Hong Kong

Hong Kong Officials Quarantined After Covid-19 Case at Tapas Birthday Party

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Friday. It begins:

HONG KONG—As Hong Kong officials were warning citizens to exercise caution after the city’s first Omicron cases emerged last week, senior civil servants joined dozens of other partygoers at a tapas restaurant Monday evening to celebrate the birthday of a China lawmaker.

Now some of them are in a government quarantine center after being classified as close contacts of a party guest who later tested positive for Covid-19. Among them are the city’s home affairs secretary, the director of immigration and some legislators.

Images of the event — held in honor of Witman Hung, a local representative to China’s national legislature — emerged shortly before tough new restrictions on nightlife and other venues across the city came into effect Friday, drawing angry comments from some residents on social media.

Hong Kong has some of the world’s strictest testing and quarantine regimens, and tough border controls had kept the city free of community cases for months. That bubble was punctured last week after an aircrew worker, who was later found to have Omicron, broke home quarantine conditions to eat lunch at a restaurant. Several other diners in the venue later tested positive, and health officials have warned that there are now invisible transmission chains in the city, although recorded cases of Covid-19 transmitted in the community have remained just a few.

Click through to read the rest.

India Tech

India Hits Apple With Antitrust Investigation Over App-Store Practices

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Monday. It begins:

India’s antitrust watchdog ordered an investigation into how Apple Inc. runs its App Store, becoming the most recent country to take aim at the U.S. technology giant.

The order from the Competition Commission of India said Friday that its initial view is that the Cupertino, Calif., company has violated some of the country’s antitrust laws. The body is “prima facie convinced that a case is made out for directing an investigation” into Apple, the order said.

The watchdog was responding to a complaint earlier last year from an Indian nonprofit group alleging that a 30% fee Apple charges developers selling digital content via their apps harms software makers and stifles competition. Apple has denied the claims, saying it is focused on making its devices as attractive as possible to consumers, according to the order.

Click through to read the rest.


Weekend Watercolor: a Cafe in France


The Best Books I Read in 2021

Here are the most intriguing books I read in 2021.

As ever, this list isn’t confined to titles published during the year. And as in previous years, I continue to prefer print books over e-books.

They are better for making notes in the margins, being able to flip through them aids in the learning process, and I appreciate the ability to pick them up off the book shelf to consult later, after I’ve read them. And I just love the tactile sensations of holding them in my hands.

My nonfiction picks spanned tech, history, current affairs, philosophy and art. For fiction, I found pandemic-era solace in revisiting a genre I have always loved: spy thrillers.


  • Martin Gurri, The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium This book by Gurri, first released in 2014 and since updated, has been hailed presaging the election of Donald Trump and the success of Brexit. Gurri’s thesis: Technological forces like the internet and social media, which have resulted in an exponential explosion of information, by nature undermine civil institutions and traditional figures of authorities. This democratization of information has exposed elites’ flaws, Gurri writes, sapping their ability to control once unquestioned narratives. Distrust now abounds.
  • Steven Levy, Facebook: The Inside Story. I enjoy books that tell the stories of singular tech companies, such as Brad Stone’s comprehensive looks at Amazon (“The Everything Store”) and Airbnb and Uber (“The Upstarts”), Duncan Clark’s book about Alibaba, and Ken Auletta’s look at Google. This 2020 work provides a comprehensive history of how Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, how it expanded quickly in the U.S. and then abroad, and how its emphasis on growth has created massive successes – and more recently, challenges – along the way. Useful as a backgrounder in understanding a company I did a lot of reporting on during the year.

  • Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck, Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power. A painstakingly researched, deftly told, utterly fascinating look at the Saudi crown prince, and what his rise means for his nation and the world. A rarity in nonfiction: a page turner that informs. By Hope, formerly of the The WSJ, and my current, supremely talented WSJ colleague Scheck.

  • Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. A wonderful book centered on ten timeless ideas from various cultures about human flourishing and what makes for a good life: why love and work are important, the benefits of adversity and reciprocity, why we’re all hypocrites on some level, and why happiness comes not just from within, but from without.

  • Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer. How and why journalism can be a messy business. Controversial. Extremely meta. I’m not sure I agree with its central claim that journalism is inherently psychopathic, but it is a quick and thought provoking read.

  • Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Worthy of its cult classic status. Meditations on why making art is hard, and why you just have to battle through what Pressfield calls “resistance”: fear, anxiety, laziness, whatever keeps you from articulating your creative vision. You just gotta sit down and do the work.

  • Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. After largely conquering disease, war and famine, humans are becoming increasingly individualistic, powerful, humanistic, liberal. Next up: seeking immortality as we make gains in artificial intelligence and biotechnology. (See also: Harari’s earlier book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.)

  • Jason Fung, MD, The Obesity Code – Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss. I’ve long been interested in nutrition and find the research showing the benefits of low-carbohydrate, high fat diets to be compelling. In this straightforward book, Fung, a nephrologist who has had significant success treating diabetics with fasting and carb restriction, shows that weight gain is driven by high-carb, sugary foods that cause spikes in insulin. In short: sugars and starches are the problem, not fats or even calories. (See also: Nina Teicholz’s suberb The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.)

  • Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life I’d never read anything extensive about the brilliant, complex, dedicated, whimsical Franklin – the “founding father who winks at us,” Isaacson writes. Franklin had so much to do with with the U.S. became.


  • David Ignatius, Agents of Innocence: A Novel. I love spy thrillers but had never read this excellent novel from the Washington Post columnist. Set in Beirut in the 1970s, the protagonist is a CIA officer working to gather intelligence on the PLO. This book, Ignatius’s first, led me to some of his others…

  • David Ignatius, The Quantum Spy: A Thriller. The U.S., China, and quantum computing. Lots of fun.

  • David Ignatius, The Paladin: A Spy Novel. Cyber-security, media manipulation, deep fakes, financial fraud. Another page-turner.

  • Ken Follett, Eye of the Needle. Speaking of spy thrillers, I decided to re-read this classic, set during World War II, which I first encountered more than 20 years ago. What a read: wonderfully paced, strong characters, high stakes.

Previous lists: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016.

Newley's Notes

NN286: Super-Stoked Service Dogs

Sent as a newsletter December 19, 2021. Want to join my email list? Sign up 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.

🙏 If you like NN, please share this link so others can subscribe.

Image of the week, above: a Hong Kong building that caught my eye the other night. I love how it’s bathed in a pinkish glow from neon lights across the street.

🚨 Programming note: There will be no NN for the next two weeks. I’ll return after the holidays. I hope you have a restful break with friends and family, if you’re taking time off. See you in January!

Here are 10 items worth your time this week:

1) 🐦 A story I wrote Tuesday: India is investigating how Prime Minister Modi’s Twitter account was hacked. Someone posted a message to his more than 73 million followers falsely saying India is adopting bitcoin.

2) 📺 And one I wrote Thursday: Netflix slashed its prices in India, where it’s trailing rivals Amazon and Disney. Its least expensive plan is now $1.95 per month – but that’s still more than others charge.

3) 🇭🇰 And one more from me on Thursday: The prominent RISE tech conference, an international gathering of tech execs and startups, is postponing until 2023 a gathering that was set for March here in Hong Kong, citing uncertainties over Covid.

4) 😔 The U.S. surpassed 800,000 Covid–19 deaths. More than 5.3 million people have now died worldwide.

5) 🦠 As the Omicron variant spreads, parts of the U.S. and Europe are readying for a surge and canceling events.

6) 💊 But there’s some good news: Pfizer’s antiviral Covid pill appears quite effective.

7) 📚 ’Tis the season for best-of–2021 book lists. Enjoy picks from some of my favorite sources: the WSJs ten best in fiction and nonfiction; Five Books’s best of 2021; and the Economist’s selections.

8) 📆 Other good 2021 compilations: the best longform writing, and Bloomberg Businessweek’s Jealousy List. And for lighter fare: the best fails of 2021 and the best goals of the year.

9) 🦦 My WSJ colleague Jon Emont has a magnificent A-hed (the quirky stories we run on Page One) out this week about otters running wild in Singapore, centering on a recent attack on a British man. Contains the quote: “It was like somebody stapling my buttocks." Don’t miss it.

10) 👏 Please enjoy this remarkable obituary for Renay Mandel Corren. It begins: “El Paso, TX – A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday.”


🦴 Dog-related video of the week:

Ezra the service dog takes a well earned break to meet her favourite character.”


💡 Quote of the week:

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott


👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,


Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Hong Kong Tech Conference Postponed as Pandemic Restrictions Isolate Business Hub

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Thursday. It begins:

HONG KONG—Organizers of a prominent international technology conference are postponing a gathering in Hong Kong that was set for March, the latest disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic to the city’s role as a global business hub.

An executive for the Dublin-based company that was organizing the annual RISE Conference said to a participant in an email, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, that uncertainties due to the pandemic have continued, and after much consideration organizers had decided to postpone it until March 2023. A company spokeswoman confirmed the news.

Web Summit, the company that hosts popular conferences that typically draw thousands and feature global technology executives and startup entrepreneurs, was first held in Hong Kong in 2015. Its speakers have included Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Joseph Tsai and Stripe Inc. co-founder and President John Collison.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism Tech

Netflix Slashes India Prices in Battle with Amazon, Disney

That’s the headline on a story I wrote, out Thursday. It begins:

Netflix Inc. is slashing its prices in India, a key market for global growth where it trails cheaper rival streaming services from Amazon. com Inc. and Walt Disney Co.

The Los Gatos, Calif., company this week said in a blog post from India executive Monika Shergill that it is cutting its basic plan in India by 60% to 199 rupees, equivalent to $2.61, a month. Netflix also lowered prices on its least expensive plan, which offers mobile-only viewing, to $1.95 monthly. Its most expensive plan has been cut to $8.51.

Netflix has continued to switch up its strategy in the South Asian nation since launching in 2016, when it targeted the country’s more affluent consumers with plans that started at $7.50 a month.

The announcement didn’t provide a reason for the latest price reduction. A Netflix spokeswoman said the company is reducing its prices so more consumers can access its material in the country. She added that the company has been investing heavily in local content in India.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism Tech

India Investigates Hacking of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter Account

That’s the headline on my newest story, out December 13 with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

Indian officials are investigating how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account was hacked, with a tweet to his more than 73 million followers falsely saying India was adopting bitcoin as legal tender and distributing it to people in the country.

The account was briefly compromised before being secured, the prime minister’s office said on Twitter. The issue had been escalated to Twitter Inc., and the tweet should be ignored, the office said.

Twitter said its systems weren’t breached in the hack. The company has round-the-clock lines of communication open with the prime minister’s office and secured Mr. Modi’s account “as soon as we became aware of this activity,” a Twitter spokeswoman said. A Twitter investigation showed no other accounts appeared to be affected, she added.

Click through to read the rest.

Newley's Notes

NN285: Halcyon Huskies

Sent as a newsletter December 12, 2021. Want to join my email list? Sign up 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.

Image of the week, above: a recent (and delicious) hot pot meal with friends.

Here are 10 items worth your time this week:

1) 📖 My newest Books Notes post at “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” by Cal Newport.

2) 🦠 Good news: A third shot of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-vaccine neutralized the Omicron variant in lab tests.

3) 🍎 Apple may be working on the hottest new device since the iPhone, my WSJ colleauge Christopher Mims reports: an augmented reality headset or glasses.

4) 🎥 The best movies of 2021, via The New York Times’s A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis.

5) 🗣 Related: Why it’s so hard to understand movie dialogue these days.

6) 🍽 A review of “the worst Michelin starred restaurant, ever” lit up the internet. And the chef appears to have responded in a unique fashion.

7) 👉 The most mispronounced words of 2021.

8) 🦦 A group of otters attacked a British man in Singapore, biting him 26 times in ten seconds.

9) 🚀 Forget using rockets to launch satellites. A startup in California wants to fling them into space instead. (Thanks, Dad!)

10) 🎧 The 50 best albums of 2021, according to Pitchfork.


🦴 Dog-related video of the week:

“Husky i don’t want stress.”


💡 Quote of the week:

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet." – Aristotle


👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,


Book Notes Tech

Book Notes: ‘Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,’ by Cal Newport

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.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

By Cal Newport
Published: 2019
Publisher: Portfolio
ISBN-10: ‎0525536515
Amazon link

Brief Summary

Use technology. Don’t let technology use you.

My Three Key Takeaways

I’ve read two of Newport’s earlier books: 2016’s “Deep Work” (my book notes here) in which he argued that knowledge workers should focus on their professional activities that deliver the most value.

And I read his 2012 book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” a guide to career development in which Newport says that the common advice to “follow your passion” is misguided; instead, we should hone our craft and deliver output that is rare and valuable.

Since “Digital Minimalism” was published in 2019, Newport has published another book, “A World Without Email,” which I haven’t read. (He’s also launched a popular podcast.)

In “Digital Minimalism,” the Georgetown University computer science professor provides a treatise on how not to let technology sap your attention and keep you from pursuing what’s most important in life. My major takeaways:

  1. Our default approach to technology amounts essentially to digital maximalism: saying yes to all technologies – chiefly social media – because they offer some value. But, Newport argues, we should be digital minimalists: only letting tech into our lives that agrees with and reinforces our values (such as being present with friends and thinking deeply). So: if you must use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, do so sparingly, at set times. And critically: access them from your computer, on a web browser, not via mobile apps, which are engineered to hijack our attention.

  2. I like Newport’s emphasis on cultivating high quality leisure activities that emphasize engaging, in real life, with people. In person. Go hiking with friends. Join a sports team. Meet a friend for coffee. Attend religious gatherings. It’s common sense, of course, but in our digital world (not to mention amid a pandemic), we must remember that social interaction is important, and we must make time to interact with friends and family in meaningful ways. It’s ironic that when we become sucked into social media, we think we’re keeping in touch with friends by liking their photos or posts or tweets, but we are often distracted during real interactions with people, or interact online instead of in person.

  3. Newport also emphasizes the value of solitude. He says we should spend a few hours a week by ourselves, accompanied only by our thoughts, and that this time – no music, no podcasts – brings immense cognitive benefits.