148: Ben Thompson's Velocity Match, Microsoft's Teams Distro Flex, Danco on Early Internet & Michael Scott, ARM's Confidential Compute, and Original iPhone vs iPhone 12

"Number of readers x intensity of reach"

The fear of saying something stupid (which stupid people never have) has censored far more good ideas than bad ones.

—Alain de Botton

🧘🏻‍♂️ This edition’s going to be a bit lighter. I spent the weekend at my parents’ place, in the middle of the woods, near a beautiful lake (the one on the photo on the about page).

Update: Well, I’ll leave the above as is because it tells you something about me. I wrote it on Friday morning, thinking that because I’d be out all weekend, I wouldn’t have time to write much.

Then I proceeded to be really productive the rest of Friday, and this edition is about as long as usual... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Update 2: Posted a few pics of the weekend in this thread. My fave is this shot of a hummingbird that I was able to snap with my iPhone after some patience:

If you look closely, the wings look kind of ghostly because the camera’s shutter couldn’t quite freeze them.

Some trivia: the Bluethroated Hummingbird’s heart was measured beating 1,260 beats per minute, and the wings of the Amethyst Woodstar Hummingbird have been recorded at 80 beats per second, while the average is closer to 50x per second.

What a marvel of engineering these things are.

At one point, I saw two at the feeder, and a third one flew by like a bullet, buzzing the others. Then they chased each other like tiny sci-fi drones 🛸 that can stop and start mid-air like it’s nothing.

🛀 Leather is a little creepy when you really think about it. You wear the skin of an animal, chemically treated so it doesn’t rot off your back.

If it wasn't so ancient and had just been invented, the marketing folks of Madison Avenue would've had some challenges with it.

🗣 I’m sure there’s plugins to do that in Chrome, but lately I’ve been using the built-in “read out loud” feature in Edge’s reader mode. It works surprisingly well, and you can adjust the speed so it’s not glacial.

So once in a while, I’ll have my browser read an article to me while I do some bodyweight exercises in the office (I’m still working on that “get to 10 full pull-ups” challenge). It’s a good way to move a little while working.

I’m also still planning on getting a motorized standing desk, which should also help with that (probably an Uplift V2).

💚🥃 Asking for your support is not the easiest thing for me.

It would be simpler with a paywall, because I wouldn’t have to ask, you’d just hit the wall and couldn’t read unless you paid. But I like writing for everyone and not just a much smaller group of paid subs…

When I think things through, I know I can’t justify spending as much time as I’m spending on this project if it doesn’t help pay some bills, and I want to keep doing this project because it’s fun and I’m learning a lot.

Ergo, I gotta keep asking for your support, and I hope you’ll help keep this paddleboat going (it takes just a few seconds to sign up — just make sure you’re logged in Substack in your web browser, there’s a login link in top-right corner):

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Investing & Business

🏎 🐌 Ideas/Medium Velocity-Match, Ben Thompson & Morgan Housel Edition

Here’s an idea I was thinking about while talking with reader and supporter (💚🥃) MI Capital last week… It’s more the beginning of an idea than a fully-formed thing.

We were talking about something that Ben Thompson (👋) said at some point, about how there’s no point in him writing a book because the newsletter model is better in pretty much every way for him: More lucrative, can get ideas out faster, reaches the people he needs to reach, etc.

In the same conversation, we were talking about Morgan Housel’s ‘The Psychology of Money’, and how it was both a good intro to multiple important concepts for newbies *and* a valuable memory-refresher even for crusty old investors.

This got me thinking about how the most important thing for creators/writers is to match the medium they use to the inherent velocity of the medium they use. Kind of like how a capsule going up to the space station needs to match velocity with it to dock properly and deliver its payload.

I don’t feel like Housel would’ve had quite the same impact if he hadn’t written a book, in the same way that a book probably wouldn’t work for Thompson (feels weird calling him by his last name, but “Ben” also feels a little weird since I didn’t call Morgan by his first name — oops I just did ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).

Or at least, it wouldn’t work for what Ben (screw it) is writing now. He probably could write a great book, but it couldn’t just be what he writes in his newsletter re-packaged.

This is because his NL content is well-matched to the velocity of the almost-daily cadence.

He can react to news and inject himself in ongoing wider conversations. It’s similar with his podcasting, which has a different heartbeat, but isn’t as far from a NL as a book.

On the other hand, Morgan’s book contains “slower” content that works perfectly as a book. He’s doing great with his blog and Twitter, but I feel like the book is elevating his message in part because of the attributes of the format itself.

And I don’t even mean just number of readers here. There’s probably a more precise formula that is more like:

Number of readers x intensity of reach

Some blog post may make it to the frontpage of Reddit and get a zillion views, but it’s probably really low intensity, while a really good book may change a larger number of people’s lives.

And at the extreme of ‘low # readers but high-intensity’ is probably the book equivalent of the Velvet Undergroud — a band said to have had few fans, but most of their fans were highly influenced by them and started their own bands.

So if you’re trying to get a message out, think about the interaction with the container, and try to match to the right medium.

Some things belong to instant message, some email, etc. I bet you even “feel” how different messaging services have different levels of urgency and seriousness implied (iMessage vs FB Messenger vs Twitter DM).

It’s why my newsletter is so different from my Twitter feed. The medium is shaping what I create a lot more than even I would’ve expected going in, and I expected it to be pretty different.

Win11: Microsoft Flexing Distribution Muscles 💪 for Teams

With Windows 11, we’re excited to introduce Chat from Microsoft Teams integrated in the taskbar. Now you can instantly connect through text, chat, voice or video with all of your personal contacts, anywhere, no matter the platform or device they’re on, across Windows, Android or iOS. If the person you’re connecting to on the other end hasn’t downloaded the Teams app, you can still connect with them via two-way SMS. (Source)

MS Teams hit 145 million daily active users in April 2021. It’ll be interesting to see how it does in the post-pandemic world, but this integration is sure to help, since defaults and low-friction are so powerful.

There’s of course the cynical view of this, but also the less cynical one: This probably makes the experience better for millions of users.

This type of integration is always more nuanced than it may seem (especially if you’re a competitor), because, how far do you push it in either direction?

Should operating systems come with web browsers? Email clients? Video codecs? Image viewers? Text editors?

Each software vertical has would-be third-party competitors that would love to not compete against the platform owner and find it unfair… But lots of users would have a much worse experience if they got a car without a steering wheels, doors, and windshield, and they then had to manually piece it together themselves.

I’m not even saying I’m on one side or the other; just that it’s a more complex question than it may seem at first glance.

Update: On the topic of Teams, ‘version 2.0’ will make some big changes under the hood that should make for a better experience.

The biggest is that Microsoft is dumping Electron (which is basically built on Chromium, Chrome’s rendering engine) and switching to its own Edge Webview2. It’s claimed that this should reduce RAM usage by about half, and improve overall performance.

We’ll have to wait and see if it works out that way in the real-world.

h/t Friend-of-the-show and supporter (💚🥃) Rishi Gosalia (💎 🐕)

Nvidia + ARM Deal Gets Support from Broadcom, MediaTek and Marvell

Three of the world’s largest chip companies have broken ranks to give their blessing to Nvidia’s $40 billion swoop on UK semiconductor group ARM, in a big boost for the US giant’s controversial takeover. (Source)

Matt Levine on the Federal Reserve’s Cryptocurrency

the Federal Reserve absolutely does issue its own digital currency, which is called “the U.S. dollar” and which consists of entries on computer ledgers. And consumers absolutely do get the benefits of a stablecoin without the risk of a crypto exchange losing all of their money: They can keep digital U.S. dollars in an online bank account, and pay for goods and services electronically with credit cards or ACH transfers or Venmo, and the dollars in the bank account are always worth a dollar and are insured by the FDIC. Also you can actually use them to pay for goods and services, which is a lot more than you can say for Tether. (Source)

Conversation: Alex Danco & Jim O’Shaughnessy, Redux

One of my favorite duos is back:

There’s a transcript of the first half, but reading rather than listening probably removes about 37% of the fun of the conversation.

Their discussion of ‘Eternal September’ brings back memories, and the riff about how people who were online in the 90s were lucky to get a head-start on what the online world would be for everyone else is spot on.

I feel very lucky that I became obsessed with computers from a young age and discovered the online world first with BBSes that you dialed into (you re-dialed a million times because the 1-2 lines they had were always busy) and then via a friend’s internet access.

We didn’t even understand English, and I don’t know that there could’ve been much for us to do online, but you have to understand that when you come from zero expectations, anything at all feels mind-blowing.

Just loading a new webpage that you had never seen before felt like an adventure!

Jim & Alex touch on many cool concepts, including ‘Age of Scarcity vs. Abundance’, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot for many years…

It’s also partly why I feel like there’s increasing value in curation. There’s just too much interesting stuff out there, and the challenge is just finding it and filtering out the junk and boring stuff.

The second half is mostly about his recent post “The Michael Scott Theory of Social Class”, and it’s great (and I now get more of it since I’ve recently started watching The Office for the first time).

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Science & Technology

‘5,000 burgers a day: World’s first cultured meat-production plant opens in Israel’

“This facility opening marks a huge step in Future Meat Technologies’ path to market, serving as a critical enabler to bring our products to shelves by 2022,” said Rom Kshuk, CEO of Future Meat Technologies. “Having a running industrial line accelerates key processes such as regulation and product development.”

Currently, the facility can produce cultured chicken, pork and lamb, without the use of animal serum or genetic modification, with the production of beef coming soon. The company claims its unique platform enables fast production cycles—about 20 times faster than traditional animal agriculture. [...]

Future Meat’s cruelty-free production process is expected to generate 80 percent less greenhouse emissions, and use 99 percent less land and 96 percent less freshwater than traditional meat production. (Source)

ARM’s Confidential Compute Architecture (ARMv9)

(yeah, I know the official way to write it is “Arm” and not “ARM”, I don’t care, I still think it looks kinda stupid that way. The original name comes from “Acorn RISC Machine”, which was then changed to “Advanced RISC Machines” because Apple didn’t want to have a competitor’s name in there.. so the argument to be made for it being an acronym is strong. BTW, did you know that Apple was one of the original founders ARM, in a joint venture with Acorn and VSLI?)

When ARM announced their v9 architecture earlier this year, the specs showed the introduction of confidential compute, but without too much details. Well:

Today Arm is introducing the new architecture. The Arm Confidential Compute Architecture (CCA) is an isolation technology that builds on Arm’s existing TrustZone technology as its foundation. [...]

application data is designed to be protected while in use. This includes the prevention of access to private data even from privileged software such as the hypervisor or the operating system. [...]

it will be an optional feature of the Armv9.2 and will likely eventually become a required extension in a future specification. [...]

the new confidential compute architecture is designed to suit all markets from cloud to mobile, automotive, and to IoT.

This stuff will be especially important as ARM chips keep making inroads in the data-center, where multiple tenants can use the same CPU, and you want to make sure that malicious actors can’t get out of their sandbox and go snoop around other people’s bits.

the CCA provides support for strong protection between mutually distrusting workloads, strong protection against compromised rich operating systems (e.g., Linux, Windows), strong protection against compromised hypervisors, and new protection from applications running within the secure world. In other words, a Realm need not trust anyone. [...]

Realms can be created and destroyed dynamically on-demand. In striking contrast to TrustZone, resources dedicated to realms such as memory can also be adjusted on-demand (i.e., memory size can be increased or decreased as needed on-demand). The idea here is that by moving large software workloads into their own private realms, applications can have much greater confidence that the data they process and algorithms used cannot be used by other software and services running on the same hardware. (Source)

All sounds very good, but above my pay grade to know how effective it’ll be or how easy it’ll be for platform owners and devs to use it well. But sounds like a move in the right direction.

Long-Lived Animals & What We Can Learn from Them

Sarah Constantin has a good thread. Some highlights:

Whales are one of the few organisms that live longer than humans and we don’t know nearly enough about how.

Other organisms that need more aging biologists to go to the zoo and ask for samples:

1. Tortoises. They can live hundreds of years and their genome wasn’t even sequenced till 2019!

2. Bats. They’re mammals and they’re notably long-lived for their size and their telomeres don’t shorten. A bit better studied, but I don’t think there’s a bat biobank yet. Longitudinal transcriptomics is happening though!

3. Rockfish. Several species can live for centuries and their genomes were only sequenced in 2020

4. Cockatoos and ravens. They can live to be over 60. Interestingly, parrots and corvids are also the smartest birds, and you can keep parrots in captivity. But nobody’s done longitudinal transcriptomics on them yet!

5. Big-wingspan birds like albatrosses and condors. There’s no albatross genome!

6. Hummingbirds. They have the highest lifespan/body mass ratio other than bats. They have genomes but there’s no research on hummingbird aging to my knowledge. [...]

The thread has more links on each of the animals mentioned, if you want more.

Original iPhone vs iPhone 12 Speed Test

I was recently writing about how, in my lifetime, I went from going on BBSes on my father’s 386 DX 25mhz on a 2400bauds modem to the Star Trek shit we have today.

A good example of progress is looking at the iPhone’s evolution from 2007 to 2020 (yes, that’s just 13 years):

And this test doesn’t even really tell you that much about the difference, because the apps that the 12 is loading aren’t the same as the apps that the original iPhone is loading. These new apps are much heavier in every way (higher resolution graphic assets, larger files because of more capabilities and use of more sophisticated OS APIs, etc).

So the 12 is smoking the original while doing a lot more work. If you could somehow install the original version of iPhone OS (it wasn’t called iOS back then) on the 12, you’d probably need a faster robot arm to do the test. 🦾


The Arts & History

New Modest Mouse Album

I love this band. But they take so long between albums, the previous one was in 2015 and before that 2007…

It’s too early to tell if this new one is any good, I’ll need to listen a bunch of times to see how it grows on me, but just the fact that it exists is enough to make me want to mention it.

Making plans in the sands as the tides roll in

But if you’ve never heard them, I think the “Essentials by..” playlists on Spotify or Apple Music would be a good place to start.

And if you’re an OG fan, here’s something you may like. It’s a short documentary about their album ‘The Lonesome Crowded West’ (1997). I’ve watched it multiple times over the years.