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

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

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…