Tech: Links for 9th July, 2019

  1. “In it, astronaut Sally Jansen has been working to come to grips with a Mars mission that went disastrously wrong, and NASA ended its crewed missions into space. But while she’s trying to move on, scientists detect an object designated 2I/2044 D1 entering our solar system, and when it begins to slow down, they realize that it’s an alien artifact. Jansen is called in to try and intercept the object and figure out what is behind it before it reaches Earth.”
    ..
    ..
    Science Fiction is a great way to learn a lot and have a lot of fun while doing so, and for that reason, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the premise of this book. In similar vein, I recently (and finally) finished The Three Body Problem, and can heartily recommend it.
    ..
    ..
  2. “The camera was loaded with machine vision algorithms trained by Hamm himself. They identified whether Metric was coming or going and whether he had prey in his mouth. If the answer was “yes,” the cat flap would lock for 15 minutes and Hamm would get a text. (In a nice flourish, the system also sends a donation, or “blood money” as Hamm calls it, to the National Audubon Society, which protects the birds cats love to kill.)”
    ..
    ..
    There are many people who bandy about the word AI these days, but this very short read (and within it, a very entertaining video) helps you understand how it could by applied in myriad ways.
    ..
    ..
  3. “LightSail 2 is more ambitious and will actually try to maneuver through space, and even boost itself into different orbits using sunlight. The new mission’s mission control website will let people around the world follow along, including the 23,331 people who contributed to the project’s Kickstarter campaign, which raised $1,241,615 for the spacecraft.”
    ..
    ..
    A third link from the same website (either The Verge is on fire, or I am being lazy today), but the best of the lot, in my opinion. It is now possible to crowdfund a satellite launch that contains a sail – and you can now watch your investment in space as it flies above your head. What a time to be alive.
    ..
    ..
  4. “But while Tufte’s concerns are not limited to charts, he has spent a lifetime thinking through what he called the “perennial” problem of how to represent a multidimensional world in the two dimensions of the page or screen. At the end of the day, he pulled out a first edition of Galileo Galilei to show how the great minds of the past had grappled with the same issues. He rhapsodized over Galileo’s tiny, in-line sketches of Saturn, which clearly inspired his own advocacy of “sparklines” (tiny charts embedded in text at the same size as the text), as well as some beautifully precise illustrations of sunspots.”
    ..
    ..
    Data visualization, medical visits, Galileo and sparklines. As they say, self-recommending.
    ..
    ..
  5. “And with 92 percent of future jobs globally requiring digital skills, there’s a focus on helping students develop skills for careers that don’t yet exist. Last year, Sweden declared coding a core subject to be taught from the first year of primary school. And there is an appetite for these skills among students, too, with 85 percent of Brazilians from 16-23 indicating that they want to work in the technology sector. ”
    ..
    ..
    Well, there’s a thought – I refer to Sweden’s decision. One, complements, not substitutes. Two, the links are worth following in this link – this is a subject very close to my heart.
Advertisements

Tech: Links for 2nd July, 2019

Five articles from tech, but about something that took place about twelve years ago.

  1. “One of the most important trends in personal technology over the past few years has been the evolution of the humble cellphone into a true handheld computer, a device able to replicate many of the key functions of a laptop. But most of these “smart phones” have had lousy software, confusing user interfaces and clumsy music, video and photo playback. And their designers have struggled to balance screen size, keyboard usability and battery life.”
    ..
    ..
    Thus began Walt Mossberg’s review of the first ever iPhone. That review is fun to read in order to understand how far smartphones have come since then, and we we took for granted then, and do now.
    ..
    ..
  2. “With the iPhone XS and Apple Neural Engine, the input isn’t an image, it’s the data right off the sensors. It’s really kind of nuts how fast the iPhone XS camera is doing things in the midst of capturing a single image or frame of video. One method is to create an image and then apply machine learning to it. The other is to apply machine learning to create the image. One way Apple is doing this with video is by capturing additional frames between frames while shooting 30 FPS video, even shooting 4K. The whole I/O path between the sensor and the Neural Engine is so fast the iPhone XS camera system can manipulate 4K video frames like Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix.”
    ..
    ..
    That was then, this is now – well, this is also last year. John Gruber on how far we’ve come – he reviews the iPhone XS, and reading both reviews one after the other points to how far we’ve come.
    ..
    ..
  3. “…I’m not convinced that anyone at Google fully thought through the implication of favoring Android with their services. Rather, the Android team was fully committed to competing with iOS — as they should have been! — and human nature ensured that the rest of Google came along for the ride. Remember, given Google’s business model, winning marketshare was perfectly correlated with reaping outsized profits; it is easy to see how the thinking and culture that developed around Google’s core business failed to adjust to the zero-sum world of physical devices. And so, as that Gundotra speech exemplified, Android winning became synonymous with Google winning, when in fact Android was as much ouroboros as asset.”
    ..
    ..
    It’s not just technology that changed then – entire ecosystems and business models had to be changed, updated, pilfered. Microsoft, obviously, but most significantly, Google.
    ..
    ..
  4. “There’s that word I opened with: “future”. As awesome as our smartphones are, it seems unlikely that this is the end of computing. Keep in mind that one of the reasons all those pre-iPhone smartphone initiatives failed, particularly Microsoft’s, is that their creators could not imagine that there might be a device more central to our lives than the PC. Yet here we are in a world where PCs are best understood as optional smartphone accessories.I suspect we will one day view our phones the same way: incredibly useful devices that can do many tasks better than anything else, but not ones that are central for the simple reason that they will not need to be with us all of the time. After all, we will have our wearables.”
    ..
    ..
    One risk that all of us run is to think of the future in terms of what exists now – which is one reason why 2007 was such big news for tech and then for all of us. What might a similar moment be in the near future? Earlier, you had to have a computer, and it was nice to have a smartphone. Now, you have to have a smartphone, and it is nice to have a computer. When might it be nice to have a smartphone, while you have to have a ‘wearable’?
    ..
    ..
  5. “The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a new “Molecular Informatics” program that uses molecules as computers. “Chemistry offers a rich set of properties that we may be able to harness for rapid, scalable information storage and processing,” Anne Fischer, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, said in a statement. “Millions of molecules exist, and each molecule has a unique three-dimensional atomic structure as well as variables such as shape, size, or even color. This richness provides a vast design space for exploring novel and multi-value ways to encode and process data beyond the 0s and 1s of current logic-based, digital architectures.” ”
    ..
    ..
    Not just the rather unimaginable (to me, at any rate) thought of molecules as computers (did I get that right?!), but also a useful timeline of how calendars have evolved. Also note how the rate of “getting better” has gotten faster over time!

Tech: Links for 25th June, 2019

I have linked to some of these piece in the past, but this set of posts is still useful in terms of creating a common set of links in one place for you to understand how to think about Aggregation Theory. If you can afford it, I heavily recommend Stratechery!

  1. “What is the critical differentiator for incumbents, and can some aspect of that differentiator be digitized?
    ..
    ..
    If that differentiator is digitized, competition shifts to the user experience, which gives a significant advantage to new entrants built around the proper incentives
    ..
    ..
    Companies that win the user experience can generate a virtuous cycle where their ownership of consumers/users attracts suppliers which improves the user experience”
    ..
    ..
    Begin here: this piece explains what aggregation theory is all about, and why it matters.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Super-Aggregators operate multi-sided markets with at least three sides — users, suppliers, and advertisers — and have zero marginal costs on all of them. The only two examples are Facebook and Google, which in addition to attracting users and suppliers for free, also have self-serve advertising models that generate revenue without corresponding variable costs (other social networks like Twitter and Snapchat rely to a much greater degree on sales-force driven ad sales).”
    ..
    ..
    Aggregators on steroids: what exactly makes Google and Facebook what they are? This article helps you understand this clearly. Also read the article on super aggregators itself.
    ..
    ..
  3. “There is a clear pattern for all four companies: each controls, to varying degrees, the entry point for customers to the category in which they compete. This control of the customer entry point, by extension, gives each company power over the companies actually supplying what each company “sells”, whether that be content, goods, video, or life insurance.”
    ..
    ..
    This article explains the FANG playbook, and how they became what they are today: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google.
    ..
    ..
  4. “To explain why, it is worth examining all four companies with regards to:Whether or not they have a durable monopoly
    What anticompetitive behavior they are engaging in
    What remedies are available
    What will happen in the future with and without regulator intervention”
    ..
    ..
    Ben Thompson states just above this paragraph that he is neither a lawyer nor an economist. But the last two questions in the list above show that he’d make a pretty good economist. He is, in essence, asking what is the opportunity cost of breaking up these firms. As the song goes: with the bad comes the good, and the good comes the bad.
    ..
    ..
  5. “All those apps are doing is providing an algorithm that lowers search costs and makes booking easy. Expedia didn’t design, build and maintain the airplane that flew him to Sydney; build or operate the airport; train pilots; or find, produce, refine and transport the necessary jet fuel to power the plane over its continental voyage. Uber didn’t design and manufacture the car used to transport him to his hotel; find, produce, and process the raw materials that go into it (such as steel and aluminium); or actually drive him from the airport to his hotel. AirBnB didn’t design, build, maintain, or clean the house he stayed in, nor supply it with electricity. UberEats and OpenTable didn’t grow and process any raw foodstuffs, or use them to cook a meal, and TripAdvisor didn’t design, manufacture or operate any of the tourist attractions he visited.In fact, all these companies did was write some pretty simple code that made matching buyers with sellers easier and more efficient, and the real question that should be being asked is whether these platform companies are extracting too much value from the supply chain relative to their value-add, and whether that is likely to be a sustainable situation in the long term, or will invite potential disruption and/or an eventual supply-side/regulatory response.”
    ..
    ..
    BUT, on the other hand, perhaps this is just old wine in a new bottle?

Links for 10th April, 2019

  1. “In an ideal world, you shouldn’t have to amortize. The prices will all be reflective of reality, there will always be a rational buyer at a rational price if you want to sell. In an ideal world corporates will not rollover their liquid fund investments every day either – they will know how much money they need, and they will only withdraw that much, leaving enough back in the liquid fund.”
    ..
    ..
    The always excellent Deepak Shenoy explains the how, and some of the why when it comes to amortization in debt funds. If you are interested in corporate finance, finance in general, or policy-making when it comes to finance, this is well worth your time.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Within the overall context of having asset allocation in an individual’s portfolio, passive investments will play an important role. It will increase overtime as a complementary strategy. It will not be just be plain vanilla passive but smart beta products. Look at these three benefits. Better returns profile, lower risk profile and wider diversification as compared to normal other products. So, it is a clear cut thing from the growth perspective.”..
    ..
    An interview on Bloomberg Quint about smart beta products. As with the first link, a must read if you are a student of finance, especially from India.
    ..
    ..
  3. ““If you wanted a snapshot of all your financial assets in one place on your mobile or to share information securely with a lender, it was previously not possible,” says Atluri Krishna Prasad, chief executive of Onemoney, one of the five entities that have secured in-principle approval from the Reserve Bank of India to operate as an account aggregator. “Now, if you give Onemoney your consent, we will fetch all your financial information from different sources, aggregate it and give you a single window with the consolidated information.””
    ..
    ..
    If you were worried about data privacy in India, we’re only just getting started. A nice article in FactorDaily that explains how more data sharing between financial organizations will soon be on it’s way.
    ..
    ..
  4. “Here, as in so many cases, the analysts haven’t got beyond an intuition that Johan Cruyff, the Dutch father of Barcelona’s football, had nearly 50 years ago. Cruyff played for Barça in the 1970s, coached the team from 1988 to 1996 and largely invented the passing game that the club still play. He could rhapsodise for hours about players who were “turned” the right way. He cared much less about a player’s size and speed.”
    ..
    ..
    Just one of many excerpt-able snippets from a fascinating article about how a sporting club is using every last little bit of information about, well, everything to make Barca (for that is the football club in question) even better.
    ..
    ..
  5. “He’s agreed to forfeit about $50m. It’s not clear what’s happened to the other $73m, but Rimasauskas was a prolific and baroque money-launderer who squirreled cash away in Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Latvia. Google has said that “We detected this fraud and promptly alerted the authorities. We recouped the funds and we’re pleased this matter is resolved.”Rimasauskas will be sentenced on July 29. He faces up to 30 years.”
    ..
    ..
    One of those articles that truly help you understand Coase/Demsetz and industrial organization overall. But if I am to be honest, a great read in its own right.

Links for 3rd April, 2019

  1. “There is something touchingly human in the dispersal of these games—in the vision it evokes of travelers packing for long, hard journeys and remembering to take with them something to kill time, something to satisfy their impulse to play. Anthropologists often regard these old games as novelties, Crist told me, but they can narrate plenty about their era. “Games function socially as a way for people to interact with one another,” he said. “People will play games when they vaguely know each other, to get to know one another.”
    Samanth Subramanian on the oldest board game known to us – dates back to around four thousand years ago. Games were, and are, a way to connect socially with people.
    ..
    ..
  2. “But even with increasingly powerful computers and more efficient algorithms thrown at the problem, some whole numbers have stubbornly refused to yield any winning tickets. And 33 was an especially stubborn case: Until Booker found his solution, it was one of only two integers left below 100 (excluding the ones for which solutions definitely don’t exist) that still couldn’t be expressed as a sum of three cubes. With 33 out of the way, the only one left is 42.”
    The rest of the article, fascinating in its own rights, contains many more excerpt-able quotes. But if you are a fan, as I am, it had to be an excerpt that ended with that sentence!
    ..
    ..
  3. “Nine years after giving grants for youth in Uganda to start businesses, those who didn’t receive grants had caught up on income! Nevertheless, “grants had lasting impacts on assets, skilled work, and possibly child health, but had little effect on mortality, fertility, health or education.”
    Honestly, there’s no particular reason why I chose to go with this quote in particular. David Evans has done yeoman service in putting together extremely brief summaries of I don’t know how many papers presented at the annual Center for the Study of African Economics (CSAE) conference.
    ..
    ..
  4. “Take the example of San Francisco; with nicer streets, even more people might want to move there. That would push up rents by an amount roughly equal to the value created — putting the gains from the higher quality of life into the pockets of landowners. In a normal market economy, those higher rents would then induce more construction and, eventually, a corresponding decline in rents. But San Francisco is a “not in my backyard” locale where the amount of new construction just isn’t that high, for legal and regulatory reasons. Again, as both Ricardo and George realized, the incidence of the benefit falls upon the very scarce factor, namely land.”
    What happens when you apply the Ricardian theory of rent to San Francisco? Tyler Cowen provides the answer. Also think about where else, besides land, this argument might apply. Cough *education* cough.
    ..
    ..
  5. “As Ansón puts it: “In principle, because of how it started, a tapa is something that you eat with one hand, a cocktail stick, a fork, or a spoon, allowing you to hold a drink in the other. This style of eating creates a kind of harmony between solid and liquid.”
    This will, if you are as big a fan of food as I am, take up a lot of your time – but also, it will be worth it. Also, if you are anything like me, it will make you want to go to Spain! A lovely, interactive website about Spanish gastronomy.

Links for 20th March, 2019

  1. “In 1950, cement production was equal to that of steel; in the years since, it has increased 25-fold, more than three times as fast as its metallic construction partner.”
    A mostly negative view of concrete, and how pervasive it has become over the years and across the world, in the Guardian. I wouldn’t necessarily argue the view that concrete is all bad, but the data is worth thinking about. Also keep an eye out for a mention of Vaclav Smil later on in the article – an author worth reading.
  2. “Achieving victory over another man, defeating them, forcing them to submit—it’s not about saying “I’m better than you.” It’s saying “I’m better than I was yesterday.” It’s why almost every competition ends with a hug and a thank you. Because each gave the other something—the opportunity to learn, to progress and to become better. At “Camp Settle This Like Men,” and at MMA gyms around the world, black belt instructors lend their time and expertise to lead classes on kickboxing, jiu jitsu, boxing and self-defense. When we teach others our skills, we make them better, hone our own knowledge, and create stronger opponents, that we can measure ourselves against.”
    An article from the Quillette about “Camp Settle This Like Men”. Interesting on multiple levels – masculine toxicity, respect (the earning and the giving of it), and about the plus side of mixed martial arts.
  3. “You have no idea how hard it is. Yes, there’s a lot of work that goes into getting the teams aligned and getting the right leaders in place who believe in these priorities, and being able to execute on that. And even the process of writing something like this is really helpful, because you can talk about a lot of things in the abstract. But it’s not until you actually put it down on paper and say, “Yeah, here are the trade-offs. We’re going to focus on reducing the permanence of how much data we have around, and that’s going to make these things harder.” Then you get all these teams inside the company that come out of the woodwork with all the issues that that’s going to cause for other things that we really care about.”
    Maybe it is because I was teaching industrial organization this semester – but rather than everything else that everybody focused upon, this is the part of the interview that leaped out for me. Organizing a firm is hard. Organizing teams within a firm is harder. There’s a very long reading list that suggests itself about this – it begins from Coase, and ends at Horowitz – for now.
  4. “Today, we’re celebrating the objects and ideas dreamt up and created by inventors, scientists and dreamers. Thanks to over 110 institutions, including National Council of Science Museums and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research from India, as well as dedicated curators and archivists from 23 countries around the world, you can explore a millennia of human progress in Once Upon a Try, now available on Google Arts & Culture. With over 400 interactive collections, it’s the largest online exhibition about inventions, discoveries, and innovations ever created.”
    What a time to be alive. I haven’t seen a lot on the site, principally because I would get nothing else done – but this is a truly bookmark-able resource. Again, what a time to be alive.
  5. “In India, in my opinion, we ape the West too much, particularly America too much. I lived in Silicon Valley so I know both the strengths and the weaknesses. The weaknesses, the short-termist thinking. Very few companies stay the long haul and we have taken more inspiration from the Japanese on these than from the Americans, in this particular area.”
    Lots and lots of interesting stuff here, and the whole interview is worth listening/reading. But of all of those things, this was the most interesting one to me – the influence of Japanese and American start-up culture on Zoho – a remarkable Indian firm.

Links for 5th March, 2019

  1. “Using a neural network trained on widely available weather forecasts and historical turbine data, we configured the DeepMind system to predict wind power output 36 hours ahead of actual generation. Based on these predictions, our model recommends how to make optimal hourly delivery commitments to the power grid a full day in advance. This is important, because energy sources that can be scheduled (i.e. can deliver a set amount of electricity at a set time) are often more valuable to the grid.”
    The big problem with renewable energy is its utter unpredictability – which is why we will always struggle to move to a world that uses renewable energy as a primary source. Unless, of course, we figure out how to make great batteries. But in the meantime, anything that helps us predict the pattern of availability of wind and solar power is great news.
  2. “Still, people do break Google’s protection. CAPTCHAs are an ongoing arms race that neither side will ever win. The AI technology which makes Google’s approach so hard to fool is the same technology that is adapted to fool it.Just wait until that AI is convincing enough to fool you.
    Sweet dreams, human.”
    Ever clicked on the “I’m a human” button and wondered why it seemed like such a stupid idea. Well, uh, not stupid. Not stupid at all.
  3. “This further tells us that people are buying and selling homes. It’s just that the builders are not a part of this transaction.”
    This is a very short excerpt, but especially for Indians, this article is well worth reading (and Vivek Kaul is well worth following!). Home loans are going up every year, but unsold inventory is also going up every year? What gives?
  4. “All of economics is meant to be about people’s behavior. So, what is behavioral economics, and how does it differ from the rest of economics?”
    An essay about behavioral economics and its many applications, written by two people who are more familiar with the field than almost anybody else. There isn’t much here for people who are already familiar with the field – but if you are new to behavioral economics, this is an excellent introduction.
  5. “Two landmark events helped pushed along the proliferation of Sichuan cuisine in New York. In 2005, the peppercorn ban was lifted, though imported peppercorns still had to be heat treated and were thus less potent than they might have been. (This restriction was finally lifted in 2018.) ”
    I was in New York in 2007, and knew nothing of how to try new food, and it is a major source of regret. Especially when I read articles like these.