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In the News 08.08.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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In the News 08.08.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 08.08.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 08.08.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

How Two Brothers Turned Seven Lines of Code Into a $9.2 Billion Startup

Every day, Americans spend about $1.2 billion online. That figure has roughly doubled in the past five years, according to the Department of Commerce, and it’s likely to double again in the next five as the internet continues to devour traditional retail. So it might come as a surprise that the web’s financial infrastructure is old and slow. For years, the explosive growth of e-commerce has outpaced the underlying technology; companies wanting to set up shop have had to go to a bank, a payment processor, and “gateways” that handle connections between the two. This takes weeks, lots of people, and fee after fee. Much of the software that processes the trans­actions is decades old, and the more modern bits are written by banks, credit card companies, and financial middlemen, none of whom are exactly winning ­hackathons for elegant coding.

In 2010, Patrick and John Collison, brothers from rural Ireland, began to debug this process. Their company, Stripe Inc., built software that businesses could plug into websites and apps to instantly connect with credit card and banking systems and receive payments. The product was a hit with Silicon Valley startups. Businesses such as Lyft, Facebook, DoorDash, and thousands that aspired to be like them turned Stripe into the financial backbone of their operations.

Read the rest of this article at: Bloomberg

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To Catch a Counterfeiter

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Four plainclothes officials from China’s Market Supervision Bureau emerged from a van and headed toward an unmarked concrete building in an industrial park in Changzhou, a hundred miles northeast of Shanghai. Azim Uribe, a 30-year-old solidly built American, strolled behind them, wearing dark sunglasses and a surgical mask that filtered the polluted air and, more importantly, concealed his identity.

The MSB officials inspected the building one room at a time. On a makeshift loading dock beneath a tin roof, they found pallets of unused cardboard boxes and other shipping materials; in the next room, semiconductors; and throughout the warehouse, hundreds of what looked like Ford truck bumpers, but weren’t. Farther down the main corridor, in a room the size of a two-car garage, the officials found a pair of middle-aged women in aprons, assembling headlights.

The operation seemed to be dealing in knockoffs, which infringe on a company’s intellectual property, but not its trademarks (China’s Jianghuai Auto Corporation, for instance, built a clone of Ford’s F-150 with a blue-and-silver JAC emblem on its front bumper instead of the Ford logo). But Azim’s informants had told him there was evidence of black-market counterfeiting, a scourge that costs the automobile industry an estimated $12 billion annually. Right next to the women, Azim, at last, found the proof he needed. Piled inside a cardboard box were oval hunks of plastic emblazoned with fake Ford emblems, ready to be attached to the bumpers. The MSB officials loaded the counterfeits into trucks and vans headed for a warehouse, where they would be cataloged and then destroyed.

Counterfeiting is a $400 billion industry in China. Factories churn out real Nike shoes just a handful of subway stops from illicit markets selling fake ones, and counterfeit versions of the latest iPhone are hawked in the Shanghai airport before the real ones reach many rural Americans. There are real car dealerships selling knockoff cars and fake Apple Stores where the employees aren’t in on the scam. And black-market goods are a lucrative export, too: China sends millions of pairs of counterfeit shoes to the EU and billions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit pharmaceuticals to Africa and Southeast Asia.

Read the rest of this article at: The California Sunday Magazine

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Can We Hope to Understand How the Greeks Saw Their World?

Homer used two adjectives to describe aspects of the colour blue: kuaneos, to denote a dark shade of blue merging into black; and glaukos, to describe a sort of ‘blue-grey’, notably used in Athena’s epithet glaukopis, her ‘grey-gleaming eyes’. He describes the sky as big, starry, or of iron or bronze (because of its solid fixity). The tints of a rough sea range from ‘whitish’ (polios) and ‘blue-grey’ (glaukos) to deep blue and almost black (kuaneos, melas). The sea in its calm expanse is said to be ‘pansy-like’ (ioeides), ‘wine-like’ (oinops), or purple (porphureos). But whether sea or sky, it is never just ‘blue’. In fact, within the entirety of ancient Greek literature you cannot find a single pure blue sea or sky.

Yellow, too, seems strangely absent from the Greek lexicon. The simple word xanthos covers the most various shades of yellow, from the shining blond hair of the gods, to amber, to the reddish blaze of fire. Chloros, since it’s related to chloe (grass), suggests the colour green but can also itself convey a vivid yellow, like honey.

The ancient Greek experience of colour does not seem to match our own. In a well-known aphorism, Friedrich Nietzsche captures the strangeness of the Greek colour vocabulary:

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

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Why do the British Drink so Much?

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I first met alcohol in the late 1980s. It was the morning after one of my parents’ parties. My sister and I, aged nine or 10, were up alone. We trawled the lounge for abandoned cans. I remember being methodical: pick one up, give it a shake to see if there’s anything inside and, if there is, drink! I can still taste the stale, metallic tang of Heineken on my tongue. Just mind the ones with cigarette butts in.

But it was at university that booze and I became properly acquainted. My memory of my first week is of social anxiety offset by cheap alcohol – a harbinger of the next four years. At one ball, I drank so much free wine that I vomited the stud out of my nose and down the sink. My diary entry that night consisted of four oversized words scrawled in turquoise pen: “drunk + sick / Freshers’ Ball”. But that was how it was: sometimes you were the one bundling people into a taxi, sometimes you were the one being bundled.

Recently, I started to wonder if my generation’s relationship with alcohol was abnormal. When I looked into the numbers, I realised that it was.

I discovered that 2004 was Peak Booze: the year when Brits drank more than they had done for a century, and more than they have done in the decade since. Leading the way to this alcoholic apogee were those of us born around 1980. No other generation drank so much in their early 20s. Why us?

Read the rest of this article at: The BBC

How Lyft Could Defeat Uber

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Just about everyone who has ever read a children’s book knows the fable of the tortoise and the hare. That’s the one about the footrace in which the cocky hare sprints ahead, leaving his reptilian rival behind in a cloud of dust and trash talk—and then takes an overconfident nap before reaching the finish line, allowing the plodding tortoise to win in a blaze of slow-but-steady glory.

Now imagine the story with a few modern twists. The bunny-proxy is Uber, the brash front-runner that dominates the world of ride sharing—but has hamstrung itself with debilitating distractions like executive firings and allegations of systemic sexism and patent infringement. The tortoise? That’d be Lyft—which, if it isn’t exactly plodding, is at least less braggadocious and more cautious than its competitor.

For now, the hare—er, Uber—remains very much in the lead, and any fairy-tale ending is years away. Still, if ever there was a chance for Lyft, the perennially distant No. 2 in the ride-sharing duopoly, to pull ahead of Uber, this would be it.

Uber’s stumbles have been a can’t-look-away train wreck this year. They’ve ranged from a former engineer going public with claims of a sexist work environment, to the proceedings in a lawsuit filed by Waymo, the driverless-tech arm of Google parent Alphabet, accusing Uber of infringing on its IP. And they culminated with the stunning resignation of cofounder and chief executive officer Travis Kalanick in late June. (Kalanick remains on the board; as of mid-July Uber had yet to appoint a new CEO.) All this has played out against a media backdrop in which Uber has been depicted as ruthless with employees and customers and contemptuous of local laws.

The stormy news has put a wind at the tortoise’s back. Since June 2015, Uber’s share of the U.S. ride-hailing market has declined from 90% to 75%, according to TXN Solutions, a firm that uses credit card data to track consumer trends. The steepest single-month decline came in January, when some New York taxi drivers stopped working to protest President Trump’s original travel ban. First, Uber’s “surge pricing” kicked in in the area, because there was more demand for rides; then, when Uber announced it was turning surge pricing off and lowering its fees, critics attacked it for undercutting the striking drivers. Uber has said that its actions were misunderstood, but its market share dropped four percentage points that month alone. (Lyft’s response to the ban? Its founders pledged to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.) Meanwhile, since February, Lyft’s market share has increased to 25% from 21%. Other firms have put Lyft’s share as high as 30%

Read the rest of this article at: Fortune

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Top images: @secondskinoveralls; @emelinaah; @gulyaevam