Starlink Is An Ocean Of Gold

Casey Handmer teaches us why SpaceX needs Starlink:

There are only few trillion dollar industries in existence: energy, high speed transport, communications, IT, healthcare, agriculture, government, defense. Despite common misconceptions, space mining, lunar water, and space-based solar power are not viable businesses. Elon has a play in energy with Tesla, but only communications provides a reliable, deep market for satellites and launch.

Elon Musk’s first space-related idea was to spend $80m on a philanthropic mission to grow a plant on a Mars lander. Building a Mars city will cost maybe 100,000 times as much. Starlink is Elon’s main bet to deliver the ocean of gold needed to philanthropically build a self-sustaining city on Mars.

Some of Musk’s ideas, like the cybertruck, seem ill-conceived. Nobody I know who owns a truck, and I know lots of people who own trucks, would buy this monstrosity. Casey walks through the physics and the economics of a cloud of satellites to cover the earth with internet access. Starlink is not some marijuana induced dream. Casey’s calculations estimate a middle of the road cost of $0.003/GB.

The SEA-WE-ME 4 is a major submarine cable running from France to Singapore, commissioned in 2005. It is capable of transmitting 1.28Tb/s, and cost about $500m to deploy. If it operates for 10 years equivalent 100% capacity, with a 100% overhead for capital costs, then the price per bit works out to be $0.02/GB. Transatlantic cables are shorter and a bit cheaper, but the undersea cable is just one entity in a long line of people who need money to deliver data. The middle of the road estimate for Starlink is 8 times cheaper, all in, than just the undersea cable.

This is the best thing I’ve read about space in years. Highly recommended.

via Om Malik

The Danger Of Traveling Light

Dr. Jay Wellons, a pediatric neurosurgeon, tells a wonderful story about being the doctor on a plane:

We made our way to the back of the half-empty plane. There on the next to last row was a middle-aged man covered in blood. He held a cantaloupe-size wad of tissue under his nose from which blood was pouring out as if a spigot had been opened. He had a deep laceration on the top of his nose but the blood was coming from inside.

Not having the microcatheter and glue that would have been used in a hospital, he and a nurse practitioner improvised with Afrin nasal spray and tampons.

Crushing a Patent Troll

Unscrupulous lawyers in search of an easy revenue stream often acquire rights to patents and then sue large tech companies for infringement. Rather than bleed legal fees fighting all the lawsuits, these tech companies often strike licensing agreements or settle with these patent trolls.

In 2017 Blackbird Technologies, one such patent troll, asserted a ridiculous software patent (which we should do away with, but that’s another post) against Cloudflare. Instead of following the traditional playbook, Cloudflare decided to fight back. Instead of fighting it out in the courts using the traditional method, they created a new pattern for everyone else to stand up to patent trolls. Their clever method consisted of three parts:

(i) defending ourselves vigorously against the patent lawsuit instead of rolling over and paying a licensing fee or settling, (ii) funding awards for crowdsourced prior art that could be used to invalidate any of Blackbird’s patents, not just the one asserted against Cloudflare, and (iii) asking the relevant bar associations to investigate what we considered to be Blackbird’s violations of the rules of professional conduct for attorneys.

They won in court, but it took two years and they spent a lot of money. But winning once isn’t enough; Blackbird could bring other patent suits against other companies. The community submitted prior art on 49 of Blackbird’s patents, and an anonymous donor allowed Cloudflare to challenge other Blackbird patents with administrative proceedings (a less costly way to invalidate a patent that suing in federal court).

Finally, Cloudflare filed ethics complaints against both of Blackbird’s co-founders before the bar associations of Massachusetts and Illinois. The rules of professional conduct for lawyers prohibit them from acquiring a cause of action to assert on their own behalf. Blackbird purchased the patent they asserted against Cloudflare for $1, but it’s likely there was some additional side agreement that Blackbird would split any legal proceeds with the inventor. Bar proceedings are generally confidential, but could result in sanctions including disbarment, suspension, and/or financial penalties.

Not only did Cloudflare win their case, but they made it substantially more difficult for Blackbird to sue other tech companies. It was more work for them, and also more money. But if everybody who got sued by a patent troll followed this pattern, I think we could make patent trolls go away. Every tech company should do this.

And software patents suck.

Suspicionless Searches of Travelers’ Phones and Laptops Ruled Unconstitutional

The United Stated District Court of Massachusetts has ruled that suspicionless searches of travelers’ electronic devices at the border are unconstitutional.

“This ruling significantly advances Fourth Amendment protections for millions of international travelers who enter the United States every year,” said Esha Bhandari, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “By putting an end to the government’s ability to conduct suspicionless fishing expeditions, the court reaffirms that the border is not a lawless place and that we don’t lose our privacy rights when we travel.”

The district court order puts an end to Customs and Border Control (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asserted authority to search and seize travelers’ devices for purposes far afield from the enforcement of immigration and customs laws. Border officers must now demonstrate individualized suspicion of illegal contraband before they can search a traveler’s device.

That Part Which Laws or Kings Can Cause or Cure

One year til Election Day (give or take), and the presidential campaign season is in full swing. I expect candidates from both parties to heartily embrace demagoguery — the use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.

Trump says:

I alone can fix it.

For Trump “it” means everything.

Elizabeth Warren proclaims:

You’ve got things that are broken in your life? I’ll tell you exactly why. It’s because giant corporations, billionaires have seized our government.

The reality is much closer to Samuel Johnson’s rhyme from more than 250 years ago:

How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

Hoping for civility is probably too much, so I’ll hope for a bit of personal calm in what will likely be a ferocious storm.

UPS Delivers Prescription Medications By Drone

UPS delivers prescription medications to US homes by drone for the first time:

These aren’t the first drone deliveries that have been made in the US, nor are they even the first from UPS specifically. Google offshoot Wing launched a drone delivery service of its own last month in Virginia which delivers over-the-counter medicines and other health and wellness items, and UPS has also been operating a drone delivery pilot at WakeMed Hospital in North Carolina since March where it says it has now made 1,500 deliveries. What’s new is that UPS Flight Forward’s service includes prescription medications, and that it’s flying them directly to residential homes.

My guess is that in less than 5 years drone delivery will not only be commonplace, but it will be the primary mechanism for delivering small packages. It’s easy to imagine a tractor trailer full of packages and drones arriving in a community and spending several hours flying those packages to their final destinations. This approach would be much more efficient than driving the truck to every delivery.

Amazon Turns Off Its Final Oracle Database

Amazon built its business on Oracle databases. They are an Oracle customer no more.:

We migrated 75 petabytes of internal data stored in nearly 7,500 Oracle databases to multiple AWS database services including Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Aurora, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), and Amazon Redshift. The migrations were accomplished with little or no downtime, and covered 100% of our proprietary systems. This includes complex purchasing, catalog management, order fulfillment, accounting, and video streaming workloads. We kept careful track of the costs and the performance, and realized the following results:

  • Cost Reduction – We reduced our database costs by over 60% on top of the heavily discounted rate we negotiated based on our scale. Customers regularly report cost savings of 90% by switching from Oracle to AWS.
  • Performance Improvements – Latency of our consumer-facing applications was reduced by 40%.
  • Administrative Overhead – The switch to managed services reduced database admin overhead by 70%.

Twitter Bans Political Advertising

Jack Dorsey says that Twitter will stop all political advertising.

We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.

Jack specifies this policy includes both candidate and issue ads.

Best news from a social media company in a really long time. Unusual for a social media company, Twitter is putting the right thing to do ahead of profits. I wish other social media companies like Facebook would adopt the same policy.

How To Maintain Control Of Your Company

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson on founders like Adam Neumann who have supervoting shares and control a majority of board seats:

If you want to maintain control of your company, focus on running it well or find a team to run it well, and make sure you have plenty of cash to operate your business and that you never find yourself in a position where you are running out of cash and have nowhere to go but your exisiting [sic] investors. Do those two things well and you will be in control for as long as you want to be in control.

We saw that play out with WeWork this week. The founder had a 10:1 supervoting provision and controlled a majority of the board seats.

Until he didn’t.

WeWork is Done

That didn’t take long. Today SoftBank takes control of WeWork. Co-founder Adam Neumann gets $1.7 billion windfall, but has to leave the board. He now has no involvement in the company other than as a shareholder.

Mr. Neumann is clearly very good at lighting other people’s money on fire. The only explanation for the enormous payout to the disgraced former CEO is that SoftBank believes this gives them a chance of keeping the value of WeWork above $0.