The Stack Overflow Podcast

Oracle wants to Tok, Nvidia Arms Up

Episode Summary

This week we talk about how software updates and data flows might work if Oracle acquires Tik Tok. Later on, we chit chat about Nvidia acquiring Arm, and what this means for the future of GPUs and programming, from personal computers to massive machine learning rigs.

Episode Notes

Oracle is in the midst of trying to negotiate and get approved a deal that would allow it to acquire Tik Tok's US Operations, and allow Tik Tok to avoid a ban on its service in the United States. For US citizens, software being banned over geopolitical concerns is a new reality. 

What will happen to the code if the deal goes through? Is there a clean room where software updates are inspected before rolling out? Is data segregated to local servers, and if so, will it be siloed from the rest of Tik Tok's global user base? 

Tik Tok users have thoughts on what is really happening with their private data.

In the second half of the episode we talk about Nvidia's purchase of Arm from Softbank.  Paul and Sara speculate about what this means for our personal computers and mobile devices, as well as its implications for GPU programming, which has found new homes in burgeoning fields like machine learning and crypto mining.

If you're a reader looking to spend some quality time with other book worms, check out this Kickstarter from our friend Jeffrey Zie. 

No lifeboats this week, but be sure to check out this amazing question on the math behind spider webs. 

Episode Transcription

Paul Ford This is a huge lever for the world of tech. And we actually, I mean, it's so platform-y and infrastructurally intense that we actually can't predict. I don't think anyone can predict. They're basically saying like, ''what if we took this hurricane and put it with this Cyclone? Could we get our hurri-clone?''


Sara Chipps That's what's coming in 2020, the hurri-clone.




Ben Popper So I want to talk about New Relic. I know you're probably thinking I should talk about Datadog, Promethease, or OpenTelemetry. And a month ago, I would have agreed with you, but New Relic did something a little out there. They reworked everything. They went open source, made it so you can monitor your whole stack in one place and simplify their pricing. There's even a free tier with one user and 100 gigabytes per month totally free. Check it out at Observability made simple.


BP Hello and welcome to the Stack Overflow Podcast. I am Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow, with my lovely co-hosts, Paul and Sara. Hi y'all.


SC Heyyyy, how's it going?


PF Greetings, everyone!


BP Greetings. So big news over the weekend, two major acquisitions in the tech space with kind of different flavors. Let's start with Oracle, possibly maybe to acquire TikTok? Yeah. Not two companies I would normally put in the same sentence. But...


SC Why do you think that is? I've been really spending a lot of time wondering: why?


BP Part of the Why is just that somebody had to buy them or they were gonna have to leave the US market. Right.


SC And this is another question I have, right. We don't currently block apps in the US from my understanding, like there's no app that you're not allowed to download. So like going down the 'what would that have looked like' path to me has been something I've been doing a bunch these past few weeks, like, would they have blocked it at the ISP level? Would this be a first step toward right like a censored internet?




BP Our own Great Firewall? That's a really good question. I feel like the answer is if they had gone down that path they would have had to insist to, you know, the major players like Apple and Google, that they not allow that app on their store. And that I think, would have just become a huge court battle.


PF But this is what's tricky, right? They probably wouldn't have gone for TCP IP based blocking, right, like they wouldn't have.


SC Yeah, yeah, yeah.


PF You know, everyone has to update Etsy host to block TikTok or you're going to jail, that would just be really hard to pull off in America without a Great Firewall. Like we don't have the national VPN for that. But this this goes back to the App Store is being de facto enforcers of law that they themselves create. Right? So what's happened in this case would be the government going hey, you know, how you guys enforce who can have which app on your platforms? And it's like, who's gonna route--


BP [Ben chuckles] Here's one to add to the list!


PF Yeah it kills TikTok immediately, right? Because it's not like people are gonna route Android--


BP Weeelll...


SC Some kids.


BP I think the teens, the teens would definitely siloed TikTok, they would figure that out.


PF But it would be like, but yeah, but the brands won't.


BP Not brand safe. So how is this gonna change TikTok now that Oracle is gonna be writing the next software update?


PF Look, first of all, this is hilarious. Okay, everything aside, our government should not be doing this. There was a lot of bad precedent being set.


SC There is. One thing I'll send for the shownotes, is there's a solid meme, like when this started on TikTok. There was like a meme that was going on for like a few weeks. It would be like TikTok is like little video, so it'd be like the start of it would be like, ''the US government says TikTok is going to steal your data.'' And then it would be like ''our data colon,'' and then it would be like a video of like, all people in those Trex outfits, like running around a room like crazy. [Ben laughs] It would just be like, ''what data do you want? like the idiot videos that we're liking?'' I guess, like every website has our email. Is that what's happening?


BP I mean, yeah, the charges leveled against TikTok are pretty inane in the sense that our own social media apps vacuum up just as much, if not more data. It's not like US social media apps and search engines don't do the exact same thing or mobile platforms, you know, mobile OS, but...




PF I mean, look, the thing with TikTok right is it has this really fundamental relationship with Bytedance, where the CEO is saying things like, you know, Bytedance will deepen its cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party and promote policies and on and on and on and on. And so like, you've got essentially this big platform with teams that military people are using that is able to funnel data straight to China. And frankly, I don't know what's real and what's not. But clearly the American government's their conception of TikTok is that it will take secure information about people on their, in their phones, which is everything and funnel it to a foreign power that is hostile. And we can't allow that.


BP We went through this a lot at DJI, there were multiple sort of like instances where somebody reported or somebody, you know, anonymously told a news agency or you know, a DHS or an ICE agent would file you know, a background memo. Not official, but you know, it would leak that would say, you know, yeah, you know, every time you turn this on the cameras sending everything back to China and it you know, the fact that the military is using them is completely unsafe. And in fact, recently, there was a big news story about how the Department of the Interior is having a really hard time fighting fires because they had to ground something like 800 drones that they had bought off from DJI. And then like six months later, they were told you're not allowed to use these. So it is this like big geopolitical rift that's opening up where I feels like there's just going to escalate for this tit for tat, where they can't use any of our stuff, and we're not gonna able to use any of their stuff. And that's just a big loss for everybody.




PF Yes, it is. I mean, look, part of this is we just haven't nobody dealt for a long time. And now, it's reached a boiling point at the exact moment. So it's like, you know, social media created the political environment that we're in. [Ben laughs] So thanks to the tech industry for that. And now, that political environment is reacting to the technological platforms that put it into power in the first place, and it's reacting in a very pretty indictable way, which is through isolationist outrage and limited understanding. Here's what's wacky, right. It's like they're looking at TikTok, and they're going, ''Wow, this thing absolutely can have any kind of access to any of your privacy that it wants. It can use its phone to just go in and go wild.'' And it's like, yeah, that's also true of every other app, [Ben laughs] including ones that probably are funneling info to China right now, today, that look like you're playing Candy Crush, like... We know, we know. Because we have the NSA, we know how much information can be extracted from a human being like riding their bike, and with your phone in your pocket. And so what happened is just because of, I think, the paranoid mindset, and the fact that he had this big growing platform and an opportunity to make a little bit of political hay, just kind of all combined and turns into this executive order number, you know, 13942, about how everybody has to divest right away and that's that and we're done and I put my foot down.


NP Sara, you're the most frequent TikTok user. This morning on the radio, they were saying one of the reasons Oracle won out is because they might have agreed not to take TikTok's algorithm, they would just sort of like take it over, but not get the special sauce that makes it so addictive and help things go viral. As a frequent TikTok user, do you feel like there's something special or different about their algorithm? Or it's just you know, the same kind of thing that we've seen with other social media but you know, happened to nail the right format at the right time?


SC No, it's different. It's different in the way that, well, I don't know if you've had this experience. Instagram is the only platform that gets me to buy anything. Like everyone serves me ads, but Instagram serves me ads and I'm interested in, somehow. It's like if the Instagram ad algorithm had a platform of just videos you thought were funny.


BP Right. Stuff that makes you laugh instead of wanting to buy things. This sounds like a lovely app. I don't want to get rid of it. I want it to bring joy to people.




SC It's great. And everyone I know that goes on TikTok, has a different like, if you look at your friend's TikTok feed, you're introduced to an entirely different world. Like one conversation my partner and I have often is like, ''Oh, you know, this meme on TikTok?'' and the other is like, ''no''. They're like, ''really? That's all I see on TikTok, like over like, it's I see this meme all the time. It's not in your feed?'' It's such a big place, and so many interesting things that are tailored to exactly I think it's funny.


BP That's so cool. I wonder if they learned how to do that really well, because, you know, they came out of, first it there was like a news app that the same company was running, which became super, super popular in China. And then they made this short, short form video app, which we know is a good idea, you know, based on Vine and, you know, Instagram stories and stuff like that.




BP Yeah, but they had like eight times as many people to test it on. Like, if you can run that algorithm on 1.4 billion people instead of 200 million. It just gets better and better.


SC Yeah.


PF There's cultural differences and all kinds of stuff. That's a large test case, no matter what, couple hundred million. They're really smart. TikTok actually did right by its members and content creators, or at least at least showing the tiniest possible sign of that, man, and that like that's like intolerable to legacy social media.


SC Recently, there is one, the most viewed video on TikTok. Yesterday, I saw a TikTok breaking down the finances behind it, of like how much this girl made from this video. And it was something like just from the video itself, it was like around 17 to 20 K.


PF I mean, it's the ultimate way to get loyalty and to get people actually making more and better videos, which that was a brilliant idea.


BP Alright, Sara, Paul, give me your best riff, TikTok under Oracle. In a year. If you were to if you were to Java, this whole thing up? What would happen?


PF There's a non trivial chance they won't screw this up. I mean, most acquisitions are disasters, but what Oracle has is a fantastic hosting platform with really low cost bandwidth so they could actually own this and probably help it find enormous operational efficiencies, and also sort of like, make sure that the platform is, you know, in compliance with all the privacy regulations, because they serve enterprise, right, so like, the Oracle hosting platform has a lot of power underneath it, I can't remember who but they saved millions of millions of dollars for some video hosting platform recently. And so like, there is a chance.




BP Sara, what do you think?


SC What I'm hearing from you is they're not gonna have access to the code, because if they can't, they're not gonna be able to see the algorithm then what are they going to be able to see?


BP That was a speculation this morning. And that would be interesting if like Bytedance continued to sort of like build it out and would send, it it'd be like we do with like, our on prem updates, like every quarter Bytedance ships Oracle, you know, hard drive, and like, they get to, like, you know, make sure it's clean or whatever. And then they like, run it on the network. And yeah, it's like, somehow it's firewalled off from sending data back to China, but Bytedance is still the creator that would be really, really interesting.


PF That's not how these things work.


SC Yeah, that's wild and bizarre.


PF How's that gonna work? Oracle's gonna own it.


SC Well, I mean, they own the US operations, right. So that looks like to me that looks like a huge sales team that works with the brands in the US. And then...


PF Working in servers that are not sending data back to China, like a like a siloed version where the ads and the data stay only in the US. But that's so weird because--


SC So ridiculous.


BP It's ridiculous.


SC I think [Sara laughs] there's a series of apps like I found that are amazing. They're like the Mermaid Mommy apps. They're like Mermaid Mommy Goes to the Spa. And you have this like, Little Mermaid and you like have a little hairbrush and you get to like, brush your little hair. I promise you that is sending all my data to China. [Ben laughs]


PF Oh totally!


SC Like so like, TikTok's not getting, Mermaid Mommy's sure getting it.


PF Okay, so the technical platform, okay, I think we'll be okay. Right. Like just for at least for a while, like TikTok will continue to be hosted. I doubt the idea that China can send a hard drive or that the algorithm can be completely unobscured by, kept obscure from Oracle leadership. I like, who would do that like who would be like ''Hey, you guys can do whatever you want in inside of that black box, we're gonna just give you a lot of money and own you. But don't worry, you know, that'll be cool.'' But the magical moment will be when Oracle Sales, that synergy when it's like Oracle Sales, trying to build relationships with brands to sell content on top of teen content producers.




SC Oh my goodness. It's gonna be such a disaster.


PF Oh, 'cause it's just like, you know, like ''Hey, Procter and Gamble.'' I mean, oh, they're gonna like cross sell database services with TikTok brand campaigns. You're gonna throw stuff in. It's poison.


SC Yeah, the ads on TikTok aren't very good though. So maybe that might be better because right now keeps advertising Draft Kings to me.


PF It will be Draft Kings, no, I'm but like Draft Kings but then Draft Kings will also like have to in order to advertise on TikTok you'll have to pay for an eight CPU Oracle Database license. [Ben laughs]


SC Yeah!


PF And then, and, you'll, you'll need--


SC Draft Kings starts running slow.


PF Yeah, that's right. You're gonna need a full time DB admin just to like start putting content in. What they'll start doing is paying people with hosting credits. [Paul laughs]


SC For Oracle.


'F 'Mhm, well, you know, you did a wonderful job with that video where you were dancing to Solange. We're gonna give you over 6000 minutes of Linux hosting to motivate you to keep going.''


SC Why do we think that Microsoft lost?


BP On the radio this one, they were saying Microsoft didn't want to if they couldn't like really get deep in the code, that was what they were saying, that Oracle is just like, ''Whatever. We just want it because it's it's young and hip, and we'll figure it out later.'' That was the speculation this morning.


PF Also, like the CEO just quit. There's a new CEO, like this is a mess, right? And so...


BP Well the situation, yeah.


PF So I think, you know, Microsoft probably was like, ''Well, I think this is how we would do it. And we've successfully done a lot of things just like this with very large things and we think we'll be alright.'' And but you know, they honestly, they just closed down Mixer. So you know, if I'm TikTok, I'm going like, ''are they just gonna like buy me and tear me apart for parts...''


SC And shut me down? Yeah, yeah.


PF Where I'm sure Oracle's in there going like, ''hey, just gonna move you over to our servers, it's fine, don't worry about it. I mean, look at Larry Ellison. That's a great guy over there. Don't you worry about a thing.''




BP Yeah, maybe Oracle was like buying TikTok and saving face and doing all that and then they're like ;;man server business in China next year is gonna be off the charts.'' We scratch your back, you scratch ours.


PF Oooh. Who knows. But what I know is that Larry Ellison has like a 20 ton boulder that he had installed in his house that he can use, it looks like sort of a big Japanese garden and he can use that as a shower to shower. It's a giant boulder, right, so if I bet, I bet they're like ''Look, come here. Take a shower in this boulder.''




BP Alright, so yeah, the other big acquisition this week isn't on the software side. It's on the hardware side, although I think is gonna have an impact on the way people create software going forward, which is that Nvidia acquired Arm. So walk me through this a little bit, I mean Arm is kind of a storied brand that goes back quite a long ways. Whereas Nvidia has been around for a while but only exploded recently, when GPUs became incredibly popular for sort of machine learning applications. So what does this mean for if you're, if you're a software developer listening this podcast?


SC I think it's really interesting. I think the name that we see a lot that we really don't understand what's going on or myself is SoftBank. I think there's been so much that we've seen in the past year that SoftBank has done or hasn't done or sold or acquired, or boosted up. So I think Nvidia, apparently SoftBank, bought an Arm in 2016, which I wasn't aware of. Were you both aware of?


PF Yeah, I was but you know, it wasn't something I was thinking about very often. It was just like SoftBank ran around with, like just an unbelievable firehose of other people's money and bought everything and one of the things they bought was Arm which was kind of amazing. It's like, wow, that's a hell of a thing to buy.




SC It's interesting in 2016, the discussion around SoftBank was that they were going to use the Arm deal to bolster it's Internet of Things plans. And that's a term that you hear so much less in 2020 than you did in 2016.


BP Yeah, for sure.


PF It's kind of a horseless carriage term, right? Like, we're just, it's just gonna be small chips kind of everywhere, like, you know, your smart garbage disposal. And what we've learned is instead of wanting an intelligent sensor network that--


SC In your garbage disposal.


PF We just don't want to deal. We just want it to be done.


BP Right. We don't want people, yeah, like, like pranking us through our baby monitors, like, a lot of times, the more stuff you connect to the network, like, the more chance of something really bad happening.


PF Yeah, and Internet of Things too. Like, it's true, you can't get anything out through your home router. like everything's just a mess, right? So it's just it's hard to get people super motivated. Anyway, regardless, it's a little less exciting now than it used to be. Nvidia is like, one of the best executers n platform you know, in terms of chips and technology platforms. Ever. It was a world that really, anybody else should have owned who already existed. They came around in the late 90s. And just obliterated, they just did, they did amazingly well. And they're tough company. They're really tough. And they are. I mean, and then if you look at their stock price, which I do to relax, even though I don't own any Nvidia stock, but it's this moment where it's like ''wow, good company, good company, good company'' and then around 2017, I think but like when ML just hits and it's just whoosh, we're gonna need a lot of these bad boys. And you know, like the market created a need for their product that that you kind of hinted at, but like just nobody assumed that this would be an essential piece of technology for building the modern AI and ML powered pattern recognition driven giant data set internet.


SC Oh, that's so interesting, because when I hear Nvidia, all I think of is video cards.


BP You know, that was it. That's the interesting little twist, is they were making video cards and it was all about video games and 3d graphics. And then it turned out that the kind of stuff they were making to do that was actually the best for that sort of paralyzing, you know, machine learning, deep learning, teraflops kind of stuff and that's when it took off like crazy.




PF And they're so powerful. I mean if you're over the age of like 25 like the number of the amount of processing you can get, you know, in a modern big Nvidia card is just fantastic and so yeah, they found all these new deep infrastructural uses for it that are outside of graphics. So now it's it's got a lot of cash, right? Like it's suddenly worth a lot. And it's an ambitious firm and boy, did they they're doubling down they're going like alright, you know, what if we buy Arm, and I think it's like 12 million cash and the rest of stock, 12, 12 million, ha ha ha! [Ben laughs] Millions! What a funny idea, an M. An M. What a joke. No it's 12 billion cash and the rest is like stock or something, but it adds up to 40 billion. Holy shazbot. So now you have all the IP that drives everything but Intel, you've got access and now you can start to funnel your IP. Every single and we're thinking like, oh, what about Apple, Apple uses Arm nowadays, but everybody else does too.


BP Well another thing that came up was that Apple has increasingly been moving over into their own chips and so that was one reason why maybe Arms future was a little uncertain and they wanted to cozy up to somebody big, was that Apple has like continually be moving away and that would be losing you know, a major customer.


PF Well I think Apple at some point would kind of fork away from Arm and be like, ''Yeah, well we'll do our own.'' Like they're one of the very few, Arm creates blueprints for chips, essentially. And so it's the best chip architects in the world. Apple can also have the best chip architects in the world, you know, like Intel and so on. So, so they have a choice but your average company that wants to make consumer electronics and then get them built somewhere in a giant, like there's a really short list of giant firms that could do this like Samsung and so on, so forth. And then everybody else is really dependent on somebody else coming in with their chips that they can use to make their clock radios or whatever and that is where Arm is really good. So Nvidia is like just kind of got itself now. It's kind of everywhere but the desktop and even there. It's on the desktop, right? Like because there are Arm chips that you know are going to run Windows and that run. It just got itself into every single pie in computing and became a major global player at like an order of magnitude more impact with this secondary enabling technology of super powerful AI slash ML enabled and 3d card GPUs. So it's just Whoa, what just happened? And it's also all confusing because it's chips and nothing. Unless you live chips. They just make no sense.




SC Yeah. You're just kind of like, ''okay, these are the same.'' That makes sense.


BP Sara, you were saying the other day that when you want to interview someone who's really good at machine learning, you ask them what is machine learning and they tell you, it doesn't exist, like what this really is, is like statistics and Bayesian models and teraflops on an Nvidia at like a scale, you know, that was hair to for impossible. But do you know anything about sort of like GPU processing I mean, GPU programming or machine learning that you think would be relevant here? Like, does this change? You know, like Paul was saying, the way we do things if suddenly these same kinds of chips are inside of right, the clock radio and not just the mega computer?


SC Yeah, uh, no. So machine learning is a ship that I have not jumped on. As far as GPU programming, like I've done a lot of that on small chips. And so I know, a level the things that are possible, and the things are not possible. It is wild to me to think that you could fit a machine learning algorithm on a lot of the things that we consider smart devices, because they are not large and machine learning algorithms are. But I think, yeah, it's not something I've dug into too much.


BP Paul, what about you?




PF It's hard. I'm a weekend programmer now. And I'm used to going and if I'm doing Python, I'm typing pip install. And if I'm doing JavaScript and typing npm install, it's just sort of like, you get to machine learning, and they're like, ''absolutely, here's some libraries, you can use them in your ecosystem, whatever you just write your own kernel and then spelled with a different letter and you're just you're gonna figure it out'' and you're like, ''Wait, what?'' And it's just, it's this really light wrapper around relatively low level stuff is where we're at. Like, you can't, there is no hello world, there's like 8 billion H's appearing on the screen at once. That's what you're working towards. Very few problems that people have decomposed into massively parallelizable, eight bit operations in the limited structure of the GPU. So you know, I think Sara's worlds a lot closer that because she used to do embedded stuff and that but your casual programmer, unless you're doing some 3d and you want to kind of go dig around, or have some unusual scientific application or something, it's just, you're not gonna worry about it too much until it finally gets really easy.


SC Yeah, when memory doesn't matter, it like really doesn't matter. You never have to think about it. But the second that it starts to matter, it becomes very stressful.


PF Yeah. But nonetheless, what we're talking about is that infrastructure level, so what does this really do? It affects a zillion consumers, and probably like 50,000 nerds, right? Like just low level people who really care about chipset architectures, it's probably more like 200,000 because there's people who work in the fabs and and stuff like that, but it's a pretty specific part of the giant.


SC Yeah, it's definitely not a lot.


PF There's like 18 million people who work in IT around the world so this is a small but it's sort of like the low level art, it's like the architects right? So it's like the houses are gonna end up looking kind of different, you know, different materials for the windows, different kinds of shingles, different, the yard is gonna look a little different, and we're all going to be living in that world, but we won't know exactly why it will part of it will be because Nvidia bought Arm.






BP Alright y'all, I don't see any lifeboats this week, unfortunately. But that's okay. We'll get some Things will pop back up. But I'll share a fun question here that I think people could enjoy. It says ''what are good mathematic models for spider webs?'' from our Math Overflow. And ''as I see a spider webs in very complex running like in the middle of twigs, I keep thinking if you understand the spider web, you understand the space around it.'' Wow, then it gets deep here. ''Minimum energy configuration of a system of springs.'' So if you want to know how spiders build these incredibly complex webs, and not just that, but how they do it in space where there might be other objects that exist, check out Math Overflow they've got some cool models that come from nature and other studies, simple models for the mechanics of spider webs. There's a deep there's a deep cut.


PF Oh, well, you know, I'm looking at this it's got lots of cool pictures. Oh, no, there's it looks like fractals. Oh, holy shout shazbot.


BP Get out. Now. Paul, get out now. Don't go any deeper.


SC Yeah the fractals come fast.


BP Yeah, the fractals come at you fast. Alright, y'all. Well, as always, thank you for hanging out and chatting. That's the two big changes in the world of tech and I'm sure we'll see the ripple effects for a while to come. If you want to catch me online, I'm Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. And I'm on Twitter @BenPopper.


SC I'm Sarah Chipps, Director of Community here at Stack Overflow. Right now I'm promoting my dear friend Jeffrey's Kickstarter that is kicking off tomorrow it is kickstarter. Check it out.


BP What's the book about?


SC Oh, it's not a book. It's an app called You Know, it's a dating app for book readers.


BP Lovely.


PF That's cool. People are reading books.


SC Yeah.


PF Well, I don't have anything to top that. I'm, I'm a good friend of Stack Overflow. My name is Paul Ford. If you want to find me, check out my website That's the company I co-founded.


BP Very cool. Alright, everybody. Have a great week and I'll talk to you soon.