Searching for sense and trends in oceans of data and information.

Apple moves the haptic needle?

Published 9.23.2016
Haptic technologies has long been an interest here, and as noted in the additional disclaimer, the author is a long term investor in the technology. Haptics is one of those "technologies of the future" that seems to be remain in the future. Well, not entirely, most mobile phones have haptic feed back in the form of vibrations, and Samsung phones have haptic feedback for their touchscreens. In the past few years wearable haptic technologies (think iWatch) have begun to gain traction in the market.

It's not clear that this will be all positive. Most current haptic and planned haptic products are for alerts. The iWatch nudges your wrist to tell you to stand up, the ring buzzes when it’s time to for a meeting, things of that nature. All well and good, unless consumers get tired of being nagged. Lane keeping systems in vehicles often offer a means of turning the alerts off, and the evidence is that a sizable number of consumers choose to do just that.

Another issue can be the learning curve to properly use a haptic screen.

The researchers proposed a new theory explaining that there are three sources of error that make timing very hard with touchscreens.

First, people are not able to keep the finger at a constant distance above the surface. The finger is always moving, and even the slightest movement hampers our ability to time precisely. By contrast, when using physical keys, the finger rests on the key, eliminating this source of error.

Second, when the finger touches the surface, it is hard for the neural system to predict when the input event has been registered. Typically software detects the touch when the finger first touches the display. But users cannot sense this event so it is not predictable for them.

Third, when the event has been registered on the touchscreen, it still needs to be processed in the application, and in some cases the time that it takes is longer than in other ones, creating another source of latency.


Read the rest.


Demographics and jobs

Published 9.15.2016
The prime working age population is increasing again; it had been falling since the Great Recession.

The prime working age population peaked in 2007, and bottomed at the end of 2012. As of August 2016, there are still fewer people in the 25 to 54 age group than in 2007!

However the prime working age (25 to 54) will probably hit a new peak in a couple of months.


(Emphasis in the quote added.)

This means the world is not ending, and that Millennials are entering the workforce. Millennials outnumber Boomers, though the boomers births are not evenly distributed through the years of their generation. Instead there is a "birth bulge" shortly after World War II. Hence the Boomer generation is a bit like a pig passing through a python. US Social services (Social Security, Medicare) are having a hard time handling the huge bulge in demand (despite generations to prepare) just as the python struggles to digest the pig stuck in its throat.

Here is why it’s important to pay attention to the actual facts rather than analysis, the big increase in the working population in the 70s and 80s was due to women entering the workforce rather than staying home. To the extent that more Millennial mothers (may??) stay home rather than work would artificially depress the prime worker numbers. At least, that’s the view here.

Bill McBride doesn’t buy the “end is nigh” because growth isn’t at 3%, because he thinks demographic shifts explain some of the decline.

Boomers are retiring, and retirees buy less stuff. Millennials are only just beginning to reach the point of purchasing major items to build a life— and many of them are still either buried under college debt or still recovering from the effects of the Recession. Read the rest.


Delving into Demographics

Published 9.8.2016
Demographics is a long term interest at LWRAS, though this will be the first time that the topic will be addressed in this forum. The first few entries will mostly reflect information collected over a period of time.

The Fourth Turning

The fourth turning is an idea conceived by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny.

The book considers generational history and divides the generations into 4 types or "turnings." These notes are derived from a John Mauldin newsletter based on a talk given by Howe at a meeting. I had teh book at one point, but appear to have lent it and not gotten it back. The talk tracks with the book, since he's been giving the same presentation, more or less, since publishing the book. (That's not meant as a slam, nice work if you can get it.)

Generational chaos is happening. At present, according to Howe, we are living through a fourth turning, or time of crisis. The good news is that a time of rebirth typically follows a period of crisis. This current era is unique in that there are currently six generations alive at the same time. The normal human pattern is for four generations to be alive at the same time. How that will change the future isn't clear. Read the rest.

Raven Industries— the sky's the limit?

Published 8.29.2016
Raven Industries is a diversified industrial company based in South Dakota. Raven competes in three primary business segments: Applied Technology, Engineered Films, and the Aerostar Division. Raven recently reported results for its second quarter (Q2) in 2016, and hosted a conference call for analysts.

Positives


  • No debt
  • Consistent dividend pay out
  • Potential recurring revenues with Project Loon

Negatives


  • Depends on oil and gas drilling
  • Google effect raises the uncertainty.
  • Restructured last March

Neutral


  • Raven has a share buy back program.

Aerostar

Project Loon is Google's name for its "moonshot" to bring wireless internet to remote populations across the globe by putting transceivers on balloons that will circle the globe in the stratosphere. Raven's subsidiary Aerostar makes the balloons. Similar balloons are used in the energy industry to bring connectivity to remote drilling sites. The oil and gas market is a cyclical business that depends on many factors including the business cycle and geopolitical concerns. The good news here is that rig counts are again increasing in the US, which means drillers will need Aerostar's satellite services. Read the rest.


Where are optics in medicine?

Published 8.26.2016
Medicine and medical technology represents one of the most promising markets for optical technologies. The purpose here is to present a brief background of where and how optics are used in medicine. This overview is meant to be representative, not comprehensive, new optic medical applications are always being developed and explored.

One of the reasons that optical technology remains viable in medicine is that the higher price of the technology can be justified more often than in other markets where margins are smaller. Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) crimped medical margins a bit, they are still higher than those found in other markets, such as telecom or consumer electronics. Optical technology is almost always more expensive than electronic based technologies, and very often the performance premium cannot justify the price difference.

Price is the reason that optics lags in the oil field, though in many ways the harsh conditions in oil wells would seem to give optics an advantage over electronics. The human body relies on electrical signaling that occur in an aqueous based systems (humans are after all, most water), an environment extremely hostile to electronics. The relative imperviousness of optical fibers to the ionic fluids of the human body has allowed the field of endoscopic medicine to explode with innovation.

Lasers

Lasers can be used to treat a variety of conditions.

Varicose veins

Diode lasers are used to treat varicose veins. The treatment is endoscopic, the doctor thread the laser through the vein and ablates the edges.

Diode lasers are most commonly used for ELA. Laser generators exist with multiple different wavelengths, including lower wavelengths that are considered hemoglobin specific and include 810 nm, 940 nm, 980 nm, and 1064 nm. Higher wavelengths are considered water specific and include 1320 nm and 1470 nm. Although it is still not definitively established in the literature, some authors suggest that the higher wavelength lasers produce similar efficacy at lower power settings with less postprocedure symptoms.


Varicose veins are not completely understood, however, both aging and obesity are associated with the condition. As Baby Boomers age, varicose vein removal should become a larger market. Read the rest.

Brexit fallout begins.

Published 8.18.2016
LWRAS continues to monitor the fall out from the United Kingdom's (UK) vote to leave the European Union (EU).

Brexit factored into Moody's latest outlook report. Moody’s doesn’t think the UK will enter recession, but it will slow down. The rest of the EU is supposed to stabilize as well. The lower pound supports economic growth too. The prediction is for 1.5% growth in 2016 and 1.2% growth for 2017. No drop in housing prices is predicted, though this one might be failing even now, at least in London according to coverage I saw while in the UK.

The Moody's report covered more than Brexit. Moody’s outlook for China is improved too, with a prediction of 6.6% for 2016 and 6.3% in 2017. Of course, growth in China is particularly difficult to measure and predict since it is very much dependent on government manipulation— both of policy and numbers. Growth in the other G20 emerging markets is projected to be 4.4% for 2016 and 5% for 2017.

The US is seen as a risk factor. Moody’s wants the Fed to raise interest rates, because that would mean the economy is in good shape. Trump is not named, but is alluded to, as a big risk to the economy of the US. Read the rest.

Back from the Land of Brexit

Published 8.11.2016
As noted in the previous piece published near the end of July, the LWRAS editor recently spent ten days traveling around the United Kingdom (UK), visiting Wales, Scotland and London. Astute readers will note that two of those three places voted to "Bremain," only Wale voted to Brexit.

The trip was mostly a vacation, so political discussion and questioning wasn't the predominant theme, however, I could not miss the opportunity to try and learn what the reaction and opinions were in each place. Overall, the prevailing view is one of confusion and uncertainty. No one knows what's going to happen because there is no historical precedent to reference. The most obviously effect so far is the sunken value of the pound. As Americans traveling on holiday, we benefitted by that.

Note: Nothing that follows should be taken as definitive or as a statistically significant evidence. It's simply observations based both on conversations and media sampling while in the UK.

Wales

In Wales we visited with friends, and so I was able to ask the most questions. Wales was lovely and beautiful, but poverty was very evident. We were in Swansea, where the vote was for Brexit, in the capital city of Cardiff, the vote was actually for Bremain. The reason given is that Cardiff has more industry, and voters there were worried about the effect on exports.

The thinking conveyed in Wales is that Theresa May's selection of the very undiplomatic Boris Johnson to lead the Brexit negotiations was brilliant. May was not Brexiteer, and just like Cameron doesn't want to be responsible for the consequences of the fallout. Of course, as Prim Minister she will be responsible, but this way one of the lead architects is forced to deal with the issues he helped create.

It's also clear that not everyone thinks that Brexit will actually occur, that the effect of the of negotiations will be to change people's minds. LWRAS maintains its position that Brexit will happen. Read the rest.

Final Brexit Update for July

Published 7.21.2016
LWRAS continues to monitor the Brexit process in the United Kingdom (UK), as it will have implications on markets in Europe and beyond. This will be the final update for July, as the editor will be traveling to the UK to check out the scene on the ground, as it were. However, no further commentary, or for that matter any other content, will be published at this site until after the return home.

Most of this look at the Brexit process will focus on the initial moves of the newly minted Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May. We begin with the new PM's early moves. For reasons that escap ethis obserever, May made Boris Johnoson Britain’s top diplomat. In doing so, she assures that he’s not writing poison articles in his weekly column in the Telegraph about her, and apparently it will take him out of the country quite often. The Europeans are not pleased, and the US didn’t seem thrilled at all.

So… she’s forcing him to face some of the work to get this done— or she’s hoping that he’ll fall flat on his face and be done for the duration. Europeans and others are already saying he lies (because he did in the Brexit campaign). Johnson is finding it hard to get past his previous comments. Rather than apologize, he just wants to move on.

Johnson was clearly not surprised by the questioning on his past remarks from the British and U.S. media. He tried to brush off the first couple of questions with a prepared answer but became more irritated.

He did get a break from Kerry, who said the U.S. ambassador in Brussels had referred to Johnson as a "very smart and capable man". Kerry added: "That's the Boris Johnson I intend to work with.”

"I can live with that," said a rather sheepish-looking Johnson, prompting Kerry to reply: "It's called diplomacy Boris."


Unsurprisingly, May's first trip was to visit Scotland's First Minister. The Scots voted overwhelmingly to "Remain" and they have a huge chunk of money that was promised to them by the European Union (EU) and which is now at risk with Brexit.

No surprise, May has no intention of giving Scotland another vote to leave the UK, but she did say she was willing to consider ways to protect Scotland's interactions with the EU. Read the rest

No glut in oil, now there's a gas glut?

Published 7.14.2016
LWRAS periodically considers the condition oil market as energy is a critical factor in determining the condition of the global economy, as well as individual countries national economies. Recently, the price of oil has rebounded a bit to around $50, though since Brexit, it has decline to $45 per barrel. In mid June, the rig count in the US had begun to increase after months of decline.

So has a bottom been reached in the oil market? Schlumberger thinks so. Or rather, it thinks a bottom is being approached. Revenues are still declining, but at a slower pace.

Or is oil going to $10? That’s what Gary Shilling thinks. He thinks the world is still awash in crude, though he doesn’t call it a glut. Shilling thinks the price increase isn’t related to fundamentals. Fracking is now the swing producers — meaning that it only gets produced when the price/market demand supports it. That was one of the Saudis' goal.

Unrest in Venezuela, Nigeria and wildfires in the oil sands of Canada are pinching supply. Shiller thinks OPEC* can no longer control prices. The Saudis still want to protect their market share, so they don’t care who gets hurt (that’s not news, of course, just a statement of the obvious). The fact that the Iranians want to produce as much as they can is not new either. Read the rest.

What a difference a weekend makes

Published 7.11.2016
The big news this Monday morning is that Britain has a new Prime Minister (PM), and much more quickly than anticipated. The reason for the quickened pace of change is that her remaining competition (the back stabber Gove having been eliminated), Andrea Leadsom, torpedoed her own campaign this weekend with a statement about how she'd be better than Theresa May as PM because she's a mother and May is not.

In 2016, at least in the United Kingdom (UK) Tory Party, politicians pay a price when they make stupid statements or do stupid things. Boris Johnson isn't going to be the next PM because Gove realized that there wasn't any substance behind his buffoonery and so took him out. Gove isn't going to be the next PM because you can't stab people in the back and then expect them to trust you. And finally, this past weekend, we have Leadsom, who stupidly chose to invoke that age old animosity between mothers and working women.

In the end, Leadsom claimed she was dropping out to speed the process, and a quicker change should remove at least some of the uncertainty surrounding the UK's future. Perhaps Leadsom just did the math and realized that there wasn't a path to victory— at least not one that included women who weren't mothers who vote.

Across the Pond Contrast

In the US elections, of course, there doesn't seem to be the usual price to pay for stupidity, verbal or otherwise. Donald Trump mocks a disabled person, regularly trades in racist tweets, and is seemingly clueless when it comes to actual policy but pays no price within his party. Clinton's choice to use a private email server for her official government work was stupid and then some. But for her party, singular issue was whether or not she was indicted. She was not, and so her campaign moves on. Read the rest.

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