Having the nerve not to do

Good things don't always need you to do something; sometimes, it requires you to do nothing.

You buy a stock. It falls immediately. Then it rises up past the buying price. What do you do, leave it be or sell it immediately?

Far too many books have been written about winning the hard fight. Overcoming the impossible. Almost everything you will read will goad you towards action. Will be about what someone did.

Read the biographies of Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi, Richard Branson, etc. It will always be about what they did.

It was inspired a culture of action as opposed to reflection. Activity instead of productivity. 

Almost nothing is written about the fight not fought. Not because of cowardice but because it was the right thing to do. 

Go and look up how many books you can find on Wars that were fought and now how many books can you find on wars that were avoided. 

Apart from the Cuban Missile Crisis, there would be few. Had the missile crisis turned into a war it would have been a stupid war. A war that should not have been and was rightly avoided. We at least know about the Cuban missile crisis. How many such instances would have been avoided during the Cold War?

Have you ever found a book that compiles all the acquisitions not done? Acquisitions that would have been catastrophic to the buyer. We all know the names of the CEOs who undertook great acquisitions. Nobody would be able to recall ONE who rightly avoided them. Books are written about the successful rocket launches, not about the launches that were cancelled and rightly so. 

Heroes are always projected as doers. Sometimes heroes are heroes because they had the nerve not to do. 

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts here.

Learning by Proxy | Indecent Exposure

Our entire lives are online. There seems to be no online service that cannot be hacked. Let alone the concern for our privacy, this can be a disaster for their business.

When Mary, the Queen of Scots has a hard life. She ascended to the throne when she was 6 days old. After an unhappy marriage in France, a widow, she returned to take her throne and claimed that of Queen Elizabeth I of England as well. She was imprisoned for more than a decade by Queen Elizabeth.

You see, the English unleashed their hospitality on their own before bringing it to India!

Finally, death came to Mary because one of her letters was decrypted and proved that she was plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth.

Mary, Queen of Scots paid with her life for a leak!

Indecent Exposure

The simplest form of encryption is called the replacement cypher. In this one letter is substituted for the other. It is also quite easy to crack such a cypher because every language suffers from statistical distribution. 

A is the most used alphabet in the English language and so on. If you have enough encrypted content, you will break the cypher quickly enough.

During World War 2, the Enigma Machine was the pinnacle of encryption. It used a replacement cypher whose key would change after each letter, controlled by a secondary key. The only way to decrypt was to have the secondary key as well as the Enigma machine. Despite having an Enigma machine at their disposal the British could not crack the code. Alan Turing was busy developing the bombes at the time but was nowhere close to breaking the cypher.

All it took was a listener in Britain who was responsible for intercepting every message from a particular post. She noticed that every message that was sent from the post ended with two letters. Assuming that there could not be a word formed with two letters, she surmised that it might be the initials of a person. Perhaps the sender's girlfriend. This turned out to be true and it resulted in the Enigma being broken. That is the story of how the Second World War was lost by the Germans.

No matter how intelligent the system - As long as it is a human using it, you can anticipate some stupidity.

Facebook has almost infinite resources. And still

People can now enter their phone numbers into a website to see if they appeared in a recent Facebook data breach.

Details of more than 530 million people were leaked in a database online, largely consisting of mobile numbers.

People can use the Have I Been Pwned online tool to check if their numbers or emails were compromised.

Facebook says the data is from an “old” breach in 2019 but privacy watchdogs are now investigating.

Source: BBC

One of the tools that Facebook had created for itself was used against it to snag the data of more than 500 Million users from the site.

Then LinkedIn had a hold my beer moment.

You might still be reeling from the news that personal information from 533 million Facebook accounts has been made freely available online. But now there’s another huge batch of people’s data floating around the web — including data from LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social network confirmed. And the potential scope of the leak is huge: an individual selling the data on a hacker forum claims it was scraped from 500 million LinkedIn profiles, according to CyberNews.

In a purported sample of two million of the profiles for sale, LinkedIn members’ full names, email addresses, phone numbers, genders, and more were visible, CyberNews found. LinkedIn, however, says the data includes information from many places and wasn’t all scraped from the professional-focused social network.

Source: The Verge

These are two of the largest Social Network and their only real play is data. More than user privacy they need to guard their data for the sake of monetisation of their platforms. If they are getting paraded on the streets with their pants down, pretty much all data protection is a joke.

Not to be left behind...

Online discount broking platform Upstox suffered a massive data breach affecting the personal data of 2.5 Mn of its customers, according to several media reports on Sunday (April 11, 2021). Thereafter, the company admitted that earlier claims about the data breach were right and it has since enhanced its cybersecurity systems.

Source: Inc42


Network18-owned financial portal Moneycontrol, which has reported extensively about data breaches affecting companies such as Upstox and Mobikwik, seems to have suffered the same fate, as personal data of over 7 lakh users have allegedly been leaked on the dark web, where it’s available for sale for $350.

Source: Inc42

And when it comes to IoT devices, you should NOT use one. Period. Last month, someone was found streaming videos from the CCTV in the Tesla factory.

Over the last few years, researchers have found a shocking number of vulnerabilities in seemingly basic code that underpins how devices communicate with the internet. Now a new set of nine such vulnerabilities are exposing an estimated 100 million devices worldwide, including an array of internet of things products and IT management servers. The larger question researchers are scrambling to answer, though, is how to spur substantive changes—and implement effective defences—as more and more of these types of vulnerabilities pile up.

Source: Wired

Two businesses that have mandated data protection laws are Payments and Healthcare. The PCI-DSS standard has kept financial data protected across the globe. In the case of Healthcare, HIPAA compliances keep health data protected.

Should we not consider similar standards for all kinds of data?

To protect data, Google runs a program called Project Zero. Its objective is to find Zero-Day Vulnerabilities, gaps in code (on iOS, Android and Microsoft) that can be exploited that even the companies themselves do not know. Project Zero reports it to them. They were left with an ethical conundrum!

And those two teams caught an unexpectedly big fish recently: an “expert” hacking group exploiting 11 powerful vulnerabilities to compromise devices running iOS, Android, and Windows.

But MIT Technology Review has learned that the hackers in question were actually Western government operatives actively conducting a counterterrorism operation. The company’s decision to stop and publicize the attack caused internal division at Google and raised questions inside the intelligence communities of the United States and its allies.

Source: MIT Technology Review

They shut down a covert US government operation to hack North Korea, China and Russia.


HIV Vaccine

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is the instruction set of life. It is the thing that tells whether an egg will turn into a human or a cat. Think of it as an instruction set for protein synthesis. Ribonucleic Acid carries genetic code from the nucleus to the ribosomes to make proteins. Where DNA tells what cells and organic materials need to be created; RNA just carries the instruction for specific proteins to be created.

Source: ThoughtCo

Different species have different lengths of DNA and within a species itself, the DNA of every individual is unique. The pairs illustrated above are called Base pairs and the human genome has about 3 billion base pairs whereas the CoronaVirus has about 30,000 base pairs.

James Watson and Francis Crick proposed the double helix structure of the genome in 1955. The human genome project was started in 1990, a publicly funded project. It took 13 years to decode the human genome. It cost USD 3 Billion to sequence one human gene.

Machines used to sequence have progressed so much since then. It is possible to order your DNA sequence on mapmygenome.com for Rs. 15000. In the US 23andme will get it done for USD 99.

It was this ability to sequence DNA quickly that made it possible for us to arrive at a vaccine in such a short period. Using the DNA sequence an RNA was synthesised that made the body produce proteins that would attack the virus. This method has become a platform.

The immense value of a platform innovation is related to how it can be adapted for a range of uses that are unforeseen at its inception. It can be like a toolbox, waiting at the back of a closet. What happened with sequencing during the pandemic serves as a good example. Another is Sanjana’s work on new Crispr technologies, which he uses to modify or repair strings of DNA to better understand the genetic basis of human disease. Twenty years ago, when officials at the N.I.H. talked about investing in the future of sequencing, altering the human, plant or animal genome on a regular basis was not something they could have predicted. But Crispr requires Sanjana to constantly evaluate his editing by using sequencers — usually a desktop Illumina model, in his case — to check the results. “It would be impossible to do these experiments otherwise,” he says.

Source: New York Times

There is another virus that has been giving humankind a hard time - HIV. This platform has been put to use against HIV.

The vaccine was able to target the desired immune cells and could become the first stage of a multi-step vaccine strategy to combat HIV and various other viral diseases.

A novel vaccine approach for the prevention of HIV has shown promise in Phase I trials, reported IAVI and Scripps Research. According to the organisations, the vaccine successfully stimulated the production of the rare immune cells needed to generate antibodies against HIV in 97 percent of participants.

Source: European Pharmaceutical Review


Digital Currency

I had written about digital currency and the death of physical currency in January. China has been running experiments with their digital currency for months now. They have decided to launch it. The first thing that happens with digital currency is disintermediation. Private banks will no longer be needed. The central bank is the issuer of the currency and all those who wish to use it will have to hold an account with the central bank.

Unlike cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the currency is centrally controlled and therefore the central bank will have a treasure trove of data on how the currency is being used and where it is being used.

China’s version of a digital currency is controlled by its central bank, which will issue the new electronic money. It is expected to give China’s government vast new tools to monitor both its economy and its people. By design, the digital yuan will negate one of bitcoin’s major draws: anonymity for the user.

Source: WSJ

The more interesting aspects of the currency that are now becoming apparent involve not just tracking and flagging criminal activity but also the change it can bring to matters of macro and microeconomic policy. The tools that the policymakers will have at their disposal would multiply many folds.

Imagine - the government needs the consumption to rise and therefore decides to put an expiry date on the digital currency. Providing stimulus cash to people with an expiry date! That money is not going to get saved, it will be spent.

The money itself is programmable. Beijing has tested expiration dates to encourage users to spend it quickly, for times when the economy needs a jump start.


That means it won’t make sense for investors and traders to speculate in the digital yuan as some do with cryptocurrencies. Anti-counterfeiting measures will be designed to make it impossible for anyone besides the People’s Bank of China to create new digital yuan.


While China hasn’t published final legislation for the program, the central bank says it may initially impose limits on how much digital yuan individuals can keep on their person, as a way to control how it circulates and provide users a dose of security and privacy.

Source: WSJ

Most importantly, US sanctions can go take a hike.

The digital yuan could give those the U.S. seeks to penalize a way to exchange money without U.S. knowledge. Exchanges wouldn’t need to use SWIFT, the messaging network that is used in money transfers between commercial banks and that can be monitored by the U.S. government.

The chance to weaken the power of American sanctions is central to Beijing’s marketing of the digital yuan and to its efforts to internationalize the yuan more generally. Speaking at a forum last month, China’s Mr. Mu, the central bank official, repeatedly said the digital yuan is aimed at protecting China’s “monetary sovereignty,” including by offsetting global use of the dollar.

Source: WSJ

For China to be able to conduct trade, provide aid and support regimes that the US is not friendly to can open up the possibility of moving China to a much stronger position across the globe. This is going to make it even more difficult for the rest of the world to economically punish China.



But the biggest fear for a vast section of India’s population is not the virus at all. For working-class Indians, particularly daily-wage earners, informal workers, and the urban poor, the scariest part of this second wave is the possibility of another lockdown.

Among them is Nawaj Sharif, 19, from West Bengal’s Malda town, who used to work as a tailor in the textile hub of Tirupur in Tamil Nadu. When the Union government announced a sudden lockdown in March last year, Sharif was among lakhs of migrant workers forced to leave cities and return to their villages.

Source: Quartz

Watch lobbying take root real-time!

And then - Indians carefully navigating COVID-19

Would love to hear what you think about it, do leave comments below.

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts at https://viveksrinivasan.com/podcast

Learning by Proxy | Podcast | Indecent Exposure

Our entire lives are online. There seems to be no online service that cannot be hacked. Let alone the concern for our privacy, this can be disaster for their business.


This is the Learning by Proxy podcast for Edition 55. If you do not enjoy reading long-form, get the gist of it in about 10 minutes. 

This time in the podcast - 

Indecent Exposure - All the online leaks taking place

DNA - The HIV Vaccine might be around the corner

Digital Currency - Digital Yuan

You can find the whole blog at this link.

Leave a comment

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

This podcast is also on Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Stitcher and Podbean

The one skill nobody will teach you

More than 30,000 universities in the world and not one has a course on this. Guess what skill?

Last month I had gone back to the co-working space that we had been occupying before the lockdown hit us. It was a ghost town. A place that would have tens of people bustling around on every floor had one or two people sitting around. It was sad to see this. But not as sad as finding out that one of the founders who used to work there had committed suicide.

The lockdown had hit his business, caused a lot of losses and he did not know how to dig himself out of it. He chose to take the ultimate step and put paid to his life.

According to certain estimates, there are about 7.7 Million schools in the world and there are about 30586 universities in the world. None of them teaches the one thing that you are sure to be faced with in life.


And then get up, dust yourself, look forward and move ahead.

Even the Tiger has a success record of only about 52% of the hunts. If it could understand human language, it would have lost self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth - given up on hunting and died of starvation. Nature teaches it, not to bother and to try again. 

COVID-19 killed about 2.5 Million people last year. 800,000 people take their lives each year according to Our World in Data. In other words, every 40 seconds a person takes their own life.

Some of them might be victims of abuse with severe mental ailments unable to cope, but I am certain a vast majority of them are people who just were not taught how to cope with failure.

A child cannot learn to walk without falling. A person cannot learn to talk without mumbling first. You cannot learn to ride a bicycle without falling. Every step of doing what it takes to be human involves failing but nobody will prepare for precisely that. 

This is an indictment of the entire education system on this planet.

Imagine if we just got this one thing right - How many lives would be saved? How many more people would take risks? How many new discoveries would be made? How many problems would be solved?

Just imagine…

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts here.

Learning by Proxy | Chipping Away

Drawing a new world order begins with determining where Silicon Chips would be manufactured!

Last year I had written a piece on Silicon Chips. I would highly recommend reading it before diving into this edition. These are some interesting changes afoot. How these changes will affect the landscape of technology evolution will be interesting to watch!

The Chip Fight

In the article referenced above, I had described the evolution of chips and the role they play in modern electronics. Last year, car companies experienced a tremendous shortage of chips and could not ship cars despite demand. Companies like Nissan experience a fall in revenue because of “upstream supply chain issues”.

When you think of chips, you often think of computers or phones. Today, they cannot manufacture even your microwave and your washing machine without chips. Further, with the rise of “intelligent systems” and “IoT” everything from your light bulb to your door lock have chips embedded in it. It has come to a point where almost anything that you use which requires electricity or battery has Chips embedded in some part of the product.

Even the charger wire for the Apple iPhone has a chip embedded in the lightning socket which plugs into the phone. That chip helps verify the authenticity of the cable!

It would be an understatement to say that Chips have become important.

The pride of American Chip supremacy - Intel - has fallen by the wayside. The Silicon business has two parts - Design and Fabrication.

While the design is about cramming more transistors, more functionality and discovering multiple ways of performing the same computing more efficiently. Fabrication is about turning sand into that design.

Intel has always been a vertically integrated company. Meaning - their fabrication capabilities were meant only to serve the chips that they designed. Intel has fallen behind on fabrication - A LOT. While Taiwan Semiconductor and Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) is currently on pace to startup the 5 Nm process, Intel is still transitioning from the 10 Nm to 7 Nm process. This has resulted in Apple moving away from Intel i-series chips to its own ARM chips manufactured by TSMC for their Macs.

90% of TSMCs manufacturing capacity is in China. This leaves most of the planet in a geopolitical quandary. While everyone wants to punish China for its behaviour; no one can. They face the potential of their locks and bulbs not being manufactured!

Intel’s new CEO soon realised that the Fabrication business has to be divorced from the design business.

The big news was that it was going to set up a foundry business—one that will contract manufacture chips—with two new fabs in Arizona. They will be run as a separate business unit with its own committed capacity. This is an important signal because a foundry has to be dedicated to serving its customers and can’t prioritize Intel’s own internal needs. I remember when the Taiwanese company Acer spun off its manufacturing arm as Wistron in 2000. Customers were a little wary initially, because both Acer and Wistron operated out of different floors of the same building in Taipei. The acid test came when there was a parts shortage—ironically, I think it was Intel microprocessors that were on allocation. Would Wistron short its U.S.-based customer, or would it short Acer? When it decided to short Acer, other customers really started to trust it. Intel’s will no doubt face a test like this down the road, and having a little independence will help it to make the right decisions.

Source: Forbes

Last year as COVID ravaged supply chains and the US was struggling, The Trump administration went with briefcases in hand to TSMC and handed them a USD 10 Billion cheque to set up their fabrication in - guess where - Arizona.

That notwithstanding, this opens up the possibility for especially western companies to have their fabrication done in America. With the 5G fiasco and push back being seen against Huawei, this will become an alternative. Further, companies like Apple will hedge their risks by having batches manufactured by Intel.

There was a time when almost all of Apple’s silicon was manufactured by Samsung. Then friends turned into foes. Apple moved all of its business to TSMC.

George Carlin used to describe American foreign policy as the “bigger dick foreign policy”. Now, watch the “bigger dick corporate strategy” in action.

Contract chipmaker TSMC said on Thursday it plans to invest $100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity at its plants, days after Intel announced a $20 billion plan to expand its advanced chipmaking capacity.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, whose customers include Apple and Qualcomm, had already flagged a plan to spend of between $25 billion-$28 billion this year, to develop and produce advanced chips.

Source: CNBC

While you can outspend your competitor to success in the Silicon business. Money alone rarely solves business problems, much less geopolitical problems.

In the meantime, India is arriving fashionably late to the party - 30 years late!

The Indian government has decided to boost the country’s smartphone assembly industry as well as strengthen electronics supply chain by offering cash incentives of more than $1 Bn to each semiconductor company that sets up its manufacturing unit here. The government intends to cut down on its reliance on China for electronics supply chain and stable reliable suppliers.

Source: Inc42

Not only have we squandered all the talent to Intel, Apple, AMD and Qualcomm; we have major “upstream supply chain issues”. India never put the building blocks for any kind of high-tech manufacturing in place. This was because we heavily relied on services businesses. Most of the 90s and early 2000s were spent establishing large call centre companies and IT services companies. Manufacturing is not our strongest suit - precision manufacturing even less so.

Also, Apple recently found out that workers in India are not as pliant as the ones in China. They had part of their manufacturing facility vandalised by workers claiming they had not been paid overtime.

What would a Billion dollars mean to companies who have to invest 10s of Billions to get started with full-scale manufacturing?


Digital Payments

As a startup mentor, I used to hate the policies laid out by the RBI. It often meant dealing with the painful and cumbersome collection process, especially for recurring payments. It is easier to sell something that would cost Rs. 500 per month than to sell something that would cost Rs. 6000 per annum. But the former means collecting the money 12 times, which can end up costing you more than the Rs. 500 you will earn.

On the other side, I am also incredibly proud of the payment infrastructure and the safeguards that are in place in the country. This makes it very difficult to cheat a consumer, especially one that is not technically literate. The OTP, which makes the collection of recurring payments a pain, also protects consumers.

Now, with Credit Cards, it is possible to collect recurring payments much more easily since it is possible to take authorisation for recurring payments. RBI is coming for it.

What are these requirements?

Among the key guidelines, the RBI has now asked banks to send a pre-debit notification to their credit card users 24 hours before an actual debit to the credit card. This can be either through SMS or email, as chosen by the customer. The pre-transaction notification should, at the minimum, inform the cardholder about the name of the merchant, transaction amount, date/time of debit etc.

Also, on receipt of the pre-transaction notification, the cardholder should have the facility to opt-out of that particular transaction or the e-mandate.

There has to be a validity period for e-mandate, which will have to be provided at the time of registration of the e-mandate. The RBI has also called for certain audit-trail-related requirements that the merchant service provider and banks will have to meet.

During the registration process, the cardholder should be given an option to provide e-mandate for either a pre-specified fixed value of recurring transaction or for a variable value of the recurring transaction. In case of the latter, the cardholder will provide a maximum value of the recurring transaction and this has been capped at Rs 2,000 per transaction by the RBI.

A cardholder who wants to opt for e-mandate facility on the card should undertake a one-time registration process, with AFA validation by the issuer.

Among other guidelines, the issuer will have to provide the cardholder an online facility to withdraw any e-mandate at any point of time, following which no further recurring transactions should be allowed for the withdrawn e-mandate.

So, till such time that card issuers and merchants adhere to these norms, e-mandates cannot be given by the customers for payment to service providers.

Source: Indian Express

I think the guidelines are awesome for consumers and will bring India to the forefront, at least in terms of consumer protection. I do not suppose ANY country does things the way RBI is suggesting it be done.

Every bank failed to comply by the 31st March 2021 and they have extended the deadline for another 6 months with an admonishment.


Rock and a Hard Place

Pharmaceutical majors often approached a horse stable outside of Pune for testing their compounds. The owner of the ranch thought, why can’t I do this myself? And hence was born Serum Institute of India (SII).

There is no comparison to SII in the world. For starters, it is a private enterprise. Think of it as the Saudi Aramco of the vaccine business.

Serum makes vaccines for measles, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis and many other diseases. It specializes in generic versions, exports to 170 countries—and estimates that two-thirds of the world’s children are inoculated with its vaccines.

Source: NPR

Two-thirds of the children in the world is no small feat! This is also because SII is one of the sole manufacturers of low margin vaccines.

In August last year, as vaccine candidates were coming around for COVID-19, SII got into bed with AstraZeneca and became the largest manufacturer of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It had some inherent advantages, including not needing -70 degree temperature for preservation.

The past few months have been great! The government has used the large production capacity to engage in diplomacy. The government even has a dashboard on the Ministry of External Affairs site to showcase all the countries to whom we have donated vaccines. It includes an impressive 84 countries.

This is not something new, though.

The first relates to India’s formidable reputation as the “pharmacy of the world“. It has actively contributed to meeting global demand for vaccines, over the counter medicines, and low-cost generic drugs. The relatively low manufacturing costs make Indian products affordable throughout the world.

Almost 20% of India’s pharmaceutical exports, valued at $17 billion, are to Africa. Southern and western regions of Africa are the largest importers of Indian medicines. These include antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that cost only a fraction of those produced by Western companies.

The second relates to capacity building and collaboration in the health sector. Leading Indian healthcare providers are collaborating with African partners. Some have opened or plan to open speciality hospitals across Africa.

Source: Quartz

As the next wave of COVID cases rises in India, both the government and SII are in a precarious position. Do they keep exporting and using the vaccines to further diplomatic agenda or do they divert all the capacity to Indians and inoculate the country from further economic turmoil?

The world’s largest vaccine maker, based in India, will be able to restart exports of AstraZeneca doses by June if new coronavirus infections subside in the country, its chief executive said Tuesday.

But a continued surge could result in more delays because the Serum Institute of India would have to meet domestic needs, Adar Poonawalla warned in an interview with The Associated Press.

Source: LiveMint

In the meantime, the EU seems to have completely botched up their vaccine distribution drive. This is without even managing to donate or contribute anything to anyone. The Americans hogged all the Pfizer and Moderna supply - Despite Anit-vaxxers. The Indians kept their supply to themselves and to distribute to 84 other countries it would seem. The Europeans would rather die than subject themselves to the Chinese or Russian vaccine.

And the little that came in as supply to the EU was exported, to the UK of all places, or stashed away in warehouses in Italy by those who hope to make a profit when prices went up!



Infinite intelligence

Which part is fake?

Would love to hear what you think about it, do leave comments below.

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha

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