ICYMI, a picture of Bernie Sanders looking stodgier than usual at the Biden-Harris inaugural has been photoshopped ad infinitum! I’ve gathered my favorite ones after the top 5 reads of the week.
The Five Best Things
Chip Huyen: Machine learning is going real-time
Chip Huyen covers the current state of real time machine learning. The definition of “real time” is fuzzy, and Chip helps clarify two distinct kinds of real time ML:
Online predictions is a model making predictions in real time (milliseconds). Examples here include Google search results, high frequency trading, autonomous vehicles. Making the most relevant predictions in the fastest time possible has real life, real $ implications. To speed up real time predictions, ML engineers should look into making the model faster, smaller or run on specialized/latest hardware.
Online learning is a model incorporating new data and updating itself in near real-time (minutes). This is a much harder and more expensive problem; practically this is achieved by updating a model’s weights once a microbatch worth of new samples are collected, evaluating the performance in a sandbox environment, then deploying it wide. TikTok, Weibo, Twitter recommendation algorithms are good examples of this. From Chip’s research, it appears that Chinese firms are at the forefront of online learning, while it is still nascent in American firms.
Byrne Hobart: The Road Not Taken: Stripe, Ant, PayTM & Defi
Byrne Hobart’s free weekly post provides the best summary of payments infrastructure and modernization across three large economies of the world - the U.S, China and India. Based on narratives alone, one might expect the U.S payments stack to be the most up to date and modern, China’s to be centrally controlled, and India’s to be a hodgepodge. The reality is much different, and strongly rooted in each country’s history and incentives. Byrne uses Stripe, Ant financial and PayTM as the canonical examples to explain this evolution. Stripe set itself up as the plumbing (via APIs) of the Western financial system, which is byzantine and bizarre. Ant financial, an offshoot from Alibaba, leveraged its ecommerce roots and data mining to become a private financial system outside the CCP’s oversight. PayTM was threatening to achieve Ant-like status (including receiving a $550M investment from Ant itself), until the Indian technocrat bureaucracy came up with the Unified Payments Infrastructure (UPI), an interoperable, real time inter-bank transfer network with open API’s on top of which 3rd party fintech providers build. Thus, arguably the most thriving and modern fintech stack came out of a public-private partnership in India. China is increasingly looking at DeFi (decentralized finance, aka built on top of blockchain) and has launched a pilot program called DCEP.
NYTimes: Underselling the vaccine
An interesting discussion of how public health messaging may be failing us yet again in the U.S. We seem to be too focused on cautioning against the longshot side-effects instead of the fact that these vaccines are among the most effective vaccines ever created and are going to get us back to “normal” in record time.
Here’s my best attempt at summarizing what we know:
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines — the only two approved in the U.S. — are among the best vaccines ever created, with effectiveness rates of about 95 percent after two doses. That’s on par with the vaccines for chickenpox and measles. And a vaccine doesn’t even need to be so effective to reduce cases sharply and crush a pandemic.
If anything, the 95 percent number understates the effectiveness, because it counts anyone who came down with a mild case of Covid-19 as a failure. But turning Covid into a typical flu — as the vaccines evidently did for most of the remaining 5 percent — is actually a success. Of the 32,000 people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in a research trial, do you want to guess how many contracted a severe Covid case? One.
Although no rigorous study has yet analyzed whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, it would be surprising if they did. “If there is an example of a vaccine in widespread clinical use that has this selective effect — prevents disease but not infection — I can’t think of one!” Dr. Paul Sax of Harvard has written in The New England Journal of Medicine. (And, no, exclamation points are not common in medical journals.) On Twitter, Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California, San Francisco, argued: “Please be assured that YOU ARE SAFE after vaccine from what matters — disease and spreading.”
The risks for vaccinated people are still not zero, because almost nothing in the real world is zero risk. A tiny percentage of people may have allergic reactions. And I’ll be eager to see what the studies on post-vaccination spread eventually show. But the evidence so far suggests that the vaccines are akin to a cure.
This article covers a few startups that are bringing gamification to the corporate world, by building virtual environments for coworkers to interact. Examples include virtual castles, beaches, tiki-bars. These startups include Teamflow, Gather, Spatial Chat, With, Branch, Around, Sococo, Topia. Each has a slightly different spin on the same basic idea: enable people to move about in a virtual 2-D environment, and video chat with others who are nearby. Where will you decide to stake your digital homestead?
Dessa: Who’s Yellen Now
A 1.5 min ode to Janet Yellen, in the style of the musical Hamilton. Yellen is a storied economist who has held positions in the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the Federal Reserve, and is now nominated to be the next U.S. Treasure Secretary. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to ever hold that role. WSJ has a good overview of the challenges she will have to face (The Debt Question Facing Janet Yellen: How Much Is Too Much?); for now, I will bask in the warm glow from this picture of her at the Biden inauguration.
The Best Memes
The internet outdid itself this week with the Bernie at the inaugural photoshops; my favorites -
This whole thread
This one takes the cake though
A lot of thought went into the outfits that everyone wore at the Biden-Harris inauguration this week. This post covers the significance of Dr. Jill Biden’s coat, these two posts on Mrs. Obama’s, this one of Vice-President Harris. This one has a heartwarming tidbit on Amanda Gorman’s
Part of doing her best meant thinking carefully on what she would wear on the day; namely, a look by Miuccia Prada, a designer Gorman admires for her intellect and long-standing feminist leanings. But an unlikely accessory carries an especially moving backstory. Continuing the legacy of Black women poets like Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander—who spoke at the inaugurations of Bill Clinton in 1993 and Barack Obama in 2009, respectively—Gorman was looking for a way to pay tribute to her predecessors.
Lo and behold, Oprah Winfrey, a fan of Gorman’s, got in touch. When Angelou spoke in 1993, Winfrey had sent Angelou a Chanel coat and a pair of gloves to wear for the event; to continue the tradition, she sent Gorman a pair of gold hoop earrings by Nikos Koulis and an Of Rare Origin ring to wear for her own big day. “Every single time I get a text from [Oprah] I fall on the floor,” Gorman says, laughing. It’s the perfect finishing touch to a look that came together with immense care and thought. “[Fashion] has so much meaning to me, and it’s my way to lean into the history that came before me and all the people supporting me.”
Other interesting inauguration day trivia
The Print: 7 reasons why Modi govt is in retreat on farm reform laws - India’s ruling party and farmers in the state of Punjab have been at loggerheads for a few months over ending subsidies. This is a good summary of the current situation.
What’s going on with Gamestop? The beleaguered retailer’s stock surged 69% (eyeroll) on Friday before trading was halted; it is up 250% to date this year. Why? Not due to blow out holiday sales as you might think. The best descriptions of what happened here and here. Simplistically: several hedge funds have announced they are shorting Gamestop’s stock. Retail investors on the WallStreetBets subreddit realized there isn’t enough stock available to cover the short positions (138% of GME shares are sold short) and piled on to buy. This led to a “squeeze” where the short sellers had to buy even more stock at higher prices to cover their positions. Tomorrow (1/25/2021) promises to bring more fun.
Of course there is a SPAC called LMFAO.
UK’s Royal Mint issued a new coin with a misattributed HG Wells quote. LOL.
The most interesting political social media account might be that of the U.S Second Gentleman, Douglas Emhoff.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not represent my employer.