Weekly reading – 29th January 2022

What I wrote last week

Book review: A shot to save the world

Microsoft through charts

Business

MPC Letter Highlights Amazon Action on Visa Credit Cards in UK. The market power of Visa is evidenced by a number of big name retailers unable to ditch them completely. In the U.S, you can use Visa at Costco stores, but you can’t Mastercard. “Walmart, for example, announced in 2016 that it would no longer accept Visa credit cards at its stores in Canada, but began taking them again seven months later. In 2018, Kroger stopped accepting Visa credit cards at about 20 of its Food Co. locations in California and later expanded the ban to 142 supermarkets and 108 gas stations in its Smith’s Good and Drug Store chain across seven states but resumed accepting the cards the following year.”

How France’s Largest Semiconductor Company Got Stolen in Plain Sight. A great example of a power grab from a Board against its own CEO.

Casualties of Your Own Success. “The second is size is associated with success, success is associated with hubris, and hubris is the beginning of the end of success. Some of the most enduring animals aren’t apex predators, but they’re very good at evasion, camouflage, and armor. They’re paranoid. I always come back to the time Charlie Rose asked Michael Moritz how Sequoia Capital has thrived for three decades, and he said, “We’ve always been afraid of going out of business.” Paranoia in the face of success is extremely hard but in hindsight it’s the closest thing to a secret weapon that exists.

Amazon’s Banned China Sellers Turn to Walmart’s Marketplace. Adding merchants is cool, but Walmart should be very careful about losing customer trust because of goods or services of questionable quality.

Battery Swapping for EVs Is Big in China. Here’s How It Works. I do think that battery swapping can have the potential to take EVs to another level, but there are some key questions that need answering. The high cost to build swapping stations, how many batteries should be at a station, how many stations, how we can make sure that drivers can only retrieve fully charged batteries…

Utah’s ‘Steve Jobs of the Skies’ is ready to do it again. An inspiring story of a legend in the airline industry

Interchange is going toward 0.. So what? A thought-provoking post by Tom on the prospect that interchange fees will drop significantly in the US and the risks that issuers have to face. I don’t know when the interchange fees will drop in the US, to be honest. If we had just Democrats in Congress, it would happen in the next 4-5 years. But because we have GOP lawmakers who are easily persuaded by lobbyists, I can’t imagine the change would happen soon. Issuers love the card business because it’s profitable. Users only use credit cards because of the rewards and what pays for those rewards? Part of it is interchange. Nonetheless, Tom’s blog post is very interesting.

Stuff I found interesting

US unveils changes to attract foreign science, tech students. The Biden administration and its successors would be wise to continue this talent-friendly policy and take it further. The competitiveness of a country is forever based on the human capital that it has and is even more so today. Immigrants like to come to the US, but for the past few years, opted for other countries because of the anti-immigrant rhetoric from Trump. Now, it’s Biden’s responsibility to clean up the image and make America the destination for talented immigrants again.

A Journey Along Afghanistan’s Main Highway Leads Through a Country in Transition. I had mixed feelings reading this piece. First of all, I was reminded how lucky I was to live a normal and healthy life in America. Folks in some areas of the world like Afghanistan live in fear and poverty. The image of a mother holding two children and being scared of losing her three-year-old daughter is haunting. Second, it’s tragic how a group of people want to impose their extreme view of a religion on others and inflict immeasurable pain in the process. Third, what did the last 20 years and billions of dollars gain the U.S and the people of Afghanistan? While they may be suppressed under Taliban, some are relieved that the war is temporarily over. That says a lot about what the US and its allies did. Lastly, are the continued sanctions in the best interest of the Afghan people? Yes, the Taliban needs coercing to a negotiation table, but what about hurting the innocent people as collateral damage?

The Nanotechnology Revolution Is Here—We Just Haven’t Noticed Yet. “For decades, computer scientists and physicists speculated that, any minute now, nanotechnology was going to completely reshape our lives, unleashing a wave of humanity-saving inventions. Things haven’t unfolded as they predicted but, quietly, the nanotech revolution is under way. Among the routine items that have benefited from nanotechnology: air bags, cellphones, radar, inkjet printers, home projectors, and 5G and other fast wireless technology. Just around the bend, nanotechnology could enable ultra-tiny cameras, as well as a dizzying array of other kinds of sensors, able to detect everything from air pollution and black ice to hacking attempts and skin cancer. Unlocking your phone with your face is just the beginning, says Metalenz CEO Robert Devlin. Metalenses also have abilities that can be difficult to reproduce with conventional lenses. For example, because they facilitate the detection of polarized light, they can “see” things conventional lenses can’t. That could include detecting levels of light pollution, allowing the cameras on automobile safety and self-driving systems to detect black ice, and giving our phone cameras the ability to detect skin cancer.

Here’s how Ohio won a bid by Intel to build the world’s largest chip factory. I am intrigued to see how this long-term plan will fare in the next few years. From the US perspective, it is important to have a domestic fab that can rival TSMC. Whether Intel can make it work as it is so far behind the Taiwanese firm is another matter. But like they always say, you miss all the shots you don’t take. At least Intel is taking its shot here.

Google Topics API – The new Privacy Sandbox proposal from Google. At first glance, it looks like an improvement over FLoC to me, but we’ll see how the technology really works in real life and what the feedback from the community will be.

Don’t shine the turd. “If something is shit, don’t hide it. Because eventually, I’ll smell it.” It’s actually truly great advice.

Stats

YouTube Shorts has 5 trillion all-time views. That’s 5 trillion and it’s not a typo

Online channels only made up 10% of U.S grocery sales in 2021. Among all stats related to digital grocery, this seems right to me the most

45 million Americans used BNPL in 2021

Source: Bloomberg

Weekly reading – 28th August 2021

What I wrote last week

My review of three books: 1/ Stray reflections; 2/ An ugly truth and 3/ Obviously awesome

Business

Facebook says post that cast doubt on covid-19 vaccine was most popular on the platform from January through March. The fact that this article was published on a Saturday means that Facebook doesn’t want too many people to see it. I honestly can see the bull case for Facebook. However, it will be remiss to not mention the monumental challenge of content moderation that the company has to face. Because when false information runs rampage on its platforms, it may affect the engagement of users; which in turn can adversely affect advertising that is Facebook’s bread and butter.

Why You Can’t Find Everything You Want at Grocery Stores. Retailers are suffering from supply shortages; which is exacerbated by higher-than-expected demand. But if these hiccups are overcome, it means that there will be a growing retail segment in the coming months and by extension, likely, a healthy economy.

Diem: A Dream Deferred? Facebook has a lot going to their advantage: almost limitless resources, four of the most popular social networks in the world, 1/3 of the global population are its users, a money printing machine that is growing at a scary clip. But there are a couple of challenges that Facebook will have a hard time to overcome. First, it’s content moderation. Should I say: content moderation without pissing off anybody. As you can see, the task sounds almost impossible. When you moderate content by people with vastly different ideologies, you are almost certain to upset somebody. Facebook doesn’t have the luxury of having upset users or lawmakers. Hence, it’s not a problem that Facebook will easily solve. Second, public trust. The company has been around for almost 20 years and it has not garnered a lot of trust. As long as it continues to rely on advertising, capturing data and more importantly be embroiled in misinformation, the public trust will likely continue to evade them. As the article from Coindesk pointed out, trust is paramount in the payments/finance world. How on Earth would Facebook succeed in it?

The Digital Payment Giant That Adds Up. Merchants are going down the omni-channel route that allows shoppers to shop in multiple ways. This will be the key to Adyen’s growth. I like the fact that they prefer building in-house and maintaining the one-ness of their platform to acquiring capabilities from other companies through M&A and bundling different tech stacks into one. Working at a company that suffers from systems not talking to each other, I know first-hand how that could become a significant problem in no time. In addition, I really look forward to Adyen coming to the U.S with a banking license. I am not sure the folks at Marqeta share my enthusiasm.

Buying a bank turned LendingClub around. Now the fintech industry is watching. It requires a lot of work and preparation to get a banking license. The benefits of owning a charter; however, include less dependency and more control over your own fate, margin and operations.

What I found interesting

Inside Afghanistan’s cryptocurrency underground as the country plunges into turmoil. One can argue that cryptocurrency can be a savior in crises like what is going on in Afghanistan. The thing is that if something requires there to be a crisis to drive adoption, I am not sure that something is as good or revolutionary as some may think.

An immense mystery older than Stonehenge. It’s profoundly impressive to me that prehistoric people could transport stones that weighed tons to the top of a hill 6000 years ago. Think about that for a second. They must not have had all the tools that we came up with up hundreds of years later. It’s just extraordinary. If I ever have enough money and time, Gobekli Tepe, Machu Picchu, Egypt and Greece are where I wish to go.

Bigger vehicles are directly resulting in more deaths of people walking. Take a trip to Europe and you’ll see how absurdly big vehicles in the U.S are compared to those in Europe. And the implications aren’t necessarily positive. I’d argue that it’s considerably better to have smaller vehicles or fewer vehicles on the roads.

European Sleeper Trains Make a Comeback. I really wish that Americans would share the same enthusiasm about travelling by train as Europeans do. Personally, I enjoyed the train ride from Chicago to Omaha. If there were a reliable Wifi, I’d take trains every single time over flights and especially driving.

Apparently, there is a 2021 Global Crypto Adoption Index and Vietnam is ranked as #1. Below are the two reasons that experts say are why Vietnam’s adoption is so high. I am not sure how I should feel about it. On one hand, this index is not negative in nature. Hence, the #1 ranking certainly feels good. On the other hand, the alleged reason that young people don’t know what to do with ETF is alarming. That implies a lack of understanding in investing and a tendency to gamble in cryptocurrencies.

“We heard from experts that people in Vietnam have a history of gambling, and the young, tech-savvy people don’t have much to do with their funds in terms of investing in a traditional ETF, both of which drive crypto adoption,”

Source: CNBC

Stats that may interest you

In 2019, 70% of music in Japan was consumed via CDs

eCommerce made up 13.3% of total retail sales in the U.S in the 2nd quarter of 2021, indicating that the Covid effect has tapered off

46% of retail BNPL shoppers didn’t use their credit cards because they wanted to avoid high interest rates

The U.S online lottery ticket market will reach $2.3 billion by the end of 2021, a 25% YoY growth

A couple of Afghanistan veterans sharing their experience

I came across a candid post by an Afghanistan veteran, on what she thought of the U.S pulling out of the country. You should have a read, but here is an excerpt:

We use people up and throw them away like it’s nothing.

And now, finally, we are leaving and the predictable thing is happening. The Taliban is surging in and taking it all back. They were always going to do this, because they have a thing you cannot buy or train, they have patience and a bloody-mindedness that warrants more respect than we ever gave them.

I am Team Get The Fuck Out Of Afghanistan which, as a friend pointed out to me today, has always been Team Taliban. It’s Team Taliban or Team Stay Forever.

There is no third team.

And so I sit here, reading these sad fucking articles and these horrified social media posts about the suffering in Afghanistan and the horror of the encroaching Taliban and how awful it is that this is happening but I can’t stop feeling this grim happiness, like, finally, you fuckers, finally you have to face the thing Afghanistan has always been. You can’t keep lying to yourself about what you sent us into.

No more blown up soldiers. No more Bollywood videos on phones whose owners are getting shipped god knows where. No more hypocrisy.

No more pretending it meant anything. It didn’t.

It didn’t mean a goddamn thing.

Source: Laura Jedeed

Another vet shared this on his Twitter

What weighed heavily in my heart today and what angered me is that when a minority group of people have the influence and power to change other lives for the better, as it often is the case around the world, the outcome is usually that generations of innocent people suffer. Why does that have to be the case?

Weekly reading – 3rd April 2021

What I wrote last week

Handling a lot of data isn’t easy

Business

A drive to survive: How Liberty Media used Netflix and esports to win a new generation of fans and safeguard the future of Formula 1

Apple Watch can function as a reliable indicator of cardiovascular activities

The a16z Marketplace 100: 2021

Credit Suisse’s research on Stripe

Credit Suisse’s research on Payments, Processors and Fintechs

How Vietnam can reimagine tourism

What I found interesting

The Ancient Method That Keeps Afghanistan’s Grapes Fresh All Winter

Who owns the Nile? Another geopolitical conflict that will take years to resolve, if we can even do so.

Stats you may find interesting

A survey by Brickmeetsclick shows that online grocery hit $8 billion in February 2021, down from $9.3 billion in January 2021

Meat sales in the US increased by 20% in 2020, compared to 2019

88% of Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s investment in Property, Plant & Equipment in 2020 was in renewables

Berkshire Hathaway Energy's PP&E in 2020

Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s renewables output made up 34% of its total production in 2020, compared to 12% in 2006

Berkshire Hathaway Energy's Renewables Output

Book: The Kite Runner

This is my second book by Khaled Hosseini after the wonderful A Thousand Splendid Suns and it didn’t disappoint. The Kite Runner is an account of the life of Amir, the son of a merchant in Kabul Afghanistan. The book covers his life from Afghanistan to America and back to his hometown after a few decades to deal with his unresolved matters from the past. Saying more than that will be equal to the act of spoiling and disservice to the book and future readers, so I stop here. But the book is another gut-wrenching and moving work by Khaled Hosseini.

Tired of business and self-help books, I had decided to pick up novels to stir things up. Well, after the two emotionally charging novels by Hosseini, I think I am ready to go back to the mundane books for now.

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.” 

“There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. When you kill a man, you steal a life… you steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness… there is no act more wretched than stealing.” 

“And that’s the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too.” 

“For you, a thousand times over”

Book: A thousand splendid suns

The book is a captivating and breathtaking story with the violent events in Afghanistan from the 1970s to 2000s in the background. The two main stories surround two female characters: Mariam and Laila. The author walks us through the injustice that the two protagonists had to suffer. The first 25% of the book was about Mariam, followed by the section on Laila and later their life together, which accounts for half of the book.

As a Vietnamese, I almost have to apply for a visa to every country that I want to travel to. It means a great deal of paperwork, time and money involved. Sometimes, it frustrates the hell out of me as I look with envy to many of my friends from the US, Canada and EU whose nationalities allow them to travel almost everywhere the very next day with little trouble. However, I felt tremendously grateful for the life I have whenever I read books on North Korea or books like this one. They really make me look at things from a perspective. Somewhere around the world, the life I am leading is a luxury to many and something I should cherish.

It’s horrifying and unthinkable to know that women in some countries in the world are treated so badly, in the way that the two characters were in the book. For all the scientific advancements we have had, we still have much on this front to solve. I hope that one day, women everywhere will be liberated and given as much freedom as men are and have always been.

If you are looking for a great page-turner, I highly recommend this. Below are a few beautiful passages I appreciate a great deal

“And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion. And whenever those twin poisonous flowers began to sprout in the parched land of that field, Mariam uprooted them. She uprooted them and ditched them before they took hold.”

“Miriam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Miriam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings.

“She would never leave her mark on Mammy’s heart the way her brothers had, because Mammy’s heart was like a pallid beach where Laila’s footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed, swelled and crashed. ”

“Marriage can wait. Education cannot…Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.” 

She sat on the chair instead, hands limp in her lap, eyes staring at nothing, and let her mind fly on. She let it fly on until it found the place, the good and safe place, where the barley fields were green, where the water ran clear and the cottonwood seeds danced by the thousands in the air; where Babi was reading a book beneath an acacia and Tariq was napping with his hands laced across his chest, and where she could dip her feet in the stream and dream good dreams beneath the watchful gaze of gods of ancient, sun-bleached rock.”