Monday Moves v2.5: Nikola Concerns, San Francisco Downturns
Sam: This lengthy edition clearly shows how much Raj and I missed writing. We are excited to be back and hope that you are enjoying the start of fall. Both the Seahawks and Packers are 4-0, ski season is coming soon, and hopefully rain will soon put out the devastating fire.
Raj: Many apologies to our loyal readers for disappearing underground for over a month. Just as President Trump has risen today from the clutches of the coronavirus, so are we rising once again to deliver your weekly dose of moves. Read on as we welcome guest writer Adi Shastry who brings us his cybersecurity expertise during cybersecurity awareness month.
San Francisco, unedited. Source: terrythethunder
Raj: The pandemic has accelerated the exodus out of San Francisco, closing a chapter of an innovative yet enigmatic city that failed to acknowledge its underlying problems.
You may have forgotten all about it in this ridiculous news cycle that fabricates a new point of national outrage every other day, but it was just a couple weeks ago that an out-of-control wildfire raged through Northern California. The wildfire, which started in August, is still burning and by now has scorched over 1 million acres. The fire amplified a story that has grown all year: the San Francisco exodus.
All summer, people have left the city en masse due to a perfect cocktail consisting of the pandemic, work from home policies, a rise in violent crime, the climate’s deterioration, and power cuts by PG&E. All this in addition to the numerous existing problems of rent prices, homelessness, poverty, and drugs in a city and state renowned for some of the highest taxes in the country! Curiously, from my personal experience reading on this development, I found that publications were reluctant to touch on the issues of crime, violence, etc. and preferred to address work from home as the biggest factor.
Kim-Mai Cutler shared a chart of Zillow’s inventory change by city: San Francisco stands out like a sore thumb when compared with Boston, Seattle, and Washington.
Respected voices from the SF tech community have chastised many governance policies for abetting the decline of the city. Paul Graham blamed policies at city, state, and federal levels.Curiously, bad government is one of the biggest forces driving innovation in remote work. Specifically the dysfunctional SF city government, high CA state taxes, and US immigration policy. If remote is the future, these policies are making it happen faster.
Sar Haribhakti had enough when he had a gun pulled on him in broad daylight.I miss the culture, beauty and people of SF very much but I knew my days were numbered when someone pulled a gun on me in broad daylight in a crowded area outside a cafe I frequented multiple times a week Sad to see the city crumble
JD Ross @justindrossSan Francisco has: - Terrible property crime - Thousands of street homeless - Terrible public schools - 2nd highest rents in US - Highest tax rate in US And spends over 3x per citizen of median US city—second only to DC! Enough is enough. Defund the whole city and start over
Signs that San Francisco’s tech bubble would burst grew over the last decade, and it seems like the summer of coronavirus has been the straw to break the camel’s back. The pressing question is: now that people have packed up, where do they go? In v1.4, we predicted that the pandemic would accelerate the decline of large American cities generating growth of smaller cities such as Phoenix, Denver, and Salt Lake City. Balaji Srinivasan has laid out the blueprint for a virtual city that uses the technologies developed in the previous decade: a community built in the cloud, an economy focused on remote work, laws enforced with smart contracts, architecture imagined through VR, and territory acquired via crowdfunding.How to start a new city - Build a community in the cloud - Organize economy around remote work - Enforce laws with smart contracts - Practice in-person norms of civility - Simulate architecture in VR - Eventually, crowdfund territory - And materialize city into the real world
Balaji’s idea seems far-fetched right now, but I’m not surprised by anything anymore after the events of this year. But I’m not sure that a city can be built top-down by knowledge workers without ending up like a real life subreddit, which is why I’m more bullish on a techno-rural future. More on this in a future edition...
Sam: Nikola Motors, a “leader” in the battle for electric car dominance, has been having some serious issues.
Wow… where do I even begin with this one? Raj and I could spend an entire edition simply roasting Nikola and everyone involved with them, but in the interest of time and our sanity I will do my best to highlight only a few of their recent blunders.
On September 10th notorious financial investigator and short seller Hindenburg Research released an exhaustivereport which claimed that the publicly traded company Nikola was involved in widespread fraud. The report is scathing and claims that the entire company is nothing but flashy branding propped up by false promises and internal chaos. Think Theranos levels of criminal misconduct. The running theme throughout the report is that Nikola was able to fund their house of cards by lying to auto industry partners who were clamoring to latch on to anything that could help them challenge Tesla.
In the report Hindenberg reveals that the viral video from 2018 which shows Nikola’s flagship product, the One Electric Semi Truck, flying down a highway was fake. It turns out Hindenburg was right, and Nikola has now admitted to rolling the truck down a hill because they did not have a working prototype at the time. Whoops! To make matters worse, Nikola is now issuing copyright infringements to Youtubers who use the video while criticising the company for lying to the world. This is obviously a ridiculous attempt to silence criticism, but what makes matters worse is that YouTube is letting them get away with it. Using a video for criticism is a textbook example of fair use, and YouTube should not be allowing Nikola to issue strikes against content creators who use the clip. However, YouTube appears to be okay with letting Nikola abuse their system while the small creators who prop up their platform suffer the consequences. Shame on you, Nikola and Google. You are both terrible.
The bombshell report and subsequent drop in Nikola’s stock price put the planned $2 billion deal between Nikola and GM on hold. Apparently negotiation is taking place between the two companies in an attempt to salvage the deal, and GM is interested in acquiring a larger stake in Nikola. The goal is to have GM produce Nikola’s electric pickup truck (the badger - as I wrote about way back in v0.5) and provide the batteries and fuel cells for the semi trucks. Interestingly enough, the Badger has actually been removed completely from Nikola’s latest business plan, and a massive unveiling event in December has been canceled due to “coronavirus concerns” ... you know, the massive pandemic that has been around for 8 months. Given all that has developed there are serious concerns that the badger might not be ready for the production timeline originally laid out, or even exist at all. The Justice Department has opened an investigation and I am sure we are far from done hearing about Nikola.
*Note. I do own stock in GM. I do not own stock in Nikola which I am really happy about.
Raj: There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way our data is stored and shared online. How do we bring sovereignty back?
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and personal hero of mine whom I met at the Decentralized Web Summit in San Francisco in 2018, has claimed that we need to rethink the handling of our data. In a piece for TIME, he asks a simple question: why can no one use the mountains of data they have accumulated through their life to help themselves in a crisis? The full answer to this question is incredibly complex, but the synopsis is that a radical restructuring needs to occur for the Web to return to its original ethos.
The original Web (sometimes referred to as “web 1.0” though Berners-Lee hates that term) was fundamentally about sovereignty and openness. In an essay in 1998, Berners-Lee wrote:
“The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize.”
But somewhere along the road, the concept of sharing information became perverted to the point where applications today own our personal data and decide largely of their own accord whether to share it with partners and advertisers. Berners-Lee now calls for a fundamental restructuring of the way we think about data, a cause which he has been working to advance with his newest project called Solid. The idea of Solid is for each user to have their own “pod” containing their own data, which they can use to log into websites and choose to share with other parties at their own discretion. Users only divulge their data at their own consent and can retract permission once a certain goal has been met. An example that Berners-Lee provides is contact tracing during a pandemic: it’s unclear whether the contact tracing technology developed this year (e.g. Aarogya Setu) will stop being used once the pandemic runs its course, and so a privacy-oriented approach would be for users to be able to retract the usage of their data, which they own. After a decade in which people all over the world carelessly exposed every important detail of their personal lives with hosts of faceless third parties, it is heartening to see Tim Berners-Lee keep fighting for his original vision of the Web.
Sam: Android 11 is here and it includes some great additions
While everyone was busy gushing over iOS adding widgets (something Android has had from the start in 2008) Android 11 was released to Google phones and a few other select brands. The update includes some really neat features that will be hitting other Android phones soon. Overall, Android 11 will bring even more customization, exciting new developments for folding displays, and better security for users.
One of the largest upgrades is the way that Android allows users to interact with chats from various applications. Chats now have their own section above all other notifications and you can choose to prioritize certain chats and apps over others. The update also adds a feature called bubbles which allows chats to float over other screens like facebook messenger currently does. The feature brings the floating chat feature to every chat application on your device and concentrates them in the same place. This is the feature I am most excited about as someone who likes to multitask.
Android 11 is catching up to Apple with app permissions (yes I will admit they were lacking here) by giving the user easier abilities to control when apps get permission to camera, microphone, and location access. Now users will be forced to grant permission on a more regular basis, and if you want an app tracking your location you have to turn that feature on rather than turn it off.
Android 11 also includes stronger customization for music app controls in the notification menu, new screenshot and screen recording options, better compatibility for folding displays (which are are coming fast and will be here to stay), a new power button menu that includes access to things non-power related, new emojis, a notification history screen, and much more. Overall, Android 11 is an exciting edition in the ever improving operating system.
Adi: Hackers are leveraging the pandemic to infiltrate newly exposed vulnerabilities. It can be very easy to look past cybersecurity amidst a crisis, but no precaution is unnecessary.
More and more companies have been forced to have employees work from home. Schools have shifted to remote learning. Even government agencies have been forced to conduct business from afar. Back in late April, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called the recent technological shifts as “two years worth of digital transformation in two months.”
With this digital revolution comes the major risk of cyber attacks. The WHO recently reported that around "450 active WHO email addresses and passwords were leaked online" and although this attack did not affect the current WHO systems it shows that black hat hackers are using this pandemic to their advantage.
Additionally, hospitals have also been on the receiving end of various scams and ransomware attacks which are known to take entire hospital systems offline and grossly affect the level of patient care a hospital can provide. In one case a hospital was forced to turn away patients. The deputy director of Palo Alto Networks's Unit 42 threat intelligence unit said:
“The attacks are part of a surge in hacks and scams prompted by the coronavirus pandemic aimed at taking advantage of people’s dislocation and fears. But they’re particularly effective against hospitals where the intense pressure created by the pandemic might make workers more likely to slip up and click a link they shouldn’t.”
Other reports show the inherent vulnerabilities in the now very popular and widely used video conferencing application, Zoom. These vulnerabilities have allowed trolls to disrupt private meetings. While this may not seem to be that serious it points to the possibility that the rapid upscale of Zoom's platform may introduce a new class of attacks.
Finally, reports claim that a group from China is launching a number of attacks on the private servers of biotech companies currently working on a vaccine for the Coronavirus. These attacks seemed to use vulnerabilities in popular business software services such as Citrix and Cisco as reported by the U.S cybersecurity firm FireEye.
It is clear from these stories that it is more important now than ever. We cannot let the pandemic diminish our vigilance against cyber attacks. In next week's edition, we'll explain in detail how to safeguard your work from home setup.
Who’s Making Moves?
Raj: GoodRx’s recent IPO has seen its valuation soar. The company which provides drug discount coupons is a major player in telemedicine, an arena that has upscaled tremendously due to the pandemic. *Note: I own stock in GoodRx.
Raj: The harmfulness of distance exams is coming to the fore. A viral video on Twitter shows a schoolgirl in tears because ProctorU failed her for talking to herself about an exam question in her own home. It was already frustrating enough for students to reason with teachers about answers and grades; adding needlessly harsh software into the mix makes it even worse.
Sam: Nikola… for the reasons mentioned above. The stock went from a high of over $80 in June to closing at $23 today. Sorry Robinhood traders...
Sam: The NFL had a great start to the season, and this week was the first week there were any issues with Coronavirus. Two games were postponed because of positive tests, and it looks like the NFL is adding additional protocols to make sure the season stays on track without (hopefully) any more hiccups.
That’s all for this week. Keep on moving.
Title contenders for v2.5:
Nikola drops, SF bubble pops
Nikola carelessness, cybersecurity preparedness
San Francisco migrations, Nikola cremations
Adi: I am a Biomedical Engineering student at Columbia University interested in medical devices, robotics, cybersecurity, and entrepreneurship. My life passion is to advance social causes in more meaningful ways using new frontiers of technology. I like to use my free time learning something new, playing an instrument, watching Formula 1, or tinkering with electronics or code.
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Until next Monday,
Raj & Sam