Categories
Journalism Tech

Dropping WhatsApp? Nostalgia Drives Users to ICQ

ICQ

That’s the headline on my newest story, an offbeat piece — an A-hed, in Wall Street Journal parlance — with my colleague Joyu Wang. It went online yesterday and is on today’s front page. (The print headline: “Wariness of WhatsApp Sends Users on a Nostalgia Trip.”)

It begins:

HONG KONG — WhatsApp users around the world who are worried about the company’s shifting policy on data privacy are flocking to rival messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.

In Hong Kong, some are choosing an alternative that reminds them of their childhood—before algorithms, Big Tech and viral misinformation.

ICQ was a pioneering, mid-1990s internet messaging service then used on bulky PCs on dial-up. It was a precursor to AOL Instant Messenger, and was last in vogue when the TV show “Friends” was in its prime and PalmPilots were cutting edge.

It’s been modernized over the years, and now is an app for smartphones. Lately it has skyrocketed up Hong Kong’s app charts, with downloads jumping 35-fold in the week ending Jan. 12.

“It recalls my childhood memories,” said 30-year-old risk consultant Anthony Wong, who used ICQ when he was in grade school. He has since connected with more than two dozen friends on the platform after some bristled this month at a privacy policy update by WhatsApp that would allow some data to be stored on parent Facebook Inc.’s servers.

Click through to read this rest.

My previous A-heds have been about a globe-trotting McDonald’s food blogger and the phenomenon in India of “good morning” messages.

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN247: Smiling Samoyeds

Steal Like an Artist

Sent as an email newsletter January 24, 2021. Not a Newley’s Notes subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

Photo of the week, above: “Steal Like an Artist,” stolen like an artist. Spotted recently in the Hong Kong MTR.

On to this week’s NN…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

1) 🇺🇸 President Joe Biden was inaugurated on Wednesday. "We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue,” he said. “Or rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.” And…

2) 👏 Twenty-two-year-old Amanda Gorman – the youngest ever inaugural poet – stole the show. (Watch the video, if you missed it.) And…

3) ❄️ Bernie Sanders launched a million memes.

4) ⚾ RIP Hank Aaron.

5) 🎙 RIP Larry King.

6) 🥽 iVR? iHeadset? Apple is working on a virtual reality headset, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports.

7) 🛸 Longread of the week: “Have We Already Been Visited by Aliens?,” by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker.

8) 💪 MuscleWiki is a useful new website that lets you click any muscle on an illustration of the human body to find corresponding exercises and stretches.

9) ⚽ 🧤 Goalkeeper-related video of the week: Tom King, who plays for Newport County, in England’s League Two, scored – from a goal kick!

10) 🍺 The pandemic + the elections + the Capitol Hill attack = a tough time for “dry January.”

•••

🐕 Dog-related video of the week: “Yes… this is me in the video!

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

I’m enjoying Steven Levy’s richly detailed, deeply reported “Facebook: The Inside Story."

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

Steven Soderbergh, on not waiting for permission:

“If you have an im­pulse to cre­ate some­thing, go cre­ate it. Stop sit­ting around think­ing, ‘Oh I can’t be­cause I don’t have X or I don’t know Y.”

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN246: Dog Bless You

watercolor of Hong Kong

Sent as an email newsletter January 18, 2021. Not a Newley’s Notes subscriber yet? Get it here.

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

🎨 Photo of the week, above: a recent watercolor of (part of) Hong Kong’s skyline. Want a hobby that forces you to stay in the moment, and is endlessly humbling? Try watercolors!

On to this week’s NN…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

1) 👉 Two items on the Capitol riot. First, my colleagues in the U.S. have an important story out Sunday showing how the far-right Proud Boys “invoked the president’s rhetoric to build momentum toward violent showdown.”

2) 📹 And second: There’s more video of the attack. The New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson shot some footage (and has an accompanying story), while ProPublica has hundreds of videos that were posted to Parler before the platform was taken down.

3) 🐦 Nick Bilton, author of the 2014 book “Hatching Twitter,” writing in Vanity Fair: “Twitter has locked Donald Trump’s account for 12 hours after he used it to incite violence on a deadly day in Washington. What if they had done that years ago?” (Trump was, of course, later permanently suspended.)

4) 👉 WSJ obit: Phil Spector, Pop-Music Revolutionary Convicted of Murder, Dies at 81.

5) 📰 I love this: “At 80, She Is the Defiant Editor of ‘The Buzz’: Many retirement communities have declined to name names during the pandemic. So she started a newsletter to do just that.”

6) 💧 Dr. Peter Attia: “Do I really need 8 glasses of water a day?” TLDR: probably not.

7) ☀️ Pretty cool: “How Does the Sun Appear on Other Planets?

8) 💯 “100 Tips For A Better Life,” by Conor Barnes.

9) 🏠 “The World’s Largest – and America’s Priciest – Home Is Ready for Its Close-up.” The 105,000 square foot L.A. estate costs a reported $340 million.

10) 👏 Fun photo essay of the week: “Animals interrupting wildlife photographers. A thread…

•••

🐕 Dog-related video of the week: “Stray dog greeting devotees outside the temple.” [Reddit]

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

I’m enjoying “Facebook: The Inside Story,” by Steven Levy.

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“Everything is hard before it is easy.” – Goethe

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN245: The Best Sheep Herding Dog Ever

Ginger and her hoodie

Sent as an email newsletter January 11, 2021. Not a Newley’s Notes subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

❄️ Photo of the week, above: We’re off to a chilly 2021 here in Hong Kong! As in: it’s 8 degrees Celsius/47 Fahrenheit (and windy!) as I write this.

🐾 But don’t worry: As you may have noticed in the previous NN, Ginger is just fine: She’s got a winter-themed hoodie to keep her toasty.

On to this week’s NN…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

1) 🗞 My newest story, which I wrote with my colleague Phred Dvorak, ran on page one just after the new year.

The headline: Oyo Hotel Chain Suffered Ailments Beyond Pandemic’s Travel Slowdown. And the dek: “Thousands of hoteliers have left the company amid troubles that emerged before Covid-19, losses that threaten the hotel network’s global ambitions.” Click through for more.

2) 📚 Just out yesterday at Newley.com: The 15 Best Books I Read in 2020. TLDR: six books about China/Hong Kong, a few classic novels, some philosophical treatises, and…plenty about pandemics.

3) 👉 My colleagues Dan Frosch, Rachael Levy, Khadeeja Safdar, and Erin Ailworth have a comprehensive look at just who was in the crowd that barged into the Capitol Wednesday. The piece begins:

”An Oklahoma grandmother. The CEO of a Chicago-area marketing firm. A Florida man convicted of attempted murder. A leader of the group of far-right street brawlers known as the Proud Boys. An Iraq war veteran who works at a Seattle-area packaging plant. A newly sworn-in West Virginia lawmaker.”

What they shared: “an unfounded certainty that President Trump had won re-election.”

4) ➡️ Another WSJ must-read, this one by my colleagues Michael M. Phillips and Jennifer Levitz: how one Trump fan, Doug Sweet, became part of the mob.

5) 🗣 President Trump is losing his digital megaphones. Axios has a running list of who’s banned him: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…

6) 🦠 Longread of the week: “The Plague Year,” by Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker.

7) 🇫🇷 In happier news: The Champs-Élysées is getting a $225 million makeover. Think: “an extraordinary garden.”

8) ✈️ Random technical observation: I had no idea flight simulators have gotten so realistic. Wow.

9) 🍴 Archaelolgists in Pompeii unearthed a snack bar from 79 A.D. More photos are here.

10) 🦥 Sentence of the week: “If Voirin’s hunch is right, the pygmy sloths might not just look stoned — like all sloths do — but they really are stoned.

•••

🐕 Dog-related video of the week: “Laziest sheep herding dog ever.”

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

Since my last dispatch I finished Nina Teicholz’s outstanding “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” then turned to Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” which I enjoyed.

Now it’s on to “Facebook: The Inside Story,” by Steven Levy.

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be and so I’m on my way home." — Bob Dylan, in the 2005 Martin Scorsese documentary, “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.”

•••

🤗 What’s new with you? Hit reply to send me tips, queries, random comments, and videos of working dogs that are hardly working.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Books

The 15 Best Books I Read in 2020

Books I read in 2020

Here’s the best of what I read in 2020.

As usual, I chose print books over ebooks whenever possible (all the better for taking notes in the margins and distilling them into my Book Notes posts).

Since we moved here to Hong Kong early in the year, and given that I continue to cover technology, you’ll see the world’s most populous country, our new home, and the themes of tech and business figure prominently in this list. Oh, and books about…pandemics, too!

As in my previous round-ups, I’m listing these titles in roughly the order I read them, and with selections not limited to books published during the year. Here goes:

1) "The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State," by Elizabeth C. Economy. An insightful explication of just why Xi is such an important figure.

2) "Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built," by Duncan Clark. An in-depth account of Alibaba’s rise, and of founder Ma’s background and personality. (My Books Notes entry is here.)

3) "Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment," by Robert Wright. The title, of course, cannot deliver, but Wright makes the case that Buddhist thought, and especially meditation, can make life easier and more rewarding.

4) "The Quiet American," by Graham Greene. A classic I can’t believe I’d never read. A memorable story, written with skill by the great Greene.

5) "Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction," by Christian McMillen. Helpful historical context. One lesson that has stuck with me, which isn’t always obvious these days: pandemics do not last forever! (My Book Notes entry is here.)

6) “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley. Another classic I must have dipped into at some point. Like “1984,” a book with themes that remain ever relevant.

7) “Hong Kong,” by Jan Morris. A thoughtful, highly detailed survey of this majestic city. Highly recommended.

8) “The Stand,” by Stephen King. What better to read during an actual pandemic than a 1000-word-plus novel about…the aftermath of a pandemic? I found it riveting. If long. And it’s clear to my why this is a favorite King book for many of his fans.

9) “Skinny Dip,” by Carl Hiaasen. I love Hiaasen’s humorous brand of crime fiction, set in Florida, and this 2004 novel is so, so fun. I mean, do the first few lines of a thriller get any better than this?

“At the stroke of eleven on a cool April night, a woman named Joey Perrone went overboard from a luxury deck of the cruise liner M.V. Sun Duchess. Plunging toward the dark Atlantic, Joey was too dumbfounded to panic.

I married an asshole, she thought, knifing headfirst into the waves.”

10) “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China,” by Evan Osnos. A stunning work encompasses a grand sweep of a narrative, but is also grounded in rich detail. Osnos tells important stories about individuals in a country that outsiders sometimes view through stereotypes.

11) “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” by Jordan Peterson. Thought provoking, controversial, moving.

12) “Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls’ Escape from Slavery to Union Hero,” by Cate Lineberry. I’d never heard of this book but a friend raved about it and let me borrow it. My first reaction was: WOW. A fantastic, fantastic, story. My second reaction was one of sadness, because despite the time I spent in the South Carolina Lowcountry growing up, I knew little of what Smalls accomplished. A must-read for anyone interested not just in U.S. history, but in heroism and moral courage.

13) “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” by Nina Teicholz. In this painstakingly researched book, which took nearly a decade to write, Teicholz shows how faulty science and powerful personalities drove the narrative, subsequently adopted by the U.S. government and enshrined in nutritional guidelines, that saturated fat causes heart disease. But there is little, if any, significant evidence for this claim. Nevertheless it was adopted as conventional wisdom, and as Americans began eschewing animal fats, meat and dairy products, we increased our consumption of grains, refined carbohydrates, trans-fats, and sugar. That has been disastrous, a major factor in the obesity epidemic. A remarkable book.

14) “The Silence of the Lambs,” by Thomas Harris. I love thrillers and had never read this one. The ultimate page turner, with some sparkling prose thrown in.

15) “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” by Cal Newport. A convincing argument for making room for what’s really important in life, and putting the rest in its proper place.

Honorable mentions:

Here are my round-ups for 2019, 2018, and 2017.

On to 2021. Happy reading, friends.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Oyo Hotel Chain Suffered Ailments Beyond Pandemic’s Travel Slowdown

WSJ Oyo page one

That’s the (online) headline on my newest story, which I wrote with my colleague Phred Dvorak. It’s on today’s WSJ front page. It begins:

Just over a year ago, India’s Oyo Hotels & Homes was among the world’s hottest startups and the second-largest hotel chain globally. It had billions of dollars from SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund and others, and a valuation that had doubled in a year to as high as $10 billion.

Covid-19, and the destruction it dealt travel, blew up much of that. But Oyo’s issues run deeper than the pandemic. The company already faced problems from its rapid expansion, issues that won’t be fully solved by a post-vaccine travel recovery.

Oyo has seen thousands of hoteliers leave its network amid complaints from many that they have been treated unfairly. The company’s challenges outside India threaten its global ambitions.

Click through to read the rest, or pick up a copy of today’s paper.

Categories
Life

Happy New Year!

Received via WhatsApp forward.

Onward and upward, friends!

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN 244: Tenacious Terriers

happy holidays 2020

Sent as an email newsletter December 20, 2020. Not a Newley’s Notes subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

🎅 Photo of the week, above: Happy holidays from Hong Kong! (And yes, Ginger is wearing a holiday-themed hoodie.)

🚨 Administrative note: There will be no NN for the next couple of weeks. I’ll be back in 2021. I hope you have a restful and restorative end to what has been, quite simply, a year for the history books.

On to this week’s NN…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

1) 🗞 My newest story, an exclusive with my colleague Jeff Horwitz, ran earlier this week. The headline: In India, Facebook Fears Crackdown on Hate Groups Could Backfire on Its Staff. And the sub-hed: “Social media giant’s security team cites possible attacks if extremist Hindu groups are kicked off platform.”

This is the most recent of several stories we’ve written about Facebook in India, you may recall. You can find links to our previous pieces at the bottom of this post.

2) 👏 Covid–19 vaccine update: the first Pfizer/BioNTech doses were administered in the U.S., my colleagues Peter Loftus and Melanie Grayce West reported, “kicking off the most urgent mass immunization campaign since polio shots were rolled out in the 1950s.” The first recipient: Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at a hospital in the Queens.

3) 💻 Big cyber espionage news: “Multiple federal government agencies, including the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments, have had some of their computer systems breached as part of a widespread global cyber espionage campaign believed to be the work of the Russian government, according to officials and people familiar with the matter,” my colleague Dustin Volz reports.

4) 👉 NPR: ‘New York Times’ Retracts Core Of Hit Podcast Series ‘Caliphate’ On ISIS. “The newspaper has reassigned its star terrorism reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, who hosted the series,” David Folkenflick reports. And: “On multiple occasions prior to the release of the podcast, Chaudhry had told Canadian news outlets that he had traveled to Syria in 2014 and joined ISIS. But he had denied playing any role in killings. To Callimachi and the Times, however, he claimed he had conducted executions.”

5) 🌐 Alphabet’s Google, Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube and additional services went down around the world Monday for about an hour. It was due to a problem with how users log into their accounts, the company said.

6) 🏆 2020 best of lists are here. Check out the 10 Best Books of 2020 (WSJ); the best long-form writing of 2020 (Longform); the best television series of 2020 (Economist); the best albums of 2020 (New York Times); the best films of 2020 (AV Club); and the art world’s most important moments in 2020 (New York Times).

7) 📚 Author John le Carré died at age 89. He “raised the spy novel to a new level of seriousness and respect,” Eric Homberger writes in The Guardian.

8) 🌃 New York magazine’s Curbed on an interesting photography project: This Artist Posed As a Hungarian Billionaire Buyer to Get Into 25 New York Penthouses.

9) 🚴‍♂️ BBC travel has a story on an epic bike trail in the works: “The Great American Rail-Trail is the most ambitious biking initiative the country has ever seen. Stretching an extraordinary 3,700 miles from the nation’s capital across 12 states to the Pacific Ocean, west of Seattle, it’s an idea that’s been ruminating for 50 years.” Here’s the trail’s website, and the official route.

10) ⛪ File under: nativity scenes, 2020 edition. “It’s hideous…Why do they have that one with the horns?…What is that? A turkey?”

•••

🐕 Dog-related video of the week: Fearless Terrier Sends Bear Scampering Back Into the Woods.

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

I’m almost finished with Nina Teicholz’s meticulously researched, eye-opening 2014 book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.” It it astoundingly good: alarming, maddening, fascinating. A must-read if you care about health, nutrition, policymaking, or how science is conducted.

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.” – Renowned Stanford University computer science professor Donald E. Knuth.

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
India Journalism Tech

In India, Facebook Fears Crackdown on Hate Groups Could Backfire on Its Staff

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive with my colleague Jeff Horwitz, out Sunday. It begins:

Dozens of religious extremists burst into a Pentecostal church outside New Delhi in June, claiming it was built atop a Hindu temple. The group installed a Hindu idol in protest, and a pastor says he was punched in the head by attackers.

Members of a Hindu nationalist organization known as Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility in a video describing the incursion that has been viewed almost 250,000 times on Facebook. The social-media company’s safety team earlier this year concluded that Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India and likely qualified as a “dangerous organization” that should be banned from the platform, according to people familiar with the matter.

Facebook Inc. balked at removing the group following warnings in a report from its security team that cracking down on Bajrang Dal might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India, the people said. Besides risking infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal might precipitate physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities, the report warned.

Such conflicting concerns underscore the struggle Facebook faces in policing hate speech that exists in the vast sea of content posted to its platform around the world. The calculus is especially complicated in India, Facebook’s largest market by users. Facebook has staff on the ground, recently invested $5.7 billion in a new retail venture and interacts with a government whose politicians have ties to Hindu nationalist groups.

“We enforce our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy globally without regard to political position or party affiliation,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone, calling the company’s process for determining what entities to ban careful, rigorous and multidisciplinary.

Click through to read the rest.

Links to our previous stories on Facebook in India, if you missed them, are here:

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN243: Howlin’ Huskies

Ginger high five

Sent as an email newsletter December 13, 2020. Not a Newley’s Notes subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

🙌 Photo of the week, above: from a recent Hong Kong expedition. Here’s a paw-sitevly paw-some high five from Ginger, straight to you.

On to this week’s NN.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

1) 🩺 Covid–19 vaccine update: Here we go! The FDA on Friday authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech shot. Health-care workers, people in nursing homes and long term care could be the first to get it, followed by essential workers and others. The general population may receive it in the spring or summer, by which time other vaccines may also be approved.

2) ⚖️ Big news out Wednesday: Facebook Hit With Antitrust Lawsuits by FTC, State Attorneys General. The lede from my WSJ colleagues Brent Kendall and John D. McKinnon: “The Federal Trade Commission and 46 states sued Facebook Inc. on Wednesday, accusing the social-media giant of buying and freezing out small startups to choke competition.”

3) 🎸 The great Bob Dylan has sold his entire publishing catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group for what is likely “hundreds of millions of dollars – rivaled in value and influence only by the Beatles,” my colleague Anne Steele writes. (Yes, the lede of the story is: “Bob Dylan is tangled up in green.”)

4) 🌵 Austin, Texas is seeing an influx of new residents as companies and workers relocate during the pandemic. The cost of living is lower, there’s no state income tax, the weather is warm, there’s space for social distancing, and there’s a ton of low-cost housing. (Among those moving to the Lone Star State: none other than Elon Musk.)

5) 🚢 A four-day cruise? To nowhere? During a pandemic? A Royal Caribbean vessel returned to shores in Singapore after someone on board…tested positive for Covid–19. (The company told guests it would give them a “future cruise credit for the value of one day’s worth of cruise fare paid to be used on a future sailing.”) Oh, and: it looks like result may have been a false positive.

6) 🎧 Gadget alert: Apple’s releasing over-the-ear, noise canceling headphones called AirPods Max. They cost $549 and go on sale December 15.

7) 🏢 In “Why Do We Still Love “The Office”?, Sarah Larson writes in the New Yorker that ”Though it ended seven years ago,“ it it still among Netflix’s most popular shows. And ”this year two of the most popular podcasts on iTunes and Spotify were ‘Office’ podcasts, hosted by former cast members," she writes.

8) 🍗 Headline of the week: “Love me tenders: Why KFC is pushing a sexy Colonel Sanders movie”. Please enjoy the trailer, starring Mario Lopez, aka “Saved by the Bell”’s A.C. Slater.

9) 👩‍🍳 Tweet of the week: “Nigella Lawson saying ‘Microwave’ like this has made my Christmas already.”

10) 🐶 Canine-related longread of the week, by Jeff MacGregor in Smithsonian Magazine: “The New Science of Our Ancient Bond With Dogs.” (Thanks, Anasuya!)

•••

🐕 Dog-related video of the week: “Huskie puppy doesn’t quite get the howling thing.”

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

I finished “The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet,” by James Griffiths, and have now turned to something altogether different: Nina Teicholz’s 2014 bestseller, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.”

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.” – Annie Dillard

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley