131: Asimov's Foundation, AMD's Lisa Su, Amazon & MGM Studios, South-Korea's Semiconductors Push, Apple M1 Heterogenous Tricks, Ethereum goes Cold, and Giger Grave

"the whole world is turning into a single big city thanks to the internet"

We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge. 

—Rutherford D. Roger

🇮🇩 Who knew I’d feature Indonesia twice in a row?

Friend-of-the-show Adam Mead emailed me something interesting:

Related to your comments on Indonesia, have you read the Foundation series? I think we've talked about that before. Anyway, in that series there's 4 TRILLION people. Imagine the creative art / science / innovations that would come out of such a society. Science fiction...for now!

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation was one of the first science-fiction series I read as a kid (the first trilogy, and maybe a couple more after that, but I haven’t read the whole thing). 

It no doubt had an impact on how I see things, and I get where Mule on Twitter got his alias. (I hope the TV series they’re making based on it will be good… It’s so rare to have good sf films or series)

Back to population, it’s definitely cool to think not only of how many more individual geniuses, supremely-talented creators, humanitarians, and interesting people there’d be in a much more populated humanity (either on the same planet, or spread around other planets and moons, or maybe also in large space habitats), but let’s also think of all the *connections* between these people and how much goodness that would generate!

Network effects, amirite?

It’s a little hard to imagine the positive because for so long pop growth has been associated with: higher = bad, because we’re wrecking the planet, we’re running out of space, etc.

But the former doesn’t need to be so correlated to the other, and the latter isn’t quite true. With more advanced tech, it’s certainly possible to imagine having billions more people on the planet yet having a lower negative impact on nature than we did back in the 1970s when we were just 3.7 billion on this rock. And there’s plenty of space if we do it right.

Humanity’s generative ability doesn’t grow linearly with population, which is why cities have been so much more productive historically than rural areas — more density of talent and connections.

In the past few decades, the whole world is turning into a single big city thanks to the internet.

What’s that going to do longer term?

📝 Surprise! Today’s note-system update isn’t about Obsidian, it’s about a replacement for Apple Notes that I’ve found for the “working memory” quick-capture file that I’m using to dump anything out of my head for either short-term use or to file away in more permanent places when I have the time to do so.

The goal of this “working memory” file is to be available quickly, everywhere to capture thoughts/data.

I had an Apple Note individual note window open on the left side of my computer desktop, and the app in thumb reach on my phone (it launches instantly, unlike, say, Notion). But now:

The replacement is Drafts, and my reasons for switching are:

  1. There’s both a mobile and desktop app (Mac/iOS only, though, sorry green bubble readers)

  2. It loads really fast on mobile & it’s purpose-built for quick text capture

  3. The text formatting is based on Markdown, so I can easily export it to my primary note-system (Obsidian), and know that if I ever migrate to something else, nothing will be stuck in a proprietary format.

  4. It syncs fast and reliably (as far as I can tell so far)

  5. There’s all kinds of power-user features. I haven’t tried much yet, but it looks like the skill ceiling is really high and a lot more customizable than Apple Notes (templates and scripted actions triggered by one-tap buttons, export to other apps with one button, voice dictation with pause button, etc).

  6. The app is actively developed by a single dev who’s constantly adding features, and there’s an active community of users that share tips & tricks & scripts.

So I’m giving this a try, hopefully it’s another useful bat-tool in the bat-utility belt. 🦇

🤦‍♀️ Most companies just copy what others are doing rather than thinking of “what’s the best thing we could do here?”

💡 My favorite people are like IV drips of good ideas/food for thought/interesting questions/recommendations that lead to new rabbit holes/etc.


👁 Change your perspective:

💚 🥃 I learned a new way in which UX/UI design is difficult.

Apparently some of you want to become paid supporters to this show, but are having a hard time.

My understanding of what happens is: you click on the sub button (like below), but you only get to a page that asks you to enter your email with nothing else. Since you’re already subbed to the emails, you don’t want to enter your email again… So then ???

What I think is happening is you aren’t logged-in Substack on that particular browser/device, so it doesn’t recognize you as being an existing subscriber — that’s why it offers you to sign up.

If you click on the little drop-down menu in the top right of the site and then click “login”, you’ll get the option to be emailed a login link. After you click it, if you go back to the subscribe page, you’ll get the support options rather than just the email signup field.

Voilà! And merci!

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Investing & Business

🎥 🎬 🎞 Amazon Looking at MGM Studios for $9bn

Nothing official yet, but there’s some smoke here:

Amazon is weeks into negotiations on a deal to acquire MGM for about $9 billion, industry sources tell Variety.

Chatter that Amazon (and other tech and media giants) have been sniffing around MGM has circulated for some time. But sources indicated that Amazon’s interest in acquiring the studio has taken on a new tenor beyond the usual rumor mill. The deal is said to be being orchestrated by Mike Hopkins, senior VP of Amazon Studios and Prime Video, directly with MGM board chairman Kevin Ulrich, whose Anchorage Capital is a major MGM shareholder.

I guess John Malone’s sub-scale free radicals are feeling both the push and the pull to agglomerate into something bigger these days (this is of course a reference to the recent WarnerMedia+Discovery deal).

The Information reported Monday that Amazon was in talks about a potential deal for MGM, which could run between $7 billion and $10 billion. Industry sources said MGM reps have been whispering to prospective buyers for months about a price tag of $9 billion while others see it as worth about $5 billion. [...]

MGM claims to own one of the world’s “deepest libraries” of premium film and TV content.

Its 4,000 film titles include the James Bond, Hobbit, Rocky/Creed, RoboCop and Pink Panther franchises, as well as movies like “The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Magnificent Seven” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” The MGM TV library includes approximately 17,000 episodes of programming, including “Stargate SG-1,” “Stargate Atlantis,” “Stargate Universe,” “Vikings,” “Fargo,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Get Shorty,” “Condor,” “Fame,” “American Gladiators,” “Teen Wolf” and “In the Heat of the Night.” Unscripted shows in its portfolio include “The Voice,” “Survivor,” “Shark Tank,” “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “The Hills.” (Source)

‘After I was Sixty’ — Read the $350 out-of-print book recommended by Mark Leonard for 💫 Free 💫

At the recent Constellation Software annual (virtual) meeting (that I wrote about in edition #126), Mark Leonard made a book recommendation (any weirdness is the transcript, because Mark speaks in well-organized full paragraphs):

I'll tell you one lesson I've learned… Roy Thompson wrote a book which I love called, “After I Was Sixty”. I'm turning 65 today. So maybe I write a book “after I was 65”. And if I can have the success that Roy had after he was 60. He basically left North America and moved to the U.K., took a small amount of money and started up again and did a phenomenal job.

He obviously knew the newspaper business very, very well and did quite well in the newspaper business. But where he scored and did dramatically well was the early days of television and then the early days in North Sea Oil.

So he did two things that were totally outside of his core competence and did so remarkably well.

And so if there's an example out there that I'd love to follow, it would be them. And so as I look at things that are outside of vertical market software, hopefully, I can be as Roy was in looking for things that are unusual and unexpected.

ITV was the first time, I think, licenses have been handed out for television in the U.K. that weren't government licenses. And North Sea Oil, obviously was a bonanza, but they're very early days of the bonanza. It was an opportunity spotter. And we probably need to do that if we can't get our core business to consume our capital employed. But I'm still very hopeful that we will do a better job on the core.

So if that made you want to read Thompson’s 1975 book, you may have looked for it and found that it’s out-of-print and copies go for $350 or more.


But I got you, my friend. I got you. 😎

Via Bizaro86 on CoBF, here’s a digtal copy of the book on Archive.org (you have to “borrow” it, which hopefully won’t take too long... It’s really stupid that in this digital age they restrict how many “copies” can be borrowed at the same time, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).

South-Korea Committing Big Bucks on Semiconductors, $450bn over 9 years

South Korea unveiled ambitious plans to spend roughly $450 billion to build the world’s biggest chipmaking base over the next decade, joining China and the U.S. in a global race to dominate the key technology.

Samsung and SK Hynix will lead more than 510 trillion won [about $450bn USD] of investment in semiconductor research and production in the years to 2030 under a national blueprint devised by President Moon Jae-in’s administration. They’ll be among 153 companies fueling the decade-long push, intended to safeguard the nation’s most economically crucial industry [...]

Samsung is boosting its spending by 30% to $151 billion through 2030 while Hynix is committing $97 billion to expansion at existing facilities in addition to its $106 billion plan for four new plants in Yongin (Source)

AMD’s Lisa Su Profile, In Her Own Words

The Outliers substack has a nice post on one of the best semi CEOs in operation today, AMD’s CEO (since 2014). It’s a nice compilation of quotes from Su, check it out:

On her early days as CEO of AMD: Dr. Su told me that when she first took over as CEO, her mantra was "don't worry about the financials. Just focus on delivering great products." At the strategic level, she worked with her teams to create a product roadmap that reflected future trends and coalesced around their core competencies. "Put all of your energy into building those products and concentrate on executing this visionary roadmap," she told them. She also made an important strategic decision: "AMD would concentrate on being a high-performance computing company," which meant anything that did not meet this criteria would not pass muster with her.

This isn’t too dissimilar to the Steve Jobs turnaround playbook when he came back to Apple in the late 90s.

Gotta focus on what you can do best, and put all your energy into making great products that people want to buy, or all the financial engineering in the world won’t matter anyway.

Packy’s Planetary Video Game

Really good post by Packy McCormick about the internet as a video game played by 3 billion people:

Packy touches on this and makes it pretty clear, but if I was his editor, I’d have pushed for even more framing and caveats, because as soon as you call something a “game”, a lot of people will look at it through a cynical lens — games are usually zero-sum — while this is in fact more like a great project.

To win, you learn a bunch of stuff, have a good time, help others learn a bunch of stuff and have a good time too. You’re not taking anything away from anyone, unlike most games:

Anyone can play. You can choose how to play given your resources and skills at the current moment. You can level up fast. Financial and social capital are no longer tied so tightly to where you went, who you know, or what your boss thinks of you. This game has different physics and wormholes through which to jump. It’s exponential instead of linear. [...] the downside is limited. The upside, on the other hand, is infinite. [...]

Getting good at the Great Online Game makes seemingly absurd things happen. Your business icon? In your DMs. That person whose videos you don’t miss? Just reached out for a collab. Your dream job? Reaching out to you to tell you why Company X might be a fit. [...]

The Great Online Game is an infinite video game that plays out constantly across the internet. It uses many of the mechanics of a video game, but removes the boundaries. You’re no longer playing as an avatar in Fortnite or Roblox; you’re playing as yourself across Twitter, YouTube, Discords, work, projects, and investments. People who play the Great Online Game rack up points, skills, and attributes that they can apply across their digital and physical lives. Some people even start pseudonymous and parlay their faceless brilliance into jobs and money.

The Game rewards community and cooperation over individualism and competition. You get points for being curious, sharing, and helping with no expectation of reciprocation. By increasing your surface area, you’re opening yourself up to serendipity. For good actors, the Game has nearly unlimited upside, and practically no downside.

The whole thing’s worth reading, it gives lots to think about (even if you don’t agree with everything — it raises good questions and the central insight is powerful).

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Science & Technology

‘Explain Like I’m 5yo: Why do you feel more tired when sunburnt?’

There’s been some sunny days lately here, and I felt this, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to share the reason why:

"Sunburn" is another name for "nuclear radiation damage to millions of cells across a wide area of the body".

  1. There is a flurry of activity by DNA-repair enzymes and other repair processes.

  2. Those cells with irreparable damage sense it and commit mass cell-suicide to avoid becoming cancer. Their "bodies" then need to be swept up and taken away.

All together, that is a massive drain on your immune system and body energy stores. And at the same time, being sunburnt probably means you were outside a long time - which means you're likely dehydrated and maybe muscle fatigued from hiking, swimming etc. Add all that to the radiation damage and it's no wonder you're wiped.

Edit: I didn't mean alpha/beta/gamma radiation, it's solar UV (electromagnetic radiation from a nuclear explosion) that causes sunburn.

How Apple’s M1 Macs Use Low-Energy Cores (🔥 & 🥶)

Go back not that many years, and all CPUs were single-core.

I remember growing up hearing about these beasts: Dual-socket motherboards, where you could put two CPUs!

Then later they started packaging two cores on the same die, and that felt like magic.

But it made sense, as Moore’s Law kept shrinking transistors but heat dissipation meant it was harder to just crank up clock speed (the megahurtz wars of the Netburst Pentium 4 era!), that extra transistor budget started being used to add cores rather than beef up individual cores.

Most multi-core CPUs since have been homogenous. You have 2 or 4 or 6 copies of the same thing.

But in recent times, heterogenous designs have been ascending, and we’re seeing a bigger variety of cores packaged together.

Of course now with SoCs that try to have almost everything on one die, you have CPU and GPU cores, but now also machine-learning accelerator cores, and low-power and high-power cores to optimize energy usage (first in mobile devices, but now coming to laptops and desktops too, like with the Apple M1).

Apple’s name for these is cool: The fast cores are FireStorm (🔥), and the low-power ones are IceStorm (🥶).

What’s interesting is that you don’t just have to switch from one to the other whenever you do something that happens to exceed the performance limits of the 🥶. If you have control over the OS, as Apple does, you can spread things to different cores by all kinds of variables.

This piece shows one of Apple’s strategy there:

The pattern of use of cores is that almost all the activities of macOS are run on the Efficiency cores, with only the occasional blip on the Performance cores. Running apps and performing other user tasks is the other way around, with the brunt borne on the Performance rather than Efficiency cores.

This means that all those background processes that an OS has to do to keep things nice and tidy can go to the 🥶 cores, and it doesn’t really matter if it takes a bit longer to re-index some files from the SSD or run some maintenance process.

Meanwhile, any time the user does something, it’s all 🔥 and feels as responsive as possible, also in part because there’s no OS background stuff running on those cores that may get in the way. Pretty cool.

Ethereum to go from 🔥 to 🥶

Speaking of low-energy (wow these transitions keep getting SO MUCH BETTER OVER TIME! 😅), the Ethereum Foundation has released some details on the planned switch to a proof-of-stake model for their platform:

Ethereum will be completing the transition to Proof-of-Stake in the upcoming months, which brings a myriad of improvements that have been theorized for years. [...]

Under PoW, as the price of ETH and the hashrate are positively correlated. Therefore, as as the price increases, in equilibrium so too does the power consumed by the network. Under Proof-of-Stake, when the price of ETH increases, the security of the network does too (the value of the ETH at-stake is worth more), but the energy requirements remain unchanged.

So it’s not only about reducing power-per-unit and then scaling that power again with usage, but it’s about decoupling power use from usage growth (in large part).

Digiconomist estimates that Ethereum miners currently consume 44.49 TWh per year which works out to 5.13 gigawatt on a continuing basis. This means that PoS is ~2000x more energy efficient based on the conservative estimates above, which reflects a reduction of at least 99.95% in total energy use.

Because big numbers don’t mean anything to our brains, they have this handy graph:

A meta-point here: When crypto is stupid, I want to point it out. When it’s smart, I also want to point it out. I don’t want to play that game where this topic is talked about like a sports team or a religion. That’s boring to me.

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The Arts & History

Having your own voice means people know it’s you even if they don’t see your name on something…

One of my goals with this newsletter is to use my real voice.

I could have it wear a corset and fit into some external mold, but that’s no fun.

So if you could recognize that it’s me without looking at the logo at the top or the “from” field in your email client, I’m succeeding.