Weekly readings – 9th May 2020

The decline in trust in governments shows no signs of abating. Everywhere you look, there is suspicion that measures taken by governments to combat Covid-19 will soon be used for mass surveillance afterwards. India is no exception. For A Billion Indians, The Government’s Voluntary Contact Tracing App Might Actually Be Mandatory

The pandemic doesn’t seem to affect spending on cloud infrastructure badly

The man feeding a remote Alaska town with a Costco card and a ship

Apple Watch detecting coronary ischaemia during chest pain episodes or an apple a day may keep myocardial infarction away

VP of Amazon resigned to protest the firing of workers who spoke out on the working conditions at Amazon warehouses

Looking Back on Four Years at The Times, in the words of their former CTO

Amazon pulled no punches in its public blog post on Microsoft regarding the JEDI dispute

Spotify should pay musicians more? Let’s talk more about how

Vietnam’s success in fighting against Covid, so far

From Agence Francaisse de Developpement, translation by Google

Vietnam, with its 96 million inhabitants and despite its proximity to China, is today an example of good management of the Covid-19 crisis: the country has only 268 cases, 214 cures and no deaths in the April 21, 2020

Despite sharing a 1,000 kilometer border with China, Vietnam is one of the countries least affected by Covid-19 in Southeast Asia. A performance that is talked about and which has been set as an example in several countries.

However, the ratio of the number of hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants is lower than in European countries : 3.2 in 2018, compared to 6 in France for example. The key to success is therefore not found here in the health infrastructures themselves, but in the anticipation shown by the government, based on the lessons learned from the SARS crisis in 2003, and in the preventive measures implemented. artwork

When a person is tested positive (called F0), a list is made of all the people he has met. The latter (called F1), are sent immediately in fortnight to closed centers – barracks, hotels and collective buildings requisitioned for this purpose – or to their own accommodation if possible. They are systematically tested and must in turn notify the people with whom they have been in contact. The latter (F2) must respect social distancing and if possible confine themselves to their home 14 days. If one of the F1s is tested positive, it becomes F0, and the process is repeated : the F2s become F1 and the search for new F2s is launched, etc. 

The advantage of this system : even people who are potentially asymptomatic or have negative tests (the test failure rate is around 30 %) are confined when they have been in contact with a proven case. This system has need to date that the use of about 120 000 tests, targeted to those at risk of returning pandemic zones or neighborhoods was identified early community transmission. It made it possible to contain the epidemic without congesting hospitals and without having to carry out major screening campaigns. 

Source: AfD

Not only did the country take early measures to prevent a widespread, but it also implemented policies to support businesses and citizens such as deferred tax payment, free treatments and tests, etc…

Even though I don’t think we can dispute the role of luck in having zero deaths so far, the low number of cases, especially when we are China’s neighbor, is excellent. But the war against the virus is not over yet. The lockdown that kept citizens at home was lifted yesterday. Businesses are itching to resume operations. I do hope that we will continue to be vigilant and careful and that no spread will take place.

In addition to the uncharacteristically successful campaign to keep Covid-19 contained, my home country has also increased our international standing with support to Western allies.

From Asia Times

Vietnam has recently ramped up medical equipment production and made related donations to countries in Covid-19 need, including to the United States, Russia, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Vietnam has also donated face masks, hand sanitizers and other Covid-19 containing supplies to medical services in neighboring Cambodian and Laos, countries with which Vietnam shares special relations and where China has recently made inroads and gains

Source: Asia Times

Vietnam needs international coalition more than ever. We have had recently a couple of concerning incidents involving China. Our powerful neighbor stopped the water in upper Mekong, causing a tremendous drought in the Mekong Delta. Also, China sunk our fishing boats and built infrastructure in contested seas between the two countries. We are small and poor compared to China. To fight against the injustice and bullying behavior, we need the support from allies and the actions lately are a great first step towards such support.

That being said, we cannot rely entirely on others for our fate. We need to take matters into our own hands. We have been independent for almost 50 years. It took South Korea and Singapore roughly the same time to grow from poor countries to two of the most developed in the world. There is no excuse for us. In addition to having international support, we need to build our own core strengths and competitiveness.

Covid-19-crisis-induced mix of feelings

It has been a few extremely weird few weeks. I don’t think anybody is prepared for what is unraveling around us. Personally speaking, I have encountered mixed feelings while dealing with the current crisis. I wrote these down mainly because I know how it feels knowing that somewhere somebody is going through the same thing as I feel. It is helpful and that’s exactly what I want to do.

The most overwhelming feeling is gratitude. I haven’t caught the virus yet. Based on the coverage on what it can do human bodies, I count myself lucky not to be a patient. If you are safe like me so far, I wish you would stay the same throughout this pandemic. Plus, I am feeling blessed for having a full-time paying job that covers my insurance and helps me pay bills. It’s a luxury for many people and something that I definitely do not take for granted. I enrolled in a dual Masters degree in Omaha in 2016. If I had followed the normal path that numerous students did, I would have graduated in December 2019; which would mean that I would have been thrown into a chaotic job market where companies were trying to downsize and the chance that I would be sponsored would have been slim to none. I tried hard to graduate early simply because I wanted to work as soon as possible and get paid better. By no means, I predicted this would happen. I am very grateful for whatever forces there were that put things in place for me.

Like everybody else, I am worried about the future. The economy is shattered and looks to remain so, if not get worse, in the foreseeable future. Given the economic outlook, it doesn’t come as a surprise that companies, including my employer, seek to cut costs and downsize. Though I am employed at the moment, there is nothing set in stone, except the fact that any request such as pay raise or sponsorship may have to wait for a while.

Even though the virus has decimated dozens of countries around the globe, the US is now the most affected. Nobody knows the full extent of the damage done to this country. The government expects next week to the worst week, but what if it was wrong? A few weeks ago, the whole disaster was called a hoax. Masks were recommended only when you were sick. Now, the CDC recommends citizens wear masks in public places. The odds of being affected through community spread increase by the day. Self-isolation will continue for a while and personally, I don’t expect this crisis to blow over before June, if I am being extremely optimistic.

Living alone in America in this time is hard. I have only myself, my computer, my phone and my apartment to keep me entertained and occupied. Of course, I chat with my girlfriend and friends every day, but the constant stare at the screens and the lack of human interaction sometimes are unbearably exhausting and excruciating. On top of that, my family in Vietnam kept checking on me as the news on America in Vietnam worried them. I don’t blame them, but at the same time, I hate making them worried. On the other hand, I am worried about my family, especially my parents who have underlying conditions. The feeling of powerlessness, compounded with the angst and frustration and boredom, is tough to deal with.

Nonetheless, the crisis doesn’t necessarily give me only negative feelings. I tried to look at this in a positive light in a sense that it might be an opportunity. Personally speaking, this crisis presents a chance for me to step up at work. The pandemic prompted a barrage of requests with short turnaround time “in the office”. Everybody in my team has worked more urgently and harder these days. There were days when I felt completely spent around 4pm. However, if I could emerge from this as a reliable and valuable contributor, my boss or his boss would look at me more favorably.

Additionally, my personal portfolio has taken a beating. It’s definitely concerning to lose money on your investments. Assets’ values have gone down significantly, whether they are bitcoins, real estate or stocks. But if you look at it from another perspective, it can be a good time to buy. When the falling knives stop falling and if I can pick the right time, it’s a tremendous opportunity to snap up cheap assets.

Finally, this self-isolation can stimulate self-reflection and creativity. With fewer distractions and plenty of time on hand, all of us should be freer to think about the past, present and future, to reflect, to plan ahead, to live a little slower and to be more creative.

It’s impossible not to acknowledge the detriment of this pandemic. Yet, there is no reason for us not to find opportunity from it either. I hope you will stay safe and come out of the other side safe and better.

Pandemic creates an inflection point

There is no need to talk about the havoc that this pandemic has brought on to our society. Everybody in the world should all feel it now. Terrible as it is, the pandemic presents an opportunity for us to look at the issues that we overlook in normal times

Paid sick leave

The US is one of the only few, if not the only country, where citizens don’t get paid sick leave. When there is a risk of a wide-spreading pandemic, the lack of this benefit forces workers to go to work even though they may be sick; which increases the threat of a spread. After this catastrophe blows over, perhaps it is time for us to bring this issue to the national spotlight and to pressure lawmakers into taking actions

Stock buybacks and corporate bailouts

The fact that corporations are asking for a big bailout after years of continuous stock repurchases and lucrative executive compensation is inexcusable and intolerable. While there is a case to be made that bailouts chop off a body part to save the body and corporations should be forced to return the money once healthy again, it doesn’t make it right the fact that tax payers’ money is used to bail out companies whose failure to prepare for a macroeconomic risk is the executives’.

Regulations over gig economy

For months, gig economy companies such as Lyft and Uber have fought regulations that would require them to treat workers as employees. What that means is that workers would be entitled to healthcare insurance, paid leave and other benefits that white-collar workers usually enjoy. Some folks I saw on Twitter, most from Silicon Valley, even blasted the regulations. However, a study by The Hustle may change perspectives on this. According to The Hustle, 57% of the surveyed drivers would still drive because that’s the only way to make ends meet. Some are not even making enough to pay for their rented vehicle. Furthermore, the lack of health insurance means that they and their family are vulnerable than ever. In light of this crisis and the impact on gig economy workers, is asking for a well-designed regulation to protect workers too much to ask?

Source: The Hustle

Healthcare system

The lack of tests in the US, compared to what is going on in other countries, is seriously shocking. Ask any American and it’s very likely that you will get told that the US has the most advanced healthcare system in the world. That’s true…for rich people and for very sophisticated treatments. However, when it comes to healthcare for ordinary folks and normal ailments, there is a lot to be desired for in the US. The country had disappointingly managed to fail to deliver a universal healthcare solution even before the pandemic broke. Now, the case cannot be made even more pressing. Recently, it’s reported that a woman was hit with a $35,000 bill for COVID-19 treatments and tests. How was that acceptable? It could happen and bankrupt any of the middle class Americans, or, worse, paycheck-to-paycheck folks.

Work from home

This one is polarizing. Proponents of WFH must be ecstatic to make their case when essentially everybody is required to work remotely now. On the other hand, some will experience cabin-fever, frustration and the drop in productivity. Personally, I prefer going to the office. I prefer meeting my colleagues face-to-face and have a setting that helps me focus on my work more than my comfortable home.

Furthermore, WFH presents an opportunity to test a company’s infrastructure. For most of last week, my colleagues and I experienced a laggy and slow connection. Even though home internet bandwidth can contribute to the issue, it’s undoubtedly our company’s network being not set up for a spike in traffic. Additionally, mass remote working can change how managers keep staff productive and keep track of their work.

Personal finance and change in lifestyle

Many of us now face, if you haven’t already, layoff or a drop in salary as companies are downsizing to survive the pandemic. Income may dry up, but the bills will still be there. Without a fund for a rainy day like we are going through, a financial struggle or bankruptcy is likely. The 11-year bull market since the 2009 crisis which many didn’t experience makes folks become complacent. After this COVID-19 disaster, it’s a great time to ponder hard decisions and establish sensible personal finance practices.

This is a scary and confusing time. But what happens in the next few months will be very interesting as decisions are to be made.

Today I learned – 11th March 2020

Thanks to the good folks on Twitter, I came across an excellent analysis on Coronavirus. A huge thanks to Tomas Pueyo for the time and effort. It must have taken a great deal of preparation and writing to get this done.

You should have a read here.

WHO already officially called the Coronavirus a pandemic. Two days ago, the US had around 700 cases. Yesterday, the count went past the 1,000 mark, and it is just the count of confirmed cases. The capacity to conduct tests nationwide is nowhere near to the necessary level. So, it’s unknown how many cases there truly are.

Some companies have asked employees to start working from home and limit physical meetings. I truly believe it’s time to take this very very seriously and exercise precaution such as social distancing, hygiene practices or some doomsday stocking.

It makes sense to take everything you read online with a grain of salt, including the words that you are reading right now and especially when it is confusing time like now. But I would say that when countries shut down their entire border, including developed ones such as Italy, Denmark and real lives have been lost, it’s better careful than sorry.