Published on: 23rd June, 2019
At the end of each week, we will share with you our favourite reads. We would be grateful if you could reciprocate. This week’s reads focus on a fascinatingly eccentric comic novelist, effect of online gaming on male bonding, impact of modern life on the human skeleton, liquidity risk taken by fund managers, heartbeat as a unique human identifier, and why hybrids are better than battery electric vehicles at reducing carbon emissions.
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- Long read: The best comic novel ever written?
Author: Thomas Graham
Source: BBC (http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20190521-is-this-the-best-shaggy-dog-story-ever-written)
Written in the middle of the 18th century by Lawrence Stern, an Anglican Parish priest who wanted to become famous, the autobiography of the fictional character Tristram Shandy, “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” is a wildly original bestseller which influenced some of the greatest writers of the 20th century. The book was a smash hit upon publication. ““The first two volumes were wildly popular,” Judith Hawley, an expert on 18th-Century literature, tells BBC Culture. “So much so that the name Tristram Shandy entered popular culture. There was a lot of branded merchandise; race horses were named after him; lots of imitation novels. It became a marketing phenomenon.””
So what exactly did Sterne do which marked this books out as one of the most original books ever written?
Firstly, the chronology used in the book is deliberately messed up: “to describe them as a sequence belies the screwy time scheme of the book, which is by turns stretched and squashed, folded back on itself and internally disordered. The author’s preface turns up in the third volume, when Tristram’s mother is giving birth (to him) and the Shandy men have dozed off: “All my heroes are off my hands; – ’tis the first time I have had a moment to spare, – and I’ll make use of it, and write my preface”. The end, “Finis,” comes at the close of the fourth. In the sixth volume, as if regretting his tendency to digress, Tristram suggests he will get on with the story from them on “in a tolerable straight line.” He immediately jumps to a travelogue in France. At one point, Tristram notes it is a year since he started writing, and he’s not even a day old in the book. He’s falling ever further behind.”
Secondly, Sterne creates a narrative style which would nearly 200 years later (once it was used by James Joyce and Virgina Woolf) be called the “stream of consciousness”: “Throughout, Tristram’s voice is the only real sense of continuity. A precursor of the stream-of-consciousness style, it runs on the association of ideas, with an idiosyncratic use of dashes to mimic the structure of thought and conversation. The dashes cover every page, varying in length and expressivity but showing the seams between one idea and the next that chips in, usually before the first was fully formed. They give a sense of constant improvisation.”
Thirdly, the book was notable for its highly original and bold formatting even by today’s standards: “Sterne was absolutely serious about its physical production. His surviving letters to publishers are exacting in their demands about paper quality, print type and lay out, and he would supervise the printing of each volume. That’s because they involved some very particular visual elements, including three famous disruptions to the text….The first appears midway through volume one, as Tristram narrates the dying moment of Parson Yorick. As the chapter ends, the facing page is simply black, a slab of ink, as is its reverse side. The second is a marbled page found in the third volume. Originally, these were marbled by hand before being stuck into each book. In modern editions, the marbled page is monochrome and uniform, robbing it of its meaning. The idea was that each reader would have a unique design in hand – that everyone was reading the same book, and yet in fact their copy was singular. And the third is a blank page, at the end of the sixth volume, when Tristram introduces Mrs Wadham, and tells the reader to get a pen and “paint her to your own mind – as like your mistress as you can – as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you – ’tis all one to me – please but your own fancy in it.””
- Long read: For Men Who Hate Talking On The Phone, Games Keep Friendships Alive
Author: Cecilia D’Anastasio
Source: Kotaku (https://kotaku.com/for-men-who-hate-talking-on-the-phone-games-keep-frien-1835277944)
Men spend way less talk time on the phone than women is no secret. This piece by Cecilia says why so and furthermore show how men are adapting their traditional ways of bonding with male friends – through activity – in the modern technology driven world – through say, online gaming. Online gaming has cemented male relationships that might otherwise have evaporated. New age millennials nowadays prefer phones for official work and not for bonding with friends. Cecilia refers to her discussion with three researchers to say that “that they do think that there are specific reasons why men prefer catching up casually over games instead of segmenting out intentional phone time. One of them, Robin Dunbar, is a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford and a contributor to the aforementioned study about how adult male friendships decline. Men’s relationships, he said in an email, are “underpinned by ‘doing stuff together.’” Men’s phone calls, he added, are statistically shorter than women’s. “I sometimes joke that this is because the only reason for phoning someone is to say ‘I’ll see you down the bar at 7 o’clock,’” he said.”
Cecilia quotes researchers to say that different behaviour of girls & boys in interacting are due to the ways boys and girls are socialized from a young age. Boys are pushed away from family emotional support at young age and are expected to be independent and strong. Online gaming helps men to overcome the challenge of communicating and bonding. Video games aren’t just entertainment—they’re communication technologies in 21s century.
“Any time a friend of Eddie Gill’s calls him on the phone, his first thought is: “Why the fuck are you calling me?” Gill, a physician from Hingham, MA, is 30 years old—around the age when, according to an oft-cited study by Royal Society Open Science, the number of friendships the average man maintains dramatically declines. He is not a phone guy. He’ll talk to his mom, or his grandparents. Other than that, he finds keeping in touch with friends and family to be as difficult as chasing around his seven-month-old, or working with his patients. Like others his age, Gill says that his close friendships from high school and college have atrophied, not only because of the distance but because of their mutual aversion to talking on the phone. “The absolute exception,” said Gill, “are the friends I regularly play games with.”
Put Eddie Gill and one of his friends on the phone, and it would be painful for both parties—stilted conversation, awkward silences, brusque goodbyes. But drop them into a game of Apex Legends and the conversation flows freely.Over Xbox voice chat, Gill gabs with his buddies about the latest Game of Thrones episode, their favorite NFL teams and, sometimes, their personal lives. When his wife was pregnant, he told his friends over a game of Destiny 2. Like over two dozen other people Kotaku spoke to—the vast majority of whom were men—Gill says online gaming has replaced phone calls, and even real-life meetups. It’s cemented male relationships that might otherwise have evaporated. “I don’t think I would be as close with these guys if we didn’t hang out online the way we do,” Gill says of his childhood friends with whom he plays Apex Legends. “It would be impossible.”……..
… “I also think we have raised boys and girls differently and given girls more emotional language tools to use than we give boys,” said Dan Hemmerly-Brown, a 39-year-old technician for a market research firm. Hemmerly-Brown says that if his wife is concerned about something, she’ll call her friend to talk it through. For him, though, it might get brought up over Xbox voice chat with his gaming buddies. Fourteen other men I talked to agreed with the idea that online gaming is a casual way to stave off the loneliness and emotional isolation that can come with getting older.
Chris Richardson, 28, a mechanical engineer, told the story of how his good friend’s wife came up to him at their wedding to tell him that his co-op gaming with her husband while he was out of state on an internship “made him feel so much less lonely because he was living alone in a new town.” Richardson wasn’t likely to have called and checked in. Growing up, when Richardson talked to a childhood friend on the phone, he’d only do it “while playing Super Smash Bros. Melee and listening to Linkin Park…
..“Women tend to be more conversational and more emotionally open than men on average,” Williams said, “and so it’s not surprising that men would seek to be less emotional in any medium, including voice.” While everyone needs emotional support, he says, it can feel awkward for men if “emotional support” is the stated reason for initiating an interaction. “Guys will go drink, play football, play games together. All of that would serve the function of emotional connection, but they would be uncomfortable if you labeled it like that,” he said. On the other hand, Williams said, when his wife hosts her book club, she’s open about the fact that it’s not always about the books. “They have no problem saying that,” he said. “Guys playing games—it’s really no different, except for the awareness of it.” Adam Johns is a clinician and the founder of Game To Grow, a therapy group that uses role-playing games to support social skills and mental health. He said he has noticed that his male therapy clients are more likely to interact over an activity. He has clients who say that they would never talk to their school acquaintances outside of gaming with them online, and have never sought to close the IRL-URL gap……. “
- Long read: How modern life is transforming the human skeleton
Author: Zaria Gorvett
Source: BBC (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190610-how-modern-life-is-transforming-the-human-skeleton)
The human body doesn’t cease to fascinate especially its malleability. For centuries, scientists believed that our bones were fixed and that they grow in a predictable way depending upon the genes we inherit from our parents. However, a Dutch scientist‘s investigation of a goat’s skeleton which had one leg missing & one leg deformed by birth changed the myth that our bones are fixed. He found that goat’s bones had started to adapt his body structure – “The bones in his hips and legs were thicker than you would expect, while the ones in his ankles had been stretched out. Finally, his toes and hips were abnormally angled, to accommodate a more upright posture. The goat’s frame had started to look a lot like those of animals which hop.”
Osteobiography – literally “the biography of bones” – involves looking at a skeleton to find out how its owner lived. Research shows that men in 16th/17th century were very strong and the reason men achieved their powerful builds by sheer hard work. Zaria refers to a health scientist’s work to highlight more recent developments in the human skeleton – a spike-like feature found at the lower back of the skull, just above the neck and attributes it to the amount of time spent on smartphones. Furthermore, she cites, Christiane Scheffler’s work which shows that children’s skeletons are becoming more & more fragile each year and suggests a straightforward adaptation to modern life – since it doesn’t make sense to grow bone that you don’t need.
“…So what will future archaeologists make of our skeletons, when they examine them from their spaceships? If we’re not careful, they’ll reveal unhealthy diets, staggering levels of inactivity, and a morbid attachment to technology. Perhaps it’s best to be cremated.”
“Today it’s an established fact that our skeletons are surprisingly malleable. The pure white remains displayed in museums may seem solid and inert, but the bones beneath our flesh are very much alive – they’re actually pink with blood vessels – and they’re constantly being broken down and rebuilt. So although each person’s skeleton develops according to a rough template set out in their DNA, it is then tailored to accommodate the unique stresses of their life. This has led to a discipline known as “osteobiography” – literally “the biography of bones” – which involves looking at a skeleton to find out how its owner lived. It relies on the fact that certain activities, such as walking on two legs, leave a predictable signature behind, such as sturdier hip bones. And from the discovery of a curious spiky growth on the back of many people’s skulls to the realisation that our jaws are getting smaller, to the enigmatic finding that German youths currently have narrower elbows than ever before, it’s clear that modern life is having an impact on our bones.
For an example of how osteobiography works, take the mystery of the “strong men” of Guam and the Mariana Islands. It began with the discovery of a male skeleton on the island of Tinian, which lies 1,600 miles (2,560km) east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, in 1924. The remains were dated to the 16th or 17th Century, and they were positively gigantic. The man’s skull, arm bones, collarbones, and the bones of his lower legs suggested that he had been immensely strong and unusually tall. The finding slotted in nicely with local legends of enormous ancient rulers, who had been capable of truly heroic physical feats. Archaeologists called him Taotao Tagga – “man of Tagga” – after the island’s famous mythological chief Taga, who was renowned for his super-human strength. As other graves were discovered, it became clear that the first skeleton was no anomaly; in fact as well as fiction, Tinian and the surrounding islands had been home to a race of extraordinarily brawny men. But where had they got their strength from? …..This was no mysterious race of muscular giants; the men achieved their powerful builds by sheer hard work.
If, in the future, the same technique were used to piece together how people lived in 2019, the scientists would find characteristic changes in our skeletons that reflect our modern lifestyles. “I have been a clinician for 20 years, and only in the last decade, increasingly I have been discovering that my patients have this growth on the skull,” says David Shahar, a health scientist at the University of The Sunshine Coast, Australia. The spike-like feature, also known as the “external occipital protuberance” is found at the lower back of the skull, just above the neck. If you have one, it’s likely that you will be able to feel it with your fingers – or if you’re bald, it may even be visible from behind.
…Shahar thinks the spike explosion is down to modern technology, particularly our recent obsession with smartphones and tablets. As we hunch over them, we crane our necks and hold our heads forward. This is problematic, because the average head weighs around 10 pounds (4.5 kg) – about as much as a large watermelon.
When we’re sitting upright, these hefty objects are balanced neatly on top of our spines. But as we lean forwards to pore over famous dogs on social media, our necks must strain to hold them in place. Doctors call the pain this can cause “text neck”. Shahar thinks the spikes form because the hunched posture creates extra pressure on the place where the neck muscles attach to the skull – and the body responds by laying down fresh layers of bone. These help the skull to cope with the extra stress, by spreading the weight over a wider area. Of course, bad posture was not invented in the 21st Century – people have always found something to hunch over. So why didn’t we get the skull protuberances from books? One possibility is down to the sheer amount of time that we currently spend on our phones, versus how long a person would previously have spent reading. For example, even in 1973, well before most modern hand-held distractions were invented, the average American typically read for about two hours each day. In contrast, today people are spending nearly double that time on their phones. Indeed, for Shahar, the biggest surprise was just how large the spikes were. Before his study, the most recent research was conducted at an osteological lab in India, in 2012. That’s a lab specialising entirely in bones – as you can imagine, they have quite a lot of skulls – but the doctor there only found one with the growth. It measured 8 mm, which is so small, it wouldn’t even have been included in Shahar’s results. “And he thought it was significant enough to write a whole paper about it!” he says. In his own study, the most substantial growths were 30mm long.”
- Short read: GAM. Woodford. H2O. There’s Never One Cockroach
Author: Mark Gilbert
Source: Bloomberg (https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-06-20/gam-woodford-h2o-there-s-never-one-cockroach)
This article focuses on how two prominent European funds – superstar manager Neil Woodford’s fund and French investment manager Natixis’ H2) fund – are in the limelight after disclosing that a surprisingly large proportion of their assets were in illiquid investments. Coming as they do in the wake of India’s largest fund house, HDFC Asset Management, dipping into its own Balance Sheet to make good investor’s losses from investing in Essel Group paper, these developments are reminiscent of what happened in the penultimate stages of the credit crisis [when hedge funds and money market funds started getting into trouble]. It is becoming apparent that for several managers the outperformance that they have shown in the post-Lehman era is heavily reliant on investing in illiquid assets i.e. much of the extra return they are generating is a compensation for liquidity risk.
In fact, the liquidity risk that Woodford is taking in his US$5bn+ fund is astonishing. “The revelations about the scale of Woodford’s escapades prior to his move earlier this month to freeze redemptions from his flagship fund suggest that investors can’t rely on the regulator to safeguard their interests. In a letter published this week, the Financial Conduct Authority revealed that its “preliminary supervisory inquiries” suggest Woodford had about 20% of his Woodford Equity Income Fund in unlisted securities in February of this year. That’s astonishing.
The maximum allowed for the fund was 10%. So Woodford didn’t just edge over the limit, he blasted through it. For every 100 pounds ($127) invested, 20 pounds was in illiquid investments, double the amount that investors in his fund would have expected.”
Natixis’ love for illiquid assets is equally pronounced. “Shares in Natixis SA dropped to their lowest in three years after the Financial Times wrote that one of its investment funds, H2O asset management, had loaded up on hard-to-trade bonds of companies related to German entrepreneur Lars Windhorst. The article prompted Morningstar to suspend its rating on one of the funds managed by H2O, which oversaw almost $33 billion at the end of last year.”
When this tide of liquidity created by central banks goes out, we will see that many more funds are in a similar situation.
- Short read: The Pentagon has a laser that can identify people from a distance – by their heartbeat
Author: David Hambling
Source: TechnologyReview (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613891/the-pentagon-has-a-laser-that-can-identify-people-from-a-distanceby-their-heartbeat/)
From fingerprints to biometric to facial recognition….now new technology allows human recognition from heartbeats. Apparently, our cardiac movements are unique much like our fingerprints or iris. The Pentagon has developed a new device to recognise people from a distance by detecting the heartbeat and has supposedly been already used to identify an ISIS terrorist at a drone strike. The device was developed as an extension of a product which was used to detect vibrations from a distance such as that in wind turbines. Besides security, the application of the device could be extended to healthcare where hospitals can keep a tab on the patients’ conditions without having to wire them up.
“Everyone’s heart is different. Like the iris or fingerprint, our unique cardiac signature can be used as a way to tell us apart. Crucially, it can be done from a distance.
It’s that last point that has intrigued US Special Forces. Other long-range biometric techniques include gait analysis, which identifies someone by the way he or she walks. This method was supposedly used to identify an infamous ISIS terrorist before a drone strike. But gaits, like faces, are not necessarily distinctive. An individual’s cardiac signature is unique, though, and unlike faces or gait, it remains constant and cannot be altered or disguised.
A new device, developed for the Pentagon after US Special Forces requested it, can identify people without seeing their face: instead it detects their unique cardiac signature with an infrared laser. While it works at 200 meters (219 yards), longer distances could be possible with a better laser. “I don’t want to say you could do it from space,” says Steward Remaly, of the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, “but longer ranges should be possible.”
Contact infrared sensors are often used to automatically record a patient’s pulse. They work by detecting the changes in reflection of infrared light caused by blood flow. By contrast, the new device, called Jetson, uses a technique known as laser vibrometry to detect the surface movement caused by the heartbeat. This works though typical clothing like a shirt and a jacket (though not thicker clothing such as a winter coat).
The most common way of carrying out remote biometric identification is by face recognition. But this needs good, frontal view of the face, which can be hard to obtain, especially from a drone. Face recognition may also be confused by beards, sunglasses, or headscarves.
Cardiac signatures are already used for security identification. The Canadian company Nymi has developed a wrist-worn pulse sensor as an alternative to fingerprint identification. The technology has been trialed by the Halifax building society in the UK.
Jetson extends this approach by adapting an off-the shelf device that is usually used to check vibration from a distance in structures such as wind turbines. For Jetson, a special gimbal was added so that an invisible, quarter-size laser spot could be kept on a target. It takes about 30 seconds to get a good return, so at present the device is only effective where the subject is sitting or standing.
In the longer run, this technology could find many more uses, its developers believe. For example, a doctor could scan for arrythmias and other conditions remotely, or hospitals could monitor the condition of patients without having to wire them up to machines.”
- Short read: Hybrids are 14 times better than battery electric vehicles at reducing real-world carbon dioxide missions
Source: Emissions Analytics (https://www.emissionsanalytics.com/news/hybrids-are-better)
Electrification of automobiles today is most constrained by battery production capacity. Given present technology available, a pure Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) requires significantly large sized batteries which puts a strain on the battery supply chain globally and restricts a more democratic and mass spread of electrification of automobiles through the hybrid route. This newsletter presents data evidence to show that at least until the point that battery supply chains globally become more efficient, the world is better off adopting hybrids than pure BEVs, where more number of people can adopt electrification even if in part and thereby contribute to reduction in emissions. The analysis doesn’t factor in the fact that CO2 emissions in upstream electricity is higher than that in gasoline production. So considering that, the case for hybrids over pure EVs in the short term becomes even stronger.
“Battery production capacity for motor vehicles is currently scarce, expensive and suffering supply lags and challenges. This may change over time, but for some period securing an economic supply of battery production capacity will be pivotal to the successful commercialisation of electrified vehicles, and to the relative fortunes of individual auto makers. At the same time, electrification is a proven route to tailpipe carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction, or elimination. Therefore, the efficient deployment of available battery capacity between competing applications is critical to maximising fleet CO2 reduction.
….The problem with the pure electric vehicle approach is that the transition will be slow, BEVs need disproportionately large batteries to give acceptable consumer utility, just as battery capacity is currently a scarce resource. As cumulative CO2 emissions are important for climate change – due to the long life of the gas in the atmosphere – a smaller reduction per vehicle now, but across many more hybrid vehicles, would eliminate a far greater volume of CO2 than applying the scarce battery resource to a smaller number of BEVs. This approach also helps mitigate naturally slow fleet turnover, with the average age of cars on the road being over twelve years.”
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