Sports is politics

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I’m not a sports fan by a long stretch, but I do find it sad that for each event recently, they just keep getting more and more political. Sochi, the most expensive games in history, were deeply corrupt and served as pure geopolitical PR (and then became just a warm-up for the invasion of Crimea). The Brazil World Cup this summer has seen deaths, and is overshadowed by protests that started last year and are now taking a clever, viral turn. Today a report came out on Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, which is now being called a humanitarian crisis, with migrant workers dying in mass to build the infrastructure and stadia.

You could argue that sports always has been mired in politics, from Pheidippides, the first marathon runner to Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics. But things seem to be taking a more ominous turn. Perhaps it’s related to the fact that these days, it’s mostly the less democratic countries that have enough money to put on these huge spectacles.

FIFA, which for long has had a bad reputation, needs to act on reports such as this. And perhaps it’s time to scale down these events. By having smaller events, there’d be less room for corruption, humanitarian crimes and disasters.

Peak oil, peak banana and now: peak punctuation?!?

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I love Quartz/Atlantic a lot, but with today’s article on “peak punctuation”, it seems they’ve finally gone a bit overboard on their hyperbolic use of various things “peaking”.

A brief history of various things peaking:

It used to be just peak oil. Peak oil was a simple concept. Basically, we would hit a peak where we are producing as much oil as we ever will, and after that, production would fall inexorably. It didn’t happen, due to the shale gas explosion in the US, but nonetheless, a fine hypothesis.

The failure of the peak oil hypothesis to come true did not stop the Atlantic writers (and others) from then going on to predict peaks in everything else. First came peak car. Fair enough, of course we are hoping that we will have passed the hump of ever-increasing cars on our roads and that we will see less and less cars. This might still hold as a hypothesis.

Then came peak attention. Fine, with all the apps and digital devices in our lives, we are definitely suffering an attention shortage. Even if I don’t see how this moment would possibly be the peak of it.

Then things started to go really topsy-turvy as we started having various fruit-related peaks. First, we had peak OJ. Florida’s orange juice supplies were in danger from some little feisty parasite. Then came peak banana. Similar story.

And today, ladies and gentlemen, we have reached peak punctuation. From now on, we are doomed to use only less punctuation. If you’re holding any punctuation marks, today is the time to sell them all.

It seems that as a society, we are continuously trying to find peaks. Perhaps it would be beneficial to also start looking for troughs and plateaus? A nice, slow ascent would also be nice for a change.

Crimea meets Bloomberg: The future of nations and cities

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Two very interesting trends lately that have been running in parallel, but that together could spell large changes in what we perceive as countries and where the nexuses of power will be in the future.

On one hand, we have the idea of the nation state coming into question. The Economist proclaimed in the latest issue that Putin’s actions in Crimea are suggestive of a new world order where borders are not respected and where there is no certainty regarding international rule of law. This makes the nation state a more fragile, fungible concept. Gillian Tett questioned in the FT whether the idea of the nation state is starting to come to an end. It doesn’t have to be the necessary order of things, and in fact, it hasn’t been during most of history. She gives the example of Switzerland staying together since it’s practical. But in many, poorer, countries, where the borders were drawn by map-wielding colonialists and no nationalistic sentiment exists – if the national government can’t provide any services, what is its purpose?

From Catalunia to Scotland, we see how people’s sense of identity might not lie with the larger country, even in nations that have been established for centuries. Power is being decentralized and localized. This is going down even to the city level. I mentioned the metropolitan revolution earlier. Cities are strengthening their position vis-a-vis their nations. Many countries are too short of funds to tackle larger challenges, leaving it up to cities to act on their own. Michael Bloomberg has been leading the way, both by tackling challenges in New York that can’t be touched on a federal level, and through the C40 initiative, where mayors tackle climate change. This op-ed in FT described how US cities are gaining in power. In developing countries, this trend is even more pronounced, since the government might be completely unable to perform the basic functions. The number of mega cities is increasing, and the global urban population is rapidly increasing (to triple in the next 100 years)

We also have more and more countries entering, or wanting to enter, larger unions. Despite all the issues of the EU, the list of countries wanting to join is just growing longer. Putin wants to create his Eurasian Customs Union. African countries are looking at creating a currency union (although having a joint Eco currency seems like a terrible idea).

Perhaps therefore, the future does not belong to historically-derived nation states, but rather large, strong mega cities existing within a framework where they derive some services from their weak, parent nation states and others from larger federal unions.

Music that drives creativity

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There was a fun article in Quartz by @adampasick recently on what music to listen to while at work. This piece was great in delving into what music does to the brain and how you should listen to different kinds of music for different tasks. The one issue I took with this article was in its recommendations for which genres of music to listen to. The glaring omission in my view was trance/electronica/dubstep. It fits all the criteria that are supposed to help you work – little or no lyrics to not distract you; repetitive rhythms; and often uplifting sounds. I used to write listening to Paul van Dyk‘s euro-trance. Not something I brag about, and not someone I would go and see live, but worked perfectly well for long sessions of writing.

Luckily, this piece in FastCompany picks up where the Quartz one left off and provides playlists that engineers listen to while coding. As I suspected, it’s almost exclusively dance music. Test them out next time you’re writing, coding, or whatever task you’re undertaking when you need some musical support.

Need for speed in the Internet age

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So apparently we are now running so short on time that we can’t just read as usual anymore, but we need to “speed read”. This probably makes perfect sense in our sped-up world.

Since I’m always interested in finding new ways to take in information faster, I had a look at some of the ways in which this is currently spreading:

  • Spritz: This app creates GIFs to read faster online. Business Insider is really big on it and wrote about it here.
  • Fastr Pro: An iPhone app. There are many similar ones, who all do roughly the same thing. Basically, you connect your reading sources (e.g. Pocket, Instapaper, specific books), and the app breaks it down to chunks that are presented to you for fast reading. You can pick your speed, from slow to completely crazy (>1,500 words per minute). Ideally you should increase your speed over time.
  • Acceleread: This app trains you how to increase your speed by applying various techniques. Quite useful.
  • Brain Read: Göran Askelljung’s approach to read faster, “Read Like a Swede”, recently came out. Appealing to me as a Swede, of course. Video here.

Note that not all of these techniques have been scientifically proven. NBC recently ran this piece questioning their usefulness. But it’s an interesting idea, and worth testing out.

Which will be the next big tech IPO?

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Given the recent Whatsapp acquisition, with its (according to some) crazy valuation, and a recent FT article on crazy valuations of tech stocks, I thought it might be a good time to look at the upcoming batch of potential large tech IPOs, their most recent valuations, and see which ones might be the first ones to list.

  1. Spotify: Spotify, the Swedish online music streaming service, has made a number of moves recently that hint on an upcoming IPO. Just this week, it acquired the company behind one of its music recommendations algorithm, which was seen as tying up a loose end pre-IPO, and drew up a credit line. It was last year valued at $4bn based on equity sold, but will probably be valued higher when it goes public. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  2. Square: Square, also known as Jack Dorsey’s “other” company, has an implied valuation of $5bn, and was earlier rumored to have an IPO this year. It is seeking to make “receipts sexy” (good luck!) and to upend store payments (much needed). Lately, it has been suggested this IPO might not come this year. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Low.
  3. Dropbox: Dropbox, the cloud file storage service, just got valued at $10bn (!), so it definitely leads the valuation game of the next bunch. It has a large and growing user base, and the users really like the brand, but it’s hard to justify that price tag for a company with such small barriers to entry. All they have right now is a lead in building an (admittedly strong) consumer brand. There might also be some built-in inertia for users to move once it’s installed on all their devices. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  4. Box: The B2B cousin of Dropbox. Also likely to IPO this year. Seen as a rival to Dropbox, both who gets top IPO first and in terms of dominating the cloud. For now, they still focus on different customers, but are likely to overlap at a later stage. Valued at $2bn in December. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  5. Uber: Valued at $3.4bn in the fall when Google took a stake, which is huge (Lyft, its fellow car service, is valued at $700 million). Currently solving the problem of getting people from point A to point B, but in the future, might become a platform for solving many other similar day-to-day problems. Has a nice, “Google-like” approach to solving business problems. Expanding rapidly in Asia and everywhere. Has said IPO is still far off. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Low.
  6. Weibo: Before posting profits recently, valued at $7bn. After disappointing results, now a perhaps more reasonable, albeit still huge, $5.1bn. Known as “China’s Twitter”, it should theoretically have a huge potential, with the regular Twitter blocked, but its growth has been stalling and users have been moving to WeChat. Needs to IPO soon. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  7. Markit: An innovative financial information provider. Competing with Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg. Looking to IPO later this year, with a valuation of $5bn. Revenues of $861 million in 2012, so more established than some of the other companies on this list. Temasek took stake last year. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  8. Alibaba: The Chinese ecommerce company will probably be the biggest IPO of them all, with its dominant position in the Chinese ecommerce market, which is forecast to be worth $420bn in 2020. Valued at $153bn. IPO has been rumored to happen for quite a while, and will probably happen this year. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  9. Snapchat: Famously turned down Facebook’s $3bn offer last year. No talk of IPO recently. Valued at $2bn now. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Low.
  10. Pinterest: The online scrapboard, and now the third biggest social networkValued at $3.8bn late last year. Not likely to IPO anytime soon, perhaps more likely to be acquired by someone instead. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Low.
  11. Airbnb: The sharing economy darling, and a classic Blue Ocean Strategy (leveraging the previously underutilised and zero-valued resource of empty apartments).Valued at $2.5bn last year. No immediate signs of IPO. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Medium.
  12. Xiaomi: “China’s Apple.” Valued at $10bn. Has said won’t IPO in 5 years. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Very low.
  13. Palantir: The big data/security company. Valued at $9bn. Has mostly stayed under the radar, and might stay that way for the foreseeable future. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Very low.

Any other one you look forward to? Let me know in the comments or @malcmur.