Welcome to Bespoke Brunch Reads — a linkfest of the favorite things we read over the past week. The links are mostly market related, but there are some other interesting subjects covered as well. We hope you enjoy the food for thought as a supplement to the research we provide you during the week.

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Mercedes Wants to Borrow Money From You. Should You Bite? by Jason Zweig (WSJ)

Mercedes-Benz USA is appealing to customers to borrow, offering short-term notes (which are redeemable) to finance auto loan securitization and diversify funding sources. [Link]

Who’s Winning the Self-Driving Car Race? by David Welch and Elisabeth Behrmann (Bloomberg)

A very helpful summary of the various players and their progress on the effort to bring a totally self-driving car to market. While many companies have made big strides, nobody is even close to a full-blown “Level 5” vehicle (one without a steering wheel). [Link; soft paywall]


Grimes, Elon Musk, and the Supposedly Trauma-Inducing A.I. Theory That Brought Them Together by Alexandra Ossola (Futurism)

Elon Musk and Grimes were apparently brought together by an allegedly horrifying but intellectually interesting scenario called Roco’s Basilisk (background from Slate here). The long and the short of it: don’t ever think about Roco’s Basilisk, or you may live to regret it. [Link]

Google Duplex: An AI System for Accomplishing Real-World Tasks Over the Phone by Yaniv Leviathan (Google AI Blog)

Natural language processing has evolved to the point that Google’s new Duplex system can place natural-sounding calls. Indeed, the calls are so natural sounding that they are indistinguishable from a human being. [Link]


IAB says online advertising grew to $88B last year — more spending than TV by Anthony Ha (TechCrunch)

Online advertising has now surpassed TV ad spend, totaling $88bn in 2017 with an increase of more than 20% over 2016. Mobile add spending is more than half of the total. [Link]

Subscription hell by Danny Crichton (TechCrunch)

Media costs are rising sharply, content is fleeing behind paywalls which add up to unsustainable costs, and the whole space seems unsustainable per Crichton’s analysis. [Link]


Undercover Cops Busted a Large Lego Crime Ring in Portland by Daniel Oberhaus (Motherboard)

A “fence” for stolen Lego has been busted in Portland, with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of the toy seized as part of a massive crackdown. [Link]

Tidal Accused Of Deliberately Faking Kanye West And Beyoncé Streaming Numbers by Dagens Næringsliv (Music Business Worldwide)

Streaming numbers for recent major releases seem totally unrealistic, including a claim that the most recent Kanye West album was played 8 times per day on average by all of Tidal’s users. [Link]

Equifax’s Statement For The Record Regarding The Extent Of The Cybersecurity Incident Announced On September 7, 2017 (SEC)

Equifax discloses specifics on the absolutely staggering number of consumers whose personal information was exposed in a breach last year. [Link]

Chinese students in Canada are being conned into filming fake hostage videos by Ian Young (Inkstone)

Scammers in China are convincing students to unwittingly aid the extortion of their families by filming fake hostage videos. [Link]

Long Reads

The Weird, Dangerous, Isolated Life of the Saturation Diver by Jen Banbury (Atlas Obscura)

An amazing dive into the world of saturation divers, who live under high pressure for weeks at a time in order to more efficiently dive to work on the sea bed. [Link]

You can always count on an airport bar by Jen Doll (The Week)

An ode to the wonders – and yes, they are wonders – of the airport bar, the transient shelter form the storm of travel and even modern life more generally. [Link]


‘World of Warcraft’ Currency Is Now Worth 7 Times as Much as Venezuela’s Cash by Chris Morris (Yahoo/Fortune)

Gold mined in World of Warcraft is used as an in-game currency and can be purchased with real-world currency. The WoW-Bolivar exchange rate has moved from 2:1 to more than 7:1 over the last year. [Link]

Should the Fed Create ‘FedCoin’ to Rival Bitcoin? A Former Top Official Says ‘Maybe’ by Neil Irwin (NYT)

A former Fed official who was under consideration for Fed Chair last year thinks that blockchain may be useful in the US payments system. [Link; soft paywall]


How Much Should We Trust the Dictator’s GDP Estimates? by Luis R. Martinez (SSRN)

Using tracking of economic activity based on night time illumination, Martinez argues that dictatorships regularly overstate real output by 15-30% of actual. [Link]

AEA Code of Professional Conduct (American Economic Association)

The AEA has introduced a professional code of conduct in a bid to enforce norms around civil discussion, equal opportunity, and representation in the discipline. [Link]

Scarce Life Savers

Final donation for man whose blood helped save 2.4 million babies by Kate Aubusson (Sydney Morning Herald)

A man with a rare concentration of antibodies which are helpful in preventing mothers’ immune systems from attacking the blood cells of their babies has been giving since the 1960s, saving millions of babies in the process. [Link]

The U.S. Is Facing an EpiPen Shortage by Anna Edney (Bloomberg)

Manufacturing delays have made EpiPens hard to come by, creating huge risks for millions who depend on easily available epinephrine in case of allergic reaction. [Link; soft paywall]

Why Monsanto and its rivals are trying to save butterflies by Danielle Wiener-Bronner (CNN)

Heavy use of RoundUp-ready crops mean that US farms have crowded out milkweed, the only plant where Monarch butterflies lay their eggs. Now Monstanto and other agrochemical companies are trying to reverse some of the damage. [Link]

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Have a great Sunday!

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