What Microsoft’s Antitrust Case Teaches Us About Silicon Valley

In the twilight of the 20th century, Bill Gates was well and truly a tentacular squid, with his sucker-covered limbs extending into every level of the computer industry. The one area that Gates didn’t dominate: the World Wide Web. And how he tried to conquer that newfangled internet led to an epic court battle that continues to shape how the world sees the five-headed beast that Big Tech has become.

Microsoft famously missed the rise of the web in the early ’90s, with Gates dedicating only a fraction of his mid-’90s tome The Road Ahead to the internet. Meanwhile, Netscape introduced millions to the pleasures of browsing and surfing, forcing Microsoft to do one of its notorious “fast follows” (i.e., rapid copycat product launches). The company introduced Internet Explorer in 1995 and wasted no time in browbeating and cajoling companies the world over into making it the default web browser on their systems.

Word of Microsoft’s depredations reached the US Department of Justice, which in 1998 sued the company for violating the Sherman Act, a vague and archaic law that regulates the ability of conglomerates to assemble monopolies and stifle competition. What’s more, the government’s lawyers wouldn’t just move to penalize Microsoft with fines—they’d seek to break it into smaller companies.

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The case would last more than five years, and the trial had its share of Perry Mason moments, as the wily lead litigator, David Boies, arguing on behalf of the DOJ, dueled in cross-examinations with Micro­soft witnesses. The most damning evidence submitted at trial, however, was a videotaped deposition of Gates. Unlike robber barons of yore, he wasn’t a portly, cigar-smoking chieftain. He was a rumpled geek who testified about Microsoft’s past practices with an amnesiac level of vagueness and a truly Napoleonic persona. This wasn’t save-the-world techno-­optimism. It was sharp-­elbowed libertarianism, and the press coverage of his performance introduced audiences at home to a new character of the digital age: the ruthless tech tycoon. From Gates it was a short jump to Steve Jobs, infamous distorter of reality fields; Jeff Bezos, slayer of publishing’s “sickly gazelles”; and so many other dark lords with world-warping visions.

Microsoft lost the first round in 2001, with the presiding judge ordering the company’s breakup. This “structural solution” (to use antitrust lingo) was later overturned on appeal, largely because under US law being a monopoly per se isn’t illegal. It’s typically only when a company abuses that dominance through coercion and collusion (among other anticompetitive tactics that raise prices and hurt consumers) that drastic remedies must be taken, and the appeals court wasn’t convinced that the judge in the first trial applied the correct standards to order a breakup. Microsoft and the government decided to cut their losses and reach a settlement, with the company agreeing to a series of “behavioral remedies” that dampened its ability to strong-arm others. Microsoft as Gates built it would survive, but the message from the government was clear: No one company could dictate the tech industry’s playbook.

Now, as Gates is off trying to cure malaria, and the chorus of complaint against Big Tech reaches a crescendo, could Bezos and his fellow giants end up in the government’s crosshairs? It’s unlikely, mostly because the tech world is fundamentally different today than it was in 1998 while US antitrust laws are essentially the same. To use a geopolitical analogy, technology was then a unipolar world and Microsoft its lone superpower. The tech world has since become multipolar: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, and (a reduced) Microsoft are near-­absolute monarchs of their respective domains. No single giant can dominate any other, and one company can coerce another only with great difficulty, if at all. The prospect of Facebook twisting Apple’s arm to ship a new iPhone without any social media apps except for Facebook’s—which is more or less what Microsoft supposedly did to Apple with Explorer—is unthinkable.

Today’s titans tower over their kingdoms, secure behind their walls of user data and benefiting from extreme network effects that make serious competition from startups nearly impossible. US antitrust laws, written in the industrial age, don’t capture many of the new realities and potential dangers of these vast data empires. Maybe they should.


Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) is the author of Chaos Monkeys.

This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.

Bitcoin and Bug Bounties on the Hill, Apple and Cisco’s Cyber Deal, iPhone Leak

Good morning, Cyber Saturday readers.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate convened two hearings on a couple of this newsletter’s favorite topics: cryptocurrencies and bug bounty programs. The day’s testimonies were chock full of fresh insights—and were a welcome diversion, for this author, from the government’s unending budgetary troubles.

The first hearing before the Senate Banking Committee saw Jay Clayton, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Christopher Giancarlo, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, dish about virtual money. Amid cratering prices, repeated thefts, and recent banking credit bans, Bitcoin investors had braced themselves for the worst. The regulators, however, struck several positive notes during the session, praising Bitcoin for spurring innovations in digital ledger technology. Giancarlo, for one, promised “a thoughtful and balanced response, and not a dismissive one” to the digital gold rush.

One point to keep an eye on: Clayton warned entrepreneurs against “initial coin offerings,” recent fundraising phenomena that founders have used to raise billions of dollars through the sale of digital tokens. “To the extent that digital assets like ICOs [initial coin offerings] are securities—and I believe every ICO I’ve seen is a security—we have jurisdiction and our federal securities laws apply,” he said. Expect Clayton’s agency to continue to pursue action against projects it deems in violation of securities laws.

The second hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection invited cybersecurity professionals to the Hill to discuss the historically uneasy relationship between companies and hackers. Some highlights: John Flynn, Uber’s chief information security officer, told the panel that his company “made a misstep” by failing to promptly report a 2016 data breach that recently came to light. Mårtin Mickos, CEO of HackerOne, a bug bounty startup, urged legislators to revise laws used to prosecute hackers and to standardize data breach notification requirements at the federal level. And Katie Moussouris, founder of Luta Security, a bug bounty consultancy, pressed companies to adopt clear policies around vulnerability reporting. (HackerOne posted a nice recap of the day’s happenings, which you can read on its blog here.)

Both hearings were highly encouraging. Let’s hope that when the lawmakers reexamine their books, they’ll keep the good sense of these experts in mind.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

THREATS

Digital defense discount deals. Insurer Allianz will offer discounts on cybersecurity insurance coverage to customers that use Apple devices, like Macs and iPhones, Cisco security products designed to protect against ransomware attacks, and risk evaluations from Aon, the professional services firm. Apple CEO Tim Cook and Cisco CEO Tim Robbins revealed in June that they were collaborating with insurers on these new policies.

Suspicious spy saga sours. U.S. intelligence agents, lured by the possibility of recovering hacking tools stolen from the NSA, paid a Russian intermediary an installment of $100,000 for the alleged cyber weapons last year. Further negotiations fell through after the Russian source delivered only materials already made public by the “shadow brokers,” a mysterious group that first started leaking the NSA attack code in 2016, and as the source continued to push unverifiable, allegedly compromising materials related to President Donald Trump.

Intern infiltrates iPhone internals. Apple forced the code-sharing website Github to take down a post containing leaked source code for the iPhone’s boot process this week, as Motherboard first reported. Apparently, the code escaped Apple headquarters when a lowly intern absconded with the files and shared them with friends in the “jailbreaking” hacker community.

Banks ban Bitcoin buys. Credit card issuers are forbidding cryptocurrency purchases on credit in an effort to reduce financial and legal risks. Firms that have recently blacklisted Bitcoin sellers include Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Capital One, Discover, and Lloyds.

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“If we lived in a dystopian world without trust, Bitcoin might dominate existing payment methods. But in this world, where people do tend to trust financial institutions to handle payments and central banks to maintain the value of money it seems unlikely that bitcoin could ever be as convenient as existing payment means.”

Antoine Martin, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, penned an op-ed that takes a whack at Bitcoin. He said the cryptocurrency could be useful—just not in this universe. But then, that’s what a Fed banker would say…

Meanwhile, Tyler Winklevoss told CNBC that people who fail to see Bitcoin’s potential suffer a “failure of imagination.”

ONE MORE THING

Inside the “smart” home panopticon. If you’re interested in living in a “smart” home—an abode outfitted with hi-tech, Internet-connected gadgetry—you should first understand the extent to which everyday household items will spy on you. This Gizmodo investigation details, in an entertaining firsthand account, the many ways that connected TVs, security cameras, coffee makers, mattress covers, and more mundane objects invade people’s privacy. Add to that the micro-aggravations of dealing with buggy domestic devices and you’ll be left wondering how this stuff ever came to be called “smart.”

Omarosa Says on ‘Big Brother’ She Wouldn’t Vote for Trump Again ‘in a Million Years’

It didn’t take Omarosa Manigault Newman very long to go from being Donald Trump’s advisor in the White House to one of the president’s harshest critics on television.

The former Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison in the White House, who left that role in a reportedly tumultuous exit in December, is already a cast member on CBS’ latest season of the reality show Celebrity Big Brother. On Thursday night, only the show’s second episode of the season, Manigault Newman (who is more commonly referred to by only her first name) wasted little time in spilling her concerns about the Trump White House in a series of emotional conversations with some of her celebrity housemates.

Perhaps most notably, Omarosa had a vague, but extremely negative, take on what she witnessed in the White House during her time with the administration, telling TV personality Ross Mathews: “No, it’s not going to be okay, it’s not. It’s so bad.”

Omarosa seemed to be spending time on the show coming to terms with her role in what has been an administration full of controversy, as she told actress Shannon Elizabeth about the difficulty of remaining loyal to Trump at the cost of some of her other personal relationships. “It’s just been so incredibly hard to shoulder what I shouldered because I was so loyal to a person and I didn’t realize that by being loyal to him it was going to make me lose a hundred other friends,” she said on the TV show.

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“I made choices and [I] just have to live with them,” Omarosa said later to Mathews, who asked the former White House staffer if she would ever vote for Trump again. “God no, never,” she said. “In a million years, never.”

Of course, Omarosa is no stranger to reality television, having risen to fame as a three-time contestant on NBC’s The Apprentice and that reality show’s spin-off programs, all of which were hosted by her former boss, Donald Trump. On NBC, Omarosa earned the reputation as a reality TV “villain” for her tendency to spar with her fellow contestants. So far, on Celebrity Big Brother, Omarosa seems more focused on sharing her feelings, especially with regard to her former employer.

Meanwhile, the White House has tried to distance itself from Omarosa since her new reality TV stint began. White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah responded to questions about Omarosa during a press conference on Thursday. “Omarosa was fired three times on The Apprentice and this was the fourth time we let her go,” Shah said in reference to her dismissal in December. “She had limited contact with the president while here. She has no contact now.”

Cummins to use India to develop, test electric powertrains for emerging markets

GREATER NOIDA, India (Reuters) – U.S.-based engine maker Cummins Inc plans to hire a team of engineers in India to modify its existing electric powertrain technology and make it more relevant for emerging markets, a senior company executive told Reuters on Thursday.

Cummins, which is initially developing electric powertrains for buses, is also planning to set up a testing facility in India subsequently, its executive director for electrification, Julie Furber, said on the sidelines of India’s biennial auto show near the capital New Delhi.

“There are unique challenges in India with the way vehicles are operated and the kind of traffic there is in cities. It will be a good learning base for us,” Furber said, adding that what it develops in India will also be relevant for other emerging markets such as Africa that are yet to look at electrification.

The move by Cummins comes when India has set an ambitious target to electrify all new vehicles in the country by 2030, and it wants to push the electrification drive through mass public transport like buses and taxis.

Furber said once India develops regulations for electric vehicles and customers begin to adopt them, Cummins will start investing in setting up manufacturing in the country.

The engine maker’s local unit said in September that commercial vehicle makers in India have asked it to look into electric mobility solutions.

Cummins has said it globally plans to invest $500 million over the next three years to develop an electrified powertrain product line, and the engineers in India will also do work for other global markets.

Reporting by Aditi Shah, editing by David Evans

Twitter surprises with revenue turnaround, shares surge

(Reuters) – Twitter Inc on Thursday delivered its first quarterly profit and an unexpected return to revenue growth helped by expansion outside the United States, pushing shares in the social network to more than two-year highs.

Overall revenue rose 2 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, handily beating analyst estimates that called for a fourth straight quarter of declines.

Twitter’s previous inability to turn a profit or log consistent revenue growth had confounded investors given its ubiquitous media presence and popularity among celebrities, athletes and politicians such as U.S. President Donald Trump.

Revenue from outside the United States rose 17 percent, making up for an 8 percent decline in U.S. sales. Revenue from Japan rose 34 percent to $106 million, and Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said Chinese exporters were strong advertisers abroad.

Shares traded 16 percent higher at $31.21 after hitting their highest since July 2015. Twitter was founded in 2006 and debuted as a public company in 2013 at $26 a share.

Twitter, which has doubled the number of characters allowed per tweet and made other changes to attract users, said the number of daily active users rose 12 percent.

“Advertisers want eyeballs, so anything Twitter can do to maximize the number of people accessing the platform daily for a good chunk of time allows for better ROI,” or return on investment, analyst Erna Alfred Liousas of Forrester Research said.

Monthly active users grew more slowly, up 4 percent from a year earlier to 330 million. That was flat from the third quarter, which the company blamed in part on seasonal weakness and its purge of fake and spam accounts.

Twitter said revenue was helped by using data to make the targeting of ads more individualized, a process known as machine learning. That raised clickthrough rates, or the ratio of users who click on a specific ad to the number that view it.

The company also cited higher video ad sales and redesigned ad formats as helping to grow revenue.

“They are showing the right tweets to the right people at the right time, and as you do that, not only do you drive consumers to use Twitter more, but you attract more and more advertisers to want to be on the platform,” analyst Richard Greenfield of BTIG Research said.

Overall revenue was $731.6 million, beating Wall Street’s target of $686.1 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company reported $87 million in data licensing and other non-advertising revenue, up 10 percent from a year earlier. Ad revenue rose 1 percent to $644 million.

Twitter reported a net profit of $91.1 million, or 12 cents per share, compared to a loss of $167.1 million, or 23 cents per share, a year earlier.

Adjusted profit was 19 cents per share, topping analyst expectations of 14 cents per share.

The company said it expects to be “GAAP profitable for the full year 2018,” referring to generally accepted accounting principles.

But analysts were split on what lies ahead for the company.

Twitter needs to attract more new users and is trading at a “lofty premium” given expected earnings, James Cakmak of Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co said in a client note.

Greenfield said he expected growth for years to come. “This is all about really looking at the potential of revenue growth as they scale and leverage their cost structure,” he said.

Chief Executive Jack Dorsey focused for the past year on tweaking the product he co-founded to attract users, including by trying to limit user harassment. Twitter has also struck deals with media companies for live news and entertainment shows.

Facebook Inc has 2.1 billion monthly users, while Snapchat owner Snap Inc, which does not report a monthly figure, has 187 million daily users.

Dorsey told analysts on a conference call that he was not planning a search to replace Anthony Noto, who is leaving as chief operating officer to become CEO of online lender Social Finance Inc and whose duties have been absorbed by others.

“We’re not going to have to do any backfilling,” Dorsey said.

Shares in Twitter had already surged 47 percent over the past 12 months as of Wednesday’s close, outpacing a 17 percent rise in the S&P 500 Index.

    That came even as social media companies are grappling with a regulatory backlash in Europe and the United States over privacy, possible user addiction, hate speech and alleged abuse of by Russia to sway foreign elections.

Twitter’s quarterly profit and rising revenue reignited speculation on Thursday among some analysts that a larger company could try to buy it. The Walt Disney Co expressed interest in 2016, though at the time Twitter shares were trading around $18.

Reporting by David Ingram in San Francisco and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler and Meredith Mazzilli

Big Tech should pay more taxes: German coalition

BERLIN (Reuters) – The two political parties seeking to form Germany’s next government want big companies to pay more tax, according to a coalition agreement whose text singled out U.S. tech giants by name.

“We support fair taxation of large companies, in particular Internet concerns like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon,” according to a brief passage in their 177-page coalition pact published on Wednesday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) are seeking to revive the ‘grand coalition’ alliance that has governed Germany for the past four years.

SPD leader Martin Schulz, poised to become foreign minister if party members back the coalition deal, has urged the European Union to ensure that Big Tech pays more tax. He also wants to create the post of EU finance minister.

Separately, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Reuters the EU must lead the way by adopting legislation early next year to ensure that big global tech companies pay billions of euros in taxes in Europe.

Google (GOOGL.O), Apple (AAPL.O) Facebook (FB.O). and Amazon (AMZN.O) are in Europe often taxed on profits booked by subsidiaries in low-tax countries like Ireland or Luxembourg even though their revenues are earned across the bloc.

The European Commission declined to comment on the German coalition agreement, but did say that it was examining “all possible policy options” and would come forward this spring with new rules for digital taxation.

“As for every business, digital giants should pay their fair share of tax in the countries where their profits are earned,” the Commission said in written answers to Reuters questions.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Ingrid Melander and Foo Yun Chee; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Richard Balmforth

Watch Out, Sony and Microsoft: Google Is Developing a Video Game Streaming Service

Google, which has largely sat on the sidelines of the video game industry, seems ready to get in the fight.

The company is working on a new service codenamed Yeti, which would let people play games streamed to them online, potentially eliminating the need for a dedicated console like the PlayStation 4 or a high-end gaming computer.

News of the service first broke via The Information. Gaming industry insiders, who were not authorized to speak on-the-record, tell Fortune that Google is targeting a holiday 2019 release for Yeti, though the company is currently behind schedule and that date could shift.

Google recently hired Phil Harrison, a long-time gaming industry veteran. Sources indicate he is closely involved with the project. Harrison spent 15 years as the head of Sony’s network of game studios and three years as a senior member of Microsoft’s Xbox team. Since leaving those companies, he has served as an adviser and board member to various gaming companies.

Google declined to discuss the initiative, citing a company policy of not commenting on rumors or speculation.

Some details about Yeti are still fuzzy. It could be a dedicated streaming box or could operate through the company’s Chromecast device. How it will overcome issues of in-game lag is one of the biggest hurdles. But Fortune has learned that several major publishers are working with Google on the project.

Yeti would compete with Sony’s Playstation Now streaming service, which carries a $19.95 monthly fee (or $100 annual fee). That service, built off of one of the pioneers in game streaming, has not found an especially large audience, in part because of the high price and older catalog of games. Microsoft has previously discussed launching a game streaming service, but has not made any announcements about a new streaming product.

Google has flirted with the game industry before. It almost acquired Twitch in 2014 for $1 billion, but the deal fell apart in the final stages. (Amazon would later acquire that game streaming service.) Since then, Google’s YouTube division has dramatically increased its presence in the video game world, live streaming from E3, the video game industry trade show, and enabling live game streaming.

There’s certainly a big financial incentive for Google in video games. The industry saw revenues of $36 billion in the U.S. alone in 2017. Globally, it generates over $100 billion each year.

Apple sees 'strong demand' for replacement iPhone batteries: letter

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) has seen “strong demand” for replacement iPhone batteries and may offer rebates for consumers who paid full price for new batteries, the company said in a Feb. 2 letter to U.S. lawmakers made public on Tuesday.

Apple confirmed in December that software to deal with aging batteries in iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE models could slow down performance. The company apologized and lowered the price of battery replacements for affected models from $79 to $29.

In the letter released Tuesday, amid nagging allegations that it slowed down phones with older batteries as a way to push people into buying new phones, the company said it was considering issuing rebates to consumers who paid full price for replacement batteries.

The letter, released by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, also said Apple provided a phone-slowing software update in January 2017 but did not disclose it until a month later.

In the letter, Apple said it had known about battery problems caused by a manufacturing defect as early as fall 2016.

Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the committee, said in a statement that “consumers rely on clear and transparent disclosures from manufacturers to understand why their device may experience performance changes.”

Thune said that in discussions with the committee “Apple has acknowledged that its initial disclosures came up short. Apple has also promised the committee some follow-up information, including an answer about additional steps it may take to address customers who purchased a new battery at full price.”

Apple did not immediately comment on Thune’s statement.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission said they were investigating whether Apple violated securities laws concerning its disclosures that it slowed older iPhones with flagging batteries, Bloomberg reported.

In a statement last week, Apple said it had “received questions from some government agencies” and was duly responding to them. The company had “never, and would never, do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades,” the statement said.

Consumers so far have filed some 50 proposed class action lawsuits over Apple’s latest iPhone software update, which they allege caused unexpected shutdowns and hampered the performance of iPhone models of the SE, 6 and 7 lines.

Government agencies in countries ranging from Brazil to France and Italy to South Korea are also investigating Apple following complaints.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco, Editing by Franklin Paul and Tom Brown

Gold: Why This Golden Bull Market Is Just Getting Started

Source: Pocketsense.com

The Gold Bull Market Is Just Getting Started

SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)/Gold has had a stellar few weeks. In fact, the yellow metal has surged by roughly 10% since hitting a significant short term bottom a few weeks ago. However, since hitting a new 52-week high gold seems to have stalled, and now appears intent on reversing. So, what is likely to transpire next? Is this just a healthy correction, or is gold headed back below $1,300? Are the favorable fundamental developments strong enough to overcome gold’s headwinds? Ultimately, will the precious metal breakout to new multiyear highs and head higher throughout the year?

About GLD

GLD is the largest, reportedly physically-backed gold exchange traded fund in the world, with roughly $35 billion worth of net assets. GLD offers market participants an efficient way to access the gold market. The ETF is an attractive alternative to trading gold futures, as it can be traded much like a stock on the NYSE Arca exchange instead of dealing with alternative exchanges and trading requirements pertaining to futures contracts.

Furthermore, GLD is an appealing alternative to buying physical gold, as investors get similar exposure they would to the physical metal, but can buy and sell gold with great fluidity using GLD. This way investors bypass the inconvenience of having to take physical delivery of the asset when buying and delivering it when selling. GLD is a great transactional instrument for trading gold. Yet, I would encourage individuals to diversify or to invest in actual physical gold for the long term.

Since GLD mimics the price of gold almost identically I will refer to GLD and gold interchangeably throughout this article. Now let’s look at some key elements that are likely to drive gold’s price higher going forward.

Inflation Picture: Prices are Going Higher, and so is Gold

The number one element I look at when assessing the future trajectory of gold prices is inflation. If inflation is likely to decrease going forward so is gold’s price. Conversely, if inflation is going to increase going forward, gold should follow.

Inflation is everywhere you look, the latest CPI came in at above 2%, the PPI is trending above 2.5%, with final demand goods coming in at 3.5% and trending well above 3% throughout the last year. Even wage growth is on the rise with the most recent figure coming in at 2.9%. Crude oil is on its way to $70 fast, likely $80 before mid-year, and possibly $100 before year’s end. Gold is no exception when it comes to price appreciation due to inflationary pressures. Gold’s price is approaching multiyear highs, and will very likely break out in the very near future.

Source: Tradingeconomics.com

The Week Dollar: Bullish for Gold

Since gold is priced in dollars, a weakening dollar is beneficial to gold prices. Market participants using international currencies to buy gold get more bang for their buck. Also, banks, institutions, countries and other organizations hold reserves in dollars as well as in gold. The dollar is down by nearly 15% since the highs last March. In addition, the dollar is likely to decline further going forward. Thus, gold is not only cheaper to buy, it is also much more attractive to hold as a reserve, due to the dollar’s perpetual depreciation. Why is the dollar likely to continue its decline over the intermediate and long term?

USD 1-Year Chart

Source: Stockcharts.com

USD 5-Year Chart


Ballooning National Debt

The U.S. has a spending problem. The government loves to spend on entitlement programs, defense, social projects, immigration, foreign aid, tax cuts, etc. The only problem is that the U.S. can’t pay for all of it, not even close to be frank. So, the government simply puts the debts on what it sees as the limitless national credit card, also known as the national debt. The only thing is that it’s not limitless, there will be repercussions, and we’re beginning to see that unwind begin now.

Just for reference, the national debt is now over $20.6 trillion, roughly 105% of GDP. Why is this a problem? Primarily because the debt needs to be serviced continuously, currently at around $500 billion for this year. Yes, this is $500 billion American tax payers are paying in interest this year alone to service the national debt.

How does this pertain to the dollar? Because the higher the national debt, the less likely the U.S. is ever to pay it back. In fact, it is essentially impossible to ever pay this debt back now. Therefore, the country is going to have to inflate its way out of the debt, or default, either scenario is extremely negative for the dollar, and very bullish for gold.

Ballooning Trade Deficit

Another factor behind the cascading dollar is the U.S.’s continuous and widening trade deficit. The latest trade deficit figures show that the U.S. imported over $50 billion worth of goods more than it exported, that’s just in the last month. This is an ongoing phenomenon. In fact, over the last year the monthly trade deficit has been over $40 billion. This shows that the U.S. consumes a lot more than it actually produces, and the dollar is going to experience further weakness as this trend continues. In conjunction to the dollar weakness, bonds are also now beginning to sell off.

Bond Selloff: Is It Bullish for Gold?

In short, yes, of course it is, allow me to elaborate. Bonds are considered a safe haven asset, much like gold is. However, U.S. bonds have been selling off for various reasons lately. With a cascading dollar, and such low interest rates, many market participants see very little incentive to hold bonds for 5, 10, or 30 years. Also, numerous market participants have expressed concern about the recent bond market selloff. And, it is likely to get worse since the FED has begun to unwind its massive balance sheet. To compound the problem China essentially stated that it is no longer interested in buying U.S. debt. The most troubling fact is that China is the U.S.’s biggest creditor, and if they are not buying U.S. debt, they may be selling it, and they are likely to sell more going forward.

All this bond selling is illustrating that major market participants are sick and tired of holding U.S. debt which pays very little interest and is likely to be worth much less going forward due to the dollar’s decline. Essentially, market participants are losing money holding U.S. debt because inflation is eating it up. Furthermore, the yield curve is flattening, noticeably. The difference in the yield between the 10 year and the 30 year is now less than 0.25%, or less than one quarter of one percent. Why would anyone choose to hold U.S. treasury bonds for 20 extra years just to receive an additional quarter of one percent per year? Right, it makes very little sense when you could just own gold and know that your investment is safe from inflation eating it up.

Source: YCharts.com

Technical View

The GLD chart shows a constructive image. The uptrend is clear and indicates a series of higher highs and higher lows. The CCI and RSI suggest that GLD was recently overbought but is now approaching a more neutral level. It seems likely that GLD will correct and/or consolidate further in the near term, but significant declines from current levels don’t appear likely.

GLD 1-Year Chart

The gold chart essentially illustrates the same image. The uptrend is well intact and the $1,300 level is now very firm support. Given all the positive fundamental developments surrounding gold and the favorable technical image, it does not appear likely that gold’s price will fall below $1,300 any time soon. It seems likelier that the price will correct slightly more, then consolidate, and proceed higher throughout 2018.

Gold 1-Year Chart

Gold 5-Year Chart

The 5-year chart illustrates that gold hit the bottom in late 2015 and has established a powerful uptrend since then. Gold’s bull market began roughly 2 years ago and it seems likely that it is only getting started. This bull could run for many years, and gains should accelerate going forward.

The Bottom Line: Gold Bull Market Has Only Just Started

There are an overwhelming number of favorable fundamental factors surrounding gold right now. Inflation, a weak dollar, worsening demand for U.S. bonds, as well as other dynamics are indicative of a bullish environment for gold. Moreover, these bullish factors are not likely to go away or weaken any time soon. To the contrary, they will likely strengthen and intensify over time, providing even a more bullish setting for gold down the line. Also, in conjunction with these underlying elements the technical background is extremely favorable. Therefore, the overall atmosphere surrounding gold is particularly constructive right now, and should enable the price of the yellow metal to proceed higher throughout the year. It is very likely that we see prices hit $1,500 – $1,550 in gold by the end of this year, roughly $145 – $150 in GLD respectively.

Disclaimer: This article expresses solely my opinions, is produced for informational purposes only, and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. Investing comes with risk to loss of principal. Please always conduct your own research and consider your investment decisions very carefully.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GLD.

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

Additional disclosure: I am long gold futures.

The Era of Quantum Computing Is Here. Outlook: Cloudy

After decades of heavy slog with no promise of success, quantum computing is suddenly buzzing with almost feverish excitement and activity. Nearly two years ago, IBM made a quantum computer available to the world: the 5-quantum-bit (qubit) resource they now call (a little awkwardly) the IBM Q experience. That seemed more like a toy for researchers than a way of getting any serious number crunching done. But 70,000 users worldwide have registered for it, and the qubit count in this resource has now quadrupled. In the past few months, IBM and Intel have announced that they have made quantum computers with 50 and 49 qubits, respectively, and Google is thought to have one waiting in the wings. “There is a lot of energy in the community, and the recent progress is immense,” said physicist Jens Eisert of the Free University of Berlin.

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Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

There is now talk of impending “quantum supremacy”: the moment when a quantum computer can carry out a task beyond the means of today’s best classical supercomputers. That might sound absurd when you compare the bare numbers: 50 qubits versus the billions of classical bits in your laptop. But the whole point of quantum computing is that a quantum bit counts for much, much more than a classical bit. Fifty qubits has long been considered the approximate number at which quantum computing becomes capable of calculations that would take an unfeasibly long time classically. Midway through 2017, researchers at Google announced that they hoped to have demonstrated quantum supremacy by the end of the year. (When pressed for an update, a spokesperson recently said that “we hope to announce results as soon as we can, but we’re going through all the detailed work to ensure we have a solid result before we announce.”)

It would be tempting to conclude from all this that the basic problems are solved in principle and the path to a future of ubiquitous quantum computing is now just a matter of engineering. But that would be a mistake. The fundamental physics of quantum computing is far from solved and can’t be readily disentangled from its implementation.

Even if we soon pass the quantum supremacy milestone, the next year or two might be the real crunch time for whether quantum computers will revolutionize computing. There’s still everything to play for and no guarantee of reaching the big goal.

IBM’s quantum computing center at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, holds quantum computers in large cryogenic tanks (far right) that are cooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero.

Connie Zhou for IBM

Shut Up and Compute

Both the benefits and the challenges of quantum computing are inherent in the physics that permits it. The basic story has been told many times, though not always with the nuance that quantum mechanics demands. Classical computers encode and manipulate information as strings of binary digits—1 or 0. Quantum bits do the same, except that they may be placed in a so-called superposition of the states 1 and 0, which means that a measurement of the qubit’s state could elicit the answer 1 or 0 with some well-defined probability.

To perform a computation with many such qubits, they must all be sustained in interdependent superpositions of states—a “quantum-coherent” state, in which the qubits are said to be entangled. That way, a tweak to one qubit may influence all the others. This means that somehow computational operations on qubits count for more than they do for classical bits. The computational resources increase in simple proportion to the number of bits for a classical device, but adding an extra qubit potentially doubles the resources of a quantum computer. This is why the difference between a 5-qubit and a 50-qubit machine is so significant.

Note that I’ve not said—as it often is said—that a quantum computer has an advantage because the availability of superpositions hugely increases the number of states it can encode, relative to classical bits. Nor have I said that entanglement permits many calculations to be carried out in parallel. (Indeed, a strong degree of qubit entanglement isn’t essential.) There’s an element of truth in those descriptions—some of the time—but none captures the essence of quantum computing.

Inside one of IBM’s cryostats wired for a 50-qubit quantum system.

Connie Zhou for IBM

It’s hard to say qualitatively why quantum computing is so powerful precisely because it is hard to specify what quantum mechanics means at all. The equations of quantum theory certainly show that it will work: that, at least for some classes of computation such as factorization or database searches, there is tremendous speedup of the calculation. But how exactly?

Perhaps the safest way to describe quantum computing is to say that quantum mechanics somehow creates a “resource” for computation that is unavailable to classical devices. As quantum theorist Daniel Gottesman of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, put it, “If you have enough quantum mechanics available, in some sense, then you have speedup, and if not, you don’t.”

Some things are clear, though. To carry out a quantum computation, you need to keep all your qubits coherent. And this is very hard. Interactions of a system of quantum-coherent entities with their surrounding environment create channels through which the coherence rapidly “leaks out” in a process called decoherence. Researchers seeking to build quantum computers must stave off decoherence, which they can currently do only for a fraction of a second. That challenge gets ever greater as the number of qubits—and hence the potential to interact with the environment—increases. This is largely why, even though quantum computing was first proposed by Richard Feynman in 1982 and the theory was worked out in the early 1990s, it has taken until now to make devices that can actually perform a meaningful computation.

Quantum Errors

There’s a second fundamental reason why quantum computing is so difficult. Like just about every other process in nature, it is noisy. Random fluctuations, from heat in the qubits, say, or from fundamentally quantum-mechanical processes, will occasionally flip or randomize the state of a qubit, potentially derailing a calculation. This is a hazard in classical computing too, but it’s not hard to deal with—you just keep two or more backup copies of each bit so that a randomly flipped bit stands out as the odd one out.

Researchers working on quantum computers have created strategies for how to deal with the noise. But these strategies impose a huge debt of computational overhead—all your computing power goes to correcting errors and not to running your algorithms. “Current error rates significantly limit the lengths of computations that can be performed,” said Andrew Childs, the codirector of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science at the University of Maryland. “We’ll have to do a lot better if we want to do something interesting.”

Andrew Childs, a quantum theorist at the University of Maryland, cautions that error rates are a fundamental concern for quantum computers.

Photo by John T. Consoli/University of Maryland

A lot of research on the fundamentals of quantum computing has been devoted to error correction. Part of the difficulty stems from another of the key properties of quantum systems: Superpositions can only be sustained as long as you don’t measure the qubit’s value. If you make a measurement, the superposition collapses to a definite value: 1 or 0. So how can you find out if a qubit has an error if you don’t know what state it is in?

One ingenious scheme involves looking indirectly, by coupling the qubit to another “ancilla” qubit that doesn’t take part in the calculation but that can be probed without collapsing the state of the main qubit itself. It’s complicated to implement, though. Such solutions mean that, to construct a genuine “logical qubit” on which computation with error correction can be performed, you need many physical qubits.

How many? Quantum theorist Alán Aspuru-Guzik of Harvard University estimates that around 10,000 of today’s physical qubits would be needed to make a single logical qubit—a totally impractical number. If the qubits get much better, he said, this number could come down to a few thousand or even hundreds. Eisert is less pessimistic, saying that on the order of 800 physical qubits might already be enough, but even so he agrees that “the overhead is heavy,” and for the moment we need to find ways of coping with error-prone qubits.

An alternative to correcting errors is avoiding them or canceling out their influence: so-called error mitigation. Researchers at IBM, for example, are developing schemes for figuring out mathematically how much error is likely to have been incurred in a computation and then extrapolating the output of a computation to the “zero noise” limit.

Some researchers think that the problem of error correction will prove intractable and will prevent quantum computers from achieving the grand goals predicted for them. “The task of creating quantum error-correcting codes is harder than the task of demonstrating quantum supremacy,” said mathematician Gil Kalai of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. And he adds that “devices without error correction are computationally very primitive, and primitive-based supremacy is not possible.” In other words, you’ll never do better than classical computers while you’ve still got errors.

Others believe the problem will be cracked eventually. According to Jay Gambetta, a quantum information scientist at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, “Our recent experiments at IBM have demonstrated the basic elements of quantum error correction on small devices, paving the way towards larger-scale devices where qubits can reliably store quantum information for a long period of time in the presence of noise.” Even so, he admits that “a universal fault-tolerant quantum computer, which has to use logical qubits, is still a long way off.” Such developments make Childs cautiously optimistic. “I’m sure we’ll see improved experimental demonstrations of [error correction], but I think it will be quite a while before we see it used for a real computation,” he said.

Living With Errors

For the time being, quantum computers are going to be error-prone, and the question is how to live with that. At IBM, researchers are talking about “approximate quantum computing” as the way the field will look in the near term: finding ways of accommodating the noise.

This calls for algorithms that tolerate errors, getting the correct result despite them. It’s a bit like working out the outcome of an election regardless of a few wrongly counted ballot papers. “A sufficiently large and high-fidelity quantum computation should have some advantage [over a classical computation] even if it is not fully fault-tolerant,” said Gambetta.

Lucy Reading-Ikkanda/Quanta Magazine

One of the most immediate error-tolerant applications seems likely to be of more value to scientists than to the world at large: to simulate stuff at the atomic level. (This, in fact, was the motivation that led Feynman to propose quantum computing in the first place.) The equations of quantum mechanics prescribe a way to calculate the properties—such as stability and chemical reactivity—of a molecule such as a drug. But they can’t be solved classically without making lots of simplifications.

In contrast, the quantum behavior of electrons and atoms, said Childs, “is relatively close to the native behavior of a quantum computer.” So one could then construct an exact computer model of such a molecule. “Many in the community, including me, believe that quantum chemistry and materials science will be one of the first useful applications of such devices,” said Aspuru-Guzik, who has been at the forefront of efforts to push quantum computing in this direction.

Quantum simulations are proving their worth even on the very small quantum computers available so far. A team of researchers including Aspuru-Guzik has developed an algorithm that they call the variational quantum eigensolver (VQE), which can efficiently find the lowest-energy states of molecules even with noisy qubits. So far it can only handle very small molecules with few electrons, which classical computers can already simulate accurately. But the capabilities are getting better, as Gambetta and coworkers showed last September when they used a 6-qubit device at IBM to calculate the electronic structures of molecules, including lithium hydride and beryllium hydride. The work was “a significant leap forward for the quantum regime,” according to physical chemist Markus Reiher of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. “The use of the VQE for the simulation of small molecules is a great example of the possibility of near-term heuristic algorithms,” said Gambetta.

But even for this application, Aspuru-Guzik confesses that logical qubits with error correction will probably be needed before quantum computers truly begin to surpass classical devices. “I would be really excited when error-corrected quantum computing begins to become a reality,” he said.

“If we had more than 200 logical qubits, we could do things in quantum chemistry beyond standard approaches,” Reiher adds. “And if we had about 5,000 such qubits, then the quantum computer would be transformative in this field.”

What’s Your Volume?

Despite the challenges of reaching those goals, the fast growth of quantum computers from 5 to 50 qubits in barely more than a year has raised hopes. But we shouldn’t get too fixated on these numbers, because they tell only part of the story. What matters is not just—or even mainly—how many qubits you have, but how good they are, and how efficient your algorithms are.

Any quantum computation has to be completed before decoherence kicks in and scrambles the qubits. Typically, the groups of qubits assembled so far have decoherence times of a few microseconds. The number of logic operations you can carry out during that fleeting moment depends on how quickly the quantum gates can be switched—if this time is too slow, it really doesn’t matter how many qubits you have at your disposal. The number of gate operations needed for a calculation is called its depth: Low-depth (shallow) algorithms are more feasible than high-depth ones, but the question is whether they can be used to perform useful calculations.

What’s more, not all qubits are equally noisy. In theory it should be possible to make very low-noise qubits from so-called topological electronic states of certain materials, in which the “shape” of the electron states used for encoding binary information confers a kind of protection against random noise. Researchers at Microsoft, most prominently, are seeking such topological states in exotic quantum materials, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be found or will be controllable.

Researchers at IBM have suggested that the power of a quantum computation on a given device be expressed as a number called the “quantum volume,” which bundles up all the relevant factors: number and connectivity of qubits, depth of algorithm, and other measures of the gate quality, such as noisiness. It’s really this quantum volume that characterizes the power of a quantum computation, and Gambetta said that the best way forward right now is to develop quantum-computational hardware that increases the available quantum volume.

This is one reason why the much vaunted notion of quantum supremacy is more slippery than it seems. The image of a 50-qubit (or so) quantum computer outperforming a state-of-the-art supercomputer sounds alluring, but it leaves a lot of questions hanging. Outperforming for which problem? How do you know the quantum computer has got the right answer if you can’t check it with a tried-and-tested classical device? And how can you be sure that the classical machine wouldn’t do better if you could find the right algorithm?

So quantum supremacy is a concept to handle with care. Some researchers prefer now to talk about “quantum advantage,” which refers to the speedup that quantum devices offer without making definitive claims about what is best. An aversion to the word “supremacy” has also arisen because of the racial and political implications.

Whatever you choose to call it, a demonstration that quantum computers can do things beyond current classical means would be psychologically significant for the field. “Demonstrating an unambiguous quantum advantage will be an important milestone,” said Eisert—it would prove that quantum computers really can extend what is technologically possible.

That might still be more of a symbolic gesture than a transformation in useful computing resources. But such things may matter, because if quantum computing is going to succeed, it won’t be simply by the likes of IBM and Google suddenly offering their classy new machines for sale. Rather, it’ll happen through an interactive and perhaps messy collaboration between developers and users, and the skill set will evolve in the latter only if they have sufficient faith that the effort is worth it. This is why both IBM and Google are keen to make their devices available as soon as they’re ready. As well as a 16-qubit IBM Q experience offered to anyone who registers online, IBM now has a 20-qubit version for corporate clients, including JP Morgan Chase, Daimler, Honda, Samsung and the University of Oxford. Not only will that help clients discover what’s in it for them; it should create a quantum-literate community of programmers who will devise resources and solve problems beyond what any individual company could muster.

“For quantum computing to take traction and blossom, we must enable the world to use and to learn it,” said Gambetta. “This period is for the world of scientists and industry to focus on getting quantum-ready.”

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

The Chrome Extensions the WIRED Staff Can't Live Without

Nearly two-thirds of internet users turn to Chrome for their browsing needs, but far fewer take full advantage of its available extensions, the add-ons that elevate it from good to great. If you’re one of those plain vanilla Chrome users—or if you’ve only dabbled in the extensions game—check out these sprinkles of joy that the WIRED staff swears by.

The following list of Chrome extension recommendations is by no means comprehensive; there are plenty to explore and discover in the Chrome Web Store. (If you go exploring, just make sure you stick with reputable developers.) But these are the ones we depend on every day to keep our internet experience as sane and enjoyable as possible. May they do they same for you.

Wayback Machine

Have you ever clicked on an interesting link, only to be greeted by a 404 Error? Wayback Machine’s Chrome extension can help. Created by the Internet Archive—a nonprofit that preserves billions of web pages—the extension shows you what a website looked like in the past, even if has since been deleted. It can turn up the most recent version of a page it has saved, or go back to the first time the Internet Archive recorded it. That latter can be especially illuminating. For example, you can see what a user’s Twitter account looked like when they created it, or how a company’s website appeared when it first launched. One drawback: Wayback Machine doesn’t have a record of every webpage on the internet. But it can also help you prevent others from vanishing in the future: The extension lets you save the web page you’re currently visiting to the Internet Archive’s database. —Staff Writer Louise Matsakis

The Great Suspender

You’ll find many tab management solutions on this list, but the best by far for my purposes is the Great Suspender, an extension which, as the name suggests, suspends any Chrome tabs that you’ve left fallow for a given amount of time. As someone who keeps well over a dozen tabs open at any given time during the day—and often more—being been an inestimable boon to my laptop and my sanity. And when it’s time to revisit a page, a simple click springs it back to life. It also lets you whitelist any tabs, like Gmail, that are too precious to suspend. —News Editor Brian Barrett

PixelBlock

Have I read your email? That’s for me to know and you not to find out. This Chrome Extension spots and blocks attempts to track when messages are opened and send that data back to the sender. I know who’s tracking me by the small red eye icon that appears next to messages in Gmail. Sure, I’m not surprised that services like Mailchimp track when messages are opened, but I’m sketched out when professional contacts do the same. —Deputy Managing Editor Joanna Pearlstein

animatedTabs

The best Chrome extensions effortlessly improve our lives in a small but impactful ways. And animatedTabs does exactly that. Once installed, the extension will automatically load a random GIF in the center of every new Chrome tab you open. Sound annoying? Come on, people, this is a pure delight. It seems like the GIFs largely source from Reddit’s /r/gifs/, so you mostly get previously undiscovered gems; there’s not much crying Jordan, or and shark cat on a Roomba. But what beats new? And all because you opened a tab to finally pay your three months overdue speeding ticket! The only downside to animatedTabs? You never know when it’s going to generate something NSFW or just dumb. But the real internet cred comes from not caring.
—Staff Writer Lily Newman

xTab

Bedeviled by browser-tab clutter? Try xTab. It restricts the number of pages you can have open in a given browser window. Just set your cap and go about your business. When you exceed your limit, the extension gets to culling, automatically axing your oldest, least-accessed, or least-recently used tab. It can also prevent you from opening excess tabs altogether. I use that last setting the most; I like to do triage myself. Plus, I’m working on killing my reflexive tabbing habit, and being interrupted in the act helps keep my fingers in check. If you’ve tried other tab managers in the past and found them wanting, this could be your ticket; where most encourage you to cmd-T with abandon, xTab retrains you to curate a more manageable tabscape in real-time. —Senior Writer Robbie Gonzalez

Go Back With Backspace

In July of 2016, the world changed for the worse. Up until that point, the backspace key on your desktop keyboard doubled as a back button in Chrome. It had been that way since the browser’s launch some eight years prior. By mid-2016, this action—a simple keystroke to go back one page in your browser history—had become hardwired in our lizard brains. But Google removed the backspace action that summer, because it caused a particularly Googley problem: People were losing work in web apps. When a user typed into a browser text field and hit the backspace key hoping to correct a typo, they’d sometimes inadvertently cause the browser to jump back one page, nuking whatever efforts they’d spent the last few minutes sweating over. Sure, that’s annoying. But imagine the outrage of millions of Chrome users when, upon the next browser update, the backspace key suddenly did nothing. Google had neutered one of the most useful mechanisms for navigating the web. Thankfully, the company recognized our plight and just weeks later released this extension, which restores the back-button functionality of the backspace key. Hallelujah. The preferred keystroke of Alt + left arrow is still the default in Chrome, and maybe you’re used to that now. But why force yourself to press two keys when you can install this extension and press only one? —Senior Editor Michael Calore

OneTab

You know when you open Chrome and the browser is like, “Are you sure you want to reopen 400 tabs?” (Yes I do, and rude!) Maybe it’s a selection of news articles you’re planning to read later, or the aftermath of clicking through dozens of Wikipedia pages. Maybe you don’t even know what’s in all those tabs. Either way, keeping them all open puts a huge strain on your browser. Close them all—without losing them forever—with the handy OneTab extension. One click of the button neatly collates all your open tabs into one list of links that you can revisit later. It saves your computer incredible amounts of RAM, speeds up the browser immediately, and keeps all those links handy for when you’re totally, definitely, someday coming back to read them. —Senior Associate Editor Arielle Pardes

HabitLab

My name is Tom and I have a Twitter problem—but I’m getting help from a Chrome extension called HabitLab. Anytime I look at the bird-logoed slot machine of trolling, outrage, and thinkfluencing there’s now a bold banner at the top counting up how long I’ve been on the site that day. If I open a Twitter tab but regain my senses and close it again quickly, a popup informs me how many seconds I just saved compared to my usual time-wasting visit. The message comes with a different “Good job!” GIF each time; most recently it was Jimmy Kimmel. HabitLab was developed by Stanford’s Human Computer Interaction group to help those of us suffering internet distraction disorder (most of us?) take control of our online habits. When first installed, it prompts you to identify the sites you want to spend less time on. HabitLab will then keep track of your wasted seconds, minutes, and hours, and display them in neat charts. It also offers a menu of “nudges” to help keep those trend lines moving in the right direction. One of them is the timer that now haunts me on Twitter, a nudge named The Supervisor. Others include GateKeeper, which makes you wait a few seconds before a page you’re trying to give up loads, and the devilish 1Minute Assassin, which kills a tab after 60 seconds. —Senior Writer Tom Simonite

Eye Dropper [Miranda]

I am not a designer, and I’m sure that those who are have far better tools for pulling colors off of web pages than “Eye Dropper,” a mostly-but-not-always-functional extension that lets you eye-drop any color from around the web, and grab its RGB and Hex color codes. It’s particularly handy for quick fixes that don’t necessitate slowing down your computer by opening up Photoshop—like, say, updating the text on a WIRED section page to make it more readable. It isn’t the prettiest extension, and it’s all too easy to accidentally trigger the eyedropper if, like me, you’re prone to hitting alt-P instead of command-P when trying to print—but Eye Dropper gets the job done. —Digital Producer Miranda Katz

Ghostery

If you’ve ever seen a Google ad follow you around the entire web and back, you know just how annoying and invasive online tracking can become. Ghostery is a fascinating way to see what services websites use to track and collect data about you. It creates a little icon with a number, showing you how many trackers every site uses. Wikipedia, for example, has 0. Most other sites have at least a few. You can see what they use to monitor their website traffic and serve ads, and block services that you don’t like. It’s not perfect; sometimes it will break sites you want to visit, and you’ll have to turn it off or pause it, although the latest release uses AI powers to help minimize the collateral damage. —Senior Writer Jeffrey Van Camp

ProPublica’s What Facebook Thinks You Like

Facebook thinks I like arachnids because my brother writes for a TV show called Scorpion. It thinks I like Christmas Eve because Pearlstein, and it thinks I like flywheels because my late friend Eric Scott was in a band by that name. I know all of this thanks to ProPublica’s cool Facebook Chrome Extension, which helps me see what Facebook thinks about me, and then lets me rate how spot-on—or not—the site’s analysis is, using the aptly named Creepy Meter. —JP

Pocket

I fly a lot. In the past year, I’ve taken roughly a dozen round trips, each with their own fun, idiosyncratic layovers and delays. To pass the tarmac time, I could watch a bunch of downloaded episodes of The Crown or The Great British Baking Show. I could read a good ol’ fashioned book. Or I could connect to plane Wi-Fi and incessantly check Twitter. Instead, what I prefer to do before leaving for the airport is save a bunch of stories to Pocket. This nifty extension allows you to stow away things you want to read later, no internet connection necessary (though if you use the Pocket app on your phone, be sure to sync it over Wi-Fi or a network connection before going into airplane mode). Pocket also recommends stories, based on other users you follow or topics that interest you, and allows you to optimize your reading experience—I prefer a serif font with a black background and very large text to protect my fatigued eyes. But for someone who opens a million tabs with an intention to eventually read them all, it’s my preferred way to dog-ear a story. If you want to start saving, here’s a shameless plug to visit WIRED’s Backchannel page, chock full of excellent longform narratives that will transport you during your disconnected commute. —WIRED.com Editor Andrea Valdez

1Password (Lily)

Getting a password manager extension means getting a password manager, so definitely do that. All the major managers—LastPass, Dashlane, 1Password, KeePass—offer Chrome extensions, and they’re crucial to making password managers easy to use. The browser extensions act as a quick control center to fill login forms, generate new passwords, and save new credentials into your manager. And though password managers can work without extensions, switching back and forth to a standalone desktop application can be clunky while you’re browsing online. These extensions do carry some potential security risks, but if they’re what get you on a password manager in the first place, they’re worth it. —LN

Google Calendar

You probably use Google Calendar every day—many, many times. Instead of letting it permanently squat on valuable tab real estate on your desktop, try the Google Calendar Chrome extension instead. It puts a small Calendar icon in the upper right of your browser window, right where you’d expect. Tap it, and a box drops down, showing you all the meetings you have coming up. I like the design because it reminds me of the wonderful Google Cal widget on my Android home screen. It’s just a one-shot view of the meetings and events you have coming up in the next week or two. You can customize which calendars appear, which is also nice, because if you’re like me, you have a ton of them. For more display options—or to get crazy and log into two Google Calendars at the same time—try the Checker Plus for Google Calendar extension. It’s not official, but works well. —JVC

And More

WIRED Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Thompson swears by Grammarly, an extension that checks your emails, tweets, Facebook posts, and other online missives for spelling and grammar mistakes. Features Editor Mark Robinson recommends Reader View, which he describes as a “one-button, rather lo-fi instant Instapaper,” stripping web articles down to the bare essentials. And while Senior Writer Andy Greenberg has not and likely would never use it, he did find an extension called Kardashian Krypt, which encrypts your messages in images of Kim Kardashian using a technique known as steganography.

What Do Customers Want? Insights from IKEA's Founder and Beetle Bailey's Creator

Regular readers of this column know that I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes people tick.

That’s because I learned long ago that the secret to appealing to customers, stakeholders, audience members and anyone you care about is to understand who they are and what they want.

And that’s why I carefully read the obituaries of two men who exemplified this philosophy: Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, and Mort Walker, the creator of “Beetle Bailey,” a comic strip about a lazy Army private. (Both men died this week.)

Wait–what could these two possibly have in common?

Well, start with the fact that each man was extremely successful in his field. When Kamprad was 17, he launched the store that, over the next seven decades, became the world’s largest seller of furniture (with 400 stores and $42 billion in revenue). And Walker created the comic strip that would ultimately be syndicated in 1,800 newspapers around the world; he had the longest tenure of any cartoonist on an original creation.

Although they were in very different realms, here’s what united Kamprad and Walker: their deep connection to their customers.

For example, in a Forbes interview in 2000, Kamprad summed up his approach this way: “I see my task as serving the majority of people. The question is, how do you find out what they want, how best to serve them? My answer is to stay close to ordinary people, because at heart I am one of them.”

And, as Richard Goldstein wrote in Walker’s New York Times obituary, “‘Beetle Bailey’ used the Army as its setting, but its popularity derived from everyday life and the universal battles against authority figures and mindless bureaucracy.”

When the Defense Department congratulated Mr. Walker on his 80th birthday, he said: “Human frailty is what humor is all about. People like to see the foibles of mankind. And they relate to the little guy, the one on the bottom.”

For both Kamprad and Walker, their understanding of customers–readers or shoppers–wasn’t theoretical or informed only  by data; it was based on personal experience.

Walker spent a stint in the Army, and he stayed in touch with servicemen throughout his life. And although Kamprad became very, very rich, he regularly flew economy and popped into his stores unannounced to replicate the customer experience.

These men knew that in order to break through today’s noise and nonsense, you have to not only know your customers; you have to love them.

As I’ve written, your love has to be real–not manufactured or manipulative–and unconditional. You have to clearly see your customers’ faults, but love them anyway. Your love has to be unwavering, despite inattention, inconstancy and even infidelity.

Only by truly loving your customers can you deliver in a way that’s truly about them, not about you. The leap to loving brings you in touch with what matters to people. Suddenly you’re able to communicate in ways that profoundly connect. You’re not on the other side of the chasm from your customers: You’re right there next to them, talking softly, saying what they’ve always wanted to hear. As a result, you can give customers what they actually want.

6 Proven Ways to Generate Good Luck Every Day

Nearly everyone wants to be luckier. Some people think success is about preparing for luck, while others think success is about what you do with luck when you find it. There may be different perspectives on luck, but everyone agrees you can’t go wrong with more of it, as long as it’s good.

YPO member Stuart Lacey is considered by many to be an extremely lucky guy, personally and professionally. He married the woman of his dreams, lives exactly where and how he wants, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He’s built 5 successful companies, including Trunomi, a customer consent data rights platform. Bank Innovation even named Lacey as an Innovator to Watch. Lacey has made respecting luck a regular part of his business activity. He even created a mathematical formula to analyze and replicate it.

Lacey’s Lucky Formula

% Luckiness =

(experience)

+

(situational awareness) x [perseverance (work ethic / heart)]unlimited x (# of times attempted)failure is good x (choice to act)binary x (Respect and EQ)

/

(tolerance for adversity)

Here are Lacey’s tips on making your own luck daily:

1. Use Your Education and Experience

Lacey likens experience to the process of securing a patent. “Anyone can file for a patent in a matter of hours for a few hundred bucks. But without a deep understanding of the technical, engineering, design, and geo-political aspects, and without appreciating the importance of opportunity cost and due diligence, the chance of receiving that patent is practically zero.” And Lacey understands that outside factors can influence the outcome, explaining, “Of course experience can be borrowed, for example, by using a world-class (and equally expensive!) patent attorney.” But in the long run, no amount of money can make up for a lack of experience.

2. Have Situational Awareness

Lacey asks a frightening question: “When you’re in a movie theatre, do you actually know where the exits are?” Lacey asserts, “Having situational awareness can multiply by a thousand your chances of survival.” The same is true in business. In a less frightening scenario, Lacey suggests it’s like skiing: “When you’re at the bottom of the mountain, have the foresight to recognize that the last on the ski tram is the first one on the slope. You can totally change your experience just by thinking ahead.” What you do when you get there is up to you, but you can maximize your potential by understanding what’s going on around you.

3. There’s No Substitute for Heart

A hockey fan, Lacey likes to quote Luc Robitaille, who said, “You can find someone smart, but never underestimate heart.” Lacey says, Passion and work ethic usually trump everything else, and luck does not favor those who don’t put in the hours.” It helps, of course, when your career is doing something you love. But when you put in the solid work, the rest will follow with more ease.

4. Embrace Failure

Lacey is a firm believer in the adage, “Fail quickly, fail cheaply, and fail often.” Lacey says, “The willingness to accept and learn from one’s mistakes is vital for luck.” Mistakes here can multiply. “You have to invest time with your head down, ready to constantly pivot and adjust. Embracing change and innovation IS to embrace failure.” People are told from childhood that failure is bad, and this is a crutch that any entrepreneur has to overcome.

5. Take Action

“How often do you look at something new and say, ‘I thought of that a while ago!'” Lacey asks. “There are so many stories of inventions that never occurred or were greatly delayed until someone else took the initiative to act.” It’s not always easily done. “It takes courage,” Lacey acknowledges, “and a willingness to fail and bounce back.” But the alternative is always worse. Lacey asserts, “Either you act and luck has a shot, or you don’t act and the chances of your influencing the outcome are nil.” Take the chance on yourself, and don’t be afraid – failure is an opportunity.

6. Attitude Matters

For Lacey, it’s important to remember that people are human. “If your flight is cancelled, it’s not the gate agent’s fault. I have always found that a kind, supportive, appreciative tone, with a strong measure of compassion, works absolute wonders.” No one likes being unappreciated or disrespected. “Focusing on the human element of interactions at all times is a multiplier of your chances for a lucky outcome.” Another important element is to maintain optimism. Lacey explains, “I’m realistic about the work required, but I’m also aware the future is one that we will create and craft. You need to have the ability to accept bumps in the road while keeping your eye on the prize.” Further, a willingness to accept compromise is key. Be humble, and remember to exercise emotional intelligence.

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world’s premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

China's Lenovo swings to third quarter loss on U.S. tax reform, says outlook challenging

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese personal computer maker Lenovo Group swung to a loss in the third quarter from a year-ago profit, hurt mainly by a one-off charge of $400 million resulting from a U.S. tax reform, and said the short-term outlook was challenging.

However, the company expressed confidence it could drive growth and that U.S. corporate tax cuts would “positively impact” future earnings of its operations in the country.

Tax reforms signed into law in December lower the income tax rate for U.S. firms to 21 percent from 35 percent.

Lenovo, a unit of Legend Holdings, reported a loss of $289 million for the three months to December, versus a $98 million profit a year ago. It had in January said it expected to incur a one-off charge for the nine months ended in December due to a reassessment of U.S. deferred tax assets.

The company’s revenue for the quarter was $12.94 billion, up slightly from $12.17 billion a year ago.

Lenovo said its core PC and smart devices business group posted an 8 percent rise in revenue to $9.25 billion as sales exceeded shipments growth, on better average selling prices driven by innovative products and a better product mix.

Its struggling mobile business reported a narrower operating loss before taxation of $92 million, versus a loss of $132 million in the second quarter.

“The group now has a stronger organization with sharper customer focus and more compelling product portfolio across all its businesses,” Lenovo said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Thursday.

“Coupled with strong execution, the group remains confident it can build leading positions in every business the group enters and drive profitable growth.”

Reporting by Sijia Jiang and Donny Kwok; Editing by Himani Sarkar

With Samsung deal, Qualcomm doubles down on licensing practices

(Reuters) – Qualcomm Inc on Wednesday aimed to show shareholders that its licensing practices still have a future after having come under scrutiny from antitrust regulators around the world as well as from major customer Apple Inc.

The disputes over the practices have even weakened Qualcomm’s financials enough to make it the target of a $103 billion hostile takeover bid from Broadcom Ltd.

Qualcomm, the world’s biggest supplier of mobile phone chips, said it has amended its patent licensing Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, the world’s No. 1 mobile handset maker. The news came just before Qualcomm released its fiscal first-quarter earnings, which were weighed down by its wide-ranging legal dispute with Apple and a weak sales outlook for smart phones sales in China.

Samsung and Qualcomm said they would expand their efforts to collaborate around 5G, the next generation of mobile data networks. As part of the agreement, Qualcomm said Samsung would also withdraw its interventions in Qualcomm’s appeal of a Korean Fair Trade decision in the Seoul High Court.

The deal to end hostilities stands out because Qualcomm’s at times contentious dealings with its customers have become a focal point in Broadcom’s takeover effort. Broadcom’s leaders argue they can boost Qualcomm’s value by taking over the San Diego-based company and resolving some of its disputes with customers.

Terms of the Samsung deal are also important. Qualcomm has two business lines, one that sells chips and another that charges licensing fees to handset makers like Apple and Samsung based on a cut of the selling price of their phones.

The device licensing has been the focus of many of Qualcomm’s regulatory and customer disputes, with Apple calling it an unjust “tax.” Broadcom’s leaders have hinted they might modify it.

On Qualcomm’s earnings call, Alex Rogers, head of the company’s licensing division, told investors Samsung would still pay royalties on handset sales, rather than combining the royalty agreement with its chip purchases.

A Qualcomm spokesman declined to elaborate on the specifics of the Samsung deal, an amendment to a 2009 agreement under which Samsung paid $1.3 billion upfront and then an ongoing rate that many analysts believed was different – and possibly lower – than what other device makers paid.

But in getting Samsung to drop its regulatory action and come back to the negotiating table, Qualcomm is hoping to show it can patch things up with customers without Broadcom’s help.

“We remain open to finding a path to resolution and back to collaboration with Apple,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Mollenkopf said on the investor call.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Leslie Adler