ROW: Links for 24th July, 2019

How to learn more about a country? Read a bit about it! In the process of writing up these ROW links, I plan to link to five articles (mostly random) about a country. The only thing that is common to them is that they’re all about one particular country.

And today’s country is Australia: I have not (yet) been to the country, but loved reading about it in Bill Bryson’s book, and loved hating the Australian cricket team (still do!). But on a more serious note, it is a country that I need to read more about.

In no particular order, or theme, five articles I read recently about Australia:

  1. “It’s on the matter of culture that Alan is most unconsciously revealing — unconsciously because Alan’s generation did not think of it as “culture” so much as of “character”. His upbringing was simple, in farming country near Gosford since swamped by housing. “I didn’t known what a steak was until I got to Sydney,” he recalls. “My mother knew how to cook rabbit 10 different ways.””
    ..
    ..
    How to not begin with an article on cricket? Alan Davidson, the original Wasim Akram – and a profile on him by Gideon Haigh. Please read, if you are a fan of cricket, Haigh’s book on Warne, called… “On Warne“.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Australia loves larrikins, as long as they are white, and polite, and display no flamboyance and voice no controversial opinions. Australia laments there is no colour in public life anymore, complains that sports-people show no personality in their interviews, and then punishes them the moment they do. Australia is willing to embrace Nick Kyrgios, as long as he becomes someone else.”
    ..
    ..
    From Australian sportsmen then, to Australian sportsmen now. Nick Kyrgios.
    ..
    ..
  3. “Australia will be a great nation, and a power for good in the world, when her head of state is a part-Aboriginal and her prime minister a poor man. Or vice versa.”
    ..
    ..
    Words written by Les Murray, who passed away recently. This article is via The Browser, and is worth reading for glimpses of Murray’s poetry, but also for an insight into Murray’s opinion about Australia.
    ..
    ..
  4. “It is commonly reported that the colonisation of Australia was driven by the need to address overcrowding in the British prison system, and the fact of the British losing the Thirteen Colonies of America in the American Revolution; however, it was simply not economically viable to transport convicts halfway around the world for this reason alone.[4] Many convicts were either skilled tradesmen or farmers who had been convicted for trivial crimes and were sentenced to seven years’ transportation, the time required to set up the infrastructure for the new colony. Convicts were often given pardons prior to or on completion of their sentences and were allocated parcels of land to farm.”
    ..
    ..
    Almost everybody who has attended a class I’ve taught on Principles of Economics knows the story – well, the story stands on somewhat weakened foundations.
    ..
    ..
  5. Finally, Professor Cowen picks his favorite things Australian. I am gloriously unaware of all of them.
Advertisements

Links for 30th May, 2019

  1. “While England are the clear favourites, the rest of the field is pretty even. Any team can beat any other on its day. India have their best-ever bowling attack in a World Cup, and Virat Kohli is the greatest batsman ever in this form of the game – but I am worried about their chances of winning it. The reason for that is strategic understanding. Kohli’s captaincy can be dubious at times in the shorter forms of the game, and he would consistently underestimate par scores while playing for his franchise in the IPL. The team has the talent to win – but does it have the approach?”
    ..
    ..
    Amit Varma on how T20 changed the approach to ODI cricket, among other things. As always, worth reading.
    ..
    ..
  2. “The result is the same – looking at all-time data, games where the team batting first scored between 200 and 250 are the most interesting. While games in this range remain interesting even after the 2015 World Cup, we find that games in the 250-300 range are on average more interesting, with interestingness sharply dropping off after 300.”
    ..
    ..
    Karthik S. disagrees with Amit Varma’s article above – which is kind of the point of being a cricket fan. And that point, of course, spills over into other domains as well!
    ..
    ..
  3. “The Louvre pyramid also highlights Pei’s tendency to recycle his own ideas. This practice is no disgrace if an abandoned original of merit is ultimately realized or improved with further development. Frank Lloyd Wright often dusted off plans for buildings that were sidelined for one reason or another and sometimes recycled them successfully. Pei’s first attempt to realize a monumental sloping glass structure was his initial 1966 proposal for the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, for a site next to the Harvard campus in Cambridge.”
    ..
    ..
    I know next to nothing about architecture (if that!), but I enjoyed reading this article about IM Pei. Tangentially, this also reminded me of A. R. Rehman and his decision to reuse some tracks for Slumdog Millionaire. The parallels are hard to miss – and therein lies a useful lesson.
    ..
    ..
  4. “Given that robots can move through space in uniquely nonhuman ways, they wouldn’t necessarily be subject to boundaries between private and public spaces that constrain delivery people, allowing them to move goods in and out of homes in a constant flow. Amazon already has its “smart” lock system allow human carriers to enter a home briefly to drop off packages, and Wal-Mart is testing a similar system that lets its workers deliver groceries to a home’s refrigerator. But fully automated robots could travel deeper into homes without compromising privacy. You wouldn’t need to get dressed to greet a robot, if you noticed its arrival at all. It might unobtrusively enter and leave through an opening the size of a pet door.”
    ..
    ..
    What all can robots do? The paragraph above, in particular, was striking to me. Here’s why: I thought of the problem in this way – what can robots change in the way homes are run? The excerpt forced me to think the other way around: how do homes need to change to best utilize robots? Again, a useful lesson! Both links above (3 and 4) are thanks to The Browser. I subscribe to it, and so far, I am not regretting it at all.
    ..
    ..
  5. “China took the first shots, and they took them a long time ago. For over a decade U.S. services companies have been unilaterally shut out of the China market, even as Chinese alternatives had full reign, running on servers built with U.S. components (and likely using U.S. intellectual property).
    To be sure, China’s motivation was not necessarily protectionism, at least in the economic sense: what mattered most to the country’s ruling Communist Party was control of the flow of information. At the same time, from a narrow economic perspective, the truth is that China has been limiting the economic upside of U.S. companies far longer than the U.S. has tried to limit China’s.”
    ..
    ..
    The USA hasn’t started the trade war with China under President Trump, it has responded to China’s “shots across the bows”. Please read the entire article, it is an important one.

Links for 28th May, 2019

  1. “On March 18, 2013, at the Motera B ground, a scraggy-haired stick figure bowls his last two overs, landing (or trying to land) yorker after yorker. Looking on is former India coach John Wright, then head coach of Mumbai Indians. The batsmen are Mumbai openers Aditya Tare and Shoaib Shaikh. The No. 3, Abhishek Nayar, remembers: “Two pure batsmen at the crease, two overs of unbelievable yorkers. We couldn’t get him off the square.” Tare returns to the dressing room and says that the strange bowler was “a lot sharper than you thought”. One ball hits a batsman’s footmark, shoots up over wicketkeeper-captain Parthiv Patel’s head and zips over the boundary line. In the gallery, Wright sits up. Woah. The lad has wheels. “With some players you see something different and you go… there’s something there. It was the same that day. Real wheels.” He watches two overs, talks to Parthiv, makes a phone call to HQ, and Bumrah is invited to sign up for the IPL’s richest franchise.”
    ..
    ..
    Sharda Ugra in The Cricket Monthly on Jasprit Bumrah – but as Niranjan Rajadhakshya recently pointed out, really on development. Also, I was completely wrong about the IPL – it has, without a shadow of a doubt, been a boon for cricket in general, and Indian cricket in particular. Mea culpa!
    ..
    ..
  2. “The overall messages that emerge from our analysis are as follows. First, we find evidence that NPEs can be beneficial in improving allocation of technologies to end users (benign middleman), but also use the patent system to threaten litigation on downstream firms (stick-up artist). Second, the existence of NPEs in the market for ideas could discourage downstream innovators and encourage upstream innovators.Third, we show that the overall impact of NPEs on innovation is far from immediate, and depends on many forces in the market. A key question for understanding the impact of NPEs on innovation is what fraction of patent-infringing firms are innovators. On the academic side, researchers can further explore the role of non-innovators versus innovators in patent infringement. On the policy side, our work suggests that “patent trolls” need to also be understood in their multiple roles, instead of putting them into the single box of benign or malevolent.”
    ..
    ..
    The importance of opportunity cost, the role of patents, and how difficult it can be to understand how markets and market participants work, in one slightly complex article. Worth a read, for sure.
    ..
    ..
  3. “The scale of the potential changes seems hard to imagine. But look back through history, and humanity’s relations with the living world have seen three great transformations: the exploitation of fossil fuels, the globalisation of the world’s ecosystems after the European conquest of the Americas, and the domestication of crops and animals at the dawn of agriculture. All brought prosperity and progress, but with damaging side-effects. Synthetic biology promises similar transformation. To harness the promise and minimise the peril, it pays to learn the lessons of the past.”
    ..
    ..
    The Econommist examines, lucidly as always, the impact that synthetic biology might have on our future.
    ..
    ..
  4. “The Heckman Curve describes the rate of return to public investments in human capital for the disadvantaged as rapidly diminishing with age. Investments early in the life course are characterised as providing significantly higher rates of return compared to investments targeted at young people and adults. This paper uses the Washington State Institute for Public Policy dataset of program benefit cost ratios to assess if there is a Heckman Curve relationship between program rates of return and recipient age. The data does not support the claim that social policy programs targeted early in the life course have the largest returns, or that the benefits of adult programs are less than the cost of intervention.”
    ..
    ..
    On whether the Heckman Curve makes sense or not, from an empirial viewpoint. Again, for reasons of opportunity cost and the perils of policy planning.
    ..
    ..
  5. “Many regard the falloff in the creation of high-wage jobs as the inevitable result of advances in artificial intelligence and robotics. It isn’t. Technology can be used either to displace labor or to enhance worker productivity. The choice is ours. But to ensure that such decisions benefit workers, governments need to coax the private sector away from its singular focus on automation.”
    ..
    ..
    Darren Acemoglu helps us understand the importance of complements and substitutes, and how policy making, in spite of its many perils, remains important.

Links for 22nd May, 2019

  1. “Perhaps the most typical thing about Bergstrom’s gambling was that for him, as for so many others, the money seemed to signify something else. Gamblers often describe how, when the chips are on the table, money is transformed into a potent symbol for other psychic forces. In Bergstrom’s case, the action on the craps table seemed, like a love affair, to be a referendum on his self-worth.”
    ..
    ..
    What are the motivations for gamblers? How do they view money? Is it the means to an end, is it a metaphor, is it symbolic? How might the lessons one gleans from reading something like this be applied elsewhere? For these reasons, a lovely read.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav and Ambati Rayudu are all collectors if you go by their IPL batting. I had mentioned in the copy (which later got edited out) that it is worrisome that the Indian batting lineup ahead of the World Cup has a sort of sameness to it.Fortunately, while they all bat the same way in T20 cricket, they are all different kinds of beasts when it comes to One Day Internationals.”
    ..
    ..
    Beware of relying too much upon data, but that being said, the cricket fans among you might want to subscribe to this newsletter, which analyses cricketing data to come up with interesting ideas about the upcoming world cup.
    ..
    ..
  3. “Well, you know what Graham understood, I think, better than probably anyone who had written about investing before him is that there’s a big difference between what people should do and what they can do. Another way to think about this is that distinction between what’s optimal, and what’s practical. And we pretty much know how people should invest. Investing is – as Warren Buffett likes to say “It’s simple, but it’s not easy.” And dieting is simple, but not easy. In fact, a lot of things in life are simple, but not easy. And investing is a very good example. I mean, if all you do is diversify, keep your costs low, and minimize trading. That’s pretty much it. It’s like eat less, exercise more. Investing is just about as simple, but it’s not easy. And so Graham understood that people are their own worst enemy, because when they should be cautious, they tend to take on risk.”
    ..
    ..
    David Perell interviews Jason Zweig, and it is an interview worth reading, and perhaps even re-reading. I have linked here to the transcript, but if you prefer listening, you should be able to find out the link to the podcast.
    ..
    ..
  4. “Any time a central bank – unless it has a completely sealed closed economy – raises or cuts interest rates, it is taking currency and interest rate risk vs. the major reserve currencies, even if it is not directly buying or selling foreign currency.”
    ..
    ..
    A short, clear and concise article about the RBI’s rupee-dollar swap.
    ..
    ..
  5. “Diets have changed most dramatically in Africa, where 18 countries have diets that have changed by more than 25 percent. Sugar consumption in Congo, for example, has increased 858 percent since 1961.”
    ..
    ..
    A truly excellent visualization – worth seeing for a multitude of reasons: data about nutrition, visualization techniques being just two of them. And that statistic about sugar consumption in Congo is just breathtaking.

Links for 21st May, 2019

  1. “The latest edition of the World Cup will soon be upon us. Just ten teams this time, playing out their matches (including the warm-up games) in mainstream venues. No chance for an unheralded ground to get on the cricketing map – as Amstelveen and Edinburgh did in 1999. No chance for history to unfold in a far-off venue like Tunbridge Wells – which to this day has Indian tourists visiting every year, to hear about Kapil’s unbeaten 175.This time too, there will be much Geography to savour. Grounds, ends, winds and soils. Maybe even clouds on some days. Balls soaring towards the River Tone in Taunton. There will be schoolkids watching it all. Perhaps some among them will jot down names and trivia in the margins of their notebooks. Like this one schoolboy did close to three decades ago.”
    ..
    ..
    A useful example of how learning about one thing can have entirely unexpected (but very pleasant) consequences. In this case, cricket as a geography teacher.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Tech leaders across the industry are rethinking the role of their platforms’ incentives, in response to mounting criticism that technology platforms do more harm than good. Instagram is running a test where like counts are hidden to followers, but are viewable by the post’s account holder. Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri told BuzzFeed News that the test wasn’t about incentivizing specific behavior but “about creating a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves” and focus less on like counts.”
    ..
    ..
    This article is mostly about Twitter, but the excerpt is about how tech companies are responding to the huge backlash they are currently facing. Is the response enough? You be the judge!
    ..
    ..
  3. “The Muslim world can easily find martyrs but what it urgently and desperately needs are statesmen, negotiators, advisors, scholars, and intellectuals who understand their times and peoples.”
    ..
    ..
    This is a part of the world (Afghanistan) I know very, very little about – and in particular, the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s – which is what most of this book seems to be about. I plan to read it, for this reason.
    ..
    ..
  4. “And that’s when I realized that they believe they will lose very little by associating themselves with Nath. They don’t expect anyone to boycott the film just because an actor accused of serial sexual predation is in it. The issue is not that the cost of the reshoot was too high, but that the costs imposed by society for not removing Nath from the film were too low.”
    ..
    ..
    This article is worth reading for many, many reasons – some of which are too complicated to go into here. But here are the main reasons: Shruti Rajagopalan is always worth reading, this is an economic analysis of an ostensibly non-economic issue (is there such a thing?), and well – more people in India (and elsewhere) need to read this!
    ..
    ..
  5. “You get your Raspberry Pi and hook it up to a monitor and a keyboard and a mouse, then you log on to it and … it’s just a Linux system, like the tilde.club machine, and ready for work. A new computer is the blankest of canvases. You can fill it with files. You can make it into a web server. You can send and receive email, design a building, draw a picture, write 1,000 novels. You could have hundreds of users or one. It used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, and now it costs as much as a fancy bottle of wine.”
    ..
    ..
    A very long, but (to me at any rate) extremely readable article that is essentially an ode to technology.

Links for 20th May, 2019

  1. “The debate could have been depoliticized if the CSO was more sensitive to criticisms, and had made proactive disclosures on the error estimates of different sub-sectors of GDP, with explanations for why output estimates for some sectors were more reliable than that of others. In fact, the first national account estimates presented by Mahalanobis after India’s independence carefully noted the data gaps and limitations of the estimates, as well as the error margins associated with each sectoral estimate. Providing such error estimates would also have drawn wider attention to data gaps, and could have helped MoSPI garner the requisite resources to fill those gaps.”
    ..
    ..
    An article entirely worth reading if you are interested in India’s statistical organizations – from independence until today, the tale has been one of slow and painful deterioration.
    ..
    ..
  2. “In short, Indian agriculture has undergone a phenomenal change over the last decade that it is no more dependent on just foodgrain or one sector. In fact, it has emerged as a versatile sector that still provides employment to over 50 per cent of the country’s population (per 2011 census) and keeps the economy ticking in rural areas despite the vagaries of weather.”
    ..
    ..
    A useful place to get a good summary of Indian agriculture over the last decade or so. But I would argue that the key point is that there are far too many people employed in this sector – and that is the real problem.
    ..
    ..
  3. “The four main factors they identify are as follows. First, there are historical institutions such as slavery and colonial rule. Second, the impact of cultural norms linked to religion, trust, family ties and beliefs. Third, there are geographical factors such as the terrain, temperature shocks and the frequency of floods. Fourth, historical accidents, such as the way national boundaries are drawn, also have an impact. These four factors together play an important role in the development trajectory of a country through time. The question is, what can be done to overcome these constraints in case they are a barrier to development? Can anything be done at all?”
    ..
    ..
    Using cricket to learn about development economics. Or is it the other way around? Exactly the kind of article the world sees far too little of!
    ..
    ..
  4. “The state legislators who are passing these bills know they will be challenged in court. They also know they will probably lose. But their sights appear to be set higher than their state jurisdictions: With a solidly conservative majority on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion advocates are eager to seed the challenge that could one day take down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 opinion that legalized abortion up to the point of fetal viability. At the very least, they hope the Supreme Court will undercut Roe and subsequent decisions that reaffirmed abortion rights, the idea being that each legal challenge makes it a little harder to obtain an abortion in the United States.”
    ..
    ..
    Have you heard of Roe vs. Wade? Might you be curious to learn about what exactly culture has to do with economics, as we discussed in the link above? A useful, if unfortunate example is this article.
    ..
    ..
  5. “What concerns health practitioners is the high transmissibility of the bug. “We studied the fungus in January, 2017, when we found it had colonized the skin of a patient who was referred to the Trauma Care ICU from another hospital. But within four days, it (bug) had spread to all the other patients admitted in the unit. All nine of them,” said professor Arunaloke Chakrabarti from Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh.”
    ..
    ..
    Just in case your Monday wasn’t depressing enough. Be afraid – be very afraid.

Links for 15th April, 2019

  1. “But Bengaluru’s enthusiasm for pubbing as a well-established cultural and social activity pushes things along. Everyone meets over a beer—it is the new coffee. Work meetings are held over beer. Older millennials organize and participate in beer tastings and beer-and-food pairings. Co-working spaces like WeWork offer beer on tap. And most craft-beer lovers drink it not to get drunk, but for the taste and a mild high, as well as the social aspect of hanging out over a beer.”
    ..
    ..
    I’ll be visiting Bangalore later on this week, and this couldn’t have come at a better time in Livemint! A long read, but informative in many ways about Bangalore and it’s modern drinking culture.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Most people think that now is a terrible time to visit Iran. The renewed US sanctions on the country mean that popular travel websites like Expedia, Airbnb and Booking.com don’t work in Iran. International debit and credit cards can’t be used to make payments or withdraw money from ATMs. Most travel insurance policies don’t cover Iran. And social networks like Twitter and Facebook are technically banned.”
    ..
    ..
    The rest of the article explains why, in fact, this is a pretty good time to visit Iran. Stunning photographs – Iran really does seem like it is worth a visit.
    ..
    ..
  3. “Gradually, as the demand for Manbeasts increases, more Manbeasts will come forth. That’s supply and demand in action, and it’s a good thing. Manbeasts aren’t blind sloggers. They bring insane skill to the game, and it is glorious to watch. On top of everything else, Andre Russell is a bloody good batsman.”
    ..
    ..
    Amit Varma explains T20 cricket using economics, at which he is rather good. Here’s the scary bit: Dre Russell is the start of the crazy hitting phenomenon, per Amit Varma. Read to find out why.
    ..
    ..
  4. “Food delivery in India is creating an entirely new market; 70% of our regular users in Kolhapur had never tried food delivery in their life (even over a phone call), and Zomato was the first food delivery experience of their lives. All the marketing investment we made in FY19 will bear fruit in FY20 and beyond — when we realise the LTV (Lifetime Value) of the users that we have acquired.”
    ..
    ..
    Zomato is a firm worth following for a variety of reasons: interesting business models, upfront communications, and Akshar Pathak does a great job too. But read the annual report for some fairly impressive statistics and trends about food in India.
    ..
    ..
  5. “Great to hear! Check out this page: “Advice for Aspiring Astrophysicists” (and, if you’d like a shorter thread, this Storify). Basically you should learn a lot of math and physics and programming and communication skills, and, if at all possible, try to get involved in some kind of research. See the page for more tips. Good luck!”
    I, along with the rest of the planet, have been reading about astronomy for obvious reasons. This link was informal and informative – which is a very rare combination.