Unwanted Guest with Terrible Table(top) Manners: Windows 10 Automatic Updates

In our experience, most software asks permission before it updates itself. There is usually a “Not Now” option. But since Microsoft has a monopoly for Windows-based personal computers, they do what they please, ignoring the needs and preferences of their customers. As we noted in our March 28, 2018 post, Apple’s updates can be traumatic, but at least they ask beforehand.

Apparently this nasty behavior has been around for some time, at least since the introduction of Windows 10 in July 2015. We had seen for some time warnings against “upgrading” to Windows 10, but for some reason had not experienced any of these potentially-damaging events until the last few weeks. The advice “save early and save often” applies as much or more to files one creates on a personal computer as to retirement planning!

Scammers Delight: “Your version of Bing search is out of date” pop-up

The “Your version of Bing search is out of date” pop-up tries to force installation of Chromium (a public domain version of Google’s Chrome browser) and the Bing browser on its victims. Victims will know immediately of the attack, because it plants itself in the middle of the screen and they will either have to reboot their PCs or (unwisely) click on “OK” Apparently this nasty behavior has been around for some time, at least since December 2012. The scammers have taken advantage of the open-source nature of Chromium to use it as a means to install unwanted “adware” and other unwanted programs. Fortunately, there are ways to remove such programs.

Increasing Overlap of Tech Giants

Question: When you’ve joined the $100+ billion market cap club, what do you do next? Answer: You start invading the other members’ territories (e.g., Amazon is now chasing the digital advertising business that Facebook and Google make billions of dollars from) AND you hire a bunch of pricey lawyers to defend you against antitrust suits.

This club is pretty exclusive today, with American members including mainly Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Netflix. They are so big that to grow significantly they have to look for other big markets (like cloud computing or self-driving cars or Hollywood-type movies) to enter, and most of those big markets are already occupied by other club members or non-member already-large specialists. What are the bloopers here? A classical one would be monopoly/oligopoly pricing and/or restraint of trade. But perhaps more important might be the opportunities lost by a failure to allocate capital to creating useful NEW-AND-DIFFERENT products and services.

Demand for H-1B Visas Continues to Rise in 2018

Continued massive growth by the giant high-tech companies in Silicon Valley brings with it commensurate demand for trained software engineers (as well as housing shortages and high prices, traffic jams, and other problems). The U.S. doesn’t produce enough STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) trained people, so the tech companies are forced to cast a wider net by hiring foreigners, using the mechanism of H-1B visas. Many of these H-1B hires are from India, and of those many are provided by well-compensated outsourcing firms such as Infosys, Tech Mahindra, and WiPro.

The situation in 2018 is similar to the one in 2017, with the important difference that now President Trump is now involved. He does things in strange and wonderful ways, and the America First plank in his election platform may bode ill to the H-1B visa program. Plus, he is at odds with the leaders of the giant high-tech companies. So anything can happen.

While the H-1B visa program may enable well-educated (especially in technology) individuals to enter the U.S. and earn considerably more than they could in their native countries, some of them are dissatisfied with the layers of bureaucracy that prevent them from advancing. However, there are two outstanding exceptions to this (both natives of India), namely Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (who joined Microsoft in 1992 and became its CEO in 2014) and Google Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai (who joined Google in 2004 and became its CEO in 2015 when its now-parent Alphabet Inc. was created).

Can Women Write Code As Well as Men?

Anyone working in Silicon Valley (or reading local newspapers) cannot fail to be personally affected by issues of workplace diversity (at least vicariously). (Actually, anyone reading the Wall Street Journal these days could not avoid seeing the variety of prose on this topic from its chorus of reporters and columnists.) And during the last couple of weeks s/he could scarcely avoid hearing about the 10-page memo written by Google’s James Damore, his subsequent firing, and the furor both locally and nationally. There is a saying in Japanese that “the nail that sticks up is the one that gets pounded down”, and we are sure that he feels very pounded down these days. And his subsequent article published in the Wall Street Journal (in a nice touch the accompanying picture shows him wearing a T-shirt that says “Goolag”) has doubtlessly made Google management feel pounded down, too. (This appears to add insult to the injury already facing Google because the U.S. Department of Labor is already claiming that Google systematically pays women less than men.)

It is no secret that the tech industry in general employs a majority of white or Asian (mainly Indian) men, particularly in technical and leadership roles, which means that Google is no better or worse than other giant tech companies. But when one digs a bit deeper, it turns out that Damore’s belief that women are less capable at writing code than men is incorrect because Indian women CAN code too.

The Wall Street Journal’s Andy Kessler points out that there is limited proof that Google’s mandatory “Unconscious Bias” training has any merit, because of the fallibility of the numerous studies that have supported its inclusion.

Actually, it is meaningless to give OVERALL statistics about percents of male/female or race without also putting them in the context of compensation or managerial level or similar measure, as we have tried to do with the illustration above.

The Argy-Bargy About H-1B Visas is All About Dollars … At Tech Companies AND Universities

We at Technology Bloopers are not big fans of President Trump, but his administration’s putting pressure on tech companies’ hiring software engineers from India and China to replace Americans does seem to be consonant with his pre-election promises.

But apparently it is even worse than that. We heard a couple of days ago about one local company that not only hired a bunch of Indian H1B visa-holders, fired their American staff, and replaced them with these imported folks … after they were trained by the Americans. And this noxious practice has apparently been going on for some time, according to the Stateline folks at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Three months of coder school is not much training compared with that of the better-trained—often in American universities—and more-experienced visa-holders. But why are these American universities welcoming these foreign students? It’s because those students come bearing big funds for their education. (At state universities, it is simply that the international students must pay the same (higher) prices as out-of-state American students.) We have heard that among some of these students it is said that PhD stands for “Parents have Dough”. Interestingly, those international students are more prone to cheat on their exams. Hmmm … does that mean that their future code will be less trustworthy than that of Americans?

We wonder why the big Silicon Valley tech companies have not done a better job on their own of training software engineers. Couldn’t they be hiring “junior” software engineers from the coder schools and boosting their capabilities with on-the-job training. We suspect one reason is that it is more expensive to do that than to hire foreign help. And more time-consuming. And another reason may be that they didn’t do a good job of forecasting their growth and concomitant demand for those software engineers. Maybe the current visa flap will motivate them.

But it may not be the fault of these companies. Americans may too lazy, or too afraid to be “uncool”, to study STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) courses so there is not enough local talent to fill the needs of Silicon Valley. Graduates with strong STEM knowledge are polar opposites to “art history majors” , a term used derogatorily to connote enjoyable-but-low-paying jobs.

Will GoPro Cameras Become Shelfware?

GoPro Helmet and Butt 583x732

We think that investors who have bid up share prices in GoPro during the last few days, according to Bloomberg News should consider selling at these inflated prices. Why? Because we believe that the growth in sales of their low-priced cameras will soon slow as buyers realize that the videos they are taking are not very good, because they can’t really aim the camera to get the best views. Such cameras have been around for years. We got one (the brand name is part of long-ago history) to mount on our bike helmet, but were so dissatisfied by the shaky videos of a lot of stuff we weren’t interested in that we returned it to the store. We do acknowledge that under ideal conditions, and after a lot of experience, people can capture some exciting material. (For example, mating the camera with a UAV might produce valuable video material.) And anyone who views many YouTube videos would likely agree that the standard for quality is low and getting lower. With storage costs approaching zero, users of still cameras shoot lots of pictures then choose the best few. Similarly, there are video-editing tools that will—given sufficient time and skill on the part of their users—edit out the worst of the bad parts. But we strongly believe that the number of people who will invest the effort to do this will soon level off and start to decline, and the cameras will be put in the closet next to last Christmas’s exercise gear. We do not believe that the high resolution (1080p) capability counts for much, given the generally low-resolution-look of the vast majority of YouTube video, so the 720p resolution of videos recorded using Google Glass—which CAN be aimed to record what the user is seeing—is plenty high enough. Yes Google Glass is a lot more expensive than GoPro, but it can do so much more.