Tuesday, October 17, 2017

SoftBank Investment Into Uber Could Be Very Close

Now the first questions that comes to mind are: Does Saudi Arabia get to put their Uber stake into the Vision Fund as a further contribution? And do they do so at the higher prior valuation they paid?

From SlashGear:

SoftBank’s Uber investment could be unexpectedly close
One of SoftBank’s favorite pastimes seems to be buying up other companies, so it’s not really much of a surprise to hear that it might be close to striking a deal with Uber. This doesn’t appear to be a Sprint-scale buyout, where SoftBank is looking to acquire a majority stake in Uber. Instead, it could own as much as 20% of the company by the time everything is said and done

Uber board member Arianna Huffington said last night at The Wall Street Journal’s D.Live conference that an agreement between the two companies might be on the way. As Recode reports, that deal may materialize in as little as week. SoftBank is said to be looking at acquiring at least 14% of Uber, though that percentage may go up if the price is right.

Price is currently the sticking point for some of Uber’s shareholders. It sounds like the only reason a deal hasn’t been announced yet is because Uber and SoftBank haven’t found a price that satisfies Uber shareholders enough to surrender their stake. While SoftBank may be looking at a valuation of $50 billion, shareholders may want a valuation closer to $68 billion.

There’s always the possibility of the deal falling apart if shareholders aren’t happy with the price SoftBank is willing to buy at, so while the two may be close to striking a deal, it isn’t necessarily a sure thing. Still, Huffington said an agreement is “very likely” to materialize in the next week, but whether that means shareholders will compromise and accept a lower price is up in the air....MORE

Just Say No To Nudge: "Google Maps is removing a feature that told you how many 'mini cupcakes' you'd burn if you walked."

Frankly, the GOOG would be better off if they quit trying to direct Alphaville's Kadhim Shubber to travel the middle of the Thames and let him get back to his doggy-bloggy twitter goodness. See below.
From Buzzfeed:

Google Maps Stopped Showing Distance As Calories And Cupcakes Because People Haaaated It 
The calorie count shows up on the map if the driving directions you've requested cover a short distance. If you already have walking selected, the calories are shown in the step-by-step directions, but not the map.

Basically, it wants to try to encourage you to walk instead of driving by showing you how many calories you'd burn if you walked:
The calorie count shows up on the map if the driving directions you've requested cover a short distance. If you already have walking selected, the calories are shown in the step-by-step directions, but not the map.

Basically, it wants to try to encourage you to walk instead of driving by showing you how many calories you'd burn.

And then...it tells you how many "mini cupcakes" the calories you'd burn would add up to.


The Other Musk: Overthrow Big Agriculture?

Following up on the piece immediately below, "Tesla's Former Battery Director Joins Farming Startup", a repost from April 17, 2017.

From Backchannel:

Kimbal Musk's Revolution Starts With Mustard Greens

A leafy green grows in Brooklyn. (Photo by Natalie Keyssar)
The other Musk is leading a band of hipster Brooklyn farmers on a mission to overthrow Big Ag.
Farmers have always had a tough time. They have faced rapacious bankers, destructive pests, catastrophic weather, and relentless pressure to cut prices to serve huge grocery suppliers.
And now they must compete with Brooklyn hipsters. Hipsters with high-tech farms squeezed into 40-foot containers that sit in parking lots and require no soil, and can ignore bad weather and even winter.
No, the 10 young entrepreneurs of the “urban farming accelerator” Square Roots and their ilk aren’t going to overthrow big agribusiness — yet. Each of them has only the equivalent of a two-acre plot of land, stuffed inside a container truck in a parking lot. And the food they grow is decidedly artisanal, sold to high-end restaurants and office workers who are amenable to snacking on Asian Greens instead of Doritos. But they are indicative of an ag tech movement that’s growing faster than Nebraska corn in July. What’s more, they are only a single degree of separation from world-class disrupters Tesla and SpaceX: Square Roots is co-founded by Kimbal Musk, sibling to Elon and board member of those two visionary tech firms.
Kimbal’s passion is food, specifically “real” food — not tainted by overuse of pesticides or adulterated with sugar or additives. His group of restaurants, named The Kitchen after its Boulder, Colorado, flagship, promotes healthy meals; a sister foundation creates agricultural classrooms that center a teaching curriculum around modular gardens that allow kids to experience and measure the growing process. More recently, he has been on a crusade to change the eating habits of the piggiest American cities, beginning with Memphis.
“This is the dawn of real food,” says Musk. “Food you can trust. Good for the body. Good for farmers.”
Square Roots is one more attempt to extend the “impact footprint” of The Kitchen, says its CEO and co-founder Tobias Peggs, a longtime friend of Musk’s. (Musk himself is executive chair.) Peggs is a lithe Brit with a doctorate in AI who has periodically been involved in businesses with Musk, along with some other ventures, and wound up working with him on food initiatives. Both he and Musk claim to sense that we’re at a moment when a demand for real food is “not just a Brooklyn hipster food thing,” but rather a national phenomenon rising out of a deep and wide distrust of the industrial food system, a triplet that Peggs enunciates with disdain. People want local food, he says. And when he and Musk talk about this onstage, there are often young people in the audience who agree with them but don’t know how to do something about it. “In tech, if I have an idea for a mobile app, I get a developer in the Ukraine, get an angel investor to give me 100k for showing up, and I launch a company,” Peggs says. “In the world of real food, there’s no easy path.”
The company is headquartered in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, right next to the Marcy Projects, which were the early stomping grounds of Jay Z. It’s one of over 40 food-related startups housed in a former Pfizer chemicals factory, which at one time produced a good chunk of the nation’s ammonia. (Consider its current role as a hub of crunchy food goodness as a form of penance.) Though Peggs’ office and a communal area and kitchen are in the building, the real action at Square Roots is in the parking lot. That’s where the company has plunked down ten huge shipping containers, the kind you try to swerve around when they’re dragged by honking 18-wheel trucks.
These are the farms: $85,000 high-tech growing chambers pre-loaded with sensors, exotic lighting, precision plumbing for irrigation, vertical growing towers, a climate control system, and, now, leafy greens....MORE

Tesla's Former Battery Director Joins Farming Startup—UPDATED

Update below.
Original post:

We've been hanging out at the intersection of batteries and farming for ages, wondering "Where is everybody?"

From Bloomberg:
  • Kurt Kelty joins as an executive of operations and development
  • He is focused on expanding Plenty’s indoor vertical farms
Tesla Inc.’s former director of battery technology has joined Plenty Inc. to lead the vertical farming startup’s plan to build indoor growing rooms around the world.

Kurt Kelty, who joined Tesla in 2006 and left earlier this year, was one of the longest-serving executives at the carmaker led by Elon Musk. He joins SoftBank Group Corp.-backed Plenty as the senior vice president of operations and market development. Kelty had previously spent more than 14 years at Panasonic Corp.

"At Tesla I was employee number fifty or sixty,” Kelty said in an interview. “It’s a very different company from when I joined. I wanted to figure out where I would contribute to the next big wave. I see my next 10-year-run as growing Plenty."

Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank led a $200 million investment in Plenty in July....MORE
Be right back with an added twist to the story.

As promised:
Update, "The Other Musk: Overthrow Big Agriculture?"

Brookings: Autonomous Vehicle Investments Hit $80 Billion

From the Brookings Institution, October 16:

Gauging investment in self-driving cars
A CNN story late last year declared 2016 “a tipping point for excitement in self-driving cars.” In fact, the year saw reports of major investments by Ford, Mercedes, Apple, Intel, Delphi Automotive, and venture capitalists, among numerous players jockeying for position in the emerging market for autonomous vehicles. There may be debate about the time it will take the technology to adapt enough for wide deployment, but there is consensus that this time will come in a matter of years rather than decades.

To date, there are no public estimates of how large this surge in investment in autonomous vehicle technology is in the aggregate. PWC’s 2016 Connected Car Study, its fourth annual report on the sector, says the top five original equipment manufacturers spent $46 billion in research and development in 2015, and there are numerous reports that catalogue investments, acquisitions, and other activities in the growing ecosystem that supports self-driving cars. We set out to estimate the aggregate investment across this entire area.

The inquiry provides a useful window onto the state of play in development of autonomous vehicle technology, as entities from the major auto manufacturers to startups scramble to take the lead. It is also a measure of what it takes to reach a tipping point in development of sophisticated artificial (or augmented) intelligence. As Qi Lu, the star Microsoft engineer who moved to Beijing to become Baidu’s chief operation officer, recently put it, “In autonomous systems, the car is the first major commercial application that is going to land.”

Investment in self-driving cars appears to be the leading edge for AI development. Indeed, as progress accelerates on vehicles interest is increasing in broader artificial intelligence. A Forrester Research report predicted that 2017 will the year that “Artificial intelligence (AKA cognitive computing) technologies will be rapidly assimilated into analytics practices,” driving new insights from big data, and investment in artificial intelligence has been touted by popular investor news sites like The Motley Fool and a column on Fortune.com. If 2016 was a tipping point for investment in self-driving cars, 2017 could turn out to be a tipping point for investment in artificial intelligence more generally.

The Autonomous Vehicle Landscape 
The ecosystem for self-driving cars has numerous layers. It encompasses not just the machine-learning that operates the vehicles, but also the array of sensor and navigation technology needed, from refinements to the advanced braking or lane-keeping assistance common in today’s vehicles, advances in more granular and adaptive mapping, and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications systems.

Because lives and safety are at stake, autonomous vehicles require a high degree of reliability and need to adapt to widely diverse contexts. In Austin, for example, one of Google’s autonomous vehicles was befuddled by a cyclist rocking back and forth in a track stand at a red light and, in Australia, Volvo engineers found it a challenge to predict the bounding of kangaroos. As a result, in order to train self-driving artificial intelligence systems, the players involved are stretching to accumulate vehicle miles and investing untold hours of engineering time.

Every major car manufacturer in the world wants to be an early mover – or at least to avoid competitive disadvantage. They are joined by automotive suppliers like Bosch and Delphi Automotive. The technology-intensive aspect has drawn in tech companies that see their core competencies involved; Google’s self-driving cars have been the poster children of the sector for several years, but Apple, Microsoft, Alibaba, and Baidu are increasingly involved and players such as Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm are investing in making the microprocessors required. Fleet operators are also involved, including rideshare and logistics companies that are likely to be the earliest adopters and have a ready supply of vehicle miles to supply data for machine learning.

In addition to these established players, startups are playing an increasing role: Nutonomy, a Massachusetts outgrowth of MIT, received a $20 million in investments investment and many of the investments by established players have involved the acquisitions or stakes in startups, such as Ford’s $1 billion investment in ArgoAI. This startup activity has attracted the attention of venture capitalists; venture leader Andreesen Horowitz announced investments in advanced mapping, driver assistance systems, and delivery robots, and several funds have been set up to invest in autonomous vehicle technologies. The venture firm Comet Labs mapped startups working on pieces of the autonomy puzzle and found some 263 firms involved. ...MUCH MORE

Spending on VICE and Retail Sales

We'll be back with more later this month, there are a lot of things to unpack from the data, including a possible demographic revolution in spending on the traditional VICE products as younger people display marked differences in vice preferences vs. their elders who are now dying off, in part from their bad habits.

From Moneyball Economics Oct 12:

What The Moneyball Vice Index REALLY Says About Retail Forecast!

Vice Index Now Points To Lower Spending
Recent downward revisions to retail data confirms that the Vice Index correctly predicted a pullback in spending growth.  
  • Trend: The latest data points to a near-term bottom in the 4Q.
  • September: August Retail (ex-Autos/Gas) spending came in at 3.3% y/y.  Further erosion means September will dip to 3.1%
Gambling Outlook – Still On A Losing Streak
Middle America is under financial stress.

Over the past year, US casinos (ex-Vegas) have enjoyed only 1 month of positive growth.
Las Vegas is doing a bit better thanks to the return of Chinese gamblers: YTD gaming revenues are up 3.5%.

This reflects the bifurcated US economy: middle America is pulling back on frivolous activities while upper income consumers continue to spend.

(NOTE: Will higher spending by the 1% be enough to offset a spending pullback by the bottom 99%? We’ll have to find out…)
Is Cannabis Replacing Beer?

Beer consumption fell in 2016 for the first time since 2011 (per IWSR).
Several reasons are possible:
  • Changes in drinking habits:  Millenials are socializing differently: it’s popular to hang out at home with friends and “Netflix and chill.”  And that’s driving a shift: drinking at bars (on-premise) has dropped while drinking at home (off-premise) has grown.
  • Shifts in taste: Beer is down, but distilled alcohol is up.  That’s largely from new styles of tequila and bourbons being released, and the big marketing campaigns pushing them.
But maybe cannabis legalization is also playing a role....MORE
HT: ZeroHedge

Control: "Beijing Eyes Stake In Every Influential Chinese Media Company"

From Forbes:
Addressing a gathering of news executives and propaganda officials in February 2016, President Xi Jinping laid out the core qualities that must define the media professional in China. Politics, he said, must always come first. Beyond professional expertise, journalists and media leaders “must have the heads of politicians.”

This injunction, echoing that of Mao Zedong, who said in the midst of a brutal crackdown on intellectuals 60 years ago that “politicians must run the newspapers,” has taken on fresh meaning for Chinese Internet firms this month. The government is now pushing to acquire “special management shares” in some of China’s largest tech companies -- including Tencent and Weibo -- giving it direct power over corporate decisions that have a bearing on the leadership's larger media control agenda.
These “special management shares,” generally between 1 and 2%, to be held by official agencies or trusted state media, would allow the government to influence company behavior from inside the boardroom, and to have direct access to innovative technologies.

Centralized Control Of Information
However worrying, this development should come as no surprise. China’s government, obsessed about maintaining centralized control of information, has been talking openly for several years now about creating a “special management share system” for media to improve ideological controls and reinforce Chinese Communist Party rule.

Control over mobile and online media especially has growing urgency for China’s leaders in a world increasingly shaped, and periodically disrupted, by advances in digital technology. The rules of that world are determined not by central planners, but by technology trailblazers responding to investors and consumers. Chinese tech companies, some listed on overseas exchanges, have never been wired into the Party-run media system, in which newspapers and traditional broadcasters are defined to this day as “mouthpieces,” or tools for Party propaganda -- and are overseen directly by Party committees.

Over the past two decades, the old media system, its controls exercised through the Party's Central Propaganda Department, has been seriously challenged by digital and commercial developments -- with profound ramifications for the government’s efforts to achieve what its calls “public opinion guidance,” or dominance of social and political agendas in order to maintain stability and Party legitimacy. To cite one of countless examples, Chinese media broadly ignored initial bans on coverage of a tragic high-speed rail collision in July 2011, as live accounts proliferated on the Internet and social media provided a release valve for widespread public outrage.

Since coming into office in November 2012, Xi has been far more resolute than his predecessors in breaking the cycle of media defiance. Recognising the new centrality of digital, he launched a leading group on cyberspace, with himself as chairman, and a new enforcement body, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), that made a sustained attack on social media and its most influential voices its first item of business. In his February 2016 address on media policy, Xi reaffirmed and re-consolidated the CCP’s paternalistic hold on the media, saying that they must all "be surnamed Party." And he made it very clear that this demand extended to commercial media and social networks.

The question, though, was how to bring Chinese tech firms, these new players, into the old family of trust and self-discipline. This is where the “special management share system” now comes in....MORE

Monday, October 16, 2017

"AI Will Soon Identify Protesters With Their Faces Partly Concealed"

The writer says identification has troubling implications but I was under the impression that masking oneself to avoid being ID'd was illegal  in the first place.

I mean in the old days, when the bad guys came riding into town wearing bandanas, that was prima facie (pun?) evidence they were up to no good and pretty much gave the locals license to grab their rifles and have at 'em.

I know appeals of the anti-Klan laws have gone both ways, some upholding the right to run around in masks and pointy hats and some, like "State v. Miller, 260 Ga. 669 (1990)" saying that, in Georgia at any rate, you just can't wear stuff like that.

I lean toward the Old West interpretation myself.
Have at 'em boys.

More after the jump.

Motherboard, Sept. 6:
A new paper has troubling implications.

Protesters regularly wear disguises like bandanas and sunglasses to prevent being identified, either by law enforcement or internet sleuths. Their efforts may be no match for artificial intelligence, however.

A new paper to be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision Workshops (ICCVW) introduces a deep-learning algorithm—a subset of machine learning used to detect and model patterns in large heaps of data—that can identify an individual even when part of their face is obscured. The system was able to correctly identify a person concealed by a scarf 67 percent of the time when they were photographed against a "complex" background, which better resembles real-world conditions.

The deep-learning algorithm works in a novel way. The researchers, from Cambridge University, India's National Institute of Technology, and the Indian Institute of Science, first outlined 14 key areas of the face, and then trained a deep-learning model to identify them. The algorithm connects the points into a "star-net structure," and uses the angles between the points to identify a face. The algorithm can still identify those angles even when part of a person's mug is obscured, by disguises including caps, scarves, and glasses.
Image: University of Cambridge/ National Institute of Technology/ Indian Institute of Science
The research has troubling implications for protestors and other dissidents, who often work to make sure they aren't ID'd at protests and other demonstrations by covering their faces with scarves or by wearing sunglasses. "To be honest when I was trying to come up with this method, I was just trying to focus on criminals," Amarjot Singh, one of the researchers behind the paper and a Ph.D student at Cambridge University, told me on a phone call.

Singh said he isn't sure how to prevent the technology from being used by authoritarian regimes in the future. "I actually don't have a good answer for how that can be stopped," he said. "It has to be regulated somehow … it should only be used for people who want to use it for good stuff." How to guarantee algorithms like the one Singh developed don't get into nefarious hands is an ongoing problem.

Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a writer at The New York Times, discussed the dubious implications of the algorithm described in the paper on Twitter: "too many worry about what AI—as if some independent entity—will do to us. Too few people worry what *power* will do *with* AI," she wrote in a tweet.

Don't fret yet, though. While the algorithm described in the paper was fairly impressive, it's definitely not reliable enough to be used by law enforcement or anyone else. But the researchers behind the paper have provided future academics with an important gift to do their work. One of the problems with training machine learning models is that there simply aren't enough quality databases out there to train them on. But this paper provides researchers in the field with two different databases to train algorithms to do similar tasks, each with 2,000 images.

"This is a minor paper; narrow, conditional results. But it's the direction & this will be done with nation-state data—not by grad students," Tufecki wrote in a followup tweet.

The system described in the paper isn't capable of identifying people wearing all types of disguises. Singh pointed out to me that the rigid Guy Fawkes masks often donned by members of hacking collective Anonymous would be able to evade the algorithm, for example. He hopes one day though to be able to ID people even wearing rigid masks. "We are trying to find ways to explore that problem," he told me over the phone. It's worth noting that experimental algorithms can already identify people with 99 percent accuracy based on how they walk....MORE
HT: Marginal Revolution 

The reason we have burned so many pixels on this stuff is because we thought you couldn't wear your motorcycle helmet into the bank. Hence posts such at "Adversarial Images, Or How To Fool Machine Vision" and "How to Hide From Cameras":

And "Another Way To Fool The Facial Recognition Algos":


Do you know how long it takes to put that makeup on?
If just anyone can do this stuff any time they want simply by putting on a mask, where does society end up?

I'll tell you where. We go from scholarly stuff such as "Fooling The Machine: The Byzantine Science of Deceiving Artificial Intelligence"

To this:


Just so you know, I don't actually use the make-up techniques featured in the earlier posts. Despite the fact they have some efficacy at fooling the camera they make you look like a moron to human observers on the street. Better to just put on some glasses and blend into the crowd.

Maybe just better to go with:
"Magic AI: These are the Optical Illusions that Trick, Fool, and Flummox Computers"

Researchers wearing simulated pairs of fooling glasses, and the people the facial recognition system thought they were.
Image by Mahmood Sharif, Sruti Bhagavatula, Lujo Bauer, and Michael K. Reiter  
Rant over 

World grain markets have 'receipe for strong volatility'

Symbol Last Chg
Corn 350-4s-2-2
Soybeans 991-0s-9-2
Wheat 436-4s-3-0

From Agrimoney, Oct. 11:

World grain markets have 'receipe for strong volatility'
Global grain markets possess the "recipe for strong volatility" despite apparently strong inventories, AHDB lead analyst Jack Watts said – likening dynamics to those in banking markets ahead of the world economic crisis.
"Complacency over supply, we see have seen that time and time again," Mr Watts said, noting that the world in 2017-18 looked like seeing a fifth year of grain production surplus.
However, flagging supply risks, particularly in wheat, he said adding that "the recipe is there for strong volatility" in prices.
"All looks calm on the surface, but there are key risks to be aware of."
'Distorting perspectives'
One was the growing proportion of wheat inventories held in China, and so effectively unavailable to the world market, a factor which was "distorting perspectives" on global supplies.
"There is real divergence between global wheat stocks and accessible wheat stocks," he told the AHDB grains outlook conference, with world wheat inventories outside China at their tightest in nine years, when compared with demand to form the stocks-to-use ratio, a much watched pricing metric.
And the growing reliance too on Russian wheat supplies was also a factor for concern, given the country's record of occasional heat-devastated harvests.
"The market is growing in confidence in the consistency of supplies coming from Russia," expected to become the world's top wheat exporter in 2017-18.
However, if the world were to see a repeat of hiccups which beset crops in the likes of 2010 and 2012 "the impact would be much bigger because Russia has a bigger role in supplying wheat to the world."
'Long-run risks are growing'
The trend towards "deglobalisation" evident in growing nationalism in many countries also represented a potential cause for concern, given that 25% of world wheat output is traded.
"Any threat to globalisation would have quite a big impact on the ability of the wheat market to function," he told the conference, in London....

"Memo to Facebook: How to Tell If You’re a Media Company" (FB)

From Wired, October 12:
On Thursday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg repeated a Facebook talking point that’s beginning to wear thin. Asked if Facebook is a media company, she resisted the characterization. “At our heart we're a tech company; we hire engineers. We don’t hire reporters, no one’s a journalist, we don’t cover the news," she said.

Facebook does not want to be viewed as a media company, which would bring a responsibility to the truth and potential accusations of bias. (Being a mere tech platform that surfaces content via algorithm does not.) Admitting Facebook is a media company would require Facebook to take responsibility for its role in the spread of fake news, propaganda, and illegal Russian meddling in the US election.

To help Facebook executives who may be confused, we compiled this helpful guide:

Are you the country’s largest source of news?
Nearly half of all US adults get news from Facebook, according to Pew. Facebook is the top source of political news for millennials.

Do you sell ads against content?
Facebook users spend an average of 50 minutes on its suite of products each day. Last year the company showed those users $26 billion worth of ads.

Do you commission publishers and content providers to make original content for you to distribute?
“Facebook’s head of global creative strategy—and CollegeHumor cofounder—Ricky Van Veen, has been making the rounds among publishers and other content producers to source, develop, and fund original shows for Facebook,” Digiday reported earlier this year. Facebook also pays publishers, including WIRED, to create videos using Facebook Live....
...MORE, so much more.

Trade War With China? There's An ETF for That

Hoisted from the archives, originally posted Feb. 9, 2010:

"China Warns US Relationship Turning Increasingly Sour" and "Five ETFs For A Trade War With China"

There's an App for that.*
From AntiWar.com:
China’s Foreign Ministry warned again today about the possibility of worsening ties with the United States, slamming the Obama Administration for its plan to meet the Dalai Lama in a pending visit.
Chinese FM Yang Jiechi
The Chinese spokesman cautioned that the US should “realize the high sensitivity of Tibet-related issues” The Dalai Lama visit is far from the only incident in recent weeks causing tension.
China is also furious at an Obama Administration plan to sell several billion dollars worth of weapons to Taiwan, a plan announced last week. There have been calls for boycotts of American arms companies in retaliation.
The United States has criticized China over a cyber attack on Google.cn. Google has threatened to leave the nation in response to the attack and the US State Department has condemned China’s censorship of the internet.
All these incidents add up to a growing rift between the two nations, one which will almost certainly complicate administration attempts to push through sanctions against Iran. China has opposed the sanctions, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has threatened China with “isolation” over their reluctance. Though the US threat is likely an empty one, in the current tense environment it might push China further away from supporting new sanctions.
From ETF Database:
Sino-American relations are quickly reaching a breaking point, as the Obama administration continues to spar with the People’s Republic of China over a variety of issues. The first clash was seen in the tariffs proposed on Chinese steel pipe manufacturers last year, followed by another dispute related to tire producers shortly thereafter. The Chinese took a hard line approach in their response, threatening to apply similar duties to American products such as agricultural goods, much to the dismay of American producers. Although tempers cooled over the winter, tensions are heating up between these two economic rivals following a series of recent developments....
...Although a trade war still seems unlikely at this point, the possibility is growing as relations are put under more pressure. Should America and China find themselves in a protracted trade dispute in which tariffs rise on a multitude of products, several ETFs could see a big move....

...Market Vectors Vietnam ETF VNM

If firms believe that prolonged tariffs will be imposed upon companies in China, they may try to move operations to low-cost Vietnam or chose to open up shop in Hanoi instead of Beijing. Vietnam offers multinationals cheap labor costs, a large market, and distance from the fraying relations between the two superpowers. This could allow Vietnam to sell products to both countries, allowing its manufacturing base to get a boost from any significant tariffs. This increased investment will also boost financials firms which stand to benefit from capital inflows as well as higher employment levels. The financials and industrials sectors make up more than 60% of VNM.

Global X China Consumer ETF CHIQ

In order to prevent a worsening unemployment situation that would be caused by American tariffs (some Chinese sources are estimating that over 100,000 Chinese would lose their jobs) China may have to significantly increase domestic consumption to pick up slack for decreased American purchases. If the government is able to spur consumption, it could have a huge impact on CHIQ which has about 21% allocated to consumer services and 28% to retail, two segments that are likely to see a boost in demand from increased spending.

Industrials Select Sector SPDR XLI

While tariffs are sure to hurt foreign manufacturing, they will likely help struggling American manufacturing firms that will be protected from low-cost competition in China. Firms such as General Electric and United Technology Group, which make up 18.3% of XLI, stand to benefit if double-digit tariffs like the 35% duty that was put on Chinese tires are applied to other products as well. These duties would go a long way to making American manufacturing competitive, at least domestically, which would help to boost the outlook of the entire industrials sector....MORE
*From PE Hub:
"Need venture capital for your iPad-related startup? There’s an AppFund for that."
From Big Money's The App Economy:
"Helicopter parenting more efficient than ever thanks to AT&T's kid-spying FamilyMap app. (GeekSugar)"
From TechCrunch:
  • “If you just murdered your friend and need to find the nearest city dump, there’s an app for that.”
  • “Your momma’s so fat, there’s an app for that.”
  • “If you want to write an app that makes fun of apps, there’s an app for that.”
  • “If you want to get your drunk roommate out of bed, there’s an app for that.”
  • “If your reading this, there’s an app for that.”
Feel Like Shaking A Baby To Death? There's An App For That.
Want To Avoid Swine Flu? There's An App For That Too.

Curing Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety and Benny Hill

A couple pictures from a reader:



Ophelia: First Deaths


From the Irish Independent:
Storm Ophelia claims first victims as woman killed by falling tree; man killed using chainsaw
Hurricane Ophelia: Latest updates as worst storm to hit Ireland in more than 50 years lands
In Pictures: 16 of the most dramatic shots as Storm Ophelia hits Ireland
Roof of Cork City's football stadium blows off... the day before Cork hoped to lift title
Ophelia Nationwide: Fallen trees, flying debris and no electricity - regional updates
From yesterday's "As Hurricane Ophelia Continues On Track to Ireland and Scotland, A Quick Look Back At The Great Storm of October 15-16, 1987":
It seems that trees loom large in the collective memory.
Almost every account mentions the trees. Gorleston Norfolk had a 122 mph wind gust. Here's Norwich's Eastern Daily Press in 2012:

With an estimated 15 million trees blown down by gales of over 90mph in the south-east of England, the timber market was all of a sudden flushed with stock that threatened to see the trade’s worth plummet.
And those were just the words.
The pics are...amazing....

One of the Computer Models Has FOUR Pacific Typhoons Developing In the Next Eight Days

The GFS computer model, the Global Forecast System numerical model, is usually used for 1-to-5-day-ahead forecasts.

From Ryan Maue:

"Machine Learning Meets Central Banking"

From UPenn's Francis X. Diebold, Sept. 17:
Here's a nice new working paper from the Bank of England.  There's nothing new methodologically, but there are three fascinating and detailed applications / case studies (banking supervision under imperfect information, UK CPI inflation forecasting, unicorns in financial technology).  For your visual enjoyment I include their Figure 19 below.  (It's the network graph for global technology start-ups in 2014, not spin-art...)


With a nod (rather than a Hat Tip) to the FT's David Keohane who I believe turned the world on to SMBC.
From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Perspective


The Shallow Benefit of Deep Liquidity

From Collaborative Fund, October 4:
At some point in the last few years high-frequency traders began using picoseconds to measure the time needed to execute their trades. That’s a trillionth of a second. Big numbers require context: There are as many picoseconds in one second as there are seconds in 31,709 years.

Few things can be done faster than the time it takes to buy or sell hundreds of companies’ stock. It can be done in huge amounts, too. Bill Gates has sold $200 million or more worth of Microsoft shares almost every month for a decade.

The term for this is liquidity. Most individual investors can turn their stock portfolio into cash at reasonable prices in seconds. Institutions can usually do it in days or weeks.

It is a massive benefit to investing in public stocks. But it doesn’t come free. You pay a lot for the service. And it’s a service many public investors overpay for, unaware of its downside.
Here’s the problem. The more liquid an investment is, the lower return it will earn compared to similar investments that are less liquid. The upside is that you can sell a liquid investment in the next few picoseconds. But most financial advisors praise liquid investments while (rightly) preaching long-term investing where you don’t touch your investments for years or decades. It’s hard to square the two.

Ask yourself: If Vanguard offered an S&P 500 index fund with a five-year lockup that guaranteed an extra percentage point of annual returns above the fully liquid fund, would you take it? I would. Many of you would.

These aren’t small numbers. The liquidity premium – the amount of return you surrender for the benefit of being able to sell quickly – can be bigger than most of the edges public market investors fight over. UBS found that each month a hedge fund bars its investors from redemption translates into an extra 20 basis points of return, on average. Another study of illiquid private equity funds showed roughly the same premium over comparable S&P 500 stocks. Two percentage points a year is astronomical in a world where investors bicker over basis points. It is several times larger than the beaten-into-our-brains impact mutual fund fees have on returns....MORE
HT: this also came to us via Alpha Ideas but we're not sure which post

U.S. Farm Sector Capital Expenditures

From the University of Illinois' FarmDoc Daily, Oct. 11:
U.S. farm sector capital expenditures continue to adjust to declines in net farm income and net cash income since 2013. Real net farm income has declined approximately 51 percent since its most recent peak in 2013, while real net cash income has declined approximately 29 percent since its most recent peak in 2012. Similar to past periods of declining margins, U.S. farms have responded to the declines in income by reducing capital expenditures. This article examines trends in capital expenditures and compares capital expenditures to capital consumption (i.e., economic depreciation).

Trends in Real Capital Expenditures
Figure 1 illustrates real U.S. farm capital expenditures and consumption from 1973 to 2017. Capital expenditures and consumption are expressed in 2016 dollars in figure 1. Capital expenditures include tractors, trucks, autos, machinery, buildings, land improvements, and miscellaneous capital expenditures. Capital consumption represents the declining balance of capital stock or economic depreciation. Using figure 1, two large increases in capital expenditures and two large decreases in capital expenditures have occurred since 1973. The first increase occurred during the 1973 to 1979 period. During this period, real capital expenditures increased from $44.4 billion in 1973 to $56.0 billion in 1979. The 1979 peak represents the highest annual capital expenditures level since 1973. The second increase occurred during the 2009 to 2014 period. During this period, real capital expenditures increased from $26.1 billion to $45.5 billion. The first large decrease in real capital expenditures occurred from 1979 to 1986. Real capital expenditures declined approximately 71 percent from the 1979 peak to the 1986 trough. The second large decrease is currently playing out. Since the 2014 peak, real capital expenditures have declined approximately 36 percent. However, it is important to note that real capital expenditures were similar in 2016 and 2017.
An alternative way to examine trends in capital expenditures and consumption is to compute the ratio of capital expenditures to capital consumption. This ratio is depicted in figure 2. A ratio above 1 indicates that capital is being replaced at a rate higher than economic depreciation. Conversely, a ratio below 1 indicates that economic depreciation is larger than capital replacement. The average ratio over the 1973 to 2017 period was 1.013, which indicates that on average capital replacement exceeded capital consumption. The annual ratio appears to be quite cyclical. The ratio of capital expenditures to capital consumption was above 1 from 1973 to 1980, below 1 from 1981 to 1997, above 1 from 1998 to 2013, and below 1 since 2014. The lowest annual ratios occurred during the 1980s farm financial crisis. As noted above there was a substantial decrease in capital expenditures in the 1980s. At the trough (i.e., 1986), the capital expenditures to capital consumption ratio was only 0.52. The three highest ratios occurred in 2008 (1.73), 2010 (1.46), and 2011 (1.70). Obviously, U.S. farms replaced a substantial portion of their depreciable capital during the 2007 to 2013 period. In the last couple of years, the capital expenditures to capital consumption ratio has dropped below 0.70. Though relatively low, the current ratio is still above the ratios experienced from 1982 to 1986. It is also noteworthy, that the ratio did not continue to drop in 2017, the 2017 ratio is almost identical to the 2016 ratio....

"Vinod Khosla on A.I., Health, and the Future of Working (or Not)"

Spoiler alert: He doesn't comment on the state of California forcing him to re-open access to the ocean, see "Beach, please... Billionaire VC finally opens way to waves" if interested.
We don't much care for Mr. K., some links below.

From Xconomy (San Francisco):
Entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist Vinod Khosla made big headlines almost six years ago when he wrote a blog post called “Do We Need Doctors or Algorithms?” In it, he said medicine needed to be reinvented and he predicted a new era in which artificial intelligence might replace most of the functions that doctors do now—and do it much better, leaving physicians free to concentrate on the human element of care.

It’s been quite a ride since then. Along the way, Khosla has invested in a range of startup companies—including several tackling radiology, cardiology, and mental health (see slide and list at bottom)—that are using data and artificial intelligence to reimagine healthcare, hopefully lowering costs, improving quality, and making the best care accessible to all. And almost exactly a year ago, in September 2016, he published a 110-page paper on the subject called “20-percent doctor included” & Dr. Algorithm: Speculations and musings of a technology optimist that spelled out his thoughts and speculations (not predictions) in far greater detail.

I recently visited with Khosla, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, at the offices of Khosla Ventures in Menlo Park, CA, for a discussion on A.I. and healthcare and beyond, including a not totally optimistic picture of the future of work and jobs. “There’s no reason an oncologist should be a human being,” is one of the things Khosla told me. “There’s nothing that requires human judgment that machines don’t have a chance at doing much better,” and “People don’t need to work, for those who don’t want to” are a few others.

What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Xconomy: I’m curious–what got you into A.I. in healthcare?
Vinod Khosla. Well, I’m always looking for where the large changes are, and where the large problems are. If you look at healthcare, we all know how big a problem it is—there’s no rocket science. Nobody had ever looked at unique, highly leveraged ways to change healthcare and how one would do healthcare if it started from scratch. Of course, it has to at some point fit back into the old healthcare system.

I originally looked at it to see if I could do some nonprofit efforts in India. And you couldn’t scale enough doctors. If you had unlimited budget, you couldn’t start enough medical schools and get enough professors to teach the number of students who in 10 years would [make] enough doctors. The math didn’t work.

Then in January 2012, I wrote a piece called Do We Need Doctors or Algorithms?

X: That got a lot of attention.
VK: That was in TechCrunch. I didn’t intend to write it. I was skiing for two weeks [in Deer Valley, near Park City, UT], and the day before Christmas, I tore my ACL skiing. It’s a bummer when you’re planning on skiing and you have to stay in bed. I did an MRI and I took it to three different docs, and they recommended three different things. I said, ‘This is stupid. There’s one right answer.’ And when I talked to them about probability, they didn’t understand probability. And these are really good docs. The U.S. ski team is based in Deer Valley so they’re the best docs, and they see probably hundreds, if not thousands, of patients every season. So I was in bed, I was dealing with different opinions, and I’d been thinking about the India problem—looking at scaling medicine. That’s when I wrote that blog. Came from my frustration with the inconsistency of advice.

And frankly, there’s two types of advice in medicine, one that doesn’t matter. If you’ve got the flu, it doesn’t matter what advice you get—you’ll get better in the same timeframe. You might feel a little better if they give you Advil, a little worse if they don’t. And then when it really matters, you get a lot of opinions, but no science.

There’s a number in medicine that almost no doctor knows, but it’s well-established. It’s called NNT. You probably never heard of it. It’s amazing. [Editor’s note: NNT is Number Needed to Treat to avoid or prevent one additional bad result.] That’s the real number that matters. NNT is an incredibly important number that few doctors are aware of.

Look, medicine is better than it has ever been, and every year it’s improving. But it’s still the practice of medicine. It’s not a science. If it was a science, for any given patient you’d always have the same answer no matter who you ask, even if it is a probability distribution of outcomes. So my goal became to change the practice of medicine, which is pretty damn good, into the science of medicine. And the science of medicine needs science—and it can take a good system and make it much better.

X: I can guess where artificial intelligence figures into this, but please take us through your thinking....MUCH MORE
Dec. 2016
“Fake it till you make it”: The Dark Side of Bro Culture In Silicon Valley
Since around the turn of the century I've been trying to decide if the emphasis should be on the 'Sili' or the 'con' in Silicon Valley.

And, as I've mentioned elsewhere you can pretty much draw a straight line from Nietzsche's "There are no truths, only interpretations" through Derrida and the deconstructionists to the normalization of making shit up by postmodernist folks in the social sciences to today.

Dec. 2015
Vinod Khosla Fast and Loose: A Biofuel Dream Gone Bad

Sept. 2012
Vinod Khosla Says Technology will Replace 80 percent of Doctors--Physicians Generally Disagree
I'm not sure what to make of this but I am coming to believe that Khosla is a bit of a blowhard who has decided to invest in areas subsidized by government; green energy, healthcare etc.
No capitalism red-in-tooth-and-claw for Vinod.

May 2010
"Tony Blair to Join Khosla Ventures"
I'm guessing it's not for his biochemistry expertise.
Like Al Gore at Kleiner Perkins, Nick Stern at IDEAGlobal (parent of IDEACarbon), Blair's former science adviser, David King at UBS these guys define "Political Capitalism".

May 2008
Khosla Rebuts the WSJ's Rebuttal

"China drags India and other neighbors into high-stakes geopolitical poker game over freshwater access "

Just something to put on the radar, nothing "hot" yet.
Plus a little alliteration—"hydro-hegemon", ha!.

From the Asia Times:

A new front opens in Asia’s water wars
China has long regarded freshwater as a strategic weapon – one that the country’s leaders have no compunction about wielding to advance their foreign-policy goals. After years of using its chokehold on almost every major transnational river system in Asia to manipulate water flows themselves, China is now withholding data on upstream flows to put pressure on downstream countries, particularly India.

For decades, China has been dragging its neighbors into high-stakes games of geopolitical poker over water-related issues. Thanks to its forcible annexation of Tibet and other non-Han Chinese ethnic homelands – territories that comprise some 60% of its landmass – China is the world’s unrivaled hydro-hegemon. It is the source of cross-border riparian flows to more countries than any other state.

In recent years, China has worked hard to exploit that status to increase its leverage over its neighbors, relentlessly building upstream dams on international rivers. China is now home to more dams than the rest of the world combined, and the construction continues, leaving downstream neighbors – especially the vulnerable lower Mekong basin states, Nepal, and Kazakhstan – essentially at China’s mercy.

So far, China has refused to enter into a water-sharing treaty with a single country. It does, however, share some hydrological and meteorological data – essential to enable downstream countries to foresee and plan for floods, thereby protecting lives and reducing material losses.

Yet, this year, China decided to withhold such data from India, undermining the efficacy of India’s flood early-warning systems – during Asia’s summer monsoon season, no less. As a result, despite below-normal monsoon rains this year in India’s northeast, through which the Brahmaputra River flows after leaving Tibet and before entering Bangladesh, the region faced unprecedented flooding, with devastating consequences, especially in Assam state....MORE
HT: Alpha Ideas' Weekend Mega Linkfest.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Oil: "Iraqi forces launch 'major' Kirkuk operation"

From al-Jazeera:
Iraqi security forces have launched a "major operation" in the Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk to take control of a strategic military base and oil fields, according to Kurdish and Iraqi officials.

The aim of the advance early on Monday was taking control of the Kurdish-controlled K1 airbase, west of Kirkuk, Lieutenant Colonel Salah el-Kinani, of the Iraqi army's 9th armoured division, told Reuters news agency.

Iraqi forces took control of "vast areas" in the oil-rich region without any opposition from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, state TV said, wihtout offering further details.
The Kurdistan Region Security Council had earlier said that Iraqi forces and members of the Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF) - paramilitary units largely made up of Iran-trained Shia militias - were advancing from Taza, south of Kirkuk, in a "major operation".

"Their intention is to enter the city and take over (the) K1 base and oil fields," it said in a post on Twitter....MORE
WTI and Brent futures are up around 1%.

"Kurds on high alert as Iraqi forces mass near Kirkuk"

If interested see also:
Today's Word Is Irredentist: ""Mosul and Kirkuk are Turkish cities" - Erdogan regime begins paving its way for Iraq"
Some Backround on ISIS and the Iraqi Minorities 

As Hurricane Ophelia Continues On Track to Ireland and Scotland, A Quick Look Back At The Great Storm of October 15-16, 1987

Ophelia's track has shifted back a bit east but still looks to bisect Ireland and hit Scotland as a strong extra-tropical storm:


And in one of those 2017 oddities, similar to the Mexico City earthquake happening on the day of the anniversary of the Great Earthquake of 1985, tonight marks the 30th observance of the arrival of the Great Storm.

It seems that trees loom large in the collective memory.
Almost every account mentions the trees. Gorleston Norfolk had a 122 mph wind gust. Here's Norwich's Eastern Daily Press in 2012:
With an estimated 15 million trees blown down by gales of over 90mph in the south-east of England, the timber market was all of a sudden flushed with stock that threatened to see the trade’s worth plummet.
And those were just the words.
The pics are...amazing
Suffolk- A car drives past a forest devastated                                          Kent
by the Great Storm of 1987, with a single tree
left standing.

In an October 2013 piece, "Tale of Two Storms" which compared the effect of the '87 blow with a similar storm, were it to repeat now, the Financial Times noted:
...A green and pleasant land 
The Kent town of Sevenoaks is named after the seven oak trees that were planted there in 1906. In 1987 six of them were blown over, along with about 15m other trees across the UK. The storm’s impact on England’s trees – from forests to copses – is deeply ingrained in its cultural legacy. Today there are 6.2m hectares of woodland in the UK, says the Forestry Commission. Pests that affect trees – such as the horse chestnut leaf miner – have spread in recent years. In 2012, the Forestry Commission warned of an “unprecedented level of threat” from pests and diseases that may weaken trees. But one of the biggest factors determining the number of trees Britain could lose this time will be – as it was in 1987 – how wet the soil is in which they stand. Falling trees posed a major problem for power and telephone lines in 1987, while this time the sturdiness of mobile masts will also come into play....
They go on to note that the forests of London the last few years have been comprised of construction cranes.
So, we have the answer to the age-old question, if 15 million trees fall, everyone notices. And remembers.

With that we get to our headliner.
Writing for the Royal Meteorological Society, Bob Prichard has what is probably the most accessible piece of scholarship of the events:

The Great Storm of 16 October 1987 
First published: 26 September 2012

This article describes the development and impact of one of southeastern Britain's most violent weather events of the twentieth century: the Great Storm of 16 October 1987. It draws on material from Weather's Special issue of March 1988, but includes some new insights and photographs.
This Special issue commemorates the 25th anniversary of one of southeastern Britain's most violent weather events of the twentieth century. The first half of the issue looks at the development and impact of the storm, including how woodlands were affected – an aspect that was widely misunderstood at the time. In the second half we explore further the lessons that were learnt by meteorologists, with particular reference to what threatened to be a possible repeat last December. We also include an article on a localised historical tornado from the same time of year.

The days following the 1987 storm were uncomfortable ones for forecasters: put simply, the event was just not forecast (at least on the day – it had been signalled a few days earlier). It was, therefore, heartening to read in a Met Office Press Release dated 12 October 1988 and headed ‘The Storm of 1987 – one year on’: Extraordinary weather sequences such as those which caused last year's October storm are being overcome by the Met Office's development programme. Problem solved! (This extract appeared in the January 1989 issue of Weather, page 11).

Setting the scene
October 1987 was not short of remarkable weather, and nearly always the cause was a deep, sharpening upper trough to the southwest of Britain. Very cold air plunging southeast over warm seas triggered vigorous depressions, whilst blocking high pressure over eastern Europe meant that the slowing and sharpening of the troughs gave further impetus to the depressions and also drew up some very warm, moist air in the warm sectors.

This was a recipe for copious rainfall, and it was repeated several times during the month. On the night of 15/16 October it also had the effect of producing a violent storm as an already very deep depression moving northeast over Biscay deepened further over the warm sea and in response to the sharpening of its governing upper trough. The depression was a complex feature, with several small offshoots running northeast ahead of it along its warm front.

Figures 1-4 illustrate the run-up to the event. From 12 to14 October the baroclinic zone, depicted by the extensive cloud south of 50°N, is fairly smooth with little apparent development. In the 80-page Special issue that Weather published on the storm, Monk and Bader (1988) remarked that this cloud band extended from the vicinity of hurricane Floyd near Florida. Development of the storm is clearly well underway by late afternoon on the 15th (Figure 4); Monk and Bader discussed the development of the cloud head and dry wedge, both becoming apparent in this image and features known to precede intense cyclogenesis.

A quiet evening followed by a night of mayhem
A very marked temperature contrast developed across the warm front as it edged erratically into southeast England during the late afternoon of the 15th; at 1700 utc, the temperature was 16°C at Herstmonceux (East Sussex) and 9°C at Heathrow. For a while in the evening events ‘marked time’ as a ripple ran along the front, keeping the warm air just over the extreme southeast and the Channel Islands: it was windy in the warm sector, but not excessively so. By 2200 utc, the temperature was 8°C at Stansted and 17°C at Southend (both in Essex). Around this time there was a rapid fall in barometric pressure at the western end of the warm sector, over northwest France, and little change in pressure over northeast France. This was soon reflected in a marked strengthening of the wind along a track about 70km wide, which reached the Channel Islands around 0000 utc on the 16th. The central pressure of the depression at this stage was about 953mbar just north of Brest.
Amongst the less remarked-on effects of the night was the amount of dirt deposited on all surfaces as the temperature suddenly rose on the passage of the warm front, creating condensation on all surfaces – such as the outside of windows. There was at least a fair amount of dry weather in the warm sector following hours of warm-frontal rain.

By 0200 utc, the violent winds had reached all of the south coast from east Dorset to East Sussex...MUCH, MUCH MORE
We'll be back tomorrow with more about the storm's worldwide effects on financial markets, it was a pretty big deal.

As a taste, here's some guy* writing at The Guardian about the April 2000 leg of the dotcom crash on the London exchange and looking for a comparison:
Meltdown at the stock exchange
...Such paralysis has never been witnessed before in the London market, the closest example being October 16 1987, when the hurricane resulted in so few City workers getting to their desks that the exchange shut early. The following week, the stock market suffered its biggest fall in living memory - Black Monday....
*Okay, not just "some" guy.
That's Paul Murphy in a prior life before he went on to become a honcho at the Financial Times and the tough-but-fair boss at FT Alphaville.  

News You Probably Shouldn't Use: The Chemical So Awful It Can Burn Rust or Sand

How the hell do you burn something that is already oxidized?

Meet Chlorine Trifluoride: The Chemical That Sets Fire to Asbestos on Contact
From Gizmodo, July 2015:
First discovered back in the 1930s, chlorine trifluoride is a rather curious chemical that easily reacts, sometimes explosively, with just about every known substance on Earth.

Just to get the ball rolling, here’s a few of the more unusual things chlorine trifluoride is known to set fire to on contact: glass, sand, asbestos, rust, concrete, people, pyrex, cloth, and the dreams of children…

Obviously the first question to answer here is how chlorine trifluoride is somehow able to cause asbestos, a substance that is known for being almost completely fire retardant, to catch on fire. Well, that’s because chlorine trifluoride is a more powerful oxidizing agent by mass than oxygen itself. Meaning it’s capable of rapidly oxidizing things that would normally be considered practically “impossible” to set aflame, like asbestos. Chlorine trifluoride is such an effective oxidizer that it can even potentially set fire to things that have seemingly already been burned up, like ash or spent charcoal.

The substance is so highly reactive that famously unreactive elements like platinum, osmium and iridium will begin to corrode when they come into contact with it. Notably tough elements like titanium and tungsten are also regarded as being wholly unsuitable to storing the chemical because they set on fire as soon as they come into contact with it.

The only known way to store chlorine trifluoride “safely”, which we use in the loosest possible sense, is to put it inside of a sealed containers made of steel, iron, nickel or copper which are able to contain the chemical safely if they’re first treated with flourine gas. This is because doing so will coat the metal in a thin fluoride layer, with which the chemical won’t react. However, if this layer is compromised in anyway, or the metal isn’t completely dry, chlorine trifluoride will begin to react violently and cause the vessel to explode.

A few of the other things known to not react with chlorine trifluoride include nitrogen, the inert gases and polychlorotrifluoroethylene. Rather fortunately, chlorine trifluoride doesn’t react with air unless it happens to contain a larger than average amount of water vapor.

Speaking of which, when chlorine trifluoride comes into contact with water, it will react explosively with it and as a fun byproduct creates large amounts of dangerous gasses such as hydrofluoric acid and hydrochloric acid. Hydrofluric acid in particular is incredibly dangerous and along with being able to melt things like glass and concrete, can permanently damage your lungs and eyes. As if that wasn’t worrying enough, if you’re ever unlucky enough to get hydrofluric acid on your skin, it doesn’t actually hurt until a few hours later. After it has absorbed a bit, it starts destroying your nerves and bones and can ultimately cause cardiac arrest when it gets into your blood stream. In fact, in 1994 a lab technician in Australia accidentally spilled hydrofluric acid on his lap and despite immediately executing safety procedures including hosing off, immersing himself in a swimming pool, and later extensive medical care (including needing to have one of his legs amputated), within two weeks of the accident, he was dead.

Unsurprisingly, the Nazis were really interested in the military applications of chlorine trifluoride. After all, it’s a substance that reacts explosively with water (humans are largely bags of water), and for those that don’t come in contact with it directly, there’s the byproduct of the deadly gasses. Further, there is really little one can do to put out the fires it causes directly other than to let them burn off. If you throw water on the source of the problem, it will get worse. The reaction here also doesn’t require atmospheric oxygen to burn, so trying to use that method of fire suppression won’t work either....MORE