Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Weight of the day: 1 kg

How much does a kilo weigh? The answer to that question changed irrevocably today. Until now, it was the mass of a chunk of platinum-iridium alloy stored in France since 1889. From now on, it will be defined by a concept in quantum mechanics called the Planck constant. The good/bad news: it won’t change how much any of us weigh. Vox explains why this is a “massive achievement.”

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The big US ban on Huawei

As part of its ongoing trade war with China, the Trump administration has blacklisted the Chinese company. The move may mark the beginning of a new kind of Cold War.


What happened? The Trump administration on Thursday added Huawei Technologies to a trade blacklist. The move comes on the heels of an executive order prohibiting US companies from using information and communication technology made or controlled by firms that pose a national security risk. As a result, US companies moved swiftly to cut ties with Huawei:

  • Google announced that all future Huawei phones will no longer have access to proprietary apps like the Play Store, Gmail and YouTube. Current Huawei owners can still access the Play Store but will not receive future Android system updates.

  • Huawei is also being cut off by other US companies which provide critical parts. Intel is its main supplier of server chips, Qualcomm provides processors and modems for its smartphones, Xilinx sells programmable chips used in networking, and Broadcom sells switching chips required for its networks.


Wait, catch me up on Huawei: Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment, and the second largest maker of smartphones—having toppled Apple from that perch. It is also a global leader in affordable 5G equipment and networks.


So why is Huawei in trouble? The company was founded by Ren Zhengfei, a former military officer with close ties to the Chinese government. Huawei is suspected of using its technology—especially its 5G networks—to spy on behalf of Beijing. Last year, his daughter and corporate heir apparent, Meng Wazhou, was arrested in Canada, where she is awaiting extradition to the US (see our explainer here). And in January, the US Justice department filed 23 indictments against the company, accusing it of theft of trade secrets, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.


So why does this matter? The supply chains of the global tech industry are closely entwined. And any move to punish Huawei will inevitably affect others. Here’s who will pay the price for this latest White House move:

  • Huawei, of course. Given its explosive growth, it was on track to eclipse Samsung to become the top smartphone manufacturer in the world. While it can still survive within China where most Google apps are banned, its international sales are set to plummet.

  • US tech companies which rely on sales to Huawei for revenue.

  • The rollout of Huawei's 5G networks around the world and the smartphone companies who are relying on it to boost their sales.

  • Apple. Chinese consumers are furious at the treatment of Huawei, which in turn is powering an iPhone boycott. iPhone’s China sales were already down 20% last year, creating a significant revenue shortfall.


Will it affect Indians? Huawei accounts for only 4.5% of the India market, and its troubles may have less of an impact. But the smartphone revolution has been powered by cheap Chinese smartphones like Xiaomi—which may well be next in Trump’s firing line.


The bottomline:  All these Trump moves—the trade war over tariffs, the blacklisting of China’s biggest technology company—are part of a new kind of US offensive aimed at blunting Beijing’s rise. In the words of the New York Times, “If China and the United States have begun a technological Cold War, then the Huawei order can best be seen as the beginnings of a digital Iron Curtain. In this potential vision of the future of technology, China will continue to keep out much of the world. The United States and many other countries, goes this thinking, will in turn block Chinese technology.” And the rest of us will be caught in the crossfire.


Learn more: CNET has the most detailed explainer, including timelines. Bloomberg explains why the Huawei ban is Trump’s ‘’nuclear option’ against China. Vox does a great job of mapping the widespread collateral damage the ban is likely to cause. The New York Times analysis of this new kind of Cold War is a must read. The Verge answers the questions which matter to smartphone users—for example, what about other Chinese smartphones.

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nursing your post-GoT hangover

The day after the exit polls: brought much analysis and some silliness. These include:

  • Two good if nerdy reads from the Hindustan Times and Mint on how to read the numbers.

  • James Crabtree’s ‘don’t panic, Indian liberals’ analysis in Foreign Policy.

  • Two Indian op-ed writers wringing their hands over why Modi isn’t more like some other guy. Read Andy Mukherjee’s ‘India Hoped for an [Shinzo] Abe. It Got a Lost Decade’. And Ruchir Sharma’s ‘I Wanted Ronald Reagan. India Kept Electing Bernie Sanders.’ Bernie? Really?

  • Newsclick offers a peek at the hectic behind-the-scenes activity underway among Opposition parties as they prepare for the results. Is it denial or do they know better?

  • How did we miss this hilariously silly helicopter which played a starring role in CNN-IBN’s coverage of the results. Watch the beginning, and then jump ahead to the 3-minute mark to behold the foolishness.


Vivek Oberoi is a dumbass: for sharing this meme featuring his ex, Aishwarya Rai, to riff on exit polls (see it here). Now, we don’t think this idiocy deserves a notice from the Maharashtra State Commission of Women. But since Oberoi doesn’t think he did anything wrong (but still deleted the meme?), let us womansplain this: A person’s personal life and dating history is not comedic fodder for either her ex-boyfriend or this anti-Modi YouTuber who lauded Oberoi for “being a sport enough” to share the meme. Point to note: Rai hasn’t said a word about politics or the elections. And look at this astonishing coincidence: Oberoi shared the controversial tweet just before he attended the premiere of his Modi biopic. What do you call a man who uses his former girlfriend to keep himself in the headlines? Dumbass.


The strange tales of Utsav Bains: He’s the lawyer who approached the Supreme Court claiming that there was a conspiracy to frame Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi—right after Gogoi's former employee accused him of sexual harassment. Bains was taken very seriously, and there is now a special SC investigation into his claims. Except his story is turning out to be a full-on Bollywood potboiler involving Jet Airways ex-CEO Naresh Goyal and notorious underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. (Live Law)


Your GoT-is-over round-up is here: Now some of these have spoilers, and have been duly noted:

  • Spoilers ahead: USA Today calls it “a disaster ending that fans didn't deserve.” Washington Post describes it as “a final showdown that was instead a big sigh.” Mashable on why Sansa is the true MVP of the finale. Time on how the creators blew it with Daenerys.

  • The most popular hashtag in post-GoT tweets: #unsubscribe.

  • Polygon has all the GoT spinoffs to come.

  • The Mumbai Police got in on the finale action with this tweet.

  • And The Cut had two awesomely quirky takes. This older photo gallery of Khaleesi’s ‘Going Out Tops’, and this very funny riff on the butt-ugly Iron Throne.

  • Also: a water bottle made an unexpected cameo in the finale.


A water crisis comes for Chennai today: but it will come for the rest of us very soon. The water levels in the four main reservoirs of Chennai is now just 1.3% of the total capacity. The supply in many parts of the city is restricted to once in 3 days, at times for only 30 minutes. But this may soon be the fate of residents in Delhi and Bangalore as well. (Times of India)


Who can get enough of Meghan & Harry’s wedding pics? We’ve been inundated with never-ending wedding, pregnancy, travel and baby photos—all in that order. Hmm, what are we still missing? We know! The couple’s very own “behind-the-scenes royal wedding photos”—just in time for that special first wedding anniversary! Perfect. (Buzzfeed)


Worst men’s fashion trend ever: involves hanging an insanely priced designer phone case from your neck. Yes, this is true. (Business Insider)


Put down that milkshake! First it was eggs, then pies, and now milkshakes! That appears to be the new weapon of choice for liberal protesters in Britain. The police were so worried that rightwing politician Nigel Farage would get ‘milkshaked’ that they banned the McDonald’s near his rally from selling the dangerous substance. Too bad it didn’t work.


Helen Mirren is pretty: in pink hair at the Cannes. (In Style)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Flesh Is Weak’ Edition

Our bodily functions can be annoying and inconvenient. Who has not experienced the ill-timed fart or tummy rumble? As these two stories explain, there’s always a good reason for why our bodies act up.

Starving and pissed off! 

Many of us are like cranky babies when we’re hungry—or rather, ‘hangry’. And there’s a sound scientific reason for that. Turns out our emotions are very much connected to our moods. But here’s the even better news: they don’t have to be. Yes, you can be hungry without being ‘hangry’.  

Read: When does hungry become hangry? | The Conversation

Sex, Love etc 2

So sleepy, so sleepy.... Ooh, I need to pee!

It happens to all of us, and it’s always annoying when it does. Just as we’re ready to nod off, our bladder acts up. Why does it always happen?! It’s even worse if it happens in the middle of the night. The reason may be harmless or something more serious called ‘nocturia’ that requires your attention

Read: Why You Always Have To Pee Right When You Fall Asleep | Refinery29

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