Sunday, July 31, 2016

Oxford vs Cambridge, Oxbridge vs Ivy League: Whose Graduates Earn the Most?

From City AM:
Cambridge may have won this year’s men’s boat race.

But Oxford's alumni can boast a superior average salary, according to new research looking at graduates with two to six years of experience in work.

Salary benchmarking site found the average Oxford graduate earns £70,000 (including a £5,000 bonus), ahead of £68,000 from Cambridge (again with a £5,000 bonus).
Unfortunately for both Oxbridge universities, though, the study compared them with the US’s Ivy League, leaving them far behind the likes of Harvard (£105,000, including an £8,000 bonus) and Brown (£96,000, including a £10,000 bonus).

In Oxford and Cambridge’s favour, of course, is the fact that fees amount to less. Harvard’s tuition fees, for instance, come to £34,000, found.
The research also found an advantage to degrees in science, with Ivy Leaguers earning five per cent more on average and Oxbridgers one per cent....MORE

You Too Can Collect the Danegeld: Learn to Be a Viking

They say "without the pillaging" wink, wink but we all know where the big attraction lies.
From Smithsonian Magazine:

Learn to Be a Viking (Without the Pillaging) in Ribe, Denmark
Travel back in time in this Viking village
At one time, the Vikings were feared around Europe for their battle skills and acutely good sense of where to pillage. But back at their Scandinavian homestead, they lived a much calmer life farming and raising families. Modern-day Vikings looking for an education in these old ways—whether they prefer to battle or just Norse sagas and chill—should get to Denmark, a hub of Viking activity past and present.

From medieval trading centers to runic monuments, Viking heritage rules Denmark. In Jelling, there’s the Jelling stone, also known as “the birth certificate of Denmark;” a runic stone carved by King Harald Bluetooth in 965 to honor his parents and announce his unification of Denmark under Christian rule. Kerteminde has the Ladby Ship, Denmark’s only authentic ship burial of a Viking king dating back to 925. More ships are on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, which houses five original longboats rescued from the fjord. And an entire Viking farmstead has been recreated in Hobro. Viking heritage is so intrinsic here that there’s even a self-guided Viking history trail around the country.

  But if you really want to learn to be a true Viking, head to Ribe. The city’s Viking heritage began back in 710 AD, making it not only the first town in Denmark, but also the first in Scandinavia as a whole. It was an ideal location for a market with a permanent settlement, situated on the banks of the North Sea and cut through by the Ribe River. Plus, the harbor was big enough to accommodate large ships from far-off lands. Though the Viking era as we know it today began in 793 AD with the first known Viking raid, on Lindisfarne in the UK, Ribe was a functioning international trading center with both economic and political significance to the Vikings long before. Viking artifacts are still being found in the area, too—in June this year, a trio of amateur archaeologists found seven valuable arm bangles nearby dating back to the 10th century....MORE
Seriously, without the loot, pillage and plunder you're as bad off as these poor guys on the Draken Harald Hårfagre:

Forced to pass the begging bowl via Sons of Norway due to U.S. pilotage fees of $400/hour for passage on the Great Lakes. WSJ, July 23:

Donations Put Wind in Sails of Viking Ship Hit by Pilot Fees
Vessel is anchors aweigh toward Chicago after receiving donations from tall-ship enthusiasts
A Norwegian Viking ship up in arms about the six-figure fee that U.S. law requires it to pay to travel the Great Lakes is now anchors aweigh toward Chicago, after receiving donations from tall-ship enthusiasts including a yoga studio and Norwegian-Americans.

The Draken Harald Hårfagre, billed as the largest Viking ship built in modern times, left Norway in April to brave the north Atlantic and join other tall ships for an educational tour of the Great Lakes, including stops in Chicago and Duluth, Minn.

But a blow befell Draken when it entered U.S. waters in early July and realized the ship had to hire a certified pilot to navigate the lakes, the seafarers say. Since then, a flood of grass roots support has kept Draken afloat.

Peter Hardy, co-owner of Bay City Yoga, in Bay City, Mich., led Draken’s sailors through a dockside class after he found out some of the crew practice yoga on board.

“They were just really cool," he said. The yoga studio has so far contributed more than $400 toward the pilotage fees with the help of fellow enthusiasts....MORE
Donations? Ragnar weeps!
On the other hand they do retain some of the spirit of the ancient Karls and Jarls:
As naval battles go, the war of words between the U.S. Coast Guard and the captain of the world's largest Viking longship was a bit of a tempest in a teapot.

But a week after he accused U.S. authorities of being "impolite," the Norwegian captain of the Draken Harald Harfagre moved to ease diplomatic tensions Wednesday after docking his warship at Navy Pier.

Saying that he had been "a little drunk" when he last week complained to Chicago Inc. that the Coast Guard had sprung unexpected $400-an-hour pilot fees on his crew after it was invited to participate in this weekend's Tall Ships festival....
-Chicago Tribune, July 29
Anyhoo, this is what I think of when I think Vikings:
(profuse, profound apologies to our Nordic friends)

Theranos: Elizabeth Holmes To Face 1000 Scientists On Monday--UPDATED

Update: "Full House at AACC2016 Waiting for Theranos Update--Live Feed"

Original post:
From KQED-San Francisco, July 29:
Hey, try this archetypal nightmare out for size …
Youʼre in a room. Speaking. There are people there — hundreds and hundreds of people. They are not particularly friendly. Actually, they are hostile. You have displeased them. You had made certain unsubstantiated claims about something they know a great deal about. Yes, they are experts. They know exactly how to determine what is truth. And what is …

Then you wake up. Covered in sweat …

This is pretty much the scenario Theranos CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes is going to face on Monday in Philadelphia, at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s 68th Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo.

Holmes will present, for the first time and in front of hundreds of lab experts, “reproducibility and correlation data” for the blood-testing technology her company claims to have developed but has never proven to the satisfaction of the scientific community. Holmes will also “share data to demonstrate the precision and accuracy” of its tests..

Those tests can ostensibly be performed using only a small amount of capillary blood from a patient’s finger, instead of the traditional tubes-full taken from a vein.

But a Wall Street Journal investigation characterized those claims as dubious. Later, a Theranos lab in California was found by its regulator to be so deficient as to represent a threat to patients’ lives. And this month, regulators suspended the lab’s license and banned Holmes from owning, operating or directing a blood-testing lab for two years. (The company has until early September to appeal the government’s decision, and the suspensions don’t take place for the appeal period.)

Both the U.S. Attorneyʼs Office for the Northern District of California and the SEC are investigating, and lawsuits aplenty have been filed.

Now Theranos is typically described with adjectives ranging from “troubled” to “beleaguered” to “disgraced.” And the company, once valued at $9 billion, is in serious danger of becoming permanent shorthand for greed-driven Silicon Valley hubris.

If Holmes has any chance of rebuilding her shattered reputation, and if Theranos is to have any chance of clawing its way back to respectability, it will start in Philadelphia, on Monday. The company has appointed a scientific and medical advisory board, in part to help with “publication and presentation in scientific journals and at scientific meetings.” The board includes several former AACC officials, so one would assume Holmes will, as they say, come correct.

90 Minutes
Still, whatever she presents may or may not be enough to convert hardcore skeptics. The presentation will last 45 minutes, followed by a 45-minute question-and-answer period, according to AACC members helping with the session. Anywhere from 800 to 1,500 people are expected to be in attendance, and the presentation is open to anyone who registers for the conference, including the media, though no questions from reporters will be taken.

Three moderators will ask their own questions as well as questions from the audience, which will be forwarded to the moderators after three other experts come to a consensus as what is most scientifically relevant to the discussion....
...MUCH MORE, with commentary from some of the top people in the clinical laboratory field including one of the heavyweights of laboratory diagnostics Dr. Dr. Eleftherios P. Diamandis (M.D.; PhD) whose thinking was so persuasive that I titled the link, against lawerly advice*, "Theranos: She's Young, She's Rich, Is She A Marketing Huckster?".
Four months before the Wall Street Journal 'broke' the story, I'll have you know.

*just kidding about the lawerly advice, I didn't bother to ask, thinking like a lunatic that lawsuit discovery on this one would be fun.

Theranos Is Flopping Like A Dying Fish
Theranos: "What Elizabeth Holmes' 2-Year Ban Really Means"
"Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes Banned From Operating a Lab"
Forbes Revises Estimate Of Theranos Founder Net Worth

And many more. Use the 'search blog' box if interested.

HBR: "Lobbyists Are Behind the Rise in Corporate Profits"

From the Harvard Business Review, May 26, 2016:

Profits are up. Operating margins for firms publicly listed in the US show a substantial and sustained rise. Corporate valuations are up as well. That is good news for managers and investors. But is it good news for society?
Economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Luigi Zingales find the rise potentially troubling for two reasons. First, higher profits create greater economic inequality. Rising aggregate profits correspond to a decline in labor’s share of output, contributing to stagnant wages. Also, greater profits for some corporations but not others may create greater wage inequality.

Second, the rise in profits might represent a decline in competition and, with that, a decline in economic dynamism. While a dynamic, competitive economy rewards innovative firms with high profits and punishes poor performers with low profits, sustained aggregate profits suggest, instead, that firms are able to get away with higher prices because competition is limited. Firms engage in political “rent seeking”—lobbying for regulations that provide them sheltered markets—rather than competing on innovation. If so, then high profits portend diminished productivity growth.

But there is a more optimistic narrative about the rise of profits. Perhaps profits are rising because firms are increasingly making profitable investments in new technology, in IT, or in their organizational capabilities. In this account, high profits represent increased economic dynamism.

So which is it — political rent seeking or cutting-edge investments? In a new research paper, I tease apart the factors associated with the growth in corporate valuations relative to assets (Tobin’s Q) and the growth in operating margins. I account for the roles of R&D, spending on advertising and marketing, and on administrative costs, including IT. I also consider investments in lobbying, political campaign spending, and regulation; and I look for links between rising profits and industry concentration and stock volatility.

I find that investments in conventional capital assets like machinery and spending on R&D together account for a substantial part of the rise in valuations and profits, especially during the 1990s. However, since 2000, political activity and regulation account for a surprisingly large share of the increase.

Much of this result is driven by the role of regulation, so it is important to understand the link between regulation and profits. Lobbying and political campaign spending can result in favorable regulatory changes, and several studies find the returns to these investments can be quite large. For example, one study finds that for each dollar spent lobbying for a tax break, firms received returns in excess of $220.

It is less obvious, however, that regulation in general should be associated with higher profits. Indeed, critics of the regulatory state regularly decry the costs imposed by regulations. Yet even regulations that impose costs might raise profits indirectly, since costs to incumbents are also entry barriers for prospective entrants. For example, one study found that pollution regulations served to reduce entry of new firms into some manufacturing industries.

Even when regulators try to reduce prices, firms can benefit. For example, in 1992 Congress passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act in response to high cable TV rates. Regulators expected cable prices to fall by 10%. Instead, however, cable companies changed their programming bundles, prices did not fall, and corporate valuations increased. The chart below shows that the aggregate market value of cable companies relative to assets (Tobin’s Q) rose following the Act, compared to valuations of other firms....MORE
HT: thanks to a reader.

Artificial Intelligence: "Now You Too Can Buy Cloud-Based Deep Learning"

From IEEE Spectrum, July 27:

Cloud-computing services deliver AI to the rest of us
Facebook’s deep-learning artificial intelligence systems have learned to recognize your friends in your photos, and Google’s AI has learned to anticipate what you’ll be searching for. But there’s no need to feel left out, even if your company’s computers haven’t learned much lately.

A growing number of tech giants and startups have begun offering machine learning as a cloud service. That means other companies and startups do not need to develop their own specialized hardware or software to apply deep ­learning—the high-powered version du jour of machine learning—to their specific business needs.

“Deep-learning algorithms dominate other machine-learning methods when data sets are large,” says Zachary Chase Lipton, a deep-learning researcher in the Artificial Intelligence Group at the University of California, San Diego, who has examined cloud AI services from companies such as Amazon and IBM. “Thus any company or application that has well-formed prediction problems—such as forecasting demand or translating between languages—could benefit from deep learning.”

With cloud-based deep learning, companies can simply select a cloud service and browse its online offerings of application programming interfaces for software tasks such as recognizing images of corgi dogs or automatically translating a restaurant menu. Some services will even tailor their machine-learning tools to the data and needs of individual companies.

According to Lipton, the rise of cloud services for machine learning hinges on at least two factors: first, a continued rise in the demand for machine learning as the technology has matured in its ability to solve a wide variety of problems with economic value; and second, the relative scarcity of machine-learning talent, which makes it tough for every company to build its own machine-learning team. Competition for talent has become even tougher with startups trying to compete with tech giants like Microsoft and IBM, which can afford to vacuum up the best and brightest.

Most commercial applications of machine learning rely on supervised learning. This involves algorithms that can observe correctly labeled examples and learn to perform certain tasks through imitation. Artificial neural networks are currently the most popular and successful algorithms for supervised machine learning on large data sets. They learn by passing information through an interconnected network of multiple nodes (also known as neurons). The connections between these nodes each have adjustable weights that influence the flow of information through the graph. Nodes are generally arranged in layers. But historically it was feasible to train networks with only one hidden layer of neurons in addition to the input and output layers.

Deep learning takes these methods to the next level by filtering the data through multiple layers of neurons, ­Lipton explains. At each layer, the network can learn successively more abstract representations of relationships between data points. With enough layers and enough nodes, deep neural networks can perform a host of functions.

The challenge in building a neural network is training it for specific tasks. Starting from a random setting of the weights, examples from the data set are presented to the neural network one after the next. Each time, the neural network’s weights are tuned slightly to bring the network’s output closer to the correct output.

A number of startups seem primarily interested in demonstrating their deep-learning research in order to draw the attention of larger companies that might acquire them, Lipton notes. and Twitter have acquired ­startups, including MetaMind and Whetlab, respectively. Some of these acquisitions have been done to swell the ranks of these tech giants’ own deep-learning teams....MORE

Businesses I Had Not Heard Of: Mistress Dispellers

From the New York Times via Remains of the Day:
Mistress dispellers
Mistress-dispelling services, increasingly common in China’s larger cities, specialize in ending affairs between married men and their extramarital lovers.
Typically hired by a scorned wife, they coach women on how to save their marriages, while inducing the mistress to disappear. For a fee that can start in the tens of thousands of dollars, they will subtly infiltrate the mistress’s life, winning her friendship and trust in an attempt to break up the affair. The services have emerged as China’s economy has opened up in recent decades, and as extramarital affairs grew more common.
(h/t Ken)

Well this is something. Coming this fall to ABC, the explosive new series from Shonda Rhimes: The Dispeller, starring Halle Berry.
Mistress dispelling typically begins with research on the targeted woman, said Shu Xin, Weiqing’s director. An investigation team — often including a psychotherapist and, to keep on the safe side, a lawyer — analyzes her family, friends, education and job before sending in an employee whom Weiqing calls a counselor.
“Once we figure out what type of mistress she is — in it for money, love or sex — we draw up a plan,” Mr. Shu said.
The counselor might move into the mistress’s apartment building or start working out at her gym, getting to know her, becoming her confidante and eventually turning her feelings against her partner. Sometimes, the counselor finds her a new lover, a job opening in another city or otherwise persuades her to leave the married man. Weiqing and other agencies said their counselors were prohibited from becoming intimately involved with the mistresses or from using or threatening violence....

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Skydiver Luke Aikins Successfully Lands 25,000 Foot Jump Without a Parachute

Following up on yesterday's "Risk: Skydiving Without A 'Chute".

From the Telegraph:
Luke Aikins, has made history by becoming the first person to jump 25,000 feet without a parachute.
The 42-year old skydiver and veteran of 18,000 jumps completed the stunt without mishap,  landing almost in the middle of the 100-foot by 100-foot net.

Taking only a few moments to regain his composure, Mr Akins dusted himself off, clambered out of the net and jumped into the arms of his very relieved wife, Monica.

The leap, which was broadcast by Fox, was watched by other members of the family and a crowd of well-wishers packed into an improvised spectator stand in the California desert.

After 18 months of preparation, the Screen Actors Guild almost put a spanner in the works by insisting that he wore a parachute for the stunt as a precaution.

However following further negotiations, which continued while the plane was climbing to the jumping altitude, the Guild had a change of heart and the requirement was lifted.

 Mr Aikins said that the need to wear a parachute would have made the jump more dangerous because of the need to adjust his position as he approached the net....MORE
Here's the video:

Watching* The Dollar, Key to Commodities This Month

A stronger dollar lowers nominal prices of those commodities priced in dollars and is in fact a big part of our current positioning. So this piece by Brown Brothers Harriman & Co's Head of Global Markets Strategy is a bit troubling, at least in the short run. Longer term you should be able to buy a euro at the 99¢ store but as has been said, the long term is just a series of short terms.

From Marc to Market:

The US dollar advance was stopped in its tracks by the disappointingly weak Q2 GDP figures.  The 1.2% annualized growth rate was roughly half of the pace expected.  The FOMC statement earlier in the week did not leave the impression that a September hike was likely, and with the poor growth numbers, the odds were downgraded further.

Now given the reduced contingent risk of a September hike, the odds of a hike 50-75 bp end of the year target range for Fed funds has fallen to about a 1 in 3 chance.  However, if you think that there is no chance of a September hike (doubts about the economic strength) or a November hike (too close to the election), then the odds of a December hike is still close to 60%.

The Dollar Index had rallied from 93.00, the low from the day of the UK referendum to a high near 97.60 that it had tried several times over the past week or so to overcome.  The sell-off on the disappointing GDP news sent to near 95.30, which is a 50% retracement of the move and the lows after the June jobs data in early July.  The next immediate target is 94.75, which corresponds to the 61.8% retracement and also the 50% retracement of the larger move that began in early-May from near 92.00.    Below there is 94.00, which is the 61.8% retracement of the bigger move and is near where a trendline drawn off the May and June lows intersects end the end of next week.

The technical condition has deteriorated.  The five-day moving average will move below the 20-day average early next week for the first time in a month.  The MACDs have turned down.  A note of caution comes from the lower Bollinger Band, which the Dollar Index traded through after the GDP report, but managed to close inside it (~95.55).  

The euro had found bids near $1.0950 and with the downside momentum easing, the late shorts were vulnerable, and the short squeeze carried the euro to almost $1.12.  The five-day moving average is set to cross above the 20-day average at the start of August. The MACDs are crossing higher, and the RSI is trending lower.  Like the Dollar Index, the euro is near its upper Bollinger Band (~$1.1160). Unlike the Dollar Index, it closed above the Bollinger Band, which may inject some caution at the start of the new week....MORE
 *As I footnoted in a 2010 post and ref'd in 2011's "Climateer Line of the Day: Voyeur Edition":
...One of my mentors could not stand indecisive traders. He loathed them almost as much as he loathed losses. 
If one said about an instrument "I'm watching it" he'd bellow "You like to watch? What are you, a freaking voyeur?" Except he didn't say "freaking". 
If you were asked about implementing a certain strategy and said "I'm thinking about it"  the response was "What are you, a freaking philosopher?", again substituting a different word. 
Remember that the next time somebody tells you they have something they want you to watch.

General Electric and the Battle to Own the Internet of Things (GE)

We haven't looked in on GE or their IoT plans in a while, here's the latest from Forbes:

GE's IoT Plan For China
General Electric announced a partnership with China’s Huawei recently as it continues to build out its Internet of Things ecosystem.

The Internet of Things is a natural fit for GE. As the world’s largest maker of jet engines, diesel trains and other large industrial goods, finding ways to make things cheaper is in its DNA. Sensors and big data analytics software is just the logical next step. So in 2013 GE unveiled a productivity software platform called Predix in conjunction with Amazon Web Services, Accenture and EMC. The goal was to bring penny pinching predictive data analytics to the industrial sector at scale.
Luckily, it had a willing guinea pig: itself. Since 2013 Predix has had a profound impact on its own production lines. In 2015 GE was able to save $500 million. And the company’s Chief Digital Officer, Bill Ruh, is expecting savings of better than $1 billion by 2020.

Now it wants to get bigger in China. In a prepared statement Ruh said “the growth of the industrial Internet in China demands not only capital and development from companies like GE and our partners but also a commitment to align the private and public sector to build together”. Partnering with Huawei adds network hardware might and a powerful political ally.

GE has had some early success in China. The industrial city of Tianjin, with nascent smart city ambitions, uses Predix to control lampposts. China Airlines and China Telecom have also been using the software suite to reduce costs. Clearly GE wants more. Although production has slowed in China, it’s still the manufacturing center in the world even though its plants and businesses are among the least modern. As leaders push to climb the world ranks, GE expects the industrial Internet of Things will lead to spending of $166 billion by 2020.

Going forward Huawei will make Predix its preferred platform for industrial projects and GE will make a big investment in the developer community. This week the company announced an $11 million software incubator in Shanghai. As the second of four international centers planned, it will house 200 new GE employees working to bring makers to the Predix platform. If all goes well, Chinese developers will build software applications on top of the platform and entice Chinese businesses to invest.

What GE is doing is not terribly unique. IBM is a major competitor in many parts of the same space. It’s made good progress with its Watson cognitive computing platform. Cisco Systems was early to the Internet of Things. It is playing in every part of the stack with networking equipment, data collection and analytics. And its Jasper platform counts Ford and Boston Scientific among its portfolio of big companies now 500 strong....MORE
Previously on the IoT channel:

Internet of Things: "GE teams up with AT&T and Intel to conquer the industrial internet. Here’s its plan"
IBM Bets $3 Billion On Internet Of Things (IBM)
"General Electric Pitches an Industrial Internet" (GE)
McKinsey & Co. on the Internet of Things
The Google of the "Internet of Things" (and Morgan Stanley's 96 page IoT report) SPLK; GE
Nudge This: "The Internet of Things Will Be a Giant Persuasion Machine"
"Behind the 'Internet of Things' Is Android—and It's Everywhere" (GOOG)
The Internet of Things: Everything Is Hackable
The Creepiness of the Internet Of Things
Companies That Will Benefit From The Internet of Things
Questions From MIT's 'Internet of Things Festival'
Internet of Things: In Which Izabella Approaches Escape Velocity Edition
Too Funny: "Hello Dave" Shows Up On Hacked Google Nest Appliance Control System (GOOG)
The Internet of Things and Google's Home Invasion (GOOG)
Another Day, Another 3D Printing, Robotic Harvesting, Internet-of-Things FarmBot

And dozens more, use the 'search blog' box if interested. 

Mervyn King: "Which Europe Now?"

The former Bank of England governor has been in the news recently.
From the Financial Times, yesterday:

"King takes on Citigroup role despite past criticism of bankers"
Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, has quietly taken up a role as a senior adviser to Citigroup, surprising friends and former colleagues who assumed his disdain for bankers would stop him following peers through the “revolving door” connecting policymaking and finance....MORE
And from the New York Review of Books, the headline story:

Which Europe Now?
Political drama on television is finished. No fictional version could match the vicious infighting in both main political parties in Britain that followed the vote on June 23 by the British people to leave the European Union.

What the vote revealed—and the winning margin was larger than in three of the past four US presidential elections—is a growing and dangerous divide between the political class, often a metropolitan elite, and a large number of people who feel left out of the economic prosperity centered on London and disenfranchised by “political correctness.” Among the latter, insecurity has been growing for years, the result in part of the impact of globalization on real wages and of high levels of immigration.1 It is a problem afflicting many industrialized countries.

Yet the political class, still in a state of shock and disbelief, shows few signs of recognizing the cause of its undoing. The campaign was not a reasoned discussion of the case for the two options but a propaganda war, the likes of which I cannot recall before in Britain, with both sides calling each other, and with some justification, liars.2 And both sides continue to believe passionately that the other was the worse sinner.

Nor was the press any better. Even those newspapers that like to think of themselves as more authoritative and informed than their tabloid cousins allowed their editorial positions to infect their reporting of the campaign. No doubt their own commercial interests played a part.

It was and is simply false to claim that exit from the EU will result in Britain becoming either a land of milk and honey, on the one hand, or a land of plagues and locusts on the other. In truth, the economic arguments are much more evenly balanced. My own guess—and it can be little more than that—is that the effect of EU membership on the level and growth rate of national income in the long run will be much less than either camp would like to claim. But we cannot know today....MORE
...Our political class would do well to recall the words of Confucius:
Three things are necessary for government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler cannot hold on to all three, he should give up weapons first and food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: without trust we cannot stand....
HT: Kim-Mai Cutler whose "Forgetting History: 'Nothing Like This Has Ever Happened Before'" got me reprising Henry George and the land value tax back in February.

Money, Murder and Sadomasochism: A Look At the L.A. Tech Scene

From Epic Magazine:
Silicon Is Just Sand
August 29, 2015, is a hot night on Venice Beach. Normally the superheated inland desert sucks the damp air off the ocean, blanketing the coast with a layer of moisture all the way to the 405. But tonight, something has gone wrong. There’s no fog, and the sky is boiling, even at 2 am.
A dark SUV pulls in front of the Cadillac Hotel, a two-star lodging better known for its cheap rooms and stained carpets than its views of the ocean. The car’s lights wash over a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. The homeless live all over Venice Beach and have for as long as anyone can remember, particularly at the northern end of the boardwalk on the edge of Santa Monica. Their tents line the small grassy hills between the sidewalk and sand. Stuffed sleeping bags, shopping carts, signs and bedding made from cardboard. You almost wouldn’t know how much this place has changed recently.
The SUV’s lights stay on, illuminating the scene as Sris Sinnathamby, the owner of the Cadillac Hotel, steps out of the passenger side. He’s followed by the driver, identified by multiple witnesses as Francisco Cardenaz Guzman. Guzman is known to the police as a member of the Venice 13, a gang with ties to the Sureños, who control the local drug trade. He has been arrested many times, for gun possession, robberies, and car theft.

Sinnathamby and the man identified as Guzman have just returned from the James’ Beach bar, a five-minute drive down the street. Sinnathamby walks up to the homeless man and tells him to get away from the front of the hotel. A security camera at a nearby café records the scene.
Sinnathamby is not like Guzman. He was born in Sri Lanka and came to the US in his twenties. According to the LA Weekly, he happened to be passing through Venice 25 years ago when he ran out of money. He took a job cleaning hotel rooms at the Cadillac, then worked his way up to manager. When the owner retired, Sinnathamby bought the place from him. It’s not fancy, but it faces the ocean, and pretty or not, it has dramatically risen in value in the past decade.
The run-up in real estate prices has been driven in part by the explosion of tech companies along the beach on the west side of Los Angeles. Google, Snapchat, Hulu, BuzzFeed, YouTube, Netflix, and Facebook have overtaken an archipelago of properties, bringing an influx of programmers, sales executives, and the refined retail that follows such massive migrations of well-paid people. They call it Silicon Beach.

The homeless don’t necessarily mind the newcomers, but the newcomers mind the homeless. Sinnathamby is not one of the newcomers, but they have been very good for his business interests. In addition to the Cadillac, Sinnathamby owns the gourmet eatery Dudley Market, a parking lot on Ocean Front Walk, and other Venice properties. Sinnathamby again tells the homeless guy to get moving. The man rises and shuffles toward the boardwalk, 20 feet away.
The beach used to belong to the people. Now it’s illegal to be here from midnight to 5 am. In fact, a 2012 law designated the boardwalk part of the beach, making it illegal to sleep on the boardwalk as well. The justification was public safety. Homeless advocates have filed lawsuits challenging the ordinance. In the meantime the homeless feel harassed, people always kicking their feet, telling them to move. Venice is a place with a long history of art and activism and, now, a flood of wealth. Tempers run high on all sides.
Sinnathamby’s efforts to move the homeless man attract the attention of a group of nearby boardwalk denizens. “Leave him alone,” says Shakespeare, a 26-year-old rapper and poet who frequently sleeps on the boardwalk near the Cadillac. Sinnathamby walks over to him, passing a man pushing a cart, who exchanges greetings with Sinnathamby. Everyone knows each other.

The homeless have been drinking. They had a party earlier on Hippie Hill, a mound of grass nearby, to celebrate Shakespeare finishing a new recording. Maybe it’s the booze. Maybe it’s the heat. Or maybe it’s the money. Rising property values have unpredictable effects on community relations.
Shakespeare argues with Sinnathamby, insisting the man has a right to stay on the sidewalk. But then Guzman, who has so far hung back on the boardwalk by himself, suddenly pulls out a gun and fires four shots down the beach. Shakespeare gets even more agitated, gesturing toward Guzman as if to challenge him. Sinnathamby stands between the two men, keeping them apart. Guzman waves his gun in a threatening manner.

Two women, friends of Sinnathamby who were waiting in the SUV, now get out and walk over to him. He turns to the women, and as he does Shakespeare shifts to his right. Guzman notices Shakespeare making his way around the women, and Shakespeare uses the moment to lunge at Guzman. Guzman shoots him three times, stepping aside like a bullfighter as Shakespeare falls past him, exiting the frame of the surveillance video. Guzman waits for a moment, then gestures for the women and Sinnathamby to come with him. But they stay. Finally Guzman runs to the SUV and drives away. At least that’s how it all appears on the video.

The ocean is as calm as a sheet of paper.

Nine days later, I arrive in Venice. I move into a small two-bedroom with a roommate on Pacific and Breeze, one block from the beach, four blocks from the Cadillac. It’s ferociously hot, and like most places this close to the ocean, this one has no air-conditioning. I have a small carry-on bag with me, a pair of jeans, two T-shirts, a pair of shorts. No return ticket.

On the boardwalk near my apartment, some people and local community organizations have erected a memorial for Shakespeare at the base of one of the boardwalk’s pagodas—the usual candles and flowers, a pink bow, a poster signed by his friends, a framed picture of Shakespeare in a tan jacket, a stuffed panda bear. A group of homeless men and women lounge in the pagoda, one of only a handful of slivers of shade.

I’ve been sent here to figure out why Google has moved into so many buildings in the area, why there are so many accelerators and shiny new office-sharing facilities. Snapchat chose Venice over Silicon Valley and is now valued at $20 billion, with more than 800 employees. What is happening here?

That’s my assignment....MORE
HT: Longform 

NYC Bank Burglars Stole $5 Million in Cash, Diamonds Hollywood Style

From the Brooklyn Reporter:

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The roof of one of the banks where the burglars used a blowtorch to enter a vault.  
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Three Brooklyn men were arrested on Tuesday for their alleged roles in at least two bank burglaries – one in Brooklyn and one Queens – that took place earlier this year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Roughly $5 million in cash and valuables were collectively taken from a Brooklyn HSBC branch and a Maspeth Federal Savings Bank branch in Queens, in April and May respectively, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced alongside Diego Rodriquez, assistant director-in-charge of the New York Field Office of the FBI and New York City NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton on Tuesday, July 26.

Michael Mazzara, 44, Charles Kerrigan, 40, and Anthony Mascuzzio, 36, are each being charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank burglary and one count of bank burglary after surveillance footage captured the trio “preparing to execute the burglaries,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Additional financial records and video show Mazzara and Mascuzzio purchasing a few of the supplies that connect with the Maspeth burglary.

“These heists resembled scenes from the movie ‘Heat’ – the work of a crew that was well organized, meticulous and elusive to law enforcement,” said Bratton. “This investigation was conducted with painstaking persistence.  Left with few clues after the heists, our crime scene teams hunted for every shred of evidence.  From the plywood purchased at a nearby Home Depot, to the torches from a Brooklyn welder used to muscle into the vault, the picture slowly came into focus, resulting in today’s arrests and charges.”...MORE
Mascuzzio has some backstory:
Son of slain Gambino soldier suing city for $2 million after alleged fight with cops over father's Rolex

Here's the Department of Justice press release:

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Three Brooklyn Men Charged in Manhattan Federal Court for Two Bank Burglaries
Thefts Yielded About $5 Million in Cash and Valuables
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Diego Rodriquez, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and William J. Bratton, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced that MICHAEL MAZZARA, CHARLES KERRIGAN, and ANTHONY MASCUZZIO were arrested this morning for their roles in bank burglaries in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, earlier this year.  MAZZARA, KERRIGAN, and MASCUZZIO will be presented later today in Manhattan federal court before United States Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis.

            Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “In the dark of the night, these defendants allegedly blowtorched their way through the roofs and into the vaults of two different banks, stealing over $5 million in cash and customer valuables kept in safe deposit boxes.  Through their brazen bank heists, the defendants allegedly stole not just people’s money, but their memories too, leaving in their destructive wake gaping holes and looted vaults.  But these bank jobs also left enough of a trace for the FBI and NYPD, whose good old-fashioned police work led to the charges and arrests announced today.” 
            FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriquez said:  “The Mazzara bank robbery crew did more than just allegedly steal money from banks, they took irreplaceable mementos from people who believed those items were far too valuable to be kept at home.  These men were allegedly after the money, but they also took heirlooms, jewelry, documents and family photos and tossed them aside.  Those items held little value to the men accused in this case, but we hope the community finds some solace in the fact that they will no longer be able to commit these thefts.”

            NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton said:  “These heists resembled scenes from the movie Heat – the work of a crew that was well organized, meticulous, and elusive to law enforcement.  This investigation was conducted with painstaking persistence.  Left with few clues after the heists, our crime scene teams hunted for every shred of evidence.  From the plywood purchased at a nearby Home Depot, to the torches from a Brooklyn welder used to muscle into the vault, the picture slowly came into focus, resulting in today’s arrests and charges.”

            According to the Complaint[1]:
            Between April 2016 and the present, MAZZARA, KERRIGAN, and MASCUZZIO were part of a crew that burglarized banks in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, by cutting into the banks’ vaults, and stealing a total of approximately $5 million in cash, jewelry, diamonds, stock certificates, and other valuables.  Specifically, from about April 8 to April 10, 2016, MAZZARA, KERRIGAN, and others burglarized an HSBC Bank branch in Brooklyn, and from about May 19 to May 22, 2016, MAZZARA, KERRIGAN, MASCUZZIO, and others burglarized a Maspeth Federal Savings Bank branch in Queens.  On both occasions, the burglars used acetylene blowtorches to cut into the top of the banks’ vaults from the roof of the building.  At the Maspeth Federal Savings Bank branch, they shielded their activities from view by constructing a plywood shed on the roof of the bank.  The burglars then entered the vaults from above, broke open safe deposit boxes, and took both cash belonging to the bank and customers’ valuables from the safe deposit boxes.  The crew obtained approximately $330,000 in cash and an unknown amount in valuables from the HSBC branch, and approximately $296,000 in cash and $4.3 million in valuables from the Maspeth bank.  Surveillance footage captured some of MAZZARA, KERRIGAN, and MASCUZZIO’s activities as they prepared for and executed the burglaries.  Financial records and video surveillance also showed MAZZARA and MASCUZZIO purchasing some of the supplies that appear to have been used in the Maspeth burglary....MORE

Friday, July 29, 2016

White Dwarf Lashes Red Dwarf Every Two Minutes

From Ideas, Inventions and Innovations:
Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, along with other telescopes on the ground and in space, have discovered a new type of exotic binary star: in the system AR Scorpii a rapidly spinning white dwarf star is powering electrons up to almost the speed of light. These high energy particles release blasts of radiation that lash the companion red dwarf star, and cause the entire system to pulse dramatically every 1.97 minutes with radiation ranging from the ultraviolet to radio.

In May 2015, a group of amateur astronomers from Germany, Belgium and the UK came across a star system that was exhibiting behaviour unlike anything they had ever encountered before. Follow-up observations led by the University of Warwick and using a multitude of telescopes on the ground and in space, including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope [1], have now revealed the true nature of this previously misidentified system.

This artist's impression shows the strange object AR Scorpii. In this unique double star a rapidly spinning white dwarf star (right) powers electrons up to almost the speed of light. These high energy particles release blasts of radiation that lash the companion red dwarf star (left) and cause the entire system to pulse dramatically every 1.97 minutes with radiation ranging from the ultraviolet to radio.
 Credit: M. Garlick/University of Warwick, ESA/Hubble
The star system AR Scorpii, or AR Sco for short, lies in the constellation of Scorpius, 380 light-years from Earth. It comprises a rapidly spinning white dwarf [2], the same size as Earth but containing 200 000 times more mass, and a cool red dwarf companion one third the mass of the Sun [3]. They are orbiting one another every 3.6 hours in a cosmic dance as regular as clockwork.

In a unique twist, this binary star system is exhibiting some brutal behaviour. Highly magnetic and spinning rapidly, AR Sco's white dwarf accelerates electrons up to almost the speed of light. As these high energy particles whip through space, they release radiation in a lighthouse-like beam which lashes across the face of the cool red dwarf star, causing the entire system to brighten and fade dramatically every 1.97 minutes. These powerful pulses include radiation at radio frequencies, which has never been detected before from a white dwarf system.

Lead researcher Tom Marsh of the University of Warwick's Astrophysics Group commented: "AR Scorpii was discovered over 40 years ago, but its true nature was not suspected until we started observing it in June 2015. We realised we were seeing something extraordinary the more we progressed with our observations."...MORE

Venezuela has a new 'forced labor' law that can require people to work in fields

From VICE:
International human rights activists are complaining that new laws have introduced forced labour in Venezuela.

"A new decree establishing that any employee in Venezuela can be effectively made to work in the country's fields as a way to fight the current food crisis is unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labor," Amnesty International said in a statement released on Thursday.

President Nicolás Maduro signed a decree at the end of last week that gives powers to the labor ministry to order "all workers from the public and private sector with enough physical capabilities and technical know-how" to join a government drive aimed at increasing food production.

They can be required to work in the agricultural sector for a 60-day period that can be extended for another 60 days "if the circumstances require it."

Shortages of basic goods have become a normal part of life for most Venezuelans ever since the country was plunged into an economic crisis by the plummeting oil price. Food shortages have become particularly acute in recent months, accompanied by violent demonstrations and violent responses to these by the police.

Earlier this month, 120,000 desperate Venezuelans took advantage of a weekend's temporary relaxation of border controls to flood into the Colombian city of Cúcuta to shop for basics. Local stores reportedly ran out of supplies in a few hours.

Antonio Pestana, chief of Venezuela's farming association, told reporters last month that only 25 percent of agricultural land is actually being farmed....MORE

Natural Gas: EIA Weekly Supply/Demand Report

Yesterday was the largest upmove of the year (8%) with some follow-through today:

Although we were pointing out the coming heat wave back on July 13 with "Natural Gas: 'Massive heat dome forecast to bake much of U.S. by late next week'" it took the market an extra seven days to realize how much gas would go into powering the air conditioners.

Now the thing to focus on is the fact that gas in storage is very, very high.

$2.891 last , +0.018.
From the Energy Information Administration:


(For the Week Ending Wednesday, July 27, 2016)

  • Spot prices at most market locations rose this report week (Wednesday, July 20, to Wednesday, July 27). The Henry Hub spot price rose 8¢ from $2.72 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) last Wednesday to $2.80/MMBtu yesterday.
  • At the New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex), the August 2016 contract expired yesterday at $2.672/MMBtu, up 1¢ from last Wednesday. The September 2016 contract rose to $2.660/MMBtu, up 4¢ Wednesday to Wednesday.
  • Net injections to working gas totaled 17 Bcf for the week ending July 22. Working gas stocks are 3,294 Bcf, which is 15% greater than the year-ago level and 19% greater than the five-year (2011-15) average for this week.
  • According to Baker Hughes, for the week ending Friday, July 22, the natural gas rig count fell by 1 to 88. Oil-directed rigs increased by 14 to 371. The number of miscellaneous rigs increased by 2 during the week. The total rig count increased by 15, and now stands at 462.
  • The natural gas plant liquids composite price at Mont Belvieu, Texas, fell by 10¢, closing at $4.87/MMBtu for the week ending July 22. The price of ethane, propane, and butane fell 6%, 2%, and 1%, respectively. The price of isobutane was flat, and the price of natural gasoline rose 1%.
Heat drives price increases. As temperatures rose this report week, the Henry Hub spot price increased 8¢ from $2.72/MMBtu last Wednesday to $2.80/MMBtu yesterday. At the Chicago Citygate, prices gained 3¢ from $2.72/MMBtu last Wednesday to $2.75/MMBtu yesterday.

California prices rise on extreme heat this week. Like most areas of the country, California experienced hot weather this week. Maximum temperatures reached into the upper 90s this week, and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) urged consumers to conserve electricity in anticipation of high power demand. At the SoCal Citygate, prices gained 40¢ this week, from $3.02/MMBtu last Wednesday to $3.42/MMBtu yesterday. Prices at the PG&E Citygate, which serves areas farther north, where temperatures were more moderate, rose 15¢ from $3.00/MMBtu last Wednesday to $3.15/MMBtu yesterday.

Northeast prices increase. Temperatures in Boston reached into the 90s this week. At the Algonquin Citygate, which serves Boston-area consumers, prices rose 21¢ from $2.74/MMBtu last Wednesday to $2.95/MMBtu yesterday. Similarly, at the Transcontinental Pipeline's Zone 6 trading point for New York, prices rose 18¢ from $2.21/MMBtu last Wednesday to $2.39/MMBtu yesterday....
Mean Temperature Anomaly (F) 7-Day Mean ending Jul 21, 2016

Dear Teamsters: It Looks Like Uber Was Trying To Dig Up Dirt On The Seattle Local

From The Verge:

Uber hired CIA-linked research firm to investigate Seattle union politics
After a tense city council vote, the secretive firm was called in to investigate 'the dynamics of labor unions'
In an email obtained by The Verge, Ergo reached out to a labor historian named Trevor Griffey, seeking insight into "the recent developments in labor unionization in Seattle" and offering to pay for consultation work on the topic. The email was sent in mid-January, roughly a month after the collective bargaining ordinance was passed.

In the email, the sender identifies himself as an Ergo representative, but says his work is on behalf of a private, anonymous client and that the resulting study will not be released to the public. According to the message, the study would deal with "Seattle's political stakeholders and the dynamics of labor unions in the city." The final report was due to be submitted "relatively soon." Ergo did not respond to requests for comment.

Uber has undertaken a number of initiatives to convince Seattle drivers not to support the newly empowered App Based Drivers Association. In January, Uber customer service representatives began contacting Seattle-based drivers with a new script, which began as a driver satisfaction survey but concluded with a strong anti-union message. "This is simply a case where collective bargaining and unionization do not fit the characteristics of the work," the script read, a turn one former employee characterized as "union-busting."...MORE
There are quite a few dimensions to what is going on here so lets start with the latest....
This is not at all what Silicon Valley wants.
* Teamsters Local 117 was instrumental in mobilizing the political clout and "assisted" in drafting the ordinance.
Uber had brought in former Obama campaign genius David Plouffe to do a little arm-twisting, apparently to no avail.
What Uber Hath Wrought: The Coming Digital Labor Movement
As Chicago Prepares an App For Taxis to Compete With Uber, Giant Union AFSCME is Organizing Cab Drivers
 Watch Out Uber: National Labor Relations Board Interpretation Could Allow Many Taxi Drivers to Unionize
 Dear Teamsters, United Auto Workers: Google Is Trying To Crush Your Unions and Your Members (GOOG)
Here's how the Teamsters reacted to stress in 1934, the management guy heading for terra firma  died almost instantly of a crushed occipital lobe:

Russia To Lend 2.2 Billion Euros To Iran

Wait what?
From Tass:

Russia prepares deal on 2.2 billion euro loan to Iran — minister
MOSCOW, July 29. /TASS/. Russia and Iran have prepared a package of agreements on allocating a 2.2 billion euro loan to Tehran, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told journalists on Friday.

"These two draft agreements were coordinated in the Russian government - 2.2 billion euros in total in the framework of agreements will be provided as an inter-state loan," Novak said after talks with Iranian Minister of Communication Mahmoud Vaezi. Banks' cooperatio.

According to the minister, Russia and Iran agree to continue cooperation in the banking sphere.
"We agree there is a need to continue working in the field of developing relations in the banking sphere," Novak said.

According to him, this is the main current topic on the agenda. "Development of the interbank lending opportunities, mutual credit, provides additional opportunities and momentum for our companies in cooperation," Novak said.

The minister added that representatives of Iranian, Russian Central Banks will meet in August....MORE

Risk: Skydiving Without A 'Chute


From The Guardian:

Skydiver to jump from plane without a parachute on live TV 
He’s made 18,000 parachute jumps, helped train some of the world’s most elite skydivers, done some of the stunts for Ironman 3. But the plunge Luke Aikins knows he’ll be remembered for is the one he’s making without a parachute. Or a wingsuit.

Or anything, really, other than the clothes he’ll be wearing when he jumps out of an airplane at 25,000 feet this weekend, attempting to become the first person to land safely on the ground in a net.
The Fox network will broadcast the two-minute jump live at 8pm ET (5pm PT) Saturday as part of an hour-long TV special called Heaven Sent.

And, no, you don’t have to tell Aikins it sounds crazy. He knows that.

“If I wasn’t nervous I would be stupid,” the compact, muscular athlete says with a grin as he sits under a canopy near Saturday’s drop zone.

“We’re talking about jumping without a parachute, and I take that very seriously. It’s not a joke,” he adds.

Nearby, a pair of huge cranes define the boundaries where the net in which Aikins expects to land is being erected. It will be about one-third the size of a football field and 20 stories high, providing enough space to cushion his fall, he says, without allowing him to bounce out of it. The landing target, which has been described as similar to a fishing trawler net, has been tested repeatedly using dummies.

One of those 200-pound (91-kilogram) dummies didn’t bounce out. It crashed right through.
“That was not a good thing to see”...MORE

Evans-Pritchard: "IMF admits disastrous love affair with the euro and apologises for the immolation of Greece"

From the Telegraph:
The International Monetary Fund’s top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments in Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.

This is the lacerating verdict of the IMF’s top watchdog on the fund’s tangled political role in the eurozone debt crisis, the most damaging episode in the history of the Bretton Woods institutions.

It describes a “culture of complacency”, prone to “superficial and mechanistic” analysis, and traces a shocking breakdown in the governance of the IMF, leaving it unclear who is ultimately in charge of this extremely powerful organisation.

The report by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) goes above the head of the managing director, Christine Lagarde. It answers solely to the board of executive directors, and those from Asia and Latin America are clearly incensed at the way European Union insiders used the fund to rescue their own rich currency union and banking system.

The three main bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland were unprecedented in scale and character. The trio were each allowed to borrow over 2,000pc of their allocated quota – more than three times the normal limit – and accounted for 80pc of all lending by the fund between 2011 and 2014.

In an astonishing admission, the report said its own investigators were unable to obtain key records or penetrate the activities of secretive "ad-hoc task forces". Mrs Lagarde herself is not accused of obstruction.

“Many documents were prepared outside the regular established channels; written documentation on some sensitive matters could not be located. The IEO in some instances has not been able to determine who made certain decisions or what information was available, nor has it been able to assess the relative roles of management and staff," it said.

The report said the whole approach to the eurozone was characterised by “groupthink” and intellectual capture. They had no fall-back plans on how to tackle a systemic crisis in the eurozone – or how to deal with the politics of a multinational currency union – because they had ruled out any possibility that it could happen.

“Before the launch of the euro, the IMF’s public statements tended to emphasise the advantages of the common currency," it said. Some staff members warned that the design of the euro was fundamentally flawed but they were overruled.
“After a heated internal debate, the view supportive of what was perceived to be Europe’s political project ultimately prevailed,” it said.

This pro-EMU bias continued to corrupt their thinking for years. “The IMF remained upbeat about the soundness of the European banking system and the quality of banking supervision in euro-area countries until after the start of the global financial crisis in mid-2007. This lapse was largely due to the IMF’s readiness to take the reassurances of national and euro area authorities at face value,” it said....MUCH MORE

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Handy Hints: Use Your Competitor's Genetic Information To Get Ahead

Do you compete in the blood sport of office politics?
Time to step up your game.

From Motherboard:

What Can A Hacker Do With Your Genetic Information?
Learning about the genetic markers stored in your DNA can be an illuminating experience, even a life-altering one. Now that direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies such as 23andMe have made these tests more accessible and affordable, it’s no wonder that more than 1 million people have shipped their spit off to be genotyped, and have all their genetic information catalogued (and sold) in the process.

When a massive cache of private information is all stored in one place, it will naturally be a target for hackers. Though there hasn’t been a hack of any consumer genetic testing company yet, it may just a matter of time before someone breaches one of these sites and gains access to not just your credit card, but also your genetic markers.

So how concerned should we be, and what might happen if a hacker ever did get his or her hands on your DNA?

“You can imagine scenarios where unsavory people could try to use this stuff in personal ways,” said Dr. Robert Green, the director of the Genomes to People research program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School.

Green told me while a massive hack might be able to execute a data dump of genetic information, unless the hacker was also able to connect that information to individuals (personal information is encrypted, according to 23andMe’s privacy policy) it wouldn’t be particularly useful. Even if the genetic information was linked to customers’ identities, on a mass scale it wouldn’t mean much.
What would be more detrimental would be a targeted attack to collect your genetic information specifically, orchestrated by somebody you know.

“If there were variants that put someone at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and you were vying with that person in a corporation for a job, you could somehow try to use that information to suggest that they might be unfit,” Green told me over the phone. “You could be in a custody battle where DNA could suggest there’s a predisposition to psychiatric illness, for example.”

Green has previously studied how genetic information like this could be used in politics, citing the obsession and concern over Senator John McCain’s age and vitality in the 2008 election. But if someone were targeting you specifically, there are way less complicated and risky ways of getting your genetic information than breaching the entire 23andMe database....MORE