Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Sports (The pitch-perfect match maker), Lifestyle (Breaking Bad [Habits] with Dr. Jud Brewer), Business (Can a GameStop play in India?), Tourism (Promise and perils of vaccine passports) and Reading (Will Self on how we should read).

Published: Feb 6, 2021 06:31:32 AM IST
Updated: Feb 5, 2021 04:40:58 PM IST

readingImage: Shutterstock

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: Sports (The pitch-perfect match maker), Lifestyle (Breaking Bad [Habits] with Dr. Jud Brewer), Business (Can a GameStop play in India?), Tourism (Promise and perils of vaccine passports) and Reading (Will Self on how we should read).
 
Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended February 6, 2021.

1)    Rahul Dravid: The pitch-perfect match maker [Source: Hindustan Times]
After 32 years, the Indian cricket team won Border-Gavaskar test series, beating Australia. The India team made up largely of rookies. So, who were these rookies and how did this happen? The foundation was in 2015 by Rahul Dravid, the new U-19 team coach. Instead of focusing only on the sure shots who were set to break through, he created a process of building an enviable bench for the senior team, a second-string of young but supremely capable players waiting to grab their chance. Winning U-19 tournaments became secondary, unearthing talent and keeping it on track became all-important.

Rishabh Pant, Sundar, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Shardul Thakur, Hanuma Vihari, and even Siraj once he was scouted — all of whom played in the Australia series — have all came up through Dravid’s system. “Every two years there are 15 or 16 new U-19 players coming up. But there won’t be 15 or 16 slots in the Indian team every two years,” he said in a rare press interaction on the sidelines of that 2015 tri-nation series. “If [Cheteshwar] Pujara, [Virat] Kohli and [Ajinkya] Rahane keep scoring runs, tough luck for a lot of guys. That’s the way it works... That’s what I tell these boys. Not all of them are going to make it. That’s a reality. Only two or three guys will make it from here and the rest should aim to have really good successful first-class careers.”

What Dravid did was ensure that every youngster with skill and commitment got a fair shot. Dravid demands absolute professionalism and dedication to the team’s cause, says former Saurashtra batting stalwart Sitanshu Kotak, who was coach of the India ‘A’ team under Dravid’s supervision. “The only thing Rahul dislikes is if anyone takes a tour for granted.” So, yes, it was a confluence of factors, many with low probabilities, that helped some of Brisbane’s winning 11 make the team -- but they were ready for it. Their foundation was strong. And The Wall was watching.     

2)    Breaking Bad (Habits): Dr. Jud Brewer [Source: YouTube; Rich Roll Podcast
Everybody’s got addiction. That’s what Dr. Jud Brewer feels. He says, “On a very basic level, we are probably all addicted to something on one level or another.” He is a psychiatrist, neuroscientist, though leader and scientific researcher in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery”. He starts by talking about his college days when he was a BMX racer. He says how he used to eat junk food in the breaks, which resulted in feeling loss of energy. But when his mother asked him to have a peanut butter and honey sandwich, that was a revelation for him. He felt energetic and strong. Similarly, we all have some or the other bad habit which we wish to change.

He also talks in deep about how meditation and mindfulness can help us finally overcome the unhealthy patterns that live between our reality and the best version of ourselves lurking within. Talking about teenagers and their obsession with smartphones, says that teenagers try to copy people around them. If the parents are spending their time on phones, they too will follow suit.

He explains how mediation and mindfulness helps us in mellowing us down, and helps in being present in the moment. Also, there are various meditation techniques, but you need to find which technique resonates with you. Lastly, he talks about his book, The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love - why We Get Hooked and how We Can Break Bad Habits. He wrote this book as a self-retreat, and it was written in two weeks. 

3)    Why bubbles are good for innovation [A Wealth of Common Sense
Fiber cables are being used to transmit the information we consume every day on the little glass supercomputers we carry around in our pockets for work, play, entertainment, socializing, and wasting time. It’s highly likely that the infrastructure for this system would have taken a lot longer to put in place if it wasn’t for the dot-com bubble of the 1990s. The dot-com bubble certainly led to plenty of madness and eventual losses as speculators tried to make sense of how far technological innovation could take things in the “New Economy.” Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, and Oracle, some of the biggest tech darlings of the 1990s were worth a combined $83 billion at the outset of 1995. Just five short years later, as the tech bubble inflated to astronomical proportions, this group had grown to a combined market cap of nearly $2 trillion.

In 1999 alone 13 tech stocks were up 1,000% or more, including the biggest winner of them all Qualcomm, which rose an astonishing 2,700%. The bubble finally popped in early-2000 when investors realized the fundamentals of these businesses couldn’t possibly live up to the insane growth in their share prices. Before the dot-com bubble popped, telecom companies raised almost $2 trillion in equity and $600 billion in debt from investors eager to bet on the future. Those companies laid down more than 80 million miles of fiber optic cables, which represented more than three-quarters of all digital wiring installed in the U.S. up to that point in all of history. There was so much overcapacity from this buildout, 85% of these fiber optic cables were still unused as of late-2005. Within four years of the end of the dot-com bubble, the cost of bandwidth had fallen by 90%.

So despite more people coming online by the day during this period, costs fell and there was so much capacity available that those who were left standing were able to build out the Internet as we know it today. The dot-com bubble laid the tracks for the Internet as we know it today. A large number of tech start-ups with seemingly good ideas went out of business after the dot-com flameout. But that era planted the seeds for the next wave of innovation that occurred, which gave us services like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb and Google. Some people create life-changing levels of wealth during manias. Others lose their shirt when the bubbles pop. Yet all bubbles are not bad in and of themselves. The silver lining from a bubble is society often benefits from the sheer amount of money that pours to invest.

4)    Can a GameStop play out in India? Not quite [Source: ET Prime
Past few days, the internet and business news are all about GameStop. The gaming retailer traded at USD18 on January 1, 2021. On January 27, the stock price touched USD347. Hedge funds like Melvin Capital, which had shorted the stock on the premise that GameStop would go down because of Covid-19, suffered massive losses, as retail investors took positions against it. The saga has triggered discussion in India too. Over the last few days, when people on Twitter and other social-media platforms took a timeout from arguing about protesting farmers, vaccines, and Union Budget 2021, the question they were asking was: Can we have a GameStop kind of situation in the Indian market?

In India, it is not easy to look at the positions of hedge funds and take an opposite one. In the US markets, short positions are publicly disclosed by hedge funds. Also, going short in the Indian markets is restricted to 200 stocks, which are part of futures and options and are extremely liquid. Shorting the rest of the stocks requires a mechanism of borrowing shares, which involves a tedious process. For all practical purposes, it is next to impossible to go short on small or mid-cap stocks, in which liquidity is limited. In India, the big-picture investment philosophy about who should short and who shouldn’t is decided by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), the stockmarket regulator.

While the world is talking about how retail investors have figured out a way to hit back at institutional investors, Sanjiv Shah, who was instrumental for the first exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in India through Benchmark Mutual Fund, feels that the index fund has been doing that ever since John Bogle proposed the idea. Mr. Shah agrees that the retail-organising effort of WallStreetBets is praiseworthy, but somehow institutions will figure out this game as they have the capital and regulation on their side. They eventually become a part of the institutions. Also, if retail investors don’t have an endgame, someone can use them for their own nasty purpose.

5)    How Instagram influencers can fake their way to online fame [Source: CNBC]
As they say, everything that you see on the internet and social media might not be true. Now HBO’s new documentary “Fake Famous,” aims to show just how easy it can be to game the social media economy in order to become a famous online “influencer.” “You don’t have to go to the dark web, or anything, you just go to the straight up internet and you can buy pretty much anything you want,” says Nick Bilton, writer-director, in “Fake Famous” as he takes out a credit card to buy thousands of fake followers, or “bots,” for the documentary’s three subjects.

The bot followers are “an algorithm that pretends to be a real person on the internet,” says Mr. Bilton. “These bots are created by hackers and programmers who write code that scour the internet to steal countless random identities by pilfering peoples photos, names and bios.” He estimates that there are “hundreds of millions” of bots online and they can be used for any number of purposes, from foreign countries spreading misinformation around U.S. elections to making people, including aspiring influencers as well as already famous celebrities, “appear more popular than they really are.”

To organically grow the fake influencers’ followings and attract offers from brands for sponsored content, Mr. Bilton had photographers shoot the subjects in what appear to be luxurious locales, but are actually completely faked. Countless other influencers with massive followings also employ misleading tricks to create follow-worthy social content, according to Mr. Bilton. In fact, online, there are thousands of tutorials to pretend you are on an elaborate vacation, when you’re really just in your bedroom. In the end, Bilton’s three subjects went from having no more than 2,500 Instagram followers to tens of thousands (and one now has nearly 340,000 Instagram followers). Meanwhile, they also started receiving perks from brands looking to be featured in their Instagram posts, from free sunglasses or jewelry to free training sessions at a private gym in Beverly Hills.

6)    The when of eating: The science behind intermittent fasting [Source: knowablemagazine.org]      
People are becoming fatter by every passing day. Late night snacking has become a normal phenomenon. As of 2018, 42% of US adults were obese — almost three times more than in 1980 and prior decades, according to government statistics. One 2015 study of 156 US adults found that most ate more than four times a day, and some up to 15 times, with an average of about six. But an increasing number of researchers think there is more to the rising rates of obesity than endless grazing. What also matters is timing: We eat when we shouldn’t, and don’t give our bodies a long enough break in between. We didn’t evolve to eat many small meals day and night, says Dominic D’Agostino, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who studies the effects of nutrition on the brain.

The timing of eating matters for body weight and health, studies are starting to suggest. Nibbling advice became a health mantra, partly based on the belief that frequent eating revs up the metabolism and makes the body burn more calories. This could be one of the reasons why “lots of people are now eating for 16 hours a day,” says biochemist Valter Longo, who studies genetics and nutrition at the University of Southern California. Newer human research suggests that the mantra was ill-advised. It finds no support for the notion that endless nibbling increases metabolic rate. If eating when the body should be sleeping is unhealthy, then it follows that restricting eating to waking hours might be healthy. But what time window is best for eating? For many of us, breakfast is the easiest meal to skip.

Food-processing organs such as the liver or pancreas follow 24-hour rhythms. During the day, the pancreas is best at secreting insulin to tell the liver to take sugar from the blood and store it as glycogen and fat. Before bedtime and at night, it’s programmed to slow down insulin secretion. Even the bacteria that live in our guts follow a daily rhythm, with likely effects on health and digestion. And just as the brain needs rest at night to do much-needed repair and cleanup work, so does the body — to break down cholesterol, damaged mitochondria or misfolded proteins, for example. So basically, you shouldn’t be eating regular meals, and you shouldn’t be fasting for a long time. There’s a balance to everything!  

7)    When independent auditors are caught napping [Source: ET Prime
Accounting manipulations usually go undetected for several years, even though stringent auditing and corporate-governance regulations are in place, with the respective regulators overseeing the whole process. Worse, these frauds have a deep and long-lasting impact on investor wealth and the economy. The recurring nature of such events raises questions over the ability of regulators and governments across countries to put adequate processes in place to prevent such frauds.

While the US and other countries were handling the mortgage crisis, India was dealing with an accounting-manipulation scandal at home. The Satyam Computers (Mahindra Satyam) saga, one of the biggest corporate frauds in the country, could have been detected early on had the Hyderabad-based information-technology services company’s independent auditors remained vigilant (or actually independent). Following the incident, it was proposed to set up a National Financial Regulatory Authority (NFRA), an independent regulator responsible for overseeing the auditing process and improving transparency. However, the proposal was approved by the Cabinet only in 2018 after the IL&FS incident.

NFRA, which was established soon after the IL&FS episode, found out that the independent auditors of the company weren’t actually “independent” and that major irregularities in its financials were not reported, which eventually lead to defaults. Repeated financial irregularities around the globe have prompted governments and regulators to take strict action against companies and their managements. But they have failed to take any firm action against the auditors of those companies. But such lapses on the part of auditors also raise questions on the role and efficiency of governing bodies. The recurring nature of such frauds means that either the auditors have not remained vigilant enough or their boldness and independence have been compromised under management pressure. But, at last, it’s the retail investors that bleed.

8)    How the “League of Intrapreneurs” is helping leaders in corporate life do more meaningful work [Source: Forbes
In this interview, Maggie De Pree, Cofounder of The League of Intrapreneurs, people working in a company are changing the fate of a company by getting actively involved in seeking answers to tough questions/problems. She starts by saying that an intrapreneur is like an entrepreneur, but working from inside of an existing institution. Intrapreneurs are your sideways thinkers, silo-busters, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer innovators inside companies, governments and nonprofits. They can be found anywhere innovation is stalled by outmoded mindsets, institutional inertia and bureaucratic red tape. 

She created the League of Intrapreneurs to celebrate and connect intrapreneurs who are determined to change the world for good. This special breed of intrapreneur (some call them ‘social’ or ‘impact’ intrapreneurs) is harnessing the assets of their institutions - be it brand, technology or supply chains - to solve big challenges like inequality, climate change and global health. When confronted with a challenge, an intrapreneur asks, ‘What if?’ And’ How might we?’ questions like, “What if people stopped buying stuff and started sharing?” “What if we provided world-class education to children everywhere?” “How might we create supply chains that regenerate our ecosystems?” “How might we finance the climate transition?” “How might we co-create with customers or citizens to develop more meaningful solutions?”

She also gives a few examples of how intrapreneurs have made a change. Sam McCracken who developed a line of products at Nike to encourage and fund physical activity and sports for Native American youth. His journey started in a Nike warehouse where he asked “How can I address the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes in my Native American community?” He’s now the general manager of the N7 Fund at Nike. They have many more inspiring examples of intrapreneurs in their book, “The Intrapreneur’s Guide to Pathfinding.”
  
9)    The promise and perils of vaccine passports [Source: The Economist
The travel and tourism industry has taken a massive beating in 2020. Will the way forward be through vaccination passports? Some tourism-dependent countries, such as the Seychelles, have already opened to people who have received a covid-19 jab. Although to some vaccination passports may seem radical, they are not without precedent. By 1922, many schools in America required that children get smallpox vaccinations as a condition of attendance. And the “yellow card” is an international certificate created almost 100 years ago to record inoculations against cholera, yellow fever, typhus and smallpox. To this day, many countries require a yellow-fever certificate as a pre-condition of entry.

Even assuming vaccinations help only a bit, some believe vaccine passports are inevitable. Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, believes they are also desirable. Beyond this, some businesses, such as cruise ships, airlines and restaurants, will be completely hamstrung this year without vaccination passports. And many employers are already showing signs of interest in keeping tabs on those among their staff who have been jabbed. Qantas, an Australian airline, has talked since last year about making it compulsory for passengers to prove they are vaccinated against covid-19 before they board flights.

Passports are also likely to create a generational divide. Most countries are vaccinating the old first. Many young people have had to restrict their lives a great deal in the past year, largely to protect their elders. It could seem particularly unfair if old folks can swan off to Ibiza this summer, while the young are stuck at home or in quarantine. Those who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons, such the immunocompromised, may feel aggrieved at their relative confinement, too. Last, if passports come into wide use, some may feel forced to get a jab, and that their freedom of choice has been compromised.

10)    Will Self: How Should We Read? [Source: lithub.com
In this essay, Will self, the author of many novels and books of nonfiction, including Great Apes, The Book of Dave, How the Dead Live, etc., talks about how he learnt to read. The ability to read and write—unlike speech—isn’t hard-wired into the human mind-brain, but rather, such is our neural plasticity, that we’re constantly changing in our very essence so as to refine these skills. Perhaps this is why reading always feels a little like striving—unless we’ve mastered the facile trick of reading entirely for pleasure. When someone reading complex passages of prose is placed in an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner, we can see on the machine’s visual display that almost all of their brain is lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.

Not only that, but the parts of the brain employed when actually talking, walking or making love are illuminated by the very act of reading about talking, walking or making love. On reading, the author answers this…”How should we read? We would read as gourmands eat, gobbling down huge gobbets of text. No one told me not to pivot abruptly from Valley of the Dolls to The Brothers Karamazov—so I did; any more than they warned me not to intersperse passages of Fanny Hill with those written by Frantz Fanon—so I did that, too. By reading indiscriminately, I learned to discriminate—and learned also to comprehend: for it’s only with the acquisition of large data sets that we also develop schemas supple enough to interpret new material.”

He says that we should read not expecting to comprehend all that we read: if we come across a signifier we don’t understand, or something signified we cannot clearly discern, we should read on, secure in the knowledge that either the context will supply the answer, or the writer will use the same words again in a different one. As it is to the individual morpheme, so it is to the magnum opus: understanding, engagement and enjoyment all rest on an ability not only to suspend disbelief, but also suspend comprehension—to allow oneself, as one reads on, the sweetest luxury, that of doubt.

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