NN 159: Apple’s India Woes; Year’s Best Longreads; NYC Diners; Silly Dog Pics

2018 12 30forest

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

😐 1) Literally Just A Big List Of Facebook’s 2018 Scandals [Buzzfeed News]

“If you thought 2018 was tough for you, imagine being a staffer in Facebook’s public relations department.”

🔖 2) Best of 2018 [Longform]

“We recommended 1,138 articles articles this year. These were our favorites.”

🎮 3) Fortnite isn’t a game, it’s a place [Charged]

“Not only is Fortnite the new hangout spot, replacing the mall, Starbucks or just loitering in the city, it’s become the coveted ‘third place’ for millions of people around the world.”

🍳 4) What 24 hours in a diner taught me about New York [Economist/1843]

"I’d petitioned the owner of the Chelsea Square, John Lapsadis, to let me spend 24 hours at one of his booths, to see life here from sunrise to sunrise. He’d shrugged. ’Do what you want.’”

⛔ 5) Digital detox: Resorts offer perks for handing over phones [AP]

“Some resorts are offering perks, like snorkeling tours and s’mores, to guests who manage to give up their phones for a few hours. Some have phone-free hours at their pools; others are banning distracting devices from public places altogether.”

😞 6) Latent Prejudice Stirs When a Black Man Tries to Join a Charleston Club [NY Times]

“Dr. Brown was the only African-American nominee, and the only one to receive a subtle tap on the shoulder on the way back into the room. Eleven black marbles had been dropped in his box.”

📺 7) Few people are actually trapped in filter bubbles. Why do they like to say that they are? [Nieman Lab]

“Media choice has become more of a vehicle of political self-expression than it once was…Partisans therefore tend to overestimate their use of partisan outlets, while most citizens tune out political news as best they can.”

👂 8) Amazon error allowed Alexa user to eavesdrop on another home [Reuters]

“The customer had asked to listen back to recordings of his own activities made by Alexa but he was also able to access 1,700 audio files from a stranger when Amazon sent him a link, German trade publication c’t reported.”

⚽ 9) The best football tweets of 2018 [BBC]

“…what’s important here is not the actual events themselves but how the beautiful game was documented on Twitter.”

😂 10) Dog-related image of the week: Picture makes me laugh every time!! [Reddit]

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018


Here’s the best of what I read in 2018.

As in previous round-ups, some of these titles came out this year, while others were published in years past.


  • Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World,” by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. The first of two astoundingly good books by WSJ colleagues this year. Even if, like me, you’ve followed the 1MDB scandal, you’ll find here a ton of surprising, colorful, mind-boggling details, not to mention memorable characters. I think this will go down as a narrative nonfiction business classic.
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou. The second book by a WSJ colleage. The crazy story of Theranos, founder Elizabeth Holmes, and a cautionary tale about how investors can be duped by powerful personalities.
  • The Other One Percent: Indians in America,” by Sanjoy Chakravorty, Devesh Kapur and Nirvikar Singh. A rigorous work, full of data, that explains the factors that have contributed to the remarkable success of Indians (and Indian-Americans) in the U.S. My Book Notes entry is here.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Yuval Noah Harari. A compelling, accessible, intriguing look at our species. Worth all the attention it has gotten since its 2015 publication. My Book Notes entry is here.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. I’d heard about this book for a long time. The first half is a harrowing Holocaust survival memoir. The second is a guide to Frankl’s theory of logotherapy. I understand now why so many people say this is the single book that has affected them more than any other. “The meaning of life is to give life meaning,” as Frankl writes.
  • India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy,” by Ramachandra Guha. An exhaustive (it’s more than 900 pages long), impressively researched work: everything you need to know (and then some) about India since independence. I will keep a copy on my desk for reference. On the one hand, the level of detail can make for slow going; on the other hand, India’s history is so complicated that there can be no short cuts in a book like this.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” by Katherine Boo. A moving introduction to the plight of India’s poor.
  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” by Tim Wu. A timely read, given the rise of powers like Facebook and Google. Book Notes entry is here.
  • Fiction

    Last year I noted that I’d read just two memorable novels that year. My consumption of fiction this year, sadly, has again been low.

    I am always tempted to read nonfiction books related to work – India, tech, business – and I sometimes forget that in tackling both the universal and the particular, novels have a unique power. They build empathy and communicate truths in ways that sometimes nonfiction cannot. For example, take my favorite novel of the year, by Mohsin Hamid…

  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel,” by Mohsin Hamid. I just recently finished this novel. It was stunning. It’s a parody of a self help book, told in a unique fashion.
  • It succeeds as a page turner, as a thrilling rags to riches tale, as a romance, and also as a realistic look at society, money, power and corruption in South Asia.

    (It is set in an unnamed country that appears to be Hamid’s home country, Pakistan, but there are many echoes of India.)

    This is the first book my Hamid that I’ve read, and apparently some feel it’s not even his best. You can bet I will be reading his other works. Highly recommended. (Thanks, Michael, for the gift!)

  • Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville. It had been years since I’d encountered this book back in school, and I decided to pick it up again. I must have read it at some point, but I can’t remember when.
  • I’d forgotten how vivid the prose is. I highlighted this sentence, about Captain Peleg, which I really loved:

    “Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tons upon tons of leviathan gore.”

    Tons of leviathan gore!


  • The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017.
  • The Best Books I Read in 2016.
  • India’s Biometric Feat: Big Boon or Big Brother?

    2018 12 23 aadhaar

    That’s the headline of my most recent story, online here and in Saturday’s print Wall Street Journal.

    It begins:

    Last July, after virtually every adult in India was connected to the world’s biggest biometric identity database, one of the government officials behind it issued a challenge. R.S. Sharma, who oversees the country’s telecom regulatory agency, publicly disclosed his personal ID number in the system and taunted skeptics and potential hackers. “Show me one concrete example where you can do any harm to me!” he tweeted.

    Opponents of the system swarmed, looking to show the dangers of having too much information amassed in one place. They scoured the internet for Mr. Sharma’s personal data by using the ID number to help open digital doors, and claimed some prizes: They uncovered his mobile number and a photo of his daughter and were able to deposit token amounts of money in his bank account. But they couldn’t withdraw funds or corrupt his data, and Mr. Sharma claimed to have proved that the system – which has on file the irises and fingerprints of all of its participants – is secure.

    Mr. Sharma’s challenge reflects the tensions over India’s unique feat. It has reached near-completion just as objections to such giant concentrations of personal data have escalated elsewhere around the world, fueled by controversies surrounding Facebook and Google. Reetika Khera, an economist at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, calls the Indian system “big data meets big brother,” and she and others have aired what they see as its failings, from invasive information-gathering about those within it to dangerous consequences for stragglers left out.

    India says its system—built to cover its 1.3 billion people, a sixth of the world’s population—heralds a new model for governments to marshal citizens’ data, ease digital pathways and fuel their electronic economies, especially in the developing world. India’s Supreme Court in September ruled that the program doesn’t violate citizens’ privacy rights, removing a huge shadow over the program. “It’s mind-boggling that a country like India has pulled it off,” said Anil Jain, a Michigan State University professor who studies biometrics.

    Click through to read the rest.

    iPhone Falls Flat in World’s Largest Untapped Market

    IMG 0364  1

    That’s the headline of my most recent story, which I wrote with my WSJ colleague Tripp Mickle. It’s on the front page of Wednesday’s print paper and online here.

    It begins:

    NEW DELHI–Amit Rajput, who runs a counter selling iPhones in a busy electronics shop here, cuts a lonely figure. He is lucky to sell one device a day, compared with the 10 or more smartphones his colleagues at desks for Samsung Electronics Co. , Nokia Corp. and China’s Oppo sell daily in the same store.

    As customers walk past his display, he recalls a different time in 2013 when he sold as many as 80 iPhones a day. Now most people want to pay less than $300 for their devices—a fraction of what Apple Inc.’s newer models cost.

    Smartphone makers, facing sputtering growth in the rest of the world, have looked to India to make up the difference. With 1.3 billion consumers, the country is the world’s biggest untapped tech market. Just 24% of Indians own smartphones, and the number of users is growing faster than in any other country, according to research firm eMarketer.

    How has that worked out for one of America’s most valuable companies?

    The number of iPhones shipped in India has fallen 40% so far this year compared with 2017, and Apple’s market share there has dropped to about 1% from about 2%, research firm Canalys estimates. The Cupertino, Calif., company posted revenues of $1.8 billion in India this fiscal year. That is less than half of what executives had once hoped to capture, said a person familiar with its targets.

    “It’s been a rout,” said Ishan Dutt, an analyst at Canalys.

    Click through to read the rest.

    NN 157: Microsoft’s Ascent; Facebook Emails; Obscure Trade Journals; Dogs at Weddings

    abstract design

    Here are ten items worth your time this week:

    📈 1) How Microsoft Quietly Became the World’s Most Valuable Company [WSJ]

    “Microsoft Corp. tried through the years to compete in a range of buzzy consumer businesses, but it was Chief Executive Satya Nadella’s focus on selling humdrum yet fast-growing computing services to companies that allowed it to reclaim the title of world’s most valuable company.”

    📧 2) Facebook’s Zuckerberg at Center of Emails Released by U.K. Parliament [WSJ]

    “The U.K. Parliament released on Wednesday a trove of internal Facebook Inc. emails that show Mark Zuckerberg and other executives pursuing hard-nosed tactics to stifle competitors, as well as considering a range of possibilities for monetizing the massive amounts of data the company collected on its users.”

    🤝 3) The Friendship That Made Google Huge [The New Yorker]

    “Coding together at the same computer, Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat changed the course of the company – and the Internet.”

    🎉 4) Instagram Is the New Evite [The Atlantic]

    “Here’s how it works: When teenagers are planning a big party, they’ll sometimes create a new Instagram account, often with a handle that includes the date of the party, like @Nov17partyy or @SarahsBdayOctober27. The account will be set to private, and its bio will list the date of the party and sometimes the handles of the organizers.”

    🎧 5) An appreciation of the long-lost MP3 player skins of yesteryear [BoingBoing]

    Winamp was infinitely customizable, and there was an exuberant practice of coming up with MP3 player skins (some of Winamp’s competitors adopted its skin format, making the skins interoperable among different players), and sites devoted to featuring

    🎥 6) The Best Movies of 2018 [The New Yorker]

    “The gap between what’s good and what’s widely available in theatres – between the cinema of resistance and the cinema of consensus – is wider than ever.”

    Related: Five good SF/F films from 2018 (that you probably missed) [Factor Daily]

    🔭 7) The Best Science Books of 2018 [Five Books]

    “As life on Earth is rocked by conflict and environmental crisis, these serene little scientific emissaries remind us of how different it can be when we collaborate selflessly in the getting of knowledge.”

    Related: Here are the Biggest Fiction Bestsellers of the Last 100 Years [Literary Hub]

    🔨 8) The Trade Journal Cooperative [TradeJournalCooperative.com]

    “Our editors painstakingly comb through the back alleys of capitalism to bring you fascinating publications like Pasta Professional, American Funeral Director, and Plumber Magazine.”

    🦆 9) Quackarazzi: Mandarin duck holds NYC in its spell [AP]

    “A horde of photographers has been gathering daily in the park off Fifth Avenue for well over a month, hoping to catch a glimpse of the exotic bird with pink, purple, orange and emerald green plumage and markings that admirer Joe Amato compares to ‘a living box of crayons.’”

    🎩 10) Dog-related link of the week: Who Let the Dogs Out (at the Wedding)? Readers Respond [NY Times]

    “We asked our readers to submit photos of their dogs, cats and even birds dressed in fancy wedding fashion. Here’s what they shared.”

    NN 156: Gene Editing; Standing Desk Doubts; Year’s Best Books; Cheese Advent Calendars

    2018 12 05abstract

    📹 In NN 154 I mentioned a blog post I wrote about a climbing documentary on Neflix I liked called “Valley Uprising.”

    I’ve got another Netflix doc to recommend: “Get Me Roger Stone.” It came out last year but Anasuya and I just watched it last night.

    It’s about the career of the notorious (a designation of which he would approve) political strategist and lobbyist, beginning with his work on the Nixon campaign and continuing through President Trump’s election.

    (It’s especially timely given Robert Mueller seems to be investigating links between Stone, Wikileaks, and the release of stolen Hilary Clinton emails.)

    On to this week’s NN.

    Here are ten items worth your time this week:

    🔬 1) Chinese Scientist Claims World’s First Genetically Modified Babies [WSJ]

    “Scientists and doctors in China and abroad swiftly rebuked Dr. He after the Associated Press first reported the news of the births on Monday. The global scientific community has previously voiced concern that China is racing ahead with gene-editing experiments without adequate regulation or oversight.”

    🖥️ 2) The End of the Beginning [YouTube]

    “In his now annual state-of-innovation talk at the a16z Summit in November 2018, Andreessen Horowitz’ Benedict Evans walks through where we are now in software eating the world… and how things may continue to change over the next 10 years.”

    💊 3) Are You Sitting Down? Standing Desks Are Overrated [New York Times]

    “Research…suggests that warnings about sitting at work are overblown, and that standing desks are overrated as a way to improve health.”

    🤗 4) Teens Say Social Media Isn’t As Bad For Them As You Might Think [Buzzfeed]

    “Seriously: 81% of teens said it makes them feel more connected to friends, 71% said it helps them show their creative side, 69% said it helps them make friends and with a more diverse group of people, and 68% feel like they have people who support them through tough times.”

    📚 5) The 10 Best Books of 2018 [NY Times]

    “The editors of The Times Book Review choose the best fiction and nonfiction titles this year.”

    📅 6) Forget the chocolate: Advent calendars go for booze, cheese [AP]

    “They’re meant to appeal to nostalgic adults who want to count the days till Christmas with something other than sweets. They’re sold for a limited time, get major social media buzz and tend to sell out quickly.”

    ☠ 7) The Google Cemetery [Gcemtery.co]

    “A total of 44 products have been sent into oblivion.”

    🎿 8) James Niehues: The Man Behind the Map [Kickstarter]

    “Jim has extensively researched, photographed and illustrated nearly every ski map used in North America over the last three decades.”

    🥔 9) Driver: I wasn’t on my phone, I was eating a hash brown [AP]

    “A Connecticut man who says he was wrongly cited for distracted driving after police mistook a McDonald’s hash brown for a cellphone is continuing his legal fight.”

    🐾 10) Dog-related video of the week: Dog’s unbridled joy for soldier’s homecoming goes viral, brings smiles [ABC News]

    “Cassandra Cabrera deployed to Africa when her beloved Miss May was just a puppy. She was worried that by the time she returned, her best friend wouldn’t remember her.”

    👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

    One Year with our Adopted New Delhi Street Dog, Ginger

    November 4th marked one year since we adopted Ginger.

    In her favorite perch

    If you missed my post from March, here’s the backstory and some pics of her as a puppy. This was the day we got her:

    The big day

    To recap: She is a New Delhi street dog and displays many of the characteristics of desidogs (also known as Indogs or Indian pariah dogs.)

    Now almost a year and a half old, she is fully grown, weighing about 20 kg (45 pounds).

    She is an alert, cautious, playful, smart, athletic, and affectionate dog.

    She is also quite protective of our house, springing into action and barking if anyone unfamiliar rattles our gate.

    She also loves to play fetch.

    She is a powerful jumper.

    She doesn’t demand to be by our sides constantly, but does enjoy sleeping near (or sometimes directly on) us.

    Oh, and she definitely has a mischievous streak. She seems to enjoy nothing more than stealing a shoe or a sock as I sit down to put them on before leaving for the office in the morning, prompting me to chase after her (which is no doubt the point of the “game” for her).

    Fetching the newspaper
    Beckoning us to come outside to play
    Shake on it?
    Encountering a goat during a walk in a New Delhi park.
    With a blanket stuck on her ear
    “Oh, did you *not* want your favorite pillow liberated of its stuffing?”
    “Helping” me write a story.
    She eats a healthy diet of chicken, rice and high-grade kibble — but occasionally gets her own pancake on Saturdays. 🙂
    On an outing at Lodhi Garden.

    If you’re interested in adopting a desi dog here in New Delhi (or just want to donate to a good cause) check out the Indian Canine Uplipftment Centre, or ICUC, where we got Ginger.

    They do great work rescuing pups and providing medical services to the city’s huge population of strays.

    We’ve also had some very informative training sessions with Namratha Rao of Pawsitive Tales. She really knows the breed well and is highly skilled. Get in touch with her if you have any dog training needs.

    Here’s to 2019 and beyond with Ginger!

    🍗 NN 154: Flipkart CEO Out; More Facebook Revelations; Turkey Day Bonus: Aunt Cece’s Pecan Pie Recipe

    Here are ten items worth your time this week:

    ⛔ 1. By me and my colleague Sarah Nassauer: Walmart’s Flipkart CEO Steps Down in Wake of Misconduct Allegation. Binny Bansal, an India startup icon, is out.

    💰 2. Also by me, with my colleague Corinne Abrams: India’s Top Payments App Faces Challenge From Google and WhatsApp. The lede:

    India’s biggest mobile-payments startup, Paytm, has wooed hundreds of millions of users and attracted investment from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The biggest challenge for its charismatic founder, 40-year-old Vijay Shekhar Sharma, lies ahead: Keeping Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp at bay as they push into India, the world’s hottest new market for mobile money.

    🌄 3. By me at Newley.com: Excellent Climbing Documentary: ‘Valley Uprising’ — Worth a watch, even if you’re not into the sport.

    🔍 4. Shot: Big tech story this week: Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis [NY Times]. Here are the Times‘s six takeaways.

    😠 5. Chaser: With Facebook at ‘War,’ Zuckerberg Adopts More Aggressive Style [WSJ] — “Mr. Zuckerberg’s new approach is causing unprecedented turmoil atop Facebook, driving several key executives from the company, according to people familiar with the matter,” reports my colleague Deepa Seetharaman.

    ✈️ 6. Thanksgiving travel-related story of the week: Flying over the Thanksgiving holiday? You could help set a record: [ABC News] — More than 30 million people could travel over Turkey Day weekend this year, a new milestone.

    😋 7. Thanksgiving side dish-related graphic of the week: Here’s What Your Part Of America Eats On Thanksgiving [FiveThiryEight] — Wait: Salad?!

    👖 8. Fashion-related story of the week: The Sneaky Way Clothing Brands Hooked Men on Stretch Jeans [The Atlantic] — Note: I will keep my Levi’s 501s, thank you. Is nothing sacred?

    📈 9. Uplifting chart of the week: Human history, in one chart [Vox] — 2018 got you feeling down? Repeat after me: Things. Are. Getting. Better (in the macro sense)!

    👶 10. Dog video of the week: Everything’s terrible, so here’s a kid losing the most adorable fight ever [@RobertMaguire_]. Awesome.

    🍰 BONUS THANKSGIVING LINK: Pecan Pie in Singapore? Don’t Mind If I Do! [WSJ, no paywall] — My piece from 2014, featuring my Aunt Cece’s famous pecan pie recipe and other goodies.

    👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

    Walmart’s Flipkart CEO Steps Down in Wake of Misconduct Allegation

    That’s the headline of my most recent story, which I wrote with my colleague Sarah Nassauer, out Tuesday.

    It begins:

    Walmart Inc. said the chief executive of Flipkart Group, its Indian e-commerce business, resigned following an independent investigation into a personal misconduct allegation.

    Binny Bansal, one of the co-founders of Bangalore-based Flipkart, decided to step down after “recent events risked becoming a distraction,” Walmart said Tuesday.

    Walmart opened an investigation this summer after a former Flipkart employee came forward alleging Mr. Bansal had sexually assaulted her sometime around 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter.

    During the negotiations this year to sell Flipkart to Walmart, Mr. Bansal didn’t disclose the allegation against him or that he had hired security personnel to privately deal with the matter, the person said.

    As part of the investigation, Mr. Bansal told Walmart he had a consensual relationship with the woman and denied he assaulted her, the person said.

    Click through to read the rest.