The year the Earth changed

If you haven’t watched the documentary “The year the Earth changed” on Apple TV+, do yourself a favor: Subscribe and watch it! I guarantee it’s worth $5 you’ll pay, which still is less expensive than a lot of drinks at Starbucks.

The pandemic forced many of us to go into lockdowns, especially around March and April last year. The unusual pause in human activities led to a once-in-a-lifetime drop in human disturbance in the natural world. That is what this documentary is all about. The crew went to different parts of the world to record what happened to the Earth when humans paused for a change. They pieced together a beautiful story of how much the natural ecosystems benefited from our short-term retreat; which, by extension, is a condemnation of how detrimental our existence is to other species.

One example that I remember very well is how tourists to Africa endanger the lives of cheetah cubs. Cheetahs are the fastest sprinters in the world. They run fast because of their slender build. But it is exactly that build and the tendency to live individually that put them at disadvantage against other hunters such as lions or hyenas. Mother cheetahs are responsible for keeping their cubs safe and feeding them at least once every two or three days. The hunts are not always easy. Mother cheetahs may have to run very far away from their cubs to be able to catch and kill preys. Once a kill is completed, there begins a dilemma. Dragging a prey back to the cubs is a laborious task that may invite unwanted guests in hyenas and lions, against which the lonesome cheetahs stand little chance. Going back to fetch the cubs can protect the weak younglings, but mothers and children may find themselves with empty stomachs because the food will likely be stolen. Hence, mother cheetahs naturally use discreet and distinct voice to call the cubs over. They cannot make too big or too frequently a sound because danger always lurks around and the position of their powerless cubs may be compromised. Naturally, cheetahs adapt to the surrounding conditions to develop their ability to communicate with each other safely. Until humans. As tourists with all the noisy jeeps and talk make it exceedingly challenging for the cubs to listen to the call of their mothers. In the documentary, experts said that the pause in tourists to where cheetahs live increased the livelihood of cheetah cubs.

Listening to the engaging narration of David Attenborough and watching how other species’ lives amazingly became so much better without us is simply jaw-dropping. I couldn’t believe how much a disturbance we humans are. This pandemic is a blessing in disguise. No more theories. No more what-ifs. What happened in nature when we took a break was real. There is now recorded evidence that there is so much that we can and must do to protect our environment and other species.

An excellent documentary. Really thankful to those that put it together.

Get back to what you love

Google just published a moving ads named “Get back to what you love”. Have a look. It’s been a while since I saw such a good ads from Google.

I got my 1st vaccine this week. The following day, I felt tired and my shoulder was all sore. But the soreness and tiredness didn’t last long. Two days after the dose was administered, I felt fine. After more than a year of isolation by myself in my apartment, I felt a tremendous feeling of relief. I can’t wait to get back to where we were before this nightmare started. You know, a proper haircut, meeting my friends, family & colleagues, taking a walk without a mask, eating a great meal in a restaurant freely, traveling.

You know, back to living.

I took this photo from Downtown Omaha. Folks were talking and having meals on terraces. Street artists were playing music. People were walking hand-in-hand, laughing and smiling. Car parks were crowded. I haven’t seen the area that vibrant for a very long time. According to the CDC, every state in the US has more than 25% of its population receive the 1st dose. I hope to see the herd immunity in a month or two. So that we can get back to what we love.

Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Weekly reading – 27th February 2021

What I wrote last week

I reviewed The Spotify Play

Business

Profile of Bumble CEO

Interview with Spotify CEO, Daniel Elk

Frozen food sales have been boosted by Covid-19

When Did Generic Grocery Brands Get So Good Looking?

CBS and Showtime have a combined 30 million subscribers. Paramount+ with ads will go live with ads at $5/month in March and $10/month without ads in June

AT&T and TPG: There is No Why

What I found interesting

A COVID-19 vaccine life cycle: from DNA to doses

A look into Zuck and Kaplan’s influence on content moderation policies

Massive experiment shows why ticket sellers hit you with last-second fees

Sheryl Sandberg and Top Facebook Execs Silenced an Enemy of Turkey to Prevent a Hit to the Company’s Business

Abandoned houses in Japan can be bought for cheap as a get-away destination, but upgrading them can be very expensive

How Uber Deals with Large iOS App Size

Stats you may find interesting

Electric vehicles in the US reached 1.8% market share in 2020

This one stat is more horrifying than interesting. US exceeded 500,000 lives lost due to Covid-19

40% of Disney+ subscriber base are in the US. Because India is responsible for another 30% of the streamer’s subscriber count, the other markets such as Latin America and Europe combined make up 30% of its subscribers

86% of iPhones introduced in the last 4 years are on iOS14

Weekly reading – 2nd January 2021

What I wrote last week

I reviewed two books: Operaatio Elop and Turning The Flywheel

I wrote about an important lesson I will take with me into 2021

Business

How Domino’s Pizza Drove a 90x Increase in Stock Value

How to use Pinterest for Marketing

The fear of missing out seems to fuel venture capitalists and investors to value startups many many times over its revenue

How to build tech products for a diverse user base

WordPress has 40% market share

Restaurants complain about not making money with Instacart. If you outsource the relationship with your customers and accept the behind-the-scene role, you cede control as well as any profitability to Instacart.

Airlines are making it really hard for customers to use credits. All airlines try to make customers use credits, rather than get reimbursed with cash. But some, like United Airlines, are exceptionally terrible. It’s rich to claim you are about serving your customers when claiming flight credits because of Covid-19 is difficult.

Inside the deal between Google and Facebook that drew antitrust attention

The App Store and Google Play notched more than $400 million in spending on Christmas 2020, up 35% YoY

An interview with Strip Co-Founder. Stripe’s revenue in EMEA is reportedly almost $530 million in 2018.

Covid-19 has been good for streamers so far

A horrifying account of working at Apple by an international student

Oyo Chain Hotel is facing great challenges amidst Covid-19

Technology

How Apple’s rivals plan to catch up with the mighty M1 chip

EU Signs €145bn Declaration to Develop Next Gen Processors and 2nm Technology

What I found interesting

She Noticed $200 Million Missing, Then She Was Fired

What the Dunning-Kruger effect is and isn’t

Chinese Demography

China’s Empire of Concrete

Abortion, Once Unthinkable in Argentina, Becomes Legal

How ‘Feierabend’ helps Germans disconnect from the workday

A long read about the US’ response to Covid-19. I don’t know how anyone can read this report and say anything other than: there is blood on those who are supposed to be in charge, but fail their duty miserably.

A great read on why Trump supports connect with him. It’s not about policies or principles. It’s feelings. It’s about long held frustration.

Weekly reading – 26th December 2020

Last episode of 2020

What I wrote last week

Amazon’s bullying tactics and my thoughts on some antitrust issues

My review of Wonder Woman 1984 and why I like it

Business

Streaming Is Stalling: Can Music Keep Up in the Attention Economy?

The economics of the human hair trade

The global boom in neobanks – digital banks

Reuters reported that Apple Car might be coming soon in a few years. Much as I want to see that happen, I still remain pretty doubtful

Substack has more than 250,000 paid subscribers and the top 10 publishers earn more than $10 million/year

The death of department stores

Telegram is approaching 500 million active users and selling ads

Technology

YouTube’s recommendations try to give you toxic content, alleged an engineer who used to work on their algorithm

A few folks rendered a million webpages to find out what made websites load slowly

What I found interesting

A 9000-year-old Stonehenge-like structure was found under a lake in Michigan

Early humans may have slept through devastating winters

An insider story on why Vietnamese people in South Korea sent their infants back to the homeland on repatriation flights

Some amazing photos of Phan Thiet, Vietnam some decades ago

Life of an Iranian woman in Iran during Covid and amidst crushing sanctions from the US. Every time I read these stories, I am thankful for the life I currently have in the US. Is it perfect? No. But I’d be a damn fool not to appreciate it.

What’s the danger with Vietnam’s motorcycle helmets?

Weekly readings – 31st October 2020

What I wrote last week

Though AWS slowed, Amazon didn’t

My thoughts on Apple after their latest quarter and the last fiscal year

Business

Take-away lessons during the first 6 months of a Shopify employee. I find the read helpful, particularly the importance of understanding decision-makers’ attitude

From McDonald’s to Google: How Kelsey Hightower became one of the most respected people in cloud computing

Expensify CEO emailed his 10 million customers and asked them to vote for Biden. Though there are some who disagreed with him, they appreciated the openness. This is an example of how it should be done

Technology

Google announced Google One, a bundle that includes a VPN service, 2T of storage on Google Gmail & Drive and other benefits. Currently only available to Android devices in the US

Waymo made an unprecedented move to detail their behind-the-scene work on autonomous vehicles, including crashes and near-misses

What I found interesting

A story of a Uighur at a Chinese concentration camp

A study conducted by a Swedish university concluded that the Republican party has moved towards autocracies for the last 20 years

Brazil’s plan to exploit Amazon responsibly is in danger

A very eloquent, balanced and well-written endorsement for Joe Biden from The Economist

Just a hard breaking story from a Covid survivor in Texas

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.