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Dashcam footage gets top German court approval for car crash cases

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germans will be able to use dashcam footage as evidence in some road accident cases following a federal supreme court ruling on Tuesday, even though it violates strict privacy rules.

FILE PHOTO: The building of the German Federal Supreme Court Bundesgerichtshof is pictured in Karlsruhe, Germany, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

A German court sparked a debate in 2016 about privacy and surveillance when it decided to accept footage from a dashboard mounted camera as the sole evidence to convict a driver who ran a red light.

Surveillance is a sensitive issue because of extensive snooping by the Stasi secret police in Communist East Germany and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era, and the Federal Court of Justice decision overturned a ruling by a lower court.

This had told a plaintiff seeking damages for a car crash that he could not use footage from his dashboard-mounted camera to prove who had caused the accident.

German law forbids continuous filming in public places, which means that drivers are not allowed to leave their dashcams running for hours at a time.

“But continuous, unprompted recording of what is happening on and along the road is not necessary for a plaintiff to secure evidence,” the Federal Court of Justice said in a statement.

FILE PHOTO: The sign of the German Federal Supreme Court Bundesgerichtshof is pictured in Karlsruhe, Germany, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

“It is technically possible to create a short recording of an accident itself, for instance by continuously overwriting what is being recorded but only saving it permanently when an accident happens,” it added.

It also said that courts should be allowed to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow dashcam footage as evidence by weighing a plaintiff’s right to bring claims before a civil court against a defendant’s right to privacy.

They should also take into account that there is often very little evidence available in road accidents, and that the people caught on camera were in a public place.

The federal supreme court ruling means the lower court will now have to deliver a new verdict.

Germany’s insurance trade body GDV, which is in favor of using dashcam footage to quickly settle questions of liability, said the court’s ruling failed to set out clear guidelines.

“On the one hand, such cameras are not forbidden and their footage can be used in civil proceedings. On the other hand the court says that you’re breaking privacy laws if you record people and license plates while driving,” GDV manager Bernhard Gause said in a statement.

Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Alexander Smith

Big Tech shares the most crowded trade for 4th straight month-BAML fund survey

LONDON (Reuters) – Global investors clung to their preference for the tech sector in May, with shares in so-called FAANG and BAT firms remaining the most crowded trade for the fourth straight month, according to a survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

FILE PHOTO: The company logo of the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch is displayed at its office in Hong Kong March 8, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The bank said on Tuesday that its monthly survey of fund managers had found “FAANG + BAT” shares most preferred by the market and most often held in portfolios. FAANG groups the U.S. tech giants Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google while BAT comprises the Chinese trio of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

Being “short” U.S. Treasuries as well as the dollar were also in the top three in terms of crowded trades, according to the survey of 233 fund managers managing $643 billion.

Investors remain concerned about the global economy as signs multiply that growth is decelerating. Only a net one percent of the investors thought the global economy will strengthen over the next 12 months, BAML said.

This increased pessimism was reflected in relatively high cash holdings in portfolios; while average cash balance edged down to 4.9 percent in May from 5 percent in April, they remain above the 10-year average of 4.5 percent.

Allocation to bank stocks rose to a net 36 percent overweight, the second highest level on record.

Reporting by Helen Reid; editing by Sujata Rao

Stop Using Common Email Encryption Tools Immediately, Researchers Warn

Throughout the many arguments over encrypted communications, there has been at least one constant: the venerable tools for strong email encryption are trustworthy. That may no longer be true.

On Tuesday, well-credentialed cybersecurity researchers will detail what they call critical vulnerabilities in widely-used tools for applying PGP/GPG and S/MIME encryption. According to Sebastian Schinzel, a professor at the Münster University of Applied Sciences in Germany, the flaws could reveal the “plaintext” that email encryption is supposed to cover up—in both current and old emails.

The researchers are advising everyone to temporarily stop using plugins for mail clients like Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail that automatically encrypt and decrypt emails—at least until someone figures out how to remedy the situation. Instead, experts say, people should switch to tools like Signal, the encrypted messaging app that’s bankrolled by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton.

“There are currently no reliable fixes for the vulnerability,” Schinzel tweeted Monday morning. “If you use PGP/GPG or S/MIME for very sensitive communication, you should disable it in your email client for now.”

When contacted by Fortune, Schinzel declined to divulge further details ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, but he pointed to a blog post from the world’s biggest digital rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF,) for further advice.

The EFF’s post is also light on detail, but the organization has seen what the researchers are preparing to announce and said it “can confirm that these vulnerabilities pose an immediate risk to those using these tools for email communication, including the potential exposure of the contents of past messages.”

“Our advice, which mirrors that of the researchers, is to immediately disable and/or uninstall tools that automatically decrypt PGP-encrypted email. Until the flaws described in the paper are more widely understood and fixed, users should arrange for the use of alternative end-to-end secure channels, such as Signal, and temporarily stop sending and especially reading PGP-encrypted email,” the EFF wrote.

Specifically, the group urged everyone to temporarily disable these mail client encryption add-ons: Enigmail for Thunderbird, GPGTools for Apple Mail, and Gpg4win for Outlook.

GPGTools and Gpg4win are Mac- and Windows-friendly versions of GnuPG—an open-source version of the 27-year-old PGP encryption toolkit. In a tweet on Monday morning, the GnuPG project said the security researchers had found vulnerabilities in the mail clients, not in the underlying protocols.

Werner Koch, the German free software developer who started GnuPG in 1997, wrote that he found the EFF’s warnings “pretty overblown.” He said the researchers had not contacted the GnuPG team, but he had accessed their paper anyway.

Despite what the EFF said, Werner insisted, the encrypted email plugin for Outlook was not vulnerable.

Your Business Deserves the Same Quality Ingredients, Patience, and Character as Your Favorite Wine

Recently, my wife and I returned from a trip to Europe. While we were there, I enjoyed some tremendous wines. It got me thinking how fine wine and good business share many characteristics. They both require quality inputs, time to develop, and character, and they need to find the right customers at the right time.

Here are other reasons why your business is like a fine wine:

1. You Don’t Have to Spend a Lot

There’s a lot of wine out there, but price does not always correlate with quality. The biggest name does not always produce the finest work. Similarly, businesses need to be careful how they spend their money. Businesses leaders must consider carefully where and how their raw materials are generated. And you don’t necessarily need to hire the candidate who requires the highest salary. There’s a great deal of quality to be found if you dig a little deeper, and the fit for your company might be even better.

2. Be Smooth

Drinking wine should be a great experience. The flavors should blend with the food and highlight the appropriate notes. The whole experience should come together seemingly effortlessly. A business should also function like a well-oiled machine. The team should coordinate efforts efficiently, and the experience for the customer should be smooth and effortless.

3. Quality Over Quantity

I love wine. And while a lot of wine can be fun, if I’m being serious, I’d much rather have a few sips of excellent, highest quality wine than a bottle of rotgut. Encouraging huge quantity can be fun for a while, and cause a flash in the pan for businesses. But for both businesses and consumers, the short-term gain almost always fizzles out, and carries long-term consequences that make everyone uncomfortable. As wine improves with age and businesses develop slowly, patience will be required. But the payoff will be well worth the effort.

4. Know Your Sourcing

Any good chef knows his vintners and vintages. The chef must know the grapes and the land that produce the wine he uses so he can understand how the flavors will meld and will be able to predict any problems. Likewise, business leaders need to know the people they work with and the resources they use. A big mistake in the beginning of the process filters down throughout the product and almost inevitably reaches the customer, putting your reputation and livelihood at risk.

5. Use an Advisor

Restaurants hire sommeliers because they want their guests to have the best experience possible. They want to ensure that the pairing between wine and food is the best possible match, and that the wine tastes exactly as it should. Business leaders, too, should use advisors. Mentoring is an important part of any leader’s development, ensuring that leaders use their time well, guide their team efficiently, and learn from their mistakes.

6. It’s About Relationships

Just like chefs must ensure that their wines match the foods, businesses must ensure that their products fit their market. You can have excellent quality product, but if it doesn’t work in the context of your target market, your businesses will not succeed. That doesn’t mean you can’t do something a little different; chefs and sommeliers sometimes get creative, and businesses should to. But make sure the proposition is compelling – don’t be different just for the sake of being different.

Lucky Seven: Omeros Pops, Exelixis Drops On Phase 3 Flop

Thursday and Friday were eventful days for the Lucky Seven and for biotechnology stocks, in general. It requires portfolio reassessment.

First, Some Guidelines

Before we begin, I’d like to discuss some additional key points to the purpose of the Lucky Seven portfolio:

  • The goal, for all picks, is to reap 15% profits as quickly as possible. If and when a pick does this, it is considered a “win”. The 15% threshold includes intraday activity. For scorecard sake, 10% additional profits (at 25%, 35%, 45%…) are locked in. Meaning, if Omeros (NASDAQ:OMER) is up 37% since our initial buy, then drops 15% within a day and we decide to sell, this trade will be considered a “win” with a theoretical 35% profit. I will also keep track of actual gains, as opposed to the theoretical ones I just mentioned. The actual gain in the example provided would be 22%.
  • After a “win”, if we feel there is additional upside, we will continue to hold the pick in the Lucky Seven.
  • A “loss” is considered anything sold for a loss.
  • A “gain” is anything sold for a profit under 15%.
  • A scorecard, tracking and updating all Lucky Seven “wins”, “losses”, and “gains” will be presented in each Lucky Seven article.
  • To simplify things going forward, we will no longer note theoretical portfolio values/losses/gains and will focus on swing candidates only, as our swing candidates must also have good long-term prospects.
  • Lucky Seven transactions (adding/buying or subtracting/selling) will only occur when specified in a “Lucky Seven” article or when a pick hits a stop-loss specified in an article.

Lucky Seven Portfolio

The Lucky Seven is a swing-trading biotechnology portfolio of seven stocks listed in a way to reflect top picks and risk tolerance. The first three picks are the top picks (in no particular order). Risks are increased the further away a stock sits from #4 (the least risky stock).

SELL 1. Viking Therapeutics (NASDAQ:VKTX)

Price: $4.25

It appears like the 50-day MA (currently at 4.84) has served as resistance. It will be interesting to see how this trades near that resistance in the coming days. This should be watched very closely.

Intraday 5/11 Update: The 50-day MA, once again, served as strong resistance. I am concerned for a pullback towards the 200-day MA before it perks back up (the chart isn’t looking strong in the near-term).

Now, I am very confident in Viking’s future, and with Madrigal (MDGL) data on its way soon I feel I could miss out on a 15%+ near-term gain. However, it isn’t wise to get into a habit of holding picks just because you feel you may “miss out” on something. That is emotional investing. That chart speaks for itself. Plus, whether or not Madrigal reduces liver fat is much more of an unknown than previous studies. We are selling Viking at $4.50. We will likely revisit Viking very soon, anyway.

In its place we are adding Immune Design (IMDZ) to the Lucky Seven portfolio. I am writing an update piece on Immune Design; it should be up shortly.

BUY 1. Immune Design (NASDAQ:IMDZ)

Initial price: $3.80

Thesis article: here

Update article: here

Being the #1 pick reflects two things:

  • It is a very risky pick.
  • It is a pick I feel confident in its ability to significantly appreciate within the next four months given its (1) current valuation, (2) great data in immuno-oncology setting, (3) chart technicals, (4) insider conviction, and (5) good balance sheet (a lot of cash; no debt).

SELL 2. Omeros (OMER)

Price: $14.79

Because shares of Omeros reached at least 15% within 120 days of the initial buy price, it is considered a “win”. Usually when my short-term trades hit 15% profits, I reevaluate and determine if further upside is ahead or I should cash-in profits and invest in greater opportunities elsewhere.

Thursday AH, Omeros reported Q1 earnings:

  • Revenues for OMIDRIA® were insignificant for Q1, but the two-year passthrough extension will begin in October.
  • Omeros notes $72.8 million in cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments. It plans to add $45 million next week via an existing credit facility. Omeros had a net loss of ~ $30 million for the quarter.
  • Management is confident OMS721 will receive accelerated approval for in both stem-cell TMA and IgA nephropathy (both indications are Breakthrough Therapy Designations).

On Friday, the top on Omeros popped off and it closed up 24% at $19.89. Although I believe further upside may be ahead, I am satisfied with this swing trade and feel better opportunities now present themselves. In addition, I do have concerns of dilution in the near-term. This is the perfect time to do so and I believe it would be prudent of management. Because of this and achieving a significant profit already within just a few trading days, it is worth selling for now:

Source: Omeros’ latest 10-Q

Stay In Cash 2. TBD

3. Array BioPharma (NASDAQ:ARRY)

Price: $13.75 / Gain 9.3% / Day 8

Chart courtesy of StockCharts.com

It seems the 200-day MA is serving as solid support. We are hoping for a rally towards and past the 50-day MA.

4. Exelixis (NASDAQ:EXEL)

Price: 21.77 / Loss 10.2% / Day 8

Ironically, the least “risky” pick holds, by far, the most significant loss (such is biotech investing).

Roche (OTCQX:RHHBY) reported Thursday that its doublet therapy, including Exelixis’ cobimetinib, failed to prove statistically significant over Stivarga in patients with treatment-resistant late-stage colorectal cancer. Although this would have been great news if successful, I don’t think success was likely to begin with. The market badly punished Exelixis shares, pushing them down ~15% towards a new 52-week low.

I believe the market largely overreacted to the news and this presents a great buying opportunity for long-term investors. But does it still belong on Lucky Seven – a swing-trading platform?

When it comes with losses, it isn’t wise to hold on to it just because you don’t want to “sell for a loss”. You’ve already lost the money. The decision should be based upon whether or not you believe a better opportunity exists. For our purposes, I’m looking for investments that will appreciate by at least 15% from the buy price within the next 4 months. Exelixis remains a prudent long-term investment in any portfolio and I am confident it will rebound. We may take a textbook “loss” later, but not at 14.7% and for the reason it’s down.

Update: On Friday the share price rebounded by nearly one dollar.

5. NovoCure (NASDAQ:NVCR)

Price: 27.75 / Gain 8.1% / Day 8

NovoCure continues to climb up after mesothelioma news. It recently presented at the Annual Deutsche Bank Healthcare Conference. The company remains adamant that mesothelioma data was better than expected from what it saw in the interim data (which was good in and of itself) and plans to release full data 2H 2018.

6. Avid Bioservices (NASDAQ:CDMO)

Price: $3.50 / Gain 5.1% / Day 4

Chart courtesy of StockCharts.com

Seneca Park Research penned a robust overview of Avid. You can read it here. We are hoping for the 200-day MA to serve as support and a springboard going forward.

7. Global Blood Therapeutics (NASDAQ:GBT)

Price: 44.75 / Gain 10.6% / Day 8

We’re all just awaiting phase 3 data. In the meantime, the technicals look fine as Friday’s candle poked its head over the 50-day MA for the first time in a while:

Chart courtesy of StockCharts.com

Portfolio Summary

Lucky Seven: Gain 4.45% (this doesn’t include OMER and VKTX gains because we sold them. They are now listed under scorecard/are no longer a part of the portfolio)

SELL OMER at EOD 5/11 and stay in cash (I will initiate a new position when appropriate. An article will be posted when this happens).

SELL VKTX at EOD and buy IMDZ at EOD price.

Lucky Seven Scorecard

Record: 1-1-1; Gain: 12.9%

Loss / SYBX / sold 5/8/18, -1.6% / 3 days

Win / OMER / sold 5/11/18, 34.5% / 8 days

Gain / VKTX / sold 5/11/18, 5.8% / 8 days

One last note on Synlogic: It won’t always work this way (unfortunately), but it’s a good thing we paid attention and remained level-headed. The chart was telling us depreciation was on its way and we sold for a small loss before the ominous candle on Friday:

Chart courtesy of StockCharts.com

And this was on a day that the biotech industry, in general, boomed.

Of course, I remain very bullish on Synlogic’s long-term prospects.

Author’s note: For further insight into biotechnology stocks, please follow Biotech RN.

Disclaimer: The intention of this article is to provide insight, not investment advice. One must consider one’s own financial standings, risk tolerance, research, etc. before making a decision to buy shares in a company. Many of my articles detail biotechnology companies with little or no revenue. These stocks are, therefore, speculative and volatile. Even when prospects seem promising, there is no predicting the future. Losses incurred may be significant.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GBT, imdz, EXEL.

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

Editor’s Note: This article covers one or more stocks trading at less than $1 per share and/or with less than a $100 million market cap. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

Global Consumer Sentiment Supports Bullish Growth View

There is a little-watched and relatively obscure set of indicators produced by Thomson Reuters and Ipsos, called the primary consumer sentiment indexes. These provide a standardized approach to measuring consumer sentiment across a number of countries, and provide timely insight into consumer trends globally.

With the release of the May data this week I thought it would be good to take a quick look at the key trends in global consumer confidence (I have aggregated these indexes using GDP weights to provide a global as well as EM vs. DM view). Basically, global consumer sentiment has held up surprisingly well, which is a positive sign.

The key takeaways on the global consumer sentiment picture are:

-The global aggregate index of consumer sentiment strengthened in May.

-Global consumer sentiment held up well through the global equity market correction and actually strengthened vs. weakening seen in the manufacturing PMI.

-EM consumer confidence has been outperforming DM.

-Overall it supports a bullish global growth outlook.

1. Global Consumer Confidence vs. PMI and Global Equities: The May round of the Thomson Reuters/Ipsos consumer sentiment indexes (which I have aggregated based on IMF calculated PPP adjusted GDP weights), shows that globally the consumer is still doing well and if anything is going from strength to strength.

Interestingly, the global consumer confidence index held up well and actually strengthened through the global equity market correction and bucked the trend seen in the manufacturing PMI. So to my mind it is a nod to the underlying strength in the global economy.

2. Consumer Sentiment – EM vs. DM: Looking at the split between emerging vs. developed economies, the same picture of an apparent structurally different level (EM generally stronger) continued, but in terms of the signal, EM has continued its strengthening trend and in the month of May outperformed DM.

This one is also key as there has been some doubt around emerging markets as EM equities have seen substantial volatility and a reversal of previously hot fund flows.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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

Lots of Doctors Recommend Weed Without Understanding It

If you go to a doctor and ask them to recommend you medical marijuana, don’t expect them to fully understand how the drug works, both for you as an individual patient and in general as a therapy. Because no one really does.

With more and more states legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, cannabis is shedding its stigma and entering the mainstream. That means folks who’ve shied away from the stuff are getting better access, and exploring cannabis as a non-addictive treatment for ailments like pain. But that new interest is running smack dab into a big problem plaguing medical cannabis: The research on what marijuana can actually treat, what components of the plant matter, and how different patients respond to them, is severely lacking.

Just how much doctors are struggling with it becomes clear today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. A study reveals that half of surveyed oncologists say they recommended marijuana to patients in the last year. But half of those didn’t think they actually had sufficient knowledge to make those recommendations.

The biggest question for oncologists is what cancer symptoms cannabis can really treat. The survey found respondents split when it comes to the treatment of pain: A third of oncologists said cannabis is equally or more effective than standard pain treatments, a third said it was less effective, and a third didn’t know. “But there seemed to be clear consensus that medical marijuana is a good adjunct to standard pain treatment, so a good add-on medication,” says Ilana Braun, lead author and chief of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Division of Adult Psychosocial Oncology. In fact, two-thirds of respondents said it’d be a good supplemental treatment.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—which last year published a massive, big-deal review of cannabis research—“there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.” It’s also been shown to help control nausea and vomiting.

Now, doctors have long prescribed a synthetic THC called dronabinol, aka marinol, for the treatment of nausea and weight loss. Problem is, side effects include paranoia and “thinking abnormal.” Beyond that, you wouldn’t want to try to get high on it because it’s missing the galaxy of other active compounds in cannabis. “If it worked—it rarely does work—but if it really did work it would be abused on the streets,” says physician Allan Frankel, a pioneer in medical cannabis. “For 15 cents a pill? That’s how bad marinol is.”

The reason, Frankel says, is the so-called entourage effect, the interaction of dozens of other cannabinoids in marijuana like CBD (which is an extremely effective treatment for seizures, by the way) that may produce different therapeutic effects. So by that logic, with marinol, patients aren’t getting the full effect of the cannabis plant.

And that full effect would be? Well, nobody really knows—in part because the US government makes the stuff very, very difficult to study. In the eyes of the feds, it’s still a very illegal schedule I drug, the most tightly controlled category, and the DEA decides who gets crop to research. Researchers don’t have access to a variety of strains that might produce a variety of benefits, given different levels of CBD and THC and other compounds.

Even if you could study lots of different strains, it’s not always possible to tell what a patient is going to get at the dispensary. Flowers can be mislabeled, and the THC content of oils doesn’t always match what’s on the label. “Composition standardization is a giant mess,” says Jeff Raber, CEO of the Werc Shop, a lab that tests cannabis. “So for an ultra traditional doctor, I can understand where they’re like, Man, we don’t really know what that is, is that OK? It’s not standardized like a pharmaceutical product.”

A doctor can’t just say, Take two marijuana pills and call me in the morning. And on a physiological level, we all handle cannabis differently. “Even if I tell everybody, go inhale a tenth of a gram, their inhalation depths and absorption rates are going to be different,” says Raber.

“Unfortunately, we are going a little bit blind,” says physician Bonni Goldstein, medical director of the Canna-Centers, which provides cannabis consultations for patients. “But what I’m finding in clinical experience is I learn from every patient, and so we try to use the scientific research that we do have.”

So doctors like Goldstein try to tailor cannabis as best they can for a patient’s needs. Her patients have the luxury of attentive, personalized cannabis consultations. “Someone retired who has cancer who doesn’t have to get up in the morning and get somewhere may be able to take bigger doses during the day,” says Goldstein, “versus a mom of four who has kids in and out of activities, who has breast cancer.”

But your typical oncologist isn’t going to sit down with a patient for an hour to walk through their lifestyle and needs. So patients are left to experiment with dosages on their own, or consult with their local dispensary.

Because it turns out that dispensaries have some experience dosing cannabis. “Some of the top dispensaries that have been doing this for a while know this better than anybody else,” says Rob Adelson, president and CEO of Resolve, which makes a smart inhaler for medical marijuana patients. “There’s still so much about the pharmacokinetics of this plant that we just don’t know yet. So asking a doctor to come in to try to solve the problem without any more data than the dispensary has is hard.”

What Adelson sees cannabis promoting is a new paradigm of medical care. “We’ve heard this from many doctors, that they might not know about medical cannabis, might not want to promote it, and that a patient comes in and says, ‘I’d like to try it,’” he says. “And patients bring studies with them.” That inversion of responsibility has its downsides: An elderly patient might not be aware of side effects like dizziness, for example. But at the same time, it’s impossible to overdose. For better or worse, if doctors don’t feel they have the knowledge to appropriately prescribe a drug, patients will fill that void.

More cannabis science

Kilauea and the Implacable Power of Volcanic Lava

In 1935, lava from an eruption of the volcano Mauna Loa, on the Big Island of Hawai’i, started oozing toward the Wailuku River, main source of water for the city of Hilo. This danger to the more than 15,000 residents of Hilo was exactly the opportunity that Thomas Jaggar, founder of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, had been waiting for: to blow up a volcano.

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Actually, no, it was crazy. Jaggar thought, based on the state of the science, that explosives would collapse and plug the channels and underground tubes through which lava flows.

He approached the Army Air Corps, which had an airbase on the island of Oahu. There, a young lieutenant colonel named George Patton (yes, that Patton) planned a mission to deploy three Keystone B-3A bombers and two Keystone B-6As—biplanes!—to the slopes of Mauna Loa, where they’d drop 20 600-pound bombs on the lava. Five dropped onto red-hot flows, splashing lava 200 feet into the air upon detonation (which then punched holes through one of the bombers’ wings). Most of the other bombs hit the solidified sides of the flows. A US Geological Survey geologist on board one of the planes, Harold Stearns, reported that most of the bombs merely impacted on the surface.

So did it work? Well, the lava diverted and stopped flowing before it reached the river. It remains … controversial as to whether the bombs or the cessation of the eruption did it. (Jaggar thought the explosions released enough pressure to stop the lava; no one else does.)

Volcanoes have a lot of ways to kill people—caustic ash, superheated hurricane-like pyroclastic flows, incandescent mudslides called lahars…and, of course, lava. As the world watches the ongoing eruption of the volcano Kilauea, Mauna Loa’s neighbor to the east, you can see why Jaggar would resort to explosives, and why people have been trying to build lava barriers, unsuccessfully, since 1881. Lava’s appearance is rarely a surprise—but where it flows and how fast remain unpredictable. And it is, as researchers say, binary. Wherever it goes, it incinerates or buries everything in its path. There’s not much anyone can do about it except watch.

“A lot of cultures around the world have come to the conclusion that it’s a bad idea to live too close to a volcano,” says Natalia Deligne, a volcanic hazard and risk modeler at GNS Science, the New Zealand equivalent of the USGS. That’s why lots of volcanoes are magically inside national parks. “If you look at indigenous traditions, often the vent area is a taboo area,” Deligne says. “That’s just another form of land use planning.”

Unlike the ostentatious, once-in-a-blew-moon eruptors like the stratovolcanoes of the Cascades and the Andes, Hawaiian volcanoes are “shield volcanoes,” slow and steady pumps of relatively runny, low-silica lava. Volcanoes in general aren’t as murderous as other natural disasters—since 1900 volcanoes have killed about 280,000 humans, but in that same time earthquakes have killed more than 2 million. Lava comes in three types (highly viscous, deep “blocky” lava; chunky, fast-moving ‘a ‘a, and smooth pahoehoe), and it tends to move slow enough that it destroys property rather than kills people. So people continue to live on the slopes of the volcanoes. (Hawai’ian volcanoes also emit toxic, corrosive gas—sulfur dioxide turns into sulfuric acid on contact with the atmosphere, creating potentially deadly clouds called vog, short for “volcanic smog” [itself a contraction of “smoke” and “fog”].)

That’s what’s happening at Kilauea; lava is emerging from 14 fissures in the volcano’s East Rift Zone, amid a housing subdivision called Leilani Estates. More than 1,700 people had to evacuate, and about a dozen homes were consumed. This has been the situation, on and off, since the 1980s. “The lava would flow for a certain distance, then stop, and then rather than resuming travel in the same direction it would go back toward the vent and break out somewhere else,” says Michael Lindell, an emeritus environmental psychologist at Texas A&M who studies attitudes toward volcano risk. “Volcanologists don’t thoroughly understand the underground plumbing. They’ve got a pretty good idea, but they keep getting surprised.”

Even today, lava is unpredictable. Nobody really understands tube and channel formation or how a’a’ lava becomes pahoehoe and vice versa. Computers can forecast paths of flow from topography, but not speed or how wide the flow will be. (The USGS map of lava hazard zones on Hawai’i hasn’t been updated since 1992.) “How fast it’s coming out of the vents, how hot it is, how fast it’s cooling, how many crystals you have in the lava—those are all parameters that will dictate how the lava will flow,” Deligne says.

There’s not much to do about it when it does. Deligne says that hardly anyone actually zones construction or writes building codes with volcanoes in mind. And even if you did, what then? Ash, sure, just build your roofs with a pitch of greater than 35 degrees to shed the stuff. But lava? Maybe … round buildings? According to one of the few analyses of such things, a forensic look at a 2014 eruption of the Fogo volcano on Cape Verde, lava pushes them into compression, actually strengthening them; it tends to just push over flat walls.

Sometimes the volcano is quiet; sometimes it’s not. “Pele, the goddess of Hawaiian volcanoes, whose home is in Halema‘uma‘u Crater within Kilauea Caldera, is always described with two personas,” young and beautiful—and old and cruel, write James Kauahikaua and Robert Tilling, two past heads of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Now, the observatory is warning that things could get worse. A rapid lowering of the lava level in the Overlook crater at Kilauea’s summit was the first sign that lava was on the move. If that lava dips below the groundwater level, it could start making steam, converting this to an explosive eruption, scientists warned at a press conference. The Washington Post reports that a nearby geothermal power plant is moving 12,000 gallons of a flammable fuel called pentane to an industrial park that’s out of range, just to be safe.

But in the face of the threat, people’s attitudes toward volcanoes aren’t much different from how they feel about other hazards. Deligne loves volcanoes; she says she can’t imagine living anywhere there might be tornadoes. Lindell says if he had to live on the Big Island, he’d definitely try to stay on the north side—away from the volcanoes. As for the south side? “It’s incredibly cheap to live there and it’s a very pleasant life, so it’s an acceptable risk to them,” he says. “In some respects it’s no different than people living on the Hayward fault, or on the flood plain in Houston. They know the risk is getting worse, but they keep on rebuilding.”

More Eruptions

All You Need to Know About Google's New Products

Google showcased its plans for the next several months as it kicked off its annual developers’ conference Tuesday. Many of the new features center on the use of artificial intelligence to help save time.

Here are the highlights:

MAPS: Google will use augmented reality to help guide you to your destination. When you pull up direction on Google Maps, you can look through the camera and get turn-by-turn directions while viewing the actual street. The app will also orient you and verify your position using local landmarks such as buildings and shops viewed through the camera. Google calls the technology VPS, or visual positioning system. The feature is expected this summer.

GOOGLE DUPLEX: Google’s digital assistant will call actual people at businesses to make restaurant reservations and hair appointments and check holiday hours. In two demonstrations, a realistic-sounding automated voice used pauses and “ums” and “mmm-hmms” to sound more human during interactions with people. Google says the technology is rolling out as “an experiment” in coming weeks. Google says it’s still figuring out how to be upfront and let businesses know that they are talking to a computer.

GMAIL: An autocomplete feature called “smart compose” uses artificial intelligence to suggest ways to finish sentences you start typing. For example, “I haven’t seen you” might be autocompleted to “I haven’t seen you in a while and I hope you’re doing well.” The feature will start rolling out this month.

PHOTOS: When Google recognizes a photo of someone who is one of your contacts, it can suggest sending the photo to that person. It can also convert photos to PDFs and automatically add color to black-and-white photos or make part of a color photo black and white. The changes are coming in the next few months.

GOOGLE ASSISTANT: Google’s digital assistant will get six new voices, including one based on that of singer John Legend, later this year. The voices aim to sound more natural and will include pauses that convey meaning. Google is also unveiling ways to let you issue multiple commands without having to say “Hey Google” each time. And it will reward kids who say “please,” similar to a feature Amazon is bringing to its Alexa voice assistant.

LENS: Google’s visual assistant will be built into the camera. Just point the camera at a building or sign to get more information. Or copy text from images of menus, documents and other sources into another app on your phone. Samsung phones aren’t on the list of phones getting the feature starting next week. Samsung has its own version, Bixby Vision.

NEWS: Google is redesigning the News feature to present five stories you need to know, plus others that it thinks will be most relevant to you. For outlets with subscriptions, Google will allow you to subscribe directly through your Google account, without needing new passwords or credit card information. The feature should be available to everyone by next week.

ANDROID P: The version of Google’s Android phone software will infuse basic functions with AI smarts. The battery will adapt to how you use apps in order to conserve energy. “Adaptive brightness” will learn how bright you like your screen based on manual adjustments, instead of automatically adjusting based on the how bright it is. Apple’s latest system, iOS 11, has a similar feature. Owners of some Android phones -; none from Samsung -; can get an early test version now.

WELL-BEING: Android P also includes features to combat overuse. A “shush” mode automatically turns on the “Do Not Disturb” mode when you turn your phone face down on a table. And “Wind Down Mode” will fade the screen to greyscale at a designated bed time to help you disconnect before bed.

–The Associated Press

Nvidia Blinks, AMD Wins

(AMD vs. Nvidia from DeskDecode.com.)

On March 23rd, 2018, we published an article entitled, “Nvidia is Playing with Fire” in which we discussed Nvidia’s (NVDA) GeForce Partner Program (NASDAQ:GPP) and its implications on AMD’s (AMD) graphics cards business. Please read that story for background on the situation. On May 4th, 2018, Nvidia has announced that they are scrapping the GPP as a result of public pressure and controversy. In this quick follow up we’ll discuss the implications of this news on AMD and Nvidia.

Recap of the GPP

For more extensive background on the GPP introduced by Nvidia in March of this year and recently canceled please read our previous article entitled, “Nvidia is Playing with Fire.” We will recap the situation quickly here.

Both Nvidia and AMD produce graphics processing units (GPUs). Those GPU are then purchased by add-in board manufacturers (AIBs) such as Asus, Gygabite, MSI, etc. and are soldered into a PCB that provides power handling, display outputs, etc. Basically, when you buy an Nvidia GTX 1080 PCI Express graphics card the part that is made by Nvidia is just the GPU in the very center of the card. The rest of the components, such as the PCI slot shaped PCB, the heatsink, the fans, and of course, the obligatory RGB LEDs so coveted by gamers are manufactured by an AIB manufacturer.

As the gaming industry became more and more competitive AIB manufacturers have created valuable, gaming specific brands to sell their wares. For instance, Asus has their Republic of Gamers brand and Gigabyte has their Aorus brand. What Nvidia was looking to do with GPP was to obtain monopoly over those gaming brands. Per the GPP agreement AIB manufacturers would have to make their gaming brands exclusive to Nvidia if they wanted to be part of the program. To sell AMD based cards, these same manufacturers would have to create a separate graphics card brand. For instance, Asus added the Arez brand to market AMD graphics cards and removed all of the AMD offerings from their Republic of Gamers lineup.

Reaction to the GPP

Kyle Bennett from HardOCP got the ball rolling on criticizing Nvidia for this move. In his March 8th article he proclaimed this move to be anticompetitive and anti consumer choice soon thereafter have picked up the story and Nvidia has been widely criticized by journalists and gamers alike.

While smaller equipment manufacturers such as Asus and Gigabyte have signed up for the GPP relatively quickly there were several notable exceptions. Dell and HP, the two behemoths in the OEM world did not sign up for the GPP publicly they have not made any statements about the program to our knowledge. However, it is very likely that neither was very happy about this development.

Nvidia Blinks

In their blog post on May 4th, 2018, Nvidia had the following to say:

A lot has been said recently about our GeForce Partner Program. The rumors, conjecture and mistruths go far beyond its intent. Rather than battling misinformation, we have decided to cancel the program.

GPP had a simple goal – ensuring that gamers know what they are buying and can make a clear choice.

The GeForce Partnership Program had a short and eventful life but was quickly killed off due to public scrutiny and likely OEM pushback from large manufacturers. In their blog post, Nvidia tries to dismiss this issue by saying that their only intention was to make sure that gamers know the type of graphics card that they are buying. As we mentioned on our previous article, no gamer in the history of the world has ever purchased an AMD graphics card thinking it was Nvidia, or vice versa. While Nvidia can choose to deflect criticism by claiming that that was their intention the only way they could do so legitimately would be if they were to admit that they know next to nothing about their own target market.

AMD Wins

We believe this news is a big win for AMD. Now, to be clear we don’t think it is going to be a significant loss for Nvidia. After all, they are the big dog in this fight. They will move on and continue to sell a ton of their GPUs to gamers and cloud service providers alike. However, for AMD this means an even playing field, or at least a less tilted playing field. With their new partnership with Intel to provide Intel with AMD manufactured GPUs that can be integrated directly with Intel’s CPUs on a single socket we believe AMD has a bright future. For more on that story, please check out our article from April 20th titled, “AMD And Intel Had A Baby! And It’s A Beast!

(Image of Intel CPU and Vega GPU attached to a single CPU socket board from Intel.)

Now AMD’s strategy has to concentrate on software. They need better software for artificial intelligence (AI) applications and a much harder push in that field. Hopefully they are paying attention and will be as proactive in that endeavor as they were in killing the GeForce Partner Program.

Investor Takeaway

With the hurdle of the GeForce Partner Program out of the way AMD should continue their growth in the PC gaming world. Rather than maintaining separate marketing brands most AIM manufacturers will soon go back to selling both AMD and Nvidia products under the same brand, and that’s going to be good for AMD, as they will regain the visibility they enjoyed before.

With the Intel partnership as a significant catalyst we see AMD’s software and individual game support improve significantly as they continue to infiltrate the general consumer market. This particular catalyst is going to take time to ramp up, but you don’t build an enduring advantage over a matter of months. It took Nvidia years investing into the AI and Gaming market to gain the dominance that they now enjoy, and it’s going to take AMD some time to start chipping away at that advantage. We should see progress in this regard by 2019.

In the mean time AMD will continue ramping up their enterprise CPU sales, which should be a great catalyst for the stock in 2018. On a whole we are still very optimistic about AMD’s prospects in 2018 and 2019, and continue to have a $20 price target.

Disclosure: I am/we are long AMD.

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