Monthly Archives: January 2017

‘Arrival’: Yes, It’s That Good

Arrivalposter

You may have heard that “Arrival,” a thriller about an alien invasion based on a Ted Chiang short story, has been nominated for eight Oscars.

Yes, it’s that good.

Amy Adams, the protagonist, plays a linguist brought in by the U.S. government to try to communicate with mysterious beings, who have landed in pods around the world.

Longtime readers know how much I love sci-fi.

But this isn’t a hard-core, technologically heavy film. It’s beautifully shot, with exceptional sound, and is really more about life, time and — of course — language.

It’s not a perfect film, if you ask me, but it’s very good.

Book Notes: ‘The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century,’ by George Friedman

From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned, and to point out titles I think are worth consulting.

For more, see my Book Notes category

Next 100 years

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century

Published: 2009
ISBN: 9780767923057
Amazon link

Brief Summary

Can anyone really predict what will happen over the next century? Friedman, the founder of geopolitical research firm Stratfor, which analyzes global events for private clients, gives it a shot.

In this 2009 book, he argues that American influence began after the U.S. won the cold war, and will only continue though the 21st century. But it will be tested by factors like an increasingly aggressive Russia and other states like Japan and Mexico.

My notes:

  • Don’t worry about U.S. economic troubles — the book was published in the midst of the Great Recession — the author says, because history shows the U.S. government tends to intervene to prevent total collapse. So the economy will online continue growing
  • Three crucial factors affecting the world order during the 20th century were:
    • The end of the European imperial system
    • The world population quadrupling
    • A revolution in transportation and communications
  • Three important factors during the 21st century will be:
    • The continuation of American power
    • The end of the population boom
    • Technologies to deal with declining populations
  • The main threats to U.S. power will be Middle Eastern states, Russia, Japan and Mexico.

    Russia will continue to expand its territory to recoup its losses after the fall of the Soviet Union. Japan‘s desire for empire will rekindle. Mexico will spell trouble for the U.S. due to demographic issues, with so many people of Mexican descent living in America.

  • Friedman says the U.S. shouldn’t be overly concerned about China, because its history shows ongoing conflict between the poor interior region and the richer coastal areas. Rather than aspiring to expand its territory, Chinese leaders will focus more on tamping down social unrest at home.
  • The U.S. economy is a global power, and will continue to be one, in part because of its military might. The U.S. Navy controls the world’s shipping lanes, crucial for international trade.
  • Cultures move over time from being barbaric to civilized to decadent. The U.S., as a relatively young country, is still in its barbaric stage and is thus willing to wage war in its national interest.
  • Ultimately, military conflicts will move into space, where the U.S. will continue to have the upper hand against rivals.

Newley’s Notes 81: Trump and H-1Bs, Apple in India, Silicon Valley Preppers, Full-Auto Crossbows

2017 01 26NN

Edition 81 of my email newsletter went out to subscribers yesterday. It’s pasted in below.

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Hi friends, thanks for reading Newley’s Notes.

WHAT I WROTE IN THE WSJ

Indian Outsourcing Firms Prep for Curbs on H–1B Visa Workers Under Trump. The story begins:

President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t take office in Washington until Friday, but he is already forcing firms in India’s mammoth $108 billion technology-outsourcing industry to rethink their hiring practices in the U.S., their largest market.

While Mr. Trump has chastised U.S. firms for offshoring American jobs, Indian outsourcing firms could be set to see renewed heat for doing the opposite—placing foreign workers in the U.S., mainly through a skilled-worker visa, known as the H–1B. Faced with the prospect of possible new curbs on those visas from a president who has pledged to ensure that Americans get their first pick of available jobs, outsourcers are ramping up hiring both on American college campuses and at home in India.

H–1B Visas: How Donald Trump Could Change America’s Skilled Worker Visa Rules. The story begins:

During his campaign, President Donald Trump assailed a skilled-worker visa program used to send foreigners to the U.S., and in his inaugural speech Friday he said the country would “follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.”

Indian outsourcing firms are already preparing for potential changes to visa rules, which could present a challenge because they send thousands of workers to the U.S. every year via the H–1B program.

So how much, and how quickly, could Mr. Trump change the regulations?

A significant shakeup would likely need to be approved by Congress, though there are some steps Mr. Trump could take himself immediately, analysts say.

Apple Said to Be Near Deal to Manufacture Products in India. The story begins:

Apple Inc. is nearing a deal to manufacture its products in India, according to a senior government official, as the company seeks to boost its sales in a market that is home to more than 1.2 billion people.

A team of executives led by Priya Balasubramaniam, an Apple vice president, met with senior Indian government officials in New Delhi on Wednesday to discuss the firm’s proposals, the official said.

“It’s almost a done deal,” said the official, who has direct knowledge of the matter.

WHAT I WROTE AT NEWLEY.COM

Book Notes: The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. My notes from the 1997 business classic that gave rise to the term “disruptive innovation."

Is This Arsenal’s Year? Probably not. But still. One can hope, no?

The difference between saying something and actually doing it. Insprired by an interaction with an Uber driver here in New Delhi.

5 ITEMS THAT ARE WORTH YOUR TIME THIS WEEK:

1) A history professor analyzes the so-called “alt-right.” The Univeristy of Massachusetts Amherst’s Daniel Gordon says he discerns a “cluster of conservative principles that need to be understood if we wish to comprehend the terms of political debate that are going to endure in America for many years to come.”

Ignore the headline and read the whole thing. I haven’t had time to think too deeply about it, but it raises some interesting questions.

2) Trump will put American institutions to the test, but they will survive, Francis Fukuyama argues. He writes:

Americans believe deeply in the legitimacy of their constitutional system, in large measure because its checks and balances were designed to provide safeguards against tyranny and the excessive concentration of executive power. But that system in many ways has never been challenged by a leader who sets out to undermine its existing norms and rules. So we are embarked in a great natural experiment that will show whether the United States is a nation of laws or a nation of men.

3) Why do movie villains often have British accents? I’m not sure this piece answers the question, but it’s a thought-provoking look at perceptions and speech.

4) Rich people in Silicon Valley are girding for the apocalypse. Fun New Yorker story by Evan Osnos that will not surprise fans of the show “Doomsday Preppers.”

5) And finally, just because: This dude created crossbow that fires in full automatic mode. #Ingenuity.

NEWLEY’S NOTES SHOUTOUTS

– Thanks to longtime pal Wendy H., who last week tweeted:

“Anytime I learn a new use for square knots AND for viewing YouTube, I’m happy. Sign up for @Newley ’s Notes: http://www.tinyletter.com/newley

What’d I miss? Send me links, rants, raves, and anything else! My email: n@newley.com

Thanks for reading.

Love,
Newley

The difference between saying something and actually doing it 

About a quarter of the time I take Ubers here in Delhi the driver asks me, when I get out, to give him a five-star rating. (Drivers must maintain a certain rating to ensure they can continue working on the platform.)

Usually I just nod my head and say “yeah okay,” and proceed to give them whatever score I would have given them anyway. 

The other day a driver did something different. 

As I was getting out of the car he said “sir” to get my attention, then pointed at his phone, where he had selected five stars in his rating for me

Then when he saw I was looking, he pressed submit.

When it came time for me to score him later, I also gave him a similar rating. 

He was a good driver indeed, but he also understood the law of reciprocity. He knew the difference between just saying something and actually taking action. And that I may well feel inclined to help him out too (since riders are also ranked). 

Clever. 

Is This Arsenal’s Year?

Alexis Sanchez just scored a panenka in the 98th minute to secure three points for #Arsenal and move into second place — after Arsenal gave up a foolish penalty just a few minutes earlier in stoppage time. 

Chelsea have a five point lead with a game in hand. 

But still. 
But still:
Could this be our year? 

UPDATE: Naturally, Chelsea won and the gap is back to eight points. As you were. 

Book Notes: The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

Note: From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned from books I’ve found especially useful, and to point out to readers titles I think are worth consulting.

For more, see my Book Notes category

Innovatorsdilemma

The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

Published: 1997
ISBN: 1633691780
Amazon link

Brief Summary

In this 1997 business classic, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen pioneered the theory of “disruptive innovation,” the phenomenon in which upstart firms displace established ones by taking advantage of emerging technologies.

To really understand what “disruption” means, avoid 95% of the tech commentary you’ll read on the subject, and go right to the source: this book.

My notes:

  • It’s impossible to avoid the word “disruption” these days. Company X is disrupting company Y, a pundit might say. Or someone at a startup you’ve never heard of will proclaim that their company is “disrupting the [fill in the blank] space.” That sort of thing.

    But people often use the term incorrectly, as a trendy way to say “competing with” or “shaking up” a sector. You should read this book to understand what “disruption” really means.

  • Technological “disruption,” as Christensen illustrates through historical examples, is what happens when upstart companies dislodge dominant firms with their often less expensive products that are at first deemed to be insufficient to meet large customers’ needs. But then things shift and the previously inferior offerings displace the mainstream ones.
  • For example, 3.-5-inch disk drives came along that larger manufacturers eschewed because most of their customers needed bigger ones. But then desktop PCs rose to prominence, and they required smaller drives, and it was too late for older manufactures, who hadn’t introduced newer products, to catch up with their faster-moving rivals.

    Another example: Small Honda motorbikes didn’t take off at first in the U.S., but then people realized they were great for dirt biking, and even getting around town, and they eventually disrupted companies making larger motorbikes.

    And so called “mini mills” at first offered lower-quality products than larger steel mills, but then their technology improved rapidly, and they disrupted traditional integrated mills.

  • Crucially, some forget that the “dilemma” in the title refers to the fact that many well-run, highly profitable firms are often disrupted despite that the fact they seem to be doing all the right things.

    That is, they are making money, satisfying their customers, and delivering value to shareholders. The dilemma is that precisely by doing those things, however, they become vulnerable to new, disruptive technologies.

    They are giving customers what they want, so why should managers change course? A major problem: Customers often don’t know what they’re going to want a few years down the line, and when market demand shifts, an upstart firm may have come along and already started offering it.

Amazon India Doormat Flap; Assessing the G.A.N.; You’re Tying Your Shoelaces Wrong — This Week’s Newley’s Notes

2017 01 19mountains

Edition 80 of my email newsletter went out to subscribers yesterday. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox before I post them here, enter your email address here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief, and few people unsubscribe.


Hi friends, thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter in which I share links to my stories and various items I think are worth highlighting.

WHAT I WROTE IN THE WSJ

Amazon Yanks Indian-Flag Doormats as New Delhi Threatens Punishment. The story begins:

Amazon.com Inc. pulled doormats emblazoned with the Indian flag from its Canadian website after the South Asian nation’s foreign minister threatened to oust the Seattle company’s employees.

“This is unacceptable,” Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter Wednesday in response to a posting from a user showing an image of the doormats for sale.

Ms. Swaraj, who has 7 million followers on the platform, called on Amazon to remove the “insulting” products and threatened to rescind visas for Amazon’s foreign staff in India if action wasn’t taken.

India a key market for Amazon’s future growth. The company does not want to anger consumers – or public officials – here.

WHAT I WROTE AT NEWLEY.COM

Book Notes: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

My notes from an excellent book about Jeff Bezos and the rise of his powerful, controversial company.

On Austin Tice, Syria, and Risks Freelancers Take.

Musings on a long story in Texas Monthly about Tice’s mysterious disappearance while reporting in Syria, and how dangerous being a freelancer in a conflict zone can be.

FIVE ITEMS THAT ARE WORTH YOUR TIME THIS WEEK:

1) Cool: weed helps chronic pain. Not cool: it’s totally bad for your lungs. Those are among the conclusions of a lengthy U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report that examined over 10,000 studies, according to Quartz. The full study is here.

2) What is, truly, the G.A.N.? That’s Great American Novel, of course. Literary Hub has a survey of the contenders, from “The Great Gatsby” and “Moby Dick” to works by Toni Morrison and Jonathan Franzen.

3) Sick of those “Best 30 Under 30 Lists”? At NewYorker.com, Bess Kalb gives us “A Selection of the 30 Most Disappointing Under 30.”

Sample: “Joanna Feldman, twenty-two: Misquoted E. E. Cummings in her rib-cage tattoo.”

4) This simple shoelace-tying trick will change your life. Basically, if your shoes ever come undone, you’re doing your granny knots wrong. Take it away, Dr. Shoelace. And don’t miss the video. You will never again resort to double knots.

5) I love this concept: Astronaut.io is a website that provides a stream of YouTube videos that “have almost zero previous views.”

“Today, you are an Astronaut,” the site says. “You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see. You are people watching. These are fleeting moments.

Thanks for reading.

Love,
Newley

Book Notes: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

Note: From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited after many years. For more such posts, see the Book Notes category

everything_store

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, by Brad Stone

Published: 2013
ISBN: 0316219282
Amazon link

Brief Summary

The fascinating story of the rise of Amazon, which is the story of Jeff Bezos himself. He is brilliant, analytical, highly competitive, and driven. Bezos built Amazon not only to create the best contemporary company of its kind, vanquishing all rivals, but engineered systems to innovate and continue to succeed well into the future.

My notes:

  • I read this book as part of the research for my Wall Street Journal story, published in November, about Amazon’s rapid progress here in India. I wanted to learn as much as I could about Amazon. I couldn’t have picked a better book.
  • Author Brad Stone, who covered Amazon for years for the likes of The New York Times and Newsweek, provides the fascinating story of Bezos’s personal background, his early academic success, and his bold decision to leave a high-paying Wall Street job to move out west and found Amazon.
  • The book is not a hagiography, however. Bezos and Amazon are presented warts and all. Anecdotes show the Amazon founder to be at times ruthless in his quest for success, and other times enormously generous. And the high-pressure nature of Amazon’s corporate culture is plain to see.
  • I’m old enough to recall the dotcom bust, but “The Everything Store” serves as a good reminder to younger readers just how bleak things got for Amazon, when its stock fell and many believed one of its e-commerce competitors, eBay, would be the runaway success, not Amazon.
  • From a communications perspective, it’s interesting to note the book highlights several instances when new public announcements have been timed over the years to conincide with competitors’ quarterly results, as a way to steal their thunder. And Bezos himself is a master at messaging, honing “Jeff-isms” to express the company’s point of view in a pithy manner, often deflect various criticisms of the company along the way.
  • If you want to learn more about Bezoz, Amazon, and its culture, Stone has helpfully provided a list of “a dozen books widely read by executives and employees that are integral to understanding the company. Some of the titles include the novel “The Remains of the Day,” books by Sam Walton and Alan Greenberg, and modern-day business classics like “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “The Black Swan.”

On Austin Tice, Syria, and Risks Freelancers Take

syria

Though it was published back in October, I only yesterday read this in-depth Texas Monthly story by Sonia Smith on Austin Tice.

Tice, a former Marine and budding freelance photojournalist, disappeared in Syria in 2012.

There has been little information available publicly since then about his fate, aside from a haunting video posted online after his apparent capture.

After reading the story, I came across some recent reports from earlier this month in which his parents say the Obama administration has told them they believe their son is alive.

Of course, it is unclear what will happen now with President-Elect Trump taking office.

The Texas Monthly story serves as a reminder of:

  • Just how violent and long-running the Syria conflict has been
  • The difficulty news organizations have had reporting on the situation, since journalists have specifically been targeted
  • In Tice’s case, the risks that reporters have taken to cover the war — particularly freelancers, who may have little training and organizational support, and may be especially motivated to take risks in order to make a name for themselves.

    For example, in the story, several fellow reporters say they cautioned the clearly brave Tice to be more cautious in his reporting, to not venture into especially dangerous areas, and not to post on social media about this whereabouts.