Weekend Briefing No. 258

Welcome to the weekend.

Prime Numbers

1.5 MM – Every year nearly 1.5 million Euros is fished out of this famous landmark. It is traditionally given to a Catholic charity to help the destitute. But now Mayor Virginia Raggi wants the money spent on the city’s crumbling infrastructure instead.

243 – It turns out that even robots are having a tough time holding down a job. Japan’s Henn-na “Strange” Hotel has laid off half its 243 robots after they created more problems than they could solve.

50 – The internet turns 50 in 2019. (Here are 49 other things that did too.)

Jason Spindler

I woke up to news on Thursday that Jason Spindler was killed in the Nairobi terror attack. I met Jason in New York when the social enterprise community was in its infancy, it must have been 2008 or 2009. We were both young, optimistic and ambitious about using the power of business to create a positive impact in the world. We shared many drinks together, commiserated together and worked together on a few projects. I lived with him and his team when I was in Nairobi. Jason took his work seriously. His life’s work was building I-Dev – an investment bank for the social enterprises in the developing world. He brought the same rigor and intentionality he learned on Wall Street to smallholder farmers in Uganda and solar projects in the Amazon. He was committed and persistent and always looking for angles to make the deal work. “A lot of the reason he was doing this was because we believed you could invest, could build businesses, that they would be a means to stabilize economies, reducing the need for terrorism, war, hatred,” Patricia Chin Sweeney, Spindler’s I-DEV co-founder, said. “It’s ironic it ended this way. But when you choose these types of battles you don’t always win.” Impact Alpha (7 minutes)

Complex People

My friend Chad wrote a beautiful post (that I relate to on a very personal level). He says that it’s possible to be a person with all of these experiences at the same time. You can be a kid barely removed from a trailer park with an illiterate grandfather and disruptive mental illness in your family and go to Duke and study Shakespeare and build a successful career and eventually go to New York City and take a company public as a CEO. We would be better served if we had more people in leadership positions in public and private life who have known what it’s like to be broke, to see the tragedy of a grandfather reaching the end of his life not knowing how to read, to win admission to a fancy school and feel like you shouldn’t be there at first but then dig deep and carve out your place there and in the world beyond. Any leader of any organization of sufficient size will employ and work with a diverse group of people and having a diverse set of experiences can only help build empathy. Maybe if we all gave each other the space to be complex people — not reduced to public perception, our professional bios, our LinkedIn profiles, others’ narratives of who we are — we might understand each other better and give ourselves the room to be messy but wondrous human beings. As Whitman wrote: I am large, I contain multitudes. Chad Dickerson (6 minutes)

Sunscreen is the New Margarine

Today most of us have indoor jobs, and when we do go outside, we’ve been taught to protect ourselves from dangerous UV rays, which can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen also blocks our skin from making vitamin D. People with low levels of vitamin D in their blood have significantly higher rates of virtually every disease and disorder you can think of: cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke, depression, cognitive impairment, autoimmune conditions, and more. But the American Academy of Dermatology, advises us compensate with vitamin D pills. Yet vitamin D supplementation has failed spectacularly in clinical trials. In November, one of the largest and most rigorous trials of the vitamin ever conducted—in which 25,871 participants received high doses for five years—found no impact on cancer, heart disease, or stroke. How did we get it so wrong? How could people with low vitamin D levels clearly suffer higher rates of so many diseases and yet not be helped by supplementation? Outside (11 minutes)

AI Predicts Alzheimer’s

A machine learning algorithm programmed by Dr. Jae Ho Sohn can look at PET scans of human brains and spot indicators of Alzheimer’s disease with a high level of accuracy on average. After training, the algorithm performed with flying colors. It correctly identified 92 percent of patients who developed Alzheimer’s disease in the first test set and 98 percent in the second test set. What’s more, it made these correct predictions on average 75.8 months — a little more than six years — before the patient received their final diagnosis. RSNA (5 minutes)

Apple is Still Apple

Apple gave its first earnings warning in a very long time, saying that iPhone sales in China have slowed down sharply (note: the rest of Apple is growing at close to 20%). There are a lot of signs that the Chinese economy is slowing down significantly – smartphones sales overall are down 12-15%, and car sales fell for the first time in over 20 years. The deeper point, though: there are 5.5bn adults on earth, 5bn have a mobile phone and between 3.5 and 4bn people have a smartphone. Apple has 8-900m of those. The mobile market is reaching saturation, and so is the smartphone market, and Apple has won the high end of the smartphone market. This is not ‘the fall of Apple’ -it’s just the shift of smartphones to boring maturity, as we look for what’s next. Apple (7 minutes)

Microsoft & Housing

Microsoft, arguing that the industry has an interest and responsibility to help people left behind in communities transformed by the boom, is putting up $500 million to help address the problem. Microsoft plans to lend $225 million at subsidized rates to preserve and build middle-income housing in six cities near its Redmond headquarters. It will put an additional $250 million into low-income housing across the region. Some of those loans may be made through the federal programs that provide tax breaks for low-income housing. The loans could go to private or nonprofit developers, or to governmental groups like the King County Housing Authority. As the loans are repaid, Mr. Smith said, Microsoft plans to lend the money out again to support additional projects. The remaining $25 million will be grants to local organizations that work with the homeless, including legal aid for people fighting eviction. New York Times (6 minutes)

Giant Leaf For Mankind

A small green shoot is growing on the moon after a cotton seed germinated onboard a Chinese lunar lander, scientists said. The sprout has emerged from a lattice-like structure inside a canister after the Chang’e 4 lander touched down earlier this month, according to a series of photos released by the Advanced Technology Research Institute at Chongqing University. This is the first-time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface…. However… it’s dead now. NPR (4 minutes)

Weekend Wisdom

In reality, we are all travelers – even explorers of mortality. – Thomas Monson

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose.

Photo by Pop & Zebra.