Dan on May 20th, 2015

At the end of last year,  I wrote an article on Seeking Alpha wondering if 2015 would be the year that eMagin turns around.  eMagin is a company I have followed for years, and the company has always shown great potential, but never achieved.

Recently their earnings came out, and on May 15th the stock popped up to 33% on good earnings – the appearance is that they are starting to ramp up on production, and breaking into the potentially lucrative market for virtual reality headsets.

eman

 

So is this the turnaround that I have been long awaiting?  I would recommend anybody invested in eMagin read the earnings call transcripts on Seeking Alpha.  As per usual, the call is upbeat, and the description of market opportunities leads one into wanting to back the truck up and load up on shares.   However, I have been too jaded by previous upbeat results, and while results were encouraging, the top line revenue numbers still don’t get me too excited.

The big highlight on the earnings call (other than having a profitible quarter after 7 negative quarters) was the progress on the virtural reality headset.  From the earnings release highlights:

  • We finished the development of the Company’s new advanced Head Mounted Display (“HMD”) headset. The HMD has been demonstrated to potential partners and customers in April and May. This HMD is immersive and incorporates eMagin’s latest high-resolution OLED microdisplays and patented optics and is a paradigm shift in the look, performance, weight, and size of Virtual Reality (“VR”) HMDs. The OLED microdisplay and the optics are the fundamental reasons that eMagin’s HMD is half the weight and size of its VR HMD counter parts. The field of view (“FOV”) exceeds 100 degrees on the diagonal with a resolution of 4 megapixels per eye.

Management is talking a big game about breaking into the virtual reality headset market, and mass producing their product to meet huge demand.   It appears they are working on a very high end display – which may well be best in class – however cost when producing consumer goods (especially consumer goods in a new category) will be a huge factor to the product’s success.  If they can provide a premium display and a cost similar to the competitors – then I may start to get excited.  They have some big competitors in the space, and there is a lot of attention on the virtual reality market opportunities in the near future.

So I for one will wait another few quarters before getting too excited  watching and waiting for those revenue numbers to start moving up.  I am encouraged by the long awaited profitable quarter, but I am still not sold that this is turnaround moment all investors have been long waiting for.

Dan on May 19th, 2015

I will admit I hadn’t tied the whole Russell Wilson contract negotiations and this baseball sideline thing until I read this article about baseball not being a ‘ploy’.

This is setting up to be an interesting face-off between the Seattle Seahawks and Wilson.  Wilson goes into the 2015 season in the last year of his rookie contract – set to be paid a paltry 1.5 million  in 2015.  He is in renegotiation talks to redo his contract this year, at upwards of 20 million plus per year for several years.

All things being equal, it would make perfect sense for the Seahawks to not renegotiate his contract, make him play at 1.5 million, then franchise him next year for 20+ million,  then redo his contract.  This would effectively be paying him 10 million a year over two years, at a time where the Seahawks are hot and could spend that money elsewhere to continue their championship run.

Russell Wilson must be able to see this scenario – hence the renewed interest in baseball.  If Russell Wilson had a reasonable chance to get called up to play for the Texas Rangers in September, and gets paid say $500,000 – why wouldn’t he do that, and tell the Seahawks he plans to sit out the last year of his contract?  The notoriety he would gain from this in endorsements would more than offset any financial loss he would incur.  The Rangers would also be  incented to bring him to the league, as that would be a great marketing tool to bring fans to the ballpark in September.

So I think this is going to be an interesting story that will unfold in the next few months.   Rumor has it that the contract negotiations are at an impasse – I think Russell Wilson is smart to try force the Seahawks to ‘show him the money’ – and I think it will work.  This baseball ‘ploy’  may be worth millions for Wilson to play baseball in 2015, and give him the leverage he needs to get his contract rewritten.

Note:  I occasionally cant help myself and venture into sports topics – but for more sports blog commentary be sure and visit http://badboys.vfsystems.net/
Dan on May 11th, 2015

The short term interest rates around the world have been interesting to watch of late – more and more short term government bonds are going into negative interest rate territory.  As of this writing, the German and the Swiss 2 year bond is yielding a negative market rate.  Even the Bank Of Japan 2 year bond market rate is negative, which given the Japanese government huge debt issues, has me confounded.

I have yet to wrap my head around why someone would buy a security in which the promised rate of return is less than what you put into it, unless you are looking at money as a commodity, in which case you are OK paying a storage fee.   Perhaps the next great invention will be using stacks of money as home insulation, or maybe governments should just start minting $1000 coins making it easy to stash a fortune in the backyard.

While I have yet to see any American debt instruments go negative, we finally hit a 0% rate.  The Government Inflation adjusted savings bond rate came out on May 1st, and here is the interest rate for the next 6 months:ibondrate

 

Purchasers of I-Bonds must keep the bond for a minimum of 1 year, and pay an interest penalty for withdrawals before year 5.  So why would someone put money in an I-Bond, instead of just putting it in a bank or credit union and getting a whopping .10% interest rate?  Since I-Bond rates reset every 6 months, purchasers today are guaranteed a rate of 0% until November 1st.

Perhaps this is a forecast that that negative short term rates are coming to the United States.  Perhaps we soon will see banks and credit unions unable to pay interest on deposit accounts, and institute account fees higher that effective interest rates.  If that will be the case,  I-Bonds do make a reasonable alternative – because if deflation heats up, I-Bond holders never see the rate go below 0%.

Who would of thought 7 years after the financial meltdown the financial markets are still in turmoil and rates are still at Keynesian stimulus levels.  Perhaps paying interest on deposits is becoming an antiquated notion, a victim of the financial crisis.  Or this has to be some sort of distortion, or bubble, in the currency markets – that will have to work its way out.

Dan on April 28th, 2015

Lots of changes coming in the next version of Microsoft’s ASP.NET – it’s exciting to see big changes coming to the framework.

Stephen Walther provides a good overview in this post of the top changes coming in ASP.NET.  Cross platform development has some real interesting potential (though I wonder how much that will cost Microsoft in the sale of Windows Servers).  Interestingly – some big deletions – Visual Basic is being kicked to the curb, and Web Forms is also out the door.

As mentioned in a previous post, I have feared for the future of Visual Basic for awhile now.  It turns out that Microsoft has put another nail in the coffin of Visual Basic, as it has been semi-announced that the next version of ASP.NET will not support Visual Basic.

As a long time VB and Web Forms developer, this doesn’t surprise me, and I must admit it doesn’t bother me that much.  I was dragged kicking and screaming to C# by the market, and do agree with most developers that it has some more robust constructs (though I don’t think that’s a limitation of the language – I would guess the VB Team just has fewer resources).  So this was inevitable I guess.

Web Forms, on the other hand, I will not miss too much.  Microsoft will continue to support Web Forms in branch of ASP.Net – for legacy purposes.    Web Forms to me has always felt like a flawed implementation.  All the hacks to get around the one form tag per page, and viewstate issues – ugghh –  long term the bad side effects overcome the nice binding features.  Once you start doing a few MVC projects and get the hang of it, it seems like a much cleaner model – especially in MVC 4+ with the handy router improvements.  I am not looking forward to refactoring (eventually) all my Web Forms Code, but when I do it will probably include a client-side framework such as AngularJS.

So with Windows 10 and ASP.Net going cross platform, I think Linux may be in my future.  So it may be time to say goodbye to my old Visual Basic and Web Forms world, and hello to the new ‘cross platform world order’.

To see a official Microsoft ASP.NET site – go to http://www.asp.net/vnext.

 

 

Dan on April 15th, 2015

An interesting chart here published as part of an article posted on Ars Technica regarding expected Energy grid changes in 2015:

 

What surprised me was that wind led the pack.   According to the article, there are a bunch of utilities bringing wind farms online at the end of the year.  One important note from the article:

The growth in renewables is notably an underestimate, as it (this chart) only includes utility-scale projects and none of the small-scale and residential installations.

So maybe the ultimate renewable energy mix will be utility level Wind, supplemented by residential solar. So during the day, the grid gets most its power from solar, at night it pulls the utility generated wind power.  If this is the model of the future – then if you wanted invest in solar power, something like Solar City would be the solar stock to own, not Utility Scale builders such as First Solar.

The other interesting data points on this chart show how much natural gas is increasing – largely at the expense of coal.  One important note is that a lot of the incentives for renewables expire at the end of 2015, so it will be interesting to see if natural gas does even better in the near future, until the cost of renewables comes down even more.

One thing appears certain – the future of coal and oil in the energy grid looks pretty dim.  Natural gas and renewables are picking up market share.

Dan on April 5th, 2015

It looks like 2015 will finally be the year Virtual Reality (VR) and augmented reality will approach mass appeal. While Oculus Rift has garnered the most early press in this area, there are many new competitors – Including Samsung and Intel – making it more likely someone will stumble across the winning formula.

The VR headset that is getting the best earliest reviews are the HTC Vive.  Every review I have seen has been very positive.  Here is a review from TechRadar  and Toms Hardware that gives a good overview of the experience.  One other positive about the Vive – because it is built in partnership with Valve – you would think that they are farther along in integrating this with games or other software applications – Valve has a vested interest.

If virtual reality isn’t your thing – how about augmented reality.  The early demise of Google Glass has done nothing to slow progress in that area.  Microsoft’s Hololense also got great reviews when announced a while back, and they are targeting a late 2015 release.  Check out this review from ArsTechnical.  And Google is working on Magic Leap – another augmented reality headset – check out this cool demo here.   However, just because there is cool new technology doesn’t mean it will translate to great gaming apps – Microsoft proved that with the Kinect.  However Googles demo does give glimpses of a whole new world of first person shooters (for better or worse, depending on your thoughts of the societal impact of first person shooters).

And finally, care to fly?  These emerging technologies are combining to give us amazing possibilities.  Here is an example of combining a virtual reality headset with cameras on a drone to give a first person view from the drone.  Why bother with lugging your whole body into the air, when all you really need is your eyes?  As soon as you can control a drone with the movement of your headset on the ground, that should be enough to virtually teleport yourself into the air.  The technology here is still at the hobbyist level, but one would have to believe someone will come out with a consumer ready product soon – perhaps later this year as the VR headsets hit the market.

So 2015 looks like the year I have been waiting for.  Alot of promises, hopefully at least some of these will be a ‘game-changing’ technology that I have been waiting for.

Dan on March 31st, 2015

I finally got around to putting together a page providing an overview of our recent installation of solar panels for our Seattle area home.  You can check out the details at http://dano.vfsystems.net/the-pacific-northwest-solar-experiment/.  The big question is, does solar power make financial sense in the cloudy and rainy Pacific Northwest?  I think so.  But I plan to track my investment to see how the investment works out.  I was provided an estimated six year payback after including all the incentives, which seemed pretty attractive in a time where the 5 year T-Bill is at 1.37%.

After the panels were installed, I spent a fair bit of the time automating the collection of data.  I have my system configured to pull solar statistics daily and load them by hour into the database.  This process allowed for easy retrieval and display using Google Charts, and should provide the ability to show a nice variety of charts once I collect more data.  I plan to keep my solar page updated as the results come in, to see if the promised six year payback can be achieved.   So keep watching this blog as I will provide updates as performance and financial milestones as the year progresses.

Dan on March 20th, 2015

For the last few months, I have been tinkering with AngularJS, Google’s javascript framework for web applications.  Perhaps the best chart I have seen to sum up my feelings about Angular was a chart Ben Nadel posted on his blog:

 

feelings_about_angularjs_over_time

 

I am probably somewhere in the bottom left of that chart – but overall its pretty cool.  AngularJS is the first client site web library that I have used that feels like a framework – JQuery feels like just a bunch of utilities to be used (or misused) at your leisure.  AngularJS requires you to think like Angular, and thus conform to the framework.

I am primarily a server side web developer – with a long disdain for javascript development.  But I have to admit it doesn’t make sense to have the webserver always bind html templates with data and send it pre-rendered to the web browser.  Perhaps the client server vision from the 1980’s (when the argument was to offload processing from the mainframe) never died in me,  and that servers should just send data to the client and let a fat client assemble the webpage.

So I have forgone refining my knowedge of Razor, and at this point plan to focus on assembling more templates on the client.  That’s what led me to AngularJS.

As the chart above shows, there are times where Angular has you ripping your hair out.  And there are several posts out there (see this and this) discussing valid points about problems with Angular.   But I plan to approach this in moderation.   Most of the issues I see out there is using Angular to build Single Page Applications – going whole hog into a client-centric app.  For me its way to early to go there, but using AngularJS as the basis for generating data lists and basic input forms – I think that’s ready for primetime.

Angular makes it very easy to bind on the client data pulled from the server, and building forms using Angular is the way to go once you kind of get past some of the hurdles.  I am treating AngularJS kind of like Microsoft Access – as long as you follow the rules you can build really quick apps – but if you try to get fancy that’s when the hair pulling begins.  I recall in the 90’s many of the Microsoft Access tips involved calling Windows API’s to do certain thing – and to me that was a sign that your solution was probably wrong or you should switch applications.  That’s how I feel about Angular – as soon as I have to start writing fancy or nested directives – its back to the server and the warm fuzziness of Razor.

Rumor has it lots of changes are coming in AngularJS 2.0, another reason not to get to fancy with it.  But if you are building simple web CRUD applications, start tinkering with AngularJS.

Dan on March 13th, 2015

I stumbled across this chart on Business Insider, and it caused me to wonder about what this means:

 

diningcompare

 

 

For the first time, more money is being spent on dining out than on grocery purchases.  I guess it makes sense that as the economy improves, more people dine out.  But this gap has been closing for years – what demographically is going on?

One would think that with the rise of popularity in designer kitchens and Whole Foods, the trend might go the other way as people host more dinners rather than going out.  Contrarily, perhaps the rising young urban population is driving this change.  However, this has been gradually increasing since the early 1990’s – so that doesn’t compute.

Perhaps its tied to the increasing efficiency of restaurants.  The rise in fast casual restaurants (i.e. Chipotle) that can pretty efficiently provide meals for near the cost of buying the ingredients yourself may be driving this trend.  I have always wondered, shouldn’t a restaurant be able to someday provide meals cheaper that you can make yourself – given that they buy in bulk?  Perhaps as restaurants use more automation and smaller footprints this will happen.

Perhaps this trend is being driven by the ‘rise of the 1%’.  The ultra rich have been the biggest benefactors of the recovery since 2008, and maybe their spending at fancy restaurants finally tilted the balance.  This could be either proved or disproved if we had data going back to say 1960 – to see if this trend was happening even when the middle class was stronger.

So my conclusion is – no conclusion without more data.  At this point it is just statistically interesting.

 

Dan on March 7th, 2015

Comcast has recently been trying to get all their customers to upgrade their internet modems to ensure we all get faster speeds.  Unless you believe Comcast is truly interested in your internet speed,  here is the real reason for their interest in upgrading your modem.  Their new modems come with a public Wi-Fi accessible  to all Comcast customers that is hosted by each modem owner.

Actually, this feature is a pretty handy technology if you are a Comcast customer. You have access to Wi-Fi just about anywhere you go, thanks to mostly unwitting customers.  I guess that’s the problem I have with it – it was rolled out with no explanation to its customers and it was an opt-in by default program.

So this was enough to finally get me to install my own modem, and save the $10 a month modem rental Comcast has been charging me for being lazy.  I had bought a Motorola Surfboard SB6121 several months ago, but couldn’t get it to recognize my home network. I figured at that point it was a problem with my wireless router, so I set it aside for a few months.  Recently I replaced my old router, so I no longer had an excuse.

If you plan to do this yourself I have a couple tips.  Dwight Silverman has a pretty good article that sums up the steps to go through, but I have a couple of points to add.

Before starting, I opened up a Comcast chat window and contacted their support through that.  I told them via chat that  I wanted to install my own modem and the person (or the robot – kind of hard to tell) on the chat said I had to give them the mac address and serial number.  This is better than sending this over the phone because you can’t review what you told them easily, and its more likely the person on the other end might typo a number.  After waiting 5-10 minutes (and getting a stream of information  about their exciting special upgrade offers), I was told to try swapping out the modem.

After swapping the modem, I lost my ability to browse the internet – so I was thinking it wasn’t working.  However, my chat was still active with Comcast, so I  realized that Comcast was just blocking HTTP traffic until the modem was activated.  After waiting another few minutes, the Comcast Rep told me I had to call a number to get my modem activated.  Now my land line phone was not working because it runs through the network, so I had to use my cell phone.  After going through all the security questions again, my new Comcast rep tried a couple things, and suddenly my internet was working.

All told this process took about 45 minutes.  If you plan to do this yourself, I recommend doing this via chat to ensure your modem is working prior to activation, and have your cell phone handy if use have a VoIP land line.

If you don’t plan to do this – I thank you and  I look forward to using the public Wi-Fi you are providing when I am in your neighborhood.