222: From 3D Bezos to 2D Meme, Serial Acquirers & Constellation Software, CDC SNAFU, China's Actual Population 10% Lower?, and PhD Whisky
"this is my opinion today."
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
🍽 🛏 🚗 🥾🪓 💻 🎒 With most “functional” things you buy, there’s a sweet spot on price/quality/performance.
Go too low end, and performance will likely suffer AND you may spend more over time than if you had paid up a bit, because you’ll have to keep replacing it when it breaks or wears out.
Go too fancy, and you’re likely to be hitting diminishing returns hard, and are getting very little performance per extra $. Past a certain point with many things, it becomes mostly about status/social signalling/prestige or whatever.
But when I manage to hit the goldilocks zone, it feels great to my 'optimizer' brain 🧠💆🏻
📊 I like to keep track of certain things, I guess it’s the whole “quantified self” thing.
It helps keep certain things top of mind, and pushes me to do better so I can keep the graphs looking nice and streaks going (Jerry Seinfeld’s old trick).
I’ve been logging everything I eat (mostly to keep an eye on macro ratios) and my sleep for a few years (using the Oura ring), exercise (using my own system of “standardize units of exercise”, which I wrote about in edition #153), I have daily notes in Obsidian where I track everything I read, highlights and thoughts, I’ve been experimenting with a mood-tracking app for a couple years (Daylio), etc.
This may seem a lot to those who don’t keep track of things, but I’m a n00b compared to hardcore loggers. Art Chaidarun recently posted about 10 years of tracking his life pretty closely, and it’s an interesting read.
Some trends only become apparent when you zoom out. Even on a daily scale, we’re often pretty bad at knowing how much time we *really* spend on things if we don’t track them, at least for a while to build that muscle.
Maybe you work more hours than you think, or less… How much time do you spend with your loved ones?
🍏 Luke Burgis wrote an interesting piece on ‘The Top 25 Practical Ideas for Becoming More Anti-Mimetic in Everyday Life’ (check out Luke’s Substack here).
I’m not likely to stop using GPS any time soon, but there’s a lot of thought-provoking ideas in there. Many I won’t follow literally (which I guess fits the spirit of anti-mimesis), but still get inspiration from.
❄️ 🥶🧤 My father loves to build stuff. One of my favorite things he made is this:
It’s a glove/mitten dryer.
You put it over a hot air register, and you can say goodbye to discovering that your mittens are damp right before going out, or worse: That they’ve been wet for a while and have now developed a funky smell that is super hard to get rid of 😫😖
The base is wood, and the spikes are large-gauge aluminium electrical wires, thick enough to retain its shape once formed into hooks.
Update: My father built it after I showed him this:
And said something like “wow, $20 for a bent metal wire, the profit margin on this must be 99%”, or something like that.
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Investing & Business
Will the best serial acquirers please stand up?
This graph stood out, in part because it shows just out much of an outlier Constellation Software is (note that the X-axis is logarithmic — if you’re curious about the metric on the Y-axis, it’s explained in more detail in the piece):
The biggest roadblock to defying the law of diminishing returns to M&A is that most serial acquirers, particularly platforms and accumulators, do not sufficiently scale the human capital involved in M&A and the structures and processes guiding them – as they get larger.
Inevitably, this lack of investment in human capital creates a bottleneck, leading them to scale by doing larger deals to move the needle rather than doing more deals. Very few serial acquirers end up scaling to more than 10 deals a year as they grow in size. The chart [above] shows the same serial acquirers by how many deals they do in a year (y-axis), and what the average deal size has been in millions of USD (bubble size).
It’s sad when very interesting people are turned into 2D cardboard memes
What made me think of this is the recent meme-ification of Jeff Bezos in the mass discourse.
I happen to think that it’s none of my business what he does in his free time and whether he now has abs or whatever. But it’s not just about the tabloids — at some point, in the minds of many, some people stop being real and become caricatures because they are useful to various factions to illustrate their points.
Everybody now seems to have an opinion about what Bezos should and shouldn’t do, judging him constantly on everything, as if they own him. wtf? How would you feel if strangers did that with your life based on very superficial information? I suggest we back away from turning into the fintwit version of those celebrity gossip rags near the cash registers at the grocery store…
There’s a real Jeff Bezos out there — just a person — but then there’s the “Bezos” that I see mentioned on Reddit or Twitter, and that “Bezos” isn’t a real person. He’s whatever is needed to make a point about XYZ (a popular meme on reddit is the “dragon hoarding a pile of gold”, as if his wealth isn’t almost all shares of an operating company). In fiction, you’d call that projection a cardboard character — a uni-dimensional, unrealistic person that is around to serve some plot purpose.
Same for Buffett, Musk, Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, etc..
The Stans and the haters take over and make so much noise that it drowns out the real people, and probably scares them into retreating far away from the public eye and non-rehearsed moments, leaving even more space for the meme versions of themselves to take over (Musk does encourage it to troll, but it’s not because he’s a willing participant that it doesn’t mean that a lot of the actual stuff that he’s doing and talking about gets drowned out by those just looking to “win” some argument about whatever).
If you listen to a few *good* 1-2 hour interviews with Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or whoever, you’re going to have a very different impression of who they are than if you only read the headlines and reddit comments/tweets. I’m not saying you’re gonna necessarily like them, but it’s going to be different and a lot more nuanced.
That’s why I’m not including the shirtless Bezos photo here. The memes were funny at first, but now I’m realizing that I’ve kind of lost the real Bezos in the midst of all that noise…
(to be clear, I know people reading my words here probably don’t fall into the superficial-knowledge-about-these-people category, but I think we’re a tiny tiny minority compared to the millions with little-nuance-but-strong-opinions out there)
The PhD Student and the Expensive Whisky Bottle
Reminds me of the apocryphal story of the visibly nervous PhD student who walks into their thesis oral defense and sets down an expensive bottle of aged single malt whisky.
The chair asks, "Before we begin, I am curious why you brought a bottle of whisky to your defense?"
The student suddenly relaxes and says, "Oh, um, I'll explain after we finish." The student confidently answers all the committee's questions and the defense goes smoothly.
When they conclude, the chair prompts, "Say, what about the whisky?" The student replies, "Oh that. In my dissertation on page four it says I will give the whisky to the first committee member who asks for it." (Source)
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Science & Technology
‘China’s Actual Population Might Be 10% Less’
Demographer Yi Fuxian says China has been overstating its population for about three decades and its current population is 1.28 billion instead of 1.41 billion. Japan and Mexico each have a population of about 126-128 million in 2021. [...]
The revisions were made on the basis of primary-school enrollment data. But such data are far from reliable. Local authorities often report more students than they have – 20-50% more, in many cases – in order to secure more education subsidies.
Interesting hypothesis, though hard to confirm…
Interview: Diane Macedo, practical advice for better sleep
I’ve read and listened to a lot of stuff about sleep science, but this one has a different, more practical, and more psychological angle, so I think it’s a good complement to that other stuff.
SNAFU at the CDC
Both Eric Topol and Katelyn Jetelina wrote in alarm about the CDC:
The profound data deficiency and lack of any semblance of informativeness by CDC is a topic I covered in a recent Substack post. But yesterday I found out that it takes only 3 people https://newsnodes.com/us, led by Gérard Hoeberigs, to post data promptly every day for each US state — including new cases, tests, % positive tests, hospitalizations, ICUs & deaths—and much of this for the rest of the world. But CDC has an annual budget that exceeds $7.9 billion and cannot do this.
What is the evidence? The CDC didn’t provide the scientific evidence backing their decision, which was incredibly disappointing. If I were in the room, I would have depended on four seminal studies published (here, here, here, here) before Omicron. Together the results suggest a broad range of an infectious period ranging from 3-9 days. One of the studies displayed this data nicely below. In short, the viral load increased to an infectious rate (Ct~32) about 2 days before symptoms until about 4-5 days after symptoms.
Importantly, this range is very different for vaccinated compared to unvaccinated people. On average, viral clearance is about 5.5 days among vaccinated compared to 7.5 days for unvaccinated people [...]
No testing? It’s incredibly odd to me that the CDC decided not to end isolation contingent on a negative antigen test (or better yet two). [...]
I’m guessing this decision was based on our abysmal testing supply in the United States. But this is an artificial problem created by not prioritizing rapid antigen testing. This can be fixed.
The US really needs to overhaul that agency when this is over and there’s time to make thoughtful decisions…
But there’s some good news via Scott Gottlieb:
Omicron infection enhances neutralizing immunity against Delta — suggesting that Omicron will help push Delta out, as it should decrease likelihood that someone infected with Omicron will get re-infected with Delta. New preprint from Sigal Lab.
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The Arts & History
‘Encanto’ (Disney Animation, 2021)
I saw most of this one with my kids (missed the very beginning and a scene here and there. I admit it wasn’t the ideal viewing experience).
The first thing I noted was that the quality of the animation and art was very impressive. The use of light, color, and depth of field is great.
Once every few years, I see a new animated film that makes me think “wow, there’s been a jump forward in the CGI state-of-the-art”, and this was one of those for me.
I didn’t know anything about it going in, not even that it was a musical with so many songs. I generally didn’t think the songs were that great (many were too long and/or repetitive) and I found myself thinking a few times “I wish Lin-Manuel Miranda” did the music for this one…
You can imagine my surprise when the credits rolled and I saw that he did 😲
On the story side, I kind of feel like this was a really promising and original idea, with plenty of those Columbian magical realism vibes, a likeable main character that doesn’t look or sound like most Disney princesses, and a lot of the other characters that had the potential to be memorable.
But I felt the writing was kind of weak, and while some of the emotions landed for me (sometimes it’s just a mix of the music, a look on a character’s face, etc — the flashback to the grandma’s youth with the horsemen was intense), overall the story didn’t quite work. It lacked forward momentum and hooks.
When I think of ‘Zootopia’, which was directed by the same people, almost everything about it is memorable, and the story worked and had real momentum, good twist and turns, and stakes.
When I think of ‘Moana’, which Lin-Manual also did the music for, I can basically remember every scene and every song and I didn’t mind seeing it multiple times as my kids re-watched it. The songs weren’t interruptions, they moved things forward and each had “stuck in your head” potential.
With Encanto, I’ve already forgotten what many of the scenes were even about and none of the songs were that memorable or had great lines that stuck me with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
P.S. I could change my mind on any of this, maybe the songs grow on you with multiple-viewings, etc. But this is my opinion today.