Monday, January 27, 2020

Following the Totally Not-the-CIA Coup In Lithium Rich Bolivia, Germany Would Like To Reinstate Their Lithium Deal

Lithium, it's as easy as ABC (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile).
And maybe Australia.
From Reuters:

Germany to urge next Bolivian leaders to revive lithium deal
Germany will seek talks with Bolivia’s next government to revive a deal to exploit jointly huge lithium reserves in the Andean country, as it works to secure supplies for production of electric cars in Europe’s largest economy, officials said.

Bolivia and Germany signed a lithium joint venture in 2018 following three years of intense lobbying from Berlin, which said a small family-run company from Germany was a better bet than its Chinese rivals.

But the partnership between Bolivia’s state-owned lithium company YLB and Germany’s privately-owned ACI Systems hit a snag when a governor annulled the decree in November amid political turmoil.

The new head of YLB, Juan Carlos Zuleta, told Reuters last week the joint venture, struck under former socialist leader Evo Morales, would not be revived.
But the final word will go to the winner of Bolivia’s next presidential elections due in May, German government officials and ACI Systems CEO Wolfgang Schmutz told Reuters....MORE

Sunday, January 26, 2020

"Is It FinTech Or OldTech?"

"Nobel laureates are 22 times more likely to have hobbies compared to their peers"

So that's the hold up.
From Stew Fortier:

Hobbies are not distractions
I used to think that people who had lots of hobbies were unfocused and “scattered.”

If somebody had too long of an answer to the “what do you enjoy doing outside of work?” interview question, I’d assume that they were not serious about their career.

Geeze buddy, between all these different activities where do you find the time to… uh…. do your job?

But, thankfully, I’ve become slightly less of a judgemental prick and have refined my opinion.

In my own case, I have two “real” hobbies: reading and writing.

I used to feel guilty about how much time I spend doing both each week because the stuff I read and write about often appears to be unrelated to my day job.

But now enough time has passed for me to connect the dots and see how each hobby has directly helped me in my career.

Reading has exposed me to a wide range of ideas that, almost by accident, end up inspiring new solutions for problems at work.

For example, I once stumbled across an obscure paper in Nature on how hunter-gatherers valued storytelling skills over hunting and gathering skills…...MORE
Now to choose a couple hobbies and wait for that phone call in October.
See also:
The Secret Formula For Winning a Nobel Prize 
Hot on the heels of my astounding lack of success winning a MacArthur 'Genius Grant'* we visit BBC-Future.
My advice is to stay away from the hard science prizes and shoot for something that can't be falsified, maybe a Peace or Economics Prize....

Hydrogen: Norway's Equinor and Eidesvik Offshore to Test Ammonia-Powered Supply Vessel

From LNG World News:
Norwegian energy company Equinor has signed an agreement with Eidesvik Offshore for the modification of the LNG-fueled Viking Energy supply vessel, to make it capable of covering long distances fuelled by carbon-free ammonia. 

The vessel will transport supplies to installations on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS).
Equinor has awarded Eidesvik Offshore a five-year contract with effect from April 2020, when the current contract expires.

The Viking Energy supply vessel will in the contract period be part of a research project developing, installing and testing long-distance sailing fuelled by carbon-free ammonia fuel cells. The technology will be tested on the vessel from 2024.

“Equinor aims to reduce the emissions in our supply chain, and regards the use of ammonia as a promising solution. Viking Energy may become the first supply vessel in the world covering long distances fuelled by pure carbon-free ammonia,” says Cecilie Rønning, senior vice president for Equinor’s joint operations support....MORE

"Why The Coronavirus Is A Real Threat To Oil Markets"

Both Brent and WTI have gotten rocked since General  Soleimani was killed and World War III did not erupt:
https://finviz.com/fut_chart.ashx?t=CL&cot=067651&p=d1&rev=637156846364398829

And our usual knee-jerk reaction would be to wait for a counter-trend rally somewhere in this vicinity.
But not this time. More after the jumps.
From OilPrice, the headline story, January 23:
....Perception is Reality
With highly contagious and deadly viruses like the SARS CoV, fear rules the day. Whether it’s a personal fear that one might catch the virus, or whether one actually catches the virus, the result is that people will stop traveling to some extent.
Even the fear that people may stop traveling is enough to result in an economic slump. Whether one catches the virus or not is irrelevant economically speaking—the mere perception that it’s a possibility creates ripples in the world economy as people change traveling, purchasing, and trading patterns.

The Oil Market’s China Obsession
The oil markets are obsessed with China—specifically China’s demand for oil.
Oil demand was at the forefront of all the pricing moves throughout 2019. The thought of dampened demand from the world’s second largest oil consumer outweighs even significant geopolitical risk, as well as tangible oil production outages such as the attacks on Saudi Aramco oil facilities in September and Libya's current nearly complete outage of over 1 million barrels per day.  

One may look at China’s oil consumption, at 13.5 million bpd in 2018, as being far below that of the United States, which consumed 20.5 million bpd that same year. So, why all the China fuss? Surely U.S. demand would move markets more than China? But it’s the oil demand growth that moves prices, and China’s oil demand growth (and India’s too) is far greater than that of the United States. In fact, China’s oil demand has been growing at an annual rate of 5.5%, while the United States’ oil demand has been growing by 0.5%.
And most of what China uses, it imports, adding another layer of market-sway into the mix.
This is what moves markets.

Not even OPEC and its jawbone to herald its oil production-cut prowess can outshine negative news about what is already China's slowing demand growth.
And of all the threats to the oil industry that people were expecting in 2020, no one saw this coming: the virus ripping through China at unprecedented rates is eating into China's oil demand more than anyone could have ever expected.

Travel Disruptions
Every aspect of the economy hits the oil market. But of particular note is the effect the virus could have on travel, which would affect air travel and road travel, impacting jet fuel and gasoline consumption. And with the persistent robust supplies that are loitering on the market today, slack demand couldn’t come at a worse time.

All of this at a time when the oil market was hopeful of an increase in demand thanks to the Chinese New Year holiday that typically sees an uptick in travel and gift giving. 
Against this perceived and real demand impact, OPEC will be mostly impotent, even with Libya’s million-barrel-a-day loss and Saudi Arabia’s overproduction.

History Repeats Itself—or Worse
SARS CoV could have the same effect on the oil market as the original SARS outbreak back in 2002, which saw the price of oil dip by 20%.
Goldman Sachs said that if it mimics the last virus-induced supply shock, the oil market could see a drop of 260,000 barrels per day in the global oil demand market—170,000 bpd of which would be in the form of jet fuel.

This loss, Goldman predicted earlier this week, could see oil prices fall by $2.90 per barrel, but oil prices have already fallen more than $4.50 per barrel over the last few days alone, with the Brent benchmark falling to $61.41 on Thursday from $65.95 on Monday. And this is despite major oil production outages in Libya....MORE
And on January 24th: "China Virus Fears Send Oil Prices Even Lower"

The problem with trading the chart is the lack of transparency on exactly what is going on in China.
I mean there is more than there was during the SARS and Bird Flue outbreaks, simply because of cell phones (but also because satellite coverage has gotten much cheaper) but we still don't have answers.
Charles Hugh Smith at his Of Two Minds blog has thought through some of the queries:

Some Practical Questions about the Coronavirus Epidemic
Restrictions that allow a significant number of people to move about, either with official approval or unsanctioned "black market" activity, cannot stop the spread of contagious diseases.

Like everyone else, I've been reading the mainstream media reports on the Coronavirus epidemic. I haven't found any information about the practicalities that immediately occur to me, such as:

1. When public transportation is halted and commerce grinds to a halt as people avoid public places and gatherings, thousands of employees no longer go to work. Who pays their wages while the city is locked down? The employers? Then who compensates the employers, since their income has also gone to zero?

Does China have a universal unemployment insurance system that can quickly issue payments to all people who are no longer going to work and getting a paycheck from an employer?
What about the thousands of migrant workers who don't have regular employers? Who pays them? If they're technically not officially sanctioned residents of the city, they don't exist in government records.

2. If people idled by the lockdown are supposed to live off savings, what about all the marginal workers with few resources? What are they going to live on once their meager savings are gone?

3. Given the choice of obeying the lockdown rules and starving or slipping out of the city to find paid work somewhere else, how many migrant workers will choose to slip away?

4. Unlike the developed West, many people in China still have ancestral villages to return to, rural towns where their grandparents or or other close relatives live. If work has dried up and you're fearful of catching a potentially lethal virus, wouldn't it make sense to slip out of the city and make your way back to the village where you can hunker down until the epidemic blows over?
Since people who caught the virus may not know they're a carrier, how will this migration not spread the disease to rural areas with few medical resources?

5. The typical city has about a week's supply of food, fuel, etc. at best. If the lockdown runs longer than a few days, scarcities of essentials will ignite hoarding, and remaining supplies will be snapped up. 
Since the city's residents need food, fuel, etc., it must be brought in regardless of the lockdown. This brings outside workers into the city and provides residents desperate to flee avenues to escape the lockdown. Every individual involved in this system is potentially exposed to the virus or is a potential asymptomatic carrier of the virus leaving the city. ...
.....MUCH MORE

So does China go into recession?
We may never know the answer if we depend on the Chinese authorities.
All eyes on Chinese oil imports (which of course can be gamed by curbing domestic production)
So who knows?

"Theranos founder Holmes phones in to court hearing solo after lawyers say she stiffed them: report"

What we have here is a sociopath, something that was apparent to anyone paying attention.*
From the San Jose Mercury-News, who were one of the few media outlets who never fell for the spiel:
Holmes representing herself in Arizona civil case
In her regular attendance at the San Jose federal courthouse for hearings in her high-stakes criminal fraud case, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes has been flanked by expensive lawyers. But in an Arizona civil case, she took part in a hearing this week representing herself, and by phone, according to a report Friday.

Holmes has seven lawyers preparing for the August trial start in her criminal case in U.S. District Court, and fighting federal prosecutors over evidence. In the Arizona case — a lawsuit filed by blood-testing customers against Holmes, the defunct Palo Alto  startup Theranos, and drug store chain Walgreens — court records earlier this month indicated she had two lawyers defending her. That was after three attorneys representing her in that case quit in the fall, saying she hadn’t paid them for more than a year and probably never would. Now, the court docket shows Holmes representing herself in the civil case.

And, according to a Bloomberg report, she didn’t appear at a hearing in that case Thursday, instead calling in to the courtroom via an audio feed. She told the judge she wouldn’t make any arguments, but would rely on arguments made by lawyers for the other defendants in the case, Bloomberg reported Friday, citing an unnamed lawyer said to be present at the proceedings.
Legal experts say Holmes faces considerable financial peril from the legal actions against her, with legal fees on top of possible restitution for investors, fines and a prison sentence....MORE
Previously on Elizabeth and the lawyers:
"Attorneys say disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes isn’t paying them"
*And on the sociopathy, way back in June 2015, four months before the WSJ's John Carryou:
"Theranos: She's Young, She's Rich, Is She A Marketing Huckster?" through January 2019's "Ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes says "I don't know" 600+ times in never-before-broadcast deposition tapes 
The woman is a sociopath.
And many in between.
In 2016 we linked to this:

....FT Alphaville's founder and first editor Paul Murphy had some seriously cutting words for Ms Holmes:
Elizabeth Holmes: still absolutely, resolutely in denial… 
...What system of education or business culture encourages and tolerates such a delusional, wingnut, swinging-from-the-rafters claim such as that Theranos, the would-be bloody unicorn, is not already a dead horse?...MORE
But FT Alphaville and the Mercury-News were the exceptions. Forbes, Fortune, Inc. the New York Times and dozens more were fawning all over Ms. Holmes and her deal.
Leading to:
Fortune Senior Editor: "How Theranos Misled Me" (and Theranos responds)

NYT Public Editor Blasts Arrillaga-Andreessen Magazine Feature for ‘Clear’ Conflict of Interest

"The Fuzzy Logic of Fleeing for Your Life"

This is a repost from a few years ago that was brought to mind by a book review we will be getting to on Sunday.

Saturday, September 19, 2015
From IEEE Spectrum:
On 31 December 2014, approximately 300,000 people packed Chen Yi Square on the riverfront of the Bund in Shanghai to watch the New Year’s Eve light show. The popular, bedazzling event took a tragic turn when observers on a stairway to the waterfront mistook a sudden shift in crowd traffic for something more sinister. Panic and confusion caused a chaotic stampede, resulting in 36 dead and about 50 injured.

Jian Ma, a researcher at Southwest Jiaotong University, in China, is trying to better understand the events of the Shanghai stampede. “Right now, we do not have enough insight into why people choose their escape in such an irrational way,” he says.

Civil engineers have been modeling evacuations during these kinds of emergencies and disasters for decades, but they haven’t been able to completely capture the way a hammering heart or a body zinging with adrenaline can alter a person’s behavior during a crisis. A new approach that integrates the concept of “fuzzy logic” can make computerized crowds behave more like hysterical humans.

Typically, computers answer questions with an absolute truth (either yes or no, 0 or 1). Fuzzy logic, on the other hand, understands truth on a sliding scale, where the answer can be “maybe.” When applied to a model of pedestrian traffic, it can account for emotions like fear, panic, and anxiety, and it can show how each variable influences how fast a crowd evacuates. These fuzzy models can more accurately reflect pedestrian behavior like that seen during the stampede in Shanghai, according to Ma.

Ma cochaired a special session on intelligent pedestrian traffic and evacuation dynamics at this week’s 18th IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITSC2015), where several papers investigating fuzzy logic pedestrian models were presented.

One of those studies, led by a research team at the Polytechnic University of Bari, in Italy, involved creating an algorithm that incorporated fuzzy perception and anxiety among people in an evacuating crowd. Although the algorithm could create many scenarios, the study focused on how pedestrians evacuated a simulated layout of the Bari International Airport’s first floor. The engineers programmed different numbers and types of escape routes, and measured pedestrian flow and evacuation outcome.

“In our opinion, [the simulations] are similar to reality,” says Mario Marinelli, one of the researchers. “We can see the uncertainty in choosing between exits.”

The model could also re-create specific panic-induced behaviors, such as herding and milling. Traditionally, probability theory has been used to measure uncertainty in such models, but those models could only quantify the occurrence of an event—for example, whether or not an individual in a crowd would make it out of a burning building, according to Marinelli. They did not capture the properties that fuzzy logic models can....MORE
One of the more interesting examples of people actually doing the right thing was the crash of Air France Flight 358 in Toronto. Attempting to land in really lousy weather the plane went too far down the runway and into a ravine. There were 309 people on board.

From the Aviation Investigation Report
Runway Overrun and Fire:

...1.15  Survival Aspects

1.15.1  General
The passenger load comprised 297 passengers: 168 adult males; 118 adult females; 8 children;
and 3 infants. Adult passengers included: three wheelchair passengers and one blind passenger.

Three non-revenue passengers were seated in crew seats: one in the third occupant seat of the
flight deck, and two in the flight crew rest area.

The dynamic loads generated in this occurrence were within range of human tolerance.
However, given the number of serious impact injuries incurred by passengers and crew located
in the flight deck and forward cabin, it is apparent that significant forces were experienced in
those areas of the aircraft.

1.15.2  Runway Excursion
From the time the aircraft left the runway until it came to a stop in the ravine, it bounced
violently and repeatedly, and there were a minimum of three distinct impacts. On each impact,
cabin occupants were propelled upward from their seats, their arms and legs flailing. It is
estimated that approximately 15 to 20 seconds elapsed between the time the aircraft departed
the runway hard surface and it came to a stop in the ravine. The following events occurred during the impact sequence:
  • a number of overhead baggage compartment doors opened, uncommanded, allowing
    carry-on baggage to fall into the cabin;
  • the L2 passenger door opened while the aircraft was moving, sometime after it left
    the end of the runway;
  • a portable serving table stowed/secured in the forward galley dislodged and fell in
    the cross-aisle between the L2 and the R2 exit doors;
  • the fire started on the aircraft exterior before the aircraft came to a stop; and
  • smoke entered the cabin through the opened evacuation doors before the evacuation
    was complete....
  • ...
When the plane came to a stop it was discovered that 4 of the 8 exits were unusable: