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The Lede – A Job Offer for Phil the Groundhog; Things Really Are Pretty Good: And Earnings Reports For Tech Giants

The Lede, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018
By David Royse

Good Day. 

Punxsutawney Phil came out of his hole this morning in Pennsylvania and was promptly offered a new job at a higher salary. He’ll be starting as a weather software developer in six weeks.

There’s a lot of hiring going on.

“The US economy added more jobs than forecast in January, and wage growth rose at its fastest pace since the recession, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.” Business Insider

The unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 17 years, and the growth in wages that has been going on since the end of the recession continued – though at a faster pace. Improvements are generally being broadly felt, with African-American unemployment falling to a record-low 6.8 percent.

If you want to read the BLS report
The Second Lede: 

The world is safer and better for most of us than it has ever been. Are there problems? Sure, big ones. But on the whole, we’re getting to them.

Anyone who hangs out with me has heard my soapbox rant: media (I know – that’s me) but media and a lack of understanding of how to consume it, has distorted our worldviews. All is crashing in around us, it would seem. Crime is horrible. Someone I know posted something on Facebook a few days ago about an attempted abduction of a child by a stranger. They were distraught, and in their posting pleaded that something must be done because, she said, “I’m afraid to take my kid anywhere. This is happening all the time.”

Now I wasn’t going to be a jerk and tell this genuinely upset person that she’s completely wrong – this isn’t happening all the time, is extremely rare and isn’t getting worse.

But it was hard not to. People are either born with or pick up somewhere along the way the inability to rationally assess risk based on information beyond the most recent data point. That is, if you know someone who has a terrible disease, it must seem like that disease is rampant and one of society’s biggest problems. If you’ve been a victim of crime, you feel like there’s too much crime.

But it may not be so, in context.

I linked yesterday to a blog item by Microsoft founder Bill Gates about his favorite book being Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.

Pinker makes my point more eloquently than I do in this video conversation with Gates.

There’s a lot – I mean a lot – that has improved and continues to improve with work and research. We just don’t think much about it. Well, I do. And I’m trying to remind you to do so as well.

Watch this short conversation.


Traveling this morning?

There’s snow in the forecast for much of the nation this weekend. And if you’re driving along I-95 in the east, you’ll be in the rain. There’s rain in the forecast from Boston down to South Carolina.There’s also going to be rain across the Southeast.

JetBlue is adding flights from Fort Lauderdale to the Dominican and Grand Cayman. USA Today

Coming soon to air travel? Ideas on how to make flying better from The Sun

In Transit news: Lawmakers are reconsidering a ban on light rail in Indianapolis – because Amazon. Indy Star


Alexa, Buy Milk.
Alexa: Already Did. Look in the Frig.”How long will it be before (your) home is communicating directly with Amazon or Walmart and it places an order with no verbal cue or even involvement from you?” In the most recent Predicting Our Future Podcast, Andrew Weinreich discusses the future of the home (which does the shopping for you) with Amazon’s Daniel Rausch and Walmart’s Keith Menezes. Worth a Listen. Predicting Our Future Podcast


At the outset of every argument for trying to get driverless cars on the road, the immediate first thrust of the debate is the assertion that more than 90 percent of in crashes with people driving involve some sort of driver error. But a University of Central Florida researcher points out that it’s also important to know how many crashes human drivers avoid – that is, are they actually safe drivers despite all those crashes because it could be so much worse?

“It is true that self-driving cars don’t get tired, angry, frustrated or drunk. But neither can they yet react to uncertain and ambiguous situations with the same skill or anticipation of an attentive human driver, which suggests that perhaps the two still need to work together,” writes UCF’s Peter Hancock. “Nor do purely automated vehicles possess the foresight to avoid potential peril: They largely drive from moment to moment, rather than thinking ahead to possible events literally down the road.”

Hancock is basically urging a cautious approach that integrates new technology slowly and thoughtfully, which seems pretty logical. The Conversation



In recent years, LeBron James came back and the Cleveland Cavs won an NBA title. The Indians went to the World Series. And there have been no flaming bodies of water to speak of. Cleveland is back, baby!

The city’s two universities, Case and CSU, backed by The Cleveland Foundation, are trying to push along the Cleveland Renaissance with a collaborative research focus on technology aimed at proliferating the Internet of Things.

But it’s more. Among the goals:

“Establish Cleveland as an epicenter for creation and translation of connected products, services and solutions—and also making the region a model as a progressive, smart IoT adopter..” Another: “Recruit the best and brightest researchers and developers to Cleveland.”

I know Cleveland a little, having gone to college on the outer fringes of its suburbs a quarter century ago or so. I have a lot of friends there, still. They’re good people.

It’s a city whose demise has been greatly exaggerated for the better part of a hundred years, and therefore whose rebound is also a bit of a tired cliche. The city was never truly the Mistake on the Lake – its awful sports teams just served as a metaphor for changes in the Rust Belt economy that were just as bad or worse in lots of places.

I think Cleveland could become an IoT hub, and I hope it does.

The Browns, however, will likely continue to suck.


It appears it teaches them to appreciate liberal viewpoints. And conservative ones. And probably lots of other viewpoints in between and off the spectrum. The Conversation

(Interesting Recently-Published Research)TAKE THE GUN, LEAVE THE LEMON CANNOLIS

The Godfather
I do believe that’s a lemon in that glass

This paper published in The Journal of Economic History back in December has it all. There’s a long discourse about the origins of the Sicilian mafia, some history of citrus (lemons, originally called bitter oranges, were introduced to Sicily by Arabs in the Tenth Century), a fair amount about how lemons are grown, and about the economy of Sicily. All of it ties together nicely as the author, Arcangelo Dimico of Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, makes a case that lemons created the mafia.

“We argue that the combination of a generally weak rule of law, the boom in international demand for citrus fruits, and the risky and sensitive nature of lemon production together provided the breeding ground for the growth and consolidation of a mafia-type organization that could meet the challenges from producers, workers, and exporters in the lemon industry,” Dimico and his colleagues write.

If you want an abridged version, the Washington Post had a story on this paper a couple weeks ago.


I wrote in this space a couple days ago about how weird it was that Amazon is getting so much attention for saying it wants to overhaul healthcare but doesn’t yet have any real firm idea how it’s going to do it. Yet even the idea that the retailing giant wants to touch another industry sent shivers through Wall Street and has had healthcare industry analysts talking non-stop since then.

It’s a testament to the (overused cliche word coming) disruptive success of Amazon’s other ventures that it is being taken so seriously in a space it has no experience in, and one that has vexed all others who have tried to make it logical.

But the New York Times has a really interesting story today about how the Amazon idea copies one already underway: tech giants (and like Amazon, media darlings) like Alibaba and Tencent are already doing this in China, and are leading a healthcare overhaul there. And they’re ahead – they’re already getting into healthcare overhaul 2.0, looking into how they can use artificial intelligence to better their huge health system.

This is your really interesting New York Times story today, filed from Beijing 



Amazon Earnings

Hey Alexa, What Kind of Quarter Did Amazon Have?

Alexa: Would You Like Me to Play Money, Money, Money, by The O’Jays?

“Amazon.com Inc. reported one of its best fourth quarters ever on Thursday, Feb. 1, with Alexa at the forefront of its recent milestones. Planning ahead, the e-commerce giant said it will focus on capital investments in the grocery and food sector in 2018.” TheStreet

The Dystopian Side of Amazon

Before we all get too ga-ga on Amazon, let’s pause to note that even if it solves all of our healthcare issues, even if it makes investors rich, even if it brings everything we ever wanted and has a drone-flying robot fly magically through our locked window and hand-feed us bacon while we’re still in bed, some of this may come with some costs. The New York Times has a story today that notes that Amazon has patented a wrist watch that can keep tabs on workers and even urge them to work harder.

Apple Earnings

“Apple’s iPhone sales were below analyst estimates during the all-important holiday sales season and the company gave a weaker-than-expected sales forecast for the current quarter.” Business Insider

Alphabet Earnings

“Alphabet Inc., a company that has sunk billions into far-fetched projects like driverless cars and internet balloons, is being weighed down by more mundane expenses — the cost of running its behemoth web-search advertising business.” Bloomberg

Uber Getting Into Bikes?

“For the first time in Uber’s history, the company is offering rides on roads in the United States using something other than cars. Starting next week, it will let certain users in San Francisco reserve pedal-assist electric bicycles through its app.”  NYT

Facebook: Has it tapped out North America?

“Facebook’s daily active user base in the U.S. and Canada fell for the first time ever in the fourth quarter, dropping to 184 million from 185 million in the previous quarter.” Recode

Groundhog Day for Bitcoin

Is there six more weeks of winter coming for Bitcoin investors, or will the joyous days of the cryptocurrency spring return with flowers and beautiful music?

It’s looking really bad for cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is at a 3-month low and all of the major cryptocurrencies are down, down, down.

Bitcoin was priced at just over $8,600 late this morning, down from an open above $9,000. But the bigger picture points to something more disheartening for investors – as Bloomberg noted today, “Since reaching a record high of $19,511 on Dec. 18 shortly after the introduction of regulated futures contracts in the U.S., Bitcoin has wiped out more than half its value amid waves of negative news.”

Some argue the drop is just a correction from an irrational run-up this winter. Key question: will regulators get comfortable with cryptocurrencies – because until they do there will be news from time to time about some country thinking of banning it, and that will cost investors.

More on the big picture of the Bitcoin Plummet from Benzinga



“Even before the bitcoin value run-up in the fall, states were slowly recognizing that virtual currencies and the cybersecurity potential of blockchain technologies could enhance economic development for states looking to grow. They also recognized that the swift growth of cryptocurrencies might also drive criminality within their states. In January, 11 (state legislatures) introduced bills that would regulate or encourage the growth of financial tech.” GovTech


Under Mexican law, if a presidential candidate without party backing wants to get on the ballot, he or she must collect more than 800,000 signatures from around the country and the signatures MUST be collected using the government’s new smartphone app.

“And since, as one election official observed before the product’s launch, Mexico has more smartphones than copy machines, digital signatures seems like a clever, time-saving innovation over hard-copy petitions. It also aims to improve fraud detection.”

But it’s causing some problems. Candidates are complaining the app is clunky. And rural voters are left behind. More from Ana de Alba of Tufts University in The Conversation

One sad story: 

This will be the saddest story you’ll read here. The loneliest bird on the planet has died. Nigel the Gannet, who lived alone on an island with a bunch of fake birds made of stone, and spent years trying to woo one of the concrete gannets, is no more. Gizmodo


It’s Super Bowl weekend. (Sure, we’ll start it today.) If you’re going, great.

But leave your drone at home. The Super Bowl is a No Drone Zone.


This is an insightful observation from Bryan Curtis at The Ringer. The one-time place in society held by the network TV anchors has shifted to the sports broadcast booth. The Ringer


In interesting news about the other football, Variety reported recently that YouTube TV has secured exclusive rights to games with a new Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles. It’s not that interesting from the perspective of a soccer fan, necessarily, but it is a big deal in the sportscasting world. It marks the first time a streaming service of any kind has made such a deal with a U.S. pro sports team instead of a TV alternative.


About David Royse

David Royse
David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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