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 – 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 – 25th July 2020

What I wrote

Slack filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft over Teams to the EU. On the surface, I don’t think Slack is going to win the case, if the EU decides to formally launch an investigation. How Microsoft structures their Microsoft 365 offers does give customers a choice to include Teams or not, a counterpunch to the core of Slack’s complaint. I wrote my thoughts here

I also wrote about matcha, how it can beneficial to our health and why it and its accessories are expensive

Business

In investing, when truly exceptional opportunities present themselves, Charlie Munger said: use a shovel, not a teaspoon

Both strategies yield the same result: that foreign affiliate employment increased as a direct response to increasingly stringent restrictions on H-1B visas. This effect is driven on the extensive and intensive margins; firms were more likely to open foreign affiliates in new countries in response, and employment increased at existing foreign affiliates. The effect is strongest among R&D-intensive firms in industries where services could more easily be offshored. The effect was somewhat geographically concentrated: foreign affiliate employment increased both in countries like India and China with large quantities of high-skilled human capital and in countries like Canada with more relaxed high-skilled immigration policies and closer geographic proximity. These empirical results also are supported by interviews with US multinational firms and an immigration lawyer

Source: NPER

How Ben & Jerry’s Perfected the Delicate Recipe for Corporate Activism

A look at how influential Facebook is in Bangladesh

Apple’s report on their sustainability progress

Where banks really make money on IPOs

An investigative piece by WSJ that looks into accusations that Amazon used confidential information accessed through its investment arm to launch competing products.

Shopify Saved Main Street. Next Stop: Taking On Amazon

An interesting piece on what appears to be a change in strategy for Apple TV+. This streaming space is highly competitive. I look forward to how Apple will compete with other heavyweights. On a side note, I really enjoyed Greyhound. You should give it a try

Technology

Giving GPT-3 a Turing Test

A good blog post on the behind-the-scenes technology that changed air travel

A report commissioned by Apple on commission rates of other marketplaces, compared to Apple Store. It’s an interesting study and it’s definitely good to have all the facts in one document. On the surface, Apple Store’s commission rates don’t look outrageous, compared to those of other marketplace platforms. However, the debate doesn’t end only at take rates

What I think is interesting

The Last Hunter Gatherers

A great write-up on beaches in Quy Nhon and Phu Yen in Vietnam. If you visit my country, I highly recommend that you go there. Wonderful beaches, few tourists, and great sea food

For years, African countries have taken loan money for China to improve their infrastructure and economy, in exchange for the use of these countries’ vast reserve of rare metal and resources. Now, a report said that Africa is more aware of the strings attached to loans from China. For a good reason!

Weekly readings – 18th July 2020

What I wrote

Uber’s latest chess moves

An interview with AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky on the future of his company and travel

What I think of a potential Twitter subscription feature

A groundbreaking and disheartening study on violence against women in Vietnam

Chris Evans started a project to facilitate communication between voters and elected officials. It’s called A Starting Point

Business

Kroger conducted a test in which they moved plant-based meat into the meat section at some select stores. The test proved that the move lifted sales of plant-based meat. This is great news for suppliers such as Beyond Meat and environmentalists.

In the past, I was somewhat bearish on Netflix’s prospect, but I have grown more bullish over the past year. The high retention figure below bolsters the new position

Source: Second Measure

Lidl’s entering the Long Island market caused competitors to reduce item prices by 8% to 15%. It’s worth noting that Lidl commissioned the study, but it was independently conducted.

Amazon is formidable in online grocery. The company leads many aspects in the latest study on consumer satisfaction with online grocery services.

Technology

US Netflix Subscribers Watch 3.2 Hours and Use 9.6 GB of Data Per Day

This company presents an interesting concept when it comes to encryption. Slack-rival Element wins largest ever collaborative software deal

A government’s role in stimulating demand and widespread adoption of next generation products is at play here. Europeans get substantial subsidies for electric cars from their government

How SHA-2 Works Step-By-Step (SHA-256)

What I think is interesting

According to JP Morgan, 19% of eCommerce transaction value in Vietnam in 2019 was through digital wallets while 34% was through debit and credit cards

How Parmesan cheese is made and how you can identify the real Parmesan cheese. Fascinating stuff

I didn’t know there is a company that has an exclusive deal with airlines to buy lost luggage

‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims

Scale and Loyalty are more important online than offline

The competition for immigrants will heat up soon as women are giving birth less, especially in developed countries

Graph of number of children women have
Source: BBC

Violence against women in Vietnam

Vietnam has progressed a lot for the last few decades, both economically and socially. Nonetheless, there are still major issues that we have to face and violence against women is one of them. A recently published study shed light on this particular issue and some of the findings are both horrifying and embarrassing to me. I want to share them here because I believe in the transparency and in the fact that we can’t advance as a nation without looking squarely at our problems.

What is this study about? How was it organized?

The 2019 study consists of three parts: the quantitative study; the qualitative study; and economic costing of violence against women.

The quantitative component of the study (the “survey”) was conducted by the General Statistics Office at the request of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA). This included reviewing and testing questionnaires, interviewer training, fieldwork and data processing. The quantitative study is a household survey covering all six regions of Viet Nam and is nationally representative. A multistage sample design was used to select a sample of 6,000 households. A total of 5,976 women aged between 15 and 64 completed a face-to-face interview with a trained female interviewer.The qualitative component of the study was conducted by the Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population (CCIHP).

The qualitative study aimed to: provide a context for violence against women by intimate partners; triangulate the quantitative results; gain insights and explanations for quantitative data that are unexplained; and explore related issues that by their nature could not be studied through a quantitative survey. Data was gathered through in-depth interviews, key informant interviews and focus-group discussions. A total of 269 participants, including women with disabilities and from ethnic minorities, as well as 11 key informants, provided information and shared their experiences for the qualitative research.

Lastly, the study component on economic costing of violence against women was carried out by UNFPA Viet Nam in cooperation with several local and international consultants.UNFPA Viet Nam managed the overall process with technical assistance from the kNOwVAWdata Initiative (a partnership between the UNFPA Asia and the Pacific Regional Office and the Australian Government). The entire study was technically and financially supported by the Government of Australia through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and UNFPA.

Source: United Nations Population Fund

At least 6 out of 10 women in Vietnam experienced violence at least once in their life time. More than 3 out of 10 experienced violence in the last 12 months

Figure 1 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

More than 1 out of 4 women in Vietnam agreed with this statement: “A good wife obeys her husband even if she disagrees”

Figure 2 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

More than half of the women in Vietnam think that there are good reasons for their husbands/partners to hit them

Figure 3 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

Half of the women who experienced violence didn’t tell anyone about it

Figure 4 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

More than 30% of working women experienced violence in their lifetime, a disturbing figure that signals even employment and some economic independence cannot save women

Figure 5 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

Compared to 2010, drunkenness became a more common trigger of physical violence against women in Vietnam

Figure 6 – Source: United Nations Population Fund

As a Vietnamese guy, I am really ashamed and embarrassed when I read this report. We still have so much to go as a nation. I don’t really care what the percentages are for other countries. This is not a competition. We have to be better than this. At least, I would love to see a few things:

  • There needs to be education to women on their rights. They don’t have to think that there are good reasons to be hit or that they have to obey to be called “a good wife”
  • We also must educate the men that it’s uncivil, reprehensible and awful to exert violence on women
  • As a society, we need to have a shaming culture on violence against women and call out terrible cases
  • There must be more organizations or groups that can protect women’s rights

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 – 16th May 2020

A scathing critique of AWS from this engineer

Related to the link above, this is quite a blog post from someone who used to work at Amazon and was working at Google at the time of the writing

Content, Cars, and Comparisons in the “Streaming Wars”. Matthew Ball’s essays are always great to read

The secrets behind the runaway success of Apple’s AirPods

How Morning Brew grew to $13m in revenue with 33 employees

Vauban Architecture: The Foundation of Central and Northern Vietnam’s Citadels

The latest memo from Howard Marks

How the most prized degree in India became the most worthless

WeChat Surveillance Explained

If Landlords Get Wiped Out, Wall Street Wins, Not Renters

All applications used at GitLab

Chicago Will Now Require Food Delivery Apps to Disclose Itemized Cost Breakdown. You can protect restaurants or you can protect delivery apps. In this case, I don’t think you can do both. I am glad Chicago went with restaurants

Source: Crunchbase

How Khan Academy Successfully Handled 2.5x Traffic in a Week

The faded beauty of abandoned cars across Europe and the US

“Visa saw an 18% rise in U.S. digital commerce spending during the month of April, excluding the travel category, as face-to-face transactions fell 45%”

From Boston to Saigon: A Coronavirus Quarantine Diary

Lessons From Slovakia—Where Leaders Wear Masks

Senate Votes to Allow FBI to Look at Your Web Browsing History Without a Warrant. I’d argue that this is a bridge too far into user privacy

Next time if you want to support local restaurants by ordering on delivery services like Grubhub or DoorDash, you may want to do a bit of research on how those services treat restaurant partners. Here is an example

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.