‘Rick Steves Wants to Set You Free’

2019 03 25 travel

Rick Steves is absolutely American. He wears jeans every single day. He drinks frozen orange juice from a can. He likes his hash browns burned, his coffee extra hot. He dislikes most fancy restaurants; when he’s on the road, he prefers to buy a foot-long Subway sandwich and split it between lunch and dinner. He has a great spontaneous honk of a laugh — it bursts out of him, when he is truly delighted, with the sharpness of a firecracker on the Fourth of July. Steves is so completely American that when you stop to really look at his name, you realize it’s just the name Rick followed by the plural of Steve — that he is a one-man crowd of absolutely regular everyday American guys: one Rick, many Steves. Although Steves spends nearly half his life traveling, he insists, passionately, that he would never live anywhere but the United States — and you know when he says it that this is absolutely true. In fact, Steves still lives in the small Seattle suburb where he grew up, and every morning he walks to work on the same block, downtown, where his parents owned a piano store 50 years ago. On Sundays, Steves wears his jeans to church, where he plays the congas, with great arm-pumping spirit, in the inspirational soft-rock band that serenades the congregation before the service starts, and then he sits down and sings classic Lutheran hymns without even needing to refer to the hymnal. Although Steves has published many foreign-language phrase books, the only language he speaks fluently is English. He built his business in America, raised his kids in America and gives frequent loving paeans to the glories of American life.

And yet: Rick Steves desperately wants you to leave America.

That’s just one of the many fantastic passages in Sam Anderson’s profile of travel guru Rick Steves, just out in the New York Times Magazine.

Very much worth a read.

Newley’s Notes 170: Chinese Apps: Huge in India – Facebook Exec Reshuffle – Theranos Doc – Kratu’s Jaunt

2019 03 20abstract

Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

🆕 My latest story came out Thursday. The headline:

India’s Newest Internet Users Are Addicted to These Apps From China.

🔥 “Facebook is boring,” one user told us.

Among the apps seeing huge growth especially among local language users in rural areas: Like, Bigo Live, Helo and TikTok.

I shared some screen shots of some of the wild and wacky content on these platforms in this twitter thread.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

😢 1) New Zealand Shooting Suspect Ranged Widely Online and Off [WSJ]…

“The internet has made it easier for extremists, whether they are jihadists or white supremacists, to find each other and radicalize, said Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and consultant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. ‘Social media becomes a host for the virus to be transmitted,’ he said.”

😞 2) …and Why Video of New Zealand Massacre Can’t Be Stamped Out

“The vast cloning of the footage underlines a stark reality in the era of live online broadcasting: These videos can’t be cut off.

💡 3) Mark Zuckerberg is taking total control again [Recode]

"On Thursday, Facebook lost one of its most important, and arguably its most beloved, company executives. Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer and Zuckerberg’s top consigliere, announced that he was leaving the company after 13 years. Chris Daniels, who has been running WhatsApp for the past year, also announced his departure."

🚨 4) All the Crime, All the Time: How Citizen Works [NY Times]

“Under the hood, Citizen is essentially a transcription service for emergency radio. The company employs teams of people to listen to police, fire and emergency radio transmissions and to submit certain categories of incident for including in the app.”

🎮 5) How an App for Gamers Went Mainstream [The Atlantic]

Discord is a real-time chat platform that was founded four years ago as a way to make it easier for gamers to communicate. But over the past year, it has outgrown its origin story and become the default place where influencers, YouTubers, Instagram meme accounts, and anyone with an audience can connect with their community.”

📓 6) The New Canon: What’s the most influential book of the past 20 years? [Chronicle of Higher Education]

“We invited scholars from across the academy to tell us what they saw as the most influential book published in the past 20 years.”

📹 7) Who wants to join the cult of video artist Matthew Barney? [Washington Post]

“Twenty years ago, Barney, who turns 52 this month, was described by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times as ‘the most important artist of his generation.’ If importance can be measured in terms of influence, Kimmelman’s claim has been borne out.”

💉 8) “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” Official Trailer [YouTube]

“From Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney comes a documentary about the rise and fall of Theranos, the one-time multibillion-dollar healthcare company founded by Elizabeth Holmes. Premieres March 18 on HBO.”

💯 9) The best books on Dogs [5 Books]

“José Castelló, author of the delightful field guide, Canids of the World: Wolves, Wild Dogs, Foxes, Jackals, Coyotes, and Their Relatives recommends some of the best books to read on dogs and other canids.”

🏆 10) Kratu The Happy-Go-Lucky Rescue Dog Has A Mind Of His Own [YouTube]

“Funny video of Kratu the Romanian rescue dog enjoying a run out on the agility course at Crufts 2019.”

Quote of the week:

⚡ "The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” – Bertrand Russell

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India’s Newest Internet Users Are Addicted to These Apps From China

2019 03 15chinese apps

That’s the headline on my latest story, out yesterday. It begins:

NEW DELHI—Some of China’s quirkiest social-media firms are signing up hundreds of millions of consumers in India, tech’s biggest untapped market, looking to capture users who aren’t already locked into Facebook , Twitter or other American apps.

Chinese content-sharing apps such as Bigo Inc.’s Like and Bigo Live, along with Bytedance Ltd.’s Helo and TikTok, are taking off in this country of 1.3 billion, where most people are getting online for the first time using low-cost smartphones and dirt-cheap data plans. These apps, with ad-supported models, feature hours and hours of mostly wacky and often titillating content: brief videos of slapstick gags, girls blowing kisses, patriotic songs, teens twerking to the latest Bollywood hits and more.

Their simple interfaces appeal to users such as Asha Limbu, a 31-year-old from the northeastern state of Manipur who works as a housekeeper in New Delhi. In between doing housework for a middle class family, Ms. Limbu spends three hours a day on Like, scrolling through hundreds of tiny videos in a sitting and connecting with friends and strangers along the way.

“Facebook is boring,” she said. She has heard of Twitter and Instagram but never tried them.

Click through to read the rest.

Newley’s Notes 169: India Election Dates — Zuckerberg’s ‘Pivot’ — Elizabeth Warren, Trust Buster? — Ebullient Weiner Dogs

2019 03 10 india mountains

Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

🚨 Breaking news just out from my WSJ colleague Krishna Pokharel: Indian Election Dates Set for April and May. The big picture:

India announced the rolling dates Sunday for national elections, setting the stage for the world’s biggest democracy to decide this spring whether to leave popular Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his conservative party in power.

And the details: “Elections will happen in seven stages starting on April 11 and ending May 19, with counting of votes to begin on May 23.”

📰 Meanwhile, I had two stories out this week.

The first: India Wants Facebook to Curb Fake News Ahead of Elections. It begins:

India is pushing Facebook Inc. to do more to combat fake news ahead of coming national elections, underscoring global scrutiny on the social-media titan.

All eyes on are on social media platforms like Facebook.

And the second: Uber Partner Picks Up $1.5 Billion From SoftBank. The lede:

Southeast Asian ride-hailing company Grab Holdings Inc. has raised $1.46 billion in fresh funding from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., which it will use to fuel its expansion beyond transportation services.

More moolah for Grab. Watch out, Go-Jek.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🔮 1) Facebook Plans New Emphasis on Private Communications [WSJ]

Facebook Inc., which became the world’s biggest social network by encouraging people to share photos and messages publicly, said it is now betting on the opposite: that the future of social media lies in private messaging and small-group chats.

Our tech columnist, Chris Mims, writes:

“Nothing in Mr. Zuckerberg’s manifesto or subsequent statements question the fundamental premise of Facebook’s business, which is gathering more data about us in order to reach us with more-targeted and effective advertising.”

(On the “pivot” to private, you may recall what I wrote in NN 144 last year, when I linked to a story about a new messaging app popular with college students: “Who needs Facebook when you have WhatsApp groups?”)

✖ 2) Elizabeth Warren says she wants to break up Amazon, Google, and Facebook [The Verge]

“The proposal is the most stringent stance taken by a candidate in the presidential campaign so far. Warren, pointing to the antitrust battle over Microsoft in the 1990s, said the companies must be broken up to stimulate competition in a monopolistic market.”

💊 3) FDA Approves Esketamine, the First Major Depression Treatment to Reach U.S. Market in Decades [Scientific American]

“The drug is related to ketamine, a common anesthetic that’s sometimes misused recreationally. Many experts have hailed esketamine as a critical option for patients in dire need of new treatments–particularly because it might work faster than existing antidepressants.”

📍 4) The Geography of Partisan Prejudice [The Atlantic]

“In general, the most politically intolerant Americans, according to the analysis, tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban.”

👓 5) How badly are we being ripped off on eyewear? Former industry execs tell all [LA Times]

“‘You can get amazingly good frames, with a Warby Parker level of quality, for $4 to $8,’ Butler said. ‘For $15, you can get designer-quality frames, like what you’d get from Prada.’”

🍴 6) The A.I. Diet [NY Times]

“Only recently, with the ability to analyze large data sets using artificial intelligence, have we learned how simplistic and naïve the assumption of a universal diet is…A good diet, it turns out, has to be individualized.

✋ 7) Code hidden in Stone Age art may be the root of human writing [New Scientist]

“The moment she flipped the first one, she knew the trip had been worthwhile. The X and straight lines were symbols she had seen together and separately on various cave walls. Now here they were, with the X sandwiched between two lines to form a compound character. ”

👫 8) Couple has eaten at the same Wichita restaurant six nights a week for 15 years [The Wichita Eagle]

"‘It’s just about as cheap as going to the grocery store, buying your groceries, coming home, heating up the kitchen and doing the dishes,’ he said. ’If your time’s worth anything to you, it’s about the same as eating at home but you get a lot better service.’”

📖 9) African American History Books recommended by Imani Perry [5 Books]

“Bringing to light the long hidden suffering of human beings or their agency in earning freedom is a matter of urgency for me. I became a historian because I wanted to flesh all that out.”

🌭 10) What, Never saw a hotdog wiggle so much? [Reddit video] – (Thanks, Anasuya!)

Quote of the week:

💡 “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, “Mother Night.”

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👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

India Wants Facebook to Curb Fake News Ahead of Elections

2019 03 08facebook india fake news

That’s the headline of my most recent story, which I wrote with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

NEW DELHI—India is pushing Facebook Inc. to do more to combat fake news ahead of coming national elections, underscoring global scrutiny on the social-media titan.

A closed Indian parliamentary panel on Wednesday asked Joel Kaplan, the company’s global policy chief, to ensure the social network, its WhatsApp messaging service and its photo-sharing app Instagram wouldn’t be abused as the world’s biggest democracy goes to the polls. India’s election commission is expected to announce soon that the elections will begin in March or April.

“We discussed the challenges faced with these platforms, especially with regard to data security and citizens’ privacy,” Anurag Thakur, a parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who heads the panel on information technology, told The Wall Street Journal.

Click through to read the rest.

Uber Partner Picks Up $1.5 Billion From SoftBank

2019 03 08grab

That’s the headline on a story out Wednesday that I wrote with my colleague Saurabh Chaturvedi. It begins:

SINGAPORE—Southeast Asian ride-hailing company Grab Holdings Inc. has raised $1.46 billion in fresh funding from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., which it will use to fuel its expansion beyond transportation services.

That brings the total from Grab’s latest fundraising round, over the past year, to more than $4.5 billion, the company said Wednesday. The SoftBank investment is through the conglomerate’s Vision Fund, which has stakes in some of the world’s most valuable tech companies.

Click through to read the rest.

NN 168: Amazon Grocery Stores; Facebook Moderator Woes; Best Personality Quiz; K9 Kenobi

Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

"There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” – Vladimir Lenin

🔮 That quotation came to mind over the last few days, when we simultaneously saw:

Or, to put things in more modern parlance:

IMG 1452

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🏪 1) Amazon to Launch New Grocery-Store Business [WSJ]

“The company plans to open its first outlet, in Los Angeles, as early as the end of the year, one person said…Additional talks are under way for Amazon grocery stores in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, the people familiar with the matter said. The new stores would be distinct from the company’s upscale Whole Foods Market chain. ”

💻 2) The Trauma Floor: The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America [The Verge]

“Collectively, the employees described a workplace that is perpetually teetering on the brink of chaos. It is an environment where workers cope by telling dark jokes about committing suicide, then smoke weed during breaks to numb their emotions.”

🚗 3) Lyft’s IPO Could Start a Record Year For New Tech Listings [WSJ]

“Lyft Inc. made its IPO papers public Friday, a move that fires the starting gun on what is expected to be one of the biggest years ever for initial public offerings.”

📝 4) What’s Next For New Yorker Reporter Jane Mayer? [Elle]

“‘She’s the best investigative reporter in America,’ says Daniel Zalewski, her New Yorker editor. ‘Not the best female investigative reporter.’”

🆒 5) At Deadspin, can the cool kids of the sports Internet become its moral authority? [Washington Post]

“Deadspin is currently for sale by parent company Univision, but even as it wrestles with the uncertain economics of digital media, there is a more fundamental question for the site. The enfant terrible has grown up: Is the new version righteous or self-righteous?

🔬 6) Genetic testing firms share your DNA data more than you think [Axios]

“Genetic testing companies that trace customers’ ancestry are amassing huge databases of DNA information, and some are sharing access with law enforcement, drug makers and app developers.

👎 7) China bars millions from travel for ‘social credit’ offenses [AP]

“Would-be air travelers were blocked from buying tickets 17.5 million times last year for ‘social credit’ offenses including unpaid taxes and fines under a controversial system the ruling Communist Party says will improve public behavior.”

💁 8) Most Personality Quizzes Are Junk Science. Take One That Isn’t. [FiveThirtyEight]

“Meet the Big Five, the way most psychologists measure and test personality. It’s a system built on decades of research about how people describe one another and themselves. ”

😓 9) The Most Effective Form of Exercise Isn’t ‘Exercise’ At All [Quartz]

“Even brief sessions of 20 seconds of stair-climbing (60 steps) repeated three times a day on three days per week over six weeks can lead to measurable improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness.”

📷 🐶 10) K9 Can’t Stop Kissing His Partner During Photo Shoot [The Dodo]

“While Knach appears to be trying his best to strike an appropriately stoic and professional pose at first, Kenobi evidently had other ideas.” (Thanks, Anasuya!)

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NN 167: My Newest Page One Story; Non-Secret Google Nest Mic; Oscars Re-Cap; Elizabeth Holmes’s ‘Wolf’


Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

📰 A story I wrote with my colleagues Rajesh Roy and Dustin Volz ran on the front page of Friday’s WSJ.

The hed: U.S. Campaign Against Huawei Runs Aground.

And the lede:

Washington has hit an unlikely roadblock in its extraordinary global push to sideline China’s Huawei Technologies Co.: the world’s biggest democracy, India.

📶 Click through to read the rest, including details on the why the American government is trying to thwart Huawei’s expansion, what so-called 5G technologies promise, and why India’s mobile operators say they’re not buying Washington’s warnings.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

⚠ 1) You Give Apps Sensitive Personal Information. Then They Tell Facebook [WSJ]

“The social-media giant collects intensely personal information from many popular smartphone apps just seconds after users enter it, even if the user has no connection to Facebook, according to testing done by The Wall Street Journal.”

🎤 2) Google claims built-in Nest mic was ‘never intended to be a secret’ [The Verge]

“Google has admitted it made an error when it didn’t disclose that its Nest Secure home security system included an on-device microphone.

🏆 3) Oscars 2019: ‘Green Book,’ Rami Malek and Olivia Colman Are Winners [NY Times]

“‘Green Book,’’ about a white chauffeur and his black client in segregation-era America, won best picture and two other trophies at the 91st Academy Awards, overcoming a series of awards-season setbacks and mixed critical notices.”

🧠 4) China’s CRISPR twins might have had their brains inadvertently enhanced [MIT Technology Review]

“‘The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,’ says Silva. He says the exact effect on the girls’ cognition is impossible to predict, and ‘that is why it should not be done.’”

📋 5) How Letterboards Took Over America [Slate]

“Since that fateful day when the photo of Wynn went up, letterboards have transcended baby photos – and Instagram – to become something you see just about everywhere.

😔 6) America’s Professional Elite: Wealthy, Successful and Miserable [NY Times Magazine]

“…even in a boom economy, a surprising portion of Americans are professionally miserable right now.

🐺 7) She Never Looks Back: Inside Elizabeth Holmes’s Chilling Final Months at Theranos

“Around this same time, Holmes says that she discovered that Balto – like most huskies – had a tiny trace of wolf origin. Henceforth, she decided that Balto wasn’t really a dog, but rather a wolf. In meetings, at cafés, whenever anyone stopped to pet the pup and ask his breed, Holmes soberly replied, ‘He’s a wolf.’

📍8) A Detailed Map of Medieval Trade Routes in Europe, Asia, and Africa [Kottke]

“It’s not quite globalization, but many of the world’s peoples were well on their way to connecting with everyone else.”

🌋 9) The Perfect Shot [Twitter: @ABC]

“Yosemite National Park is again wowing visitors and photographers with its annual ”firefall“ – the moment every February when the setting sun illuminates Horsetail Fall to make it glow like a cascade of molten lava.

🌟 10) Watch: Dog Makes Amazing 83-Yard Frisbee Catch at AAF Orlando Apollos Game [SI]

“The new Alliance of American Football league is only in its third week of action and there’s already one play that should be nominated for catch of the year.

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My Latest Page One Story: U.S. Campaign Against Huawei Runs Aground

IMG 1359

That’s the headline on a Page One story I wrote with my colleagues Rajesh Roy and Dustin Volz. It ran online Thursday and in Friday’s paper.

It begins:

Washington has hit an unlikely roadblock in its extraordinary global push to sideline China’s Huawei Technologies Co.: the world’s biggest democracy, India.

Policy makers and telecommunications firms here are so far largely unpersuaded by U.S. warnings that using Huawei’s equipment to upgrade India’s telecom networks presents a major cybersecurity threat, according to more than a dozen government officials and industry executives. Many argue that any such risk is outweighed by Huawei’s cut-rate prices and technological prowess.

Click through to read the rest.

Book Notes: ‘The Upstarts,’ by Brad Stone


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. They’re neither formal book reviews nor comprehensive book summaries, but I hope you find them useful.

For previous postings, see my Book Notes category.

The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World

Published: 2017
ISBN: 0316388394
Amazon link

Brief Summary

A detailed account of how Uber and Airbnb – two startups that launched around the same time and took advantage of similar new technological trends – upended the taxi and hotel industries.

My Notes

  • This is the second book I’ve read by journalist and author Brad Stone. The first was “The Everything Store,” which I loved and wrote about in an earlier Books Notes entry. That book is the definitive account of how Jeff Bezos made Amazon into a global behemoth.

    “The Upstarts” focuses not on one company, but two: Uber and Airbnb. (I began reading this book in preparation for interviewing Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, last month.)

  • Both Uber and Airbnb benefited from shifting technological trends. As Stone writes, both emerged just as the iPhone and the concept of apps was beginning to take hold; Facebook was growing quickly and encouraging people to “establish their identities online;” Google Maps was emerging and could be integrated by third party apps; and broadband web use was soaring, Stone notes.

  • Both “own little in the way of physical assets.”

  • Founders of both startups lacked lofty ambitions like Google (“organize the world’s information”) or Facebook (“make the world more open and connected”).

    Rather, “Camp, Kalanick and their friends wanted to ride around San Francisco in Style. Chesky and his cohorts were looking for a way to make some extra cash when a conference came to town.”

  • Beyond noting the two startups’ similarities, the book takes a straightforward approach to recounting of how both grew rapidly, encountered challenges, and then overcame them.

    The brash, ambitions, entrepreneurial, math whiz Kalanick was just what Uber needed to grow at a breakneck pace and vanquish rivals. But his personal shortfalls, Stone writes, later got the company into trouble.

    At Airbnb*, Chesky and his co-founders placed an overarching emphasis on the notion of community; they, too, faced some obstacles on their way to success.

    *The original name of the site was Airbedandbreakfast.com, which was later shortened to Airbnb. For some reason I’d always thought the name was “bnb,” for “bed and breakfast,” with an “Air” appended to it.

  • As with “The Everything Store,” which I read to better understand Amazon, I recommend “The Upstarts” if you’d like a better grasp on Uber and Airbnb, and how their early days and culture inform their current activities.