16 November 2017

Fortune: “Trump’s Tax Reform could benefit Apple, other Multinationals”

For FY 2016, Apple booked total pre-tax earnings of $61.4 billion. On its income statement, Apple showed a “provision for taxes” of $15.685 billion. That number is an expense that’s deducted straight from pre-tax income of $61.4 billion to yield net income of $45.7 billion. Hence, its reported “effective tax rate” was 25.6% ($15.685 billion divided by $61.4 billion), well below the official 35%, but on the high side for multinationals, many of which are in the teens.

Apple, however, paid a lower number in cash. Apple’s 10K discloses that “cash paid for income taxes” was $10.444 billion for the year.

Shawn Tully

I’ve found this article shared on Daring Fireball – apparently the irony of using an article praising Trump’s tax reform to support Apple’s official position is lost on Gruber.

For someone with basic knowledge in accounting, even the paragraphs above should raise some alarm flags, as people often confuse accrual-basis and cash-basis accounting. A provision for taxes doesn’t mean that Apple effectively paid said amount of $15.685 billion – in fact the author explains immediately that the effective tax payout was only $10.444 billion, making Apple’s tax rate in FY 2016 a much lower 17%, around half the official 35% in the US. What the author doesn’t explicitly say is that the rest of the provision (a mere $5.241 billion) may in fact never be paid out, especially if Trump’s tax exemptions come into effect. In that case, the provision can be dissolved and Apple gets to keep the cash – and, presumably, book it as income.

14 November 2017

TechCrunch: “Facebook Stories replaces Messenger Day with synced cross-posting”

Facebook is cleaning up the redundancy in its Snapchat Stories clones. Today Facebook is killing off the Messenger Day brand and merging the chat app’s stories feature with Facebook Stories. Now, just called “Stories”, 24-hour ephemeral posts in either Facebook or Messenger will appear in both apps, and viewing will be synced, too, so you won’t see a Story as unviewed in one app if you already watched it in the other.

To be clear, Messenger will still have Stories, they’re just called Stories instead of Day.

However, the cameras in Facebook and Messenger will remain distinct, with Facebook’s focused on augmented reality masks and effects, while Messenger focuses on adding captions and stylized text inviting friends to hang out. But Hayes says now that we’re connecting the two experiences, it makes sense for them to have the same name.

Josh Constine

Good decision! Having separate stories in four different Facebook-owned apps didn’t make any sense to begin with. At least Instagram and WhatsApp, being acquired, have a strong brand of their own, as opposed to Messenger, who was simply spun-off from the mobile Facebook app.

13 November 2017

CNBC Business: “Morgan Stanley predicts space industry will triple in size”

Morgan Stanley estimates the space industry, worth about $350 billion today, will grow into an economy worth more than $1.1 trillion by 2040, a team of analysts wrote in a note Thursday.

Private companies from the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are driving much of the recent innovation in the industry, and Morgan Stanley admits investment opportunities are limited. Look to companies providing and benefiting from internet bandwidth, the firm says, where most of the upcoming value in the space industry will come.

Michael Sheetz

Sounds impressive… until you realize that over the course of 20+ years, this amounts to an annual growth rate of just 5%! That’s lower than the GDP growth of some emerging economies – China may be an extreme example, but it has sustained an average growth rate of about 9.5% over the last 30 years. So if the space industry only grows by 5% per year for the next 20 years, it will not be a particularly worthwhile investment.

09 November 2017

The Guardian: “Trump Twitter account shut down by employee on last day of work”

A Twitter employee deactivated Donald Trump’s personal account on their last day of work, the company said on Thursday, likely meaning the action was deliberate.

The move by the employee – who has not been named – meant that the president’s @realdonaldtrump account was down for 11 minutes.

During the brief period of downtime, shortly before 4pm Pacific time (11pm GMT), anyone going to the @realDonaldTrump Twitter page would see the message “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!”

Olivia Solon

It was puzzling to read the reactions on Twitter to this temporary deactivation: many were glad, relieved even, that the President of the United States could no longer tweet. To me, this reaction is very immature: account deactivation does not mean that Donald Trump magically goes away; he may still use the official @Potus account, or switch to another social network to express his views, despised by many as they may be. And it definitely doesn't remove him as President, or any harm he may still do from that position of power. It seems to me Americans are experts at ignoring problems in their society, thinking they will simply go away: racism is still present, as is sexism and xenophobia, and Trump exploited this to propel himself to power. People should face reality and tackle these entrenched issues, not celebrate when things they don’t like are hidden from public view.

06 November 2017

Vanity Fair: “This Could Be the End of Facebook”

It’s worth recalling, of course, that it wasn’t the makers of Tylenol who put cyanide in the pills that killed seven innocent people; nevertheless, the company felt a responsibility to come up with a solution to the problem. While Facebook’s engineers may not be posting fake news, the dirt is still on their hands. The damage done to organizations in crises isn’t the crisis itself— it’s how you handle the crisis, Scott Galloway, author of the new book The Four: The Hidden D.N.A. of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, told me this week on the latest episode of the Inside the Hive podcast. There’s only one thing you have to remember: you have to overcorrect. You have to clear every shelf of all Tylenol nationwide. You can’t say this is an isolated incident and it won’t happen again.

Nick Bilton

It may not be the end of Facebook – the company has weathered many crises on its way to the top – but increased government scrutiny, and possibly regulation, is the last thing a rising tech giant wants. I expect Facebook to rapidly adapt to the new environment; but in the long run the resources spent on compliance may reduce its competitiveness, allowing other companies to step up and challenge its dominance in the social media space – as it happened with Microsoft after their antitrust investigation.

23 October 2017

The Atlantic: “Inside Waymo’s Secret World for Training Self-Driving Cars”

Originally developed as a way to “play back” scenes that the cars experienced while driving on public roads, Carcraft, and simulation generally, have taken on an ever-larger role within the self-driving program.

At any time, there are now 25,000 virtual self-driving cars making their way through fully modeled versions of Austin, Mountain View, and Phoenix, as well as test-track scenarios. Waymo might simulate driving down a particularly tricky road hundreds of thousands of times in a single day. Collectively, they now drive 8 million miles per day in the virtual world. In 2016, they logged 2.5 billion virtual miles versus a little over 3 million miles by Google’s IRL self-driving cars that run on public roads. And crucially, the virtual miles focus on what Waymo people invariably call “interesting” miles in which they might learn something new. These are not boring highway commuter miles.

The simulations are part of an intricate process that Waymo has developed. They’ve tightly interwoven the millions of miles their cars have traveled on public roads with a “structured testing” program they conduct at a secret base in the Central Valley they call Castle.

Alexis C. Madrigal

Fascinating inside look at the Waymo operation tasked with making autonomous cars a reality. The comparison with competitors in terms of real and simulated miles makes it evident how far ahead Google is on the software side. In my opinion, employing simulation is definitely the better strategy here, as physical cars would never be able to match the amount of simulated hours on the road; this also allows engineers to replay the same situation again and again and measure if and how the driving algorithm improves. Tesla is mentioned in the article as a strong competitor, because they are actively collecting data from their existing vehicles, but the company is limited by the number of cars sold (where they continue to have manufacturing issues) and the situations Tesla drivers are encountering.

Monday Note: “Tesla’s New Car Smell”

My first serious doubts about Tesla didn’t stem from missed schedules, I’ve been guilty of too many of these, they’re part of tech life. What seriously worried me was a July 2016 visit to Tesla’s manufacturing plant in Fremont, California. In taking delivery of my wife’s Model S, we were treated to a group tour of the site. Everyone marveled at the robot porn, at the activity on the assembly line, at the endless stores of spare parts piled to the ceiling.

Everyone but yours truly.

I couldn’t help check off the sins against the “Toyota Bible”, prescriptions for car manufacturers that are lucidly detailed in The Machine That Changed The World (a great and, in parts, sad read). In particular, one mustn’t stockpile parts on the floor, they must be fed in small quantities at small time intervals. If a part has a problem, only a small quantity needs to be shipped back to the supplier who can inspect, correct, and quickly adjust their own production process.

Jean-Louis Gassée

Sounds like the Tesla myth is starting to crack. From random firings to handmade parts in a plant that is supposed to be automated, and now the company has missed production goals for the Model 3 – by a lot! Somebody in their management team should really look up ‘Lean manufacturing’ when they’re not being yelled at by Elon Musk. This doesn’t make me any more confident that Musk’s other high-profile bet, SpaceX, can deliver on their plans for future space launches.