Archives for March 2018

The Top Books You Need to Read to Make Your Marketing Timeless

In terms of marketing, being overwhelmed by the amount of content online can become as common as driving past a McDonald’s. The sheer volume of online courses, e-books, YouTube tutorials and more can cause one to nearly go numb trying to keep up and retain all of the information.

Yet, many people forget there are some principles of marketing that almost certainly won’t change in our lifetimes or in the centuries ahead. Why? Well, because marketing is driven by psychology, and the human brain doesn’t evolve overnight.

Here are four timeless books that changed my life, business and marketing for the better, and, if read and absorbed, can do the same for you.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout

When talking about having a long-lasting impact with your marketing, it’s only right we kick off this list with The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. The amount of simple yet brilliant principles Ries and Trout lay out in this book are game-changing and have stood the test of time.

When it comes to marketing, this book started it all for me. I was working as an intern at a startup and aimlessly trying to decide on my career path. I tried project management, computer science, sales and more, but none felt like the right fit.

I had always been a storyteller, and after reading this book, it hit me that all of marketing can be boiled down to stories and principles of human behavior. That began my love affair with the industry, and we’ve been going strong ever since.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook should be required reading for any and all marketing professionals. The main reason being that many people approach online interactions and in-person interactions differently when they should be treated exactly the same way.

You wouldn’t ask a potential girlfriend or boyfriend to go on vacation with you after the first date (at least, I hope not). Yet, for whatever reason, across social media and beyond we see people asking for a prospect’s time or money without giving an adequate amount of value to earn those things.

This was the book that led to me writing my first viral, breakthrough article, which then led to me launching my business, landing my Inc.com column, securing speaking gigs and more. The epiphany I had was simple: play the “long game” by adding value to my readers, month after month, year after year. Only after I build that trust up should I ask them for anything in exchange.

Hooked by Nir Eyal

Hooked by Nir Eyal is another book overflowing with priceless information on consumer psychology. Eyal takes an approach focused on modern-day companies like Twitter and Instagram. If you’re interested in learning how tech giants reel in and retain their users using psychology, Nir’s bestseller will be a book for you.

Most of the examples Eyal uses in Hooked are based on products, not outgoing marketing materials. I began to recognize that marketing was a facet of every piece of the business from the product to the elevator pitch, so I could add value to all parts of my client’s businesses.

Influence by Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini’s book has remained a favorite amongst entrepreneurs, sales and marketing professionals and more since it was published in 1984. After reading just a few pages, you’ll realize why. The enduring principles Cialdini delivers in Influence are aspects of the human psyche that are hard-wired into us, and aren’t going away any time soon.

This book was gifted to me by a former manager who I consider the closest thing to a mentor I’ve ever had, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was working a fast-growing startup in San Francisco while building my startup, Arctiphi, on the side. I wanted things to move faster so I could go full-time into my business, but sales was never my forte. I lacked the confidence, the body language, damn near everything I thought made a great salesperson great.

After reading the book, I realized the way I was thinking of sales was all wrong. The packaging didn’t matter nearly as much as the product. Marketing and sales were brother and sister, not distant cousins, and the same tactics I was using in my copywriting could be applied to in-person sales, public speaking and more.

It worked. Within a few months of reading Influence, monthly revenue increased sixfold and I was able to go full-time into Arctiphi.

There are many marketing principles that’ll remain true for centuries to come. By equipping yourself with these timeless principles instead of “keeping up with the marketing Joneses” daily, you’ll position your brand to stay relevant no matter what the world throws at it.

Facebook's Election Safeguards Are Still a Work in Progress

Nearly three years after a Russian propaganda group infiltrated Facebook and other tech platforms in hopes of seeding chaos in the 2016 US election, Facebook has more fully detailed its plan to protect elections around the world.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Facebook executives elaborated on their use of human moderators, third-party fact checkers, and automation to catch fake accounts, foreign interference, fake news, and to increase transparency in political ads. The company has made some concrete strides, and has promised to double its safety and security team to 20,000 people this year. And yet, as midterm races heat up in states across America, and elections overseas come and go, many of these well-meaning tools remain a work in progress.

“None of us can turn back the clock, but we are all responsible for making sure the same kind of attack on our democracy does not happen again,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management said on the call. “And we are taking our role in that effort very, very seriously.”

Facebook provided some new details about previously announced strategies to counter election meddling. The company announced, for instance, that its long promised advertisement transparency tool, which will allow people to see the ads that any given Facebook page has purchased, will be available globally this summer. In addition to that public portal, Facebook will require anyone seeking to place political ads in the United States to first provide a copy of their government-issued ID and a mailing address. Facebook will then mail the would-be advertiser a special access code at that address, and require the advertiser to disclose what candidate or organization they’re advertising on behalf of. Once the ads are live, they’ll include a “paid for by” label, similar to the disclosures on televised political ads.

While this process may prevent people from purchasing phony ads that are explicitly about an election, however, it doesn’t apply to issue-based ads. That leaves open a huge loophole for bad actors, including the Russian propagandists whose ads often focused on stoking tensions around issues like police brutality or immigration, rather than promoting candidates. This process is also currently exclusive to the United States.

“We recognize this is a place to start and will work with outside experts to make it better,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s product management director said on the call. “We also look forward to bringing unprecedented advertising transparency to other countries and other political races.”

The executives also detailed their approach to spotting fake accounts and false news before their influence spreads. One strategy involves partnering with third-party organizations that can vet suspicious news stories. Facebook has already announced a partnership with the Associated Press in the United States. When stories are flagged as potentially false, either by Facebook users or the company’s own technology, they’re sent to the fact-checkers. When the story is deemed to be false, Facebook lowers its likelihood of appearing in people’s News Feeds; Facebook product manager Tessa Lyons says a “false” rating reduces a story’s News Feed distribution by 80 percent.

Critically, this process applies to photos and videos, not just text. The company has also begun notifying people who have shared the stories that the contents are suspect. Those who continue to see the story in their feeds will also see related articles that fact check the piece. Facebook currently has these fact-checking partnerships in six countries, with plans to expand.

This is a long way from Facebook executives’ past claims that they should not be the “arbiters of truth,” a common refrain among tech giants. But as international regulators bear down on Facebook to acknowledge its past mistakes and prevent them in the future, the company is reluctantly taking more responsibility for monitoring the information on its platform—if only to ward off government intervention.

There’s some evidence it’s working. Facebook is now on the lookout for foreign meddling in elections around the world, in part by automatically looking at the country of origin creating a given Facebook page, and analyzing whether that page is spreading “inauthentic civic content.” Those pages get manually reviewed by Facebook’s security team. The strategy has already proven effective; Facebook discovered during last year’s special election in Alabama that Macedonian hoaxers were setting up pages to disseminate fake news, a practice that country became known for during the 2016 election.

“We’ve since used this in many places around the world, such as in the Italian election, and we’ll deploy it moving forward for elections around the globe, including the US midterms,” said Samidh Chakrabarti, a Facebook product manager.

These approaches are promising, but far from comprehensive. They also don’t address the simultaneous scandal engulfing Facebook right now: The company has historically done little to prevent its users’ data from falling into the wrong hands. That valuable information can be used to target people in ways that Facebook has no control over.

Perhaps the most worrisome part of Facebook’s plan to defend democracy, though, is that it has yet to be battle tested. If it fails, we may not know until it’s too late.

Facebook 2018

Why Are New York Taxi Drivers Committing Suicide?

It was a somber scene outside New York’s City Hall on Wednesday afternoon. Four coffins sat at the foot of the steps; one by one, taxi drivers covered them with white flowers, before assembling on the steps and shouting for the city to “stop Uber’s greed” and “stop making us slaves.” It was the second such gathering in two months, as drivers and their advocates mourned another suicide that they attribute to the rise of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. That sudden increase in the number of for-hire vehicles on the city’s streets, they claim, has made it impossible for drivers to earn a decent living.

On March 16, Nicanor Ochisor, a 65-year-old yellow cab driver, took his own life in his Queens home. According to his family and friends, he had been drowning financially as his prized taxi medallion, on which he had hoped to retire, plummeted in value. The circumstances surrounding Ochisor’s death were upsettingly familiar: In February, driver Douglas Schifter shot himself outside City Hall after posting a lengthy statement to Facebook blaming politicians for letting the streets get so saturated. According to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for drivers, at least two other drivers have committed suicide since December in response to mounting financial pressures.

At Wednesday’s rally, Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of NYTWA, described the situation as “a living nightmare.” The assembled drivers echoed her sentiment. Noureddine Afsi said he began driving a yellow cab in 2001 when a friend said it would be easier money than his job in retail. “You could work nine hours and easily make $200 in a day,” he recalled. “Now, you’re lucky if you make $50 or $60.” Beresford Simmons, who has been driving a yellow cab for more than 50 years, expressed a similar frustration: At 71 years old, he said, he had just had heart surgery and was on dialysis—and he was in no financial position to take a break from driving. “We have guys at home who are losing their houses,” he said. “I know cab drivers who are homeless today.”

The anguish and anger on display at City Hall offer an unsettling look at the cost of disrupting long-standing industries. Until recently, driving a cab in New York was a gateway to the middle class, especially if drivers could get their hands on a coveted medallion (essentially a permit to operate their own cabs, rather than leasing cars from others). With the number of medallions fixed, prices generally rose, peaking in 2014 at over $1 million—well outside the budget of many drivers, but good news for medallion owners who sometimes borrowed against them. Since then, though, prices have fallen sharply, as competition from ride-hailing services intensified. In January, seven medallions sold for under $200,000 each. Many drivers are deeply in debt—and a long way from the stable lifestyle they once expected.

Drivers assembled at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon called for “regulation now,” and demanded that the city “stop Uber’s greed.”

Miranda Katz for Wired

“To call it an engine of social mobility would be overstating it, but [driving a taxi] is definitely a way that men without college educations have found to raise families, to provide family wages, for a long time,” says Julia Ticona, a sociologist studying technologies of work, emotions, and inequality at the Data & Society research institute in New York. For taxi drivers, disruption is not only financially destabilizing, but also demoralizing, as it recasts their careers as gig work. A longtime taxi driver who prides himself on knowing the ins and outs of the city’s streets is now competing with tens of thousands of newcomers, some of whom may only be driving as a part-time side hustle. “There’s this tension between older sets of professional norms and the ways that labor platforms are encouraging workers to promote themselves and be entrepreneurial,” Ticona says.

Though New York City caps the number of yellow cabs at just over 13,600, it doesn’t limit the number of drivers for Uber, Lyft, or other services. (It does, unlike most US cities, require that ride-share drivers be licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.) The lack of regulation has led to rapid growth: Uber launched in the city in 2012 with just 105 cars on the road; by 2015, that had ballooned to 20,000, and today, there are more than 63,000 black cars providing rides through various ride-hailing apps, 60,000 of which are affiliated with Uber. Those rallying on Wednesday argued that growth is affecting all drivers—including those for Uber and Lyft. “The business model of Uber and Lyft…is destroying every driver across the sector,” said Desai. “They are destroying the full-time jobs of professional yellow [cab], green [cab], livery, and black car drivers, and replacing them with poverty-paid gigs where Uber and Lyft drivers themselves cannot survive.” A 2017 survey of drivers by the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents app-based drivers, found that 57 percent of respondents earn less than $50,000 per year, and 22 percent earn less than $30,000 per year.

As much as some taxi and app-based drivers may see each other as competition, they also are united on several fronts. They all want more money: The IDG is petitioning the city to require apps to raise driver pay by 37 percent, and the NYTWA is demanding that the city raise yellow cab rates and make them the minimum for all app-based services. Both groups also want the city to cap the number of new entrants, as they worry that demand isn’t keeping pace with increasing supply of drivers. Uber and Lyft bring on hundreds of new drivers per week—though some quickly quit. A recent analysis by Bruce Schaller, a former NYC traffic and planning commissioner, showed that the hours that taxis and ride-share vehicles spend unoccupied in central Manhattan increased by 81 percent between 2013 and 2017. Without passengers, drivers don’t earn money. “We don’t care about competition,” said Afsi, who began driving for Uber after leasing a yellow cab for nine years. “When you work 14, 15 hours and go home with $50, it’s not good. It’s not about competition. It’s about survival.”

Drivers and their advocates hope that, if anything, the recent string of suicides will compel New York City to further regulate the industry and avoid a full-throttled race to the bottom. The city last considered capping the number of for-hire vehicles on the road in 2015; however, Uber campaigned against the cap, and the City Council did not pass the legislation. Now, City Council Member Stephen Levin is again proposing a temporary freeze on new for-hire vehicle licenses while the city studies on the impact of the industry’s growth.

That’s one of several proposals for mitigating the effects of more ride hailing. Last fall, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez introduced a bill that would allow medallion owners to operate two vehicles under a single medallion, helping boost the value of medallions. Rodriguez has previously suggested that the city bail out medallion owners, saying that “we should find a form of restitution to those who have invested in our city’s future through the purchase of medallions.” Another Council Member, Ruben Diaz Sr. introduced a bill last month meant to slow the growth of app-based for-hire services with, among other things, a $2,000 annual fee on every vehicle affiliated with an app-based service. And the TLC is considering piloting a program that would let taxi drivers offer up-front cost estimates. In theory, that could help them attract passengers who currently prefer the cost predictability of Uber to the traffic-dependent price of yellow cabs.

All those proposals share one critical element: They place the burden for change on the city, rather than the ride-share companies. And perhaps for good reason. Though app-based companies could theoretically raise wages or cap their pool of drivers on their own, they have no incentive to curb their growth. “The only place [a solution] will possibly come from is from public policy,” says Schaller, the former NYC traffic and planning commissioner. “The [app-based services] are hellbent on growth, and if I were the CEO at Uber and had announced that I planned to take the company public next year, I would be, too.” In a statement, Uber pointed to steps it has taken recently to win back its drivers’ trust, such as introducing in-app tipping and allowing drivers to earn more while waiting to pick up riders. “Drivers told us we needed to do better and we have been working hard to earn back their trust and improve the driver experience,” a spokesperson said. A Lyft spokesperson said that the company is “in ongoing conversations to find solutions to complex challenges in New York in order to provide the best transportation for passengers and earning opportunity for those who drive with Lyft.”

The New York City Council created a new committee on for-hire vehicles in 2018, and that committee had its first hearing shortly after Schifter’s suicide in February. For several hours, drivers and advocates delivered emotional testimony and asked for a cap on the number of vehicles on city streets. TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi appeared receptive to the idea of stricter regulation, acknowledging at the hearing that “the expanding industry will continue to make driving a very stressful career without any growth-control mechanism.”

Some sort of “growth-control mechanism” would likely ease the impact that the ride sharing boom has had on drivers across the industry. But the days of being able to retire on a yellow cab medallion might be a thing of the past. “People are frozen in place, dreaming of the idea that the medallion system is about to recover,” says Schaller. “This can turn out perfectly fine for yellow cab drivers. It’s very difficult to see how it could be fine for yellow cab medallion owners.” In other words, it may not be possible to protect every worker from the negative effects of disruption—but there is hope that new regulations might keep drivers from going to the desperate extremes that the city has seen in recent months.

Going for a Ride

  • The Independent Drivers Guild struck a deal with Uber, which recognized the Guild and helped fund its existence.
  • A WIRED contributor argues that a tax on Uber and Lyft could reduce traffic congestion in cities.
  • The ride-hailing business is way bigger than Uber and Lyft.

7 Missiles Closer To Iran War And $100 Oil

MoSI

[Originally published as Macro Monday piece on Margin of Safety Investing. Macro Monday pieces are published by noon each Monday for MoSI members.]

On Sunday, pro-Iranian Shiite rebels in Yemen launched a missile attack on Saudi Arabia targeting four cities. The Saudi air defense intercepted the missiles, however, one person died and two others were hurt by shrapnel.

Saudi Colonel Turki al-Malki made it clear who Saudi Arabia thought was to blame: “This aggressive and random act by the Iran-backed Houthi group proves that the Iranian regime continues to support the armed Houthi group with qualitative capabilities…”

Today’s piece will be a continuation of the discussion that I began last year about an impending greater conflict within Iran. Here is the background:

An Iran War Is Coming – Buy Oil Stocks Now

President Trump Validates Iran War Thesis And More Expensive Oil

Is This ‘The Calm Before The Storm’ On Iran And Oil?

Prince MBS And The Peak Oil Plateau

President Trump Just Signaled The End Of The Nuclear Deal With Iran And Higher Oil Prices

For investors, the evidence adds up to being overweight oil stocks on the likelihood of disruptions to Iranian oil supply soon due to sanctions and increasingly likely military action.

From Russia Without Love

Earlier in March, the U.N. Security Council voted for a resolution that prevents Iran from providing missiles to rebels in Yemen. Russia, a permanent member of the council, vetoed that resolution much to the chagrin of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations.

At the time that action was taken, columnist Sawsan Al Shaer made a point of questioning the Russian action stating: “The question is how Russia justifies to Gulf countries the veto it exercised against the resolution that prevents Iran from supplying Houthis with weapons.”

If you are in Saudi Arabia today, after another, and bigger, missile attack out of Yemen, that question is much more urgent. In the past two years, Russia and Saudi Arabia, along with the GCC, have forged more security and trade ties. But after yet another attack, this statement made by Al Shaer seems even more prescient:

Russia now stands completely against our interests and our security. We should ask Russia to clarify its position towards us. It sells weapons to us even as it sells weapons through Iran to militias that threaten us. Then it torpedoes a move to prevent it from selling the weapons that threaten us, as if it seeks to benefit at the expense of our security! This is the rationale of a war trader and not of a state that builds international relations on a sound and sustainable premise.

Despite the fact that OPEC and Russia have a deal on oil production designed to support the price of oil, Russia supports sales of missiles that threaten partners to that deal. Why would they do that?

There are two ideas here to consider, one on the surface, another slightly more complex. The first idea is that Russia simply stands by Iran. While Russia has historically supported Iran, that is a strategic decision. As history and evidence demonstrate, Russian leadership has no love for Islam.

The more complex equation, and probably closer to truth, is that by allowing an Iranian proxy to obtain missiles that threaten Saudi Arabia, the odds of greater conflict that create oil supply disruptions are higher. Clearly, Russia, which gets 30% of GDP and about half of its federal budget from hydrocarbon revenues, benefits if there is an oil supply disruption in the Middle East.

Games Nations Play

The long game in oil and natural gas is becoming shorter. The window for using oil as a primary revenue driver for oil-producing nations is down to about two decades. Saudi Arabia recognizes this through its 2030 Vision. Russia certainly also sees its window closing on oil profits as it has backed off on expensive oil projects, such as the Arctic.

Over the next couple decades, the GCC nations, Russia and now the United States, will be competing with other nations to supply a global economy with natural gas and oil. To maximize profits, there will need to be a balance between economic growth and higher sustained energy prices. To get higher sustained oil and gas prices, there will have to be some pressure on supplies. The U.S., Russia, and GCC nations want that pressure to fall on others.

So, under these circumstances, the three major oil producers must consider their actions:

  1. Firm oil supply
  2. Slowly growing demand for the short-term, followed by flat demand, followed by declining demand
  3. Limited time frame for profiting from oil
  4. Increasing Chinese (and Asian) net demand

Consider that Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the U.S. all have excess oil reserves that can be tapped. Disruptions to supply in other producing nations will allow these three to profit. At that level, their interests are aligned.

So, now we know where much of the world’s oil will come from. The next key question is: where will it go?

In 2017, China overtook the U.S. as the largest importer of oil with a record 9.57 million barrels per day. China’s thirst for oil is likely to grow about 4% in 2018, down from a 5.5% growth rate last year. Still, that is a significant increase in needed supplies. This is happening at a time when Chinese oil production is peaking and likely to turn over in the next few years.

As we can see from various actions, all three of the biggest producers are looking for ways to increase sales to China and Asia. Russia’s Rosneft through a series of deals on debt, pipelines, and capacity increases has become China’s leading oil supplier, displacing Saudi Arabia.

Aramco (Private:ARMCO) has been building its refining operations in order to gain more market share, including major investments in India, China, and the U.S. Controlling refining, of course, gives Saudi Arabia end points for its oil production and some control over distillate pricing. Aramco is targeting 10 million barrels per day of refining capacity by 2030. This is important as I have targeted that as roughly the year when relatively stable oil supply will be above what will become rapidly falling demand.

Oil Demand Supply

The United States is now engaged in serious trade negotiations with China under the threat of tariffs. Last week, I suggested that a main way to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China would be for them to agree to import more American natural gas. I am sure this is not lost on President Trump who has declared that the United States would become an “energy superpower.”

So that once again raises the question: “how to control oil supplies?” Certainly, sanctioning Venezuela is one way. That’s already in the works as their oil production collapses. Another way would be to sanction Iran again or destroy some of their capacity in a conflict. It is very likely that the U.S. sanctions Iran again in May. A conflict might take longer to play out, dependent on when an uprising might start or when Saudi Arabia retaliates for the missile attacks.

It should be noted and considered that Iran is the one nation suggesting raising OPEC production in 2019. They are also a major natural gas supplier to China. Controlling Iran’s output would seem to be paramount to Russia, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia. Russia was a free-rider when the U.S. had sanctions on Iran. They will be a free-rider again. Aligned interests make strange bedfellows.

From $80 Oil to $100 Oil

I have previously outlined the likelihood and pathway for $80 oil this summer:

Oil’s Technical Path To $80 Per Barrel

Oil Price’s Goldilocks Moment

The short story is the OPEC output controls and slowly rising demand have helped reduce oil inventory globally. This lower inventory is starting to create some price inflation for oil.

Sanctions on Venezuela or Iran would assure $80 oil this summer. It is possible that oil prices could rise to near $100 temporarily before Saudi Arabia kicked in some of its 2+ mbd of excess capacity. Russia too has a bit, though much less than Saudi Arabia, excess capacity it can add. Of course, we know that the United States is heading towards 11mbd of production by 2019.

So, any small disruptions to oil supply can be absorbed rather quickly by the three major producers. In the case of war, where outcomes are less known, oil could surge well past $100 per barrel. One newsletter has recently been touting $500 per barrel oil. I think that’s clearly extreme, but makes the point, that supply disruptions would have an impact at least short term. I see an oil supply disruption as something that shifts where supply is coming from.

The reason we won’t see oil prices much past $100 per barrel in the event of war is that if need be, oil supply can be brought on within a year or two from several other nations, pending assistance from the oil majors and relevant governments. Canada, for example, is a couple stalled pipelines away from being able to add a half million barrels per day to global supply. Brazil, Mexico, Angola, Nigeria, Libya all could add to global supply if the powers that be were motivated to see that happen.

So, while oil is surely headed a bit higher, it is not going to soar as that would cause a severe recession and nobody wants that. All the parties involved are motivated to see oil around $80 per barrel, the Goldilocks price.

Build Your Own Oil & Gas ETF

With oil and gas prices likely to rise to a new trading range and some value in the energy space in a broader stock market where it is hard to find value, adding to your energy asset allocation is advisable. The S&P 500 (SPY) (VOO) representation for the energy sector is down to 5.5% which is a multiyear low.

S&P

I am recommending a 15-25% overweight to energy for the next 2-4 years. The temptation is to add ETF exposure. That’s not a bad idea. I have on a few occasions suggested buying the Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE), SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production (XOP), and SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Equipment & Services (XES) ETFs which have been beaten up relative to the stock market. You can certainly buy these ETFs now.

XOP XES SPY

However, there is a better idea for those who are buying individual stocks. Build your own personalized ETF of top energy space companies. Here are the companies on the Margin of Safety Investing “Very Short List.” The “VSL” is a list of companies I believe can lead in the next decade. All of these are buys right now in my opinion.

Energy Stocks To Buy

Andeavor (ANDV) Refining – merger or Tesoro & Western Refining
Antero Resources (AR) Natural Gas E&P – serving the east coast, benefiting from U.S. natural gas exports and a takeover target
Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) Oil & Gas E&P – high risk due to debt, however, if oil prices do rise, likely to see dramatically higher free cash flow after next asset sale.
Encana (ECA) Oil & Gas E&P – very cleaned up balance sheet with exposure to 4 great plays including Permian, a takeover target, potentially by Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) who described looking for a company that fits Encana’s profile.
Helmerich & Payne (HP) Oil & Gas Services & Equipment – America’s largest land driller and sporting a fat secure 4.2% dividend yield.
Kinder Morgan (KMI) Pipelines – the largest natural gas pipeline company in America with a rising dividend after cleaning itself up after oil crash.
Occidental Petroleum (OXY) Oil & Gas E&P – largest producer in the Permian with diversified assets. Speculative rumored takeover target by Exxon (XOM). 3% dividend.
Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) Oil & Gas E&P – moving towards being the largest Permian Basin pure play. Selling assets short-term, cash flow machine or takeover target intermediate term.

Disclosure: I am/we are long AR, CHK, ECA, KMI, OXY.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: I may initiate positions in ANDV, HP, PX this week. I own a Registered Investment Advisor – https://bluemoundassetmanagement.com – however, publish separately from that entity for self-directed investors. Any information, opinions, research or thoughts presented are not specific advice as I do not have full knowledge of your circumstances. All investors ought to take special care to consider risk, as all investments carry the potential for loss. Consulting an investment advisor might be in your best interest before proceeding on any trade or investment.

Is GE Now A Good Value?

About a month ago, I talked about 4.00% being the magic number for General Electric (GE) in a number of ways. One of those ways was the annual dividend yield, because the stock’s fall was putting this number in play. Despite a huge market rally on Monday, GE shares actually declined, with the stock less than 75 cents from this key dividend level at the day’s low. Will this be the point at which investors see value from the name again?

Last September, the board declared a $0.24 quarterly dividend, at which point the forward yield was 3.95%. Unfortunately, this became a misleading number for GE because as the stock fell, more and more concerns built up about a dividend cut, so it was hard to use that payout rate to project a yield. Things reset in early December, when the current rate of $0.12 was declared, and the chart below shows how that yield has fared on a closing basis since.

(Data sourced from Yahoo Finance. Last data point on chart is for Monday, March 26th close of $12.90)

With shares hitting a low of $12.73 on Monday, the annual yield was up to 3.77%. As you can see below, even after GE shares bounced a little into Monday’s close, the current yield is well above even the longest dated US Treasury. Looking purely at income potential, GE represents a better play moving forward if you believe the payout remains at its current level.

(Source: cnbc.com)

The odd part about Monday’s decline for the stock was that the market soared, with the Dow up almost 670 points on the day. There wasn’t a major catalyst that sent GE shares lower, outside of the Wall Street Journal worrying a little about about risks left over from the company’s once massive lending business. Even names like Facebook (FB) and Tesla (TSLA) that have seen plenty of negative news recently managed to go positive by the close, something that didn’t happen with GE.

With the stock doing so poorly lately, and nobody sure of what will happen with the business moving forward, it might not be a surprise that JPMorgan slapped a street low $11 price target on the name a few weeks ago. This was based on the notion that normalized free cash flow per share looks to be well below the street consensus, and we’re not even at a trough. On the flip side, there are those arguing for plenty of upside for the beaten down name, with Melius Capital stating that a breakup likely undervalues the business by 25% or more than previously estimated.

The question for investors is does GE now become a value play? Well, that likely depends on what you think of potential earnings. If you think that the street’s projection of $1.06 in 2019 is fair or even low, then a forward P/E a little north of 12 with a dividend yield of 3.7% seems like a decent value at roughly half of the S&P 500’s current trailing P/E ratio. However, if you think the situation will get much worse and earnings per share could fall as low as say 80 cents next year (a bit worse than street low of $0.85), a P/E above 16 currently is a bit harder to stomach in a declining revenue/earnings scenario.

With GE shares hitting another low on Monday despite a tremendous market rally, I’m wondering today at what point investors will consider the name a value. Will it be the 4.00% annual yield that the stock is fast approaching? With a forward P/E in the low teens, the name is certainly not expensive if you think management can get the business going again, but again, a cheap stock can always get cheaper if the situation worsens. Do you see value in General Electric currently? I look forward to your comments below.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: Investors are always reminded that before making any investment, you should do your own proper due diligence on any name directly or indirectly mentioned in this article. Investors should also consider seeking advice from a broker or financial adviser before making any investment decisions. Any material in this article should be considered general information, and not relied on as a formal investment recommendation.

Twitter to ban cryptocurrency ads from Tuesday as online crackdown widens

LONDON (Reuters) – Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) will start banning cryptocurrency advertising from Tuesday, joining Facebook and Google in a clampdown that seeks to avoid giving publicity to potential fraud or large investor losses.

FILE PHOTO: Representations of the Ripple, Bitcoin, Etherum and Litecoin virtual currencies are seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The prohibition will cover advertising of initial coin offerings (ICOs) – crowdfunding used to raise cash by creating new coins – as well as token sales, the San Francisco-based firm told Reuters on Monday.

The new policy, which will be rolled out over the next 30 days, will also ban ads by cryptocurrency exchanges and cryptocurrency wallet services, unless they are public companies listed on certain major stock markets.

For Japan, these will be limited to crypto exchanges regulated by its national financial regulator, Twitter said.

The firm had said this month it was taking measures to prevent crypto-related accounts from “engaging with others in a deceptive manner”, but faced calls to go further after bans from Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google.

Facebook has restricted crypto-related adverts, while Google announced a ban that comes into force in June.

The price of bitcoin, already 4 percent in the red on Monday, fell further after the Twitter announcement. It traded at $7,920 BTC=BTSP on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange at 1740 GMT, down more than 6 percent on the day.

A man reads tweets on his phone in front of a displayed Twitter logo in Bordeaux, southwestern France, March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Illustration/File Photo

REGULATORS’ WARNINGS

Regulators have stepped up warnings that bitcoin and other virtual currencies are highly speculative and that some could be fraudulent, and that investors should be prepared to lose everything.

But last week the G20 group of rich nations failed to reach a consensus on how to supervise them.

Adverts for virtual coins or ways to trade them have appeared everywhere from London’s transport network to Japanese television as demand for them has soared.

“With the increasing number of ICOs coming to market, it is an impossible task for anyone, much less platforms like Twitter or Facebook, to keep on top of which ICOs and cryptocurrencies are genuine versus frauds,” said Zennon Kapron, director of the financial consultancy Kapronasia.

“Although certainly ICO advertising must have been a significant source of revenue for Twitter, the repercussions of fraudulent activities just weren’t worth the risk.”

Bitcoin has lost more than half its value from a December peak of almost $20,000 as fears of a regulatory clampdown spooked investors. News of the Facebook and Google bans also knocked the price.

Ethereum .MVETH and Ripple’s XRP .MVXRP, the second- and third-biggest digital currencies by market capitalization, have tumbled this year too.

While critics call cryptocurrencies a Ponzi scheme that will end in tears for most investors, supporters say the coins are backed by powerful new technology that can replace traditional fiat currencies and upend the existing banking system.

Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Fanny Potkin; Editing by Kevin Liffey and John Stonestreet

Facebook shares dip as U.S. regulator announces privacy probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) shares fell as much as 6.5 percent on Monday after the main U.S. consumer protection regulator said it was investigating how the social network allowed data of 50 million users to get into the hands of a political consultancy.

A figurine is seen in front of the Facebook logo in this illustration taken, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Scrutiny by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which generally confirms the existence of an investigation only in cases of significant public interest, adds to pressure from lawmakers in the United States and Europe for Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to explain how his company handles user data.

Facebook shares briefly dipped below $150 on Monday for the first time since July 2017, before recouping some losses. They were down 3.1 percent at $154.37 in afternoon trading.

At the day’s session low the company had lost $100 billion in market value since March 17, when newspapers first reported that Facebook member data was improperly used by consultants Cambridge Analytica to target U.S. and British voters in close-run elections.

“FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook,” the regulator said in a statement. “Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.”

The investigation is broader than looking into whether Facebook violated a 2011 consent order it reached with the FTC over its privacy practices, a person briefed on the matter told Reuters.

“We remain strongly committed to protecting people’s information,” Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman said in a statement on Monday. “We appreciate the opportunity to answer questions the FTC may have.”

If the FTC finds Facebook violated terms of the consent decree, it has the power to fine it thousands of dollars a day per violation, which could add up to billions of dollars.

ALL APOLOGIES

The FTC’s move to make its probe public comes as lawmakers in the United States and Europe put more pressure on Facebook and Zuckerberg to explain the company’s privacy practices.

“Facebook’s failure to protect confidential user information likely violated specific legally binding commitments, but also basic norms and standards,” said U.S. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said on Monday it had invited the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) to testify at an April 10 hearing on data privacy.

Slideshow (2 Images)

A bipartisan coalition of 37 state attorneys general also wrote to Facebook on Monday, demanding to know about the company’s role in the manipulation of users’ data by Cambridge Analytica and its policies and procedures for protecting private data.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee and U.S. Senate Commerce Committee have already formally asked Zuckerberg to appear at a congressional hearing.

Earlier in the day in Europe, the European Union Justice Commissioner asked Facebook if the company is “absolutely certain” that the Cambridge Analytica incident could not be repeated.

Zuckerberg apologized last week for the mistakes the company had made and he promised to restrict developers’ access to user information as part of a plan to protect privacy. He also said sorry in full-page advertisements in British and U.S. newspapers.

“The was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time,” Zuckerberg said in the ads. “We are now taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

‘FUTURE REGULATION’

His apologies have failed to quell discontent. Germany’s justice minister said Facebook’s promises were not enough.

“In future we will have to regulate companies like Facebook much more strictly,” Katarina Barley said after talks to which she summoned Facebook executives including European public affairs chief Richard Allan.

Advertisers and users are also unhappy.

U.S. auto parts retailer Pep Boys suspended all advertising on Facebook on Monday while consumer electronics company Sonos said in a blog post it will remove advertising for its speakers from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Alphabet’s YouTube for one week.

Internet company Mozilla Corp, Germany’s second-largest bank Commerzbank AG (CBKG.DE) and British advertising group ISBA all suspended advertising on Facebook last week.

Opinion polls published on Sunday in the United States and Germany cast doubt over the trust people have in Facebook.

Fewer than half of Americans trust Facebook to obey U.S. privacy laws, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday, while a survey published by Bild am Sonntag, Germany’s largest-selling Sunday paper, found 60 percent of Germans fear that Facebook and other social networks are having a negative impact on democracy.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Bill Rigby; Editing by Susan Thomas

Polls show Facebook losing trust as firm uses ads to apologize

SAN FRANCISCO/LONDON (Reuters) – Opinion polls published on Sunday in the United States and Germany indicated that a majority of the public were losing trust in Facebook over privacy, as the firm ran advertisements in British and U.S. newspapers apologizing to users.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on stage during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Fewer than half of Americans trust Facebook to obey U.S. privacy laws, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday, while a survey published by Bild am Sonntag, Germany’s largest-selling Sunday paper, found 60 percent of Germans fear that Facebook and other social networks are having a negative impact on democracy.

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized for “a breach of trust” in advertisements placed in papers including the Observer in Britain and the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

“We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it,” said the advertisement, which appeared in plain text on a white background with a tiny Facebook logo.

The world’s largest social media network is coming under growing government scrutiny in Europe and the United States, and is trying to repair its reputation among users, advertisers, lawmakers and investors.

This follows allegations that the British consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to users’ information to build profiles of American voters that were later used to help elect U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press” on Sunday that Facebook had not been “fully forthcoming” over how Cambridge Analytica had used Facebook data.

Warner repeated calls for Zuckerberg to testify in person before U.S. lawmakers, saying Facebook and other internet companies had been reluctant to confront “the dark underbelly of social media” and how it can be manipulated.

“BREACH OF TRUST”

Zuckerberg acknowledged that an app built by a university researcher had “leaked Facebook data of millions of people in 2014”.

A figurine is seen in front of the Facebook logo in this illustration taken March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

“This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time,” Zuckerberg said, reiterating an apology first made last week in U.S. television interviews.

Facebook shares tumbled 14 percent last week, while the hashtag #DeleteFacebook gained traction online.

The Reuters/Ipsos online poll found that 41 percent of Americans trust Facebook to obey laws that protect their personal information, compared with 66 percent who said they trust Amazon.com Inc, 62 percent who trust Alphabet Inc’s Google, 60 percent for Microsoft Corp.

The poll was conducted from Wednesday through Friday and had 2,237 responses. (reut.rs/2G9hvrv)

The German poll published by Bild was conducted by Kantar EMNID, a unit of global advertising holding company WPP, using representative polling methods, the firm said. Overall, only 33 percent found social media had a positive effect on democracy, against 60 percent who believed the opposite.

It is too early to say if distrust will cause people to step back from Facebook, eMarketer analyst Debra Williamson said in an interview. Customers of banks or other industries do not necessarily quit after losing faith, she said.

“It’s psychologically harder to let go of a platform like Facebook that’s become pretty well ingrained into people’s lives,” she said.

Data supplied to Reuters by the Israeli firm SimilarWeb, which measures global online audiences, indicated that Facebook usage in major markets and worldwide remained steady over the past week.

“Desktop, mobile and app usage has remained steady and well within the expected range,” said Gitit Greenberg, SimilarWeb’s director of market insights. “It is important to separate frustration from actual tangible impacts to Facebook usage.”

Additional reporting by William James in London, Dustin Volz in Washington D.C. and Chris Kahn in New Editing by Kevin Liffey

Indian agency denies security lapse in ID card project; ZDNet defends report

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Tech news site ZDNet said on Sunday it stood by its report that identified a security vulnerability in data-linked to Aadhaar – India’s national identity card project, after a semi-government agency that manages the database sought to discredit the report.

A woman goes through the process of finger scanning for the Unique Identification (UID) database system, also known as Aadhaar, at a registration centre in New Delhi, India, January 17, 2018. Picture taken January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Saumya Khandelwal

ZDNet reported here that a data leak on a system run by a state-owned utility company could allow access to private information of holders of the biometric “Aadhaar” ID cards, exposing their names, their unique 12-digit identity numbers, and their bank details.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which manages the Aadhaar program, said “there is no truth in this story,” in a statement late on Saturday.

ZDNet’s global editor-in-chief Larry Dignan said in an email to Reuters on Sunday the publication stood by its report. Dignan said they spent weeks compiling evidence and verifying facts.

“We spent weeks reaching out to the Indian authorities, specifically UIDAI, to responsibly disclose the security issue, and we heard nothing back — and no action was taken until after we published our story,” said Dignan.

UIDAI sought to downplay the report stating that even if the claims in the story were true, it would raise security concerns with the database of the utility company and not with the security of UIDAI’s Aadhaar database. UIDAI said it is “contemplating legal action against ZDNet”.

Multiple researchers and journalists, who have identified loopholes in India’s massive national identity card project, say they have been harassed here by some government agencies and slapped with criminal cases because of their work.

Aadhaar is a biometric identification card that is becoming integral to the digitisation of India’s economy, with over 1.1 billion users it is the world’s largest such database.

Indians have been asked to furnish their Aadhaar numbers for a host of transactions including accessing bank accounts, paying taxes, receiving subsidies, acquiring a mobile number, settling a property deal and registering a marriage.

The government’s demands for Aadhaar linkage for multiple services is currently being challenged here in India’s Supreme Court.

At the same time, security researchers and journalists have highlighted multiple vulnerabilities and data leaks tied to the program. UIDAI has sought to downplay the reports and last week it said the biometric data was safe from hacking as the storage facility was not connected to the internet.

Reporting by Malini Menon; Writing by Malini Menon and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Andrew Bolton, Euan Rocha and David Evans

Uber's Crash and the Folly of Humans Training Self-Driving Cars

The British Royal Air Force had a problem. It was 1943, and the Brits were using radar equipment to spot German submarines sneaking around off the western coast of France. The young men sitting in planes circling over the Bay of Biscay had more than enough motivation to keep a watchful eye for the telltale blips on the screens in front of them. Yet they had a worrying tendency to miss the signals they’d been trained to spot. The longer they spent looking at the screen, the less reliable they became.

The RAF could tell their skills deteriorated over time, but it wasn’t sure how long it was safe to keep them at their vital task. So they brought in Norman Mackworth. Mackworth brought in his clock.

The British psychologist put RAF cadets alone in a sparse and silent wooden cabin where they would sit 7 feet from a clock 10 inches in diameter. The clock had a single hand. Every second, the hand moved forward a third of an inch. But at random intervals, it moved twice that distance. The subject’s job was to watch the clock, and press a morse key (that thing telegraph operators use) each time it made the double jump. Some of the cadets sat there for 30 minutes, others an hour, the unluckiest two hours. Mackworth worked in all sorts of variables—some subjects got telephone calls during the test, others got amphetamines—but the clear takeaway was it took less than half an hour for their attention to wander.

In Breakdown of Vigilance During Prolonged Visual Search, Mackworth traced the recognition of this phenomenon back to Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

For now they are oppress’d with travel, they Will not, nor cannot, use such vigilance As when they are fresh.

Before and since Mackworth’s time, the “vigilance decrement” has caused trouble everywhere humans are asked to spend long periods of mostly uneventful time, watching for easy to spot but impossible to predict signals. Security guards suffer from it. So do the people looking after nuclear reactors and Predator drones. Same goes for TSA agents and lifeguards.

And, as last week’s fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, made clear, the vigilance decrement affects the people sitting behind the wheel of Uber’s self-driving cars. Sunday night, one of Uber’s autonomous Volvo XC90 SUVs hit and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking her bike across the street.

It’s unclear why the car’s self-driving system didn’t slow down before hitting Herzberg. But video released by the Tempe police shows that in the moments leading up the impact, the car’s safety driver, Rafaela Vasquez—charged with taking control whenever necessary to avoid the threat of a crash—wasn’t looking at the road.

And so, along with the entire notion that robots can be safer drivers than humans, the crash casts doubt on a fundamental tenet of this nascent industry: that the best way to keep everyone safe in these early years is to have humans sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to leap into action.

Maybe Drivers

Dozens of companies are developing autonomous driving technology in the United States. They all rely on human safety drivers as backups. The odd thing about that reliance is that it belies one of the key reasons so many people are working on this technology. We are good drivers when we’re vigilant. But we’re terrible at being vigilant. We get distracted and tired. We drink and do drugs. We kill 40,000 people on US roads every year and more than a million worldwide. Self-driving cars are supposed to fix that. But if we can’t be trusted to watch the road when we’re actually driving, how did anyone think we’d be good at it when the robot’s doing nearly all the work?

“Of course this was gonna be a problem,” says Missy Cummings, the director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory and Duke Robotics at Duke University. “Your brain doesn’t like to sit idle. It is painful.”

In 2015, Cummings and fellow researchers ran their own test. “We put people in a really boring, four-lane-highway driving simulator for four hours, to see how fast people would mentally check out,” she says. On average, people dropped their guard after 20 minutes. In some cases, it took just eight minutes.

Everyone developing self-driving tech knows how bad humans are at focusing on the road. That’s why many automakers have declined to develop semiautonomous tech, where a car drives itself in a simple scenario like highway cruising, but needs a person to supervise and grab the wheel when trouble seems imminent. That kind of system conjures the handoff problem, and as Volvo’s head of safety and driver-assist technologies told WIRED in 2016, “That problem’s just too difficult.”

The problem for the companies eager to skip that icky middle ground and go right for a fully driverless car is that they believe the only way to get there is by training on public roads—the testing ground that offers all the vagaries and oddities these machines must master. And the only reasonable approach—from a pragmatic and political point of view—to testing imperfect tech in two-ton vehicles speeding around other people is to have a human supervisor.

“I think, in good faith, people really thought the safety drivers were going to do a good job,” Cummings says. In a rush to move past the oh-so-fallible human, the people developing truly driverless cars doubled down on, yes, the oh-so-fallible human.

That’s why, before letting them on the road, Uber puts its vehicle operators through a three-week training course at its Pittsburgh R&D center. Trainees spend time in a classroom reviewing the technology and the testing protocols, and on the track learning to spot and avoid trouble. They even get a day at a racetrack, practicing emergency maneuvers at highway speeds. They’re taught to keep their hands an inch or two from the steering wheel, and the right foot over the brake. If they simply have to look at their phones, they’re supposed to take control of the car and put it in park first.

Working alone in eight-hour shifts (in Phoenix they earn about $24 an hour), the babysitters are then set loose into the wild. Each day, they get a briefing from an engineer: Here’s where you’ll be driving, here’s what to look for. Maybe this version of the software is acting a bit funky around cyclists, or taking one particular turn a little fast.

And constantly, they are told: Watch the road. Don’t look at your phone. If you’re tired, stop driving. Uber also audits vehicle logs for traffic violations, and it has a full-time employee who does nothing but investigate potential infractions of the rules. Uber has fired drivers caught (by other operators or by people on the street) looking at their phones.

Still, the vigilance decrement proves persistent. “There’s fatigue, there’s boredom,” says one former operator, who left Uber recently and requested not to be named. “There’s a sense of complacency when you’re driving the same loops over and over, and you trust the vehicle.” That’s especially true now that Uber’s cars are, overall, pretty good drivers. This driver said that by early this year, the car would regularly go 20 miles without requiring intervention. If you’re tooling around the suburbs, that might mean an hour or more. As any RAF cadet watching a broken clock in a cabin could tell you, that’s a long time to stay focused. “You get lulled into a false sense of security,” the driver says.

Driving Buzzed

Moreover, Uber has no system in place to ensure its drivers keep their eyes on the road. That technology exists, though. Drivers who pay to have Autopilot on their Tesla or ProPilot Assist on their Nissan get vehicles that can handle themselves on the highway, but require human supervision. (They can’t handle things like stopped firetrucks in their lane, for instance.) To make sure they pay attention, the car uses a torque sensor in the steering wheel to determine that they’re occasionally touching it. Slackers get a warning beep or buzz.

Cadillac’s Super Cruise offers a more sophisticated solution, using an infrared camera on the steering column to watch the driver’s head position. Look away for too long, and it delivers a scolding. If Cadillac managed to work that into a commercial product, it’s easy to imagine Uber or one of its robocar competitors doing the same to keep their employees alert.

“Driver state management is a critical aspect to all vehicles that involve human operation,” says Bryan Reimer, who studies human machine interaction at MIT. That can be a system like Cadillac’s, or, even better, one that tracks eye movement (you can point your head at the road and be asleep, after all). Or, you can put two people in the car. That’s not guaranteed to help (ask the Northwest pilots who flew 150 miles past their destination in 2009), but it does mean you’ve got a backup if one person totally checks out.

(An Uber spokesperson said the company regularly reviews its testing procedures, but declined to speculate on how it would change with regard to the fatal crash. Waymo and General Motors, the premiere competitors in this space, did not reply to request for comment on how they train and monitor their human operators.)

And if we can’t use machines to monitor the humans who are monitoring the machines, Norman Mackworth might have a simpler, if sketchier, suggestion to offer: The cadets popping speed outperformed the rest of the class.


Uber’s Fatal Crash Fallout