An Unscientific Comparison of News Websites - Part 1 (Motivation and Methodology)

This series of posts looks at 13 news website home pages and compares them at a single point in time based on the content that they host and the presentation of that content to the common user. This is the first of three posts for this series. It explains my motivation and the methodology that I used for this comparison. I took screenshots of the above-the-fold content on 13 popular news websites at a single point in time. Then, I counted the total number of news articles on each site and classified each one into various categories. I also did a subjective analysis of the site’s look and feel by ranking them between 1 and 10 on 4 metrics (I came up with these metrics using my expectations from news websites as a guide). Once again, this is an unscientific comparison study.

Programming note: (Post 1: Current post, Post 2: March 14, Post 3: March 15)

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Financial Markets are Complex

The Gamestop stock started 2021 at a modest $17.25. It then went up to $347.51 on 27th January. It went back down to $53.50 on 4th February. It closed on February 17th at $45.94, about 2.66 times it’s price at the start of the year. Millions of words and thousands of column inches have been devoted to explaining what happened, why it happened, and who was hurt. I wanted to write about a few peculiar things I noticed in the past few days that were the bizarre side shows to the main event: politicians (and Elon Musk) posturing for publicity by saying things about other things that they know nothing about, truth not prevailing no matter how much effort is spent on explanation, general disapproval of complexity in a system and societal conviction that the stock market is “rigged”.


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2020 Was Not "Unprecedented"

“2020 was an unprecedented year because …”. All of us can find several phrases to complete that sentence. Versions of this quote have been circulating for more than a year. In particular, creators on YouTube and News announcers love this quote; every turn in the economy and the things they are able to / unable to do in their lives is “unprecedented”. In her book “This Time Is Different”, Reinhart makes the argument that there is a compulsive urge to claim that the present is completely different from the past, that there are no similarities and that whatever challenge / victory came yesterday is different and more significant than something that happened a 10 years ago. Reinhart rejects this practice of turning every insight into an epiphany and points to the fact that the same type of financial crises keep happening, over and over again, to demonstrate that the present is no more special than the past.

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My experience with partiality in school sports

When I was about 12 years old, I was in school in Mumbai. At the school, I was in the Basketball team. I started playing the sport without any special reason; it was something to do. As I played the sport, I discovered that I was particularly good at some of the defensive positions (mainly because I was able to run faster than everyone else who was at the same school in my age group: an exceedingly small sample). This discovery was a revelation to me. I believed that the connection between “skill” and “success” was real: I believed that my coach would see that I had talent and pick me to play in regional matches. This didn’t happen; in fact, I remember being picked only once during my 5 years on the team. This is not a sob story. I wish I did feel bad about it, I wish I felt like I had been wronged, so that I could talk about recovering from that place. I don’t feel like that at all; I look back at that phase of my life as an amusing few years. This post is an exploration of my feelings about what happened then and how I make sense of it now.

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What's Great about Newsroom, the TV show?

3 months ago, I had absolutely no idea that people found Sorkin’s writing annoying. Then, I heard that someone I knew had given up on watching Newsroom after watching the first few minutes of the Pilot episode. Hearing about that sent me for a brief whirl while I figured out what I liked about Sorkin and why. I think now I have a better understanding of that. I recently re-watched Sorkin’s Newsroom. Watching it again after a few years since the last time I watched it, I noticed that I was familiar with a lot more people in the show (BJ Novak from The Office, Clea DuVall and Sarah Sutherland from Veep). I also realized that the show is packed with information, nuance and characters who know what they are talking about. Why can you only either “love” the show or “dislike” it passionately?

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New Yorker Magazine Subscriptions

About 11 months ago, in Feb 2020, I signed up for a 12 week subscription to the New Yorker magazine. It was the first print magazine I came across that supported International shipping and would ship to Japan. It was also a magazine that I had heard about a lot on TV shows and podcasts (Seinfeld happens in New York, and in one episode, the main characters discuss a New Yorker cartoon in depth; This American Life and The Daily are both podcasts that are made by crews that live in New York) After 24 weeks, I ended up canceling my subscription because I couldn’t keep up with the sheer volume of content that was being delivered each week. This post is a recap of my experience.

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Reserve Bank of India's Interventions to maintain excess liquidity - Part 2

In the previous post, we looked at what the RBI has been doing over the 2020 calendar year. The over-all effect of RBI’s interventions have been that the exchange rate (INR to USD ratio) has remained within a narrow window, despite the unprecedented capital inflows into the Indian equity market. This is by design, and the RBI has tried to explain their policy a few times in various documents. Although this excess liquidity can theoretically cause high inflation and have an adverse impact on the currency, a couple other things are happening simultaneously and making this policy prudent (existing over-valuation and RBI’s strong balance sheet). After reading some of these documents, here’s my thesis of the advantages and disadvantages of what the RBI has been doing, as I best understand it.

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Reserve Bank of India's Interventions to maintain excess liquidity - Part 1

In December 2020, I came across several articles about India’s Central Bank, the Reserve Bank of India, intervening in the open market to maintain excess liquidity of the Indian Rupee in the market. With my elementary understanding of currencies, I understood that this excess liquidity of INR in the market, would keep the currency weak against other currencies, and this seemed undesirable. In this post and the next one, I will delve into the complicated reasoning behind the RBI’s choices and their delicate balancing act which seems to be associated with a high but manageable amount of risk.

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Comparison of metrics of COVID-19 vaccines

Over the past few days, several countries have approved vaccine candidates for emergency use and even wider use. In the US and in India, 2 vaccines have been approved. In the UK, both vaccines that were approved in the US have been approved, along with one that has been approved in India (under a different brand name). After seeing all these approvals, I wanted to understand what their comparative merits and demerits were. In particular, I wanted to understand the size of their clinical trials, the confidence each had in their efficacy numbers and their safety profiles. To this end, I read the “Primary results” research papers for all 4 vaccines. This post will try to compare the headline numbers, and explain some of the similarities between the trials, and the things that seem to have happened only with a single vaccine.

Side note: These papers were clearly written with very little medical terminology. I was able to understand them once I knew what terms like Seroconversion and Immunogenicity meant. The papers do have a considerable amount of graphs and numbers, so parsing them is an important part of reading them.

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Unionized Software Engineers - Is the Social Cost spread out disproportionately?

Today, there was an article announcing a new workers union for all employees working at Alphabet, Inc., Google’s parent company, the Alphabet Workers Union. The union is constituted by about 400 employees, an extremely small percentage of the total workforce of nearly 250,000 people. The union dues are 1% of total compensation.

We still have discrimination, harassment, & retaliation at Google. Over half our workforce are TVCs—paid less, w/fewer benefits, for often the exact same work.

We deserve meaningful control over the projects we work on & the direction of this company.

Here’s where it gets interesting: The union is a minority union. As the union doesn’t have a majority of all the employees as members, there is no basis for them to walk up to Alphabet’s management and demand to negotiate a Union contract. Instead, they are going to use their union as a more abstract entity that will be used for other purposes. The question that came up when I was discussing this with a few co-workers was whether the social cost of this particular type of union is spread out disproportionately between the employer and the union members?

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