Monday, April 22, 2024

"Climate-related funds grow 16% in 2023 to $540 billion — Morningstar"

From Pensions&Investments, April 22:

Assets in mutual and exchange-traded funds with a climate-related mandate globally rose by 16% in 2023 to $540 billion, according to data collected by financial services firm Morningstar.

The report said the increase was driven by continued inflows, product launches and market appreciation. Europe accounted for 84% of the climate-related assets, while China and the U.S. had market shares of 7% and 6%, respectively.

However, the $40 billion of inflows into climate funds last year represented the lowest levels in four years, according to Morningstar, mostly due to the high level of redemptions from climate solutions, and clean energy and technology strategies, which were “plagued by high interest rates and sticky inflation”, Morningstar said in a report.

The green bond fund category, nearly doubled its asset size in 2023 with a 41% surge, even as the iShares Green Bond Index Fund registered the largest annual outflow of $1.7 billion....

....MUCH MORE

Also at P&I online:
April 18
Man Group subsidiary uses AI for climate modeling in portfolios 

Happy Earth Day: "What Big Thing Are We Getting Wrong About the Future?"

See you at the face-painting booth!

From Discourse Magazine, April 15:

The old overpopulation scare is a warning about our cultural blind spots

I recently tracked down a copy of a fascinating old book, “Our World in Space,” by Isaac Asimov with illustrations by Robert McCall. Published in 1974, five years after the moon landing, it wonderfully captures a moment of exuberant excitement about the achievements of space exploration. But in one section, it also captures the way the people of an era can be blind to their own big errors.

If you’re not familiar with them, Asimov and McCall are two of the biggest names from a mid-20th-century era of techno-optimism. Every time you hear someone complain about today’s negative views of technology—which is nearly always portrayed as leading to dystopia—these are the guys they are comparing it to.

Asimov was a writer of classic science fiction (his Foundation series was recently brought to the screen) and a prolific popularizer of science. McCall was an artist known for his portrayals of space exploration—real NASA missions as well as imagined future technology—and for the giant mural, “The Prologue and the Promise,” that he created for Disney’s Horizons pavilion at EPCOT, which set a standard for optimistic portrayals of the future. You can see his visual influence in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the Star Trek franchise. And his 1974 illustration of a spherical space station just might have had an influence on another big science fiction franchise.

Yet the error here is not an excess of optimism. It’s Asimov’s one big moment of pessimism that’s a problem.

The Population Flop
In some respects, Asimov’s description of the future of space exploration—essentially, a giant brochure for NASA’s most ambitious dreams—is not just optimistic but wildly over-optimistic. In “Our World in Space,” he projects that by now we should have whole cities of humans living under the surface of the moon as a springboard for colonizing the asteroids and the moons of Jupiter. But then at the end of one chapter is this jarringly pessimistic warning:

In one respect, a Moon colony, or any colony or combination of colonies outside the Earth, cannot help us. No one of them, nor all of them together, can help us solve our population dilemma. If anyone thinks that the important reason for exploring space is to find outlets for our expanding population, let him think again ... .

We must, of our own determination, and here on Earth, halt the population increase by balancing the birth and death rates ... . That leaves us with the necessity of decreasing the birth rate ... .

Remember that, above all.

It’s the hyper-emphatic ending that gets me. “Remember that,” Asimov says, “above all.”

What should strike you about this is how wrong it turned out to be. Asimov was writing at the height of the “population bomb” hysteria, when Paul Ehrlich was predicting mass starvation by the 1980s as a rising population outstripped the capacity of the Earth to feed them. But the population bomb was a flop. None of the catastrophes happened. India, for example, was supposed to be the first to starve as its population exploded. Instead, it embraced the Green Revolution and became a net exporter of food. Even the New York Times threw in the towel on overpopulation hysteria a few years back with a retrospective on how wrong Ehrlich turned out to be.

In fact, the current worry—far more realistically grounded—is that our biggest problem in the next century will be a falling global population.

Yet at the time Asimov wrote his gloomy words, he would have been solidly in the middle of the elite consensus. It’s clear he thinks others would regard him as irresponsible for not mentioning so important and well established a fact.

This started me thinking: What big thing are we getting wrong about the world, and the future, today? What idea is so universally accepted that we don’t realize all the things that are wrong with it?

There are undoubtedly several such ideas. (I will even acknowledge—purely in theory, mind you—that I might be wrong about something.) But I can propose one idea that enjoys much the same status as the “population bomb” in Asimov’s time—and which is wrong for many of the same reasons....

....MUCH MORE

Ron Baily at Reason Magazine put together some of the forecasts from the period surrounding the first Earth Day in 1970 for the thirtieth anniversary. By far the worst was Paul Ehrlich, partly because he had an impressive bullhorn (still on the faculty at Stanford) and partly because he was so spectacularly wrong,  Here's a a condensation via AEI Ideas in 2019:

1. Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”

2. “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of the scholarly journal Environment.

3. The day after the first Earth Day, the New York Times editorial page warned, “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”

4. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich confidently declared in the April 1970 issue of Mademoiselle. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

5. “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born,” wrote Paul Ehrlich in a 1969 essay titled “Eco-Catastrophe! “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”

6. Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the 1970 Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”

7. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” declared Denis Hayes, the chief organizer for Earth Day, in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness.

8. Peter Gunter, a North Texas State University professor, wrote in 1970, “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”

9. In January 1970, Life reported, “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”

10. Ecologist Kenneth Watt told Time that, “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”

11. Barry Commoner predicted that decaying organic pollutants would use up all of the oxygen in America’s rivers, causing freshwater fish to suffocate.

12. Paul Ehrlich chimed in, predicting in 1970 that “air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” Ehrlich sketched a scenario in which 200,000 Americans would die in 1973 during “smog disasters” in New York and Los Angeles.

13. Paul Ehrlich warned in the May 1970 issue of Audubon that DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons “may have substantially reduced the life expectancy of people born since 1945.” Ehrlich warned that Americans born since 1946…now had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and he predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out. (Note: According to the most recent CDC report, life expectancy in the US is 78.8 years).

14. Ecologist Kenneth Watt declared, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.'”

15. Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated the humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.

16. Sen. Gaylord Nelson wrote in Look that, “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”

17. In 1975, Paul Ehrlich predicted that “since more than nine-tenths of the original tropical rainforests will be removed in most areas within the next 30 years or so, it is expected that half of the organisms in these areas will vanish with it.”

18. Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

And from a 2020 post on commodities:

May 2013 
Last month I tangentially mentioned Paul Ehrlich:
See also: the spectacularly wrong and wrong-headed forecasts made by Paul Ehrlich for which he has been rewarded with an endowed chair at Stanford-definitely a mark against Stanford.
And fully intended to gather some of his wrong-beyond-wrong predictions.
I forgot.
I'll get around to a full post on his doom-mongering but for now here are a couple of his comments on India:

"I don't see how India could possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980."
-Population Bomb, 1968 

"I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks that India 
will be self-sufficient in food by 1971." 
-Population Bomb, 1968


In the book's 1971 edition, the latter prediction was removed, green revolution and all that.
The World Bank estimates India's population was 511 million in January 1968.
India is feeding 700 million more people than when Ehrlich wrote his 200 mil. line.
Meet M.S. Swaminathan and his students.

Giving society cheap, abundant energy . . . 
would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.
Paul Ehrlich, “An Ecologist’s Perspective on Nuclear Power,”
May/June 1978 issue of Federation of American Scientists Public Issue Report


It's not just Erlich who thinks like that, here's Amory Lovins:

 If you ask me, it’d be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won’t give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other.
Amory Lovins in The Mother Earth–Plowboy Interview, 
Nov/Dec 1977, p. 22

There are many, many more examples but for now, you get the point.

"Commodities: 'The Case for Human Ingenuity'":

“When you buy commodities, you’re selling human ingenuity.”
Dylan Grice on why investing in commodities for the long run is a bad idea (SocGen Cross Asset Research, December 2010)

And the last word:

"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter
how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong."  
-Richard P. Feynman, Nobel Laureate-Physics, 1965

Of course Feynman hung his hat at CalTech, not Stanford.

California's Super Mega Perma Drought

From the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, April 16: 

https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/data/png/20240416/20240416_usdm.png

Posting this probably marks the high point of the recovery, at least that's the way it seems to work.

"There Is a Relationship Between Past Success and Future Returns After All"

From Institutional Investor, April 10:

Essentia Analytics has found a link between a manager’s past skilled investment decisions — not performance — and higher relative returns in the future.

A crack is growing in the language of the disclaimer stamped on every fund: past performance is not indicative of future returns.

New research shows that there is a statistically significant relationship between a portfolio manager’s past decision-making performance and future returns. Of course, returns that managers may have generated a year ago, still do not signal what they will deliver a year from now. 

The research team at Essentia Analytics, which has made a business out of helping active portfolio managers get a handle on their behavioral biases and generate better returns, found that an equity portfolio manager who has made skilled decisions over the last year is 1.51 times more likely to outperform their benchmark than a manager who has not. Essentia will publish a report on the research on Thursday.....

....MUCH MORE

As cross-asset analyst John Normand wrote in his last - after twenty-four years - research note for JPMorgan:

How to time mostly efficient markets ("Tactical position-taking assumes one can time the market to outperform the benchmark, due to some combination of these factors: (1) markets are partially efficient; (2) some institutions have access to broader information sources than others; and (3) some analysts are better arrangers of a mosaic of even fully public information.")

Normand is now head of investment strategy at A$315 billion  AustralianSuper.

"Europe embraces speedier, riskier way of building power grids"

From EurActiv, April 11:

The EU is looking to front-load massive anticipatory investments into its energy infrastructure, shifting risk from industry to consumers and risking a landscape with unneeded or under-used pylons.

Amid its green transition, Europe needs almost €600 billion in investments into high-voltage power lines, transformers and wires by 2030—an unprecedented need for investments into the grid.

Zsuzsanna Pató, senior advisor at clean-energy think-tank RAP, says the transition “has caused a massive mismatch” between power generation and transport capacity. 

She explains that the traditional challenge of connecting power demand to generation is exacerbated by the energy transition, which involves “shifting where power is generated while boosting demand through electrification.”

Energy-rich, windy, and sunny sites are often far away from where older coal or gas plants are located.

Timing matters, too. “There is a big pressure to speed up grid building to prevent a widening of the lead time gap between renewables and new loads,” said Pató. 

Brussels is betting on a fresh approach to solving the problem: “anticipatory investments.” Unlike regular investments, which are more closely tied to immediate and short-term expected demand, anticipatory investments deliver power lines and wires multiple times larger than what is needed today.

Ghost pylons
However, Europe could be left with unused ‘ghost pylons’ littering the countryside if renewable projects do not materialise or if power demand forecasts are incorrect.

There are many examples of massive investments in infrastructure that were subsequently underutilised or unused. In the 1980s, the US built $100 billion of unused nuclear power plants, and Spain boasts major airports that never welcomed more than a handful of passengers, which were built during the credit-fuelled boom of the 2000s....

....MUCH MORE

Nvidia's Jensen Huang: “even when the competitors’ chips are free, it’s not cheap enough.” (NVDA)

That's quite a statement. It was made in reference to NVDA's chips and CUDA software combo pack.

Whether it's true or not, the behemoths, MSFT, GOOG, META, etc. want to reduce their reliance on Nvidia's chips.

An extremely deep dive from Eric Savitz at Barron's, April 19:

Nvidia Won AI’s First Round. Now the Competition Is Heating Up.
Amazon.com, Google, Meta Platforms, AMD, and Intel have big ambitions in AI chips.

Artificial intelligence has delivered seemingly daily wonders for the past 18 months. For investors, the biggest surprise has been the rise of Nvidia , which has come from humble roots to thoroughly dominate the market for AI-related chips. 

Once known mostly for building PC add-on graphics cards for gamers, Nvidia has transformed its graphics processing units, or GPUs, into the beating heart of the AI revolution, powering the creation of large language models and running the inference software that leverages them in data centers around the world. Nvidia has been nearly alone on the field, with more than 90% market share.

But fresh competition is coming—from companies big and small—and the battle will be fierce. The stakes couldn’t be bigger: Lisa Su, the CEO of Advanced Micro Devices , has sized the AI chip market at $400 billion by 2027. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has projected a $1 trillion opportunity by 2030. That’s almost twice the size of the entire chip industry in 2023.

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang has built a company that is universally respected and admired, but chip buyers aren’t keen on relying on a single source. Hardware companies such as Dell Technologies , Hewlett Packard Enterprise , Lenovo , and Super Micro Computer can’t get enough Nvidia chips to meet customer demand—and they’d like alternatives. Cloud providers like Amazon.com and Alphabet ’s Google want more options so badly that they are designing their own chips. And companies that rely on AI-based systems want more computing resources at more manageable costs than they can get now.

Nvidia’s success is now an opportunity for everyone else.

It’s hard to find a product of any variety that has had more impact on the financial markets so quickly than the Nvidia H100 GPU, which launched in March 2022. 

Nvidia’s share price has more than tripled since the H100’s debut, boosting the company’s market value to $2.1 trillion. Among U.S.-listed companies, only Microsoft and Apple have higher market caps. And no other chip company is anywhere close.

This is no GameStop or Trump Media & Technology . In fact, Nvidia is the anti-meme stock: The company’s revenue growth has actually outpaced the stock gains. For its fiscal fourth quarter ended on Jan. 28, Nvidia posted revenue of $22.1 billion, up 265% from a year earlier. The company’s data center revenue was up 409%.

A few weeks ago, Nvidia launched its latest marvel, the Blackwell B200 GPU, which CEO Huang says dramatically outperforms the H100. With Blackwell, Nvidia raises the bar for its rivals. Nvidia for the foreseeable future will sell as many Blackwells as it can make—or, to be more precise, that partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing can make for it. 

Huang has said Blackwell GPUs will cost $30,000 to $40,000 apiece. The current H100s sell in the same range. But the chip prices aren’t the whole story. AI customers want to run workloads in the shortest time, at the lowest cost, with the highest accuracy and reliability, drawing as little power as possible. There are a number of companies that think they can do that as well—or better—than Nvidia.

Nvidia’s rivals fall into three groups: big chip makers, cloud computing vendors, and venture-backed start-ups. With a $1 trillion market at stake, this won’t be winner-take-all. It isn’t game over. It’s game on.

Nvidia’s most obvious challengers are Advanced Micro Devices and Intel. 

AMD shares have rallied 71% over the past 12 months, aided by the market’s perception that its new MI300 GPUs will chip away at Nvidia’s stranglehold on the market. That hope is inspired by AMD’s success at stealing market share from Intel in PC and servers. 

“AMD is really the only other company on the field,” contends Andrew Dieckmann, general manager of AMD’s data center GPU business. “We’re the only other solution being adopted at scale within the industry.” He says that AMD chips outperform Nvidia’s H100 for many inference workloads, while offering parity for model training. But AMD’s other asset is that it isn’t Nvidia.

“For the very large users, they are not going to bet their entire franchise on one supplier,” Dieckmann says. “There is an extreme desire for market alternatives.”....

....MUCH, MUCH MORE

Pro Tip: Improve Your Google Search Results

Via Elon Musk on Twitter:

Sunday, April 21, 2024

"What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?"

Projecting a linear extension of past trends into the future has worked remarkably well for forecasters such as Ray Kurzweil, enough so that they can call themselves futurologists or somesuch and get paid for that rather nebulous title. 

There's a problem though. In the business of speculating on markets it is encapsulated in the witty ditty "The trend is your friend until the bend at the end." Okay, maybe not so witty but rhymey. I like rhymey.

In the world beyond speculating it is probably important to be aware of the possibility of that "bend at the end," even though 999 times out of 1000 you'll end up with the quote variously attributed to  Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Seneca, Churchill, Thomas Dixon, Montaigne, Martin Farquhar Tupper, Anonymous et al.: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." —Quote Investigator

And the headliner, a repost from 2013:

A question that economic and market modelers had better be aware of. It is important enough that I've brought it up more than once:
Dec 2012

Other than that...

We only have one sample of U.S. market history, only one time the U.S. rose to economic dominance, only one period of invention like the one described above.

Anyone who uses past performance as anything more than past performance is either a mental defective or a charlatan. 
Nov 2008
 I've had my copy of the Cowles Commission's Common Stock Indexes 1871-1937 open on the desk for pretty much the past year.
I am struck by two things:
1) In the U.S. markets we've got one data-set, with a total of 1642 (Oct. '08) monthly points. Anyone trying to forecast off that had better have HUGE error bars. Or, fess up to the fact that no one really knows and acknowledge that this year a portfolio had a better chance if directed by an astrologer. (Arch Crawford is Hulbert's #1 market letter YTD...

Anyone serious about this stuff in light of fiduciary duty should probably read Dimson, Marsh and Staunton's Triumph of the Optimists, links below.

From New York Magazine:

Picture this, arranged along a time line.

For all of measurable human history up until the year 1750, nothing happened that mattered. This isn’t to say history was stagnant, or that life was only grim and blank, but the well-being of average people did not perceptibly improve. All of the wars, literature, love affairs, and religious schisms, the schemes for empire-making and ocean-crossing and simple profit and freedom, the entire human theater of ambition and deceit and redemption took place on a scale too small to register, too minor to much improve the lot of ordinary human beings.

In England before the middle of the eighteenth century, where industrialization first began, the pace of progress was so slow that it took 350 years for a family to double its standard of living. In Sweden, during a similar 200-year period, there was essentially no improvement at all. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the state of technology and the luxury and quality of life afforded the average individual were little better than they had been two millennia earlier, in ancient Rome.

Then two things happened that did matter, and they were so grand that they dwarfed everything that had come before and encompassed most everything that has come since: the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1750 or so in the north of England, and the second industrial revolution, beginning around 1870 and created mostly in this country. That the second industrial revolution happened just as the first had begun to dissipate was an incredible stroke of good luck. It meant that during the whole modern era from 1750 onward—which contains, not coincidentally, the full life span of the United States—human well-being accelerated at a rate that could barely have been contemplated before. Instead of permanent stagnation, growth became so rapid and so seemingly automatic that by the fifties and sixties the average American would roughly double his or her parents’ standard of living. In the space of a single generation, for most everybody, life was getting twice as good.

At some point in the late sixties or early seventies, this great acceleration began to taper off. The shift was modest at first, and it was concealed in the hectic up-and-down of yearly data. But if you examine the growth data since the early seventies, and if you are mathematically astute enough to fit a curve to it, you can see a clear trend: The rate at which life is improving here, on the frontier of human well-being, has slowed.
If you are like most economists—until a couple of years ago, it was virtually all economists—you are not greatly troubled by this story, which is, with some variation, the consensus long-arc view of economic history. The machinery of innovation, after all, is now more organized and sophisticated than it has ever been, human intelligence is more efficiently marshaled by spreading education and expanding global connectedness, and the examples of the Internet, and perhaps artificial intelligence, suggest that progress continues to be rapid....MUCH MORE
Re Triumph of the Optimists, the main point to take away is how different your portfolio returns look if you were invested in the Berlin market in late 1944, the Chinese market in 1949 or the U.S. market over the last 150 years. As The Economist pointed out the authors deliberately excluded the Warsaw and Moscow Exchanges "since they were closed down under communist rule. That led to returns best described as “steeply negative”. If these markets were taken into account, the historical equity premium would be even lower"

CXO Advisory put together the crib notes:
Triumph of the Optimists (Chapter-by-Chapter Review)

Victor Niederhofer takes a look at the methodology and conclusions.

Here's Dimson with an overview (7 page PDF)

Saturday, April 20, 2024

"Ukraine Is the First 'Hackers’ War'”

Coming to a country near you. 

The author, "Juan Chulilla, is a cofounder of Red Team Shield S.L., a company dedicated to developing defense solutions against weaponized commercial drones."

From IEEE Spectrum, April 10:

For clues to the future of warfare, study the struggle between FPV drones and electronic warfare

Rapid and resourceful technological improvisation has long been a mainstay of warfare, but the war in Ukraine is taking it to a new level. This improvisation is most conspicuous in the ceaselessly evolving struggle between weaponized drones and electronic warfare, a cornerstone of this war.

Weaponized civilian first-person-view (FPV) drones began dramatically reshaping the landscape of the war in the summer of 2023. Prior to this revolution, various commercial drones played critical roles, primarily for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Since 2014, the main means of defending against these drones has been electronic warfare (EW), in its many forms. The iterative, lethal dance between drones and EW has unfolded a rich technological tapestry, revealing insights into a likely future of warfare where EW and drones intertwine.

After the invasion of Crimea, in 2014, Ukrainian forces depended heavily on commercial off-the-shelf drones, such as models from DJI, for reconnaissance and surveillance. These were not FPV drones, for the most part. Russia’s response involved deploying military-grade EW systems alongside law-enforcement tools like Aeroscope, a product from DJI that allows instant identification and tracking of drones from their radio emissions. Aeroscope, while originally a standard tool used by law enforcement to detect and track illegal drone flights, soon revealed its military potential by pinpointing both the drone and its operator.

On both sides of the line you’ll find much the same kind of people doing much the same thing: hacking.

This application turned a security feature into a significant tactical asset, providing Russian artillery units with precise coordinates for their targets—namely, Ukrainian drone operators. To circumvent this vulnerability, groups of Ukrainian volunteers innovated. By updating the firmware of the DJI drones, they closed the backdoors that allowed the drones to be tracked by Aeroscope. Nevertheless, after the start of the conflict in Crimea, commercial, off-the-shelf drones were considered a last-resort asset used by volunteers to compensate for the lack of proper military systems. To be sure, the impact of civilian drones during this period was not comparable to what occurred after the February 2022 invasion.

As Russia’s “thunder-run” strategy became bogged down shortly after the invasion, Russian forces found themselves unexpectedly vulnerable to civilian drones, in part because most of their full-scale military EW systems were not very mobile.

The Russians could have compensated by deploying many Aeroscope terminals then, but they didn’t, because most Russian officers at the time had a dismissive view of the capabilities of civilian drones in a high-intensity conflict. That failure opened a window of opportunity that Ukrainian armed-forces units exploited aggressively. Military personnel, assisted by many volunteer technical specialists, gained a decisive intelligence advantage for their forces by quickly fielding fleets of hundreds of camera drones connected to simple yet effective battlefield-management systems. They soon began modifying commercial drones to attack, with grenade tosses and, ultimately, “kamikaze” operations. Besides the DJI models, one of the key drones was the R18, an octocopter developed by the Ukrainian company Aerorozvidka, capable of carrying three grenades or small bombs. As casualties mounted, Russian officers soon realized the extent of the threat posed by these drones.

How Russian electronic warfare evolved to counter the drone threat...

....MUCH MORE, he's just getting warmed up.

Where this gets really nasty is:

"Omniviolence Is Coming and the World Isn’t Ready"

 A repost from 2019 that seems to have come true.

From Nautil.us:

In The Future of Violence, Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum discuss a disturbing hypothetical scenario. A lone actor in Nigeria, “home to a great deal of spamming and online fraud activity,” tricks women and teenage girls into downloading malware that enables him to monitor and record their activity, for the purposes of blackmail. The real story involved a California man who the FBI eventually caught and sent to prison for six years, but if he had been elsewhere in the world he might have gotten away with it. Many countries, as Wittes and Blum note, “have neither the will nor the means to monitor cybercrime, prosecute offenders, or extradite suspects to the United States.” 
Technology is, in other words, enabling criminals to target anyone anywhere and, due to democratization, increasingly at scale. Emerging bio-, nano-, and cyber-technologies are becoming more and more accessible. The political scientist Daniel Deudney has a word for what can result: “omniviolence.” The ratio of killers to killed, or “K/K ratio,” is falling. For example, computer scientist Stuart Russell has vividly described how a small group of malicious agents might engage in omniviolence: “A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one-or two-gram shaped charge,” he says.
“You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: ‘Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.’ A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.” Manufacturers will be producing millions of these drones, available for purchase just as with guns now, Russell points out, “except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch.” In this scenario, the K/K ratio could be perhaps 3/1,000,000, assuming a 10-percent accuracy and only a single one-gram shaped charge per drone.
Will emerging technologies make the state system obsolete? It’s hard to see why not.
That’s completely—and horrifyingly—unprecedented. The terrorist or psychopath of the future, however, will have not just the Internet or drones—called “slaughterbots” in this video from the Future of Life Institute—but also synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and advanced AI systems at their disposal. These tools make wreaking havoc across international borders trivial, which raises the question: Will emerging technologies make the state system obsolete? It’s hard to see why not. What justifies the existence of the state, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued, is a “social contract.” People give up certain freedoms in exchange for state-provided security, whereby the state acts as a neutral “referee” that can intervene when people get into disputes, punish people who steal and murder, and enforce contracts signed by parties with competing interests....MORE

It gets worse.  

If interested see also 2022's "The US Navy wants swarms of thousands of small drones"  and two from 2021:

"Meet the future weapon of mass destruction, the drone swarm"
From The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.... 

"Autonomous 'Slaughterbot' Drones Reportedly Attack Libyans Using Facial Recognition Tech"

"Electric Shock: An Existential Crisis in the German Auto Industry"

From Der Spiegel, March 27:

Electric cars are selling poorly, and many German manufacturers are still focusing on the combustion engine. The threat from cheaper Chinese competitors is growing. Might this be the death knell of Germany's fabled automobile industry?

They got an early start in Paderborn. Five years ago, when the range of electric cars available in Germany was still quite limited, Caritas banished many of the diesel- and gasoline-fueled cars from its fleet and purchased 114 electric cars and 45 e-bikes. In one fell swoop, the Catholic Church's charity organization became a pioneer in the fuel-loving republic.

At the time, the CEOs of Germany's major car companies were still busy complaining about a lack of charging stations. In no time at all, Caritas Paderborn had 118 of its own charging stations installed. "Sustainable on the road" is emblazoned in red letters on the white, polished Caritas cars that around 500 of the organization's caregivers use to drive to the people they assist.

It all looked like a success story: According to Caritas, operating costs fell by 40 percent because electricity was cheaper than gasoline and the electric cars had to be serviced less often. CO2 emissions from the vehicle fleet fell by around 190 tons per year.

But the situation has since changed. Officials at Caritas ran into a problem they weren't expecting: There aren't many electric cars around that the charity can afford, and leasing rates have risen sharply.

Early on, Caritas sometimes paid less than 60 euros per month per vehicle. But today, new contracts cost 200 euros, often even 300 euros. E-cars are becoming less and less of a cost-saver for the organization.

"We're hardly able to find what we are looking for from German manufacturers," says Hans-Werner Hüwel, head of nursing and healthcare for the charity. Caritas is now increasingly switching from VW or Smart to electric models from Renault or its budget brand Dacia. But even these are often more expensive to lease than comparable combustion engines.

Still, he says the charity organization will remain loyal to electric cars for "as long as we can afford it." But he also reports that Caritas chapters in other areas have begun switching their fleets back to combustion engines.

Frustration among electric car buyers is helping to fuel a combustion boom. And it's not just at Caritas that the shift to electric cars has stalled. The German federal government's central modernization project is in danger of failing. Not only is the German populace not playing along, but manufacturers haven't come up with attractive products and the political framework conditions still haven't been optimized. Electric car purchases remain the domain of those with healthier salaries.

No German manufacturer currently has an electric car on the market that costs less than 25,000 euros, and most prices are well over 30,000 euros. The e-up!, a compact bestseller for years, was taken off the market by Volkswagen in 2023 – allegedly because it was no longer profitable. VW has no plans to bring cheaper electric vehicles back onto the market until 2026. Meanwhile, Mercedes and its Chinese partner Geely keep adding extras to the E-Smart, making it more expensive.

In most cases, it costs several thousand euros more to buy an electric car than a comparable combustion engine.

Added to this is an economic environment that makes the change seem unattractive: recession, inflation and highly volatile electricity prices, which were among the highest in Europe in 2023. The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) expects sales to fall by 14 percent this year.

They may frequently tout clean mobility, but politicians have actually contributed to the current mess with policies that have been all over the map. The federal government canceled its subsidies for electric car purchases of up to 4,500 euros in mid-December - a sudden decision that unsettled consumers and left car manufacturers stunned.

At the same time, a 200-million-euro subsidy program that had only been announced in June and was intended to promote the private charging points known as wallboxes, in addition to the related solar systems and electricity storage units, was also cancelled. In one fell swoop, consumers who wanted to buy the expensive technology were left to fend for themselves.

In addition to the losing their possible financial attraction, the back and forth within the current German government has also taken a toll on the popularity of electric cars. German Transport Minister Volker Wissing of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) is still flirting with synthetic fuels as an alternative to electric cars, as if the pace of the global car industry is set in Berlin and not in China and the United States, where Germany's naval gazing is of no interest to anyone.

What the German government is doing better than anything else is to confuse German car buyers more and more when it comes to deciding on an electric car. The consequence is that the German government's target of having 15 million electric cars on German roads by 2030 has faded into impossibility. So far, the figures are only a tenth of that.

This political disaster, though, has had economic consequences.

With manufacturers like VW struggling to get rid of their stocks of electric cars and new manufacturers entering the market at the same time, an unprecedented rebate battle raged at the beginning of the year. In the first quarter, retailers were offering discounts of 15 percent, 20 percent and sometimes even more. Those who already owned electric cars had to watch as the value of their vehicles melted away. Leasing has become less attractive because interest rates are high and electric vehicles are losing value faster than expected. Car rental companies such as Sixt are removing electric vehicles from their range in droves. The financial risk appears to be too high.

In Germany, the electric car is becoming a symbol of a shift to green technologies that has been botched by the state, just like the debate over the switch from gas heating to heat pumps that preceded it. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is waging a cultural war from the right against the electric car. Left-wing extremists, meanwhile, set fire on March 5 to an transmission tower just outside of Berlin, shutting down the Tesla plant there for several day. In a statement of responsibility, activists claimed the act was in protest against "techno-fascists" like Elon Musk.

At the same time, it is clear to almost every transport policymaker and auto industry executive in the world that the day of the electric car is coming – and fast. The question is whether Germany and its car manufacturers will be part of the transition and help shape it – or whether they will be bowled over by the change. No longer, it would seem, does Germany call the shots in the global automotive industry.

The pace and the technology are now determined by others. In China, the world's largest car market, almost a quarter of all new cars sold are all-electric vehicles. To survive in the country, you need competitive electric vehicles. The competition is no longer dominated by VW, BMW or Mercedes, but by Tesla from the United States and BYD from China. And the newcomers are no longer confining themselves to their home markets – they are also capturing market share in Germany and Europe.

Clinging to the old ways would be economic suicide. But the temptation is great to delay the death of the lucrative combustion engine for as long as possible. Mercedes-Benz boss Ola Källenius, who until recently wanted to go all-electric, is suddenly questioning the European Union's decision to phase out combustion engines by 2035. He says he doesn't know when the last gasoline or diesel car will be sold.

In Brussels, the shift to electric vehicles is apparently no longer a priority. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, once a staunch supporter of phasing out combustion engines, now considers it "very important" to review the issue in 2026. Manfred Weber, leader and group chairman of the European People's Party (EPP), the parliamentary group representing center-right Christian Democrat parties in the European Parliament, would like to "reverse" the ban on combustion engines. Germany's Christian Democratic Union party and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, also want to make that demand part of their platforms for this spring's elections to the European Parliament....

Why We Die: "A New Chapter in the Quest for a Longer Life"

From UnDark, April 19:

In “Why We Die,” biologist and Nobel laureate Venki Ramakrishnan explores the science of aging and life extension.

In 2023, tech mogul Bryan Johnson revealed that he had been receiving blood plasma exchanges from his 17-year-old son, in the hope that siphoning his son’s young blood into his middle-aged body would help him combat aging and cheat death. 

Johnson might be an extreme outlier, but his quest exemplifies a common human trait: denial about our mortality. As Venki Ramakrishnan writes in his new book, “Why We Die: The New Science of Aging and the Quest for Immortality,” searching for the secrets to longevity has “driven human civilization for centuries.” Humans may be unique among animals in our ability to understand and anticipate death, and ever since we evolved into this awareness, we’ve struggled to accept it. We espouse religious beliefs about reincarnation or the everlasting immortal soul, we attempt to live on through offspring and legacy, and, of course, since antiquity, we have searched for eternal life.

Ramakrishnan, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry who has spent his career studying how cell proteins are made, is primarily occupied with that last coping strategy in his fascinating book. For much of the 20th century, serious scientists dismissed gerontology, or the study of aging, as the provenance of cranks and loons. But in this century, it’s become a major research priority. In the past 10 years alone, Ramakrishnan writes, more than 700 startups have invested billions of dollars into solving this greatest human problem.

With a topic as charged as eternal life, it’s hard to separate hype from reality. Ramakrishnan aims to help readers make sense of billionaire antics, breathless press releases, and splashy scientific advances. He wants his reader to understand why we age, why we die, and what, realistically, can be done about it.

First, says Ramakrishnan, it’s important to understand what death is — he defines it as when “we stop functioning as a coherent whole” — and why we age. Scientists have spent decades pondering why, unlike luckier species like the hydra and immortal jellyfish, our bodies must decay. Many proposed answers to this question rest on the idea that evolution doesn’t care about traits that decay the body later in life: Since for much of human history, we died of disease or unnatural causes long before reaching old age, it made evolutionary sense to select for traits that help an organism reproduce and pass on its genes, rather than selecting for traits that will keep us alive for centuries. As Ramakrishnan colorfully and memorably writes, “You could say that death is the price we pay for sex!”....

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"Nissan’s Next EV Will Be Its Smallest And Most Affordable Yet"

 From Inverse, April 19:

The electrified Micra is expected to make its debut later this year.

The Nissan Leaf may have anchored the automaker’s EV portfolio since 2010, but it’s been working on a new entry-level mini EV that could steal the spotlight. As first reported by Auto Express, Nissan is working on a handful of new EVs, but it’s planning to electrify the Micra as its next all-electric model.

We love a tiny EV with some personality and it’s clear that Nissan took some inspiration for its upcoming EV from its Concept 20-23 which was revealed in September. Even though it won’t look as experimental as Nissan’s concept, the electrified Micra will still get the three-door EV hatchback treatment. That means it’ll be a decent competitor against the likes of the upcoming Volkswagen ID.2 or the returning Chevy Bolt.

Built on a Shared EV Platform
The upcoming EV will be designed by Nissan but engineered and manufactured by Renault thanks to a three-way alliance between the two automakers and Mitsubishi. According to Auto Express, the electric Micra could share the same platform as the recently revealed Renault 5 E-Tech, meaning a similar range of around 250 miles thanks to a 52 kWh battery.

The report also notes that Nissan could make a model that uses a smaller 40 kWh battery, which would mean a lower range of around 186 miles along with a reduced price tag. While we don’t know the price of the upcoming Micra EV yet, it could match Renault’s upcoming mini EV that’s priced at €25,000, or around $26,500. For that price, it would be a solid city commuter option in an attractive package....

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Two other posts at Inverse, the one where Tesla pulled the plug, so to speak, April 5: 

Why Tesla’s Affordable EV May Already Be Doomed

And April 9: 

How BYD’s Next-Gen Battery Could Make Its Super Affordable EVs Even Cheaper

 

"When Computers Had Gears: The Pirates of Analog Alley"

A repost from ten years ago, April 26, 2014:

From ars technica:

Before Silicon Valley got nasty, the Pirates of Analog Alley fought it out
Stealing ideas and fighting over patents existed back when computers had gears, too.

A patent drawing for the Range Keeper, Hannibal Ford's analog fire control computer.

The history of information technology has a way of repeating itself. Every era's corporate competitors elbow each other for success, try to better the other's ideas, and sometimes just plain steal from one another. In that light, it's no surprise that the battles of today’s technology giants may have been foretold by another wave of innovators—those at the turn of the 20th century, when electricity was new and computing was done with real machines. Think the kind with gears, cams, and shafts.

The startup culture created by the electrification and communications booms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries produced a generation of engineers looking for the next big thing. But their similarities with today's tech leaders go beyond the fact that "a generation of engineers looking for the next big thing" could just as easily describe anyone at Google, Facebook, or maybe even SnapChat. While researching the recent Ars report on Naval analog computers, parallels immediately revealed themselves. The behavior of the men who pioneered this analog computing eerily mimics actions we're more familiar with from Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the rest of today’s tech pantheon. These early engineers were, if you’ll pardon the phrase, the Pirates of Analog Alley.
Absolute Zero
Lord Kelvin's "harmonic analyzer," with disk integrators.
While Charles Babbage may be the “father of computing,” the father of fire control computing (and of modern analog computing) was William Thompson, also known as Lord Kelvin. As detailed in Harold Sharlin's biography Lord Kelvin-The Dynamic Victorian, Kelvin was like a one-man equivalent of PARC or the Bell Labs of the latter half of the 20th century—a fountain of great ideas. Some of those ideas, he cashed in on; some, he let others steal.

Kelvin figured out a number of things about long-distance telecommunications. He developed a model for the bandwidth capacity of undersea cables and invented equipment to automatically send and record messages. Enriched by (and knighted for) his success with trans-Atlantic telegraph cables and equipment, Kelvin was perpetually tinkering. In 1871, he perfected a little project his older brother had been working on: the “integrating machine,” or differential analyzer.

This device would be the basis of Kelvin’s machine to calculate tide tables. Nearly 60 years later, the same principles would be used at MIT to create the first machine called a differential analyzer, which is used for calculating complex differential equations. The integrating engine would be in the back of Kelvin’s mind 15 years later when, as a board member for Linotype & Machinery Co. Ltd., he had a conversation with the company’s managing director, Arthur Pollen....MORE

Ancient Greeks Had Dishwashing Machines?

Thanks, I think, to a friend.

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Sweden's Atomic Bomb Project

From the BBC, April 13:

Sweden has long opposed nuclear weapons – but it once tried to build them 

In the years after World War Two, neutral, peace-loving Sweden embarked on an ambitious plan – build its own atomic bomb.

Sweden hasn't fought a war since 1814. But for more than 20 years after the end of World War Two, this formerly neutral northern European country pursued a plan to equip its military with the ultimate weapon, the atomic bomb. The government finally shut the programme down in 1968 after a long public debate.

Sweden thereby joined a unique club of nations – which includes Switzerland, Ukraine and South Africa – who gave up their nuclear weapons programmes and showed the world that nuclear disarmament was possible.

The extent of Sweden's nuclear programme was "uncomfortable" for politicians keen to burnish the country's new anti-nuclear credentials, until journalist Christer Larsson discovered the truth in 1985 and forced the nation to confront its secret nuclear history.

The veil of secrecy around the history of the programme fuelled speculation that Sweden still had a top-secret plan to build its own nuclear weapons....

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"US investor gets greenlight for USD 1 bln magnesium mining complex in Romania"

From Romania-Insider, April 17:

Verde Magnesium, backed by the Amerocap investment fund, plans to invest in Romania USD 1 billion within eight to ten years to develop a magnesium mine and a processing plant that would use the magnesium to recycle aluminum and produce aluminum alloys. 

The company is poised to be the EU's leading producer of metallic magnesium, offering Europe an alternative domestic supply for its demand, which is currently 100% imported.

On April 15, the company was issued the permit to reopen a closed magnesium mine located in western Romania, near Oradea, Profit.ro reported....

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Friday, April 19, 2024

Following This Week's Fire At The Copenhagen Stock Exchange, A Look Back At: "Denmark’s Forgotten Stock Market Bubble"

The Børsen building was a nice old pile:

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As with the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris five years ago, almost to the day, the building was undergoing renovations when the fire started Tuesday. And as happened at Notre-Dame the spire collapsed.

If interested, Smithsonian Magazine has an article out this week.

And from Global Financial Data, April 17, 2018 (six years before the fire, almost to the day):

Global Financial Data has added data on individual stocks from the Copenhagen stock market between 1871 and 1937 to the database. This provides a history of Danish stocks that was previously unavailable. In the midst of putting together this data, we discovered a forgotten stock market bubble of shipping stocks during World War I. 

This bubble followed the classic pattern of a dramatic rise followed by a crash, but we have never seen this bubble mentioned in any of the sources we have consulted. In many ways, this was a “rational” bubble since dividends paid by the shipping companies rose dramatically during World War I and then collapsed after the war. The details of this bubble are discussed below.   

Global Financial Data went to a number of sources in order to put together 65 years of history on the Danish stock market. Theodor Green published Fonds og Aktier beginning in 1883 and periodically in the years that followed. The books provided price data for Danish stocks as well as shares outstanding and dividend data. 

In 1893, Danmarks Statistik began providing data on individual stocks and dividends of individual companies in its Statistisk Aarbog, and continued to provide this data until 1937. Danmarks Statistik began calculating its own index of Danish stock prices after World War I, so collecting and organizing this data enables us to put together an index of Danish stock prices going back 45 years before the Danish index was calculated. Global Financial Data has put together a database of almost 100 companies to create Danish indices that previously did not exist. With this data, GFD has calculated a cap-weighted price index and return index as well as the dividend yield on Danish stocks between 1871 and 1937.

The graph above shows the price and total returns to stocks in Denmark from 1873 to 1937. 

As is quite obvious, the price of Danish stocks hardly budged during those 60 years. The average price of stocks generally rose between 1878 and 1898, but then, with the exception of the bubble during World War I, declined for the next 40 years. 1 Krone invested in Danish stocks in 1871 grew to 1.3 Krone by 1937, an annual return of 0.4%. All of the return came in the dividends that were paid to shareholders. Allowing for the reinvestment of dividends, 1 Krone invested in the Danish stock market in 1871 grew to 50 Krone by 1937, an annual return of 6.1%, implying an average dividend yield of 5.7%....

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