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Friday, 19 March 2021

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Black sheep have been both loved and loathed in equal measure over the centuries. In terms of wool production, black sheep among a white flock were problematic. Black wool is difficult to dye, and so a black sheep in a white flock destined for cloth would have represented a financial loss. The coat color of wild sheep is usually a dark body with a pale tummy, but over the centuries shepherds strongly selected for a uniform white coat, which was easy to dye. The gene for dark fleece didn’t disappear, however; it is simply recessive—in other words, a white sheep can carry the black fleece gene within a flock, but you wouldn’t be able to tell which animal it was until it produces a black lamb.

The arrival of a black sheep from a white flock must have left ancient shepherds scratching their heads, bewildered by nature’s alchemy. And so perhaps it’s no surprise that black sheep became the target for superstitions and peculiar folk remedies.



A ad-free search engine from one of the builders of google search

During his 15-year career at the search startup that became an Internet giant, Ramaswamy built, scaled and ultimately ran Google’s $115 billion advertising division. However, he finally left in 2018 after becoming disillusioned that Google’s obsession with growth was affecting everything from search quality to consumer privacy. Then the 54-year-old did the completely unexpected: Launching a startup to build an entirely new search engine from scratch — but this time without data tracking and without ads. In other words, without the things that make money.

Neeva users will pay between $5 and $10 a month to get the search results they want rather than what advertisers want them to see. The challenge, obviously, is getting folks to pay for something they are used to getting for free.



The secret of Nanda Devi

Elite climbers were trained by the CIA and paid huge sums of money to carry an atomic-powered spy gadget to the top of an undisclosed peak. The stage for the 007-esque drama was the Himalayas. Somehow this plutonium-powered device was lost or stolen, now either providing the fissile juice to a secret Pakistani nuke or threatening every man, woman and child in India with deadly radiation in the form of contaminated run-off into the Ganges River.

The peak ultimately chosen was Nanda Devi. The peak, India’s highest, rose from a pristine bowl of alpine meadow bordered by a jagged rim of summits. In 1965, at the start of the CIA field operation only six climbers from various expeditions had stood on Nanda Devi’s summit at a cost of three lives. Indeed, only as late as the 1930s did humans even penetrate the Sanctuary.

The CIA planned to intercept radio telemetry signals between the Chinese missiles and ground control. A transceiver, powered by a plutonium battery pack, would beam information to a CIA listening station, where data analysis would reveal the range, speed and payload of the Chinese missile.



"We will be watching you!!"

Sharp Eyes is one of a number of overlapping and intersecting technological surveillance projects built by the Chinese government over the last two decades. Projects like the Golden Shield Project, Safe Cities, SkyNet, Smart Cities, and now Sharp Eyes mean that there are more than 200 million public and private security cameras installed across China. China’s 2016 five-year plan set a goal for Sharp Eyes to achieve 100% coverage of China’s public spaces in 2020. What gets reported to police by the Sharp Eyes program isn’t just limited to crime. One Pingyi resident in the state media article spoke of reporting a collapsed manhole cover, while another mentioned that they had suspected a multilevel marketing scheme happening in a nearby building. The MLM organization was reported to the police, who allegedly broke it up with warnings and fines.

Though the system primarily relies on facial recognition and locally broadcast CCTV, the city of Harbin, for instance, published a notice that it was looking for predictive policing technology to sweep a person’s bank transaction data, location history, and social connections, as well as make a determination as to whether they were a terrorist or violent.



The devil is in the zipper!

A ‘pro tip’ for evaluating the quality of a piece of gear is to look at the small details, such as zippers and stitching. Cheap-minded manufacturers will skimp on those details because most people just don’t notice, and even a cheap component will often last past a basic warranty period, so it’s an easy way to increase profits without losing sales or returns.

If a designer does bother to invest in quality components, that’s a tried-and-true sign that the overall product is better than the competition.

Zippers are a classic example when looking at backpacks, clothing, and similar gear. And although there are a few other fine zipper brands out there, the king is YKK Group — to the point that the first thing some gear reviewers look for is the “YKK” branding on the zipper pull tab.


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