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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Antitrust – Travel – Economy

Whenever the stock markets have reached historic peaks only one thing has followed – a humongous collapse. Most markets across the world are either past or flirting with historic highs. When will the bottom fall out? 

It is a little more complicated. Apple posted a record quarter, that too in the middle of the pandemic. Amazon is posting sales numbers that would be considered “too good” for Christmas.

I think it is panic buying and the demand caused by work from home. Christmas this year won’t be like Christmas.

When will the bottom fall out? My bet is January 2021, when do you think it will be?

There is a lot of ground to cover this week, let us dive in.

Antitrust

Two years ago, Scott Galloway wrote a book called ‘The Four’; which breaks down the extent to which Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple had taken over our lives. If you are not into reading watch this video – 90 slides in 15 mins – from the DLD Conference. 

The four companies together are today worth about 4.25 Trillion or about 1.5 times the GDP of India. Being in that position of power is bound to result in some abuse. Acquisitions are their favourite weapon and Shares are their preferred ammunition; issue as many as it takes to absorb the nearest innovator. 

The CEOs were called in to appear before the congress. It did not go too well. Some of the evidence presented was damaging.

“If someone came to me with an idea for a website or a web service today, I would tell them to run. Run as far away from the web as possible,” said Celebrity Net Worth founder Brian Warner about Google, which he accused of scraping his information and presenting it as its own. “Launch a lawn care business or a dog-grooming business—something Google can’t take away as soon as he or she is thriving.”

[…]

Mark Zuckerberg had expressed an interest in buying the photo-sharing app. “Will he go into destroy mode if I say no?” Systrom asked. Cohler replied: “Probably.” This chat is one of several exchanges that shed light on the lead-up to Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of Instagram in April 2012.

Source: Wired

And

Google’s promotion of its own content on its search results, or how the price of a box of diapers changed after Amazon acquired the parent company of Diapers.com—but the true target was lack of accountability as an operating principle of these companies. And that has a particular bite during a period of global crisis, during which their digital tools have helped us endure trying circumstances while simultaneously promoting the kind of isolation and misunderstanding that can make emerging from them even harder.

Source: Wired

Not like Apple was faultless. While Apple is not in the data business, they do make app developers bend to their will on the app store and charge them 30% commission to sell on the app store. If you do not agree, you have to get the user to go to your website get an account and pay before coming back to use the app. The trouble is not even that; it is that Apple will not allow you to explain why it is such a pain to use the app as mentioned beautifully by John Gruber.

This was just round one and it is not over. I think the four of them would be mighty relieved that Elizabeth Warren is not the Democratic candidate or even being considered for VP. If this could happen with Republicans in power imagine if a Democrat is elected! 

Wednesday’s hearing was a major milestone for the House’s investigation, but far from the finale. Given the chaotic nature of the four-way hearing, it would be great to see separate one-on-one hearings with each CEO. But that’s unlikely. The next step is most likely the subcommittee’s final report, due out sometime in August or September. Wednesday’s hearing made clear that the report will have some real substance to it. Whether it will fire up the American public—or spur real governmental action—remains to be seen.

Source: Wired

Also, in case you are interested, you can go through all of the evidence that was submitted as part of the hearing at this link.

In the meantime, Facebook would like you to think that they are small fish.

Sure, Facebook is a big deal in social media, this thinking goes, but what about videoconferencing, telephones, birthday cards, backyard barbecues, kickball leagues, and friends who insist on playing matchmaker? They all connect people, too, and if you add up all that activity, surely Facebook makes up a more reasonable share of the market.

Source: Quartz

Also, Facebook has so many large competitors in oil and gas, banking, e-commerce, space travel and even tax collection – those fools call themselves the government. 

Travel no more

Travel is one of the largest industries that creates a lot of employment throughout the world. When you travel to a new city, you create jobs in transportation (airline, railways, bus, cabs), transportation infrastructure (airports, stations), hotels, restaurants (you may not Swiggy or Doordash in a new city), Museums, Guides, Tours, Souvenir shops. 

Tourism alone employs 100s of Millions globally, but if you were to include retail which is a certain beneficiary, probably a Billion jobs are at stake. And they are hurting…

India’s international borders have remained closed since March 22, while domestic travel has been limited since March 25 when the country went into a nationwide lockdown. 

[…]

“The sharp drop in the number of tourists and foreign visitors have already impacted millions of jobs in the hospitality and travel industry as many businesses are going through a severe cash crunch,” said Sudeep Kumar Sen, a spokesperson at HR firm TeamLease Services. “More than 50,000 tour operators have shut shop as there is no hope of revival anytime soon.”

Source: Quartz

When you think of large tourism markets, Africa is not the Continent that first comes to mind. But tourism is a massive employer in Africa and the industry has collapsed.

When the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world earlier this year many African countries were quick to react. Borders were closed and protocols from past or existing epidemics (TB, HIV, Ebola) were rolled out. Of the many industries hit by lockdowns, tourism—an industry that indirectly employs 24.6 million people across the continent (6.8% of total employment)—was hit particularly hard.

Source: Quartz

and nobody is being spared

Aside from obviously tourist-dependent businesses such as hotels, a number of retailers are feeling the effects. Among them are high-street fashion chains, luxury boutiques, watch and jewellery shops, and department stores such as France’s Printemps and Selfridges in the UK, says Vinod Paul, Planet’s head of business and market intelligence.

Source: Quartz

Also, there is no end in sight.

Keep Trying

If you keep trying to do something, you will eventually be successful.

Indian businesses were so resilient that a shock and awe demonetisation did not kill them. The introduction of GST was a source of pain for a lot of small businesses that were previously not on the tax regime. Even worse, making businesses operate with improper data. Last year, the government was still claiming that the GDP was growing at 6.7% only to revise it closer to 3% once the pandemic started. COVID did what all of these could not – went for the jugular. 

Hit by a stringent lockdown, 57% of micro-enterprises have zero cash reserves and 65% will have to turn to their personal savings for operational cost, the report further stated. Also, around two-thirds of them have reported a fall in orders, the report said. 

[…]

It’s clear that merely supporting MSMEs through an indirect route like the infusion of credit and equity isn’t enough. The Indian government needs to realise this if it wants to pull small and medium-sized businesses out of a deep and prolonged mess.

Source: Quartz

When the GST bill was signed into law, to push it through, the centre agreed to provide a 14% tax growth year over year for the first 5 years. It must have been a tightrope act already given that the GDP growth was not in line with what was being told. Given the current circumstances, the government is also broke! The centre has been falling behind on compensating the states and now the centre is throwing them under the bus. 

The impact of the virus and lockdown on the economy can be clearly seen in the GST collections, with the first-quarter revenues down 41 per cent over last year, despite signs of an improvement in June, when the lockdown was eased. This has impacted the Centre’s revenues as well as GST transfers to the States, which have fallen below the mandated 14 per cent annual growth rate as promised under the GST law for five years

Source: Business Line

The centre transferred the GST owed in March ’20 to the states in July. The states are already 4 months behind and are struggling to make payrolls. The attorney general has opined that there is no obligation under the law. The states have been asked to try and borrow from the markets.

Twitter 

I had argued a couple of weeks ago that no company should have the power to start a world war. Twitter does. 

Trump spews all kinds of nonsense on all platforms but it is from twitter that it is reported. Turns out that the hack that was run on twitter was the handiwork of teenagers who registered the Bitcoin wallet to their own name! This was not sophisticated sovereign hackers.

A 17-year-old, Graham Ivan Clark, was charged separately with 30 felonies in Hillsborough County, Florida, including 17 counts of communications fraud. Together, the criminal complaints filed in the cases offer a detailed portrait of the day everything went haywire—and how poorly the alleged attackers covered their tracks. All three are currently in custody.

Source: Wired

Guess what might have been possible if it was the Russians or the Chinese who were running the hack. Or perhaps a White Supremacist? Oh! 

On that note

Duke’s account “has been permanently suspended for Twitter Rules on hateful conduct,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. Twitter’s policy, revised in March, prohibits posts that promote violence or threats of violence against people based on their religion, race or ethnic origin.

Source: CNET

Also, when the advertisers had started withdrawing ads from Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg had scoffed. Many outlets had reported that those brand spent only $10 Million a month. I had argued that 8 brands spending 10 Million a month would mean a Billion dollar hole in the topline.

Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday took extraordinary action against President Trump for spreading coronavirus misinformation after his official and campaign accounts broke their rules, respectively.

Facebook removed from Trump’s official account the post of a video clip from a Fox News interview in which he said children are “almost immune” from Covid-19. Twitter required his Team Trump campaign account to delete a tweet with the same video, blocking it from tweeting in the interim.

Source: Washington Post

Facebook is, after all, a company and capable of growing a conscience when kicked where it hurts.

Cross-Industry

Do you know a position that almost every company has?

Think.

Accountant.

There may be a lot of fancy names that they are called, but the position exists in every company. It looks like AI is something that almost all companies will end up having. I do not suppose this should come as a great deal of surprise. 

If AI had to have a tagline, it should be – Use this to reduce your salary bill. And what kind of capitalist would say – “Nah! I don’t want to do that.”

The list also includes 11 graduates who went to brick-and mortar-retailers Walmart and Target, nine who went to defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, and five who went to office supplier 3M, a conglomerate perhaps best known for making Post-it notes (and, more visibly during the pandemic, masks and respirators).

Source: Quartz

The Elephant turns into an Ant

A couple of weeks ago I had written about the Arm IPO that Softbank wants closed. Also, how the US government has been handing Billions to TSMC to get them to move their fabrication to the US and reduce the dependence on China. Exploiting Arm and TSMC has enabled Apple to leapfrog the industry and delivery products that its competitors can’t keep up with. Intel, on the other hand, has been struggling to ramp up newer processes. This has further moved Apple towards adopting Arm architecture for their laptops and computers as well. Given this, Intel’s announcement does not augur well for the company.

“The company’s 7nm-based CPU product timing is shifting approximately six months relative to prior expectations. The primary driver is the yield of Intel’s 7nm process, which based on recent data, is now trending approximately twelve months behind the company’s internal target.”

Source: Tom’s Hardware

Intel can’t afford this.

New Oil Order

In the 1970s there was the Oil Crisis. The Saudi’s refused to supply oil to the US and petrol pumps ran dry in the US. Henry Kissinger went to the Kingdom with an offer to put an air force base in exchange for energy security. America brought the only thing Americans continue to make in America – Weapons – to the middle east and the place has never been peaceful thereafter. They helped flame the Shia Vs Sunni fight and half a century later the region still burns.

Lately, Americans have sought to take energy security into their own hands and pushed shale oil extraction. This has resulted in the USA becoming a major oil producer and a thorn in the sides of Saudi Arabia and Russia. COVID was sort of a godsend. Oil prices crashed. Shale extraction requires prices to be north of USD 60 per barrel for it to be profitable.

The major oil producers have been tactfully adjusting supply to keep prices in a narrow range around USD 40 per barrel locking out American oil companies. This is causing much soul-searching.

One of the world’s largest oil companies just announced it would cut 40% of its oil production. During an investor presentation on Aug. 4, BP announced it would roll out the dramatic cuts over the next decade, while limiting future exploration for new sources of petroleum.

[…]

BP says it will invest as much as $5 billion annually in low-carbon technologies by 2030, a ten-fold increase over current levels. If implemented, the cuts put BP on track to bring oil production down to zero by 2043, according to energy engineering researcher Arvind Ravikumar of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, well before the mid-century target established by the Paris climate accords. 

Source: Quartz

Exploring new lands

When explorers used to land on new land, they would set off with their machete to learn more about the land and find its riches. Would it not have been easier if they had choppers and could fly over the terrain and determine what was of interest and what was not? 

Our exploration of other planets has been akin to the former. We have sent rovers to the Moon and Mars. These can cover a limited surface area and are slow-moving. Would it not be easier to fly over the land and see it. We have done that through satellites traditionally. While satellites cover massive ground, they are not close enough and can only be so detailed. But what if we could fly a chopper and determine what was of interest? NASA is sending an experimental chopper to Mars!

Perseverance will boot up a mission to collect samples of Martian dirt that might have traces of ancient life so that they can be returned to Earth by another mission later this decade. It will also carry a payload, unlike anything that’s ever been boosted into space: a small autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity. Sometime next spring, probably in April, Ingenuity will spin up its rotor blades and become the first spacecraft to go airborne on Mars.

Source: WIRED

Also Read

Meat consumption in America has gone down for the first time in perhaps forever.

A misunderstanding between two brothers during the World War II bombing raid resulted in the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory turning into two competing brands – Adidas and Puma. A thread.

Signing off…

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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | China

This edition became insanely long. I going to have to take some of the stuff that happened this week and move it to the next edition. Something significant is afoot in China and its relationship with the rest of the world.

As a kid, I used to love cricket. Now and then there would be these matches where India would play a team that represented the Rest of the World. All without exception were exhibition matches, but there was a thrill associated with it. If we won, we got to beat the whole world in a single match. The best from every country.

China is increasingly taking a position where it looks like China (and some crook states) Vs the rest of the world (not that there are no crooks here). How it will end is anybody’s guess, but the tension is building.

The biggest participants of the first world war were France, Britain and Germany, but it started in Sarajevo with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The world is a tinderbox right now. A random spark can set it ablaze.

Shifting Sands

Japan was considered a manufacturer of cheap transistors in the 1960s. Their products were considered low quality. Fast forward to 1980s, getting a Sony was a mark of buying a high-quality product. China went through a similar cycle. Even a decade back Chinese products were considered cheap and low quality. The last decade has caused a huge pivot in perception. Along with that pivot, a lot of product manufacturing moved to China. 

Being at the epicentre of the manufacturing revolutions made Japan the economy it became. From the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki emerged a nation that was revitalised and more powerful economically. The same happened with China, from being a hopelessly poor agrarian economy, they became the second-largest economy in the world. With the newfound power and money, there are new problems that are emerging.

Where does China end? (Physically)

China has always had a different interpretation of where its borders end. China seems to think all of the South China Sea belongs to it. The reason the South China sea is important is because of its strategic value to trade. The countries involved in this dispute include – Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Borneo. By extension of the fact that the US is responsible for the safety of Japan as per the treaty to end World War II, they are also involved.

Hong Kong has been burning for the past 2 years. China is not used to defiance by its citizens. Further, they cannot afford for this spark to spread to the mainland. A lot of money and power will be at stake if that does happen. Hence the clampdown on Hong Kong.

China has had border disputes with India for the past 60 years. They continue to claim that land on the Indian side. This has led to a war-like situation at the northern border. For China, Aksai Chin which they occupied over 60 years ago is important to keep their control over Xinjiang. The road from Tibet to Xinjiang passes through Aksai Chin.

The northern army commander, Lt Gen. Y.K. Joshi, on Saturday said the army would “continue all efforts to restore status quo ante along the LAC”, the statement assuming significance against the backdrop of the no-intrusion claim by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This is the first time an army commander has officially spoken about “restoring status quo ante” along the Line of Actual Control, which entails that the Chinese have occupied Indian territory.

Source: The Telegraph

They have also been having disputes with Bhutan

China is stepping up pressure on Bhutan to settle their bilateral border dispute. In addition to laying claim to more territory in Bhutan, Beijing has revived an old land swap deal that will require Thimphu to cede control over the territory to settle its border dispute with China.

Source: The Diplomat

Pandemic

There are a lot of tall buildings in China, but there is no Trump Tower in China. Also unlike Moscow, Beijing never wanted one. So Trump has been quite pissed with China right from the outset. Despite berating them for years, he did not have anything that he could really hold against China given the American dependence on China for manufacturing.

COVID-19 provided the perfect segue to turn against China and also get all of the “allies” to turn against China as well.

China made things worse

China had been giving away loans across Africa because Africa was seen as the next big thing. The idea was not to help them develop, the idea was to trap them in debt. This became obvious when they squeezed Sri Lanka for the port China had financed. Sri Lanka could not repay the debt and ended up handing over the port. There is a Wikipedia article on this – Debt trap diplomacy. 

The total loans outstanding from China come up to USD 600 Billion.

There is a global (especially western) push to forgive African Debt. This is deeply motivated by other considerations and China has said – No.

Also, when the pandemic began, and a lot of countries rushed supplies to China.

A total of 21 countries and the United Nations Children’s Fund have donated epidemic prevention and control supplies to China, a foreign ministry spokesperson said Wednesday.

Those countries are the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Hungary, Belarus, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, spokesperson Hua Chunying said at an online press briefing.

Source: Xinhuanet

A couple of months later when those same countries needed supplies…

Countries’ procurement agents are fighting each other in China for access to the protective equipment that must play a key role in stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

He was responding to a spate of reports of consignments of protective masks destined for European countries being bought up by United States officials, sometimes even as aeroplanes stood ready for departure on the tarmac.

Source: Reuters

Hanlon’s Razor – Do not ascribe to malice what can often be ascribed to incompetency. Even so, the mind looks for a more complex explanation.

In this context

Hong Kong is an important port through which a lot of capital moves. The Chinese take over of Hong Kong has hurt the financial interests of rich people in several countries. There is no better way to attract the ire of nations than hurt the rich. The policy, for now, seems to be to hurt China economically.

Huawei is a Chinese company which has played a crucial role in the development of telecom infrastructure across several countries. The next couple of years were supposed to be windfall years with the introduction of 5G. Hurting Huawei means hurting China. The UK which is going to embrace Brexit screaming and yelling at the end of this year fired the first shot!

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons that UK mobile providers will be prevented from buying Huawei 5G equipment after December 31 under a revised telecommunications bill that the government will table for a vote in the fall. Dowden also announced that providers with Huawei kit in their networks must remove it by 2027.

Source: Quartz

Australia in the meantime is heavily dependant on the Chinese import of ore. Mining is a huge contributor to the Australian economy and China is the biggest trading partner. Even so, in a world that is rapidly changing, it is important to pick sides.

Australia has declared “there is no legal basis” to China’s territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea, marking an escalation of recent tensions with Beijing and bringing Canberra further in line with Washington.

Source: The Guardian

India which is even more hopelessly dependent on China banned TikTok and 58 other apps. This is by far the most inconsequential push back. But you know how they say – an enemy of an enemy is a friend. Not only that, but there are also three Trump Towers in India.

The two countries have been working quietly to step up information sharing amid the tense military standoff between Indian and Chinese troops — it has been on for 11 weeks now — along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.

After US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in the third week of June, at least two high-level phone conversations, the key to this cooperation, have taken place.

Source: Indian Express

and

India and the US are close to inking a “quick” trade deal, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said Tuesday, adding that the pact aims to get issues that have been pending over the past couple of years “out of the way”.

Source: Indian Express

The USA also has banned Huawei. In addition to that, there has been heavy rhetoric. That rhetoric translated into action finally. The US government forced the Chinese Consulate at Huston to shut down. Why? The claim was that espionage operations were being run from the consulate. The Chinese diplomats were burning files outside the consulate causing local emergency service to respond to the smoke. And then…

US officials prised open a small back door having previously tried to gain access via three other entrances. The consulate was ordered to close on Wednesday by the Trump administration which said it was seeking to protect American intellectual property.

Source: Express

And then

Beijing ordered the US embassy to close on Friday in a tit-for-tat move, after Washington instructed China’s consulate in Houston, Texas, to cease operations, claiming it had been involved in a US-wide Chinese espionage effort.

Source: CNN

From the perspective of manufacturing –

Entire nations and their governments are questioning their excessive dependence on Chinese manufacturing. Scores of companies have been instructed and have already started moving production to other countries. Production of strategic importance like pharmaceutical and electronics are being moved to home countries. TSMC, the largest contract chip manufacturer, was given Billions by the US government to set up production in Arizona.

A Gartner, Inc. survey of 260 global supply chain leaders in February and March 2020 found that 33% had moved sourcing and manufacturing activities out of China or plan to do so in the next two to three years. Survey results show that the COVID-19 pandemic is only one of several disruptions that have put global supply chains under pressure.

Source: Gartner

Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani, announcing the partnership at his company’s annual meeting last week, said Google would build an Android operating system (OS) to power a low-cost “4G or even 5G” smartphone that Reliance would design.

Source: Mint

Most importantly pharmaceuticals

But this grant was different. It went to a Richmond, Virginia-based public benefit company that was just seven months old. Before the pandemic, it hadn’t manufactured any drugs, although its founders were pharmaceutical veterans.

The company, named Phlow, isn’t tasked with making new drugs against Covid-19. Instead, its goal is to shore up the US supply of generic drugs.

Source: Quartz

Adding salt to injury

China’s economy had its first contraction in decades thanks to COVID. After a decline of 6.8% in the first quarter, the economy seems to be back to growth posting a 3.2% growth in the second quarter of the year.

China’s economy grew 3.2% in the second quarter following a record slump.

The world’s second-biggest economy saw a sharp decline in the first three months of the year during coronavirus lockdowns.

But figures released on Wednesday show China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) returned to growth between April to June.

Source: BBC

But here is the thing, Retail consumption is lower than it was pre-COVID. So internal consumption is low. Externally, every large economy, esp. the USA has been struggling with the effects of COVID. So the consumption is not coming from outside either; then how? It is a result of government spending. This was the original recipe that worked for China. But given that they are a much larger economy, with a highly developed infrastructure and a global economy which is stagnant at best; how long can they keep bankrolling it? Also, if the spending is on infrastructure what do they plan to build?

And the final nail in the coffin. China seems to be poised to have its own Lehman Brothers moment.

Losses at global banks are projected to soar by $926 billion to $2.1 trillion through 2021, according to Standard & Poors. Almost $400 billion of that increase is forecast to come from Chinese institutions, compared with a $360 billion increase for those in North America and Western Europe combined. While an impending wave of soured loans isn’t expected to cause a credit crisis, the forecast demonstrates the economic pain that’s anticipated from heightened unemployment and bankruptcies.

Source: Quartz

Fallout

The excessive nationalistic push at a time of great global economic instability is not helping China. If at all anything, it has helped galvanise opposition to the country. Even countries like Australia who are tied up in a lot of trade are pushing back.

The sands are shifting and we do not know where and how this will end. The one thing that is for certain is that many of the squabbling global powers – US, India, EU, Britain and Australia (mostly thanks to Trump) are seemingly uniting due to their hatred of China. In 6 months there might be a new president in America.

The sands are definitely shifting!

Indian Monsoon

Monsoon is very important for India because agriculture depends on it. This year the north-western branch of the monsoon has arrived with great fury. The winds carry moisture from the Bay of Bengal and move towards the north-east till they meet the Himalayas. From there they follow the Himalayas as the wind turns to move the clouds westwards delivering rains along the way. What started as heavy rains in Assam, turned into flooding and now has turned into a catastrophe.

“Since the first week of June, we are having no respite with wave after wave of flood that has wreaked havoc inside the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve,” said Kaziranga’s park director, P. Sivakumar. He said an animal that had drowned in a swollen river near the park on Saturday brought the death toll of the endangered rhinoceroses up to 10.

Source: New York Times

Now as the monsoon clouds move westwards, it’s claiming more victims. 

Floodwater entered one more district of Samastipur in Bihar and spread to more inundated areas, hitting half a million more population on Tuesday, even though no fresh casualty was reported and the count remained at 10, an official bulletin said.

According to the bulletin by the state Disaster Management Department, more than 5 lakh people were affected by floods on Tuesday alone, taking the tally of marooned people to 29.62 lakh in 12 districts of the state.

Source: NDTV

It remains to be seen how far this monsoon rage continues. UP, Haryana and Punjab are very important to the food production in the country and if flooded especially at this time, it could turn into an unmitigated disaster especially since the economy is already reeling.

When you see it

Donald Trump had expected to head into the elections with a great economy, unemployment at historic lows and a great platform. Instead, his Attorney General is being questioned on the hill, unemployment are at historic highs (only the great depression saw worse unemployment) and a GDP decline of 10%. The US economy has contracted by 1.8 Trillion dollars! Yes – perspective – add a Trillion to that – India’s GDP.

Gross domestic product — the broadest measure of goods and services produced — fell 9.5 per cent in the second quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. On an annualized basis, the standard way of reporting quarterly economic data, G.D.P. fell at a rate of 32.9 per cent.

Source: New York Times

Another way to looking at it. The US economy lost a shade more than the Market Capitalisation of Apple (which posted blockbuster results last quarter). (~1.75 Trillion)

One of the stories last week was titled – Spending is back to normal for poor Americans—but not for rich ones

Research shows that when low-earning families lose income, they do substantially decrease how much they buy. So it’s not that poor Americans are going into credit card debt to keep up their spending. Rather, economists have found that the US government’s stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment insurance have kept many low-income families afloat.

Source: Quartz

To me, this fact only indicates how little the poor have for discretionary spending. They are surely not going to be buying anything that is not absolutely necessary when they are living on doles. Turns out their lives were the same as living on a 600 dollar cheque even before COVID!

Simply put, rich people spent 1.8 Trillion less.

No sooner was this data released, Trump tweeted that the elections needed to be postponed! To which Mitch McConnell said, “Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3,”

The illusion of democracy is the only thing America has going for itself. If that illusion falls apart, there would not be much that is different between America and Russia.

Raising Capital

Now that Mukesh Ambani and Reliance have tasted blood, they can’t stop coming up with fundraising ideas. A while ago, Amazon had bought up stakes in Kishore Biyani’s Future Retail, which had been saddled with debt. In the aftermath of Facebook, Microsoft, Google investments in Jio, Amazon felt left out. 

Jeff Bezos called Mukesh Ambani and said ‘aisa kyun bewafa?’ (why this unfaithfulness?). 

Mr Ambani promptly asked – you got money? 

Jeff said lots – I have so much money that the only way I can blow it up is building spacecraft and destroying Flipkart.

Mr Ambani – I might have something else you can blow it upon…

Rumours are that Amazon is going to buy 9.99% of Reliance Retail. Now some corporate juggling is taking place to bring Future group under the same umbrella.

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd will pay between Rs 24,000 crore and Rs 27,000 crore ($3.2-$3.6 Billion) to buy the Indian retail chains owned by Future Group 

Source: ToI

The Antitrust people are looking on the wrong side of the Atlantic. This is just wrong. The Confederation of All India Traders has been going to court and making a ruckus about Flipkart and Amazon, where are they when they have to fight?

Rise and fall of the OTT

Since we are talking about the Atlantic. Recently Apple acquired the Tom Hanks movie ‘Greyhound’; a World War II story from the middle of the Atlantic. The movie is said to have cost USD 50 Million. Given that the year is a bust and going to the theatre does not make any sense, Mr Hanks sold it to Apple. But what about movies that are made with budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars? No OTT player would buy it! What then?

Paramount Pictures announced yesterday it is delaying the releases of two highly anticipated blockbuster films again—this time until 2021. A Quiet Place: Part II will move from Sept. 4, 2020, to April 23, 2021, while Top Gun: Maverick will eject out of its Dec. 23 date and now land on July 2, 2021. Both films had already been postponed from their original release dates this summer.

Source: Quartz

Signing off…

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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Twitter – Innovation – Portland

Last week has been strange. Twitter was hacked – next level! There is a lot of other undercurrents, I plan to cover some of it next week.

There is a lot for this week to unpack. India is spiking with COVID, it will be long before we return to any semblance of normalcy. In the meantime, India seems to only have time to discuss Rajasthan politics!

Let us dive in.

Foxed! 

It would not be an understatement to say that Fox News created Donald Trump. Trump would have remained a nobody but for the support that Rupert Murdoch provided Trump. All of the rest of the conservative media put together does that exude the influence over Republicans that Fox does. It is also not a secret that the hand that makes you can break you!

The Republicans are fed up with Trump. I am sure some of them are even cursing themselves for not have voted to have him impeached in February. Mitch McConnell is the most hatable Republican I have known. The Kentucky senator is one of the biggest supporters of Trump. Even he said, his support for Dr Fauci was Absolute. Trump has been running a campaign against the one person in the White House who is an expert in epidemics. 

Trump is threatening to not sign the next stimulus bill if payroll tax cuts are not approved as a part of it. 

Last weekend, Chris Wallace of Fox News called out Trump on his lies and grilled him good. Could this be a change of stance on the part of Fox News? If Fox turns on Trump, Trump will get destroyed.

Wallace unveiled the results of a Fox News poll that showed Trump losing by eight points to the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. Trump was also behind Biden on the response to the pandemic, on race relations and the economy. He trails in other polls too.

Source: The Guardian

Twitter Hack

Twitter got hacked last week. The hacker(s) used social engineering to gain access to an internal tool that allowed the hackers to reset password to verified accounts. Amongst others, they hacked the accounts of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Apple and others. The hackers asked the followers to transfer bitcoins to a wallet and said they would double the sum. The world we live in – some thought this was for real – and made the transfer!

If you remember Elon Musk had to step down from the board of Tesla for having tweeted that he was going to get the Saudi’s to purchase Tesla and take it private. The punishment did not fit the crime, it should have been worse. Still, the privileged boy wept about it. 

Donald Trump is used to making one policy announcement after the next using Twitter. Also, given how one crazy thing after the other is uttered by Trump; who is anyone going to disbelieve if he proclaimed war?

New York Times spoke to those who perpetrated the hack. It is incredible.

The hacker who received the message, using the screen name “lol,” decided over the next 24 hours that Kirk did not actually work for Twitter because he was too willing to damage the company. But Kirk did have access to Twitter’s most sensitive tools, which allowed him to take control of almost any Twitter account, including those of former President Barack Obama, Joseph R. Biden Jr., Elon Musk and many other celebrities.

Source: New York Times

More to the point, this is about the power tech companies have amassed. A private company getting hacked should not result in a stock-market meltdown or trigger a war. No private organisation should have this kind of power. You need to be hacking the government to cause nations to go to war, not some micro-blogging site.

There is a rule almost globally which does not allow a person to lie on an ad. This Wikipedia article only covers the laws in English speaking countries, but most countries have them. Somehow, this has not been applied to online advertising at all! 

Similarly, there should be a law on what political leaders can use such platforms to state. Should probably apply to all people in positions of power.

Turns out – it was an inside job!

Destroying Innovation

Think back to any startup that has had a sensible product which is actually capable of profitability, founded over the past 10 years. (Not WeWork, Theranos types) WhatsApp, Instagram, Siri, Zappos, Github – Do you know what is common amongst all of them?

Acquired!

I had written a white-paper a couple of years ago about the lack of an acquisition eco-system in India. This had resulted in many VCs not being able to exit their investments and make money because it’s either IPO or death. Someone I respect, told me I was wrong.

Silicon Valley technology companies do not let any company flourish. Armed with their bags of cash, they go in entice the VCs to force a sell-out. The founders have no say often. WhatsApp is the perfect example of a founder who was so upset with the way the product was being pushed post-acquisition. Brian Acton left a Billion dollars worth of Facebook stock on the table and walked away. 

Big tech’s buying spree is already being scrutinized by the US Federal Trade Commission, the EU, and Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission. On Monday, the US Congress is up: Apple’s Tim Cook, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are all scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee.

These four companies’ US acquisitions alone have channelled $86 billion into the pockets of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, early employees, and other startup investors. Billion-dollar buyouts motivate more tech founders to get started, but they can deter entrepreneurship as well. Albert Wenger, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures, has warned that the big tech companies have a “kill zone” around them, meaning startups that operate too closely to their businesses have no chance of success.

Source: Quartz

Facebook would not have been facebook if WhatsApp and Instagram had existed as competitors. Mark Zuckerberg would not be as arrogant.

Portland Street = Tiananmen Square

When the west wishes to deride China they always will bring up the picture of the one man that stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square.

Man in front of the tank

You tend to become what you hate the most, they say. America is having its Tiananmen moment. Not only that, but they are also having the worst of everything in recent history happen altogether! Federal Agents who have no business in local law enforcement have been sent out to Portland, Oregon to put down protests that have been ongoing for the past 60 days. This is also a leaf from Hitler’s playbook. Hitler had the Gestapo which was above the SS and had over-riding powers.

A woman sat naked with a mask and cap, defying the agents on Portland Street.

Woman of Portland

Tiananmen Square happened before the Internet and that image has endured. Imagine how long this one will.

A woman wearing nothing but a black face mask and a stocking cap strode toward a dozen heavily armed agents attired in camouflage fatigues, lined up across a downtown Portland street. The agents, dispatched by the Trump administration over vociferous objections of state and city officials, are part of a force that has fired projectiles at and detained activists protesting nightly since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police May 25.

Source: Los Angeles Times

GPT 3

A few years ago, Elon Musk, the AI alarmist created an organisation that would work on the cutting edge of AI and create tools that would keep AI from being used for wrong. The organisation – OpenAI – has been publishing a whole host of algorithms and papers. The latest algorithm to be published is GPT 3 short for Generative Pre-training Transformer. It is a random sentence generator. It is fed with 175 Billion parameters OR everything written on the internet. That is a lot of data to be feeding on.

Ben Evans had once written a piece where he had compared a Machine Learning Algorithm to a dog. You know the dog did something but you do not know what it was thinking. 

Same with GPT 3. It is producing results that have left people mind-blown. If you can read the entire internet, you are bound to produce something useful. Not only that, but it is also programmable to interpret. Here are a few examples. 

Not only English it can also work on other languages – to the extent that there is data on the internet. 

Just when it starts to look like this is magic and AI can defeat humans it runs into something evolution has perfected. The brain.

While it seems this approach may lead directly to a general AI that can understand, reason and converse like a human, OpenAI warns that they may have run into fundamental scaling up problems, with GPT-3 requiring several thousand petaflop/s-days of compute, compared to tens of petaflop/s-days for the full GPT-2. It seems while we are closer, the breakthrough that will make all our jobs obsolete is still some distance away.

Source: Forbes

The human brain is the most power-efficient computer this world has seen. To run any algorithm with just as many processes simultaneously tremendous energy and compute power has to be available.

E-Commerce

Flipkart is seen as the company that brought e-commerce to India. They were constantly in pursuit of higher Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) because that was seen as the number connected to the valuation of the company. When Tiger Global came to India with the thesis – India is the next China, they did not take into account that China started with Alibaba, a B2B platform, not a B2C platform. 

Flipkart set all the wrong expectations – discounts and free home delivery. Even today the company is not profitable. Maybe not even relevant.

India’s Alibaba was IndiaMart and they went ahead with an IPO a year ago. They may not have a turnover comparable to Flipkart, but they do have one thing that Flipkart does not – profits. Even during a pandemic.

B2B e-commerce platform IndiaMART has posted over 64% increase in its net profit at INR 74.6 Cr in the first quarter of the financial year 2021, versus INR 44 Cr in the previous quarters. In terms of year-on-year growth, the listed company has registered a two-fold increase from INR 32 Cr. 

Source: Inc42

Hong Kong

For the longest time, Hong Kong has been the financial centre of Asia. Several International banks have been based out of Hong Kong and the easy movement of capital also encourages a lot of wealthy Chinese to park their money in the state. Singapore has been steadily eating away at the dominant position that Hong Kong holds. 

I saw an opinion suggesting Mumbai could replace Hong Kong as the financial capital of Asia.

“We are home to some of the large industrial houses (domestic and global) and top financial institutions. Our central bank is one of the most trusted regulators,” said Manjeet Kripalani, co-founder and executive director of Mumbai-based think-tank Gateway House. “Also, the city has the oldest stock exchange in the world and a commodity market in place.” The city can also boast of a huge port, she added, and is perfectly placed in terms of time zone between the east and west.

Source: Quartz

Jokes! The city is underwater every monsoon. That notwithstanding, India would need to undertake unprecedented tax reforms and make it easy for capital to move across borders to be able to get Mumbai to even hold a chance at hoping for a position similar to Hong Kong. 

Media

Media has been undergoing a huge change over the years. With the advent of the internet, newspapers were the first to take a hit. It was always known the ad dollars would slowly move away from traditional media but TV has been resilient. 

I got rid of Cable about 4 years ago. Before that, I would pay Rs. 7500 each year to Tata Sky. I would not have discovered Hotstar for a few more years but for a mess-up by Tata Sky. During their systems upgrade, they knocked out TV for a full month. They refused a refund. I started watching live sports on Hotstar and that was the end of that. I had no reason to go back to Tata Sky.

I never understood the reason Americans stuck around with cable and kept cursing it. I was told it was live sports but there should be an online option, why is it not there? Either way – the pandemic put all sports to bed and with it, looks like cable is going to go.

AT&T reported it lost another 886,000 cable and satellite TV subscribers in the second quarter of 2020. The telecommunications giant—the second-largest TV provider in the US behind only Comcast—lost about the same number of TV subscribers in the previous quarter. Its total subscriber base has eroded 18% in the last year alone.

Source: Quartz

On that note – PVR, the largest Multiplex chain in India is planning to start delivering popcorn through Swiggy!

Glass

The story goes, Steve Jobs called the board line of Corning Glass and asked them to put him through to the CEO. The operator politely told him, if he did not have an appointment she could not. Steve was pissed and told a common friend that Corning was all East Coast bullshit! Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning heard about this and called the board line at Apple – asked to speak with Steve Jobs. Obviously, they refused. He wrote back to Steve saying what had happened. The rest, as they say, is history.

Corning Glass has done for Apple just much as Apple has done as Corning. Apple put this small glass company from New York on the map and Apple was able to deliver a product that blew everyone’s mind. They are bringing something new to the market.

It takes about two years for Corning to develop each new generation of Gorilla Glass, the resilient material that graces a critical mass of iPhone and Android devices. That process has for several update cycles focused on protecting screens against drops, fending off shatters and cracks by boosting what’s known as compressive strength. The newly announced Gorilla Glass Victus, though, gives equal weight to prevent scratches. That’s harder than it sounds and more useful than you’d think.

Source: Wired

So, no more scratches.

Worth a read

If you want to know what we are fighting about in the Galwan Valley with the Chinese – This is an insanely great analysis by the New York Times

The Center for Climate Change Communication has published a handbook on how to discern between conspiracy theory and an actual conspiracy.


Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Visa – Jio – COVID after effects

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

Follow Up

Visa Ban

The USA has been busy disallowing Visa to several categories of people. Last week it hit students with a visa ban. Since the students would be required to attend classes online, why should they have to stay in the US? The universities sued the government from Boston to San Diego. The visa was the only thing that was going to get the students to pay tuition. Without it, the Universities would suffer revenue erosion!

The U-turn by the Trump administration comes following a nationwide outrage against its July 6 order and a series of lawsuits filed by a large number of educational institutions, led by the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), seeking a permanent injunctive relief to bar the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from enforcing the federal guidelines barring international students attending colleges and universities offering only online courses from staying in the country.

Source: Indian Express

After H1B and students, the next in line are members of the Communist Party of China. This is being considered as a retaliation to the change in the law in Hong Kong. 

The Trump administration is considering a sweeping ban on travel to the United States by members of the Chinese Communist Party and their families, according to people familiar with the proposal, a move that would almost certainly prompt retaliation against Americans seeking to enter or remain in China and exacerbate tensions between the two nations.

Source: New York Times

The share of non-citizens in the US has already fallen to new lows.

Just 6.2% of the people in households surveyed for the US’s monthly employment survey responded they were not US citizens in June 2020. This is the lowest share of non-citizens since 2000, and down from 6.8% in February.

Source: Quartz

All this while their passport has fallen out of favour with all but a few. These are the only countries to which a person bearing an American passport can travel to Visa-Free. Also, most of Europe would not allow them even if they had a Visa.


Jio Again

Reliance has managed to raise over 20 Billion dollars in the past couple of months. This culminated in the AGM where the Google – USD 4 Billion investment – was also announced.

During the Google For India event for 2020, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will invest INR 75,000 Cr or approximately $10 Bn under the Google For India Digitization Fund for the Indian tech and startup ecosystem. The fund will be invested in businesses, social impact projects and towards supporting the Indian government’s digitisation efforts over the next 5-7 years.

Source: Inc42

This release by Google was an afterthought. They just wanted to put a spin that made it seem larger than just a Jio Investment. But that was all it was. The rest of the 6 Billion is probably expenses that will be undertaken either way over the next 5 – 7 years.

Have you seen a successful all-star team? Jio now counts Facebook, Google and Microsoft as shareholders. 

The company also announced a whole bevvy of products and services during their online AGM.

At Reliance’s Annual General Meet 2020 the company announced Google will invest Rs 33,737 cr for a 7.7% stake in Jio Platforms. Jio also revealed that the company is developing Jio TV Plus, Jio Glass, and more. The company also announced details on JioMart and Jio 5G solution.

Source: Indian Express

While it is one thing to build a product, it is another thing to be able to sell it and build an eco-system around it. While all this investment is in the anticipation that funding means success, it will not be that easy.

Even with Tik Tok banned in India, the aspiring apps are struggling to dominate the space. It takes a lot more than just making something to succeed. Google itself is no stranger to the concept. They rushed out Google Plus to compete with Facebook and promoted it on the most visited page on the internet and still failed. 

This is not over.


ARMing Softbank

In the 1980s a British company called Acorn along with VLSI and Apple created a chip design company called ARM. ARM stood for Advanced RISC Machines. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer. This was conceived as a way of enabling low powered devices. Intel, by comparison, was offering CISC – Complex Instruction Set Computers which are more power-hungry. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, he sold ARM and used the money to save the company. When he went back to Intel in 2005 asking them to build a low power chip for mobile devices they refused. Apple moved to the ARM design and the rest, as they say, is history. Intel missed the train and today every phone and tablet runs on ARM. Windows already has ARM PCs and Apple announced last month that they are going to move the Mac to ARM.

Unlike several of their disastrous investments, Softbank moved in and bought a majority stake in ARM in 2016. Now is the time for this investment to pay-off.

If it pursues a listing, the chip-design company could go public as soon as next year, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. That would accelerate a timeline SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son laid out in 2018, estimating an initial share sale for Arm sometime around 2023, a goal repeated in October by Arm Chief Executive Officer Simon Segars.

Source: Bloomberg

The push to list ARM is in no small means driven by all of the other failures that the company has seen in its portfolio. 


COVID and Consequences

Escape Artist

Quarantine is a word that has become quite well enmeshed in our lexicon since the pandemic started. When you travel, you quarantine. If you come across someone infected, you quarantine. And then there are those, who try to escape quarantine. An Australian celebrity tried to escape quarantine and was fined. Fines for escaping quarantine are becoming commonplace. One of the states in the US which has a fine for escaping quarantine – Florida. Would you have thought?

When Australians return to Sydney from trips abroad, the government requires them to stay in a hotel for two weeks. But recently, there have been several reports of citizens attempting to break out of their quarantine at many Sydney hotels. One woman, an influencer who had recently returned from Paris, was fined AU$1,000 (US$694) for busting out via the hotel’s fire escape just a few days in; she might also face legal action for tampering with the sprinklers in the hotel room in which she was confined.

Source: Quartz

Real Estate

I have written about how real estate will not be the same once this pandemic is over. With the increasing ‘Work from Home’ schedule and the absence of the need to hang around cities, real estate is bound to change. There is one sector of real estate that is seeing spiking demand in India. With many people working from home, they are moving back to their home towns and emptying their houses in the city. Unable to shift out completely during the pandemic, they are putting their belongings in long term storage. 

In an extended work from home scenario, a growing proportion of the working population, primarily techies, are leaving the city and moving back to their hometowns, pushing up demand for storage houses, where household and office belongings are stocked securely for low rentals. 

Firms like Safe Storage, Storagians, StowNest Storage, Orange Safe Storage and MyRaksha, which provide the service, are witnessing a spike in the number of clients. 

Source: Times of India

Education

The one thing that is becoming increasingly clear to many parents working from home is that they did not need schools to educate children. They needed schools to be able to buy freedom from their children. The current situation makes it very unsafe for children to go to school. This is fast turning into a crisis. What is the way out?

American parents stand to lose even more productivity—and their minds—as more school districts like Los Angeles limit how many students will return to the classroom for the upcoming school year. This situation could weaken recovery efforts over the long term.

Source: Quartz

Finally

Garbage to Energy

Most of the garbage finds its way to the landfills. This garbage is often a source of various greenhouse gases. One of the gases that can be extracted from garbage is Hydrogen gas. A company is set out to turn all garbage into energy that could power homes and transport.

Most of the landfill gas at Puente Hills is captured by a network of subterranean pipes and used to generate enough clean electricity to power 70,000 homes. But Jean-Louis Kindler, the CEO and founder of a startup called Ways2H, still considers this letting our waste go to waste. If he has his way, we’ll not need landfills like Puente Hills. Instead, he wants to use the world’s trash as the raw feedstock to produce hydrogen, the perennial Fuel of the Future that could power our homes, planes, cars, and plane-cars. “There is so much waste available—plastic, municipal solid waste, medical waste,” says Kindler. “All the things we are struggling with the processing are loaded with hydrogen.”

Source: Wired

In the early 2000s, the world was at the precipice of a new kind of automobile. Companies in Japan and Germany were working on cars driven with Hydrogen Fuel Cell which would use liquid hydrogen as fuel and release water as the by-product. They would re-fueled just like our Petrol cars are – at a gas station. Do not require any new infrastructure. Have similar running range and are much more cleaner. 

At the same time, an internet entrepreneur who had recently sold his company invested in a company called Tesla. Armed with the loan from the US government, he set out to discredit Hydrogen Fuel cell technology. Ironically, he played the role of Edison, to save his investment. (Edison tormented Tesla and tried to prove Alternating Current would not work – we all use alternating current today) Under the guise of saving the planet, Elon Musk has created a Li-Ion Cell Garbage problem across the world. In any case, we will run out of it in the next 10 years. He hopes to be on Mars by then.

I hope we move to Hydrogen Fuel Cell.

Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Energy – Space – Xenophobia

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

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

Follow Up

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

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

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

Source: NYTimes

Playing with matches.

On COVID

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

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

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

Source: The Guardian

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

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

Energy

An achievement in power

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

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

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

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

Source: Financial Express

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

Shot in the foot

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

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

Source: Financial Express

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

Space

Satellite Market

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

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

Source: Wired

Connecting the World

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

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

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

Source: NYTimes

Airtel in Space

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

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

Source: Inc42

Xenophobia

Who is a Kuwaiti?

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

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

Source: Indian Express

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

Stupidity thy name is Trump Administration

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

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

Promptly – Harvard and MIT sued.

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

Source: Indian Express

When you can’t offer perks

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

Finally…

Sue spammers as a service

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

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

Source: Wired

Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Business of Politics and Politics of Business

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

Follow Up

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

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

Source: Indian Express

Politics

Politics of Business

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

Source: ET

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

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

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

Source: Inc42

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

Good Old Fashioned Regime Change

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

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

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

Source: Indian Express

Economics

Economic War

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

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

Source: Indian Express

Supply Chain

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

Business

Under Pressure

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

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

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

Source: News18

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

How does the medicine taste?

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

DTH Dying with Cinema

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

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

Source: Inc42

Technology / Science

Zoox

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

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

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

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

Source: Wired

Brain

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

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

Source: Wired

Misc

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

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

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

Cash Free India

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

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

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

Source: Inc42

Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

H1B – Language – E-Commerce | Learning by Proxy

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

Follow Up

Actions speak louder than words

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

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

Source: Times of India

Politics

Penny less

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

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

Source: Indian Express

Canadian Bliss

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

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

Source: Indian Express

Economics

Money Money Money

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

Space

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

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

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

Source: Times of India


Business

Language Barrier

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

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

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

Source: Inc42

E-Commerce Tentpole

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

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

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

Source: LiveMint

Let the games begin – at CCI.


Technology / Science

Absorbing spit

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

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

Source: Wired

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

Intelligence but Artificial

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

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

[…]

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

Source: Wired

Misc

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

Are we communal or are we communal?

Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Tax – Real Estate – Water | Learning by Proxy

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

Follow Up

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

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

Source: Indian Express

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

Also

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

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

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

Source: BBC

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

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


Politics

LGBTQ

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

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

Source: Quartz

Shooting yourself in the foot

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

Economics

Tipping Energy

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

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

Source: Wired

Stimulus – Togo Style

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

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

Source: Quartz

Business

Flying Low

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

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

Source: Quartz

Real Estate

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

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

Source: Financial Express

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

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

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

Source: Times Of India

Technology / Science

The Price of Water

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

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

Source: Quartz

Retweet no more

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

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

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

Source: Wired

Spying with Lightbulbs

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

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

Source: Wired

Misc

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

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

Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Police – Students – Fashion | Learning by Proxy

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


Follow Up

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

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

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

Source: Indian Express

And…

Delhi Police Constable Tests Positive For Coronavirus After Death

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

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

Source: Financial Express

Politics

Police

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

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

Source: Quartz

Student Power

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

Economics

Chinese Jobs

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

Gig Economy – The Saviour?

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

Business

Changing Fashion

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

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

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

Technical Ethics

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

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

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

Source: Wired

Technology / Science

Fight fire with fire

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

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

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

Source: Quartz

Fintech Rejoice

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

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

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

Source: Inc42

Misc

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

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

Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

America – Testing – Space | Learning by Proxy

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

When I started on the suggestion of a friend, I did not know how it would play out. This is the 10th edition already! I know some of you like it. Do share if you do.

Follow Up

China has already crossed into Indian territory and by the looks of it, the de-escalation suggested is because their goals have been met. They took a bit of the salami slice they wanted to. Read this piece on the Chinese strategy from Hindustan Times


Politics

Mr. President

Americans have a way of doing things that few others can.

The death of George Floyd, juxtaposed on the Pandemic where a disproportionately larger number of black people have died was like putting salt on an open wound. To make matters worse, this was not a stray incident, Ahmed Aubrey a young boy was shot in a residential area by while men just a few weeks back. The anger coalesced and spilt onto the street. 72 cities in America protested and many of them burned. The president instead of soothing the pain was searching for cayenne pepper.

If anti-fascists are terrorists, then does America represent the opposite?

The protests even reached the gates of the white house. And the brave president hid in the bunker!

US President Donald Trump was rushed to a White House bunker after hundreds of protesters gathered outside the White House, with some of them resorting to stone-pelting. The incident, according to the Associated Press, happened on Friday night as protests against George Floyd’s death spread to several cities. The AP report said Trump spent nearly an hour in the bunker, which was designed for use in emergencies like terrorist attacks.

Source: Indian Express

And then he threatened to unleash the military on his people.

Declaring himself “your president of law and order,” President Donald Trump vowed Monday to return order to American streets using the military if widespread violence isn’t quelled, even as peaceful protesters just outside the White House gates were dispersed with tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets.

Source: CNN

Reminds you of Tiananmen Square? Maybe all the hate directed at China is just love in disguise! You see we often do the worst things that we can to those we love the most.

The last time that social and economic inequality was rising, new political ideas were emerging, economic mismanagement and environmental factors led to agricultural failure, unmanageable national debt, and political mismanagement were rife; it was January 1793 and King Louis XVI was executed by the guillotine at Place de la Revolution in Paris. 

Revolutions tend to start in this climate.

G7 or G10 or G11

In the first post which I had written in this series, I had mentioned the oil crisis of 1973 which had brought the USA to its knees when the Saudi’s refused to sell them oil. This oil crisis led to an informal meeting of Western Finance Minister which resulted in the creation of the Group of Seven – G7. Seven developed countries for geopolitical purposes met each year to plan how to carve up the world, each year. The world has changed a lot in the last 50 years. Trump wanted the composition of this group to change. Perhaps rightly so.

“I don’t feel that… it properly represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries,” Mr Trump said on Saturday.

The G7 group, which the US hosts this year, includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK.

The president said Russia, South Korea, Australia, and India should be invited.

Source: BBC

Economics

Transparency

Closer home we have the PM Cares Fund. An opaque account that has been taking in Crores from every organisation that can afford to curry favours. At the same end of the Spectrum are US and UK who have been putting the country under greater debt and distributing the money to keep the shareholders rich. There is a growing call for transparency and the call to know who were these companies that were supported by the government.

While it’s not naming recipients, the UK-owned development bank said it will, sometime in the near future, provide information about the amount of emergency funding each lender has made available to help small businesses weather the coronavirus disruption.[…]

In the meantime, a firestorm is brewing in the US. More than $500 billion has been shovelled out through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that provides forgivable loans to smaller enterprises. Controversy erupted when it emerged that large, publicly traded companies like Shake Shack had accessed the borrowing (the burger chain and others have since returned the money).

Source: Quartz

Flattening the Curve

In India, the lockdown has devastated several businesses especially the small ones. In addition to this, the stimulus announced has had little or no support for the small businesses. Now that the lockdown is being relaxed, India is having a ‘Hold my Beer’ moment. The number of daily cases has surged upwards from 4000 per day to close to 10,000 per day. The government had the entire population locked up for 8 weeks and did nothing to ramp up testing! And even now very little is being done. 

The city tested between 4,000 and 4,200 daily, even as the number of positive cases detected rose steadily. Mumbai has the capacity to carry out about 10,000 tests every day.

The city’s stagnant testing numbers were in sharp contrast to the daily testing figures for Maharashtra as a whole, which saw a 100 per cent jump over the same period — from 7,237 tests on May 1 to 14,504 tests on May 31.

Source: Indian Express
Source: @20ncounting [twitter]

Indian has the unique distinction of ending the lockdown as the cases began to surge.

As Rajiv Bajaj aptly said – “We seem to have flattened the wrong curve – The GDP Curve”

Business

Space

The US and USSR embarked on their respective space programs in the 1960s out of fear of one another. Once the fear died, so did the space programs. None of it has been for the want of Investment. 

The USA retired its Space Shuttle Program which had outlasted its expiry date by over a decade. In 2010, under the Nasa Authorisation Act, the Space Launch System (SLS) contract was awarded to ULA backed by Boeing. They have since taken in USD 18.6 Billion and delivered zero flights. SpaceX, the new kid in town has posed a credible threat to Boeing and this week managed to put a man in space for the first time.

With privately-led spaceflight, NASA will once again be able to send astronauts to low-earth orbit, expanding its scientific research and preparations for missions to the Moon or Mars. Today’s launch is also a crucial step toward a new orbital economy, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk believes will have the same impact as the internet.

Source: Quartz

Board Games

Charles Darrow is improperly credited for the creation of Monopoly. It was created by Elizabeth Magie, who in 1903 created the game in Washington DC. Monopolists were big in those days and Elizabeth, a stenographer would spend her nights trying to create this game, to create a world where anybody could be one. The lockdown has given board games a second life. Families can play them together. Most of them last for some time and they are very engaging. 

When most people hear “board games” they think games like Monopoly, Clue, and Guess Who?—household names that many of us played as children. The biggest companies like Hasbro, which makes Monopoly, would consider anything less than a million copies sold as a failure, says Englestein.

But hobbyist tabletop games are a different breed. Some of them, like Settlers of Catan or Pandemic, are fairly popular. But there are hundreds and thousands of smaller games that most people will never hear of. In this industry, selling 20,000 units is considered a success, says Englestein. While a single large mainstream gaming company may bring in $10 billion in annual revenue, the entire hobbyist industry could generate just $1.5 billion.

Source: Quartz

Technology / Science

Perception

When a professional tennis player delivers a service, the ball goes from one end of the court to the in about 200 milliseconds. The player at the opposite end of the court has already decided what shot he/she is going to play based on the way the ball is thrown up. Professional players can predict where the ball will go based on the shape of the body as the opponent begins to serve. 

Turns out we can hear hand movement even we don’t see it. So would hand movement have a role to play in communication? Can you predict what is about to be said?

There’s a strong chance that your conversation partner’s movements will leave an acoustic signature that you may be able to perceive, says Wim Pouw, a cognitive scientist at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands and the author of a new study on this topic recently published in the journal PNAS.

Source: Quartz

Misc

The American Supreme Court has offered an incredible amount of protection to Cops who have killed citizens. Here is an incredible article from Reuters on the subject. Worth a read!

The Cyclone that landed in Mumbai caused rains in Patna. The winds were strong and took it all the way across, saving Mumbai from prolonged showers which we know the city cannot take. 

Signing off…