Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Energy – Space – Xenophobia

Every Saturday, I publish this series called Learning by Proxy. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

I have changed the format this time to try and follow a thread across many stories. I hope people like it. Let me know.

Follow Up

Both parties – India and China are reported to be stepping back at the border. The satellite pictures don’t seem like that at all! Link

The USA, in the meantime, does not wish to lose access to the South China Sea. They sent a couple of destroyers into the South China Sea knowing fully well that the Chinese fleets were present in the area conducting exercises.

The carriers — the Ronald Reagan and the Nimitz — deployed “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a statement by the Navy’s Seventh Fleet. It said that the ships, which were accompanied by warships and aircraft, were conducting exercises to improve air defence and long-range missile strikes in “a rapidly evolving area of operations.”

Source: NYTimes

Playing with matches.

On COVID

COVID causes upper respiratory problems. But why? SARS-CoV-2 attaches itself to cells in the human body called ACE2 receptors. It happens to be present in abundance in the lungs. Hence the respiratory condition. ACE2 is also present in all other organs including the stomach, kidney, heart, and brain. Many patients suffer from diarrhoea and stomach upsets only to later discover that they are infected. The loss of the sense of smell is also because of the presence of ACE2 in the nose. Now, it turns out that many people infected by COVID-19 suffer from brain damage as well. ACE2?

Doctors may be missing signs of serious and potentially fatal brain disorders triggered by the coronavirus, as they emerge in mildly affected or recovering patients, scientists have warned.

Neurologists are on Wednesday publishing details of more than 40 UK Covid-19 patients whose complications ranged from brain inflammation and delirium to nerve damage and stroke. In some cases, the neurological problem was the patient’s first and main symptom.

Source: The Guardian

If these were the people who voted for Brexit, I suppose the damage might have been from before COVID.

The virus also seems to like men more than women and nobody knows why.

Energy

An achievement in power

The Indian Railways is an organisation that was created by the British to loot India more efficiently. Since then, India has made the railways an asset like none other. 59 years ago, the Indian railways embarked on an ambitious program to electrify the railways in the country. Today close to 99% of the railway lines are electrified and it has helped us shift away from Diesel to Coal.

Every once in a while a government organisation will do something in India that will make your chest swell with pride. A couple of years back Kochi became the first airport in the world to be 100% powered by solar energy. And now it is the turn of the railways!

According to details shared by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, the pilot project of a 1.7-megawatt solar power plant has been set up by Indian Railways in collaboration with Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL) on railway land. The solar power plant project has been set up at Bina Traction Sub Station. The 1.7-megawatt solar power plant can produce around 25 lakh units of energy annually and save about an amount of Rs 1.37 crore for Indian Railways every year.

According to the Railway Board Chairman, Indian Railways is planning to install solar power plants with a total capacity of 3 gigawatts, in the coming years. The power generated by these solar plants will directly feed the traction power for locomotives, he said. The tenders have already been invited for this project, however, it will take around two to three years to complete this project, he further stated.

Source: Financial Express

And immediately after achieving this milestone, another ministry decided to sabotage this plan. How will they get to 3GW, with Indian solar panels?

Shot in the foot

Also, India has moved in big ways towards solar power over the past decade. This was made possible in no small way by cheap Chinese Imports. Things got so bad for Indian manufacturers went begging to the government to do something about it, a few years ago. Now, thanks to the spat at the border, the Power Ministry has decided to ban all imports of power equipment from China.

It is not immediately clear if the Indian power producers who have already tied up with Chinese equipment suppliers will get a waiver or a carve-out from the latest decision. As much as 9,570 MW of the currently under-construction power plants — all from the private sector — have contracted with Chinese companies for supplying boilers, turbines and generators. Total under- construction capacity is 15,861 MW, of which 12,245 MW is in the private sector.

Source: Financial Express

This kind of thoughtless policy announcement has been the landmark of the Modi government.

Space

Satellite Market

One of the big expectations that drove the space entrepreneurs to take massive risks with other people’s money was the fact that several smaller countries will need satellites in space. Without the resources to develop their space program, they will hire private companies to launch. African countries have been launching satellites for weather prediction as well as resource mapping. Now, it is the turn of the Middle East – not to study earth, but Mars!

Sarah bint Yousif Al-Amiri knows what it’s like to build a spacecraft, but she’s never launched one to Mars—or during a global pandemic. As the deputy project manager for the United Arab Emirates’ first interplanetary mission—and the country’s minister of state for advanced sciences—the 33-year-old engineer has spent the past few years bouncing between Dubai and Boulder, Colorado, where a team of Emirati scientists have been busy building a robotic satellite meteorologist called Hope. These days, Al-Amiri is quarantining near the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan, where Hope is expected to depart on a seven-month journey to the Red Planet next week.

Source: Wired

Connecting the World

The Internet can change the fortunes of any place. Imagine not having access to the internet. There are several places in the world where it is not economically viable to provide internet. Alphabet, the parent company of Google has been experimenting with Project Loon for close to a decade now. The idea is to have stratospheric air balloons beam internet down onto the planet. The first deployment took place in Kenya.

A fleet of high-altitude balloons started delivering internet service to Kenya on Tuesday, extending online access to tens of thousands of people in the first-ever commercial deployment of the technology.

The balloons, which hover about 12 miles up in the stratosphere — well above commercial aeroplanes — will initially provide a 4G LTE network connection to a nearly 31,000-square-mile area across central and western Kenya, including the capital, Nairobi.

Source: NYTimes

Airtel in Space

Since we are on the topic of internet, space seems to be the frontier for delivering low latency high-speed internet. With Jio busy photocopying every app known to mankind, Airtel is beginning to look towards space. The company will be splurging a Billion dollars to buy a satellite constellation. Must seem like spending some pocket change given the liability the Supreme Court piled onto the company as spectrum charges last year. But visionary indeed.

Twenty years after launching mobile telephone services in India, Sunil Mittal took a giant leap to connect the next billion users through a constellation of satellites, possibly gaining a head-start in Indian telecom’s race towards 5G mobile networks. A consortium led by Bharti Enterprises has won 45% stake the bid for OneWeb, a bankrupt firm that makes satellites in the UK and the US. Bharti had bid jointly with the UK government for the auction. They would invest around $500 million each to acquire OneWeb, which had declared bankruptcy earlier this year.

Source: Inc42

Xenophobia

Who is a Kuwaiti?

There is a movie about the rescue missions that had to be attempted to bring Indians back when the Gulf War broke out. Many from India have made gulf home especially those from the southern state of Kerala. What happens when a country realises that 33% of its population are ex-pats from ONE single country?

The Indian community constitutes the largest ex-pat community in Kuwait, totalling 1.45 million, the report added. Over 8 lakh Indians could be forced out of Kuwait if a new bill on ex-pats is enacted into law, the Gulf News reported. The legal and legislative committee of Kuwait’s National Assembly has approved the draft ex-pat quota bill, according to which Indians should not exceed 15% of the population.

Source: Indian Express

To keep the population essentially Kuwaiti, they need to chase out people from other countries. How will they execute this plan?

Stupidity thy name is Trump Administration

With the surge in COVID cases, any remaining hope that the Universities could open in fall were dashed. That did not keep their audacity at bay. All Universities will deliver classes online – at the same tuition fee of ~ USD 50,000. I suppose they do realise the very same courses are available on Coursera for USD 39 – 79 a month. The Trump administration joined the party. After banning H1B for till the end of this year – because waiters gonna code; they announced that all students must go back if their courses are online!

The over 250,000 Indian students enrolled in US universities now run the risk of being sent packing. Some of these students have parents living in the US on H1B! Where do they go back?

The Donald Trump administration on July 6 tweaked an exemption that allowed foreign students to stay in the US even when most of their classes are being held online amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Source: Quartz

Students are free money. Their parents are rich and expatriating foreign exchange to ensure their kids can get a great education. Not only that students are a huge source of consumption. They eat a lot, buy a lot and experience a lot. At a time when the economy is undergoing a slump, to chase them away, especially when your economy hardly adds any value to them – is just stupid. Not to mention – this will destroy the ability of the universities to attract overseas students in the coming years.

Promptly – Harvard and MIT sued.

“By threatening to force many F-1 students to withdraw from Harvard and MIT, Defendants have put both schools to an impossible choice: lose numerous students who bring immense benefits to the school or take steps to retain those students through in-person classes, even when those steps contradict each school’s judgment about how best to protect the health of the students, faculty, staff, and the entire university community.”

Source: Indian Express

When you can’t offer perks

Companies are well known for making it as easy as possible for parents to come in and slog 16 hour days. Provide foosball tables and the likes that you would not be able to use at all, unless you were going to stay at work till 11 P.M. While there was a sinister side to the childcare and other support of that nature offered, they were still perks. This helped bring some of the best talents to the organisation. When your employee is sitting at home, what perk can you offer? Fewer working days!

Data from jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter shows that in 2020, so far, the share of company job postings offering four-day workweeks is 69 for every 10,000 job postings. It’s a tiny number to be sure, but it’s up from 40 in 2019. Between 2015 and 2018, the share was fewer than 18 in 10,000 postings each year.

Pre-pandemic, companies offered condensed schedules largely to attract and retain talent that prized flexibility. In the current climate, a shorter workweek is one way for companies to cut costs without resorting to layoffs.

Source: Quartz

Finally…

Sue spammers as a service

Startups are in the business of turning tough human work into simple products. We all get spammed every day. Spam is unwanted; in some cases meant to cause harm. These companies should be sued. But I am sure, not a single person has the time to sue them. Now, a UK based startup – DoNotPay – has launched a service that will automatically unsubscribe you from Spam while at the same time going after the spammers. The company bills itself to be the world’s first robot lawyer.

If you use a mainstream email provider, it likely catches most of the obviously useless and potentially malicious spam you receive, like scammy prescription drug offers and unsolicited sex tips. But when it comes to the endless promo emails from retailers and newsletters you don’t remember signing up for, you’re mostly on your own. Now a new tool from DoNotPay, a suite of consumer advocacy services, offers a lifeline that will make it easier to unsubscribe from email lists in a privacy-conscious way. It’ll also try to earn you some cash along the way.

Source: Wired

Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Business of Politics and Politics of Business

Every Saturday, I publish this series called “Learning by Proxy”. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow Up

It turns out the Indian and Chinese forces have been brawling at the border since September 2019 when the government decided to convert the Ladakh into a Union Territory. The current situation was just an escalation of the troubles that had been boiling over for a while. So – The government has kept this issue concealed from the people because they would not have wanted to be blamed for fomenting it.

In the past two months, there have been at least three clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Pangong Tso area. As seen in satellite images, the Chinese side has constructed pillboxes, shelters, breast-walls and bunkers at Finger 4, both on the bank and the ridge, where they have deployed troops in large numbers.

Source: Indian Express

Politics

Politics of Business

You know how companies owned by the Indian government, which have created an entire category, end up in a heap of losses. You need to look no further than aviation to see the shining example. Air India (né Tata Airlines) created the airline business in India. After the economy was opened up in 1990, many private airlines started to appear. The government, in its quest to ensure that cities other than metropolitans develop, created a rule forcing airlines to take up unprofitable routes to smaller cities and state capitals. Air India is a loss-making mess because it gets a disproportionate share of these routes.

Source: ET

Something similar is afoot with the telecom sector. When a company takes 50% of the market share in a country like India, it often comes with a fair amount of support. It is unprecedented in world history for a 50-year-old industry to be shattered by a new entrant in 5 years. Now, when the government employees themselves start pointing it out.

Employees of state-owned telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) feel that the central government is favouring Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio in awarding state-funded projects to it, and denying opportunities to other players by creating an uneven playing field.

Jio was recently allocated INR 50K Cr worth government contract under the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to deploy 54 mobile towers in Ladakh’s rural areas. Moreover, impending restrictions on BSNL to extend telecom connectivity in the so-called left-wing extremism (LWE) affected villages are also denting the state-run telco’s already frail revenue numbers.

Source: Inc42

Let me put that in context – Jio Platforms has raised ONLY twice that amount through all of the fundraisings that it has undertaken in the last 3 months.

Good Old Fashioned Regime Change

When you think regime change, you think CIA. Americans have been great players of this game. Having said that, others have also learnt a thing or two along the way. Chinese aggression against India is well known. In one of my previous editions, I had mentioned the dire circumstances that Pakistan is in. This leaves other neighbours that can be encouraged to stew trouble. Of all countries, Nepal decided to change its map and declare Indian territory as a part of Nepal. Now, India seems to be creating trouble for the leadership of Nepal. The PM is Nepal has been asked to put up or shut up.

Prachanda said at the outset that Oli’s allegation against India was wrong. “Not India, it is me who is demanding your resignation. You must furnish proof of such irresponsible remarks,” Dahal is believed to have said.

Two days after Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli claimed that India was trying to topple his government with support from some politicians at home, party leaders, including three former prime ministers, Tuesday asked him to prove his allegations or quit.

Source: Indian Express

Economics

Economic War

There has been a call to boycott Chinese businesses and Chinese products for the past couple of weeks since the border clashes took place. At the same time, a lot of ink has been spilt trying to argue how impossible it would be to disengage economically from China. Further, it would be Indian manufacturers and Indian consumers who would be hurt by such moves. In the meantime, the Indian government has been putting its greatest weapon to work – Its bureaucracy. Chinese shipments have been delayed at the port of entry for “checking”. The Chinese have been returning the favour. This has caused a lot of trouble to both exporters as well as manufacturers in India. The next step seems to be apps that generate little to no revenue from India.

TikTok has been banned in India. The IT ministry has banned 59 Chinese-owned applications, including TikTok, ShareIt, UC Browser, Likee, WeChat, and Bigo Live. The Ministry stated they were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, the security of the state and public order.”

Source: Indian Express

Supply Chain

Over the last 30 years slowly and steadily more and more of the manufacturing base shifted to China. First, it was due to the lower cost. Off late it has been only about convenience. China has been behaving badly using the Pandemic as a distraction to push its nationalistic agenda. From the South China Sea, Hong Kong and even up to India the country has been pushing to expand.

There is no other way to hurt them but economically. The military engagement will not end well for anyone involved. But shifting supply chains is a decades-long process. The biggest risk is chip manufacturing which is necessary not only for the phone in your hand but also for defence applications. TSMC one of the largest contract manufacturers of silicon set up a plant recently in Arizona with federal funding. It can produce as many chips in a month as their plants in China can in a day!

China’s rising costs had companies looking to broaden their sourcing well before the trade war or coronavirus, but those events are increasing the urgency. In a recent survey of 260 global supply chain leaders across different industries and regions, research and advisory firm Gartner found 33% had already moved their sourcing or manufacturing out of China or planned to do so within the next three years.

Source: Quartz

Business

Under Pressure

Facebook has been under pressure ever since Twitter flagged the Trump tweet on mail-in ballots. The Chairman of the Board, Peter Thiel; whose data company Palantir played a role in the Trump victory, was one of the prominent supported of Candidate Trump. It came as little surprise that Facebook was willing to look the other way. But when your revenues streams get threatened, you cannot continue to look the other way.

Facebook has said that it will flag all “newsworthy” posts from politicians that break its rules, including those from President Donald Trump.

Separately, Facebook’s stock dropped more than 8 per cent, erasing roughly USD 50 billion from its market valuation, after the European company behind brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Dove announced it would boycott Facebook ads through the end of the year over the amount of hate speech and divisive rhetoric on its platform. Later in the day, Coca-Cola also announced it joined the boycott for at least 30 days.

Source: News18

Some have argued that the USD 10 Million per month or so that most of these companies spent on Facebook was a drop in the bucket. But come to think of it – USD 10 Million across a year is USD 120 Million, and 10 such clients backing out would mean a loss of a billion dollars in revenue. Anybody else wants to lose a Billion dollars in revenue during this economy?

How does the medicine taste?

Dear Chinese Tech Company, for years your government protected you. They pretended to be extending a level playing field to all but they really were not. They made life so difficult that behemoths like Google and Amazon had to call it quits and leave the country. Agreed, it was mutually beneficial. China needed you guys to win so that a local company could be beaten into submission when it came time to censor. How does it feel to be fed the same medicine by another? Hurts?

DTH Dying with Cinema

OTT is going to be the undoubted winner of Lockdown 2020. Cinemas have been shuttered and by the looks of it, are going to have to wait for a long long time before things return to business as usual. On the other hand, DTH companies are also having a hard time. In India during 2019, DTH lost 2 Million subscribers. With the glut of streaming services who wants DTH anymore?

India lost 2 Mn direct-to-home (DTH) television subscribers in 2019, findings from the Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicator Report October-December 2019 published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) revealed. The segment ended the year with 69.98 Mn subscribers, down from 72.44 Mn in March the same year. 

Source: Inc42

Technology / Science

Zoox

A few years ago, being pressured about Uber drivers not being given the same benefits as an employee, founder and CEO Travis Kalanick pushed back. He said anyway, they will all be replaced by self-driving cars and caused a slight panic amongst the drivers. The firing of Travis, a bad IPO and several dozen lawsuits later, Uber is nowhere close to bringing self-driving cars to the roads.

So it came as quite a surprise that Amazon went ahead and acquired a self-driving car company. Amazon’s logistics needs to deliver in hours or days not minutes and hence self-drive would not be valuable to Amazon as much as it would to a cab company or food delivery company. Google, Tesla and a few dozen other companies have been pursuing self-drive. Apple is rumoured to be testing something of the sort as well! Remains to be seen what road Amazon takes.

The e-commerce giant said it had agreed to acquire Bay Area-based autonomous vehicle company Zoox, a deal reportedly worth more than $1 billion. (Amazon did not respond to questions.) Since its founding in 2014, Zoox has been known for its technical chops, its secretiveness, and its sky-high ambition.[…]

In 2018, it showed off its first prototype vehicles, which look like sensor-laden golf carts on steroids. The company has also been testing its software on more conventional-looking Toyota Highlanders in San Francisco, where it is learning to handle chaotic city streets.

Source: Wired

Brain

When you see you are not really seeing. Your brain in interpreting the electrical signals being generated by your eyes upon being subjected to light. The same is true of almost every organ. Therefore there is almost no objective reality in the world. It is all subject to how your brain chooses to interpret it. This was highlighted by the ‘Yanni’ / ‘Laurel’ sound recording a few years ago, where, part of the people heard one thing while the other another. Also, perhaps why some people like classical music while other rock.

Instead of presenting his lab animals with real chemicals, he went straight into their brains. Last week, Chong and his colleagues published a study in the journal Science showing that they’d worked out some of the details of just how the olfactory bulb represents odours—by making mice smell scents that don’t actually exist in the real world.

Source: Wired

Misc

This should probably not come under Miscellaneous but the other sections are covered.

China is increasingly being isolated. Almost no country can eradicate its dependence on China for the moment but all attempts are being made. Further, there is also a push to align against China.

China is livid after the US stepped in on Wednesday evening to delay a draft press statement condemning the terrorist attack at the Karachi Stock Exchange at the UN Security Council. 

The US was the second country after Germany to delay the statement, both silent expressions of solidarity with New Delhi, after the Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and later PM Imran Khan blamed India for the attack. 

Source: Quartz

How many enemies can you make before your luck runs out?

Cash Free India

I am very proud of the fact that when it comes to transaction protocols, India has some of the best and most secure protocols. 4 years ago, NPCI launched the UPI which made it really easy for anybody to make microtransactions right from their bank accounts. This further resulted in greater penetration of banking and online transactions.

India has been a cash-heavy country but the demonetisation coupled with the introduction of several of these technologies has changed the way things work in the country. UPI hit almost 2 Billion transactions last month. This is significant because the economy is busy taking a dump in the toilet and this number reflects the greater dependence on online transactions.

The National Payments Corporation Of India (NPCI) said that the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) recorded 1.98 Bn transactions worth INR 2,06,950 Cr in June 2020.

Source: Inc42

Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

H1B – Language – E-Commerce | Learning by Proxy

Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow Up

Actions speak louder than words

The Indian government as well as the Chinese government as talking down the dispute. But…

The fresh build-up includes the new Apache attack helicopter which are “tank killers” with their Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and rockets, and Chinook heavy-lift choppers, capable of transporting howitzers and troops to forward high-altitude areas, being deployed in Ladakh. 

Source: Times of India

Politics

Penny less

The Indian government has been having as difficult a time as the people. The draconian lockdown destroyed livelihoods but at the same time, it also destroyed tax income. With a slowing global economy and cratering oil prices, the government increased taxes on petrol and diesel to ensure that not all was lost. In late April, out of Rs. 70, Rs 50 was going to the government as taxes. The oil prices have since rebounded, but taxes have not been reduced. This can result is the inflation of food products. For the first time in India, Diesel is more expensive than Petrol!

The 18th daily increase in rates since oil companies on June 7 restarted revising prices in line with costs after ending an 82-day hiatus in rate revision, has taken diesel prices to fresh highs. In 18 days, diesel price has gone up by Rs. 10.49 per litre. Petrol price had risen in the past 17 days by Rs. 8.5 a litre.

Source: Indian Express

Canadian Bliss

After having the Supreme Court throw the Executive Order, to force dreamers out, into the garbage bin, Donald Trump can celebrate a victory. He issued an order banning the issues of 4 classes of visas to the US including the often used H1B for bringing high calibre talent to work for US companies. While this makes it hard for many immigrants especially those working offshore assignments; it will probably accelerate investments in Canadian headquarters for many tech companies. Canada is hell-bent on wooing talent. One nation’s loss is another’s gain. 

The US administration on Tuesday said it was extending the 60-day ban on immigration and non-immigrant worker visas till the end of 2020. Popular work visas including the much-coveted H-1B and H-2B, and certain categories of H-4, J, and L visas shall also remain suspended until December 31, the White House said in a press note.

Source: Indian Express

Economics

Money Money Money

Stock markets have evolved a great deal over the last century and while there is a retail (individual) participation, it represents a small proportion of the trading. As of 2016, 5.5% represented the retail participation in forex markets. While the number may be higher in stock markets, it would not be exponentially so. As of June, 50% of the trades in Indonesia were retail traders. Robinhood in the US and Zerodha in India have also seen exponential growth. This also explains why markets are behaving like they are high on coke, seemingly divorced from economic reality. Markets are essentially replacing casinos! It does not end well.

When a market maker buys retail orders from a broker—called payment for order flow—it most likely handles those trades internally. As trades flow in from brokerage apps, corporate clients, and institutional traders, those orders are offset against each other. The market maker fills the orders at the best price that would have been available on an exchange and then, if all goes well, pockets the spread. It sends some of the profit to the broker.

Robinhood, for example, was paid about $45 million in March, more than twice what it got in January, for selling customer orders to professional trading companies like Citadel Securities, a sister firm to the hedge fund Citadel, and Virtu.

Source: Quartz

Space

There is huge potential for space business, it should be opened up for private investment and made easier. Having said that when something is highly regulated, almost to a fault and is loosened incredibly, you wonder if there are vested interests. Reliance has been infused with monies equivalent to India’s (actual) stimulus package. They are in the business of the Internet. Now, all assets of ISRO, satellites et al have been made available for private exploitation ostensibly to level the playing field. 

Space is expensive and it is never going to be a level playing field.

We will allow private players to benefit from Isro’s assets and give them a level-playing field to boost India’s space sector further,” she had said. Javadekar, while likening the reform to reforms brought in the power sector during the time of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. 

Source: Times of India


Business

Language Barrier

In 2012, a thesis about India being the next China was written by some VC in America. On the back of this assumption, Billions were poured into the country. The American VCs did not know India but neither did Indian founders. 13% of India speaks English. Can you think of ONE successful consumer startup IPO in India over the past 10 years?

It took Flipkart 13 years to realise this. I suppose it is also driven by the fact that the only people that shop on Flipkart live in Tier-II cities and lower. I don’t know anyone in my circle you shops on Flipkart.

In a bid to expand its reach in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, e-commerce giant Flipkart, on Wednesday (June 24), announced that it has launched three new local languages onto its platform, which includes Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, besides Hindi and English.

Source: Inc42

E-Commerce Tentpole

One of the main tentpoles for the Facebook investment into Reliance was to leverage WhatsApp to dominate a whole bunch of industries. The lowest hanging fruit being e-commerce. This was further proved when Jio launched Jio Mart just days after the Facebook investment was closed – during the lockdown. If you are targeting grocery, warehousing and turn around time are key. What if you own all the major retail assets in the country? 

Reliance is making a bid to buy a majority stake in Future Group. This when Amazon has itself invested in the company. I don’t even know how this deal is even possible?!!

Note that Reliance is already India’s largest offline retailer, ending FY2020 with 28.7 million square feet of area operated. This includes the space of Jio stores. RIL’s large offline presence will get a meaningful boost with a deal with Future Group. At the end of December quarter, Future Retail had a retail area of 16.1 million square feet, whereas the measure for Future Lifestyle stood at 7.5 million square feet.

Source: LiveMint

Let the games begin – at CCI.


Technology / Science

Absorbing spit

The only people who spent a lot of time researching face masks before the pandemic were bank robbers. That has taken an about-turn since the pandemic started. Now interesting concepts are emerging. Different ways in which the face mask can be made more efficient. Concepts include:

Israeli startup Sonovia created tech—derived from research done at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University aimed at reducing disease spread in hospitals—that uses ultrasonic waves to mechanically insert nanoparticles of zinc oxide into textiles, including masks. The particles give off ions that the company says interact with the protein envelope surrounding the virus, deactivating it.

Source: Wired

Click the link, there are several other ideas in there. 

Intelligence but Artificial

If any of you have ever been subjected to a reCaptcha you would know how stupid AI can be. Countries, cops and military have been using facial recognition for a few years now. They have also been pushing the envelope of what the technology can do and the accuracy with which it can identify someone. But is it yet at a level where it can identify to convict/evidence? Image Recognition was used to convict in the USA only to later realise it made a mistake!

In January, Detroit police arrested and charged 42-year-old Robert Williams with stealing $4,000 in watches from a retail store 15 months earlier. Taken away in handcuffs in front of his two children, Williams was sent to an interrogation room where police presented him with their evidence: Facial-recognition software matched his driver’s license photo with surveillance footage from the night of the crime.

[…]

Williams spent the next 30 hours in custody before he was released on bail. With seemingly no other evidence of Williams’ involvement, police eventually dropped the charges. On Wednesday, Williams joined with the ACLU of Michigan to file a complaint against the Detroit Police Department, demanding they stop using the software in investigations.

Source: Wired

Misc

There was a huge furore about the Tabhligi Jamat and their congregation in March. The number of cases was a 4 digit numbers back then. Now, when we are adding 5 digit numbers every day. This!

Are we communal or are we communal?

Signing off…

Categories
Entrepreneurship

Ignorance and Absence

Ignorance is often the starting point for all of us

I have the good fortune of meeting and speaking to hundreds, sometimes thousands of entrepreneurs each month. In all of these conversations as a mentor to be able to help them, I ask them what they are doing. Every so often I come across an aspiring entrepreneur who would refuse to share their idea. Having been engaged in this business for the last 8 years, the only thing I feel is amusement. 

In over 90% of the cases where someone has refused to share what they are doing; when they do share it, it turns out to be quite anticlimactic. In these situations what turns out to be the case quite often is that the entrepreneur/founder has assumed that they have knowledge that evades mankind. There is also a degree of arrogance in that they assume they have the capability for an insight that 7 Billion others do not. 

When the ‘secret’ is finally spelt out rarely has it been that I was left at a loss for words. No that would be lying – sometimes I have been – because of the naivety of the entrepreneur.

Often my answer tends to be – Is this not just like [startup name] OR I heard something similar a few weeks ago at [another city]. 

Similar ideas evolve at the same time because the challenges and the tools available are similar. 

In August 2010, armed with 2 Million dollars of his own money, Vijay Shekhar Sharma launched a subsidiary called Paytm. The same month, 2500 Kms south of Gurgaon another team started a company called Freecharge. The destinies of these companies were different not because of the idea but the execution. If you had asked Vijay in August 2010, he would have certainly said he had a once in a generation idea that nobody has had and vice versa. 

It was not that there was an absence of another startup doing the same thing. It was the ignorance of another company doing the same thing.

This does not apply only to startup ideas but also to business strategies, marketing decisions and market behaviour. Just because you have not seen it happen does not mean that it does not happen at all. Most of us have not seen anyone buy a 10 Lac rupee wallet but someone is selling a wallet at that price or maybe even more.

Do not let your ignorance seduce you into assuming the absence of a fact.

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Tax – Real Estate – Water | Learning by Proxy

Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow Up

Indian and China have been having a lot of heated exchanges in Ladakh. This week it escalated and resulted in India losing 20 soldiers including a Commanding Officer.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Tuesday reviewed the current operational situation in Eastern Ladakh, following Monday’s violent faceoff on the LAC, along with the Chief of Defence Staff and the three Service Chiefs. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was also present during the meeting.

Source: Indian Express

One name is conspicuously missing, don’t you think? Modi has been AWOL.

Also

The Indian army said that both sides suffered casualties, but there has been no word on numbers from China yet.

Tuesday’s battle was reportedly fought with rocks and clubs. However, no shots were fired.

The Indian army said a number of its troops “were critically injured in the line of duty”.

Source: BBC

Rocks and Wooden Clubs? No Shots fired? What the hell is going on?

China has taken the Galwan Valley and now their Foreign minister is like – Go on. Nothing to see here. Everything is resolved.


Politics

LGBTQ

Law is always very political and the appointment of supreme court justices is the greatest power wielded by politics over law. Trump got to appoint two Supreme Court justices and that was expected to swing the Supreme Court towards the far right. Imagine the surprise then, when the court declared that employment could not be taken away if a person was LGBTQ. The final vote came down the interpretation of the term ‘sex’ in a 1964 act. Whether it meant only man and woman or all sexual orientations. Neil Gorsuch who was the first appointments by Trump wrote out the order.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday outlawing anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination is a triumph for both the country and the court. It is a victory for the country because, in one fell swoop, the court granted vital protections to LGBTQ people in every state, making the United States a fairer, freer place.

Source: Quartz

Shooting yourself in the foot

The so-called stimulus package is an attempt by the Modi government to roll out the red carpet to investors to choose India. At the same time, the abysmal state of the government is forcing the tax officials to look at any vestige from which revenue can materialise. The Central GST collection during the lockdown fell from Rs. 47,000 Crores same period last year to a shade below Rs. 6000 Crores this year. An 87% per cent drop. The IT Department slapped Tiger Global with a tax bill of Rs. 14,500 Crores. Flipkart would not be Flipkart without Tiger Global. Antagonising them despite a Double Tax treaty with Mauritius is not a great move.

Earlier this week, news reports said Tiger Global may take India’s quasi-judicial body, Authority of Advance Ruling (AAR), to court over its claim that the investor has outstanding tax dues on its sale of shares in e-commerce major Flipkart in 2018.

Prima facie, experts, believe Tiger Global is protected against the payment under the India-Mauritius Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA), which prevents investors from being taxed twice on the same income in both countries.

Source: Quartz

Economics

Tipping Energy

Coal has been on its way down for a few years. In the US, gas-powered power plants have proved to be a much more viable source of energy than coal. This combined with the falling costs of renewable energy has made it harder for coal mines to continue to operate. Trump had said he will bring these coal jobs back. No one can stop the steady march of better economics, especially in a capitalistic system. This is not about the environment, it’s about profits.

The Texas-based utility that owns the Maryland plant just announced it will shut down Dickerson’s three power units after 60 years of operation, citing the high cost of operation. Like dozens of other coal plants across the country, Dickerson is a casualty of coal’s fast-moving demise. The industry has been squeezed between cheaper natural gas and expanding use of renewable energy for several years, but now the Covid-19-driven recession has jammed a stake through its economic heart.

Source: Wired

Stimulus – Togo Style

All of the big nations have been busy announcing large stimulus programs to get their economies back on their feet. To date, Germany has been one of the few that has put its money right in the hands of the workers who have lost their jobs or stand to lose their jobs. Togo is going a step further and putting money in the Novissi (digital wallet) accounts of informal workers!

For its part, Togo has looked to solve that problem with Novissi, a digital cash transfer program that sends funds to citizens through mobile money. Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé has said the scheme targets informal workers whose incomes were “disrupted” by lockdowns. As of mid-April, over 1.1 million Togolese citizens—13% of the population—had registered for Novissi with around 450,000 people (65% of which were women) proving eligible beneficiaries and receiving up to 35% of the minimum wage.

Source: Quartz

Business

Flying Low

The airline industry has always been out with a begging bowl. In good times and in bad. As Richard Branson famously put it – If you want to be a Millionaire make a Billion dollars and start an airline. Almost every major western airline has been bailed out by the government and in some of them, the governments hold massive stakes. Interestingly, low-cost budget airlines in Europe seem to be in better stead despite not having needed a bail-out.

Ryanair and Wizz stocks are better bets right now than Air France-KLM and Lufthansa, according to Morgan Stanley. That’s because the flag carriers rely more heavily on business travel and long-haul routes that will likely to be slower to bounce back. They will also have a lot of work to do to repay the money they’ve borrowed from taxpayers. (Norwegian Air, a discount carrier for long-haul flights that got a $271 million loan from the Norwegian government, has fallen more than 90% in the stock market this year.)

Source: Quartz

Real Estate

I had written about the reckoning that real estate will soon be faced with. The increasing move towards ‘work from home’ and the closure of malls causing an upsurge in OTT was bound to hit commercial real estate. Malls thrive because of the footfalls multiplexes drive to the malls. Multiplexes have been closed and have no clear opening date. Retailers refused to open their stores unless malls waived rent. An open mall with stores closed does not make for good business. DLF blinked.

Under the new proposal, DLF Shopping Malls is offering rental partners a 100% waiver on MG rent for the entire lockdown period till June 15. Post this, a 75% off on MG rent is offered till June 30, sources said. DLF has also proposed a 50%, 24% and 10% waiver on MG rent for July-September 2020, October-December 2020 and January-March 2021, respectively, they added.

Source: Financial Express

To add insult to injury, CavinKare one of the large FMCG companies based in the south known for brands such as Chic and Nyle decided to pull the shutters on its HQ. Everyone except factory employees can work from home!

“We have shut down our corporate office and closed all four branches. We see no need for it. We have called for bids from tenants for the 40,000sqft office,” Ranganathan said. Additionally, the four branches have also been shut. “Only factories and R&D centres will have employees come in and work,” he said. Nearly 300 people worked out of the corporate office, while the company has a staff strength of 1,900. 

While most companies have announced aggressive WFH models in a bid to save on costs and stop the spread of the Covid pandemic, Cavinkare’s Ranganathan said he has chosen it for productivity reasons. “It is more from a productivity standpoint. We have seen a 30% increase in productivity in the nearly 100 days of lockdown,” he said.

Source: Times Of India

Technology / Science

The Price of Water

In space water is an especially valuable resource, but not for the reasons that you think. Yes, water is important for humans to survive. Also, in space, the only way to create thrust is by losing mass. Water = Mass. When you use fuel in space to propel, you are essentially ejecting mass to create force (thrust) towards the opposite direction. It costs about USD 18,500 to put one Kg in space. Not the most economical way to put fuel in space. Alternatively, you can mine the water on the Moon and use it as fuel. Now, NASA is going to determine the price for it.

That’s why Bridenstine’s statement is so important: If NASA follows through by saying we’ll pay $X for propellant delivered to location Y, that could give hypothetical lunar mining entrepreneurs the market they need to get off the ground and encourage private propellant buyers to make their own plans to use these resources. (One technological wrinkle will be designing spacecraft for regular refuelling.)

Source: Quartz

Retweet no more

Recently Twitter has grown a spine. This has meant that the company is beginning to cut back on all kinds of misinformation. How many times have you retweeted an article just after looking at its headline without even bothering to read it? They have started tracking that!

Twitter seemingly expanded the amount of data it collects from users to include the links in tweets that were opened, the tweet that included the links, and when it was opened. Zucker-Scharff noted that the link-tracking appears to have begun last month; he said the file containing the history of links on which he had clicked did not appear the last time he examined Twitter’s code in 2018.

Put together, this does much more than flag if a user is sharing something they haven’t read. It could also identify them. For example, if law enforcement has anonymized browser data on several users, officials could use timestamps to identify the person, matching the anonymous data with the Twitter timestamps.

Source: Wired

Spying with Lightbulbs

Researchers have found a way to listen to conversations taking place by watching the vibrations on a lightbulb! So stop using bulbs. LED all the way.

Researchers from Israeli’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Weizmann Institute of Science today revealed a new technique for long-distance eavesdropping they call “lamphone.” They say it allows anyone with a laptop and less than a thousand dollars of equipment—just a telescope and a $400 electro-optical sensor—to listen in on any sounds in a room that’s hundreds of feet away in real-time, simply by observing the minuscule vibrations those sounds create on the glass surface of a light bulb inside. By measuring the tiny changes in light output from the bulb that those vibrations cause, the researchers show that a spy can pick up sound clearly enough to discern the contents of conversations or even recognize a piece of music.

Source: Wired

Misc

Have you ever watched a Chess match? I am guessing not.

Hence it would come as a great surprise that Twitch, a service that streams video games is getting hooked to Chess. All thanks to Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura. I was watching a short video included in the news piece and its amazing.

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

Efficient businesses will perish

Some of the most efficient businesses are the ones that are being forced to swallow the largest losses today.

Nasim Taleb in his book ‘Anti-fragile’ talks about systems that can withstand a black swan event. A once in a lifetime shock that can be hard to predict and overcome.

Capitalism promotes profiting at all costs. This relentless pursuit of margin requires squeezing every bit of productivity and efficiency out of the system. You want things to function in a manner where not an extra moment is available to an individual.

Since time is the ultimate resource, this has also resulted in wastage of an unforeseen nature (of every other resource) just as long as it can save time. This path to generating more and more profitability has resulted in a focus on more and more efficient systems.

Highly efficient systems are incredibly inflexible.


Efficient Businesses

This of a Toyota assembly plant which is just in time and second perfect. What if you have a miss a beat?

In the US the food industry is highly efficient. The production chains are very tightly controlled and the food production system was the first to suffer when the pandemic forced a shut down of these efficient lines. Millions of Hogs had to be culled and buried as there were no buyers since restaurants had all shut down. Highly efficient systems buckle in the face of change.

In India, the banking system has the same nature of efficiency. What happens when people do not pay up their EMIs? The financial system struggles and the struggles reverberate throughout the system. The pain is yet to surface but it will.

Part of the reason startups survive at all is because they are inefficient. This makes it possible for them to pivot, change direction and business models. Startups are constantly undergoing shocks. Shocks where their assumptions about the market or customer are constantly being proven wrong. The only option that they have is to change.

When you realise that the customer is not going to buy the solution you are offering, you change. Or perish. Building a startup is like going through a series of black swan events. The only difference is these were caused by your assumptions.

A very efficient system is like a very very very sharp knife. The only thing it will do; is cut. You have to ensure that it is kept pointed in the right direction. If not, you could end up injuring yourself.

In a world that is increasingly unpredictable; one where our denial of science will result in the increased frequencies of such unprecedented black swans, it pays to be less efficient and more flexible.

Categories
General Thinking

COVID – What the numbers reveal

COVID is a virus that has affected 0.1% of the world population. It is highly contagious and has been able to circumnavigate the globe. 

Worldmeter

On the surface – the above graphs make two things obvious :

  1. More people are being affected by COVID than before
  2. Fewer people are dying due to COVID than before

The spiking numbers during March were all the European countries reporting proper data and then taking proper steps. Made the Europeans looks like people with shit immunity and completely ill-prepared.

But there is more to the story than that. Authoritarian countries have for certain been misreporting case numbers. China for starters claims even today to have had 83,000 cases. 

The United States has 20 times as many and climbing. Even they did not scramble to build a hospital in 10 days! 

COVID and Politics

China most certainly had a much higher number of cases than reported – an order of magnitude higher – 20X / 30X / 50X what was reported. Which implies that both the graphs above are only partially accurate. The outbreak in Jan and Feb was much larger and even the deaths were more numerous.

Russia is currently passing off several COVID deaths as caused by other pre-existing conditions. This is important for Putin to be able to stay in power. In Pakistan, hospitals have ‘Full House’ boards outside of them denying patients entry. India is still dissuading testing if the symptoms are not very pronounced and Delhi has had patients turned away from hospitals because of their inability to accommodate them. 

Testing is not at the level it should be across the world. The US is leading at 25 million tests followed by Russia at 15 Million tests done. 

All Asian counties are Middle Eastern

UAE and Bahrain have tested more than 25% of their population! UK, Russia and Spain have tested 10% of their population while the USA and Italy have tested 7.5% of them. 

More generally the European countries have got a lot of testing done and this has resulted in the control that they have been able to have over the virus. 

I think more than New Zealand, UAE should be commended for the steps taken to curb the virus despite being a major transit destination with flight activity. A country not very well known for its science and one whose success is heavily attributed to a natural resource that they did nothing to acquire. 

More broadly, I think the Asian troubles are not over. 

Most of the larges Asian countries have not tested enough. They do not have the infrastructure to handle patients, hence even active cases might not find a healthcare facility to turn to. Also, a large number of poor means that their death may not even find a record until a long time has passed. In addition to this, political expediencies mean misreporting of numbers is rampant. Without a huge ramp-up in testing, the way out of this mess could be far away.

Asia will be the reason COVID will rise once again in the winter.

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Police – Students – Fashion | Learning by Proxy

Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.


Follow Up

India has had by far the most draconian lockdown in the world. The only other city (not country) to have a lockdown as strict and as prolonged was Wuhan. I had written a blog about the number of non-COVID deaths that COVID will cause. A pregnant woman died in Noida last week, trying to get into a hospital, being shunted from one to another for 13 hours! 

Despite the most draconian lockdown, testing was limited and continues to be. I had mentioned this last time as well. Delhi is still dissuading testing!

Asymptomatic people need not get tested for Covid-19, said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Saturday while stressing on the need to test symptomatic and severe patients.

Source: Indian Express

And…

Delhi Police Constable Tests Positive For Coronavirus After Death

I had also written about the flash reforms that were undertaken under the guise of “stimulus”. Now, the government is offering embedded clearances for environmental and forest clearance for the auction of mineral mines.

[…] the government has now come out with a scheme under which non-coal, non-fuel mining blocks will have most clearances ready before these are put up for auction. According to an order issued by the mines ministry on June 3, the system of embedded clearances will be tried in at five green-field blocks in each mineral-rich state on a pilot basis, with the intent to scale it up over time.

Source: Financial Express

Politics

Police

A few years ago I was fortunate to have visited a Rotary meeting where Maja Daruwala happened to be speaking. She is the daughter of Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw and the executive director at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. She said, India borrowed its police force from the British and never re-trained them. This is part of the reason, one often dreads getting even a complaint registered. The police were a tool of oppression under the British and we never changed their culture. Seems like something similar is afoot in the USA. There is a call for change and there are models that exist.

One small example: In a 2012 study in Queensland, Australia, officers at random checkpoints would either read from a specially designed script that invoked the principles of procedural justice (asking the citizen for input, meeting them at eye level, thanking them for their time), while other officers conducted themselves as usual. Citizens who encountered script-reading officers were more compliant and more satisfied with the interaction.

Source: Quartz

Student Power

When I first visited Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), I had no idea what power an institution can wield on a city’s economy. VIT was plenty important to the economic growth of Vellore. The 25,000 students would create demand for food, retails, services and much more. So much so that Amazon set up a distribution centre in the city only to cater to the institution, thanks to the sheer volume that it represents. 

Indians don’t go to any educational institution to get educated. They go to get a job. Period. Now with work Visas seeming unlikely, they are making their way from the USA to Canada. Think about the University towns in America, their economy.

The number of Indians enrolled in graduate-level computer science and engineering courses at American universities declined by more than 25% between 2016-17 and 2018-19, according to an analysis of government data by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP).

Source: Quartz

Economics

Chinese Jobs

The Chinese pressure cooker requires a very important ingredient – Jobs. One and a half Billion people submit to some of the harshest laws on the planet with a complete absence of discontent because their lives keep improving each day. What the American Cops can do to the Blacks, the Chinese government can do to any citizen, rich or poor; powerful or not, and get away with impunity. The trade wars with the US, Coronavirus and the global slowdown has hurt Chinese jobs. Over the past decade, China had embarked on a journey to purge their cities of street vendors – now they are encouraging them!

Chinese premier Li Keqiang said on Monday (June 1, link in Chinese) that street stalls and small shops, just like bigger and high-end industries, are important sources of jobs and vital to the country’s economy.[…]

Prior to Li’s remarks, Beijing recently sent other welcoming signals to street vendors, marking a significant shift from the pastwhen municipal officials used to relocate, evict or fine them as China sought to “civilize” its cities into tidy, shiny places that evoke the gadgets its high-tech economy produces.

Source: Quartz

Gig Economy – The Saviour?

Over the past few years, the gig economy has taken a lot of brickbats. Gig workers are treated as contractors who can take up one sliver of work. Legislators across the globe have been after these entities to regulate them and force them to classify these gig workers as employees and provide them with full benefit. But what happens when employers throw them out due to poor economic conditions? Gig work might just have a silver lining! Call it part-time but it is a way out.

The numbers suggest efforts to restart the US economy are working as several states and metropolitan areas reopen many types of businesses. But they also point to a slow recovery: 40% of the new jobs, or 1.6 million, were part-time. 

Part-time positions often pay less than full-time employment. They don’t offer benefits like health insurance and paid leave, and are more unstable.

Source: Quartz

Business

Changing Fashion

During the 30 year war in Croatia, the Croatian soldiers used to wear a cloth around their neck to make them easier to identify. The French borrowed it and turned it into fashion. Even the French word for tie ‘Cravate’ comes from ‘Croat’. Every miserable period brings its fashion. 

So what about this pandemic? The excess work from home has resulted in fashion being redefined. The pant business is a tough one to thrive in today! Peter England is begging people to keep their pants on and Amazon is promoting ‘Lounge Wear’ and ‘[email protected]

Even Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Chase was photographed with shorts on!

Technical Ethics

Over the last 5 years, there has been a huge push to use AI. AI – in today’s parlance, refers to technologies that can attempt to replicate human senses. Sight is Computer Vision; Listening is Natural Language Processing; and so on. 

Using Computer Vision there have been a whole host of facial recognition solutions that have been created. While a company like Apple uses it to authenticate users. Countries like China have been furthering their totalitarian state. Tech companies seem to have suddenly grown a conscience. IBM announced that they will abandon their facial recognition project.

On June 8, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced the end of his firm’s involvement in facial recognition in a letter to US Senators. The company, he wrote, “firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.”

Source: Quartz

And then Amazon announced that it will keep their system out of police hands for ONE YEAR because that is how long it takes for conscience to fade. 

Amazon announced on Wednesday it was implementing a “one-year moratorium” on police use of Rekognition, its facial-recognition technology. Lawmakers and civil liberties groups have expressed growing alarm over the tool’s potential for misuse by law enforcement for years, particularly against communities of color.

Source: Wired

Technology / Science

Fight fire with fire

WhatsApp recently limited the number of people you could forward a message to. The move has reduced forward on the app by 30%. This was a step that was taken to curb misinformation. Misinformation is a massive problem across the world and such networks have been leveraged to influence elections. But when it comes to public health, there needs to be a firm solution. The Taiwanese government seems to have found a solution. 

But Taiwan, which is lauded for its success in containing the spread of coronavirus, has adopted humour as a tool in fighting the pandemic. Speaking at the TED conference this week, Taiwan’s digital minister Audrey Tang explained how a tactic called “humour over rumour” has effectively quashed misinformation about Covid-19.

Every time a hoax surfaces on social media, Tang and her band of civic hackers unleash a joke containing the facts of the matter within two hours of spotting the post, based on the idea that since people like to share funny memes on social media, doing so allows the government to wrest control of the narrative. Tang also said that government agencies have employed professional comedians as “engagement officers” to help in the cause. If they miss the two-hour window, Tang’s team locates the perpetrators and recruits them as allies in Taiwan’s coronavirus effort.

Source: Quartz

Fintech Rejoice

Telangana State is one of the most supportive of new technologies. The government encourages startups that are working in areas such as blockchain to explore the possibility of deploying it within the government. They see it as a way to encourage such startups to be based out of Telangana. Now, the SEBI is taking a step in creating a sandbox for startups that are working on new technologies.

Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), on Friday (June 5), rolled out a circular to pave way for financial innovations in stock exchanges through regulatory sandboxes.[…]

For this, SEBI is looking to grant certain facilities and flexibilities to fintech platforms to test technologies in a live environment on a limited set of real customers for a limited time frame. “These features will be fortified with necessary safeguards for investor protection and risk mitigation,” SEBI said.

Source: Inc42

Misc

Some data – TomTom, the french company that makes GPS guidance systems for cars puts out a traffic congestion index. Guess what? Bangalore is Number One. Check it out, four Indian cities make the top 10. I was surprised to see Pune as a part of it.

And finally, I have heard of landslides on the hills when it rains too much. Have you ever seen a continental shelf just cede land to the sea? I hope the houses were empty.

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

On Faith

It is 2015, the economy is doing well. People are doing well and jobs are being created. Investors see the great potential and are willing to take bigger risks and invest in those who can find an appropriate opportunity. These are good times to be in.

Entrepreneurs who ventured out during these times faced some of the harshest competition that they could have faced. Incidentally, it was the same year that 80 startups were delivering food in the city of Bangalore and we began to be assaulted by insane traffic jams thanks to the “scaling-up” of two cab-hailing startups Ola and Uber. 

It is easy for entrepreneurs to struggle through the difficulties during these times and have ‘faith’ that things will eventually work themselves out. It does not take monumental effort to imagine a world where everything is alright. After all, there are so many people around who seem to be alright. It is just a question of time.

Fast forward to 2020. It feels like you are living inside a dystopian novel. There is a global pandemic that has locked up half the population of the world, indoors. There are earthquakes, locust attacks, the likelihood of war and mass protest. Anyone of these would be enough to form the basis of the dystopian novel. We seem to have the entire buffet.

Investors are wary, unsure of themselves and their philosophies. The market cannot be predicted over the long term. Instead of growth people are talking about contraction. Every company around seems to be laying off people and every founder has a sad tale. There are very few ventures being launched by comparison and competition if at all is restricted to a few industries. 

To be hopeful of the future and to have ‘faith’ that everything will be alright is not easy. It takes a unique individual to have faith and to fight through these tough times knowing no downturn has ever lasted forever.

These are the situations that separate boys and men.

It is easy to have faith when you are flowing with the river. True faith is when you believe despite the river flowing against you. 

I often site the story of Steve Jobs to emphasise faith. His belief in his company and the fact that – A world with Apple was better than a world without one. Steve Jobs took over Apple at the end of 1997 and the company was at the brink of bankruptcy. No sooner had he started working on a way out, the dotcom bubble burst and the market collapsed. It takes a special person to have faith when their company is teetering at the edge of bankruptcy and the markets have collapsed.

Things are bad now. But they won’t be bad forever. They will turn around and there will be a better day. Do you have faith?

Categories
General Thinking

AI and Jobs

Most jobs that you see around the world monetise a specific knowledge that a person possesses. An accountant knows to account and you pay him/her to do it. This knowledge is transferable, the work is pretty repetitive and can be easily turned into an algorithm.

Do you know the kind of knowledge that is hardest to monetise? Creative skills. Take a writer or a painter. Their work is not repetitive, their knowledge cannot be easily transferred and each time they take a risk.

Risk aversion is built into everything that we do. Therefore, we make it harder for those who are willing to take the risk.

Even in the repetitive, transferrable job of an accountant, there is more than just the knowledge that they bring to the table. If you want to see how creative accountants can be, you need to look no further than Enron, or perhaps the Indian government! They make things better, influence another human and raise the game.

The capitalistic system necessitates standardisation and repeatability. Standardisation brings scale. This, in turn, means that you strip the human of their creativity and turn them into cogs that are doing repetitive work. All of this is pursued in the name of productivity and greater efficiency.

In this pursuit, we have stripped education of encouraging and imbibing curiosity. Education today only plays the role of setting a person up to be a perfect mule. All creativity is stripped out of a person over 15 years systematically.

Almost every service we use sucks because people do not contribute as humans. They are contributing as a replaceable cog who is uninspired to do better.

And the capitalists that have brought this fate upon millions on humans, now, dare to replace them with code. AI systems that are great Cogs. They are not inspired or creative. They will do a said repeatable task efficiently.

Where does this take us?

A creative revolution. A revolution where humans will discover that they were capable of a lot more than what they were holding themselves back to. A place where capitalists will realise that the value lost to creativity is greater than standardised repeat work. A renaissance where we see some amazing leaps in politics, arts, sciences that open the doors for a new phase of humanity.

Or

Will be let AI replace us and agree to live on the alms that capitalists give away in the name of Universal Basic Income.

I hope it is the former