Space Photos of the Week: Sweeping the Clouds Away on Titan

You know that hazy, cloudy, yellowish moon of Saturn called Titan? This is the same moon! Using years’ worth of infrared data from Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, scientists have created the most detailed view of Titan we’ve ever seen. Because of the thick atmosphere enveloping this moon, it’s ordinarily a challenge to see through the clouds and haze. With infrared? A whole new world, or moon, opens up.

Sometimes the Earth, seen from space, can have features more like those you’d expect on alien planets. This particular photo is of the Chukchi Sea, a stretch of Arctic water north of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia. NASA’s Landsat8 satellite captured these lovely blue and green swirls—blooms of phytoplankton—just a few weeks ago. Looks almost warm enough for a summer swim!

The Pillars of Creation, part of the Eagle nebula, are perhaps the most renowned nebula feature of our time, and for good reason: They’re beautiful. These towers got their name because they were a stellar nursery, a place where new stars are born. Yes, the key word is “were.” Scientists think a supernova explosion felled the pillars some years ago. However, the light from that cataclysm hasn’t reached us yet; what we’re seeing in this photo is about 5,700 years old, since that’s how long it took the nebula’s light to reach the Hubble Space Telescope.

The dwarf planet Ceres, the closest such planet to Earth, resides in the asteroid belt between our world and Mars. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Ceres for over three years and has spotted some pretty interesting things close up—including these bright, salty regions in the impact crater known as Occator Crater. Dawn’s mission is due to end sometime in the next couple of months as it runs out of fuel, though it will continue forever orbiting Ceres. We just won’t be able to communicate with it anymore.

Saturn, you’re so awesome. The Cassini spacecraft took this stunning pic of the ringed planet in January 2010, with the light from the night side enhanced so we can better see the demarcations in the rings. Although Cassini ended its mission when it entered Saturn’s atmosphere last September, we’ll always have these grand views of the most remarkable planet (other than ours) in our solar system.

This sparkling cluster of stars is actually an irregular galaxy called UGC 12682. The bright blue regions indicate star formation, and their contrast against the dark fabric of space makes this photo all the more alluring. Galaxy UGC 12682 is 70 million light years from Earth, so all the baby stars here probably have grown up by now.

?How to add Linux to your Chromebook

It’s long been possible to run Linux on a Chromebook. That’s no surprise. After all, Chrome OS is a Linux variant. But, doing it by using either Crouton in a chroot container or Gallium OS, a Xubuntu Chromebook-specific Linux variant, wasn’t easy. Then, Google announced it was bringing a completely integrated Linux desktop to the Chromebook.

Today, with a properly-equipped Chromebook and the bravery to run canary code, you can run Debian Linux on your Chromebook. Here’s how to do it.

This new Chromebook Linux feature is Crostini, the umbrella technology for getting Linux running with Chrome OS. Crostini gets enough Linux running to run KVM, Linux’s built-in virtual machine (VM). On top of this, Crostini starts and runs LXC containers. You won’t see it, unless you look closely, but it’s in those containers that your Debian Linux instances are running.

Eventually, anyone with a newer Chromebook will be able to run Linux. Specifically, if your Chromebook’s operating system is based on the Linux 4.4 kernel, you’ll be supported. But we’re not there yet. It’s also possible that older Chromebooks, running Linux 4.14, will be retrofitted with Crostini support.

Officially, you need a Pixelbook, Google’s top-of-the-line Chromebook, to run Linux. But, users have found a dozen other models can run Crostini with half-a-dozen others expected to be supported soon. Chromebooks that can already use Crostini include newer Intel-powered Chromebooks from Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung. Dell models will start getting supported later this year.

I used my best-of-breed Pixelbook with its 1.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-7Y75 processor, 512GB SSD, with 16GBs of RAM for my tests. This is the fastest Chromebook on the market. It’s not cheap, at a list price of $1,399, but it’s worth it if you want to push Linux on the Chromebook’s limits.

Once you have the hardware you need, you must switch your Chromebook from the stable update channel to the dev channel. This is alpha software and it updates about once a week. Let me make this absolutely clear: This is not stable software. It will blow up at times. But, faint heart never won fair technology discoveries.

This is a bigger decision than it looks at first. You’ll lose all your local data if you try to go back to the stable, or even beta, channels. With a Chromebook that’s not much of a problem since most of your data and settings are kept on the Google Cloud, it’s still worth keeping in mind.

If you want to wait and be safe, Crostini support is expected to enter the stable channel with Chrome OS 69 in mid-September.

To make the switch to dev, take the following steps:

  1. Sign in to your Chromebook with the owner account.
  2. Click your account photo.
  3. Click Settings.
  4. At the top left, click Menu.
  5. Scroll down and click About Chrome OS.
  6. Click Detailed build information.
  7. Next to “Channel” click Change channel.
  8. Pick a channel.
  9. Click Change Channel.
  10. Your Chromebook will download the dev channel update. It will then ask you to restart your Chromebook.

Once that’s done, if you’re not using a Pixelbook you may need to set a Chrome flag to access Linux. You do this by entering: chrome://flags on the Chrome browser’s address line. This command displays all of Chrome’s experimental features. Scroll down the list until you find:

#enable-experimental-crostini-ui

Activate this, and your system may be ready to go. I say “may” because to run Crostini your Chromebook must not only be on the dev channel, but Google must also have enabled the Linux VM for your hardware.

The easiest way to confirm that a particular Chromebook works with Linux is to follow the above steps and then open Chrome OS’s built-in shell, crosh, and run the shell command:

vmc start termina

If you get a message such as “ERROR: command ‘vmc’ is not available”, you’re out of luck. But, if you see a terminal, congrats, you’ve just found a new Chromebook that’s Linux-ready.

Next, head to Chrome OS settings (chrome://settings), scroll down to to “Linux (Beta)” and activate it.

Now, open the app switcher by pressing the Search/Launcher key and type “Terminal”. This launches the Termina VM, which will start running a Debian 9.0 Stretch Linux container.

Congratulations! You’re now running Debian Linux on your Chromebook.

From here you can install and run programs using Debian’s normal software commands. For example, to update my new Linux system and install the lynx web browser, I’d run:

$ sudo apt-get update

$ sudo apt-get upgrade

$ sudo apt install lynx

Crostini Linux running Lynx

With Crostini, you can now run Linux and Linux applications, such as Lynx, on a Chromebook.

sjvn

While you could install pretty much any program on your new Linux instance, I gave a shell-based program example because accelerated graphics and audio aren’t working yet. So, while you could install Cinnamon, my favorite Linux interface, or Steam for games, it’s not fast enough even on a maxed out Pixelbook to be that enjoyable. Not yet anyway.

In addition, many graphics-based programs, such as the photo-editor Gimp, won’t run yet on Crostini. Give it time to mature before trying to get too fancy with heavy graphics software.

Soon, though, Linux and Chrome will be a matched pair. Come that day, I see high-end Chromebooks becoming the laptops of choice for developers.

In the meantime, if you want to do more with Linux and Chromebook, check out the excellent Reddit Crostini Wiki. For up-to-the-minute hands-on information about Crostini, its parent Reddit forum is the best resource on the web.

Enjoy!

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Amazon hands goodwill to eBay with move to shut Australians out of overseas sites

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian home entertainment installer Paul Boon has relied for years on Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) U.S. website for cheap wall racks and other parts to keep his costs down.

FILE PHOTO: A web page featuring Amazon’s Australian URL is pictured in this photo illustration April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed/Illustration/File Photo

But Amazon’s recent move to stop Australians from shopping on its foreign websites, due to a new law that requires it to collect taxes, is turning away once-loyal customers like Boon.

He’s considering a switch to eBay Inc (EBAY.O), adding that prices for wall mounts were 40 percent higher on Amazon’s Australia site if they appeared there at all.

“I’ll be going somewhere else to get that regular stuff,” said Boon by telephone from the northern city of Brisbane, where he runs his business.

Amazon’s launch of an Australian site in December, followed by last month’s introduction of its Prime service for faster delivery, has been heralded as a game changer for the country’s retail industry. But it has gotten off to a choppy start.

For customers like Boon, the retail giant has lost years of goodwill by forcing shoppers onto a local site with a product range roughly one ninth of the U.S. site and which sells some goods at higher prices.

It has also given online marketplace eBay, Amazon’s bigger and more established rival in Australia, the opportunity to swoop in and capture that goodwill, building its first automatic tax collection and payment system and wooing local customers with discounts.

TAXING ISSUES

Australia is the first market where Amazon, the world’s second-most valuable company worth $890 billion, has responded to a sales tax on internet purchases by shutting out customers based on where they live.

An Amazon spokesman said in an email the company would continue to build its range of goods and services through its Australian site, and that it was “thrilled with the reception it has received from Australian customers” since introducing Amazon Prime.

The Australian government extended its 10 percent goods and services tax (GST) to all goods bought online from overseas, effective July 1, requiring online retailers to collect the tax. It was previously applicable only to overseas purchases over A$1,000 ($745).

Amazon also gave Australians just one month’s notice that they would be shut out of its global network – sales are cut off when an Australian delivery address is entered – even though the government’s plans were announced a year ago.

Critics say the decision was an excuse to drive traffic to its new local site and promote its Amazon Prime service.

“I’ve no doubt that Amazon will be successful here in time, but I don’t believe that this strategy is what’s going to catapult them to success,” said Ryan Murtagh, CEO of Neto, a provider of data and logistics support for about 3,000 online retailers in Australia.

“I think actually it potentially could damage them in the long term.”

Amazon has some 550 million products on its U.S. site including those sold by Amazon and third-party sellers, according to Boomerang Commerce, an artificial intelligence technology firm in California. That compares with the 500-600 million offers from third-party sellers on eBay, which includes duplicate products.

EBAY’S EDGE

Ebay said the decision to build the new tax collection and payment system had paid off with early figures suggesting Australian shoppers were not swayed by the new tax.

“It was a big change and it was a global change that needed to be done,” said eBay’s local managing director, Tim MacKinnon, adding that the effort was led by its California headquarters.

“A lot of people worked on it, a lot of different teams. We’re really proud that we hit the July 1 deadline.”

He added its decision to offer Australian shoppers a 10 percent discount on its local, British and U.S. websites for the first week of July had helped generate business.

“All of our sites have accelerated,” said MacKinnon.

While neither Amazon nor eBay provide data on visitors to their sites and estimating their share of Australia’s A$26 billion-a-year online retail market is difficult, customer dissatisfaction with Amazon Australia is not hard to find. Its Facebook page is overrun with negative comments.

Amazon’s move has also prompted non-Amazon freight forwarders who buy items from the U.S. store domestically and mail them to Australia to seize new opportunities. One such firm, New York’s Big Apple Buddy, this week set up a new site for Australian shoppers.

Securities analysts argue, however, that Amazon plays a long game and that given its track record in dominating online retail in many countries, whatever missteps it makes can be fixed over time.

“It is highly likely they will get it right in Australia over the longer term, and prices will be competitive, service will be outstanding, and they will eat eBay’s lunch,” Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research at Los Angeles-based Wedbush Securities, said by email.

Reporting by Byron Kaye and Tom Westbrook; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Nicholas Ford in Sydney; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Trump Blames Russian Probe at Helsinki Summit Causing His Leadership to Be Questioned. Don't Repeat This Mistake at Your Company

No matter where you stand on Trump’s political agenda, yesterday’s events show clear errors in leadership. These errors include supporting the Russian president’s word over that of the USA intelligence agencies and disregarding public concerns surrounding the Russian interference in the 2016 US election.  While the nature of being a leader means you can’t always please everyone, the amount displeased by yesterday is disquieting. 

How does one cross the line from being a good leader who makes tough choices, to being a bad leader who ostracizes their audience? Here are two essential leadership lessons every leader should learn from the Trump and Putin press conference in Helsinki. 

1. Support your community–at the very least don’t belittle them. 

Whether you are leading a company or a country, you are going to be in charge of a variety of people, some with conflicting opinions to yours. 

For example, Steve Jobs wasn’t a programmer or an engineer. As a CEO, that didn’t stop him from prioritizing those skills in employees at Apple. He was an incredible leader because he valued what each job function brought to the table. 

Could you imagine the animosity a leader would create in the work environment if they disregarded designers because they didn’t fully understand design? Or if you neglected coders because their work would sometimes challenge your ideas?

This isn’t a productive way to lead a company, let alone a country.

The reason so many people are offended by (and suspicious about) Trump’s actions yesterday is that he was so quick to throw the USA under the bus to support Russia, which was confusing as he is the leader of the United States of America. 

It started off with this tweet:

Many were confused why he would imply that the cause of tension between the US and Russia is drawn from the FBI investigating if Russia did, in fact, interfere in the 2016 US election.

This is especially puzzling because last Friday 12 Russians were charged by Special Council Robert Muller for their involvement and influence in the 2016 election. And even more so, because at the press conference that followed this tweet, Trump continued to side with Russia and pin blame on the Muller investigation. Since Trump is so tirelessly defending Russia–even though investigators are finding evidence of interference in the presidential election–people are starting to question is leadership.  

This is a demonstration of poor leadership. Instead of saying “there is nothing to look into, but I respect the process of justice” Trump is bashing the US department of justice. When you are a leader you should support every part of your community, and you should never (ever) belittle them.

2. Leader’s shouldn’t disregard overwhelming concerns. 

A major cause for the backlash against Trump is that in the press conference he held with Putin yesterday, he strongly disregarded concerns of the American public. 

Part of being a good leader is addressing concerns, even if that means having to do something difficult, or not in your best interest.

For example when Uber was going through half a year of scandals that were leading to major setbacks in the company their CEO, eventually, had to address the issues at hand. Travis Kalanick did this by stepping down as CEO, which may have hurt his already tarnished reputation. Still, it was the best choice for the company. 

At the conference yesterday, when asked about Russian interference in the 2016 US election, Trump was quick to support Putin’s claim that there had not been any Russian interference. Which hurt Trump’s credibility as a leader since US Intelligence agencies have already confirmed that cyber-attacks, fake-news stories, and chatbots have been linked to the Kremlin. 

When a reporter asked Trump if he believed Putin over US intelligence in the accusations surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 election Trump said, “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,”.

This utter dismissal of evidence from the US Department of Justice, along with concerns from US citizens, has caused an extreme questioning of Trumps quality as a leader. Leaving many to wonder why he is so quick to support the Russian president. 

Whether you’re leading a sports team, company or the USA, a good leader should always address major issues and concerns. Not only did Trump disregard these issues, he doubled down on supporting Russia. This was a clear sign of bad leadership. And future leaders can learn from this mistake by always putting their team, company or people first. 
 

My Fellow Americans: We're Really Bad at Vacations. Here's How to Fix It

And even if we do set aside the time and actually get away, a new survey says we’re just as likely to spend a significant amount of time glued to our phones, and checking tabs on our jobs back at home.

I can’t really blame us. We have one of the lowest rates of unemployment in history, coupled with some of the highest anxiety we’ve ever seen. We become workaholics not by choice so much as by habit.

And we live in a society that ultimately determines our value by how much value we contribute. And we even shame our fellow workers who actually take time off.

The thing is, nobody can keep this up forever. And that’s the entire point of a vacation to begin with.

So my fellow vacation-deprived Americans, I encourage you to buck the trends.

The survey about vacation attitudes from Alamo Rent A Car–I guess they’re into this because lots of people rent cars on vacations–says a majority of Americans simply can’t disconnect when we’re supposed to be disconnecting.

  • 59 percent of workers “say they put pressure on themselves to work during family vacations; most (57 percent) say they do this because they don’t want to come back to a mountain of work.”
  • Half of workers say they feel guilty about taking vacations because coworkers have to fill in for them–regardless of whether the coworkers actually express any animosity.
  • And a small, shrinking percentage of Americans say therefore that they’re able to “completely unplug’ from work while they’re vacationing: only 37 percent in 2018, down from 53 percent the year before.

There’s a lot of interesting other data in this survey, including that more families ranked “exploring new destinations together” this year as the most important vacation goal, while about 14 percent fewer people this year than last said they thought “spending quality time together” was most important.

One clue as to why: the huge swath of people (roughly 37 percent) who said they can’t imagine paring down their use of social media during vacations.

My friends, we need to find a way to cut things off. Even for just a few days, if that’s all that’s practical.

Otherwise, you wind up being part of perhaps the most striking statistic in the survey: the vast majority of families interviewed (85 percent) who said they feel like they need time to “recover” after taking a vacation. 
 

Chinese discounter Pinduoduo aims for up to $1.63 billion in U.S. IPO

(Reuters) – Chinese online group discounter Pinduoduo plans to raise up to $1.63 billion from a U.S. listing, its latest filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange showed, in what would be the second-biggest U.S. float by a Chinese firm this year.

Pinduoduo plans to sell about 85.6 million American Depositary Shares in an initial public offering (IPO) at a price range of $16 to $19 each, its filing late on Monday showed.

That values the three-year-old startup – which has yet to make a profit – at $20 billion to $24 billion, higher than its $15 billion valuation in April. Its free float will be 6.8 percent of enlarged share capital after a 15 percent “greenshoe” or over-allotment option which can be sold if there is demand, showed a term sheet seen by Reuters.

Two of the firm’s main existing shareholders – Tencent Holdings Ltd and Sequoia Capital – have each indicated an interest in buying up to $250 million worth of shares in the IPO, according to the filing.

The price range represents a 2020 price-to-sales ratio of 2.1–2.6 and a 2020 non-GAAP price-to-earnings ratio of 8.9–10.6, Thomson Reuters publication IFR reported.

The firm will open its book to investors on Tuesday and price the IPO on Wednesday of the following week, showed the term sheet. It expects to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol PDD.

Pinduoduo is the latest in a series of Chinese tech groups flocking to list offshore, seeking to replenish coffers amid ever-intensifying competition with domestic rivals, notably e-commerce firms Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and JD.com Inc, even as Sino-U.S. trade tension rattles global markets.

China’s Meituan Dianping, an online food delivery-to-ticketing services platform which rivals Alibaba-backed Ele.me, is also looking to launch an IPO of over $4 billion in Hong Kong in coming months.

Pinduoduo, set up by former Google engineer Colin Huang in 2015, is also joining several sizable Chinese listings in New York this year. Chinese video streaming service provider iQiyi Inc raised $2.42 billion from a Nasdaq IPO in March, and Tencent Music Entertainment, China’s largest music-streaming firm, aims to raise up to 4 billion in a U.S. IPO in October.

In an initial filing, Pinduoduo, which allows consumers to group together to increase the discounts offered by merchants, said it had 103 million monthly active users of its mobile platform at the end of March.

Due to low-priced products and a larger user base in China’s smaller cities, the firm’s gross merchandise volume exceeded 100 billion yuan ($14.98 billion) last year, a milestone for Chinese e-commerce firms that took Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace five years and JD.com 10 years to reach.

Pinduoduo’s revenue has grown sharply, reaching 1.38 billion yuan in January-March from 37 million yuan in the same period a year prior. Its net loss, however, remained broadly steady at 201 million yuan.

China Renaissance, CICC, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs are advising Pinduoduo, according to the filing.

Reporting by Julie Zhu in HONG KONG and Nikhil Subba in BENGALURU; Additional reporting by Fiona Lau of IFR; Editing by Maju Samuel and Christopher Cushing

Forget Elon Musk. Read About These Surprising Heroes of the Thai Cave Rescue Everybody Else Forgot

If you’ve ever contributed to a team but didn’t get any recognition, I’ve got a story for you.

Even just figuring out their part in this story requires some guesswork. Finding them by name would probably be impossible. They’re probably just fine with never having their story told. But their story is worth telling.

The long line of problems

To understand their role, we have to quickly recount the tactical story of how the boys and their coach were rescued. We’ll number this to make it easy to keep track:

  1. We start with the team of international cave divers and Thai Navy SEALs who found and stayed with the 12 youth soccer players and their coach. These people are true heroes, as is the diver who lost his life in the effort, and who will be remembered for a long time.
  2. Of course, finding the boys was only step one. Getting them out was an incredibly challenging mission. As time ran out, rescuers made the dangerous call that they’d have to rig the boys in dive equipment, and bring them out partially submerged on an hours-long trip.
  3. This was difficult even for experienced cave divers. None of the boys could swim, let alone use dive equipment. So, the rescuers had to find a way to keep malnourished, scared kids comfortable during the rescue–and most importantly, avoid panic. The idea was basically the least bad option.
  4. They decided to sedate the boys during the escape. This was extremely dangerous, and the rescuers did not expect a 100 percent survival rate. But they felt there was no other choice. As Thai Navy SEALs and U.S. military officials explained it to the Thai government, according to The Washington Post, the choice was either “save most of them now, or lose all of them soon.”`

The Australian doctors

Anesthesia is a medical specialty, obviously. The rescuers needed people who (a) could dive and reach the boys, and (b) then administer the drugs in as safe a manner as possible.

Enter Richard Harris and Craig Challen, two Australian expert cave divers. Harris happens to be a practicing anesthesiologists, while Challen is a retired veterinarian. (They’re both big heroes in this story–widely praised, and rightly so.)

Even getting them into Thailand in the first place presented a problem. The Australian government reportedly had concerns about Harris and Challen’s legal exposure. Because even under ideal circumstances (like in a hospital), anesthesia carries some risk. Never mind in this incredible situation, in which they expected not all the boys would survive.

So, how do you work things out very quickly, and under extreme conditions, so that two foreign doctors volunteer to perform a risky mission in a foreign country, but find a way to exempt them from the country’s legal system if things go wrong? 

Better call the lawyers

An official source confirmed to Four Corners that Dr Challen and Dr Harris were given diplomatic immunity ahead of the risky mission, after negotiations between Australian and Thai Government officials.

Diplomatic immunity. Of course. Treat them like official Australian diplomats, as opposed to private citizen volunteers.

I’m a lawyer (currently non-practicing), and I spent a lot of time thinking about problems like this years ago in the U.S. Army JAG Corps. But this solution was so smart, straightforward and elegant–and I’m not sure I would have thought of it.

The negotiators for the Thai and Australian governments–and I’m going to go out on a limb and bet that some or all of them were lawyers–figured it out.

We’ll probably never know their names. But without them, there’d have been no legal protection for the Australian doctors in case something went wrong in this extremely risky rescue–and it’s quite possible the rescue wouldn’t have happened.

And to me, they represent all the thousands of other nameless people who came together to contribute, without knowing 

So, forget about Elon Musk. And forget about that pithy line from Shakespeare. Next time there’s a big emergency, first thing we do? Call all the lawyers.

By the way, here’s the Facebook post that Dr. Harris wrote on the way home to Australia after the rescue. Its tone of gratitude could teach some other players in this whole affair an important lesson.  

Can Blockchain Eliminate The Myth Of The Starving Artist?

How can artists get paid for the value they bring to society? It is an age-old, vexing question, one that artist and entrepreneur Beatriz Helena Ramos hopes to reinvigorate through Dada, the visual conversation platform she launched in 2014 with fellow artist-technologists Yehudit Mam and Abraham Milano. Dada is a cross between a marketplace, an art project, and a technology startup—a uniquely hybrid status that may well be the key to redefining success for artists in the digital age.

Beatriz Helena RamosCredit: Victor Jeffreys III

Dada was conceived as a social network where people can speak to each other in drawings rather than words. More than merely a drawing platform, it is Dada’s conversational quality that fosters moments of real magic among users: “You fall a little bit in love with everybody that responds to you,” said Ramos. “You feel like they’re listening to you. Not just to what you’re putting into a drawing conceptually—but what you’re not even aware that you’re putting out there, or the subconscious.”

With more than 150,000 users worldwide, Dada has done the seemingly impossible in the digital age: scaling intimacy. At this point, a typical trajectory for a tech-enabled social network looking to monetize might be to go the way of Facebook and introduce income-generating features like ads to the platform. The risk, of course, is such a move might degrade Dada’s impossibly beautiful sense of community—”our ace card,” is what Ramos calls it.

The cost of maintaining a technology platform at scale means an arty project like Dada is unheard-of on the internet. In its early years, Dada’s full time staff of four to five have mostly had to forego salaries to keep the platform alive. While looking for a sustaining way to generate income, Ramos became inspired by increasing excitement in the tech world over decentralized applications—a new type of software that is not deployed by any single individual or company, and makes use of consensus mechanisms like blockchain to store information. Ramos believes the key to empowering artists is for them to retain intellectual property rights to their works, something blockchain is uniquely capable of enabling.

Dada visual conversation with users Bea (USA), Cromomaniaco (Chile), Otro (Chile), Lorena Pinasco (Netherlands) and Serste (Italy)Credit: Dada

On a hunch, Ramos and her team decided to set off on the lesser-known path of turning Dada into a blockchain-enabled marketplace in which the drawings generated on the platform could be bought and sold using cryptocurrency. By that time, the team had earned a place in the 2017 cohort at Matter, an accelerator for early stage media companies (disclosure: I was a mentor at Matter the previous year), which provided a fertile ground for quickly implementing these ideas. “What we saw in Bea was one of the most creative, scrappy, accomplished, crazy visionary founders that we have ever worked with,” said Corey Ford, Matter’s Managing Director.

The concept of partial ownership of an artwork has little weight in the art world because it has been historically unfeasible to track the sale and resale of a work of art and there is no mechanism to ensure a percentage of that profit is funneled back to the artist in an efficient and transparent way. A recent study by NYU Steinhardt assistant professor Amy Whitaker shows the dramatic result if an artist like Jasper Johns had been able to retain a 10% ownership stake in his own art works. As the price for his work increased with his increasing reputation as an artist, each resale of his works would have resulted in significant additional income for Johns in his lifetime.

When associated with a cryptocurrency, the partial ownership model to artistic creation is extremely easy to implement using blockchain, because digital works can be “signed” and tracked so every sale and resale results in an automatic partial payment to the originating artist. By October 2017, Dada had added a new type of user to the platform—the collector—and released “Creeps and Weirdos,” a collection of limited edition digital drawings generated exclusively on the platform which were signed and available for purchase in the cryptocurrency Ethereum. Last May, Dada received an investment from ConsenSys Ventures, the investment arm of ConsenSys, a global consultancy that specializes in building decentralized applications on the Ethereum blockchain, to build out a fully integrated marketplace.

Visual conversation in Dada, with users Massel (Peru), Boris Toledo Doorm (Chile), Serste (Italy), Alex Henry (USA), and Bea (USA)Credit: Dada

Equal parts artist and entrepreneur, Ramos has been successful by most measures. She has has worked with large companies like Disney, MTV, and The New York Times, has directed over 100 commercials for some of the biggest brands in the world, and eventually built out her own animation studio with offices in Brooklyn and Venezuela. The balance has often been an uneasy one: “I’m what I call an unconscious capitalist, because I have companies and employees and clients and all of that—but I’m actually an anarchist, a social anarchist, in my soul.”

If Dada’s marketplace model succeeds, a small percentage of each purchase transaction would funnel back to the platform, ensuring it can sustain itself indefinitely, and vindicating Ramos’ iconoclastic vision of artist empowerment above any corporate, political, or advertising interests. It also promises to create revenue for Dada’s artists while maintaining the beauty and authenticity of its user interactions. The most important thing, Ramos is careful to emphasize of this new phase, is to figure out how to inject money into the Dada creative ecosystem without destroying the magic.

An uneasy mix of money and magic

With the investment from ConsenSys, the Dada team are now looking to design and implement a custom cryptocurrency—a DADA coin—that would form the underlying unit of value for Dada’s marketplace. Artists can earn DADA coins for their creative activities on Dada, and might then be able to trade DADA coins for real money. “To me the opportunity here is can you create a whole new economy, a completely new business model that hasn’t been done before—and that’s what we’re going for,” says Ramos.

Dada visual conversation with users Boris Z Simunich (Peru), ALE MT (Colombia) and Cromomaniaco (Chile)Credit: Dada NYC

In designing the DADA coin, Ramos sees the challenge as: “Can we issue a cryptocurrency where the economic system is based on our values, where the values are collaboration and collective ownership?” She points out that overly simplistic ways of modeling such a system—for example, directly tying the value of a work of art to its market price—undermines some of the more ephemeral incentives of artistic creation, like community and conversation.

Value and values

How might an ideal economy for artists actually work? “Art is similar to innovation,” says Ramos, “where you have to do a lot of experimentation.” The trick is to foster an environment where artists can create and experiment freely, independent of financial or political pressure, and yet somehow derive income in a passive way from the value that experimentation brings to society.

What happens if one drawing on Dada sells for 10 cents, while the drawing it was in response to sells for $1 million? This type of relative inequality happens all the time in traditional artistic ecosystems, where artists might frequent various creative communities for inspiration and cross-pollination, yet each artist generates income individually. On Dada, each drawing is displayed, literally, next to the drawing that inspired it, making the value of artistic inspiration explicit in an intriguing new way. The question remains: can this type of value actually be quantified and rewarded?

Dada Visual conversation with users Marta (Chile), Bea (USA), Otro (Chile) and Cromomaniaco (Chile)Credit: Dada

Tesla May Be Seeing Limited Demand For Its Current Production

Two weeks ago, Tesla changed its policy on allocating Model 3 sales to reservation holders. Instead of inviting reservation holders to configure their cars and place a firm order based on their position in the reservation queue, Tesla (TSLA) opened the “Model 3 design studio” to all reservation holders in the USA and Canada.

I interpreted this as a sensible move by Tesla. Opening the system to all reservation holders provides Tesla with firm data for orders and allows them to schedule production more easily. It is also a necessary move if they want to load the sales of the more expensive options into Q3 to help fulfill Elon Musk’s prediction of a GAAP profit.

However, on July 9th, Tesla opened the Model 3 design studio to all prospective buyers, irrespective of whether they had a reservation. Orders can now be placed for a Tesla Model 3 by paying a $2,500 non-refundable “order processing fee.” New buyers pay only $2,500 whereas reservation holders pay a total of $3,500 (including the initial $1,000 deposit) to order a Model 3. News of this move on SA has attracted several comments and much speculation about the depth of Tesla’s order book.

I see this latest move as an indication of a poor response to the earlier move, and an indication that Tesla does not have enough firm orders for the long-range RWD Model 3 to sustain production through the rest of 2018. If Tesla has to start making the lower priced Model 3 variants to sustain production in Q4, this will have a negative impact on Q4 revenue and profits (or losses).

The graph below shows daily configurations reported to a survey on the Tesla Motors Club website:

The graph shows a spike in configurations on June 26th and 27th when orders were opened up to all reservation holders, which quickly fell to only a dribble of configurations after the first four days. The total number of configurations is quite a bit lower than the totals for March and April.

However, this does not show the full picture because Tesla also opened up orders for the AWD and Performance options. The graph below is filtered to show only the configurations for the long-range RWD option, which Tesla is currently producing:

The number of reported configurations since June 26th is only about 15% of the number of configurations reported between the last week of April and the end of May (cars that would have been delivered in Q2).

Of course, there may be some bias in the results. People who enter data in the TMC website spreadsheet are more likely to be Tesla fans who lined up on the first day to make reservations. Now that configurations are open to everyone, the proportion of people filling in the spreadsheet may have dropped.

Let’s take a look at what has happened to the most recent configurations.

Over half of the reported orders have already been given a VIN and almost half have been given a scheduled delivery date. Almost all of those scheduled delivery dates are in July, and Tesla is still allocating dates with nearly three weeks left in the month. It appears, based on those buyers who have entered data into the TMC spreadsheet, that those who have ordered a long range rear-wheel drive Model 3 will have their car by the first week of August.

The TMC spreadsheet is a small sample (about 5% of all buyers) but there is no reason why it should not be a representative sample in this case. The only logical conclusion is that Tesla is running out of firm orders for the long-range RWD Model 3.

It is possible to argue that most reservation holders are waiting for options that are not yet available (standard trim, short range battery, white interior etc.). However, that would not account for anywhere close to the lack of orders that we see here.

It is also possible that reservation holders are delaying their purchase until Tesla resolves some of its quality and service problems. Some buyers may be holding off because they don’t want to get one of the cars that were made during the big push for 5,000 in the last week of July.

In any case, the lack of response to the opening up of Tesla’s order book should be a concern to investors.

What does this mean for Tesla financials?

The anticipated capital influx

Some analysts have speculated that Tesla will have a large influx of capital from the $2,500 non-refundable “processing fees.” One analyst even went so far as to estimate a figure of $1 billion assuming that all 420,000 reservations have been converted to firm orders. I don’t think that will happen. I believe, based on my conclusions above that Tesla will only take in enough “processing fees” to cover the Q3 production.

In fact, there may be a spate of cancellations, since buyers can now cancel, get their $1,000 back and order a car next day for a total down-payment of $2,500 instead of $3,500. We may see a capital outflow instead.

The effect on Q3

During Q3, Tesla will be building a mix of rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive and performance variants, all with long range batteries. I expect production of AWD and Performance to start in August with first deliveries in mid-August. (I base that on the earliest reported delivery date for an AWD being August 18th)

Tesla has reduced the price of the AWD option from $54k to $53k, and the performance version is now available starting at $64k, versus a previously announced $78k. There are indications that sales of those options have increased since the price change, particularly the performance option. However, I will leave that analysis for another article.

Assuming 420,000 reservations, 30% choosing AWD or performance options, 60% in the USA or Canada and 50% converting to firm orders, Tesla would end up with 38,000 orders for the AWD and Performance options. If they make 5,000 per week for the last 8 weeks, along with the RWD cars they are making in July, there will be enough orders to fill the Q3 production plan.

Lack of firm orders for the long range RWD variant will therefore only have a minor impact, if any, on Q3.

The crunch will come in Q4

After completing all of the orders for the AWD and performance variants, Tesla will be facing a dilemma. Do they open orders up to overseas buyers and have some US customers lose out on the full $7,500 FIT credit, or do they start making the lower-priced variants, which Musk has told us he cannot afford to make right now?

In any case, expect a huge drop in average selling price and margins for the Model 3 in Q4, which means that any small profit they manage to eke out in Q3 will almost certainly be reversed in Q4.

Disclosure: I am/we are short TSLA.

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: Short via long dated puts

Elon Musk's Flint Water Plan Misses the Point

Wednesday afternoon, on the heels of his belated effort to rescue a youth soccer team from a Thai cave with a tiny submarine, Elon Musk promised to fix another seemingly intractable problem. “Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels,” Musk wrote in a tweet. “No kidding.”

You can nitpick pieces of this—the EPA, not the FDA, determines how many parts per billion of lead is safe in drinking water—or dismiss it as just another manifestation of Musk’s itinerant savior complex. But know that Flint, at least, welcomes Musk’s help. Just maybe not the version that’s on offer.

Which, in fairness, continues to evolve. Musk went on to invite residents to tweet their water quality test results to him—no takers yet, it seems—and said he would send someone over to install a water filter. When a reporter suggested that many Flint houses have safe water already, Musk pivoted to organizing “a weekend in Flint to add filters” to the remaining houses that lack them.

Flint does need help, but filters are one thing it already has plenty of; the city distributes those and water testing kits, for free, at City Hall, and will continue to until Flint’s remaining 14,000 damaged lead and galvanized water service pipes have been fully replaced. And even then, slapping a filter on a kitchen faucet doesn’t address the deep-seated problems still felt by the Flint community four years after its crisis began.

“We had a lot of things damaged as a result of the corrosive water,” says Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who offered in a tweet Wednesday to talk through her city’s “specific needs” with Musk. “This is about reestablishing trust, and rebuilding trust. While filters have been helpful, we still need access to bottled water. People need to see all new pipes going in. That’s how you’re going to reestablish trust. And we know that’s what the residents deserve.”

Musk took her up on it, suggesting he’d call on Friday. Weaver says her office and Musk’s are still sorting out schedules, but preliminary conversations have been promising.

Filtering Down

It’s worth spending more time talking about those filters, not because they demonstrate Musk’s lack of familiarity with Flint’s current situation, but because they underscore the city’s deeper challenges.

First, it’s important to note that Flint’s drinking water has met federal standards for contaminants for at least a year. “From every objective measure that is out there, Flint’s water is like any other US city with old lead pipes,” says Siddhartha Roy, who works on the Virginia Tech research team that helped shed light on the Flint water crisis and has tracked it ever since. Water from old lead pipes still isn’t ideal, obviously, and makes filters a necessity. But even then, Flint residents remain understandably wary.

“There are many people in Flint, I think it’s safe to say, who are never going to trust tap water again under any circumstances,” says Benjamin Pauli, a social scientist at Flint’s Kettering University, who has been involved in clean water activism efforts. “It’s true that the filters solve a lead problem at point of use, but there are lots of other issues with the filters.”

Not all residents know how to install and maintain them, for one. A March survey of 2,000 residents by Flint News showed that 15 percent of respondents didn’t have a filter, while over a third weren’t confident in their ability to change the filter at the appropriate time.

And then there’s what Roy calls the “big trust gap” that makes Flint activists and residents suspicious of even working filters. That’s because they effectively get lead out of the water at a specific tap, but don’t clear away bacteria. For a city that suffered a deadly spike in Legionnaires’ disease in 2016, which has been linked to corrosive water from the Flint River, that causes understandable unease. But Roy notes that the current bacteria found in Flint’s filters has not been shown to be harmful. And anyone who does have concerns can follow a few simple steps to minimize bacterial buildup.

“We do have concerns about filter use, and maintenance, and education around the filters. Everybody is not comfortable with that. Seniors are especially not comfortable with the filters,” says Weaver, who notes that the city does have Community Outreach and Resident Education that visits homes to help remediate any filter issues that arise.

Which again should sound familiar to anyone who read Musk’s tweets. What he proposes to accomplish in a barnstorming weekend has been an available resource for years. Better, then, to focus on what Flint really needs.

Bottle It Up

In April, the state of Michigan stopped providing free bottled water to Flint. For a city that still doesn’t trust its taps, the impact can’t be overstated.

“The bottled water is necessary as a short-term intervention for a long-term, structural water system problem,” says Pastor Monica Villarreal, who has helped organize community-based efforts to provide clean water resources in Flint. “The water crisis is going to affect this city from generation to generation. And when you look at it from that perspective, two, three, maybe even four years of bottled water is not much.”

Community aid stations that were once open daily to distribute bottled water now operate just three times a week. And in the absence of state support, Flint increasingly has to rely on private donors; Weaver says the Detroit Police Department recently brought in a fresh supply.

So if Elon Musk—or anyone else—wants to help Flint, start with bottled water, which residents will continue to depend on until every last lead and galvanized line gets replaced. “Bottled water is really the life and death issue,” Villarreal says.

And if you want to think bigger, plenty of options remain. “One issue that residents have been raising from very early on is that corrosive water from the river didn’t just damage service lines and water mains, it also damaged the plumbing within people’s homes,” says Kettering’s Pauli. “And not just pipes but fixtures, and also appliances that use water. That would include washing machines, and dishwashers, and hot water heaters.”

Scale it up again, to billionaire proportions. “We want to look at the bigger infrastructure issues in the city as well,” Weaver says. “It’s about reestablishing trust. You have to be confident in the water again.” One way to accomplish that? Get more contractors on the ground replacing service lines; get a three-year replacement plan finished by the end of 2018. And then, Weaver says, look at investment in the community. Instead of—or in addition to—giving people water, how can you help get them back to work?

Those are the types of questions Elon Musk can expect on his call with the mayor. But no matter what comes of it, even expressing interest in the first place has accomplished something invaluable: Reminding people that Flint still exists, and still needs help.

“We’re glad to have the attention. That was one of the fears of the residents, that attention would go away, and we have not been made whole,” Weaver says. “We want everybody watching, because what happened to Flint should never happen to any place again.”


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