Weekly reading – 12th March 2022

What I wrote last week

Cuisine in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), Vietnam

Business

‘Batman’ and the Movie Pricing Predicament. A good article on AMC’s move to charge one more dollar to every ticket for the upcoming Batman movie. Yield management by theaters often involves higher ticket prices in the evening or on Fridays and weekends. Charging more for a specific movie is rare. I look forward to seeing how this will benefit or harm the theaters.

Metaverse is all…hype? Google introduced Google Glass years ago. Today, you’ll have the same odds of seeing that Glass on the streets as finding Nokia’s iconic flip phones. I don’t know what these tech visionaries see, but I won’t bet my money on seeing metaverse or whatever the hell it is in the next 10 years.

Moving money internationally. A fantastic read on SWIFT.

Visa, Mastercard Prepare to Raise Credit-Card Fees. Visa and Mastercard are going to charge higher interchange fees to big merchants while lowering the fees for small merchants whose annual revenue is less than $250,000. Visa said merchants could avoid paying more by offering more transaction data and using its tokenization services. I look forward to seeing how this increase will harm consumers as merchants are likely to pass on the higher expense. It’s no wonder why lawmakers want to look into this sort of duopoly enjoyed by Visa and Mastercard. They simply have too much power

The Three Sides of Risk. “You realize that the tail-end consequences – the low-probability, high-impact events – are all that matter. In investing, the average consequences of risk make up most of the daily news headlines. But the tail-end consequences of risk – like pandemics, and depressions – are what make the pages of history books. They’re all that matter. They’re all you should focus on. Once you experience it, you’ll never think otherwise.”

Fraud Is Flourishing on Zelle. The Banks Say It’s Not Their Problem. “Nearly 18 million Americans were defrauded through scams involving digital wallets and person-to-person payment apps in 2020, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, an industry consultant. When swindled customers, already upset to find themselves on the hook, search for other means of redress, many are enraged to find out that Zelle is owned and operated by banks. Banks say they take fraud seriously and are constantly making adjustments to improve security. But police reports and dispatches from industry analysts make it clear that the network has become a preferred tool for grifters like romance scammers, cryptocurrency con artists and those who prowl social media sites advertising concert tickets and purebred puppies — only to disappear with buyers’ cash after they pay.”

Why Commercials Are Coming to the Biggest Streamers. A good piece on streamers weighing on offering ads.

Other stuff I find interesting

Unleash collaboration with new experiences in Google Workspace. The new features look very sweet. If you are a Google Drive/Docs/Workspace user, check this out!

How U.S. Visa Delays Are Taking a Costly Toll on Frustrated Workers. I can tell you from personal experience that these delays add unnecessary stress to immigrants’ life. My colleague’s PERM application in 2019 took 52 days to get adjudicated. Mine is expected to take 6-8 months.

The story of how Swahili became Africa’s most spoken language. “During the decades leading up to the independence of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in the early 1960s, Swahili functioned as an international means of political collaboration. It enabled freedom fighters throughout the region to communicate their common aspirations even though their native languages varied widely. Swahili lacks the numbers of speakers, the wealth, and the political power associated with global languages such as Mandarin, English or Spanish. But Swahili appears to be the only language boasting more than 200 million speakers that has more second-language speakers than native ones.”

The Magic of the Japanese Convenience Store Sandwich

Stats

Hertz had more than 3,300 cars stolen each year

“Just one pint of beer or average glass of wine a day may begin to shrink the overall volume of the brain”

Solar power and batteries account for 60% of planned new U.S. electric generation capacity

US merchants paid more than $55 billion in interchange fees to Visa and Mastercard in 2021

Tap-to-pay penetration in the US as of March 2022 is 20%, according to Visa (from KBW Fintech Payments Conference)

Weekly reading – 5th March 2022

What I wrote last week

QR Codes’ popularity in Vietnam

Business

Car Dealerships Don’t Want Your Cash—They Want to Give You a Loan. I am supportive of point-of-sale lending if and only if consumers want that option and aren’t coerced into it. That car buyers are forced into taking a loan to avoid paying a premium is just simply outrageous. Every oversight agency should look into this practice and punish dealers accordingly.

Tinder’s Opaque, Unfair Pricing Algorithm Can Charge Users Up to Five-Times More For Same Service. The research — which spanned five continents — reveals that within a single country, consumers can be quoted up to 31 unique price points for a Tinder Plus subscription. Further, some people are charged up to five times more for the exact same service: In the Netherlands, prices ranged from $4.45 to $25.95. In the U.S., they ranged from $4.99 to $26.99. Consumers International and Mozilla also determined that Tinder’s personalized pricing algorithm can charge older users more money. On average across the six countries investigated, 30-49 year-olds were charged 65.3% more than 18-29 year-olds.

As online grocery surges, brick-and-mortar still resonates with shoppers. Online grocery shopping is still a bit novel, even to a young guy who is supposed to be the prime audience for eCommerce like myself. What stops me from buying groceries online includes retailer websites’ frustrating user experience, the fear that groceries aren’t fresh, the concern about the actual quantity without real visibility and the higher prices. I haven’t been able to find a grocer that addresses these concerns of mine and believe that many have the same.

As GrabFood, ShopeeFood hit Covid wall in Vietnam, smaller apps take aim. “Like most markets in the region, Vietnam’s food delivery space is dominated by two players. One of them is GrabFood, the food delivery arm of Singapore-headquartered super app Grab. GrabFood is dominant across the region, with a GMV of US$7.6 billion in 2021. In Vietnam, it has a 41% market share, according to the Momentum Works report. Matching GrabFood’s 41% is the food delivery arm of another Singapore-based giant—Sea Group’s ShopeeFood. Again, Vietnam is an outlier here, since ShopeeFood is barely present in the rest of Southeast Asia, where foodpanda and Indonesian super app Gojek’s GoFood are the other major players. GrabFood and ShopeeFood still have a significant lead in Vietnam, but conversations with restaurant owners point to a growing disaffection with them. Several owners told The Ken that Grab and Shopee’s commission fee of 25-30% is too high for them to break even. They’re also unhappy with the giants’ heavy discounting strategy—a common tool used to acquire customers. “When they offer promotions to customers, we have to pay 50% of the promotion, and Grab pays the other 50%,” said Diep Nguyen, who runs two cafes in Ho Chi Minh City. “If we want to be featured on a Grab promotion, that costs up to US$38 per week.”

Disney+ Adding Cheaper Ad-Supported Tier. “The value of advertising is significant. Disney’s other major streaming service, Hulu, offers an ad-supported tier for $6.99 per month, and brings in about as much ad revenue from those users as it does subscription revenue. With its wider reach (Hulu only has 45 million subscribers), Disney+ has the potential to generate significantly more ad revenue“. You need to ask Disney’s management for the rationale and substantiating data behind this move. If I can venture my thoughts, this will be a good move for the iconic company. An ads-supported tier of Disney+ with a growing and appealing library of content will expand the company’s reach. The key here is whether Disney can strike the balance between customer experience and profitability. With Hulu, Disney seems to have a decent record. So I give the company the benefit of the doubt.

Hybrid offline/online transactions. An awesome post on the voucher payment system in Japan. If you are interested in payments, Patrick’s blog is a great resource

Stuff that I find interesting

Periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and heart health by Harvard University. “Long menstrual cycles and heavy periods3 can be symptoms of a condition called “polycystic ovarian syndrome”, “polycystic ovary syndrome”, or “PCOS”. People with PCOS can have higher levels of androgen hormones. This hormonal imbalance can cause acne, excess facial or body hair, or scalp hair loss. Our preliminary analyses showed that in comparison to participants without PCOS, participants with PCOS were more likely to have a family history of PCOS, have abnormal menstrual cycles, and have a higher prevalence of conditions that can negatively impact heart health. These conditions include pre-diabetic conditions, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity.”

‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes. “Ukraine was the country that got away. And what Putin is saying now is that Ukraine doesn’t belong to Ukrainians. It belongs to him and the past. He is going to wipe Ukraine off the map, literally, because it doesn’t belong on his map of the “Russian world.” He’s basically told us that. He might leave behind some rump statelets. When we look at old maps of Europe — probably the maps he’s been looking at — you find all kinds of strange entities, like the Sanjak of Novi Pazar in the Balkans. I used to think, what the hell is that? These are all little places that have dependency on a bigger power and were created to prevent the formation of larger viable states in contested regions. Basically, if Vladimir Putin has his way, Ukraine is not going to exist as the modern-day Ukraine of the last 30 years.”

Hikikomori, which describes folks shutting themselves in their rooms in Japan from society. Inclusiveness doesn’t just mean sexual orientation or race. It also includes different profiles and personalities. As our societies advance, we should strive to make folks who have trouble blending in feel accepted and included. What the mother in this article did was admirable. And I hope there are more like her.

Stats

“Long-term, established online grocery customers collectively generated more than 3.5 times the revenue for conventional grocers than new customers did”

“Weekly online grocery sales for stores that offered both pickup and delivery were 44% higher than stores offering only delivery and 55% higher than stores offering only pickup”

Russia and Ukraine contributed 4% and 1% respectively to Visa’s total FY2021 revenue

“Russian and Ukrainian seafarers make up 14.5 percent of the global shipping workforce, according to the International Chamber of Shipping”

Weekly reading – 26th February 2022

What I wrote last week

Travel during Covid, from the US to Vietnam with a transit at Haneda Airport in Japan

Business

Some Companies Ditch Annual Raises and Review Worker Pay More Often. I support the review of pay and performance more often than just once a year. The practice will enable workers to make adjustments more timely and get rewarded for their hard work faster. What’s there not to like?

Craft Beer Snobs Suddenly Love the Humble Lager. “Lagers, which range from the bright yellow pilsner to the darker, full-bodied Märzen, are produced at low temperatures. The slow fermentation and refrigeration process reduces the speed of yeast activity during conditioning, creating a crisp flavor and brilliant color. But keeping the beer in tanks for the weeks it takes to make a lager costs more time and money. Lagers are the most popular style of beer on the U.S. market, according to an analysis by Allied Market Research.”

Inside Peloton’s epic run of bungled calls and bad luck. Epic indeed. It’s a major red flag that a Board of Directors had to tell its CEO to take his ambitious claims down a notch.

Netflix struggles with ambitions in India. I don’t know if Netflix’s alleged 5.5 million subscribers in India is correct, but its struggle to fight Amazon Prime and Disney is widely reported. There is a reason why Netflix cut its prices in India by 60%. According to Financial Times, the company’s struggle stems from the failure to localize its strategy and cater to the India consumers. Time will tell if Netflix will become more competitive in such an important market. “According to one industry veteran, Netflix’s approach “was more like, ‘I have built the plumbing for the whole world, I just need to turn on the tap in India,’ instead of having an India strategy”.

Berkshire Hathaway’s 2021 annual letter. “Whatever our form of ownership, our goal is to have meaningful investments in businesses with both durable economic advantages and a first-class CEO. Please note particularly that we own stocks based upon our expectations about their long-term business performance and not because we view them as vehicles for timely market moves. That point is crucial: Charlie and I are not stock-pickers; we are business-pickers.”

On the Origin of the iPhone

Boeing outsourced $9-per-hour engineers in India to write the software for Boeing 737. If pushed too far, the urge to generate as big a bottom line as possible can mean a world of harm to a company, including human lives. What happened to Boeing and its 737’s deadly crashes are a perfect example of that. I am not saying that $9-per-hour engineers aren’t technically good. The use of these low-pay contractors may not be THE reason for the crashes. It surely adds to the disturbing reports on Boeing’s less than ideal due diligence in manufacturing 737s.

Other stuff I find interesting

Inside Pornhub. An interesting look inside one of the most popular porn sites on the Net as well as the content moderation issue.

USPS is deploying gasoline-powered delivery fleet in a snub to the Biden’s administration’s effort to reduce carbon emissions. It’s a mystery to me that Louis DeJoy is still the CEO of USPS

The digestible Ukraine explainer you’ve been waiting for. Treat it as a starter, not a comprehensive read on the subject. Regardless, it’s mind-blowing that we are at risk of having World War III when the pandemic is still wrecking havoc around the world

Why did renewables become so cheap so fast? A pretty interesting piece on the prices of energy from different sources as well as some alleged reasons for the price movements.

Stats

“Global Consumer Spending in Top 100 Subscription Apps Climbed 41% to $18.3 Billion in 2021”

Apple is the top brand in the US, according to a survey of more than 13,500 consumers by prophet

Ethiopia will spend 5.6% of its gross domestic product, or $6 billion, each year until 2030 to counter the impact of floods, climate-driven diseases, hailstorms and wildfires

Source: Techcrunch

Weekly reading – 19th February 2022

I didn’t write anything last week and this weekly post is late because I was traveling back to Vietnam and locked out of my account. My blog’s two-step authentication requires a verification by SMS, but my carrier doesn’t enable calls or messages outside the US.

Business

Sequoia’s invisible hand: How Roelof Botha became one of the most powerful people in venture capital. VCs usually cut overly confident figures but this profile shows that even one of the best in the business expects himself to have unsuccessful deals and do have unsuccessful deals. Even one of the best needs support in times of uncertainty.

The Hidden Ways Companies Raise Prices. I have no beef with businesses that raise prices to cover high costs. I do have a beef with companies that do so sneakily. Be upfront and tell me that you have to raise prices due to inflation. Be straight and transparent with me.

DoorDash to Bump Up Its Fees on Slow McDonald’s Restaurants. An interesting look at the negotiation between a delivery service like DoorDash and a merchant like McDonald’s. DoorDash has considerable bargaining power, in my opinion, because it can drag an icon like McDonald’s to the negotiation table and get a deal.

Doing Business in Myanmar Is Tough, but Norway’s Telenor Finds That Leaving Isn’t Much Easier. While I feel bad for Telenor as the company has to find a way to leave Myanmar even though it only tries to do good by the people, I feel even worse for the people of Myanmar.

Discover Is Bringing a Payment Option Popular in Asia to the U.S. Discover is expected to announce a new partnership later this week that will enable merchants to accept payments through checking accounts. I am eager to learn how Discover is going to change consumer behavior and how this kind of initiative would affect the arguably duopoly of Visa and Mastercard

Inside Facebook’s $10 Billion Breakup With Advertisers. The article struck a positive and compassionate tone for Facebook as it didn’t mention once that the business model is built on users’ data and can violate their privacy or that Facebook usually leads the news headlines for all the wrong reasons related to that business model.

Other stuff I found interesting

How Pfizer made an effective anti-covid pill. “Right away, researchers got a lucky break. When Pfizer checked, it found that none of the thousands of proteins in the human body shared the same bit of molecular structure they planned to interfere with in SARS-CoV-2. That meant they could hit the virus hard and not expect any major side effects. Nature had provided the scientists with a big bull’s-eye”

The Logistics Behind Deicing Airplanes. I think after watching this clip by WSJ, I become more understanding any time flights are delayed.

Stats

According to a presentation to investors by Shopify, Amazon has 41% of the U.S eCommerce while Apple has 4%

The discontinuation of Monthly Child Tax Credits is allegedly pushing 3 million kids back into poverty

Weekly readings – 12th February 2022

What I wrote last week

Thoughts on PayPal’s latest earnings

Apple’s next growth opportunity. Disney’s streamers showed resilience. ESPN+ achieved its FY2024 target

Business

Stream big: how Netflix changed the TV landscape in 10 years. I don’t deny that Netflix revolutionized the streaming industry or that it has the scale advantages. What I disagree with Netflix bulls or fans on is the alleged invincibility. The latest earnings call was a disappointment, sending the stock down by 20%. For the first time, the management team vaguely admitted competition which includes rivals with deep pockets and additional services that can help “subsidize” these rivals’ streamers. So far, Netflix has been successful, but it’s not a lock that they will continue to be the market leader in the near future.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ could have hit $2 billion at the global box office if it were released in China. Movies without a release date in the most populous country in the world leave a lot of dollars on the table. It will be interesting to see producers strike a balance between freedom to cast whoever they want or craft whatever story they want to tell and the need to appease China. A big payday from a release in the country is something worth thinking about.

New Airline Bets You’ll Stop in Alaska for a Cheaper Flight to Asia. Personally, I look forward to the launch of Northern Pacific and flights to Asia through Alaska. I have never been there and tickets can be cheaper. So why not?

Deep Dive: Xiaomi. More than just cheap phones

How Alexandre Arnault Is Shaking Things Up at Tiffany & Co. An interesting profile of one of the Arnault children. He seems to have more than just the right last name

A $6 Billion Wipeout Was an Omen for Food Delivery Stocks. At this point, I feel like it’s irresponsible to invest in food delivery startups or publicly traded firms that do not have the scale. While it’s already tough for the established incumbents to run their business in the black, it’s an order of magnitude harder for those without scale. And if you haven’t noticed, the market isn’t looking kindly on unprofitable companies in a cut-throat market like food delivery.

Stuff I found interesting

Where Is There More Lithium to Power Cars and Phones? Beneath a California Lake. “In the U.S. hunt for lithium, an essential component of the batteries that power electric vehicles and cellphones, one big untapped source might be bubbling under a giant lake in Southern California. The U.S. currently imports almost all of its lithium, but research shows large reserves in underground geothermal brines—a scalding hot soup of minerals, metals and saltwater. The catch: Extracting lithium from such a source at commercial scale is untested.”

House Passes $350 Billion Competitiveness Bill, but Senate Fight Looms. Read this article and you’ll see how broken Washington is. The country really needs leadership, assistance and regulation to compete on strategic fronts. Yet, these lawmakers are prioritizing tribal politics instead of putting the country first.

EV Charging Network Will Target Interstate Highways. “Dotting the interstate-highway corridors with charging stations is considered a priority because it will give EV motorists confidence that they can take long-distance trips without trouble recharging. Stations will have to be installed every 50 miles, no more than one mile off the interstate, according to a guidance memo by the Federal Highway Administration. And stations will have to have at least 600 kilowatts of total capacity, with ports for at least four cars that can simultaneously deliver at least 150 kilowatts each. The stations also have to be accessible to the general public, or to fleet operators from more than one company. The locations can include privately owned parking lots if they are open to the general public.”

Germany’s Covid Boomtown Stumbles Over Its Newfound Riches. Progressive politicians want companies to pay more taxes; which companies do not want to do. Folks just want stable jobs and to be taken care of by the tax money they pay. Marburg is another example of how hard it is to strike a balance and keep everyone happy

Stats

International students earned nearly half of the master’s and PhD STEM degrees in the US in 2019

90% of Uber’s earners work fewer than 40 hours per week and 60% work fewer than 20 hours per week (Investor Day 2022)

46% of Uber’s gross bookings in Q4 2021 came from customers engaged both with Mobility and Delivery. These customers made up only 17% of Uber’s customers base (Investor Day 2022)

10% of all first time riders to Uber in 2021 came to a 2-wheeler or a 3-wheeler trip (Investor Day 2022)

Weekly reading – 4th February 2022

What I wrote last week

Apple’s financials through charts

Amazon’s financials through charts

Business

Hungarian Refugee Founded Car-Parts Maker Linamar in Canada. An amazing entrepreneurship story from an immigrant who slept on train station benches and had only a few dollars to himself. The so-called American Dream is not exclusive to America. It can happen anywhere if people have the will

Losses Mount for Startups Racing to Deliver Groceries Fast and Cheap. Food or grocery delivery market is competitive and cut-throat. If you don’t have the scale, you’ll have to spend lavishly in the beginning to acquire merchants and users. Hence, every order is a money loser. Surely, new comers add to competition for the incumbents, but how long the new comers can persist and compete is another matter

Why Japanese Businesses Are So Good at Surviving Crises. “Many companies are stuck in short-termism, focusing on a strategic plan for five years,” he says. “But a lot of Japanese companies think about 100 or 200 years from now and envision the kind of future they want to create. During the tsunami disaster, the key mindset of executives was: We have to empathize with others. And companies ought to do the same thing now, during the current crisis, empathizing with those who are suffering and trying to figure out how to help.”

Google Is Searching for a Way to Win the Cloud. It’s mind-blowing to me that Google has been spending much of the last three years on bolstering its reliability, yet there were still issues. It goes to show how difficult it is to build a service such as AWS, Azure or GCP.

Inside Spotify’s Joe Rogan Crisis. After Twitter, Facebook and Google, Spotify is another organization that has an unenviable task of dealing with content moderation. The Joe Rogan show is hugely popular and draws eyeballs which equate to money for Spotify. However, that puts Spotify in a bind because his controversial content is opposed by some employees and influential artists. Facebook, for example, has poured literally billions of dollars over the years into content moderation. I wonder how much the urge to strike a balance of business and, let’s say, civic responsibility will cost Spotify. More important, whether they will be able to strike that balance at all

Other stuff that I find interesting

Cracking a $2 million crypto wallet. A fascinating story with a happy ending. I was too close to losing my cryptos once. Luckily, I remembered my password and did my utmost to ensure that I won’t be in the same situation again. At least that’s what I think.

Scientists Are Racing to Understand the Fury of Tonga’s Volcano. 10 million tons of TNT are just unfathomable to me. It’s amazing what Mother Nature can do. We are just too small and there are a lot to learn. This volcano eruption is one example

Inside Operation Warp Speed: A New Model for Industrial Policy. Whether you agree or disagree with the previous administration’s policies and ideology, the fact remains that Operation Warp Speed helped bring the much needed vaccines to the world. For that, it’s a success

Rafael Nadal: The ‘tough love’ that shaped a 21-time Grand Slam champion. The man with the most Grand Slams in history started his journey under a strict mentorship from his own uncle who taught Nadal the value of hard work and discipline.

Stats

Amazon bought 20% of all clean-energy purchases by global corporations in 2021

FTC reported that $770 million was lost to frauds initiated on social media in 2021

There were 9 million credit card non-prime originations in Q3 2021, up 75% YoY

“Of the mass shootings that took place from 1966 to 2019, 20% occurred in the last five years studied”

Weekly reading – 29th January 2022

What I wrote last week

Book review: A shot to save the world

Microsoft through charts

Business

MPC Letter Highlights Amazon Action on Visa Credit Cards in UK. The market power of Visa is evidenced by a number of big name retailers unable to ditch them completely. In the U.S, you can use Visa at Costco stores, but you can’t Mastercard. “Walmart, for example, announced in 2016 that it would no longer accept Visa credit cards at its stores in Canada, but began taking them again seven months later. In 2018, Kroger stopped accepting Visa credit cards at about 20 of its Food Co. locations in California and later expanded the ban to 142 supermarkets and 108 gas stations in its Smith’s Good and Drug Store chain across seven states but resumed accepting the cards the following year.”

How France’s Largest Semiconductor Company Got Stolen in Plain Sight. A great example of a power grab from a Board against its own CEO.

Casualties of Your Own Success. “The second is size is associated with success, success is associated with hubris, and hubris is the beginning of the end of success. Some of the most enduring animals aren’t apex predators, but they’re very good at evasion, camouflage, and armor. They’re paranoid. I always come back to the time Charlie Rose asked Michael Moritz how Sequoia Capital has thrived for three decades, and he said, “We’ve always been afraid of going out of business.” Paranoia in the face of success is extremely hard but in hindsight it’s the closest thing to a secret weapon that exists.

Amazon’s Banned China Sellers Turn to Walmart’s Marketplace. Adding merchants is cool, but Walmart should be very careful about losing customer trust because of goods or services of questionable quality.

Battery Swapping for EVs Is Big in China. Here’s How It Works. I do think that battery swapping can have the potential to take EVs to another level, but there are some key questions that need answering. The high cost to build swapping stations, how many batteries should be at a station, how many stations, how we can make sure that drivers can only retrieve fully charged batteries…

Utah’s ‘Steve Jobs of the Skies’ is ready to do it again. An inspiring story of a legend in the airline industry

Interchange is going toward 0.. So what? A thought-provoking post by Tom on the prospect that interchange fees will drop significantly in the US and the risks that issuers have to face. I don’t know when the interchange fees will drop in the US, to be honest. If we had just Democrats in Congress, it would happen in the next 4-5 years. But because we have GOP lawmakers who are easily persuaded by lobbyists, I can’t imagine the change would happen soon. Issuers love the card business because it’s profitable. Users only use credit cards because of the rewards and what pays for those rewards? Part of it is interchange. Nonetheless, Tom’s blog post is very interesting.

Stuff I found interesting

US unveils changes to attract foreign science, tech students. The Biden administration and its successors would be wise to continue this talent-friendly policy and take it further. The competitiveness of a country is forever based on the human capital that it has and is even more so today. Immigrants like to come to the US, but for the past few years, opted for other countries because of the anti-immigrant rhetoric from Trump. Now, it’s Biden’s responsibility to clean up the image and make America the destination for talented immigrants again.

A Journey Along Afghanistan’s Main Highway Leads Through a Country in Transition. I had mixed feelings reading this piece. First of all, I was reminded how lucky I was to live a normal and healthy life in America. Folks in some areas of the world like Afghanistan live in fear and poverty. The image of a mother holding two children and being scared of losing her three-year-old daughter is haunting. Second, it’s tragic how a group of people want to impose their extreme view of a religion on others and inflict immeasurable pain in the process. Third, what did the last 20 years and billions of dollars gain the U.S and the people of Afghanistan? While they may be suppressed under Taliban, some are relieved that the war is temporarily over. That says a lot about what the US and its allies did. Lastly, are the continued sanctions in the best interest of the Afghan people? Yes, the Taliban needs coercing to a negotiation table, but what about hurting the innocent people as collateral damage?

The Nanotechnology Revolution Is Here—We Just Haven’t Noticed Yet. “For decades, computer scientists and physicists speculated that, any minute now, nanotechnology was going to completely reshape our lives, unleashing a wave of humanity-saving inventions. Things haven’t unfolded as they predicted but, quietly, the nanotech revolution is under way. Among the routine items that have benefited from nanotechnology: air bags, cellphones, radar, inkjet printers, home projectors, and 5G and other fast wireless technology. Just around the bend, nanotechnology could enable ultra-tiny cameras, as well as a dizzying array of other kinds of sensors, able to detect everything from air pollution and black ice to hacking attempts and skin cancer. Unlocking your phone with your face is just the beginning, says Metalenz CEO Robert Devlin. Metalenses also have abilities that can be difficult to reproduce with conventional lenses. For example, because they facilitate the detection of polarized light, they can “see” things conventional lenses can’t. That could include detecting levels of light pollution, allowing the cameras on automobile safety and self-driving systems to detect black ice, and giving our phone cameras the ability to detect skin cancer.

Here’s how Ohio won a bid by Intel to build the world’s largest chip factory. I am intrigued to see how this long-term plan will fare in the next few years. From the US perspective, it is important to have a domestic fab that can rival TSMC. Whether Intel can make it work as it is so far behind the Taiwanese firm is another matter. But like they always say, you miss all the shots you don’t take. At least Intel is taking its shot here.

Google Topics API – The new Privacy Sandbox proposal from Google. At first glance, it looks like an improvement over FLoC to me, but we’ll see how the technology really works in real life and what the feedback from the community will be.

Don’t shine the turd. “If something is shit, don’t hide it. Because eventually, I’ll smell it.” It’s actually truly great advice.

Stats

YouTube Shorts has 5 trillion all-time views. That’s 5 trillion and it’s not a typo

Online channels only made up 10% of U.S grocery sales in 2021. Among all stats related to digital grocery, this seems right to me the most

45 million Americans used BNPL in 2021

Source: Bloomberg

Weekly reading – 22nd January 2022

What I wrote last week

Square Online’s on-demand delivery

Netflix’s price hike

Uber Eats lags behind DoorDash in the US. Advertisers made up 18% of Uber merchants

Business

Another gem from Howard Marks. “Superior investing consists largely of taking advantage of mistakes made by others.  Clearly, selling things because they’re down is a mistake that can give the buyers great opportunities. So it’s generally not a good idea to sell for purposes of market timing.  There are very few occasions to do so profitably and very few people who possess the skill needed to take advantage of these opportunities. Thus, someone entering adulthood today is practically guaranteed to be well fixed by the time they retire if they merely start investing promptly and avoid tampering with the process by trading. On April 11, 2019, The Motley Fool cited data from JP Morgan Asset Management’s 2019 Retirement Guide showing that in the 20-year period between 1999 and 2018, the annual return on the S&P 500 was 5.6%, but your return would only have been 2.0% if you had sat out the 10 best days (or roughly 0.4% of the trading days), and you wouldn’t have made any money at all if you had missed the 20 best days.  In the past, returns have often been similarly concentrated in a small number of days.  Nevertheless, overactive investors continue to jump in and out of the market, incurring transactions costs and capital gains taxes and running the risk of missing those “sharp bursts“”

Google Misled Publishers and Advertisers, Unredacted Lawsuit Alleges.Google misled publishers and advertisers for years about the pricing and processes of its ad auctions, creating secret programs that deflated sales for some companies while increasing prices for buyers, according to newly unredacted allegations and details in a lawsuit by state attorneys general. Meanwhile, Google pocketed the difference between what it told publishers and advertisers that an ad cost and used the pool of money to manipulate future auctions to expand its digital monopoly, the newly unredacted complaint alleges. The documents cite internal correspondence in which Google employees said some of these practices amounted to growing its business through “insider information.”

Shams vs. the ‘Woj bomb’: Sports reporters are duking it out for scoops on Twitter, and their value is soaring. The business of being constantly on the phone for breaking news sounds excruciating and exhausting

Interview: Ryan Petersen, founder and CEO of Flexport. “One thing to remember here is that in America, the ports are owned by the local city that they’re in. Therefore, they’re not managed as a strategic national asset, which they clearly are. The first thing that I would do if I were in charge would be to actually put a team in charge. Right now, there isn’t a dedicated team within the federal government to coordinate all public and private sector activities to help resolve the supply chain crisis. It’s spread across multiple regulatory agencies, jurisdictions and levels of government. The two big bottlenecks are a lack of chassis and a lack of yard space both at the container terminals and in the yards around neighboring cities. We know that the federal government and the state government of California owns a lot of land so we’d love to see them make it available for storing containers and creating off-terminal storage facilities where truckers can pick up containers easily without having to wait in long lines at the gate to the ports.”

What JPMorgan is doing with that $12 billion tech spend. The threat from fintech startups is real. It should be applauded that an incumbent like JP Morgan stays vigilant and is willing to invest a chunk of money to stay competitive. Not every company can do that. With regard to the ROI of this $12 billion investment, I get that folks can be skeptical when the management doesn’t reveal it. But at the same time, there are benefits that are very hard to quantify and the technology roadmap can change all the time.

Google Team That Keeps Services Online Rocked by Mental Health Crisis. A damning account of Google’s working culture, which once was a draw for talents

Peloton reportedly pauses bike and treadmill production because of lack of demand. The darling Covid stock now bears the brunt of ineffective management and operational flaws. They invested a lot in supply, only to find out that they picked all the low hanging fruits on the market and that they couldn’t sign up more customers.

Other stuff I found interesting

Nowa Huta: The city that went from communism to capitalism. An interesting story on how a Polish city transformed itself from a communist ruin into a vibrant city powered by capitalism

Tesla Wooed by India States After Elon Musk Flags Challenges. I am not really a fan of governments at different levels being pitted against one another by rich companies. Companies always go to states that offer them the biggest benefits; which do not often translate into better lives for the constituents and local economies. If Musk and Tesla have to enter India, and if the federal and state governments are unified in how they welcome Tesla, what choice would Tesla have?

How Big Beef Is Fueling the Amazon’s Destruction. “More than 70% of deforested land in the Amazon turns into pasture, the first step in a supply chain that’s among the most complex in the world.”

Stats

Ho Chi Minh City startups raise $1.1 billion in venture capital in 2021

Apple Card’s balance as of Q4 2021 was $8 billion

7 million or more than 5% of US households are unbanked

Alcohol sales was boosted by Covid. Source: Bloomberg

Weekly readings – 15th January 2021

What I wrote last week

Some tips for data analysts

State of Mobile 2022

Book Review – The Body: A Guide for Occupants

Business

Why Apple’s iMessage Is Winning: Teens Dread the Green Text Bubble. “Among U.S. consumers, 40% use iPhones, but among those aged 18 to 24, more than 70% are iPhone users, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners’s most recent survey of consumers.” I think some reading this article may get it backwards: folks use iMessage because they like iPhones first and foremost. They don’t buy iPhones because of iMessage. It’s frivolous that competitors demand Apple to open up iMessage to Android for the sake of open communication. Think about it this way: if you own a restaurant and have a secret recipe that is the appeal of the place, will you want to openly share it with your competitors just so that they become more knowledgeable and the food culture becomes richer?

Is Clubhouse dead? Not if you are in South Asia. To be honest, I didn’t have it in me to imagine that South Asia would be the saving grace for Clubhouse. Would it ever reach the valuation that venture capitalists dreamed of? I don’t know, but if I had to bet, the coin wouldn’t go that way. Being popular is one thing, making money is another. We’ll see

How Shein beat Amazon at its own game — and reinvented fast fashion. “Through its manufacturing partners on the ground in China, Shein churns out and tests thousands of different items simultaneously. Between July and December of 2021, it added anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 SKUs — stock keeping units, or individual styles — to its app each day, according to data collected by Rest of World. The company confirmed it starts by ordering a small batch of each garment, often a few dozen pieces, and then waits to see how buyers respond. If the cropped sweater vest is a hit, Shein orders more. It calls the system a “large-scale automated test and re-order (LATR) model.” The secret is Shein’s internal software, which connects its entire business from design to delivery. “Everything is optimized with big data,” Lin said. Each of Shein’s suppliers gets their own account on the platform, which spits out information about what styles are selling well and can also quickly identify which might become future hits. “You can see the current sales, and then it will tell you to stock up more if you sell well and what you need to do if you don’t sell well. It’s all there.””

Fintech Startup Checkout.com Scores $40 Billion Valuation in Latest Share Sale. “Checkout.com plans to use much of the new capital to fuel an expansion into the U.S. Last summer, the company hired Céline Dufétel, chief financial officer at money manager T. Rowe Price Group Inc., to do the same job for Checkout.com. Many of the company’s top executives and investors now reside in the U.S. It also plans to enlarge its business catering to cryptocurrency companies. Exchanges such as Coinbase Global Inc. and wallets like Novi from Meta Platforms Inc. use Checkout.com to move customers’ money into and out of digital currencies. Crypto and financial-technology transactions account for more than half of Checkout.com’s payments volume, Ms. Dufétel said”.

Netflix Needs New Subscribers. Its Korean Playbook Is Its Secret Weapon. “Bound by certain social taboos and rules on what could be shown on public broadcast TV, mainstream networks in Korea typically passed on most of what they got pitched. The resulting flow of rejected ideas created an opening for Netflix. Because it is a paid private service, Netflix enjoyed more leeway in terms of what it could show its viewers. Netflix began harvesting ideas considered too edgy for the broadcasters and building a slate of programming that leaned into sex and violence, as well as prickly themes, such as social inequality and politics. In 2020, the company turned its first annual profit in South Korea while reporting sales of $356 million. South Korea is now one of Netflix’s largest markets in Asia, trailing only Australia and Japan. The company has more than 5 million subscribers in South Korea, according to Media Partners Asia. To date, Netflix has spent more than $1 billion on programming in Korean, one of its largest content investments outside the U.S. Along the way, Netflix’s status has flipped. Once shunned by the local creative community, Netflix is now courted.

Other stuff I found interesting

My first impressions of web3. We should accept the premise that people will not run their own servers by designing systems that can distribute trust without having to distribute infrastructure. This means architecture that anticipates and accepts the inevitable outcome of relatively centralized client/server relationships, but uses cryptography (rather than infrastructure) to distribute trust. One of the surprising things to me about web3, despite being built on “crypto,” is how little cryptography seems to be involved!”

The Architecture of Tomorrow Mimics Nature to Cool the Planet. I am at loss for words to describe my support to integrate our civil architecture and planning into nature. A city without trees or nature is lifeless and frankly unappealing to me. Why not integrating nature into our architecture? Well, if you haven’t noticed, nature has been here long before our buildings ever have

This Ad-Free Google Search Alternative Is Actually Worth Using. It’s actually pretty good on iOS. The ad-free experience is refreshing

Another masterful article by Morgan Housel. It’s full of interesting short stories with wonderful punchlines and wisdom in the end

Stats

On average, each owner spent $1,400 and $900 in annual expenses in 2021 for dogs and cats respectively

“An estimated 29.2 million general-purpose credit cards were issued to people with credit scores of 660 and below last year”

Apple Books has 100 million users each month.

“Digital tickets in Wallet helped venues and their guests create safe, contactless experiences, and last year, customers used 30 million NFC tickets in Wallet for events across music, sports, theater, and more across the US and Canada.”

Global mobile ad spend is forecast to reach $350 billion in 2022

“There are now 110 million monthly active Android TV devices in the world”

Weekly reading – 8th January 2022

What I wrote last week

Amazon through charts

Amazon’s impact on U.S sellers during holiday seasons

Business

Inside a Year at Peloton: From Pandemic Winner to HBO Punchline. The fact that Covid pulled forward demand isn’t as concerning to me as the management team’s inability to forecast and assess its business; which seems to be the case at Peloton.

No Permits, No Fabs. “From 1990-2020, the time required to build a new fab in the United States increased 38 percent, rising from an average of 665 days (1.8 years) during the 1990 to 2000 time period to 918 days (2.5 years) during the 2010-2020 time period. At the same time, the total number of new fab projects in the United States was halved, decreasing from 55 greenfield fab projects in the 1990-2000 time period to 22 greenfield fab projects between 2010 and 2020.”

Some great investment insights from Philip Fisher. “There are two approaches to accumulating wealth in the stock market. One is to time the market, buying stocks when they are cheap, and selling when they are expensive. The other is to find outstanding companies and hold them”

Chip Makers Contend for Talent as Industry Faces Labor Shortage. This labor shortage in one of the most critical and influential industries in the next few years makes you wonder why in the world lawmakers don’t open doors to welcome more hungry and talented immigrants. The tribal politics, fear-mongering and myopia are astoundingly disappointing and detrimental to the country

Hawaii Is Rethinking Tourism. Here’s What That Means for You. “For the first time, Hawaii’s tourism authority is majority-run by Hawaiian natives, rather than white mainlanders with hospitality degrees. With the input of locals, who range from farmers to hotel owners, each of Hawaii’s four counties has created a strategic plan that stretches into 2025 and focuses on sustainable destination management rather than marketing. The plan relies heavily on community involvement and visitor education. “In the past, visitors were spoon-fed what outsiders thought they wanted,” says Kainoa Horcajo, founder of the Mo’olelo Group, a Maui-based consultancy that helps hotels to reimagine their cultural experiences. “Now, it’s time to take a risk, challenge the visitor, and give them something real.”

How pioneering deep learning is reducing Amazon’s packaging waste. “Machine learning approaches helped Amazon drive change over the past six years, reducing per-shipment packaging weight by 36% and eliminating more than a million tons of packaging, equivalent to more than 2 billion shipping boxes.”

Turn podcast listeners into customers with CTA cards. Quite a big step by Spotify to improve their advertising platform.

Affirm Debit +: The Great Credit Card Unbuilding Is Underway

Other stuff that I found interesting

The Case Against Crypto. “The real world has fundamental constraints that make the technology unworkable, whenever it has to interact with the outside world the benefits of decentralization disappear and the solutions end up simply recreating slower and worse versions of processes and structures that already exist

A good article on China from an experienced journalist, who has spent a lot of time on the ground there. “Everything that can go wrong in urban design has gone wrong in Beijing. Each region has a different personality. The north is economically dysfunctional. Large parts of it suffer from resource dependency, environmental problems, and the population loss that results from these trends. Cities near Beijing showcase overcapacity in steel and coal, while Tianjin is well-known for having falsified its economic data. The northeast provinces nearby have seen a population decline of around 10% over the last decade, while the north as a whole has seen its share of the country’s GDP shrink from half in 1960 to a third today.

Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen. “For example, one study at the Carnegie Mellon University’s human computer interaction lab took 136 students and got them to sit a test. Some of them had to have their phones switched off, and others had their phones on and received intermittent text messages. The students who received messages performed, on average, 20% worse. It seems to me that almost all of us are currently losing that 20% of our brainpower, almost all the time. Miller told me that as a result we now live in “a perfect storm of cognitive degradation”. Individual abstinence is “not the solution, for the same reason that wearing a gas mask for two days a week outside isn’t the answer to pollution. It might, for a short period of time, keep certain effects at bay, but it’s not sustainable, and it doesn’t address the systemic issues.” He said that our attention is being deeply altered by huge invasive forces in wider society. Saying the solution was to just adjust your own habits – to pledge to break up with your phone, say – was just “pushing it back on to the individual” he said, when “it’s really the environmental changes that will really make the difference”.”

The Race to Make Vials for Coronavirus Vaccines. Fascinating

Stats

The average credit card balance in the U.S in 2021 was $5,525, according to Experian

2% of U.S menus feature chicken thighs while 42% list chicken wings

45% of surveyed Americans said they plan to shop 50% or more of their groceries online in the next 12 months

“PYMNTS’ research found that real-time disbursements accounted for 17% of all disbursements made in 2021, up from 5.7% last year”