Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 24th, 2021

Why is China smashing its tech industry?

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Noah Smith has a very interesting column that begins:

Those who pay attention to business news have probably noted an interesting and curious phenomenon over the past few months: China is smashing its internet companies. It started — or at least, most people in the U.S. started noticing it — when the government effectively canceled the IPO of Ant Financial, then dismantled the company. Jack Ma, the founder of Ant and of e-commerce giant Alibaba, was summoned to a meeting with the government and then disappeared for weeks. The government then levied a multi-billion dollar antitrust fine against Alibaba (which is sometimes compared to Amazon), deleted its popular web browser from app stores, and took a bunch of other actions against it. The value of Ma’s business empire has collapsed.

But Ma was only the most prominent target. The government is also going after other fintech companies, including those owned by Didi (China’s Uber) and Tencent (China’s biggest social media company). As Didi prepared to IPO in the U.S., Chinese regulators announced they were reviewing the company on “national security grounds”, and are now levying various penalties against it. The government has also embarked on an “antitrust” push, fining Tencent and Baidu — two other top Chinese internet companies — for various past deals. Leaders of top tech companies (also including ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok) were summoned before regulators and presumably berated. Various Chinese tech companies are now undergoing “rectification”.

For those outside China’s byzantine, opaque nexus of party, government, and big business, it’s very difficult to figure out what’s going on. Just who is ordering these actions is not clear, or what the ultimate result of the crackdown will be. That makes it very hard to figure out why it’s happening. Some observers see this as an antitrust campaign, similar to the ones going on in the U.S. or the EU. China’s leaders famously want to prevent the emergence of alternative centers of power, but is the West so different in this regard? One of the driving motivations behind the new antitrust movement in the U.S. is to curb the political power of Big Tech companies specifically; if you wanted to, you might see the Chinese tech crackdown as simply a Neo-Brandeisian movement on steroids.

But the breadth of the Chinese crackdown suggests a major difference. The U.S. has slapped down a few of its corporate giants before — Microsoft, AT&T, Standard Oil — but ultimately it didn’t crush the industries these companies were a part of. We’re unlikely to see major action against all the U.S. internet companies at once, and broad EU action will likely take the form of new rules rather than a sweeping crackdown. China’s attack on its tech companies, in contrast, seems far more comprehensive — it’s not just attacking the biggest internet companies, it’s attacking the entire sector. For whatever reason, China is suddenly not a fan of the industry we call “tech”.

This is strange because for years, it was conventional wisdom in the Western media that having a “tech” sector was crucial to innovation and growth etc. In fact, for many years American pundits argued that China’s economy would be held back by the government’s insistence on control of information, because it would make it impossible for China to build a world-class tech sector! Then China did build a world-class tech sector anyway, and now it’s willfully smashing the world-class tech sector it built. So much for U.S.-style “innovation”.

But notice that China isn’t cracking down on all of its technology companies. Huawei, for example, still seems to enjoy the government’s full backing. The government is going hell-bent-for-leather to try to create a world-class domestic semiconductor industry, throwing huge amounts of money at even the most speculative startups. And it’s still spending heavily on A.I. It’s not technology that China is smashing — it’s the consumer-facing internet software companies that Americans tend to label “tech”.

Why do Americans equate “tech” with companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, anyway? One reason is that the consumer internet industry is something America is really good at — unlike our electronics hardware industries, consumer software is something that hard-driving Asian competitors haven’t yet been able to beat us at. Another reason is that software companies make a lot of profit — Facebook made over $18 billion in 2020, three times Micron or Honeywell and six times Cisco. With their low overhead, network effects, troves of intellectual property, strong brand value, and differentiated products, successful software companies naturally tend to generate high margins. That’s true for smaller software companies as well as big ones. And since in America we often tend to equate profit with value, this means we think of the consumer-facing software industry as being our industrial champion, generating a huge amount of economic value for our nation.

China may simply see things differently. It’s possible that the Chinese government has decided that the profits of companies like Alibaba and Tencent come more from rents than from actual value added — that they’re simply squatting on unproductive digital land, by exploiting first-mover advantage to capture strong network effects, or that the IP system is biased to favor these companies, or something like that. There are certainly those in America who believe that Facebook and Google produce little of value relative to the profit they rake in; maybe China’s leaders, for reasons that will remain forever opaque to us, have simply reached the same conclusion.

But in fact I suspect that there is something else going on here. If you’re interested in China and its economy, one analyst you should definitely read is GaveKal Dragonomics’ Dan Wang. And in Dan’s 2019 letter, I noticed the following passage:

I find it bizarre that the world has decided that consumer internet is the highest form of technology. It’s not obvious to me that apps like WeChat, Facebook, or Snap are doing the most important work pushing forward our technologically-accelerating civilization. To me, it’s entirely plausible that Facebook and Tencent might be net-negative for technological developments. The apps they develop offer fun, productivity-dragging distractions; and the companies pull smart kids from R&D-intensive fields like materials science or semiconductor manufacturing, into ad optimization and game development.

The internet companies in San Francisco and Beijing are highly skilled at business model innovation and leveraging network effects, not necessarily R&D and the creation of new IP….I wish we would drop the notion that China is leading in technology because it has a vibrant consumer internet. A large population of people who play games, buy household goods online, and order food delivery does not make a country a technological or scientific leader…These are fine companies, but in my view, the milestones of our technological civilization ought to be found in scientific and industrial achievements instead.

Dan’s job is to keep his ear to the ground, figure out what the movers and shakers in China think, and relay those thoughts to us. So when he started talking about the idea that consumer internet tech isn’t real “tech”, I immediately wondered if China’s leaders were thinking along the same lines. And then in his 2020 letter, Dan wrote:

It’s become apparent in the last few months that the Chinese leadership has moved towards the view that hard tech is more valuable than products that take us more deeply into the digital world. Xi declared this year that while digitization is important, “we must recognize the fundamental importance of the real economy… and never deindustrialize.” This expression preceded the passage of securities and antitrust regulations, thus also pummeling finance, which along with tech make up the most glamorous sectors today.

In other words, the crackdown on China’s internet industry seems to be part of the country’s emerging national industrial policy. Instead of simply letting local governments throw resources at whatever they think will produce rapid growth (the strategy in the 90s and early 00s), China’s top leaders are now trying to direct the country’s industrial mix toward what they think will serve the nation as a whole?

And what do they think will serve the nation as a whole? My guess is: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2021 at 6:55 pm

Making the kale & white bean soup with ‘nduja

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I blogged my recipe considerations and now have made the stew. See post at the link for the recipe.

I decided to save the ribs from the lacinato kale for another dish: I can mince them and steam or sauté with something. So I used only the kale leaves (no stalks), which I cut into 1″ pieces. I did let the kale rest for 45 minutes after cutting. I used two of the spring shallots, and I decided to save the shallot leaves along with the kale ribs for whatever I do with that.

I used one large head of garlic instead of the two small heads of red Russian garlic, and after chopping the cloves let them rest along with the kale, so they got 45 minutes instead of the usual 15 minutes.

I totally forgot the tomatoes. Maybe next time, but maybe not: it’s so good the way it is. I also forgot the marjoram, basil, and spearmint. I do think I’ll skip those.

I made the gremolata while the kale and garlic were resting. (Since I use a single burner, I must time things.) It’s delicious. I used Panko bread crumbs, of course.

The recipe inexplicably asks you to use a wooden spoon to smash about a quarter of the beans. That seems way too much work. After I poured the (drained, rinsed) beans into the pot, they of course made a layer on the bottom. It was easy to use a potato masher to mash 1/4 of that layer, measured by eye: one-quarter of the disk of beans. Unlike a wooden spoon, the potato masher is designed for the task. Or you could put a quarter of the beans in a food processor and process them, or put them in the beaker that comes with an immersion blender and blend them — and in fact, that’s what I’ll do when I make it again.

After smashing a fourth of the beans, I added the stock (vegetable low-sodium for me), then dumped in the cooked barnyard millet since I had used only 36 oz of beans instead of the 45 oz the recipe specifies. I was thinking that the next time I would use 3 cans of beans to make the soup thicker, but in fact the beans (1/4 of them smashed) plus millet plus simmering for 15 minutes did produce a thick soup.

I suggest using a little more ‘nduja than the recipe calls for. And I definitely suggest dicing the ‘nduja before adding to the pot — breaking it up with a spoon is awkward and somewhat difficult. Dicing it before adding it to the pot would make that task easier. The potato masher might work here as well. (I wonder at the over-reliance on wooden spoons in the recipe. I used my potato masher to smash beans and I used my cherrywood spatula for everything else.)

However, I plan to skip the ‘nduja altogether — and thus skip all the animal fat — and replace it with a paste of crushed Calabrian chili peppers. That eliminates the meat from the recipe, and that is a health benefit. I will then increase the amount of olive oil from 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup to make up for the fat eliminated along with the ‘nduja. And since the taste is in the peppers, not in the meat, this substitution should work well.

I cooked the kale somewhat longer than the 30 seconds the recipe suggests — more like 4-5 minutes.

It’s extremely tasty. The gremolata adds a lot, so don’t skip that.

Photo below on left shows the beans after they have simmered 15 minutes — the soup did thicken. The photo on the right is after kale was added and had cooked down some. Change in coloring may be artifact of lighting, or the photo on the left was made with no stirring, with the orange ‘nduja fat floating on the surface.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2021 at 5:49 pm

Updated 7 Habits worksheet

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I continue to get hits on an old post that discusses Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and how to apply the method. Today I decided to make a printable copy of a worksheet formatted to fit his planning routine. You can print or download it to give it a try.

You can also modify it by getting the spreadsheet and then opening it with Excel or Google Sheets of Mac Numbers. For the latter two, the file will be converted to their native file format.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2021 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

National unity for the common good vs. National divisiveness to get as much as you can

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Heather Cox Richardson has a good column:

On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans ever to land, and then to walk, on the moon.

They were part of the Apollo program, designed to put an American man on the moon. Their spacecraft launched on July 16 and landed back on Earth in the Pacific Ocean July 24, giving them eight days in space, three of them orbiting the moon 30 times. Armstrong and Aldrin spent almost 22 hours on the moon’s surface, where they collected soil and rock samples and set up scientific equipment, while the pilot of the command module, Michael Collins, kept the module on course above them.

The American space program that created the Apollo 11 spaceflight grew out of the Cold War. The year after the Soviet Union launched an artificial satellite in 1957, Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to demonstrate American superiority by sending a man into space. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy moved the goalposts, challenging the country to put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth again. He told Congress: “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

A year later, in a famous speech at Rice University in Texas, Kennedy tied space exploration to America’s traditional willingness to attempt great things. “Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it,” he said.

[T]here is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people…. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills….”

But the benefits to the country would not only be psychological, he said. “The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school.” The effort would create “a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs…new demands in investment and skilled personnel,” as the government invested billions in it.

“To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money…. I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.”

Seven years later, people across the country gathered around television sets to watch Armstrong step onto the moon and to hear his famous words: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

President Richard Nixon called the astronauts from the White House: “I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you have done,” he said. “For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives…. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world…. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one…in their pride in what you have done, and…in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

And yet, by the time Armstrong and Aldrin were stepping onto the moon in a grand symbol of the success of the nation’s moon shot, Americans back on earth were turning against each other. Movement conservatives who hated post–World War II business regulation, taxation, and civil rights demanded smaller government and championed the idea of individualism, while those opposed to the war in Vietnam increasingly distrusted the government.

After May 4, 1970, when the shooting of college students at Kent State University in Ohio badly weakened Nixon’s support, he began to rally supporters to his side with what his vice president, Spiro Agnew, called “positive polarization.” They characterized those who opposed the administration as anti-American layabouts who simply wanted a handout from the government. The idea that Americans could come together to construct a daring new future ran aground on the idea that anti-war protesters, people of color, and women were draining hardworking taxpayers of their hard-earned money.

Ten years later, former actor and governor of California Ronald Reagan won the White House by promising to defend white taxpayers from people like the “welfare queen,” who, he said, “has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands.” Reagan promised to champion individual Americans, getting government, and the taxes it swallowed, off people’s backs.

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Reagan said in his Inaugural Address. Americans increasingly turned away from the post–World War II teamwork and solidarity that had made the Apollo program a success, and instead focused on liberating individual men to climb upward on their own terms, unhampered by regulation or taxes.

This week, on July 20, 2021, 52 years to the day after Armstrong and Aldrin stepped onto the moon, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and four passengers spent 11 minutes in the air, three of them more than 62 miles above the earth, where many scientists say space starts. For those three minutes, they were weightless. And then the pilotless spaceship returned to Earth.

Traveling with Bezos were his brother, Mark; 82-year-old Wally Funk, a woman who trained to be an astronaut in the 1960s but was never permitted to go to space; and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen from the Netherlands, whose father paid something under $28 million for the seat.

Bezos’s goal, he says, is . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2021 at 9:29 am

Pay secrecy: Why some workers can’t discuss salaries

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Back when I lived in Iowa, each year the Des Moines Register would publish a list of all state employees and the salaries they made. I lived in Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, a state institution, so that issue was of great interest since we all could see the salaries of University staff — professors, instructors, administrators, and all. Publishing the salaries did not seem to do any harm at all, and I imagine publication prevented egregious inequities.

Kate Morgan writes at BBC about the problem of pay secrecy:

When Naomi’s former boss called her in for a stern talking-to, she had no idea it was illegal to prevent workers from having salary discussions.

At the time, Naomi, whose surname is being withheld on job security concerns, had been hiring for a position under her at a Seattle-based marketing firm. “There was another co-worker I thought might be a candidate. She asked me how much it paid. We weren’t at the stage where we were telling outside recruits that information, but it made sense to me that she’d want to know, so I told her.”

When the colleague used that knowledge to negotiate a pay rise for her existing position, the leadership blamed Naomi. “I got called into my boss’s office for ‘arming her’ with that information. It was a message like, ‘you hurt the company’,” she says. “I definitely felt like I had done something wrong… but I also felt like I had done something right, even though it was against the rules.”

In many sectors in the US, a combination of longstanding taboos and company policies keep people from discussing how much money they make – a phenomenon known as ‘pay secrecy’. Despite legislation that prohibits companies from punishing workers who disclose their pay, many people still work in environments where they don’t or can’t talk about money – something that has profound knock-on effects on wage equality.

The still-delicate subject of salary 

“In the United States, the National Labor Relations Act of the 1930s protects workers’ rights to discuss their pay,” says Shengwei Sun, senior research associate at the Washington, DC-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). “But we still find that over half the workers in the United States are subject to pay secrecy.”

That’s the result of social taboos, company cultures or formal policies which, despite being outlawed, persist. Taboos endure because many people are taught that it’s rude to discuss money. Companies can often foster cultures that discourage the sharing of salary information and at 20% of companies, according to the IWPR report, there are actual gag orders. The latter is blatantly illegal, says Sun, but a lack of enforcement means the companies are almost never called out.

Companies are motivated to promote pay secrecy, either covertly or overtly, because it often saves them money. It can mean that new hires don’t know what kind of a salary is reasonable for their role – and some may end up receiving lower pay as a result. It can also affect workers already on the career ladder; if people aren’t aware they’re underpaid in comparison to their colleagues, they’re less likely to ask for – or have the leverage to secure – large pay rises.

Of course, this practice affects some groups of people more than others. It impacts particularly women and members of minority groups who tend to be paid less than white male counterparts. These groups face more challenges negotiating for fair pay – which then feeds into the enduring wage gap. “A lack of knowledge about who makes what within organizations contributes to the continuing disparity,” reads the IWPR paper. In environments with less pay secrecy, studies show, the wage gap between white male employees and everyone else is smaller.   

Naomi believes she and her colleague caught the wrong end of an informal pay-secrecy policy, in part because of who they were. “We were two youngish women,” she says. “I was probably not quite 30 when this happened, and the other woman was around the same age. We had all of these older corporate men with a lot of years of experience telling us we were being unprofessional. Everything felt very futile.”

Experiences like Naomi’s can occur across companies of all types. A 2017 study in the journal Social Science Researchshows that two characteristics influence the likelihood of a pay secrecy rule: market sector and union membership. Government and public sector employees and union members are least likely to work under a policy of pay secrecy. “By contrast,” according to the IWPR report, “just one in ten private sector workers report that pay information is public at their workplace.” That holds across private and non-unionised companies of all shapes and sizes.

Moving the needle

Growing awareness of pay secrecy and its damaging impacts could perhaps contribute to a shift, however.

Millennials and Gen Z employees in the US, for example, are beginning to push the envelope on pay; the IWPR survey shows they’re nearly twice as likely as baby boomers to discuss money with their colleagues. Sun attributes this to the challenges facing younger workers, like graduating into a recession and a trend towards more precarious employment. “That’s shifting attitudes toward work and fairness,” she says.

There’s also some positive news for women; while they are more likely to be subject to pay secrecy, “they’re also more likely to violate that policy”, says Sun. According to the IWPR data, more than 35% of women working under a salary discussion ban say they talk about pay anyway, compared to just 24% of men.

Recent years have also brought more clarity around . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2021 at 9:02 am

Aphrodite, Mr Pomp, and Yaqi

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I’m finishing my week of desert-island brushes with Mr Pomp, a brush I ordered from England from a brushmaker who shortly afterward discontinued his operation. Too bad — it’s a very nice brush, with a handle in the shape known as “Polo.” The dramatic striping is what catches the eye, but the handle is quite comfortable and it has a good knot.

Aphrodite is a Van Yulay soap, this one with a chocolate and rose fragrance. I like Van Yulay soaps because of the variety of formulas used, all of which boast interesting ingredients. From the link:

Shaving Soap Contents:

  • Argan Oil – when used in shave soap, Argan oil’s nutrient-rich composition—including vitamin E and an omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid that has anti-inflammatory properties—makes it healthy for the skin.
  • Silk Amino Acids – This silk forms a natural layer over the skin, keeping moisture locked in and harsh conditions out, leaving skin protected and well-nourished.
  • Abyssinian Oil – Provides layers of moisture and is well known as quality oil. Its unique properties help to form an effective barrier against your skin drying out, adding luster to dull and lifeless skin.
  • Coconut Fatty Acid – excellent lathering and conditioning when used in shave soap.
  • Bentonite Clay – Gives an extra creaminess and silkiness to the shave soap. Generally, white clay’s natural absorbing, detoxifying and exfoliating properties makes it an indispensable ingredient in shaving products.
  • Silk Amino Acid is a unique silk peptide and one of the best at reducing fine lines and other signs of aging. Aside from the amazing texture of silk extracts, silk amino acids contain properties which allow it to rejuvenate skin tone, reduce wrinkles and hydrate your skin tissues to protect from free radicals.

Shaving Soap Ingredients:
Made with Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera, Coconut Fatty Acid, Castor, Glycerin, Potassium & Sodium Hydroxide ,Coconut-Babassu-Argan-Abyssinian-Oils, Cocoa Butter, Calendula, Extracts, Ground Rose Petals, Hersery’s Cocoa, Poly Quats, Sodium Lactate, Allantoin, Silica, Amino Liquid Silk, Rose Clay, Essential Oils and Fragrance.

Mr Pomp again delivered an excellent lather, and this Yaqui double-open-comb is a wonderful razor, quite comfortable while being extremely efficient. With three passes, I had a perfectly smooth and undamaged face.

I did not use Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel with this aftershave, since the Van Yulay splash does provide good treatment for the skin. Unlike the soaps, the splashes all use the same basic formula, and vary only by fragrance. The splash ingredients:

Aloe Vera, Witch Hazel, Abyssinian Seed-Emu-Red Castor-Evening Primrose-Rosehip Seed-Oils, Comfrey, Calendula, Tepezcohuite, Oat, Marsh Mallow, Green Tea Extracts, Liquid Silk, and Fragrance

And the splash did the job: my skin feels smooth, soft, and supple, and the fragrance is very nice indeed.

The weekend is well launched and underway.

 

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2021 at 8:39 am

Posted in Shaving

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