FOXTROT/ALFA: Musk Defies State of California, Google Play is Finally Dying, Stadia is a Ghost Town (Even During the Pandemic)

Happy Tuesday to all of you! Today, there seems to be slightly less tech news floating around. Maybe everyone is holding their breath for Patch Tuesday later tonight (being in Europe, I’ll report on this as usual in tomorrow’s newsletter). With that in mind, here’s issue 118 of FOXTROT/ALFA for Tuesday, 12 May 2020.

Elon Musk Reopens Tesla Factory in California

Say what you will about Musk – and I sure have done so gratuitously in the past – but he does have some balls.

Elon Musk is planning to defy county officials as he battles to reopen Tesla’s Fremont factory in the face of a continued shelter-in-place order in Alameda County, California, Musk announced on Twitter on Monday. “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” Musk tweeted. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

Tesla has also filed a federal lawsuit against public health officials in Alameda County. County officials have ordered Tesla to keep the factory closed under a county-wide shelter-in-place order. Tesla argues the order contradicts instructions from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and violates the US Constitution.

You know what, if he keeps this up I’ll be starting to like the guy. He’s one of a very small number of people who actually has the guts to fight back against the groupthink.

Tesla’s legal case hinges on a single sentence in Gov. Newsom’s March 19 shutdown order: “I order that Californians working in these 16 critical infrastructure sectors may continue their work because of the importance of these sectors to Californians' health and well-being.” Newsom was referring to 16 sectors of the economy—including financial services, chemicals, and information technology—that the federal government defines as critical infrastructure. Crucially, those 16 sectors include transportation and energy; Tesla argues that it’s part of both sectors.

I like how the Ars journo is trying to marginalise Tesla’s case here because it “hinges on a single sentence”. Because that’s how laws and courts work: The more sentences you can collect in your argument, the more likely you are to win. This isn’t Scrabble, you nudnik.

Google Play Now on Life Support

Surprise… Google is killing another service. Google Play has started its march to the grave in earnest today.

It has been two years since Google put Google Play Music on death row, and today Google finally announced the major step that will let it kill Google Music: YouTube Music library imports. People who were using Google Play Music as an online music locker can now import their uploaded music collections to YouTube Music, letting them leave Google Music behind forever. Leaving Google Music behind is going to be a non-optional situation, too: today’s blog post includes the news that Google Play Music will be shut down “later this year,” and Google says it will provide “plenty of notice” before the axe falls. RIP Google Music.

I actually really liked Google Music. Letting you import your own music was a great idea! I wish I could do that on Spotify.

On the other hand, I never understood why they think YouTube is a music platform now. I don’t know if you noticed Google, but we haven’t cared about music videos since everyone stopped watching MTV in about 1998. I don’t want to get my audio fix from a video platform. That’s just dumb. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this crap.

To No One’s Surprise, Google’s Stadia Seems to Be a Ghost Town

Speaking of Google, it probably surprises nobody with half a brain that Stadia isn’t really taking off.

Destiny 2 has around 1 million daily players across PC, Xbox, and PS4, but only around 10,000 are playing on Google’s streaming service. Bungie hasn’t implemented cross-play in Destiny 2 yet, which has left the Stadia version feeling empty a lot of the time.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) arrived on Stadia two weeks ago, and I was excited to try it out. That excitement soon turned to confusion as I was only a handful of people who dropped from the plane and parachuted into the map. As I was looting for guns and armor, a player that hadn’t even dropped near me suddenly appeared, shooting frantically in weird bursts and walking erratically. It was a bot. After I’d killed the first bot, I soon realized that the entire 90-plus lobby was full of computers, not humans playing PUBG.

The video he links in the article also show how bad the game looks on Stadia.

It’s almost as if the techbros from Silicon Valley, New York and Austin once again grossly overestimated what kind of internet connections the rest of the planet has available. This is why these game streaming things have failed consistently for the last two decades. Theoretical internet speeds are one thing. And then you find out how fast (or rather slow) your internet really is on a rainy Friday night when everyone is at home. Or during a pandemic.

I mean, I have absolutely killer fibre internet like these other tech journos and the Google developers. But I don’t assume the rest of the planet is equally blessed. News flash: Most of them don’t live in highly developed and very dense metropolitan areas like we do.

And think about this: If Stadia isn’t taking off now while absolutely everyone is at home and probably many people have ample spare time, it’s doomed.

At Least Logitech is Happy About the ‘Rona

For some, the pandemic is a blessing, though.

Webcams – like toilet paper and disinfectant wipes – have become an increasingly scarce commodity since the start of the pandemic, with analysts at the NPD Group reporting an almost-threefold increase in sales for the first three weeks of March. This was not lost on Swiss peripheral maker Logitech International, whose balance sheet saw the benefit of those remote workers suddenly needing a cam, with sales of the teleconferencing aids increasing 13.6 per cent – nearly $10m – from the same quarter last year to $40.1m in its Q4 ended March 31.

“Video conferencing, working remotely, creating and streaming content, and gaming are long-term secular trends driving our business. The pandemic hasn’t changed these trends: it has accelerated them.”

Well, we’ll just have to see if that’s temporary or not. Judging by some clients who haven’t paid me in weeks “because things are slower during these times”, telecommuting isn’t exactly boosting productivity everywhere. I’m still trying to figure out how working from home could slow down your ability to pay people who’ve delivered contracted work on spec, on time and weeks ago, but what do I know? I’m obviously not normal. My productivity jumped by about 400% when I stopped going to an office and having daily meetings.

Bitcoin Halves and Miners Cry

Bitcoin just halved again.

The bitcoin network underwent a significant change on Monday as the number of new bitcoins produced in each block fell by half. This is according to a schedule established by bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto almost 12 years ago. Previously, each block in the blockchain came with 12.5 new bitcoins worth roughly $110,000. Now each block includes only 6.25 new bitcoins worth around $55,000.

That’s a challenge for the bitcoin mining industry, which derives the lion’s share of its income from these block rewards. But it has a happy side effect for everyone else: the bitcoin network’s energy consumption is likely to fall in the coming months as lower profits from bitcoin mining force miners to tighten their belts.

Well, yeah. A happy side effect as long as the reduced mining doesn’t drive payment processing capacity through the floor, which would mean long wait times when you actually want to move coins around. Or even worse, less miners could theoretically enable a 51% attack in which a dominant group takes over the network and starts spending coins more than once, crashing the whole system.

Also Noteworthy

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This is an archived issue of my daily newsletter FOXTROT/ALFA. You can find more information about it, including how to subscribe via email, on this page.