Category Archives: Cloud Computing

How an Apple MacBook Air Kept the ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Script Secret

Next time you look over at someone typing away on a computer at the coffee shop, you might be looking at someone creating the next big Star Wars script.

In a piece published in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Rian Johnson, the writer and director for last year’s blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi, revealed that he wrote the entire film on Apple’s thin and lightweight notebook, the MacBook Air. But in a world overrun with security threats and people lusting after early access to a Star Wars script, Johnson needed to take some extreme measures to keep the script safe.

Johnshon explained in his Journal article that he kept the MacBook Air “air-gapped,” a term used to define a computer that never accesses the Internet. He also only used the MacBook Air for writing the script and when done, would turn it off and kept it hidden away in a safe at the studio.

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“I think my producer was constantly horrified I would leave it in a coffee shop,” he wrote.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi hit theaters to widespread fanfare in December. While the film has proven to be a blockbuster hit, it’s also been polarizing among Star Wars fans, with some loving the film’s direction and others taking issue with it. Still, with box office earnings in excess of $1 billion, the film has earned its place as one of the most popular Star Wars films ever.

And who knew the whole time it was just hiding on a MacBook Air?

Jimmy Iovine says not leaving Apple: Variety

(Reuters) – Music mogul Jimmy Iovine is committed to staying at Apple Inc’s music streaming service, according to a report by Variety on Tuesday.

“I am committed to doing whatever Eddy [Cue], Tim [Cook] and Apple need me to do, to help wherever and however I can, to take this all the way,” Iovine told the publication in an interview. (bit.ly/2CX1xmI)

Last week, Billboard magazine reported that Iovine would leave Apple Music in August. The report also stated that his departure is likely timed to his Apple shares fully vesting.

“All this stuff you’re seeing in the newspapers, let me tell you, my stock vested a long time ago,” Iovine told Variety.

Iovine, best known as the co-founder of Interscope Records, joined Apple in 2014 after the company bought Beats Electronics, a company that he co-founded with hip-hop artist and producer Dr Dre for $3 billion.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr

Alibaba founder Ma says will 'seriously consider' Hong Kong listing

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) will “seriously consider” listing in Hong Kong, founder Jack Ma said, marking a potential boon for the financial hub which recently decided to move towards allowing dual-class share listings.

Ma made the comments at an event in the city on Monday in response to remarks made by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam about how she hoped Alibaba would consider returning to Hong Kong to list, an Alibaba spokeswoman said.

“Daring to speak like this marks a strong commitment so we will definitely seriously consider the Hong Kong market,” Ma said in response to Lam’s speech, according to a transcript provided by Alibaba.

The Alibaba spokeswoman said there were no further details available on what any Hong Kong listing plan could involve.

Alibaba held its record $25 billion public float in New York in 2014 after Hong Kong, its favoured venue, refused to accept its governance structure where a self-selecting group of senior managers control the majority of board appointments.

But Hong Kong is now set to allow dual-class shares under rule changes to be proposed by the city’s stock exchange as it raises the stakes in its battle against New York for blockbuster Chinese initial public offerings (IPOs).

FILE PHOTO: A sign of Alibaba Group is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, December 3, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) (0388.HK), the city’s exchange operator, said in December that it had begun drafting specific rule changes that will be put up for a formal public consultation in the first three months of 2018.

Under the planned rule changes, “innovative” Chinese companies with a market capitalization over HK$10 billion and a primary listing on the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq or the London Stock Exchange would be able to seek a secondary listing in Hong Kong. The HKEX has not yet defined what “innovative” is.

“We are also creating a new route to secondary listings in Hong Kong to attract companies from emerging and innovative sectors. We are aware that many successful new economy companies already listed in the US and UK would benefit from these reforms,” wrote Charles Li, chief executive of HKEX, in a blog post last month when the proposed changes were put forward.

Just 3 per cent of Hong Kong listings in the past decade, by market value, have been so-called “new economy” companies, compared with 47 per cent for the New York Stock Exchange, according to a discussion paper published by the HKEX in June.

Hong Kong trading volumes for a household name such as Alibaba would be expected to grow significantly over time, according to bankers.

If more than 55 percent of a secondary listing’s trading took place in Hong Kong over a year, the exchange said in its proposed rules that it would look to upgrade the company’s listing to consider it a dual-listing with its other primary exchange.

Reporting by Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and Jennifer Hughes in HONG KONG; Additional Reporting by Donny Kwok in HONG KONG; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Muralikumar Anantharaman

What's Behind This 24% Yield?

We last wrote about the popular InfraCap MLP ETF, (AMZA), in October ’17. At that point, it was trading at $8.51. We stuck a toe in the water, bought some units, collected a $.52 payout, and, as of 1/5/18 am, it was at $8.51.

Normally, you might think, “OK, it’s a breakeven on the price, no cap gain, but I’m ~ $.52 ahead from the distribution – if I sell, I’ll walk away with a 6% profit, and just owe 15%-20% on the qualified distribution”.

Not so fast pardner – there’s a problem with your calculation. If you bought those shares in a taxable account, about 80% of your $.52 distribution would have been return of capital, and would have decreased your cost basis by ~$.42.

So, your taxable short term capital gain would = $.42, plus the normal 15%-20% tax on the qualified distribution.

This problem wouldn’t have arisen, if you had bought AMZA in a tax deferred account, such as an IRA. AMZA also gets rid of K-1’s, and possible UBTI tax issues for IRA holders.

Sounds great right? But, there’s another problem, which SA contributor Trapping Value did a good job of explaining in his recent article about AMZA.

It’s about AMZA’s dividend coverage, or lack of it. The following info is from AMZA’s most recent financial statement, for year ending 10/31/17. It shows that their dividend coverage was only 60% for the last 2 fiscal years:

Here’s a quarterly breakdown, which shows the coverage increasing slightly, but only up to 62% in the most recent fiscal quarter:

(Source: Virtus site)

As the statements show, the fund made ~54% of its income on distributions from its underlying holdings, with the remaining income from writing and selling options. Looking at the funds underlying LP buys/shorts and its options sales and purchases shows a rather complex operation, to say the least, but one item stood out to us – its large position in the United States Oil ETF, (USO), and in the United States Natural Gas ETF, (UNG).

As of 10/31/17, AMZA had these positions in USO and UNG:

(Source: Virtus site)

That made us wonder if there was a correlation in price between AMZA and USO and/or UNG. It seems that AMZA and USO correlated fairly closely, especially in mid-2016 to mid -2017. This makes sense, USO is used as a proxy for the price of US oil. If oil prices crash, as they did in 2015, it eventually affects midstream companies, (especially those which have a lower % of fee-based contracts). (AMZA is the light purple line, and USO is the thicker magenta line.)

In October 2017, however, the AMZA/USO correlation fell apart, when USO headed north, and AMZA headed south, after its 10/3/17 ex-dividend date.

This made us curious, so we took a look at AMZA’s short positions. As it turns out, they had a minor short position in USO, as of 4/30/17.

(The right column is the $ value of the position, and the left column is the shorted share count):

(Source: Virtus site)

But sometime between then and 10/31/17, they entered into a much larger short position on USO. The right column is the $ value – their short position went from $5.5M as of 4/30/17, to $43.5M. as of 10/31/17.

(Source: Virtus site)

During this period, USO went from $10.19, on 4/30/17, to $10.93, as of 10/31/17, a ~7% move upward. This wasn’t a huge move, but it may explain part of the decoupling of AMZA and USO until late November 2017, when USO kept moving higher, and AMZA kept dropping. AMZA’s management was also long USO calls, which would’ve helped to mitigate losses on the short positions.

The other factor in this was also post ex-dividend trading – AMZA’s shares often tend to fall after its ex-dividend dates.

Given this trend, it makes you wonder if taxable account short term traders would be better off buying and selling AMZA in between its distribution dates, and avoid the quarterly distributions. That may sound counterintuitive, but those valleys and peaks sure look interesting, in hindsight.

As usual, though, the problem is figuring out when to buy, and not catch a falling knife, as buyers found out in 2015, when oil crashed, AMZA went south with it.

Holdings:

Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) still heads up the list – in fact its now over 20% of the fund’s holdings, as of 1/5/18. We covered ETP’s recent rejuvenation in one of our recent articles.

ETP’s GP, Energy Transfer Equity LP (ETE), is also #5 in the top 10 holdings. Management cut the distribution in half in 2017, which improved the distribution coverage.

Also on the list are Williams Partners LP (WPZ), Buckeye Partners LP (BPL), the venerable Enterprise Products Partners LP (EPD), MPLX LP (MPLX), Enbridge Energy Partners LP (EEP), EnLink Midstream LP (ENLK), Andeavor Logistics LP (ANDX), and ONEOK Inc., which replaced EQT Midstream Partners LP (EQT) in the top 10, as of 10/31/17:

As you may have heard, MLP’s are finding favor once again in the market, partially due to a more favorable tax rule – shareholders of pass-through entities, such as Energy MLPs, may now deduct 23% of the attributable income, before being subject to any taxation.

In addition, the new tax bill contains a bonus depreciation provision that allows all companies to immediately write off the full costs of capital improvements, instead of depreciating the new asset over time.

Couple the tax breaks with better oil prices, and you get a more upbeat attitude toward midstream MLP’s, which has played out in the past month. AMZA’s top 10 holdings are up anywhere from 5% to nearly 12% over the past month. Even with this recent resurgence, however, they’re mostly showing negative performance over the past year, excepting WPZ, EPD, and MPLX:

And there’s still a wide disparity between most of these LP’s unit prices and analysts’ average target prices – ETP, for example, is still 24% below its target price of $24.70, even though is has risen 11.7% in the past month:

These top 10 holdings range in yield from 5.35% to 12.05%, with an unweighted average of 7.47%. Their DCF/Distribution coverage factors run from a low of .82x for ETE, up to 1.40x for OKE, with an average of 1.11x:

Valuations:

EEP and ETP have the lowest Price/DCF, at 7.08 and 8.08 respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, ETE has an outlier 18.61 Price/DCF valuation. ETP and MPLX have by far the lowest Price/Book, at .80 and 1.38.

We took a look at various EPS projections for these LP’s. Although EPS isn’t the most meaningful metric for LP’s, (due to non-cash depreciation adn amortization charges knocking down net income), we wanted to get a general sense of growth projections for this group.

Yes, that 1750% growth figure is ridiculous – (we haven’t been smoking wacky tobacky) – it’s only that high because ENLK is projected to swing from a -$.02 loss to a $.33 gain). At any rate, you can see that there’s a lot of growth expected from these companies in 2018, with an average of over 25% for the group.

Financials:

WPZ has the lowest leverage in the group, at 3.46x for Net Debt/EBITDA, and.72 for Debt/Equity.OKE has the best ROE and ROI, with ANDX, EPD, and BPL also showing strong figures. EPD wins the ROA race, followed by BPL, and ANDX, while ANDX and EEP have the highest Operating Margins.

NAV:

AMZA’s NAV went from $25.00 at inception, down to $10.63, as of 10/31/16, and further declined to $8.37, as of 10/31/17. It was of $8.5125, as of 1/4/17.

(Source: Virtus site)

Summary:

So, what to do? With all of this good news about MLP’s, you’d think that AMZA could get some support from the market in 2018, which should support its NAV. This remains to be seen, and the declining NAV, and poor distribution coverage are big concerns.

We like the concept of the fund – it does solve some problems for IRA holders, giving them very high yield exposure to the MLP universe, without K-1 and UBTI hassles. Normally, we’d be long term holders in this type of investment, in an IRA, where the ROC wouldn’t bite us if we chose to sell. But, we wonder how long the fund will continue to pay $.52/quarter, which continues to decrease its NAV.

If they do cut the distribution at all, how will the market react? There are probably investors with IRA’s who were lucky enough to have bought it for under $7.00 in early ’16 – they may be approaching a breakeven below $4.00, so they could weather a further decline in price.

For now we’ve chickened out, and sold our AMZA shares, and we’ve opted for investing directly in some of the underlying LP’s, such as ETP, which is up 6% in the 2 weeks since we wrote about it.

Alternative Ideas:

Although it doesn’t yield 24%, this covered call trade for ETP is one way to generate a higher yield. It’s on our Covered Calls Table, along with over 30 other trades.

ETP’s March $20.00 call is $1.26 out of the money, with enough headroom for potential price gains, if it gets assigned. The Static Yield is 5.4% over this ~10-week period, or 26.10% annualized. The breakeven is $17.78.

If you want to play it even more conservatively, here’s a March put-selling trade that pays $.85, and gives you a lower breakeven of $17.15. You can see more details in our Cash Secured Puts Table.

A note of clarification – We offer 2 very different investing services – our new Seeking Alpha Marketplace site, Hidden Dividend Stocks Plus, focuses on undercovered/undervalued high yield income vehicles from US and foreign markets.

Our independent legacy site, DoubleDividendStocks.com, offers options selling strategies in tandem with high yield stocks.

All tables furnished by DoubleDividendStocks, unless otherwise noted.

Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only, and is not intended as personal investment advice. Please practice due diligence before investing in any investment vehicle mentioned in this article.

Disclosure: I am/we are long ETP, MPLX.

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.

Nvidia partners with Uber, Volkswagen in self-driving technology

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Nvidia Corp will partner with Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) as the graphics chipmaker’s artificial intelligence platforms make further gains in the autonomous vehicle industry.

The company, which already has partnerships in the industry with companies such as carmaker Tesla and China’s Baidu, makes computer graphics chips and has also been expanding into technology for self-driving cars.

CEO Jensen Huang told an audience at the CES technology conference in Las Vegas that Uber’s self-driving car fleet was using Nvidia technology to help its autonomous cars perceive the world and make split-second decisions.

Uber has been using Nvidia’s GPU computing technology since its first test fleet of Volvo SC90 SUVS were deployed in 2016 in Pittsburgh and Phoenix.

Uber’s autonomous driving program has been shaken this year by a lawsuit filed in San Francisco by rival Waymo alleging trade secret theft.

Nevertheless, Nvidia said development of the Uber self-driving program had gained steam, with one million autonomous miles being driven in just the past 100 days.

With Volkswagen, Nvidia said it was infusing its artificial intelligence technology into the German automakers’ future lineup, using Nvidia’s new Drive IX platform. The technology will enable so-called “intelligent co-pilot” capabilities based on processing sensor data inside and outside the car.

So far, 320 companies involved in self-driving cars – whether software developers, automakers and their suppliers, sensor and mapping companies – are using Nvidia Drive, formerly branded as the Drive PX2, the company said.

Nvidia also said its first Xavier processors would be delivered to customers this quarter. The system on a chip delivers 30 trillion operations per second using 30 watts of power.

Bets that Nvidia will become a leader in chips for driverless cars, data centers and artificial intelligence have more than doubled its stock price in the past 12 months, making the Silicon Valley company the third-strongest perfomer in the S&P 500 during that time.

Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Susan Thomas

8 Big Predictions for Platforms in 2018

It’s that time of year again. Last year we made 7 predictions for 2017. By our count we went 7 for 7. So with 2018 primed to be a big year for platforms, here are our 8 predictions for platform businesses in 2018.

1.     No mainstream blockchain breakthrough, but several more cryptocurrencies explode in value

The Bitcoin and blockchain hype train rolls on. Much like AR and VR a year ago, Bitcoin is getting its moment in the media spotlight This year Bitcoin peaked just shy of $20,000 before cratering back to earth. But it still ended the year up 16x over its value on January 1, 2017, when it just topped $1,000. We aren’t predicting where it will end up this time next year – truthfully, nobody knows.

So far, most of Bitcoin’s, and the blockchain’s value is speculative. Despite a massive influx of investment and speculative cash this year, they still have no proven mainstream applications. Expect that to continue for 2018. While blockchain technology remains promising, there are still a host of challenges left to solve before it’s ready for prime time. It’s still at least a couple years away.

2.     Major tech unicorns start to go public

Last year produced a solid pipeline of tech IPOs, but 2018 should be even bigger. This year should see the first wave of the mega-unicorn platform startups going public.

While Uber is likely still more than a year away – not withstanding its cultural and legal problems, the company still has to figure out a path to profitability – Airbnb and Lyft look like contenders to go public. Other outside contenders include Slack and Pinterest. Airbnb, reportedly already profitable, is our pick for this year, but expect at least two major platform startups to hit public markets in the next twelve months.

3.     IoT gains traction with machine manufacturers

The Internet of Things hype cycle has come and gone over the last few years with little to show for it in terms of mainstream success. Yet in the background, investment and enthusiasm has been building for IoT in the industrial sector. Though GE has struggled and failed to achieve its goal of becoming a modern monopoly around the Internet of Things, many other companies have been experimenting successfully.

We expect 2018 to be the year where many of these smaller investments start to pay off. Early platform players will emerge this year in this area.

While it may take a few years for the winners to emerge, the Industrial Internet of Things will start to take practical shape in 2018.

4.     Large US platform companies take cues from China and start experimenting with more financial services

In China, Alibaba’s spinoff company, Ant Financial, has sparked a revolution in financial services. In a country that has lacked for consumer investment options, Ant and Alibaba rival Tencent have built large financial services platforms on top of their payment platforms.

Platforms in the U.S., both blessed with and challenged a much more robust financial services sector, have looked at their Chinese counterparts with envy. But slowly, this gap has started to narrow. Amazon, for example, has successfully been lending to merchants on its marketplace.

Over the next year, expect to see more of the major platforms experiment with offering financial products. The potential here is massive, and many banks aren’t exactly popular with consumers. While progress will be much slower than it was in China, for the major U.S. platforms it’s too big to ignore.

5.     Walmart continues its success due to Jet.com and its renewed platform approach

One of the biggest platform stories of the last year was Walmart’s newfound success. After years of failing in its efforts to combat Amazon, Walmart gained ground. Its acquisition of Jet.com has paid off handsomely as Walmart has begun to win back digital customers and merchants to its marketplace as well as to Jet’s.

This stark reversal will continue in 2018, as Walmart truly emerges as the second dominant player behind Amazon for ecommerce marketplaces. As we wrote at the time, Walmart’s acquisition of Jet was an expensive price to pay for second place, but it’s a move that will prove well worth the investment.

6.     Alexa continues to explode, but competition increases

This is the first of our predictions that continue from last year. After multiple failed attempts at building development platforms, we predicted that Alexa would be a big success. And in 2017, it was. Over the last year, Alexa has gone from a voice service on a handful of niche devices to a platform present on a growing number of hardware devices – many of them not made by Amazon – and supported by a large developer ecosystem.

Alexa’s success will continue in 2018, as it has become a centerpiece of Amazon’s future growth. However, given the promise of voice as a new interface, all the major platforms will continue to pour investment into their own voice development platforms. So far Google is the largest competitor, but expect to see more in 2018 from Facebook, Microsoft and others, such as Baidu in China. For now, Alexa remains the dominant number one in voice, but by the end of the year we expect a clear challenger to emerge.

7.     Modern monopolies face more political scrutiny

This was another of our predictions from last year – that platforms would become hot-button political topics. And boy did they ever. From fake news to Uber’s legal troubles, Google’s antitrust case in the EU, and the occasional presidential rant about Amazon, platforms were never far from the media and political spotlight.

And this issue isn’t going anywhere soon. Given platforms growing economic dominance, the unresolved challenge of how they should be handled politically will gather more attention this year. So far, these discussions have resulted in a lot of opinion pieces but little actual legislation. In 2018, that will likely start to change, as governments grapple with the economic and political implications of the growth of modern monopolies.

8.     More linear players engage in platform innovation by either building or buying

Last year we predicted that more linear enterprises would look at platform startups as big acquisition targets. And 2017 saw a host of major platform acquisitions, including IKEA buying Taskrabbit, Caterpillar acquiring Yard Club and Wyndham Hotels buying Love Home Swap. Verizon also finally bought Yahoo, which includes platforms like Tumblr. Other enterprises have taken a build approach, such as Klockner, a German metals company that announced at its recent Capital Markets Day its plans to launch a marketplace in 2018.

In 2018, we will see this trend continue in a big way, as more large enterprises come under pressure from platform businesses. Those who don’t launch platforms, like Grainger in 2017, will continue to struggle. While those that embrace platform innovation like Walmart will see much greater success.

All in all, 2018 will be a major year for platform businesses. Check this space for the latest major platform news!

This Is Why Economy Class Passengers Will Find It Hard To Get Water On This Famous Airline's New Planes (Yes, Water)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Things aren’t going well for Economy Class passengers.

Somehow, they’ve become an afterthought. A thought that comes after everything else, especially profit.

How low, though, will airlines go?

Keep looking down.

Here, you see, I bring you the latest densification plans of British Airways. 

Should you be unfamiliar with the term densification, its simplest definition is shoving as many seats into a plane as possible until the passengers can breathe no more.

British Airways has been criticized in recent times of being very keen to make money at the expense of its image as a premium airline.

Personally, I’ve had relatively pleasant experiences on the airline. 

I’m not sure how pleasant it will be if I travel on its newly-retrofitted short-haul Airbus planes. 

As was revealed on FlyerTalk, Business Class passengers — or, as BA calls it, Club Class — may not be able to hang their coats anymore, as the wardrobes will now be used for “general storage.”

Behind them, however, Economy Class passengers will enjoy seats that don’t recline.

Which I don’t see as necessarily a bad thing, except for the fact that the seats will have only a 29-inch pitch. 

Think knees digging into the seat in front.

And, well, these are the sort of slimline seats now being favored by certain U.S. airlines too.

This, though, is the pinnacle of despair on these planes: there’ll be no garbage bins or, well, water in the rear galley. 

Yes, to save a little space.

This means that if you’re sitting near the back of the plane and want a simple glass of water, the Flight Attendant will have to go all the way to the galley in Club Class to get you the drink.

And how easy do you think this will be, given these single-aisle planes?

Please also put yourself in the shiny shoes of Flight Attendants who will have to spend a considerable amount of their time carrying trash all the way to the front of the plane.

Where there isn’t a lot of room in the first place.

And, if you’re a passenger in Club Class, just think of how many times these Flight Attendants will be walking up and down your aisle in order to dispose of trash or to get a glass of water. 

Just to make sure they get enough exercise on these flights, the cabin crews will also have to do all the safety demonstrations manually because the overhead screens are being removed to make the planes slightly lighter. 

I’m sure that if you have a CFO-type mentality, you’ll be delighted at such cutting or corners.

In the end, though, BA becomes, in the eyes of many, just another budget airline.

Which is a pity.

Pro-Russia Twitter Trolls Take Aim at Special Counsel Robert Mueller

The dense network of pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts tracked by the group Alliance for Securing Democracy has spent the last year spreading chaos and discord about topics as diverse as NFL players refusing to stand during the national anthem and Al Franken’s alleged sexual misconduct. It was only a matter of time, then, before the troll army set its sights on special counsel Robert Mueller.

On the website Hamilton68, the Alliance tracks some 600 Twitter accounts it says are associated with a Russia-linked influence network. According to newly released figures, in the month of December, by far the most popular articles shared by the trolls aimed to undermine Mueller and the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian interference.

In fact, 16 percent of the articles shared by those accounts between December 9 and December 31 were related in some way to the so-called deep state, the bulk of which aimed to discredit Mueller. That’s a lot of tweets, considering the site analyzes some 20,000 tweets a day. It’s a volume of conversation that, in late November, was reserved for the right’s favorite punching bag, Hillary Clinton. The Hamilton68 team keeps its list of suspected Kremlin trolls secret, but it consists of a balance between openly pro-Russia accounts, like Sputnik and RT, as well as bot accounts run by troll factories, and other accounts that consistently amplify pro-Russia themes.

Founded by former FBI agent Clint Watts and J.M. Berger, a researcher focused on extremist propaganda, Hamilton68 has been up and running since August. But December’s onslaught represents the biggest uptick in attacks on Mueller yet. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen as much concentrated activity on that topic,” says Bret Schafer, a research analyst with the Alliance. “It’s been trending steadily upwards since we started this.”

That the Russian propaganda network would step up its battle with Mueller in December stands to reason. It coincides with a cascade of news stories about the investigation, beginning with former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI on December 1. Later that same month, news broke that two FBI agents associated with the investigation had called the President an “idiot” in a text message exchange, news Schafer says the Twitter troll network was quick to jump on.

It also happens to track almost exactly alongside another infamous Twitter troll’s recent interest in Mueller. During the month of December—during which there was a major senate race in Alabama, a new tax bill, and a holiday—the President tweeted about the Mueller investigation in some form or another 17 times. That’s up from tweeting about it just three times in November.

Schafer acknowledges there “definitely, occasionally, is a correlation,” between the President’s tweets and the Hamilton68 network. As is often the case, though, it’s difficult to tell where the ever-circulating feedback loop between the President, the press, and the trolls begins. Maybe the media arouses the President’s sudden interest in a topic, which then rallies the Twitter trolls to action. Or perhaps the sudden uptick in online noise about a given subject seeps into the media, eventually inspiring the Presidential tweets. Wherever it starts, there’s no denying the synchronous relationship between the President’s account and this broader network.

As for what, exactly, the Twitter accounts are sharing, Schafer says it’s very rarely explicitly fake news. More often, it’s articles from “hyper, hyper-partisan alt right sites,” including GatewayPundit and TruePundit. The top stories these accounts shared in December contained headlines like, “From A Legal Perspective, Mueller’s Investigation is Dead. Here’s Why” and “Another Mueller investigator comes under scrutiny: Attorney on Russia probe is revealed to have previously represented the Clinton Foundation.”

In other cases, they seem intent on spreading rumors that prove irresistible to the alt-right internet. A popular recent example: On Wednesday, January 3, the second-most shared article by the pro-Kremlin network was “Executive From Comey’s Former Hedge Fund And Family Killed In Costa Rica Plane Crash.” Now, Schafer says, it’s beginning to gain traction in the dark corners of Reddit.

“It’s taking a minor thread of a story and making that the story, usually with a headline that isn’t backed up by what’s in the text,” Schafer says.

Studied in bulk, these are transparently manufactured attempts to create a groundswell of outrage that reaches the broader public, the press, and eventually, even the President. But when the average Twitter user encounters one of these accounts, it’s not so easy to see the manipulations. The work of groups like the Alliance help the public observe the changing whims of this online collective. In a world in which online conversation shapes public opinion—and in some cases, policy—it’s more important than ever to take a closer look at who, or what, shaped that conversation to begin with.

Amazon, Facebook, and Google to Join Legal Battle Over Net Neutrality

Internet giants Amazon, Facebook, and Google plan to throw their collective weight behind efforts to save net neutrality.

The Internet Association, the industry’s primary lobbying organization, announced Friday that it plans to join lawsuits aimed at halting the Federal Communications Commission’s December action to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules. Those rules banned internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon from blocking or otherwise discriminating against legal content online. The association represents dozens of smaller companies in addition to titans such as Google and Facebook.

Net neutrality supporters argue that agency’s plan is illegal under federal laws that prohibit “arbitrary and capricious” changes in regulations, and that the agency didn’t gather sufficient public input on its proposal to overturn its old rules.

“The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers,” Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman said in a statement, referring to FCC Chair Ajit Pai. “This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet.”

The move is significant because Facebook, Google, and other internet giants faced criticism last year for not doing enough while the FCC was considering repealing net neutrality. Most of the biggest companies participated in a “Day of Action” in July to promote awareness of the issue, but last month The New York Times pointed out that these efforts were relatively small compared to some of the industry’s past actions. For example, in 2006 Google co-founder Sergey Brin traveled to Washington, DC to make the case for net neutrality. By comparison, the internet giants were quiet last year, apart from filing comments with the FCC in support of the Obama-era rules, and placing a few notifications on their websites during the Day of Action. Apple is conspicuously missing from the group, but broke a long silence on the topic of net neutrality last year when it filed its own FCC comment in support of net neutrality.

The Internet Association does not plan to file a lawsuit itself, but will rather join legal action taken by others. The association didn’t specify a lawsuit it plans to join.

Several government officials and advocacy groups have said they plan legal action, but all have to wait until the repeal order is published in the Federal Register. The FCC Thursday published the final text of its order on its website. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman promised to file suit, which attorneys general in several other states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, promised to join the suit. Internet advocacy groups like Free Press were also quick to promise legal action.

Legal experts told WIRED last month that net neutrality advocates have a case, but it’s too early to tell how the courts will rule on the subject.

Beckerman also said the association and its member companies will push Congress to pass strong net neutrality protections.

The Internet Association advocated strong net neutrality protections in 2014, and filed a comment encouraging the agency to retain the Obama-era rules last year.

The Art of Innovation: How This Entrepreneur Found Her Passion (by Imagining It)

Oprah Winfrey once said, Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” This is a lesson many entrepreneurs know all to well, and especially Imagine Museums’ Trish Duggan. A talented artist and entrepreneur, Duggan is the type of savvy businesswoman today’s founders and business owners would be well advised to emulate.

The [Literal] Art of Innovation

Originally from Arlington, VA, Trish Duggan has traveled the world pursuing her passions for education and art. From studies at the University of California of Los Angeles and the University of California at Santa Barbara to studies at a Japanese Jesuit university, Trish has a made a life out of combining her passions. Introduced to art in high school, Trish Duggan has traveled to places like India, Nepal, China, Europe, and South America pursuing her artistic passions.

As her immersion in the arts continued, so too did her love for the art of glass blowing, especially glass works by famed artist Marlene Rose. This love of exquisite glass works of art has led her to her current passion project, Saint Petersburg Florida’s Imagine Museum

Imagining a Trend

Imagine Museum features glass artistry ranging from the 1960’s studio glass movement to current, contemporary works of glass art. Located in Saint Petersburg Florida’s Central Art District, the Imagine Museum hopes to not only introduce visitors to stunning examples of glass artistry but preserve and document the history of glass works. In an effort to grow the Gulf Coast’s art community, Imagine Museum is focusing on interactive art participation, scholarship grants, and introducing younger generations to the exquisite medium of glass blowing.  

There’s a clear upward trend with glass art piquing consumer interest with many experts agreeing that it won’t slow down any time soon. Dubbed as the ‘Creative Class’, the emergence of this category has an affinity for fine art. Online sales are equally seeing growth and in 2016, sales were totaled at $3.75 billion, up 15% from 2015. 

Trish Duggan and Imagine Museum

In an interview with Duggan, she shared, 

“Glass is an art medium which looks most alive when it is touched by light. Of all the arts, glass is the only one which truly is unique from every angle showing different forms and impacting the viewer depending on light angles. 

Duggan added,

“After working with Marlena Rose, who worked with me to design my first piece and seeing the result I had made I became avidly passionate in designing and producing hundreds of forms.”

By focusing on her passion for art, Trish Duggan has been able to enjoy a long and illustrious career not only as an artist, but as an entrepreneur. Drawing on the power of what excited her, she created a life that not only allowed her to travel the world expanding her knowledge, but that helped her introduce those around her to the works of art she encountered. 

“In starting any activity, if it excites you, fascinates you, captures your thoughts throughout the day —  then you are looking at something which you could probably muster up enough drive to carry through to a success.”

Duggan continued,

“It doesn’t matter if it is art, business, a single product or idea. If it creates the above in you, then pursue it relentlessly.” 

Inspiring the Modern Entrepreneur

Duggan’s philosophy challenges the entrepreneurial status quo in a very positive way and provides a new perspective on the stereotypical ‘hustle’ we think of. To that end, it should be inspiring that  entrepreneurs can be borne out of exploratory passion to create something completely new and unique.

In its simplest of forms, my takeaway message from Duggan was compelling: 

Entrepreneurship is an art. 

If you’re an entrepreneur or business owner contemplating the future of your career, consider first digging deep inside your own passions to discover how you can pursue your purpose. You may be surprised what is ignited as a result.