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

Weekly reading – 7/10/2021

What I wrote last week

I wrote about Clear Secure, which just recently went public

Business

Japan launches bid to regain its semiconductor crown. “Japan’s plans are less about boosting output than about avoiding being caught in the crosshairs of global tensions, notably the fierce competition between the US and China for dominance of future technologies.” It will be hard to play catch-up in the semiconductor industry, but I wouldn’t rule out Japan.

Starting April 22, 2022, Visa will lower interchange rates for Card-Not-Present tokenized transactions and increase rates for some Card-Not-Present untokenized ones. In layman’s terms, it means that merchants will get to keep more money (maximum 10 basis points) if they encourage customers to pay online with mobile wallets such as Apple Pay or PayPal. Nothing spurs actions like incentives.

Universal films will head exclusively to Amazon Prime Video after their run on Peacock. Amazon has been aggressively investing in content on Prime Video. First it secured rights to stream NFL Thursday games starting next year. Then, it bought MGM Studios. Now, it will bring over Universal films after the initial premiere on Peacock. Amazon has been on the record pleased with Prime Video as an acquisition and retention tool for their lucrative Prime customer base. The Prime customer base in the US, since streaming rights are geographically dependent anyway, should be big enough to justify Amazon’s outlay.

FACT SHEET: Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy. I like what I saw from this Executive Order. I hope that the responsible Departments will soon introduce and implement policies. I, for one, would love to have another Internet provider in my building, in addition to Cox

Didi Tried Balancing Pressure From China and Investors. It Satisfied Neither. “The regulators in Beijing were under the impression Didi would pause its initial public offering while it addressed data-security concerns, according to people familiar with the company’s conversations with regulators. In New York, Didi offered assurances that Beijing had given it the green light, said people close to the listing process.”. It sounds like Didi wasn’t honest and straightforward with investors; which you know is a crime. On a side note, unless somebody lives in China or really understand what goes on in the country, for the life of me, I don’t understand why they will invest in Chinese companies. Just look at Didi and Alibaba as examples.

What I found interesting

The Senator Who Decided to Tell the Truth. I’d have a beer with this Senator. As a GOP politician, he was brave to tell the uncomfortable truth when his constituents didn’t want that truth. Whether you agree with his report, we definitely need more truth-telling and honest people like McBroom

A new road to an inaccessible land. An awesome write-up on the highly remote Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. The area looks pristine and beautiful. I love this kind of exploratory pieces that can educate people on places that they would not hear about

Steve Jobs in Kyoto. Just a beautiful story on Steve Jobs. He made the world a better place and was gone too soon. But he is still an inspiration to many now and in the future.

Casualties of Perfection. “If your job is to be creative and think through a tough problem, then time spent wandering around a park or aimlessly lounging on a couch might be your most valuable hours. A little inefficiency is wonderful.”

Hands-on: How to edit PDFs with iPhone and iPad in the iOS 15 Files app

It’s Official. We Can Now Harvest Usable Lithium From Seawater. The science is there. The experiments were tried. I now look forward to the implementation in the real world. If we can get lithium from seawater and inexpensively, that’ll be a major plus for the world

A short movie on Japan

Stats that may interest you

Cleaner air has contributed one-fifth of U.S. maize and soybean yield gains since 1999

Apple stores 8 million TBs on Google Cloud

The number of mobile wallets in use worldwide is expected to reach 4.8 billion in 2025, up from 2.8 billion in 2020

Fincog Overview of BNPL Providers, Ranked by Size
Source: Fintechnews

A 750-year-old soy sauce secret and an iconic product design

As an Asian, I love soy sauce. That’s what I grew up with and continue to use it regularly in my own cooking. So it was a pleasant surprise that I came across two very interesting clips. The first one talks about how a method to make soy sauce has survived centuries and generations in the birthplace of soy sauce in Japan. The second one discusses the iconic product design of Kikkoman. Not only is their dispenser’s design recognizable without any logo or branding, but it also bolsters customer experience.

Isn’t the world interesting? The design that we usually take for granted took the original designer, Kenji Ekuan, several years to develop. The sauce that we dip our sushi or pour on our food has been around for centuries. This is the main reason why I want to travel the world, to learn about new things.

Weekly reading – 24th April 2021

What I wrote last week

On Apple’s new product: AirTag

Apple TV+, Netflix and the battle between Walmart and Amazon

Business

Google used ‘double-Irish’ to shift $75.4bn in profits out of Ireland. It’s good to know that 2020 was the last year that the “double Irish” loophole could still be exploited. I am curious to see the impact that the phase-out has on US corporations.

WSJ’s short profile of Korea’s “King of Ramen”

AirTag location trackers are smart, capable and very Apple

The Future of Apple Podcasts

Etsy SEO: How to Optimize Your Shop & Listings for Search

How Netflix and social media helped F1 buck a global sports sponsorship slump. F1 is an extraordinary sport and deserves to be the pinnacle of motorsports around the world. If you look below this entry, you’ll see a graphic showing how F1 cars can go into corners at a speed that we travel on a highway. On the straights, F1 cars can hit 360kmh. The technology that goes into building these cars and the skills that go into driving them are the best in the world. Yet, I still feel that F1 isn’t as popular as it should be. “Drive to Survive” and the resilience shown during 2020 really helped the sport become better known

What I find interesting

Typography at U7 station in Berlin

You can pay at Whole Foods Market with your palm now. While it is incredibly cool and convenient, I don’t think I will jump at the chance to use it soon. Amazon isn’t really known for their privacy practices. I am not too willing to give away my biometrics to them yet.

F1 cars can slow down by 144kmh in 1 or 2 seconds and carry over 150kmh into corners. Just think about that for a second. These cars drive into cars at the speed that is often the top you can reach on the highway

Source: F1

Stats that may interest you

Morning Brew has 3 million subscribers. It’s amazing what you can do with great writing skills and consistency

iPhone 12 models accounted for 61% of US iPhone sales in fiscal Q2 2021

Weekly reading – 30th January 2021

What I wrote last week

What I like about Apple Fitness+

Business

An excellent write-up on the state of news outlets or local journalism in America. It’s astounding that half of the local news outlets are now owned by private equity, hedge funds or other investment firms

SoftBank’s plan to sell Arm to NVIDIA is hitting antitrust wall around the world

Brexit has major implications. Whether the net benefits are positive or not remains to be seen, but this new development doesn’t seem to benefit consumers: Mastercard is hiking fees

AirBnb conducted a new survey that said: One in five want their destination to be within driving distance of home. Not a very good sign for airlines

N26 got 7 million customers

Apple published a document that outlines its imminent privacy policies

Some notable data from a letter from YouTube CEO

Over the last three years, we’ve paid more than $30 billion to creators, artists, and media companies.

YouTube Gaming had 100 billion hours of content in 2020

Our Music and Premium Subscriptions have been growing quickly, reaching more than 30 million paid Members in the third quarter of last year.

Source: YouTube

Technology

A glimpse into JPMorgan Chase’s $12 billion annual tech budget. There are quite some interesting features that the interviewee shared

CB Insights has a write-up on 40 companies that are working on autonomous vehicles

A long but great list of big ideas from ARK

What I found interesting

How homogeneous is Japan

What does the night sky look like on Mars?

A French-Vietnamese woman is fighting for justice for victims of war crimes. It’s crazy that US and Korean veterans received compensations from chemical companies because their products which were used in the Vietnam War had life-altering effects. Yet, Vietnamese victims have not received any.

What I find is that it is often these kinds of multiple small mispriced insights that overtime compound to form a business which is very defensible and very difficult to replicate. The discovery of those multiple small insights really requires a bottom-up organic idiosyncratic investment process.

Source: Interview with Mark Walker from Tollymore Investment Partners

A bit about matcha, how it can benefit your health and why it’s expensive

I have recently taken up a habit of consuming matcha. It is refreshing in this hot weather to drink an iced latte matcha that mixes plant-based milk such as soy or almond milk with the green matcha powder. Apparently, matcha can be pretty good for your health for several reasons, as follows:

Each food has been measured for their antioxidant capacities, in a unit called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). List of ORAC-rich food items – Source: matcha

It can be expensive

There are two main and popular grades of matcha: ceremonial and culinary. Ceremonial grade is the highest grade of matcha that is made of very young tea leaves and requires a lot more care during the process. Hence, it’s quite expensive. Ceremonial grade matcha reportedly has a delicate flavor and should be used in tea ceremonies only. On the other hand, culinary grade match is cheaper because it reportedly is made of tea leaves that are young, yet older than those used to make ceremonial grade. Culinary grade can be used in baking, cooking and beverages.

To get a sense of how expensive matcha can be, take a look at the listings on Amazon for “matcha green tea powder” keyword

Source: Amazon

I buy my matcha from a local shop called The Tea Smith in Omaha. One ounce of culinary grade matcha from The Tea Smith costs $4.5. There is a cheaper alternative that costs only $2.5 per ounce. It is cheaper because it mixes matcha powder with sugar cane. It baffled me as to why matcha is expensive. I did a little research and apparently, the process of producing matcha is quite laborious and unique. Tea leaves have to be shaded from sunlight a couple of weeks at least before they are picked. After they are picked, they go through several steps of steaming, air-drying and removing stems & old leave parts. In the end, there are only soft particles left, which weighs about 1/10 of the original leaves. The particles are then stone-grounded, using uniquely crafted and carefully maintained stone mills. Each mill produces only one ounce or 30-40 gram of matcha per hour.

There is also a Chasen

A Chasen is a whisk specially used to mix matcha powder with water. I bought my whisk for $18.5! I was shocked at the price at first, but would soon understand the reason why after I learned how Chasens are made. Watch the videos below to know how they are created. Trust me, you’ll be blown away by the craftsmanship, patience and incredible talent of the Japanese

This video touches a little bit more on the hachiku bamboos used in the matcha whisks.

In sum, even though regular consumption of matcha can cost a bit, I do think I will continue with this habit in the future, unless there are scientific studies proving that matcha is hazardous to humans. I think given that matcha is linked with a lot of health benefits, it’s a cheap investment into the most valuable asset one can have. Also, as I learned about the art of producing matcha and Chasen, my already big admiration and respect for the Japanese craftsmanship and culture only grew bigger.

Let me know what you think about matcha. Stay safe and have a nice weekend!

Today I learned – Miso

Admittedly, even though I usually order a miso soup when at a Japanese restaurant, today is the first time I learned that miso refers to the name of a paste, not the soup itself. The fermentation process of making miso is highly complex, time-consuming and demanding. Depending on the flavors required by consumers, some miso can take 3 years to be ready for consumption. It’s interesting to see how it evolved over time, adopting technology and changes in modern life. Nowadays, consumers can drink miso soup like coffee or make miso balls which dissolve in hot water, making instant delicious and nutritious soup.

Today I learned – Japanese earthquake resistant architecture

Earthquake is a part of life in Japan. To adapt the inevitable presence of earthquakes, the Japanese have come up with ingenious, intelligent and skillful ways to make buildings and architecture as earthquake-resistant as possible. It’s amazing that they could build wooden structures hundreds of years ago and they are still standing strong today, despite countless shakings over time. The idea is itself remarkably admirable, but the craftsmanship that goes into building constructions is truly outstanding. Smaller models took years to be built. Wooden pieces were crafted by hands so that they could slot into one another without nails. Concrete is checked and poured carefully to have the perfect spread. I was overwhelmed with admiration for the Japanese folks while watching the genius at work. Highly recommend this eye-opening clip

Weekly readings – 28th March 2020

2020 economic apocalypse for small businesses

How WeChat, TikTok and Chinese Consumers Are Disrupting and Personalizing Luxury

Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronavirus

How South Korea Solved Its Acute Hospital-Bed Shortage

A critical and accurate (imo) critique of a medium blog post that was deceptive, yet went viral.

JP Morgan’s research on small business cash liquidity

UK Tech for a changing world

How Spanish flu helped create Sweden’s modern welfare state

Why don’t we just ban targeted advertising?

Buying During a Crisis

Yearbook on Venture Capital in the US

How 3M Plans to Make More Than a Billion Masks By End of Year

The cost of bad reputation

I came across this article on the fact that Japan is imposing stricter visa process for individuals from certain countries, including Vietnam

According to Nikkei Asian Review, Japan will also expand its list of countries subject to stricter visa checks. Currently, only students from seven countries, including China (excluding Hong Kong and other regions), Vietnam, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Mongolia are under strict visa screening processes. Vietnam currently has the highest number of people overstaying their student visas, 3,065 in total.

It is really shameful to see my country included in such a list. Nonetheless, as I have lived abroad and seen actions by my fellow Vietnamese overseas, I am not surprised at all by the new policy from the Japanese government. I saw Vietnamese students take advantage of the trust by Finnish to avoid paying metro tickets. I heard about the distasteful actions by Vietnamese community in Prague and saw first hand how unfriendly a Vietnamese market was in the city. Hell, there is a lot of ambiguity on how much it costs for a citizen like myself to renew my passport. The fees will depend on one’s occupation and income.

The misdemeanor by a few tarnishes the reputation of a whole people. There is a certain degree of unfairness that some have to suffer by the actions of a few, but that’s just how it works. And Vietnamese people do suffer from having a bad reputation. We essentially need visas to travel anywhere except to a few countries in South East Asia, Africa and South America. My H1B is valid for 3 years, but the maximum length given to a Vietnamese passport is just one year. I do know that my Chinese colleagues get 5-year visas. The lack of credibility creates a great deal of inconvenience, time consumption and trouble. We, as a people, would save a lot of time and money on all the visa paperwork if we had better credibility and if our citizens thought about the overall impact of our actions.