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Arts Culture STEM Competition Tuesday 16th April 2024 Industry Opinion Local Nations

Google Adds ".zip" and ".mov" Top-Level Domains (TLDs) to the Internet, Raising Security Concerns

Google's recent addition of eight new top-level domains (TLDs) to the Internet, including ".zip" and ".mov," has raised concerns among security experts. While Google marketers claim the new TLDs represent concepts like "tying things together" and "moving pictures," they are commonly used as extensions for archive files and video files. The worry is that when displayed in emails or social media, these TLDs can be automatically converted into clickable links, potentially leading users to malicious websites.

Security practitioners are warning that scammers could take advantage of this confusion by registering domain names similar to commonly used file names, luring people into clicking and downloading malicious content. For instance, a scammer could register a domain like "photos.zip" and trick users into downloading malware instead of a legitimate file.

Moreover, the use of Unicode characters in URLs can make malicious domains appear almost identical to legitimate ones, further complicating the matter. Critics argue that these new TLDs may facilitate phishing attacks and other forms of online deception.

While Google defended its use of these TLDs and highlighted browser mitigations such as Google Safe Browsing, which warns users of malicious websites, some security experts are calling for the removal of ".zip" and ".mov" from the public suffix list (PSL) to prevent their misuse.

The debate highlights the complexities and potential risks associated with introducing new TLDs, particularly those that may lead to confusion and increase the threat of online scams and phishing attacks. As the Internet continues to evolve, striking a balance between innovation and security remains an ongoing challenge for domain name management and regulation.

Rivian to Utilize Tesla Superchargers with Adapters and Adopt Tesla's Charging Port Standard

Starting from spring 2024, Rivian customers will be able to use 12,000 Tesla Superchargers with adapters in the United States and Canada. Additionally, Rivian vehicles will have a Tesla-style charging port as a standard feature, beginning in 2025.

Rivian's CEO, RJ Scaringe, explained the decision, saying, "We prefer the Tesla connector, which is more compact, and we also see it as an opportunity to leverage the charging infrastructure that they built."

The move is part of Tesla's recent series of successes. In a single day, Tesla struck deals with BTC Power, which will incorporate Tesla's standard into its electric chargers; Texas, which will require state-backed charging stations to include Tesla's plug; and Hyundai Motor, which is considering making its vehicles more compatible with Tesla's standard.

These partnerships are a significant step in establishing Tesla's charging standard, competing with the Combined Charging System (CCS) that had the backing of President Joe Biden's administration. Tesla's recent agreements allow the company to profit from selling power to a wider group of EV drivers while giving other automakers access to its charging network.

Rivian, known for producing the R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV, also plans to expand its own fast-charging network, with over 3,500 charging stations in the works. Rivian's network will use Tesla's standard plugs, creating an additional revenue stream from Tesla owners using Rivian chargers.

Tesla's Superchargers currently make up about 60% of the total fast chargers available in the United States. This extensive network has been crucial for Tesla owners, and now, the company is taking steps to share it with other electric vehicle manufacturers.

While building charging networks requires significant investment, partnerships like these are becoming more common among EV manufacturers. As competition in the EV market intensifies, companies are recognizing the value of joining forces to offer better charging solutions to customers.

The recent partnerships also have implications for the U.S. government's efforts to promote EV adoption. Tesla's acceptance of the North American Charging Standard (NACS) has made it eligible for federal funding, and the government is providing $7.5 billion to accelerate EV charger deployment in the country.

Rebecca Tinucci, Tesla's senior director of charging infrastructure, commented on the industry's move toward the NACS, saying, "It's great to see the industry coming together to adopt the North American Charging Standard."

In conclusion, Rivian's adoption of Tesla's charging standard is another sign of the growing cooperation among EV manufacturers to improve charging infrastructure and promote EV adoption. Tesla's charging network remains a significant advantage for the company, and its recent deals with other automakers are helping to establish the NACS as the preferred charging standard in North America.

Apple and Broadcom's Multi-Billion-Dollar Chip Deal in the U.S.

Apple has unveiled a significant multibillion-dollar deal with Broadcom, a prominent U.S. technology and advanced manufacturing company. The partnership focuses on the development of 5G radio frequency components, particularly FBAR filters, and cutting-edge wireless connectivity components. Broadcom will manufacture the FBAR filters in various key American hubs, including Fort Collins, Colorado, where the company has a major facility.

Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, expressed enthusiasm about the collaboration, highlighting the commitment to leveraging American ingenuity and creativity in manufacturing. Apple's existing collaboration with Broadcom in Fort Collins has already contributed to supporting over 1,100 jobs, with the new deal expected to further enable investment in critical automation projects and upskilling for technicians and engineers.

The broader impact of Apple's partnerships extends across the nation, supporting over 2.7 million jobs through direct employment, iOS app development, and spending with a vast network of U.S. suppliers and manufacturers spanning all 50 states and various sectors.

The focus on 5G technology is a pivotal aspect of Apple's strategy, with substantial investments directed toward its development in the United States. These investments align with Apple's commitment made in 2021 to inject $430 billion into the U.S. economy over five years. The company is currently on track to meet this target through direct spending with American suppliers, investments in data centers, capital expenditures, and other domestic expenditures.

Since the introduction of 5G technology to Apple devices in 2020, the company has played a crucial role in expanding and expediting 5G adoption nationwide. This expansion has driven innovation and job growth among companies supporting 5G innovation and infrastructure. The global reach of 5G coverage and performance continues to grow, providing users worldwide with faster connectivity as they transition to 5G-capable products.

Airbus Soars High with Record-Breaking Aircraft Order from IndiGo

In a groundbreaking deal that has set the aviation industry abuzz, Airbus, the world's largest aircraft manufacturer, has secured its most significant sale ever. On Monday, the European giant inked a historic agreement with Indian airline IndiGo, bagging an order for a staggering 500 narrow-body planes. This multibillion-dollar deal not only showcases Airbus' prowess but also highlights the burgeoning potential of the South Asian subcontinent as a massive and rapidly emerging market in the aviation world.

This marks the second major aircraft order to an Indian airline this year, following Air India's purchase of 470 new passenger jets in February. However, unlike the earlier deal, where Airbus and Boeing split the spoils, this time, Airbus walks away with the entire booty, further solidifying its foothold in India. IndiGo, a homegrown Indian supergiant, has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a startup in 2006. Now, it reigns supreme with over 60% of India's market share, dwarfing the competition. In contrast, the industry runner-up, Air India, holds less than 10% market share.

The allure of the Indian market is evident to Western manufacturers, and for good reason. With India recently surpassing China to become the world's most populous country, opportunities for growth abound. The country's gross domestic product is projected to surge nearly 6% this year, outpacing other major emerging and advanced economies, which is fueling the rise of a burgeoning middle class and an influx of first-time flyers. In the first quarter of this year, passenger numbers surpassed 37 million, a remarkable 6% increase compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to official government data.

Recognizing the potential, India's government has committed a whopping $12 billion to airport infrastructure projects, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious vision to make India a global connecting hub and a premier travel destination. Meanwhile, IndiGo is not resting on its laurels; it plans to double its size and scale by the end of the decade. Currently, the airline boasts a fleet of 300 aircraft.

However, amid the soaring ambitions and grand plans, there are some grounded realities. Airbus has faced production line issues, leading to delays. The company had initially targeted producing 75 planes per month, but that goal has been pushed back to 2026—months after the original deadline. As a result, IndiGo won't receive its new planes until at least 2030, and the final order won't be fully delivered until 2035. As fans of 30 Rock's Liz Lemon can relate, a pilot's promise of a half-hour delay "means forever." The same logic seems to apply to airplane manufacturers.

So, while this historic deal with IndiGo marks a remarkable achievement for Airbus and a testament to India's aviation potential, there are still some runway challenges to navigate before the planes take flight.

Bankrupt Rocket Firm Virgin Orbit Sells Assets and Ceases Operations

In a rather explosive turn of events, bankrupt rocket company Virgin Orbit has announced its decision to shut down after selling its assets and equipment to several aerospace companies in a fiery auction. The company, which had filed for bankruptcy protection in April, failed to secure a funding lifeline and had to resort to drastic measures.

The bidders in Monday's auction included Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch, and Vast's Launcher, all vying for a piece of the rocket pie. The total amount of the bids reached a staggering $36 million, leaving Virgin Orbit's six rockets and intellectual property still up for grabs.

Rocket Lab successfully secured the company's headquarters in Long Beach, California, for a cool $16.1 million. The purchase includes assets like 3D printers and a specialty tank welding machine. Rocket Lab's founder and CEO, Peter Beck, expressed excitement about the acquisition, stating that it would bolster their production capabilities, particularly for their larger Neutron rocket.

Meanwhile, Stratolaunch, known for its ambitious plans in hypersonic flight testing, walked away with Virgin Orbit's 747 jet after submitting a "stalking horse" bid of $17 million. Stratolaunch is developing its own airborne system called "Roc" and hopes to use it as a platform for testing hypersonic technologies.

Not to be outdone, Launcher, a subsidiary of Vast Space, snatched up Virgin Orbit's facility in Mojave, California, for a modest $2.7 million. The purchase also includes machinery, equipment, and inventory. Unfortunately, Launcher declined to comment on their plans for the facility.

As the dust settles on this explosive auction, Virgin Orbit's demise highlights the challenges faced by the company. Despite its successful missions and groundbreaking technologies, Virgin Orbit struggled to raise funds and faced slow execution, ultimately leading to its downfall.

While Virgin Orbit's employees and management express their gratitude to stakeholders and acknowledge the company's lasting impact on the space industry, the auction marks the end of an era for this once multibillion-dollar venture. The bankruptcy court is set to approve the sales in a hearing on Wednesday, signaling the final curtain call for Virgin Orbit.

It seems the rocket industry can be as volatile as the rockets themselves, with companies soaring to great heights one moment and crashing down to Earth the next. For now, we bid adieu to Virgin Orbit and eagerly await the next thrilling chapter in the space race.

The Art of War

Sun Tzu

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The Iliad & the Odyssey

Homer

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AWS Joins Generative AI Race, Sets Sights on Corporate Clients

In a move that echoes tech behemoths Google and Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud computing arm of Amazon, has announced its foray into the world of generative AI. However, unlike its competitors, AWS has a different target audience in mind, aiming to attract corporate customers rather than the general public. The company is expanding its array of artificial intelligence tools and providing access to custom-made chips specifically designed to optimize the efficiency and affordability of running AI software.

Adam Selipsky, CEO of Amazon Web Services, emphasized the nascent nature of generative AI, stating, "This whole area is really, really new, and it truly is day one in generative AI. There's going to be a lot of invention by a lot of different companies."

As the leading global provider of cloud computing services, AWS is following the trend set by other tech giants by unveiling its generative AI strategy. The major players in cloud computing have all recognized the transformative potential of generative AI in revolutionizing work and creativity, thanks to its impressive ability to generate sophisticated memos and computer code. This surge of interest has spurred AWS, Microsoft, and Google to integrate generative AI into their sales pitches, seeking to rekindle demand for their cooling cloud services.

Shishir Mehrotra, CEO of AI document startup Coda and an early tester of AWS's new AI products, expressed his excitement, drawing parallels between the current rush to adopt generative AI and the transition from computers to smartphones.

Each cloud infrastructure leader is carving out its own distinct path within the generative AI landscape. Microsoft has taken the lead by investing billions in OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, while Google has directed substantial funds, totaling hundreds of millions, into the development of another generative AI platform, Anthropic. Both companies have primarily focused on creating AI tools for consumer use.

In contrast, AWS has charted a different course. It has refrained from major investments in external AI firms or consumer-oriented tools. Instead, AWS positions itself as a neutral platform, catering to businesses seeking to incorporate generative AI features. By avoiding exclusive partnerships, AWS presents itself as the Switzerland of the cloud giants, accommodating the diverse needs of its customers and offering access to multiple large language models.

In summary, Amazon Web Services is joining the race in generative AI, capitalizing on the growing interest in this groundbreaking technology. While competitors Google and Microsoft have honed in on the general public, AWS has set its sights on the corporate realm. With an expanded suite of AI tools and efficient custom-made chips, AWS aims to solidify its position as the go-to platform for businesses embracing generative AI. The race is on among the cloud giants, each forging its own unique path to harness the vast potential of generative AI.

Gannett Takes on Google in Lawsuit over Advertising Monopolies

In a clash that could rival the epic battles between superheroes and supervillains, Gannett, the heavyweight champion of U.S. newspaper publishers, has thrown down the gauntlet and filed a civil lawsuit against Google and its parent company Alphabet. The accusation? Unlawfully monopolizing the advertising technology tools that publishers and advertisers rely on to trade online ad space.

According to the lawsuit, Google exerts its power to dictate how publishers sell their coveted ad slots, strong-arming them into offering more space to Google at discounted rates. This allegedly leaves publishers with reduced revenue, while Google's ad-tech competitors are left counting their losses as Google's pockets grow heavier.

This legal maneuver by Gannett comes hot on the heels of the U.S. Justice Department and eight states taking a swing at Google in January with their own antitrust lawsuit. Their claim? Google has an iron grip on the entire online advertising ecosystem, sidelining any potential competition.

But the fight doesn't end there. The European Union (EU) has also stepped into the ring, launching its own investigation into Google's digital ad dominance last year. And just last week, EU regulators landed a fresh blow on Google, slapping it with more antitrust charges. Their knockout punch? To break up Google's digital ad business by forcing it to divest certain parts.

This escalating showdown between the EU and Silicon Valley's giants mirrors similar actions taken by U.S. authorities in their attempts to dismantle Google's alleged stranglehold on the online advertising realm.

Mike Reed, Gannett's CEO, took to the pages of USA Today, owned by Gannett, to rally support for the cause. In an opinion piece, he voiced the company's mission to "restore fair competition in a digital advertising marketplace that Google has demolished." Reed asserts that Google's bid-rigging practices have left local news outlets reeling.

But the gloves come off on Google's side, with Dan Taylor, the vice president of Google Ads, refuting Gannett's claims. Taylor insists that publishers have a plethora of options when it comes to monetizing their content through advertising technology. He argues that publishers retain the lion's share of revenue when utilizing Google's tools and extols the virtues of Google's advertising products.

Gannett's lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, aims for an undisclosed amount of damages and injunctive relief. With an eye on a jury trial, Gannett is ready to go toe-to-toe with Google in the legal arena.

Americans Face Auto Loan Predicament as Vehicle Values Decline

A new report has shed light on a concerning trend among Americans seeking auto loans, as the value of their vehicles decreases while loan amounts continue to rise. In the wake of pandemic-induced price hikes, vehicle values have taken a hit, leading many borrowers to find themselves in loans exceeding the worth of their cars.

According to a study released by TransUnion and J.D. Power on Tuesday, the loan-to-value ratios (LTVs) for used cars have soared from 104 in the first quarter of 2021 to 125 in the same period this year. This means that borrowers are securing loans that surpass the value of their vehicles by 125%.

While this surge in LTVs may allow consumers to afford used vehicles in the face of rising prices, it also raises concerns about potential delinquencies in the future. The study suggests that negative equity, where debt surpasses the value of the car, has become increasingly common, with some individuals finding themselves entering car dealerships already $10,000 underwater.

Satyan Merchant, a senior vice president at TransUnion, highlighted the impact of rising vehicle prices and overall inflation on consumers. As prices continue to climb and inflation remains high, individuals are compelled to start with higher-than-average LTV positions in order to afford used vehicles.

The situation is further exacerbated by the expectation of a continued decline in vehicle values. This presents a red flag for lenders, as prolonged negative equity could lead to higher risks and challenges in loan repayment.

Merchant emphasized the importance of closely monitoring this situation for lenders, particularly due to the potential for accelerated depreciation, which may result in borrowers having negative existing LTVs for longer periods. This development calls for heightened vigilance in the lending industry.

As Americans navigate the complexities of auto loans amidst shifting vehicle values, it remains crucial for borrowers and lenders alike to be mindful of these challenges. Awareness of loan-to-value ratios and careful assessment of the evolving market dynamics will be essential in making informed decisions and mitigating potential financial risks.

Piedmont Airlines Conducting Inquiry into Montgomery Airport Tragedy

In a tragic incident at Montgomery Regional Airport on December 31, 2022, 34-year-old Courtney Edwards, a Piedmont Airlines ground service agent, lost her life after being pulled into a jet engine. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently concluded its investigation, revealing critical safety lapses that might have averted the fatal accident.

According to the OSHA report released on Wednesday, Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, could have prevented the incident through proper training and enforcement of safety procedures. The report indicates that had the ground crew followed required safety protocols, Edwards might have avoided the fatal injuries sustained from the spinning turbines.

OSHA Area Director Jose A. Gonzalez emphasized the importance of safety measures even in routine assignments. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had previously released preliminary findings, noting that safety protocols were not adhered to, potentially preventing harm to individuals near the aircraft.

Piedmont Airlines now faces $15,625 in proposed penalties as per federal statute. OSHA cited the airline for one serious violation, exposing ground crew workers to ingestion hazards during various tasks.

In response to the findings, Piedmont Airlines contested the citation, asserting that their current policies comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. They emphasized their commitment to safety, stating that ongoing collaboration with unions ensures a secure working environment for their team members.

Edwards' tragic death has left a profound impact on her colleagues, friends, and the union representing her. The Communication Workers of America (CWA) set up a GoFundMe page to support Edwards' family, surpassing its $25,000 goal within days. Colleagues remember Edwards as a dedicated and motivated worker, raising concerns about the mental wellness of those who witnessed the accident.

As investigations continue, both OSHA and the FAA are closely examining the circumstances that led to this rare and unfortunate industrial accident. The incident serves as a sobering reminder of the critical importance of strict adherence to safety protocols in the aviation industry, where lapses can result in devastating consequences.

Private Equity's Clock is Ticking, Warns Verdad Advisers

In a recent report by Verdad Advisers, the health of private companies owned by private equity and venture capital firms has raised concerns due to rising debt costs, compressed margins, and negative cash flow. Verdad Advisers' founder, Dan Rasmussen, describes the situation as "pretty scary," noting the deterioration in the margin, debt, and valuation landscape.

The report examines a subset of companies owned by private equity and venture capital firms that are publicly listed or have issued public debt. These companies exhibit characteristics such as sponsor ownership of at least 30 percent, going public since 2018, and being headquartered in North America. Among the 350 companies analyzed, with a combined market cap of $385 billion, around 40 percent were technology companies.

Verdad's analysis reveals that these companies trade at a significant premium to public markets on a GAAP basis. However, they require substantial pro-forma adjustments to achieve comparability. This subset of companies eligible for going public skews towards the higher end of successful outcomes, but their underlying financials paint a different picture.

While the analyzed companies have stronger sales compared to S&P 500 companies, their EBITDA margins have been notably lower, with significant margin compression over the past few years. The research also highlights that 55 percent of the private equity-backed firms had negative free cash flow in the previous year, and 67 percent accumulated additional debt over the past 12 months.

The report indicates that the median leverage for companies with net debt stands at 8.8, corresponding to a Triple-C credit rating, significantly higher than the median leverage for S&P 500 companies at 1.7. Interest costs devour a substantial portion of EBITDA for private equity and venture capital firms, with 43 percent going towards interest payments, compared to 7 percent for S&P 500 companies.

The increase in debt levels, coupled with potentially inevitable multiple compression on exit, poses challenges for these companies. Rasmussen and Verdad Advisers suggest that the companies analyzed are likely among the best offerings from private equity. Despite these concerns, private equity remains a favored asset class for sophisticated investors, with some endowments and family offices approaching a 40 percent allocation.

As private equity's popularity has been fueled by strong trailing returns, low volatility, and a tech-focused approach, the landscape is evolving. Rasmussen points out that valuations have soared due to the influx of capital, particularly through sponsor-to-sponsor deals. However, the current situation suggests that adjustments are necessary.

The Verdad Advisers report underscores the financial challenges faced by private companies in private equity and venture capital, serving as a reminder of the evolving dynamics within this asset class.

The Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith

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1984: 75th Anniversary Paperback

George Orwell

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