207: Constitution DAO Hangover, CCP & Tencent, Investing in Cannabis, Charter, Koyfin, Terrapower & Nuclear Power, Planet Labs, Geomicrobiology, and HBO's Treme

"Very flat, with no room sound, and bad artificial reverb"

Many non-biologists think that it is for their benefit that rattles grow on rattlesnake tails.

—George C. Williams

🐦 Here I was, writing lots of words trying to convince you to put a high priority on curating who you follow on Twitter, when James Clear said it better and more concisely a while ago:

🎹 🎶 I was listening to an old Nick Cave album on my drive back from the daycare, and it made me think about how I’d be in favor of musicians doing a special remaster of old albums from the 80s and early 90s that have that terrible thin piano sound from the synthesizers of the era (f.ex. Boatman’s Call has a good piano sound, but Murder Ballads, not so much).

Very flat, with no room sound, and bad artificial reverb…

I wish they would take the master recordings and isolate the bad-sounding piano track, removed it, and re-record it with a real piano. Then re-release the album under a “Remastered: Now With Good Piano” version.

How sweet would that be?

Maybe the same for bad-sounding fake strings? Get a real quartet or orchestra to do the part, or even just do it on a modern synth/sampler that sounds really good..?

There’s going to be exceptions where that “bad” synth sound was used well, is integral to the song, and actually elevates it. But I feel like most times, it’s a detriment to the piece and has aged badly… Kind of like bad early-CGI special effects in old films that are otherwise very good.

🔬 The world is so vast and varied.

Case-in-point, there are still whole branches of science that I don’t even know exist.

How many of you know what Geomicrobiology is?

the scientific field at the intersection of geology and microbiology and is a major subfield of geobiology.

It concerns the role of microbes on geological and geochemical processes and effects of minerals and metals to microbial growth, activity and survival. Such interactions occur in the geosphere (rocks, minerals, soils, and sediments), the atmosphere and the hydrosphere.

Geomicrobiology studies microorganisms that are driving the Earth's biogeochemical cycles, mediating mineral precipitation and dissolution, and sorbing and concentrating metals. The applications include for example bioremediation, mining, climate change mitigation and public drinking water supplies. [...]

A common field of study within geomicrobiology is origin of life on earth or other planets. [...]

Interactions between microbes and sediment record some of the earliest evidence of life on earth. Information on the life during Archean Earth is recorded in bacterial fossils and stromatolites preserved in precipitated lithologies such as chert or carbonates. Additional evidence of early life on land around 3.5 billion years ago can be found in the Dresser formation of Australia in a hot spring facies, indicating that some of Earth's earliest life on land occurred in hot springs.

How cool is that?

💚 🥃 It’s nice to have goals.

If we reach our target of 5% paid supporters vs 95% free readers, I’ll do a second Ask Me Anything (AMA) podcast.

I’ll set up a form where you can ask questions, and then record my answers in audio, kind of like I did in AMA #1.

Right now we’re at 4.7% to 95.3%, so we’re not very far… If you’d like to hear that podcast, you can move the needle here:

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Investing & Business

📜 Constitution DAO, the Hangover 🤕

When it was announced that the group had not won the auction for a copy of the US constitution, one of the first questions that jumped to my mind was how much were the Ethereum gas fees for the whole thing (including for the coming refunds).

Some people looked into it, and it looks like about $800k USD (or about 200 ETH), which for a little over $40m raised isn’t too far from credit card fees, to give some perspective on scale. Doesn’t sound too bad when put like this.

The problem is that the fees weren’t just a static 2% from whatever amount was contributed, but some big donors probably paid 0.01% in fees, while small donors may have paid much higher amounts, with many seeing 50% or 100%+ in fees ($60 gas fees to donate $80 or whatever).

And yes, I call it ‘donations’ because it turns out that this is what is was, there was no ownership of the copy of the constitution involved in the deal for those who contributed.

The next problem with the gas fees is that they are charged both ways — there’s the ingress fees, and the egress fees:

Motherboard contributed a small amount of money to the project to see how this would play out in practice. Here is how it worked:

ConstitutionDAO accepted only ether, the token on Ethereum. For someone to convert USD to $PEOPLE tokens, the process had several steps. First, we had to buy Ethereum on an exchange (we used Coinbase). We bought $200 worth of Ethereum. Coinbase took a $3 fee. Then, we had to send the Ethereum from Coinbase to a MetaMask crypto wallet. To do this, we had to pay a $12 network fee. Then, we had to send the Ethereum from MetaMask to Juicebox. So-called "gas" fees vary wildly and depend on how busy the Ethereum network is at any given moment and the complexity of the transaction. Right now, gas fees on Ethereum are very high, and a highly complex operation could end up costing hundreds of dollars in fees. In our case, we paid a $75 gas fee to contribute roughly $75 to the project. Of the initial $200 we bought in ETH, $90 was eaten up in fees simply to donate to ConstitutionDAO. [...]

In order to get a refund, we have to do this in reverse, basically. And so to get our ETH  back from Juicebox, we would have to pay gas fees again, meaning essentially the entirety of the amount invested would be wiped out. 

You can see a historical chart of ETH gas fees over the past year here.

While the average donation from the 17,437 donors was $206, the median donation was probably lower — possibly *much* lower if there were a few whales donors — so it’s the little guys wanting refunds that would basically get all their money eaten by gas fees.

Then there’s the governance challenge, because while in theory a bunch of computer code is neat and clean, as soon as you involve large numbers of humans, you can basically be assured that things will somehow go pear-shaped and get really complex…

And it gets especially controversial when you have a $40 million bucket filled with money from 17,000 people, and you don’t know what the 💰 🪣 is for anymore because the original plan didn’t work.

You can see it as a win for DAOs and web3 because it got a lot of attention and new people involved, but there’s also a danger of showing just how hard a big DAO is to actually pull off when a lot of money and lots of people are involved.

You can read about some of what happened here, but the crux is this:

this entire project has been billed as a DAO, which is a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, a new type of "web3" organization that is governed quasi-democratically via a transparent voting process using the governance tokens. However, as we mentioned, ConstitutionDAO's voting infrastructure was never actually set up, and so the community is currently being governed in darkness by a centralized "core team" of developers and some lawyers. This means the community itself cannot use its governance tokens to vote on the future of the governance tokens, and that it's really not much of a web3 project at all. 

So apparently, DAO in the marketing materials, but backroom dictatorship in practice, at least so far. I mean, I understand that it all happened so fast, but still, this is $40m, not a popsicle stand.


Update: The latest info from the project’s website is that they’re not going to do anything else and are shutting down, and encouraging donors to get refunds. But what about all the Eth that is basically stranded because of high fees? If, say, $10m remains in the bucket, who gets it?

CCP to Tencent: Back to the Freezer 🥶 🎮

China has suspended Tencent Holdings from updating its existing apps or launching any new apps as part of a “temporary administrative guidance” [...]

There are more than 70 apps published by Tencent that are active and there are more than 100 games published by Tencent Mobile Games, according to app tracking firm Qimai. (Source)

‘Money is usually the second-best measure of almost everything’

The line above is by Venkatesh Rao, who added this context:

It’s a legible, universal objective function that kicks in when the aspirational primary purpose fails for whatever reason

I’m not quite sure what I think of it, but I like thinking about it — examples where it works and where it doesn’t…

Whatever you end up when thinking about something, whatever position you settle on — pro or con or somewhere in between — that’s not the only value that came out of thinking about the thing. The thought process/journey itself can create value too.

I like Michael Nielsen’s Yin to VGR’s Yang:

In 2006 I coined for myself what I call "Groucho's Law":

It's tongue-in-cheek: never work on any project for which you can get funding (roughly: fundable means your idea is already legible to institutions, & you're skating to where the puck once was)...

Hmm, flipping that about: if you want to be a useful funder, maybe you should never fund a project that anyone else in the world would fund. Which sounds nuts, but has the benefit you're sure any impact was additional.

Which itself reminds me of this great quote by Aubrey de Grey:

It has always appalled me that really bright scientists almost all work in the most competitive fields, the ones in which they are making the least difference. In other words, if they were hit by a truck, the same discovery would be made by somebody else about 10 minutes later.

Interview: Aaron Edelheit on Investing in Cannabis

Really good interview of friend-of-the-show and supporter (💚 🥃) Aaron Edelheit by friend-of-the-show and supporter (💚 🥃) Andrew Walker1:

I usually would write something like “I don’t really know anything about investing in cannabis” as an intro to this, but after listening to Aaron on a few podcasts and reading a few of his newsletter posts on the topic, I’m starting to know something.

Charting the course for Charter

Friend-of-the-show and supporter (💚 🥃) Andrew Walker takes a fairly detailed look at Charter’s valuation and potential avenues for the next few years. If you’re into cable, it’s a good read:

Koyfin introduces more affordable ‘Basic’ tier

My favorite financial tool, the one that I’ve been spending all day in for a few years, has just made it cheaper to access many of its premium features (and they’re adding new ones all the time):

Full-disclosure: I’ve made a private investment in the company.

But the way this chicken & egg goes, I liked the company and product a lot and it’s why I ended up getting to know the team and investing.

Be aware of my conflict, but also be aware that this investment is a signal of just how good I think the product is (putting my money where my mouth is, skin in the game, pick your metaphor..).

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Science & Technology

Terrapower Selects Wyoming Retired Coal Power Plant Site to Build Demonstration Nuclear Plant

The demonstration project team evaluated a variety of factors when selecting the site of the Naughton Power Plant, where the remaining two coal units are scheduled to retire in 2025.

Not a bad idea. I’m all for shutting down coal plants and replacing them with nuclear power plants… You’ve already got a big sites far from population centers with access to fat transmission pipes into the grid.

The demonstration plant is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology. The project features a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 MW of power when needed, which is equivalent to the energy required to power around 400,000 homes. The energy storage capability allows the plant to integrate seamlessly with renewable resources. (Source)

They claim their design is “four times more fuel efficient than light water reactors.”

Here’s a cool feature of Terrapower’s design:

Its innovative thermal storage has the potential to boost the system’s output to 500MWe of power for more than five and a half hours when needed. This allows for a nuclear design that follows daily electric load changes and helps customers capitalize on peaking opportunities driven by renewable energy fluctuations. As more renewables are integrated into the grid, the demand for gigawatt-hour-scale energy storage will continue to increase.

Basically, they can vary output up and down because they have this huge thermal mass of molten salt, and when you need more output, you can use more of that stored heat to generate more steam, and when renewables are producing a lot (a windy, sunny day), you can lower electrical output but store some of the energy produced in that molten salt buffer to be used later, when the sun/wind are gone.

Basically, it acts as a built-in giant battery, except it stores the power as heat rather than through some electro-chemical process. (that’s my understand of it, anyway — I may be wrong)

Interview: Will Marshall, CEO of Planet

I really enjoyed this interview of Will Marshall of Planet Labs by Patrick O’Shaughnessy:

It’s an ambitious business, solving hard technical problems and doing things that can add a lot of value to the world. What’s not to like?

Interestingly, the company is SPAC’ing, so if you’re curious to learn more about it, you can see a bunch of presentations about their products and financials.

Liberty’s Highlights is reader-supported. To support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber. 💙

The Arts & History

‘Treme’ (HBO, 2010-2013)

I figured it out! I know what series I want to watch next with my wife.

We’ve been re-watching ‘Mad Men’ (her first viewing) and ‘Gilmore Girls’ (we’ve both seen it before), and we’re slowly approaching the end of both.. I was kind of feeling bummed out — I like having ‘comfort food’ high-quality series in the rotation — until lightning struck and I realized I was due for a rewatch of ‘Treme’, one of my favorite series.

It’s created by David Simon, best known for ‘The Wire’. It’s a rich world full of well-written characters, but like ‘The Wire’, it’s also about a city and its institutions (which is something it has in common with ‘Deadwood’).

Because News Orleans and Baltimore are pretty different, the shows are pretty distinct (‘The Wire’ had a lot fewer musicians and cooks), but the meta-structure on which the storylines hang is kind of similar.

I didn’t know much about NOLA before watching this show a decade ago, but it kind of made me fall in love with various aspects of the local culture. I know a TV show isn’t the real thing, but it’s a real thing nonetheless. It also brought some attention to the long aftermath of hurricane Katrina, after the rest of the world had kind of forgotten about it…

I’ve watched ‘Treme’ at least 2x, maybe 3x, I can’t quite remember, but my wife has never seen it. I’m looking forward to sharing it with her, and I hope she’ll enjoy it.

If you’ve never seen it and want to follow along, I have advice:

Like ‘Deadwood’, it’s definitely not for everybody. But *if* it’s for you, it’s probably really for you, and it’s going to be a unique flavor that you won’t find elsewhere, so savor it.

Give yourself some time to acclimate to the characters and pacing, commit to at least 3-4 episodes before deciding if it’s for you or not. One isn’t enough. Don’t expect lots of action and suspense and tense plot points; this is largely about characters and real-life situations.

Unless you’re from the area, consider turning subtitles on. This is a large ensemble cast, filmed on many locations, there are lots of names of places and songs and foods and such that may not be familiar… So it’s a lot easier not to get lost if you can read along.

Enjoy 🍷


I should come up with a term for when two friends-of-the-show do something like that together. 💚 🥃^2 maybe?