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).

One Less Big Tech Company to Pile Into Already-Overcrowded Silicon Valley

The good news today is that Amazon will NOT locate its second headquarters (with up to 50,000 people) in the Bay area. So San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo will get his wish. This is a welcome change from past practices by Silicon Valley cities, when city councils have welcomed large, tax-paying companies despite the downsides of their new presence.

Every day Silicon Valley denizens read about high-and-rising house prices and apartment rental rates, traffic jams and ever-longer commutes, and other phenomena caused by the irrational decision-makers at the likes of Adobe, Amazon, Facebook, and Google … AND local city council members with dollar signs in their eyes. We have lobbied for regionalization to spread the employees and economic benefits more evenly across the country, for thoughtful consideration of ALL aspects of the situation (including housing and traffic flow), for thoughtful consideration of ALL aspects of the situation (including housing and traffic flow), and to grow their Silicon Valley operations at sensible rates.

Technology Can Help or Hurt – Part 2: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Less fun than baseball, but potentially a lot more dangerous to individuals, is the possibiity that the content of one’s cellphone or other device could be searched (either by law enforcement officers or by crooks). Fortunately, there is currently a lawsuit in process against the apparently unreasonable searches and seizures performed by customs and border agents.

Fortunately for those not interested in lawsuits, and want some things to do now to avoid the hassle of having officials search their devices at airports, there are some measures that may be helpful. For some months passengers from eight majority-Muslim countries had to put their laptop computers and tablets in their checked luggage, so presumably anyone could do this, and include their cellphones as well. (Yes, we realize that for many people, especially millenials, their cellphones are their Gods. But checked luggage rarely goes missing these days, so this may be the lesser of evils.)

Technology Can Help or Hurt – Part 1: Apple Watch Compromises America’s Pastime

Years ago (well before the Internet or Apple watches) we read a story about a black native of Africa asking why a white explorer kept looking at his watch, and being told that it must be his God. Fast forward to the electronic age, when billions of people have electronic gadgets like cellphones that they treat with similar reverence, because they give those people helpful capabilities that they never had in the past. But that same technology can also be hurtful. If you replace “Lord” by “Technology” (which billions of people today seem to be doing), the phrase “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” sums up the benefits and dis-benefits pretty well. A couple of recent examples of the latter shows why.

Likely none of the engineers who designed the Apple Watch foresaw that it could be used for mischief like stealing the catcher’s signals to the pitcher as to which sort of pitch to throw next. Apparently the Boston Red Sox figured out how they could very quickly take a video of the New York Yankees’ catcher using an Apple Watch and very quickly communicate with hand signals to the Red Sox batter the type of next pitch, boosting his likelihood of getting a solid hit. Probably most of those Apple engineers couldn’t even name any of the possible types of pitches.

Unfortunate but Unsurprising Suboptimization in Silicon Valley

Don’t Google and Amazon Read Businessweek? At least Google has the excuse that they were born and grew up in Silicon Valley and have always lived here. So it may be instinctive for them to keep on wanting to out-Silicon-Valley Silicon Valley. As for Amazon, Jeff Bezos’ historically bare bones operating philosophy has apparently changed if he now wants to pay big bucks for the facilities and staff in Silicon Valley.

Even worse, no other than the CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group who was just given accolades by the San Jose Mercury News may be one of the villains. Although Carl Guardino wants to “exorcise the twin demons of housing shortages and traffic jams” he appears to be focusing only on the traffic jams part. (This, in turn, may be due to the fact that he commutes to work by bike 17 miles each way, from tony Monte Sereno to the airport. He may actually get to work faster that way than by car, but Google Maps shows one hour and twenty minutes, though there are fortunately two alternatives that are trails. The third is via an expressway, which is not cyclist-friendly.) He apparently expects somebody else to deal with the housing shortage, a poignant example of suboptimization. (Interestingly, the definer of suboptimization is a San Joe State professor, who no doubt has lots of local examples to cite.) Apparently HE thinks that having fast transportation allows people to live farther away, where housing is affordable. WE think that the proposed “Google transit village” (that puts 20,000 Google employees in offices adjacent to Diridon Station) will be a nightmare because it puts too many eggs in one basket. And if you want to know what Silicon Valley residents REALLY think, have a look at the Comments accompanying the article about Carl Guardino.

Another consideration is that past experience regarding the preferences of high-tech company employees is that managers have families and prefer to live toward the San Jose end so they can have grass to play on, whereas single guys writing code prefer to live in San Francisco so they can party. Where will the party scene shift to? Will hungover software engineers want to commute from San Francisco to Diridon Station on BART? And can their bosses afford to live in closer proximity to Diridon Station? Houses in nearby Sunnyvale are selling for nearly $800,000 over their asking prices.

What about Amazon? While those with vested interests—politicians, city planners, tax assessors, etc.—are positive, knowledgeable local residents (and newspaper columnists) are not. Maybe Amazon’s own planners and cost accountants will horrify Jeff Bezos so much that he will choose some other city on the Businessweek pictogram who will appreciate him more and charge him less. Or maybe he will get creative with a twist like the giant factory towns in China, which have dormitories and apartments and stores, and propose to build giant apartment buildings to overcome the housing and traffic challenges.

Sears Roebuck Invented Mail Order, but Amazon Ate Its Lunch, and Now Brick & Mortar Retail Suffers

Sears Roebuck was a hot stock when it held its IPO in 1906, and ninety years later its shares had grown 434,552 percent. But by 1973, when it opened the Sears Tower (at that time the tallest building in the world), it apparently had lost all or most of its entrepreneurial instrincts, and it let Amazon get started in 1994 and overtake it, apparently without any counter-offensive.

But Sears isn’t the only retailer who missed the resolutionary changes in retailing. Most department store chains are suffering from changes in people’s tastes and how and where they shop. And many shopping malls are shadows of their former selves. It will be very interesting to see if Amazon can innovate in the grocery category.

Will Bitcoin Replace Dollars and PayPal?

Bitcoin was generated in its early days by geeks running souped-up microcomputers for billions of cycles, consuming a lot of electricity and communications bandwidth to produce no useful result. (Does “It is the tale of an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” seem a propos?) This is counter to the evolution of physical coins (and their paper surrogates and later trusted electronic financial institution balances) that were a convenient (easily transported) substitution for useful physical objects that had previously been bartered (e.g., cords of firewood or herds of sheep). Given its origin, it seems strange that it was not originally denominated in terms of compute cycles and actually used that way. Anyway, enough people believe in it that it it has practical value.

Many of those same geeky people are doing things like setting up proxy servers, and the sources of those proxy servers prefer to be paid in Bitcoin. So they are essentially following a path similar to PayPal, whose users did not want to use credit cards, and earlier when people used credit cards when they didn’t want to carry coins and paper money.

Crowdsourcing Companies Likely Can’t Boost YouTube Views. Can Proxy Servers?

The old adage “If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is”. That is, it’s NOT true. Crowdsourcing companies promise a lot more than they can deliver. Our previous post proved to be way too optimistic when we tried to get a couple of those companies to actually deliver those views. What we found was that some proxy servers MIGHT do so.

However, it seems that proxy servers are as much of a bag of snakes as crowdsourcing entities. We noted during our experiments with crowdsourcing companies that some of them proposed to use proxy servers, or actually did so, but they apparently did not succeed in adding more than a handful of views. That apparently was because YouTube is too clever, and they disqualified most of the views for a variety of reasons. For example, if the crowdsource operative used a proxy server located in a country other than his/her own (which they could tell if the visiting IP was from one country in one time zone but the time of the computer to which the IP was attached was set to a different time zone), YouTube disqualified those views.

The other challenge is that most proxy server folks want to be paid in Bitcoin. While you can use dollars or credit cards or gift cards at sites like Paxful, they can be pretty expensive.

The bottom line is that many owners of YouTube channels may find it too expensive and time-consuming to boost their view counts via crowdsourcing or proxy servers.

Sports More Important Than Technology Business in Silicon Valley Newspaper

The Mercury News’ demoting its business coverage to the back pages of the Sports Section was a populist victory even before Trump’s election. Or does this situation simply derive from the biblical truism “no prophet is accepted in his hometown”? In any case, the rest of the world—including major newspapers—seems more entranced with the goings-on in San Jose and surrounding cities. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have permanent staff in Silicon Valley who seem to turn out significantly more column-inches of reporting and opinion about technological accomplishments in this geography than do the valiant-but-outnumbered technology staffers at the Mercury News.

This demotion came a few months after the April 2016 renaming of the San Jose Mercury News to to reflect its merger with the San Mateo Times. But the spirit of San Jose, which some years ago was dubbed “the USA’s largest truck stop”, lives on in the focus of its printed media. (Apparently a number of other cities in the U.S. claim that theirs is the largest, and a number of locations have subtitled themselves “Silicon XXXX”, like “Silicon Prairie” which can refer to Dallas-Fort Worth or the Chicago area or a multi-state area of the upper Midwest.) We are a bit baffled because the advertisements in the Mercury News don’t seem to be for products and services that the typical sports fan would buy.