Monday, December 5, 2016

A Squeezed Design for Galaxy Note 7

A teardown by Instrumental of the Galaxy Note 7 raises questions about who designed the phone. The often-exploding phone was designed with no headroom for its battery. Some expansion space is required for any chemical battery. Without it, normal heat or minor pressure could cause a catastrophic battery failure even for a well-formed battery. The elimination of the margin of safety to make the phone 0.5 millimeter thinner according to Instrumental’s estimate, or to extend battery life by approximately 1 hour, is, at the very least, a strange decision. At worst, it gives the impression of a corporate decision in which the marketing point of view, wanting an attractive, salable product, overruled the engineering point of view, wanting the product to be safe. If so, it is not just the phone design that was being squeezed. Marketing can overrule engineering only in a company that feels it is having a very difficult time producing a competitive product and selling it at a profit. That is not the state of Samsung from what we’ve seen previously, but the company must be under more financial and market pressure than it appears.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Two Victories for Collective Action

The whole idea of citizenry might be under attack, but it won’t be all bad news, as we found out late today. Voters in Italy rejected by a decisive margin a mess-up of a constitution rewrite. Around the same time, the U.S. government announced that it had screwed up when deciding to allow an oil pipeline to pass through a lake that supplied drinking water to a community. Both victories came at enormous cost. In Italy, most of the country turned out to vote down the government’s power grab. Millions of people across the United States, even including the MTV television network, participated in one way or another in the stand at Standing Rock. The involvement of so many people could make the decision at Standing Rock a turning point, as some have suggested, but future victories will have to have to fought for with just as much vigor and perhaps over a longer period of time.

While that is going on, even bigger victories, I believe, will result from individual action, “wizardry” as I have called it. In an era when collective action is not enough by itself, we must remember to look for the possibility of individual action that changes not only ourselves but the world around us. The cumulative effect of individual successes day after day could eventually overtake the effects of collective action, but there are a great many things we all have to do for that to happen.

Friday, December 2, 2016

This Week in Bank Failures

U.S. regulators are concerned about millions of non-performing auto loans. The usually reliable lending segment has become one of the most troubled since last year. I have not yet seen a plausible explanation for why so many drivers in 2014 and 2015 bought SUVs they couldn’t afford.

President-elect Donald Trump’s appointments of Wall Street figures at Treasury and Commerce reflect his long history as a Wall Street insider, but may also hint at worries about a financial crisis within the next two years. The two appointees’ career histories are built on default, bankruptcy, and foreclosure.

The future of Italy’s troubled banks may hinge on a sketchy constitutional amendment that voters will decide on Sunday. Voters are expected to vote no on a package of hastily drafted reforms that would rewrite one third of the constitution to concentrate power in the prime minister’s office, taking away most powers of governors and the senate. The prime minister has said he will resign in the event of a no vote. That could create a power vacuum lasting several months and scuttle bank bailout plans. Financial Times has published a list of 8 Italian banks that are likely to fail in that scenario. Bank stocks have helped drag down stocks generally, with major stock indexes in Italy down 20 percent this year. This week, concern for Italian banks has contributed to a decline in stocks across the euro zone.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) failed a U.K. stress test and says it will need to raise an additional £2 billion in capital. Some of that is expected to come from cost-cutting measures to be announced early next year. The bank is 77% state-owned.

Standard Chartered also did poorly in its stress test. According to published reports, it plans to cut 10 percent of jobs in its big-money business segments.

The NCUA liquidated First African Baptist Church Federal Credit Union, a church-affiliated credit union with 261 members in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania. Member accounts were transferred to American Heritage Federal Credit Union.

Seasonal Hiring Reshuffles Job Numbers

Today’s strong U.S. employment numbers aren’t too surprising given the late start in seasonal retail and logistics hiring this year. With so many seasonal workers starting in November instead of October, it made October look worse and November, better than it really was in terms of employment trends. Regardless, the decline in the unemployment rate is real, and it hints that workers may have an easier time in the job market while employers will have to look harder than they have during the past decade.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Watching the Train Wreck

Those who lack a sense of history will underestimate how hard it is for a White House to avoid scandal. We have had so few White House scandals in the last eight years because it was a top priority, if not the obsession, of the administration to avoid scandal. You only need to look back one year further to see the contrast and get a sense of what is coming. The president-elect has no patience with the need to follow the concepts of ethical behavior, and if the history of his campaign hinted that his administration would be a non-stop parade of scandals, the personnel selection process now confirms that. Cronies, crooks, and conspiracy theorists are on the incoming administration’s A-list. The transition process is being led by business people seeking mainly to make a profit for themselves, while the president-elect has publicly said that conflict-of-interest rules do not apply to the White House. The scandals to follow will be in the news virtually every day for years to come, presenting an ongoing distraction not just for the government, but for the country and the world. While it will be necessary for some of us to keep track of the mischief and criminal goings-on at the White House in the coming years, there will be a decided personal advantage for people who can tune out the news and focus on problem-solving closer to home. It may be a challenging period for those who need to seek publicity for the ventures, but people who can be quietly effective, focusing on a vision and getting things done without much fanfare, may find themselves years ahead of those who must stand and watch the train wreck day after day and year after year.