Inside a Ferrari Hypercar, Lyft’s IPO, and More Car News

Let the unicorn feast begin! On Friday, ride-hail galumphed onto the markets with the opening day of trading for little bro Lyftt. (Big rival Uber is reportedly on its way to its own IPO.) Lyft had a strong first day of trading, reaching a share price high of $87.24 before sliding to $78.29 at market’s close. Now the big question, which will answer itself in the weeks and months to come: How do investors feel about the prospect of the mustachioed company actually making money? How about the gig economy at large?

Still, plenty of transportation interestings were happening off Wall Street this week. We took a look at the current state of automotive software safety standards, and talked to people wondering how self-driving cars might fit into the mix. We reminded ourselves that self-driving cars aren’t going to be driverless for a while, and about the role of remote drivers in the ecosystem. We drove a Jeep Gladiator, the company’s adorably tough mini-pickup.

It’s been a week: Let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

Dress Rehearsal of the Week

Porsche promises its first all-electric sports car, the Taycan, will hit the market at the end of the year. Which means it’s time for the fun stuff: test drives! This week, the German automaker said it will have tested the Taycan on 3.7 million miles of road before its official launch, in the snows of Sweden, the heat of the UAE (up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit!), and the chill of Finland. More details on the Taycan’s testing regime here.

Stat of the Week

$911.3 million

The amount of dough Lyft lost last year, according to a filing submitted to the SEC in early March. For more stats on the ride-hail company, and to help you understand its IPO this week, check out these five charts.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet
Uber acquires Middle Eastern rival Careem for $3.1 billion, though the deal needs regulatory approval and may not be finalized until the end of the year.

Recode points out: “To bet on Uber—as is increasingly clear with this Careem purchase—is to bet not on Uber but on a global ride-hailing spoke model in which San Francisco-based Uber Technologies, Inc is merely the hub.”

Lyft rings in its IPO with a “City Works” pledge, investing $50 million or 1 percent of profits (whatever’s bigger) in city infrastructure, clean energy tech, and transportation access for disadvantaged communities. Anthony Foxx, the former secretary of transportation and Lyft’s current chief policy officer, clarified to WIRED that this doesn’t necessarily mean Lyft will write $50 million in checks—”Some of it will be in-kind,” he said—but that it will continue its current work on those three target areas in close partnership with cities.

Meanwhile, Lyft and Uber drivers went on strike in California this week, demanding higher wages after Uber cut their per-mile pay.

I Rode an E-Scooter as Far From Civilization as Its Batteries Could Take Me

Oh Wow, oh no: A budget airline suddenly ceased operations.

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s canon
Via 1998: “How the beer company that created the first Internet IPO is shaking up the stock market.”

4 Things That Pundits Who "Predict" the Future Always Seem to Get Wrong

Peter Thiel has pointed out that we wanted flying cars, but got 140 characters instead. He’s only partly right. For decades futuristic visions showed everyday families zipping around in flying cars and it’s true that even today we’re still stuck on the ground. However, that’s not because we’re unable to build one. In fact the first was invented in 1934.

The problem is not so much with engineering, but economics and safety. We could build a flying car if we wanted to, but to make one that can compete with a regular automobile is another matter entirely. Besides, in many ways, 140 characters are better than a flying car. Cars only let us travel around town, the Internet helps us span the globe.

That has created far more value than a flying car ever could. We often fail to predict the future accurately because we don’t account for our capacity to surprise ourselves, to see new possibilities and take new directions. We interact with each other, collaborate and change our priorities. The future that we predict is never as exciting as the one we eventually create.

1. The Future Will Not Look Like the Past

We tend to predict the future by extrapolating from the present. So if we invent a car and then an airplane, it only seems natural that we can combine the two. If family has a car, then having one that flies can seem like a logical next step. We don’t look at a car and dream up, say, a computer. So in 1934, we dreamed of flying cars, but not computers.

It’s not just optimists that fall prey to this fundamental error, but pessimists too. In Homo Deus, author and historian Yuval Noah Harari points to several studies that show that human jobs are being replaced by machines. He then paints a dystopian picture. “Humans might become militarily and economically useless”, he writes. Yeesh!

Yet the picture is not as dark as it may seem. Consider the retail apocalypse. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of retail store closings. Those jobs are gone and they’re not coming back. You can imagine thousands of retail employees sitting at home, wondering how to pay their bills, just as Harari predicts.

Yet economist Michael Mandel argues that the data tells a very different story. First, he shows that the jobs gained from e-commerce far outstrip those lost from traditional retail. Second, he points out that the total e-commerce sector, including lower-wage fulfillment centers, has an average wage of $21.13 per hour, which is 27 percent higher than the $16.65 that the average worker in traditional retail earns.

So not only are more people working, they are taking home more money too. Not only is the retail apocalypse not a tragedy, it’s somewhat of a blessing.

2. The Next Big Thing Always Starts Out Looking Like Nothing At All

Every technology eventually hits theoretical limits. Buy a computer today and you’ll find that the technical specifications are much like they were five years ago. When a new generation of iPhones comes out these days, reviewers tout the camera rather than the processor speed. The truth is that Moore’s law is effectively over.

That seems tragic, because our ability to exponentially increase the number of transistors that we can squeeze onto a silicon wafer has driven technological advancement over the past few decades. Every 18 months or so, a new generation of chips has come out and opened up new possibilities that entrepreneurs have turned into exciting new businesses.

What will we do now?

Yet there’s no real need to worry. There is no 11th commandment that says, “Thou shalt compute with ones and zeros” and the end of Moore’s law will give way to newer, more powerful technologies, like quantum and neuromorphic computing. These are still in their nascent stage and may not have an impact for at least five to ten years, but will likely power the future for decades to come.

3. It’s Ecosystems, Not Inventions, That Drive the Future

When the first automobiles came to market, they were called “horseless carriages” because that’s what everyone knew and was familiar with. So it seemed logical that people would use them much like they used horses, to take the occasional trip into town and to work in the fields. Yet it didn’t turn out that way, because driving a car is nothing like riding a horse.

So first people started taking “Sunday drives” to relax and see family and friends, something that would be too tiring to do regularly on a horse. Gas stations and paved roads changed how products were distributed and factories moved from cities in the north, close to customers, to small towns in the south, where land and labor were cheaper.

As our ability to travel increased, people started moving out of cities and into suburbs. When consumers could easily load a week’s worth of groceries into their cars, corner stores gave way to supermarkets and, eventually, shopping malls. The automobile changed a lot more than simply how we got from place to place. It changed our way of life in ways that were impossible to predict.

4. We Can Only Validate Patterns Going Forward

G. H. Hardy once wrote that, “a mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.” Futurists often work the same way, identifying patterns in the past and present, then extrapolating them into the future. Yet there is a substantive difference between patterns that we consider to be preordained and those that are to be discovered.

Think about Steve Jobs and Appl for a minute and you will probably recognize the pattern and assume I misspelled the name of his iconic company by forgetting to include the “e” at the end. But I could have just have easily been about to describe an “Applet” he designed for the iPhone or some connection between Jobs and Appleton WI, a small town outside Green Bay.

The problem with patterns is that the future is something we create, not some preordained plan that we are beholden to. The things we create often become inflection points and change our course. That may frustrate the futurists, but it’s what makes life exciting for the rest of us.

The Art of the Bracket Smack Talk, Perfected With Purpose Inside Your Company

Host a company-wide bracket challenge – they’re already doing it anyway, even if you don’t know about it. Offer a grand prize that doesn’t cost cash, like an extra day off, or convert an office lunch you were already planning into a bracket-themed bonanza. Then have a bunch of smaller inexpensive gifts for top contenders. Encourage a number of smaller pools by team to increase everyone’s chances of winning something.

To do March Madness right, and to have more fun, you must introduce smack talk. It doesn’t have to be mean or dirty. Sports have provided a long line of terrific trash talkers, but rappers, celebrities, and soldiers have all contributed greatly to the Western cannon of smack.

2.     “Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.” – Jim Rohn

3.     “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.” – Coco Chanel

4.     “I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!” – Dr. Seuss

7.     “May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t.” – General George S. Patton

9.     “Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” – Theodore Roosevelt

10.  “I don’t talk trash often, but when I do, I go for the jugular.” – Kobe Bryant

11.  “I’m just looking around to see who’s gonna finish second.” – Larry Bird

14.  “I got my own back.” – Maya Angelou

15.  “Get your popcorn ready, ’cause I’m gonna put on a show.” – Terrell Owens

18.  “The best thing I like about human beings is that they stack so neatly.” – Frank Underwood

19.  “If he calls that number, I’ll be sure to pick up after the fifth ring.” – Kobe Bryant

20.  “All right. They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us … They can’t get away this time.” – Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller

23.  “I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.” – Muhammad Ali

Daimler buys Torc Robotics stake for self-driving trucks

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Daimler Trucks has agreed to buy a majority stake in self-driving truck software maker Torc Robotics as part of a broader push to develop autonomous vehicles.

The Daimler logo is seen before the Daimler annual shareholder meeting in Berlin, Germany, April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Torc, based in Blacksburg, Virginia, will help Daimler accelerate software development by giving the German manufacturer access to 120 skilled staff, Daimler Trucks Chief Executive Martin Daum said.

“You cannot have enough expertise in this area. Our Achilles’ heel is the ability to quickly develop software,” Daum said.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Torc Robotics has partnerships to develop self-driving technology with Caterpillar with mining and agricultural applications, and competed in the DARPA self-driving vehicles challenge 12 years ago.

Torc has developed technology that allows vehicles to operate at a high level of automation, known as level 4, helping Daimler to accelerate its own plans for commercializing self-driving vehicles.

“Torc’s Level 4 system has been shown to operate well for both urban and highway driving in rain, snow, fog, and sunshine,” said Roger Nielsen, CEO of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), which includes the market-leading Freightliner brand.

Daimler currently offers a level 2 automation system on its trucks, which can automatically brake, accelerate and steer using radar and camera systems that make partially automated driving possible.

“Bringing Torc Robotics within the Daimler Trucks family creates a unique and powerful team of innovators to put highly automated trucks on the road,” Daum said.

Torc will continue to be run on an arms-length basis from Daimler but the Torc team will work closely with Daimler Trucks’ developers, Daimler said.

Torc will continue to develop its Asimov self-driving software and testing at its Blacksburg facility. At the same time, Daimler Trucks will focus on further evolving automated driving technology and vehicle integration for heavy-duty trucks at its Automated Truck Research & Development Center in Portland.

Daimler Trucks will also use know-how about sensors and automation from the group’s Mercedes-Benz passenger car brand, the car and truck maker said.

Reporting by Edward Taylor; Editing by Thomas Seythal and Mark Potter

Facebook charged with racial discrimination in targeted housing ads

The Facebook logo is reflected on a woman’s glasses in this photo illustration taken June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Illustration

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Facebook Inc on Thursday with violating the Fair Housing Act, alleging that the company’s targeted advertising discriminated on the basis of race and color.

HUD said Facebook also restricted who could see housing- related ads based on national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disability.

Facebook said it was surprised by the decision and has been working with HUD to address its concerns and has taken significant steps to prevent ads discrimination across its platforms.

The social media giant said last week it would create a new advertising portal for ads linked to housing and employment that would limit targeting options for advertisers.

“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and related services, which includes online advertisements, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

Reporting by Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

Data Sheet—Why Twitch Pivoted to Video Games, and Why It Worked

Upgraded. Remember that meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the Pentagon? It seems it turned into more of an Oval Office affair, as President Trump tweeted about talking with the tech exec, too. Pichai “stated strongly that he is totally committed to the U.S. Military, not the Chinese Military,” Trump wrote. At the other end of the political spectrum, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. LGBTQ group, withdrew its positive corporate rating of Google over an app in Google’s Play store promoting conversion therapy.

Third class. After three generation of failure, Apple is finally apologizing for its terrible butterfly keyboard design–sort of. Wall Street Journal columnist Joanna Stern mocked the design in a piece titled “Appl Still Hasn’t Fixd Its MacBook Kyboad Problm,” prompting the company to issue a statement saying the problem was limited to a small number of users “and for that we are sorry.” Hopefully, the laptop maker comes up with a new design soon instead of an apology. (I am not a fan, as you may have read.)

Caught in the act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on Thursday it is charging Facebook with violating housing discrimination laws over the company’s advertising targeting features. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement. No immediate response from the company, which has already moved to end the practice.

Challenging times. Four former IBM employees filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the company on Wednesday. All four were age 55 or older when IBM let them go in 2016. The suit also attacked IBM’s requirement that departing employees waive their right to collective legal action in order to obtain severance. “We are confident that our arbitration clauses are legal and appropriate,” the company told the San Jose Mercury News.

Nailed. Federal regulators uncovered one of those bogus tech support scams that relied on phony alerts generated by supposed PC cybersecurity apps. The bad guy? Retail chain Office Depot, which agreed to pay $25 million to settle the charges.

Auto1 may consider IPO in future but no need for cash now: CEO

BERLIN (Reuters) – German used-car dealing platform Auto1 said it could seek a public offering in future but a 2018 cash infusion from Japan’s Softbank means it has no immediate need for extra funding of its European growth plans.

FILE PHOTO: A worker loads a second hand car on a car transporter truck at the Auto1.com company grounds in Zoerbig, Germany January 28, 2017.REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch /File Photo

Last year’s Softbank’s deal valued Berlin-based Auto1 at 2.9 billion euros ($3.27 billion), making it one of Germany’s top so-called tech unicorns.

It is virtually unknown to consumers except through its used car buying arm Wir Kaufen dein Auto (We Buy Your Car) in Germany and similar names elsewhere. It operates from Finland to Romania to Portugal, 30 countries in all.

Revenues rose by 32 percent to 2.9 billion euros last year, and although it is profitable in Germany, investments in other markets have led to a loss on group level.

“Currently, an initial public offering is not a topic for us,” Auto1 co-founder Christian Bertermann told Reuters, adding this could change in future.

Auto1 buys cars using its vehicle pricing database to calculate an offer within minutes and then sells the vehicles on to one of its roughly 35,000 dealerships for a commission.

Its platforms helped 540,000 vehicles change hands in 2018.

The company will now also start a retail platform to compete with Scout24’s Autoscout unit or Ebay’s Mobile.de offering, Bertermann said.

He confirmed a Reuters report about Auto1’s talks with Scout24 about an acquisition of Autoscout, adding that these would not lead to a takeover.

Scout24 in February agreed to be acquired by buyout groups Hellman & Friedman and Blackstone.

Auto1 was set up in Berlin by entrepreneur Christian Bertermann after having trouble selling two old cars owned by his grandmother, along with Koc, who previously worked at Rocket Internet-backed firms Zalando and Home24.

Reporting by Nadine Schimroszik,; Writing by Arno Schuetze; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Denver and West Virginia Deserve Praise for Voting on Blockchain

As the world waits to learn what is contained within the Mueller report, the culmination of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it seems appropriate to expand on last week’s column about the security of electronic voting systems.

I recently spoke to Nimit Sawhney, CEO and cofounder of Voatz, the blockchain-based, mobile voting software provider, whose technology West Virginia piloted during last year’s general midterm election. Sawhney came up with the idea for the project with his brother when the two competed in—and won—a hackathon at Austin’s SXSW festival in 2014. Since then, Sawhney has formally established a company, based in Boston, to develop the product.

Voatz’s technology is making inroads. Sawhney’s 14-person team recently won over Denver, Colo., as the second testing ground for its voting system. The city is trialling the app in its May 7th municipal election, early voting for which starts—today!

I asked Sawhney why he decided to incorporate a blockchain into his system. He says it’s so that IT administrators within and outside his company can’t manipulate or delete records at will. Voatz uses so-called permissioned ledgers, meaning only authorized parties can operate them. In this case, the voting database is distributed across 32 computing nodes running the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric and Hyperledger Sawtooth software on machines hosted by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Voatz stewards the nodes alongside select nonprofits that act as independent monitors, a small cadre Voatz hopes to expand to include other major stakeholders—political parties, media entities, and others—over time.

While Sawhney says he’s excited about the potential of public blockchains, like Ethereum, to become part of the infrastructure of elections, his prospective customers are more wary. “Early feedback we received from election officials was that they were very uncomfortable with nodes running in potentially unfriendly part of world,” Sawhney tells me.

Sawhney believes blockchains can imbue the electoral process with greater transparency. The technology “gives citizens the ability to audit an election,” he says, noting that ballots submitted through Voatz return digital receipts that allow voters to verify their intentions. “You have a sense of trust that is backed by irrefutable mathematics rather than somebody telling you, These are the results and you must believe them,” Sawhney says.

Electronic voting systems are not bulletproof, however. Threats resulting from vulnerabilities, hackers, and physical coercion raise grave security concerns. Yet, conversely, these systems bear obvious benefits. They’re much more accessible than paper-based ballots, at least to smartphone owners. And they hold promise for enfranchising citizens who are disabled, traveling abroad, or serving in the military.

Despite the advantages, many security professionals find it impossible to overlook the risks. Sawhney understands critics’ objections. “No system is 100% safe,” he concedes. But, to this, he adds an addendum: “That’s true of paper-based systems as well.”

“We realize there are lots of opposing forces—people who hate and disapprove of what we’re doing,” Sawhney says. But, he continues, “we feel this is really important and needs to be done for progress to happen.”

All technologies are double-edged swords. The trick lies in blunting the blade when one falls into the hands of adversaries.

Besides, if Estonia can do it, maybe the U.S. can too.

A version of this article first appeared in Cyber Saturday, the weekend edition of Fortune’s tech newsletter Data Sheet. Sign up here.

Bank Of America: An Income Play With A Kicker

Bank of America’s (BAC) stock has performed well so far in 2019 (up 9%), but BAC shares have significantly underperformed the broader market over the last year.

Chart

Data by YCharts

Financials have been under pressure since mid-2018 due largely to industry-specific factors (low interest rate environment, flattening yield curve, and increasing regulatory concerns), but I view the pullback in BAC shares as a great long-term buying opportunity. BAC has a strong bull case, which includes promising capital return prospects, so I believe that there is a lot to like about BAC shares at today’s price.

A Legitimate Income Play

BAC pays a lower-than-average dividend, but it has significant dividend growth prospects. The bank’s yield is slightly above 2%, which is the lowest dividend yield in its peer group – Citigroup (C), Wells Fargo (WFC), and JPMorgan (JPM).

Chart

Data by YCharts

Looking back, BAC has materially increased its dividend since the token $0.01 that was paid quarterly for years after the Financial Crisis.

Source: Seeking Alpha

The $0.15 quarterly dividend ($0.60 on an annual basis) may not seem like much, but it is a far cry from the $0.05 that was paid only a few short years ago. The bank has a 5-year dividend growth rate of ~72% and, more importantly, management still has the necessary wiggle room for further increases in the years ahead.

Chart

Data by YCharts

BAC’s dividend would be approximately 26% higher (~$0.76 on an annual basis), if the bank had an average payout ratio.

The bank will first need to receive approval through the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, or CCAR, process to raise its dividend, but, in my opinion, investors should expect for the impressive dividend growth to continue over at least the next two-to-three years. Moreover, let’s not forget that management repurchased $20.1B worth of common stock in 2018 and the board recently increased the buyback program by another $2.5B (expires by June 30, 2019), which means that management is creating additional room for future dividend hikes. To this point, I believe that the chart below says a lot.

Source: Q4 and Full-year 2018 Earnings Presentation

Any way you slice it, BAC has a great capital return story to tell. And it helps the bull case that the bank has a strong earnings profile and a stock that is attractively valued.

The Kicker, An Attractively Valued Bank With Strong Earnings Prospects

On January 16, 2019, BAC reported Q4 2018 results that beat the top- and bottom-line estimates. The bank reported adjusted EPS of $0.70 (beat by $0.07) on revenue of $22.7B (beat by $390M), which also compares favorably to the year-ago quarter.

Source: Q4 and Full-year 2018 Earnings Presentation

I recently covered the bank’s Q4 2018 operating results here, so I will focus on what really matters, i.e., earnings growth. Over the last five years, BAC’s earnings per share increased from $0.43 to $2.64.

Source: 2018 10-K

Yes, share buybacks are coming into play but also notice the fact that the bank’s net income came in at $28.1B for 2018, which is materially higher than each of the prior four fiscal years. BAC definitely benefited from the tax reform bill in 2018, but this type of growth is impressive, especially in an environment that many pundits labelled as “challenging” for the banks.

From a valuation standpoint, BAC shares are trading at attractively levels when compared to the bank’s peer group.

Current Price T/BV BV
BAC $27.01 $17.91 25.13
Current Valuation 1.51 1.07
C $60.98 60.16 $70.62
Current Valuation 1.01 0.86
JPM $99.76 56.33 $70.35
Current Valuation 1.77 1.42
WFC $48.31 31.86 $38.06
Current Valuation 1.52 1.27
Average 1.45 1.16
Average ex C 1.60 1.25

Source: Data from the Q4 ’18 Presentations for Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan; table created by author.

BAC’s stock is not as cheap as it was a year ago, but I still believe that it has room to run. If BAC traded in line with its closest peers (i.e., Wells and JPMorgan), the stock would be trading in the lower $30 per share range (~11% higher).

Risks

Regulatory concerns always need to be factored in when evaluating large financial institutions, and this includes BAC. I believe that the regulatory environment is actually improving, but this could change in short order.

From a macro standpoint, a deteriorating economy would eventually negatively impact the banking sector. Currently, there are some headwinds, but in my opinion, a recession is not in the cards in the near future.

Bottom Line

No one should be surprised by the fact that Warren Buffett is a big fan of BAC given the bank’s strong earnings profile and promising dividend growth prospects. This bank is a legitimate income play that has reported impressive earnings growth over the last five years, and it helps the bull case that BAC shares are trading at an attractive valuation.

I believe that BAC’s stock will be a market beater over the next 18-24 months, so investors with a time horizon longer than the next few quarters should treat any significant pullbacks, especially if they are caused by broader market concerns, as long-term buying opportunities.

Author’s Note: Bank Of America is my largest holding in the R.I.P. Portfolio and I have no plans to reduce my position in the near future.

Disclaimer: This article is not a recommendation to buy or sell any stock mentioned. These are only my personal opinions. Every investor must do his/her own due diligence before making any investment decision.

Disclosure: I am/we are long BAC, C. 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.

The Very Mathematical History of a Perfect Color Combination

A couple of years ago, I fell in love with a color scheme: off-white text accented with a buttery yellow-orange and a neutral blue against a deep gray, the “color of television, tuned to a dead channel,” to borrow a phrase from Neuromancer author William Gibson. The colors were part of a theme called “Solarized Dark” for the popular MacOS code editor TextMate. To be honest, I didn’t think much of Solarized at first. But I soon found that I couldn’t work with any other color scheme. Staring at screens all day can make you particular about fonts and colors.

It turns out I’m not alone. I’m not a coder by trade, but I like to use code editors for writing and organizing notes. While hunting for tools after switching from a Mac to Windows, I started to see Solarized Dark and its sibling Solarized Light, which uses the same 16-color palette, practically everywhere I looked. It’s hard to say how many programmers use it. The design is free and open source, so there’s no tally of purchases. It’s available for every major code editor, and many other programming tools. Microsoft even bundled it with its popular code editor VS Code. Solarized has a loyal following.

“If I bring up a terminal window that doesn’t have Solarized, I feel out of place, I don’t feel at home,” says Zachery Bir, a Richmond, Virginia, programmer and artist who has been using Solarized since shortly after it was released in 2011. Bir likes Solarized so much he uses it as the color scheme for his computer-generated art. “I didn’t trust myself to come up with a palette that was balanced and looked good both in a dark and light medium,” he says.

The Solarized color scheme is no accident. It reflects the obsessive attention to detail of its creator, Ethan Schoonover. “I didn’t release it until I was 1,000 percent sure I loved all the colors and they were all dialed in mathematically,” Schoonover says. “I had multiple monitors, some were color calibrated, others were deliberately messed up. Sometimes I showed my wife, who thought I was a little nuts.”

Too Much Contrast

Schoonover was working as a designer and programmer in Seattle when he started work on Solarized in 2010. He’d recently switched operating systems was disappointed in the color schemes available for the tools he used. Many applications offered only a simple white-on-black scheme that harkens back to old-school text-based computer terminals. But Schoonover found these throwback color schemes much harsher than the retro displays they tried to emulate. That’s because the backgrounds displayed on old 1980s monitors weren’t truly black, Schoonover says. “They had less contrast.” Today’s LCD’s, on the other hand, are capable of displaying much darker, and much brighter, colors.

The optimal amount of contrast for text on a screen is controversial; many people prefer high-contrast themes. But contrast wasn’t Schoonover’s only concern. He found most low-contrast color schemes lacking as well. Even the best-designed themes tended to use at least one color that appeared distractingly brighter than others. That’s because the apparent brightness of a color varies depending on its background. In other words, a specific shade of blue will appear more or less bright, depending on the surrounding colors.

This phenomenon, known as the Helmholtz–Kohlrausch effect, is particularly aggravating for programmers because coding tools use color to distinguish different parts of code. In the code for a web page in a typical text editor using the Solarized Dark theme, for example, web links appear in green; the syntax for formatting, such as adding italics, is blue, and comments that developers write for themselves are gray. Ideally, the colors should help tell these elements apart, but no single element should stand out more than others.

Schoonover set out to find a set of colors that would not only look good together, but have the same apparent brightness. That task was made more difficult because he wanted to use the same palette in both a light and a dark theme. Hence the need for all the monitors and testing.

Examples of the Solarized Dark (left) and Solarized Light (right) themes displaying HTML code in the code editor Vim.

Ethan Schoonover

Ethan Schoonover

Schoonover talks a lot about the mathematical nature of his color selections, but he picked the starting colors, a blue and a yellow, for very personal reasons. The blue reminds him of his long standing thalassophobia, the fear of very deep water. And though he says he doesn’t otherwise experience synesthesia—such as hearing colors or tasting words—the yellow invokes tastes and smells he associates with his childhood. “My parents are artists, I’m comfortable picking things for obscure reasons,” he says.

With those starting points, Schoonover sought out other colors that provided just enough—but not too much—contrast between elements, and that maintained the same level of contrast in the light and dark versions. The result is a palette of just 16 colors that retain the same relationships even when inverted. “I suppose it’s a little like composing music with only a limited number of notes,” Schoonover says. “There can be something sparse and beautiful about it.”

An Open Source Program Takes Off

Schoonover released Solarized for free in April 2011 on GitHub, a code hosting platform and collaboration service. He says he never intended to commercialize it. “It would kill something special about it, taint it,” he says. “I believe in open source software, I believe in giving something special to the world that anyone can use.”

Although he’d tested the color scheme in a variety of applications, Schoonover initially only released themes for a few tools he used in his own work, like the code editor Vim and the text-based email client Mutt. He announced the release of Solarized on the Vim mailing list; soon after, the project hit the front page of the online community Hacker News. It was an immediate hit with programmers, who soon went to work adapting it to other programming tools beyond those Schoonover initially supported. In 2013, Solarized Dark appeared on the monitors of developers in a Facebook commercial—watch for those dark rectangles on the screens and notice the faintly colored lines that cross them.

Solarized is slowly starting to find its way into applications for non-geeks. Ulysses, a writing application for MacOS, includes Solarized themes as an option. The color scheme was used for many of the graphics in the video game N++ in 2014. The note-taking app MicroPad even advertises Solarized as a feature on its website. “Solarized Dark for MicroPad is especially useful for late-night studying, which I do more often than I would like to admit,” says MicroPad creator Nick Webster, a computer science student at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

But it still hasn’t really crossed over to the mainstream as a color scheme for, say, a major web application or software suite. “When Apple introduced dark mode for MacOS, I thought it was cool,” says Bir, the Virginia programmer and artist. “But I wish it was Solarized.”

With more applications, like Google Chrome, Facebook Messenger, and Slack, releasing dark mode themes, though, Solarized just might have its day in the sun.


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AI cloudops is coming, whether you like it or not

As someone who’s worked with AI for the last 30 years (yes, it was a thing 30 years ago), I’ve often thought of its capabilities were overrated and used for the wrong things in many cases. Now that it’s cheap thanks to cloud computing, and much more effective thanks to the pace of innovation, AI as a solution is coming up again, including the use in cloud operations.

The idea is to replace people with AI to be both proactive and reactive to cloud operational issues such as outages, resource governance, security attacks, and performance. Cloudops involves largely repeatable problems, right?

There are of course some upsides and some downsides to this. Moreover, although the use of AI in cloud operations maybe a foregone conclusion, there will still be a learning curve that is required. As long as you understand that and know what to expect in terms of ROI for both the short term and long term, I’m okay with anything that that makes cloud operations more effective.

So, let’s look at the pros and cons.

The pros of AI for cloudops

The pros are that you can have a 7/24/365 monitoring and management program on the cheap. If you believe operational staff is expensive, try hiring them for shift work. AI-based monitoring and management systems never sleep, never take time off, and never ask for a raise. Once they are up and running, they cost almost nothing beyond their license fees and infrastructure costs. And they are self-learning at the same time; in other words, the more they run, the better that they get at the job.

Another pro is that these systems get smarter every day and share a common brain. People get smarter with experience as well, but they don’t do a good job sharing their experiences with others. People also retire and quit, with the knowledge and experience walking out the door with them.

The cons of AI for cloudops

One con is that the cost of rolling out these systems is high, even in the cloud. Vendors that have married AI and operational tools are going to charge a premium to get them up and running and in production. While the prices are all over the place, count on paying 50 percent more than for traditional tools, including consulting services for the first year or so to get the tools learning correctly.

Another con is that operations people don’t seem to like them no matter how well they perform. The number of passive-aggressive actions that I’ve seen over the years from people pushing back on AI-enabled operations tools has been huge.

They view this technology as not to be trusted, plus the fact that AI some day may displace their jobs does not make things better. Organizations that implement these tools need to have change agents, plus an understanding about the human factors with this technology.

Is the future AI-enabled cloud-operations tools? I don’t see how it won’t be. The pros will get better, and the cons will begin to diminish, like any other rollout of new technology. Hopefully, our new AI operations overlords will have mercy on us in a few years.

A Cab’s-Eye View of How Peloton’s Trucks ‘Talk’ to Each Other

Techno-optimist prognosticators will tell you that driverless trucks are just around the corner. They will also gently tell you—always gently—that yes, truck driving, a job that nearly 3.7 million Americans perform today, is perhaps on the brink of extinction. At the very least, on the brink of uncomfortable change.

A startup called Peloton Technology sees the future a bit differently. Based in Mountain View, California, the eight-year-old company has a plan to broadly commercialize a partially automated truck technology called platooning. It would still depend on drivers sitting in front of a steering wheel, but it would be more fuel efficient and, hopefully, safer than truck-based transportation today.

The company employs 10 professional truck drivers to help refine its tech, and I’m about to meet two of them out on Peloton’s test track in California’s Central Valley. Michael Perkins is tall, thin, and has been driving very big trucks for about 20 years. Jake Gregory is shorter and picked up truck driving in college, before taking a detour to the FBI.

We hit the highway first, because the rain has suddenly cleared. (Here’s an unfortunate reality about Peloton’s driver assistance tech: It doesn’t work great in the rain. Or snow. It’s a safety issue. More on that later.) Out on Interstate 5, Perkins’ long, white semitrailer cruises along in front of me. I’m on board the second, identical truck behind it, with Gregory behind the wheel. A small screen mounted on Gregory’s dashboard shows a camera view of what’s happening in front of Perkins’ rig. It’s like their trucks are connected. Which, in fact, they are about to be.

Peloton

Perkins radios in that he’s ready to go; Gregory says he is too. Inside the two truck cabs, each driver hits a button. Three ascending tones—la, la, la—means Peloton’s automated system has authorized the trucks to platoon on this stretch of highway. A dedicated short range communications (DSRC) connection is now established between the two vehicles. It’s like Wi-Fi but faster and easier to secure. Now, whatever the front truck does, the back truck will near-simultaneously “know”—and react accordingly.

Then Gregory speeds up, pulling his truck up so it’s tailgating about 70 feet from the leader. Sounds risky! But right now, the two trucks are platooning. Ours is on a kind of hopped-up cruise control, which means Gregory’s feet aren’t actually controlling the brakes or accelerator. At the same time, Gregory maintains control of his steering wheel. If Perkins were to brake hard, Gregory’s truck would too, faster than a human could. The robots have taken over. Kind of? Not really? More like, they’re collaborating, with some human oversight.

Peloton’s name, a reference to bicycle racing, helps explain how this platooning works. Just as the riders in the peloton, or main group of racing cyclists, preserve energy by drafting off of those around them, the following trucks in the truck platoon reduce their aerodynamic drag by drafting off the ones in front. The lead truck, meanwhile, get a little push. This saves fuel, according to Peloton—up to 10 percent for the following car and 4.5 percent for the first one, depending on the road and weather conditions and the following distance. It might also prevent crashes, since this tech has much faster reaction times (about 30 milliseconds) than puny humans (about 1 to 1.5 seconds).

Other companies in Europe, China, Japan, and Singapore are seriously experimenting with truck platooning. The American military has hosted platooning demonstrations. Just this week, the US Department of Transportation gave out $1.5 million in grants to universities studying the tech. And Peloton has tested in a bunch of US states: Arizona, California, Michigan, Florida, and Texas, where Peloton has immediate plans to run the majority of its routes.

Right now, the company says it does have paying customers, though it won’t reveal their names until later this year. According to Josh Switkes, the company’s CEO, some pair of US truck drivers are running a route while platooning on a Peloton-enabled truck every day.

And testing continues, on the software in its office, on its test track, and on actual highways, where it confirms the technology’s reliability. “The highway or field is not for testing,” Switkes says. “The goal of testing is to find failures, and you don’t want those failures to be on public roads.” In a report released today, the company lays out this approach to safety for regulators and interested industry parties alike. It borrows more from automotive processes than Silicon Valley–style software ones, amounting to something like easy does it.

It turns out, the linking-up move Perkins and Gregory just performed on the 5 is one of the most safety-critical parts of truck platooning, Switkes says. The moment when the following truck has to move faster than the one in front of it is the most dangerous part.

To make sure drivers like Perkins and Gregory don’t crash into each other, or anyone else, Peloton needs to make sure that the platooning drivers know how the tech works. (Right now, the company’s driver training process takes about half a day.) It also needs to understand exactly how heavy the trucks are when they start platooning, how their brakes are working, and how their tires function. For this reason, the company says, it has carved out partnerships with its suppliers, which means its trucks are built from the ground up with platooning in mind.

This is also why Peloton doesn’t platoon in the rain right now, or in the snow: The company can’t yet gauge exactly how tires deteriorate over time, which means it can’t quite predict how they’ll react in a hard-braking situation. Worn tires might slide in the moisture, leading to a domino chain of truck crashes. So no platooning in the Midwest in the winter, or anywhere during a rainy spring. “On certain routes, it’s a significant limitation,” says Switkes. “But we’re erring on the side of safety.”

And if that seems a little dull, Switkes would tell you that’s the point. His favorite word is “pragmatic,” and he doesn’t believe driverless trucks will prowl the highways any time soon. The technology is too complicated, he argues, and developers will have to go through years of safety testing before they’re ready for the roads—and before the public feels safe riding in their own bitty cars around 50,000-pound robot trucks. So Peloton is going all in on making human-based driving both safer and more efficient. With a bit of tech boost.

Not all manufacturers agree: In January, Daimler announced it would stop its platooning development to focus on autonomous trucking. Tests showed that “fuel savings, even in perfect platooning conditions, are less than expected,” the German company wrote in a press release. “At least for U.S. long-distance applications, analysis currently shows no business case for customers driving platoons with new, highly aerodynamic trucks.”

Platooning advocates disagree, but even the most supportive believe finding a market for this trucker assistance isn’t simple. Steven Shladover is researcher with the California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology program at UC Berkeley. He has studied platooning for two decades, and points out that the truck industry would need to execute a fair bit of choreography to pull off platooning. Fleet operators would have to coordinate deliveries, matching up trucks heading in the same direction at the same time. “Does the truck industry see enough of a benefit in platooning to fit it into their operational strategies?” he says.

While everyone in trucking waits to find out, Perkins and Gregory head back to Peloton’s test track and proceed to show off a few, freakier moves: some hard braking, some driving side-by-side to prove that the trucks can still “talk” to each other in that position. At one point, another company employee in a white Toyota Tundra cuts into the 55-foot space between the two trucks, and they smoothly part to make room for him. Maybe platooning will improve life for truckers—too bad it can’t fix the problem of everyday reckless drivers, too.


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Google to prompt Android users to choose preferred browsers to allay EU concerns

FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Android mascot Bugdroid is seen in front of a Google logo in this illustration taken July 9, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Alphabet’s Google will prompt Android users to choose their preferred browsers and search apps, a senior Google executive said on Tuesday, as the company seeks to allay EU antitrust concerns and ward off fresh sanctions.

The European Commission last year handed Google a record 4.34 billion euro ($4.9 billion) fine for using the market power of its mobile software to block rivals in areas such as internet browsing.

By pre-installing its Chrome browser and Google search app on Android devices, Google had an unfair advantage over its rivals, EU enforcers said.

Google will now try to ensure that Android users are aware of browsers and search engines other than its own services, Kent Walker, senior vice-president of global affairs, said in a blog.

“In the coming months, via the Play Store, we’ll start asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use,” he wrote without providing details.

The company, which introduced a licensing fee for device makers to access its app marketplace after the EU sanction, does not plan to scrap the charge.

Google could be fined up to 5 percent of Alphabet’s average daily worldwide turnover if it fails to comply with the EU order to stop anti-competitive practices.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by David Goodman

Samsung Electronics sees tough 2019 for component business: CEO

The logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its office building in Seoul, South Korea January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd expects a tough year for its component business including memory chips due to sluggish growth in the smartphone market and reduced investment from data center companies, Chief Executive Kim Ki-nam said on Wednesday.

He was speaking at the South Korean tech giant’s annual general meeting where shareholders are expected to vote on the appointment of board directors.

Samsung is seeking new growth in areas such as network equipment manufacturing as sales of its mainstay chips and smartphones begin to drop.

The company would continue to make bold investments in semiconductor manufacturing in the face of stiffening Chinese competition, Kim said.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Stephen Coates

PagerDuty Joins A Flurry Of Silicon Valley Companies Planning To Go Public This Year

POWERFUL WOMEN

Jennifer Tejada, chief executive officer of PagerDuty Inc., speaks during the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women conference in Dana Point, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The conference brings together leading women in business, government,© 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP

PagerDuty took the next step forward to a planned IPO, joining a windfall of startups expected to go public this year. But the cloud-based software company’s debut will be an exception among the tech IPO wave—it’s one of the few enterprise companies run by a woman, CEO Jennifer Tejada.

Founded in 2009, San Francisco-based PagerDuty acts as a watchdog for technical issues. The operations management software identifies problems in real time and directs engineers to the root of the problem, an alert system that’s attracted 10,800 customers in 90 countries.

In 2018, PagerDuty scored unicorn status after a $90 million round led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management. Its first nine months of revenue last year rose 48% from the period to $84 million. However, the company took a $34.5 million loss during that time,up $4.7 million from 2017. It didn’t reveal data on the full year.

The company’s institutional investors own more than half of its shares, including early investor, Andreessen Horowitz, which owns the largest share of the company at 18.4%, followed by Accel and Bessemer Venture Partners. PagerDuty’s cofounders, Baskar Puvanathasan, Andrew Miklas and Alex Solomon, each hold 7.1%.

PagerDuty landed a spot in the top 50 on the Forbes Cloud 100 list in 2017, just a year after Tejada took over as CEO. “It was a neat brand, even though it’s a small company,” Tejada told Forbes back in July 2016. Tejada owns over four million shares of the company.