Spider News Digest: 4/12/2017


  • War With North Korea: Chances Are ‘Increasing Every Day’ As Kim Gets Better With Weapons, McMaster Says (Newsweek):

The chances of a war with North Korea are “increasing every day” as Kim Jong Un’s regime just keeps getting better at weapons tests, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Saturday.

Speaking only days after North Korea’s most menacing missile launch to date, McMaster called the isolated nation “the greatest immediate threat to the United States” and said that even its apparent military shortcomings give no comfort as that threat grows.

“Every time [Kim] conducts a missile launch and nuclear test, he gets better,” McMaster said at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif.

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“And whether it’s a success or a failure isn’t as important as understanding that over the years he’s been learning from failures, improving and thereby increasing his threat to all of us.”

McMaster suggested there still might be ways to tame Kim’s regime without combat. He called on China, North Korea’s most vital economic partner, to completely cut off oil imports, since Kim won’t be able to test any missiles without fuel.

“We’re asking China to act in China’s interest, as they should, and we believe increasingly that it’s in China’s urgent interest to do more,” he said.

But the time for diplomatic options is quickly ticking away, McMaster warned.

“There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he’s getting closer and closer, and there’s not much time left,” he said.

North Korea on Tuesday launched a missile last Tuesday that, according to defense experts, traveled higher and farther than any other it has ever launched, and had the ability to strike anywhere in the mainland United States. Defense analysts noted that it’s unclear whether the weapon would be able to travel that far if it carried a nuclear warhead — something Kim has yet to pull off.

But the test showed that North Korea’s capabilities have rapidly advanced as Kim has scaled up missile tests this year while hurling threats at the United States. It also broke a two month hiatus on North Korea’s weapons tests, which had spurred speculation that Kim was dialing down his military menace.

The Trump administration has consistently said it would be ready to strike North Korea if provoked, though President Donald Trump and top White House officials continued to press for a diplomatic solution.

The United States military is overwhelmingly better stocked and prepared than North Korea’s, but Kim’s tests this year have shown some of the most rapid advancement ever seen in his country’s combat capabilities.

  • Here’s What Bitcoin’s Smartest Skeptics are Telling Investors (Fortune): 

Bitcoin continues one of the most dramatic price runups of any asset in living memory, posting prices above $11,800 this morning after starting the year below $1,000 per digital token. In its early years, skeptics with little knowledge of blockchain technology were quick to dismiss Bitcoin as a fleeting trend. But as knowledge spreads and prices chase new highs, the skeptics have become more nuanced – and even if you love Bitcoin, they’re often worth listening to.

Here are a few of the most notable bear sentiments being aired as Bitcoin’s rip-roaring rampage continues.

Blockchain without Bitcoin?

At last week’s Consensus: Invest conference in Manhattan, some of the greatest minds in asset management came together to talk cryptocurrency. On a “Bulls and Bears” panel, Raoul Pal of the Real Vision financial news network repeated a favorite saw of today’s more informed bears – that while blockchain database security is a revolutionary technology, those blockchains will ultimately be privately managed by enterprises. That would eventually drive the value of public blockchains like Bitcoin to zero.

But the idea of a private blockchain at least partly misunderstands the core security premise of the technology. Cryptocurrency payouts attract a decentralized swarm of hosts who ensure the honesty of a shared ledger, without necessarily having a stake in its contents. Andreas Antonopoulos, long one of the smartest commentators in the space, has dismissed private blockchains as a fundamentally inefficient replacement for an old-fashioned database. Once real-world blockchain applications are up and running, most will likely be hosted on one of the trusted public blockchains, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum.

What the Fork

Not exactly a bear, Mike Novogratz has said that cryptocurrency is in a bubble, even while also starting a large fund specifically to invest in it. Novogratz has made a point that is far too rare in this realm – that not all cryptocurrencies are created equal, and not all of them will win. As an example, Novogratz has said he believes Litecoin, the 6th largest cryptocurrency, “doesn’t add enough new stuff to replace Bitcoin.”

The specific point is highly debatable – Litecoin has recently proven it can innovate and improve faster than Bitcoin. But the broader point is solid, particularly when it comes to recent “forks,” in which server operators split from an existing cryptocurrency and create copies of its code and assets. Forking spreads network resources thinner and thinner, and over time, if they don’t prove that they offer competitive innovations, forks like Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin Gold, and Ethereum Classic will crash.

No Underlying Value

Jack Bogle, Vanguard founder and father of the index fund, was a maverick in his day, so you might think he’d have a kind word for Bitcoin’s innovation. But you’d be wrong.

Last Tuesday at a Council on Foreign Relations event, Bogle advised listeners to “avoid Bitcoin like the plague,” and went on to lay out a common sentiment among crypto-skeptics.

“There is nothing to support Bitcoin except the hope that you will sell it to someone for more than you paid for it.”

With all due respect to a titan, Bogle is fundamentally wrong, and this line of criticism should have been buried years ago. Cryptocurrency prices certainly have little relationship to underlying value right now, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing there at all. Cryptocurrency networks include vast amounts of bleeding-edge hardware, and they’re being managed by thousands of highly trained engineers and business developers. Bitcoin has the potential to grow into something of obviously huge value – a truly unhackable and totally open global financial network.

If Bitcoin were a public corporation instead of a decentralized swarm, it would probably have some extremely aggressive short-sellers right now (actually, the fact that it’s hard to short cryptocurrency is a good reason to be wary of it). But noone would say its assets had no value.

A Tool for Criminals

One of the perennial critiques of cryptocurrency was reiterated this week by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who has bigger things on his mind than a bubble – he thinks Bitcoin is morally dubious, and bad for global governance and the macroeconomy.

“Bitcoin is successful only because of its potential for circumvention [and] lack of oversight,” he told Bloomberg last week, “So it seems to me it ought to be outlawed, it doesn’t serve any useful social function.”

Stiglitz is right that much of Bitcoin’s early momentum was based on either lawbreaking or capital flight, and the scale of its ongoing use for tax evasion is likely massive. He’s also right that it isn’t currently useful for its core purpose – payments – thanks to network congestion, high fees, and extreme volatility.

But the long-term above-board applications for totally unhackable, distributed ledgers are still waiting in the wings: cryptocurrency could eventually run everything from cloud computing to ride-hailing to health records. And Stiglitz misses a crucial point – it would be very, very hard to regulate cryptocurrency out of existence. Its servers can be moved to any friendly jurisdiction (much like old-fashioned offshore tax shelters), and its traffic signature can be easily disguised.

That’s not a moral defense, but it’s a fact. Regulatory pressure in jurisdictions like the United States and Europe could absolutely keep away institutional investors and even hedge funds, whose future entry to the market is increasingly priced into the current crypto-surge. But its shady underbelly nearly guarantees that cryptocurrency as a whole will never drop to zero value.

  • Russell Wilson, Seahawks knock Eagles from perch atop NFC (USA Today): 

The Seattle Seahawks quarterback threw three touchdowns Sunday night in Seattle’s 24-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, upending the team with the league’s best record and perhaps shaking up the NFL’s MVP race heading into the final month of the season.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz wasn’t bad against the Seahawks, but he couldn’t measure up to Wilson, who continues to make up for deficiencies elsewhere on Seattle’s roster.

With his trio of touchdowns Sunday night, Wilson improved his his stellar December resume to 46 touchdowns (with just 15 interceptions) since 2012 as the Seahawks improved to 18-5 in December games during Wilson’s tenure.

The win kept the Seahawks (8-4) within striking distance of the Los Angeles Rams (9-3) in the NFC West, with a critical division game against the Rams in Seattle two weeks away. The Seahawks also moved into the first of the two wild-card spots.

The Eagles remain in control of the NFC East, but the loss drops Philadelphia to the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind the Vikings, who beat the Falcons earlier on Sunday.

Wilson led the Seahawks to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter after an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham. That seemed to stun an Eagles team that hadn’t allowed a first-quarter touchdown all year or trailed by more than 10 points since a Week 2 loss to the Chiefs.

But it was in the second quarter when Wilson truly showed his command of the game, as the Eagles dared to call an all-out blitz. Wilson moved inside the pocket to avoid the heavy rush and launched a deep pass to receiver Doug Baldwin, who beat his single coverage. The initial call of a 48-yard touchdown was overturned and Baldwin was ruled out of bounds at the 1-yard line, but Wilson threw a touchdown two plays later, this time to Tyler Lockett.

The Seattle defense, meanwhile, showed it is adapting to life without cornerback Richard Sherman (on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon) and safety Kam Chancellor (out for the remainder of the season with a neck injury) in one of the unit’s most dominant performances of the season.

The Eagles had been averaging a league-best 31.9 points per game, but the Seahawks held Wentz and Co. to a season-low scoring total despite allowing 425 yards. Philadelphia drove into Seattle territory six times in the first three quarters but managed just three points before finally scoring their lone touchdown early in the fourth quarter to cut Seattle’s lead to 17-10.

It was a stunning moment in a game that had already been decided. With the Patriots leading Buffalo, 23-3, late in the fourth quarter, Bills rookie CB Tre’Davious White intercepted a Tom Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski, after both White and Gronkowski were very physical during the route. White went to the ground and Patriots WR Phillip Dorsett touched him down, then Gronkowski dove in, driving an elbow into the back of White’s helmet.

“First off, I definitely want to apologize to No. 27 [White]. I’m not in the business of that,” Gronkowski said after the game. “I was just really frustrated at that moment.” When asked to explain his frustration, the tight end said, “He was trying to push me a little bit . . . I just don’t understand why there wasn’t a flag. A couple times in the game. They are calling me for the craziest, craziest stuff ever and it’s just like, crazy. I mean, like what am I supposed to do? And then they don’t call that, I mean. It was just frustration and that’s what happened.” In the other locker room, Bills safety Micah Hyde called the move “a dirty play” and it was reported that White, who took his helmet off and slowly got up after the hit, entered concussion protocol.

Now it is up to the league to decide how to punish Gronkowski, who was penalized but not ejected. Former head of officiating Dean Blandino, now an analyst for FOX, said he should have been removed from play. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a potential fine and maybe even a suspension going forward,” Blandino said.

I would be surprised if Gronk isn’t suspended. For one, he’s been fined for unnecessary roughness and for participating in the brawl at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. But more than that, we’ve seen the NFL get increasingly tough in response to hits to the head, including linebacker Danny Trevathan’s suspension earlier this year. Defensive players have complained that their side of the ball is being unfairly punished for instinctive plays as the league puts an emphasis on player safety. Now, the NFL has a chance to show it is willing to punish offensive players as well—and a star at that—in a case where the hit clearly came outside of the normal run of action.

Fortunately for the Patriots, they face the 5-7 Dolphins next week (a game they should win even without their tight end) before a big one in Pittsburgh. Though a Gronk suspension could re-open old wounds with the New England organization and fan base. We’ll find out soon if the league decides to go down that road again.

  • Millennials are the pickiest eaters (NY Post): 

Millennials are the pickiest generation yet when it comes to their food, new research reveals.

A study into the expectations and patience levels of 2,000 people when dining at a restaurant found that millennials are almost twice as likely (34 percent vs. 18 percent) to feel like a meal isn’t up to standard, compared to those over the age of 55.

The survey, commissioned by GoDaddy, showed that millennials are not only harder to please when it comes to the quality of service, but they’re also generally pickier about the restaurants they choose to eat at and how they make decisions about where to eat, including a business’ online presence and social media platforms.

When choosing a restaurant, millennials are the generation that depends the most on the opinions of others and the age group most likely to be swayed by a friend’s recommendation. They also read double the number of online reviews of any potential eatery than a boomer does before making a decision.

In fact, millennials put a lot of faith in online reviews overall; 60 percent decided against eating at a restaurant after reading bad online reviews — more than any other age group surveyed. Additionally, those on the West Coast were also more likely to rely on online reviews than any other region.

The digital experience of any food-related business is increasingly essential to its success. Millennials were more likely to search through menus online and look at a restaurant’s Instagram photos before checking it out in person than any generation before them. While it’s perhaps not shocking that they would be more active on social media, they are increasingly visually motivated. Millennials were three times more likely to seek out photos of a restaurant and its dishes than the over 55’s.

One in ten millennials even go as far as to judge a restaurant based solely on the content and quality of their website — compared to just one in 100 restaurant-goers over 55. The older generation instead places slightly more emphasis on the overall ambiance of the place once inside than their younger counterparts.

Millennials are also three times more likely to not eat at a restaurant because the business is lacking a website.

To determine whether the driving trends around customer expectations are being acknowledged by those in the industry, the study also surveyed 150 restaurant owners and managers. Results showed both demographics have identified the increasing importance of technology as part of the dining experience, but some businesses are yet to make significantly needed improvements.

The data showed that more than 70 percent of food business owners and managers believe technology is very important in terms of running a successful business. Ninety-one percent already have built websites for their business.

However, just a third of owners and managers (34 percent) said their website was able to serve their business “very well.” An inability to book online, poor-quality images and a general feeling that the information or style is outdated were the top reasons managers and owners felt their websites weren’t performing as well as they could be.

Surprisingly, two-thirds of food-business websites didn’t take advantage of online booking capabilities, 30 percent were without a gallery and a fifth didn’t even display an up-to-date menu.

“We know that websites are vital for any small business looking to thrive in a competitive landscape,” said Justin Tsai, Vice President of GoCentral Product Management at GoDaddy. “The survey results illustrate that pictures are truly worth a thousand words for independent restaurants and that taking advantage of the tools available on GoCentral to make things like online ordering and menu availability easier can improve a restaurant’s bottom line. Having a quick loading, up-to-date, modern web presence that looks great on mobile can build popularity with customers new and established.”

So as restaurant owners and managers seek to stay in touch with the ever-growing digital needs of young diners, how does that translate to the in-house experience?

As particular as millennials can be about choosing where and what to eat, the results showed they are actually more patient than older generations in terms of waiting times.

The average person is prepared to wait 14 minutes to order their main course before their mood sours, with millennials slightly more lenient at 17 minutes. Millennials are also more patient than other generations while waiting to be seated, ordering drinks and ordering appetizers.

But, there is quite literally a tipping point. While the vast majority of millennials tip, they are also the generation most likely to refuse to tip the waitstaff if they’re unhappy with the service provided. There’s also a geographical divide. Results showed those in the Northeast were the biggest tippers overall with those in the Southeast tipping according to the service they received.

For good servers, the factors leading to a 20 percent tip or more are refilling drinks without being asked (68 percent,) checking in often (61 percent) and clearing the table fairly quickly (50 percent.)

Should the server be rude though (74 percent,) not come around often enough (45 percent) or leave drinks waiting to be refilled (44 percent,) restaurant patrons across the board will generally drop their tip to 15 percent or lower.


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