Gravitational waves, Einstein and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries, Technology

So, you do you want to hear two black holes colliding? Take a listen (audio from the New York Times):

Imagine coming up with a theory that upends 200 year-old accepted laws of physics because something about it just doesn’t make sense to you. Imagine not having any kind of instrumentation to even experiment the equations that you come up with and in fact, would take a hundred years for you to be proven right. Imagine coming up with an equation so elegant as this:

E = mc2

That was Einstein. But imagine also, the minds that came up with LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and the willpower of some who pushed for building it amidst all the budgetary constraints and the skepticism? Yesterday’s announcement of the first direct detection of gravitational waves is not just about proving Einstein’s prediction on the existence of ripples in space-time set off by violent and cataclysmic events in the universe. More than anything, I find it very human in the beauty and perseverance of the people who made this happen. So, yesterday should not be rejoiced by the scientific community alone but by all of us because, see what we can be capable of? By the way, nice Googly, insider scientific joke there:

Gravitational waves? We're relatively excited.

A post shared by Google (@google) on

If you need a refresher on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, there’s a great infographic here. Or if you’re like me, I get a refresher during an afternoon car ride with my husband, which is pretty cool too.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail (just in case space-time is not your thing):

  1. Google: In boost to self-driving cars, U.S. tells Google computers can qualify as drivers; Google reportedly building a completely stand-alone virtual reality headset
  2. IRS says identity thieves nabbed 100,000 income tax e-file PINs
  3. Medicine: 23andMe and Women’s Health Startup Celmatix Combine Forces To Research Genes Affecting Infertility; Robotic system can lead to faster medicine development
  4. Visa takes 9.99% stake in Square
  5. Zenefits CEO steps down over compliance issues

In retail:

  1. Amazon launched a free sommelier service to help customers buy wine; Yes, you can rely on Amazon’s new game engine during the zombie apocalypse
  2. Marc Jacobs will price 70% of its handbags under $500
  3. Yoox Net-a-Porter beats forecast with 2015 pro-forma sales of 1.7bn euros
  4. Adidas sees higher profit after 2015 earnings beat estimates
  5. L’Oreal sales beat estimates on accelerating luxury growth

Happy Space Year

News and commentaries, Technology

Happy holidays and all that but let’s talk rockets, shall we? More specifically, let’s talk SpaceX’s historic vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL)* of Falcon 9 on Sunday, December 21. The questions and comments have centered largely around who really is first to do VTVL (Vertical Takeoff, Vertical Landing) – Bezos’ Blue Origin or Musk’s SpaceX.

Blue Origin 

When I first heard of Blue Origin’s launch and landing, I didn’t even bother to check out the video because I thought SpaceX’s Grasshopper have done that already. I’m actually wrong, Grasshopper did eight successful VTVLs but the maximum height it reached was 744 m (2,440 ft) before it was retired.

So, For the category of VTVL rocket to reach space and successfully land, then yes, Blue Origin is the first of its kind. But when Jeff Bezos tweeted:

A lot of people, including me, was incredulous. What club? Because SpaceX right now is on a league all its own.

Space vs. orbit
First of all, where does “space” begin?

Earth's atmosphere

Conventionally, the Kármán line at 100 km (62 mi) above sea level is used to define the beginning of outer space. And Blue Origin did breach space, reaching an altitude of 100.5 km before descending back to Earth.

But putting something into orbit is an entirely different kind of animal. First of all, the rocket does not just shoot straight up, it goes up and then goes sideways really, really fast after reaching a certain altitude. XKCD has done a great explainer on space vs. orbit here.

SpaceX Falcon 9 vs. Blue Origin’s Shepherd

  • Speed – In order to for a rocket to go into orbit and to stay there, it has to reach horizontal speed of ~8 km/s. The International Space Station hovers above Earth at 330-410 km and it goes around the world every 90 minutes at a  speed of 27,000 km/h or 7.5 km/s. SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage (the booster and the one landed) reached a max speed of around ~5,900 km/h while the second stage (the one that put the payload into orbit) reached a max speed of ~25,990 km/h**. Blue Origin reached a maximum speed of ~3,700 km/h.
  • Fuel – Obviously, in order to achieve those speeds, the engines would need a LOT of fuel. In the case of SpaceX Falcon 9, the first stage booster not only need enough fuel to shoot the rocket into space, it needed enough fuel to reorient to come back down to earth, slowdown from its crazy speed, and maneuver to land in an upright position.
  • Size and weight – SpaceX Falcon 9, at 70 m high, not only had to shoot the rocket into space and go into orbit, it had to carry a payload (or cargo) into space, in this case 11 satellites for ORBCOMM. Blue Origin’s New Shepard had no payload at all.

Space race is heating up
Now that we have that cleared up, it is great to see private companies focusing on space. Competition will yield the best technologies and the best practices and also prod the incumbents into action. And that is already happening.

An omnibus spending bill passed by Congress this month appropriates ~$55M and instructs NASA to develop a “prototype deep space habitation module” no later than 2018. It also requires NASA to submit a status report to Congress within 180 days of the bill’s enactment which could be early 2016.

Furthermore, SpaceX’s accomplishment could push Russia to reassess the costs of their own projects in order to maintain market share. The United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space and Security, uses Russian-built engines for most of its rockets. On December 23, 2015, the ULA announced that it had ordered 20 RD-180 engines to power up to 20 launches of the Atlas V rocket.

So, here’s to a wonderful 2016 and to hopefully more space exploration. And let me leave you with this: 

* VTVL is a term used for a form of takeoff for rockets, not to be confused with VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) for aircraft – helicopters, fixed wing aircraft like the Harrier.
**Speed taken from SpaceX launch video

#Spaceishard, civil forfeiture and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

One of the best things about Twitter is that you get instant access to breaking news and random posts. This was very apparent during SpaceX’ heartbreaking Falcon 9 mishap (don’t call it an explosion) when SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave a live update on the event via his Twitter account. Incidentally, it was Musk’s 44th birthday. Once again, we are reminded that space is hard and SpaceX success has been such that we are now starting to take that truth for granted. So, let’s not forget and as futurist David Brin said: “Let’s all offer a ‘hang in there’ encouragement to the folks at SpaceX.”

On another note, a random Twitter post caught my attention. Earlier this week, the TSA posted a photo of a passenger’s cash-filled luggage on Twitter. Even though there is nothing illegal about transporting large amounts of cash (except on international borders), and in fact, the passenger was not charged with any crime, authorities can still seize that cash under suspicion of illegal activity. And this is where I found out about civil forfeiture where the United States can literally charge inanimate objects with a crime (such as Unites States v. $124,700 in US currency), and consider that object guilty until proven innocent. In most cases, the owners of the seized property just let the case go instead of pursuing it. And in case, you were thinking as I did that it is limited to large amounts of money, you’re wrong. Further search found this great clip from John Oliver about Civil Forfeiture:

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail and have a Happy (and safe) Fourth of July:

In tech:

  1. Space: SpaceX Falcon 9 disintegrated 139 seconds after Sunday’s liftoff,  cause is still unknown; NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captures images of mysterious spots on Pluto’s equator
  2. PayPal to buy online money transfer company Xoom for $890M in all cash deal, acquisition expected to complete in Q4 2015
  3. Ridesharing: Singapore’s GrabTaxi raises over $200M; Two of France Uber execs are on trial after last week’s riots over UberPOP (a service separate from Uber and UberX where drivers are not required to have a taxi license), company suspends UberPOP to await September decision
  4. Reddit’s most popular pages in lockdown in protest over the firing of AMA moderator, Victoria Taylor
  5. Tesla announces global second quarter Model S delivery totals at 11,507; total first half of 2015 sales at 21,537 cars

In retail:

  1. Donna Karan steps down as Chief Designer for Donna Karan International, will remain in advisory role
  2. Puma sells Tretorn, an athletic footwear label, to Authentic Brands, owner of Juicy Couture and Frederick’s of Hollywood
  3. Whole Foods admits to overcharging customers for a variety of prepared foods in New York City
  4. Report finds Walmart misusing “Made in U.S.A.” label for products made elsewhere
  5. Amazon overs Prime Now, its one-hour delivery, on over 10,000 items to Prime subscribers in London

The power of technology and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Some of the things that I love most about reading technology news are the vision and hope that they can impart. Some people might find it cold but I find tech news to be more hopeful than human-interest stories. This week, as I found myself too caught up in life’s little details, news such as: SpaceX’ third attempt at recovering a rocket via drone ship; NASA’s recent images of pyramid-shaped structure on dwarf planet Ceres; and Google’s built-from-the-ground-up self driving car being tested in California, fill me with hope for the future and a sense of wonder. News like these made me take a pause to reflect on our place in the universe and how we are starting to live with technology conjured by science fiction not so long ago. I hope you find these as uplifting as I did.

The solitary peak juts out from the horizon in this image snapped by Dawn

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Space news: Microsoft’s augmented reality headgear HoloLens will be used on board the International Space Station in partnership with NASA; SpaceX will attempt another drone ship rocket landing this Sunday (you can watch it here); NASA’s Dawn probe reveals pyramid-like structure on dwarf planet Ceres
  2. Google news: Google’s panda-shaped self-driving cars are now being tested in California; Google Genomics collaborates with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to develop data-driven tools to fight diseases;
  3. IAC/InterActiveCorp is planning an IPO for The Match Group, conglomerate behind dating websites Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid
  4. French company Thales unveils robots that could replace immigration officers
  5. Music streaming: Google launches free, ad-supported tier to its Google Play Music streaming service; Jay-Z’s music streaming service Tidal loses interim CEO; Taylor Swift’s 1989 album will be available on Apple’s music streaming service (to launch on June 30) after Apple’s change of royalty policies

In retail:

  1. H&M Q2 profits up as sales rise with store and product expansions
  2. Lululemon Athletica recalls 318,000 women’s tops over reported injuries of elastic drawstrings
  3. Walmart to start charging vendor fees as costs increase; will affect 10,000 U.S. suppliers in the
  4. Olapic raises $15M in new funding to help brands boost sales with user-generated images from social media such as Instagram
  5. On-demand delivery startup raises Series D round of $80M at a $400M valuation

Space exploration and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

As some of you may have noted, the weekly roundups in tech tend to focus on consumer technology and the sties that most people use. It’s because I think that as technology continues to pervade our lives, it is best to know what they are, what they do and what they could do. But every once in a while, I come across fringe technological advances that are literally the stuff of science fiction – these are the “whoa” moments. This blog has always been a way for me to keep track of those “whoa” and “a-ha” moments and share them.

I could, of course, once again remind you to keep your digital life secure as the Sony hack keeps on unravelling, which US officials believe to have originated from North Korea. Actually, let me do that again: if you can, always turn on two-factor authentication in any service that you use. Although, Apple’s two-factor authentication could be the death of your digital life if your account has been hacked and you lost your recovery key, according to this post from NextWeb.

As the Internet keeps on getting hacked, meanwhile in space, NASA emailed a wrench to astronauts in space. Or, to be precise, NASA emailed a digital file of what a wrench should be, which was then 3D printed in space. Also, Elon Musk’s SpaceX will attempt to land its Falcon 9 on an ocean platform to showcase precision landing capabilities. On that note, if you want to reflect on the bigger picture of what could be in space exploration, here’s a beautiful short film by Erik Wernquist, narrated by Carl Sagan.

“I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.” (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, quoted in the film)

Wanderers – a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.

Here are this week’s weekly roundup in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Global Internet authority ICANN gets hacked after employees gave up credentials in phishing attacks in November
  2. Apple news: BBC releases documentary on “intolerable” and “dangerous” conditions in Apple’s supply chain; Apple dodges $1B iPod antitrust class-action lawsuit
  3. Google news: Google moved its end-to-end email encryption tool to GitHub to encourage developer scrutiny; Google to release Android version for cars in 2015; Google condemns Project Goliath, a secret campaign from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to revive SOPA legislation
  4. Instagram deletes spam accounts and loses 18M+ followers; company is now valued at $35B by Citigroup
  5. Sony hack revelations: Snapchat has plans for a music feature, acquired QR scanning and iBeacon startup Scan.me for $50M, Vergence Labs, maker of eyeglass video cam for $15M, and live video/voice app startup AddLive for $30M; Sony also cancelled global release of the movie “The Interview” following threats from the hackers

In retail:

  1. American Apparel fires its controversial CEO/founder Dov Charney and names Paula Schneider as the new CEO; shares surge as takeover speculations emerge
  2. Avon formally pleads guilty to bribing Chinese officials, will pay $135M
  3. Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered Walmart to pay $188M in class-action lawsuit over workers’ compensations
  4. Amazon rolls out Prime Now delivery service in one zip code in New York, delivery could be as little as one hour
  5. Puma names Rihanna as the new creative director