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Tag Archives: uber

  • Uber Is Headed for a Crash
    Some very good reasons why Uber will fail.

    But, but, but — you may say — Uber has established a large business in cities over the world. Yes, it’s easy to get a lot of traffic by selling at a discount. Uber is subsidizing ride costs. Across all its businesses, Uber was providing services at only roughly 74 percent of their cost in its last quarter. Uber was selling its services at only roughly 64 percent of their cost in 2017, with a GAAP profit margin of negative 57 percent. As a reference point, in its worst four quarters, Amazon lost $1.4 billion on $2.8 billion in sales, for a negative margin of 50 percent. Amazon reacted by firing over 15 percent of its workers.

  • High score, low pay: why the gig economy loves gamification
    Along the same vein, here’s a look at a Lyft driver and a discussion at what drives them to drive more.

    But one week, after completing what felt like a million rides, I opened my feedback summary to discover that my rating had plummeted from a 4.91 (“Awesome”) to a 4.79 (“OK”), without comment. Stunned, I combed through my ride history trying to recall any unusual interactions or disgruntled passengers. Nothing. What happened? What did I do? I felt sick to my stomach.

    Because driver ratings are calculated using your last 100 passenger reviews, one logical solution is to crowd out the old, bad ratings with new, presumably better ratings as fast as humanly possible. And that is exactly what I did.

  • Marvel Icon Stan Lee Leaves a Legacy as Complex as His Superheroes
    With the death of Stan Lee, the tributes are coming out. Here’s one that is not so flattering of him. I heard Stan Lee talk last year and he was a very entertaining and engaging speaker. I thought that that was a skill that he picked up as he got older (and out of the direct work of creating superheroes). But I guess that has been a talent of his since day 1.

    Yet Kirby’s legacy and Lee’s proved to be inextricable. Marvel fans noticed a creative malaise after Kirby defected, a period that coincided with Lee stepping back from Marvel’s creative fare and moving to California to establish what would eventually become, after many fits, starts, and incarnations, Marvel Studios. Kirby fans reading the Fourth World noticed that despite Kirby’s unparalleled visuals and creations, his dialogue and characterization just weren’t up to par with Kirby’s Lee-scripted Marvel work. Kirby ended up returning to Marvel in 1975 for a half-hearted reunion.

  • What the Hell Happened to Darius Miles?
    I don’t know who Darius Miles is and I don’t know what happened to him. So I thought this article was going to be a self-written essay about how he lost all of his money. But no, it’s a somewhat behind the scenes report of his short career in the NBA and what happened after he left. Oh well, there’s 20 minutes lost

    I knew I was speeding. So I pull over, and I roll the window down, and I’m reaching over into the glove compartment to get my papers ….

    … Then I hear this voice. Big, booming voice.

    “WHERE YOU G’WAN, BOY?”

    I’m like, Damn, they got the sergeant on me or something?

    I turn to look out the window, and I can’t even see this dude’s face he’s so big. All I see is his chest.

    “I SAID WHERE YOU G’WAN BOY?”

    Then he bends down and looks in the window.

    Big, dumbass grin on his face.

    It’s Shaq.

    I’m like, “Yo! I’m going to practice! You made me late!”

    He don’t miss a beat. He taps side of my truck, turns around and says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay your fine. Just holler at me.”

    I’m looking in the rearview mirror, like, How the hell …

    Shaq’s got one of those old-school police lights that you put on the hood of your car like you see on C.O.P.S.

    He gets in, laughing his ass off, waving at me.

  • The Triple Jeopardy of a Chinese Math Prodigy

    I’m not sure I should feel sorry for this guy. He tried to rip off the company where he worked at (the article doesn’t propose any alternate rationale for his actions), and the company pursued him relentlessly from using their IP.

    Appearing without a lawyer and clutching a plastic bag full of documents, Xu cut a pitiful figure. “The defendant has already been punished once,” he told the judge, undercounting by one. “It is excessive to punish him again.” He disputed whether the trading strategies were really as valuable, years later, as the hedge fund claimed.

    While the courts processed the cases against him, Xu was granted bail. He walked out of Harmondsworth Detention Centre this March 16, three years and seven months after he was first incarcerated. His first act as a free man was to order a family bucket from Kentucky Fried Chicken. The same day, Allen & Overy wrote to British immigration authorities asking them to take “all necessary steps” to keep Xu in the country.


  • This is what life would actually be like without processed food
    If you’re pedantic about not having any processed food, then this is what you’re going to get:

    The second and considerably more problematic consequence is that even the earliest form of food processing has probably contributed to obesity. When you process food, whether by cooking it or simply cutting it into smaller pieces, you tend to get more energy out of it relative to the energy expended processing and digesting it. So we now get more calories from the same amount of food than we used to, even though it’s no more satiating. Surely, Lieberman said, that helps explain why we’re eating so many more calories than we used to.

  • Handcuffed to Uber
    Here is a side you typically don’t hear about – early employees of Uber can’t leave the company because they can’t pay the tax on their options!

    In a completely hypothetical example, let’s say an early, top Uber engineer was given .5 percent of the company. Now let’s say this person was awarded options in 2011, when Uber raised $11 million in Series A funding at a reported $60 million valuation. His ownership stake at the time would have been $300,000. Yet today, that same stake (undiluted) would now be worth $300 million at Uber’s reported current post-money valuation of $60 billion. That’s a paper gain of $299,700,000.

  • A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order
    Fascinating introduction to the idea of hyperuniformity and how it appears in Nature. This is something you inherently know about, but haven’t ever formalized.

    Torquato and a colleague launched the study of hyperuniformity 13 years ago, describing it theoretically and identifying a simple yet surprising example: “You take marbles, you put them in a container, you shake them up until they jam,” Torquato said in his Princeton office this spring. “That system is hyperuniform.”

    The marbles fall into an arrangement, technically called the “maximally random jammed packing,” in which they fill 64 percent of space. (The rest is empty air.) This is less than in the densest possible arrangement of spheres — the lattice packing used to stack oranges in a crate, which fills 74 percent of space. But lattice packings aren’t always possible to achieve. You can’t easily shake a boxful of marbles into a crystalline arrangement.

  • After three weeks in China, it’s clear Beijing is Silicon Valley’s only true competitor
    I’m curious about how tech is run in China given the everything-goes business mindset and standard sweatshop conditions. Those sound like bad points for the industry, but I think that it actually means that they can compete better than western companies.

    In China, there is a company work culture at startups that’s called 9/9/6. It means that regular work hours for most employees are from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. If you thought Silicon Valley has intense work hours, think again.

    For founders and top executives, it’s often 9/11/6.5. That’s probably not very efficient and useful (who’s good as a leader when they’re always tired and don’t know their kids?) but totally common.

  • What Are the Odds We Are Living in a Computer Simulation?
    This is a very fascinating article about the idea that we really are in “The Matrix”. It’s fascinating because I’ve thought the idea to be really interesting ever since watching Men In Black when they zoomed out at the end and it turns out that our galaxy was just a marble in a box of some bigger being.

    Bostrom, in his original paper, envisioned a different possibility: if the computational cost of all these nested simulations is too high, he wrote, our simulators might simply click “quit.” The invention of simulation might be the end of the world.


  • Not All Practice Makes Perfect
    Malcolm Gladwell’s written about Deliberate Practice, and he derived that term from work that this author has done. This author goes on to coin “Purposeful Practice”, which is kind of the same thing.

    We have especially strong evidence of this phenomenon as it applies to physicians. Research on many specialties shows that doctors who have been in practice for 20 or 30 years do worse on certain objective measures of performance than those who are just two or three years out of medical school. It turns out that most of what doctors do in their day-to-day practice does nothing to improve or even maintain their abilities; little of it challenges them or pushes them out of their comfort zones. For that reason, I participated in a consensus conference in 2015 to identify new types of continuing medical education that will challenge doctors and help them maintain and improve their skills.

  • One Swede Will Kill Cash Forever—Unless His Foe Saves It From Extinction
    It seems like a no-brainer to move towards a cash-less economy – we’re most of the way there anyways. But this article talks about a compelling reason that a member of ABBA raised to push us towards that goal.

    In 2010, 40 percent of Swedish retail transactions were made using cash; by 2014 that amount had fallen to about 20 percent. More than half of bank offices no longer deal in cash. To his claim that going cashless is the “biggest crime-preventing scheme ever,” Ulvaeus now has some statistics to back it up. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention counted only 23 bank robberies in 2014, down 70 percent from a decade earlier. In the same period, muggings dropped 10 percent. While it’s unclear the extent to which the transition to cashless has affected the rate of street crime, police point out that there’s a lot less incentive to rob a bus driver, cabbie, or shopkeeper if they don’t accept cash.

  • How game theory can help you do a better job of parenting
    This is an interesting idea for an article, but unfortunately the article is too short – giving only 3 examples of how game theory could be applied. Here’s one of them:

    Now let’s make it a bit more difficult. The cake is half chocolate and half vanilla. Your son loves chocolate; your daughter prefers vanilla. If your daughter cuts the cake in a way that gives each of them half of the chocolate and half of the vanilla, the cut is fair. Each piece is the same size. But neither child is entirely happy, because each got some cake they didn’t want. Turn the cut the other way – and divide it into a chocolate half for your son and a vanilla half for your daughter, and both are far happier. Both cuts were fair, but the cut into chocolate and vanilla halves demonstrated what’s called Pareto optimality. Each was not only fairly treated, but also got the best possible outcome.

  • How Uber conquered London
    Yet another article about Uber, but this one covers a lot of things including how Uber started in London, and how drivers are paid.

    Driver No 1 was Darren Thomas. Before he joined Uber, most of his work came from Spearmint Rhino, the lap dancing club. Thomas had drifted back into chauffeuring after working for seven years as a salesman in the tiling industry. He signed up for as many hours as he could bear. “I absolutely caned it,” he told me. Soon he was earning £2,500 a week. On Uber’s first day in London, in the middle of June 2012, Howard had around 50 drivers on the platform. They did only 30 trips in 24 hours, but there was a single, glorious moment when seven rides were under way simultaneously and Kalanick happened to log in from San Francisco. “Travis was just blown away,” said Howard. “He was like, ‘Guys, look at London! This is unbelievable!’ It was just kismet, I guess.”

  • No one ever says it, but in many ways global warming will be a good thing
    Interesting article about the benefits of global warming – the press always talks about the negative effects, but it turns out that the global warming will actually help the human race significantly as well.

    Similarly, we know that many more people die from cold than from heat. The biggest study on heat and cold deaths, published last year in Lancet, examined more than 74 million deaths from 384 locations in 13 countries from cold Sweden to hot Thailand. The researchers found that heat causes almost one-half of one percent of all deaths, while more than 7 percent are caused by cold.

    As global warming pushes temperatures up, more people will die in heat waves; a point emphasized by campaigners like UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres. What we don’t hear from her is that fewer people will die from cold. One study for England and Wales shows that heat kills 1,500 annually and cold kills 32,000. By the 2080s, increased heat-waves will kill nearly 5,000 in a comparable population. But ‘cold deaths’ will have dropped by 10,000, meaning 6,500 fewer die altogether.


  • Inside China’s Memefacturing Factories, Where The Hottest New Gadgets Are Made
    We’ve been seeing a lot of hoverboards being ridden around so this article is timely. Not surprisingly, the hoverboards are made in China at factories that excel in agile development – they can quickly switch to producing the Next Cool Thing.

    Nearby, a bustling street hums with small restaurants and shops catering to Gaoke’s employees; above them rise identical two-story gray cement apartment blocks, balconies draped with laundry. Across from the the factory’s security gate, a small store stocks discontinued Gaoke products — televisions, rice cookers, English-language instruction cassette tapes — still in their original shrink-wrapping, to be sold at a discount to the factory’s workers. According to the shopkeeper, they’re a captive market and an easy way for Gaoke to get rid of dead stock.

  • For China’s upper middle class, driving for Uber is a cure for loneliness
    An interesting look at Uber in China that focuses on the drivers yes, and their motivation for driving; which turns out to be an excuse to socialize with their passengers. Not sure if this is just a few anecdotes or a real cultural thing – I don’t think people do this in North America.

    For example, he uses Uber to find tennis partners. Signing on Uber’s driver app right after he plays at a court, he is likely to pick up another player, he explained. In this way, he met a man from Portugal who works in the financial industry in Shanghai. They chatted during the ride, friended each other on WeChat, and met up for tennis. “His [tennis] skill is as good as mine,” Fu said, “but his English is even more terrible than mine.”

    He also intentionally picks up Uber passengers after he goes to a state-backed aerospace academy in Beijing to sell electronic components. He wants to know from the passengers coming from the academy “what products they are making,” he said. “I might get some opportunities.”

  • The Digital Dirt
    Whenever I read an article about a company, person or industry; the most interesting thing are the juicy/gossipy stories. That’s what makes this piece about the story behind TMZ so great, it’s basically stories about getting gossip stories. I might not read TMZ, but it’s interesting to read about stories they do, reject, and break.

    Twenty-four hours after the Bieber video came in, the newsroom learned that Levin had decided not to run the story. He did not destroy his copy of the video, however, and Bieber’s camp was aware that Levin could reverse his position and post it. Celebrity secrets are treated like commodities at TMZ, not unlike the way they were treated by J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. “The power of secret information was a gun that Hoover always kept loaded,” Tim Weiner* writes, in “Enemies,” a 2012 book about the bureau. A former writer for TMZ told me that, for Levin, there was more to gain by sitting on the clip, and earning Bieber’s good will, than by running it and ruining his career. (Older gossip publications followed this strategy as well. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the “dark genius” of William d’Alton Mann, the publisher of Town Topics, was his realization that “stories that came into his possession were perhaps worth more untold than told.” In the nineteen-fifties, Confidential gained access to the head of Columbia Studios by leveraging tapes of Rock Hudson that referred to his homosexuality.)

    In the months before TMZ obtained the video, its coverage of Bieber had often been antagonistic; it ran a post suggesting that he had hit a twelve-year-old boy during a game of laser tag. After Braun and Levin had their phone conversation, numerous flattering Bieber-related exclusives appeared on the site: a photograph of Bieber backstage during a commercial shoot; pictures of him getting a haircut; a video of him and his girlfriend Selena Gomez performing karaoke; a story about how he bought “every single flower” at a florist’s and sent the flowers to Gomez’s house; video from a trip that Bieber took to Liverpool; and others, including a report of him watching “Titanic” one night, with Gomez, inside an otherwise vacant Staples Center.

  • The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens
    This is a bit of a rambling article about teens on Tumblr, why they use it, and how successful they’ve become. That is, until it all comes tumbling down (see what I did there??)

    “‘My best friend recommended it’ was one of my more major contributions,” Lilley said. He read from the post: “‘I lost 24 pounds in four weeks with minor exercise and no change in diet. Here’s how I did it: with this organic supplement’—that doesn’t sound good.” But “ ‘Here’s how I did it: with this organic supplement my best friend recommended’—just seemed to me more real-sounding and … just makes it seem like in the back of someone’s mind they could think, well, my best friend could have recommended this to me.”

    Exposely’s diet pill scheme got going in April 2014, and it worked—it worked like crazy. Trending.ly got almost 7 million views that month, and with the diet pill ads, they sometimes achieved a conversion rate near 10 percent. Once, across all their blogs, Exposely made $24,000 in a single day.

  • Is the Competitive Bridge World Rife with Cheaters?
    This is a fascinating article about how a whistleblower basically showed that a lot of top bridge teams are actually cheating their way to the top. It baffles me that the sport wouldn’t move to an (electronic) system where you can’t signal between players.

    Fred Gitelman, of Bridge Base Online, unveiled a proposed anti-cheating device, an iPad-like tablet on which players manipulate virtual cards—an innovation that the game’s top players have so far resisted, since card feel is a critical part of their experience at the table. The adoption of such a device, however, seems inevitable in a game where the ease of cheating, and the financial inducements to do so, have dogged the professional game since its inception.


  • The Fake Traffic Schemes That Are Rotting The Internet
    Companies are having a lot of issues getting their money worth from advertising, and it’s not because you have an ad blocker! Since you have an ad blocker, your visit to a site doesn’t count as a view. However, there is a lot of fake traffic that is costing advertisers money from bot networks.

    He describes Advertise.com as an ad network that sells more than 300 million page visits each month to companies that want to boost their traffic. Among his customers is Bonnier, which, he says, mainly purchased his cheapest-possible traffic, including “tab-unders.” Say you’re watching a movie on Netflix. A tab-under opens up another window beneath the one playing the movie. You may never see that new window, which displays an Advertise.com customer’s website, but Advertise.com’s customer still generates another page view. Repeat a few thousand times, and you build traffic numbers.

    “I’ve found Advertise.com selling every type of worthless traffic I am able to detect,” says Benjamin Edelman, a Harvard Business School professor who researches the digital economy. “And doing so persistently, for months and indeed, years.”

    Yomtobian allows that tab-unders are “low-quality traffic” and that Bonnier complained about that. But he says his firm checks the traffic of its supplying partners for bots and sends only real humans to the Bonnier websites. “We would never deliver traffic that we don’t think is real,” he says. Yomtobian also disputes Edelman’s claims that Advertise.com’s traffic is worthless. After all, people sometimes do see tab-unders and click on them. “There is a huge distinction,” he says, “between worthless traffic and low-quality traffic.”

  • Sound Decision
    The story behind how the sounds of Skype are made. You don’t read a story on a topic like this very often, but the contents aren’t nearly as interesting as I had hoped.

    One of the only audio interface elements I really like, I tell him, is the paper-crunching sound of emptying the trash in Mac OS X. It doesn’t evoke nostalgia for tossing paper in trash bins — something I’ve never done in real life — but I get a little rush of satisfaction whenever I do it. It’s a well-designed sound, but that’s not all that’s going on.

    In addition to the trash crunch, people like the “send mail” sound a lot too, says McKee. “It’s a redundant thing. They end up liking it because it gives you that feedback that ‘Yes, you’ve done something.’”

    Clearing the trash means I’ve just made my computer a little more organized. The send email sound means I’ve checked a task off my to-do list. The noises I turn off are usually the ones that give me more things to do: new email notifications, phone calls that interrupt my day. It doesn’t matter how well-designed those noises are — I’ve ruined some of my favorite Android and iOS sounds by using them as morning alarms.

  • Sneaker Wars: Inside the Battle Between Nike and Adidas
    This article focuses on how Adidas is fighting a David vs Goliath battle with Nike by focusing on being indie and being less corporate – or at least that is the bias within the article. I suspect that the reality is that they are both very corporate and have different initiatives going to try and capture different parts of the market. Also this article conveniently does not mention any other sub-brands of Adidas, such as Reebok.

    Controlling 62 percent of the market (compared with Adidas’s 5 percent), Nike is the primary beneficiary of our addiction, and the reasons for its supremacy are myriad. It is big. It is smart. Its endorsement roster is a portfolio of human blue-chip stocks. It caters to traditionalists with old-school Blazers, Jordans, and Dunks—some of the coolest and most coveted sneakers ever made—while testing the bounds of how futuristic a shoe can look and feel. (See, most recently, the Flyknit.) It employs more designers than any other shoe manufacturer (650 compared with Adidas’s 200) and gives them unparalleled resources. Nike will take expensive risks, and when it whiffs, as it recently did with an ill-fated and quickly canceled snowboarding line, it acknowledges the error and moves on.

  • What Makes Uber Run
    I haven’t read an article about the history of Uber so here’s one that focuses on the CEO Travis Kalanick.

    What they did not appreciate initially was the effect that low prices would have on the service. When Uber would have, say, three cars prowling around San Francisco, riders had to wait 20 minutes for a lift; but on weekend evenings, when 15 or 20 cars might be on the streets, wait times plummeted. In other words, as Uber got busier, it got better. Drivers made more money and passengers were happier. “I started to see how math moved the needle,” he says. “Things clicked in my mind about how this could scale.”

  • The tragic tale of Mt Everest’s most famous dead body
    I’m a sucker for these mountain ascent stories because I think they are great feats of human persistence and athleticism, so this one is no different.

    a trip to Everest is seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The amount of time, money and energy invested in the mountain can encourage selfish and reckless decision-making. “There’s a mystique to Everest where people come to the conclusion that traditional rules don’t apply, whether that means how much risk they’re willing to take or what the value of reaching the top of the mountain is to them,” says Christopher Kayes, chair and professor of management at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “I think the closer you get to your goal, the more likely you are to come up with rationalisations for foregoing morals or values.”

    In some cases, he continues, it might “literally mean throwing caution to the wind.” In others, it might mean leaving a fallen climber behind who is deemed beyond helping.


  • I was an undercover Uber driver
    What is it really like to be an Uber driver? Doesn’t sound so luxurious or much different than a normal taxi driver…

    If there’s a $10 ride, $1 Uber will keep it, for insurance or safety or whatever they want to call it. [This dollar is technically called the “safe rides fee,” but yeah.] And then from $9, they will take 20 percent, that would be $1.80. So after, the driver will take home $7.20.

    If they cut the rate in half, the same ride is now $5. Just example, OK? So Uber takes $1, and then out of $4, Uber takes 80 cents, so the driver will make $3.20. And if the demand is double, then another driver will also make $3.20. So the total driver pay is $6.40 vs. $7.20 before, but customer paid same $10 — means Uber’s taking extra money.

  • Elon Musk’s Space Dream Almost Killed Tesla
    In the late 00s, Several of Elon Musk’s businesses including Tesla and SpaceX were on the brink…of bankruptcy. Here’s a look from the SpaceX angle before he found success.

    Currently, SpaceX sends up about one rocket a month, carrying satellites for companies and nations. The company can undercut its U.S. competitors—Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital Sciences—on price by a wide margin. It also offers U.S. customers a peace of mind that its rivals can’t. Where competitors rely on Russian and other foreign suppliers, SpaceX makes its machines from scratch in the U.S. Its $60 million per launch cost is much less than what Europe and Japan charge and trumps even the relative bargains offered by the Russians and Chinese, who have the added benefit of cheap labor and decades of government investment.

  • Poor Little Rich Women
    This excerpt from a new book about the wives of wealthy Upper East Side residents has a tantalizing tidbit about so-called “wife bonuses”. I bet the rest of the book is nowhere near as controversial, but this teaser does pique my interest to read it.

    And then there were the wife bonuses.

    I was thunderstruck when I heard mention of a “bonus” over coffee. Later I overheard someone who didn’t work say she would buy a table at an event once her bonus was set. A woman with a business degree but no job mentioned waiting for her “year-end” to shop for clothing. Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.

  • How Shrek went from the world’s biggest animated franchise to the internet’s creepiest meme
    I thought the first Shrek was pretty good but then it dropped off the radar for me. Who knew it has spawned a bunch of sequels and aged quite poorly? I guess at some point I’ll have to watch it again and see if the jokes are corny now and whether the references are all dated.

    Chris Farley’s Shrek centered on a teenaged ogre who wanted to be a knight, opposite a sarcastic princess voiced by Janeane Garofalo. But Myers wanted to make Shrek his own, insisting on a total script rewrite before he joined the project. After recording his Shrek in a version of his normal speaking voice, Myers was struck with inspiration: Shrek should have a Scottish accent. Per his wishes, all of his dialogue was re-recorded in the Scottish brogue — an 11th-hour change that multiple sources claim cost the project at least $4 million. (Myers disputes the figure.)

  • “What’s one thing you’ve learned at Harvard Business School that blew your mind?”
    I approached this article thinking it would be a dud but it was actually quite interesting, including this theory which I’ve seen applied by the Dragons on Dragon’s Den

    There are two primary types of pricing: Cost-Based and Value-Based. In Cost Based pricing, you figure out how much it costs you to provide a service. Then you add a mark up and use that price to sell to the customer.

    The idea behind value pricing is that there’s actually a much wider wedge between the two things:

    First, there’s the amount your Product costs to make.
    Then, there’s the amount your Product saves the other company (or how much more it allows them to sell — but basically the financial impact giving your product has).

    You should charge somewhere between those two points.