Nobels’ outlier, the economics prize, to be announced Monday

STOCKHOLM — The award that concludes this year’s series of Nobel prizes came about seven decades after the others.

When Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel established the prizes in his will, economics wasn’t one of the undertakings he wanted honored. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was established by Sweden’s central bank and first given out in 1969.

Whether economics is a genuine science in the sense of the Nobels awarded for accomplishments in medicine, chemistry and physics can be debated; the award often goes to work that has a high level of abstraction.

Last year’s win by American Richard Thaler was unusually accessible to the layman — his work studied the human irrationality that can mess with economic theory.

The 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize will be announced Monday.

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Walmart partners with MGM to boost video-on-demand service Vudu

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Walmart Inc (WMT.N) said on Monday it would partner with U.S. movie studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer to create content for its video-on-demand service, Vudu, which the retailer bought eight years ago.

FILE PHOTO: Walmart signage is displayed outside a company’s store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

Walmart has been looking to prop up Vudu’s monthly viewership that remains well below that of competitors like Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and Hulu LLC, which is controlled by Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O).

Media outlets had reported the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company was looking to launch a subscription streaming video service to rival that of Netflix and make a foray into producing TV shows to attract customers.

Walmart is not planning such a move, company sources have told Reuters. The retailer continues, however, to look for options to boost its video-on-demand business and offer programs that target customers who live outside of big cities.

Walmart and MGM will make the announcement at the NewFronts conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday. It will include the name of the first production under the partnership, which Walmart will license from MGM.

“Under this partnership, MGM will create exclusive content based on their extensive library of iconic IP (intellectual property), and that content will premiere exclusively on the Vudu platform,” Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing told Reuters.

The focus will be on family-friendly content that Walmart customers prefer, Rushing said.

The financial deals of the deal were not disclosed.

Licensing content is a cost-effective strategy at a time when producing original content has become a costly venture. As of July, Netflix said it was spending $8 billion a year on original and acquired content. Inc’s (AMZN.O) programming budget for Prime Video was more than $4 billion, while U.S. broadcaster HBO, owned by AT&T Inc (T.N), said it would spend $2.7 billion this year.

Walmart acquired Vudu in 2010 to safeguard against declining in-store sales of DVDs. Walmart bet that customers would continue to buy and rent movies and move their titles to a digital library, which Vudu would create and maintain for viewers.

But the video site has not posed a significant challenge to rivals that dominate the segment even though it is pre-loaded or can be downloaded to millions of smart televisions and video-game consoles.

Vudu offers 150,000 titles to buy or rent, while its free, ad-supported streaming service, called Movies On Us, includes 5,000 movies and TV shows.

There are currently more than 200 video services that bypass cable providers and stream content directly to a TV, laptop, phone or game console. That is up from 68 five years ago, according to market researcher Parks Associates.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney

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Faraday Future investor Evergrande Health now says the troubled startup is trying to back out of deal

Evergrande Health, the investor that bailed out besieged electric vehicle startup Faraday Future in a deal worth $2 billion this summer, is now accusing it of attempting to break an agreement it made with previous backer Season Smart. In June, Evergrande Health announced that would it take over the financial commitment made by Season Smart last November that saved Faraday Future from running out of cash. Now Evergrande Health says Faraday Future Jia Yueting has started arbitration in Hong Kong in an attempt to renege on its agreement with Season Smart.

Evergrande Health agreed in June to buy Season Smart’s 45% stake in Faraday Future for $860 million, an increase over the $800 million Season Smart originally paid, and then complete the deal with additional installments of $600 million in both 2019 and 2020.

But in a new filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange first reported by Reuters, Evergrande Health says it was informed in July by Faraday Future that the $800 million it received from Season Smart had already been spent, and that Smart King, the joint venture set up between Faraday Future and Season Smart, had been asked to provide another $700 million. As a result, Season Smart had entered into a supplemental agreement to advance $700 million.

Evergrande Health now accuses Faraday Future of “manipulating Smart King” by using its majority seats on Smart King’s board of directors to begin arbitration in Hong Kong claiming that Season Smart hasn’t fulfilled its payment conditions. Evergrande Health says Faraday Future is using this as a pretext to deprive Season Smart of its shareholder rights to approve Faraday Future’s future financing plans and terminate its agreements with Season Smart.

As a result, Season Smart has “engaged a team of international lawyers and will take all necessary actions” to protect its rights, as well as Evergrande Health’s interests.

Despite its deals with Season Smart and Evergrande Health, The Verge reports that Faraday Future’s financial woes have continued, with some of its company’s vendors and suppliers claiming that they have not been paid in weeks, and that Faraday is also contemplating layoffs. The Verge’s sources say at least three companies have filed liens with the California Secretary of State over payments owed by Faraday Future.

Meanwhile the company is facing a host of other legal and financial issues. These include a legal battle with its former CFO, Stefan Krause, who Faraday Future claims stole intellectual property (Krause has accused Faraday Future of defamation). Jia is also under fire over debts incurred by LeEco, the failed tech conglomerate he founded. The Chinese government froze his assets in 2017 and, in an unusual move, publicly ordered him to repay LeEco’s investors.

TechCrunch has contacted Faraday Future for comment.

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No evidence of spy chips, Apple insists in letter to US Congress


Apple hasn’t detected unusual transmissions or other evidence servers were infiltrated with Chinese spy chips, the company’s VP of Information Security insisted in a letter to Congress on Sunday.

Apple's Mesa data center

“Apple’s proprietary security tools are continuously scanning for precisely this kind of outbound traffic, as it indicates the existence of malware or other malicious activity. Nothing was ever found,” wrote George Stathakopoulos. A copy of the letter was obtained by Reuters.

The executive also echoed previous Apple statements that the company hasn’t discovered the chips themselves, or been contacted by the FBI about the matter. He did, however, promise to make himself available this week for briefing Congressional staff.

Last Thursday, a Bloomberg report claimed that Chinese operatives had managed to sneak a microchip the size of a grain of rice onto 7,000 motherboards produced by Super Micro, which supplied those compromised parts for use in Apple’s iCloud data centers. The chip, supposedly designed by the Chinese military, is said to have passed server data on to Chinese interests, and created a backdoor into public-facing networks.

Bloomberg has stuck by its story, claiming that 30 companies were affected in all, another example being Amazon. The report took over a year to produce, and 17 sources, including people inside Apple.

Two government agencies — the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.K.’s GCHQ — have cast doubt on the allegations. The Chinese government is known to regularly probe U.S. government and corporate networks, though.

The U.S. National Security Agency has itself resorted to intercepting IT infrastructure such as Cisco routers.

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These Parents Are Angry That American Airlines Wouldn’t Let Their 5-Year-Old Boy with Autism Board a Flight

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

The disappointment was crushing. Especially after the preparation. 

Adam and Heather Halkuff have five children, two of whom have autism. 

They wanted to take the whole family on a trip to Kansas City. So the Texas family did all they could to make it happen.

As NBC 5 reports, they called American Airlines in advance. The airline has a program that helps kids, including those with autism, become familiar with all the trials and quirks of flying. 

Five-year-old Milo and two-year-old Ollie took part, on September 24, more than a week before their flight. 

Yet on the day of the flight, Milo became distressed — many call it a meltdown — during the boarding process at Dallas/Fort Worth airport.

A meltdown might involve screaming, crying and other expressions of feeling overwhelmed.

The Halkuffs say other passengers were kind, but an American Airlines gate agent was less so.

“Right away she goes, ‘He can’t get on the flight … he’s going to bother the other passengers and then he’ll still be upset during the flight and we’ll have to turn around and escort you off the plane,” Heather Halkuff told NBC.

Some might observe that they’ve seen all sorts of kids get on planes and express upset.

Sometimes, they calm down quickly. Surely everyone has at least once been on a flight when a child didn’t quieten at all. 

At times, ground crew and Flight Attendants can be sympathetic. At other times, not so much.

The Halkuffs depiction of this particular gate agent suggests that she was of the latter variety.

Worse, Heather Halkuff says that the whole family weren’t allowed to board. Even though Adam Halkuff offered to take Milo home, so that at least Heather and the other children could still take the trip.

I contacted American for its view and a spokesperson told me:  

We are concerned to hear about this situation. Our team has reached out to the Halkuff family to gather more information about what transpired at Dallas/Fort Worth. The American Airlines team is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers.

Clearly, the fact that American provides a service to help children — including those with autism — get used to flying means that the airline isn’t insensitive to the potential issues.

Moreover, we have no idea of the level of distress Milo might have undergone.

Yet again, though, we’re in a customer service situation when individuals are involved and initial reactions matter.

If the Halkuffs’ story is accurate, then some might conjecture the gate agent reacted too quickly. 

There could, perhaps, have been an alternative solution. Could anyone really know if Milo might have calmed down, once on the plane?

Not allowing any of the family to fly, however, seems to be the sort of draconian decision still too often taken by airline staff. 

I recently wrote about a dad who says he called American to explain that his three-year-old had a burst appendix and please could the airline rebook their trip.

American, he says, insisted on still charging $200 change fees for both of them. Before, says dad, the decision gained some Twitter traction.

Then the airline made a “one time exception.”

When it comes to boarding passengers, airline employees are graded severely on so-called D0.

This is the measure of whether a plane departs at the very minute and second it’s supposed to.

It could be that thoughts of this may have played upon this particular gate agent’s mind.

Yet as long as customers still see airlines as being in the customer service business — perhaps erroneously — such stories are likely to reach the media and become examples of airline insensitivity.

Airlines employ enormous numbers of people and are therefore at the mercy of each of their employees’ behavior.

The Halkuffs hope that what happened doesn’t cause Milo’s older brothers to resent him.

Perhaps there’s some way that American might provide another attempt for Milo to fly with his family.

Indeed, American told me:

A few members of the American team have been in touch with the family, and yes, we are hopeful they will reschedule and try once again.

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Uber Driver’s Death Marks Seventh For-Hire Driver Suicide Within a Year

About two dozen people gathered outside a Washington Heights subway station on Sunday afternoon to remember an Uber driver who became the seventh for-hire driver in New York to commit suicide within the last year. The mood at the vigil turned from somber to anger in less than 30 minutes.

Fausto Luna jumped in front of an A train on Sept. 26 at the 175th Street and Fort Washington Avenue station. He is the first Uber driver this year to commit suicide in New York City. The other six drivers drove yellow taxi cabs or for livery or black car services.

As ride-sharing vehicles have upended the taxi market in New York, taxi drivers have been hit with increasing debt despite working longer shifts, leading to incredible stress and depression for some.

But those financial hardships are not limited to cabdrivers. Uber and other ride-hail drivers have also complained about low pay and unending competition as more people sign up to drive.

Uber said Mr. Luna was a longtime driver with a high rating and consistent earnings. He owned his vehicle, and it was fully paid for, the company said.

At the vigil, attendees brought signs bearing Mr. Luna’s name along with the names of the six other for-hire drivers who died. Many spoke out against the mistreatment of for-hire drivers.

“I’m proud to serve the capital of the world,” Victor Salazar, a taxi driver for more than 26 years, said in Spanish. “But we are right now in a very deep crisis. We must concentrate ourselves as workers and the people we are.”

Mr. Luna’s death comes after New York became the first major American city to halt new vehicle licenses for ride-hailing services as the city studies the industry more.

Meera Joshi, the city’s taxi commissioner, urged drivers who are struggling to reach out to the city for help.

“That is the forefront of the issue, is making sure people know how to reach out for help,” she said at the vigil.

But, she added: “It’s convenient to blame a person, and if I need to be the subject of people’s anger, that’s fine. I can take it. It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t know that it really addresses the fundamental underpinnings of the situation that drivers are finding themselves in now.”

Her advice, however, did not seem to resonate with some vigil attendees, who shouted at her. A few of them blamed her for the recent suicides, and some cursed at her as she walked away and then disappeared into the subway station.

The vitriol became so intense that Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the taxi commissioner, acted as a bodyguard for Ms. Joshi as she left.

“We wanted to talk about resources available,” Mr. Fromberg said of the disruption. “But we don’t want to detract from the family. That wasn’t going to happen today,” he said.

“But another time, another place.”

Alix Anfang, a spokeswoman for Uber, said in a statement, “We are devastated by this news and our deepest sympathies go to Mr. Luna’s family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

But Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, criticized Uber.

“Every city needs to take a deeper look at what happens when you let Wall Street-backed corporations use billions of dollars in capital to lock workers into a prison of poverty,” she said in a statement.

At the vigil, Ms. Desai emphasized that the alliance was fighting for change “to make things better.”

“If we don’t come here and shed the tears or make the noise, then who will?” she said. “We don’t want any more of these suicides. We have to fight.”

Jeffery C. Mays and Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.

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End of an era as Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market closes after 83 years

TOKYO (CNN) – Following years of delays and plenty of controversy, Tokyo’s Tsukiji wholesale fish market, one of the city’s most popular destinations for international visitors, has finally shut its doors.

The October 6 closing marks the end of an era for a structure that has been central to the metropolis since the mid-1930s and was considered the biggest fish and seafood market in the world.

The market is moving to a new facility in eastern Tokyo — the Toyosu Fish Market — and is set to start operating October 16.

The opening stands as one of the biggest developments in Tokyo in 2018, closing one chapter for the city and beginning a new one.

Why Tsukiji means so much to Tokyo

The Tsukiji wholesale fish market opened in 1935, though similar venues have existed in the surrounding area since the early 1600s.

It quickly established itself as the biggest fish and seafood market in the world, and one of the largest wholesale markets, period.

According to various reports, vendors sell around five million pounds of seafood from all over the world at Tsukiji daily, which works out to about $28 million.

Besides being a vital business hub for all things aquatic, over the years Tsukiji also became a must-see Tokyo tourist destination.

Walking through the inner market — the area where vendors sell seafood to restaurants and other companies — was a sensory overload.

Most popular of all were the early morning tuna auctions, with visitors eagerly showing up daily to watch people bid on huge hunks of fish.

Just as intriguing was the outer market, an area around the main structure housing dozens of food stalls and restaurants. Visitors could enjoy some of the freshest seafood here — assuming they showed up early enough.

The move itself

Plans to move the fish market to Toyosu have been in motion for decades, but didn’t get serious until the early 2010s.

Why move? Reasons centered around the age of the structure itself — these buildings were constructed in 1935, after all — along with the fact the Tsukiji fish market sits on valuable real estate that could prove useful for and after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

There were hiccups along the way though.

The Toyosu market was originally supposed to open up in November of 2016, but was delayed for various reasons, including worries over contaminated soil.

The spot where the market was being constructed used to house a gas production plant, and it appeared the ground beneath had absorbed chemicals from this factory.

After a campaign to clean it up, experts declared the area safe for use this past summer. Now the setup is complete, with the new market set to open October 16.

It remains a divisive topic, however.

Many citizens of Tokyo worried a move from Tsukiji would deprive the city of a historical sight at a time when many longstanding destinations are starting to vanish.

Even more vocal were the vendors and workers at Tsukiji, who have held protests against the move at the old market in the days running up to its closure.

Toyosu: What to expect

Like it or not, the Toyosu move is happening.

For visitors coming to Tokyo hoping to experience it, here’s what to know.

The closest subway station to the new Toyosu fish market is Shijo-mae Station, located on the Yurikamome Line (the station actually connects directly to the market, so don’t worry about getting lost).

It’s only two stops from Toyosu Station, which also can be accessed via the Yurakucho Line. The market is the only real draw near this station, though Toyosu has a variety of restaurants and shopping centers worth exploring, while the Yurikamonme Line leads to Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay.

For those hoping to get to the Toyosu market before sunrise, find a hotel in Toyosu or Odaiba.

As we tour the city’s top sites, locals share what makes Tokyo one of the greatest cities in the world.

Entry into the Toyosu market is free for all visitors, with those hoping to see the space at its liveliest advised to get there before 8 a.m.

The famous early morning tuna auctions will still be happening over at the new location, beginning at 4:30 a.m. daily.

Whereas at Tsukiji you had to get a reservation ticket, all you have to do now is show up and try to get a good spot on the special viewing platform.

All dining options are located in the structure as well now, with around 40 food stalls — most carried over from Tsukiji — set to operate.

Beyond that, visitors can also head up to the grass-carpeted roof to take in nice views of the city. Organizers also plan to move the famous Tsukiji shrine to the venue as well.

Remember — this is still a fish market thus low temperatures are the norm. Bring something warm to wear.
As for future plans, plans are reportedly underway to open a hotel and hot spring catered towards tourists at the market in the next few years.

But what about Tsukiji?

All tourist-related activities at Tsukiji came to a close in late September, and the inner market shut down for good on October 6. But that doesn’t mean the area around the market is suddenly deserted.

The outer market — the one featuring all the food stalls and restaurants — will still be in operation.

Just go to Tsukiji Shijo station on the Oedo line or Tsukiji station on the Hibiya line to get there and enjoy a taste of what is now a part of Tokyo history.

You can also still join one of the many organized tours running in and around the outer market, to learn about the history of Tsukiji and see how it shaped this part of the city.

While the future has arrived with the Toyosu fish market — a venue that does away with the chaos of Tsukiji in favor of a visitor-friendly vibe — it’s still possible to enjoy a taste of the past, at least for a little while longer.

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Hyperloop company unveils its full-scale 750-mph ‘passenger capsule’

Epa Spain Transportation Ebf Transport Esp

People attend the presentation of the ‘Hyperloop’ passenger capsule at the Carbures plant at El Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain. The ‘Hyperloop’ is the first passenger capsule that will be able to transport passengers at an average speeds up to 750 mph

A.Carrasco Ragel, EPA-EFE

LOS ANGELES – If you think of it as a train, it’s really short and really fast.

But it’s not. It’s a “passenger capsule,” just revealed by one of the companies vying to create what has become known as a hyperloop. That’s the system designed to whisk people between cities through tubes.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, based in Los Angeles, showed off the sleek capsule capable of carrying 30 to 40 passengers.

The new capsule is “the real deal,” said HyperloopTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn, who unveiled it last week in Spain, where it was built. It will next go to Toulouse, France, for testing next year as the company prepares to build initial hyperloop segments in China and Abu Dhabi.

Ahlborn envisions the capsule being able to travel the more than 400 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 36 minutes, levitating magnetically inside a tube for a complete lack of friction.

Several companies, including those headed by some of the world’s best-known tycoons, are working to be among the first to create a system that would compete for both with high-speed trains and airlines. 

Richard Branson, who is chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, told CNBC in April that he wants it to be in operation within three years. Elon Musk, CEO of electric-car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has been backing the Boring Co. in its tunnel-digging efforts that could lead to a hyperloop.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, or HyperloopTT, as the company calls itself for short, considers the many rivals an advantage in order to generate interest around the notion of a hyperloop.

Hyperlooptt Capsule Left

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies unveils its first full-scale ‘passenger capsule’

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

“We realized it has to be more than a company. It has to be a movement,” Ahlborn said. “You have the whole world talking hyperloop.”

The capsule is 105 feet long and is made of 82 carbon fiber panels. It is held together with 75,000 rivets, the company said. It has a front end that is sleek and contoured like the high-speed trains in Europe or Japan and a stubby back end.

Ahlborn said about 100 capsules would be needed to operate a line like one from Los Angeles to San Francisco, capable of departures as frequently as 45 seconds apart. He said the capsule was designed for speeds up to 750 mph, but “realistically” would operate at slower speeds, at least initially.

Hyperlooptt Capsule Front

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a California company, has revealed the “passenger capsule” that will whoosh through tubes between cities

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

Copyright 2017

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Cyber Saturday—China’s Chip Hack, Amazon and Apple’s Denials, Google’s Trust Reversal

Rope-a-dope. The U.S. Justice Department charged seven Russian military intelligence officers with a number of hacking-related crimes on Thursday. The Russian spies allegedly ran a disinformation campaign—including wire fraud, identity theft, and money laundering—that targeted hundreds of athletes and anti-doping officials in retaliation for the exposure of a Russian state-sponsored doping program. “All of this was done to undermine those organizations’ efforts to ensure the integrity of the Olympic and other games,” said Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John Demers at a news conference.

A piece of the puzzle. Jigsaw, an Alphabet unit that builds security, privacy, and anti-censorship tools, has released a new app called Intra. The app is designed to block DNS manipulation attacks, a censorship tactic that certain nation-states, like Venezuela and Turkey, have used to intercept and block or redirect website visits by their populations. Jigsaw said the tool will be embedded by default into the next version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android Pie.

No fly zone. Google CEO Sundar Pichai paid a quiet visit to the Pentagon following the tech giant’s decision not to renew a contract supplying AI tech to a military program, The Washington Post reports. Pichai supposedly sought to smooth over tensions after his company backed out of the defense deal, which involved analyzing video captured by drones. Thousands of employees had objected to the program, dubbed Project Maven.

Please re-enter password. California has signed into a law a bill that will require manufacturers of Internet-connected devices to create unique passwords for each device made or sold in the state. In other words, manufacturers of said devices can no longer use generic, pre-programmed passwords like “admin” or “password” to secure their products. If they do, customers have the right to sue for damages.

From masterpiece to master pieces.

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