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Newley's Notes

NN217: How Long will the Pandemic Last? Also: Vibin’ Shibas

mountains and nighttime sky
Photo by brandon siu on Unsplash

Sent as an email newsletter Sunday, May 3, 2020.

👋 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.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

New podcast interview

🐯 I was on Princeton University’s Policy Punchline podcast to talk all things tech in India with Tiger Gao, a Princeton junior.

The podcast series, if you’ve never heard it, features hour-long discussions with journalists, scholars, entrepreneurs and more on a variety of policy related issues. We recorded this episode before Facebook’s big $5.7 billion investment in Jio, which I mentioned in last week’s NN, but we touched on many related topics in this wide-ranging discussion. Thanks, Tiger and team, for having me on!

🎧 You can listen on Soundcloud here, or look up Policy Punchline in your podcast app of choice.

Pandemic reading and listening resources: a follow up to a follow up

📖 In NN 213 I mentioned some good books about pandemics, and reader James B. wrote in to share one I’d missed: “The Great Influenza,” about the illness that swept the world in 1918.

Thanks to another reader, Chris E., who tells me that the author of that book, John Barry, was recently on Peter Attia’s podcast. It’s a fascinating episode. (I like Attia’s podcast a lot, but hadn’t heard this episode. He’s a doctor who specializes in longevity, and often has very smart people on to talk about their fields of expertise.) Thanks, Chris. E.!

On to this week’s NN.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

⌛ 1) How long will coronavirus pandemic last? Perhaps as long as two years, according to a new report from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. And the pandemic won’t be stopped until 60–70% of the world’s population is immune.

“The virus caught the global community off guard, and its future course is still highly unpredictable,” the authors write. (You can read the report here.)

😷 2) Now that some lockdowns around the world are lifting, here’s a good question: should you wear a face mask when exercising outside? The answer: If you can bear it, it’s probably a good idea.

🔻 3) Even as U.S. gross domestic product falls – with more contraction likely to come – tech giants’ stocks are climbing. “Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook now make up more than 20 percent of the value of the entire S&P 500 – a level that’s higher than it was even during the dot-com boom,” the New York Times reports. Why? They have a ton of cash on hand, and are more reliant on digital operations than physical ones.

🦠 4) Here’s a graphical guide to the more than 90 vaccines being developed to fight SARS-CoV–2.

😕 5) Here’s a good overview of why the pandemic can feel so confusing, ranging from factors like the virus and the disease to research and messaging.

🖼️ 6) The British Museum has put more than 1.9 million photos from its collection online. View the images here.

💬 7) On his 68th birthday, tech author and all-around big picture thinker Kevin Kelly provides “68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice.”

💄 8) Who needs makeup when you’ve got Snapchat and Instagram filters?

🐕 9) Indian street dogs seem to be becoming popular pets in India’s tech hub of Bangalore. Many of the dogs shown in that piece look just like Ginger.

🎵 10) Dog-related video of the week: “straight vibin’ #shiba.” [TikTok/@paula_the_koala]

💡 Quote of the week:

“Time misspent in youth is sometimes all the freedom one ever has.” – Anita Brookner

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

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Newley's Notes

NN216: Facebook Bets $5.7 Billion on India; Dogs on Diving Boards

Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

Sent as an email newsletter Sunday, April 26, 2020.

👋 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.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

A big – and, for once, non-coronavirus related – story for this week on my radar: Facebook and India.

🇮🇳 Faithful NN readers may recall that two years ago I wrote a page one story that began: “India’s richest man is catapulting hundreds of millions of poor people straight into the mobile internet age.”

The billionaire: Mukesh Ambani. His company: Reliance Jio. The product: inexpensive 4G mobile access, which had been nonexistent before.

Jio has continued to grow since that piece came out, unveiling new products aimed at consumers in rural India, where most of the country’s population lives.

🆕 On Wednesday news emerged that another very rich man – Mark Zuckerberg – was plowing $5.7 billion into Ambani’s firm.

My colleague and I called it, in our story about the deal, “a massive expansion of the social media giant’s commitment to a promising market where it has faced difficulties.”

About those difficulties: Facebook suffered a high profile setback when its Free Basics campaign was shut down on net neutrality grounds in 2016. And Facebook’s WhatsApp – which has a mammoth 400 million users in India – has been waiting for more than two years for permission to completely roll out its digital payments service.

In a subsequent piece, also out Wednesday, I wrote that the deal “could create a new kind of animal in the world’s biggest untapped digital market: a social media behemoth wedded to a mobile infrastructure titan – both coveting e-commerce.”

🤔 How would Facebook and Jio work together? One example the companies gave is that WhatsApp users could tap into the platform to buy items from neighborhood mom and pop shops, which Jio has been connecting via point of service machines. Other potential collaborations are less clear.

So: Facebook/WhatsApp gets to use Jio’s on-the-ground presence in rural India, access to its expertise in tapping the roughly half a billion people who have still yet to get online in the country, and partners with an Indian billionaire in a place it has faced regulatory hurdles.

💰 Jio gets a big cash infusion, and perhaps tie-ins with WhatsApp to expand its e-commerce projects.

Will it work? As they say, stay tuned.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🦠 1) When should U.S. states begin to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? New projections provide a simple answer: The earlier they locked down, the earlier they can safely resume normal life. And yet Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee – not among those states that acted quickly to enact restrictions – plan to ease lockdowns as early as this week.

🧪 2) Bill Gates says the coronavirus pandemic will produce massive global innovation, just like World War II did. Think treatments, vaccines, testing, contact tracing. “Melinda and I grew up learning that World War II was the defining moment of our parents’ generation,” he writes. “In a similar way, the COVID–19 pandemic – the first modern pandemic – will define this era.”

🌆 3) Will major cities still be worth living in after the coronavirus? Some people who can afford to are accelerating their plans to leave New York City, a WSJ colleague reports. “This could go on for six months, 12 months,“ said one resident who is ditching Manhattan. ”And who knows what the city could look like after.”

🖌️ 4) The coronavirus pandemic will inspire a lot of art. What kinds of themes will writers and directors explore? Think economic inequality and marginalized communities, death’s inevitability – and perhaps the end of the superhero.

💻 5) One unexpected result of the pandemic: Zoom is giving us new glimpses into our colleagues’ lives. We should just roll with it, The New Yorker’s Naomi Fry writes.

🆒 6) And speaking of Zoom: With so many people stuck at home, folks have been creating fun backgrounds for videocalls. There’s ZoomerBackgrounds (my fave is “guy looking back at me”, aka the Distracted Boyfriend meme), and even StarWars.com is getting in on the act (I’m partial to Tatooine). There are some good ones from The Met museum, as well.

⏳ 7) Former Wall Street Journal global economics editor Neil King says a cancer diagnosis in past years has prepared him for the coronavirus. “I have seen the beauty of life on the six-month plan, which goes something like this: Be confident in the span you know you have; extract from it all you can; look no further,” he writes.

✈️ 8) A family in Australia had their trip to Europe cancelled by the coronavirus. But they decided to simulate the 15-hour flight…from the comfort of their living room. They “screened” their luggage and even ate “in-flight” meals.

🇯🇵 9) Here’s an interesting travelogue from an eight day walk along the eastern coast of Japan’s Kii Peninsula.

🐕 10) Dog video of the week: Doggo’s just trying to help.

💡 Quote of the week:

“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” – Georg Hegel.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Facebook Takes $5.7 Billion Stake in India’s Jio Platforms

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Wednesday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz. It begins:

Facebook Inc. said it would pay $5.7 billion for just under 10% of Indian telecom operator Jio Platforms Ltd., a massive expansion of the social media giant’s commitment to a promising market where it has faced difficulties.

The deal, unveiled late Tuesday, is Facebook’s largest overseas investment and gives it the opportunity to bring its WhatsApp messaging service—which has more than 400 million users in India—into closer partnership with the mobile operator that upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans.

Jio Platforms Ltd. and its subsidiary, mobile operator Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., are part of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Jio Infocomm provides services to about 388 million customers.

The deal shows how Facebook, like other tech giants, is pushing ahead and taking advantage of its relative strength during a pandemic that is causing most other industries to retreat.

In a subsequent story, I looked a little closer at the who gets what out of the deal. The lede:

Facebook Inc.’s $5.7 billion tie-up with an Indian mobile leader could create a new kind of animal in the world’s biggest untapped digital market: a social media behemoth wedded to a mobile infrastructure titan—both coveting e-commerce.

Now the two companies are expected to square off against some formidable online shopping rivals: Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc., which have each invested billions in the South Asian market.

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Newley's Notes

NN215: Profiting from the Coronavirus; What Rick Steves is Up To; Chihuahua Puppies

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

Sent as an email newsletter Sunday, April 19, 2020.

👋 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.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🤑 1) Longread of the week, economics-of-the-coronavirus edition: The Price of the Coronavirus Pandemic [The New Yorker]

“When COVID–19 recedes, it will leave behind a severe economic crisis. But, as always, some people will profit.”

🌇 2) Rick Steves Is Learning to Cook and Enjoying Every Sunset [GQ]

“Talking to the travel guru about his life in isolation, which includes piano playing and stocking up on weed.”

🗣️ 3) Shot: How Facebook Works for Trump [The Atlantic]

“Donald Trump won the presidency by using the social network’s advertising machinery in exactly the way the company wanted. He’s poised to do it again.”

💾 4) Chaser: Biden Is Losing the Internet. Does That Matter? [New York Times]

“Mr. Biden’s biggest problem is structural. Most of our online political communication takes place on internet platforms that are designed to amplify content that provokes strong emotional reactions, often by reinforcing tribal identities.”

🥾 5) Why Walking Matters – Now More Than Ever [Wall Street Journal]

“Our upright gait is not just a defining feature of what it means to be human. It also makes our bodies and brains work better.”

🐻 6) Coyotes, bobcats and bears: Wildlife is reclaiming Yosemite National Park [Los Angeles Times]

“‘It’s not like they aren’t usually here,’ he said of the bears, bobcats and coyotes that he and other employees now see congregating outside their cabins and apartments. ‘It’s that they usually hang back at the edges, or move in the shadows.’”

⚽ 7) A History of Soccer in Six Matches [New York Times]

“From the Hungary team that shattered England’s delusions to the club that came to define the sport, through Pelé and Johan Cruyff, here are six games that explain modern soccer.”

🐑 8) This week’s six-hour moment of zen: Relax with Sheep at Shafer Vineyards in Napa Valley [YouTube]

“Everyone at the winery loves it when the sheep arrive.”

🐶 9) Melting Ice Exposes Mountain Pass Used by Vikings, Including Ancient Dog and Leash [Gizmodo]

“These items, some made from organic materials, became locked in glacial ice, preserving a record of use that spans 1,200 years.”

🐕 10) Dog-related video of the week: Chihuahua puppy is too cute for little boy to handle [Reddit]

💡 Quote of the week:

“If you know the why, you can live any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

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Newley's Notes

NN214: Coronavirus Misinformation; Puppies Unleashed in an Aquarium

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

Sent as an email newsletter Sunday, April 12, 2020.

👋 Hi, friends, and happy Easter.

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.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

New Story

💬 My newest story, out Tuesday: Facebook’s WhatsApp Battles Coronavirus Misinformation. It begins:

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp is limiting users’ ability to forward content on its encrypted messaging platform, as misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic proliferates on the service in its biggest market, India.

In one of the biggest changes WhatsApp has made to a core feature, the company said Tuesday that its more than two billion users globally can now send along frequently forwarded messages they receive to only one person or group at a time, down from five.

And:

Among the messages on WhatsApp that have circulated in India in recent weeks, according to fact-checking groups, is a claim that a treatment has been developed that cures Covid–19 within three hours. Others say a disinfectant will be sprayed in cities at night to kill the virus and that NASA satellite images show the coronavirus has been abating in India. All were identified by fact checkers as false.

The story was linked to in Harvard’s Nieman Lab daily email and in Shira Ovide’s new (and excellent) New York Times newsletter, On Tech.

New Book Notes Post

🛒 Meanwhile, I shared on Newley.com some notes from a 2016 book I recently read called “Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built,” by Duncan Clark. Click here to read the post.

TLDR: This is a well researched, in-depth book about Ma and the e-commerce giant he built.

Pandemic Reading List Addendum

📚 And finally, an addendum: In last week’s NN, I listed a few nonfiction books about pandemics.

Thanks to reader James B., who wrote in to share a much-heralded title I missed, and which he says is worth checking out: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry.

Thanks, James!

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

😷 1) A Shift on the Front Line [New England Journal of Medicine]

“I have just finished the night shift on the Covid–19 ward. I look at myself in the mirror: I have a C on my nose from the FFP2 (N95) mask I wear all the time, deep marks on my face left by the elastic bands; my eyes look tired, my hair is damp with sweat. I am not a doctor and a woman any longer – now I am just a doctor, a soldier in the war against the virus.”

📱 2) Apple, Google to Turn Smartphones Into Coronavirus Tracking Devices [WSJ]

“Apple Inc. and Google will build software together that would alert people if they were in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus, an unprecedented collaboration between two Silicon Valley giants and rivals.”

⛰️ 3) Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years Of Social Distancing Experience [NPR]

“We’re all social distancing these days, and it’s unclear when exactly that will end. But Billy Barr has been doing this for almost 50 years. He’s the only full-time resident of Gothic, Colo.

📍 4) Spreading pathogen maps [SciFi Interfaces]

“So while the world is in the grip of the novel COVID–19 coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been thinking about those fictional user interfaces that appear in pandemic movies that project how quickly the infectious-agent-in-question will spread.”

🖥️ 5) A Mini-Office, Delivered to Your Door [Dwellito]

“Give yourself a quiet place to work with a mini office next to your home. In 6 to 8 weeks, you could have a pre-built office delivered to your front door, starting at $9,000.”

🧭 6) The 18 Best TV Shows for Vicarious Travel Thrills [New York Times]

“One of the genuine delights of the streaming era is the degree to which it has made international television available, and readily too – with scores of shows streaming on Amazon, Hulu, HBO and (especially) Netflix.”

🎧 7) Dave Grohl’s Pandemic Playlist [The Atlantic]

“The Foo Fighters front man picks a song for your every quarantine mood.”

🎹 8) The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic [New York Times Magazine]

“After 40 years, Yankovic is now no longer a novelty, but an institution – a garish bright patch in the middle of America’s pop-cultural wallpaper, a completely ridiculous national treasure, an absurd living legend.”

✝️ 9) Easter’s Healing Touch [WSJ essay]

“In a grim time, the holiday reminds us that the cornerstone of Christian faith is God’s love for a wounded world.”

🐾 10) Dog related video of the week: “Our puppies just had the best. day. ever. They got to explore the @GeorgiaAquarium while it is closed to the public.” [Twitter: @AtlantaHumane]

💡 Quote of the week:

“Let go or be dragged.” – Zen proverb

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Book Notes

Book Notes: ‘Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built,’ by Duncan Clark

Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built

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.

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built

Published: 2016
ISBN: 9780062413406
Amazon link

Brief Summary

The story — told by China expert, former investment banker, and onetime Alibaba advisor — of how Jack Ma founded the country’s online shopping juggernaut and built it into a growing global force.

My Three Key Takeaways

  1. Jack Ma is unlike founders of other global tech titans. He’s not a graduate (or even a dropout) of a top university. He’s not a technical whiz. He doesn’t come from a privileged background — his mother was a factory worker and his father was a photographer. He was never an engineer or a banker, but instead worked for some time as an English teacher before launching various businesses.

    But he is a curious person, a big believer in the power of the internet, and a quirky and charismatic leader — he is known for “Jack Magic“: his ability, like Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field,” to inspire and win people over.
  2. Alibaba wasn’t built as a clone of Amazon or eBay any other e-commerce equivalent, exactly. It was designed to connect sellers to buyers, and designed specifically for China.

    Ma’s understanding of what Chinese consumers and merchants want has allowed him to outlast other rivals.
  3. Ma thinks long-term, but it’s unclear how his more recent bets (forging into cloud computing, sports, media) will pay off.
  4. Some notable quotations (all emphasis mine)

    • “Jack, more than any other, is the face of the new China. Already something of a folk hero at home, he stands at the intersection of China’s newfound cults of consumerism and entrepreneurship.” (Introduction, p. xii.)
    • “China’s e-commerce market differs in important ways from the United States and other Western economies, the legacy of decades of state planning and the important role still played by state-owned enterprises. Alibaba has sought out and exploited the inefficiencies these have created, first in e-commerce, now in media and e-commerce.” (Introduction, p. xv.)
    • Household spending in the United States drives two-thirds of the economy, but in China it barely accounts for one-third. (p. 3.)
    • “Alibaba has a much greater impact on China’s retail sector than Amazon does in the United States. Thanks to Taobao and its sister site, Tmall, Alibaba is effectively China’s largest retailer. Amazon, by contrast, only became one the top ten retailers in America in 2013.” (p. 4)
    • “In the same way Alibaba has exploited the inefficiency of offline retail, offline banking has proved a ripe fruit for it to pick.” (p. 19)
    • “When he was asked which person had most inspired him, Jack replied without hesitation, ‘Forrest Gump.’ His interviewer paused, then said, ‘You know he’s a fictional character?'” (p. 25)
    • “Perhaps the most famous lesson of Jack the teacher is known by heart by every Alibaba employee: ‘Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third.’ Jack describes this as Alibaba’s philosophy.” (p. 27)
    • “Alibaba has been a team effort from the start. Jack doled out much more equity, and at an earlier stage, than many of his Internet founder peers. But he has kept a firm control on the company through his gift for communicating and his lofty ambitions.” (p. 35)
    • “Although it sickened thousands and killed almost eight hundred people, the outbreak had a curiously beneficial impact on the Chinese Internet sector, including Alibaba. SARS validated digital mobile telephony and the internet, and so came to represent the turning point when the internet emerged as a truly mass medium in China…Crucially for Alibaba, SARS convinced millions of people, afraid to go outside, to try shopping online instead.” (p. 159)
    • “The tide was turning against eBay. From a market share of more than 90 percent in 2003, eBay’s market share fell by half the following year — barely ahead of Taobao.” (p. 173)
    • “At the entrance to its VIP visitor suite there is a photo from July 2007 of Jack welcoming Xi Jinping to Alibaba. Xi today of course is president of China but back then he was Communist Party secretary of Shanghai.” (p. 239)
Categories
Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Battles Coronavirus Misinformation

whatsapp forwarding

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

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp is limiting users’ ability to forward content on its encrypted messaging platform, as misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic proliferates on the service in its biggest market, India.

In one of the biggest changes WhatsApp has made to a core feature, the company said Tuesday that its more than two billion users globally can now send along frequently forwarded messages they receive to only one person or group at a time, down from five.

In recent weeks the company has “seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation,” the company said.

WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that enables users to click an icon next to frequently forwarded messages—those forwarded at least five times—to search the web for their contents and verify them before sending the message to others, a WhatsApp spokeswoman said.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN213: Best Nonfiction Books on Pandemics; Dogs ‘Skiing’

forest
Photo by Dave on Unsplash

Sent as an email newsletter Monday, April 6.

👋 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.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

📖 As I’ve mentioned, when it comes to Covid–19, it seems we’re in for a marathon, not a sprint. And I recently figured: what nonfiction books out there best explain pandemics?

You know, since viruses that sweep over the world are not exactly new?

So, I consulted several best-of lists. Here are some titles that come highly recommended:

Did I miss something good? Let me know. Maybe next week I’ll survey fiction titles.

Here are ten (mostly coronavirus-related) items worth your time this week:

📉 1) The Month Coronavirus Felled American Business [The Wall Street Journal]

“March began amid an 11-year expansion and ended with blue-chip companies begging for bailouts. Swift and sharp, the pandemic cut through the country’s commerce like nothing before it.”

🚜 2) Photos: In Rural Towns and on Remote Farms, the Virus Creeps In [New York Times]

“’Unlike in a lot of places near urban areas, I’m not worried about the trailhead being overrun,’ he said. ’It’s very easy to keep six feet, if not three miles, between me and the next person.’”

🌆 3) Cities after coronavirus: how Covid–19 could radically alter urban life [The Guardian]

“Pandemics have always shaped cities – and from increased surveillance to ’de-densification’ to new community activism, Covid–19 is doing it already.”

💬 4) World 2.0 [Tyler Cowen/Marginal Revolution]

“There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen.”

🎥 5) The Only Thing I Want To Do Is Binge-Watch Apocalypse Movies [BuzzFeed News]

“Why am I streaming fictional end-of-the-world stories during a real pandemic? Maybe because, as psychologist Christina Scott told me, they’re ‘the only reference point we have.’”

😂 6) Larry David, Master of His Quarantine [New York Times]

“So I thought I would reach out to the world’s leading expert on the art of nothing: the endlessly irascible man whose mantra has always been: “It doesn’t pay to leave your house — what’s the point?””

🐅 7) Tiger at NYC’s Bronx Zoo tests positive for coronavirus [Associated Press]

“A tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the new coronavirus, in what is believed to be the first known infection in an animal in the U.S. or a tiger anywhere, federal officials and the zoo said Sunday.”

🍸 8) Video: Cocktail hour [Instagram/InaGarten]

“It’s always cocktail hour in a crisis!”

🕺 9) Excellent Twitter feed with silly videos: People dancing to Steely Dan [Twitter: @steelydance]

🐕 10) Dog video of the week: This dog enjoying the snow [Reddit/r/aww]

💡 Quote of the week:

“You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.” – Marcus Aurelius

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

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Newley's Notes

NN212: Coronavirus News, Slowed Down; Chihuahuas Doing Yoga in Italian

Photo by Nicolas Prieto on Unsplash

Sent as an email newsletter Monday, March 30.

👋 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.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

In last week’s NN I shared some basic steps to lessen coronavirus-related risk, along with some perspective on what life is like here in Hong Kong.

🗞️ This week I want to share a helpful method for staying on top of coronavirus-related news – in a way that preserves your sanity.

It’s decidedly low-tech.

It’s not a social media platform or a messaging app.

📧 It’s email. One per day. From the newspaper (or newspapers) of your choosing.

First off: if you already subscribe to a newspaper, thanks for supporting quality journalism. If you get it in print, just keep reading it every day, like always. You can skip below to this week’s links.

If you’re a digital subscriber, or don’t subscribe to any papers, read on…

🔑 Remember how, even though we had round-the-clock TV news coverage after September 11th, daily newspapers helped sort out the most important events of the previous 24 hours? You could ignore TV news. There was no social media. The paper was pretty much all you needed.

It’s the same today, really.

Just get papers’ daily headlines deliverd to your inbox. Here are a few I consume every day. And yes, I am employed by the first one on this list, and read dozens and dozens of WSJ stories every day, but I always look to see what made it into the day’s paper.

(Even if you’re not a paying subscriber, all three are offering core coronavirus-related coverage for free.)

I bet your local newspaper has a newsletter, too. Sign up for it.

I’m not saying you should stay away from cable TV, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube during these fraught times. (Though it probably wouldn’t hurt.) But if you’re finding the incessant streams and feeds and alerts from those platforms just too much, turn to newspapers – delivered to your inbox – instead.

I promise: they won’t miss any of the big stories. And the news will be delivered to you in a much more measured way.

🆕 Meanwhile: my newest story, out Thursday (and only somewhat related to the pandemic) with a colleague: Hotel Giant Oyo Looks to Rewrite Contracts That Fueled Its Rise. It begins:

Oyo Hotels and Homes, which built itself into the world’s second-biggest hotel chain by total number of rooms, is phasing out an important tool that fueled its rise.

That unusual tool is guaranteed revenue for hotel owners who sign up to Oyo’s platform. And there’s friction in Japan, China, India, and the U.S. Click through to read on.

Here are ten items (mostly big-picture coronavirus-related reads) worth your time this week:

🌎 1) Yuval Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus [Financial Times]

“In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”

🦠 2) What Social Distancing Looked Like in 1666 [New York Times]

“For those of us living through these stay-at-home days of Covid–19, it’s useful to look back and see how much has changed – and how much hasn’t. Humanity has been guarding against plagues and surviving them for thousands of years, and we have managed to learn a lot along the way.”

🔚 3) How the Pandemic Will End [The Atlantic]

“The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID–19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.”

😷 4) Shot: More Americans Should Probably Wear Masks for Protection [New York Times]

“In many Asian countries, everyone is encouraged to wear masks, and the approach is about crowd psychology and protection. If everyone wears a mask, individuals protect each other, reducing overall community transmission. The sick automatically have one on and are also more likely to adhere to keeping their mask on because the stigma of wearing one is removed.”

Chaser: Simple DIY masks could help flatten the curve. We should all wear them in public. [Washington Post]

😮 5) The Great Empty [New York Times interactive]

“The photographs here all tell a similar story: a temple in Indonesia; Haneda Airport in Tokyo; the Americana Diner in New Jersey. Emptiness proliferates like the virus.”

🇮🇳 6) Hand Stamps, Bandannas and Sidewalk Chalk: India Looks to Low-Tech Coronavirus Solutions [Wall Street Journal]

“As coronavirus infections have rapidly climbed over the past week, doctors and citizens are turning to low-cost methods to try to protect its 1.3 billion-strong populace.”

🧲 7) Astrophysicist gets magnets stuck up nose while inventing coronavirus device [The Guardian]

“‘After scrapping that idea, I was still a bit bored, playing with the magnets. It’s the same logic as clipping pegs to your ears – I clipped them to my earlobes and then clipped them to my nostril and things went downhill pretty quickly when I clipped the magnets to my other nostril.’”

❤️ 8) We Asked Scientists If Our Pets Love Us Being Home All the Time [Vice]

“‘I think dogs are thrilled to have their humans around more often,’ said psychologist Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University, in an email (though she cautioned that there are no direct studies to confirm that claim at the moment).”

👏 9) Some Good News with John Krasinski [YouTube]

“John Krasinski highlights some good news from around the world, including an interview with Steve Carell to mark the 15thanniversary of THE OFFICE, as well as John’s newest hero Coco. ”

🐕 10) Just in case you need it, here’s a dog doing yoga in Italian. You’re welcome. [@ATLnewsgirl]

💡 Quote of the week:

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.” — Winston Churchill

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Journalism Tech

Hotel Giant Oyo Looks to Rewrite Contracts That Fueled Its Rise

That’s the headline on my most recent story, written with my colleague Phred Dvorak, out Thursday. It begins:

Oyo Hotels and Homes, which built itself into the world’s second-biggest hotel chain by total number of rooms, is phasing out an important tool that fueled its rise.

The India-based company and a key investment by SoftBank Group Corp.’s $100 billion tech fund grew quickly in part by offering independent hotel owners the unusual perk of guaranteed revenues if their hotels joined Oyo’s chain. Many hotels signed up, attracted by the guarantees—sometimes at more than 100% of the previous year’s revenue, according to former Oyo employees. However, some hotels didn’t produce sufficient bookings, leaving Oyo on the hook to meet those revenue levels and resulting in disputes with some hotel owners.

Now, Oyo is ending the practice of awarding those guarantees around the world and instead is rolling out new contracts for its hoteliers without them, Chief Executive Ritesh Agarwal told The Wall Street Journal. The new contracts also raise fees charged to the hotels, according to some hotels and former Oyo employees.

Mr. Agarwal said the company is taking the step largely because the guarantees have served their purpose of convincing hotels that Oyo could boost their occupancy and revenue. But he said Oyo had some problems with the guarantees, particularly in its biggest market of China, and that around 15% of Oyo’s rooms still had them as of the beginning of the year.

“In reflection, we are able to see that minimum guarantees work, but only when they are handled with great care,” he said. Oyo’s share of the money guests pay for their rooms is on average more than 15%, after any losses on the guarantees are subtracted, he said.

Click through to read the rest.