HK, Python Threat, Plant-Based, AI in Drug Disc, EdTech, UFO, LoveFrom

"Notes for tech generalists"

# CONTRAST Notes, my weekly newsletter, is the "due diligence on news" designed for tech generalists. 
 # My purpose is to present you much talked-about topics with noteworthy comments, without my own judgement, therefore 
 # Notes are mine. Opinions are yours.😉


Decentralized: Hong Kong Protest

As a newsletter designed for tech professionals, CONTRAST Notes selectively covers political affairs when it sees technology leading to a paradigm shift.

Now it sees one. 

Mainstream media have all noticed one phenomenon in the ongoing Hong Kong protest, which has smoothly gathered over two million protesters at its peak: it’s leaderless. Based on many reporting, we now learned how it was made possible:

“(No figurehead) is a tactical decision… even if the government wants to make a deal with the protesters, they can’t because no one can represent all the protesters to strike [one].” (Financial Times)

"Some of us have three or four phones, an iPad, desktops and notebooks. One person can control five or six accounts. People won't know they are the same person and also multiple people use one account," protestors told the BBC.

Chat group administrators have no affiliation to political parties and have no control over what members post in their groups.” (Financial Times

Applications used to organize the protests include:

  • Telegram: some chat groups host 70,000 active subscribers, according to BBC.

  • LIHKG (HK’s answer to Reddit) : real-time voting. Most widely accepted ideas pops up on top the forum creates great efficiency.

  • Airdrop:  share pop-up information anonymously and rapidly such as floor plans of the multistory building (Financial Times).

  • Crowdfunding:  raised HK$5 million within hours for an AD campaign during G20.

  • Human touch: use cash to buy metro tickets to leave no digital footprint (and leave changes on vending machine for peer riders). Use hand signals to transmit messages in the crowd.

As a twitter user commented, the internet provides every possibility for a world of decentralization.


Distributed : Python’s Existential Threat

Python, the soon-to-be most popular programming language in the world, has an existential threat. “There's no easy way to distribute Python apps as a simple executable or a program that people can run on their computers without knowing anything about Python”, according to ZDNet. Mozilla Firefox coder Gregory Szorc might have solved this distribution problem, ZDNet reports:

Szorc's answer to this problem is PyOxidizer, a tool for producing binaries that embed Python, avoiding the need for users to install Python or know the language to use a program that was built with it. 


LoveFrom Silicon Valley

  • Unconditional Love: Lambada School

The Thiel-, YC-, and GV-backed coding boot camp, known for its Income Sharing Agreement (ISA), has joined Patagonia, Allbirds, and BlueBottle as the latest status symbols of Silicon Valley. If you can't stop talking about it, you are considered a valley insider. But an ex-Uber engineer took the love to a new level:

Nikhil Krishnan (TrialSpark, CB Insights alum), an enthusiast in rethinking current education system told me:

ISAs and remote learning are awesome features that traditional universities haven't invested heavily in and better aligns the interests of students and universities with the job market. But tricky part is if the same high salary numbers will happen with the same cohort of students going forward and as the model scales, and how many vocations it can expand to (programming is uniquely in demand and can be taught remotely).

  • Tough Love: AltSchool

However, another Silicon Valley all-star backed EdTech company AltSchool had to shut down recently. AltSchool envisioned itself the school of digital age. “(Kids) signing in on an iPad (and) got a “playlist” of activities that used a mix of apps. Cameras on the walls recorded lessons so teachers could review them later,” according to San Francisco Chronicle. However, parents pushed back. Complains include kids were treated guinea pigs for their software testings.

Edtech investor and entrepreneur Jason Palmer commented on AltSchool on twitter:

$174M lessons here. We passed on Altschool multiple times, mainly because disrupting school was a terrible strategy, but also b/c founders didn’t understand edtech is all about partnering w/existing districts, schools and educators (not just “product”)


Places Abandoned Its Own Invention

  • 2 Years: San Francisco, USA (2017-2019)

San Francisco, birthplace of Juul, the e-cigarette leader, becomes the first U.S city to ban e-cigarette sales.

  • 100+ Years: GE Lighting, USA (1892-2018)

Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb brought GE’s inception. However, in 2017, GE announced to sell its commercial lighting division to American Industrial Partners. According to CNN, it is the LED bulbs, another iconic invention of GE’s, caused GE Lighting’s revenue plateau and the eventual sale, because “LEDs last for decades.”

  • 150+ years: Berlin, Germany (1876-2023)

The first motor vehicle with internal combustion was built in Germany and Carl Benz is th first to commercialize its production, according to Auto News. In 2017, Berlin announced most German automakers including Mercedes-Benz will stop developing combustion engines around 2023.


Plant-Based: Fake Meat

Impossible Food and Beyond Meat, the new darlings of alter-meat industry, are now having some explantation to do: how their meat are made, according to Quartz

While plant-based meat companies are ultimately making processed foods, their marketing is more in line with natural, organic offering. 

UC Davis professor Frank Mitloehne goes even further in his recent interview with AgriTalk, according to Dairy Herd:

When you look at Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat, you will find that they have 21 or 22 highly-processed ingredients. In fact, so processed that you are hard pressed in identifying the difference between those items, versus let's say, pet food.

Mitloehner also indicates he has no problem with alternative food but he defends the farmers:

“(When Pat Brown, founder of Impossible Foods) describes the beef sector as filthy, as inhumane, as unsafe, and that is just intentionally misleading. That's the problem I have.”

Plant-Based: MSG (and …)

Famed American restaurateur David Chang announced on twitter:

I want to make a reality show that documents the moment when people find out that MSG is in Chik-Fil-A chicken sandwiches.

However, MSG is first introduced as a flavor enhancer by extracting from seaweed and later “involved fermentation of “starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, molasses”, according to Quora user Roy McCord:

MSG is certainly plant-based, or not-an-animal-by-product.

But so is cocaine.

[Drug Discovery]

Where We Are: AI and Drug Discovery

Venture capitalist Sara Cone (Impact Social Capital) shared her mixed feeling on this subject:

All my scientific advisors are completely negative about the AI drug discovery space that I've had to stay out of the space entirely (I don't pay them to ignore them) but I think that they must be wrong and I don't see how it can't possibly yield new insights. Very curious here.

It turned out AI is most useful in detecting drug flaws that are too difficult to be flagged until the product entered the market, according to TheScientist, which also points out that

Machine learning has not yet brought a molecule to market.

However, according to The Roadblocks for AI in Pharma published by Pharmaceutical Technology, mathematician and founder of AI expert network Startcrowd Mostapha Benhenda, who has been vocal in the overhypes in AI for drug discovery also endorses that

The way forward can be achieved by moving “quickly but carefully” in investing in the right machine learning models to solve particular problems and building the interdisciplinary teams necessary to validate and make the most of the data.

One of Sara’s twitter followers also responded:

Data sharing will be a lot more influential on drug discovery than AI.

(You might also be interested in Where We Are series in Quantum Computing Venture Fundable?)


Catch Me If You Can

All of sudden, everyone is talking about UFOs: Vox here; Scientific American here; and New York Times here. WaPo went straight to the point: UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact.

Tech investors took notes:

Benedict Evans (Andreessen Horowitz)

UFOs only started appearing once we thought there might be space ships and aliens, and stopped coming once everyone got a video camera. 🤔

James Wang (ArkInvest)

Elon's post about radar makes a number of wild assumptions about the structural material of UFOs.

Gary Tan (Initialized Capital)

(After he posted on Twitter an UFO article from WaPo) had to double check the URL bar here.

Futurists and science popularizers don’t appear too surprised:

Kevin Kelly in response to Vox’s UFO article:

“The new American religion of UFOs. Belief in aliens is like faith in religion — and may come to replace it." This is the headline of a Vox article. I believe this.

Renowned physicist Dr. Michio Kaku believes that we live in some sort of constructed matrix, a product of an intelligent mind:

I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence. Believe me, everything that we call chance today won’t make sense anymore.


Podcast of The Week: A Big Too Thin

Ben Thompson was back on John Gruber’s podcast The Talk Show, this time on Jony Ive’s departure from Apple. Ben believes, as he also wrote on Stratechery, that iMac remains Ive’s greatest work:

iMac circa mid-2001 was, at a conceptual level, Apple’s offering to the world for the next 18 years : beautiful, desirable, and functional hardware with a world-class operating system (OS X was released in March of that year) and service-based software (iTunes) that expanded the definition of what a computer could do beyond the arena of productivity to entertainment. The only difference is that the names have changed to iPhone, iOS, and the App Store.

Both Ben’s article and the podcast are a must-visit to observe, in great depth, the beginning of the end of part of Apple history, as Ben wrote:

Even Ive’s exit was beautifully designed.

If you have comments share, please DM me on Twitter or reply this email. Until next time!

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