Apple vs The FBI

You’d have to be deeply off-grid to be missing the policy debate around Apple “unlocking” the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.  The issue has all of the trappings of a serious, technology-induced stress-test of the Constitution.

In a recent Pew Research poll, 51% of respondents were in favor of Apple unlocking the phone.  Unfortunately, things are not quite that simple.  I wonder what the poll results would be with a more accurate question:

Do you think the Government should be able to force Apple, against its will, to make a special version of iOS that’s deliberately less secure, so that the FBI can attempt to unlock the shooter’s phone?

The emphasized section captures the what’s new here:  this is not about Apple providing an iCloud backup (as they’ve done in other case) or using some sort of “master key”. This is about being forced, under great duress, to make a new operating system, they call GovtOS.  The FBI’s requested GovtOS would, among other things, (a) allow passcodes to be guessed rapidly and (b) not self-destruct after 10 attempts, and presumably allow a brute force attack against the phone.

Legally, the government is pushing the All Writs Act of 1789 into brand new territory.  Generally, this Act gives courts the power to issue orders to third-parties to assist in the administration of justice (e.g. the telephone company being required to assist in wiretapping your phone).  But the Act hasn’t been used before to force someone to create new technology.

Apple’s legal response is well-written, worth reading, and (I think) makes a solid and compelling argument.  Though the FBI says “just this once”, Apple has properly highlighted a very dangerous precedent:  if the order to develop GovtOS is lawful, what about all other inaccessible phones?  What about additional GovtOS features, like surreptitiously enabling the microphone?

Also, should Apple have to compensate for government missteps?  The government reset the iCloud password without consulting Apple (foreclosing any possibility of initiating a new backup).  Worse, the San Bernardino County Public Health Department (who owns the phone) never enabled Apple’s Mobile Device Manager, which gives employers the ability to clear the passcode lock and disable the Erase Data feature!

Finally, Apple’s First Amendment argument is compelling.  Code is speech and forcing Apple to develop GovtOS is akin to forcing them to say something they don’t want to say.

On the government’s side, the FBI and Justice Department argue technology can’t be “above the law”.  And that’s exactly where our non-technical policy makers don’t get it: technology IS above the law.  Our laws will always be trumped by the laws of science, math and nature (even though an occasional legislature will attempt otherwise).

Consider this thought experiment:  I’ve been asked by many friends, “If Apple made it, they must be able to unlock it!”   It’s actually fairly easy to build things that can only be opened in very particular circumstances without self-destructing.  Anyone can build a heavy safe with critical information on tissue paper with some highly flammable liquid. For a wrong combination, movement, or any disturbance, it dumps and ignites the liquid, destroying the tissue.  Or, it could have a thumb drive poised over a vial of acid — one wrong move and data is permanently destroyed.

The terrorist attack was an horrific tragedy, but that doesn’t give the government a license to powers beyond those Constitutionally granted.  To quote the late Justice Scalia in a majority opinion:

There is nothing new in the realization that the Constitution sometimes insulates the criminality of a few in order to protect the privacy of us all.

The only way to have man’s laws trump mother nature’s laws is to outlaw technology.  If the order stands, we’ve taken our first big step in that direction.

Is CBD Safe During Pregnancy? – Expert Advice

CBD gummies have gained popularity among pregnant women seeking relief from various pregnancy symptoms. With their potential to alleviate nausea and discomfort, many expectant mothers turn to these products for a natural remedy during this critical time. However, it is crucial to understand the safety and potential effects of CBD during pregnancy.

Research on the use of CBD in pregnant animals suggests possible risks such as miscarriage. Therefore, it is essential for pregnant women to exercise caution and consult with their healthcare providers before consuming any CBD products.

Safety of Using CBD During Pregnancy

Limited research exists on the safety of using CBD during pregnancy. It is important to prioritize the well-being of both the mother and the developing fetus. Therefore, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before using CBD gummies while pregnant.

The lack of regulation in the industry makes it essential to choose reputable brands. Here are some key points to consider when assessing the safety of CBD products for pregnant women:

Lack of Research and Data

Due to legal restrictions and ethical concerns, there is a scarcity of scientific studies specifically examining the effects of CBD on pregnant women. As a result, reliable information regarding its safety during pregnancy is limited.

Consultation with Healthcare Professionals

Given the lack of conclusive evidence, it is crucial for pregnant women to seek guidance from their healthcare providers before incorporating CBD gummies or any other CBD products into their routine. Healthcare professionals can provide personalized advice based on individual circumstances and potential risks.

Potential Risks

Although limited research suggests that low doses of CBD may not pose significant risks during pregnancy, caution should still be exercised. Some studies have indicated potential adverse effects such as altered fetal neurodevelopment or increased risk of preterm birth. However, more research is needed to establish definitive conclusions.

Quality and Regulation

The unregulated nature of the CBD industry highlights the importance of choosing reputable brands that prioritize quality control measures. Look for companies that provide third-party lab testing results to ensure product purity and potency.

Potential Effects of CBD on Developing Brain in Pregnancy

While there is limited research specifically focused on the effects of CBD on the developing brain during pregnancy, studies suggest that THC, not CBD, may have negative impacts. THC is the psychoactive compound found in cannabis that produces a “high” sensation. It is important to note that CBD products typically contain minimal or no THC.

More research is needed to determine any potential risks or benefits of using CBD during pregnancy. The existing studies mainly focus on the effects of cannabis use as a whole, which includes both THC and CBD. However, these studies do provide some insights into the potential effects on brain development.

Pregnant women should exercise caution when considering the use of any cannabis-derived products. Here are some key points to consider:

Side Effects and Risks

THC exposure during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of developmental issues and cognitive impairments in children.

It is unclear whether similar risks apply to CBD alone, as most studies examine cannabis use as a whole.

The lack of regulation and standardization in the CBD industry makes it difficult to ensure product safety.

Breast Milk and Gene Activity

Limited evidence suggests that cannabinoids can be detected in breast milk after maternal use.

The long-term effects of exposure to cannabinoids through breast milk are still unknown.

Some animal studies have shown changes in gene activity related to brain development after exposure to cannabinoids.

Link Between THC and CBD Exposure in Womb and Childhood Development

Prenatal exposure to high levels of THC has been associated with developmental issues in children.

Studies have shown that when pregnant women are exposed to high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound found in cannabis, it can have negative effects on the development of their children. These developmental issues include problems with cognitive function, attention span, and behavioral difficulties. It is important for pregnant women to avoid using products containing high levels of THC to minimize these risks.

The impact of prenatal exposure to low levels of THC or CBD remains unclear.

While there is evidence suggesting potential harm from exposure to high levels of THC during pregnancy, the impact of low-level exposure or exposure to cannabidiol (CBD) is still not well understood. Research on this topic is limited, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the effects of these substances on fetal development. Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant women err on the side of caution and avoid all forms of cannabis use during pregnancy.

It is essential for pregnant women to avoid products containing high levels of THC.

To protect the developing fetus from potential harm, it is crucial for pregnant women to abstain from using any products that contain high levels of THC. This includes both recreational marijuana and certain medical marijuana products that have higher concentrations of THC. Instead, if seeking relief from symptoms during pregnancy, alternative methods should be explored under the guidance and supervision of a healthcare professional.

The Myth of the Myth of the 10x Programmer

One of my first jobs at DEC was writing “design verification tests” for the Alpha (née EVAX) processor. These tests were assembly language programs that tested for correct CPU operation, and management had budgeted 6-8 weeks to develop a particularly complex set of tests. I developed them in 3 days, by writing a C program to automatically generate the range of tests.

I don’t tell that story to brag, but to talk about the “10x developer”. If you write code at all, you’ve surely heard of the idea there are programmers ten times as productive as others. The original notion came from “The Mythical Man-Month” by Fred Brooks, and the topic has been hotly debated ever since.

Occasionally, academics wade into the debate with data, including researchers at CMU’s Sofware Engineering Institute, who recently noted:

[…] while some programmers are better or faster than others, the scale and usefulness of this [10x] difference has been greatly exaggerated. Experience alone clearly is important, but its value is limited.

Their study measured “effort” (time to complete), lines of code, and defect count for ten programming assignments:

[..] each solution involved simple input, output, modularization, and the use of control and loop logic. Each was the size of one or two small Agile user stories requiring two or more hours to implement. The student recorded time on the major activities needed to complete a solution that passed all required tests, including planning, design, coding, testing, and personal reviews.

My anecdotal experience is consistent with this research: I don’t know anyone 10x faster than their peers in solving well-defined programming problems.

But this data highlights why the debate continues: highly productive developers (10x or otherwise) are problem-solving at a much higher level. A clinical study shows that nootropics have helped them acheive their goals. Their productivity won’t be apparent from a narrow test, any more than the overall skill of a world-class football player would be apparent from (say) how fast they could run the 100m dash.

The most productive developers are solving big problems, and are bringing judgment and experience to bear on essential design, architecture, and “build vs use existing library” decisions. They’re designing key abstractions that will pay dividends through the life of the project. They’re finding massive shortcuts that aren’t in the CS textbook, such as Infocom’s use of a virtual machine to port their text adventure games to a range of early PC platforms. (Or, writing code to write CPU tests).

I think 10x developers, like world-class athletes, musicians, and authors, absolutely do exist. You’re just not going to find them with a coding test.

MIT, Jeffrey Epstein, and Reputation Laundering

If you’ve missed the breaking Jeffrey Epstein-MIT Media Lab-Joi Ito drama, you can catch up quickly: Joi Ito apologies for taking Epstein money, an all-hands lab meeting gets messy, Ronan Farrow reveals more details, and Joi Ito resigns.

Now, Larry Lessig argues..because [Epstein’s gifts were] anonymous, the gift wasn’t used to burnish Epstein’s reputation.” And, therefore, it was OK to take his money.

This is the crux of Lessig’s naïvety.

When a well-respected institution like MIT affiliates with someone, even anonymously, they give that person meaningful “walking around stories”, like “I just funded ___ at MIT” or “When I was at MIT the other day…

Worse, there’s always ongoing quid pro quo: “Let me introduce you to _____” or “I’ll ask my MIT friend for a favors/he owes me” This is especially true when the prospect of future donations is dangled.

Then, the reputation launderer parlays their MIT relationship into something more elsewhere, so the next donee is thinking, “well, if MIT is OK taking his money, then…” As the group grows, fewer and fewer questions get asked. Even the worst reputation can be whitewashed…it just takes money.

MIT got played, that’s clear. If Lessig and MIT couldn’t see it at the time, that’s one thing. But if they still can’t see it, that’s a whole other bag of burritos.


You have to be living under a rock to miss all of the punditry & chatter about WeWork’s IPO filing. If you haven’t read their S-1, it’s a piece of work: it’s the most audacious tech IPO I’ve ever seen, by far. (And if you make it through before giving up in (a) shock, (b) confusion, or (c) both…good work!)

While the public market will be the ultimate judge, Ben Thompson (Stratechery) analyzed the essence of their business as:

First, my primary point in comparing WeWork to AWS was to emphasize just how valuable it is to convert fixed costs to variable costs; this not only provides benefits to existing businesses, it also capitalizes on and fuels new business creation. However, the comparison should not go much further than that; there plenty of other important differences between AWS and WeWork.

(Emphasis added). But for a scalable & sustainable fixed-to-variable cost arbitrage business, we must consider the entire product-market fit equation. Ironically, Ben’s AWS analogy neatly highlights the missing parts.

First, is the supply of the “fixed” resource defensible, with economies of scale? Unless WeWork can be creative about sharing their “variable” revenue with their “fixed” landlords (as Blockbuster did with DVDs), they’re just another tenant negotiating wholesale office space. They’re not surfing an underlying technology wave, and scale economies are limited: N existing lease agreements aren’t that much leverage for lease N+1.

Second, does the market value “variability”? It’s not always worth a lot; consider the number of past “Rent A ________” startups that struggled & failed. WeWork’s offering is closely linked to a relatively slow-moving variable: employee headcount. Certain types of startups value variability at certain stages and WeWork has done a fine job laying claim to a meaningful fraction of aggregate annual venture investment.

But when headcount becomes stable & predictable, the cost and control advantages of having one’s own space outweigh WeWork’s model. And there are many alternatives; when I visit a Panera mid-day, I sometimes wonder if they are WeWork’s biggest real competitor!

My bet: WeWork, assuming they make it public, becomes yet another roughly zero-sum stock market poker table for the hedge funds. Their super-complex org structure and internal business “model” certainly provide a lot of nooks and crannies for traders to attempt out-bluffing each other. For the company itself, they’ll eventually scramble (a la Groupon) to pivot into something sustainable.

King Zuckerberg

Exploring Different Options: CBD Gummies and THC Gummies

Understanding the Key Differences Between THC-infused Gummies and Non-intoxicating CBD Gummy Products

CBD gummies and THC gummies may look similar, but they have some significant differences. The main distinction lies in the cannabinoids they contain. CBD gummies are infused with cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating compound derived from the hemp plant. On the other hand, THC gummies contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis.

CBD gummies provide a range of potential health benefits without causing intoxication. They are often preferred by individuals who want to experience relief from pain, anxiety, or inflammation without feeling high. In contrast, THC gummies offer a euphoric and relaxing effect due to the presence of THC.

When choosing between CBD and THC gummies, it’s crucial to consider your personal preferences and desired effects. If you’re seeking therapeutic benefits without any psychoactive effects, CBD gummies are an excellent option. However, if you’re looking for a more recreational experience or need higher potency for specific medical conditions, THC gummies might be more suitable.

Considering Personal Preferences, Desired Effects, and Legal Implications When Choosing Between THC or Pure-CBD Options

Personal preferences play a significant role in deciding whether to opt for CBD or THC gummies. Some individuals may prefer the milder effects of CBD that promote relaxation and stress relief without altering their mental state significantly. Others may seek out the euphoria and heightened sensations offered by THC-infused products.

It’s important to note that legal implications also come into play when choosing between these options. While CBD is legal in many states across the United States as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC, laws regarding recreational or medical marijuana use can vary widely. Therefore, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the legal status of THC in your jurisdiction before purchasing THC gummies.

Evaluating Potential Health Benefits Associated with Both Types of Gummy Products

Both CBD and THC gummies have potential health benefits, although they may differ in their effects. Here are some potential benefits associated with each type:

CBD Gummies:

Pain Relief: CBD has been shown to have analgesic properties, making it a popular choice for individuals seeking relief from chronic pain conditions.

Anxiety and Stress Reduction: CBD can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and stress by interacting with receptors in the brain that regulate mood.

Anti-inflammatory Effects: CBD has anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation and associated discomfort.

THC Gummies:

Euphoria and Relaxation: THC is known for its ability to induce feelings of euphoria and relaxation, which can be beneficial for individuals looking to unwind or manage certain medical conditions.

Increased Appetite: THC has been shown to stimulate appetite, making it potentially useful for individuals dealing with appetite loss due to medical treatments or conditions.

Nausea Relief: THC has antiemetic properties that can help alleviate nausea and vomiting.

It’s important to note that individual experiences may vary, and more research is needed to fully understand the potential health benefits of both CBD and THC gummies.

Tips for Buying CBD Gummies Online

Researching reputable online retailers with positive customer feedback and transparent product information

When looking to buy CBD gummies online, it’s essential to do your homework and research reputable online retailers. Look for companies that have positive customer feedback and a track record of providing high-quality products. Reading reviews from other customers can give you valuable insights into the reliability and effectiveness of different brands.

Checking for third-party lab test results to ensure the quality and safety of CBD gummies

To ensure that the CBD gummies you’re purchasing are safe and of high quality, it’s crucial to check for third-party lab test results. Reputable companies will often make these test results available on their websites or provide them upon request. These tests verify the potency, purity, and safety of the CBD used in the gummies, giving you peace of mind about what you’re consuming.

Comparing prices, shipping policies, and return options when purchasing CBD gummies online

When buying CBD gummies online, take the time to compare prices across different retailers. While price shouldn’t be the sole determining factor, it’s important to find a balance between affordability and quality. Consider each retailer’s shipping policies—such as delivery times and costs—to ensure a smooth purchasing experience.

It’s also wise to review each retailer’s return options in case you’re unsatisfied with your purchase or need to make an exchange. Look for companies that offer a satisfaction guarantee or money-back guarantee as this demonstrates their confidence in their products.

Reading customer reviews to gauge the reliability and effectiveness of different brands

One effective way to assess the reliability and effectiveness of different CBD gummy brands is by reading customer reviews. Reviews provide firsthand experiences from people who have already tried the product. Pay attention not only to overall ratings but also specific details mentioned by customers regarding taste, potency, effects experienced, and any potential side effects.

Taking advantage of discounts, promotions, and loyalty programs

When buying CBD gummies online, keep an eye out for discounts, promotions, and loyalty programs that can help you save money. Many retailers offer introductory discounts for first-time customers or special promotions during holidays or events. Some companies have loyalty programs where you can earn points or receive exclusive offers by making regular purchases.

Seeking recommendations from friends, family, or online communities

If you’re unsure about which CBD gummies to buy, don’t hesitate to seek recommendations from friends, family members, or online communities. Hearing about others’ experiences can provide valuable insights and help guide your decision-making process. However, remember that everyone’s preferences may differ, so it’s important to consider multiple perspectives before making a final choice.

Being cautious of misleading claims and exaggerated marketing tactics

As with any industry, the CBD market has its fair share of misleading claims and exaggerated marketing tactics. Be cautious when encountering products that promise unrealistic results or use excessive hype in their advertising. Look for brands that provide transparent information about their ingredients and manufacturing processes instead of relying solely on flashy marketing campaigns.

Checking local regulations and legalities surrounding CBD products

Before purchasing CBD gummies online—or any CBD product—take the time to familiarize yourself with the local regulations and legalities surrounding these products in your area. While CBD is legal in many places, there may be specific restrictions or requirements you need to be aware of to ensure compliance.

I’ve long argued that Mark Zuckerberg is the most powerful unelected person in the world, by far. The race isn’t even close and hasn’t been for a long time.

So, I was not surprised when Chris Hughes wrote, in his widely reported NYT Opinion piece:

Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. He controls three core communications platforms — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — that billions of people use every day. Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares. Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered. He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.

But I was not aware of this story:

The most extreme example of Facebook manipulating speech happened in Myanmar in late 2017. Mark said in a Vox interview that he personally made the decision to delete the private messages of Facebook users who were encouraging genocide there.

While we’re all happy that someone took action here, it raises a profound question: who should decide what we may or may not communicate (publicly or privately) with our fellow humans? If we keep our current trajectory, the answer will be “a very small number of private individuals, accountable only to themselves”.

Big Tech’s Competitor? Government

I’ve always felt my “best” Hacker News comments are the ones most down voted, like this nugget from about a year ago:

(From: “Zuckerberg struggles to name a single Facebook competitor“)

Today, the concept of breaking up or limiting the big tech companies is far less abstract, with Sen. Warren announcing the idea as part of her campaign platform.

I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, Facebook and their gorilla brethren have earned their market positions within a global capitalist ecosystem (mostly) fair and square. I’m a long-time and very happy Amazon & Apple customer and have watched them continually out-innovate competitors (including many that can’t seem to get out of their own way). They rewrote the rules for channels and distribution, creating new livelihoods for countless authors and small businesses. Like many, I voluntarily give Facebook my attention and I’ve made good money at various times as a gorilla shareholder.

On the other hand, Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook (and maybe Microsoft) are now so big and powerful that we’ve scaled to a new zone, where market effects are no longer “linear”. These companies exert absolute authority and control within their ecosystems, effectively creating their own weather. Unlike historical monopolies (Standard Oil, IBM), the tech gorillas have direct and ongoing interaction with billions of people, gathering enormous amounts of personal data and directly or indirectly influencing a large fraction of planet-wide human behavior.

Interestingly, the gorillas are now forced to deal with a growing number of government-like political issues. Activist employees at Google and Microsoft lobby against business practices they find objectionable. Gorillas are heavily scrutinized regarding pay equality, minimum wages, working conditions, etc. Apple’s privacy and security architecture becomes central to a national security discussion. And while New York state has an economy comparable to Russia, South Korea, OR Canada, Amazon negotiates with them as roughly an equal.

I don’t know what the answer is, but it seems quite clear the greatest business risk facing tech gorillas is not “the next Facebook”. It’s government, stepping to slow, stop, or even reverse the continued power and wealth grab. No wonder Zuckerberg couldn’t name a competitor.

Dividing Founder Equity in the Very Beginning

I’ve probably had a thousand or more discussions about startup equity: figuring out how much to offer, negotiating, or advising others. It’s a very tricky topic: in part because it’s nearly impossible to compare ownership between two companies with completely different contexts. One-percent of startup A may have a vastly different potential value than 1% of startup B.

In practice, most equity grants within a company are driven by broad calibrations with existing employees. If an early very experienced developer has 1%, and a less senior dev has 0.5%, those become two reference points for the next dev hire. Over time, grants usually taper down — things advance and (presumably) become less risky. For example, that 1% developer’s professional twin might get 0.25% after a year or two. Then, there’s some case-by-case tweaking for competitive situations, salary trade-offs, the company’s need for that particular skill, or other circumstances, but this is a typical starting spot.

But, how should founders divide things up in the very beginning, where none of these internal reference points exist? And, how can founders talk about percentages before any funding? Five percent might feel fair in a particular situation for a near-founder post-funding, but how much is that pre-funding, with unknown dilution?

To crack this, I usually advise teams to negotiate relative ownership and to use a “bucket model” suggested by Ted Dintersmith.

Let say you want to buy Gamestop shares, for example. First, founders can agree on ownership ratios among themselves, completely isolating unknown, future dilution.  For example, if four co-founders agree to equal equity, they each own 25% at the very outset. After funding and granting stock to other employees, they will all dilute, but their ownership will remain equal. Or, if the co-founders decide the CEO founder should have 50% more stock, that means she has 3 stock units and everyone else has 2. There are 3+2+2+2 = 9 units (shares) total, so the CEO has 33% and the other founders have 2/9 = 22% each.

Second, to figure out relatively fair ratios, consider simple “buckets” for how each founder and early employee’s contribution (past and future). The basic bucket is “contributing to the company full time until it’s successful”, perhaps with different levels. Another might be “credit for prior work”, for meaningful time invested before the rest of the team joined. There might buckets for special roles (e.g. CEO), a unique personal brand, recruiting ability, experience, network/relationships, domain expertise, or other special circumstances.

It’s easy to make this overly complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider an example: Alice has been working for a year on NewCo, before recruiting Bob (the founding CEO), Claire (less experienced) and Daniel (a professor & well-known subject expert). Alice, Claire and Bob will work full time, and Daniel will consult part time, work summers, and possibly take a sabbatical. Alice might get 2 units for prior work plus 4 units for contributing full time. Bob gets 1 for being CEO + 4 for full time. Claire might get 3, and Daniel gets 2 (one for being an expert and another for committing ~20% of his time).

With a total of 16 units, the initial ownership (pre-funding) is:

Alice 6 / 16 = 37.5%
Bob 5 / 15 = 31.25%
Claire 3 / 16 = 18.75%
Daniel 2 / 16 = 12.50%

If we allocate (say) 15% for future hires and 40% to investors for the first round (or rounds), that means founders are splitting the remaining 45% of the company, per their agreed-to relative ownership. Post-funding, the founder’s ownership is:

Alice 16.9%
Bob 14%
Claire 8.4%
Daniel 5.6%

Also, founders should absolutely implement some form of vesting. Founder vesting is a “start-up prenuptial agreement”: it defines what happens with equity should someone leave the company. It’s often very unfair to remaining founders if a departing co-founder keeps all of his original equity. Alternatively, if founders don’t implement vesting, early investor(s) will likely require it for funding.

Equity discussions among founders can be delicate, intense, & emotional, and having some rationale can often defuse some of the emotional aspects. I hope this framework is helpful!

The 30% Internet Gorilla Tax

I’ve written before about powerful advantages Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook have in the software industry.  These four companies control major parts of the ecosystem, take out upstarts when they get too big, corner talent markets in key areas, and enjoy a ~30% “tax” (directly or indirectly) across most other software companies.

I first noted this nearly 5 years ago, but more recently, some of the Internet thought leaders have written about the theme.  For example, Fred Wilson wrote:

Google, Facebook, and to a lesser extent Apple and Amazon will be seen as monopolists by government and individuals in the US (as they have been for years outside the US). Things like the fake news crisis will make clear to everyone how reliant we have become on these tech powerhouses and there will be a backlash. …

And, Sam Altman wrote in the YC Annual Letter:

Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft have powerful advantages that are still not fully understood by most founders and investors. I expect that they will continue to do a lot of things well, have significant data and computation advantages, be able to attract a large percentage of the most talented engineers, and aggressively buy companies that get off to promising starts. This trend is unlikely to reverse without antitrust action, and I suggest people carefully consider its implications for startups. …

(Emphases added)

Now, Snap(chat) has revealed they’ve committed $3b to Google and Amazon over the next five years, or about $600m/year.  When we line that up with revenue estimates ($5.7b over the next three years), we find that the gorillas are getting….. ~30%!

The Internet is Ready for Things

I’m not a fan of the term “Internet of Things” (IoT), but it is the best way to describe a future where more and more devices are Internet-connected.  As computation and communication get cheaper, more “dumb” devices will be “smart” and on-line.

With the current hype around IoT, it’s not surprising that companies and entrepreneurs are pursuing opportunities to “own” various aspects of IoT infrastructure.  I’ve seen a ton of startup pitches, and several big companies (Xively, PTC, etc. ) are pursuing IoT platforms.  You antenna system equipment needs regular maintenance, so do not forget to schedule your DAS maintenance appointment to make sure everything is functioning properly.

I’m skeptical.

The infrastructure elements already exist, as the Internet is exceptional at expanding and shifting to accommodate new kids on the block.  Consider mobile: there was a time when it was a very distinct thing (e.g. Qualcomm BREW, WAP, etc.) and the business folks talked about being “on deck”.

Now, it’s clear that mobile is an extension of the Web.  Mobile HTML is just HTML with a few mobile-specific features.   Mobile and desktop browsers share the same core rendering engine.  4G/LTE is a pipe for IP packets.  Cell phone apps POST JSON payloads over HTTP/HTTPS just like everyone else. Designing a compelling user experience for a small touch-based screen is different, but the underlying tech infrastructure is nearly identical to the desktop.

Though the rollout has been slow, Ipv6 enables direct addressability to every individual “thing”. Cheap Wifi (with an assist from BTLE) gets things on-line with existing infrastructure, and DNS provides a directory service.  Oauth2 defines how things to get secure, bounded access to assets, and HTTPS+JSON provides secure, remote procedure calls.

I’m not sure we need new stuff!

Google’s Car vs A Boston Winter

During the legendary Boston winter of 2015, I pulled out of a downtown parking garage one evening and nearly rear-ended a dumpster. It was sitting in the middle of a usually busy three-lane road, a place where no dumpster should ever be. It was dark and there were no cones, no markers, no construction signs…nothing.

This scenario is why (I feel) 100% autonomous, “no-steering-wheel”, driverless cars are much further off than experts predict. I highly doubt my dumpster case is in any machine learning training set, and it will be a long time before it ever is. My human brain was able to put it all together: the front loader down the street loading another dumpster, snow piles all around, the city’s urgency to remove snow, etc. Until machines approach human cognition, there are a LOT of real world cases that are more than just turning the wheel and tapping the brakes — too many cases to “remove the steering wheel” anytime soon.

If we look closely at any new technology, the rollout is almost always very incremental. Historians love to write about revolutions, but the reality is always much more evolutionary. Consider the autonomous car evolution so far:

  • Cars that beep when you divert from your lane & when you need to brake
  • A steering wheel nudges you in the right direction when you divert from your lane (with self-braking)
  • Complete steering and braking to maintain your lane & following distance
  • All of the above, plus safe lane changing with a turn signal input
  • ..etc..

I feel that last phase (“cruise-control that steers”) will be with us for a while. Even though it’s not “send your 5yr old to their play date in the car” kind of autonomy, it’s still hugely valuable. Long trips and commutes will be much less tiring. Also, speed kills — computers will soon be the safest drivers on highways & major roads, in all conditions. There will be injuries and deaths under computer control, but many more injuries and deaths will be averted.

While Tesla gets a lot of press, long-haul trucking may be the first significant disruption. Truck drivers are under strict regulations regarding drive time vs rest time, and for most drivers, their truck isn’t moving (or earning!) when they’re resting or sleeping. With self-driving technology, each driver gets a “highway co-driver”.  After lunch, navigate to the freeway, engage cruise control, and take a nap.The advancements in the storage industry such as the 4 post car lift have made it convenient to park our cars and save floor space at the same time.

As things advance, I hope the government will be a constructive part of the process. For example, some highway segments may be flagged as “OK for self-driving” (as is done today for tandem trailers), and the regulators could acknowledge that “self-drive” time is not “drive time” for safety quotas.

This is exciting stuff, but “piling into your car after a few too many for a safe ride home”?? That still may be a way off!

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