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Exceptional humans

Hearing aids are due for an upgrade. New research into the brain's sound mixing capabilities could radically improve how hearing aids work.

A new look at how the brain processes sound could radically improve hearing aids

I had no idea loss of hearing can increase incidence of cognitive decline, like dementia. I also never realized that scientists still do not understand quite how the brain chooses which voice to concentrate on and listen to in chaotic or layered auditory environments (bar, sporting event or cocktail

I had no idea loss of hearing can increase incidence of cognitive decline, like dementia. I also never realized that scientists still do not understand quite how the brain chooses which voice to concentrate on and listen to in chaotic or layered auditory environments (bar, sporting event or cocktail party). I take a lot of my day for granted.

White House under pressure

Hong Kong's future

China is creating a plan to replace Carrie Lam. If Xi Jinping gives the go-ahead, Lam’s replacement would be installed by March and serve out the rest of her term until 2022, CNBC reports. Timing is key as Beijing reportedly wants to wait until protests calm down.

Beijing reportedly developing plan to replace Hong Kong's leader by March

The PLA has a garrison of 6000 troops and armored vehicles in Hong Kong, on the island and in the New Territories. So, can we rachet back on the "troops on the border" rhetoric? They are already here. Carrie Lam had the opportunity to make some concessions to the protesters; an inquiry into violence

The PLA has a garrison of 6000 troops and armored vehicles in Hong Kong, on the island and in the New Territories. So, can we rachet back on the "troops on the border" rhetoric? They are already here. Carrie Lam had the opportunity to make some concessions to the protesters; an inquiry into violence and brutality and to reintroduce the 2014 suffrage legislation, flawed that it is. But having witnessed the chaos and destruction of the protesters first hand, I'm less inclined to believe they are truly protesting for democracy.

My reaction cut and pasted from my blog (scroll to end for conclusion): This morning when I was doing a run and then a meditation on the beach, I ended up chatting with a 34 year lady , Sophia, who had been swimming remarkably far out in the ocean. As soon as the topic got on to what I do for a living

My reaction cut and pasted from my blog (scroll to end for conclusion): This morning when I was doing a run and then a meditation on the beach, I ended up chatting with a 34 year lady , Sophia, who had been swimming remarkably far out in the ocean. As soon as the topic got on to what I do for a living – a futurist – she started to grill me about the future of Hong Kong, with a very concerned look on her face! Just to clarify, most of the time Hong Kong is functioning perfectly normally. The protests are almost like bad weather with afflicts and paralyses the city for a moment, and then things start moving again. Of course there is damage and vandalism , unfortunately, but the city is generally functioning despite what you might see on BBC or CNN. I’ve heard some commentators call the place a war zone! However, what IS true, is that there is a psychological war transpiring. Stress has been palpably building up in the city for years. And one month before this bout of protests began, I added a slide to my presentations forecasting a coming 2020 crisis in Hong Kong (I was a bit too early). My rationale for foreseeing the current crisis, included these factors:

Housing and socio-economic factors

There is a lot of frustration in regards to inequalities and economic prospects, especially amongst the city’s youth. This article highlights some key points:

“An Oxfam report released at the end of September clearly demonstrates that the city’s economic and social divide is entering a danger zone in which enmity and resentment against a government that callously disregards people’s interests could well become the prevailing political passions for the grass-roots Hongkongers of our time.

The United Kingdom-based charity’s 60-page Hong Kong Inequality Report paints a stark and shameful picture of a first-world city with a third-world mentality toward the disadvantaged and the poor.

Sadly, the report also makes clear that the Lam administration, like previous governments before it, does not have any serious policy answers for addressing an alarming wealth gap that is the highest since records on economic inequality began 45 years ago….

…In addition, the report calls the government out on its miserly minimum wage, currently HK$34.50 (US$4.40) per hour, with an expected increase of a paltry HK$3 in the coming year. No one can live on that.

In today’s Hong Kong, according to the government’s own figures, the wealthiest households in the city amass 44 times the monthly income of the poorest families. Thus, the working members of an indigent family would need to plug and sweat for nearly four years to earn as much as one of Hong Kong’s renowned tycoons pockets in a single month.

Using the widely accepted Gini coefficient—an index from 0 to 1 that measures the wealth gap (total assets minus total debts) between the haves and have-nots, with 0 representing absolute equality and 1 absolute inequality—Hong Kong is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world.

As of last year, the city’s Gini coefficient stood at 0.539, the highest it has been since the measurement was first introduced more than 40 years ago. That compares to 0.4579 in Singapore, the longtime rival Asian city now outstripping us on so many fronts, and to 0.411 in President Donald Trump’s let-the-poor-be-damned United States.

Hong Kong FP article

Unlike Singapore hasn’t managed to create a well-functioning public housing scheme.

Democracy

On the surface, this is where the protestors are focused. Many peaceful demonstrators in Hong Kong favour the One Country Two systems approach, and are worried about falling civil liberties and freedom of speech as we approach 2047. On the one hand, I couldn’t help marvel at the 2 million demonstrators who showed up early on the the protest movement. It’s sad to say that few of my Western friends got out on the streets to demonstrate against the relentless decline in freedom of speech in the West. Just think how little real attention – and support – whistleblower Assange is now getting. However, on the other hand, as a British national and Hong Kong permanent resident I must say I get uncomfortable with protestors carrying British Union Jacks and American flags. The truth is that as a British colony we did nothing to advance democracy per se. Yes, in my more patriotic moments, I might nod my head when a Hong Kong local talks about how wonderful British rule was, and the establishment of the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a quality police force, efficient bureaucracy and strong banking system. But we did not introduce any form of universal suffrage. There are actually more elections now under the Chinese. I suspect, that if some of the socio-economic issues and the cultural divide weakens, this might not be as hot a topic. But there are things Beijing could back down on without opening the door to separatist movements.

Culture and History

From my perspective there appears to be an enormous gap between the mainland and Hong Kong. In some ways, the Hong Kongese are closer to the West, or at least to the non-PRC cities of Asia like Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore and Bangkok. On the surface it looks like they are all Chinese. If a Westerner arrives in Hong Kong and goes to a traditional restaurant on a Sunday, he or she will see all the locals on big circular tables surrounded by family pursuing an ancient tradition. All speaking a dialect of Chinese and enjoying Chinese food and tea. But many Hong Kong Chinese haven’t learn so much about Chinese history or philosophy. When they tried to introduce the Moral and National education back in 2011 there was a huge uproar and the government backed down. But there should be more understanding of mainland China. Perhaps it would be less controversial if they stuck to the Pre PRC history.

When I first arrived to live in Hong Kong, the local Hong Kong Chinese were jut starting to taste the fruits of another wave of growth induced by mainland China. For a period, they seemed to put their fears and anxieties and discrimination vis-a-vis the mainland in abeyance. But now quite strong feelings are erupting again.

Looking Ahead

Like many issues around the world today, people have very strong views and I appear to occupy a minority middle ground. I see where there is no common dialogue and understanding. It’s not black and white.

There are many possible futures one could map out. If Carrie Lam is indeed replaced it will one meaningless unless a new positive story is created around it. The Hong Kong government could easily ratchet up the efforts on the housing front, launch an investigation into police conduct (even if most officers have been quite restrained), and make some announcements on opening up the vote. This would make a change in leadership more powerful otherwise it will merely be seen as cosmetic. There is still a meaningful tail risk that the extremist protestors will go too far and some tragedy ensues. Or the police make some large error of judgement and deaths ensue. I wouldn’t totally rule out the involvement of the PAP (Peoples’ Armed Police) in Hong Kong in such a case. But there is still quite a few things the Hong Kong police can do. But I have to say the current protests certain could be sustained for a good while longer.

Another Future – Hong Kong and Trump force liberalisation of China

There is another alternative that with the recent pressure on China from both the Trump administration and also from the protestors in Hong Kong, China starts to resemble Hong Kong more than Hong Kong becomes Chinese. Since China’s accession to the WTO, many in the West are disappointed that China didn’t follow the international liberal order in many regards. But perhaps with the unprecedented pressure now, the trajectory has already shifted and could break in a new direction. Today UBS has followed HSBC in signalling it will also have a majority-controlled subsidiary in China. Historically one had to give up power to a local JV partner. I am not saying this is the base case scenario but its a possibility.

Hong Kong is an amazing place, one of the greatest cities on Earth, and the current turbulence might all be seen as a short term aberration when history looks back. The people are generally hard working, very kind in many ways, and it’s a mercantilist economy at heart. The market is the DNA of Hong Kong. With it integrating into the Greater Bay Area and the Silicon Valley of China (Shenzhen) as well as the Las Vegas of China (Macau), and assuming China’s longer term ascendence (even if its hit an air pocket now), there IS a long term story. I’ve seen Hong Kong written off on the front cover of many magazines in the past – prior to the handover back to China and during SARS etc – so whilst I was fully expecting this current crisis I haven’t written it off. It is still likely to be one of the worlds greatest metropolises in 25 years time.

Marking 30 years of the web

The Steve Jobs speech that made Silicon Valley obsessed with pirates. In the early 1980s, Steve Jobs delivered a speech to Apple employees that included a metaphor about pirates. Since then, startups and tech companies have embraced the tale, while simultaneously misinterpreting it.

The Steve Jobs speech that made Silicon Valley obsessed with pirates

It's a tale as old as time: scrappy, innovative outsider becomes the establishment, and the ethos that helped make them that way becomes warped by copycats. The phrase is a perfect microcosm for the tech industry as a whole.

Great article. There is an investor-fueled myth that being a “pirate” is required. Surely, no one gets to define new categories without challenging the status quo. But pirates will be more effective if they can scale like the navy... that’s where the big returns come from.

I’ve had the opportunity

Great article. There is an investor-fueled myth that being a “pirate” is required. Surely, no one gets to define new categories without challenging the status quo. But pirates will be more effective if they can scale like the navy... that’s where the big returns come from.

I’ve had the opportunity to advise some startups and have seen the gamut of overly ambitious with no execution to the opposite end of purely tactical with no bigger ambition. Neither extreme is the place to be over the long term.

But from a cultural perspective, I agree, perhaps new symbols are needed to enable a culture that challenges rules while respectful of individuals...

Jobs was being literal about pirates. According to Wikipedia Jobs misled Atari, lied to Wozniak so he could rip him off and broke laws selling blue boxes to phone phreaks.

Lying stealing greed and a willingness to break the law sounds like a pirate.

Don't understand the confusion.

Technology has opened different doors that make this happen. Remember Napster? It opened the door to music subscriptions and looking at music distribution in a different way, while breaking nearly all the rules in the industry.

To me, Jobs understood the Sillicon Valley ethos long before it became

Technology has opened different doors that make this happen. Remember Napster? It opened the door to music subscriptions and looking at music distribution in a different way, while breaking nearly all the rules in the industry.

To me, Jobs understood the Sillicon Valley ethos long before it became mainstream. He was one of the original pirates, before it became cool to want to break the way things have worked. I suppose there’s an allure to the notion of being iconoclastic, and Jobs inspired that within Apple’s walls.

India's coal addiction

What makes coal so dirty? It’s a crucial question, given that without cutting its use drastically, the world won’t hit its greenhouse gas emissions targets. Quartz reporter Akshat explains the trouble with the sedimentary rock, which India uses for 55% of its energy. ✦

The science of what makes coal so dirty

Coal's many sins shouldn't be used to forget the value it has offered to humanity. Coal powered the industrial revolution and it continues to pull people out of poverty in much of the world. During the 17th and 18th centuries, coal helped create the carbon-based branch of chemistry we call "organic chemistry,

Coal's many sins shouldn't be used to forget the value it has offered to humanity. Coal powered the industrial revolution and it continues to pull people out of poverty in much of the world. During the 17th and 18th centuries, coal helped create the carbon-based branch of chemistry we call "organic chemistry," which I studied to gain my PhD from the University of Oxford. Organic chemists have won one in five of all Nobel Prizes in chemistry awarded over the last 120 years.

Coal is typically just carbon when taught in chemistry class. I had no idea that in reality, it contains so many other elements (mercury, cadmium, etc). The coal scientist Akshat quotes sums it up nicely: “coal is the most complex solid we’ve ever found and analyzed”.

China's tech darlings

Protesting inequality

Nike and UnderArmour CEO shakeups

Under Armour's founder will step down as CEO. Kevin Plank is handing the reigns of his sportswear empire to chief operating officer Patrik Frisk—who will still report to Plank in his new role as executive chairman. Plank will work on reenergizing its products and image.

Kevin Plank is stepping down as Under Armour CEO to work on reenergizing its products and image

Frisk helped build two of the strongest brands at VF Corp (The North Face and Timberland) up into the mainstream and did the same as CEO of Aldo. It's the right transition for the brand, but I'm not entirely convinced of its move away from athleisure.

UA's brand is performance, but having an "everyday

Frisk helped build two of the strongest brands at VF Corp (The North Face and Timberland) up into the mainstream and did the same as CEO of Aldo. It's the right transition for the brand, but I'm not entirely convinced of its move away from athleisure.

UA's brand is performance, but having an "everyday" or "off day" division of clothing may help balance the rise of athleisure brands like Lululemon slowly adding on performance divisions.

Why Nike selected a tech executive as its next CEO. The company has been investing heavily in tech and data analytics. It sees its new CEO leading it into a future focused on data-driven, direct-to-consumer sales.

Why Nike selected a tech executive as its next CEO

"Parker, who has been Nike's CEO since 2006 and has worked at the company for four decades, will become the company's executive chairman, according to the press release."

This is one of the most important parts; Nike needed Parker in some sort of capacity after he steps down as CEO for 13 years.

Why

"Parker, who has been Nike's CEO since 2006 and has worked at the company for four decades, will become the company's executive chairman, according to the press release."

This is one of the most important parts; Nike needed Parker in some sort of capacity after he steps down as CEO for 13 years.

Why?

Because Parker steered the company through countless potential disasters, from the gender discrimination mess in 2018 and the Kaepernick campaign backlash to their disservice to pregnant athletes. He didn't just address them; he fixed the problems, wiped out the bad actors, and managed to TRIPLE sales.

Parker is a heck of an architect.

If overall sales are booming for Nike while US sales are slowing down, that means that their footprint internationally is growing a lot (like Netflix and a few other US companies with a strong global brand identity). If they’re looking to the future, a former e-bay leader makes sense as someone to help

If overall sales are booming for Nike while US sales are slowing down, that means that their footprint internationally is growing a lot (like Netflix and a few other US companies with a strong global brand identity). If they’re looking to the future, a former e-bay leader makes sense as someone to help build online based infrastructure for the global market instead of having to build a deep network of vendors to sell their products like they have established at home.

This is a very interesting move. It just goes to show that the biggest companies on the planet are all actually tech companies today - whether you realize it or not...

Bigger than football

Elevated dementia and Alzheimer's rates found in soccer pros. A study of Scottish soccer players found a threefold rate of death from neurodegenerative diseases when compared to the general population, MedPage Today reports.

Dementia Deaths High in Former Pro Soccer Players

In the US, there's robust evidence that CTE is a major problem among football players. Soccer isn't as common here. But it's not surprising to me that the sport also carries significant risk of neurodegenerative disease as well. Heads should not be knocked around.

The costs of deregulation

Lawmakers move to make it much harder to launder money in the US. A bill looking to dent America’s status as the world’s biggest tax haven—by forcing owners of US firms to disclose identities to law enforcement—passed a vote in the House.

Lawmakers move to make it much harder to launder money in the US

This would be a welcome, if painfully overdue, measure to curb the use of shell companies, etc. It’s just way too easy to hide assets on an incredible scale in the US, mainly because of the government’s refusal to do anything about it.

Of course, whatever actually gets implemented will probably be a

This would be a welcome, if painfully overdue, measure to curb the use of shell companies, etc. It’s just way too easy to hide assets on an incredible scale in the US, mainly because of the government’s refusal to do anything about it.

Of course, whatever actually gets implemented will probably be a halfhearted, loophole-ridden mess... but at least it would be something.

Now if only they’d crack down on corporate tax evasion. You’d think the government would have a strong incentive to make corporations and the rich pay what they owe, but that’s not the case when lobbyists run the country.

This is pretty big from the White House: "The bill got a late boost today when the White House commended it, saying it 'represents important progress in strengthening national security, supporting law enforcement, and clarifying regulatory requirements.'"

And if you haven't yet, definitely read colleague

This is pretty big from the White House: "The bill got a late boost today when the White House commended it, saying it 'represents important progress in strengthening national security, supporting law enforcement, and clarifying regulatory requirements.'"

And if you haven't yet, definitely read colleague Max de Haldevang's deep dive (Quartz member exclusive) into the United States as the world's largest tax haven: https://qz.com/1593317/welcome-to-the-worlds-biggest-tax-haven-the-usa/

It is a start but clever lawyers and international banking will avoid the traps. If they were really serious crypto payments and other anonymous payment systems would also have to be shut down.

The complexity of money laundering techniques make it challenging to uncover wrongdoing when information can be hidden about the nature and ownership structure of companies. It is good to see that the USA is joining others across the world to finally bridge this gap. One risk to guard against is the

The complexity of money laundering techniques make it challenging to uncover wrongdoing when information can be hidden about the nature and ownership structure of companies. It is good to see that the USA is joining others across the world to finally bridge this gap. One risk to guard against is the politically motivated investigations such added transparency could drive in the short run.

Quartz at Work

Butter come back soon 🦋

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The Top 100 Highest-Paid Athletes Are All Men

The Top 100 Highest-Paid Athletes Are All Men

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