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To see how cutthroat Silicon Valley can be, look to its job descriptions

Fri, 2018-04-20 12:57

Would you want to work at a company that uses the word “maniacal” for a job?

An analysis by language analytics platform Textio gives a glimpse into the cultures at large technology companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google, by pulling the most common words from 25,060 of their advertised job descriptions.

The words “wickedly” and “maniacal” are used more at Amazon than any other company, 33 and 11 times as often respectively compared to the next company that used those words. While this might seem bleak, the context does matter a bit. Often Amazon wants its employees to have a “maniacal focus on consistency” or “maniacal customer obsession.”

At Facebook, the most-used words are “our family,” as well as “ruthlessly,” and “storytelling.” The most alarming word, “ruthlessly,” is often used in job postings in relation to prioritizing.

And Twitter? The most-used word is “nerd.”

That being said, there are two caveats. If Amazon used the word “wickedly” 33 times more than the next company, which either never used it or used it once, that’s pretty small in the scope of the thousands of jobs Amazon creates each year. Also, some of these companies, like Apple, are Textio clients.

Egypt’s top Islamic cleric is obsessed with stopping Facebook, one fatwa at a time

Fri, 2018-04-20 12:54


Amid a backdrop of Facebook facing intense scrutiny over its privacy data breaches from the US congress and the European Union, Egypt’s top mufti Shawki Allam has landed his own punches with a fatwa (religious edict) deeming the purchase of promotional likes and advertising a form of fraud and deception.

Ironically, posted on the top Islamic cleric’s own Facebook page, the fatwa fits within a larger pattern of Egypt taking aim at the social media giant and social media in general. The mufti says it is deceptive and contrary to the Prophet Muhammad’s transparent teachings for businesses and social media personalities to grow their followings by buying followers.

Fatwas address everything that affects the lives of Muslims from the mundane to new technologies such as bitcoin to theological matters that require a legal opinion based on interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence.

Egypt boasts a sizeable numbers of Facebook users topping 35 million in a country with about 35% internet penetration. Last month Yasser El Qady, the minister for telecommunications, announced that the government would launch an awkwardly named social media network called Egypt Face. The reasoning behind the network was in order to protect citizens’ data and to fight extremist ideas posted online by terror groups.

Although authorities never officially launched a site, one was online within a day of the minister’s announcement and then abruptly taken down after users took to it in droves a day after. Currently the site egface.com is unavailable when accessed through an Egyptian IP.

“Egypt Face”

The focus on Facebook comes amid increased online surveillance with over 500 sites, including many news outlets such as Huffpost and the popular blogging site Medium, blocked.

Human rights activists and journalists have been routinely arrested for their social media posts including three last week showing a government that is keen on shutting down dissent and mobilization online, which were crucial in rallying people to the streets in the revolution seven years ago have been heavily monitored.

“We have seen different attacks and interception methods that reflect the Egyptian security sector’s persistence in monitoring people and showing high levels of curiosity in their private lives” said Ramy Raoof, a Citizen Lab fellow at the University of Toronto who conducted an investigation into a phishing campaign targeting Egyptian civil society groups.

Raoof does not see this as a sign of technical sophistication but of experimenting with the diversity of cyber warfare. Egyptian security bodies have been investing in hacking technologies from Germany, Italy and Finland.

Facebook’s controversial Free Basics Internet service in Egypt was suspended in December 2015 over concerns the government wanted the ability to spy on its users. The pared down version of the internet is available in many African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana.

Other concerns of privacy have also been revealed in recent weeks with the Egyptian parliament fast tracking a law to provide users’ data to Uber in order to regulate ride hailing apps in the country after taxi drivers filed a lawsuit against it and its rival Careem.

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Comey says Putin was the first world leader to congratulate Trump on his inauguration

Fri, 2018-04-20 12:35

Former FBI director James Comey’s unclassified memos detail Donald Trump’s displeasure at belatedly hearing that a foreign leader, whose name has been redacted, had been the first to congratulate him on his inauguration—and that national security adviser Mike Flynn hadn’t told him for days.

That president was Russia’s Vladimir Putin, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall) and the AP.

Trump had previously believed Britain’s Theresa May had been the first to make a congratulatory call. When he found out nearly a week later that it was actually Putin, Trump gave a “heated reply” to Flynn that six days “was not an appropriate period of time to return a call,” according to Comey’s memo.

The Comey memo continues: “In telling the story, the president pointed his fingers at his head and said, ‘the guy has serious judgement issues.'”

Flynn was later fired for lying to vice president Mike Pence—18 days after the White House learned he was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. Trump defended Flynn in a tweet this morning.

So General Michael Flynn’s life can be totally destroyed while Shadey James Comey can Leak and Lie and make lots of money from a third rate book (that should never have been written). Is that really the way life in America is supposed to work? I don’t think so!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2018

Read next: Trump said he’s not the kind of guy who needs to pay for sex, the Comey memos claim

Singapore’s prime minister schools Trump on how trade actually works

Fri, 2018-04-20 11:53

The prime minister of Singapore is really not cool with Donald Trump’s tariffs. In a Washington Post op-ed this week, Lee Hsien Loong condemned Trump’s trade barriers as “not the correct solution.” His key point:

As economists have pointed out, when assessing economic relationships, what matters is not a country’s bilateral trade balance with a specific trading partner but its overall trade balance with the rest of the world. Furthermore, the cause of a country’s trade deficit lies at home. A trade deficit is the result of a country consuming more than it produces, and it is neither caused nor cured by trade restrictions.

That last sentence of Lee’s really nails Trump’s embarrassingly shabby command of economics (the boldface is ours). A country like the US consumes most of what it produces. The extra stuff it makes, it exports; the extra stuff it wants, it buys from abroad. So when it runs a trade deficit—that is, imports more than it exports—that country is, by definition, producing less than it’s consuming.

Policies that influence the factors causing a country to produce more than it consumes will, therefore, also alter the trade deficit. Protectionist measures that make imports more expensive, however, will not address the fundamental issue. This is why Trump’s trade barriers—to say nothing of a trade war—are doomed to failure, as we’ve explored before. And, as Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, that’s why renegotiating bilateral trade deals won’t shrink the deficit either.

That said, the truth about the US trade deficit is more complicated than Lee’s explanation suggests—as the prime minister almost certainly knows.

Because the US dollar is the preferred currency in which central banks hold their foreign reserves, overseas investors can buy as much in US assets as they please. And that is a huge reason behind the US’s chronic trade deficit.

To understand why, let’s go back to trade balances for a moment. A country pays for its imports with what it earns from the exports it sells. To buy more imports than exports, it must borrow from abroad to pay for those goods. This means the US trade deficit also signals that it’s borrowing from foreigners. On the flip side, when a country runs a trade surplus—as Singapore does—it’s lending to the rest of the world.

Now, borrowing from abroad is not inherently bad. Whether it’s wise depends on what the country spends that borrowed money on. The thing is, the US doesn’t need that extra capital. Because America has no shortage of funds to invest, that excess debt goes to pay for things that don’t sustain long-term growth—consumer goods, for instance.

So why does America keep borrowing more than it should? Because countries that run chronic trade surpluses—again, like Singapore—take the money they could have spent buying US exports or investing in their own economy, and instead swap it into dollars to buy American assets (in particular, government bonds).

This is bad for the US. It makes the dollar artificially expensive and, therefore, US exports less competitive than they should be. That, in turn, forces America to either borrow even more, or accept unemployment in its export-focused sectors (notably, manufacturing).

As for Singapore, Lee’s right that the cause of Singapore’s trade surplus does indeed lie at home: with his own exploitative policies.

The government policy of buying excessive sums of foreign assets is generally called “currency manipulation.” As it happens, Singapore topped the charts of 2017 currency manipulators, according to recent research by economist Joseph Gagnon (though it wasn’t necessarily US assets that Singapore was buying).

Bear in mind, too, that Singapore is tiny. This means its government is plowing a mammoth share of its wealth into other countries’ assets.

As a result, it consistently runs one of the world’s biggest current account surpluses (which is essentially the same thing as a trade surplus), in proportion to the size of its economy.

As Gagnon explains, “Singapore’s manipulation derives primarily from its public pension system, which collects high payroll taxes from workers and invests them entirely overseas through a sovereign wealth fund to back future pension obligations.” Were this money instead managed by private investors, it’s unlikely that Singapore would invest such a vast share of savings abroad, he notes.

In other words, the Singapore government effectively takes wages its workers could have spent buying other countries’ goods and instead loans them to foreign consumers to pay for Singaporean exports.

So does Lee have a leg to stand on here? No, not really.

Sure, no one wants a trade war. But if Trump suddenly started emulating Lee’s lead in exporting 41% of its GDP in savings, the loss of American demand would shatter the global economy entirely.

This weekend is the best time to watch the Lyrid meteor shower

Fri, 2018-04-20 11:39

For more than 2,600 years, humans have observed meteors streak across our skies every April. This year’s Lyrid meteor shower will last from April 16 to April 25. To enjoy the celestial spectacle, here’s what you need to know.

What are the Lyrids?

The Lyrids are the name for the meteor shower caused by particles left behind by Comet Thatcher. These particles burn up as they come in contact with the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving a streak that looks like a shooting star. The comet’s orbit around the sun is 415 years long. Its last visit was in 1861 and the next one will be in 2276.

They are called the Lyrids, because they seem to be located in the constellation Lyra near the star Vega.

When can I see the Lyrids?

The meteor showers have begun and will last until April 25. The peak of the shower, at a rate of around 10 to 20 meteors per hour, can be seen just before before dawn on April 22. The waxing moon shouldn’t pose much of a problem. You can improve your chances of the meteors: try to find a light-pollution free patch of the sky and give your eyes 30 minutes or so to get used to the dark.

The best Lyrids ever observed had a rate of 100 meteors per hour and have been observed in the US in 1982, Japan in 1945, and Greece in 1922.

Where in the sky is it best to watch the Lyrids?

You don’t need to know where the Lyra constellation is to enjoy the meteor shower. “The idea that you must recognize a meteor shower’s radiant point in order to see any meteors is completely false,” according to EarthSky. When they come down, they can come down anywhere in the sky.

However, it helps to know what time the constellation is at the highest point in the sky, because that’s when you are likely to see the most meteors. In the northern hemisphere, where the meteor shower is best observed, Vega rises on the horizon at about 10pm local time and it reaches the high point just before dawn.

How a Kim and Trump summit could fail—advice from a US diplomat who knows North Korea

Fri, 2018-04-20 09:52

He is likely to “vent,” to be “hostile,” and believes what he says is “sacrosanct.” He is probably willing to hold a tough position for months, expecting the other side to fold. He is especially sensitive to bad press.

Ex-governor Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, energy secretary under president Bill Clinton, and frequent negotiator in North Korea, was describing dictator Kim Jong-un on Thursday (April 19) to a group of diplomats, journalists, and intelligence personnel in Washington, DC. But much of what he said could also apply to US president Donald Trump.

Concerns that the two leaders are a toxic combination is one reason that preparing for the summit, planned for early June, is so tricky.The US’s depleted diplomatic corps in Asia also means the White House is relying on intelligence to do much of the planning.

Richardson warned at the Arms Control Association annual meeting that there’s a chance the summit could leave the world in a worse state than it is now.

The meeting carries a “lot of risks,” he said, and the biggest is that by setting up face-to-face dialogue with the two leaders there’s “going to be no return to the status quo.” Both sides are going to need to get something face-saving out of the meeting—or the volatile leaders could be pushed to extremes.

For the Trump administration right now, “the danger is unrealistic expectations,” Richardson said. Kim and his regime “aren’t going to hand over the keys to the kingdom,” he said.

In particular both sides have different definitions of what denuclearization means.

The White House and Trump may think it means Kim handling over his missile system, but to Kim it likely means the US taking down the “nuclear umbrella,” its agreement to protect South Korea and Japan in case of any attack. Richardson emphasized several times that he supported the idea of the meeting, but was concerned about Trump’s volatility and historical lack of attention to detail.

“I don’t want the president to walk out saying ‘They’re not going to denuclearize this afternoon, so I’m leaving,’ ” he said. Any deal to get rid of North Korea’s weapons is expected to take months or years to fulfill. “I think the risk that he’s taking is the correct one,” Richardson said, but he’s especially concerned about Trump’s use of Twitter and his “flying off the handle.”

Rational US goals for the meeting could include the return of US detainees in North Korea, the return of soldiers’ remains that are still being held from the Korean War, and a ban on North Korea selling chemical weapons to Syria, or nuclear weapons to anyone else, he said.

Concerns among diplomats that new National Security Advisor John Bolton could bomb North Korea are overblown, Richardson added. “Relax,” he said. This meeting is one of Bolton’s first jobs as security advisor, he said, and he’s going to want it to be a success.

One of West Africa’s favorite streetfoods could be causing cancer for its makers and consumers

Fri, 2018-04-20 09:46

Long before streetfood became trendy, women in markets across West Africa were smoking hundreds of fish, shellfish, and prawns to sell each day. A closer look at this favorite snack, however, shows that it could be dangerous for both consumers and cooks.

The traditional method leaves more than smoke in the eyes for the women preparers. Old smokers burn wood mixed with coal and gas and produce large amounts of carbon dioxide, adding to greenhouse gases. “Also, traditional smoking releases contaminants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic and hazardous to the human respiratory system,” said Yvette Diei-Ouadi, a fisheries expert with the UN.

Health practitioners in Senegal and Nigeria have raised concerns over the quality of the fish and the health and safety around preparation methods. In recent years, Africa’s healthcare systems have shifted focus toward non-communicable diseases, increasing scrutiny on lifestyles and food choices.

A woman prepares smoked fish for sale at a marketplace in Libreville, Gabon,

A not-so-no new technology is trying to make smoking fish healthier and more profitable. Since its official introduction in 2015, the FTT-Thiaroye has evolved from simple technology to a processing technique that is applicable to existing kilns, making it easier to roll out on a broad scale.

Created with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and local partners such as the National Training Centre for Fish and Aquaculture Technicians in Senegal, the FTT method reduces smoke and the amount of wood needed by funneling smoke from the kilns through a metal pipe. The furnace sits at the base of the smoker and can be pushed or rolled underneath the smoking compartment. The oven also can be used to stored smoked fish.

The new method promises to boost profits by cutting the amount of fuel needed. The cost of setting up the machine is still too high for many poorer communities, according to a report by Al Jazeera. But if costs go down, it could be applied to the 10-12% of the world’s population who make their living from aquaculture, according to the FAO. And it could be a healthier way to prepare a favorite snack.

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Electric scooter startup Bird wants to make it legal to ride scooters on the sidewalk

Fri, 2018-04-20 09:11

San Francisco has been flooded with electric scooters from startups that think the internet-connected vehicles could be the next big thing in local transportation.

Backed by more than $250 million in venture capital funding, Bird, LimeBike, and Spin have dumped hundreds of scooters for adults on the city in recent weeks, much to the chagrin of regulators. The influx has sparked plenty of complaints from residents, who feel the scooters are at best a public nuisance and at worst a threat to public safety. On April 16, the San Francisco city attorney sent cease-and-desist orders to all three companies, demanding they halt operations and take stronger steps to keep their riders off of sidewalks.

Now, Bird, the company founded by former Uber and Lyft executive Travis VanderZanden, is pushing legislation that would sidestep those concerns by making it legal to ride electric scooters on sidewalks.

The legislation was introduced Feb. 16 by California state assembly member Heath Flora and is scheduled to be heard by the assembly transportation committee on April 23. It proposes letting “standup electric scooters” be operated on sidewalks unless specifically prohibited by local rules. It says standup electric scooters could be ridden in a designated bike lane, “at a speed no greater than is reasonable or prudent.”

The bill also states that only the “minor operator” of such a scooter be required to wear a helmet, meaning adults wouldn’t have to do so.

Dylan Gray, chief of staff to Flora, told Quartz in an email that Bird “brought the issue to the legislature’s attention.” Bird confirmed that it was involved in working on the bill. “The intent of the pending California legislation for e-scooters is to bring e-scooters into parity with e-bikes on helmet requirements,” Kenneth Baer, a Bird spokesperson, said in an emailed statement.

The bill “creates a baseline legal framework for local governments to build upon depending on the specific needs of their communities,” Flora said in an emailed statement. Flora represents state assembly district 12 in California’s Central Valley, where there aren’t actually any electric scooter companies operating, as far as his staff is aware, Gray said.

Attempting to change the law was also a favorite tactic of Uber, where VanderZanden previously worked, which successfully pushed through legislation in dozens of states that sanctioned its ride-hailing model. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and former CEO, famously said the company was “in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi.”

Bird’s bill seems unlikely to be well received in San Francisco, where the venture-capital fueled rash of scooters already has residents on edge. “The scooters have added one more hazard to being a pedestrian,” James Garfield wrote in a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle published April 19. “Today, as one of these scooters came at me, I told the rider it was illegal to use them on the sidewalk. The rider stopped and threatened to punch me in the face.”

The bill proposes defining a “standup electric scooter” as a vehicle powered by electric motors of less than 750 watts, and capped at a speed of 20 miles per hours. The scooters deployed by Bird, LimeBike, and Spin all reach max speeds of about 15 mph and have maximum weight capacities of around 200 lbs. And in any case, a 200-lb rider traveling at 15 mph on the sidewalk could still do plenty of damage to you, a human, walking.

“Black Panther” is already one of the best movie investments ever

Fri, 2018-04-20 08:19

The decision to green light Black Panther was a very wise one. Not only is the superhero film among the most critically acclaimed big-budget movies ever made, it has also provided an exceptional financial return to Marvel, Disney, and its other backers.

When investors assess the success of a financial bet, they often use the gauge of return on investment (ROI)—the profit from the investment divided by the cost of the investment. In terms of ROI, Black Panther has made $1.3 billion in worldwide gross revenue in theaters thus far, against a $200 million production budget; that’s good for a whopping 657% return thus far.

The movie is still in theaters, but even if it stopped showing today, according to data from the movie-business website The Numbers it would have the 12th-highest ROI of the nearly 250 movies with a production budget of at least $150 million (adjusted for inflation). The Numbers does not include spending on advertising, and some production budget numbers are disputed. But still!

Movies with the best ROI based on theater revenues, production budget greater than $150 million* Rank Movie Return on Investment 1 Titanic (1997) 1,104% 2 Star Wars Ep. I: The Phantom Menace (1999) 893% 3 Frozen (2013) 849% 4 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 814% 5 Furious 7 (2015) 799% 6 Beauty and the Beast (2017) 789% 7 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) 780% 8 Jurassic World (2015) 778% 9 Zootopia (2016) 680% 10 The Avengers (2012) 675% 11 Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens (2015) 673% 12 Black Panther (2018) 657% 13 Avatar (2009) 655% 14 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) 629% 15 The Da Vinci Code (2006) 614% 16 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) 613% 17 Iron Man 3 (2013) 608% 18 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) 598% 19 Spider-Man (2002) 591% 20 Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) 576%

* ROI on production budget only—advertising spending not included.

Black Panther is a resounding financial success compared with most other big-budget movies, but in the full ROI ranking of all movies that showed in theaters, big and small, it can’t compete with Deep Throat.

With an ROI of nearly 180,000%, the 1972 film Deep Throat, one of the few explicitly pornographic movies to succeed in theaters, has the highest return out of more than 5,000 movies for which The Numbers tracks production budgets. (The website focuses mainly on movies made in the US, so it is possible that some low-budget film made in another country was an even better investment.)

Shot in just six days, the makers of Deep Throat spent only about $150,000 (in today’s dollars) on the movie. It subsequently generated almost $270 million in theater revenues. Sex sells.

Movies with the best ROI based on theater revenues, any budget* Rank Movie Return on investment 1 Deep Throat (1972) 179,900% 2 Mad Max (1980) 49,780% 3 Paranormal Activity (2009) 43,050% 4 The Gallows (2015) 41,650% 5 The Blair Witch Project (1999) 41,280% 6 Super Size Me (2004) 34,110% 7 Bambi (1942) 31,140% 8 El Mariachi (1993) 29,070% 9 Night of the Living Dead (1968) 26,290% 10 Rocky (1976) 22,400% 11 Halloween (1978) 21,440% 12 The Brothers McMullen (1995) 20,750% 13 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) 18,880% 14 American Graffiti (1973) 17,920% 15 My Date With Drew (2005) 16,360% 16 Once (2007) 15,450% 17 Clerks (1994) 14,320% 18 The Stewardesses (1969) 12,400% 19 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) 12,330% 20 Billy Jack (1971) 12,150%

* ROI on production budget only—advertising spending not included.

Arsene Wenger, the current longest-serving manager in England’s top soccer league, is stepping down

Fri, 2018-04-20 07:08

After 22 years at the helm, Arsene Wenger is finally stepping down as manager of Premier League side, Arsenal.

The Frenchman, 68, will quit at the end of the season halfway through a new two year contract he signed only last summer. Wenger first took charge of Arsenal in 1996 as a relative unknown after being hired while coaching in the Japanese soccer league. But his appointment had an immediate impact as Arsenal won seven major trophies in the first decade in charge—including a historic 2003/2004 when Arsenal went unbeaten to win the league.

The more recent years of his reign have been mired by a lack of similar success though. With Arsenal under significant financial restraint while building a new home stadium, the club struggled to win major trophies in the late 2000s. Wenger has borne much of fans’ ire for the fallow years and has faced increasingly loud #WengerOut protests calling for his sack. In the last decade, Arsenal have not won the title and have finished second only once. Wenger set the record for the most matches managed in the Premier League last December when Arsenal took on West Bromwich Albion. Wenger is the longest-serving manager of the English Premier League era which started in 1992.

Regardless of recent struggles, Wenger’s legacy is secure as his impact on English soccer has been widely acknowledged. He pioneered innovative training methods and revolutionized the diet and nutrition culture at the club, a move which quickly spread around top clubs in the league. The style of his Arsenal teams—free-flowing, quick passing and attacking soccer—soon became distinct in a league known,at the time, more for brawn than technique. His preference for grooming young talents over splashing out on expensive stars has also been prominent in his years at the club.

Wenger could yet leave to loud ovation as Arsenal are currently in the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League and still have a chance to win their first ever European trophy. Arsenal are yet to announce a replacement for Wenger but betting odds suggest that Joachim Low, the World Cup-winning manager of the German national soccer team, and Patrick Vieira, Arsenal’s former captain and current manager of New York City FC in Major League Soccer, are the front-runners for the job.

Tech companies with financial industry aspirations will find a way around the rules

Fri, 2018-04-20 06:17

Banks should be worried about technology companies invading their industry, and not just because of the newcomers’ whizzier systems. Finance execs should also be concerned because tech entrepreneurs have a knack for skirting the complex rules and regulations that provide protective moats around entrenched industries.

Uber, as everyone knows, is a taxi service that broke into the sector without being regulated like one. The hotel industry says Airbnb is doing the same on its patch. A judge shut down Napster in 2000, and the music industry has been retooling its business model since, with considerable help from streaming services launched by tech firms like Spotify, Apple, and Amazon.

It’s risky for financial firms to think the burden of regulation will help protect them from competition, according to Bill Winters, chief executive of Standard Chartered. At a conference hosted by NEX Group, he credited the rise of Ant Financial, spun out from e-commerce giant Alibaba, partly to the “unfettered” regulatory regime in China.

To be fair to tech companies, banks don’t exactly have an unblemished record of staying on the right side of the law. But recent history suggests it’s only a matter of time before tech firms, in both the East and West, bust into the financial services industry in a big way, in part by finding ways around the rules.

British regulators are speeding up the process. This week, Transferwise became the first non-bank to get access to the Bank of England’s settlement system, which allows it to cut out the bank intermediaries that used to be the only ones granted access. Regulators in Europe increasingly separate the finance industry into three separate buckets—payments, holding money, and lending money. Only the last one is a purely bank-like activity. With the others, officials think a lighter regulatory touch is warranted.

To boost competition, European authorities now require banks to release customer information (upon the customer’s request) to other companies. Ana Botín, executive chairman of Spanish banking giant Santander, told the Financial Times (paywall) this week that new regulations are unfair: There’s no requirement for tech companies to hand over their customer data to banks in the same way. The Brussels-based lobby group European Financial Services Round Table has made a similar complaint.

They have a point. But the risk for banks is that tech startups have a habit of acting without asking permission, and by the time the authorities step in—especially if consumers like a new service—it can be too late for the incumbents to push back.

What to watch for next week The future of finance on Quartz

China’s big three internet giants are betting on blockchain. Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba are discretely exploring the technology, while steering away from the crypto speculation that has attracted concern from watchdogs.

Samsung is keen on crypto, too. Its semiconductor business is making chips for cryptocurrency mining, while its electronics unit is reportedly working on a blockchain project to monitor logistics.

BlackRock is increasingly worried about Chinese tech companies. The co-founder of the world’s largest asset manager, Robert Kapito, says Chinese tech firms like Ant Financial are a particularly serious threat to the financial industry.

Financial inclusion is increasing globally—but women are still missing out. The inclusion gap between men and women in developing economies hasn’t improved in the past six years.

Goldman Sachs is showing signs of a comeback. Volatility was great for equity trading in the first quarter, and its Marcus platform has lent out about $3 billion to consumers.

The future of finance elsewhere

Ant Financial’s $150 billion valuation ignores a lot of risks. Its founding chairperson is leaving, scrutiny by regulators is increasing, and competition is picking up (paywall).

Every company is a tech company—and a finance company. Plaid provides plumbing between banks and fintechs; its co-founder thinks companies could potentially move away from credit card transactions.

Cryptocurrency funds were down 30% last month. The nascent sector has been buffeted by regulatory scrutiny and worries that a speculative bubble is deflating. An index of crypto funds has lost 43% of its value so far this year.

Vitalik Buterin had lunch with the Financial Times. The creator of ethereum says (paywall) outlandish crypto valuations exceed what the technology “has actually accomplished for the world.”

Previously, in Future of Finance Friday

April 13: Big tech companies think they can make a lot of money from the world’s unbanked

The scientifically proven explanation for why better gun control really will stop school violence

Fri, 2018-04-20 06:00

On the 19-year anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, the US honors the National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence in Schools today (April 20). Debating the best way to control gun violence in the US often seems like a daunting exercise. But social science research points to a simple truth: The more obstacles people face in attempting to harm themselves or others, the more likely they are to give up.

In 1963, Britain experienced 5,714 suicides. Over the next several years, that number declined steadily and quickly; by 1975, the country had 3,693 suicides. This decline took place against a rise in suicides throughout the rest of Europe.

Social scientists started looking for something to explain the drop. What they realized was that the decrease in suicide had coincided with the progressive transition in British households from carbon monoxide-producing coal gas to natural gas, beginning in 1958.

Prior to the switch, 40% of all suicides in Britain were suicides by household gas, a death that was relatively easy, painless, and required little planning. People would just turn the oven on and drift away. When that option was no longer available, fewer people chose to commit suicide overall.

This phenomenon was documented by criminologists Ronald V. Clarke and Patricia Mayhew in a 1988 study titled “The British Gas Suicide Story and Its Criminological Implications.” Clarke and Mayhew found that, when denied the most convenient means of being able to kill themselves, many people just didn’t bother. “Few of those prevented from using gas appear to have found some other way of killing themselves,” they write in their abstract. “These findings suggest that suicide is an intentional act designed to bring an end to deep, though sometimes transient, despair, chosen when moral restraints against the behavior are weakened, and when the person has ready access to a means of death that is neither too difficult nor repugnant.”

Furthering the hypothesis that suicidal feelings are often transient, a 1978 study found that out of 515 people who were stopped by someone from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, only 10% went on to commit suicide by other means. Suicide barriers, in areas where there are not other easily accessible places to jump from, have been shown to reduce suicide by jumping in those areas. The more obstacles we put in front of someone looking to do something so drastic, the more time we give for those feelings to pass.

 “Means reduction” could be key to understanding how to stop an epidemic of school shootings in the US. This phenomenon is called “means reduction,” and whether it’s done by accident or on purpose, studies have shown that it’s one of the most effective ways of preventing suicide. It could also be key to understanding how to stop an epidemic of school shootings in the US.

Opponents of gun control often argue that if we take guns away, those intent on killing or committing crimes with them will simply “find another way.” They’ll use knives and go on a mass stabbing. Or perhaps they’ll turn to bombs or stones or fire. In social science, this is called “displacement.” While it may be true for those who are especially motivated, studies have shown that when the least convenient means of committing a crime is eliminated, criminals are not more likely to simply turn to another method.

Another Clarke and Mayhew study, for example, found that thefts of motorcycles dropped as much as 60% in Germany after a law was implemented requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. Because these thefts tended to be crimes of opportunity rather than planned heists, potential thieves were dissuaded from stealing motorcycles due to the increased likelihood of getting caught if they were pulled over for not wearing a helmet. There was not, however, a corresponding rise in thefts of bicycles or cars, likely because neither of those options provided the low risk and high financial reward of stealing motorcycles.

Gun violence and motorcycle theft aren’t the same scenario, to be clear, but the principle of means reduction can be equally applied. What do we have to lose by putting obstacles in place that make it harder for people to act on violent feelings that are potentially transitory? Every second we give someone to turn back, to change their mind, is precious.

 What do we have to lose by putting obstacles in place that make it harder for people to act on violent feelings that are potentially transitory? School shootings tend to be suicidal events. The majority of rampage shooters do not intend to get away with their crimes or come out of them alive; many end up killing themselves or committing “suicide by cop.” And guns are likely to continue to be the weapon of choice for “lone-wolf” killers, given that they remain the most convenient means of committing a mass murder, and that there are more legal restrictions on purchasing explosive materials than there are restrictions on gun-buying.

What having access to a gun does is put the option on the table in a way that nothing else does. It plants a seed that might not otherwise have anywhere to germinate.

In other situations involving guns, ease of access has had a direct impact. When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, a woman is 500% more likely to be murdered. Areas with lower rates of gun ownership have lower overall homicide rates than areas with higher rates of gun ownership. Although women are more likely to contemplate suicide and attempt suicide, suicide attempts by men are more likely to be successful, in part because they are more likely to use firearms. The methods favored by women tend to be the options that give them more of a chance to back out. Suicide rates are higher in rural areas for this same reason. And women who live in states that require private sellers to conduct background checks are 38% less likely to be shot and killed by a domestic partner. Living in a home with a gun increases the likelihood that those in it will be victims of suicide or homicide.

 What we know about people tells us that simply having access to guns makes it more likely that they will kill themselves, and others. At the end of the day, the massacres that are happening in American schools are simply not happening in countries with stricter gun control laws. After a school shooting that led to the deaths of 35 people in Australia in 1996, the country enacted stricter gun control and initiated a major gun buyback program. They have only had one school shooting since, and zero school mass knifings or bombings.

The NRA loves to say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” That’s not untrue. But what we know about people tells us that simply having access to guns makes it more likely that they will kill themselves, and others.

Means reduction works. If we know that people who are suicidal don’t always “find another way” when the easiest and most lethal form of doing that is unavailable to them, it stands to reason that they will not always “find another way” when it comes to homicide. Reducing access to guns can have a meaningful impact on the number of mass killings traumatizing our schools today.

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Swaziland is dropping its colonial era name—it is now the Kingdom of eSwatini

Fri, 2018-04-20 05:17

Swaziland is no more. The tiny country between South Africa and Mozambique will now be known as the Kingdom of eSwatini.

To mark the country’s 50 years of independence, King Mswati III announced on April 19 that Swaziland—an anglicized combination of the name of his people and, well, the word land—would henceforth be known as eSwatini—siSwati for place of the Swati, the correct name for the people and the language.

And because it’s an absolute monarchy, it seems to have been that easy to enact such a momentous change. Now, the world will wait and see how quickly maps, signs and embassies will have to follow suit. Google Maps, for example, has yet to make the change. The day of the announcement also happened to be King Mswati’s 50th birthday.

Swaziland’s King Mswati III is one of Africa’s few remaining national monarchs.

“I would like to announce that Swaziland will now revert to its original name,” the king said. “African countries on getting independence reverted to their ancient names before they were colonized. So from now on the country will officially be known as the Kingdom of eSwatini.”

King Sobhuza II would be proud.

The change was aimed at shedding the country’s British colonial past. Swaziland was a British protectorate from 1871 until its independence on Sept. 6, 1968. It was led by King Sobhuza II, who suspended the constitution in 1973 because he believed the colonial document did not reflect the will of the people. Since then, the king has enjoyed absolute power. His son, the current king, has ruled since 1986, suppressing any attempts at multiparty democracy.

But a change in name might have been the most pressing thing on the citizens’ minds in recent years.

The country and the king’s birthday celebrations were marred by protests. Just last week, police fired rubber bullets at around 2,000 people who marched against spending public funds on the lavish 50-50 Jubilee celebrations.

Despite the king’s personal wealth of an alleged $200 million, citizens were asked to contribute to his birthday party. In a country of 1.1 million people, where 63% live below the national poverty line, even a small donation is a large ask. Especially so for the 52% of the country who are under the age of 20, many of them orphans of one of the world’s worst HIV/Aids pandemics.

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China’s coddled EV makers will now face unleashed competition from the likes of Tesla

Fri, 2018-04-20 05:05

For years, the Chinese government has fostered a booming electric-vehicle industry. By providing buyers with tax incentives and bureaucratic perks, and producers with funding and tax breaks, the country has become the world’s largest market for EVs. Plenty of upstart companies have entered the market, hoping to take advantage of the favorable policies and sell to the burgeoning consumer market.

Meanwhile, this week, Beijing announced it would remove one of the most onerous restrictions preventing foreign automakers from producing and selling EVs in China on their own.

What does this mean for China’s homegrown electric-car makers? A tougher environment than they bargained for, says one industry executive who expects to see consolidation in the near future.

Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s D.Live event in Hong Kong, Brian Gu, vice chairman of Guangzhou-based Xiaopeng Motors, argued that many Chinese EV companies entered the industry primarily to make use of the government funds and programs.

“Almost every local government I talk to says, ‘Please come, I’ll give you land, money, tax credit, please build a plant in our city,'” said Gu. “Because there’s so much attention, so much money and funding available, that also attracts people who want to, for the purpose of getting that subsidy or funding, to get into this business.”

But competition will intensify now that players from outside China can more easily enter the market. Beijing has announced that foreign makers of fully electric and hybrid cars can now make vehicles in the country without first forming a joint venture with a domestic counterpart (the same will apply to makers of standard vehicles by 2022). This will allow companies like Tesla to compete independently and more equally with Chinese rivals.

“The time window for companies to really establish their presence in this marketplace is probably three to five years now. In the past, I think because of the ownership limitations, you could see yourself having five years or longer runway to build that business,” Gu said. “Only the players that have those three years to establish their own brand, own network, own product lines, will be able to compete.”

Xiaopeng Motors is one of several Chinese EV players with ties to the country’s tech industry. Backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba and iPhone assembler Foxconn, the company is currently raising a $1.6 billion funding round and plans to launch pre-sales for its first commercial model later this month. Its domestic rivals include Baidu-backed WM Motors, Tencent-backed NIO, Volvo parent-company Geely, Warren Buffet-backed BYD, and several of China’s state-owned traditional carmakers.

This electric scooter mayhem sounds just like when cars were first introduced

Fri, 2018-04-20 05:00

Henry Ford’s rolled Model Ts off his River Rouge assembly lines and onto the streets of America in 1908. Within a few years, Ford’s invention ushered in a new era of personal transport— and deadly mayhem on US streets.

Scooters are now invading America’s cities. Startups like Bird Rides, Spin, LimeBike, and Waybots, flush with hundreds of millions in venture capital, are turning Chinese-made electric scooters loose on US streets. The quick rentals can be ridden (almost) anywhere by someone with a smartphone app and a dollar, then left on the sidewalk for the next person. That’s predictably kicked up a backlash by city governments and residents who must now deal with the a bunch of scooters both scooting and lying around. Scooters are not killers (yet), but the anger they’ve inspired echoes that which accompanied the arrival of the first automobiles.

Surrendering the streets to automobiles

Before cars, urban streets were among the safest places for children to play and pedestrians to walk. Streetcars and horses were avoidable risks. But soon thousands and millions of car crowded onto the streets. The Automobile Club of America recorded the numbers of cars rose from 200,000 in 1909 to 2.25 million seven years later.

People were soon being killed by the new automobiles in ever greater numbers, three-quarters of them pedestrians, writes author Bill Loomis who researched Detroit’s history for his book On This Day. At first, drivers operated with little or no regulation. It wasn’t uncommon for fourteen-year-olds to drive delivery trucks. “Speeding” was a new concept, as was drinking and driving. Stop signs and streetlights (or “Street Semaphores”) hadn’t been invented. Politicians struggled with how to respond. In his book, Loomis recalls anecdotes that showed just how much cities struggled to conceive, and contain, the new menace on their roads:

“One young woman was detained by a policeman after driving on a Detroit sidewalk and killing several people. It had been her 26th arrest for reckless driving. She said she suffered from blackouts.

[Another] gruesome Detroit article described an Italian family whose 18-month-old son was hit and wedged in the wheel well of a car. As the hysterical father and police pried out the child’s dead body, the mother went into the house and committed suicide.

Cities printed “murder maps” showing locations of automobile deaths…Safety parades, started in the 1920s, became an emotional relief valve for public loss.

The state of Georgia’s Court of Appeals wrote: ‘Automobiles are to be classed with ferocious animals and … the law relating to the duty of owners of such animals is to be applied … . However, they are not to be classed with bad dogs, vicious bulls, evil disposed mules, and the like.'”

It wasn’t until the 1930s that driver education was required, and then 1960s that the federal government mandated systematic national traffic standards. Yet cars continue to kill more than 34,000 people per year in the US. Only in the last few years have a few cities decided the number of traffic deaths should be zero with new safety regulations.

The electric scooters are here

Now it’s scooters’ turn to take a spin (thankfully, with far less dire consequences). Startups, of course, are promoting their products by following the same playbook as cars: get them on the street, and figure out how to regulate them afterward. That strategy also propelled Uber and Lyft to multi-billion dollar valuations.

It’s anyone’s guess whether it will work for scooters, and the menagerie of electric conveyences from skateboards to “hoverboards” that are coming.

But cities are moving quicker this time. Austin and San Francisco have seized dozens of them. San Francisco has sent a cease and desist letter (paywall) to one company decrying the scooters as a “public nuisance” and “endangering public health and safety.” But if riders really demand them (as they did with ride-hailing services), it’s unlikely electric scooters will be down for long.

African bluechips need to start corporate venture arms to invigorate startup funding

Fri, 2018-04-20 04:30

An increasing number of African companies are competing in the global arena. Riding on the wave of growth that has buoyed African markets over the past two decades, companies such as MTN, SABMiller and Dangote Group have all expanded outside of Africa making flagship acquisitions from China to Poland.

The Dangote Group has grown rapidly in recent years across more than a dozen African markets and entered the Nepali market in 2015 and has plans for a larger footprint in Asia. But in order for African corporates like Dangote Group to modernize and gain a competitive edge in the global marketplace, they should follow the tried and true path of corporate venture and invest in the next wave of disruptive startups.

 African corporates need the most up to date technology to be competitive across global markets and local startups can help with that. African corporates need access to the most up to date technology and best-in-class organizational practices to be competitive across global markets. The Dangote Group, for example, operates a fleet of over 10,000 trucks. Maintaining, tracking and routing those trucks could be greatly enhanced by digital freight matching and blockchain applications. Local African startups are the best places to find this technology—by nature, startups thrive in difficult conditions by optimizing homegrown technologies and providing to country-specific issues. From Morocco to South Africa, startups are disrupting the financial industry, healthcare and traditional agricultural supply chains.

In Nigeria, for example, Barter was created by Flutterwave to provide widespread access to foreign exchange, previously centralized in large banks. Barter creates virtual cards for foreign transactions outside of Nigeria for Nigerian startups and corporates, providing them with secure access to foreign currency. Paystack and Amplify are also decentralizing players, providing seamless payment solutions for businesses. In order to compete successfully on a global stage, African conglomerates must harness these startups’ innovation, technology, and country knowledge through investment.

The number of sophisticated African startups is rising and venture capital invested is growing rapidly from a small base. VC investments in 2017 marked a 51% increase from 2016, but penetration is low in African markets relative to other emerging economies. Last year, venture capital funding raised by African startups in 2017 reached $560 million while China and India attracted $65 billion and $17.6 billion respectively.

Most of the money currently being raised for African startups originates from outside the continent. Cars45, Nigeria’s first online car resale platform, raised capital from TPG Growth and New Enterprise Associates (NEA). Flutterwave received Silicon Valley investment including Greycroft Partners while Paystack secured US corporate venture investment from the US media giant, Comcast. As dynamic startups continue to proliferate across the continent, African corporates would be wise to take advantage through their proximity to gain earlier access to the capital tables of future unicorns.

 African corporations are establishing internal innovation divisions to work with local startups but still need to evolve more open platforms Local corporates—including those in African markets—should be first to recognize and benefit from the market opportunities of local startups. Already in the US, more than 75% of the Fortune 100 companies make venture investments with about 42 companies creating their own dedicated venture teams. Corporates participated in rounds that amounted to 44 % of all venture deal value in 2017. Over the past two years, Lyft raised over $1 billion from both General Motors and CapitalG (Google’s investment in arm).

The trend is now global. In Asia for example, Softbank’s $100 billion fund and Alibaba’s $450 million Hong Kong and Taiwan-focused fund have gained traction since their launch with targeted fintech investments. Such capital inflow via corporate venture funds is found in 40% of all venture deals in Asia and has helped to drive a whole ecosystem of emerging startups, and African corporates need to take advantage of similar strategies.

Naspers’ big bet

Ironically, despite relatively limited corporate venture funding for startups in Africa, the continent is also home to one of the world’s most successful startup bets by a corporate anywhere in the world. South African media giant, Naspers 2001 investment in China’s Tencent is now the stuff of legend. It invested $32 million in the parent company of WeChat for a stake that is now worth a whopping $175 billion. It has made many other startup investments at home in South Africa and abroad since then including SimilarWeb, Swiggy and CodeAcademy, but needless to say none are anywhere as successful as the Tencent investment.

There is some initial progress being made with corporate venture in the banking space in Nigeria and South Africa. Access bank has partnered with Flutterwave, and FNB manages Vumela Enterprise Development Fund which provides venture capital funding for high-growth SMEs struggling to access capital, with a spotlight on black-owned firms. According to Zachariah George, co-Founder of Startupbootcamp Africa, the leading multi-corporate backed venture accelerator in Africa, “African corporations are starting to establish internal innovation divisions that work with local startups but they need to evolve into more open platforms that allow for collaboration between players across the financial services, insurance, retail and telecoms industries.”

African mobile networks are some of the fastest growing in the world, but they still face many challenges in their local markets. The telcos have been encouraged by their global trade body, GSMA, to collaborate more meaningfully with startups in their countries and beyond. For example, merging the mobile operators’ powerful distribution and payment networks with the startups’ efficiency and high-impact models could pave the way for important and profitable mutual benefits.

“Only a strategic mix of multiple corporate innovation teams, independent industry mentors, digital skills recruiting, and venture capital will galvanize transformative investment into the next wave of African tech companies,” says George. While this space is growing in Africa’s largest banking centers, it must be expanded and deepened throughout the continent.

In an environment of low venture funding penetration, the expansion of corporate venture would be a win-win for African startups and corporates. For relatively small investments, leading regional corporates could solidify their presence both at home and abroad, while modernized and optimizing their operations. Following in the footsteps of other, larger emerging market companies, African firms can fast-track innovation internally and within the African startup ecosystem.

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It’s easier than ever to be a lowkey gardener of homegrown weed

Fri, 2018-04-20 04:20

I do not have a particularly green thumb. Any gardening success I’ve had—mostly with the pots of cherry tomatoes and herbs on my patio—has been due to good luck and strong sun.

I’m a lazy gardener, not a farmer. This is the same approach I’m taking to growing my own weed.

For the last year or so in Los Angeles, I’ve enjoyed legal access to marijuana. It’s easy enough to go to a dispensary or get it delivered. But you know what might be more fun? Growing it—and spring 2018 seems just the time to give it a go. (Here in California, adults over 21 can grow up to six plants at home for personal use, so long as they’re locked up and not publicly visible. Several US states and Washington, DC have similar laws.)

“You don’t have to have a gigantic grow room, or a huge outdoor cannabis farm,” says Grace Olivia Hicks, the co-founder of Green Carpet Growing, a San Diego, CA-based cannabis cultivation consultancy. “Cannabis doesn’t have to be far away—it’s within reach now and it’s also legally acceptable.”

Still, it’s not quite so easy as plopping a pot of basil on the windowsill. Yes, it’s called “weed” because it grows like one, but cannabis is a complicated plant, and its cultivation has many steps where things can go wrong.

“It’s like a recipe,” says Hicks. “There are certain parts that have to be done correctly and at a certain time to get you from point A to point B to have product at the end.” (See: Willamette Week’s accidental “Pot Massacre of 2017” due to heat and over-fertilization.)

If you live in a place where it’s legal, here are some basics to know before you get started:

Clones vs. seeds

Just like those of us planting tomatoes in the spring, weed gardeners are faced with a choice between starting with seeds or small plants. In the cannabis world, many start with the sprouted cuttings commonly known as “clones.” While sprouting a seedling in a wet paper towel has its charm, clones leave far less margin for error.

What’s more, with a clone you can be sure you’re obtaining a female that will produce desirable flowers, also known as buds, if you play your cards right. (“Male plants are the bane of marijuana growers,” wrote Mel Frank in the Marijuana Grower’s Insider’s Guide. “They’re necessary for breeding and hybridizing, but otherwise they’re in the way.”)

In places where recreational marijuana growth is legal, you can find clones at cannabis nurseries, farmer’s markets, dispensaries, and even delivery services.

A wealth of resources

The resources for prospective pot growers today are incomprehensibly vast.

A recent search of WeedMaps, which is sort of like a cross between Seamless and Yelp for cannabis companies, showed that a clone of LA Confidential—a strain with a reputation for being easy to grow, according to the online resource Leafly—was available for delivery in Los Angeles for $12.

Once a person gets a plant, they can continue to read about how to cultivate it on Leafly or High Times, consult a go-to guide like Frank’s aforementioned Insider’s Guide, or even attend a workshop with the author himself, who occasionally teaches at Fig Earth Supply, a Los Angeles garden store. That’s not to mention the highly personalized consultancy services like those offered by Hicks at Green Carpet Growing.

The minimalist’s setup

All these resources can be overwhelming to the casual gardener, as they’re often geared toward those who are willing to invest lots of time, space, and money to harvest the highest yield possible: High Intensity Discharge lighting! Grow tents! Exhaust fans!

What if you just want the herbal equivalent of a handful of cherry tomatoes? “There’s nothing wrong with having a teensy tiny plant with buds on it,” says Hicks. “It’s cute, it’s ornamental, it’s fun.”

Rather than investing in a high-powered indoor setup, Hicks says using the natural power of the sun—either outdoors or on a sunny (but private) windowsill—is a good approach for the minimalist. And while many are particularly nervous when it comes to growing pot, looking at the plant itself will give you some guidance, Hicks says.

“A good window to the soul of your plant is to look at the leaves and know what’s going on,” she says. “It can be really difficult for people to trust what they see with their eyes when cannabis farming. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a plant that people who are growing it are so nervous to grow it… People don’t necessarily trust their instincts with cannabis, but they should.”

To flower or not to flower

The quantity of light that cannabis is exposed to—also known as the photoperiod—will determine whether the plant enters its flowering phase. And because it’s an annual, you’re only going to get those flowers once. That’s why many growers try to save the flowering phase for when the plant is bigger and will produce more buds.

More than 16 hours a day of light will keep plants in their vegetative state, when they’re growing stronger and bushier without producing flowers. So if you wanted your outdoor plant to get a little bigger before it flowers, you might prolong its vegetative state by bringing it into a warm closet with the lights on every night.

Less than 12 hours of light a day will trigger the plant’s flowering phase. So, if you wanted to force a plant to flower, you should time its exposure accordingly. Or, just wait a few months until the days grow shorter, and let nature run its course.

Depending on where you live, if you got a healthy clone from a dispensary today, there’s nothing to say you couldn’t just plant it in nutrient-rich soil in a sunny spot, and have flowers in the fall. By then, you will have read all about how to harvest, dry, and cure them.

And if you fail miserably, just think of it like growing your own veggies. Sometimes gardening is a disappointing heartbreak. But it’s still fun, and you can always buy your kale at the store. And once in a while, you get to have your own homegrown tomatoes, warmed from the sun, sliced and salted on sourdough toast.

In the age of Uber and Ola, Mumbai’s iconic taxis are becoming works of art

Fri, 2018-04-20 04:16

The car that took Aparna Jayakumar and her husband from their wedding to the Taj Mahal Hotel, at Colaba, where they spent the night, was a Premier Padmini. “I grew up travelling in this car and am obsessed with it,” said the Doha-based documentary and lifestyle photographer. “It was my inspiration for a photo series and I had to ensure it was part of my wedding. The Taj doesn’t allow these taxis to enter but ours was all decked up, so they did.”

This month, the Taj Mahal Palace will allow the taxi into its hallowed halls—specifically its art gallery—for an exhibition by artist Anjali Gidwani, titled Padmini. Through her installations, the artist wants to “recount the life and times of the car and give it a grand sendoff in a place that isn’t normally accessible to it.”

The Premier Padmini, or Pad as it came to be known, was once manufactured by Premier Automobiles Limited, under a licence from Fiat. It was originally marketed as the Fiat 1100 Delight and then the Premier President before rolling out of a plant in Kurla as the Premier Padmini. It came to dominate and become synonymous with the city’s taxi fleet in the 1970s.

Today, with production stopped and a 2008 government decree requiring cabs older than 25 years to be retired, the Pad is on its way out. A few still ply the roads but for the most part, the taxi exists in the memory of nostalgic commuters and locals. For some, it’s about sentiment; for others, artistic inspiration.

Mumbai Taxi Co.

Inside out

The Padmini has for long fascinated people. Today, say “kaali peeli” (black and yellow) and people will instantly imagine the Padmini with its loose door handles, the window half open, cramped seating, bright funky lights, disco bhagwans (icons of gods and goddesses), and funky seat covers.

“My exhibition is an attempt to capture the spirit of a bygone carriage, a continuation of conversations shared with innumerable taxi drivers,” said Anjali, who chooses to go by her first name. She didn’t want to make it another auto show, deconstruct the parts of the taxi, or show it as an art object. “I wanted to tell the story of these cars and the people who still drive them.”

Her installation has four parts, and includes items taken from an actual 20-year-old kaali peeli that she sourced. The first part has people walking in on a red carpet—a throwback to when the car ruled the roads and welcomed everyone in it. A room of windscreens is meant to showcase an object that most people don’t care about too much but which is intrinsic to their safety. Her version of an altar mimics the tiny dashboard altars common to these taxis. The last section highlights the various parts that are integral to the functioning of the car and how, if taken apart, they can signify the death of the vehicle.

“The Padmini is a product that has gone through many life and cultural cycles, starting as a premium car, moving to becoming a middle-class symbol, and, finally, getting down to the street,” said fashion designer Nimish Shah, who collaborated with the Taxi Fabric project to change the interiors of a Padmini. “It is now a quintessential [symbol] of Bombay living and has the feel of a time capsule. It makes for an inspiring case study.”

Taxi Fabric turned the seat covers of these kaali peelis into canvases for designers, showcasing art featuring city life, freedom fighters, Bollywood’s heroes, dabbawallas, and the city’s nightlife. In a bid to un-pimp the taxi, Shah decided to highlight a time when the Padmini—named after a legendary Hindu queen—ruled the road. He sought inspiration from Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhavan Palace, with marble patterned ceiling, petro and tan upholstery, and grid patterns on the windows.

But it was the pimped-up interiors that caught Mumbai journalist Rachel Lopez’s attention and she decided to document the quirky ceiling art on social media under the hashtag #TaxiTops. Her feed thus is a colourful mix of fruits and flowers, geometrical patterns, and abstract prints.

A #TaxiTop for the week ahead. Be good, everyone! pic.twitter.com/WZE6zt9EaZ

— Rachel Lopez (@GreaterBombay) April 1, 2018

A series of floral #TaxiTops to kick off a new month. Have a lovely September, everyone! #mumbaitaxi #ceiling #art pic.twitter.com/hmfb2GtQoQ

— Rachel Lopez (@GreaterBombay) August 31, 2017

People and places

If Taxi Fabric and #TaxiTops highlight the interiors of the kaali peelis, Jayakumar and Finnish photographer Markku Lahdesmaki wanted to draw attention to those forgotten heroes: the taxi drivers.

In 2011, Lahdesmaki was sitting in a bar in Mumbai thinking of what he could photograph in the next three days, when he decided on the ubiquitous taxi. “A friend and I drove around the city, finding interesting places and then taxis to photograph in that place,” he said. “I noticed that the drivers were very proud of their car. It was something very special for them. I wanted to show that in my photos.” He turned his lens to the exterior of the car and the resultant photo project, Mumbai Taxi Co, has now branched out to include T-shirts and booklets highlighting the car. “These Premier Padmini taxis didn’t feel like vintage or classic cars. They were part of the Mumbai’s culture, monumental pieces of its landscape.”

Mumbai Taxi Co.

Jayakumar’s Goodbye Padmini series, which she worked on between 2010 and 2011, used the disappearing taxis to tell the story of Mumbai—a city in flux, rapidly changing, ever-ready to throw out the old and embrace the new. “I wanted to go beyond the visuals and look at the larger human story—of immigrants who’ve moved here with dreams and end up being taxi drivers,” she said. “These cars being taken off the roads means these people would lose their livelihoods.” Her series looks at the car as a symbol of society, of movement and change in the lives of these people. The photographs show the hull of the car, drivers sleeping on the hood, the colourful dashboards, the stickers clustered on the glass, and she also showcases the lives of their drivers and their meager quarters.

Jayakumar still has an attachment to the car. “The first time I brought my daughter to Mumbai, I photographed her inside the Padmini,” she said.

Though once part of the city’s landscape, it is now rare to find people who will voluntarily step into a Padmini taxi in this age of Ubers, Olas and AC cars. Anjali still does and enjoys her conversations with the drivers. As does Shah —“If I have to hail a cab, I will hop into a kaali peeli purely because of the nostalgia factor. Imagine, you have to change your whole posture to fit into one, deal with a window that doesn’t roll down, and remain unsure about whether the car door clicked.”

He believes that people will notice what a beautiful item the Padmini was only after it is gone. “Everyone in the city will then have their own story or recollection of the taxi,” he said. “It will live on in sentiment.”

This piece was first published on Scroll.in. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

California’s biggest 4/20 event was denied a marijuana permit

Fri, 2018-04-20 04:00

In California, it’s no ordinary Friday. Today marks the first April 20—a one-day stoners’ pride parade also known as 4/20—since the state legalized recreational marijuana.

The epicenter of celebration should arguably be this weekend’s High Times Cannabis Cup SoCal: a three-day festival and trade show in San Bernardino, where an estimated 20,000 people are expecting to enjoy performances by rappers that include Nas, Lil Wayne, and 2 Chainz; a slew of munchie-satisfying food trucks; a petting zoo stocked with baby goats; a ferris wheel; and, most important, a whole lot of cannabis in the form of edibles, topicals, flowers, concentrates, and more.

The Cannabis Cup isn’t just a carnival. It’s an award, sort of like a cross between an Oscar and the stoner’s Good Housekeeping Seal. After judges spend a week evaluating the aesthetics, aroma, taste, burnability, and overall effect of competing strains of cannabis, they announce winners at the Cup, where, presumably, everyone can try them out.

Except on Wednesday (April 18), the San Bernardino City Council slapped High Times with what can only be classified as an epic buzzkill: The Cannabis Cup was denied a cannabis permit. The California Board of Cannabis Control requires local governments to approve events two months in advance, but San Bernardino, according to the Washington Post, didn’t even have a system to issue permits until earlier this month. In other words, California’s legalization of recreational cannabis has made it more difficult for High Times to legally hold the Cannabis Cup.

It’s not the first time bureaucratic challenges came up this week. At a “Dawn of Cannabis” summit held at the Los Angeles headquarters of delivery service Eaze on Wednesday, regulators, dispensary owners, delivery drivers, and other stakeholders lamented the raise in taxes since Jan. 1, and acknowledged California’s long road ahead.

“We have a lot of catching up to do,” Cat Packer, head of LA’s newly formed Department of Cannabis Regulation, said. “There will be some times when there are these blurred lines between what’s a regulatory fix and what’s a legislative fix.”

The organizers of the Cannabis Cup say the show will go on this weekend, and its FAQ page still encourages guests to bring their own bud. It makes no specific mention of how cannabis sale or consumption will be handled. (High Times representatives haven’t responded to a specific question about that. We’ll update this post if they do.)

As organizers, we will emphasize to vendors the continuing need to respect current laws and codes,” High Times’ head of events, Brian Rucker, said in a statement. “This event is about much more than buying and selling marijuana. It celebrates the people, music, and medicine that heal so many, who are part of a culture that unites millions. The movement will not be stopped.”

How to lead like the queen even if you’re a commoner

Fri, 2018-04-20 03:00

Queen Elizabeth II has reigned in Britain for 66 years, longer than any of her predecessors or indeed any other living monarch on the planet.

Her authority as the UK head of state is not so much executive—the monarchy can no longer pass laws, declare wars, or order executions—as symbolic. Yet she remains enormously popular in the UK, and as a result so does the institution she represents. Polls regularly find that at least two-thirds of Brits say the monarchy is good for Britain. And while her job is structured a little differently than most people’s—she can’t be fired, for one—her reign still comes with valuable leadership lessons for commoners.

On the occasion of the queen’s birthday (Elizabeth turns 92 years old on April 21, but don’t confuse this with the Queen’s Birthday, a public holiday perennially observed in June for the reason that while monarchs and their birthdays may change, the window in which UK weather is nice enough for a parade does not) we look back at her tenure for clues about maintaining a long streak of success.

Take assignments gracefully

This queen was, technically, not born to rule. Her uncle King Edward VIII was the heir to the throne, and presumably any children he might have had would have succeeded him. But when he abdicated, his younger brother George VI was forced to take the job, meaning that his eldest daughter—then just 10—would have to eventually do the same.

It’s left to producers of Netflix’s The Crown to imagine any reservations Elizabeth had about the life-changing role. In public she has accepted it without complaint or resistance, which helped soothe the turbulence set off years earlier by her uncle’s abdication. She has also gracefully prepared for her succession, ceding increasing responsibility in her later years to her heir apparent and younger members of the royal family, to ensure a smooth public transition when the next monarch is crowned.

Show up and be consistent

The queen’s job, the royal family’s official website states, is to act “as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; [and give] a sense of stability and continuity.”

She’s mastered the use of iconography in the role: those monochrome hats and coats, her trend-resistant hairstyle, and the corgis aren’t accidents. But more impressively, the queen has remained relentlessly on message throughout the decades as an uncomplaining, discreet, flawlessly decorous ambassador for a particular ideal of British stoicism.

Well into her advanced years, Elizabeth has maintained a full schedule of public events. In 2015, the year she turned 89, she took on 341 engagements, including 35 overseas commitments. She still maintains a near-daily schedule of public appearances. Yes, “work” for the queen often means holding flowers, waving, and smashing champagne on ships, but she always shows up for it.

Know when to hold back

One of the more unusual things about the Queen’s leadership style is that while she has been present as a national figurehead during times of tumult and change, she has generally declined to comment publicly on even the most vital political and social issues affecting the country she rules.

Her annual speeches to the public on Christmas Day are full of generic platitudes on family, country, and service; her charities support uncontroversial causes like children, animals, and the arts. It made headlines in 2014 when the Queen made a rare exception and referred publicly to the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence as she was exiting church. Her statement about the potential breakup of the then-307-year-old kingdom she ruled was, in its entirety: “Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future.” And that was it.

It feels at first glance like an abdication of responsibility—if Shakespeare is anything to go by, shouldn’t part of a monarch’s role be to offer rousing support when the nation is fractious or down? But on closer look, her public reticence is a dignified choice for someone who was not elected to represent people—and it ages well. Opinions can go out of fashion. Reserving one’s opinions never does.