Friday, March 30, 2018

China is testing use of giant chimney to combat urban pollution

In Xian, one of China's most polluted cities, a giant 60 meter chimney located among high-rise buildings is actually an outdoor air-purifying system that filters out noxious particles and emits clean air into the atmosphere.

The system, currently being tested as a solution to China's growing city air pollution crisis, is solar powered. The Chinese scientists who designed the prototype claim that the system could cut the level of air pollution in urban areas in China and elsewhere.
Xian
Since the 1990's Xian has participated in the economic revival of inland China in the northwest region. It has emerged as an important industrial, cultural and educational center for the northwest region. It has facilities for research and development, national security and the space exploration program.
In 2015 the city had a population of 8,705,600 but the metro area had 12.9 million.
Results of the XIan project so far are promising
The technology used in the project has excited Chinese researchers who are looking for solutions to the challenge of heavy pollution in Chinese cities. Early results are yet to be published but Cao Junji, a chemist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Key Laboratory of Aerosol Chemistry and Physics in Xian said those results look promising.
An American atmospheric scientist Donald Wuebbles at the University of Illinois said: “This is certainly a very interesting idea. I am not aware of anyone else doing a project like this one.”
Proposal made for another tower 300 meters tall
The prototype was built with $2 million funding from the provincial government.
The project was visited by Bai Chunli the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences last month. He said that Chinese leaders are eager to find new innovative solutions to the widespread pollution in Chinese cities as it is a widespread public health problem. A 2015 study found that pollution contributed to 1.1 million premature deaths in China just in that one year.
Cao submitted a proposal for another 300-metre high tower in Xian and also is negotiating proposals with cities in Guangzhou, Hebei and Henan.
The stack effect of the chimney
The system looks and works as follows:"The concrete chimney sits atop a large open structure with a glass roof. Solar radiation hitting the glass heats the air, causing it to rise towards the base of the tower. The air then passes through a wall of industrial filters before billowing out the chimney. The system is inspired by renewable-energy power plants that generate electricity from solar heat."
Renaud de Richter, a chemical engineer at the Ecole Nationale Superieure de Chimie de Montpelier who himself has worked on solar energy towers said that the prototype was both well-designed and well-made. Richter said that Cao's success could convince investors to support other applications that are based on the flow of solar-powered air through chimneys. The technology is known as solar updraft.
Tests of the system
Cao first tested the air filters of the system during two weeks in January when pollution was at its peak. He placed monitors at the tower and ten monitoring stations over a 10 square kilometre area. They measure particulate matter under 2.5 micrometer (PM2.5) in diameter, a type of pollution in many Chinese cities.
Cao found that the tower was expelling between 5 and 8 million cubic meters of filtered air each day. The surrounding air showed a decrease of 19.5 percent of PM2.5 concentrations when compared with monitors in other parts of the city.
More larger chimneys are needed
Since the impact was just local Cao is proposing arrays of about half a dozen larger chimneys that would be distributed in different areas of cities. He also designed a much larger 500 meter high tower. Only multiple systems will have a significant effect and reduce air pollution Cao claims.
Critics of the system
Neil Donahue, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania agrees that pulling large volumes of air through high efficiency particulate filters would clean the air. However, he is concerned about the benefits as compared to the costs: "I would like to see an assessment of the power and resource use for the filtration." He claims that turning the power used into clean electricity or not emitting the pollution in the first place could also attain the goal of reducing pollution.
Wuebbles of the University of Illinois also worried that the filters take out only particulate matter and not precursors to it such as sulfur dioxide gas and nitrogen oxides. Both are also dangerous to human health. Wuebbles said the sky may look cleaner but the air quality could still be quite bad.
In reply, Cao noted that the system did already remove nitrogen oxides. Cao also said concerns about costs were exaggerated with the costs of running the pilot project about $30,000 a year.


Plattsburgh N.Y. bans cryptocoin mining for 18 months

The city of Plattsburgh in New York state has become the first US city to ban cryptocurrency mining. The ban is set to last for the next 18 months.

At a council meeting the other night the ban was passed unanimously. The Plattsburgh mayor's office claims that the aim of the law is to consider “regulations before commercial cryptocurrency mining operations results in irreversible change to the character and direction of the city.”
Cryptocoin miners attracted by cheap power rates
Colin Read, Plattsburgh mayor claimed that the residential rate of 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour were the cheapest rates in the world. Whether that is so it is much lower than the 10 cents on average the rest of the country pays. It will obviously attract miners to the city and as the enclosed video shows, already has. The city also charges industrial enterprises only 2 cents per kilowatt per hour as an incentive for companies to move to Plattsbugh.
Coinmint operates in Plattsburgh
Coinmint operates the largest bitcoin mine in the city. Bitcoin mines use enormous amounts of electricity. In January and February the mine used about ten percent of the total amount of power used by the city.
Power bills soar for city residents
Plattsburgh is allocated 104 megawatt hours at the cheap rate per month. When the allotment is exceeded, the city has to purchase power at a much higher rate on the open market. As a result, some residents have seen their monthly bills go up by one hundred or even two hundred dollars according to complaints made to the mayor. Given this background one can understand why the bill came to council and was passed without a single negative vote.
Cryptocurrency mining

Cryptocurrency mining refers to the process of solving mathematical problems by computation. When a problem is solved the miner gets to secure a block in the blockchain and is rewarded with coins. The more coins are mined the more difficult the problem. In simplified form the process is described in the video below.
Minders search worldwide to find cheap sources of power. Iceland has many mines because of its cheap power and cold climate that can cool machines without the extensive use of fans that use power as reported in a recent Digital Journal article.

As more and more powerful computers are used there is a shortage of the chips needed to provide all the computing power needed. This has created shortages of chips in areas such as gaming and even astronomical research.
Samsung is now making chips that are designed specifically for cryptocurrency mining for coins such as bitcoin and ethereum.
Provisions of the ban
The law is set out in detail at this website.
The law takes effect once approved by the mayor and filed with the New York secretary of state.
Officials will work with residents and the local cryptocurrency mines over the 18 months of the ban on the power issues.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Facebook rolls out Facebook Lite in the US and several other new countries

Facebook Lite is a version of Facebook specifically designed for developing countries. The version is now being rolled out in a number of more countries including developed countries such as the United States.

Facebook Lite is designed to run on 2G networks. The lite version is meant for people with older Android devices or slower Internet connections. Messenger Lite is a companion version of Messenger with the same purpose. Those with slower mobile data connections even in developed countries will find Facebook Lite useful.
Facebook Lite was first launched in 2015
Then the version was tested in a number of countries: Bangladesh, Nepal Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. However, it is now available in over 100 countries..
Other countries besides the U.S. included in the new rollout are: Canada, Australia, U.K., France, Germany, Ireland and New Zealand.
Facebook said: “We’ve seen that even in some developed markets people can have lower connectivity, so we want to make sure everyone has the option to use this app if they want.” The app became available for download yesterday.
The app will be available for download from Thursday.
Facebook has always tried to cater to customers who have poor internet connections. Facebook Lite provides a dedicated app for this purpose. It is just 252 kilobytes in size and designed specifically to work on 2G networks and places where there is poor connectivity.
App may help Facebook keep growing
In order to increase its customer base, Facebook needs to attract users where connectivity is poor. There are cheap phones becoming available in developing countries and prices are failing to as little as $30 a device. Countries such as Bangladesh, Nigeria and Vietnam are among the countries where smartphone use is growing fastest. Not surprisingly, these are among the countries Facebook Lite will serve. Creating a 2G-optimized app for Androic applications makes good sense for Facebook.
Facebook Lite can be downloaded free here and at a number of other sites.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ontario university to partner with 2 Chinese institutes to research self-driving technology

The University of Waterloo located in Waterloo,  Ontario,  will become partners with two leading institutes in China to pursue research in connected and autonomous vehicle technology.

The university will partner with the Qinqdao Academy of Intelligent Industries (QAI) and the State Key Laboratory for Management and Control of Complex Systems (SKL-MCCS). An agreement was recently signed by all three parties.
The nature of the research
The Waterloo center's research activities will involve automated vehicle testing, human-like autonomous driving, applied artificial intelligence and deep learning in automated driving.
A number of initiatives are included in the agreement, including a shared research center for automated driving, faculty and graduate student exchanges, plus a Waterloo PhD program that will focus on autonomous vehicles, and the potential for Chinese startup companies to establish research and development facilities in the Waterloo region.
University of Waterloo taking a global view of research in the area
Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the university said: “Waterloo is committed to taking a global view on research and development and this partnership represents a significant step in our goal of advancing the world’s understanding and use of new technologies. Our dedication to innovation and these types of partnerships will help us to continue to shape the future of Canada and the world’s technologies and economy.”
Yanchen Gao, senior vice-president of QAII for Intelligent Technology Research and Development and Incubation also stressed the international aspect of the research saying: "The Waterloo collaboration is another significant step to strengthen QAII's international profile, and we are committed to make it a great success. Parallel driving for intelligent vehicles is one of our hallmark technologies and we hope our joint venture with Waterloo brings networked autonomous driving to reality."
Funding of the research
The Chinese partners are committed to contributing up to one million dollars Canadian each year for five years. The university will provide $4 million to build a new autonomous lab in 2018. It is seeking matching funds from the government to support its initiative. Funding from other external sources will be pursued by all partners. The partners expect that many university-industry partnerships will be created using this joint research platform.
President of China's QAII and director of SKL-MCCS praises partnership
Fei-Yue Wang claimed:"I have been in close academic collaboration with Waterloo Engineering for 30 years in control, robotics, and intelligent systems and I am glad to witness this exciting opportunity to bring our cooperation to a new and much more grand level. Waterloo has been a world leader in engineering and computer science education and research and the Waterloo mechatronic vehicle research program has provided a solid foundation for the success of our collaboration.I am confident our joint effort will make Waterloo, QAII, and SKL-MCCS the leader and best in research and development of artificial intelligence and intelligent technology for autonomous driving. I also hope our joint effort will lead to the world's first PhD program specializing in intelligent vehicles and make Waterloo the hub of innovation and incubation in intelligent vehicles and technology."
The University of Waterloo
The University of Waterloo is a public research university. Its main campus of about 1,000 acres is located in Waterloo next to Waterloo Park. The university has six faculties and ten schools faculty-based. In 2016 the university had 30.600 undergraduate and 5,300 graduate students.
The university is a member of the U15 a group of research-intensive Canadian universities. It is famous for its cooperative education programs that allows students to integrate their education with relevant work experiences. It claims that its program is the largest post-secondary coop education program in the world with more than 17,000 undergraduate students in more than 140 coop programs.
In 2001 the university announced the development of the Waterloo Research and Technology Park in the north campus. The park was designed to house many high-tech industries in the area. It has the support of the university, Waterloo Regional Municipality, the provincial and the federal government. The aim is to provide businesses with access to the university faculty and co-op education students, and the university's infrastructure and resources. The project was started on June 2002.
The university has also worked in partnership with the Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai. It even had a Dubai campus that opened in 2009 and provided degrees in chemical engineering, civil engineering, financial analysis, risk management, and information technology management. However in October 2012 the university's board of governors decided to close the Dubai extension.
Waterloo's research in the field of engineering has been ranked 43rd in the field in the 2011 URAP rankings and second in Canada. The engineering program has been rated as among the best in the world. It is often ranked second or even first in Canada although it has a much lower ranking on the world scale.

Previously published in Digital Journa

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Vermont house sale registered using blockchain technology

When Katherine Purcell sold her home in South Burlington Vermont on February 20th, it was groundbreaking and different from the usual house sale. The sale was recorded on a blockchain.

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Pilot project with Propy
Last year the the city of South Burlington agreed to begin recording real estate sales on the Ethereum blockchain as part of a pilot program with the aid of Propy a real estate platform developed by the San Francisco based company of the same name.
The announcement of the project and details can be found on the Propy blog.
The purpose of Propy
Propy's platform allows anyone to buy or sell real estate anywhere online. The Ethereum-based blockchain records each step in the transaction, from expressing interest in a particular property, to signing agreements, to title transfers.
The process is much more secure than sales done through traditional methods would be. It would be impossible for a person to claim that they had not received a payment or signed a document, nor could they alter records. The process provides an unchangeable record on the blockchain ledger that cannot be hacked.
On its website Propy claims: "Propy integrates blockchain ledger for the governments to make title deeds issuance for your property instantly online, secure and cost-effective."
The nature of the pilot program
Donna Kinville, a South Burlington City Clerk said in February that the pilot program has four levels. The integration of Propy's system increases at each level. The sale by Purcell probably is at the first level. The processes used by the city are unchanged. The difference is that the paper title the city received includes the location of that title in the Propy blockchain.
At level four, Propy will replace entirely the system used by South Burlington at present to manage its land records.
Sale was the very first sanctioned use of blockchain technology for a public service
Often the crypto area is regarded with suspicion by governments and financial institutions but it is clear that blockchain technology has many applications in real estate, banking and in many other areas.
A Propy source said: “This first deal makes it much easier for the rest of the 49 states to iterate the process... In fact, Arizona and Colorado are next.”
The pilot project could represent a turning point for the use of blockchain technology in government offices. Many other jurisdictions may try Propy if the project turns out well. Its success could lead to use of the blockchain technology in other areas as well.
A video promo for Propy is appended.


Previously published in Digital Journal

Toys R Us closes or sell more than 800 remaining US stores

Toys R Us is closing or selling all of the over 800 stores that remain in the United States. The closings were apparently announced to workers today by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) David Brandon ahead of a bankruptcy hearing scheduled for March 15.

CEO blames failure on customers and vendors
CEO Brandon claimed that the vendors and customers failed to provide sufficient support to save the company during the crucial holiday season last year. This is typically the most profitable and busiest time of year for the company. Brandon even warned that those customers and vendors would come to regret what was happening.
The closings will involve the loss of as many as 33,000 jobs.
Stores in other countries will be affected as well
Stores in France, Poland, and Australia are likely to face liquidation. However, the company is still searching for buyers of stores in Canada, Central Europe, and Asia.
Company filed for bankruptcy back in September 2017
The company has been struggling to pay down almost $8 billion in debt.
There have been reports that the company had stopped paying suppliers some of whom are the biggest toy makers in the country. The company closed all 100 of its stores in he U.K.
Toys R Us was bought by the private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Bain Capital together with the Vornado Realty Trust for $6 billion in a leveraged buyout back in 2005.
The company was facing a $400 million debt payment due in 2018 and was burning through its cash.
Company has failed to effectively fight off competition
Toys R Us was at one time the preeminent toy retailer in the U.S. but it has failed to keep up with big box and online competition.
The final blow was the recent holiday season which was disastrous for the company while overall the industry racked up the largest gain in years. It announced in January that it would close 182 US stores but that obviously was not sufficient to save the company.
The company, once one of the world's largest toy chains has failed to compete with both brick and mortar stores such as Walmart and also online retail giants such as Amazon.
Toys R Us is just one of a number of retail bankruptcies in 2017 including Gymboree, a children's clothing retailer, Payless ShoeSource and rue 21, a teenage clothing retailer. In order to compete with online and other retailers some companies have closed thousands of stores and laid off thousands of workers to cut costs and compete effectively.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Monday, March 26, 2018

Disney Company reorganizing in line with its new growth initiatives

The Disney Company announced on Wednesday, March 14 that it was reorganizing in keeping with its new growth initiatives, such as direct-to-consumer offerings.

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An immediate change includes the formation of a new business segment, direct-to-consumer and international. The new segment will include the technology and platforms in the company's streaming endeavors, but as well the distribution of these services.
The division includes Disney's's already existing stake in Hulu the subscription on demand video company as well as soon to launched ESPN+ and Disney's very own streaming service.
Disney claims it will start financial reporting under this new structure starting in the beginning of fiscal 2019.
CEO claims reorganization will prepare company for the future
Disney Chief Executive Officer(CEO) Bob Iger said the reorganization will put the company in a better position in the future and help the company to "deliver the entertainment and sports content consumers around the world want most, with more choice, personalization and convenience than ever before."
Iger also said: “With our unparalleled Studio and Media Networks serving as content engines for the Company, we are combining the management of our direct-to-consumer distribution platforms, technology and international operations to deliver the entertainment and sports content consumers around the world want most, with more choice, personalization and convenience than ever before.”
The full statement on reorganization can be found in this article.
Disney claims its planned streaming service can compete with Netflix
Disney is already home to box office powerhouses. Iger said: "When you go to market with "Star Wars" movies, Disney movies, Pixar movies, Marvel-branded and branded television shows under those umbrellas ... that will give us the ability to probably spend less than if we had gone to market with a direct-to-consumer service without these brands."
Disney already has shows and movies that consumers desire and actively seek. Disney will make these exclusively available on its planned streaming service. It will not face the same pressure to outbid other companies. Netflix claims it plans on spending between $7.5 and $8 billion on content just this year.
Merger with 21st Century Fox
The reorganization takes place in the context of a merger agreement with 21st Century Fox. Last December 14th Disney and Fox reached a $52 billion deal to merge. Disney would get most of Fox's entertainment assets including filmed entertainment, cable entertainment and direct satellite divisions in the UK, Europe and Asia. However, it does not include Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Television Stations, New Channel, Business Network and Fox Sports. These will be spun off as an independent company.
The merger still needs to be approved by the US Department of Justice, Antitrust Division before it can go ahead.


Previously published in Digital Journal

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Norway to buy battery-operated ferries to help the environment

The Sognefjord shipyard made fuel-guzzling boats for the oil industry for many years. Now its prosperity lies in going green, as the shipyard is assembling the first ferry boats that will be entirely powered by batteries.
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Erlend Hatleberg, a project manager at Havyard Group ASA, that runs the Sognefjord shipyard building the new ferries, said that they will be producing the ferries for the next five years. Hatleberg emphasized that although they had been in a deep lull in ferry orders over recent years, activity was now back.
Electrifying ships lags behind EV production.
Even so, there are dozens of battery-powered boats about to make their maiden voyages through inland waters in Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Some are even autonomous boats with no crew.
Norway is at the forefront of the push to use electric power. The state oil company is actually expanding into offshore wind farming. People drive more electric cars per capita than any country in the world in spite of the fact Norway is a northern country with long and cool winters.
Norway has an ambitious target of having all boats that carry both passengers and cars along the coast to be battery-operated by 2030. This still will have a minimal effect globally.
To electrify the global fleet would be an enormous undertaking
There are 50,000 tankers, freighters, and carriers in the world's oceans that would be required to switch to renewable energy. The biggest ships have diesel engines the size of a four-story house. The global fleet's emissions are comparable to those of 64,000 passenger cars.
The International Council on Clean Transportation predicts that by 2050 sea transport could account for 17 percent of CO2 emissions, a huge increase from the two or three percent the transport causes at present. Shipping was not included in the Paris agreement.
In any event, battery technology has not evolved to the point where it could power ships on long ocean voyages according to the International Maritime Organization. However, the organization is set to release an initial set of guidelines for the reduction of greenhouse gases in April.
Lloyd's Register Group said in a December report: “Battery technology is simply not competitive and still requires significant further evolution in terms of performance and cost reduction before it could be preferable to synthetic fuel options,”
Norway coast ideally suited for electric-powered ships
Along Norway's coasts there are many populated waterfront areas that allow the ships to be easily recharged. Often the charging time is minimal as show on the appended video. The ships improve air quality and noise pollution as well.
Norway has hundreds of long narrow inlets that can stretch even hundreds of kilometers inland. Ferries are an essential addition to road transportation. Edvard Sandvik, head of the Public Roads Association said that by 2021 there should be about 60 battery-powered or hybrid ferries in operation.
First electric ferry started operation in 2015.
The Ampere is a catamaran with two hulls. It is 80 meters long and 21 wide with seven crew cabins and 140 chairs. It can carry up to 120 cars and 360 passengers.
The groundbreaking ferry was constructed by the Norwegian Shipyard Fjelistrand in Omastrand in collaboration with Siemens and Nortel. It was the world's first electric-powered ferry. It was delivered in October 2014, but did not start commercial operations until May 2015.
The Ampere operates in the Sognefjord between the two villages of Lavik and Oppedal. It makes about 34 trips a day. It takes only about 20 minutes for each trip and about ten for loading and unloading cars and passenger.s.
The advanced vessel operates on a 5.7km crossing in the Sognefjord between the villages of Lavik and Oppedal. It makes approximately 34 trips a day, each trip requiring approximately 20 minutes, excluding the 10 minutes of loading and unloading time for cars and passengers.
The nation and regional Norwegian government spend about $386 million a year to operate 200 ferriesthat serve 130 routes.
Turkey provided Norway with two electric ferries in January
Tersan Shipyard in Turkey delivered two battery-powered ferries to Fjord1 in Norway just one week apart from each other. The Eidsfjord and Glopperfjord will operate in Nordfjord on the west coast of Norway.
The ferries will need to stop for only nine minutes in ports for recharging.
Mehmet Gazioglu, managing director of the Tersan shipyard said: “We are so proud to deliver these fully battery-operated ferries and honoured to be part of the first ferry connection in Norway where the road administration requires use of zero-emission technology,”

Previously published in Digital Journal

President Trump bans purchase of Qualcomm by Broadcomm

The decision to ban any takeover by Singapore's Broadcom of the U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm may signal a shift toward stronger control and oversight of the technology of the telecom and wireless area.
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In line with Trump's America First policy, Trump no doubt wants to ensure that control of advanced technology in the area is kept out of the hands of foreign competitors such as China. Some U.S. officials had warned that the $117 billion buyout could involve ceding control of the wireless and telecom infrastructure to foreign countries such as China.
U.S. wants America to be first in technology in the area
Jon Erensen, research director for semiconductors at Gartner said: “These transitions come along almost every decade or so, moving to a new iteration of technology. The government is being very careful to ensure the U.S. keeps its leadership role developing these standards.”
Trump said in announcing the ban that allowing the takeover of Qualcomm would be a danger to U.S. national security.
Qualcomm
Qualcomm, with headquarters in San Diego California, may not be that widely known but it is an important U.S.-based multinational semiconductor and telecommunications company. It designs and markets telecommunications products and services. Much of its revenue comes from chipmaking but most of its profits come from its patent licensing businesses. The company has 224 locations worldwide.
Qualcomm makes many of the processors that power smartphones as well as other mobile devices. The company also owns patents and key pieces of technology that Apple as well as other companies use in their products.
Qualcomm has been a leader in the broadband cellular network technologies such as 3G and 4G. It has invested a great deal of time and money in the coming 5 G technology.
Worries about China gaining leadership in advanced 5G technology
Erensen said that China is playing a larger role in developing standards and there has been considerable consolidation in the industry. Development is in fewer hands while the stakes are growing. Some industry analysts suggest that the government blocked the deal because of Qualcomm's advanced work on the 5G system.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States(CFIUS), a body that reviews national security implications of foreign investments in U.S. companies said that they were concerned about Broadcom's policy of cutting costs. The Committee thought that this might have the effect of Qualcomm being less of a leader in the area. This fits in with Trump's policy of ensuring that America is first.
If the merged company shows less leadership, a Chinese company such as Huawei, that CFIUS has in the past expressed concern about, could become dominant in 5G technology and standards, a situation that the U.S. wants to prevent. This provides a main reason not to allow the merger.
Stacy Rasgon, a chip analyst at Bernstein summed up the argument: "The case that has been constructed is that, given Broadcom's business practices, the worry is that they will cut investment significantly, particularly in the 5G roadmap, weaken Qualcomm, as well as the U.S. position and allow Huawei, a Chinese company to take the lead."
Brian Fleming, an attorney and former counsel at the national security division of the Justice Department said: “Over time that would mean U.S. government and U.S. technology companies could lose a trusted U.S. supplier that does not present same national security counter intelligence risk that a Chinese supplier does. They honestly believe they are helping to protect national security by doing this."
While blocking the deal may slow down Chinese efforts in the area, the Chinese may still dominate if they are willing to invest heavily in the area.
Broadcom may decide not to move to the U.S.
Given that Broadcom will not be allowed to buy Qualcomm, it might very well reconsider moving its headquarters from SIngapore where it is now to the U.S. This may mean that the U.S. is losing potential jobs as a result of its decision.
There is another recent article in the Digital Journal that reports on Trump's decision.


Previously published in Digital Journal

India rethinking its ambitions EV program

Just two years ago, the Indian government proposed an ambitious program that would make every new vehicle sold an electric vehicle by 2030.

Some Indian cities have among the world's highest hazardous air pollution levels. It many cases the situation is even worse than some Chinese cities. India is the second most populated country with only China being more populous. The Indian plan was to reach the goal by private and corporate partnerships, and government incentives the government said earlier this year.
Plan may have been too ambitious
The Asia Review reported recently that the government has concluded that a more realistic goal would see 30 percent of new vehicles being plug-in cars by 2030. This position was confirmed by R.K. Singh the power minister.
Singh said recently at a recent luncheon meeting: "We must ensure that by 2030. 30 percent of our vehicles run on electricity". He claimed that such a percentage would let the country "leave behind a better world for our grandchildren."
Within two or three weeks, Singh is expected to release his ministry's policies and regulations for both electric utilities and providers of EV charging stations.
Nitin Gadkari, minister of road transport and highways, had suggested that there was not even a need for the EV program at all.
Challenges to India's plan
Roughly three million new vehicles are sold each year in India just about a tenth the size of the Chinese market. China is still considering by what year it should ban sales of new combustion engines.
The per-capita annual income in India is just $1,670. Unless prices of EVs come down drastically vehicles using fossil fuels to power them will be much cheaper.
There may be problems setting up a charging infrastructure for EVs. 50 million homes in India do not even have electricity. Fully forty percent of new vehicles are made by Maruti Suzuki, mostly subcompact and minicars. Being so dominant the company may influence the final policy of the government.
Deepesh Rathore, who is director of the Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors in London said that India needs to build a charging infrastructure and the government needs to provide a clear policy direction but neither has yet been delivered.
Indian EV maker claims its vehicles will soon be profitable
Mahindra, that makes a line of small limited-range electric cars claims that it is already almost profitable and it plans to fully embrace the production of EVs in the future. Mahindra claimed that as businesses begin to see a future in manufacturing EV's government subsidies will not be necessary.
Chairman Anand Mahindra said: "We’ve just been believers for a while, haven’t been making any money, but now the tipping point seems to be reached. This is the single biggest business opportunity for the next couple of decades. Anyone not looking at these opportunities is going to miss out on growth."
A Mahindra EV is featured in the appended video.

Previously published in Digital Journal


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Tesla suspended production of Model 3 for 5 days in late February

The foremost electric car (EV) maker Tesla suspended production of its popular Model 3 for almost a whole week in late February. The suspension was planned to allow time to make changes that the company hopes will increase productivity.

The Model 3 production suspension.
The Model 3 production was stopped from February 20th to Febuary 24th at its assembly plant in Fremont California. Other models such as the Model S sedan and the Model X SUV are also made at the facility. Batteries are made in what is called the Gigafactory located east of Reno Nevada.
A Tesla spokesperson said: “Our Model 3 production plan includes periods of planned downtime in both Fremont and Gigafactory 1. These periods are used to improve automation and systematically address bottlenecks in order to increase production rates. This is not unusual and is in fact common in production ramps like this.”
Tesla ramping up production of the Model 3
The Model 3 is crucial to the plan of Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, to bring EVs to the mass market. However, ramping up production has been difficult and challenging, much more so than planned. Tesla has a target of a weekly production rate of 2,500 sedans by the end of this month and double that 5,000 by the end of June.
Musk recently said: “People have told me that my timelines historically have been optimistic.” Tesla also asked that buyers and investors be patient and noted the Model 3 rollout had “demonstrated the difficulty of accurately forecasting specific production rates at specific points in time.”
There is so much interest in the production rate of the Model 3 that Bloomberg developed a Model 3 Tracker. The Tracker estimates the weekly production rate based on Vehicle Identification Numbers (VPNs) registered with safety regulators and reported to Bloomberg by customers. While in February production plunged, it has revived in early March.
Tesla still leading in U.S. and EU luxury market
Tesla has managed to outsell all other EVs in the U.S. in February in spite of its declining production of the Model S. and that includes a popular Toyota hybrid.
In spite of production problems, Tesla shares are up 5.1 percent this year. Tesla has many other businesses, including manufacturing batteries, and also building and launching rockets. The company has a market cap of about $55.3 billion dollars more than GM or Ford.
As noted in a recent Digital Journal article there are many new EVs which will compete with Tesla models but at present Tesla is leading the pack in the US and also in the European luxury market.

Previously published in Digital Journal

New competitors coming to challenge Tesla's EV dominance

Tesla did not show up for the Geneva Motor Show. Perhaps the company feels it doesn't have to, as it already dominates in the EV market and EV news coverage. But there is some tough competition headed Tesla's way.

There are numerous new model EVs at the Geneva Motor show that will compete with Tesla models, although some have yet to come on the market. More luxury EV's and hybrids are coming on the market than ever before. This article considers only purely electric cars not the hybrids. Discussion of the hybrids can be found in this article.
The Jaguar I-Pace
The I-Pace measures up closely in its specs with Tesla's Model X 75 D the company's base version of its SUV. Both have a similar range and acceleration. Although the Model X is larger and boasts more seats and storage space it is also $10,000 more than the I-Pace. The I-Pace is already is also $5,000 less than Tesla's entry level Model S.
The I-Pace will be available some time during the second half of 2018 and orders are open even now.
Audi E-Tron Quattro all-electric SUV
Porsche also has a concept car that will compete with some Tesla models but Audi already paraded a prototype of the E-Tron Quattro through Geneva streets rather than on the show room floor. It is supposed to be in Europe by the end of 2018 and in the US in 2019. It has a range of over 200 miles, and fast charging and will launch with several other E-Tron models.
BMW is also launching an i4 sedan after earlier introducing the i3.
The Hyundai Kona Electric SUV
This small SUV will be more affordable than the I-Pace and has a model with a very long range of 292 miles. It will be a competitor of GM's Bolt as well. Bolt is the second best selling EV after Tesla's Model 3 and will also be in competition with Tesla. However as reported in a recent Digital Journal article the 2018 Bolt is little changed from last year's model.
Renault has the best-selling EV in Europe the Zoe and it has received a better motor and retains a mileage range of over 180 miles.
Tesla faces several issues
While Tesla may dominate the market, it is unable to produce the new affordable Model 3 fast enough to keep up with demand. It has preorders of a half million. Many potential customers may decide the wait is too long and opt to buy competitors' cars such as the Chevy Bolt or the Kona if it is available.
A second issue for Tesla is that the company is quickly approaching sales of 200,000 EVs in the US. At this point, the company will gradually lose the federal government's federal tax incentive which slowly decreases and eventually disappears. Competitors will enjoy a price advantage as none are near that mark. Of course, President Trump could decide to end the tax incentive entirely and that would put everyone on a level playing field.
The Geneva Motor Show at least shows that all the talk about EV's that company's have been pushing is not just marketing hype but is being followed up by commitments to actually produce new EVs.


Previously published in Digital Journal

Ripple hires former Bloomberg journalist as chief market strategist

Ripple company announced that journalist Cory Johnson has been hired as chief market strategist. Johnson will work closely with the rest of the executive team to help manage the company's growth.

Cory will be working closely with Ron Will the chief financial officer of Ripple. His job will be to explain Ripple and its cryptocoin XRP (Ripple) to investors and regulators.
Cory Johnson
Johnson has a distinguished career as a journalist. At one time he was the Silicon Valley correspondent for CNBC news. Recently he co-hosted Bloomberg West with Emily Chang in discussions of the tech sector. Johnson also covers Internet companies, social media, cloud computing and various other subjects in technology, media, and entertainment.
Before starting work with Bloomberg in 2010 Johnson worked as a hedge fund manager and a private investor. He worked for Kingsford Capital Management and also for Cannell Capital LLC. As an analyst for Cannell he focused on value investing, short selling, forensic accounting. As a journalist he also has covered sports, and organized crime.
Johnson has also helped create several magazines. He served as editor of SLAM magazine. and helped create Vibe magazine. He also created a daily national radio show on Sirius XM called "Bloomberg Markets".
Johnson on Ripple, the blockchain, and cryptocurrency
Johnson said that he believed in Ripple and believed that the technology involved was real and revolutionary. However, he also said: "But I am also convinced that a lot of blockchain-related companies and crypto projects are exaggerated. This space is confusing and over-hyped."
Johnson said his role was to help investors, financial institutions, and regulators understand how XRP fits within the market but also the impact the crypto and blockchain technology will have in the future.
Cory on regulation
Cory unlike some in the area sees regulation as positive. He claims more investor protection is needed in the area and cannot happen too fast. He was hopeful that regulators would see real use for digital assets.
In particular, Cory sees blockchain technology as key to improving the banking system and providing a much improved payments system. He thinks that there has been too much emphasis on the price of cryptocoins rather than on the differences between digital assets and the companies that use them.
Ripple's wild price fluctuations
The price of XRP the Ripple coin has fluctuated wildly this year. It had a high of $3.84 in January but was priced at a mere 83 cents on Thursday. As of about 20:00 UTC on Saturday the price had fallen even further at 78.4 cents.
The price had spiked on more than one occasion as there were reports that turned out to be just rumours indicating the Coinbase exchange would trade Ripple. One spike was reported on in a recent Digital Journal article.
Ripple is in a unique cash position
Ripple (XRP) is not mined. There are 55 billion XRP in an escrow account and every month Ripple the company sells a small fraction of that horde. In the fourth quarter of 2017 sales brought in $91.6 million.
Johnson would not say if part of his compensation was in XRP.
The RippleNet platform is already being adopted by some financial institutions
The Ripple website boasts: "Ripple connects banks, payment providers, digital asset exchanges and corporates via RippleNet to provide one frictionless experience to send money globally."
The company claims that the RippleNet platform is already being used by more than 100 banks and that a group of Japanese banks is also testing the system. RBC, Bank of America and UBS are also said to be involved.
A recent article adds: "XRP has started to gain some adoption of late. MoneyGram announced earlier this year that it's testing Ripple's xRapid technology and XRP currency for cross-border payments, and shortly after that Ripple said IDC Corporation and Mercury FX will use xRapid "to settle remittances and corporate transactions quickly.""


Previously published in Digital Journal

Friday, March 23, 2018

More ads and price increases will not stop cord cutting of cable subscribers

During the last decade cable providers have been slowly losing subscribers as many customers cut the cord and use streaming video competitors such as Netflix and You Tube or Roku and many others.

Cable executives refuse to take the trend seriously
Often the trend is either ignored or its is regarded as not serious. The defections were to a considerable degree caused by the costs of subscriptions. Often subscribers paid for channel bundles that contained channels they did not want. Opting for streaming alternatives was attractive and much cheaper.
The response was to increase subscription prices and the number of ads to try to make up for lost revenue.
Those who cut the cord were not worth keeping
After ignoring the trend for several years and pretending it was not happening, the industry then explained that those who were cutting the cord were not worth having as subscribers anyway and the trend was an annoying fad and would soon stop. Those cutting the cord were not tech savvy young people as some assumed but poor older people.
An article in Techdirt describes the earlier reactions: "First, they pretended it wasn't happening at all, and that they had somehow "beat" the internet (based on a single anecdote of someone who had dropped cable, but gone back to it a year later). Then, when news came out of massive numbers of people dropping their cable TV plans, they said that they weren't really cord cutters, because they were only canceling service due to the down economy."
The extent of lost subscribers
The trend towards cutting the cord is accelerating rather than slowing down. The research firm MoffetNathason Research notes that during the fourth quarter of last year the pay TV sector lost 500,000 subscribers. Satellite providers were badly hit with Dish and Direct TV losing 268,000 subscribers between them just in three months of last year.
The 3.4 percent decline in pay TV customers was the highest rate since the trend began accelerating back in 2010. It was also up from the 2 percent decline in the fourth quarter of 2016 and the one percent decrease in 2015.
The "cord never" group
A number of people, the "cord never" group, many of them Millennials grew up without ever subscribing to cable TV but watch Netflix or You Tube or use streaming devices such as Roku. Traditional TV is regarded as expensive and archaic. These people are also a significant reason the number of pay TV subscribers is declining. If they had subscribed the pay TV providers would have more subscribers.
Cable companies confident because of large base of subscribers still
There are still 83 million households that subscribe to traditional cable. This may give cable executives the false notion that they can milk their cash cow forever. However, as reported in a recent Digital Journal article 40 percent of present pay TV subscribers will have cut the cord by 2030.
Some companies are beginning to recognize the trend
A recent article at Motherboard goes into detail as to how cable companies reacted to the trend by increasing ads and subscription prices.
Some companies are finally coming to the conclusion they need less rather than more advertising. Fox is trying to reduce ad time to just two minutes per hour by 2020. Ed Davis a Fox executive said:“The two minutes per hour is a real target for Fox, and also our challenge for the industry. Creating a sustainable model for ad-supported storytelling will require us all to move.”
Comcast NBC Universal also claims it will reduce advertising by as much as 20 percent in commercial breaks, and by 10 percent in prime time programming. Yet Comcast is increasing prices for this year a move likely to lose it subscribers. Rather than face the fact that they need to compete with streaming services many cable companies are looking for new ways to raise revenue and put obstacles in the way of their streaming competitors. They might do better if they concentrate on offering a cheaper and better alternative product and accept the fact that their profit margins will be less.


Previously published in Digital Journal

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...