Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Health (Importance of breathing correctly in current times; Sitting all day can cause Cancer), Finance (Psychology of money; Global view of financial life during Covid), Business (Advertising business is becoming less cyclical) and Coronavirus (Covid and its effects on our brain; A physician's experience of dealing with Covid patients)

Published: Jul 4, 2020 08:30:51 AM IST
Updated: Jul 3, 2020 06:13:23 PM IST

reading_3rd july_bgImage: Shutterstock

At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, ranging from zeitgeist to futuristic, and At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, ranging from zeitgeist to futuristic, and encapsulate them in our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Health (Importance of breathing correctly in current times; Sitting all day can cause Cancer), Finance (Psychology of money; Global view of financial life during Covid), Business (Advertising business is becoming less cyclical) and Coronavirus (Covid and its effects on our brain; A physician’s experience of dealing with Covid patients).


Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended July 03, 2020-

1) A Nobel winner explains why the way you breathe is so important during the pandemic [Source: sciencealert.com]
In our schools or yoga sessions, we are taught breathing techniques to maximize our lungs’ capacity. Proper breathing has many benefits. But, what’s proper breathing? Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Breathing this way actually provides a powerful medical benefit that can help the body fight viral infections. The reason being your nasal cavities produce the molecule nitric oxide, which chemists abbreviate as NO that increases blood flow through the lungs and boosts oxygen levels in the blood. Nitric oxide is a widespread signaling molecule that triggers many different physiological effects. It is also used clinically as a gas to selectively dilate the pulmonary arteries in newborns with pulmonary hypertension. Unlike most signaling molecules, NO is a gas in its natural state. NO is produced continuously by the 1 trillion cells that form the inner lining, or endothelium, of the 100,000 miles of arteries and veins in our bodies, especially the lungs. So, can NO fight Covid-19? In an in vitro study done in 2004 during the last SARS outbreak, experimental compounds that release NO increased the survival rate of nucleus-containing mammalian cells infected with SARS-CoV.

The SARS CoV, which caused the 2003/2004 outbreak, shares most of its genome with SARS CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19. This suggests that inhaled NO therapy may be effective for treating patients with Covid-19. Several clinical trials of inhaled NO in patients with moderate to severe Covid-19, who require ventilators, are currently ongoing in several institutions. The hope is that inhaled NO will prove to be an effective therapy and lessen the need for ventilators and beds in the ICU.

2) The psychology of money [Source: collaborativefund.com]
This article throws light on how people behave with money. This report describes 20 flaws, biases, and causes of bad behavior that the author has seen pop up often when people deal with money. 1) Earned success and deserved failure fallacy: A tendency to underestimate the role of luck and risk, and a failure to recognize that luck and risk are different sides of the same coin. 2) Cost avoidance syndrome: A failure to identify the true costs of a situation, with too much emphasis on financial costs while ignoring the emotional price that must be paid to win a reward.3) Anchored-to-your-own-history bias: Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works. If you were born in 1970 the stock market went up 10-fold adjusted for inflation in your teens and 20s. If you were born in 1950, the same market went exactly nowhere in your teens and 20s.

4) Underappreciating the power of compounding, driven by the tendency to intuitively think about exponential growth in linear terms: IBM made a 3.5 megabyte hard drive in the 1950s. By the 1960s things were moving into a few dozen megabytes. By the 1970s, IBM’s Winchester drive held 70 megabytes. Then drives got exponentially smaller in size with more storage. A typical PC in the early 1990s held 200-500 megabytes. From 1950 to 1990 we gained 296 megabytes. From 1990 through today we gained 60 million megabytes.

5) A tendency to be influenced by the actions of other people who are playing a different financial game than you are: If you start taking cues from people playing a different game than you are, you are bound to be fooled and eventually become lost, since different games have different rules and different goals. This goes beyond investing. How you save, how you spend, what your business strategy is, how you think about money, when you retire, and how you think about risk may all be influenced by the actions and behaviors of people who are playing different games than you are. Jiddu Krishnamurti spent years giving spiritual talks. He became more candid as he got older. In one famous talk, he asked the audience if they’d like to know his secret. He whispered, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.” That might be the best trick when dealing with the psychology of money. 

3) A global view of financial life during Covid-19 [Source: McKinsey]
To measure and anticipate the evolution in consumer financial sentiment, behaviors, needs, and expectations, McKinsey undertook a series of global surveys of household financial decision-makers through the crisis (first in April 2020, and again in May). The survey covers 30 countries, together accounting for 68% of the global population and 82% of all Covid-19 cases reported as of June 17. The survey results offer insights into how financial services providers can best serve consumers now and in the post-Covid-19 environment. Household financial decision-makers across the globe are reporting decreases in income, savings, and spending. In most countries, between 20% and 60% of decision-makers say they fear for their jobs, with roughly half of these holding four or fewer months of savings.
Some of the observations were: 1) Financial decision-maker sentiment: In all countries, respondents assess the current state of the economy more negatively than they assess their own current personal financial situations. This difference is most extreme in the UK, where net economic sentiment is 50 percentage points more negative than net sentiment about people’s own financial situations. 2) Consumer impact: In Germany, 13% of household financial decision-makers expressed concerns over job security, while in both India and South Africa this number was roughly 60%. Also, many respondents across all countries reported decreased income and savings on a net basis. The most drastic reduction was in South Africa, with 71% and 76% of respondents, respectively, reporting decreases.

3) Consumer expectations of banks: In most countries, a large majority—over 70% in most of Western Europe, for instance—indicated that their banks were at least meeting their expectations during the Covid-19 crisis. Performance above expectation was highest in Turkey and India. However, in several cases, decision-makers’ banks were not meeting expectations for a significant minority, including in Spain, Russia, France, and Italy. 4) Future outlook: Consumers expect to increase their reliance on remote banking, but with significant variation across countries. The preference was especially pronounced in South Africa, Brazil, and India as a net gain of over 30% of consumers indicated they will increase their use of online and mobile banking once “normal life” resumes.

4) Meet Lee Fixel: Low-key investor who turned bets on Flipkart and Peloton into billions [Source: Forbes]
Peloton CEO John Foley had a tough time finding investors to invest in his company. The search ended with Lee Fixel in 2014. Hundreds of venture capitalists and investment firms had passed on Mr. Foley’s fitness start-up; Peloton’s internet-connected stationary bike had even turned to Kickstarter for funds. But as Mr. Foley went through his pitch – that Peloton was more than a bike, but an emerging media company, with recurring subscription revenue and a sleepy incumbent ripe to upend – for the first time, a big-firm investor’s eyes were lighting up. “I’m in, shut down the round, I’ll wire $5 million next week,” Mr. Foley remembers Mr. Fixel saying. “There was a lot to like that he saw and nobody else saw.”

When Peloton went public in September, Mr. Fixel’s firm Tiger was the largest investor, holding just under 20% of a company that now trades, amid a Covid-19 user surge, at more than $16 billion. Mr. Fixel resigned from his post and raised $1.3 billion for a new multi-stage venture capital firm called Addition. And Mr. Fixel, who has already started building out a team around him at Addition, has made one of the firms’ first public-facing investments: Fauna, a NoSQL database software company founded by ex-Twitter infrastructure leaders that just raised $27 million.

Mr. Fixel is typically a cipher, speaking on rare occasions to talk only about his philanthropy. He helped Tiger make a string of successful investments in private tech companies, especially in India, where they scored $3.5 billion in profits when Flipkart sold to Walmart. Mr. Fixel has already hired a team of more than a dozen for Addition, including three investment principals, mostly from Wall Street backgrounds, as well as a head of data science who previously spent three years working in that field at Uber. The trust that people have in Mr. Fixel can be seen through the following line. “I only own one thing in life: it’s Peloton stock. I’m turning 50 years old and I don’t own one other stock, don’t have one other investment. I only have Peloton,” says Mr. Foley. “I strongly considered selling some Peloton and giving it to Lee. That would be the only other place I would put it.”

5) How the legacy of the pandemic will reshape the future of work [Source: entrepreneur.com
The pandemic has changed our working environment. This trend has changed many businesses. ServiceNow, a builder of cloud computing platforms, says it expects to fill more than 1,000 new jobs in the U.S. by the end of 2020 and onboard around 360 college interns for a summer program — with policies that generously support work-from-home arrangements as a potentially better way to do business and attract top talent. Fidelity Investments announced plans to accelerate the hiring of 2,000 U.S. workers, most of whom will serve as financial consultants and customer service representatives. This includes substantial work-from-home arrangements to ensure the safety of associates.

Also, many companies have suspended business travel to cut costs and to test how much can be accomplished using video meetings and other sorts of remote connections. That, too, may become a lasting pattern. Automation, particularly of repetitive jobs, is likely to accelerate. And, augmented by artificial intelligence, other types of work could soon become automated as well, although AI is more likely to supplement human creativity than to replace it. Pressure from employees to expand the flexibility of their hours and work arrangements has been growing for some time, with more working couples striving to balance their professional lives with family responsibilities.

The whole nature of the traditional employment contract is coming under scrutiny. Although there will always be some jobs performed by regular, full-time employees, more agile patterns of work, built on cloud-based relationships rather than embedded in conventional employment arrangements, are becoming more viable alternatives in the nation’s work life. Freelance work, gigs, project partnerships, tours of duty and other non-traditional forms of engagement have already become important elements of the emerging workforce. The impact of the pandemic is making them even more attractive. Survival and incremental success will be achieved by the businesses that embrace this change.

6) Sitting all day may increase your risk of dying from Cancer [Source: The New York Times]
Since our childhood days, we have been taught that one shouldn’t sit for long hours. You need to move around to stay active and healthy. But, with the corporate culture, long working hours mean sitting in one place for hours at a stretch. There are many disadvantages of it, and it can also heighten someone’s risk of later dying from cancer. Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and other institutions conducted a study to examine this. 

They examined whether, statistically, sitting more upped the likelihood of dying from cancer. And it did, substantially. The men and women in the group that had spent the most hours sitting were 82% more likely to have died from cancer during the study’s follow-up period than those in the group that had sat the least. This association held true when the researchers controlled for people’s ages, weight, gender, health, smoking status, education, geographic location and other factors. In other words, sitting for hours increased the likelihood that someone eventually would die of cancer, even if he or she otherwise was well.

Taken as a whole, these data suggest that “even a small amount of extra physical activity, no matter how light it might be, can have benefits for cancer survival,” says Dr. Susan Gilchrist, a cardiologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center who works with cancer patients and led the new study. Dr. Gilchrist says that she and her colleagues hope to examine some of those issues in future studies. But even with the caveats, she thinks that the data from this study should be rousing. Getting up and walking around even for a few minutes every hour can have immense health benefits.

7) I’m an E.R. Doctor in New York. None of us will ever be the same. [Source: NY Times]
In this article, Helen Ouyang, a physician, a writer and an assistant professor at Columbia University, writes about her experience as the pandemic engulfed her hospitals. She was in Karachi, Pakistan when the news of first Covid patient in New York City (NYC) reached her. She was already worried thinking about what the situation would be once she reaches her hospital. Even in the best of circumstances, the emergency room (ER) can be swamped, with patients doubled up in rooms and too few monitors and beds to go around. Doctors and nurses are always multitasking at the edge of their limits. “Damage control,” they call it.

As weeks passed by, the number of Covid positive patients increased. Even the hospital staffs were affected by the virus. In the fourth week of March, her hospital was starting trial runs of putting two patients on one ventilator. She couldn’t imagine that it had gone so far. So many patients were overflowing into the hallways, relying on oxygen tanks instead of the dispensers on the walls. It seemed impossible to avoid getting infected. When she had a day’s off from work, she tried to learn what she could about this virus and its many tricks.

In less than six weeks, she says that she has never felt less useful as a doctor. The one thing she could do — what she thinks will matter most, in the end — is just to be a person first, for these patients and their families. For doctors to survive this pandemic, they have to feel each moment — even if it makes each moment more difficult to endure.

8) The advertising business is becoming less cyclical—and more concentrated [Source: The Economist]
The current pandemic has affected each and every industry. And this is a hard year for advertising. Global ad spending is expected to be 10% lower than in 2019, according to GroupM, the world’s largest advertising firm by billings. The pandemic led advertisers to trim marketing budgets, deprived sellers of ad space, such as cinemas, of audiences, and left the admen with no work. Rishad Tobaccowala, an adviser to Publicis Groupe, the world’s third-biggest agency, likens it to an asteroid strike: “The Earth will go on. But some dinosaurs will die.”

Despite a slump like no other, ad spending may fall by less this year than the 11.2% drop that followed the financial crisis in 2009. And whereas most of the advertising dollars pulled during the recessions of 2001 and 2009 never came back, this time they may return to pre-pandemic levels as early as next year, believes MoffettNathanson, a research firm. How come? In a word: internet. In 2001, when Google was a start-up and Mark Zuckerberg in high school, digital advertising made up 5% of America’s ad mix. In 2010 advertisers spent twice as much on print and radio as online, even as people were spending more time with computers and smartphones than with magazines or radio. Eventually, companies that pulled radio and print commercials in these downturns realised they didn’t need them. They are more reluctant to trim online adverts. 

The internet draws in new advertisers and persuades existing ones to spend more. Smaller firms that cannot pay for pricey television clips can afford to experiment online. As more ad dollars migrate online, an even bigger wodge will end up with Google and Facebook, which last year hoovered up 90% of new online ad spending, according to Bernstein. They are on track to increase their share of the worldwide digital-ad business to 70% or so within a few years, and still have ample capacity to display more ads. If the flood of online ad spending continues, however, current digital-advertising space may reach “a point of saturation”, warns Andrew Lipsman of eMarketer. Ads will then seep to other digital media. The ads will go to gaming and video streaming. Mr. Tobaccowala believes his industry can dodge the asteroid. “Agencies are like cockroaches and not like dinosaurs,” he says. “We scurry around, we figure out the new world.” Nowadays this counts as optimism.   

9) Why it makes sense to ban Chinese telecom vendors this time [Source: swarajyamag.com]
The number of Chinese telecom vendors in India has surged in the past decade. They have had a dream run in India – using cost as the key differentiator towards achieving L-1 status in state-owned telcos and a combination of cost, inducements and fear to foray into private providers. Chinese telecom vendors began with poor technology but used every rabbit out of their bag to develop products that aim to compete with their Western counterparts. 

Needless to say, when a vendor has good state backing, and there is guaranteed home-grown business to begin with, that means that there is a steady revenue stream that can be used to funnel back into development efforts and capture overseas markets. So, despite their technologically questionable beginnings, certainly debatable ethics and super-doubtful intents especially as far as India is concerned, it is clear that Chinese products have today in the telecom space achieved a degree of market dominance that is enviable. This is really where the worry is for India, from a short-to-medium term security perspective and long-term business/existential perspective.

When it comes to 4G and 5G, things get mixed up. These are technologies that enter our homes and enterprises in a big way – wireless simply does not have the bandwidth to meet a large number of high-bandwidth users when the base-stations are less-than-half-to-a-kilometre away. One of the use cases for 5G is IoT (Internet of Things) in some rudimentary form – which means that the vendor can manipulate your home, office and all other public appliances at will, without even having to hack into “your” network – all he has to do is provision a "feature" that will do the work for him. Letting Chinese into a 5G network, is welcoming economic slavery 2.0.   
  
10) Coronavirus: What does Covid-19 do to the brain? [Source: BBC]
Covid-19 is said to attack the lungs. But does it affect the brains as well? Paul Mylrea, 64-year-old, who is director of communications at Cambridge University, suffered two massive strokes, both caused by coronavirus infection. He has made one of the most remarkable recoveries ever seen by doctors at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) in London. Consultant neurologist Dr. Arvind Chandratheva said, "I've never seen that level of clotting before - something about his body's response to the infection had caused his blood to become incredibly sticky."

The stroke was so big that doctors thought it likely he would not survive, or be left hugely disabled. "After my second stroke, my wife and daughters thought that was it, they would never see me again," Mr. Paul says. "The doctors told them there was not much they could do except wait. Then I somehow survived and have been getting progressively stronger." One of the first encouraging signs was his ability with languages - he speaks six - and he would switch from English to Portuguese to speak to one of his nurses. "Unusually he learned several of his languages as an adult, and this will have created different wiring connections in the brain which have survived his stroke," says Dr. Chandratheva.

A study in the Lancet Psychiatry found brain complications in 125 seriously ill coronavirus patients in UK hospitals. Nearly half had suffered a stroke due to a blood clot while others had brain inflammation, psychosis, or dementia-like symptoms. One of the report authors, Prof. Tom Solomon of the University of Liverpool, said, "It's clear now that this virus does cause problems in the brain whereas initially we thought it was all about the lungs. Part of it is due to lack of oxygen to the brain. But there appear to be many other factors, such as problems with blood clotting and a hyper-inflammatory response of the immune system. We should also ask whether the virus itself is infecting the brain."

Click here to see Forbes India's comprehensive coverage on the Covid-19 situation and its impact on life, business and the economy​

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