Weekly readings – 24th August 2019

Spotifyโ€™s pitch to podcasters: valuable listener data

Netherlands’ Building Ages. How cool is this? It must have taken quite some time and effort to build this map.

OuiWork? The quick case for WeWork as an actually disruptive business

Apple Targets Apple TV+ Launch in November, Weighs $9.99 Price After Free Trial

Where Top US Banks Are Betting On Fintech

Manufacturers Want to Quit China for Vietnam. Theyโ€™re Finding It Impossible

Appleโ€™s New TV Strategy Might Just Work

MoviePass database exposes 161 million records. Much as I am grateful to MoviePass, perhaps it’s time for the company to be shut down

Starbucks, monetary superpower. Let me give you a notable quote to get an idea of what this article is about

Starbucks has around $1.6 billion in stored value card liabilities outstanding. This represents the sum of all physical gift cards held in customer’s wallets as well as the digital value of electronic balances held in the Starbucks Mobile App.* It amounts to ~6% of all of the company’s liabilities. 

This is a pretty incredible number. Stored value card liabilities are the money that you, oh loyal Starbucks customer, use to buy coffee. What you might not realize is that these balances  simultaneously function as a loan to Starbucks. Starbucks doesn’t pay any interest on balances held in the Starbucks app or gift cards. You, the loyal customer, are providing the company with free debt. 

Now bigger than eBay, Shopify sets its sights on Amazon

Inside Indiaโ€™s Messy Electric Vehicle Revolution

The hopeless and “It wouldn’t matter anyway” pessimism

A friend of mine showed me a screenshot of a notification from a school to which she applied years ago. The notification was about a security breach at the school recently. My reaction to her was that it happened every week nowadays. What does it matter, one more breach?

That’s when it hits me. I am so used to this hopeless beat-down notion that our online identity is eventually leaked and misused. What does it matter that it happened today?

The feeling isn’t exclusive to myself. You and I can see it everywhere.

A friend of mine from Belgium didn’t vote in the election last week. When asked why, he said he didn’t think his vote would matter, in addition to his disagreement with the way EU was functioning.

We are so accustomed to scandals and misdemeanor from this administration and the President that anytime it happens, we just shrug it off and let it buried after one day or even a few hours of the news cycle.

Personally, I am so used to the deaths in traffic accidents in Vietnam that whenever an accident is reported, however horrific, I am numb to the shock or disappointment. I just absorb it and move on.

Should we succumb to this type of pessimism? Maybe not. If someone wants to criticize this surrendering attitude, as they may say, they are in their rights to and they may have a point. On the other hand, the pessimism isn’t necessarily unjustified. As we grow older than the time when we are full of youth and optimism, we gain more life experience and, as a byproduct, more interaction with the harsh reality. Yet, we are too powerless to do anything. And if you look closely at what transpires every day, how can you blame them?

The majority of folks, including myself, tend to just get on with our lives, carrying with us the distrust caused by constant disappointment. However, when enough people in our society subscribe to the “it wouldn’t matter anyway” pessimism, a group of people will benefit. And they will benefit greatly.

China’s Mega Projects Series

This series on China is pretty amazing. It covers important, strategic and ambitious projects that the neighboring country of us Vietnamese has been working on.

It is understandable to compare Vietnam to China. There are a lot of similarities shared between the two countries in terms of history, culture, political systems and economic models. Yet, the difference I notice is that China has been light years ahead with regards to not only generating money/growth, but also investing in growth.

In Vietnam, we don’t have that kind of projects covered in the series above. We have been working on the first ordinary metro for almost a decade and the project is only about 60% done. In the meantime, China has super fast trains operated in the country and a magnificent highway network. We don’t have the advances in technology that China has boasted about for years. On the global stage, we don’t command the respect that China does. If some of universities in China are now among the world’s best, those in Vietnam still lag so far behind.

Sad to say, but I have to admit that Vietnam blew a chance some 40-50 years ago. We used to be the Singapore of the region. Now, we are so far behind our peers and neighbors, and there aren’t many reasons that can convince me that things will be turned around in the future.

Automated farming in China

I came across a video clip showing how farming is automated in China. It’s not widely adopted yet, but I don’t think the day when that happens is too far away from now.

This is how farming is done in Vietnam

Source: Wharton University

Admittedly, even though there must be innovation in agriculture in Vietnam and technology is used to some extent, the photo above illustrates the current inferior technique adopted in my hometown.

Imagine the difference in efficiency and value created between the automated method and the manual laborious one.

If you are one of the workers who don’t own land and who is hired to work others’ land, automation isn’t good news for you. Your job is threatened. Nonetheless, if you are in the agriculture business, automation is a boon improving efficiency and lowering costs. If you are an end user consuming agricultural goods, automation can bring the prices down.

If we look at it from a collective standpoint, technology or automation in particular, in the majority of cases, should bring net benefits to the society. Innovation and advancements come from standards continuously being raised, I believe.

Recommendation to Vietnamese Tourism Board: Make data accessible and easy to process

I love my country. I want to promote my country as much and as honestly as I can. Given my past experience in the hospitality industry, I am a bit drawn towards reading and writing about it. I really want to do some analysis on the arrivals to Vietnam, but the government body responsible for recording data makes it annoyingly challenging for me to work with the data.

Problem 1 – No excel files

First of all, there is no feature on the website to download data in an Excel file. You have to download data and put it yourself in an Excel file. On the other hand, the Singapore Tourism Board makes it super easy to store data on an annual basis as you can see below

Source: Singapore Tourism Board
Each file stores data by month

Problem 2 – Inconsistent naming and order of entries

Copying data from an HTML table wouldn’t be so bad if the order of entries stayed the same across the tables. However, it isn’t the case. The order is all over the place as you can see below. Countries are mixed up differently from one month to another

Even that is the case, vlookup can still help overcome the challenge. However, vlookup requires consistency of variables’ names. In the screenshot above, Cambodia is spelled differently in April and March 2019 reports.

Problem 3 – Redundant variables’ names

Redundant variables’ names like in the screenshot above violate the integrity of data. If you use vlookup, the results will be redundant and inaccurate.

Given how they display the data online, I don’t have much faith that internally, things are different. My bet is that there is no data-centric approach and even if data is used, it must be a time-consuming, laborious and primitive endeavor.