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Interesting stuffs – 12

Exciting things I learned and read during the week (29 Jan – 3 Feb) beside my current hard workload of PhD:

1/ Book Review: The Right Price

Are high drug prices a good thing?

High prices for brand-name drugs–rather than reflecting a policy flaw or “bug” in the system–is an expected and even intentional outcome. Monopolistic pricing is a system “feature,” designed to incentivize companies to invest in expensive and risky drug discovery by providing the prospect of a big payoff.”

2/Special Report: Green Jobs Have a Nice Future … But Fossil Fuel Work Will Persist

“It will take decades for the vast fleets of petroleum-powered aircraft, automobiles, and trucks to be replaced by electric vehicles (EVs) or other non-carbon-oriented propulsion systems.”

“If any traditional energy jobs will zero out, they are likely in the coal mining segment, which is shrinking as the result of decreased demand for this most dirty fuel. Coal mining has seen a steeper decline in jobs than oil and gas, as public utilities switch to natural gas.”

3/ It’s all relative

“True inflation, in macroeconomic theory, is a generalised  rise in the price level. And a generalised rise in the price level is distinct from a series of idiosyncratic changes in relative prices.”

“Putting the two findings together: most of the ‘inflation’ of recent years – including the current bout – can be seen as sector specific changes in relative prices and monetary policy has much less impact than often supposed on these prices. Those are challenging conclusions for central bankers.”

4/ Why more Americans than ever are starting their own businesses

“For some, that manifested in a desire for control. If you are your own boss, your success or failure at least seems dependent on you, rather than on the capriciousness of others. For others, it led them to see that life is short and that they had limited time to live out their entrepreneurial dream.”

“I just started to wonder what if I pushed this baking thing further?” Keller said. “What would happen if I gave it as much energy as I do my full-time job?” That led her to launch Tastee Treats Louisville , a home-based bakery in Kentucky, and reduce her regular job to part time in October. She hopes to quit her other job fully this year.”

“Even for those who don’t make it, the tight employment situation provides some succor — they can always go back to working for someone else. What’s more exciting, however, for these entrepreneurs is the prospect that they, someday, will make it big.

“The failure rates are really high, but a small fraction grow really rapidly,” Haltiwanger said. “And so the really interesting question will be, who emerges from this?”

5/ McKinsey: Net-Zero By 2050 Needs $9.2 Trillion Annual Investment*

Uneven Cost And Impact

The impact of the energy transition will be uneven across countries and sectors, McKinsey noted.

All sectors will be exposed to the net-zero push, but some much more than others, including coal and gas and those that sell products that emit greenhouse gases, such as the fossil fuel sector and the automotive sector. Currently, some 20 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) is in these sectors, McKinsey says in its hypothetical scenario, which, it noted, is neither a prediction nor projection.

“Many of these sectors would also incur cost increases as they decarbonize. For example, steel and cement production costs would rise by about 30 percent and 45 percent, respectively, by 2050, compared with today, in the scenario we analyze,” McKinsey said.

Spending on the net-zero economy will also be unevenly distributed around the world. Developing countries and producers of fossil fuels will have to spend more as a share of their GDP than other countries. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, India, and other Asian nations, this spending would be about 1.5 times as much as advanced economies—or more—according to McKinsey.

On a side note, the developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa—those that cannot afford to splash trillions of U.S. dollars on anything—are also those most exposed to the effects of climate change.”

Remind me of this podcast about net-zero transition investment too:

What Makes John Doerr Think He Can Save the Planet? from People I mostly admire. “This transition, Steve, to a clean-energy economy is not going to be some kind of party. There’re going to be winners and losers, and it’s going to be a bumpy and uneven transition, but the alternative is too discouraging to contemplate.”

6/ The Cost of Space Flight Before and After SpaceX

Interesting take on the cost of space flight evolution.

“Although competition has brought prices down for cargo flights, human space transportation is still pricey.

During the last 60 years, roughly 600 people have flown into space, and the vast majority of them have been government astronauts.”

“In a SpaceX press briefing, SpaceX Director Benji Reed said, “We want to make life multi-planetary, and that means putting millions of people in space.”

This may still seem like a stretch for most people. But, given the decreasing cost of space flights over the last two decades, perhaps the sky won’t be the limit in the near future.”

7/ Đôi nét về phong tục cúng ông Công ông Táo của người Việt

“Trong bếp ngày xưa, thường có ba ông đầu rau-tức là ba hòn đất nặn dùng để kê nồi xanh đun bếp, trong đó hai hòn nhỏ hơn hòn kia. Nhân dân có tục lệ thờ 2 ông 1 bà và ngày 23 tháng chạp hàng năm làm lễ Táo Quân, tế ông Công, ông Táo lên chầu trời… Đây được coi là ảnh hưởng của phong tục thờ thần lửa, một phong tục có từ lâu đời.”

“Trong văn hoá truyền thống của dân tộc ta, vị trí của bếp rất quan trọng. Bếp là biểu tượng của một gia đình, thể hiện sự quây quần ấm cúng. Người ta thường có câu “bếp luôn đỏ lửa” để nói về sự đầm ấm, hạnh phúc của một gia đình. Việc cúng Táo quân cũng nhằm bày tỏ sự tri ân với vị thần đã quanh năm lo toan cai quản duy trì nếp sinh hoạt của gia đình, đồng thời nhắc nhở mỗi người có trách nhiệm hơn với gia đình mình.”

“Lễ vật cúng Táo công gồm có: mũ ông Công ba chiếc: hai mũ ông và một mũ bà. Mũ dành cho các ông Táo thì có hai cánh chuồn, mũ Táo bà thì không có cánh chuồn và 3 con cá làm “ngựa” để Táo quân lên chầu trời.

Các mũ này được trang sức với các gương nhỏ hình tròn lóng lánh và những dây kim tuyến màu sắc sặc sỡ. Để giản tiện, cũng có khi người dân chỉ cúng tượng trưng một cỗ mũ ông Công (có hai cánh chuồn) lại kèm theo một chiếc áo và một đôi hia, tất cả đều bằng giấy bìa. Màu sắc của mũ, áo hay hia thay đổi hàng năm theo ngũ hành: năm hành kim thì dùng màu vàng, năm hành mộc thì dùng màu trắng, năm hành thủy thì dùng màu xanh, năm hành hỏa thì dùng màu đỏ và năm hành thổ thì dùng màu đen.”

“Để Táo Quân có phương tiện về chầu trời, ở miền Bắc người dân cúng một con cá chép còn sống thả trong chậu nước, ngụ ý cá hóa long nghĩa là cá sẽ biến thành rồng đưa ông Táo về trời. Tại miền Trung, người dân cúng một con ngựa bằng giấy với yên, cương đầy đủ. Còn ở miền Nam giản dị hơn, chỉ cúng mũ, áo và đôi hia bằng giấy.

Tùy theo mỗi gia đình, ngoài các lễ vật chính, có thể làm lễ mặn (xôi gà, chân giò luộc, các món nấu nấm, măng…) hay lễ chay (trầu cau, hoa, quả, giấy vàng, giấy bạc…) để tiễn ông Táo.”

8/ The raw-materials challenge: How the metals and mining sector will be at the core of enabling the energy transition

“Road-transport and power-generation are examples of sectors that are relatively advanced with respect to their technological readiness to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. But building a low-carbon economy and reducing the emissions intensity within these sectors will be materials-intensive”

9/ Six Lessons From the Success of Wordle

  • You don’t need to reinvent the wheel
  • Making something as a gift is a powerful motivation
  • Make things for an audience of one
  • Observe what your fans are doing
  • Forget the app store: Make stuff on the open web
  • Engineer for occasional use, not for addiction

10/ A Googler’s Guide to Running the Perfect Meeting*

  1. Add an event description to your calendar invites
  2. Email an agenda 24 hours prior
  3. Open with a purpose, benefit, check

11/ How to Really Understand the CPI

“The following categories reflect CPI weights. Even though gas prices were up substantially, the CPI’s weighting system made sure the whole index did not go up by that much:

In a Brookings report dated June 2021, the CPI weights were slightly different:

So, where are we? Figuring out price increases is not as simple as it might appear. But we do know they are rising.”

12/ Why It Could Be Years Until We See a Normal Housing Market*

“The combination of rising home prices, low mortgage rates that are locked in by current homeowners and low supply makes it unappealing to sell your house and look for another one right now.

It’s like a doubling up. The homeowner goes to buy the next home, move up or move down. And because mortgages are so cheap, it’s a really good time to keep the first one as a rental unit. And so each year I go to buy a next one and I keep my first one. And so that’s one big phenomenon. And all of a sudden I’m a real estate investor. And at the same time, institutional money’s been cheap. There’s a lot of news about the big private equity funds buying up homes, but it’s actually the individuals who are driving most of it. So in the last decade we’ve taken 8 million homes out of the resale cycle and moved them into the investment rental part of the pool. And that’s, you know, 9% of all the single family homes.”

“The people buying homes today have excellent credit scores. This wasn’t the case in the subprime boom of the early-to-mid aughts when the majority of buyers came from people with low credit scores.

Just imagine you’ve owned your home for 5 years or more. By now you’ve certainly refinanced at least 2-3 times and likely have a borrowing rate of 3% or less. You’re also sitting on some nice equity through a combination of principal payments and rising prices.

It sure doesn’t seem like housing prices are going to stop rising any time soon and rents are also on the rise so it makes sense people are choosing to hold onto their original property even after buying something new.”

13/ Energy Efficiency Ratings Aren’t Actually Predicting Energy Efficiency

Buildings with the highest U.K. performance ratings are using far more energy than those with the lowest ratings, according to recent data. It’s a disparity that shows the limitations of current green building standards.

This can be the result of improper building management, lack of data sharing, or an arms race of heating and cooling systems fighting one another for dominance.

“People move into a building and the first thing they do is turn the systems over to manual and undo all the work the system engineers put in place. It’s like buying a hybrid car and only running it on petrol,” says Simon Crowe, managing director of the Low Carbon Alliance, a British group that advises on sustainable buildings. “You see people bringing fans into buildings with climate controls, installing air conditioners. It disrupts the whole thing.”

Property management can play a big role in this. Carefully designed climate control systems, installed to balance efficiency and comfort, are either simply turned off or disrupted, Crowe explains. The timed raising and lowering of window shades, designed to compensate for light levels and seasonality, is overridden when desks are moved. Large decorative fish tanks might be installed, or kitchens added for staff catering. New tenants might even move in and use the building in ways the designer never envisioned, like a bank installing an energy-sucking trading floor. Short-term meddling brings about long-term inefficiency, which, aggregated over the entire building stock, adds up.

On the flip side, even older buildings that weren’t designed to be green could lower their emissions by focusing on behavior and management. Windows can be used for ventilation and computers can be switched off. Putting the right thing in the right place is crucial: A colder room might be perfect for data banks, a warmer one, a group meeting space. Working around the rhythms of the natural world and the tempo of the building is essential, says Crowe. In the work-from-home era, it may be more economical to keep employees at home during particularly hot or cold periods, as managing extremes is an energy-intensive business.”

“One obvious alternative to the current efficiency rating that’s been explored in the U.K. and elsewhere: Measure actual emissions rather than just potential ones.”

New Doesn’t Equal Green”

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