184: Zoom P/S, Cloudflare Birthday Week + R2 Big Deal, Laser Eyes and Prison Tattoos, Bezos <3 Blue Origin, DNA Data Storage, and Raiders of the Lost Ark

"If you’re ever put in jail, and on your first day..."

Erudition can produce foliage without bearing fruit.

—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

🤰👶 So many people I know recently had kids or are expecting one soon (Hey Jon, Fahd, Rob, Daniel… 👋).

Is this the covid baby boom? Do I just happen to talk to people who are all around the same age (early 30s)? Probably the latter, apparently stats don’t yet show a boom ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

🧠 There’s a concept called “cached thoughts”, which can basically be summarized as:

Lots of people think they’re thinking, but they’re actually just “replaying” in their brains other people’s thoughts that they’ve cached (in a CPU, the cache is a type of very fast memory where you try to store data that you’re likely to have to re-use more than once, so you look up the saved result rather than re-compute things from scratch).

This implies that there’s two main ways to have original thoughts:

  1. Actually be an original thinker. Use first-principle thinking, be skeptical, think things through, do your own research, look at primary sources and come with your own conclusions, and whatever else original thinkers do.

  2. Mostly replay cached thoughts like most of us, but be curious enough about a wide variety of things so that the Venn diagram of your specific cached thoughts ends up being pretty unique. The Lego blocks that you’re playing with may be unoriginal, but with them, build an original combination/structure.

I guess ideally you would do 1+2, but just getting to a partial #1 or #2 probably puts you in a fairly rarefied group, so don’t beat yourself up too much if self-scrutiny reveals you don’t have many original thoughts.

☔️ One of the things we take for granted in the modern world is having access to high-quality weather forecasts instantaneously, for free.

Ok, I realize that we’re paying indirectly through taxes, but with the cost spread over everyone, I don’t think we’re really noticing the pennies.

So we’ve all basically got supercomputers and satellites and teams of PhDs working for us to tell us what weather will be like. How much would that service have been worth to a wealthy person in the past?

📞 Had a great call with Liviam Capital earlier this week, another great person met via the interest graph (🕸). He’s a great guy, very smart, very humble. You should follow him on Twitter (but you probably already are — he’s got more followers than I do ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).

🎬 Did the cost/quality of visual special-effects (VFX) reach some tipping point recently that made a bunch of old science-fiction epics now doable on a budget that isn’t out of reach? We’re getting Dune and Foundation, and the rights of Iain M. Banks’ Culture series have also been purchased…

🤷‍♂️ One of the downsides of this model of newsletter is that because there are multiple topics in each addition, I’ll probably forever get a lot fewer inbound links/mentions elsewhere than I would if I had one topic per edition.

It’s just harder for someone to link to just one thing.

I don’t know how to mitigate this. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

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Investing & Business

Zoom’s Price/Sales Multiple Over Time

Live chart on Koyfin.

(to be clear, I’m just looking at it and thinking about the implications, this isn’t a veiled recommendation to buy or saying it’s cheap or any of that. It’s not a company I follow closely, so I’m just noticing this and finding it interesting, and wondering what other companies could go through a similar dynamic)

🥳 Cloudflare Birthday Week, Founders’ Letter & R2 Edition

Cloudflare turned 11-years-old yesterday, and to celebrate, the company is releasing a bunch of new features (I know, they just had their Speed Week like 2 seconds ago, which I covered in a fair amount of detail in edition #179…), and the founders wrote a nice letter.

Here are my highlights from it:

In the last year we've had more than 250,000 people apply to work for us and extended offers to less than one half of one percent of them. We continue to attract great people.

That's a lot of resumés. It's almost like... a resumé DDoS 😬

It's incredible to realize that more than half of Cloudflare's team today started since March 13, 2020, when we closed all our physical offices due to the pandemic.

Managing talent and retaining culture is such a huge challenge for fast-growing companies.

Over just a few years of this type of growth, you end up with way more people who are “new” than “experienced at the company”, so you need an incredibly effective way to integrate people or you risk just diluting what makes the company special and have your culture drift into something entirely different (and because there’s more ways to screw things up than to improve them, odds aren’t good that a random drift will end up well…).

Cloudflare's mission is to help build a better Internet. We always capitalize the I in Internet, in spite of what the AP style guide has said since 2016, because it's a proper noun, we believe there is and only should be one, and we have an enduring respect for what a miracle it is that it exists.

Love this vision.

And I love that, as they mentioned elsewhere, they take the word “help” in their mission statement very seriously.

They’ve been helping others, and aren’t trying to do it all themselves or fall for the not-invented-here common pattern… They play nice with others, which is basically the foundational requirement for the internet (er, Internet) to exist in the first place. Everything has to inter-operate in the bottom, infrastructure layers at which Cloudflare does its work.

We've watched the same thing. Since 2016 it's often felt like a connection to the Internet only brings cyberattacks, toxic social media, threats to democracy, increasing polarization, and a declining disdainful discourse.

We have real challenges ahead as some of the technologies that ride on top of the Internet have broken down traditional gatekeepers without sufficient concern for addressing the harms they previously protected against. But, at the same time, the Internet itself remains a miracle.

A mere 11 years before Cloudflare's founding, long distance phone calls still cost a fortune, sharing a photograph with someone in another country took weeks, and the idea that you could access the sum total of human knowledge from a device in your pocket was beyond even the fantasies of science fiction.

This is basically the Louis C.K. joke about wifi on airplanes.

It’s human nature to acclimate really quickly to improvements, even major ones, and to take them for granted.

This eternal dissatisfaction is a powerful engine of progress, so I don’t want it to go away.

But it’s still good once in a while to take a moment to reflect on the amazing things that we’ve accomplished, with the Open Internet definitely being one of humanity’s crowning achievements.

The last 18 months of the pandemic have reaffirmed our faith in the miracle that is the Internet. Imagine just how much worse it would have been had the pandemic happened just 11 years ago, let alone 22. The Internet allowed many of us to continue to work, connect with our loved ones, exercise our creativity, and stay connected to the world.

This is something I’ve often thought about since early 2020… Others were sent to die in muddy trenches while we got stuck home with broadband and access to endless options to learn and entertain ourselves, and that infrastructure held up fine despite no advance warning of this huge spike in usage coming (in part thanks to companies like Cloudflare, that help improve the resilience of the system).

The Internet may seem static, but it is not. 11 years ago, watching a video online was an exercise in frustration. Today, it seems almost automatic that you can push play on your TV and access nearly any movie ever made instantly. That's possible because the Internet isn't static; it gets better through innovation.

This is another great example of how quickly we forget.

I mean, Youtube was founded in 2005, and it already seems like it’s been here forever.

I still remember when they started offering “HQ” videos on the site (720p and then 1080p), and that was a big deal. Now, just a few years later, we streaming 4K video on our 65 inch living room OLED TVs without giving it a second thought.

predicting our roadmap is pretty easy. We look at all the steps that are required to load a web page, send an email, stream a video, login to a workstation, or anything else you do online and ask: can we make that more secure, more reliable, or faster?

These types of missions tend to scale really well, because they’re both clear, ambitious, and broad enough to encourage innovation.

Microsoft wanted a PC on every desk. Google wanted to organize the world’s information. Cloudflare’s approach reminds me of these.

🎁 Cloudflare R2 Storage: Rapid and Reliable Object Storage, minus the egress fees

Another pretty big deal announcement this birthday week was about the exciting world of storage:

By giving developers the ability to store large amounts of unstructured data, we’re expanding what’s possible with Cloudflare while slashing the egress bandwidth fees associated with typical cloud storage services to zero.

Cloudflare R2 Storage includes full S3 API compatibility, working with existing tools and applications as built.

S3 is AWS’ massive object storage service, so this API compatibility is a big deal.

It’s one thing to come out with a great new product and try to convince devs to learn it, but it’s another to have a great new product that allows devs to continue using their existing knowledge and code base.

Object storage is well suited to storing everything from media files or log files to application-specific metadata, all retrievable with consistent latency, high durability, and limitless capacity. [...]

companies have amassed massive amounts of data on cloud provider networks. When they go to retrieve that data, they’re hit with massive egress fees that don’t correspond to any customer value — just a tax developers have grown accustomed to paying. [...]

Traditional object storage charges developers for three things: bandwidth, storage size and storage operations.

R2 builds on Cloudflare’s commitment to the Bandwidth Alliance, providing zero-cost egress for stored objects — no matter your request rate. Egress bandwidth is often the largest charge for developers utilizing object storage and is also the hardest charge to predict. Eliminating it is a huge win for open-access to data stored in the cloud.

They’re not just aggressive on the egress pricing. They’re also charging $0.015 per GB of data stored per month, “significantly cheaper than major incumbent providers.”

Not only that, but infrequently-access data will get a zero-rating under a certain threshold “currently planned to be in the single digit requests per second range”, and they’ve built a tool to do “automatic migration from other S3-compatible cloud storage services” (basically, slurping the data out of other clouds).

R2 will also be integrated with the Workers edge compute platform and the rest of Cloudflare products, which helps mitigate the fact that Cloudflare doesn’t quite have the full buffet of services that the hyperscalers have.

It’s all very aggressive and ambitious. It’ll be fun to watch evolve, and see how much traction it gets in the market.

👋

👀 Laser Eyes and Prison Tattoos ⚓️

All else equal, would you rather discuss politics with someone who’s wearing a t-shirt with the name of a political party or the photo of a politician on it and lots of partisan bumper stickers on their car, or with someone without any obvious partisan ties? (I know the correct answer is to never discuss politics, but this is a hypothetical scenario)

If you’re ever put in jail, and on your first day in the communal area you see a guy with lots of prison tattoos showing that he belongs to a specific gang, do you think you’ll be able to have a fruitful and fairly objective conversation about the pros and cons of various gangs with him?

That’s why I kind of hope that none of my favorite Twitter accounts ever change their avatars to the “laser eyes” meme popular in the crypto world.

I find crypto interesting, and am always keeping an ear to the ground for cool stuff and people who can speak about it intelligently and aren’t just speculating, selling, or pumping.

But once someone makes a public commitment tied to their identity, like changing their avatar, that’s kind of a prison tattoo-lite to me.

It can’t help but make me apply a discount to whatever they have to say on the topic, because they have clearly wrapped up their public identity with the thing and will have a harder time changing their mind or seeking disconfirming information, just like if investors changed their avatars en masse to the corporate logo or ticker symbol of their biggest position.

To be clear: It doesn’t mean that they’re automatically wrong, just that they’re likely to be less objective and have a more distorted lens looking at things.

I think it’s fine for harmless things where the us-vs-them tribalism/proxy mock-war thing is kind of the point, like wearing a sports jersey or whatever. But if the goal is to rationally learn about a business or technology, this just adds lots of noise and emotion.

There’s no world where this metaphorical flag-waving can be a benefit when it comes to truth-seeking, but there’s lots of ways in which the dynamics of in-group/out-group tribalism and confirmation bias can make these people’s views on things less objective and more distorted.

I get it, it’s a meme, it’s harmless fun… But it’s also more than that, even if those involved don’t always realize it.

Bezos to Spend More Time With His Other Company, Blue Origin Edition 🚀

Now that he’s kicked himself upstairs to the executive chairman role, Bezos has more time to dedicate to his other love, Blue Origin:

Jeff Bezos has called Blue Origin his life’s most important work — and the hours he is devoting to the space company are growing accordingly.

Bezos has long dedicated Wednesday afternoons to either updates or discussions at Blue Origin […] However, within the past month he has added Tuesday afternoons as well, those people said. [...]

His doubled effort comes at a critical moment in Blue Origin’s history. The company is locked in a fierce court battle over NASA’s award of a multibillion-dollar lunar lander contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX (Source)

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Science & Technology

DNA Writing/Reading Getting Cheap Enough for Large-Scale Long-Term Data Storage

I remember reading about this idea years ago, back when it was kind of a neat lab demo/sci-fi, because reading, but especially writing DNA was so expensive.

But costs have fallen so rapidly that many companies (like Illumina, Microsoft, Twist Bioscience, Western Digital, etc) are looking at the near future when it may be more cost effective to store large amounts of data that doesn’t need to be accessed quickly on DNA (so “cold” storage, very coooold 🥶).

It may also be more cost effective to make copies because we already have great polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tech to amplify and copy DNA cheaply.

Here’s some text from a Twist Bio slide (I have no idea how close we really are to deployment… But it does make sense that it would happen someday):

DNA Data Storage: Cost for Digital Film Preservation

As resolution increases, films and tv episodes get more expensive to store, and each additional copy multiplies the cost

DNA copies are almost free due to the PCR process

Cost of storage on Tape/Cloud will grow over time due to required data migration while the cost of DNA will remain flat

When DNA reaches $100/TB it will be more economical to store any data on DNA if it needs to be preserved for 15+ years

Tim Urban, Perspective Edition (‘Go hug someone’)

Source.


The Arts & History

Raiders of the Lost Ark’s RPG

Maybe I’m the only person still thinking about this anachronistic moment in a 40-years-old film, but once in a while, it still bugs me that in an all-time-great movie, Indiana Jones grabs a rocket-propelled grenade launcher (RPG) near the end.

The film takes place in 19361, and as far as I know, such weapons only came later (even the well-known M9 "Bazooka" was only introduced in 1943).

The Internet Movie Firearms Database (yes, it’s a real thing) has this to say about it:

Near the climax of the film, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) points a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon at the ark while it is being transported by Belloq and the Germans. The weapon was custom made for the production by the movie's armorer, Simon Atherton, who has stated that the weapon is actually a Chinese Type 56 copy of the Soviet RPG-2 made to look like a WWII-era German anti-tank weapon. The launcher also appears to be outfitted with a shoulder grip similar to an M9 Bazooka's. The Germans had no such rocket launching weapons in 1936 (when the movie takes place); both the Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust would be developed later, during the war. As such, this launcher can be looked at as a handy plot contrivance.

Intentionally or not the mock launcher resembles the conceptual Panzerfaust 250 which was designed with a reloadable tube, a pistol grip and a venturi tube in the rear end for decreased recoil. The weird metal rod behind the rear sight resembles the Panzerfaust 30.

I mean, I get that it’s not easy to engineer that standoff in a way that they couldn’t just shoot Indy — say if he was holding a single grenade, maybe that’s not threatening enough.. Maybe a belt of grenades with the pin almost pulled from one? Hmm, I’m sure there’s a way to make it work, maybe just with a bit more upstream script surgery ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

1

The film was released in 1981, so 45 years after 1936. This means that in 2026, we’ll be as far from the film as the film was from the “events” it depicts. 😧