Switzerland tempts wealthy people with a negotiated annual tax payment. So, unless there’s a global wealth tax collected by a world government, rich bastards will keep getting richer. After all, the rich can afford the best financial advisors and thus earn a higher return on investment than non-rich people. But life’s not fair, so taxation utopianism remains an illusion. For Ireland, this means back to basics.

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.” — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations


Meet Sophia, the mechasexual robot

Monday, 6 June, 2016 0 Comments

Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics has a daring goal: “We aim to bring-to-market the most compelling and engaging humanlike robots with greater-than-human wisdom, that are capable of developing a deep, trusted relationship with people.” The company’s mission is nothing less than “to create a better future for humanity by infusing artificial intelligence with kindness and compassion, achieved through millions of dialogs between our robots and the people whose lives they touch.”

Sophia is a Hanson robot and here she “dialogs” with Joanna Stern and Geoffrey Fowler of the Wall Street Journal. Does she prefer Mac to Windows? Android over iPhone? And, the big one: What does she think of Donald Trump?

Mechasexual: (1) Romantic and/or sexual attraction or behaviour between robots, androids or sentient machines. (2) The desire to have sexual relations with a sentient machine.


These eerily Madoffian times

Thursday, 21 April, 2016 0 Comments

To understand the magical world of the technology Unicorn (AirBNB, Slack, Snapchat, Uber), one has to speak the language of dizzying money. For example, Limited Partners (LPs) are large pools of capital, such as pension funds, endowments, foundations and high-net-worth individuals, that invest in Venture Capital (VC) firms, hedge funds and the like. And in these Unicorn times, LPs are increasingly being asked to participate in SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles) especially created to feed the insatiable Unicorns. Well, that’s what Bill Gurley, a General Partner at Benchmark Capital, says.

Gurly has been keeping a close eye on the money flow and he’s noticed something disturbing: “investors have also broadened their SPV marketing to family offices and other pools of capital. The pitches typically involve phrases such as ‘you are invited to’ or ‘we will provide access to’ an opportunity to invest. This ‘you are so lucky to have this opportunity’ pitch is eerily Madoffian.”

That excellent coinage, Madoffian, is a play on the name of the fraudster Bernard Madoff, who scammed investors in a $65 billion Ponzi scheme that was exposed in 2008. The use of his name should alarm everyone and that’s what Bill Gurley seeks to do in a brilliant analysis titled Why The Unicorn Financing Market Became Dangerous… For All Involved. Snippet:

The main message for investors who are just now being approached is the following: it’s not the second inning or even the sixth, it’s the fourteenth inning in a five hour baseball game. You are not being invited to a special dance, you are being approached because you are the lender of last resort. And because of how we meandered to this place in time, parting with your dollars now would be an extremely risky move. Caveat emptor.

To avert disaster, Gurley is calling for “a dramatic increase in the real cost of capital and a return to an appreciation for sound business execution.” Note: What makes his analysis particularly valuable is that he singles out John Carreyrou’s October investigation of Theranos in the Wall Street Journal as “the seminal bubble-popping event.” A month prior to that, Fortune Magazine ran a fawning Theranos article titled “How Playing the Long Game Made Elizabeth Holmes a Billionaire.” That game is up.

The Unicorn


BlackBerry vs. iPhone: beauty matters

Monday, 25 May, 2015 0 Comments

When the iPhone first appeared in 2007, senior management at RIM were convinced that their customers valued the iconic BlackBerry keyboard far more than the innovative Apple touchscreen. The mobile business was about security and efficiency instead of novelty and entertainment, they believed. In the Wall Street Journal, Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff examine this fatal shortsightedness in The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry. Snippet:

‘By all rights the product should have failed, but it did not,’ said David Yach, RIM’s chief technology officer. To Mr. Yach and other senior RIM executives, Apple changed the competitive landscape by shifting the raison d’être of smartphones from something that was functional to a product that was beautiful.

‘I learned that beauty matters… RIM was caught incredulous that people wanted to buy this thing,’ Mr. Yach says.”

Did video really kill the radio star? Tech historians still debate that question, but they are less divided by this fact: The inability of RIM to combine seamless internet access with an aesthetically pleasing experience mortally wounded the BlackBerry.

BlackBerry


It is true that the Vikings pillaged and enslaved. But…

Tuesday, 25 November, 2014 0 Comments

There’s always a but, isn’t there? In its blurb for The Vikings by Anders Winroth, Princeton University Press points out that the Norse warriors “also settled peacefully and developed a vast trading network.” When Tom Shippey reviewed Winroth’s book on Friday in the Wall Street Journal he had a go at the modern academy, which works hard to present the Vikings as “explorers, traders, founders of urban life, contributors to civilization.” Uncomfortable fact is, says Shippey, that when the Vikings managed to “stimulate the economy of western Europe,” they did it “by selling slaves to the Islamic world and stealing church treasuries from the Christian one.”

The thing that made Viking culture different, notes Shippey, “was all that academics dislike in the word ‘Viking.’ … Vikings would not be welcome in the faculty lounge.”

Viking axe

The mortal dread that the Vikings could inspire was captured in this ancient Irish poem, as translated from the Gaelic by Kuno Meyer:

The Viking Terror

Bitter is the wind tonight.
It tosses the ocean’s white hair.
Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway
Coursing on the Irish Sea.

By the way, the second line of the John Montague translation of that anonymous poem is especially evocative: “Bitter the wind tonight/ combing the sea’s hair white.”


Kasparov checkmates Putin

Monday, 10 March, 2014 0 Comments

Garry Kasparov, the former World Chess Champion and considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time, is not just a passionate opponent of Vladimir Putin, he’s a multimedia opponent of Vladimir Putin. Along with using Twitter to rebuke the Russian leader on an hourly basis, he’s on TV, the radio and in the traditional press. “Cut Off the Russian Oligarchs and They’ll Dump Putin” is what he wrote on Friday in the Wall Street Journal. “Use banks, not tanks,” is his advice. Snippet:

Thanks to their unfettered access to Western markets, Mr. Putin and his gang have exploited Western engagement with Russia in a way that the Soviet Union’s leaders never dreamed of. But this also means that they are vulnerable in a way the Soviets were not. If the West punishes Russia with sanctions and a trade war, that might be effective eventually, but it would also be cruel to the 140 million Russians who live under Mr. Putin’s rule. And it would be unnecessary. Instead, sanction the 140 oligarchs who would dump Mr. Putin in the trash tomorrow if he cannot protect their assets abroad. Target their visas, their mansions and IPOs in London, their yachts and Swiss bank accounts. Use banks, not tanks.


Why four doses of ipilimumab costs more than $100,000

Friday, 3 January, 2014 0 Comments

“Like all wars, the one against cancer is going to cost a lot of money, one way or another,” declares The Economist in its current issue in an article about a new campaign against cancer that’s being mounted by researchers and drug companies. Among the therapies examined in “Getting close and personal” is ipilimumab, a drug to treat melanoma that was launched in 2011 by Bristol-Myers Squibb and branded as Yervoy. This is a so-called “checkpoint inhibitor”, which allows immune-system cells called T-lymphocytes to attack cancer cells. Along with fighting melanoma, ipilimumab may also hinder lung cancer and prostate cancer. The stumbling block is the expense for the patient, especially in the US, where four doses of ipilimumab costs more than $100,000.

Why $25,000 a shot? Because bringing a new drug to market in America typically costs upwards of $100 million and can take as many as 15 years of research, testing and regulatory review. The drug companies, understandably, will want to recoup their investment after such a lengthy, pricey process. However, there’s hope on the horizon in the form of “adaptive trial design”, which looks at patients’ reactions to a drug early in a clinical trial to modify the way the rest of the trial is handled. The goal, according to The Wall Street Journal, is to more quickly identify those drugs that are working and those that aren’t. “Researchers Aim to Speed Cures to Patients” admits that the process is tedious but not without some glimmers of hope:

“In a recent hopeful sign, adaptive trial design enabled two experimental breast-cancer drugs to deliver promising results in a clinical trial after just six months of testing, far shorter than the typical length of a clinical trial. Researchers assessed the results while the trial was in process and found that cancer had been eradicated in more than half of one group of patients, a particularly favorable outcome. The breast cancer trial, known as I-Spy 2, is testing up to 12 experimental drugs.”

Faster, please.


Walt Mossberg and the art of meeting people

Thursday, 19 December, 2013 0 Comments

“This is my last column for The Wall Street Journal, after 22 years of reviewing consumer technology products here.” So writes Walt Mossberg in a piece titled “Top Products in Two Decades of Tech Reviews.” The boots that he wore were so large that the Journal has picked four journalists to fill them. They are all fine writers and good people, no doubt, but it will be a while before they’ll be to bring to the table the ineffable thing that made Walt Mossberg so respected and, even, loved.

He was at the Macworld convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco on 9 January 2007 when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, and after the presentation the Apple CEO handed the magical object of desire to the Wall Street Journal reviewer to get his impressions. Two weeks later, Walt Mossberg was in Munich at the annual DLD Conference and there I had the pleasure of shaking the hand that had used the first the iPhone. The most memorable thing about our short conversation was that right in the middle of it two Israeli entrepreneurs audaciously intervened with an elevator pitch about their web-based product. Mossberg took their chutzpah in his stride, and in between talking to me about the iPhone he asked the entrepreneurial pair a series of short, pertinent questions about their innovation. It was a bravura performance and everybody went away from the gathering with the feeling that they had benefitted from meeting the incredibly patient, polite and informed Walt Mossberg.

The iPhone is at number 9 in Mossberg’s list of the dozen influential personal-technology products he reviewed over the past two decades: “Apple electrified the tech world with this device — the first truly smart smartphone. It is an iPod, an Internet device and a phone combined in one small gadget. Its revolutionary multi-touch user interface is gradually replacing the PC’s graphical user interface on many devices.”

Walt Mossberg is not retiring. He’s said to be working on a new online venture and rumour has it that he’s been in talks with NBCUniversal, Bloomberg, Condé Nast, Cox and The Washington Post Company. Mossberg and Bezos? That would be a potent force. The patience of Walt would be needed, though, to make it work.

This just in: Business Insider is reporting that Mossberg and his business partner Kara Swisher have hired Kenneth Li, recently of Reuters, to be the managing editor of their new venture. “They reportedly have investment from NBCUniversal for the new site which launches next year.”

Walt Mossberg and Steve Jobs


riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore

Tuesday, 2 April, 2013 0 Comments

Great story in today’s Wall Street Journal about how Dai Congrong spent eight years translating Book I of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake into Chinese. Her translation sold out its 8,000-volume run shortly after it was released in December. Snippet:

“The first line of the novel, which begins mid-sentence, reads, ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.’ To translate that sentence alone, Ms. Dai provides two definitions, five footnotes and seven asides in smaller type to describe its allusions to religion, memory and the 17th- and 18th-century academic Giovanni Battista Vico.”

Congratulations to Lilian Lin and Carlos Tejada for their excellent reporting and writing of ‘Finnegans Wake’ Is Greek to Many; Now Imagine It in Chinese.

By the way, in Finnegans Wake, Joyce summed up the madness of the scribbling business thus: “But by writing thithaways end to end and turning, turning and end to end hithaways writing and with lines of litters slittering up and louds of latters slettering down, the old semetomyplace and jupetbackagain from tham Let Raise till Hum Lit. Sleep, where in the waste is the wisdom?”