Learning by Proxy


A government by the people, of the people and for the people; does not exist.

If you read the thoughts of the Greek philosophers, they all thought Democracy was the worst form of governance. Because… What they meant by democracy was wildly different from what we have been made to believe it is. 

tables and chairs inside the hall
Photo by Aditya Joshi on Unsplash

Democracy to them meant giving people the right to vote on each and every decision. Giving power to the poor to determine what to do with the wealth of the rich would make sure that all the poor will distribute their wealth and leave everyone poor. Another variant of this argument is often used to defend Capitalism. If one is not allowed to hoard money, there would be no incentive to make any. 

The Magna Carta is often cited as the beginning of modern democracy. It was the document that declared that the King was not above the law. In reality, it was meant to provide power to the wealthy in England.

The American Constitution was also written with similar thoughts in mind. “All men are created equal (so long as they are landowners…)”. If we were to turn back time and ask the Founders what was the most egregious mistake in the document, this omission is what they would cite.

The founding of the United States was so skewed, that the Bill of Rights had to be introduced through an amendment. 

Democracy meant asking for consensus on every issue. This would mean everyone is allowed to participate in every decision. Even the most liberal readers of this blog would be squirming at the thought. While this might seem rather odd and impractical let me illustrate why this is important.

The form of government that all countries that call themselves Democracies follow is the Representative form of government.

In this form of government, false promises are made, and agendas are brandished during an “election season”. Once the representatives have been voted into power they do what the fuck ever they like. 

Democracy as practised today is how we lose power, not take it!

Say, legislation about making education free for all was being voted upon. Would the “people” have any power over how the representative voted? Even if 90% of the people want the representative to vote ‘yes’, the representative is free to vote ‘no’. This is what dictatorship looks like. 

The media and news cycles exist to distract you from this fact.

If there are 4 years between the vote and the next election, there is enough time to distract the populace and change the news cycle completely by the time the next elections arrive. 

Consequentially, we have a political class that is full of scoundrels only good at winning elections. One is a little more considerate towards the scoundrels who tend to echo one’s beliefs. BJP is full of scoundrels, and so is Congress. Neither side is any better but that is the choice you are forced to make. 

Democrats are supposed to be liberal, business-unfriendly and climate-friendly; but Biden went ahead and gave permission for oil exploration in Alaska. The Republicans are the ones who are considered to be in bed with the oil lobby. For all the abuse heaped at Trump, apparently, Biden is the better liar. 

In effect, democracy has become the game of choosing the better liar.

Learning by Proxy

Taxing Carbon Selectively

There is a fundamental relationship between GDP and resources. Every time that GDP goes up, the consumption of resources goes up as well. 

If you buy food, it has to be produced somewhere and then transported and then processed and then transported again and then perhaps sold to you.

If you buy clothes, the fibres have to be produced either through agriculture or from petrochemicals and then processed and then sent to some sweatshop in Bangladesh to turn into clothes and then transported and then sold to you.

I can go on but you get the idea.

The growth in GDP produces a commensurate resource consumption that produces pollution.

Boiling the argument down to simply – If you want to save the planet you need to stop growing GDP.

a gas station at night with a car passing by
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Now, the moment you even dare utter those words in the western hemisphere, people will start running around like their hair was on fire and a quarter of the Amazon would be chopped to write articles about what wrong-headed thinking this is. 

This has kept things as they have been for 100 years. 

Then Britain said that they had managed to “decouple” GDP and greenhouse gases. GDP went up and emissions did not! This was possible only because they outsourced all the dirty parts of the job to China. So new metrics were invented and it turned out that their net emissions were not coming down.

Now, the EU is sort of, kind of serious about the climate change issue. They want to show that GDP growth is possible without emissions growth. 

Last weekend, the San Marino Grand Prix had to be cancelled in Italy because the region is inundated. A few hundred miles away, France and Spain are suffering bouts of what we shall from now on call “Summer Fires”. Venice and Amsterdam are sinking thanks to rising sea levels; not to mention the Netherlands is called the Low Country because half of the nation is below sea level. If there is a considerable rise in sea level, the country is a bathtub waiting to fill up.

So EU has introduced the CBAM, which sounds like a loud weapon but is merely an acronym for Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. 

The EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is our landmark tool to put a fair price on the carbon emitted during the production of carbon intensive goods that are entering the EU, and to encourage cleaner industrial production in non-EU countries. The gradual introduction of the CBAM is aligned with the phase-out of the allocation of free allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to support the decarbonisation of EU industry. 

By confirming that a price has been paid for the embedded carbon emissions generated in the production of certain goods imported into the EU, the CBAM will ensure the carbon price of imports is equivalent to the carbon price of domestic production, and that the EU’s climate objectives are not undermined. The CBAM is designed to be compatible with WTO-rules.

Source: European Commission

What they are essentially saying is that EU manufacturers use clean/climate-friendly manufacturing methods and those outside the EU would have to pay a tax equivalent to the cost of using similar methods if they are not. This they suppose will motivate those outside the EU to shift towards cleaner production methods.

Normally I would say that it reeks of protectionism, but if you remove the migrants coming into Europe, the entire continent is dying. Who are they going to protect? Who will manufacture there?


The CBAM will initially apply to imports of certain goods and selected precursors whose production is carbon intensive and at most significant risk of carbon leakage: cement, iron and steel, aluminium, fertilisers, electricity and hydrogen. With this enlarged scope, CBAM will eventually – when fully phased in – capture more than 50% of the emissions in ETS covered sectors. Under the political agreement, the CBAM will enter into force in its transitional phase as of 1 October 2023.

The gradual phasing in of CBAM over time will allow for a careful, predictable and proportionate transition for EU and non-EU businesses, as well as for public authorities. During this period, importers of goods in the scope of the new rules will only have to report greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) embedded in their imports (direct and indirect emissions), without making any financial payments or adjustments. The agreement foresees that indirect emissions will be covered in the scope after the transitional period for some sectors (cement and fertilisers), on the basis of a methodology to be defined in the meantime. The objective of this transition period is to serve as a pilot and learning period for all stakeholders (importers, producers and authorities) and to collect useful information on embedded emissions to refine the methodology for the definitive period.

Source: European Commission

Do you see the omission? Oil and Gas! Agricultural Produce! They have also left out rare earth minerals. 

They have announced the names of only 6 specific industries in their first list. They have left out industries that aid and abet the greatest pollution across the world. Agriculture represents 1.4% of the EU economy at EUR 222 Billion it is a minuscule part of the economy, sure they can go after fertilisers. But they have left out the agriculture that they import because that will cause spiralling inflation and people in France already want Emmanuel Macron to be dealt with the same way that Marie Antoinette was. Imagine if food prices were to shoot up!

They have gone after construction, with a declining population how much more construction will be needed? Since they are already in bed with Natural Gas, going after Hydrogen makes sense. Whoever is exporting electricity to the EU?

Nevertheless, it is a start. Creates a precedent which is good.

Whether emissions go down with increasing GDP or not will be seen. I am certain in the meantime, tax collection will definitely go up!

The tax is expected to raise as much as €14 billion ($15.4 billion) a year for the EU. The ensuing reforms of the overall carbon market are projected to cut EU emissions by 62% by 2030, from 2005 levels.

“It is one of the only mechanisms we have to incentivize our trading partners to decarbonize their manufacturing industry,” Mohammed Chahim, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator on the law, said in a statement in December, during the contentious negotiations over the tax.

Source: Quartz

Whether other countries establish similar regimes would be interesting to watch out for. A country exporting fertilizers to the EU can use the same principle and establish a carbon tax on the export of cars from the EU.

Fun times ahead!

Learning by Proxy

Populous India is Popular India

In 1951, India conducted its first census. Since then, every 10 years like clockwork India has been conducting its census. The Indian census is quite an affair, superseded only by the election in the breadth of logistical and operational challenges that it poses. No undertaking in the world is more complex than the Indian elections.

The last census was conducted in 2011.

Spread across 28 states and 8 union territories, the census covered 640 districts, 5,924 sub-districts, 7,935 towns and more than 600,000 villages. A total of 2.7 million officials visited households in 7,935 towns and 600,000 villages, classifying the population according to gender, religion, education and occupation. The cost of the exercise was approximately ₹2,200 crore (US$280 million) – this comes to less than $0.50 per person, well below the estimated world average of $4.60 per person. Conducted every 10 years, this census faced big challenges considering India’s vast area and diversity of cultures and opposition from the manpower involved.

Source: Wikipedia

2.7 million officials! Just to put that in perspective, that is a little more than the population of Lithuania or half the population of Denmark.

Thanks to COVID-19, the census never happened in 2021 and is slated to take place sometime in October 2023.

In 2011, India’s population was 1.210 Billion.

people walking during daytime
Photo by Laurentiu Morariu on Unsplash

In the intervening decade, the standards of living have gone up and millions 500,000 officially were lost to COVID. Not to mention, the current government has done everything in its power to devastate all statistical bodies including the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) and the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO). This was meant to manufacture growth number post demonetisation in 2016 which decimated the economy. 

So much so that the RBI at one point, when it still had a governor with a spine, commented that the economic data had to be taken with a grain of salt and deemed it “somewhat unreliable”.

On 24th April somebody in the UN “projected” that the Indian population has surpassed that of China. 

The latest estimates and projections of global population from the United Nations, indicate that China will soon cede its long-held status as the world’s most populous country. In April 2023, India’s population is expected to reach 1,425,775,850 people, matching and then surpassing the population of mainland China (figure 1).

India’s population is virtually certain to continue to grow for several decades. By contrast, China’s population reached its peak size recently and experienced a decline during 2022. Projections indicate that the size of the Chinese population will continue to fall and could drop below 1 billion before the end of the century.

Source: UN

Given all of the factors mentioned above, this must be taken with a large grain of salt. If this is true, India would have added the equivalent of the working adult population of the United States in the last 12 years. 

India’s population is not radically different from what it was a month ago. It may have changed by a few thousand, but not all that much. It nevertheless seems to have had a huge psychological impact on businesses.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said he was very bullish on India and that was the reason why Apple was investing in retail and online stores in the country and putting out a significant amount of energy here.

Speaking on the post-pandemic opportunity in India in the first quarter earning call, he said, “We actually did fairly well through COVID in India and I’m even more bullish now, hopefully on the other side of it. I’m very bullish on India.’‘

Source: The Hindu

Apple does not offer many of its online services including Apple Fitness in India. India is one of the last countries where most of its products are released. Till 30 days ago, the company did not even have a company-owned store in India. But he is bullish.

Hospitality major Airbnb’s cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky is betting big on the Indian market and expects the country to be the startup’s biggest growth market in the current decade.

“From a business perspective, India is an exciting new market for us. We now have 1,000 employees there, and I believe it will be one of the biggest growth markets, if not the biggest, in this decade,” Chesky told The Economic Times.

Noting that India is well poised to have the world’s biggest middle class in future, Chesky said that rising internet penetration and GDP would enable the company to build a ‘really important business’ in the country.

Source: Inc42

After one and a half decades, Airbnb figured out India exists! In India, Airbnb is the last place you turn to, to find lodging. But “Big Bets”.

US network gear maker Cisco today announced manufacturing plans for Tamil Nadu, India, as its chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins asserted that the company is bullish about India market and its prospects.

The company, in a statement, said it is targeting over USD 1 billion in combined exports and domestic production.

Source: NDTV

This is partly motivated by the need to hedge against China whose relationships are growing more and more frosty with the US. But at the same time, it is also the “largest nation” tag that is playing on their minds. 

The fact is that the middle class in India is very different from the middle class in a developed country. A middle-class household in India has an average monthly salary of Rs 8000 ($95) per person per month. With that much money, let alone the iPhone, the household cannot afford the myriad connectors and cables one is forced to buy when one buys an iPhone.

The population that consumer brands end up targeting in India is about 10 million people. CRED an app that bills itself as one catering to the upper crest of India has 11.2 million users as of FY22.

Frankly, it does not matter whether we have the largest population or not. It is a great advertisement and it is causing many companies to take notice and try to include India in their roadmap if not for any other reason, to signal to the investors about avenues of growth. 

In the late 90s, the young English-speaking population attracted global attention, which led to the outsourcing boom in India. It resulted in wealth creation for a lot of young graduates. Between the BPOs and KPOs, there were a lot of jobs to be had. It changed the face of India.

More than anything else, it changed what one could aspire to be. There were only three people who could run large businesses in 1980s India, Tata, Birla and Ambani. Come the 2000s not only did more people dare but also more of them found success.

The attention attracted by being the most populous nation alone has the potential to turn a possibility into a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Learning by Proxy

Inflation | Learning by Proxy

Price discovery in any market takes place when demand meets supply.

Over the last couple of years, it has been very difficult for demand to meet supply simply because of the number of disruptions that have taken place in the supply chain. This has further been exacerbated by the fact that people have been hoarding things because of the uncertainty surrounding availability, access, etc. 

When demand exceeds supply prices go up. This rise in price is called inflation.

Capitalism seeks growth. Growth can only arrive when demand rises. When the growth in demand is not met by commensurate growth in supply, inflation is the result. 

The government use fiscal and monetary policies to control inflation. If demand is more than supply; either make it difficult for consumers to borrow (increase interest rates) or make it easier for producers to expand supply (stimulus, subsidies, etc). 

Since the Second World War, a cornerstone thesis of policymakers across the globe has been to keep inflation low.


Deflation, which is the opposite of inflation often results in revenues shrinking even if demand exists. Lesser revenue would lead to layoffs and therefore further decrease in demand. So nobody wins. 

If inflation is high, goods and services become more and more expensive over time. People will spend only on things that are absolutely essential and even that, sparingly. Consumption drops. The other way in which this scenario plays out – employers are forced to increase the salary of employees. That lowers margins. 

Let me illustrate this with some data from the US.

Source: Official Data

This is US Dollar Inflation since 1635. Throughout history, It was normal to have deflationary years. Prices went up and then markets collapsed and prices went down. That is all fine, till you reach 1948. After the Second World War, there was a focus on reigning in Inflation. Leaving out the fiasco caused by the Oil Embargo in the 1970s, inflation has been quite sedate. 

Source: Official Data

At the same time, what we also notice is that buying power has collapsed since the Second World War. The absence of deflationary years ensured that prices kept going up. This resulted in more money being required to buy the same goods. For most of American history, $1000 dollars from 1800 could have bought $1000 dollars worth. In other words, the buying power of $1000 remained strong.

In the last 50 years, you would need 10s of thousands of dollars to buy what $1000 dollars could have bought in 1800.

Source: Official Data

Another way of showing the collapse of buying power.

In this context let us look at the rising inflation that is being witnessed in 2022. 

For more than 2 decades now, the US has had an inflation rate of 1% to 3.5%. If you buy an item for $10, a year later it is likely going to cost you $10.1 – $10.35. Nobody would even notice this. Worse, at a one per cent inflation over a prolonged period of time, while prices might move from $10 to $12/$13, it happens so gradually that nobody would realise the changes taking place. The sudden doubling of inflation makes the changes in pricing obvious. 

For companies that need to compensate their workers, when inflation is at 1% giving them a 3% hike and letting them know that they are going to comfortably beat inflation is easy. The more blue-collar your work, the truer this is.

As inflation hits 7%, claiming to be providing a hike 3 times the inflation becomes far more difficult. A worker who is paid $30,000 per year is offered a 3% increment or $900 more the next year. The minimum wage stagnated at the same level for decades. 

This is the advantage of a low inflation environment. The top managers and executives in the company are able to give themselves 20%  to 50% in salary hikes without causing too much hurt (they are fewer in number) to the shareholders while giving little to nothing to the people who make the wheels go around.

The chasm between what the country’s corporate leaders and their workers earn is widening to Grand Canyon-like proportions, according to new research that shows CEO compensation surged 940% between 1978 to 2018 while the average worker saw a meagre 12% pay hike over the same 40-year period.

Source: CBS News 

Simply divide 940% by 40, you get a respectable 23.5%. Through multiple recessions, stock market collapses, etc. CEOs have managed to pay themselves more! In that same period, the average worker saw their salary increase 12% or 0.3% per annum.

Then comes a term popularised by Alfred Rapport in 1986 – Shareholder Value. The thesis is that the sole purpose of the company was to maximise shareholder value. Not stakeholders but only shareholders. And managers who maximise shareholder value (read CEO) are rewarded with money. Often this maximisation happened at the expense of all own the other stakeholders. The environment suffered; employees (esp Blue Collar) were paid incredibly poorly, and sweatshops were invented.

Source: Times Now

Source: Livemint

Source: BBC

Source: Investopedia

The issue at hand is not inflation. It is the possibility that corporations would have to dish out unprecedented salary hikes to retain employees. The pressure on Biden is not from the consumer, it is from corporate leaders.

The unfortunate truth is, we will see the other side of this inflationary peak much sooner unless COVID has a say in it. COVID has battered the world and its economies and still, Apple managed to sell more iPhones in 2020 and 2021 than ever before. This is because of the liquidity that the stimulus has introduced into the market.

That tap will be closed. Demand will fall.

Inflation will climb down in less than 2 quarters. The leaders will project this as incredible economic shepherding. It will be hailed a victory. The corporates will continue to dish out measly single-digit salary hikes.

The rich can continue to get richer and the poor can continue to get poorer.

Learning by Proxy

Real Philanthropy | Learning by Proxy

Earlier this year I had written a piece on Philanthropy where I had mentioned how the wealthy have been using foundations as a vehicle for tax evasion. In fact, under the guise of charitable foundations, these billionaires are using these are vehicles to influence policy across the world to get preferential treatment and make themselves even more wealthy.

As the year draws to a close and a new one dawns I want to write about the good things that are happening in philanthropy. Of all the Billionaires out there, one seems to be taking ‘giving away’ seriously and doing a good job of it.

Mackenzie Scott.

For those of you who do not know, she is the former wife of Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.

Scott has not only begun to make good on her word, but she’s doing so at a record pace and with total control over where her money goes: In a little more than two years, Scott, who is worth $57 billion, has given $8.6 billion to 780 organizations promoting issues including gender equity, racial justice, public health and beyond. She has done so without an office or even a mailing address, and with scant evidence of a full-time staff. Instead she works with her husband Dan, researchers and advisers from nonprofit consulting firm Bridgespan. She answers to no one, has no board of directors (that we know of) and, because she’s not making gifts through a charitable foundation, no reporting requirements, either. (In comparison, the Gates Foundation, which has nearly 1,800 employees, made $5.8 billion in grants in 2020. Scott distributed slightly more than $5.8 billion that year.)

And, crucially, she employs a “no-strings attached” giving philosophy, meaning each organization can use the funds however they see fit. “It empowers receivers by making them feel valued and by unlocking their best solutions,” Scott wrote on Medium in June.

Source: Forbes

Just for perspective; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has 1763 employees across 9 offices. Giving money away should not require that many people. You just need one person to sign the cheques is it not?

There are others who are also stepping up to put more money where it is really needed. One of the crusaders comes from the unlikeliest of places. Robert Downey Jr, better known for his role as Iron Man is bringing a group of philanthropists together to provide fast grants to scientists who are working on challenging problems.

If we really want to get the planet to net zero emissions, we need to transform how we produce and consume electricity. We need newer, more-efficient transportation, and a food supply that doesn’t rely on deforestation. We need climate-friendly agriculture and better ways to preserve ecosystems. We must capture and remove existing greenhouse gases. We need constant iteration for efficiency. For all the above we need the best minds working on the right problems, and quickly.

Unfortunately, if there’s one major shortcoming of our existing scientific institutions, it’s speed. In the earliest days of the pandemic, as researchers raced to understand COVID-19 and test ideas for response, a group of outsider philanthropists stepped up to create Fast Grants for quick-turnaround financial resources for new questions and ideas. The program did more than just fund projects, it showed that there was a more effective, less bureaucratic way to support scientists.


Funding risky research first requires bets on risky new models. To help stop the leaks on the scientific talent funnel, our team is launching a new program: the FootPrint Coalition Science Engine.

We are in the business of supporting entrepreneurial scientists and we are in agreement that the major impediments are the obvious limitations of decision-making by committee. We’re trying something different. FootPrint Coalition is funding early research in brand new environmental fields, and doing it under the direction of esteemed Science Leads who can move quickly and fund at their discretion. The FootPrint Coalition Science Engine builds off suggestions made in the Funding Risky Research paper. It operationalizes the “loose-play funding for early-stage risky explorations” but doesn’t bind it to universities.

We’re doing it “in public” on the Experiment funding platform, a website for crowdfunding science research projects, so anyone can participate as a cofunder.

Source: Fast Company

In the meantime, Laurene Powell Jobs is taking a slightly different track to do her giving. She created the Emerson Collective, but unlike other Billionaires who hide under the guise of a foundation, she has incorporated it as an LLC. She is using the money to invest in causes that she believes in and supporting entrepreneurs others may not necessarily.

The collective, as The Post describes it, is “equal parts think tank, foundation, venture capital fund, media baron, arts patron and activist hive.” The collective invests in private companies not because the goal is to make money but because, she says, Silicon Valley has demonstrated that “amazing entrepreneurs who … are 100 percent aligned with our mission” can help find solutions that might elude a nonprofit.

Because Emerson is formed as a limited liability company rather than a foundation, it has the flexibility to do more than make grants to nonprofit groups. It can support advocacy groups, launch its own activist campaigns and contribute to political organizations.


“What’s fascinating is that by listening to all these founders, she has basically put founders at the head of each of the sectors of Emerson Collective, so that she’s really funding entrepreneurs inside the collective who want to disrupt their spaces,” Conway told The Post. “She wants people to innovate in their sector — education reform, getting the Dream Act passed. So Emerson has become like an accelerator for causes around social change.”

Source: CNET

But with this new crop of philanthropists, one sentiment seems to be clear, they are not going to be taking their wealth to their graves. Whether it is Laurene Powell Jobs…

“I inherited my wealth from my husband, who didn’t care about the accumulation of wealth,” she told the New York Times. “I’m not interested in legacy wealth buildings, and my children know that. If I live long enough, it ends with me.”

The sentiment, which she doesn’t appear to have expressed before, syncs with a building consensus among some of tech’s wealthiest people: That the rich should give away their money today, rather than later, and that the heirs of long-dead billionaires shouldn’t have so much power in society centuries later.

Source: Vox

Or MacKenzie Scott

“My hope is that MacKenzie’s style of giving inspires the philanthropic sector, and inspires other donors to give in a way that supports bold, big visions,” says Favianna Rodriguez, who works to aid communities of color in Oakland, California. “We don’t have a lot of time. We’re looking at the crisis of the epidemic, the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and this moment of racial reckoning.”

With $57 billion still to give away, Scott has big plans to continue to affect real change and have a lasting impact on the historically underfunded and overlooked. As she puts it: “Generosity is generative. Sharing makes more.”

Source: Forbes

So in the end, it seems like it really is possible to give away a lot of money. As the old adage goes; if there is a will, there is a way.

Learning by Proxy

Internet | Learning by Proxy

All of us use the internet. The mere fact that you are reading these words is because of the internet. Today, your phone has software, your car has software, your refrigerator has software, even my weighing scale has a software. Software is everywhere. Have you ever wondered what software the internet runs on?

The internet was originally created as a project to communicate with soldiers on the battlefield. As the war with Russia (the hot one, not the cold one) never came to pass, that same technology found other applications. People started experimenting and building on it. The fundamental was to build a system through which data could flow. A protocol. While there were many competing protocols, the one that was free eventually won out. It is called the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

HTTP is like the pipes that regulate the flow of data on the internet. That data needs to be stored somewhere. Servers store those data. Webservers are software that helps a server handle HTTP requests.

Open-source software (OSS) is computer software that is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is a prominent example of open collaboration, meaning any capable user is able to participate online in development, making the number of possible contributors indefinite. The ability to examine the code facilitates public trust in the software.

Source: Wikipedia

Open-source software allows anyone to alter the source code and create a newer, better version, or add features and share it. Often many people simultaneously work on open source software and share their development with the rest of the developer community working on it. This makes the software better for everyone. Keeping it open source also makes it free to use.

While there were several competing server technologies including the likes of Microsoft and Oracle; most of the tinkerers who went on to build almost everything you use on the internet used Open Source Software for their servers because it is free. I can get a WordPress server with software setup for $5 today. That is the startup cost on the internet.

The Apache HTTP Server was one of the most popular open-source server software released in 1995. It is Open source (explained above), cross-platform (works on various hardware), web-server software. WordPress powers about 30% of all websites on the internet, it runs on Apache.

In the spirit of Open Source Software, a developer by the name of Ceki Gülcü created a Java-based logging utility called Apache Log4j. Log files store what is happening within certain systems so that if an error occurs it is possible to figure out what went wrong.

When a utility is useful many people adopt it. It comes down to the person who wrote it, to maintain it. Often there are several bugs that get discovered over time and they need to be fixed as they get discovered.


Source: XKCD

Log4J was written in 2001 and that developer has been maintaining it since – free of cost. But, last week a zero-day vulnerability was discovered which allows arbitrary code execution.

zero-day (also known as 0-day) is a computer-software vulnerability either unknown to those who should be interested in its mitigation (including the vendor of the target software) or known and a patch has not been developed. Until the vulnerability is mitigated, hackers can exploit it to adversely affect programs, data, additional computers or a network.

Source: Wikipedia

Think of it as a birth defect that you just realised exists.

Arbitrary code execution allows the attacker to run any code that they wish on the machine.

Last week it was discovered…

The vulnerability in Log4J is extremely easy to exploit. After sending a malicious string of characters to a vulnerable machine, hackers can execute any code they want. Some of the earliest attacks were kids pasting the malicious code in Minecraft servers. Hackers, including some linked to China and Iran, are now seeking to exploit the vulnerability in any machine they can find that’s running the flawed code.

And there’s no clear end in sight. The Log4J issue amounts to a long-term security crisis expected to last months or years. Jen Easterly, director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has said this is “one of the most serious flaws” she’s ever seen.

Source: MIT Technology Review

The problem is that almost half the Internet is built using this and that means almost everything that we use is right now vulnerable at some level. The first problem is that there is no clear idea of the fix and they are working on it and besides who funds it?

“The team is working around the clock,” Yazici told me by email when I first reached out to him. “And my 6 a.m. to 4 a.m. (no, there is no typo in time) shift has just ended.”

In the middle of his long days, Yazici took time to point a finger at critics, tweeting that “Log4j maintainers have been working sleeplessly on mitigation measures; fixes, docs, CVE, replies to inquiries, etc. Yet nothing is stopping people to bash us, for work we aren’t paid for, for a feature we all dislike yet needed to keep due to backward compatibility concerns.”


As pressure and critics pile on the Log4J team, old questions of fairness are being asked about the open-source world.

“Fairness is a problem,” says Ceki Gülcü, who founded Log4 . “There’s this weird imbalance, where you profit from something but you don’t give anything back.”

The public is also almost completely ignorant of the immense role—and risk—of the free-labor-powered open-source software that runs the internet. OpenSSL powers encryption, for example, and Linux is behind the most widely used operating systems on the planet, including Android.


In 2018, the developer behind a popular open-source project called ua-parser-js quit, unwilling to work for free anymore. The software is used by big tech firms including Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The person who took control of ua-parser-js then hijacked the software and added malicious code to the project to steal cryptocurrency.

Source: MIT Technology Review

The greatest problem is that a lot of the infrastructure that we take for granted is built out of passion and love for software. Entrepreneurs who profess ‘passion’ don’t really build much of use. Even if they do, they use an elitist tool called Patents to put a lock on it. This stops it from being of any benefit beyond the same company. At the same time, they all continue to use all of the open-source solutions and build their wealth on them.

Wait there is more…

So far, the vanguard of Log4j hacking has primarily comprised cryptominers, malware that leeches resources off of an affected system to mine cryptocurrency. (These were extremely popular a few years ago, before everyone realized that the real money’s in ransomware.) Some nation-state spies have dabbled as well, according to recent reports from Microsoft and others. What’s seemingly missing is the extortion, the ransomware, the disruptive attacks that have defined so much of the past two years or so. This won’t be the case for long.


Log4Shell is also relatively trivial to exploit. Just send a malicious piece of code and wait for it to get logged. Once that happens, congratulations; you can now remotely run whatever code you want on the affected server.

It’s that combination of severity, simplicity, and pervasiveness that has the security community rattled. “It is by far the single biggest, most critical vulnerability ever,” says Amit Yoran, CEO of cybersecurity firm Tenable and founding director of US-CERT, the organization responsible for coordinating public-private response to digital threats.

So far, though, that calamity seems slow to manifest. Hackers are absolutely targeting Log4j; security firm Check Point has seen over 1.8 million attempts to exploit the vulnerability since Friday, according to spokesperson Ekram Ahmed. At some points, they’ve seen over 100 attempts per minute. And state-sponsored groups from China and Iran have been spotted using Log4Shell to establish footholds in various targets. Still, for now, cryptominers reign.

Source: WIRED

The foundation of what the internet stands on is being taken care of by soldiers who are often unpaid. Now, just imagine, not having the internet for 1 month or losing everything that you have stored on the internet. What would you pay to avoid that? Those who have profited off the internet should certainly start paying.

Learning by Proxy

Indian Crypto Policy | Learning by Proxy

In most countries there exist laws that forbid monopolies. But there are things that government likes to monopolise. One of the things that it loves to monopolise is the issue of currency.

A currency is a store of value, that is provided legitimacy by an authority. In most cases the government.

Cryptocurrency is a decentralised currency that has no issuing authority, nor does it have an underlying basis for its value. Nobody is ascribing it value except for what the market assumes.

Most importantly, they are cutting in on the government’s monopoly.

Gold was used as currency for a very long time. In fact, when paper-based currencies were first introduced, they were promised to provide an equivalent amount in gold. Then America decided to go fiat. A fiat currency does not have any underlying basis, its value is solely derived from the issuer. Almost every economy followed suit.

Gold has all of the properties of a currency but you would never find anyone tossing a 10 gm gold biscuit across the counter to buy a laptop. Gold instead is treated as an asset to invest in.

The boiling frog is an apologue describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.

Source: Wikipedia

Most governments did not even take notice of cryptocurrencies when they came into circulation more than a decade ago. It was too technical, hard to understand and even harder to own. But just like the proverbial boiling frog, the governments are suddenly faced with an animal that they know not how to tame.

The government has two policy levers using which it controls the economy.

The Fiscal Policy refers to the use of government spending as well as tax policies to influence economic conditions. Direct investment towards certain sectors and subsidise certain areas to encourage adoption/investment.

The other is the monetary policy which the government does not directly control. It is set by the central bank by controlling the issue and circulation of money as well as the interest rates prevalent in the banking system.

Cryptocurrency upends both.

If transactions are to be undertaken with cryptocurrency, the government no longer has visibility of the transactions because crypto is blessed with anonymity. This really disrupts tax policy.

The central bank has no means to stimulate or dampen demand when transactions are taking place outside of the banking system and interest rates are market-determined and not policy determined.

Cryptocurrency, therefore, is a nightmare for most governments. Further, banning it outright is only going to result in rampant black markets emerging and it would become impossible to control and to know.

Cryptocurrency has become like an unwanted relative living at home. Can’t get rid of them but neither do you want to keep them.

With that let me welcome you to the flip-flop regulation of the Indian crypto market.

The parliamentary panel yesterday (Nov. 15) met representatives of crypto exchanges, Blockchain and Crypto Assets Council (BACC), among others, for a deeper understanding of the issues involved and the business. This was the first such meeting.

While they agreed that a regulatory mechanism was necessary, none of the stakeholders could decide who must take the onus of regulating the swelling cryptocurrency ecosystem in India.


The law was earlier intended to “prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India.” But certain exceptions will be permitted to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency—and its uses—according to the Lok Sabha bulletin (pdf) released in January.

Meanwhile, the burgeoning popularity of virtual tokens in India has caught the fancy of urban Indians, as well as millennials in tier-2 and -3 cities. At yesterday’s meeting, experts said cryptocurrencies were some “sort of investors’ democracy.”

Source: Quartz

The government is unsure. It does not even want to call cryptocurrency, currency. Calling it currency gives it an aura of legitimacy and therefore would cut in on the monetary policy side. So the government wants to refer to it as a crypto asset. Akin to gold, something you invest in and not use for transacting. Further, taxing and regulating assets or securities trade is a normal activity that the government does.

The question that arises is who will regulate and how will it be taxed?

There have been proposals to have SEBI handle the trading of crypto ‘assets’. But then SEBI deals with securities such as shares, and crypto is nothing like shares. Then should RBI do it?

Every day there is a new leak and every other day it is countered.

There is one thing that is happening for certain – policy paralysis.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take a final decision on the regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies amid conflicting views among stakeholders, two persons familiar with the development said. A high-level meeting was held on Thursday to consider all the options as also stakeholder views including the concerns voiced by the Reserve Bank of India.

The options include a complete ban on private cryptocurrencies, a partial ban, allowing all categories of crypto products with regulation, or just a select few with regulation, one of the persons said.

Source: Economic Times

How could you have a policy on the table and everything from a complete ban to regulated usage still be in consideration? There seems to be no direction whatsoever.

In the meantime, well-funded crypto startups are running ads all over television and newspaper to grow as fast as possible. They all seem to be prescribing to the thinking – once you become too big to fail, they will be forced to regulate you.

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter

Let us see how long the indecision lasts at the centre.

Learning by Proxy

Joining Atoms | Learning by Proxy

In 1919 a New Zealander conducting research in Manchester was playing around with the Nitrogen Atom, his name was Ernest Rutherford. Over the next 10 years, there was much that was learned about the structure of the atom. While Rutherford, Einstein and Bohr did not arrive at a solution to the problem of unlocking the power of an Atom; it was Enrico Fermi who figured it involved bombarding heavier elements.

It was actually two German scientists, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, living in Nazi Germany working at the University of Berlin, collaborating with a Jewish refugee Lise Meitner, who had escaped to Sweden, that showed that Nuclear Fission was possible by bombarding Uranium. Despite the Second World War, the scientific publications were working rather well and the news of the experiments got around to the US.

Robert Oppenheimer was hired to build an uncontrolled nuclear fission chain reaction device. No sooner was it built, America dropped it on Japan.

Nuclear Fission uses heavy atoms such as Uranium because they are unstable. These atoms are bombarded by a neutron which affects their stability and causes them to undergo decay into lighter but more stable atoms (relatively) along with the release of a lot of energy and three more neutrons. Those neutrons can trigger more reactions and that is what makes the chain reaction possible.

In the meantime, there was another kind of nuclear reaction that involved combining light atoms such as Hydrogen which was being studied in 1920. When two Hydrogen atoms are subjected to a lot of energy (heat), they fuse together to produce a heavier atom, Helium. This is also accompanied by a tremendous release of energy. It was known for a long time that stars produce their energy through Fusion. It was not until 1950, with the consistent input of several scientists building on Ernest Rutherford’s experiment that the principle and the execution of Nuclear Fusion were understood.

Fission is inherently a chain reaction. You just need to control the chain reaction with the removal of the extra neutrons that are being generated. This is usually done by inserting rods made of lead or carbon that absorb the extra neutron. But the by-product in the case of Fission is even more radioactive and needs to be disposed of safely. Not to mention, the fuel, Uranium is hard to find, very rare and hard to handle.

The accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima have shown that the cost of losing control of a Nuclear Fission plant can be catastrophic. At Chernobyl, the control rods were pushed in a little late, this kept the reactor from turning into a bomb but caused the container to rupture which has left the entire area radioactive even today.

In the case of Fusion, the reaction is harder to start and sustain. The by-product apart from Energy is relatively safer. Also, the input, Heavy Hydrogen is quite easily available in our seas. As one scientist put it, a reaction that powers the sun sounds really dangerous but it is easier to put out than a match.

I pushed a black button. A purring noise began. “That’s the sound of the vacuum draining the air from the glass tube,” Mumgaard said. He turned a valve, releasing a tiny bit of hydrogen gas into the tube. A hot-pink glowing light appeared, nested within the glass tube like a matryoshka doll. The magnetic field that contained the pink plasma was visible in the form of empty space between the glass and the glow. “That pink is the superheated plasma,” Mumgaard said. “It’s at least a thousand degrees. But touch the glass.” The glass was cool. “Now touch the copper wires.” They were warm, but not hot. The warmth of the copper wires was not on account of their proximity to the superheated plasma but, rather, because copper is not a perfect conductor; some of the energy running through it is lost in the form of heat. Superconductors lose almost no heat—which is energy.

It seemed impossible that the pink plasma inside the tube, which was as hot as lightning, wasn’t in some way dangerous. Couldn’t some of it leak out of the magnetic bottle, with catastrophic consequences? As an answer, Mumgaard twisted a valve to let a tiny bit of air into the glass tube; the plasma vanished. “People think of fusion like they think of fission, as this overwhelming reaction, but, really, it’s such a delicate process,” Whyte said. “It’s like a candle in the wind. Anything can blow it out. Even a single human breath.”

Source: New Yorker Magazine

Nuclear Fusion is considered the holy grail of energy research. If we could create our own small sun that can power our energy requirements, would that not be just amazing.

So why have we not done it?

For starters, the reaction required, need us to produce temperatures in excess of 150 million degrees. Don’t need to bother with the units, just know that it is insanely hot. This has been created thus far using lasers which heat up air into plasma.

The second issue is ensuring that it can keep the reaction going in containment. Unlike the Fission reaction where the risk is of turning the reaction into a bomb, here the challenge often is that the reaction will fizzle out and stop if not enough heat is being produced. The Sun is a huge magnetic bottle. That magnetism contains the reaction within it. Makes it possible for the temperature and the reactions to sustain and perpetuate.

To solve the issue of containment, most devices use powerful magnetic fields to suspend the plasma in midair to prevent the scorching temperatures from melting the reactor walls. Looking something like a giant doughnut, these “magnetic containment devices” house a ring of plasma bound by magnetism where fusion will begin to occur if a high enough temperature is achieved. Russian physicists first proposed the design in the 1950s, although it would be decades before they actually achieved fusion with them.

Source: Discover Magazine

Also money. This kind of work requires a lot of iteration and therefore a lot of money. Can you imagine the power bill you will run up trying to create a plasma heated to 150 million degrees?

Creating a magnetic field or magnets that can hold the fusion in containment where it can continue to perpetuate has been the biggest challenge that has plagued scientists though.

In 1976, the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration published a study predicting how quickly nuclear fusion could become a reality, depending on how much money was invested in the field. For around 9 billion a year in today’s dollars—described as the “Maximum Effective Effort”—it projected reaching fusion energy by 1990. The scale descended to about a billion dollars a year, which the study projected would lead to “Fusion Never.” “And that’s about what’s been spent,” the British physicist Steven Cowley told me. “Pretty close to the maximum amount you could spend in order to never get there.”


Estimates of the cost of the Manhattan Project, which produced atomic weapons in four years, vary, but it is commonly said that the scientists were given a “blank check.” This year, the U.S. government will spend some 670 million dollars on nuclear fusion. That’s a lot of money, but 650 billion—the amount the I.M.F. estimates that U.S. taxpayers spent on fossil-fuel subsidies last year—is quite a bit more.

Source: New Yorker Magazine

Fusion has had a tough time getting the support that it requires.

Now there is a lot of funding chasing it!

Helion Energy, a clean energy company committed to creating a new era of plentiful, zero-carbon electricity from fusion, today announced the close of its $0.5 billion Series E, with an additional $1.7 billion of commitments tied to specific milestones.

The round was led by Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator. Existing investors, including co-founder of Facebook Dustin Moskovitz, Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital and notable sustainable tech investor Capricorn Investment Group also participated in the round. The funding includes commitments of an additional $1.7 billion dollars tied to Helion reaching key performance milestones. Round-leader Altman has been involved in the company as an investor and chairman since 2015.

Source: TechCrunch

Yes! That is Billion, not Million.

Zap Energy, a pioneer in fusion energy technology, today announced that it has raised $27.5 million in Series B funding. The round was led by Addition, with participation from Energy Impact Partners, GA Capital and Fourth Realm, as well as existing investors Chevron Technology Ventures and LowerCarbon Capital. The new financing comes just nine months after closing a $6.5 million Series A funding round, following the achievement of a major scientific milestone in late 2020 that brings Zap Energy closer to energy breakeven.

Source: BusinessWire

The fusion energy field just keeps getting hotter. British Columbia’s General Fusion on Tuesday said that it has raised $130 million in funding to develop its ambitious clean energy technology.

And the announcement teased to the promise of more cash to come, stating that this was merely “the prelude to a large financing round being prepared for 2022.” The latest round brings the funding total to approximately $300 million.

Amazon founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos is a longtime backer of General Fusion and his VC arm Bezos Expeditions participated in the round.

Source: GeekWire

And then the largest agricultural landowner in America, who would not allow the scientists in Cambridge to release the formulation for the COVID vaccine because his philanthropy ‘incubated’ them and whose recent philanthropy to humanity has been the Omicron – Bill Gates – has been investing in the space for a long time through a fund called Breakthrough Energy. He along with the man who ensures that his employees wear adult diapers to work because time is money and has so much money that going to space is the only way he can blow it up – Jeff Bezos – are investing together. This one is definitely going to be a winner.

Sorbom did make it work: He got the job, and 12 years later, Sorbom has his doctorate from MIT and is co-founder and chief scientific officer of Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a rapidly growing company spun out of Sorbom and his co-founders’ research. CFS aims to commercialize fusion, a safe and virtually limitless source of “clean energy,” to combat climate change. The company is funded by the likes of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates by way of energy innovation investment fund Breakthrough Energy.

Source: CNBC

Fusion Energy seems to be closer than ever.

Fusion scientists often speak of waiting for a “Kitty Hawk moment,” though they argue about what would constitute one. Only in retrospect do we view the Wright brothers’ Flyer as the essential breakthrough in manned flight. Hot-air balloons had already achieved flight, of a kind; gliders were around, too, though they couldn’t take off or land without a catapult or a leap. One of the Wright brothers’ first manned flights lasted less than a minute—was that flight? An A.P. reporter said, of that event, “Fifty-seven seconds, hey? If it had been fifty-seven minutes, then it might have been a news item.”


In 1901, the chief engineer of the United States Navy wrote, of heavier-than-air flight, “A calm survey of natural phenomenon leads the engineer to pronounce all confident prophecies for future success as wholly unwarranted, if not absurd.” At the time, the Wright brothers were studying aerodynamics in a makeshift wind tunnel; after one particularly disheartening summer at Kitty Hawk, Wilbur confided to Orville his feeling that “not in a thousand years will man fly.” Two years later, they flew their plane for twelve seconds; not too many years after that, they were flying for hours, performing figure eights for large crowds. In response to a report that President Theodore Roosevelt intended to fly with Orville soon, Orville said that, though he wouldn’t turn down a request from the President, he did not think it wise for the President to take such chances.

Source: New Yorker Magazine

It may arrive sooner than most people think!

Learning by Proxy

Immigration | Learning by Proxy

A bus driver in Sweden is paid on an average of 14500 Swedish Krona; that translates to about USD 1600 a month. A bus driver in India is paid about Rs 15500 a month which translated to about USD 210. The Swedish bus driver would probably jump out of his bus and run in terror if he is asked to drive on Indian roads. He is probably less skilled than the Indian driver who needs to be able to navigate some of the worst traffic, not to mention, children, cows, dogs and most importantly the Indian roads.

Even so, the Swede is paid almost 8 times as much! Why?

Immigration restriction.

Immigration has been at the heart of almost all of the right-wing movements across the western world.

Until about 300 years ago, most countries were not very well defined. Borders and rule were quite malleable and most often it was determined by he who had the greater might. Most places were forts with an agglomeration of buildings around them, whoever occupied the fort ruled the land. Countries changed hands regularly. It is only after the first world war that the contours of stable borders and identities started to emerge even in Europe. The hardening of those borders resulted in the second world war! Then they just decided to let people move about how they pleased and called it the European Union.

For a large part of the 20th century, the population was exploding across the globe. The population of the planet went from a little over 1.6 Billion people in 1900 to close to 8 Billion today.

Source: Our World in Data

There were always more people getting added to the economy, so the economy continued to grow as consumption grew. At the same time, since consumption was growing, more jobs got created and people were needed to fill those jobs. The population of some countries grew faster than others and this ultimately determined the standard of living. In the countries where labour was in short supply, the price of labour was higher – such as in Sweden and vice-versa.

Over the years, as the standard of living increased, the cost of child-rearing also increased. If you take a 3% increase in cost year over year across 50 years since the second world war, what used to cost 100 dollars in 1940, cost USD 438 by 1990.

Salaries have not kept pace with costs and this has resulted in a population implosion in those countries. There are not too many young people available to take up work!

Immigration and Globalisation are two sides of the same coin. The first push back on immigration started in the 1980s and by the Clinton years in the 1990s was already a huge issue in America. For large companies, technology came to their rescue and made outsourcing/offshoring possible. This moved jobs outside of the western economies without the problem of having to deal with immigration.

Outsourcing and increased penetration of both air and shipping routes over the last 30 years moved both knowledge and manufacturing processes out of the western world. China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Taiwan and others absorbed a lot of the manufacturing from across the globe. While a lot of the knowledge processes were shifted to India and Eastern European countries like Poland, Romania, Czech, Bulgaria, etc.

Even so, there is always work in industries such as hospitality that cannot be outsourced. Many of these jobs were performed by immigrants. Those same immigrants would cover exorbitant fees to ensure that their child got educated and did not end up in the kind of jobs that they did. 2020 disrupted life and many of those who were unable to find work or cover for themselves left the western countries. They went back home.

As the global economy heats up and tries to put the pandemic aside, a battle for the young and able has begun. With fast-track visas and promises of permanent residency, many of the wealthy nations driving the recovery are sending a message to skilled immigrants all over the world: Help wanted. Now.

In Germany, where officials recently warned that the country needs 400,000 new immigrants a year to fill jobs in fields ranging from academia to air-conditioning, a new Immigration Act offers accelerated work visas and six months to visit and find a job.

Canada plans to give residency to 1.2 million new immigrants by 2023. Israel recently finalized a deal to bring health care workers from Nepal. And in Australia, where mines, hospitals and pubs are all short-handed after nearly two years with a closed border, the government intends to roughly double the number of immigrants it allows into the country over the next year.

Source: New York Times

They WANT immigrants suddenly!

The poor reproduction rate in western countries has been laid bare. They just don’t have enough young people. Further, the pandemic forced many of the old people to retire and they may never join the labour force again. This is forcing these countries to re-assess how they evaluate immigrants.

In advanced economies, the immigration measures being deployed include lowering barriers to entry for qualified immigrants, digitizing visas to reduce paperwork, increasing salary requirements to reduce exploitation and wage suppression, and promising a route to permanent status for workers most in demand.

Portugal’s digital nomads can stay as long as they want. Canada, which experienced its fifth consecutive year of declining births in 2020, has eased language requirements for residency and opened up 20,000 slots for health workers who want to become full residents. New Zealand recently announced that it would grant permanent visas, in a one-time offer, to as many as 165,000 temporary visa holders.

One of the sharpest shifts may be in Japan, where a demographic time bomb has left diapers for adults outselling diapers for babies. After offering pathways to residency for aged-care, agriculture and construction workers two years ago, a Japanese official said last week that the government was also looking to let other workers on five-year visas stay indefinitely and bring their families.

Source: New York Times

The issues are severe when it comes to industries like hospitality and healthcare. Many healthcare professionals have quit out of exhaustion that has been wrought by the pandemic. Working 20 hour days, 7 days a week and not being able to meet their families for fear of infecting them has taken a toll on them whether they are doctors or nurses.

The effects of Brexit are getting more and more obvious to the British.

Net immigration to the United KJingdom fell by almost 90 percent last year to its lowest level since 1993 due to the impact of COVID-19 and Brexit, official figures showed on Thursday.

The Office for National Statistics released a first provisional estimate showing that 34,000 more people moved to the UK last year than emigrated, down from 271,000 in 2019.

“Immigration was much lower in 2020 than in previous years, likely caused by a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit,” the ONS said.

Source: AlJazeera

In the western world, the ‘Immigrant Crisis’ has gone from, too many immigrants trying to enter the country to not enough of them coming in!

While I think, in a matter of another couple of years this situation might be forgotten as things get back to normal. COVID has certainly taken the veil off the lie that immigrants are dependant on rich nations. The truth is that rich nations are very heavily dependant on immigrants to keep their economies running and also to keep themselves rich. Immigrants, irrespective of the kind of work they do are paid far less than citizens. In the US, a family headed by an immigrant would end up earning 33% less than one headed by a US Citizen according to Forbes.

I doubt their need will make this inequity disappear. But if the pandemic situation persists much longer, it may leave these countries starved of immigrants for years to come. Who knows, in the meantime, those very same people might bring about change in their own countries and leave the west behind?

Learning by Proxy

Fuels | Learning by Proxy

In the 1870s Edison invented the Tungsten based Incandescent bulb. As soon as he invented it, he saw the potential of the bulb lighting up every household. He had till then been working with Direct Current (DC) and envisaged a network where DC could be supplied to every house and business. The only problem, DC did not transmit well. As you transmitted direct current over long distances, due to losses (heat and other) in the wires, not much would reach the destination. He came up with the idea of stepping up the voltage using transformers which in his network would be placed at every mile. This was unwieldy and expensive.

In the meantime, an apprentice had suggested using Alternating Current (AC). Tesla was scorned by Edison and he finally left Edison to help George Westinghouse create the AC network. By 1890, the world has settled for the AC network.

Despite the horse murders that Edison committed in the middle of New York to show how unsafe AC was, he failed.

A similar tug of war was underway since the 1990s between battery power and hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars. Momentarily, it would seem that battery had won the war thanks to the PR offensive by Elon Musk.

As the world realises that the days of coal are numbered, there is an increasing push towards renewable energy. The trouble with renewables is supply. The sun is not out throughout the day, the wind will not blow when you want it to, and in the winters rivers will not flow with the same force as during the summers.

This implies that there is a need to capture as much of that energy as we can when it is available and use it later. Batteries, well… We are going to run out of Lithium by the end of this decade. While we can hope that Elon will mine it on the moon, there are better alternatives.

Utimately a fuel is a store of energy.

In the olden days, one way of storing human energy was by raising water to an altitude, you could then convert the potential energy of the water into kinetic energy and have energy at your disposal when you wanted. Today, it is possible for us to store energy by splitting water into Hydrogen and Oxygen. The Hydrogen can then be converted into energy through a fuel cell or by combustion.

Suddenly the debate does not seem to be settled!

There are many ways in which you can manufacture hydrogen. each method is colour coded.

Green hydrogen is produced through water electrolysis process by employing renewable electricity. The reason it is called green is that there is no CO2 emission during the production process. Water electrolysis is a process which uses electricity to decompose water into hydrogen gas and oxygen.

Blue hydrogen is sourced from fossil fuel. However, the CO2 is captured and stored underground (carbon sequestration). Companies are also trying to utilise the captured carbon called carbon capture, storage and utilisation (CCSU). Utilisation is not essential to qualify for blue hydrogen. As no CO2 is emitted, so the blue hydrogen production process is categorised as carbon neutral.

Gray hydrogen is produced from fossil fuel and commonly uses steam methane reforming (SMR) method. During this process, CO2 is produced and eventually released to the atmosphere.

Black or brown hydrogen is produced from coal. The black and brown colours refer to the type bituminous (black) and lignite (brown) coal. The gasification of coal is a method used to produce hydrogen. However, it is a very polluting process, and CO2 and carbon monoxide are produced as by-products and released to the atmosphere.

Turquoise hydrogen can be extracted by using the thermal splitting of methane via methane pyrolysis. The process, though at the experimental stage, remove the carbon in a solid form instead of CO2 gas.

Purple hydrogen is made though using nuclear power and heat through combined chemo thermal electrolysis splitting of water.

Pink hydrogen is generated through electrolysis of water by using electricity from a nuclear power plant.

Red hydrogen is produced through the high-temperature catalytic splitting of water using nuclear power thermal as an energy source.

White hydrogen refers to naturally occurring hydrogen.

Source: H2 Bulletin

The two colours of hydrogen that are of most interest today are Green and Blue. India is making a big push towards producing green hydrogen. With the ambitious goal of increasing renewable capacity to 500GW, there is a need to make the most of that energy.

Gail India has launched a tender for what would be India’s largest electrolyser as the nation aims to build up its green hydrogen capacity.

Gail chairman Manoj Jain confirmed at the India Energy Forum by CERAWeek that his company had launched a global tender to procure a 10-megawatt electrolyser capable of producing 4.5 tonnes per day of hydrogen.

Source: Upstream Online

Apart from GAIL, IOC and several other Indian giants have made announcements to the effect. The UK based Ineos has announced plants across Norway, Belgium and Germany.

America is getting North America’s largest green hydrogen plant in New York State.

It will create 68 jobs, it seems. A parking lot at a mall creates more jobs in India because we can’t follow signboards!

Hydrogen fuel cell-based cars were derided not because the cars themselves were expensive to make, it was the hydrogen that was crazy expensive to make. While the cost of Lithium-Ion batteries was also high, the electricity needed to feed the battery existed and was prevalent across the eco-system.

Elon Musk never made the cost argument, he always stuck to the same argument that Edison used – Hydrogen was unsafe and could explode. Well, so have lithium-ion batteries. And it is this kind of argument that keep research dollars from flowing into finding ways to make hydrogen transportation safer.

Today, the US has very few hydrogen pumping stations and most of them are in California.

Source: Alternate Fuels Data Center

Europe has an order of magnitude more. Germany alone has over 100!

Source: H2 Live

So does Japan.

With these plants being set up and the large scale generation of Hydrogen, the question of using Hydrogen Fuel cells is again back on the table. Probably why the German car manufacturers never stopped manufacturing Fuel Cell cars.

Source: Mercedes Benz

Now imagine, a company with a technology that is using an element that is dwindling and a process that is hazardous to the environment; another company with a technology that uses a fuel that we are going to produce in abundance, that we will not run out of and one that is safe for the environment.

In the long run which one might win out?

Now you know the real reason, Elon Musk is selling his shares. Not twitter poll; not tax payment; he is shorting Tesla.

But he has learnt to control media through his Twitter account and the media breathlessly reports every little word that flows through there.

In the meantime, the real guys who have been fooled by Musk’s Twitter account seem to be the Chinese.

Chinese lithium mining and battery companies are splurging big, both at home and abroad.

It’s all part of the country’s race to secure supplies of the battery metals and to expand production capacity of lithium-ion batteries, for which demand is forecast to rocket over the next decade.

One senior industry executive captured the sentiment of the red-hot sector in an interview (link in Chinese) this month with Shanghai Securities Times: “Grab the scale, grab [market] share, profit is not a matter of consideration at this stage.”

Source: Quartz

Another Evergrand in the making.