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Bloomberg

Bloomberg

1 year ago

Expulsion of ten million Ukrainians

According to recent data from two UN agencies, ten million Ukrainians have been displaced.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates nearly 6.5 million Ukrainians have relocated. Most have fled the war zones around Kyiv and eastern Ukraine, including Dnipro, Zhaporizhzhia, and Kharkiv. Most IDPs have fled to western and central Ukraine.

Since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 3.6 million people have crossed the border to seek refuge in neighboring countries, according to the latest UN data. While most refugees have fled to Poland and Romania, many have entered Russia.

Internally displaced figures are IOM estimates as of March 19, based on 2,000 telephone interviews with Ukrainians aged 18 and older conducted between March 9-16. The UNHCR compiled the figures for refugees to neighboring countries on March 21 based on official border crossing data and its own estimates. The UNHCR's top-line total is lower than the country totals because Romania and Moldova totals include people crossing between the two countries.

Sources: IOM, UNHCR

According to IOM estimates based on telephone interviews with a representative sample of internally displaced Ukrainians, over 53% of those displaced are women, and over 60% of displaced households have children.

More on Current Events

Claire Berehova

Claire Berehova

1 year ago

There’s no manual for that

Kyiv oblast in springtime. Photo by author.

We’ve been receiving since the war began text messages from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine every few days. They’ve contained information on how to comfort a child and what to do in case of a water outage.

But a question that I struggle to suppress irks within me: How would we know if there really was a threat coming our away? So how can I happily disregard an air raid siren and continue singing to my three-month-old son when I feel like a World War II film became reality? There’s no manual for that.

Along with the anxiety, there’s the guilt that always seems to appear alongside dinner we’re fortunate to still have each evening while brave Ukrainian soldiers are facing serious food insecurity. There’s no manual for how to deal with this guilt.

When it comes to the enemy, there is no manual for how to react to the news of Russian casualties. Every dead Russian soldier weakens Putin, but I also know that many of these men had wives and girlfriends who are now living a nightmare.

So, I felt like I had to start writing my own manual.

The anxiety around the air raid siren? Only with time does it get easier to ignore it, but never completely.

The guilt? All we can do is pray.

That inner conflict? As Russia continues to stun the world with its war crimes, my emotions get less gray — I have to get used to accommodating absurd levels of hatred.

Sadness? It feels a bit more manageable when we laugh, and a little alcohol helps (as it usually does).

Cabin fever? Step outside in the yard when possible. At least the sunshine is becoming more fervent with spring approaching.

Slava Ukraini. Heroyam slava. (Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the heroes.)

Steve QJ

Steve QJ

1 year ago

Putin's War On Reality

The dictator's playbook.

Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, delivered a speech titled "On The Cult Of Personality And Its Consequences" in 1956, three years after Stalin’s death.

It was Stalin's grave abuse of power that caused untold harm to our party.
Stalin acted not by persuasion, explanation, or patient cooperation, but by imposing his ideas and demanding absolute obedience. […]
See where Stalin's mania for greatness led? He had lost all sense of reality.

The speech, which was never made public, shook the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc. After Stalin's "cult of personality" was exposed as a lie, only reality remained.

As I've watched the nightmare unfold in Ukraine, I'm reminded of that question. Primarily by Putin's repeated denials.

His odd claim that Ukraine is run by drug addicts and Nazis (especially strange given that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, is Jewish). Others attempt to portray Russia as liberators rather than occupiers. For example, he portrays Luhansk and Donetsk as plucky, newly independent states when they have been totalitarian statelets for 8 years.

Putin seemed to have lost all sense of reality.

Maybe that's why his remarks to an oligarchs' gathering stood out:

Everything is a desperate measure. They gave us no choice. We couldn't do anything about their security risks. […] They could have put the country in jeopardy.

This is almost certainly true from Putin's perspective. Even for Putin, a military invasion seems unlikely. So, what exactly is putting Russia's security in jeopardy? How could Ukraine's independence endanger Russia's existence?

The truth is the only thing that truly terrifies leaders like these.

Trump, the president of “alternative facts,” "and “fake news” praised Putin's fabricated justifications for the Ukraine invasion. Russia tightened news censorship as news of their losses came in. It's no accident that modern dictatorships like Russia (and China and North Korea) restrict citizens' access to information.

Controlling what people see, hear, and think is the simplest method. And Ukraine's recent efforts to join the European Union showed a country whose thoughts Putin couldn't control. With the Russian and Ukrainian peoples so close, he could not control their reality.
He appears to think this is a threat worth fighting NATO over.

It's easy to disown history's great dictators. By the magnitude of their harm. But the strategy they used is still in use today, albeit not to the same devastating effect.

The Kim dynasty in North Korea has ruled for 74 years, Putin has ruled Russia for 19 years (using loopholes and even rewriting the constitution).

“Politicians and diapers must be changed frequently,” said Mark Twain. "And for the same reason.”

When their egos are threatened, they sabre-rattle, as in Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump's famous spat about the size of their...ahem, “nuclear buttons”." Or Putin's threats of mutual destruction this weekend.

Most importantly, they have cult-like control over their followers.

When a leader whose power is built on lies feels he is losing control of the narrative, things like Trump's Jan. 6 meltdown and Putin's current actions in Ukraine are unavoidable.

Leaders who try to control their people's reality will have to die to keep the illusion alive.

Long version of this post available here

Will Lockett

Will Lockett

1 year ago

Russia's nukes may be useless

Russia's nuclear threat may be nullified by physics.

Putin seems nostalgic and wants to relive the Cold War. He's started a deadly war to reclaim the old Soviet state of Ukraine and is threatening the West with nuclear war. NATO can't risk starting a global nuclear war that could wipe out humanity to support Ukraine's independence as much as they want to. Fortunately, nuclear physics may have rendered Putin's nuclear weapons useless. However? How will Ukraine and NATO react?

To understand why Russia's nuclear weapons may be ineffective, we must first know what kind they are.

Russia has the world's largest nuclear arsenal, with 4,447 strategic and 1,912 tactical weapons (all of which are ready to be rolled out quickly). The difference between these two weapons is small, but it affects their use and logistics. Strategic nuclear weapons are ICBMs designed to destroy a city across the globe. Russia's ICBMs have many designs and a yield of 300–800 kilotonnes. 300 kilotonnes can destroy Washington. Tactical nuclear weapons are smaller and can be fired from artillery guns or small truck-mounted missile launchers, giving them a 1,500 km range. Instead of destroying a distant city, they are designed to eliminate specific positions, bases, or military infrastructure. They produce 1–50 kilotonnes.

These two nuclear weapons use different nuclear reactions. Pure fission bombs are compact enough to fit in a shell or small missile. All early nuclear weapons used this design for their fission bombs. This technology is inefficient for bombs over 50 kilotonnes. Larger bombs are thermonuclear. Thermonuclear weapons use a small fission bomb to compress and heat a hydrogen capsule, which undergoes fusion and releases far more energy than ignition fission reactions, allowing for effective giant bombs. 

Here's Russia's issue.

A thermonuclear bomb needs deuterium (hydrogen with one neutron) and tritium (hydrogen with two neutrons). Because these two isotopes fuse at lower energies than others, the bomb works. One problem. Tritium is highly radioactive, with a half-life of only 12.5 years, and must be artificially made.

Tritium is made by irradiating lithium in nuclear reactors and extracting the gas. Tritium is one of the most expensive materials ever made, at $30,000 per gram.

Why does this affect Putin's nukes?

Thermonuclear weapons need tritium. Tritium decays quickly, so they must be regularly refilled at great cost, which Russia may struggle to do.

Russia has a smaller economy than New York, yet they are running an invasion, fending off international sanctions, and refining tritium for 4,447 thermonuclear weapons.

The Russian military is underfunded. Because the state can't afford it, Russian troops must buy their own body armor. Arguably, Putin cares more about the Ukraine conflict than maintaining his nuclear deterrent. Putin will likely lose power if he loses the Ukraine war.

It's possible that Putin halted tritium production and refueling to save money for Ukraine. His threats of nuclear attacks and escalating nuclear war may be a bluff.

This doesn't help Ukraine, sadly. Russia's tactical nuclear weapons don't need expensive refueling and will help with the invasion. So Ukraine still risks a nuclear attack. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was 15 kilotonnes, and Russia's tactical Iskander-K nuclear missile has a 50-kiloton yield. Even "little" bombs are deadly.

We can't guarantee it's happening in Russia. Putin may prioritize tritium. He knows the power of nuclear deterrence. Russia may have enough tritium for this conflict. Stockpiling a material with a short shelf life is unlikely, though.

This means that Russia's most powerful weapons may be nearly useless, but they may still be deadly. If true, this could allow NATO to offer full support to Ukraine and push the Russian tyrant back where he belongs. If Putin withholds funds from his crumbling military to maintain his nuclear deterrent, he may be willing to sink the ship with him. Let's hope the former.

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Christian Soschner

Christian Soschner

1 year ago

Steve Jobs' Secrets Revealed

From 1984 until 2011, he ran Apple using the same template.

What is a founder CEO's most crucial skill?

Presentation, communication, and sales

As a Business Angel Investor, I saw many pitch presentations and met with investors one-on-one to promote my companies.

There is always the conception of “Investors have to invest,” so there is no need to care about the presentation.

It's false. Nobody must invest. Many investors believe that entrepreneurs must convince them to invest in their business.

Sometimes — like in 2018–2022 — too much money enters the market, and everyone makes good money.

Do you recall the Buy Now, Pay Later Movement? This amazing narrative had no return potential. Only buyers who couldn't acquire financing elsewhere shopped at these companies.

Klarna's failing business concept led to high valuations.

Investors become more cautious when the economy falters. 2022 sees rising inflation, interest rates, wars, and civil instability. It's like the apocalypse's four horsemen have arrived.


Storytelling is important in rough economies.

When investors draw back, how can entrepreneurs stand out?

In Q2/2022, every study I've read said:

Investors cease investing

Deals are down in almost all IT industries from previous quarters.

What do founders need to do?

Differentiate yourself.

Storytelling talents help.


The Steve Jobs Way

Every time I watch a Steve Jobs presentation, I'm enthralled.

I'm a techie. Everything technical interests me. But, I skim most presentations.

What's Steve Jobs's secret?

Steve Jobs created Apple in 1976 and made it a profitable software and hardware firm in the 1980s. Macintosh goods couldn't beat IBM's. This mistake sacked him in 1985.

Before rejoining Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs founded Next Inc. and Pixar.

From then on, Apple became America's most valuable firm.

Steve Jobs understood people's needs. He said:

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

In his opinion, people talk about problems. A lot. Entrepreneurs must learn what the population's pressing problems are and create a solution.

Steve Jobs showed people what they needed before they realized it.

I'll explain:


Present a Big Vision

Steve Jobs starts every presentation by describing his long-term goals for Apple.

1984's Macintosh presentation set up David vs. Goliath. In a George Orwell-style dystopia, IBM computers were bad. It was 1984.

Apple will save the world, like Jedis.

Why do customers and investors like Big Vision?

People want a wider perspective, I think. Humans love improving the planet.

Apple users often cite emotional reasons for buying the brand.

Revolutionizing several industries with breakthrough inventions


Establish Authority

Everyone knows Apple in 2022. It's hard to find folks who confuse Apple with an apple around the world.

Apple wasn't as famous as it is today until Steve Jobs left in 2011.

Most entrepreneurs lack experience. They may market their company or items to folks who haven't heard of it.

Steve Jobs presented the company's historical accomplishments to overcome opposition.

In his presentation of the first iPhone, he talked about the Apple Macintosh, which altered the computing sector, and the iPod, which changed the music industry.

People who have never heard of Apple feel like they're seeing a winner. It raises expectations that the new product will be game-changing and must-have.


The Big Reveal

A pitch or product presentation always has something new.

Steve Jobs doesn't only demonstrate the product. I don't think he'd skip the major point of a company presentation.

He consistently discusses present market solutions, their faults, and a better consumer solution.

No solution exists yet.

It's a multi-faceted play:

  • It's comparing the new product to something familiar. This makes novelty and the product more relatable.

  • Describe a desirable solution.

  • He's funny. He demonstrated an iPod with an 80s phone dial in his iPhone presentation.

Then he reveals the new product. Macintosh presented itself.


Show the benefits

He outlines what Apple is doing differently after demonstrating the product.

How do you distinguish from others? The Big Breakthrough Presentation.

A few hundred slides might list all benefits.

Everyone would fall asleep. Have you ever had similar presentations?

When the brain is overloaded with knowledge, the limbic system changes to other duties, like lunch planning.

What should a speaker do? There's a classic proverb:

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” (— Not Benjamin Franklin).

Steve Jobs showcased the product live.

Again, using ordinary scenarios to highlight the product's benefits makes it relatable.

The 2010 iPad Presentation uses this technique.


Invite the Team and Let Them Run the Presentation

CEOs spend most time outside the organization. Many companies elect to have only one presenter.

It sends the incorrect message to investors. Product presentations should always include the whole team.

Let me explain why.

Companies needing investment money frequently have shaky business strategies or no product-market fit or robust corporate structure.

Investors solely bet on a team's ability to implement ideas and make a profit.

Early team involvement helps investors understand the company's drivers. Travel costs are worthwhile.

But why for product presentations?

Presenters of varied ages, genders, social backgrounds, and skillsets are relatable. CEOs want relatable products.

Some customers may not believe a white man's message. A black woman's message may be more accepted.

Make the story relatable when you have the best product that solves people's concerns.


Best example: 1984 Macintosh presentation with development team panel.

What is the largest error people make when companies fail?

Saving money on the corporate and product presentation.

Invite your team to five partner meetings when five investors are shortlisted.

Rehearse the presentation till it's natural. Let the team speak.

Successful presentations require structure, rehearsal, and a team. Steve Jobs nailed it.

Amelia Winger-Bearskin

Amelia Winger-Bearskin

1 year ago

Reasons Why AI-Generated Images Remind Me of Nightmares

AI images are like funhouse mirrors.

Google's AI Blog introduced the puppy-slug in the summer of 2015.

Vice / DeepDream

Puppy-slug isn't a single image or character. "Puppy-slug" refers to Google's DeepDream's unsettling psychedelia. This tool uses convolutional neural networks to train models to recognize dataset entities. If researchers feed the model millions of dog pictures, the network will learn to recognize a dog.

DeepDream used neural networks to analyze and classify image data as well as generate its own images. DeepDream's early examples were created by training a convolutional network on dog images and asking it to add "dog-ness" to other images. The models analyzed images to find dog-like pixels and modified surrounding pixels to highlight them.

Puppy-slugs and other DeepDream images are ugly. Even when they don't trigger my trypophobia, they give me vertigo when my mind tries to reconcile familiar features and forms in unnatural, physically impossible arrangements. I feel like I've been poisoned by a forbidden mushroom or a noxious toad. I'm a Lovecraft character going mad from extradimensional exposure. They're gross!

Is this really how AIs see the world? This is possibly an even more unsettling topic that DeepDream raises than the blatant abjection of the images.

When these photographs originally circulated online, many friends were startled and scandalized. People imagined a computer's imagination would be literal, accurate, and boring. We didn't expect vivid hallucinations and organic-looking formations.

DeepDream's images didn't really show the machines' imaginations, at least not in the way that scared some people. DeepDream displays data visualizations. DeepDream reveals the "black box" of convolutional network training.

Some of these images look scary because the models don't "know" anything, at least not in the way we do.

These images are the result of advanced algorithms and calculators that compare pixel values. They can spot and reproduce trends from training data, but can't interpret it. If so, they'd know dogs have two eyes and one face per head. If machines can think creatively, they're keeping it quiet.

You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given OpenAI's Dall-impressive E's results. From a technological perspective, it's incredible.

Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Dall-magic E's requires a lot of math, computer science, processing power, and research. OpenAI did a great job, and we should applaud them.

Dall-E and similar tools match words and phrases to image data to train generative models. Matching text to images requires sorting and defining the images. Untold millions of low-wage data entry workers, content creators optimizing images for SEO, and anyone who has used a Captcha to access a website make these decisions. These people could live and die without receiving credit for their work, even though the project wouldn't exist without them.

This technique produces images that are less like paintings and more like mirrors that reflect our own beliefs and ideals back at us, albeit via a very complex prism. Due to the limitations and biases that these models portray, we must exercise caution when viewing these images.

The issue was succinctly articulated by artist Mimi Onuoha in her piece "On Algorithmic Violence":

As we continue to see the rise of algorithms being used for civic, social, and cultural decision-making, it becomes that much more important that we name the reality that we are seeing. Not because it is exceptional, but because it is ubiquitous. Not because it creates new inequities, but because it has the power to cloak and amplify existing ones. Not because it is on the horizon, but because it is already here.

cdixon

cdixon

1 year ago

2000s Toys, Secrets, and Cycles

During the dot-com bust, I started my internet career. People used the internet intermittently to check email, plan travel, and do research. The average internet user spent 30 minutes online a day, compared to 7 today. To use the internet, you had to "log on" (most people still used dial-up), unlike today's always-on, high-speed mobile internet. In 2001, Amazon's market cap was $2.2B, 1/500th of what it is today. A study asked Americans if they'd adopt broadband, and most said no. They didn't see a need to speed up email, the most popular internet use. The National Academy of Sciences ranked the internet 13th among the 100 greatest inventions, below radio and phones. The internet was a cool invention, but it had limited uses and wasn't a good place to build a business. 

A small but growing movement of developers and founders believed the internet could be more than a read-only medium, allowing anyone to create and publish. This is web 2. The runner up name was read-write web. (These terms were used in prominent publications and conferences.) 

Web 2 concepts included letting users publish whatever they want ("user generated content" was a buzzword), social graphs, APIs and mashups (what we call composability today), and tagging over hierarchical navigation. Technical innovations occurred. A seemingly simple but important one was dynamically updating web pages without reloading. This is now how people expect web apps to work. Mobile devices that could access the web were niche (I was an avid Sidekick user). 

The contrast between what smart founders and engineers discussed over dinner and on weekends and what the mainstream tech world took seriously during the week was striking. Enterprise security appliances, essentially preloaded servers with security software, were a popular trend. Many of the same people would talk about "serious" products at work, then talk about consumer internet products and web 2. It was tech's biggest news. Web 2 products were seen as toys, not real businesses. They were hobbies, not work-related. 

There's a strong correlation between rich product design spaces and what smart people find interesting, which took me some time to learn and led to blog posts like "The next big thing will start out looking like a toy" Web 2's novel product design possibilities sparked dinner and weekend conversations. Imagine combining these features. What if you used this pattern elsewhere? What new product ideas are next? This excited people. "Serious stuff" like security appliances seemed more limited. 

The small and passionate web 2 community also stood out. I attended the first New York Tech meetup in 2004. Everyone fit in Meetup's small conference room. Late at night, people demoed their software and chatted. I have old friends. Sometimes I get asked how I first met old friends like Fred Wilson and Alexis Ohanian. These topics didn't interest many people, especially on the east coast. We were friends. Real community. Alex Rampell, who now works with me at a16z, is someone I met in 2003 when a friend said, "Hey, I met someone else interested in consumer internet." Rare. People were focused and enthusiastic. Revolution seemed imminent. We knew a secret nobody else did. 

My web 2 startup was called SiteAdvisor. When my co-founders and I started developing the idea in 2003, web security was out of control. Phishing and spyware were common on Internet Explorer PCs. SiteAdvisor was designed to warn users about security threats like phishing and spyware, and then, using web 2 concepts like user-generated reviews, add more subjective judgments (similar to what TrustPilot seems to do today). This staged approach was common at the time; I called it "Come for the tool, stay for the network." We built APIs, encouraged mashups, and did SEO marketing. 

Yahoo's 2005 acquisitions of Flickr and Delicious boosted web 2 in 2005. By today's standards, the amounts were small, around $30M each, but it was a signal. Web 2 was assumed to be a fun hobby, a way to build cool stuff, but not a business. Yahoo was a savvy company that said it would make web 2 a priority. 

As I recall, that's when web 2 started becoming mainstream tech. Early web 2 founders transitioned successfully. Other entrepreneurs built on the early enthusiasts' work. Competition shifted from ideation to execution. You had to decide if you wanted to be an idealistic indie bar band or a pragmatic stadium band. 

Web 2 was booming in 2007 Facebook passed 10M users, Twitter grew and got VC funding, and Google bought YouTube. The 2008 financial crisis tested entrepreneurs' resolve. Smart people predicted another great depression as tech funding dried up. 

Many people struggled during the recession. 2008-2011 was a golden age for startups. By 2009, talented founders were flooding Apple's iPhone app store. Mobile apps were booming. Uber, Venmo, Snap, and Instagram were all founded between 2009 and 2011. Social media (which had replaced web 2), cloud computing (which enabled apps to scale server side), and smartphones converged. Even if social, cloud, and mobile improve linearly, the combination could improve exponentially. 

This chart shows how I view product and financial cycles. Product and financial cycles evolve separately. The Nasdaq index is a proxy for the financial sentiment. Financial sentiment wildly fluctuates. 

Next row shows iconic startup or product years. Bottom-row product cycles dictate timing. Product cycles are more predictable than financial cycles because they follow internal logic. In the incubation phase, enthusiasts build products for other enthusiasts on nights and weekends. When the right mix of technology, talent, and community knowledge arrives, products go mainstream. (I show the biggest tech cycles in the chart, but smaller ones happen, like web 2 in the 2000s and fintech and SaaS in the 2010s.) 

Tech has changed since the 2000s. Few tech giants dominate the internet, exerting economic and cultural influence. In the 2000s, web 2 was ignored or dismissed as trivial. Entrenched interests respond aggressively to new movements that could threaten them. Creative patterns from the 2000s continue today, driven by enthusiasts who see possibilities where others don't. Know where to look. Crypto and web 3 are where I'd start. 

Today's negative financial sentiment reminds me of 2008. If we face a prolonged downturn, we can learn from 2008 by preserving capital and focusing on the long term. Keep an eye on the product cycle. Smart people are interested in things with product potential. This becomes true. Toys become necessities. Hobbies become mainstream. Optimists build the future, not cynics.


Full article is available here