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Water is serious business
What we are reading this weekend
Good morning! On account of Good Friday, there is no edition of The Intersection today. There will also be no editions of The Signal and The Signal Daily podcast on Monday, April 10, on account of Easter. We hope you enjoy and make the most of the long weekend. Until then, here are some curated longreads for your reading pleasure.
Water is wet: Right? Not according to the “fine water” industry, devoted to the art of tasting the world’s best waters. This piece in Bon Appetit walks you through the business of collecting and bottling fine waters from around the world—from aquifers in Spain that have 10,000-year-old rainwater (!) to $300 bottles of water sourced from melting icebergs. The author also walks us through the lives of “water sommeliers” and a $125 virtual water tasting session, where participants debate over things like the “mouthfeel” of any given water. Crikey.
OpenAI’s Faustian bargain: Sam Altman co-founded OpenAI eight years ago as a nonprofit. Cut to today, the world’s most talked about AI research lab has a for-profit arm that raised $13 billion from Microsoft. Whatever happened to the core tenet of not having profit as an incentive? Altman maintains that OpenAI’s core values are intact, but others disagree. This semi-profile of the 37-year-old wunderkind offers a sneak peek into his life (did you know Altman made serious $$$ as a young investor and owns three houses?) while posing the question: can the road to artificial general intelligence ever be paved with good intentions?
Outing the logout king: OBN, also known as Brandon and OBNbrandon, made a killing by harassing influencers and celebrities on Instagram. He’d file false reports to the point of having their pages taken down, then extort them to have their accounts unbanned. This abuse of Meta’s systems, which are meant to enforce community guidelines, was so profitable for OBN that he claimed to have made around $300,000 “just off banning and unbanning pages”. This ProPublica investigation unmasks the Insta blackmailer and, in the process, relays how OBN was able to get away with his scam for so long. Read it to believe it.
Content farm: Last year, YouTube claimed that creators on its platform contributed ₹10,000 crore ($1.2 billion) to India’s GDP. Some of it certainly went to improve the lives of creators in a remote Maharashtra village. As this Livemint report shows, Akshay Raskar set off a blogging trend a decade ago that not only transformed his life but also that of Kolgaon, his village in the Beed district of the state. Raskar, who ran an electronics shop, discovered the economic potential of social media accidentally after a video of a villager’s jugaad plough he shot on his smartphone and uploaded to YouTube went viral. Unexpectedly, it also earned him $222. Raskar now runs eight Marathi blogs related to farms and village issues. He has also inspired and trained many others to become bloggers, turning Kolgaon into a media hub for creating content on various platforms.
Europe’s saviour: As the Russia-Ukraine war raged last year, Europe was worried about the approaching winter. Most of its gas supplies for heating homes and offices came from Russia. When Russian President Vladimir Putin turned off the supply, Norway stepped up to save the continent from freezing. Norwegian energy companies changed their production mix to pump less oil and pipe 8% more gas from the offshore rigs. It boosted their 2022 revenues, helping beef up the Norwegian sovereign fund by about $125 billion, a five-fold jump over the previous year. The $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund controls an average of 1.3% of over 9,000 listed companies worldwide. About a fifth of its earnings fund the state budget. It helped the country’s economy grow 3.3% in 2022. Not everyone is happy about profiting from war. Some of the oil profits went to supporting Ukraine.
The business of D&D: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves—the big-screen, big-budget version of the hugely popular role-playing fantasy board game Dungeons & Dragons—opened to largely positive reviews last week. One company that would be heaving a huge sigh of relief, apart from distributor Paramount Pictures, is American toymaker Hasbro. The company cut 15% of its workforce in January after a weak holiday season, and its shares were down by more than 40% compared with the previous year. However, it has told investors that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, with plans to double down on the almost 50-year-old D&D franchise. This won’t be easy, though, due to decades of infighting, litigation, and a licensing war over the franchise. This Bloomberg feature has all the details.
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