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.

“Third-world country” label

Let’s play a little game. I have two unnamed countries and one of them is often labeled “a third-world country”. Country A has almost 600,000 confirmed cases and more than 23,000 deaths from Covid-19 as of now, and charges its citizens a significant sum to have tests and treatments. Meanwhile, country B has less than 300 cases and, thankfully, zero fatalities so far, yet provides FREE Covid-19 tests and treatments. Which one is the 3rd-world country?

Another clue is that in country A, there was almost, on average, one mass shooting a day last year while, in country B, the number of deaths from guns is minimal. In country A, children have to practice drills for shootings while that concept is foreign to children and parents in country B.

In my examples above, country A is the US and Vietnam is the other one. Yes, I did cherry-pick some aspects to make a point, but that’s THE point. I often hear politicians and citizens in the US use “third-world countries” and call out names like my country’s to talk about major existing issues here, usually ending with: we are not a third-world country. Frankly speaking, Vietnam has an endless list of problems, but we are aware of that fact and we own them. On the other hand, in the US, some media outlets, some politicians and many folks still don’t acknowledge that there are serious flaws in the current systems. They still make claims such as this: we are still the greatest country on Earth. Well, on what grounds though? Each country can cherry-pick some metrics to make a claim for themselves and it will be perfectly legit.

By no means am I implying that the US is a 3rd-world country, in any shape or form. My first point is that the term carries a condescending tone towards other countries and shouldn’t be used, especially in the context of discussing your own (often neglected at worst and under-addressed at best) issues. The second point is that we all know without self-awareness of our own issues, we, as individuals, won’t make progress or self-improvement. Why would it be different for countries? Is it even remotely possible that problems that have existed in this country for decades still exist because of a belief that no matter what happens, the US is still the greatest on Earth?

There are a lot of great things around here. My admiration for the US, not as strong as it used to be, is still there. I appreciate what it has given me. As a result, I hope that things will change in a more positive way in the future, that there will be less denigrating attitude towards other less developed countries and that people here, in the words of Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, “look the truth in the face”.

Vietnam’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic so far

After confirming 16 Covid-19 cases in Feb, Vietnam quickly took actions to quarantine the whole village where the 16 patients resided. The quick action stopped the spread and even earned a global recognition after the comedian John Oliver praised my country’s effort and an incredibly catchy song used to increase hygiene awareness.

Just as the country was one week away from declaring safe from virus, the 17th case appeared. A young woman returned home from a trip to Italy without informing the authority or going into self-isolation. The number of cases rose steadily, reaching 61 as of now and potentially going higher in the near future. It is worth noting that Vietnam has had no casualties so far and 16 recoveries. Overall, I have been quite pleased with how my country handled this pandemic.

As mentioned above, the authority successfully isolated the first 16 cases and stopped the spread. If there was a positive case, the government locked down the whole street or area to prevent spread. Furthermore, it was announced that citizens would receive tests and treatment of the Coronavirus for free.

The head of the Health Ministry’s Planning-Finance Department, Nguyen Nam Lien, confirmed that individuals will receive free treatment and testing for the viral disease, Saigon Times reports.

A Vietnam Social Security official, Le Van Phuc, explained that the entire medical bill will be covered by the national health insurance fund for patients suspected of having the novel virus, but tested negative. Those who test positive for the virus will have their tests and treatment covered by the state budget.

Those who are put into mandatory quarantine will also not be charged any fees for their medical care and stay. Within isolation wards, those quarantined will receive drinking water, towels, and mouthwash for free, as well as medically prescribed cautionary items such as face masks and hand sanitizer.

Source: Saigoneer

Flights to and from China were already banned in Vietnam as of Feb 1, 2020, a swift action given that the outbreak was going to worsen in China. Three days ago, the country banned visitors from UK and Schengen Nations as the number of cases in Europe keeps increasing at an alarming rate.

There are also disinfection cabins set up in the capital – Hanoi. To be clear, whether this initiative is truly effective can be challenged, but it’s still a step into the right direction, given what is going on here in the US

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.

Today I learned – 30th Jan 2020

Rise of contactless payment reported by Visa and Mastercard

It is so much faster and easier to just tap your card or phone on a reader than to use the chip or swipe. The frictionlessness of this payment method has clearly wowed users enough that it is on a rise, especially in the US.

In the card-present environment, we continue to see meaningful momentum in tap to pay, what we consider to be the most friction-free way to pay in person. We have reached a point where 1 in every 3 card-present transactions that runs over our network is [tax] versus 1 in 4 a year ago this quarter. This past year, we’ve doubled the number of countries whose face-to-face transactions are at least 2/3 contactless.

Transit continues to be a key user case and an important way to habituate tapping behavior. In New York City, on the NPA, Visa crossed 2 million taps in November from the beginning of the pilot and 3 million in January. The FDA recently announced the tap-to-pay expansion to their entire system by the end of 2020, and we are currently pacing a 350,000 Visa taps a week on the MTA and nearly 1 in every 10 transactions in the New York Metro area is a tap-to-pay on a Visa card.

Source: Visa in its Q1 2020 Earnings Call Transcript, provided by Atom Finance

Echoing the sentiment was Mastercard in its Q4 2019 Earnings Call

..On to contactless, where as I said, we’re making real progress. This quarter, contactless made up over 30% of global card-present purchased (inaudible). Contactless provides a frictionless and fast payment experience, which is opening new categories of spend, including displacing cash on small-ticket purchases. The U.S. point for growth on this front and the New York City MTA is a good example of the potential for rapid adoption by consumers. In fact, they surpassed 5 million taps since the launch in May. And the MTA has planned to roll out contactless acceptance system-wide by the end of 2020.

I’m pretty certain that U.S. contactless will keep growing throughout 2020 quite attractively. Because if you look at the numbers of the number of bank partners that have committed to issue contactless cards for a [minute], let’s even forget Apple Pay and Samsung Pay that enable every card through their archive to be used. If you just look at the number of cards, we are talking about 70% of our total cards in the U.S. market will be reissued over this 12-month to 14-month period. My own personal cards are already contactless from Citi.

On the acceptance side, kind of all new terminals going on are embedded with contactless. So (inaudible) large retailers Target and 7-Eleven and CVS have announced that they will accept contactless payments. And in fact, over half of U.S. card-present transactions are now happening at contactless-enabled merchant locations. And when the MT rolls in on system-wide in New York City, and there are other transit systems beginning to do the same in their cities, I think you will get the impetus.

Source: Atom Finance

Vietnam as an important emerging market for Apple

My country was mentioned repeatedly in the latest earnings call of Apple. In a positive light that makes me think that we are going to be, if we are not already, an important emerging market for the Cupertino-based company

Geographically, we established all-time revenue records in many major developed and emerging markets including, among others, the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Source: Seeking Alpha

For iPad, we saw growth in key emerging markets like Mexico, India, Turkey, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam

Source: Seeking Alpha

Phone revenue of $56 billion grew 8% year-over-year, as we saw a great customer response to the launch of our newest iPhones. We set all-time revenue records in several countries, including the U.S. Mexico, the UK, France, Spain, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Source: Seeking Alpha

Productivity and Business Processes keeps leading the margin game for Microsoft

Microsoft has three main business lines:

  • Productivity & Business Processes that includes Office 365 Commercial and Consumer, LinkedIn and Dynamics
  • Intelligent Cloud that includes server products and cloud services led by Azure, and Enterprise service
  • More Personal Computing that includes Gaming, Search, Windows and Surface

Azure likely receives the most attention, yet it is Productivity & Business Processes (PBP) that consistently took the crown in the margin game at Microsoft. In the latest earnings report, Microsoft reported almost 44% margin for PBP

Source: Microsoft
Source: Microsoft

Even though there have been only 2 quarters so far in 2020, the segment has generated more revenue and operating income than the full year 2019

Source: Microsoft

Colors of Vietnam

I came across arguably the best promotional video about my country I have ever seen. The video was excellently filmed and edited to capture some of the best that my country can offer. Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks a lot to Pau Garcia for the great video.

Source: Pau Garcia

I truly wish Vietnam can produce more of these videos to advertise the country to our international friends

Weekly readings – 4th Jan 2020

Issues with speed reading

Algorithmic Radicalization — The Making of a New York Times Myth. A primary issue I have with this piece is that I wish it were presented in a more understandable manner, as in the diagrams and charts should have been easier to understand

Nestle Faces New Coffee Rival as Vietnam Targets Instant Market

Focus is a huge competitive advantage

Good Enough is Good Enough

Vietnam only looks good on paper

Electric Cars Threaten the Heart of Germany’s Economy

A massive and expensive problem called returns for retailers in the holiday season