Taki Michaelidis

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On November 18, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on Electronic Toll Systems: Connectivity, Convenience, and . . . Collections? :

Hi Phil,

This article highlighted to me how digital technology can have a major impact on the minor annoyances of living in civilized society (i.e. tolls, parking meters, payment of T fares, etc.). Do you have a sense of the percentage of total cars going through tolls that DON”T have an ETC system that then require direct billing? If it’s a large percentage this could be potentially quite problematic. Oftentimes addresses on registration forms are inaccurate and if people are billed, do not receive the bill, and are then “punished” for not paying their toll bills this could be extremely problematic both for drivers and the state. Given that pretty much everybody carries a smartphone, it seems technologically possible for a toll system to be based on an app on your phone that charges you when you pass through certain gates on the highway (thus obviating the need to purchase an ETC transponder). That said, there are major privacy concerns with the government tracking people’s smartphone movement and I would be concerned that the government could start using this data for other purposes (i.e. fining people for “speeding”) when on the highway.


On November 18, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on 3Derm: A Dermatology Triage System :

I agree completely that dermatology is a field where asynchronous telehealth visits (i.e. the patient takes photograph of rash and provides brief history to MD via live discussion or via recording) is an excellent way to solve the issue of triage in a group of say 1,000 patients waiting to see the dermatologist, 995 of whom have very benign lesions and 5 of whom have more concerning malignant lesions. The problem I see here is that it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem – lack of dermatologist supply on a national level. Yes, it may solve local distribution problems (i.e. not enough dermatologists in Nebraska, too many in New York City) but not the national problem. I would argue that the primary need here is for automated detection algorithms (i.e. a la Watson) so be able to “interpret” images of moles and possible melanomas with a high degree of sensitivity (i.e. no false negatives) and specificity (i.e. no false positive). A friend has been working on this (http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/1741083) but there is unfortunately a tremendous variety in quality between apps that do this work and they are in fact going to end up being FDA regulated given the risks here.


On November 18, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on How Technology is Reinventing the Supermarket: Whole Foods in the Digital Age :

Hi Erik,

Neat post, I was thinking through my own experiences in shopping at Whole Foods and other grocery stores. My main concerns are generally (1) price, (2) quality and variety and (3) convenience (most aptly measured by total amount of time I have to spend in the grocery store to get my weekly grocery supply). The checkout line is a constant source of frustration to me. You often wait in line 5-10 minutes which seems unnecessary and ripe for digital innovation. Do you know if there have been any grocery stores that have made efforts to either (a) decentralize check-out with digital scanner/check-out systems on each grocery cart so people can scan and pay as they go or (b) item-level RFID tagging so that you could have an instant accounting of your grocery cart’s items just by pushing the cart through RFID detectors? The first option (decentralized scanners) seems somewhat easier but I’m not sure grocery stores WANT their customers to know how much they’ve spent while wandering through aisles (i.e. I often get sticker shock at the checkout lane while in Whole Foods but by this time I’ve committed) as it may reduce their spending. The second option seems more optimal from a revenue perspective but also quite costly. I would imagine that item level RFID tags would need to be less than 2-3 cents per RFID to make this worth it for Whole Foods.


On November 18, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on Just Like Derek Zoolander, UPS Drivers Can’t Turn Left :

Hello Johnny Appleseed!

Nice post, I was not aware of this software route optimization package. Do you know what the hierarchy of optimization criteria are for the software? For instance, is the software optimizing on right turn minimization first and then some other hierarchy of total daily distance traveled (lower being better obviously), total time traveled (lower being better obviously). I wonder if in optimizing for right turns perhaps there have been suboptimal outcomes in other domains for the network. This scenario would seem perfect for a mini-Watson computer on every UPS truck (unlikely cost-possible at this moment) that is able to continuously pull real-time traffic data from the cloud to make infinite minute adjustments to routes throughout the day for optimization (one could imagine Watson incorporating traffic data, rush hour data, weather data, red/green light timing data into this algorithm).


On November 18, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on Venmo – Should Banks be Worried? :

I agree with AMM’s point and see several major risks for Venmo. Fist, there are relatively low barriers to entry for competing banks – who already have great degree of comfort with the regulatory framework that governs these types of transfers – to offer this service. In other words, I see peer-to-peer electronic funds transfer applications as only a bridge technology until the major banks begin to offer this service as a low cost, moderate value add to customers. Second, Venmo assumes the risks of data loss of any large bank without the lengthy history and capital to develop secure data protection systems. See below for an interesting discussion of some of the recent security concerns:



On November 5, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on Can the German auto industry catch up with Tesla? :

Hi Sabine,

This is a very interesting article – I bet you will enjoy Lee’s article (I did) on U.S. tax subsidies for Tesla cars in the United States. I would be curious about the following:

(1) How large are the tax subsidies in Germany for electric cars? Do they compare in magnitude to the U.S. version? I do wonder if these types of subsidies would run afoul of international trade agreements given that they can distort purchasing and trade.

(2) How far behind Tesla are the German auto manufacturers in battery technology and range? If I were BMW or Mercedes, this would be one of my main “keep me up at night” issues in the industry given that – at least in the U.S. – my perception is that BMW and Mercedes don’t even offer a serious luxury car competitor to Tesla and given that Tesla is coming down market with its model S car.


On November 5, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on Sustainable Toilets: A Pleasant Solution to a Foul Problem :

Hi Phil,

This is amazing! From a public health perspective, there are massive costs to the alternative to effective toilets in the developing world (i.e. increased risk of contaminating river and ground water supplies with human fecal matter which increases risks of transmission of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections on a community scale. One question for you – what exactly happens to the solid or liquid waste from the toilet? Regarding the solid waste, I know you mentioned that they are incinerating this waste. Is there a way to convert the solid waste into a useful product with minimal energy use in the toilet? In other words, can we turn it into safe fertilizer pellets that can be used or sold? Is there a way to convert the liquid waste into potable water? If they’re able to turn the products of human waste into products with commercial value this would be a very easy way to incentivize broad adoption!


On November 5, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on Should Tesla Buyers Receive Tax Subsidies from the Government? :

Hi Lee,

Very interesting article – you do succinctly point out that tax credits such as those for electric cars and for house purchases (i.e. mortgage interest tax deduction) inherently create “winners” (i.e. luxury car buyers) and “losers” (i.e. the tax payer and other green energy industries that would perhaps benefit more from similar tax breaks). An alternative political approach to spending tax payer money on green energy credits would be to spending tax payer money on developing a national infrastructure for a carbon tax or carbon cap and trade market to naturally create price discrepancies between high carbon and low carbon goods and services in a more precise way. That said, it does not seem that this is in the political cards and perhaps that is why we see a piecemeal approach to the automotive industry and green energy initiatives.


On November 5, 2016, Taki Michaelidis commented on Even Goldman Sachs Cares About Climate Change :

Hi Phil,

Super interesting analysis and not something I had considered before. The concepts Goldman Sachs + Climate Change did not overlap in my head at all. Uniquely – as you pointed out nicely – it does seem like Goldman Sachs is widely exposed to the risks of climate change. What’s most interesting here is that it seems to me that the investment banks (in general) interests are aligned with the planet’s interests. In other words, the planet’s best advocates would be those organizations that incur costs in a 100000000:1 ratio with the planet whereas the planet’s worst advocates are more likely to be those organizations that incur costs in a 1:1000000000 ratio with the planet. Thus, if the investment banks are broadly exposed to many industries (as you argue they are) then they are in a position to be strong advocates for climate change mitigation roles.

Given that their business is primarily B2B, do you see them as able to influence their customers at all? My guess would be this is very difficult to do given how competitive the investment banking world is but this would seem to be where a major opportunity would be to exert subtle pressure given the number of customers they interact with and provide value for.


Hi Dimitri,

Very neat (and sad in many ways) analysis of the impact of global warming on changing oceanic trade routes. A few questions that come to mind.

(1) Why are the LNG boats that are traveling this route so much more costly? Is it simply that they need stronger “ice-safe” type hulls and that this is more expensive? Or is it simply that LNG boats alone are more expensive than other boats (you did mention this was part of the story above).

(2) Why the focus on LNG boats and not other types of boats? (i.e. bulk freighters, container ships, oil ships, etc.). It would seem to me that pretty much any boat would want to travel from Europe to Japan/China using this route if possible given the substantially shorter sailing times. If so, it would seem that this might substantially reduce total carbon footprint from the shipping industry.


Hi Heather,

This is a super interesting analysis, I was not aware that Shake Shack had such strong sustainability roots. A few questions came to mind for me.

(1) How exactly does Shake Shack interface with its suppliers to ensure sustainable practices? From your article, it seems like their main initiative is to select to work with sustainable suppliers at the beginning, but it’s not clear that they play any role in further pressuring or aligning with their suppliers on sustainability issues. I wonder if there is an opportunity here to (a) be more aggressive in goal setting for suppliers and (b) perhaps identify a set of guiding principles that they can to the larger fast casual community of restaurants (which you mentioned above).

(2) It does seem that their cattle reliance is a major weak spot in their sustainability efforts. Are there any cattle suppliers that have managed to reduce their carbon footprint through innovate ways? Compared to some of the larger chains (McDonalds, Burger King, etc.) I would guess that Shake Shack has more limited clout to influence cattle raising practices but would be interesting to know.