Category Archives: Cloud Computing

Snap hires Amazon veteran Tim Stone as CFO

(Reuters) – Snapchat-owner Snap Inc (SNAP.N) said Tim Stone, an Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) veteran who had led the integration of the online retailer’s $13.7-billion Whole Foods acquisition, would replace Andrew Vollero as chief financial officer.

FILE PHOTO: The Snapchat messaging application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

Stone, 51, joined Amazon in March 1998 and is currently vice-president of finance. He served as vice-president of the company’s physical stores from August 2017 until February 2018.

Vollero, who guided Snap’s transition to a public company, is leaving to pursue other opportunities and will receive an amount equal to one year of his base salary.

The resignation is not related to any disagreement on any matter related to the company’s management or finances, Snap said in a regulatory filing. (bit.ly/2JX36jy)

The appointment comes a week after Snap reported quarterly results that disappointed Wall Street following a recent redesign of its Snapchat messaging app that turned off some long-time fans and advertisers.

Snap’s shares, which have lost 24 percent of their value since reporting last Tuesday, were up 1.6 percent at $10.91 in extended trading on Monday.

“I think somebody had to take the blame for SNAP’s missing numbers and there was likely frustration with both the CFO and management team,” said Summit Insights Group analyst Jonathan Kees.

Snap will likely experience a rocky transition due to the market conditions, app redesign, layoffs, and now senior management disruption, Kees said, who holds a “sell” rating on the stock.

Stone will take charge on May 16, while Vollero will remain as an adviser until August 15.

Stone will have an annual salary of $500,000, according to the filing.

Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru, David Ingram in San Francisco; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila

Sci-Fi's Mind-Blowing Cities Never Fail to Fascinate

Fantasy and science fiction writers have dreamed up some amazing fictional cities, from the gleaming spires of Minas Tirith to the rainy neon streets of the Blade Runner movies. A more recent example is the novel Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, who drew on his background as a community organizer to create realistic politics for his floating Arctic city of Qaanaaq.

“Fiction is definitely one of the ways in which I process my anger at the imbalance of power in a city, and in the world, and how much I want to imagine a place where that imbalance can be addressed,” Miller says in Episode 307 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

Fantasy cities like Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar have always been popular, but that trend has only accelerated in recent years, as writers like Charles de Lint, China Miéville, and Jeff VanderMeer have pushed the genre away from wilderness quests and toward explorations of city life.

“You had people start calling fiction ‘urban fantasy,’ which sort of implies that the default state of fantasy is not urban,” says Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley.

New Orleans resident Bryan Camp, author of The City of Lost Fortunes, believes that the mutability of cities is what draws so many people to write about them. “When you live in a more rural place, it’s much more connected to the landscape. You’re looking at the same mountain that your father looked at, and his father looked at, and so on into the past,” Camp says. “Whereas in a city it’s a constantly evolving thing. It’s a created thing, that can be torn down and rebuilt, and over a period of just a few years it becomes a completely different place.”

Lara Elena Donnelly, author of Amberlough, feels that fictional cities have become too relentlessly grim, and she would like to see more stories that describe appealing cities of the future.

“The Blade Runner city is not a place that anyone would want to live,” she says. “I don’t want to live in that LA, I want to live in LA with mist-catchers and green towers and cool virtual reality set-ups.”

Listen to our complete interview with Sam J. Miller, Lara Elena Donnelly, and Bryan Camp in Episode 307 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Sam J. Miller on homeless people:

“There are a lot of messed-up narratives around homelessness—this idea that everyone is mentally ill and a substance abuser and shiftless and lazy. At the end of the day, all homeless people are are people who can’t afford to pay their rent, and I don’t know about you all, but I am always stressing out about paying my rent. So on the spectrum of people who have a hard time paying their rent, or people who aren’t super-wealthy, I think we’re all on that spectrum, and those narratives about homeless people being creatures that once were men, or alien invaders, or zombies, or violent crazies, really help serve to keep us from seeing our solidarity with them, and coming together and saying, ‘Oh wait, if we all work together we really could flip the script in this city and make it so that housing was affordable.’”

David Barr Kirtley on urban living:

“When you’re talking about things that stress you out about living in a city, one thing that stresses me out a lot is finding parking spots, and that’s another thing that I never thought would be a major concern—coming from the suburbs—but I was actually thinking of a story idea the other night where there’s a guy and he’s driving around at night trying to find a parking spot, and this just goes on for hour after hour after hour, and then he realizes that he’s a ghost and he’s doomed to drive around forever looking for a parking spot. But then at the end of the story there’s a crazy twist where he realizes that he’s not actually a ghost, it just really is that hard to find a parking spot.”

Bryan Camp on New Orleans in science fiction:

“One of my favorite writers is Kathleen Ann Goonan, mostly because she did me the excellent favor of having a future in which New Orleans makes it. I think it was Queen City Jazz, where it’s basically like a giant raft city, where they just float out into the gulf and secede from all the other stuff that’s going on. I have a lot of trouble with being in New Orleans and future cities, because it’s not something a lot of other people notice, but if you go through a lot of the fiction—and it has to do partly with the precarious nature of the city that I live in right now—but if you look at a lot of the fiction, even if it’s not set in New Orleans, one of the ways that they like to show ‘bad things happened in the past and now we’re in this different future,’ is New Orleans is gone in some horrific way.”

Lara Elena Donnelly on the Craft Sequence series by Max Gladstone:

“I started reading them because I heard him talk about his magic system, which was essentially, ‘My books are an analogy for the financial crisis, except the banks are gods, and we’ve killed the gods but semi-resurrected them, and now they only do the bidding of the people who know how to control this god-bank system.’ Which is kind of how money works, right? Only some people understand how to make the banking system—and amounts of money that large—really work for them. … Max’s cities feel real because there is this vast imbalance of power, and some people can make things happen just by snapping their fingers while other people are carried along on tides that they don’t understand and have no control over. And that feels very real to me, that feels like how things work in the real world.”

UK Regulators Demand Cambridge Analytica Hand Over User Data

The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office issued an order Friday requiring SCL Elections, the British affiliate of the controversial data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, to turn over all of the data it collected about a United States-based academic named David Carroll. Carroll filed a request for this data in January of 2017 under British data protection law, and received a response in March of that year that the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham describes in the order as “wholly inadequate.” Now, Denham is requiring SCL to comply with the request, or face criminal charges.

The enforcement order comes just days after Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, announced that it would shut down and declare bankruptcy, along with its international affiliates, following revelations that the companies had harvested the data of up to 87 million Americans without their knowledge. The company’s former CEO Alexander Nix was also recorded this year on undercover video, appearing to brag about using tactics like bribery and entrapment on behalf of Cambridge Analytica’s clients.

Long before the name Cambridge Analytica became notorious in households across the country, though, Carroll, a professor of media design at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, became suspicious about the way the company built its so-called psychographic profiles of US voters. These profiles, the company claimed, contained information not only about people’s demographics, but their personalities as well. Given that Cambridge Analytica originally spun out of a British company called SCL Group, Carroll filed a request under the UK’s Data Protection Act seeking access to all of the information the company had collected on him.

When SCL sent Carroll back his file, he was utterly unsatisfied. It ranked his interest in topics like immigration and gun control on a numeric scale, but offered no insight into what data was being used to generate those scores, or who actually used them. In mid-March, the same day Facebook announced it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from its platform as punishment for their transgressions, Carroll filed a request for disclosure in the UK in an attempt to force SCL to hand over the underlying data and answer a litany of questions about how they were being used.

Though that case is still ongoing, the ICO’s order does accomplish some of that work for Carroll. In the order, Denham describes the months-long battle between her office and SCL’s office over Carroll’s data request. According to the order, SCL repeatedly argued that as an US citizen, Carroll had no right to request his data under British laws, going so far as to write in one response that Carroll had no more data access rights in the UK “than a member of the Taliban sitting in a cave in the remotest corner of Afghanistan.”

Denham disagreed with that assessment. In March, after the undercover videos of Nix went public, the ICO stormed the company’s offices and seized its servers. Now, the regulator is giving SCL 30 days to provide descriptions of Carroll’s personal data, the purpose that data served, a list of all the recipients of that data, copies of the data itself, and the sources of that data.

“It’s quite exciting,” Carroll says of the order. “At the minimum, it’s the beginning of a victory and pointing toward winning.”

Still, he says, “It didn’t have to come to this. We’ve been trying for more than a year to do this out of court…It just kept escalating.”

SCL now has the opportunity to appeal the ICO’s order. Representatives for SCL didn’t immediately respond to WIRED’s request for comment.

Cambridge Analytica Exposed

J.P. Morgan Files Patent for Blockchain-Powered Payments

Here we go. J.P. Morgan Chase has applied for a patent to facilitate payments between banks using the blockchain.

The patent was originally submitted in October, but the application was made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday. It outlines a system that would essentially use distributed ledger technology, such as blockchain, to keep track of payments sent between financial institutions.

In the application, J.P. Morgan notes that cross-border payments require “a number of messages” that must be sent between the bank and clearing houses involved in the transaction. This often results in delays and a restricted availability to the funds. Rather, the transaction on the blockchain would eliminate high costs, provide a system for accurately logging the transactions, and process payments in real time with a verifiably true audit trail.

This may come as a surprise given J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon’s tirade about Bitcoin several months ago, suggesting the cryptocurrency is “a fraud” and that he would fire any employee trading Bitcoin for being “stupid.”

But Dimon was careful to distinguish between cryptocurrencies and the blockchain because, well, J.P. Morgan has actually built its own blockchain on top of Ethereum. The bank is also one of 86 corporate firms to play a role in forming The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, an open-source blockchain initiative. The idea of the EEA is for big banks and tech companies to come together and build business-ready versions of the software behind Ethereum, a decentralized computing network based on digital currency.

The patent filed in October is reminiscent of another Bitcoin-style payment system J.P. Morgan tried to patent in 2013. Although the patent was reportedly rejected, it’s fascinating to see the bank lay out some of the problems with the existing payment structure. For instance, “Furthermore, to date, there is no efficient way for consumers to make payments to other consumers using the Internet. All traditional forms of person-to-person exchange include the physical exchange of cash or checks rather than a real-time digital exchange of value. In addition, the high cost of retail wire transfers (i.e., Western Union) is cost prohibitive to a significant portion of society.

Let’s see what happens the second time around.

Robots help artist bring fine bison hair to pricey paintings

NEW YORK (Reuters) – American artist Barnaby Furnas has turned to a custom-made robot to help him with paintings that can sell for more than $100,000 at New York galleries.

Furnas and several artists are using digital printing robots that use techniques in paintings that were previously impossible or too labor intensive. The machines are guided by inputs from artists and optical sensors to paint in fine detail in lines thinner than a human eyelash.

“I literally think of that robot as a friend,” Furnas said in an interview. “More than a pet, less than an art assistant – somewhere in there.”

He has used a robot called “sozo,” which means imagination in Japanese, for tasks such as painting thousands of hairs on a bison in one of his artworks.

It leaves marks on a canvas according to his instructions that he communicates through an optical tracking system attached to a paintbrush-like rod.

It records a painter’s movements, allowing artists to edit brushstrokes before putting an image on a canvas. Those digital images can be combined with brushwork from an artist to bring new dimensions to a painting.

Sozo was created by technology startup Artmatr, whose CEO Ben Tritt is a painter. He sees the company as an open-source community that will help artists merge digital technology with traditional painting methods.

Besides Sozo, Artmatr also has a variety of machines that use ink jet heads found in printers.

“It lowers the risk threshold for individual mark making,” Furnas said.

Jon Herskovitz

ECB designs cyber attack simulation for financial firms

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank has designed a new test simulating cyber attacks on banks, stock exchanges and other firms that are critical for the functioning of the financial system, it said on Wednesday.

The logo of the European Central Bank (ECB) is pictured outside its headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The move follows a string of heists and attacks by hackers on lenders and central banks over the past two years, including one that disrupted online and mobile services at the Netherlands’ three top banks earlier this year.

The ECB’s initiative aims to create a single framework for testing the cyber-resilience of financial firms in the European Union.

The framework envisages, among other tools, “red teams” (RTs) of external hackers hired to find and exploit vulnerabilities in the companies being tested, a technique derived from the military world and widely used in the private sector.

“The test objectives … are the flags that the RT provider must attempt to capture during the test as it progresses through the scenarios,” the ECB said.

But its European Framework for Threat Intelligence-based Ethical Red Teaming (TIBER-EU) will simply serve as a guideline and it will be for other authorities to carry out any test.

“It is up to the relevant authorities and the entities themselves to determine if and when TIBER-EU based tests are performed,” the ECB said.

“Tests will be tailor-made and will not result in a pass or fail – rather they will provide the tested entity with insight into its strengths and weaknesses, and enable it to learn and evolve to a higher level of cyber maturity,” it added.

In of the most high profile cases to date, hackers breached the central bank of Bangladesh’s systems in early 2016 and tricked the Federal Reserve Bank of New York into sending as much as $81 million to accounts in the Philippines.

Reporting by Francesco Canepa; editing by David Stamp

Amazon's Growth Is About To Slow

Investment Thesis

Whenever I talk to an Amazon (AMZN) shareholder they always highlight for me the same ‘story’ – which is, Amazon is investing for growth. However, if after more than a decade of investing for growth, the business is still only just marginally profitable, it makes you wonder if some of that cash has been squandered? And also begs the question, and the vastly more dangerous question of, when Amazon finally stops investing for growth and operating at just-above-break even, just how profitable will it actually be?

Recent Results: Q1 2018

Last week, Amazon released its Q1 2018 results and it showed that its top line had once again grown strongly by 39% YoY (currency adjusted). Also, that its operating cash flow was up just 4%.

(source) – Q1 2018 press release (click table to maximize)

Highlighted in the above table, on the top line is a trend, where the amount of cash from operating activities which Amazon generates trickles up quarter over quarter, at a slow and steady pace. Then, on the bottom line, it shows the amount of ‘owner earnings‘ or free cash flow that the owner of the business can walk away with each quarter. And there, it shows a trend, and how Amazon has gone from steadily generating cash to using cash at quite a steady pace. In fact, in its latest quarter, Amazon had an outflow of cash of $3 billion for its trailing twelve months compared with an inflow of $3.3 billion for the trailing twelve months ended Q1 2017.

Is Warren Buffett Right?

Anyone who says that size does not hurt investment performance is selling.

– Warren Buffett

For a long time, value-investors disciples have listened to the Oracle of Omaha say that size hurts performance, but these rules appear to have been ignored by Amazon shareholders. Accordingly, whenever I discuss Amazon with an Amazon shareholder, they go on to highlight to me a brand new avenue that Amazon is embarking on. When I question them on Amazon’s ability to generate free cash flow, their face boils red and the conversation turns slightly sour: ‘how dare I ask such blasphemous questions?’

Valuation

From the point of view of revenue, Amazon has two main segments: its retail operations and AWS. However, for all the gains in market-share which Amazon makes in its retail operations, and although this quarter showed a strong improvement compared with the same period a year ago, its consolidated operating income stood at just $520 million.

Although Amazon’s second segment, AWS, is the only segment that is highly profitable, with operating income margins of roughly 25%; at the end of the day, this quarter just brought in $1.4 billion. These two segments together certainly do not support its present +$700 billion market cap.

For now, in an effort to best confuse Wall Street, Amazon runs these two very different business lines, its retail business and the cloud, under the same corporate structure. This obviously confuses many investors as they don’t know how with what to compare a company such as Amazon. Is it a retail business which should be compared to Walmart (WMT)? Or is a cloud business, with strong margins that should be awarded a higher, tech-like, multiple, such as Alphabet?

Incidentally, I should note, that Amazon’s AWS is no longer growing unrivalled. Now that Microsoft (MSFT) has woken up to the profitability of the cloud, AWS is no longer able to price its offering regardless of the competition. AWS must price its offering to gain market share and scale. Furthermore, Microsoft’s Azure is now growing at above 90% YoY, for several quarters and it currently holds a solid second place in terms of market-share.

(source): Top cloud providers

On the other hand, although AWS still holds the number one position for cloud market-share, its growth was ‘only’ 49% YoY and significantly less than Microsoft’s Azure’s growth.

Finally, it is important to highlight that Amazon’s current valuation is actually more expensive than it has been during the past 5-years on average. Said another way, as Amazon has grown to the size it has, and it has fewer and fewer opportunities for future growth it is actually being priced more expensively than in its past – which is ironic. Whenever one analyzes a publicly traded investment, one should think, what kind of ‘edge’ do I have that others have not thought about. It is not sufficient to say that ‘I have a longer-term horizon than others’ because when something is being traded more expensively than in the past, I could argue that opportunity has already been accounted for.

Takeaway

Too many investors confuse knowing a business or liking its products with thinking that this or that company makes for a worthwhile investment. For example, whilst I utterly enjoy the benefits associated with being a Prime member and have a nearly daily use of Amazon, this does not mean that I think that its stock makes for a safe investment.

Disclaimer: Please do your own due diligence to reach your own conclusions.

Note: The only favor I ask is that you click the “Follow” button, so I can grow my Seeking Alpha friendships and our Deep Value network. Please excuse any grammatical errors.

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.

France Seized the Domain France.com from Its Long-Time Owner. Now He’s Suing

A French-born American is suing France for cyber-squatting and “reverse domain-name hijacking.”

Jean-Noel Frydman says the French government illegally seized the domain name France.com from him. He had owned the domain since 1994 and had been using it as a “digital kiosk” for Francophile Americans. Over the years, Frydman has worked with French agencies including the Consulate General in Los Angeles and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, according to his lawsuit, the French government has even recognized him as a “leader in the tourism industry.”

In 2015, the French government sued in French court to recover the domain name. An appeals court ruled in 2017 that the domain name France.com violated French trademark law. In March 2018, the domain name was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the registrar of the domain, Web.com.

But Frydman says he was never notified by the government or by Web.com that he was going to lose the website, so he filed a federal lawsuit in Virginia to get back the website he believes is rightfully his. Among the parties listed as defendants in the lawsuit are the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, a French government tourism website, and the Republic of France as a whole.

Frydman told Ars Technica, “If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”

Asian telecom stocks face minimal 5G risks – JP Morgan

(Reuters) – Shares of Asian telecom players have already priced in the impact of investments for setting up fifth generation (5G) mobile networks and potential monetization uncertainty, J.P. Morgan Securities analysts said on Monday.

A 5G sign is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The Asian telecom sector has underperformed the broader market by 18 percent in the past 12 months due to investor concerns stemming from uncertainties related to 5G spending and potential monetization, JP Morgan analysts said.

They, however, believe it is now time to revisit the sector, with spectrum auctions due in Korea and Australia in 2018 and Japan and China in early 2019.

JP Morgan recommended investors buy telecom stocks in Japan, South Korea, China and Australia, saying these companies were unlikely to build significant standalone 5G networks until a business case emerges.

However, their rivals in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan face more competitive spectrum auctions, which are not expected until 2020, due to limited availability of 5G bandwidth, the analysts said.

The incremental costs of investments in 5G networks could be minimal as much of the improvements are currently being made under non-standalone (NSA) 5G networks, which build on the existing 4G infrastructure, JP Morgan wrote.

Standalone 5G network is likely to require substantially more capex when compared to NSA 5G, it added.

JP Morgan prefers South Korea’s LG Uplus Corp and Japan’s Softbank Group Corp, both rated “overweight.”

It remains cautious on China Mobile Ltd, as it sees the company as most likely to build a wide coverage of standalone 5G networks.

Reporting by Derek Francis in Bengaluru; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri