Weekly readings – 11th October 2020

What I wrote last week

My thoughts on Section 230 and why I think Facebook & Twitter are failing us

Business

An interview with the principal medical officer of Amazon Halo, Amazon’s latest health tracker. Amazon has an established relationship with consumers, a well-known & loved brand, a war chest and expertise in machine learning. It’ll be interesting to see how Amazon Halo will compete in this space.

A family business controls 97% of the ice cream truck music market

Covid-19 has decimated independent restaurants much more than it has the biggest chains

Google, once a friend, becomes a formidable foe of travel companies.

A startup released its Serie A funding round memo publicly. Pretty interesting.

The challenges that Disney faces in designing a strategy for Hulu

Technology

A comprehensive review of iOS14 and iPadOS14

Google announced a new feature that would allow users to look for songs by just humming. Don’t you love technology? It’s very remarkable

What I found interesting

Gen Z folks feed themselves misinformation. A pretty interesting yet scary revelation.

Pu Luong, a pristine and untouched beauty in the North of Vietnam, a few hours from the capital

How Oslo Achieved Zero Pedestrian and Bicycle Fatalities

If you have a chance to visit Dalat in Vietnam, try this dish. It’s great, delicious yet dirt cheap. I miss it.

On average, Americans spend $21 on subscriptions every month

Weekly readings – 12th Sep 2020

What I wrote

Three documentaries that I think will intrigue and interest you intellectually

Business

FT’s interview with Reed Hastings that gave some insights into Netflix’s culture

Contactless penetration in the US is around 5-6% while that in non-US markets is around 66%, according to Visa

Bessemer Venture Partners shared their internal memos on several investments, including those in Wix, Shopify or LinkedIn

Although interested viewers need to become a Disney+ subscriber and have to pay $30 for premier access to watch Mulan, the movie reportedly garnered $33 million in its opening weekend

An extensive investigation in Nikola and its CEO

WSJ’ profile of Alphabet CEO – Sundar Pichai

The Athletic says it hits 1 million subscribers after surviving sports shutdown

For a company whose most users are female, Pinterest has a working culture designed to instead favor men

A brief profile of Andy Sassy, the CEO of AWS

Though it has made significant strides in automated driving, owners should not rely on Tesla’s driver assistance features to necessarily add safety or to make driving easier, based on Consumer Reports’ extensive testing and experience. 

Most features within Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Capability suite worked inconsistently, including the Autopark self-parking system that has been around for several years.

Source: Consumer Report on Tesla

Technology

TikTok revealed some details regarding their highly regarded algorithms

A brief overview of the new changes to the App Store guidelines

What I found interesting

The True Story of Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore

An excellent study on the impact of Covid-19 policies on the economic recovery

US households spent only 40% of the first and only stimulus check so far. Some used up the check while others didn’t use it at all

Weekly readings – 22nd August 2020

What I wrote last week

I compared what is happening in Vietnam and New Zealand in the fight against Covid-19 and why it looks very bleak for America

I wrote a bit of analysis on Square, the owner of Cash App

Business

Instacart dominated the grocery delivery in the US

Second Measure on pandemic grocery spending
Source: Second Measure

A startup that promises to deliver groceries in less than 13 minutes in Turkey

An interview with the CEO of New York Times. He grew the subscriber base from the rock bottom of 22,000 in Q2 2013 to 6.5 million today

How Uber Turned a Promising Bikeshare Company Into Literal Garbage

Technology

Ben Evans on App Store and antitrust issues

A deep dive into iPhone 5C plastic cases

John Gruber on TikTok as a security threat

What I find interesting

The Canva Backlink Empire: How SEO, Outreach & Content Led To A $6B Valuation

To all Americans who are told all the nasty and misleading facts about Socialism & Communism whenever social benefits and safety nets are mentioned, please read this from your fellow American, who considers his move to Vietnam the best decision

Confessions of a Xinjiang Camp Teacher

A dazzling civilization flourished in Sudan nearly 5,000 years ago. Why was it forgotten?

Schools saw Covid outbreaks. We got this onto ourselves

I remember six months ago, on a Friday when I was in the office, my colleagues and I were alarmed by the news that Covid-19 appeared in Omaha. We got the first confirmed case on that day. I went straight from my office to my car and drove to buy supplies that I still keep to this day. After that, we followed the news to get updated every hour on the number of cases in the US and Omaha, where we live. Every new case was a big deal. Fast forward to now, 6 months later, we have more than 170,000 deaths in the US and the number of cases is not in the hundreds or the thousands. It’s in the millions. I no longer care what the number of cases is on a daily basis. My friends don’t and judging from what I have seen on the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, many don’t either. We are already used to living with the virus at this moment. Not because we beat it. No, the number of cases in the US is still high. The last day when we had fewer than 35,000 new cases a day was almost 2 months ago! And look at the upward trend from left to right. You would love it if that were your stock portfolio’s return, but this is a deadly pandemic we are talking about!

Source: Google

Things don’t seem much better in Nebraska. We are on the same level as we were in May, in terms of new cases a day. It has been three months and it’s pretty difficult to argue that we made progress.

Source: Google

Vietnam’s handling of the crisis has been objectively successful. It was perfect up till 31st July. After going 99 days without a community transmission, an outbreak appeared in the 3rd biggest city in Vietnam. Since then, we have had 300-400 more cases and 25 deaths so far. The same story applies to New Zealand. The country also had a 102-day streak of no transmission before a new outbreak appeared out of nowhere.

That goes to show how vulnerable and fragile our societies are against this virus without a vaccine. If we don’t take, I’ll say it, draconian measures before a vaccine arrives, we won’t win this battle. Vietnam put towns with infections into lockdown. No one can be in or out. Borders have been closed to international guests for 6 months and I expect it to continue to the end of the year. Authorities go on the streets to fine folks who don’t wear a mask. Even all of those measures cannot stop the virus.

Look at what we are doing here in the US. Anti-mask is still going on in the country. If a government institutes a lockdown like we do in Vietnam, I fear there would be a civil war. Worse, some states are pushing for schools to reopen. To no one’s surprise, it didn’t take long for the consequences to arrive. Omaha reported, as of Tuesday (8/18/2020) night, there were 17 students and 18 staff tested positive while more than 150 others were in quarantine (Source: Omaha.com). In Mississippi, 71 out of 82 counties reported outbreaks at school with more than 430 confirmed cases and 2,500 in quarantine (Source: Tara Haelle).

Given what happened in Vietnam & New Zealand and what is happening in the US, do you think we are going to contain this pandemic without a virus? I don’t. The consequences of our failure are real. One of my teammates has three kids, two of which are 5-year-old twins. He desperately wants to send them to school, because working remotely and taking care of three kids at home with their class schedule is taxing for him. However, at the same time, sending them to school means that he is putting their health at risk. And I don’t think his situation is unique. It’s common among Americans.

While some businesses boomed lately because of the pandemic, many others struggled. Even a corporation like Kohl’s struggled financially, let alone small businesses. The government can throw money at the problem a couple of times, but it can’t be the solution forever. Somewhere it has to stop. Additionally, many people lose jobs and have likelihood in jeopardy. The stimulus check is still stuck somewhere in the Senate.

Airlines have secured a lot of cash to improve their liquidity, but at some point, they will have to increase the number of flights, including international routes. But if they do, receiving folks from other countries can easily raise the risk of new infections.

The domino effects of our situation in the US are multifold and severe. Yet, the odds that we have even a mild control over it are pretty slim in my opinion. Remember the last time we had fewer than 35,000 new cases a day was almost 2 months ago and you have to go back to 22nd March 2020 to find the last time we had fewer than 10,000 new cases a day.

This is not a summer that I could ever envision. I miss the feeling of sitting in a coffee shop for a couple of hours and working on my laptop. I miss sitting on a patio and having fun with my friends. I miss going to the office to meet my colleagues. I miss going to a park without wearing a mask. We could have had a chance at all of that if we had done a better job of handling this crisis.

Weekly readings – 7th August 2020

What I wrote last week

Uber’s latest quarter

Apple’s acquisition of this promising fintech startup from Canada

Business

Inside Netflix’s Quest to Become a Global TV Giant

US citizens increasingly moved to Canada through its Express Entry program

Content creators on YouTube that no longer rely on advertising dollars on the platform grew 40% between Jan and May 2020

Why Microsoft wants Tiktok

A sensible piece on Amazon, its private label and the antitrust issue that it has to deal with

Eugene Wei’s latest essay is on TikTok and it’s good

ARK’s latest white paper on SaaS

How Tim Cook has molded Apple into his own version, not Steve Jobs’

Technology

Apple secured a new patent that could equip Apple Watch with odor sensor technology

What’s the Big Deal About Revit? Understanding the Role of Autodesk Revit in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction

Other stuff that I think is interesting

Inside look at CloudKitchens

Bill Gates’ conversation on Covid-19

Grim outlook for America for the rest of the year, at least

I don’t have high hope for America till the end of 2020. Here’s why:

First of all, unlike in many other countries, I expect that we will still struggle with the pandemic in the next few months. If the last 6 months is any indication, it proves that we are not handling this crisis well. We reopened states not when we slowed down the spread sufficiently to the hundreds or teens, but when we were just past the worst point at the time. What happened two months after the reopening? The number of cases has been rising. We repeatedly hit record for the number of cases in a day. Deaths are rising. Yet, the folks in charge are still imploring parents and schools to send kids back to classes while a lot of people don’t wear masks, a proven method to slow down the spread. Even though there are some positive developments with regard to a vaccine, I expect that we are still months away from having the vaccine produced in mass for everybody. So, don’t be surprised that when winter comes, we are still in this mess.

Just to give you some perspective. Vietnam has had around 15 new cases in the last 4 days after 99 days without a community transmission. The country has been very careful and cautious when it comes to Covid-19. Despite the success that garnered global accolade, the borders have been closed to international flights since February. That’s how seriously we have taken this issue, and yet we still have new cases. In the US, not only do we not have a coordination between the federal government and states, but at the state level, there are some whose leadership is just outright terrible. What could possibly go wrong?

Secondly, this is an election year. It will get messy. Politics has always been messy, but if there was respect between candidates in the past (McCain and Obama, or Romney and Obama), the same can’t be expected of Trump, who is known for lies, misinformation and vulgar insults. In addition to the attacks from either candidate, there will be contesting of the results. Trump already laid the foundation for it. He and his officials voted by mail-in ballots in the past themselves, but have been campaigning hard against it, even though the current pandemic makes it dangerous for people to go vote. Unlike other candidates, he hasn’t committed to accepting the election results. Hence, I sometimes shudder when I think about what will happen between November 2020 and January 2021, if Trump loses.

Also, what has been happening in Portland is deeply troubling. The federal government sent in unnamed federal agents to the city to suppress protests that are largely peaceful, despite opposition from the governor, mayor and the state of Oregon’s senators. The violence depicted in the altercation between the agents and citizens is horrifying. It is the stuff of authoritarian regime that we lament in other countries, yet it is happening here in America. Trump already announced that he would do the same to other cities such as Albuquerque, Kansas or Chicago. All this travesty takes place without oversight. How is that not worrying?

There are other downstream effects such as the economy, job losses, healthcare, eviction, etc…But those three factors alone already make me pessimistic of America’s next 5 months now that July is almost over.

What can we do? I can’t do anything since I am just a lawful immigrant abiding by the laws and paying taxes without representation. But I do hope that Americans will stay focused on the upcoming elections, whether it’s for a Senate, Governor, Mayor or Congress seat, and vote. For the presidential election, I hope people will vote for Biden. Not because I like him. I don’t. I don’t like the fact that he invokes Obama whenever it’s convenient, but doesn’t own up to mistakes they made. I also prefer somebody younger. But Biden and Trump are the choices we have, and I do hope that Americans will vote at least for somebody who is a decent human-being. Even Lindsay Graham said in the past Biden was a decent man. Every progress that Biden may make, if he wins, will be incremental. Don’t expect drastic changes or progress overnight. The way the three branches are set up doesn’t allow for fast and dramatic changes, especially when the partisanship is so toxic now. But as long as we don’t stand still or go backwards, even when we are just inching forward a little bit at a time, I’ll take that.

Weekly readings – 11th July 2020

What I wrote last week

I wrote a bit about the challenges of corporations in addressing different stakeholders’ needs

Here is a what I wrote about the company behind FICO score

My thoughts on the latest suspension of H1B visas till the end of the year, a self-inflicting move by the US

Business

How I grew my Shopify micro-SaaS to $25k MRR and 20k users in 14 months

A very good analysis on Twitter, discussing the company’s valuable network and challenges

Exclusive: Inside Uber’s billion-dollar bet to deliver food, people, and everything else

Technology

The Post-Covid-19 Agenda for Technology and Media Companies.

What I think is interesting

How to understand things

Charlie Munger: Turning $2 Million Into $2 Trillion

Peter Kaufman on The Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking: Transcript

In Praise of Idleness

Growth without goals

Money Is the Megaphone of Identity

Weekly readings – 27th June 2020

What I wrote

I wrote about this European hard discounter that has been in the US since 1976 and a great success so far

Hasan Minhaj talked about the winner-takes-all system in the US that causes all sorts of problems

Vietnam’s success in handling Covid-19

I finished and reviewed a book called The Art of Thinking Clearly

Business

Why Figma wins

A collection of business memos by Sriram. He also collected some good posts on business strategy

Horace Dediu on ecosystems and the App Store specifically

A primer on marketplaces

A couple of posts summarizing WWDC event and what’s new from Apple by MacStories and WSJ

Craig Federighi on new privacy updates

But in the fullness of time, in the scope of hundreds of years from now, I think the place where I hope people can look back and talk about the places where Apple made a huge contribution to humanity is in helping people see the way of taking advantage of this great technology without the false tradeoff of giving up their privacy to do it.

Source: Fast Company

Other things I think are interesting

Low carb diet leads to “clinical remission” in three case studies of adults with type 1 diabetes

56% of wild animals in Vietnam’s restaurants have a coronavirus, study says

A great essay on the value of appreciating your being alone and facing yourself

Countering illegal hate speech online by EU Commission

How People Read Online: New and Old Findings

THERE’S NOW AN EVEN WORSE ANTI-ENCRYPTION BILL THAN EARN IT. THAT DOESN’T MAKE THE EARN IT BILL OK. I left it capitalized for a reason. It’s alarming

Vietnam’s success and continued effort in handling Covid-19

Vietnam has gone for more than 2 months without any community transmission. The only new cases we have seen are from repatriation flights which carried Vietnamese nationals back home overseas. As of this writing, we haven’t had a single death from Covid-19. The record looks to be intact after the most serious case of all, patient #91, has recovered miraculously after being close to death a few times. Exemplars Health had an article that covers it pretty well why Vietnam has been successful so far in dealing with the pandemic.

Certain aspects of Vietnam’s response to COVID-19 may not be replicable in other countries. Its experience with past epidemics encouraged citizens to take significant steps to slow the spread of the virus. Because Vietnam features a one- party government with a chain of command reaching from the national level down to the village level, it is particularly suited to mobilizing resources, implementing public health strategies, and ensuring consistent messages while enforcing regulations stringently.

– Investment in a public health infrastructure (e.g., emergency operations centers and surveillance systems) enables countries to have a head start in managing public health crises effectively. Vietnam learned lessons from SARS and avian influenza, and other countries can learn those same lessons from COVID-19.

– Early action, ranging from border closures to testing to lockdowns, can curb community spread before it gets out of control.

– Thorough contact tracing can help facilitate a targeted containment strategy.

– Quarantines based on possible exposure, rather than symptoms only, can reduce asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission.

– Clear communication is crucial. A clear, consistent, and serious narrative is important throughout the crisis.

– A strong whole-of-society approach engages multi-sectoral stakeholders in decision-making process and activate cohesive participation of appropriate measures

One of the things that I think we did very well is contact tracing. The authority in Vietnam demands that every patient provide detailed information on where and when they had been in the few days prior and whom they had been in contact with. From there, the authority will reach out to those F1 and F2 cases and take appropriate actions. Below is the general idea how it works

Life is almost back to normal in Vietnam, to some extent. Domestic flights have resumed, people have gone back to office and establishments have been reopened. However, the borders still remain closed to international flights, despite no new community transmission over two months. According to a new report, it is almost impossible to expect any commercial international flights before August. The earliest estimate is September, yet the situation remains fluid. There will be flights between Japan and Vietnam in the next coming days, but those flights are restricted to only businesspeople and come with enhanced security measures. Some may regard this policy as “draconian” or “extreme”, but if you look at countries and cities that have reopened, the results are mixed. Some saw only a few new cases while others like Arizona or Florida have seen new daily record number of cases also every week for the past two weeks. Folks have different preferences and agendas. Some prioritize the economy’s health while others put safety on top of the list. Personally, I am just glad I don’t have to make such decisions. But I will say this: seeing foreigners stuck in Vietnam express their gratitude to Vietnam for saving their lives during the pandemic is heart-warming and makes me proud. To me, that’s more important than some economic salvation.

I’m immensely grateful to the government of Vietnam for the privilege of being here, and for their smart and fast action — in such contrast to my own government. People here say to me, “Oh you’re American? I’m so sorry.” 

Source: Business Insider

Before closing this entry, I want to speak a bit about how some media outlets cover countries that have been successful in handling this pandemic. Time.com ran a piece labeled “The Best Global Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic“. To my and others’ surprise, the article doesn’t mention a whiff about Vietnam, Uruguay or Mongolia.

  • Mongolia: 215 confirmed cases, 158 recovered and 0 deaths
  • Vietnam: 349 confirmed cases, 328 recovered and 0 deaths
  • Uruguay: 885 confirmed cases, 815 recovered and 25 deaths (though there seems to be a spike recently)

I get that these countries’ brand names may not be as well-known as those such as European Union or New Zealand. I believe there is a sentiment among folks in developed countries that if the situation is bad where they live, it must be a catastrophe in developing countries. It’s annoying to see this kind of reporting. Articles like the one by Time.com only add to the aforementioned sentiment that don’t give developing countries enough credit. Individuals have our own strengths and weaknesses, and so do countries. Vietnam may not have a shiny record on a lot of things, but we can be very capable in other areas. Our success in handling Covid-19 and SARS before that is an example.

Weekly readings – 6th June 2020

A study published by Harvard University 20 years ago on why the US doesn’t like state welfare

What if our cities were just lit by stars

Source: Wired

How Many People Did it Take to Build the Great Pyramid?

Amazon is the fourth‑largest US delivery service and growing fast

Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Community and the Crime Decline: The Causal Effect of Local Nonprofits on Violent Crime

Our analysis finds that each additional use of force policy was associated with a 15% reduction in killings for the average police department. Since the average police department had already implemented three of these policies, implementing all eight use of force restrictions would be associated with a 54% reduction in killings for the average police department. Even after taking into account the number of arrests made, assaults on officers, and community demographics, police departments with all eight of these use of force policies implemented would kill 72% fewer people than departments that have none of these policies in place

Source: Campaign Zero

As for policy, our results suggest that implementing the EO to recall military equipment should result in less violent behavior and subsequently, fewer killings by LEAs. Taken together with work that shows militarization actually leads to more violence against police (Carriere, 2016Wickes, 2015), the present study suggests demilitarization may secure overall community safety. 

Source: Sage Journals

An interesting profile on the richest man in India and Asia

Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight with China

Fitful nightly sleep linked to chronic inflammation, hardened arteries

Four million parts, 30 countries: How an Airbus A380 comes together

Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei Takes Off the Gloves in Fight Against U.S.