Weekend Briefing No. 233
Welcome to the weekend.
1 M – With the situation in Venezuela deteriorating faster than expected, the IMF has unveiled a severe prognosis: hyperinflation is poised to reach an annualized rate of 1 million percent by year’s end.
1 M – Waymo (Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle company) is now logging a million miles a month on public roads. These mileage figures are leagues ahead of competitors’.
1 M – By 2027, India will have a million millionaires.
Water on Mars!
You may have missed it amidst the headlines this week, but there was some huge news! A large body of water was discovered on Mars, raising the potential for alien life. The discovery suggests that the liquid conditions beneath the icy southern polar cap may have provided one of the critical building blocks for life on the red planet. Italian scientists working on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission announced on Wednesday that a 12-mile-wide underground liquid pool — not just the momentary damp spots seen in the past — had been detected by radar measurements near the Martian south pole. The body of water appears similar to underground lakes found on Earth in Greenland and Antarctica. On Earth, microbial life persists down in the dark, frigid waters of one such lake. For years, “follow the water” has been the mantra of NASA and indeed humanity’s search for life somewhere else. Without water, there is no life as we know it. If Mars was once flush with liquid, was it also flush with life? If astronauts ever crunch across the red sands, will they also be crunching over fossils of microbes? New York Times (8 minutes)
E-commerce in Rural China
JD.com is making a bid toward an untapped market – rural China, and the arrival of E-commerce reshaping the social fabric of these villages. E-commerce, though, with its ability to penetrate deeper and faster into the hinterland, brings with it a new sense of personal identity—one less tethered to the group and, arguably, freer, but also more vulnerable to social atomization. A generation back, when most villagers were mired in the poverty, the name of the village was the most significant marker of identity. But now people are increasingly forming subgroups determined by their possessions. The car owners fraternized with other car owners; the computer owners with other computer owners; and those who had little of anything were now a society unto themselves. New Yorker (22 minutes)
What Blockchain Can’t Do
Blockchain technology has the potential to do amazing things. It can provide an immutable, digital audit trail of transactions, and can be used to cheaply verify the integrity of data. However, it’s also important to understand what blockchain can’t do. Think about the problem of tracking babies within a hospital ward and beyond. Though the digital records may be immutable and verifiable, how does someone know which digital record is attached to which baby? To link an entry on the blockchain to an actual, real-life baby, we need to give the baby a physical identifier through a physical tag, or in a more futuristic world, a small chip or digital genome record that links the baby to its digital record. This is where blockchain falls down. It can’t help with this process, and can’t verify that perhaps the most important step of verification is happening correctly. At the interface between the offline world and its digital representation, the usefulness of the technology still critically depends on trusted intermediaries to effectively bridge the “last mile” between a digital record and a physical individual, business, device, or event. In our example, the technology would have to rely on humans to correctly and honestly implement the match between baby and digital record. And if humans get that wrong or manipulate the data when it is entered, in a system where records are believed ex-post as having integrity, this can have serious negative consequences. Harvard Business Review (6 minutes)
Fukushima & Wine
Is it possible to see the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in California wines produced at the time? Scientists studied a series of Californian wines (Cabernet Sauvignon) from vintage 2009 to 2012. This set of wines provides the perfect test. The Fukushima disaster occurred on March 11, 2011. Any wine made before that date should be free of the effects, while any dating from afterward could show them. The team reduced the wine to ash by evaporation. The ashes were then placed in a gamma ray detector to look for signs of cesium-137 (a radioactive by-product of the fission of uranium-235). They found measurable amounts of cesium-137 above background levels in the wine produced after 2011. MIT Technology Review (4 minutes)
Sex, Intimacy & Meaning
There may be more to sex than you think. Not only can it make you feel good physically, it can lift your spirits. In fact, it can give your life meaning, says a team of psychologists from George Mason University. Their study examined the relationship between sex frequency, quality with moods and overall well-being. The participants had to keep a nightly diary over 21 days where they wrote down their moods, if life felt meaningful, and whether they had sex since the last entry and whether it was good and intimate. The results show that sex increases one’s sense of self-worth or meaning in life. Additionally, (and perhaps unsurprisingly) the research showed that to have sex increase a sense of well-being the participants had to be in more intimate relationships. Intimacy was a greater predictor of the positive afterglow, while simply being in a committed relationship is insufficient to derive such benefits. Big Think (5 minutes)
First-order thinking is simplistic and superficial, and just about everyone can do it. First-order thinkers look for things that are simple, easy, and defendable. They fail to realize that they are dealing with complex systems, or if they do realize it, they mistake cause-and-effect relationships. They are incapable of thinking in terms of second and subsequent steps. Sometimes when we solve one problem, we end up unintentionally creating another one that’s worse. Second-order thinking helps identify the second and subsequent order consequences of a decision before they happen. Knowing these problems before they occur allows us to take steps now to avoid problems later. Second-order thinkers, on the other hand, think in terms of interactions, time, and system dynamics. Things like 1) what are the key variables and how do they interact?, 2) where is the leverage?, and 3) if I take this action, what happens next? Farnam Street (9 minutes)
As adults, we spend a lot of time talking about all of the things that we have to do. You have to wake up early for work. You have to make another sales call for your business. You have to work out today. You have to write an article. You have to make dinner for your family. You have to go to your son’s game. Now, imagine changing just one word in the sentences above. You don’t “have” to. You “get” to. You get to wake up early for work. You get to make another sales call for your business. You get to work out today. You get to write an article. You get to make dinner for your family. You get to go to your son’s game. The things you do each day are not burdens, they are opportunities. So often, the things we view as work are actually the reward. Embrace your constraints. Do the work. You don’t have to. You get to. James Clear (3 minutes)
From the Community
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. - William Arthur Ward
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