104: All the Silicon in the World, Amazon's Ad Juggernaut, Aircraft Carriers, Painting the NFT Tape, Cloudflare & ARM, Semiconductor 3P Marketshare, OpenAI, and D&D AI DMs

"there will be AI dungeon masters"

Self pity is the cause of many sorrows and the solution to none of them.

Stoic Emperor

💯 Put a number on it:

In a discussion with David Kim, I was asking his opinion on something and sharing mine, and it turned out we kind of believed similar things, but the intensity of our beliefs wasn’t quite the same (ie. it’s not that our beliefs were opposed, they were in the same general direction, just not of the same strength; we wouldn’t put the same odds on X, Y, and Z happening).

David wrote:

I don't have super strong feelings either way. on a scale -10 to +10, with -10 being super bearish, +10 being super bullish, i'd say i'm -3 on [X], +3 on [Y], +4/5 on [Z]

That reminded me of something my wife and I often do when discussing films or books or whatever. We’ll ask each other to put a number on it, or give it a letter grade. In my experience, that can be worth a thousand words and help avoid misunderstandings.

If she “liked” a book and rates it at 6.5/10, that’ different than if she “liked” a book at 7.5/10. There’s a big difference between something being “bad” at 5.5/10 and being “bad” at 2/10…

A trick when you ask for a number out of 10: you can add the rule “but you can’t pick 7” because that tends to be the safe default. Making that verboten forces deeper thought, and that can lead to a better conversation afterwards or insights that wouldn’t have come up with a quick, shooting-from-the-hip 7.

🤔 🖥 I wonder how big it would be, in size and weight, if we could somehow put all of the silicon used to make general computing devices since the microprocessor was invented together in a big cube.

So basically CPUs and SoCs, let’s limit it so we don’t end up with all the RAM, controllers, DSPs, ASICs too, and let’s do just the actual silicon die, not the packaging and the pins and everything around it.

I’m curious how big that would be. I’m guessing not that big, when you consider the impact on humanity, versus the amount of steel or concrete or wood we’re using.

💸 This one will be extra-obvious to the “rational economic actors” reading this, but may be useful to the rest of us:

If you’re on the fence about buying anything ask yourself “if I had to choose between being given this item or its equivalent value in money, which would I take?” (Source)

This is a good example of how looking at exactly the same thing from a different perspective/frame can help make some questions easier to answer (our brains are not running equations that return the same result however they are written down — the way you ask affects the answer).

🛀 My parents are getting their vaccine in the coming weeks, it’s starting to look like Spring… Things are looking up.

But I can’t help but worry that “when the pandemic is over” has become this finish line that, over the looooong months, has taken a mythical proportion in my mind, and that when we actually get there, I’ll be disappointed at some of the problems that don’t go away.

It’s important to try to keep expectations well calibrated. Victories taste sweeter, and defeats are more bearable that way.

⚔️ Feels likely in a few years, there will be AI dungeon masters (DMs) for D&D games, based on language models like GPT-x.

Mix that with text-to-speech software that has some of that AI-infused emotive/inflection capabilities (wrote about it in edition #100), and maybe my friends and I will all pay a few bucks per month and have an amazing DM that is both a great storyteller, knows everything about D&D, and can generate endless side quests and details about the world our characters are playing in, including maps and the visual representations of people, creatures, and locations (ie. ML-generated digital paintings).

I mean, it’s great to have human DMs, but it’s a lot of work, and sometimes everybody just wants to be a player…

Update: I was talking about this with a friend of mine who’s a fiction writer, knows a lot more about D&D than I do, and has been one of the rotating DMs for our group, and he suggested that this could go even further if the AI can be customized, or learn through play, about the players preferences (and maybe remember that from one game to the other so it gets more finely honed over time).

For example, what if player #1 loves puzzles and player #2 is into really colorful NPCs and player #3’s heartstrings can be tugged by father-son storylines, etc, the quest could be tailored to the group and made even better.

🎧 Just realized that I haven't heard a single Joe Rogan episode since he went exclusive to Spotify. And he seems a lot less present in the zeitgeist.

I wonder what effect that has had on his audience... Am I in a tiny tiny minority, or is this more widespread? Based on Twitter responses, it’s happening to many others too.

If it is, will it make it harder to get big stars to go exclusive? A lot of these people love reach/cultural relevance more than they love a few more millions. Will they make a different calculation now than before when they assumed a similar reach because “everybody’s on Spotify anyway”?

Sieppe Capital on Twitter pointed out that being off Youtube may be a big part of it:

Certainly out of the zeitgeist on the margin, but I think it’s less about the Spotify paywall than limiting the YouTube clips, which were a major acquisition channel + the most shareable media.

That’s a good insight. It's almost like Rogan was banned from social media, except it's self-inflicted.

Even when it comes to the moolah, I think Rogan may have screwed up. He got a truckload of money, don’t get me wrong, but if this move had a long-term impact on the size of his audience and/or the organic growth trajectory of it, he may yet come out behind where he’d be if he had just kept selling ads on his own over the long-term.

Not only that, but I tend to agree with Andrew Wilkinson’s piece “Joe Rogan Got Ripped Off by Spotify”.

I think Rogan made a mistake letting a third party get between him and his audience (Disney now understands this), and that he could’ve monetized way better with a subscription podcast while leaving the majority of his content available everywhere (ie. not affecting his organic growth and reach too much).

Just make some shows paid-only, or reserve 30 minutes from each show for paid members or whatever, and he’d probably make a lot of money (possibly more than with Spotify), but most importantly, he’d still be fully in the driver seat and own the relationship with his fans.

(My worries about Spotify & podcasting, from edition #18)

💰 & 🏭

‘Semiconductor contract manufacturers by market share’

Look at that inner circle. Taiwan + SK are around 80%…

Source. h/t Nick Ellis (thanks man!)

Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO, on the AI Future

New essay by Sam Altman describing the kind of AI future that he sees unfolding over the near, medium, and longer term, and what he suggest our civilization will have to do to adapt to this massive change, and spread the benefits from it.

Some highlights:

  1. This revolution will create phenomenal wealth. The price of many kinds of labor (which drives the costs of goods and services) will fall toward zero once sufficiently powerful AI “joins the workforce.”

  2. The world will change so rapidly and drastically that an equally drastic change in policy will be needed to distribute this wealth and enable more people to pursue the life they want.

  3. If we get both of these right, we can improve the standard of living for people more than we ever have before. [...]

To the three great technological revolutions–the agricultural, the industrial, and the computational–we will add a fourth: the AI revolution. This revolution will generate enough wealth for everyone to have what they need, if we as a society manage it responsibly.

The technological progress we make in the next 100 years will be far larger than all we’ve made since we first controlled fire and invented the wheel. [...]

In a zero-sum world, one with no or very little growth, democracy can become antagonistic as people seek to vote money away from each other. What follows from that antagonism is distrust and polarization. In a high-growth world the dogfights can be far fewer, because it’s much easier for everyone to win. [...]

the best way to improve capitalism is to enable everyone to benefit from it directly as an equity owner. This is not a new idea, but it will be newly feasible as AI grows more powerful, because there will be dramatically more wealth to go around. The two dominant sources of wealth will be 1) companies, particularly ones that make use of AI, and 2) land, which has a fixed supply.

Chip Shortage: GM Building Pickups Without Fuel Management Module

due to the global semiconductor chip shortage the U.S. automaker is building certain 2021 light-duty full-size pickup trucks without a fuel management module, hurting those vehicles’ fuel economy performance.

The lack of the active fuel management/dynamic fuel management module means affected models, equipped with the 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine with both six-speed and eight-speed automatic transmission, will have lower fuel economy by one mile per gallon, spokeswoman Michelle Malcho said. (Source)

1 mile per gallon may not sound like much, and it’s not huge, but I looked it up, and the 2020 Silverado with the 5.3L V8 and the 6-speed gets a combined MPG of 17. So 1 MPG less is a 5.9% reduction in fuel economy.

But few people get EPA MPG in the real world, because humans suck at driving efficiently. I wouldn’t be surprised if the real world impact was higher than that.

Amazon Ads a.k.a. The New Slotting Fees

Good way to explain the dynamic with Amazon’s “sponsored search result” ad slots by Byrne Hobart (sub. required):

Amazon wants to ensure that for any popular product category, there are enough sellers that the market price for sponsored search slots reflects the unit profit from selling the product. With one or two sellers, the sellers capture the economic surplus; if there are half a dozen, Amazon captures the surplus.

Corporate titles mischief, Elon Musk edition

Filing from Tesla:

Effective as of March 15, 2021, the titles of Elon Musk and Zach Kirkhorn have changed to Technoking of Tesla and Master of Coin, respectively. Elon and Zach will also maintain their respective positions as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer.

What's the point of being rich if you can't have fun? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Beeple NFT Follow-up to the Follow-up

Byrne Hobart (sub $):

Amy Castor has a more meta look at what drives NFTs: the headline-grabbing $69m Christie's auction for an NFT was won by a business partner of the artist, who operates a digital art fund. It's painting the tape, a way to get a widely-recognized high price for one asset, executed by someone who owns other assets in the same class.

This revelation of likely shenanigans is very unsurprising and reminds me of the peak-ICO era a few years ago:

High-Quality Classifieds, Koyfin Edition 🚀 ⌨️ 🖥 🖱

Koyfin has two job openings for high-level engineering positions.

Who will be lucky enough to help build the best financial data & visualization platform in the world?

Here are the full listings:

If that’s not your skillset, but you know who might fit the bill, please let them know.

If you want to know more about Koyfin, you can read my interview with the co-founders here.

🔬 & 💻

‘Cities at Sea: How Aircraft Carriers Work’

12-year-old me would’ve watched this video a thousand times.

‘Magic Mushrooms Are Decriminalized in DC as of [March 15, 2021]’

DC Initiative 81, which passed with overwhelming support last fall, goes into effect Monday, March 15. Under the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, natural psychedelics including magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and mescaline are decriminalized, making arrests for their possession or use the lowest priority for DC police. (Source)


Cloudflare on ARM: Testing Ampere Altra vs AWS Graviton2

Over three years ago, we embraced the ARM ecosystem after evaluating the Qualcomm Centriq. The Centriq and its Falkor cores delivered a significant reduction in power consumption while maintaining a comparable performance against the processor that was powering our server fleet at the time. By the time we completed porting our software stack to be compatible with ARM, Qualcomm decided to exit the server business. Since then, we have been waiting for another server-grade ARM processor with hopes to improve our power efficiencies across our global network, which now spans more than 200 cities in over 100 countries. [...]

Ampere licensed the Neoverse N1 platform to create the Ampere Altra [...] We have been working with Ampere to determine whether Altra is the right processor to power our first generation of ARM edge servers.

The AWS Graviton2 is the only other Neoverse N1-based processor publicly accessible, but only made available through Amazon’s cloud product portfolio. We wanted to understand the differences between the two, so we compared Ampere’s single-socket server, named Mt. Snow, equipped with the Ampere Altra Q80-30 against an EC2 instance of the AWS Graviton2. (Source)

It gets pretty geeky with lots of benchmarks, and while the Altra performs well and beats the Graviton2 because of its higher clock speed and core count, on a core-for-core and frequency adjusted basis, the Graviton2 seems to be doing quite well.

AWS appears to have quite a good silicon design team — I wonder why they don’t clock the Graviton2 higher, since its fabbed by TSMC on the same process as the Altra. Maybe they just pack them more densely with multi-socket boards..?

I’ll be curious to see if Cloudflare decides to go with the Altra or waits for something else before migrating some of its servers to ARM.

h/t Brad Slingerlend

Timelapse of SpaceX Starship SN10 test flight

Spacex is getting very close to landing these Starship prototypes. They lost three Starships currently SN8,SN9 & SN10. It’s estimated that Starship is four times as expensive as a Falcon 9 so a very rough cost is about $280 million for each Starship prototype.


🎨 & 📜

Just a Cool Diving Osprey Photo

Pulling a dive bomber move on some unsuspecting fish.

The osprey is piscivorous, with fish making up 99% of its diet. [...]

The osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the peregrine falcon [...]

Ospreys have vision that is well adapted to detecting underwater objects from the air. Prey is first sighted when the osprey is 10–40 m (33–131 ft) above the water, after which the bird hovers momentarily then plunges feet first into the water. They catch fish by diving into a body of water, often times completely submerging their entire bodies. As an osprey dives it adjusts the angle of its flight to account for the distortion of the fish's image caused by refraction.

Also known as the sea hawk, river hawk, and fish hawk…

h/t LogicPrevails

Can you do a portrait of a building?

I just like it. Disappearing in the fog (I think this is in London, but not 100% sure).

Photographer: Curtis Jehsta

Transverse Flute in Jazz

I just discovered the album ‘Broken Doll Beat’ (2010) by The Fongetz Foundation, and it made me realize that I like transverse flute in jazz (at least, when it’s done well).

It’s actually kinda weird that it isn’t a more popular instrument in the genre, because it fits right in.

Here’s a song as an example of what I mean (there’s a nice flute solo starting around 1min30 into it):