With so many services rapidly adapting to mobile usage, it’s no surprise that mobile payment systems are on the rise.

[Business ★★★] Apple Pay: Who Won and Who Lost?

[B020c] Apple Pay_1_pic

Not all Apple Pay winners are created equal

(P1) Mobile payments are happening to the retail industry like bankruptcy happens to Mike Campbell in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: gradually, and then suddenly all at once. Google has offered mobile payments for three years, and Walmart and Best Buy have been talking about mobile pay since 2012. But Apple is one of the few companies that many observers say can quickly lead a critical mass of people to wave their phones in the air for everything from bed sheets to burgers.

(P2) Retailers, credit card companies and banks all have made big bets on Apple’s new mobile payment system, which makes it more likely to succeed. “We will put our shoulders into a big step change like this,” says Matt Dill, a senior vice president at Visa, an Apple Pay partner, in an interview with TIME. “Apple Pay is a tipping point for major institutions going all in.”

(P3) If Apple Pay becomes as ubiquitous as most observers expect, it won’t just change the way consumers pay for things, it’ll reshape the financial institutions that facilitate our purchases. That’s not good news for everyone — many companies felt pushed to join up with Apple so they weren’t left behind. For some, it was either the Apple Pay-way or the highway.

Here’s a list of the major players, roughly in order of who won the most to who won the least.

(P4) Apple. Every time a customer make a purchase with Apple Pay, Apple earns a 0.15% charge. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but researchers say it’ll add up in the long run. Equity analysts at Nomura estimated that charge will account for $1.6 billion in projected revenue by 2017. On the lower end of estimates, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster says that Apple Pay will generate revenue of $118 million in 2015 and $310 million in 2016.

(P5) Perhaps more importantly, Apple Pay, if successful, will increase demand for Apple devices. And once customers are using Apple Pay and all their purchases are wrapped up to their phones, it’ll be that much harder to leave Apple for Android or another smartphone platform.

(P6) “Just getting part of the transaction itself will be big” for Apple, says Rajesh Kandaswamy, researcher at Gartner. But “the largest issue is it’s harder to switch away if you’re an iPhone user.”

(P7) Banks. Consumers won’t have to pay for Apple’s 0.15% fee on Apple Pay transactions; banks will. The six big banks who have signed up for Apple Pay aren’t enthusiastic about that. But in the long run, banks expect Apple Pay will push people away from using cash and toward transactions that run over their networks. Online shopping will be faster, too, as customers won’t have to input their billing information every time they make a purchase.

(P8) Finally, because Apple Pay uses a difficult-to-hack system that encrypts all financial transactions, banks will experience less cybercrime breaches for which they’re held financially liable. “Banks are going to make less money on the transaction than if it were made on a regular card swipe” because of Apple’s fee, says Michelle Evans, an analyst at Euromonitor, “but they can make more money in the end if they can drive volume over the card network and reduce fraud.”

(P9) Credit Card Companies. Visa, MasterCard and American Express have loudly trumpeted Apple Pay’s rollout. They stand to make money off Apple Pay for the same reason the banks will: the program pushes customers to their global credit business. Dill, the Visa SVP, calls Apple Pay an “on-ramp” to Visa’s network and a growth-fueler. “If we didn’t encourage innovation” like Apple Pay, “then we would be the worst enemy to our own growth,” Dill says.

(P10) But there’s another reason credit card companies are enthusiastic about Apple Pay: the alternative, CurrentC, could be pretty scary. CurrentC is a payment system mega retailers like Walmart and Best Buy are working on that could cut out credit card companies altogether. While Apple Pay leaves the traditional credit card system intact by simply moving it to your phone, analysts speculate that the CurrentC program will link payments through a network connected directly to your savings account. Voila: no middleman.

(P11) “If a technology comes along that’s focused on getting you to not use Visa, then that’s a competitor to us,” says Dill. The threat of CurrentC makes Apple Pay look more like a rickety lifeboat for the credit card companies than the super-fast motorboat Apple has promised.

(P12) Retailers and Merchants. Walgreens, Macy’s, McDonald’s and other merchants that began using Apple Pay on Monday get the same bonus that they have always gotten from debit cards and credit cards: new customers who can spend money faster. If customers spend money more easily, retailers make money more easily.

(P13) Apple Pay is also a good way to move customers through lines more quickly. It could eventually lead to retailers adopting more self-checkout lines; for merchants, that means paying fewer cashiers and lower overhead.

(P14) But Apple Pay also reinforces a system that retailers never really liked: they have to continue to pay a fee for every credit and debit card transaction. “Retailers don’t like the fees they pay,” says Kandaswamy. “Apple Pay is going to consolidate power among the same players even more.” CurrentC, on the other hand, could allow retailers to collect customer-specific data. That would let businesses like Walmart target customers with products in the same way that Google or Facebook target their ads.

(P15) Two days into Apple Pay, there aren’t yet any data on the program’s success. It’s too early to know how many people have used it or how much money Apple has made from it. But financial institutions believe the way we pay for things is changing quickly, even if we don’t quite notice it yet. “The U.S. is in midst of an innovation in payments,” Carolyn Balfany, senior vice president at MasterCard, tells TIME. “Payment security is going to change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50.” If Apple Pay does take off, then it is happening gradually before it’s here all of a sudden.

WORDS: 1,021


VOCAB (testing-kr only): [B020C] APPLE PAY_2_VOCAB

TO PRINT (testing-kr only): [B020C] APPLE PAY

Discussion Questions

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Who will be the winners and losers if Apple Pay becomes ubiquitous? Apple (P4)? Banks (P7)? Credit card companies (P9)? Retailers and merchants (P12)? Elaborate why and how.
  3. Explain what CurrentC is (P10). Why do credit card companies fear a payment system made by mega retailers?
  4. “Financial institutions believe the way we pay for things is changing quickly, even if we don’t quite notice it yet (P15)” Do you agree? How do you imagine the future of payment will be like?


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[Business ★★★]HP Returns to Breakup Plan It Shelved Three Years Ago 

[B019c] HP breakup

(P1) Computing giant Hewlett-Packard is close to breaking itself into two companies after CEO Meg Whitman ran out of options to turn around a business that is saddled with declining operations.

(P2) The decision to split itself in two, which could be announced as early as Monday, follows a months-long process to explore the sale of several business units, including its PC and enterprise services unit to no avail. The belief is that by splitting in two, both could pursue sales or acquisitions with a simpler balance sheet, which was an issue that sources said had scuttled a plan to buy EMC.

(P3) The move comes as Whitman begins her third year as HP’s CEO, and past the mid-way point of what she has described as a roughly five-year process to turn the company around with no revenue growth to show for.

(P4) Instead, HP will break into two — one comprised of its personal computers and printers divisions and another to house its corporate computing and IT services — sources briefed on the plan tell Re/code. HP will likely discuss the plan in detail at a meeting with financial analysts in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday.

(P5) An HP spokeswoman declined to comment. The plan was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

(P6) Whitman will be head up of the enterprise IT company, and will be chairman of the PC and printing company. Dion Weisler, head HP’s printing and PC group, will be CEO of that company and Patricia Russo, an HP director, will be chairman, these sources said. The transaction will be structured as a distribution of shares to current HP shareholders.


(P7) The decision comes after a failed attempt at what it called “asset optimization,” an exercise led by Morgan Stanley to help it find buyers of units that it no longer saw as core to its strategy of expanding the selling of computing hardware, software and services to large companies.

(P8) HP approached both Lenovo and Dell about the possible sale of its $32 billion (2013 sales) PC operation. In both cases it was rebuffed.

(P9) In another case, HP approached two India-based companies, Wipro and Infosys about the possible sale of its $28 billion IT services unit, known as Enterprise Services. Again it was rebuffed.

(P10) In a third case, it approached IBM about the sales of its $1.2 billion Business Critical Server business, but was turned down.

(P11) It’s unclear how far HP got in talks with any of these outside companies, or whether or not they reached a formal phase.

(P12) HP also recently explored a strategic merger with data storage company EMC that would have created a $130 billion technology giant. In contemplating that proposed merger, HP was interested most in VMWare, the cloud software company which EMC controls.

(P13) The merger talks failed mainly because EMC wanted a higher valuation than HP was willing to pay. One other reason the talks may have failed was that HP and EMC viewed the declining PC and printer divisions as a drag on the combined operations, sources say. A split into two companies might set up a scenario down the road where HP and EMC re-open those merger talks combining the enterprise company with EMC.


(P14) The move would be a modified version of a strategic plan that HP’s prior CEO Léo Apotheker proposed in 2011, but which Whitman shelved after she took over as CEO in September of that year.

(P15) Apotheker, a former co-CEO of the business software company SAP, had sought to jettison HP’s PC business and transform the company into one more devoted to software. The lynchpin of this plan was the $10 billion acquisition of the British software firm Autonomy. HP has since conceded that it overpaid for Autonomy by about $5 billion. HP’s board fired Apotheker in the wake of that deal and tapped Whitman as CEO.

(P16) The split raises numerous questions. How much cash will HP put into the PC company? “Does this signal that HP is really going to go for it in PCs against Apple and Dell and Lenovo,” says analyst Patrick Moorhead, head on the research firm Moor Insights and Strategy. “Apple really owns the home premium experience in PCs, and everyone else is fighting over what’s left, and that’s all a very low-margin business.”

(P17) Another important question, Moorhead says: How will two companies deal with the loss in scale. One reason Whitman shelved Apotheker’s PC-spin off plan was, as she argued at the time, that it gave HP’s the size and scale to help it negotiate with component suppliers like Intel which supplies it with microprocessor chips, and Seagate, which supplies it with hard drives. “The two smaller companies will have less negotiating power than the combined HP does now.”

(P18) Once the global leader of the personal computer business, following its combination with Compaq Computer in 2002, HP has since fallen behind China’s Lenovo into the number two spot in the PC market.

Words: 822
To print

Implications (And More…)

Did you know that HP has made 110+ acquisitions since its inception in 1958? Many compare very competitive high-tech business as a war, and we are living through the time to witness IT dinosaurs faltering including HP and Microsoft. Watch closely how these big companies handle the difficult times, and the history might give you some wisdom of management for your own company someday.

 Discussion Questions

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor.

The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. What options did Whitman have, and what was the reasoning behind her decision to split HP into two companies? (HINT: P2, P3, options – P8, P9, P10)
  3. There are many questions ensuing the transaction such as ‘how much cash will HP put into the PC company (P16)?’ and ‘how will two companies deal with the loss in scale? (P17)?’ Why are those issues important for HP to address?
  4. What is your opinion on HP’s latest move? If you were a shareholder of the company, or a business analyst writing a report on HP, what would you have to say about HP’s next 5 years?



A comment

 Original Article

 [World News★★★]Hong Kong Protesters Defy Government With Massive Rally

Tensions Remain High Between Rival Factions As Hong Kong Pro Democracy Rallies Continue

(P1) A bold rally of tens of thousands of people mobilized in Hong Kong Saturday night, just hours after the region’s Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying issued a cease-and-desist order to protesters occupying some of the territory’s busiest districts. They came to sing, to raise their glowing cellphones in solidarity and to flaunt the nonviolent underpinnings of their movement, which has joined designer-clad mall rats with spectacled students. “Protesting peacefully is the spirit of Hong Kong” went one refrain that resounded across Admiralty, the business district normally populated by bankers and shoppers that also includes government offices.

(P2) If Leung, whose resignation is one of the protesters’ aims, hoped to convince the demonstrators to leave the streets, he failed. Saturday’s assembly was likely the biggest yet in a student-supported movement to bring democratic reform to Hong Kong and safeguard the freedoms that differentiate the territory from the rest of China. Oxygen was sucked back into the movement precisely at the moment when the authorities deemed that the crowds had to disperse from major roads by Oct. 6, the beginning of the workweek.

(P3) Some people in Admiralty said Saturday they were inspired to come by the violence the protesters faced from tear-gas wielding police on Sept. 28 and mafia-linked thugs on Oct. 3. “It was different a few days ago,” said Sam Au, a 49-year-old construction project manager. “We were supporting the student movement. But now we’re supporting non-violence against protesters.” The roster of speakers made sure to highlight the peaceful nature of the movement, whose supporters have taken to raising their arms in a Ferguson-style surrender and chanting “calm down, calm down” to any potential troublemaker. Despite the crush of bodies in Admiralty, the protesters shuffled forward obediently. Volunteers offered fresh fruit, cooling plasters and charging stations for cellphones.

(P4) “Do we look like Red Guards?” asked Joshua Wong, the wisp of a 17-year-old whose student activism group is one of the rally’s organizers, in reference to the Chinese youth group whose chilling excesses helped Chairman Mao foment the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. The crowd in Admiralty, which stretched across a highway as far as the eye could see, responded with a defiant “No.”

(P5) Many of the faces in the crowd were young; one typed frantically into her phone trying to convince her mother that she was at a friend’s house. “The [local] government never listens to what we want,” said Hiu Wah, a 19-year-old childhood education student at the Institute of Vocational Education. “They only listen to Beijing.” But others were older—and not offended when some of the rally’s speakers bemoaned a divide between idealistic youth and an older generation warier of displeasing Hong Kong’s overlords in Beijing. “We are here to protect the young people,” said a retired language professor from the Chinese University of Hong Kong surnamed Kwan. “They are the ones who will have to deal with the future after 2047.” Under the joint agreement that set the conditions for the former British colony’s return to China in 1997, Hong Kong was promised significant autonomy for 50 years under a formula called “one country, two systems.”

(P6) The protesters have articulated two main goals they say need to be met before they disperse: Leung’s removal and the reversal of Beijing’s Aug. 31 decision to essentially pre-select two or three candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive elections in 2017. Instead of voting for these screened individuals, the protesters want full autonomy to choose their leader. They are also worried that Hong Kong’s freedoms—independent courts, media and civil service, among others—are being eroded by Beijing.

(P7) But a steady stream of anti-protester invective in China’s state-controlled media, not to mention Leung’s Monday ultimatum, have raised questions of whether Beijing is in any sort of conciliatory mood. Certainly, under President Xi Jinping, China has pounded a patriotic drumbeat and detained hundreds of dissenters who dared question the wisdom of the Chinese Communist Party.

(P8) If that’s the case, middle ground between the protesters, who gave rapturous applause to speakers who promised to “fight to the end,” and the government, which has vowed to clear the streets by “all actions necessary,” will be difficult to locate. Further complicating things: there is no one leader of the protest coalition and there is more than one rally site, although Admiralty is by far the biggest. Control will be harder to maintain with mission creep. Early Sunday morning, scuffles broke out in Mongkok, one of the other protest sites, injuring a police officer.

(P9) Perhaps the realization that a conciliatory window is narrowing was what gave Saturday’s rally, for all its peaceful hymns and bright yellow stickers, a nervous edge. As some of the protesters exited the site just before midnight, rumors flew. Was a crackdown imminent on the thousands that were still camped out on the pavement—some snuggled in tents, others sprawled straight on the asphalt?

(P10) “I am really worried about myself and everyone in here,” said Don Lung, who works in education. “But I believe that many people in Hong Kong will fight for us.” The battle lines are drawn, but will the fight come?

Words: 850
To print

Discussion Questions

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor.

The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. How is this protest different from the stereotypical demonstrations? (P1, P4)
  3. What are the two goals articulated by the protesters? (P6) What are their concerns and what outcome are they asking for?
  4. How is the Chinese government and Hong Kong government handling this situation? If you have any updates, feel free to share.



A comment

 [TED] Rajesh Rao:

A Rosetta Stone for a lost language

Rajesh Rao is fascinated by “the mother of all crossword puzzles”: how to decipher the 4000-year-old Indus script. He’s enlisting modern computation to try to read this lost language, the key to understanding this ancient civilization.




(P1) I’d like to begin with a thought experiment. Imagine that it’s 4,000 years into the future. Civilization as we know it has ceased to exist — no books, no electronic devices, no Facebook or Twitter. All knowledge of the English language and the English alphabet has been lost. Now imagine archeologists digging through the rubble of one of our cities. What might they find? Well perhaps some rectangular pieces of plastic with strange symbols on them. Perhaps some circular pieces of metal. Maybe some cylindrical containers with some symbols on them. And perhaps one archeologist becomes an instant celebrity when she discovers — buried in the hills somewhere in North America — massive versions of these same symbols. Now let’s ask ourselves, what could such artifacts say about us to people 4,000 years into the future?

(P2) This is no hypothetical question. In fact, this is exactly the kind of question we’re faced with when we try to understand the Indus Valley civilization, which existed 4,000 years ago. The Indus civilization was roughly contemporaneous with the much better known Egyptian and the Mesopotamian civilizations, but it was actually much larger than either of these two civilizations. It occupied the area of approximately one million square kilometers, covering what is now Pakistan, Northwestern India and parts of Afghanistan and Iran. Given that it was such a vast civilization, you might expect to find really powerful rulers, kings, and huge monuments glorifying these powerful kings. In fact, what archeologists have found is none of that. They’ve found small objects such as these.

(P3) Here’s an example of one of these objects. Well obviously this is a replica. But who is this person? A king? A god? A priest? Or perhaps an ordinary person like you or me? We don’t know. But the Indus people also left behind artifacts with writing on them. Well no, not pieces of plastic, but stone seals, copper tablets, pottery and, surprisingly, one large sign board, which was found buried near the gate of a city. Now we don’t know if it says Hollywood, or even Bollywood for that matter. In fact, we don’t even know what any of these objects say, and that’s because the Indus script is undeciphered. We don’t know what any of these symbols mean.

(P4) The symbols are most commonly found on seals. So you see up there one such object. It’s the square object with the unicorn-like animal on it. Now that’s a magnificent piece of art. So how big do you think that is? Perhaps that big? Or maybe that big? Well let me show you. Here’s a replica of one such seal. It’s only about one inch by one inch in size — pretty tiny. So what were these used for? We know that these were used for stamping clay tags that were attached to bundles of goods that were sent from one place to the other. So you know those packing slips you get on your FedEx boxes? These were used to make those kinds of packing slips. You might wonder what these objects contain in terms of their text. Perhaps they’re the name of the sender or some information about the goods that are being sent from one place to the other — we don’t know. We need to decipher the script to answer that question.

(P5) Deciphering the script is not just an intellectual puzzle; it’s actually become a question that’s become deeply intertwined with the politics and the cultural history of South Asia. In fact, the script has become a battleground of sorts between three different groups of people. First, there’s a group of people who are very passionate in their belief that the Indus script does not represent a language at all. These people believe that the symbols are very similar to the kind of symbols you find on traffic signs or the emblems you find on shields. There’s a second group of people who believe that the Indus script represents an Indo-European language. If you look at a map of India today, you’ll see that most of the languages spoken in North India belong to the Indo-European language family. So some people believe that the Indus script represents an ancient Indo-European language such as Sanskrit.

(P6) There’s a last group of people who believe that the Indus people were the ancestors of people living in South India today. These people believe that the Indus script represents an ancient form of the Dravidian language family, which is the language family spoken in much of South India today. And the proponents of this theory point to that small pocket of Dravidian-speaking people in the North, actually near Afghanistan, and they say that perhaps, sometime in the past, Dravidian languages were spoken all over India and that this suggests that the Indus civilization is perhaps also Dravidian.

(P7) Which of these hypotheses can be true? We don’t know, but perhaps if you deciphered the script, you would be able to answer this question. But deciphering the script is a very challenging task. First, there’s no Rosetta Stone. I don’t mean the software; I mean an ancient artifact that contains in the same text both a known text and an unknown text. We don’t have such an artifact for the Indus script. And furthermore, we don’t even know what language they spoke. And to make matters even worse, most of the text that we have are extremely short. So as I showed you, they’re usually found on these seals that are very, very tiny.

(P8) And so given these formidable obstacles, one might wonder and worry whether one will ever be able to decipher the Indus script. In the rest of my talk, I’d like to tell you about how I learned to stop worrying and love the challenge posed by the Indus script. I’ve always been fascinated by the Indus script ever since I read about it in a middle school textbook. And why was I fascinated? Well it’s the last major undeciphered script in the ancient world. My career path led me to become a computational neuroscientist, so in my day job, I create computer models of the brain to try to understand how the brain makes predictions, how the brain makes decisions, how the brain learns and so on.

(P9) But in 2007, my path crossed again with the Indus script. That’s when I was in India, and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with some Indian scientists who were using computer models to try to analyze the script. And so it was then that I realized there was an opportunity for me to collaborate with these scientists, and so I jumped at that opportunity. And I’d like to describe some of the results that we have found. Or better yet, let’s all collectively decipher. Are you ready?

(P10) The first thing that you need to do when you have an undeciphered script is try to figure out the direction of writing. Here are two texts that contain some symbols on them. Can you tell me if the direction of writing is right to left or left to right? I’ll give you a couple of seconds. Okay. Right to left, how many? Okay. Okay. Left to right? Oh, it’s almost 50/50. Okay. The answer is: if you look at the left-hand side of the two texts, you’ll notice that there’s a cramping of signs, and it seems like 4,000 years ago, when the scribe was writing from right to left, they ran out of space. And so they had to cram the sign. One of the signs is also below the text on the top. This suggests the direction of writing was probably from right to left, and so that’s one of the first things we know, that directionality is a very key aspect of linguistic scripts. And the Indus script now has this particular property.

(P11) What other properties of language does the script show? Languages contain patterns. If I give you the letter Q and ask you to predict the next letter, what do you think that would be? Most of you said U, which is right. Now if I asked you to predict one more letter, what do you think that would be? Now there’s several thoughts. There’s E. It could be I. It could be A, but certainly not B, C or D, right? The Indus script also exhibits similar kinds of patterns. There’s a lot of text that start with this diamond-shaped symbol. And this in turn tends to be followed by this quotation marks-like symbol. And this is very similar to a Q and U example. This symbol can in turn be followed by these fish-like symbols and some other signs, but never by these other signs at the bottom. And furthermore, there’s some signs that really prefer the end of texts, such as this jar-shaped sign, and this sign, in fact, happens to be the most frequently occurring sign in the script.

(P12) Given such patterns, here was our idea. The idea was to use a computer to learn these patterns, and so we gave the computer the existing texts. And the computer learned a statistical model of which symbols tend to occur together and which symbols tend to follow each other. Given the computer model, we can test the model by essentially quizzing it. So we could deliberately erase some symbols, and we can ask it to predict the missing symbols. Here are some examples. You may regard this as perhaps the most ancient game of Wheel of Fortune.

(P13) What we found was that the computer was successful in 75 percent of the cases in predicting the correct symbol. In the rest of the cases, typically the second best guess or third best guess was the right answer. There’s also practical use for this particular procedure. There’s a lot of these texts that are damaged. Here’s an example of one such text. And we can use the computer model now to try to complete this text and make a best guess prediction. Here’s an example of a symbol that was predicted. And this could be really useful as we try to decipher the script by generating more data that we can analyze.

(P14) Now here’s one other thing you can do with the computer model. So imagine a monkey sitting at a keyboard. I think you might get a random jumble of letters that looks like this. Such a random jumble of letters is said to have a very high entropy. This is a physics and information theory term. But just imagine it’s a really random jumble of letters. How many of you have ever spilled coffee on a keyboard? You might have encountered the stuck-key problem — so basically the same symbol being repeated over and over again. This kind of a sequence is said to have a very low entropy because there’s no variation at all. Language, on the other hand, has an intermediate level of entropy; it’s neither too rigid, nor is it too random. What about the Indus script? Here’s a graph that plots the entropies of a whole bunch of sequences. At the very top you find the uniformly random sequence, which is a random jumble of letters — and interestingly, we also find the DNA sequence from the human genome and instrumental music. And both of these are very, very flexible, which is why you find them in the very high range. At the lower end of the scale, you find a rigid sequence, a sequence of all A’s, and you also find a computer program, in this case in the language Fortran, which obeys really strict rules. Linguistic scripts occupy the middle range.

(P15) Now what about the Indus script? We found that the Indus script actually falls within the range of the linguistic scripts. When this result was first published, it was highly controversial. There were people who raised a hue and cry, and these people were the ones who believed that the Indus script does not represent language. I even started to get some hate mail. My students said that I should really seriously consider getting some protection. Who’d have thought that deciphering could be a dangerous profession? What does this result really show? It shows that the Indus script shares an important property of language. So, as the old saying goes, if it looks like a linguistic script and it acts like a linguistic script, then perhaps we may have a linguistic script on our hands. What other evidence is there that the script could actually encode language?

(P16) Well linguistic scripts can actually encode multiple languages. So for example, here’s the same sentence written in English and the same sentence written in Dutch using the same letters of the alphabet. If you don’t know Dutch and you only know English and I give you some words in Dutch, you’ll tell me that these words contain some very unusual patterns. Some things are not right, and you’ll say these words are probably not English words. The same thing happens in the case of the Indus script. The computer found several texts — two of them are shown here — that have very unusual patterns. So for example the first text: there’s a doubling of this jar-shaped sign. This sign is the most frequently-occurring sign in the Indus script, and it’s only in this text that it occurs as a doubling pair.

(P17) Why is that the case? We went back and looked at where these particular texts were found, and it turns out that they were found very, very far away from the Indus Valley. They were found in present day Iraq and Iran. And why were they found there? What I haven’t told you is that the Indus people were very, very enterprising. They used to trade with people pretty far away from where they lived, and so in this case, they were traveling by sea all the way to Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq. And what seems to have happened here is that the Indus traders, the merchants, were using this script to write a foreign language. It’s just like our English and Dutch example. And that would explain why we have these strange patterns that are very different from the kinds of patterns you see in the text that are found within the Indus Valley. This suggests that the same script, the Indus script, could be used to write different languages. The results we have so far seem to point to the conclusion that the Indus script probably does represent language.

(P18) If it does represent language, then how do we read the symbols? That’s our next big challenge. So you’ll notice that many of the symbols look like pictures of humans, of insects, of fishes, of birds. Most ancient scripts use the rebus principle, which is, using pictures to represent words. So as an example, here’s a word. Can you write it using pictures? I’ll give you a couple seconds. Got it? Okay. Great. Here’s my solution. You could use the picture of a bee followed by a picture of a leaf –and that’s “belief,” right. There could be other solutions. In the case of the Indus script, the problem is the reverse. You have to figure out the sounds of each of these pictures such that the entire sequence makes sense. So this is just like a crossword puzzle, except that this is the mother of all crossword puzzles because the stakes are so high if you solve it.

(P19) My colleagues, Iravatham Mahadevan and Asko Parpola, have been making some headway on this particular problem. And I’d like to give you a quick example of Parpola’s work. Here’s a really short text. It contains seven vertical strokes followed by this fish-like sign. And I want to mention that these seals were used for stamping clay tags that were attached to bundles of goods, so it’s quite likely that these tags, at least some of them, contain names of merchants. And it turns out that in India there’s a long tradition of names being based on horoscopes and star constellations present at the time of birth. In Dravidian languages, the word for fish is “meen” which happens to sound just like the word for star. And so seven stars would stand for “elu meen,” which is the Dravidian word for the Big Dipper star constellation. Similarly, there’s another sequence of six stars, and that translates to “aru meen,” which is the old Dravidian name for the star constellation Pleiades. And finally, there’s other combinations, such as this fish sign with something that looks like a roof on top of it. And that could be translated into “mey meen,” which is the old Dravidian name for the planet Saturn. So that was pretty exciting. It looks like we’re getting somewhere.

(P20) But does this prove that these seals contain Dravidian names based on planets and star constellations? Well not yet. So we have no way of validating these particular readings, but if more and more of these readings start making sense, and if longer and longer sequences appear to be correct, then we know that we are on the right track. Today, we can write a word such as TED in Egyptian hieroglyphics and in cuneiform script, because both of these were deciphered in the 19th century. The decipherment of these two scripts enabled these civilizations to speak to us again directly. The Mayans started speaking to us in the 20th century, but the Indus civilization remains silent.

(P21) Why should we care? The Indus civilization does not belong to just the South Indians or the North Indians or the Pakistanis; it belongs to all of us. These are our ancestors — yours and mine. They were silenced by an unfortunate accident of history. If we decipher the script, we would enable them to speak to us again. What would they tell us? What would we find out about them? About us? I can’t wait to find out.

Thank you. (Applause)

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Discussion Questions

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor.

The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the speech in your own words.
  2. Describe how a computational neuroscientist became involved with deciphering an ancient script, something that an archeologist would do. What aspects of the job do they have in common? (HINT: identifying patterns (P11), using statistical model (P12), entropy vs. rigid rules (P14))
  3. What patterns did Rao identify while comparing sentences written in English and Dutch, and how did he apply this finding in his Indus script research?
  4. A bit of a stretch but something to think about: do you think the universe has high entropy or a very rigid pattern? Why do you think so? (This idea comes from Michael Foucault’s The Prose of the World)


A comment

Original Article

[World News★★]The Simpsons Go to China [modified]

[W017b] The Simpsons Go To China_1_pic

(P1) Later this fall, “The Simpsons” will begin streaming in China, as part of a new multi-year deal between Fox and Sohu, a minor colossus in the competitive world of Chinese Web portals. While more popular sites like Baidu and Sina have won over young users by investing in gaming and social networking, Sohu, an early pioneer on the Chinese Internet, has turned to streaming video. Partnerships with Hollywood have proved to be an effective, though scattershot, way of attracting traffic: if you license four hundred movies and TV series at once, and dump them behind a very modest paywall, some are bound to find an audience. Even a show as exotic to the typical Chinese teen-ager as “Gossip Girl” can be assured tens of thousands of devoted viewers.

(P2) Much has changed in the past nine years. “The Simpsons” now fits neatly alongside other faintly provocative programs, like “Modern Family” and “Saturday Night Live,” that are available through Sohu. If there was something threatening about the incursion of Western cultural and political influence ten years ago, the China of today seems a bit more confident about its standing in the world.

(P3) But there’s also another force at work here. America’s culture industry has never been so beholden to the rest of the world. Hollywood blockbusters like last summer’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” for example, have become meticulously engineered attempts to simultaneously court audiences from Peoria to Shenzhen. America once projected its democratic ethos abroad via cowboy flicks, jazz music, and edgy painting. Now cultural diplomacy gets subsumed within hat-in-hand corporate interests; before you know it, the Dinobots turn out to be Chinese. America will continue to be the world’s image factory, but this is an era of codependency.

(P4) Will Chinese audiences—not exactly the most ironic bunch on Earth—take to the churlish sarcasm of “The Simpsons”? Satire responds to the realization that we’ve been sold a bill of goods—that the choices we’re offered are illusory and all ultimately the same. It is a weapon of the weak, a way of critiquing the world by stepping outside of it. There’s a growing space for this kind of protest, as China’s fiercest Internet activists have become masters of censor-dodging puns and the authors of complex, ironic allegories for authoritarianism and surveillance. But, for most in China, the novelty of consumer choice has yet to wear off. After all, when “The Simpsons” débuted in the United States, in December, 1989, China was deep into martial law after the Tiananmen uprisings. Now “The Simpsons” will have to compete with a Chinese Internet that grows denser and more entertaining by the day. Sohu’s homepage, conforming to the aesthetics of Chinese Web design, is a frenzied riot of information.

(P5) Of course, the global expansion of “The Simpsons” was learned from the series itself. Like all good satire, “The Simpsons” is, at its heart, deeply hopeful. American fans who grew up with the show internalized its punky disposition, its tender eviscerations of church and state, its overriding belief, stated in the words of Jebediah Springfield, that “a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”

(P6) But, ultimately, “The Simpsons” is just a television series, and television series—even ones as respected and as globally successful as “The Simpsons”—are always interested in new audiences. Any weirdness that attends the series’ drift across the Pacific is owed to our own nostalgia rather than to what the show actually sets out to do. After all, the Simpsons remain a family. Bart is demon-like, but he never truly breaks bad; Lisa dreams of more enlightened surroundings, yet never runs away. It will be fascinating to see what, if any, aspect of “The Simpsons” ’s complex philosophy takes root in China. Maybe it will be the part about questioning authority, or the pragmatism of making compromises. Whatever happens, one hopes it won’t involve the ethos of Mr. Burns.

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 Implications (And More…)

심슨이 아이들이 보는 만화라고 생각하시면 큰 오산이죠. 정치, 종교, 인종을 넘나들며 현대 사회를 풍자해 대학교에서 그 세계관을 연구하는 동아리가 있을 정로도 대중에게도 독보적인 브랜드 밸류를 갖고 있습니다. 오랜 기간동안 미디아 컨텐츠에 대해 검열이 심했던 중국이 심슨의 방영을 허락한 이번 사건은 중국 정부의 불가피한 처세이기도 하지만, 중국 진출은 앞으로 심슨의 제작에도 큰 영향을 미칠 것이라는 내용의 기사입니다. 심슨은 미국에서 가장 오랫동안 방영된 시트콤으로 2014년 9월에 시즌26이 시작되었는데요. 시즌 30쯤에는 바트가 중국 정치가에 대한 풍자를 하는 모습을 볼 수 있을지도 모르겠습니다.

Discussion Questions

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor.

The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. What was Chinese government’s stance on foreign television shows, and why did it change its stance? (P2)
  3. What does the author mean by “America’s culture industry has never been so beholden to the ret of the world” (P3)? (HINT: tie in concepts like “corporate interest replacing America ethos”, “era of codependency”)
  4. The author predicts that expansion of The Simpsons in China will also have influence in the philosophy of the television series as it faces more competition from local producers (P 4 & 6). Do you agree or disagree? What is your stance on localization of globally successful TV series?



A comment

 Original Article

[Technology★★]This is not 2005 and investing in Snapchat is the last thing Mayer’s Yahoo can afford to do

[T017b] Yahoo Snapchat_1_pic (P1) Yahoo is preparing to lead an investment round in Snapchat that values the ephemeral messaging startup at an eye-popping $10 billion, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

(P2) While you catch your breath from the sheer inanity of this news, let me point out that this is the same round that was previously rumored to be led by Alibaba, and was recently revealed to include minority participation by Kleiner Perkins (at a meager $20 million for 0.2 percent). But while you can argue about the merits of betting that Snapchat will one day deliver a meaningful return on this 11-figure valuation – anything but a sure thing – there is no universe in which it makes sense for Yahoo to be making that bet today.

(P3) First of all, Yahoo is surely getting a minority stake in Snapchat, likely in the single-digit percentages – unless it’s investing more than $1 billion, which if that’s the case god bless ‘em. This means that the company can’t consolidate any future revenues (Snapchat doesn’t generate any revenue currently) from this holding and will hardly have any real inside track on a future acquisition of the company – as if Yahoo could afford it. In other words, this is purely a venture capital-style financial “bet” by Mayer, that Snapchat will be Yahoo’s next Alibaba, or put another way, an investment that leaves the company flush with cash upon an eventual liquidity event.

(P4) But the fact of the matter is, Yahoo doesn’t have the luxury of making long-term growth-equity bets at this point. The aging company needs to find ways – any way – to grow revenue and profitability, something it hasn’t managed to do in nearly seven years.

(P5) When Yahoo decided to invest $1 billion to acquire 40 percent of a then up-and-coming Chinese ecommerce company in August 2005, the US company had the luxury of soaring revenues in its core business. Jerry Yang, the company’s founder who was still CEO at the time, was coming off a year in which Yahoo more than doubled its revenue from $1.63 billion to $3.57 billion, and was two-thirds of the way through a year in which those revenues would grow by another 47 percent to $5.25 billion. In other words, the company could afford to look externally for longer term growth opportunities because it had its own financial house in order. Similarly, when Microsoft invested $240 million for 1.6 percent of Facebook in 2007, Steve Ballmer’s company was literally on top of the technology world.

(P6) Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo of today? Not so much.

(P7) To be fair, the Yahoo Mayer inherited two years ago was dysfunctional, to put it kindly. And she’s done more than many thought possible to boost morale and convince outside observers that a turnaround might at least be possible. But the one thing Mayer hasn’t done is generate any sort of meaningful revenue growth. And judging by the recent rise in activist shareholder challenges, her grace period has all but run out.

(P8) Yahoo, with its $40.8 billion market cap, isn’t that much more valuable than Snapchat. As of June 30, it had a total of $1.1 billion in cash and cash equivalents and another $3 billion in other “current assets” on its balance sheet. The company recently took in an additional $9 billion through the sale of a portion of its holding in Alibaba, but has promised to return at least half of that sum to shareholders. (It’s also lost the very life raft that has been keeping its otherwise unattractive stock afloat.) That leaves Yahoo with, at best, $8.6 billion in cash and current assets to play with.

(P9) That’s not exactly a ton of cash that it can afford to be spending real money on non-revenue generating investments. Then again, ValleyWag reports that Yahoo, like Kleiner could be investing just $20 million in this Snapchat round, despite being the lead investor, in which case, what’s the point? Adding insult to injury, activists like Starboard Value’s Jeff Smith are insisting that Yahoo stop making acquisitions, find ways to cut costs, return more capital to shareholders, and merge with an equally dysfunctional AOL.

(P10) Put simply, Wall Street will have Mayer’s head if she goes through with this Snapchat deal. And if she somehow gets out unscathed, she might want to have her head examined for even considering it.

(P11) Mayer should also consider that Facebook and Google, both of which were rumored to be bidding to acquire Snapchat last year at valuations closer to the $3 billion to $4 billion level, are much better positioned financially to complete for this deal but appear absent from the syndicate. They say if you look around the table and you can’t identify the fool, you’re it. Investing in Snapchat at a $10 billion valuation may or may not prove to be foolish. But for Yahoo, which whether Mayer likes it or not remains a struggling Internet portal with pissed off shareholders, that’s the only way this ends.

Words: 824
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Discussion Questions

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor.

The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. What are the three points that the author makes to argue that Mayer’s Yahoo investing in Snapchat is not a good idea? (HINT: P3, P4, P8—answer questions like, 1) how much is Snapchat valued at and how much can Yahoo afford to invest, 2) how is Yahoo performing these days in terms of revenue, revenue growth, profit margin, etc)
  3. How is Mayer’s Yahoo in a different position than Balmer’s Microsoft, Facebook or Google? (HINT: P5, P11)
  4. If this is such an obvious mistake for Mayer to even think about investing in Snapchat (according to the author), why do you think Mayer is considering this investment? (You can start off by how much Yahoo made money with Alibaba’s IPO)