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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Insult to Injury

Information is power and the first company to discover how to leverage this was Google. But even Google not went as far as Facebook did with leveraging information. Now, as the degree of targeting becomes obvious, there is one expose after the other that is coming forward. Cambridge Analytica exposed Facebook, but not in a way that was as apparent as Signal.

Adding Insult to Injury

Thousand three hundred years ago during the Nara period in Japan, combining Sumo wrestling and martial arts, a new fighting technique was brought to the fore. It was called Jujutsu. This form of martial art was developed to combat someone who is wearing armour and armed in which one uses no form of weapon themselves.

The principle is of using the energy of the opponent against them rather than opposing it.

When WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in February 2014 for an eye-popping figure of USD 21.8 Billion. The largest acquisition of a startup — One that was generating almost no income questions about what Facebook would do abound. Facebook was obviously going to monetise WhatsApp in the future but there were some contours drawn around what would be done as a part of the acquisition.

Unhappy with the direction that Facebook was taking with the product especially in terms of user privacy, both the founders of WhatsApp who were part of the Facebook team at the time, left the company. The irony is Brian Acton, one of the founders of WhatsApp has applied for a job at Facebook years before founding WhatsApp and was rejected. He left more than a billion dollars worth of Facebook shares, which would have vested has he stayed, on the table when he quit the company in protest against Facebook’s actions.

He went ahead and started an NGO called Signal, which made a competing product to WhatsApp. Last year when Facebook changed its policies, people moved in droves to Signal. The app has since been downloaded over 100 Million times.

Signal is no match to WhatsApp.

But they decided to engage in jujutsu against Facebook. The company went ahead and bought ads on Instagram using data that Facebook itself makes available to any advertiser. The ads looked like this.

We created a multi-variant targeted ad designed to show you the personal data that Facebook collects about you and sells access to. The ad would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses. Facebook was not into that idea.

Source: Signal

They exposed the targeting that Facebook allows and the degree to which an advertiser can target using your personal data on Facebook. It is pretty scary the amount of information that Facebook is willing to expose.

The response was swift!

According to Signal, Facebook blocked its account on Instagram. “The ad would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses. Facebook was not into that idea. Facebook is more than willing to sell visibility into people’s lives, unless it’s to tell people about how their data is being used. Being transparent about how ads use people’s data is apparently enough to get banned; in Facebook’s world, the only acceptable usage is to hide what you’re doing from your audience,” Signal wrote in its blog.

Source: Indian Express

That was not all, Facebook has been in the news for more. Facebook had created an Oversight Board which is independent of the company. Their responsibility would be to evaluate decisions taken by Facebook as an independent body and to determine if what the company did was right or not, especially in the case of content moderation.

Facebook had made a decision to ban Trump from its platform in the aftermath of the January 6th Insurrection. This was a huge and momentous decision and put an end to all the conspiracy mongering from Trump. Facebook referred that decision to the Oversight Board. They wanted to make it the problem of the Board and the board threw it right back at Facebook.

Facebook’s oversight board, which on Wednesday upheld the company’s ban of former President Donald Trump, also had some harsh words for its corporate sponsor: Facebook. “In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities,” the board wrote in its decision.

Source: Economic Times

The board essentially said there were no rules for an indefinite ban that Facebook itself had. In the event that such a decision is taken on what basis were they to determine if it was right or wrong in the absence of any rules? Create the damn rules they said – in the next 6 months.

Zuckerberg has close personal ties with most of the members of his board of directors, and directors who attempt to exercise oversight tend to leave the board not soon after, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Most significantly, Zuckerberg holds controlling power from his shares of Facebook stock, making the votes held by the company’s investors irrelevant. This is why time and again, proposals pitched at the company’s annual shareholders meeting are swiftly rejected, despite in some cases receiving support from a majority of shareholders not named Zuckerberg.

Source: CNBC

This is Mark’s problem essentially. He made a decision and he now need to answer for it.

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Fire-Sale

14 years ago, the fourth instalment of Die Hard was released. The plot of the movie involved American terrorists taking over American infrastructure which is all online, through a cyber attack, and then demanding a ransom to restore everything. If not they say, they will send America to the Stone age!

The US issued emergency legislation on Sunday after Colonial Pipeline was hit by a ransomware cyber-attack.

The pipeline carries 2.5 million barrels a day – 45% of the East Coast’s supply of diesel, petrol and jet fuel.

The operator took itself offline on Friday after the cyber-attack. Work to restore service is continuing.

On Monday, the FBI officially confirmed that DarkSide was responsible for compromising Colonial Pipeline’s networks, saying that it was continuing to work with the firm and other government agencies on the investigation.

Source: BBC

Last year, critical organisations including the Pentagon were hit by cyber-attackers as a part of the SolarWinds hack. This was a man in the middle attack, where you use a service that a lot of companies depend on and attack it to reach the victim instead of attacking the victim directly.

This one was far more direct. DarkSide is based out of Russia and advertises itself as an organisation that is apolitical and provides Ransomware as a service. They are only interested in making money they said.

“We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics,” DarkSide posted on Monday. “Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society. From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”

The statement is reminiscent of any industry promising to self-police as an alternative to government regulation. But even if you could take DarkSide at its word, the implication is that it’s somehow acceptable to target certain organizations with ransomware if they’re carefully selected.

“The idea that ransomware operators should decide who is worthy of being compromised is extremely problematic to say the least,” says Katie Nickels, director of intelligence at the security firm Red Canary. “It’s absurd.”

Source: Wired

Interestingly the last paragraph seems to describe another company we were discussing earlier.

In all likelihood, the Russians bought the ransomware from DarkSide and used it to attack American infrastructure. This sent alarm bells ringing. The Department of Transportation asked for oil to be distributed by trucks in order to avoid shortages if the pipeline is down. It has slowly been coming back online.

For now, it looks like apart from words, America has nothing to offer.

Callow and other researchers emphasize, though, that it’s difficult to produce meaningful deterrence when it comes to ransomware and cyberattacks in general. Even after repeated wakeup calls and ransomware-related disasters, governments have not shown enough urgency in trying to solve the problem.

Source: Wired

What if somebody decides to do Die Hard 4.0 in real and they are not sitting in Pittsburgh for Bruce Willis to go beat up?

Chinese Hot Water

Last year Jack Ma got into hot water with the Chinese Government when he criticised them. Then his IPO was killed, he disappeared for a few months. The headline on 11 May 2021 read “Jack Ma makes rare visit to Alibaba Headquarters“. Separating Jack Ma from Alibaba is like separating Steve Jobs from Apple. Seems like one year is all it takes for something to be deemed rare.

Now, another entrepreneur is in trouble. The founder of Meituan, the Groupon of China that also runs a service similar to Yelp shared something.

Wang Xing, the billionaire founder and CEO of Chinese food delivery giant Meituan, faces questions about whether he delivered a veiled criticism of the government with a classical Chinese poem he posted on social media platform Fanfou last week.

Written by a poet from China’s Tang dynasty (618-907), the poem is viewed by commentators as a merciless and sharp condemnation of Qin Shi Huang—the creator of China’s first unified empire the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC). The poem mocks the emperor’s crackdown on scholars and his burning of books, which was a way for Qin Shi Huang to consolidate his power. In the end, the regime was overthrown by non-intellectuals, the poem says (link in Chinese).

Source: Quartz

Meituan was also a part of the anti-trust investigation that the Chinese government has been rolling out against several tech startups in China. The poem stirred up controversy.

What repercussions, if any, might arise would be watched closely most of all by investors. China needs to be careful not to chase away global investors at a time when global sentiment towards the country is at a nadir. Not to mentioned several international governments are plotting to move their businesses out of China and alienate the country.

Also

PR all the way! Even if that means inventing new Media companies!

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">⚠️Two Fake News Websites ⚠️<br><br>1. The Daily Guardian <a href="https://t.co/ZOJQt9GDSp">https://t.co/ZOJQt9GDSp</a><br>2. The Australian Today <a href="https://t.co/zJgH7IqDdX">https://t.co/zJgH7IqDdX</a><br><br>BJP has found a new way to counter criticism published in International Publications <a href="https://twitter.com/guardian?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@guardian</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/australian?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@australian</a> using in house Desi versions of the websites <a href="https://t.co/SrCvbS6Tnl">pic.twitter.com/SrCvbS6Tnl</a></p>&mdash; Siddharth Setia (@ethicalsid) <a href="https://twitter.com/ethicalsid/status/1392087257788469254?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 11, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha


You can follow my podcasts at https://viveksrinivasan.com/podcast

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Selling Air (India)

The world seems to be in suspended animation. After a year, that has taken a lot out of each one of us, everyone is just taking a breather. On the one hand, it felt like everything was forced to transform and change in 2020; on the other hand, did it really?

The year began in India with the NRC and CAA protests and now is ending with the farm protests. Things seem to be on an impasse but both sides have dug in their heels. 

The year began with impeachment in America and the uncertainty surrounding it; it ends with a hard-fought election and a loser who is unwilling to concede. Not to mention willing to hold the entire country hostage to put on a good show. 

While a Brexit deal has been apparently reached, people on neither side are entirely clear what it means. What it will mean for businesses and how it will affect the continent on the whole.

China was a black box. There was no information about the virus spread in China at the beginning of the year and here we are, still no clue what is going on.

But the wheel keeps turning.


Fly Away

Do you know how a billion dollars fly away from the Indian government every year? 

Air India

Before the First World War, airlines were meant to ferry mails. They were small, did not have too much range and had to be navigated by sight. The airlines, to make more money, started accommodating passengers. Four passengers and a lot of letter and parcels stuffed in the plane. 

Juan Trippe made it possible for people to travel, sans mail, on planes with the launch of the Pan American Airlines (PanAm). Towards the late 1920s flying by air started becoming fashionable, especially for the rich and famous. Airlines in the US outdid one another to ensure that they offered the best service, the best drinks, and the best food in their planes.

The story goes – A group of Texas International executives read about a plane crash in Mexico, the news report said that 90 people had died. The executives exclaimed, “90 people! We have only 60 seats in our planes!!! We need to find a way to put more people on the plane.” 

Till the 1950s almost all seats in a plane were first class. Chartered Airlines in America used to buy planes that were condemned by the mainstream airlines and fly at 50% fare. To compete with the chartered airlines, a group of American Airlines executives doodling in the board room drew a line and divided the plane in two. The front half would be the regular corporate fare and the back half would be half price coach seats without the food and the drinks. To this day, most airlines follow this layout.

It was in this climate that J.R.D. Tata founded Tata Airlines in 1932 with a contract from Imperial Airways to carry mail. The airlines spent time ferrying troops during the Second World War and resumed commercial operations thereafter as a public limited company under a new name – Air India. The Government of India acquired 49% of the company in 1948. In 1953, the government passed a law to acquire a majority stake in the company, although JRD Tata remained the chairman till 1977. 

After liberalisation, as more companies entered the competitive fray, Air India started to struggle and has since suffered a string of unprofitable years. The government has been trying to privatise the carrier for the past 20 years. There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel! 

Last week bids were submitted by three bidders to take over Air India. It is assumed that the winning bid will be that of Tata – Air Asia. In some ways, it would be poetic justice. The government and the people of the country have been haemorrhaging a Billion dollars each year to keep Air India alive.

There are a large number of reasons Air India has not been sold to date. The company has been saddled with billions of dollars in debt to finance the company. There are other structural issues as well.

As Air India is set to be privatised, there are increasing concerns among its employees over their fate once the private owner takes control of the loss-making airline. Amid these concerns, one of its employee unions, Air India Employees Union (AIEU), has written to the civil aviation minister, seeking an urgent appointment to discuss various pending staff issues, including provident funds, medical and welfare facilities.

Source: Hindustan Times

Many of the benefits that the employees currently enjoy are because the airline was founded in a different era, continued to be run by the government and has not been radically altered. These benefits will be the first to go under the chopping block. Employees want these benefits settled. 

The airline, on its part, has always maintained that the cut in salaries of pilots has been high due to non-operation of flights, as a substantial part of their salaries are allowances linked to flying.

All airlines had cut salaries of employees, including pilots, as COVID impacted earnings of airlines. Among airlines, market leader IndiGo has been the first among all airlines that has started the process of restoring the salaries of its employees, including pilots.

Source: Economic Times

Pilots have been protesting against pay cuts. With private hands, they can only expect more of the same, especially in a world where airlines have been heavily hit and do not know when they would get back to ‘business as usual’.

A group of Air India employees who have submitted an expression of interest (EOI) for the carrier should only do day-to-day work and not handle policy or strategic issues that may have a bearing on the airline’s disinvestment plans, according to an official order seen by PTI.

Source: Livemint

One of the bidders is the current Chairwoman of Air India and a group of 218 employees! The pilots want them to stay out of policy matters. I am wondering how did employees of the company manage to put together enough money to buy the company.

In the meantime, with an eye on this purchase, Tata which also owns Vistara is consolidating its position.

Prior to the transaction, AirAsia Berhad held a 49% stake in AirAsia India, while Tata Sons held 51%.

As part of the transaction, Tata Sons has the option to pick up AirAsia Berhad’s remaining 16.33% after the closure of the current transaction.

Source: Livemint

But there is a long way to go still for Air India.

“The Transaction Advisor will inform the qualified bidders by January 6 following which the bidders will be given access to virtual data room (VDR) of Air India,” an official said.

The share purchase pact will be shared with the bidders, following which financial bids would be invited, the official added.

“The transaction will be concluded only in next fiscal as we are expecting bidders to have a lot of queries once they get access to VDR and before they put in their financial bids,” the official told PTI.

Source: Livemint

Despite all this, the hope is that this time the transaction will go through. The government needs this inflow of capital especially since tax collection took a huge hit in 2020. Further, they would get rid of an asset that has only been consuming more money from the government every year. It would also go a long way in helping the government meet its disinvestment target.

The job of the government is not to run businesses but to regulate them. In the post-independence era, airlines were an industry considered to be of strategic importance. Also, having a ‘flag’ career was a matter of esteem, but the people of the country have paid a lot for this. 

Needling

The Sino-American relationship has seen better days. It seems to me that it is about to see worse days. Trump has been constantly tightening the screws on China with more and more taxes on products being imported from China. They have been working with Japan, Australia and India for defence co-operations and earlier in the year conducted war games in the Bay of Bengal. Now, they are passing a law which will take exception to China appointing a Dalai Lama for Tibet. 

Among the most significant amendments is that the TSPA makes it US policy to oppose attempts by Beijing to install its own Dalai Lama “in a manner inconsistent with Tibetan Buddhism in which the succession or identification of Tibetan Buddhist lamas, including the Dalai Lama, should occur without interference…”

Source: Indian Express

The only thing remaining is to recognise Taiwan as an independent country. In some ways, Tibet was the original sin. The first territory occupied by China and that behaviour has continued to extend to the South China Sea, Hong Kong and India. Remains to be seen how this plays out.

Differences

Perhaps the greatest similarity between America and Russia are – Trump and Putin – Lying Authoritarians. But the greatest difference is the press. While the ‘fake news’ was calling out Trump at every turn and making fun of him day in and day out; Putin successfully made it look like everything was fine in Russia. He even managed to move the theatre of attention outside of Russia by poisoning Navalny and making the press follow that trail. It came as a surprise then…

After months of questions over the true scale of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia and the efficacy of a Russian-developed vaccine, the state statistical agency in Moscow has announced new figures indicating that the death toll from Covid-19 is more than three times as high as officially reported.

From the start of the pandemic early this year, the health crisis has been enveloped and, say, critics, distorted by political calculations as President Vladimir V. Putin and Kremlin-controlled media outlets have repeatedly boasted of Russian successes in combating the virus and keeping the fatality rate relatively low.

Source: New York Times

The agency said that 230,000 more people had died in Russia making it number 2 in terms of fatalities across the globe. The surprise was not that this fact was hidden, the surprise is that it managed to find its way out!

Also, in another surprising turn of events.

In Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, official tallies put the number of coronavirus infections at just above 50,000, with 3,869 deaths. But blood samples taken from residents after the pandemic’s first wave reveal that the number of infections could be as high as 500,000 — 10 times higher than the official count.

Source: New York Times

Everyone knew this, the only surprise is that they allowed this data to be published.

Broken Heart

One of the toughest struggles that families of those needing organ transplantation need to suffer through is the wait. Waiting for a suitable organ donor to be available. In the case of the heart, often you need something unfortunate to happen to someone, for an organ to become available. In extreme cases, this has also resulted in various black market organ trades.

Shares in Carmat SA posted their biggest gain in more than seven years after the company got approval to sell the first-ever total artificial heart in Europe, the culmination of a 27-year effort that began with a pitch from a French cardiac surgeon to an aerospace company.

Source: Bloomberg

Europe approved the use of artificial heart in humans. This is a huge success and has the potential to change the lives of thousands of rich people. The rest will continue to wait or die, just as they used to. But over the next decade, the cost of this technology is certain to come down and it would become possible to save many more lives. 

It also portends the possibility to develop similar artificial organs such as kidney, pancreas, etc. In the long run, this will considerably increase the life expectancy of people. Further implies that we need to think about pensions and how to support people who live much longer lives.

Snapping up users

It was only a few years ago when the founder and CEO of the Snapchat commented on India. He said – India is such a poor country that the users from the country did not matter. Indians were upset. He was not wrong. Facebook has an ARPU of $40 in the USA and only $4 in India. Even though India represents the largest user base for Facebook in the world, it contributes a small portion of the company’s revenue.

Even so, Snapchat saw its shares shoot up thanks to the growth that they saw in India. In some ways, Snapchat should thank the Modi government for the ban on TikTok. 

Snapchat’s user base has grown 75% in the two years since it plateaued during a disastrous 2018. In that inauspicious year, the app began losing users, prompting a string of company executives to quit and elegies from both Fox News and Kylie Jenner. Snap Inc.’s stock price sank to $5 a share, down from the $17 it commanded during an ebullient 2017 IPO.

[…]

The lion’s share of Snapchat’s Rest of World growth appears to come from India, although Snap doesn’t officially report country-by-country data. The company did say, however, that it saw a 150% jump in Indian users between the third quarters of 2019 and 2020. India has reportedly supplanted the US as the biggest source of new Snapchat users on earth.

Source: Quartz

Poor or not, investors do chase vanity metrics and showing a 75% growth in 2 years for a listed company does make them look good. And for a share market that is has been moving in bizarre ways, this is still more reason to continue on that path.

Also

It is probably a sign of the times…Miranda Summers Lowe @MsummersloweHello 2020 👋🏼 December 24th 202015,369 Retweets58,476 Likes

Away from the earth, scientists are making greater strides – growing radish.World and Science @WorldAndScienceVery cool: Radish plants growing on the space station (Credit: NASA Johnson) December 28th 2020476 Retweets4,270 Likes

The argument against plastics was that we are killing sea creatures. NO. We are killing ourselves.Tony Fadell @tfadellMicroplastics were detected in human placentas. They were found in all placental areas: maternal, fetal & amniochorial membranes. Microplastics carry endocrine disrupting substances that cause long-term effects on human health. Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placentaMicroplastics are particles smaller than five millimeters deriving from the degradation of plastic objects present in the environment. Microplastics c…sciencedirect.com

December 27th 202020 Retweets66 Likes


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What we think, we become ~ Buddha

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Book Recommendations 2020

About 9 months ago, my sister decided to start a book club. The idea was to read one book a month. She and all the other members fell behind after the first month. There were many spirited efforts made to keep up with reading. Ultimately, since we all shared her Kindle account, it turned out that she ended up buying a lot of books for ME to read. 

Here is the list of books I read this year as a part of the ‘Buy books for Vivek Club!’


Atomic Habits by James Clear – It was a quick read. Atomic Habits talks about how to develop a habit in small steps that many would find very useful. I enjoyed reading the book. Some of the tips were already known to me, but the how is what matters and the writer does a good job at it.

Einstein by Walter Isaacson – I have always been fascinated by Physics but this book is not so much about the Physics as the man behind the physics. It is a fascinating read like most books by Walter are. This book dives into the nuances of the discoveries made while at the same time discussing the myriad flaws that made up the person. It was an enjoyable read.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – Shoe Dog is an autobiography by the founder of Nike. Set in a time that many of us may not relate easily with, the book traces the rise of the company and the challenges that it had to overcome to become what it is today. Phil a runner himself co-founded the company with his coach. A fascinating read spanning decades. I absolutely recommend it.

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance – Elon Musk is a very controversial figure and this is an authorised biography of his life. As you might expect, it paints him in rosy colours. The book traces his childhood, the founding of Paypal and all the rest thereafter. It is quite an inspiring book and a quick read.

The Brain: the story of you by David Eagleman – While an interesting book, ‘The Brain’ simplifies the science behind how the brain works. It is certainly not the best book I have read this year but I would certainly recommend it if you want to learn the inner workings of the human brain. 

The Ivory Throne by Manu S Pillai – The Ivory Throne is a book that takes you through the last 100 years of the Travancore Empire. While it goes further back at times to set the context, it is a very detailed and an unbearably biased retelling of the decline of the throne. Filled with painful details of the intrigues that made up royal life. This one took me the longest to complete also because it is so damn long. My advice read the short description on Wikipedia.

The hidden life of trees by Peter Wohlleben – You will not see another tree the same way! Peter loves the forest and having spent so much time in the woods, he explains how trees behave. This is a deeply insightful book that explains a lot of the biology of how trees grow, communicate and thrive. When you read this book, you will learn about the feelings that trees have. I highly recommend this book.

Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark – While the book is meant to explain the maths behind the physics, it is written delightfully. Max writes with wit and it makes the book fun to read. He is also incredible at explaining the concepts from the sub-atomic to the intergalactic. I would certainly recommend this book.

Measure What Matters by John Doerr – The legendary Investor behind Google, Facebook and several other startups; John Doerr shares what all these startups have in common. Objectives and Key Responsibilities (OKR). A management style first pioneered at Intel; this book takes you through the process of setting up OKRs. It also shares case studies of products like Google Chrome and how OKRs played a role in their success. If you are starting a startup or struggling with managing one, a must-read. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – The book is an autobiography of a surgeon who does not manage to realise his potential because he contracts cancer just at the verge of the completion of his internship. The book is about his struggles with the disease and his perspective of what his life would have meant. A short and breezy read.

Behave by Robert Sapolsky – Humans are capable of incredible violence but at the same time we are also capable of great kindness. What triggers one decision or the other? Robert attempts to answer such questions through the analysis of the processes that go in the brain that precipitate them. 

The Moonshot Game by Rahul Chandra – This book is the biography of a fund. Rahul lays out how Helion VC got started, the challenges that they faced on the other side of the table and how the firm finally met with its end. If you want a closer look at the workings of a VC fund, it is worth a read.

Kohinoor by William Dalrymple – There were three books by William Dalrymple that I read this year. Kohinoor traces the history of the famous diamond from India to Persia, back to India, and then to the Crown of the Queen. For any Indian, it is a painful read because it chronicles the subterfuge and theft that the British engaged in. While it is a history book, it feels like a novel. Beautifully written. Must read. #ShortRead

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker – A researcher, with 20 years of research in his bag explains sleep and its importance in our lives. I think this is the most important book that I have read this year. The awesome part is that he does not stop with the science, he does into its implications on business, policy and life.

The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato – Most of the biggest innovations are seeded by the government. The companies normally figure out the application and scale part of it but rarely do they invest in figuring out the science. This is the foundation on which the book is written and provides example after example from America of how the exceptional companies were able to take advantage of investments made decades ago, whether that be clean energy, the internet, AI or several other things. Also makes a case for why it is fair to tax these companies more heavily.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil – Algorithms determine so many things in our lives today. How much credit do you get? Whether you get recruited or not? Are you suspected of a crime? These algorithms are all fundamentally biased and we live in a world with the bias is hidden by making it sound like the algorithms are complex impossible to understand code. Cathy rips apart the bias and showcases what far-reaching effect that has on the lives of people.

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple – This book is an ode to Delhi by the author who moved to the city in 1989. The book describes the Delhi of 1989 and traces the history that brought it there. Each chapter takes you back a few hundred years and shares the stories that make Delhi what it is today. If you have ever lived in Delhi this is a book you just cannot miss.

Anarchy by William Dalrymple – This is the first of the three of his books I read this year. Anarchy charted the rise of the East Indian Company from 1600 to 1800. He stops just before the revolt of 1857 which led to the nationalisation of the company. It’s a book that should be made a mandatory part of school syllabus in my opinion. History is told like a story and is incredible.

Range by David Epstein – In a world that appreciates and sometimes even pushes people towards specialisation, how important is the breadth of knowledge? With several examples from the past and the present, he makes a case for generalisation and the need for knowledge from across streams for us to be able to pick out the right analogy to understand what we are faced with.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – A veritable genius, Leonardo da Vinci had several achievements. Walter Isaacson does his best to trace and put together the life of the artist and scientist also taking the time to describe some of his greatest achievements. Absolutely worth the read. 

How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky – A book that is right for the times, this book takes you through the evolution of the political system in America since the Civil rights movement. It provides an insight into what guardrails protect democracy and how they have come apart in the past and how those are beginning to come apart in different parts of the world.

Eight Lessons on Infinity by Haim Shapira – This book is a journey through numbers. Eight different mathematical challenges and how to understand infinity. It is a short and quick read. Most of the mathematics is simple and fun to engage with while all of them related to the single concept of infinity.

Refuge by Dina Nayeri – A novel that is perhaps quite auto-biographical. The story of a refugee from Iran whose father is still left behind. The challenges that the family faces, the lack of personal interactions over the years and a sense of the difficulty that her father would have, trying to integrate as a refugee at an old age. It is the moving story of the evolution of a relationship. 

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh – Set in Colonial India, the book traces the stories of several lives that converge towards a ship due to circumstances that are beyond their control. It is an interesting read that paints a picture of life in those times and the uncertainty of things in those days. It was interesting in parts but is not something that I would highly recommend. 

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells – This book is a balanced portrait of the climate crisis that we are currently faced with. Instead of diving into the science of climate change, this book goes into the effects that are obvious for everyone to see. It also tries to look at the actions that we can and need to take to keep the earth a habitable place.

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson – I read this book rather slowly but enjoyed it much. While the book is meant as a biography of Benjamin Franklin, it also provides great insight into why America is the way it is. What were the seeds that led to the formation of the country and how divided they were. Another incredible book by Walter Isaacson. Highly recommend.

Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams – I read only the first part of the 5-part trilogy as he describes it. Set in a Universe where Earth is destroyed to make way; the book is the story of an earthling who manages to escape the planet and takes a sojourn across the universe with his alien friend Ford Prefect. I have heard a lot of high praise for the book, but I have to admit, I did not enjoy this one all that much.

God by Reza Aslan – God is an attempt to explain the thought process that led to the creation of God by mankind. While the book starts out well, it leaves much to be wanted. First of all, it is far too short and never gets into the depths of any topic. I would not recommend this book. 

Failing to Succeed by K Vaitheeswaran – The book chronicles the rise of the first e-commerce company in India – Fabmart. Starting in 1999 the challenges and the difficulties that the team faced and what eventually led to the failure of their e-commerce business. A book filled with startup insights while at the same time sharing more than a decade long story. It is also a useful lesson in what happens when you get too attached to your business and do not know when to quit.

Breath by James Nestor – James dives into how important it is to breathe and how we do it wrong all the time. He illustrates the same through an experiment he puts himself through and explains how various traditional techniques change our bodies and the power that they hold within them. I enjoyed reading the book and would certainly recommend it.

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Price of Data

Facebook did not buy WhatsApp or Instagram for the data but for the products that they had built. They brought a lot of the users to the products and now they are too powerful.

On the other hand, companies are getting bought only for the data that they have. Is that data worth the money going into it?

Categories
Entrepreneurship

Marketing Vs. Sales

Marketing is a long term investment. You determine the way you want people to perceive you, craft communications to that effect and find the best way to reach the customers. You try to ensure that people can understand your philosophy and gravitate towards you. Marketing creates long term value for the company and if done right creates re-collection. It is about making an emotional connect that can last over a long period.

By comparison, Sales is a short term activity. Sales is about here and now. It is about bringing in the revenue. You seek out the customers, create a lead pool, introduce the product or service to them and then sell to them. Sales is very transactional and each subsequent purchase requires direct engagement with the customer to drive purchase. 

When was the last time you saw an Amul ad? Or for that matter Parachute Coconut Oil? I am sure many of us who are a product of the last century would even remember the jingle that Maggi used.

The brand-building that was undertaken by these companies over the years continues to serve them in terms of bringing them business. The marketing was powerful and has been delivering revenue to these companies. This is not meant to discount the distribution and many other functions that need to have performed remarkably well to deliver the results. 

Marketing is powerful. And can deliver long-lasting value to a business if it is done right and makes the right connect with the customer. Typically, marketing is undertaken by B2C companies and Sales is the tool for B2B companies. 

Exporting this analogy to the digital world

Booking.com became a reservation juggernaut by riding the Google advertising engine. They make sure that they pop up at the top of the page which in turn drives purchases and the growth of the business. Have you ever heard anyone suggest Booking.com as the site to visit for a booking requirement? I have not.

By comparison, Airbnb has driven its growth on the back of the focus on SEO and at the same time, they also invested heavily on branding and marketing. The PR and the buzz around the brand have been huge. 

Fast forward 10 years and one of the biggest problems that Booking.com is faced with, is not COVID, it is what they call ‘Google Tax’. The company continue to be dependent on each lead that is driven by Google to them. This translates into a certain amount of money being paid to Google for each booking. While that figure does not hurt for a small company, it is very painful for an organisation at scale. 

Airbnb was wildly unprofitable for a long time but as they reach profitability, every new customer that comes to the company is not as expensive as the early customers of the company. Their brand drives people to them instead of specific sales activity.

More to the point, paying Google or Facebook is akin to sales activity. Startups should start focusing on certain marketing and brand-building as well. Far too many startups are dependent on running these ads to drive sales of their products and services and over time it becomes difficult to wean off them. It becomes easier to lean more and more on these two companies to drive more customers, who will drive revenue; rather than taking the effort to communicate with the customer. 

In the very early days, revenue is important and by extension, sales is a critical activity (even for B2C). But at the same time thinking actively about Marketing and establishing a position is important for the long term health of the company.

Categories
Uncategorized

Learning by Proxy | Farm Bill

On the eve of Guru Nanak Jayanti, a group of Punjabi farmers camped at the border of Delhi cooked food for the night. The government asked them to move to designated areas so that talks could be held on the 3rd of December. A couple of days before, the Prime Minister of the country flew to visit vaccine labs across the country rather than visit the farmers to help them understand his vision.

What is the point all the marketing this government engages in if you are never there when trouble foments?

Farm Bill

When the European first came to India, they lusted after the Indian spices which were of very high quality. Also, they could not grow them locally in Europe and trading with India became a necessary evil. Indian farmers and kingdoms were able to quote the price they wished because the demand was high and farm output was not as much. 

Over time, as the British chased all the rest of the Europeans out and consolidated power, they started forcing farmers to produce crops that they needed. Apart from food grains, poppy, tea and cotton were important for the British trade. What was the point of consolidating power if the Indians could charge what they wished? 

For this, the first regulated market was set up in the Hyderabad Residency in 1886. They also passed the Berar Grain and Cotton Market Act of 1887 which allowed the British to declare any area as a market in the designated region and also set up a committee to regulate the trade (and prices). 

The Agri-markets were tools of oppression. After Independence, a new argument took root that preserved this institution; that farmers would not be able to find the right price for their produce and would be required to sell their produce at throwaway prices. The supposed high cost of marketing resulted in the Agriculture Produce Market Committee which each state government could setup. This may have also been true! Half the country depending on farming for their income; most of the rest were also poor and we were copying USSR at everything.

Since Independence, this has been true, till the Farm Bill 2020 arrived. First of all, the manner in which the bill was passed did make the contents of the bill seem far more sinister.

On Sunday, things hit a new low when the Bills were passed by a voice vote despite opposition MPs asking for a division, i.e. a recorded vote – which the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) clearly was not in a position to win.

The stubborn stand taken by the regime in the Rajya Sabha on September 20 against the demand of opposition parties, including the Biju Janata Dal, to refer the farm Bills – The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 – to a select committee of the House for better scrutiny and examination, is reflective of its unwillingness to subject those Bills to deeper levels of deliberation and consultation, eschewing party perspectives.

Source: The Wire

So what does the bill actually say?

The Bills which aim to change the way agricultural produce is marketed, sold and stored across the country were initially issued in the form of ordinances in June. They were then passed by voice-vote in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha during the delayed monsoon session this month, despite vociferous Opposition protest. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, allows farmers to sell their harvest outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis without paying any State taxes or fees. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, facilitates contract farming and direct marketing. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, deregulates the production, storage, movement and sale of several major foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, edible oils and onion, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances. 

Source: The Hindu

There has been strong opposition to the Farm Bill from the time that it was passed. A huge portion of the opposition has been based on the fact that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that was guaranteed by the APMC erodes with this new bill. Over the years, the APMC has reduced the farmer’s ability to find new markets where higher prices could be found.

Going back to the 1500s when the Europeans arrived in India, if the Europeans were allowed to buy at MSP in APMCs, they would have been none too happy. The farm sector has been stuck because of the APMC Act. Farmers’ produce can only be sold in a designated APMC within the state even though there could be shortages elsewhere in other states which could fetch them a better price. 

But farmers are fearful that without the APMC monopoly, the state governments might no longer find it viable to run the APMCs and they will lose the security that this offers.

Truth is, the current generation of farmers have known no other way. This is the only reality that they have ever known.

The farmers in Haryana and Punjab are some of the largest producers of staples in India and they have been dependent on the MSP to get through times when market prices are depressed. The problem is with the way the market is currently set up. If you and everyone around you are producing the same thing and selling at the same place at the same time because these are seasonal crops; supply is bound if overtake demand at some point. The government is no fool they offer the MSP because they can then move that produce to other parts of the country and sell it.

State governments generate a lot of tax income through the APMC. They do not want to encourage their farmers to sell in other states, this will impact their coffers. While this is another knee jerk change which is typical of this government, I DO believe this is for the best.

Imagine a farmer in Indiana having to sell all his corn only in Indiana to the government of The United States of America at a preset price!

The farmers in Punjab decided to sit on railway tracks and protest. The central government one-upped them by stopping all railways and bus services in and out of Punjab! After protesting for a month, the farmers decided to move the theatre of protests to Delhi. They felt their voices were not being heard; which they weren’t. The government decided to stop the protests from reaching Delhi. The protesters were hosed down by water cannons and the highways leading up to Delhi turned into trenches.

First of all, it does not makes for great optics and it is not really inspiring trust.

The Farm Bill is one of the few pieces of legislation that I believe is a right step by this government. I was quite excited to see what impact this has on the agri-tech startup scene which is currently playing either the role of the middle man or flirting with more tech and little with agri. 

The trouble is that farmers are seeing the situation as one where the market is limited and everyone seeking to minimise the price. While the fact is that there is a potential to grow their market far beyond their state borders and open up a lot of opportunities which can drive prices up. Instead of having a dialogue and explaining this, the government is busy treating them as miscreants and trouble-makers. 

I often ask these questions on pricing to aspiring entrepreneurs:

You could sell a cup of coffee at Rs. 10 and get 1000 customers OR

You could sell a cup of coffee at Rs. 100 and get 100 customers OR

You could sell a cup of coffee at Rs. 300 and get 30 customers;

How can you maximise profit? What price would you sell it at?

The right answer is all of these price points. Practical execution – Coffee Day vending machines in offices; Cafe Coffee Day stores and Coffee Day Square.

The farm bill provides farmers with the same opportunity. Cooperate, consolidate, find the right markets and sell it at a price that fits. We could see many Amuls emerging in the coming years. Instead, we are having a shitshow at hand because of improper communication.

On that note

Hypocrites will be hypocrites

Canada has a large number of Sikhs that live there. They represent 1.5% of the Canadian population and therefore are an important voter base. Consequently, the Canadian PM is prone to making a lot of stupid statements to appease them, including pushing the idea of a Khalistan.

Canada may have voiced concerns over the ongoing farmer protests in India against the central government’s three farm bills, but in the past, it has never left any opportunity to challenge India’s farm subsidies at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

On Tuesday, while addressing members of the Sikh community in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the situation of Indian farmers agitating against the farm bills is “concerning” and that his country will “be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest”. India, however, rejected the comments as being “ill-informed”.

Source: The Print

The same country acts as if it is at the forefront of the green movement and highly concerned about climate change while at the same time promoting the extraction of oil from Tar Sands (the WORST way to produce oil) and then promote the Keystone pipeline as well which will cause further environmental damage along the way while hurting the sentiments of indigenous people.

Amazon is on a tear

Last quarter when Amazon reported its sales numbers, the executives said, these numbers would be high for December quarter. The restrictions coupled with fear and empty toilet paper category in many supermarkets pushed shoppers online. Amazon has grown its revenue number phenomenally during the pandemic and has been perhaps the greatest beneficiary. Its argument at most anti-trust hearing used to be that in the entire retail business it occupies a small percentage, that has changed.

Source: Benedict Evans

For all the automation, the company is still heavily dependant on people to run its warehouses.

The hiring has taken place at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, at its hundreds of warehouses in rural communities and suburbs, and in countries such as India and Italy. Amazon added 427,300 employees between January and October, pushing its workforce to more than 1.2 million people globally, up more than 50 per cent from a year ago. Its number of workers now approaches the entire population of Dallas.

Source: New York Times

Amazon now has half as many employees as Walmart and the window is closing on its ability to escape greater scrutiny but lawmakers. In that way, the pandemic has brought the reckoning closer for Amazon.

Guess Where this photo was taken

Whatever you guessed, you are probably wrong. Click here

Also

By the time you read this a sample of soil from a meteor would have landed in Australia[email protected] @haya2e_jaxaIt’s now less than 2 weeks left, and under 4,500,000 km to Earth! The current plan for the Earth return (in JST): ・December 5, 14:00 – 15:00: capsule separation ・Dec. 5, 15:00 – 17:00: orbit change for spacecraft departure ・Dec. 6, 02:00 – 03:00: capsule landing November 24th 2020262 Retweets1,128 Likes

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha

Categories
General Thinking

Social Contract

It was in the mid-1700s that Benjamin Franklin proposed that a firefighter service be established in Philadelphia. This was unique to the city at the time and was paid for eventually by the residents of the city. To overcome the occurrence of weather-related fires, Franklin also invented a device that saved a lot of lives – the lightning rod.

It took an agreement amongst the people of the society that made up Philadelphia to setup this force. It was a social contract.

Should roads be built through collective funds for collective use or should it be privately built by those who can afford to?

Should everyone have access to legal recourse?

Should the lives and property of people who live in society be protected?

Questions such as these and many others, we take for granted. We do not even think of having a police force or not, as a choice. These are institutionalised to such an extent that they are just taken for granted.


On the other hand

Should education be made available to those who can afford it or should it be made available to all?

Should healthcare be available to only those who can afford it or should it be available to all?

Should those who have lost their jobs be protected by the state to a certain extent through doles? Or is it just life?

Should we allow those who are not able to find a secure life in their countries, come to ours and build a life? Or do we just want those who will make us richer?

Should provide pension to senior citizens who have retired and worked their entire lives to grow the economy, so their lives remain secure?

The answer to these and many other questions such as these form the social contract that we enter into as societies. Most of these social contracts are then translated into laws or policies. Laws being far more binding and policies being a lot more fluid. The hope is to translate policies into law.

We vote those who offer policies that are in line with the social contract we wish our nation and society to adhere to. Often there are going to be pros and cons to each stance and as a society, we need to figure out if the pros outweigh the cons or vice-versa. Even so, we may not always agree. The problem arises when a group of people only see pros and no cons vis-a-vis another stance.


Should gay people be allowed to pursue their lives just as anyone else would?

In a discussion such as this, you will often find binary views. This is a reflection of the fact that society as a whole has not matured evenly or the views of one group of people have evolved at a very different pace to another. This can be rather dangerous and polarising in nature. This has the potential to create the – Us against them – dynamic. Even more importantly this is where the social contract breaks down.

There are far too many issues on which these kinds of conversations can be seen across the world, across political systems and spectrums. Hopefully, society can find a way to look at these issues as shades of grey rather than black and white.

This is critical for a democracy to thrive. If not, the fissures that we see today can turn into chasms.

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | COVID Climate

While climate change has been a topic of intense conversation, no world leader would have come anywhere close to forcing the kind of change that COVID has done. It also makes you wonder if nature knows how to protect itself. Snuff out the virus called Humans.

It is also causing industries to alter in unthinkable ways and the theatre business will never be the same again.

COVID a gift to the Climate

2020 started with a lockdown in China because of the widespread infection. China shuts down towards the end of January every year to celebrate the Chinese new year which usually occurs towards the first week of February. They extended their factory shut-down beyond the new year to ensure that people do not return to work and the virus can be controlled. And thus began the process of reducing global pollution this year.

If on the one hand, human activity led emissions have come down, on the other hand, 8.2 million acres of forest land was burnt in unprecedented fires across Western America. According to Wikipedia, this also destroyed 13887 building. That fire season has still not officially ended. Gusts of wind continue to blow this week and utility companies are still considering leaving Californians in the dark over the weekend to avoid fire.

Australian bushfires burnt through another 27.2 Million acres at the beginning of this year. A vast amount of it during the Australian summer from Nov 19 – Feb 20. This BBC report has some incredible analysis.

SpainFrance and Russia also saw thousands of acres burnt as a result of wildfires. The hills of Uttarakhand were ablaze in may in India and hundreds of acres of forest burned. 

Since we are on the subject of fires…

The fire broke out at the Ghazipur landfill site Tuesday night. Fire officials said cooling operations are on to control air pollution. A fire broke out at the Ghazipur landfill site Tuesday night, burning for almost 24 hours before firefighters could bring in under control. This comes even as the capital’s air quality worsened to severe on Wednesday.

[…]

According to a senior fire official, a part of the landfill was gutted at night and the fire soon spread to other parts but there was no damage to life or property. “Since the fire and smoke caused damage to the environment and health, a case has been registered against unknown persons to investigate the cause behind it,” said a senior police officer.

Source: Times of India

I mention all the fires because they put a lot of carbon emission back in the atmosphere. The Earth has become so warm that it is just burning up!

On the flip side, human contribution to climate change was reduced; substantially. Between March and July, several countries across the world were in partial or total lockdown. This included a lack of activity in industries that meant far lower contribution of green-house gases. Road transport was arrested completely in almost every part of the world for close to a month. Air travel took a nosedive. The move to telecommuting and video-conferences has also meant a huge drop in travel across the board reducing emission. 

People went back to cooking. This meant fewer things were eaten out of a packet. The packet did not have to be produced. The factory that put whatever it was into the packet did not produce as much and all in all, this reduced the carbon footprint. 

The fear of the virus meant that non-veg consumption went down across the world but more specifically in America. This led to a decline in cattle farming and therefore fewer methane farts!

Several circus shows such as Davos WEF were not put up, this meant we did not fly thousands of jets across the world so that a 2 days event could be held.

Also, it seems people are starting to re-use. The average cotton shirt we wear takes in about 1000 Litres of water to go from fibre to shirt. Once used, clothes are thrown away into landfills not because it cannot be worn but because it is old or out of fashion. 

A massive force is reshaping the fashion industry: secondhand clothing. According to a new report, the US secondhand clothing market is projected to more than triple in value in the next 10 years—from US$28 billion in 2019 to US$80 billion in 2029—in a US market currently worth $379 billion. In 2019, secondhand clothing expanded 21 times faster than conventional apparel retail did.

[…]

Less than 1% of materials used to make clothing are currently recycled to make new clothing, a $500 billion annual loss for the fashion industry. The textile industry produces more carbon emissions than the airline and maritime industries combined. And approximately 20% of water pollution across the globe is the result of wastewater from the production and finishing of textiles.

[…]

Our latest research supports this possibility. We interviewed young American women who regularly use digital platforms like Poshmark. They saw secondhand clothing as a way to access both cheap goods and ones they ordinarily could not afford. They did not see it as an alternative model of consumption or a way to decrease dependence on new clothing production.

Source: Quartz

Other under-currents can be witnessed.

EIA projected total US power demand will drop to 3,716 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2020 from 3,896 billion kWh in 2019 before rising to 3,753 billion kWh in 2021.

That compares with an all-time high of 4,003 billion kWh in 2018, according to federal data going back to 1949.

Source: Economic Times

First of all, it shows that electricity consumption has been declining since 2018 as it is. Let me just put that decline in perspective. America is expected to consume 3716 billion kWh of energy this year. If you do the maths, it amounts to a mere 3% decline. Nepal has an installed capacity of 733 MW which produces about 650 million kWh of electricity. The decline noted for America in 2020 alone can power Nepal more than twice over!

As of late summer, governments around the world had pledged $12.2 trillion of relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic. That’s around 15% of global GDP, three times larger than government spending put forward during and after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and enough for every adult in the world to receive a $2,000 check.

[…]

Thus, taking into account the $1.1 trillion per year baked into the system already, the additional amount of clean energy investment needed to get on a 1.5°C track comes to just $0.3 trillion—or $300 billion—per year over the next five years.

[…]

Public funding appears to be available—for now—and given how massive this funding is, it provides a unique opportunity to catalyze the development, deployment, and dissemination of clean technologies during the next decade, an absolutely critical period in the fight against climate change.

Source: Quartz

To overcome the pandemic, every central bank has been printing money. This money can be put to use to re-focus economies in the right direction. Whether that is done or not will have to be seen.

The rural disruption that COVID has brought upon us has allowed us space and time to rethink. More important it has robbed the system of the inertia it had. It has upended a lot of existing practices and offers us an opportunity to pursue things differently. To use this as a point of inflexion and move towards sustainability. Obviously, there are several vested interests and the livelihoods of many at stake. It is rather easy to sit back and pontificate without having to figure out the practical challenges that this poses. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity.

Worst Hit

Movie theatres are usually mentioned when super-hit movies are released. This year, they have only been mentioned for the hit that they have taken in terms of business. Also, struggling to stay alive, producers have moved to Over The Top (OTT) services for the release for their movies. This would have been unthinkable blasphemy 11 months ago, no longer. 

The release of movies used to follow ‘Windowing’ to maximise returns. Windowing refers to the different window of release. The first 60-90 days went to theatres; then to television/OTT and then finally to CDs or Online purchase. Releasing them in these windows allowed each player to maximise the returns they got from the product.

Windowing be damned.

In another sign pointing toward where Hollywood is headed, Universal Pictures agreed to a deal with Cinemark—the second-biggest movie theatre chain in the US—to drastically shorten the time a film plays exclusively in theatres before it can be watched at home. The deal comes four months after Universal struck a similarly historic pact with AMC Theatres, the world’s largest cinema chain.

Under the agreement, all Universal films will play in Cinemark theatres for a minimum of 17 days (or three weekends) before the studio has the option to release some as digital rentals. After 17 days, a film’s shelf life in theatres—and its availability on-demand—will depend on its opening-weekend box-office totals.

Source: Quartz

Wonder Woman 1984, part of the DC Comics universe will release on HBO Max simultaneously. They don’t want to lose out of Christmas revenue just to keep the theatre chains happy. 

I heard the CMO of Asian paints a while back and he said our biggest problem is that we have no data about our customer. We have to just plan based on what the shopkeepers and distributors tell us. This was the same problem that production companies faced. The theatres owned the customers. Times Warner, Disney, and several other production houses are rolling out their streaming services, they can own their customers.

Some people still go to arcades to play video-games, but most people just buy a console and bring it home. It seems like theatres are headed that way. Theatres will have to work hard on improving the experience of the customer going forward if they want to stay relevant.

Digital Hit

Last week the Indian government made a very important change to the FDI policy as per the new policy, digital news media companies were brought under the FDI cap of 26%. This has been a sector that has had no regulation till now. 

The imposition of a 26 per cent limit on foreign direct investment in the digital media sector can hamper its growth potential, be a disincentive to incorporating companies in India, and lead to an unfair advantage for global players, said digital news companies and experts.

Source: Hindu Business Line

Media is playing a huge role in shaping the opinions of people and traditional new media has always had this limit. Given the importance of digital news media, it is only natural to extend this. I did not expect the repercussions to be this swift!

HuffPost India, the Indian web publication of the US-based digital media company, HuffPost, shut down on Tuesday after six years of operation, leaving the 12 journalists who worked there out of a job.

The closure is the first direct impact the Modi government’s new policy limiting foreign investment in digital media publications has had on the Indian media landscape. Under an official notification, FDI in digital media has been capped at 26% of equity. Media ventures with FDI beyond the limit have a year to disinvest. Until recently, there was no limit.

Source: The Wire

India = Google Lab

American companies are known for launching their latest products and features in the US before bringing it to the rest of the world. But for one company, that market has been fast seeing a shift. Google launched Android Pay, back in 2015, don’t be surprised if you have not heard of it, just a reflection of the disaster that it was. It was relaunched as Google pay in America and India in 2018.

Google Pay is already big in India with several thousand users. It uses the UPI system for money transfers, which is possible by providing the UPI code in the apps. One can scan the QR code as well and pay accordingly, besides using the usual method of sending it via by searching him/her in the contacts.

However, now the search giant is expanding the reach of its Pay service to new countries. This time it has brought Google Pay to 23 new countries and 24 new banks, as mentioned by Google in its dedicated page and reported by Android Police.

Source: Hindustan Times

Google has pushed its ad business to the limit and they are probably beginning to realise that they need to diversify. Especially with Anti-trust cases moving forward against them in the US. Also, the European Union starting to question many of their business practices. The French government has made Google agree to pay a portion of their ad revenue to French news publications since they populate their results with news links. The days of easy ad revenues are numbered. 

They are now coming with a new retail offering in India.

Tech giant Google is making a foray into airport retail with a tie-up with travel industry engagement platform Airbuy to make its services available across six airports in India.

Flyers can now use Google Pay at Airbuy app to book lounges and F&B. 

Founded in 2019 by a group of classmates at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Airbuy aims to increase airport revenues and enhance the overall passenger’s shopping experience through advanced Machine Learning capabilities.

Source: Inc42

They have money. They just need to find new areas where they can deploy their products and leverage data. India seems to be the most benign policy landscape and hence the company is beginning to experiment in India and use the country as a lab to fine-tune their products before releasing it to the rest of the world.

This might also mean, many more jobs getting shipped to India!

mRNA

mRNA stands for Messenger RNA which is a single strand of the molecule of RNA that corresponds to the genetic sequence of a gene. It is read by the ribosome during protein synthesis. In layman terms, if you have seen a DNA helix, mRNA is like one side of the DNA helix. Since it is one-sided, it results in the development of the other half called the tRNA (transfer RNA) which is read by the Ribosome to produce the protein. 

The COVID vaccine by Pfizer and Moderna have announced use this technology. They have a very high degree of efficacy but require insanely low temperatures. They both use the same technique for drug discovery based on mRNA. This is perhaps the quickest any vaccine has been brought to market as well. Moderna is very excited because they call the mRNA a platform akin to a computer operating system on which many things can be developed.

Recognizing the broad potential of mRNA science, we set out to create an mRNA technology platform that functions very much like an operating system on a computer. It is designed so that it can plug and play interchangeably with different programs. In our case, the “program” or “app” is our mRNA drug – the unique mRNA sequence that codes for a protein.

Source: Moderna

Moderna is using the mRNA which has part of the Viral DNA code to synthesise the protein that is the virus and then have the immune system attack it. Since the mRNA is only one side of an RNA strand it is highly unstable hence the low-temperature requirement. 

Vaccine discovery will get faster in the coming years.

Also

Trump pardoned the TurkeyABC News @ABCRep. Adam Schiff on the president’s pardon of Michael Flynn: “Donald Trump has repeatedly abused the pardon power to reward friends and protect those who covered up for him.” abcn.ws/37dvco0

November 26th 2020172 Retweets1,079 Likes

Deep in the Utah desert, they found an impeccably crafted steel monolithNYT National News @NYTNationalThe monolith is 10 to 12 feet tall and appears to be made of stainless steel, put together by rivets and embedded deep into the rock. The authorities have no idea who installed it, or how long it’s been there. A Weird Monolith Is Found in the Utah DesertA metal monolith, planted firmly in the ground with no clear sign of where it came from or why it was there, was discovered at the base of a barren slot canyon in Utah’s Red Rock Country.nyti.ms

November 25th 20204 Retweets10 Likes

Punjab farmers have been protesting against the farm bill for over a month. They are now marching to Delhi to protest and the government does not want that.BloombergQuint @BloombergQuintHaryana police use teargas, water cannons to block Punjab farmers from going to Delhi. #FarmersProtest Follow more updates: bit.ly/33ePtsc

November 26th 202066 Retweets163 Likes


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Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Chips

Potato Chips, known as Crisps in England are thin slices of potatoes that are deep-fried. The earliest known recipe can be found in a book published in 1817 called The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner. 

But that is not what this edition is about.

Technology dominates our life. Also, it plays an important role in everything we do. At the heart of that technology is a computer which we have come to call a Chip. 

The Chip

In 1960 William Shockley took the design of the transistor invented at the Bell Labs and left to Stanford with a business plan. Stanford at the time was giving away land next to the apple orchard to invite tech companies. Two of his proteges Robert Noyce and Michael Moore worked toward miniaturising the transistor. 

The first transistor

A transistor is a bipolar junction. An NPN junction, for example, has two negative poles and one positive pole. The genius of Robert Noyce was to figure out that you could dope (add impurity) silicon and create a Bipolar Junction. So imagine I take a 2 Cm X 2 Cm piece of silicon and cut four windows 1 Cm X 1 Cm each and add impurities in each window; effectively I have four transistors. Mr Noyce and Mr Moore went on to found a company called Integrated Electronics (Intel). They also figured how to make these windows smaller and smaller to squeeze more and more transistors on a chip; making them faster and faster. When a chip manufacturer says 10 nm process, they are referring to the size of the window.

A Silicon Chip

The ability to achieve a smaller window every 2-3 years is what we know today as the Moore’s Law and Andy Grove turned that into a business model.

That was the story of how silicon came to the valley.

The semiconductor business has two sides to it, design and fabrication. Intel was always vertically integrated and handled both sides of the business. But designing is high margin and high cost; whereas fabrication is a high investment and low margin business.

In the 1980s as more and more semiconductor companies were going fabless [not fabricating], Morris Chang, an engineer from Texas Instruments was wooed by Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute to join them. In 1987 Chang founded Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) as a pure fabrication company. Companies like ARM, Qualcomm, AMD, Nvidia could outsource their fabrication. TSMC would create scale and bring fabrication chops while they could focus on creating intellectual property.

Today TSMC is one of the largest fabricators in the world!

Not just that they have moved their fabrication capabilities forward faster than Intel has been able to. 

At TSMC’s 26th Technical Symposium, TSMC officially confirmed that its 5nm and 6nm processes are already in mass production. In addition, the company also announced that it will release a higher version of the 5nm process next year. Furthermore, TSMC officially confirmed that more advanced 2nm, 3nm, and 4nm is in development.

Source: GizChina

There is a computer in almost every device today. From your cellphone to your car, to even refrigerators and microwave ovens. While this represents the consumer side of things; chips are also essential for defence technologies, space, telecom and several other critical infrastructures without which our cities will come to a halt.

TSMC has a huge fabrication capacity located in China. This leads many to believe that everything is built in China. But…

China will import $300 billion of semiconductors for the third straight year, underscoring how the world’s No. 2 economy remains tied to America despite billions invested in local chip-making know-how.

Source: BloombergQuint

The US has been increasingly hostile towards China and especially Huawei which has helped put 4G across most of the world. Most if not all developed countries have banned the use of Huawei equipment for the 5G rollout. In addition to this, there have also been sanctions from the USA which has restricted businesses from engaging with the company. 

“Unfortunately, in the second round of U.S. sanctions, our chip producers only accepted orders until May 15. Production will close on Sept. 15,” Yu said at a conference August 7th. “This year may be the last generation of Huawei Kirin high-end chips.” Huawei’s upcoming Mate 40 phone, scheduled for release in September, could be the last phone with a Kirin chip.

[…]

It also meant Google was barred from doing business with Huawei, preventing Huawei from being able to obtain an Android license and keeping Google apps off Huawei devices. The order used the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to justify the ban, and reads that “openness must be balanced by the need to protect our country against critical national security threats.”

Source: The Verge

For Huawei, it is a race against time to build an alternative solution. 

The Company that brought Silicon to the valley, Intel is is falling behind when it comes to designing. Last month they announced that their 7nm process is going to be released by 2022. In the meantime, TSMC is racing towards a 3nm process. Intel has always been able to hold themselves in a position of dominance but that dominance has been sliding and now it seems they might be spiralling out of control. The US government has given TSMC Billions to bring production capacity to the US to protect themselves. 

Which brings us to the next generation of telecom. 5G. Huawei is one of the largest suppliers of telecom infrastructure and across China, they have been rolling out 5G infrastructure. Till January they were also rolling out the infrastructure in the UK. The truth is nobody is holding the whole widget!

Huawei has already concluded that it won’t be able to use its chips designed in-house and on Friday Reuters reported that Taiwan-based chip designer MediaTek has requested U.S. permission to supply Huawei with chips once the new export rules go into effect in the middle of next month.

Source: Phone Arena

This battle for silicon is not over yet. Setting up fabrication in the US is one thing. Scaling it to cater to the needs of the US alone, we would be another thing. It may take a decade. 

This could result in 5G deployment being very slow outside of China. It can also result in production struggle for certain if not all, manufacturers while useful capacity lies unused in China. You may have heard of a win-win scenario, this is the classic lose-lose scenario.

The most likely outcome in a Classic Prisoner’s Dilemma.

As if computers in all of your devices and infrastructure was not enough, Elon Musk wants to put it in the human body.

Chip = Computer = Brain

A human brain is an interpretation machine. The human eye does not see colour. It responds to light and sends a set of electrical impulses which the brain interprets as colour. Evolution has meant the brain determined that there are certain colours or sounds that it does not need to interpret. This has resulted in humans having a limited ability to perceive.

Elon Musk wants to expand the scope while at the same time making it possible to use our brains to engage with machines. Creating a Brain-Machine interface. Neuralink, the company he founded showcased its product for the very first time. Our brains are awfully complicated and the human understanding of how it works is laughable.

Musk and Neuralink have plenty of speculation – you’ll be able to stream music directly to your implant and listen to it in your skull, for example – but the only concrete ability we’ve seen is the device interpreting brainwaves as beeps. And that’s something we can do with stick-on sensors right now.

The future could be bright for Neuralink, perhaps one day it’ll live up to its hype. But it’s doubtful whether that’ll happen in Musk’s lifetime. There’s nothing solid to support the idea that a simple implant can suddenly turn the human brain into an OS-accessible database ready for read/write functionality from a classical computer.

Source: The Next Web

In the meantime in India…

Intel engineers in Bengaluru, he says, have worked on its latest Foveros technology, where multiple silicon dies manufactured in different technologies are combined into a single product (Lakefield) using sophisticated interconnect and 3D stacking, redefining Moore’s law from 2D to 3D. The Qualcomm India team is working on world-leading Snapdragon mobile processors combining latest technologies in low power, processing speed, camera functions, AI/ML and a broad variety of interfaces like 5G, GPS and Navic. The AMD team has done a superb job with power optimisation techniques in the 7nm technology for Ryzen-4000 series. Similarly, very high-end work is being done by engineers at ARM, Texas Instruments, NXP, Micron, Xilinx, Western Digital, Mediatek and many other semiconductor giants, he says.

[…]

Indian fabless companies, Gupta says, struggle for funding. A fabless startup in India needs a $3 to $5 million investment and a minimum three-year gestation period. The country, he says, should create an environment to enable this. 

Source: Gadgets Now

Two weeks ago, I had mentioned how the government had announced an Rs. 4.3 Crore competition to encourage microprocessor development in India. 

Self-reliant indeed!

Apple – Energy – Manufacturing

Apple is one of the few companies in the world that has made a firm commitment to renewables. They ensured initially that all of their operations in the USA including their data centres ran of wind or solar power. They have been working hard to ensure that their entire supply chain is now running on renewable power. This is an example of corporate activism to effect change. 

TSMC bought up all the energy from a Danish wind farm because Apple wants to green its supply chain.

TSMC is an Apple supplier, one of 71 so far that have committed, at Apple’s urging, to procure all of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Greening that supply chain is crucial to the consumer electronics giant’s goal, announced in July, to have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. Only about 1% of the company’s emissions—which in 2019 were about equal to those of Sri Lanka—come from its own stores and offices; almost all the rest are from the factories that produce its products.

Source: Quartz

Apple production plants are moving out of China. I am interested to see what this means for the Indian renewable energy market. It would be interesting to watch the energy markets at all the places where Winstrom and Foxconn are setting up sites.

Third World Beneficiaries

One of the greatest beneficiaries of the Trump Rule in America is the third world countries or NOT WESTERN countries. Before Trump whenever shit hit the roof, people from all countries would look towards America and try to immigrate. Now they see America, shake their heads and say let’s fix our own country. 

Disgusted with Lebanon’s corruption and seeing no future at home, he moved years ago to Dubai, where he worked in sales before returning on vacation last month.

But, he said, “When I saw the people, the crowd — not the government, not the police or anything — I’m proud to be Lebanese now, to be honest.”

New improvements had materialized at the gas station over the course of the day. Someone had welded together a metal rack to dispense the plastic rolls. Two tons of fresh vegetables had been distributed.

Sarah Barakat, 21, an architecture student overseeing the vegetables, said that she, too, planned to leave Lebanon for graduate studies.

“But I’m coming back as soon as I finish my master’s,” she said. “Who else is going to rebuild this city?”

Source: New York Times

In India, a lawyer tweeted criticising the former CJI. A case of contempt of court was against him built up. He refused to apologise stating that a false expression of regret “would amount to the contempt of my conscience.” The case started drawing attention and was amounting to a test of the freedom of expression.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was found guilty of criminal contempt for two of his tweets, was on Monday let off with a token fine of Re 1 by the Supreme Court.

The bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, directed the lawyer to deposit the amount by September 15, failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarment from law practice for three years.

Source: Indian Express

While a symbolic sentence, both sides won.

The Acquisition Reality Show

The Indian government announced a few weeks ago that it was going to ban 59 Chinese apps for security reasons. Of all the apps that were banned only one caused a stir – TikTok. Trump heard this during his daily briefing and thought, hmmm, here is a something I can turn into reality TV. What if I issue an order saying a Chinese app, which has content worse than reality TV, had to be sold to a US company within 45 days. Would help my campaign and keep the media occupied! Killing two birds with one stone.

Since then everyone from Microsoft to Oracle to Twitter to Disney and now Walmart is supposed to be bidding to buy. In the meantime, TikTok has sued the US government claiming that forcing it to sell would be unlawful. And then the Chinese government also joined the show!

China’s commerce ministry expanded its technology export controls (pdf, link in Chinese) to include a wide range of new advanced technologies ranging from drone manufacturing to artificial intelligence (AI). Among the new additions to the list, the most eye-catching entry is “data-based personalized information recommendation service”—or the kind of algorithm core to TikTok’s global success. That means its Chinese parent would need to seek government approval before it could reach a deal with foreign buyers, and could be forced to enter protracted discussions with authorities about what parts of the company are covered by the rules. ByteDance has said it will strictly abide by the rules.

Source: Quartz

China has been remarkably restrained, to say the least. Imagine they had been like Trump. They would have probably asked Apple to sell its China business to Xiaomi and get out. Apple would again be a 1 Trillion Dollar company today.

Nobody will acquire TikTok. But this reality show is sure to continue until the elections.

Also

Most of Northern USA will be swamped by the smoke emanating from the Californian forest fires. Maps

The problem is not electric cars, it is battery technology. A battery invented in the 1980s, commercialised by Sony in the 1990s because they had multi-million dollar machines sitting around idle, which could be put to use, to make the first Lithium-Ion batteries. Could a radioactive diamond powered battery offer a solution

Since my childhood, I was told that the Americans are sitting on vast Alaskan oil reserves and they are just waiting for the world to run out of oil. Trump opened up the Alaskan Wilderness to exploration and… Crickets. Nobody is interested.

You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

Just Imagine

Just imagine, if you were to go back to 2010, tapping a slab of glass a few times and expecting a cab to appear would have seemed like magic. It is commonplace and normal today.

Just imagine, if you were to go back to 1990, sitting and home and clicking a pointing device and accessing an entire library would have seemed like magic. It was commonplace in 2010.

Just imagine, if you were in 1980s Delhi, going to a grocery store and being able to buy milk would have seemed like magic. It was commonplace by late 1990s.

You don’t need to travel centuries to see how our lives have changed. A few years or a decade can be life-altering. Human ingenuity has meant that we have always kept our heads down and kept moving forward.

What is going to seem like commonplace in 2030? Something that solves a problem in a way that you cannot even fathom in 2020?

The current situation has opened up a broader set of possibilities than previously imaginable. Inertia does not exist; apart from in the stock markets. Things are changing fast to reach another ‘commonplace’. Also, unlike the startups that were founded in 2010; you would not even be needed to bribe your user into changing their behaviour. They are in a place where they are more than willing to.

COVID has exposed the fragilities in our systems. The more optimised, the more fragile. In education, transportation, supply chain, healthcare, real estate, hospitality; opportunities are many; solutions are few. Can you let your imagination run wild? Find a solution that seems like magic.

Now is the time – Just imagine.