Links for 4th June, 2019

  1. ““Alexa, are you recording everything you hear?” It is a question more people are asking, though Amazon’s voice assistant denies the charges. “I only record and send audio back to the Amazon cloud when you say the wake word,” she insists, before referring questioners to Amazon’s privacy policy. Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, gives a similar answer. But as smart speakers from Amazon, Apple, Google and other technology giants proliferate (global sales more than doubled last year, to 86.2m) concerns that they might be digitally snooping have become more widespread. And now that these devices are acquiring other senses beyond hearing—the latest models have cameras, and future ones may use “lidar” sensors to see shapes and detect human gestures (see article)—the scope for infringing privacy is increasing. So how worried should you be that your speaker is spying on you?”
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    The article doesn’t answer the question it frames in as direct a fashion as readers might wish, but read this to understand that there is (as with everything else in life) a benefit to this technology, as also a cost.
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  2. “Many voters may have felt that others, more wealthier than them, were also being hurt by demonetization, and hence supported the adventurist move.The results of the second round of the YouGov-Mint Millennial Survey conducted in early 2019 suggest that even today and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, many urban youths who support the ruling party consider demonetization to be a great success of the government.”
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    Can you drive in reverse in a tunnel, Professor Hirschman? Livemint does a three year review of demonetization, and it is worth reading for a variety of reasons.
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  3. “Not all New York City views are created equal.Direct Central Park views may be the most valuable amenity in Manhattan real estate, but in a market filled with soaring new developments — some of which wind up blocking the views of other buildings — even a partial glimpse of a river, park or the city skyline can also command a hefty premium.”
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    This article is proof that microeconomics can be fun. But beyond that, it is also worth going through the article to take in the photographs. New York looks gorgeous!
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  4. “What Microsoft figured out is that it made far more sense for both Microsoft and their customers to pay on a subscription basis: companies would pay a set price on a monthly or annual basis, and receive access to the latest-and-greatest software. This wasn’t a complete panacea — updating software was still a significant undertaking — but at least the incentive to avoid upgrades was removed.There were also subtle advantages from a balance sheet perspective: now companies were paying for software in a rough approximation to their usage over time — an operational expense — as opposed to a fixed-cost basis. This improved their return-on-invested-capital (ROIC) measurements, if nothing else. And, for Microsoft, revenue became much more predictable.”
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    Ben Thompson helps one understand Microsoft, SaaS, Slack, Zoom and a simple way to understand what makes new businesses potentially attractive – be sure to read through the entire article to reach the four quadrant diagram at the end. Entirely worth your time.
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  5. “When it was finally time to deploy, with no hint from the U.S. or China or Brazil or India that anyone would send out a countering air force to simply knock the planes out of the sky, the three billionaires went back to the island and sent the aerosols tumbling through the stratosphere. There was no ceremony, no champagne, no photographs. This was nothing to be celebrated.”
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    My phrase-I-learned-today: Solar Radiation Management.
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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.