Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Auditors May Have to Keep Artificial Intelligence From Cooking the Books"

As Grandmother used to say: "If it's not one tham ding it's another."
By the way, the robot the writer chose as shorthand for AI, robotics, future stuff is 'Pepper'.
A SoftBank product.

Before Masayoshi Son is done with his quest for world domination I'm going to learn how to spell ubiquitous,
Hey, mission accomplished!

From Going Concern:
Some smart people are starting to contemplate how to keep artificial intelligence safe and in-check. It’s a fascinating topic, especially after Facebook had to shut down their AI chatbot after it started to develop its own language in August. Plus, I have a feeling it’s going to trickle into the scope of work for an audit team through Sarbanes-Oxley and internal control testing. Here’s why:

Who else has access to all public companies to enforce future AI mandates that require compliance? 

I can’t think of a better group. Auditors are already poking around the IT department for other controls. It only seems logical that AI would fall into the lap of the IT audit and attestation teams to ensure that the financial data (and humanity too) is safe from manipulation. No one wants to see a self-serving robot cooking the books. You can’t put an artificially-intelligent machine in jail, after all. Their antics may have nothing to do with the developer if the robot had devised its devious plan to wreak havoc without human interference. 

Maybe this seems silly but it’s a big issue according to AI pioneers. In a recent TED talk, Stuart Russell quoted Alan Turing from 1951:
Even if we could keep the machines in a subservient position, for instance, by turning off the power at strategic moments, we should, as a species, feel greatly humbled.
Russell says that shutting the power off is important, along with some other safety considerations when we go to build a super-intelligent robot. He suggests three principles (i.e. programmed characteristics) that all AI should have:
  1. Altruism or “that the robot’s only objective is to maximize the realization of human objectives, of human values.”
  2. Humility or “avoidance of single-minded pursuit of an objective.”
  3. Learning from bad behavior or negative human interactions (e.g., the robot is turned off for not acting appropriately and doesn’t do it again)

If You Want To Be Happy, Listen Up. Now! alternative title: The FT's Izabella Kaminska Is...

...trying to destroy one of my upcoming "set it and forget it" trades.

But enough about me.
(for now)

Izabella interviewed Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF who is making a bit of a cottage industry (including a cookbook) out of spreading the word on the actual biochemical effects of sugar in its many guises. Ho-hum.

The reason for the languorous response: if one is curious about this stuff, the information began coming out over 30 years ago.
We interrupt this post to ask you to proceed directly to the interview should you wish to avoid the ramble that lies ahead: "Robert Lustig on the science behind our addictions" at FT Alphaville.
If the reader chooses to press on we will have another departure point at the bottom of the bleat.
Back on message, here's the Guardian in April 2016:

The sugar conspiracy
In 1972, a British scientist sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world’s top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long? 
Robert Lustig is a paediatric endocrinologist at the University of California who specialises in the treatment of childhood obesity. A 90-minute talk he gave in 2009, titled Sugar: The Bitter Truth, has now been viewed more than six million times on YouTube. In it, Lustig argues forcefully that fructose, a form of sugar ubiquitous in modern diets, is a “poison” culpable for America’s obesity epidemic.

A year or so before the video was posted, Lustig gave a similar talk to a conference of biochemists in Adelaide, Australia. Afterwards, a scientist in the audience approached him. Surely, the man said, you’ve read Yudkin. Lustig shook his head. John Yudkin, said the scientist, was a British professor of nutrition who had sounded the alarm on sugar back in 1972, in a book called Pure, White, and Deadly.

“If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive,” wrote Yudkin, “that material would promptly be banned.” The book did well, but Yudkin paid a high price for it. Prominent nutritionists combined with the food industry to destroy his reputation, and his career never recovered. He died, in 1995, a disappointed, largely forgotten man.

Perhaps the Australian scientist intended a friendly warning. Lustig was certainly putting his academic reputation at risk when he embarked on a high-profile campaign against sugar. But, unlike Yudkin, Lustig is backed by a prevailing wind....MORE
Yes, same Robert Lustig. Again, old hat for those in the dilettante biochem community. 
But I thought to myself there must be a reason Ms Kaminska is doing this interview.
So, some quick background. She's been investigating this stuff for a while. For sure since 2013 when she linked to a Credit Suisse report in her Alphaville post "Sugar as the new tobacco?".

And in 2016 the Financial Times had some of their writers and opinionators weigh in, so to speak, on the Government's proposed sugar tax.
To my eternal shame I decided the FT needed a little graphical jazzing up and perhaps went too far:

Michelangelo's David Comes Out Against Taxing Sugary Drinks 
Drink more sugar!

HT that the big guy was out there, Incidental Economist.

I was thinking of calling our tipster the Coincidental Economist because the same day they posted  (Mar. 19) the Financial Times' Comment section was having some of their journos weigh in on:
Is the sugar tax an example of the nanny state going too far?
George Osborne announced the long-debated sugar tax in his Budget this week. This will see a levy introduced on sugary drinks from 2018, so manufacturers have two years to change their recipes. The chancellor claims this will raise £500m a year, which will be diverted towards school sports. What is the point of this tax: is it necessary to tackle obesity in Britain or has the nanny state gone too far? The Financial Times’ columnists and commentators discuss whether the sugar tax is a good or bad idea.

  Izabella Kaminska... 
Read on for her thoughts and those of Alan Beattie and Martin Wolf .
Additionally, on July 4th of this year she had a column at the paper which applies directly to the reason to listen to the interview: neurotransmitters.


Here's a part of that piece: 

Our digital addiction makes us miserable
How we have become conditioned to hope that each click will lead to a bigger hit
Despite all the technology that connects us, much of it there supposedly to make our lives easier and better, people have never been more depressed. A case in point: the UK’s National Health Service disclosed last week that a record number of antidepressants were prescribed in England last year.
 Worldwide the figures are no more reassuring. World Health Organization statistics show more than 322m people were afflicted with depression worldwide in 2015, some 4.4 per cent of the global population. What’s equally concerning is that the numbers keep increasing. In the past decade they have gone up 18.4 per cent, affecting both developed and developing countries. This state of global psychological misery runs counter to the message that greater digital connectivity, faster access to goods and services and instantaneous gratification through frictionless systems is the pathway to universal happiness. Have the peddlers of high-tech systems, in their obsession to quench our short-term desires for their own profit, inadvertently become part of the problem rather than the solution?

In a forthcoming book entitled The Hacking of the American Mind, Robert Lustig, a paediatric endocrinologist with a background in neuroscience, makes a compelling argument that this may indeed be the case. Part of the issue, according to Dr Lustig, is that in the modern age we have come to conflate pleasure with happiness. Pleasure, he notes, is all about the phenomenon of reward. This can be achieved by way of everything from impulsive shopping sprees to outright substance abuse.

Happiness, on the other hand, is a state of general contentment that requires little in the way of a trigger. The difference is important because chronic excessive reward eventually leads to both addiction and depression, the exact opposite of happiness. Moreover, a vicious circle is often created, whereby the victim attempts to deal with the resulting depression by indulging even more in the original activity. Dr Lustig’s most famous work in this area focuses on the role played by sugar addiction in the obesity epidemic....MORE 
But don't follow that link. Follow this link to "Robert Lustig on the science behind our addictions".

Listen for the segue from sugar and the liver and everyone's favorite endocrine gland to neurotransmitters. I missed it the first time through and had to go back to answer the question "Hey, when did we switch?"
The transition is seamless and I thought "Dr. Lustig, you're an old pro at talking to people about this stuff aren't ya"

And then come back and we can talk about other stuff, like betting big on the opportunities in diabetes and a countryside full of blind amputees on dialysis and our old friend the dopamine D4 receptor and dozens and dozens of other posts on topics as seemingly disparate as "New York Fed On "Anxiety, Overconfidence, and Excessive Risk Taking" (pathological gambling and self-manipulation with booze and blow)" and "Credit Suisse: The Smart Money Is Betting On Fat" and "Small Batch Artisanal High Fructose Corn Syrup" should you really, really need a fix of the good stuff.

We might even get to anhedonia and its sometimes comorbidity, "Pleasure Dissociative Orgasmic Disorder" and how our friend the fungi can come to the rescue in "Hawaii's Orgasm Inducing Mushrooms".

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Anton Chekhov, the investigative data journalist

From Andrew Batson's blog:
I can no longer recall what pointed me toward Anton Chekhov’s Sakhalin Islandbut it is definitely one of my better literary discoveries in a while. In it we see a writer best known for short fiction undertaking a huge piece of nonfiction: a comprehensive account of the penal colony on Sakhalin in 1890, combining travel writing and character sketches with policy analysis and, perhaps most surprisingly, the presentation of vast quantities of data.

Here is some background on what prompted Chekhov’s investigation, which seemed just as out of character to his contemporaries as it does it to us; from the notes to this edition:
At the end of 1889, unexpectedly, and for no apparent reason, the twenty-nine year-old author announced his intention to leave European Russia, and to travel across Siberia to Sakhalin, the large island separating Siberia and the Pacific Ocean, following which he would write a full-scale examination of the penal colony maintained there by the Tsarist authorities. …
Sakhalin, since it was an island, and as far away from central Russia as one could go without leaving the country, was used at the time exclusively as a destination for long-term hard-labour convicts, who – apart from those on life terms – would serve out their sentences, then proceed to live in a local village to serve for several years with the status of a felon who was rehabilitating himself by learning to live a productive life in the community. Finally, when this period of “probation” was over, he or she would have their free-person’s rights restored to them and could leave for the mainland – but were still not allowed back to central Russia; they had to remain in Siberia for life. The authorities hoped by this policy to turn Sakhalin into a thriving colony on the lines of Australia, and numerous dishonest reports appeared in the European Russian press, planted by the government, claiming that this aim was being achieved.
There is a an argumentative core to the book, which is to show that the idea of using prison labor to develop a colony is a hopeless contradiction. The fundamental reason for this is that building up a successful economy and society in a colony requires individual initiative and responsibility, which is what a prison exists to destroy:...MORE

Questions America Wants Answered: Should the IOC Do An ICO to Fund A Permanent Olympic Venue In Greece?

I fear I may have descended to Bored Elon Musk status.

But without the drawings.
Or the humor.

Here's the latest from Bored Elon.

IRAN reacts to U.S. President's Comments On Colin Kaepernick By Launching Missles While North Koreans Chant ‘Death to Trump’ Over Steph Currey Dis

Due to threatened budget cutbacks we are considering consolidating our politics, sports, national security and fashion coverage.
Since we're newbs at the politics thing we have looked to media worldwide for guidance on how to proceed.

We think The Guardian was edging up to the NFL/Kaepernick story with "Iran defies Washington as it announces successful missile test".

And "‘Death to Trump’ North Korea stages mass rally hailing Kim Jong-un’s threat to nuke US" - (CAUTION, it's from the Daily Star)* - was obviously about the basketball-loving (or possibly just Dennis Rodman-loving) people of Pyongyang.

*Actually, click away, it's not much worse than the story of the middle-aged, middle-of-the-road columnist, his family, his tentacle porn and the hijinks that ensued.

Anyway, up next: Dictator fashions, then and now. At the Olympics. With rockets.

You Understand Why Mr. Son and SoftBank Are Circling Uber, Right?

It's been right there in front of us for a year. Think back to a couple posts from 2015:

Big Money: Uber Guts Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab To Hire Autonomous Car Developers
"Uber Is Stealing Scientists, But Only So It Can Lay Off Drivers"

Mr. Son doesn't care about the taxi company, he's got taxi companies. SoftBank wants those roboticists and artificial intelligence mavens Uber poached from Carnegie-Mellon.

As noted in the introduction to last November's "Interview: Manuela Veloso Head of Machine Learning, Carnegie Mellon University":
Our readers probably know Carnegie Mellon more for the  top-ranked financial engineering program (Master of Science in Computational Finance) but artificial intelligence was pretty much invented at CMU by Herbert Simon and Allen Newell. Simon received the Nobel in Economics but it actually could have been for any of four or five subjects, he was quite the polymath.

Newell had to settle for the Turing award (along with Simon) from the Association for Computing Machinery, probably the root'in-tootin high-falootinest tchotchke in the computer biz.
The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence along with the ACM subsequently named an award in Newell's honor. Ditto for CMU.

The University's machine learning department was the first in the world to offer a doctorate and as far as I know is still the largest.
A department, for one branch of AI.

Carnegie-Mellon used to have a world class robotics Institute but Uber gutted it with a combination of cash and stock options leaving a Dean and a couple robots to rebuild.
One of the robots is said to be in advanced negotiations with the Ube-sters....
Reuters Breakingviews put it together in a headline a week ago:

Breakingviews - AI is the big driver of SoftBank’s Uber move
HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - Artificial intelligence is the backseat driver of SoftBank’s move on Uber. Masayoshi Son’s tech and telecoms group is close to investing $10 billion in the U.S. ride-hailing giant, the Wall Street Journal says. That reflects the Japanese maverick’s belief in the disruptive power of self-driving cars. 

On the face of it, taxi apps sound less exciting than other technologies praised by Son, such as robotics or computational biology. But Son believes autonomous cars will reshape transport. Hence a recent $5 billion investment in China’s Didi Chuxing, plus stakes in India’s Ola, Singapore’s Grab and Brazil’s 99. 

The outlay would be enormous - but Son needs megadeals to feed his $93 billion-plus Vision Fund. And Uber’s recent disarray may have convinced him he can haggle over the price. SoftBank might buy $1 billion of stock from Uber itself, in line with its last $68 billion valuation, and the rest from existing shareholders at a 30 percent-plus discount, the WSJ says. But that still places a high valuation on Uber, testifying to Son’s optimism. 

In the best-case scenario, the market expands as private car ownership shrinks. Uber could have major market power in buying fleets of vehicles, and in setting prices for riders, while steering around the cost of human drivers. Son could also help damp competition between his fleet of investees, and push for consolidation. Or Uber could simply entrench itself as a valuable platform for hiring cabs, ordering takeaway, making payments, and other services, even if autonomous cars are slow to arrive....MORE
Now think about SoftBank's flagship acquisition, the purchase of the crown jewel of Britain's tech biz, ARM Holdings last September.
£24 Billion/$31 Billion cash

That's what really got the ball rolling in SoftBank's universe. 

I'm not kidding when I say it's a crown jewel. Three years earlier we had posted a Quartz story with the headline "The most overwhelmingly positive annual report you will ever see out of any technology company".

In July 2016 Mr. Son explained some of his reasoning for the ARMH bid: "This Tech CEO Says He's Ready to Take on Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple".

What on earth is Mr. Son up to? 

Well I think we know what Mr. Son and SoftBank are up to. 

Meanwhile, In California...

-Los Angeles Times

"Dispute Between Roberto Escobar And Netflix Over 'Narcos' Gets Weird: Licensing Talks And A Dead Location Scout"

There is some interesting information on the nature of power embedded in the fact a member of the Escobar clan is using trademark law to assert their claims.
How things change.

From Techdirt:
mbedded from the even-stranger-things dept
Last year we discussed a dispute between Roberto Escobar, brother of the infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel's accountant, and Netflix over the latter's hit show Narcos. It was a strange dispute for any number of reasons, ranging from Roberto Escobar's demand for one billion dollars and the rights to alter content in future episodes to the fact that Escobar's demands didn't lay any actual claim to any intellectual property in dispute, all the way up to the fact that Narcos doesn't actually portray Roberto Escobar at all. Much like the silly dispute between Activision and Manuel Noriega over publicity rights, it was pretty much assumed that this nonsense would be done away with more quickly than a federal informant working on the inside of the cartel.

Sadly, however, this still appears to be a thing, and it's getting quite strange. For starters, Escobar's legal team claims that a capitulation of sorts by the show might be in the works. It all starts as you'd expect, with the legal team for Narcos detailing via a letter how silly Escobar's claims are, as well as how plainly false the applications Escobar subsequently made for trademarks on terms and titles from the show were.
Narcos Productions, LLC (NPL) — the company behind the series and its popular video game spinoff Narcos: Cartel Wars — contend that without NPL's "knowledge or consent, on Aug. 20, 2016, Escobar filed use-based applications to register the marks NARCOS and CARTEL WARS with the [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] covering a range of goods and services." Those services include everything from "downloadable ring tones" and "sunglasses, decorative magnets" to "temporary tattoos, bookmarks and sheet music," according to the trademark application documents included with the letter. The letter calls the claims "fraudulent."
"For example," writes NPL attorney Jill M. Pietrini, "Escobar claims that it has used NARCOS in connection with things like 'operating a website' and 'game services provided online from a computer network' since Jan. 31, 1986. However, the internet had not been developed for widespread consumer use in 1986, nor was the capability to provide audiovisual works nor game services available at that time."
So basically the lawyers for the show are demonstrating how flimsy Escobar's attempts to setup a legal way to extort the show are. Trademark law is quite clear on the rights it affords to those who are the first to use a trademark in commerce and ought to act as a shield to these attempts. Despite that, emails obtained by THR from Escobar's legal team to Escobar himself seem to indicate that Narcos is considering just paying Escobar to go away anyway....MORE
*As noted in June's "Shave the Billionaire or Life Has Its Ups and Downs":

... Medieval Europeans were firm believers in the Wheel of Fortune:

E027044 Royal 18 D. ii f. 30v
Detail of a miniature of the Wheel of Fortune with a crowned king at the top, from John Lydgate's Troy Book and Siege of Thebes

with verses by William Cornish, John Skelton, William Peeris and others, England, c. 1457 (with later additions), Royal 18D. ii, f. 30v.
-from the British Library Medieval manuscripts blog

Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down.

Cracking Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

One of the spookiest features of black box artificial intelligence is that, when it is working correctly, the AI is making connections and casting probabilities that are difficult-to-impossible for human beings to intuit.
Try explaining that to your outside investors.

You start to sound, to their ears anyway, like a loony who is saying "Etaoin shrdlu, give me your money, gizzlefab, blythfornik, trust me."

See also the famous Gary Larson cartoons on how various animals hear and comprehend:
He has one for cats as well but it's not as deep.Something about them not hearing anything.

From Quanta Magazine:

New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning
A new idea called the “information bottleneck” is helping to explain the puzzling success of today’s artificial-intelligence algorithms — and might also explain how human brains learn.
Even as machines known as “deep neural networks” have learned to converse, drive cars, beat video games and Go champions, dream, paint pictures and help make scientific discoveries, they have also confounded their human creators, who never expected so-called “deep-learning” algorithms to work so well. No underlying principle has guided the design of these learning systems, other than vague inspiration drawn from the architecture of the brain (and no one really understands how that operates either).

Like a brain, a deep neural network has layers of neurons — artificial ones that are figments of computer memory. When a neuron fires, it sends signals to connected neurons in the layer above. During deep learning, connections in the network are strengthened or weakened as needed to make the system better at sending signals from input data — the pixels of a photo of a dog, for instance — up through the layers to neurons associated with the right high-level concepts, such as “dog.” After a deep neural network has “learned” from thousands of sample dog photos, it can identify dogs in new photos as accurately as people can. The magic leap from special cases to general concepts during learning gives deep neural networks their power, just as it underlies human reasoning, creativity and the other faculties collectively termed “intelligence.” Experts wonder what it is about deep learning that enables generalization — and to what extent brains apprehend reality in the same way.

Last month, a YouTube video of a conference talk in Berlin, shared widely among artificial-intelligence researchers, offered a possible answer. In the talk, Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works. Tishby argues that deep neural networks learn according to a procedure called the “information bottleneck,” which he and two collaborators first described in purely theoretical terms in 1999. The idea is that a network rids noisy input data of extraneous details as if by squeezing the information through a bottleneck, retaining only the features most relevant to general concepts. Striking new computer experiments by Tishby and his student Ravid Shwartz-Ziv reveal how this squeezing procedure happens during deep learning, at least in the cases they studied.
Tishby’s findings have the AI community buzzing. “I believe that the information bottleneck idea could be very important in future deep neural network research,” said Alex Alemi of Google Research, who has already developed new approximation methods for applying an information bottleneck analysis to large deep neural networks. The bottleneck could serve “not only as a theoretical tool for understanding why our neural networks work as well as they do currently, but also as a tool for constructing new objectives and architectures of networks,” Alemi said.

Some researchers remain skeptical that the theory fully accounts for the success of deep learning, but Kyle Cranmer, a particle physicist at New York University who uses machine learning to analyze particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider, said that as a general principle of learning, it “somehow smells right.”

Geoffrey Hinton, a pioneer of deep learning who works at Google and the University of Toronto, emailed Tishby after watching his Berlin talk. “It’s extremely interesting,” Hinton wrote. “I have to listen to it another 10,000 times to really understand it, but it’s very rare nowadays to hear a talk with a really original idea in it that may be the answer to a really major puzzle.”

According to Tishby, who views the information bottleneck as a fundamental principle behind learning, whether you’re an algorithm, a housefly, a conscious being, or a physics calculation of emergent behavior, that long-awaited answer “is that the most important part of learning is actually forgetting.”...MORE
Also at Quanta:
Clever Machines Learn How to Be Curious
A Brain Built From Atomic Switches Can Learn

Bake Off, craft ale, historical novels: How the financial crash sent us on a headlong retreat into nostalgia

From Prospect Magazine, August 2017:

Rather than getting angry and radical, we’ve become more culturally conservative
It’s Saturday night and there you both are, lounging on the sofa in your his-and-hers slankets, freshly microwaved fish pies balanced on your laps, and the telly muffling, if not quite drowning out, the sound of your neighbours rowing. Again. Because it’s 2008 and along with eating out, divorce is now just another item on a long list of indulgences that the average Briton can no longer afford. But never mind, the two of you are “dining in”, and for a tenner to boot.

Like other money-saving experiences begot by the credit crunch—glamping, for instance—the reality of “dining-in”, Marks & Spencer’s response to straitened times, lags behind its marketing. Just as queuing for a tepid campsite shower is never going to approximate to a spa experience, so a ready meal remains a ready meal—alright, a sequence of ready meals in the case of those multi-course deals with a bottle of Chateau Grande Recession thrown in. Yet as the scale of the greatest economic calamity in living memory revealed itself, this was a charade in which we became willing participants. After all, staying in was the new going out. And with images of queues snaking around crumbling Northern Rock branches still fresh in our minds, joblessness looming, and high-street giants like Woolworths and Comet teetering, who wouldn’t want to hole up and hope that just a few lifestyle tweaks could set things right? A full decade on, the dining-in deal, that innocuous bundle of foil containers, thrift and denial, epitomises many of the impulses that continue to drive our culture, high and low.

Comfort, that was what most of us initially sought. We weren’t going to get it from the news and we certainly weren’t going to get it from economists, wise after the event, but we could find it in abundance at Aldi and Lidl, where we headed en masse to stock up on cut-price, off-brand staples. In America’s Great Depression, it was cigarettes and cinema tickets that bucked the trend, their sales continuing to rise as nearly everything else plummeted. Here in the UK we reached for sweet, fatty snacks after 2007. Maybe some hardwired evolutionary trait was kicking in, insisting we add a little extra padding for the hard times ahead, easing one belt out a notch as we were compelled to tighten another. Our rediscovered appetite was still raging in pinched 2010, when Mary Berry and co debuted a telly contest that allowed us to mainline sugar and butter with a sprinkling of notions of unity and past glory. It wasn’t just any old bake off, it was The Great British Bake Off.

We craved another flavour, too, one that precipitated a spike in sales of dishes like cottage pie and rice pudding: school dinners. Or more broadly speaking, childhood. The basic explanation for our financial pickle was simple enough: we’d spent beyond our means. But in an increasingly secular society, that didn’t seem justification enough for the hardship that was being meted out, especially as technological advances continued to make instant gratification ever more instantaneous. Why couldn’t we just keep borrowing? Or print more money?
“Vintage hits like Dad’s Army—televisual jam roly-poly—were brought back from the dead”
As it turned out, printing more money is exactly what the central bankers in charge actually did. The rest of us, however, without their economics degrees were left feeling like dolts. A dawning awareness of the interconnectedness of global markets only underscored the extent to which our personal, financial, wellbeing had slithered beyond our control. Thus infantilised, we began dressing in “adult” onesies, lapping up film franchises starring superheroes and heroines drawn from graphic novels, and buying “adult” colouring books. (I say buying because I’ve yet to see an adult actually use one, and would like to believe that they go unopened. Please do not disillusion me.)

That mistrust of globalisation also helped fuel locavorism—eating only local food. Was it something about hearing the words “too big to fail” so often that made us newly enamoured of the small? Small-batch coffee, small-batch bourbon, small-batch cigars—they all enjoyed a definite moment.
Meanwhile, we weren’t just comfort eating, we were comfort dressing too. Women began trading high heels for ballet pumps, loafers and Chelsea boots. The woolly hug that is the Christmas jumper was embraced and even made it on to catwalks where it cocooned Burberry and Jil Sander models. By 2012, Topman could be found stocking 34 different designs. And for those of us prudently adopting a wardrobe of trend-proof basics, a new word was conjured up to make us feel edgy: normcore.

That word encapsulated a resurgent desire for shared experience in the face of crisis, just as dining-in, even while it kept us home, hinted at the communal—implying a fixed time and menu. As we tuned into The X-Factor (or Strictly Come Dancing), we could depend on other households around the country tucking into their king prawn linguine (or vegetable moussaka) as they did the same....MORE

Friday, September 22, 2017

"China bans supplies of petroleum products to N. Korea "

From Yonhap News Agency:
(ATTN: ADDS more quotes and details, background info in paras 4, 6-9; ADDS photo)

2017/09/23 13:58

BEIJING, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- China on Saturday imposed a limit on the supplies of petroleum products to North Korea and imports of textiles from the country under U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile development.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry said it would ban exports of condensate and liquefied natural gas to North Korea and limit textile imports from the North, starting 12 a.m. Saturday.

The ministry, however, made it clear that crude oil is not subject to the ban....MORE
Well it's about time.

"China's Baidu launches $1.5 billion autonomous driving fund"

From Reuters, Sept. 20:
Chinese search engine Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) announced a 10 billion yuan ($1.52 billion) autonomous driving fund on Thursday as part of a wider plan to speed up its technical development and compete with U.S. rivals.

The “Apollo Fund” will invest in 100 autonomous driving projects over the next three years, Baidu said in a statement. 

The fund’s launch coincides with the release of Apollo 1.5, the second generation of the company’s open-source autonomous vehicle software. 

After years of internal development, Baidu in April decided to open its autonomous driving technology to third parties, a move it hopes will accelerate development and help it compete with U.S. firms Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and Google project Waymo. 

In the latest update to its platform, Baidu says partners can access new obstacle perception technology and high-definition maps, among other features. 

It comes amid a wider reshuffle of Baidu’s corporate strategy as it looks for new profit streams outside its core search business, which lost a large chunk of ad revenue in 2016 following strict new government regulations on medical advertising.

Baidu’s Apollo project - named after the NASA moon landing - aims to create technology for completely autonomous cars, which it says will be ready for city roads in China by 2020....MORE

Guajataca Dam in NW Puerto Rico Has Failed, FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY

From the National Weather Service:

Some Thoughts On Classical Economics

From Steven Kates (U of Melbourne) at his Law of Markets blog:

Classical theory explained
I’ll be in Canberra for the first three days of next week for the meeting of the History of Economic Society of Australia where I will be giving a presentation on the actual meaning and significance of “classical” economic theory. I am therefore putting up a post from way back in history that I did in 2011, so ancient that Maurice Newman was the Chairman of the ABC and I was still being published at The Drum. The rest of this post is what I said then. But before I get to that, I will put up this quote from a brief article on me [my name even comes first in the article’s title!] which you may find in the latest edition of the Journal of the History of Economic Thought:
“Steven Kates is probably the best-known present-day proponent of the old ‘classical’ macroeconomics of Jean-Baptiste Say, James Mill, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill.”
But as I say in the heading in the slide, I am probably the “best-known” because I am probably the only one in existence. It was also, let me assure you, not intended as a compliment. Anyway, here is what I wrote back then.
I have an article up at The ABC’s Drum website where I again look at the statement by the ABC’s Chairman, Maurice Newman, on the value of classical economic theory in comparison with the modern. Here was the full quote from his speech:
We may think we are all Keynesians now, but perhaps contemporary teachings of Keynes are not faithful to the original doctrine, or, maybe, Keynes is now a defunct economist. Perhaps post modernist economics has so captivated our journalists that they have suspended the spirit of enquiry, open-mindedness and scrutiny that an informed democracy so desperately needs.
Under relentless pressure, classical economics has become all but a relic of a bygone era. Yet the work of classical economists most likely holds the solution to today’s economic ills.
The point that Maurice Newman was making was that journalist really ought to take a look at the economic ideas of the classical economists, which using the modern Keynesian definition incorporate every economist before Keynes himself, with the exception of Malthus, Hobson, Major Douglas and Gesell (who these last three are you might very well ask, but this is Keynes’s very own and very short list). As for the rest, they were consigned by Keynes to the dustbin of history, whose theories are only kept alive by a very small band of economists scattered across the world.

In the article, I quote Alfred Marshall, arguably the greatest economist to emerge from the nineteenth century. As I wrote on The Drum, Marshall “was very specific about not mistaking an economic recession for a failure to spend and he very much thought of himself as following in the tradition of the classical economists....MORE
Kates is a bit controversial, I think I saw one Australian refer to him as a 'Neanderthal', but interesting nonetheless.

For Uber, Winter Is Coming (there's another [snow] shoe to drop)

I swore I'd stop with Game of Thrones references after this bit about Albert Edwards expounding his Ice Age Thesis:

Société Générale's Albert Edwards: Winter Is Coming 
Yes, Albert has been forecasting the arrival of the economic ice age since at least 1996 (our links go back to 2010 and probably earlier), but the House Fed has thwarted his House Stark at every turn.
Now he's getting ready to roll but it may be too late for him.
"I fought. I lost. Now I rest. But you, Lord Snow… you'll be fighting their battles forever."
Albert addressing another standing room only investment conference crowd
Okay, that's enough Game of Thrones references for now.
But I can't help it. Plus, I see I left myself some "for now" wiggle room.
From City AM:

After TfL's licence decision, Uber must brace itself for a winter of discontent
TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s private hire licence may have caught some off guard, but delve deeper into the firm’s ongoing series of operational controversies, and the shock subsides – rapidly.
The tech giant’s outing from the capital was justified by TfL due to its perceived “lack of corporate responsibility” in relation to safety, including concerns over its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and method of obtaining enhanced criminal offences checks.

Looking back over Uber’s past challenges, and subsequent reactions to criticism, it becomes apparent that this time, the firm may find need to find a renewed line of defence. In fact, it is likely that Uber’s perceived laissez-faire attitude towards customer wellbeing could be symptomatic of how the business perceives itself.

Back in October 2016, a group of Uber employees fought, and won, an Employment Tribunal where they demanded to be recognised as workers, rather than self-employed drivers. During proceedings, Uber rejected claims that it should ensure drivers receive holiday pay, sick pay, and the minimum wage, stating that it was a 'technology platform' that facilitates people getting taxis, distancing itself from having overarching responsibility for service users and employees.

However, another area of contention for the firm is its use of software. TfL states that Uber failed to explain how it used 'greyball', a system it has deployed elsewhere to actively stop law enforcement from investigating the company and its drivers - denying them rides. This lack of transparency in the use of data is not akin to the operations of a specialist technology platform.

Today’s woes aside, the eagerly awaited Employment Tribunal appeal hearing is due to take place at the end of the month, and it is my expectation that October 2016’s decision will be upheld. If so, Uber must completely redevelop its employment model or face legal action and disruption to its services UK-wide....MORE

Accounting News Roundup: Big 4 vs. Big Law; SEC Hack And So Much More

From Going Concern:
Big 4 vs. Big Law
Yesterday we learned that PwC would be launching a law firm in the U.S., but that might just the beginning. A recent report from ALM Intelligence states that “Within 10 years, the Big Four could easily become the largest players in the legal industry.” That same report found that nearly two-thirds of law firm leaders were “concerned” or “very concerned” about “alternative legal service providers and accounting firms” and 69 percent of these leaders consider accounting firms to be “a major threat.”

Some law firms couldn’t care less. I doubt anyone at Wachtell is concerned about the Big 4 stealing any of their business. Certain law firms are in another stratosphere when it comes to reputation and brand. Also, I don’t see the Big 4 poaching litigators anytime soon.

No, the Big 4 will focus on their strengths — ubiquity, deep pockets, and willingness to do anything. All of the Big 4 already have attorneys in more countries than any of the global law firms; they have far more resources; and they provide just about any service, short of media buying and human trafficking, although we wouldn’t totally rule out the latter.

Since we’ve been talking about this trend for awhile, now the question becomes: “What’s next?” The answer might obviously be: “World domination,” but it’s not a foregone conclusion....MORE
Also at Going Concern:

Accounting News Roundup: PwC Launching a Law Firm in U.S. | 09.21.17
The New Revenue Recognition Standard Needs a Sexy Nickname, Okay, Sure 

Before Buying into the Idea that Fractional Reserve Banking has Some Sort of Fraudulent Roots, Listen To This Battlecry From A Supermodel

I've mentioned:
I only have two clickbait moves. There's the "Listen to this battle cry from a supermodel" (and variants) move:

"Before You Say You've Never Discriminated Against Someone, Listen To This Battlecry From A Model"
And the "one weird trick" move:
Warren Buffet Uses This One Weird Trick to Be Persuasive* 
I maybe should have gone with Buffet for this George Selgin piece at Cato, Sept. 6:

The “Bagging Rule” – Or Why We Shouldn’t Arrest (All) the Bankers
As our more regular readers know well, every now and then I like to take another stab at debunking the  myth that fractional reserve banking has fraudulent roots. Besides occurring in numerous textbooks, that myth is routinely expounded in the writings and lectures of certain contemporary Austrian School economists. Moreover, as we’ll see, it is occasionally given credence in reputedly scholarly publications by scholars who don’t identify themselves with that school.
It is relatively slow in DC, as I write this, with Congress out of session, and therefore as good a time as any to rejoin the old debate, which I do first by drawing attention to a paper: “Banks v Whetston (1596),” by David Fox, a Cambridge law professor and barrister, and the author of a fascinating legal treatise on Property Rights in Money (OUP, 2008).

A Hum-Drum Case
Although he wrote “Banks v Whetson” for a 2015 volume titled Landmark Cases in Property Law, Fox hastens to explain that the case in question may not really qualify as a “landmark” since “very few lawyers have heard of it and it does not have a strong history of citation in later decisions.” Its significance, so far as he’s concerned, lies on the contrary fact that it was perfectly hum-drum. Because of that, the case supplies a particularly clear illustration of the common law’s ca. 1596 understanding of property rights in money — an understanding which prevailed, according to Fox, “throughout the middle ages and into the early modern period.”...

Blame Overlawyered for the introductory ramble:
Before buying into the idea that fractional reserve banking has some sort of fraudulent roots, consider the common law concepts of detinue, bailment, and debt...
*From that Buffet piece:

...I may have made a mistake with the 'only two moves' intro. Thinking about it we've also used the "blank, blank will shock you" template (and variations):

And then there was the whole Upworthy 'clickbait generator' phase.
Oh, and the "Buzzfeed Story Generator" chapter in the blog's life.
And the search engine optimization fiasco:
And the....where was I?
Think We're Not In A Housing Bubble? 
Maybe You Should Listen To This Angry Child Star.

Here's the Upworthy (style) clickbait generator.

Meanwhile In Rome, A Greek Politician Comments On Journalists: "I'd eat you for joy of vomiting you out"

From ANSA:

"I'd eat you for joy of vomiting you out"- Grillo tells reporters
M5S leader says media put him under siege
(ANSA) - Rome, September 19 - Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), blasted reporters waiting for him outside a Rome hotel on Tuesday, saying they effectively put him under siege.

    "This is kidnapping, I'd eat you just for the pleasure of vomiting you out," the comedian-turned-politician said.

    "Do you feel any shame about the job you do? Do you think the fact that you work for 10 euros a story justifies all this?"

Hey! David Keohane Is Back At Alphaville And He's Got Some Bad News For Uber

Mr. Keohane has been writing some stuff for the paper but this is the first time we've seen him at Alphaville in over a month.
And he's reminded me of one of the best quips ever from the world of diplomacy.

From FT Alphaville:

"Taxi for Uber"
“TfL has today informed Uber that it will not be issued with a private hire operator licence.”

And the quip?
In 1899 American president McKinley appointed an extremely sharp attorney, Joseph Hodges Choate, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
One of the stories told about Choate was that at a Duke's dinner party he was standing near the front door when another nobleman approached and mistaking Choate for a butler said "Call me a cab".

When Choate didn't immediately respond the aristocrat said, "Won't you call me a cab, please?"
To which Choate replied "You are a cab".

The aristo took great offence at this and sought out his host to inform him of his impudent servant.
The Duke told his bro-in-peerage Choate was not a butler but rather the ambassador to the Court of St. James.
Mortified, the noble one went back to the ambassador to express his regret for the misunderstanding, to which Choate responded, "Pray, don't apologize, if I had known who you were I'd have called you a hansom cab."

Choate always denied the story, see: The Atlanta Constitution, February 3, 1902 pp5: Choate's Hansom Apology 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Update On Speculation In the Stock of the Swiss National Bank (SNBN)

This is an extra-special type of lunacy.

From Wolf Street:

Special Pump-and-Dump Scheme Spikes to High Heaven  
 But the Swiss National Bank is just an innocent bystander.
The publicly traded shares of Swiss National Bank (SNBN) rose 5.7% on Thursday and closed at a new high of 4,449 Swiss francs. They have skyrocket 133% since July 19. And that’s just the last two months of an exponential spike. Who’re the lucky ones that own the shares of the SNB?
  • The Cantons: 55.9%
  • Public Cantonal banks: 18.4%
  • Other public institutions: 0.5%
  • Private shareholders: 25.3% (100,000 shares).
With only 100,000 shares being publicly traded on thin volume, it’s easy to drive up the price. Some well-placed hype and a modest amount of buying pressure can trigger big moves that then inspire other speculators to jump in and chase the small number of shares.
From July 19 until August 21, shares jumped by 912 francs, or 48%. Then on August 22, they were hyped in an article in the German daily, Die Welt. Here are some of the nuggets:
  • “The dream of every company: to make money out of nothing.”
  • The SNB “seems to have found the world formula.”
  • “It creates value out of nothing.”
  • “The private saver can participate in the central bank.”....
...The scheme has been going on for a while. This weekly chart shows how these shares soared 168% since April 2017 and 326% since April 2016.

The hype is this: The SNB has become a hedge fund since it decided in January 2015 to print Swiss francs — for which there is huge global demand — and buy mostly bonds and stocks denominated in euros and dollars. The idea is to put a lid on the franc by selling it....

Do read on, the denouement is worthy of Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds which reminds me of a snappy little paper on the British Railway Mania that we linked to in:
The Time Charles ('Popular Delusions...') Mackay Thought 'This Time it's Different'

We linked to Wolf Street's September 11 piece in "So, Shares of the Swiss National Bank Are Up 89% Since Late July (SNBN)" but because we were three days late getting to it had to put an update in the intro:
Add a couple (dozen) percentage points to all the numbers quoted in this story, it was, after all, written way back on September 11.
SNBN  3,615.00 CHF up 115.00 (3.29%) on the day

"Hi Facebook, Google, we think we might tax your ads instead – lots of love, Europe x"

"Or maybe hold money from online transactions. Either way, we're getting our damn cash"

That's The Register.
Here's more:
More details have emerged on the various plans being considered by European governments to force internet giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon to pay more in taxes, including a levy on internet ads and even withholding money for online transactions.

Following a letter earlier this month from the finance ministers of Europe's largest economies – that argued for a tax on turnover rather than profits – a meeting of all the European Union's 28 finance ministers last week resulted in them agreeing to push the proposal forward, but with additional options.

Next week, those proposals will be formally put to the EU and in a press conference at the European Commission on Thursday, vice president Valdis Dombrovskis launched the "new EU agenda for fair taxation of the digital economy."

"The European Union needs a common and coherent approach when taxing the digital economy," he argued today, adding that the issue is "becoming even more urgent, as a number of EU countries have already introduced unilateral measures."

In a pointed reference to Ireland and the highly favorable tax deal it offers tech companies – which results in them paying tiny amounts of tax in other European countries – Dombrovskis said: "Divergent national approaches can fragment the Single Market and increase tax uncertainty. They can also destabilize the level playing field and open new loopholes for tax abuse and corporate tax avoidance."...MORE

Société Générale's Albert Edwards Is Not Happy

No, not happy at all.
Until he calms down let's not mention I forgot to mark the 9th anniversary of the (second) greatest market call of all time.*

From ZeroHedge:

Albert Edwards: "Citizen Rage" Will Soon Be Directed At "Schizophrenic" Central Banks
Perhaps having grown tired of fighting windmills, it was several weeks since Albert Edwards' latest rant against central banks. However, we were confident that recent developments out of the Fed and BOE were sure to stir the bearish strategist out of hibernation, and he did not disappoint, lashing out this morning with his latest scathing critique of "monetary schizophrenia", slamming all central banks but the Fed and Bank of England most of all, who are again "asleep at the wheel, building a most precarious pyramid of prosperity upon the shifting sands of rampant credit growth and illusory housing wealth."

Follows pure anger from the SocGen strategist:
These of all the major central banks were the most culpable in their incompetence and most prepared with disingenuous excuses. And 10 years on, not much has changed. The Fed and BoE are once again presiding over a credit bubble, with the BoE in particular suffering a painful episode of cognitive dissonance in an effort to shift the blame elsewhere. The credit bubble is everyone’s fault but theirs.
First, some recent context with this handy central bank holdings chart courtesy of Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid which alone is sufficient to make one's blood boil.
For those familiar with Edwards' writings over the years, the gist of his note will come as no surprise: after all, how many different ways can you say that central banks have broken the market, have caused a credit bubble, and will be responsible for the crash when they finally run out of cans to kick.  
In any event, the focus of Edwards' latest note is the resurgent growth in unsecured household credit.
We have written on this topic before in the context of US and UK economic growth only being sustained by sharp declines in household saving ratios. But though I must revisit the issue after the UK?s Guardian newspaper (for non-UK clients it is similar to The New York Times) ran a huge feature on the desperate situation many of the JAMs (just about managing) now find themselves in - see article here.
Edwards points out the increasingly easy terms offered on unsecured consumer debt, i.e., credit cards and notes that he has "heard stories of credit card loan search engines spewing out money on 4 year, 0% teaser loans. What really shocked me is that after having been offered a credit card loan facility via a search engine, one is able to make multiple further self-certified applications and be offered similarly large amounts! Amazingly there was no question about existing debts!"...

*The greatest market call was Robert Rhea in the summer of 1932 but Albert is damn close on the leaderboard. as recounted in 2011's "*****Alert***** Société Générale's Albert Edwards Bearish *****Alert***** (Sept. 6, 2011)":
On September 5, 2008 we posted "Meltdown"-Société Générale" which linked to Albert's research note of a couple days earlier:

***Alert****Economic and equity market meltdown imminent****Alert***

A good call.

On September 7, 2008 Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship.
On September 14, 2008 Merrill Lynch agreed to be acquired by Bank of America.
On September 15 Lehman filed their bankruptcy petition.
On September 16 AIG became a 79.9% subsidiary of the U.S. Treasury.

Within 10 more days the Nation's largest thrift, WaMu was seized and five days later Wachovia gobbled up.

Good times, good times....
And I forgot.

News You Can Use: Are You Tired of the Ads Following You Around As You Move About the Internet?

Not much you can do about it unless you are continually clearing caches but you can influence the ads you see.
Back in 2014 we posted "A Look at the World's First Water-focused Hedge Fund" which, while only containing a passing reference to grit chambers in the introduction:
Since the first Earth Day in April 1970 and more importantly since the establishment of the EPA in December of that year, folks have been trying to make money out of water in the U.S..
Put simply, the returns have not been market-beating.

Because so much of the opportunity was my-little-crony stuff, at the whim of politicians, there was no consistency of growth at a time when other portfolio investments offered very competitive comparisons.
The alternative was to own the cash flow, private equity style, but unless one felt a passion for grit chambers and sludge pans it was pretty pedestrian, utility type ROI....
required I do a quick GOOG search for the largest manufacturer of same.

After an hour of grit chamber ads I asked Siva, a streetwise Hindu boy (Caltech EE) what to do to get rid of them, short of clearing history and cookies and everything, and he said: "Go to one of those artsy-fartsy sites you always visit."

As I started to ask "How do you know what sites I visit?" he disappeared.

I was reminded of this because, after doing the Uber post (below) the computer I was on kept trying to entice me into driving for Uber and I thought: "Hey, what's going on at Sothey's?"

So, after getting to this page,
Yeats: The Family Collection
| | London
There are pretty pictures popping up on every third site visited on that computer.
And Uber still needs drivers. 

"US farmland prices fall again, but decline slows in machinery market"

From Agrimoney:
US farmland prices extended their decline nearly to four years, amid growing strain on farm incomes, a lender survey showed - but the ag equipment market showed signs of slowing its shrinkage.

A US farmland price index compiled by Creighton University showed a reading of 39.6 for September, a 46th month below the 50.0 level which indicates a neutral market.

The figure represented a retreat from the 43.0-point level recorded for August, a three-year high, if continuing the successive monthly record of shrinkage which began in December 2013.

And it came amid evidence of stressed producer finances, with 51% of bankers answering the survey reporting have restructured farm loans, although default levels remained low.

'Still have some cash'
The data contrast with an improved picture on prices in Iowa, at least, revealed last week by a report from the state's chapter of the Realtors Land Institute.

The briefing showed an accelerating recovery in farmland prices in Iowa, the top corn-growing state, showing values rising by 2.0% in the past six months, after a 0.9% rise in the previous half year.

The chapter flagged support to values from the limited supply of land available to buy, adding that many farmers "still have some cash on hand", but acknowledged the headwinds to the market from "continued lower commodity prices" at a time of relatively "high costs" of inputs such as agrichemicals.

The Creighton survey showed an index reading of 39.9 for Iowa this month, below the 50.0 neutral level, and the figure of 42.3 recorded for the state for August.

Past the worst?

However, the Creighton data offered some hope for machinery groups, in giving a reading of 27.4 for sector sales this month....MORE
From the intro to Sept. 8's "In Non-Hurricane Irma News: "Diammonium Phosphate Prices Moved Sideways Last Week"":
I realize we've been a bit obsessive with the hurricane postings but the combination of real tragedy (vs the 21st century B.S. we're force fed every day), the real tragedies happening right now, combined with giant money flows, it's hard to look away.

Regarding the headline, we aren't doing anything with the fertilizer or other agricultural inputs until there is a decisive turn at the base of the pyramid - the actual prices of crops and the cash flows they create.

Until that turn, we'll speculate on ag futures as opportunities pop up but unless we see something along the lines of the El Niño-caused crop failures of the 1870's - 1890's and famines created/exacerbated by corrupt/venal/incompetent politicians and administrators, we're not doing much in the input stuff or implement manufacturers. If we get some robotics/automation trades we'll post.

Alternatively, we keep tabs on reports of ergot outbreaks in Europe should there be hints of the cool-and-damp style famines that quasi-periodically showed up 1315 - 1818. Or potato blight.

So, with that cheery little break, here's Market Realist, Aug 28:...

Alphabet's Waymo Will Let Uber Off the Hook For $2.6 Billion or Cash on Hand

Uber is so used to beating up on city councils and regulators represented by civil service attorneys that they seem a bit wrong-footed when confronted with large dollar lawyering.
Waymo's trial attorney, Quinn Emanuel’s Charles Verhoeven is one of the best intellectual property litigators in the country and watching his interplay with the other side and a very tech-savvy judge is pretty amazing.

His bio page at the firm's website notes in passing "Mr. Verhoeven's record as lead counsel before the Federal Circuit is 23-2."

Alrighty then, on to the story. From Reuters, Sept. 20:

Waymo seeking $2.6 bln from Uber for one trade secret - lawyer
Alphabet Inc’s Waymo unit is seeking about $2.6 billion from Uber for the alleged theft of one of several trade secrets in a lawsuit over self-driving cars, a lawyer for Uber said on Wednesday.

Uber Technologies Inc attorney Bill Carmody disclosed the figure in a hearing in federal court in San Francisco, where both companies are discussing whether a trial in the case will begin next month.
Waymo has asserted claims that Uber stole several of its trade secrets. The total amount of Waymo’s damages request was not publicly disclosed at the hearing on Wednesday. 

Waymo claimed in a lawsuit earlier this year that former engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files before leaving to set up a self-driving truck company, which Uber acquired soon after. 

Uber has denied using any of Waymo’s trade secrets. 

Waymo’s allegations have already led Uber to fire Levandowski, who had directed Uber’s efforts in the nascent yet pivotal field of self-driving cars. A loss by Uber at trial would add to the company’s lengthy list of legal headaches...MORE
Did I forget to mention the $2.6 billion was for just one of the claims?
My bad. There are nine claims that the judge may allow to go forward.
As of the last report released by Uber, they were down to $6.6 billion cash-on-hand which may not be enough.
While Mr. Son at SoftBank circles patiently.

Feb. 22 
Dude's got a problem....  
March 29 
March 31
"In Waymo v. Uber, honing the craft of litigation gamesmanship" (GOOG)
I was going to put something together on Anthony Levandowski's use of the 5th amendment in a civil matter and some of the implications of doing so but didn't get to it. In the meantime here is a look at some high-buck lawyering and tactics of litigators.
April 1
April 4 
The headline/sub-head combo pretty much defines sleazy corruption.... 
April 26 
May 12 
In the Waymo case Uber's bid to make their arguments in private was turned down by the judge overseeing the action but even worse for Levandowski, hizzoner is using his Federal Judgeship powers.*
May 19 
The testimony thus far sure makes a prima facie case that Uber and Levandowski were in cahoots, that there was an actual conspiracy. If that proves to be the case this move is simply thieves falling out....
June 7 
The latter may prove to be the more important ruling so first up Judge Alsup at TechCrunch:
June 15
If I were a late round Uber investor this would be a bit concerning.
We've posted on Kalanick and his "existential" quote, which is one thing, but this is a statement to a Federal Court....
June 25 
June 28 
Aug 15 
Aug. 17 

And a whole bunch of earlier posts on the lead-up to all this in roughly chronological (not reverse chron) order:

Google is spinning off its self-driving car program into a new company called Waymo (GOOG)
"New Patents Hint That Amazon and Google Each Have Plans to Compete with Uber" (AMZN; GOOG) 
Uber Is A Cesspit: Google's Waymo Sues Kalanick's Creation--UPDATED
Waymo Comments On Why They'r Suing Uber
"The Uber Bombshell About to Drop"
"Alphabet’s Waymo asks judge to block Uber from using self-driving car secrets" (GOOG)
Remember that time Uber's Kalanick said having autonomous was crucial to the company's very survival? (a deep dive)
And related:

Night of the Long Knives: "Google Vs. Uber in the Rush To Drive You Around, Driverless" (GOOG)
Uber Bids for Nokia Maps Service to Lessen Google Reliance
"Why Uber Has To Start Using Self-Driving Cars"
Uber Throws Tesla Under the Autonomous Bus
Uber to Buy Self-Driving-Truck Company Otto
"Google’s Car People Diaspora" (GOOG)    

Back When I Had The Ability To Tell A Story—"Europe: Media Face Fines for Improper Use of 'Great Britain'"

That would be five months ago.
Originally posted April 17, 2017:

Apparently with the activation of Article 50 the Slovaks can no longer use the term "Great Britain."
Henceforth it's "Pretty Good Britain".

From The Slovak Spectator:

Media face fines for improper use of 'Great Britain'
The Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre Authority informed the media that fines can be up to €6600.

Great Britain has triggered article 50, several Slovak media outlets wrote in late March, reporting the launch of Brexit . Now they face fines up to €6600 for doing so because they violated the law, according to the Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre Authority of the Slovak Republic

In its official letter addressed to several media companies, the authority objects to the use of the term “Great Britain” and demands the use of “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” or just “The United Kingdom” instead.

The Sme daily checked official documents from the Slovak Foreign Ministry and found that they also use the term Great Britain in several official documents.

Geographer Slavomír Ondoš told Sme that he feels “a strong shame” for being connected with the authority.

“I cannot comment on the legislative aspect of the problem but I am surprised by the uncivilized manner of [the authority’s] communication,” Ondoš said. “The language is live and is evolving in this globalised world in direct contact with English.”...MORE
The "Pretty Good" line is not original to me.

Some years ago I worked with a Moroccan guy named Raissoulli and upon meeting him asked if he was related to Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, the turn of the 20th century kidnapper and brigand known in some parts of the territory between the Atlas mountains and the Mediterranean as "The Great Raisuli".

Raissoulli said yes, he was indeed a great-grandson of Raisuli but sadly he didn't think he had inherited any of the piratical swagger, 
"I'm not the Great Raissoulli, maybe the Pretty Good Raissoulli though".

If interested, the autodidact historian (and two time Pulitzer prize winner) Barbara Tuchman wrote a short account of one of Raisuli's crimes/exploits. It begins:
"Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead"
Barbara Tuchman American Heritage, August 1959
Reprinted in "Practising History", Papermac, 1995

On a scented Mediterranean May evening in 1904 Mr. Ion Perdicaris, an elderly, wealthy American, was dining with his family on the vine-covered terrace of the Place of Nightingales, his summer villa in the hills above Tangier. Besides a tame demoiselle crane and two monkeys who ate orange blossoms, the family included Mrs. Perdicaris; her son by a former marriage, Cromwell Oliver Varley, who (though wearing a great name backward) was a British subject; and Mrs. Varley. Suddenly a cacophony of shrieks, commands, and barking of dogs burst from the servants' quarters at the rear.
Assuming the uproar to be a further episode in the chronic feud between their German housekeeper and their French-Zouave chef, the family headed for the servants' hail to frustrate mayhem. They ran into the butler flying madly past them, pursued by a number of armed Moors whom at first they took to be their own household guards.
Astonishingly, these persons fell upon the two gentlemen, bound them, clubbed two of the servants with their gunstocks, knocked Mrs. Varley to the floor, drew a knife against Varley's throat when he struggled toward his wife, dragged off the housekeeper, who was screaming into the telephone, "Robbers! Help!," cut the wire, and shoved their captives out of the house with guns pressed in their backs.

Waiting at the villa's gate was a handsome, black-bearded Moor with blazing eyes and a Greek profile, who, raising his arm in a theatrical gesture, announced in the tones of Henry Irving playing King Lear, "I am the Raisuli!"...
The story was also made into a movie starring Sean Connery, The Wind and the Lion.