Ten Interesting Things That We Read This Week

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At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, including investment analysis, psychology, science, technology, philosophy, etc. We have been sharing our favorite reads with clients under our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Some of the most interesting topics covered in this week’s iteration are related to ‘overvalued US Stocks’, the ‘rising power of tech platforms’ and ‘how networking is overrated’.

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week.

1) Investors should be wary of overvalued US stocks

US stocks are overvalued. Therefore the decision to commit money (even passively) to the S&P 500 is a bad idea. This is the argument made by James Montier and Matt Kadnar of GMO in a recent white paper. First, their model starts with breaking down the total return on stocks into its constituent parts – dividends, earnings, margins and the multiple that the market puts on earnings. In the long term, nearly all of the total return on stocks comes from dividends: since 1970, the total average annual return on the S&P has been 6.7 per cent, of which multiple expansion makes up 0.1 percentage point. But during the past seven years, returns of 13.6 per cent have been driven primarily by margins and multiple expansion. There is nothing sinister about this. In the short term, dividends tell us little about returns. Excitement is generated over periods of a few years by the noise of the changes in the multiples that investors will pay for earnings, and changes in the margins that companies can command. Multiple expansion can lead growth in dividends for several years in a row. But to buy now you have to hope either that dividends will start growing at a much faster rate or that multiples and profit margins will continue to expand.

2) Ray Dalio turns cautious amid Washington conflict

Ray Dalio – the world’s biggest hedge fund manager – is turning more defensive on concerns that the political drama in Washington will impair the US government’s ability to function and weigh on already wobbly financial markets. The move comes amid Donald Trump’s nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea and White House infighting over the president’s response to neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. Mr Dalio, who was initially optimistic about the economic impact of Mr Trump’s policy agenda, wrote recently that divisions in Washington meant “conflicts have now intensified to the point that fighting to the death is probably more likely than reconciliation”, pointing to the President’s sharply diverging approval ratings among Democrats and Republicans. The hedge fund manager said Bridgewater was “reducing our risk” because of the likelihood the conflicts will not be “handled well”, arguing that their resolution “will have a greater effect on the economy, markets and our overall wellbeing than classic monetary and fiscal policies”.

3) Content isn’t king

Ben Evans of Andreessen Horowitz in this blog argues that while people in tech and media have been saying that ‘content is king’ for a long time he’s not sure how much of it is true. He says that music and books don’t matter much to tech anymore, and TV probably won’t matter much either. In the past, any music you bought for your iPod could only be played on Apple devices, and the same was true in reverse for music from any other service. Your music library kept you on a device. With streaming these issues mostly go away. All the major services are cross-device and if you do switch to a different service you’re not giving up tracks you’ve paid money for. Unlike in the past, switching has become easy. Since music no longer stops people from switching between platforms, it’s gone from being a moat to a low-margin check-box feature. All services have roughly the same underlying library of tens of millions of tracks, and the differences between them are fundamentally tactics, not strategies. Music is now merely marketing, not a moat. A Taylor Swift exclusive for Apple Music might drive some iPhone sales, just as a cool new ad campaign might, but there’s no strategic lever here – no lock-in. Something similar applies to ebooks. Like Spotify, the Kindle app is on any platform, so it doesn’t stop you switching devices.

4) Future of work: Learning to manage uncertainty

“Change is coming at us with the greatest velocity in human history”. In the single second it took you to read that sentence, an algorithm executed 1,000 stock trades. Computers at the credit card network Visa processed over 3 million transactions. Right now, 56,000 Google searches are returning tens of billions of results links and at this very moment, more than 2.5 million emails are being sent, not all of them by actual human beings. Technology is accelerating the pace of business at unthinkable speeds, so much so that the job you have today is changing as quickly as you read this page. If we can barely imagine one second’s worth digital deluge, how will we get our heads around the stunningly different future of work. For generations, new technologies – from the steam engine to the Internet and beyond – have fundamentally changed the nature of work and the economy. But the change is happening faster now while we are living longer. Where our parents and grandparents might have experienced only one, or even no, significant change in their lifetimes, you have likely already experienced a dramatic technology-driven shift in your career, and your children will likely absorb a major shift every ten to fifteen years across theirs.

5) The era of blind faith in big data must end

In this Ted talk, Cathy O’Neil – an American mathematician and author of several books on data science – says that today algorithms are everywhere. They sort and separate the winners from the losers. The winners get the job or a good credit card offer. The losers don’t even get an interview or they pay more for insurance. We’re being scored with secret formulas that we don’t understand that often don’t have systems of appeal. That begs the question: What if the algorithms are wrong? To build an algorithm you need two things: you need data, what happened in the past, and a definition of success, the thing you’re looking for and often hoping for. She says that in real life everyone uses algorithms. They just don’t formalize them in written code. For instance she uses an algorithm every day to make a meal for her family. The data she uses is the ingredients in her kitchen, the time she has, the ambition she has, and she curates that data. A meal is successful if the kids eat vegetables. However, the definition of success will be different if her kid is in charge – he’d say success is if he gets to eat lots of Nutella. But she gets to choose success. She’s in charge and her opinions matter. That’s the first rule of algorithms.

6) Good news for young strivers: Networking is overrated

Adam Grant, in this piece, reminisces how he has been stunned by the lengths people will go to at tech and business conferences to make a connection with a big name: sneaking backstage for a selfie, slipping business cards into briefcases, chasing them out the exit. However, he says, if the very thought of networking makes you throw up in your mouth, you’re not alone. Networking makes us feel dirty — to the point that one study found that people rate soap and toothpaste 19 percent more positively after imagining themselves angling to make professional contacts at a cocktail party. Yet we’ve all been warned that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Success is supposed to come to the suave schmoozers and social butterflies. Grant says that while it’s true that networking can help you accomplish great things, it obscures the opposite truth: Accomplishing great things helps you develop a network. He puts forward the case in point of George Lucas and Justin Bieber. The former became a mentee of Francis Ford Coppola after he won first prize at a national festival and a scholarship to be an apprentice on a Warner Bros. film. Bieber too didn’t network his way in but taught himself to sing and play four instruments, put a handful of videos on YouTube, and a manager ended up clicking on one.

7) Japan in race to build driverless tractor

Greying farmers, a rural exodus and low food self-sufficiency have thrust Japan’s biggest agricultural machinery giants into a national race to build a driverless tractor. The quest to perfect the “robo-tractor”, which has been encouraged by the Cabinet Office and is viewed as a way to stem the demise of Japanese agriculture, is expected to see the first generation of machines go on sale next year. The technology — estimated to add 50 per cent to the cost of a normal tractor — seeks to boost the effective manpower on Japan’s farmland, firstly by working fields with driverless tractors running alongside those piloted by humans to allow emergency intervention. As artificial intelligence, tracking and safety technologies improve, the vehicles will increasingly be left alone to till the farmerless expanses on the islands of Hokkaido and Kyushu. Unlike other countries where autonomous tractors are being designed to work huge fields of wheat, corn and soyabeans, Japan’s focus is on more intricate business of smaller, waterlogged rice paddies.

8) India’s perverse political equilibrium

One of the central concepts of modern governance is that only the state has the right to use violence. The state, in turn, may delegate the use of force to other agencies but if it begins to lose its monopoly over the use of force, say to crime syndicates, drug cartels or terror groups, its foundations begin to erode and its viability comes into question. Yet, there have been innumerable instances in India wherein the state has wilfully ceded its monopoly over violence, and in doing so, also stepped away from its primary responsibility to provide law and order to the citizenry. This was precisely the case when Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of rape last Friday and his supporters ran amok, spreading mayhem in Haryana as well as in parts of Punjab and Delhi that cost 38 lives and injured close to 250. The state was unprepared and inefficient, if not indulgent—though, admittedly, it managed to somewhat get its act together over the last weekend, as a result of which the situation was much better handled on Monday, after the court handed down a 20-year prison sentence to the self-styled godman. Still, the fact remains that the state capitulated—yet again, and shamefully so.

9) Narendra Modi’s illiberal drift threatens Indian democracy

As India completes 70 years of its independence, its polity’s performance between elections is acquiring profoundly illiberal traits says political scientist, Ashutosh Varshney. In political theory, an illiberal democracy is defined as one that only pays attention to elections, while it violates, in the years between elections, some core democratic principles, especially freedom of expression. It views elections as the only measure of democracy and once elected, it seeks unrestrained power, often on behalf of the majority community. The India of Narendra Modi, prime minister, is beginning to resemble this description.

10) Game theory explains how Veeru broke every rule of courtship and still won Basanti in Sholay

The enduring charisma of Sholay – a 42 year old Bollywood blockbuster ¬– needs explanation. Besides crisp dialogue, its deft portrayal of human emotions — from sublime loyalty to visceral revenge — has received critical acclaim. What has probably escaped the attention of critics is its portrayal of rational decision-making. One sequence, in particular, stands out. The context of this scene is as follows: petty criminals Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra) are engaged by the former cop Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) to clean up the bandit-infested ravines of Ramgarh. In this ‘mission’, Veeru is infatuated by vivacious village belle Basanti (Hema Malini) who reciprocates his feelings. The only problem in matchmaking is Basanti’s mausi (aunt), who dislikes Veeru due to his bad habits. Jai’s ill-fated and tragicomic interventions on behalf of his friend worsen the situation. To overcome mausi’s resistance, Veeru hatches a convoluted plan. He climbs atop a water tank and threatens to jump to his death unless his demand for Basanti’s hand in marriage is met.

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The 15 Funniest Jokes From The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Revealed

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A joke about the new pound coin has been named the funniest of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Ken Cheng won the 10th annual award for Dave’s Funniest Joke Of The Fringe with the line: “I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change.”

The joke, from his show Ken Cheng: Chinese Comedian, won 33% of a public vote on a shortlist of gags picked by comedy critics.

Previous winners of the award include Tim Vine, Stewart Francis and Zoe Lyons.

Cheng studied maths at Cambridge for a year before dropping out to play online poker professionally. His big break in showbiz came when he reached the final of the 2015 BBC Radio New Comedy Award.

On winning the Dave prize, Cheng said: “I am very proud to have won. As a tribute, I will name my firstborn son after this award and call him ‘Joke of the Fringe’.”

Frankie Boyle came second in the poll for his line: “Trump’s nothing like Hitler. There’s no way he could write a book.”

The award, which was voted on by 2,000 people, lists jokes anonymously to avoid any bias towards well-known comedians.

Steve North, general manager of Dave, said: “From Trump and veganism to the new pound coin, this year’s news agenda has certainly also provided some great inspiration for comedians to get grips with – it’s fantastic to see that, even after ten years of the Joke of the Fringe award, there is no shortage of brilliant one-liners delivered at the Festival to get us all laughing.”

Dave’s Top 15 Funniest Jokes of the Edinburgh Fringe 2017:

1. “I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change.” Ken Cheng – 33%

2. “Trump’s nothing like Hitler. There’s no way he could write a book.” Frankie Boyle – 30%

3. “I’ve given up asking rhetorical questions. What’s the point?” Alexei Sayle – 29%

4. “I’m looking for the girl next door type. I’m just gonna keep moving house till I find her.” Lew Fitz – 28%

5. “I like to imagine the guy who invented the umbrella was going to call it the ‘brella’. But he hesitated.” Andy Field – 27%

6. “Combine Harvesters. And you’ll have a really big restaurant.” Mark Simmons – 27%

7. “I’m rubbish with names. It’s not my fault, it’s a condition. There’s a name for it…” Jimeoin – 26%

8. “I have two boys, 5 and 6. We’re no good at naming things in our house.” Ed Byrne – 24%

9. “I wasn’t particularly close to my dad before he died… which was lucky, because he trod on a land mine.” Olaf Falafel – 24%

10. “Whenever someone says, ‘I don’t believe in coincidences.’ I say, ‘Oh my God, me neither!”‘ Alasdair Beckett-King – 23%

11. “A friend tricked me into going to Wimbledon by telling me it was a men’s singles event.” Angela Barnes – 20%

12. “As a vegan, I think people who sell meat are disgusting; but apparently people who sell fruit and veg are grocer.” Adele Cliff – 20%

13. “For me dying is a lot like going camping. I don’t want to do it.” Phil Wang – 20%

14. “I wonder how many chameleons snuck onto the Ark.” Adam Hess – 18%

15. “I went to a Pretenders gig. It was a tribute act.” Tim Vine – 18%

Finding The Funny In Single Parenting

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It’s always great to look at the funny side of life, and new series Thuli no Thulani does this through side-splitting comedy. However, while offering viewers bellies of laughs, the sitcom also focuses on the struggles of single parenting, something that many people in South Africa can relate to.
Starring Tango Ncetezo, Wright Ngubeni and newcomer Slindokuhle Tshabalala, the plot revolves around twins, Thuli and Thulani, who have to adjust to living together again after Thuli has a run of bad luck. This turns playboy Thulani’s life upside down.

“Thuli is a single mom who suddenly comes back into her twin brother’s life after she finds her husband cheating on her. Thuli coming back into Thulani’s life thrusts his life into chaos and the show deals with their daily struggles of being a pair again after so many years apart, and it navigates their issues as they try to raise Thuli’s 11-year-old daughter, Mbali,” said head writer and producer, Rethabile Ramaphakela.

“Thuli soon finds out that her brother lied about being a lawyer and going to law school, so she blackmails him into letting her stay with him in exchange for her not ratting him out to their parents.”

The series also looks at what it means to be a single parent as a twenty-something-year-old.

“How do you still enjoy what is considered the best years of your life while still trying to raise a child? Also, how do you navigate the dating world, love and relationships? These are issues that affect everyone and these issues are amplified when you are a single parent. What the characters realise is that it takes a village and everyone needs to come together and help each other out,” she said.

Ramaphakela said the idea of exploring a twin sibling relationship has been something that has always fascinated her.

“Sibling relationships are always so complex and interesting, but then it obviously gets more complicated when you are a twin and you have to share everything. So we wanted to play with an idea of bringing a twin sister and brother back together again after they hadn’t really been together in years,” she said.

Although only a few episodes have aired so far, the show seems to be growing in popularity.

“People really seem to love it. They are responding well to the characters and story. A particularly popular episode was the one where their parents came to visit and they had to keep up the façade that their lives are still perfect,” Ramaphakela said.

Regarding the comedy aspect of the show, Ramaphakela said they never really know if the audience is going to find it as funny as they do: “You never really know until it airs. But we spend quite a lot of time crafting in the story room and working on the comedy beats of the show in each scene. We sit around the table and read the scripts out loud trying to add more jokes. After that process, we leave it up to the director and the actors to bring the comedy to life. The rest is not in our hands.”

Like any good sitcom, Thuli no Thulani offers a strong concept, an even better script and, finally, the actors that bring it to life.

“We have some very exciting, fresh and funny characters that are sure to get you laughing. We’re also dealing with relevant issues of being a young parent and still navigating your twenties, which is something many people can relate to.

“It’s one of those shows that you can sit down and enjoy with your entire family, as there’s definitely something for everyone, whether young or old,” Ramaphakela said.

Funny And Brilliant

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But the hilariously funny Khanyisa Bunu had this privilege this Women’s Month.

“There is nothing like opening for Trevor Noah, first of all when [Trevor’s manager] Ryan called me… eish I could not believe it. He called me and said ‘You’re gonna open for Trevor Noah’… it never sank in,” Bunu says.

The former teacher turned comedian said four days before the show she had an artistic block… a complete blank.

“Miraculously on the day of the show my creative juices started flowing, I started writing and that material killed,” she laughs.

“It was one of those moments I will never forget, and the audience loved me,” she says, ranking it as a career highlight.

Bunu left teaching nine years ago. It had taken longer for her to realise that her gift of the gab can turn into a fruitful career.

“I was always the centre of attention, regaling my family with stories of my mischievous comings and goings at boarding school.”

After matric, she first registered for law, and never studied for her exams. As a result she failed dismally and admits to wasting her parents’ money.

She had to stay home in Whittlesea, a small town south of Queenstown in Eastern Cape, for a year until she figured out what to do.

Teaching was a way forward because she figured it was “easy”.

“I taught geography and English at Zolani High (in Whittlesea) but I was not entirely happy.”

She came to Gauteng in 2008 and entered a writing competition organised by Maskew Miller Longman publishers. The company published her Xhosa novel Umbhodamo, which is a set book for Grade 8 and 9 in Eastern Cape.

Still, she wasn’t completely fulfilled. After coming across an advert, asking “So you think you are funny”, she decided to enter.

She was confident because her whole life people have told her she was funny. During the auditions in Bloemfontein, she was told the judges don’t laugh – but when it was her turn the judges fell off their chairs.

She made it to the top six.

“As women we need to take courage. Life becomes a maze, we need to discover what we are made for and just go for it.

“Our country needs us as women to stand up and stop the PHD (pull her down syndrome). After all we are the ones who carry men in our wombs for nine months. So how is this a man’s world?”

In 2011 Bunu came back to Joburg and started pursuing her comedy career.

Three years later her career reached new heights as she won the 2014 Savanna Comic’s Choice Audience Choice Award – the first woman to win the coveted award.

Soon after she performed and hosted a number of major headline events, including Kings & Queens of Comedy, Blacks Only and the Comedy Central Roast Battle in 2016.

Bunu has performed on the international circuit too, with outstanding performances in Botswana, Nigeria, Swaziland and most notably at the Greenwich Village Comedy Club in the capital of comedy, New York.

Her most well-known performances have been on Season 4 of Ses Top La on SABC 1 and recent appearances on e.tv’s Scandal.

The hardest thing she has learnt about the industry is that being funny is not enough.

“There are so many other factors which affect your progress, I have never doubted the fact that I was funny. But my dream is to be the most sought-after female performer and comedian in Africa, and my journey is only just beginning.”

Remembering Jerry Lewis! 7 of His Best Quotes and Jokes

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Legendary funnyman Jerry Lewis, who turned 91 in March, died Sunday, August 20, 2017, at his home in Las Vegas.

“He had been slightly ill and spent some time in local hospitals, but came home and was planning on making stage appearances” in New York and Las Vegas, Candi Cazau, his publicist, confirmed on CNN.

Even in his 90s, the legendary comedian and actor kept busy. Just last year, he starred in Max Rose, a drama about an aging musician dealing with his wife’s possible past infidelity. And up until 2011, he hosted the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s annual telethon, a charity event that has raised more than $2 billion for muscular dystrophy research since it began in 1966.

Lewis has dealt with his share of controversy throughout his career, too, coming under fire for his sometimes racially charged humor and comments about female comedians. But there’s no denying the influence he’s had on American comedy, starting with his days as one half of the legendary comedy duo Martin and Lewis.

Read on for some of Lewis’s best quotes—some funny, some poignant—about work, aging and the secret to comedy.

“I got good health, I still got pretty hair, I’m still rocking. That’s sitting on top of the world about as high as you’re going to get.” —Esquire

“I have always been curious about everything around me. I am intrigued by everything, and that keeps my brain working.” —Las Vegas Sun

“One day I’ll write the real truth down—the real truth. Then I’ll go to the penitentiary.” —Esquire

“I’m taking Lasix, which makes me pee sometimes seven, eight, eleven, twelve times,” he says. “I’ve decided to keep my fly open all day.” —GQ

“I only work for people that I know have the money and they’re going to pay you. I ain’t done too bad.” —Esquire

“I learned from my dad that when you walk in front of an audience, they are the kings and queens, and you’re but the jester,” he says. “And if you don’t think that way, you’re going to get very, very conceited.” —New York Post

“Funny is my life.” —GQ

These Trump Chicken Memes & Tweets Are Funny Enough To Make The President Squawk

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While President Trump “works remotely” at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, this week, a giant chicken will be keeping a watchful eye over 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The inflatable Trump chicken outside the White House was first spotted late Wednesday afternoon, and its appearance provided a brief, and admittedly much needed, respite from the onslaught of news about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

The 23-foot prop — which dons the president’s iconic bright combover — was the brainchild of Taran Singh Brar, a documentary filmmaker who, you can probably guess, doesn’t exactly have a very high opinion of the President.

“We’re here to criticize the president as a weak and ineffective leader,” Singh Brar said, according to ABC News. “He’s too afraid to release his tax returns, too afraid to stand up to Vladimir Putin, and now he’s playing chicken with North Korea.”

Singh Brar set up the now-viral symbol, which he affectionately dubbed “Chicken Don,” around 10 a.m. on the White House Lawn, where it perplexed and entertained onlookers for the remainder of the afternoon. The Trump Chicken even grabbed the attention of a national audience, with at least one news outlet setting up a Facebook Live stream of the prop’s ominous floating.

Needless to say, this is what memes are made of. Here are some of the best Twitter reactions to the nation’s newest icon, Trump Chicken.

Cedar Point Named Best Beach Amusement Park

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Every week from Memorial Day through Labor Day, our readers are voting for the best spots of the summer—and this week’s winner for the Best Beach Amusement Park is Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio!

With a legacy dating back to 1870, Cedar Point (the second-oldest amusement park in North America) combines the joys of old-fashioned amusements with the thrills of a 21st-century theme park. This year, the park debuted a water park, and in 2016, its Valravn dive coaster broke records. Its 364-acre grounds command a prime position overlooking Lake Erie, earning the rides, games, restaurants, and shows bonus points for their scenic setting.

Cedar Point is a prime escape for families: Its 70 rides, including 17 world-class roller coasters, offer entertaining options to thrill-seekers of all levels. Those who would rather avoid all rides can stick to the many shows, games—including an augmented reality game—and other attractions, such as Dinosaurs Alive!, which boasts more than 50 animatronic prehistoric creatures. The millions of people who visit Cedar Point every year already know its delights, but if you haven’t been yet, what are you waiting for?

Congratulations to last week’s winner for Best Beach Ice Cream Shop, Calabash Creamery in Calabash, North Carolina! Click here to see all the winners so far, and don’t forget to vote in this week’s competition: Who Brews the Best Beer on the Coast? Keep an eye on our Best of Summer 2017 voting schedule to make sure you don’t miss a single competition!