230: Microsoft + Activision, Spotify Deep-Dive, What's Static?, Beanie Babies, North Korean Crypto Hackers, Netherlands, Canada & Psychedelics, and Terminator 2
"photons hit your retinas and suddenly my words are inside your brain"
Inspiration is for amateurs.
The rest of us just show up and get to work.
If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.
All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.
📜 Reader and supporter (💚 🥃) Mark Wittman shared this one with me.
There’s a site called Readbetter.io where you can sign up for free and sent newsletters to your Kindle. It currently works with Substack and Stratechery (Ben is a category by himself).
Why? The Kindle screen is easier on the eyes, can more easily read offline, save up material for later, or read in a more distraction-free environment than a computer or phone screen with the app & notification equivalent of the Vegas strip all around you…
Bottom line, this makes a lot of sense and I’m glad it exists.
📈📉📈📉 I had forgotten that the US market was closed on Monday, and only realized a while after publishing edition #229.
It made me think that I wish there were more market holidays… Maybe 50 more per year.
Some of my most productive days are weekdays when the house is quiet and the market isn’t open. It just makes for more relaxed days with fewer distractions.
I mean, I know that in theory I could just pretend the market is closed on any day and just not look at it, but I haven’t fully reached that level of Guy Spier zen yet, and even if I’m not looking at the market, I’ll often end up on Twitter or news sites that indirectly pull me back in (read with Godfather voice) because I see that something is going on. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
🧉 Drinking my first ever yerba mate as I’m writing this. Wow. I’m not sure what I think yet. Will probably need to try a few times to get used to it. Very earthy, a bit more bitter than I expected. I can already feel my brain starting to light up like a 🎄
📖 👀 🧠 I was reminded of something I wrote in edition #42 (wow, that was a while ago!), and I felt like re-upping it here:
The more I think about writing, the more amazing it seems to me. We take it for granted to even be able to do it, but it’s not even a skill that nature has evolved us to do, it’s a human-created technology, yet we can get pretty good at reading & writing. It's pretty close to telepathy. **Some photons hit your retinas and suddenly my words are inside your brain**. I can put ideas in your head by moving my fingers around while sitting up here in Canada. I can read a dead author and their words are in my brain through time and death. Magical (well, not literally magical, but very cool).
🔪 Are you taking care of your knives? Do you know how to take care of your knives?
No worries, I got you covered fam:
Personally, I have a Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker, and while it may look like some alien contraption at first glance, it’s pretty straightforward once you’ve seen a video of it in action, and relatively foolproof. Keeps my knives really sharp (my favorite test is cutting sheet of paper from the side one-handed).
💚 🥃 If you make just one good investment decision per year because of something you learn here (or avoid one bad decision — don’t forget preventing negatives!), it'll pay for multiple years of subscriptions (or multiple lifetimes):
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💰 & 🏭
🎮 Microsoft + Activision ($68.7 billion deal) 👾
95 bucks per share for ATVI, all-cash. In absolute terms it’s a mountain of dough and Microsoft’s biggest acquisition ever, but only 3% of market cap, and at first glance it seems to make sense.
Microsoft can very likely run Activision+Blizzard better than it has been run in recent times (ha!), and while it’ll want to spread most of the content horizontally as widely as possible, I’m sure they’ll find plenty of ways to make the Game Pass bundle more attractive (it already has 25 million+ subs).
They’ll also have some synergies on the backend by running everything on Azure, improving the economics running these huge franchises (I wrote about this benefit for hyperscalers in edition #124).
With Activision Blizzard’s nearly 400 million monthly active players in 190 countries and three billion-dollar franchises, this acquisition will make Game Pass one of the most compelling and diverse lineups of gaming content in the industry. Upon close, Microsoft will have 30 internal game development studios, along with additional publishing and esports production capabilities.
Whatever the metaverse turns out to be, the people with the skills to build it are those who are currently spending their days building 3d digital worlds and assets (front of the line are game companies, but there’s also a lot of this talent in the film/TV industry, where CGI is increasingly advanced — just think of Pixar). Probably not that many of the top people in the field work for Facebook, I’m guessing.
This slide is clearly at the heart of Microsoft’s strategy when it comes to gaming:
They deliver it however customer wants, wherever, on any format. On your phone, your tablet, your laptop, your desktop, the big TV on your wall. Fridge with LCD? “Doesn’t matter, we’ve got that on tap for you!”
They’re building a Netflix for games, and owning the content outright makes the economics a lot better than having to license it from third parties and differentiates the subscription…
What’s Static and What’s Dynamic? (People & Companies Edition)
When you say that Joe or Jane is like this or like that, you can only be somewhat right about the claim, because people contain multitudes, so to speak, and how that’s expressed depends on lots of factors (are they tired? are they heartbroken? are they in a good mood? did they sleep well last night? what happened prior to making the decision?).
Different aspects of people’s personalities can come out at different times.
But also, people change.
Or at least, they *can* change. Some change a lot more than others, because of both internal and external forces and circumstances.
Everything I just said above also applies to companies, but even moreso, IMO.
Companies are just collections of people, so they’re a multitude of multitudes. (multitude^2?)
As much as you can say that there’s some continuity in a company’s culture, there’s also a lot that changes.
The group of people that created the culture during the startup phase gets diluted by new hires pretty quickly, and while we celebrate companies with strong culture that endure, many others get lost or turn to gray mush during that phase.
Then there’s management changes, employee turnover, etc. Everything is always changing, including external factors, pressures, and incentives.
All this to say that we have to be very careful when we say that “company X is like this” or “company Y is like that”, or that because they did something for a while, that we *know* they’ll do it again in the future.
Always ask: For how long?
And if you could rewind and re-roll the dice a bunch of times, how many times out of 100 would they act in that way again, and how many times would some other aspect of their “personality” get expressed in the very same situation?
‘I found an old Beanie Baby price guide, and each Beanie has an estimated 10-year future value’
How can this not remind you of this classic photo of Beanie Babies being split in court during a divorce:
🎶 Spotify Deep Dive 🎧
If you’re looking for a Reference Piece™️ on Spotify that basically reads like a David Attenborough documentary on the music industry—where it came from, where it’s going, how royalties and labels work, and lots of really interesting details about Spotify specifically—check out this opus by my friend MBI (💎 🐕):
Spotify: Play the Audio (inexpensive sub required)
I have to admit, I read it while listening to two albums by Fleurie (“Love and War” and “Fear & Fable”), but I was listening to them on Apple Music, not Spotify 🤭
North Korean hackers stole ‘almost $400 million worth of cryptocurrency assets in 2021 alone, up from $300 million in 2020.'
North Korean cybercriminals had a banner year in 2021, launching at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms that extracted nearly $400 million worth of digital assets [...]
From 2018 on, The group has stolen and laundered massive sums of virtual currencies every year, typically in excess of $200 million. The most successful individual hacks, one on KuCoin and another on an unnamed cryptocurrency exchange, each netted more than $250 million alone. And according to the UN security council, the revenue generated from these hacks goes to support North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs. [...]
Interestingly, in terms of dollar value, Bitcoin now accounts for less than one fourth of the cryptocurrencies stolen by DPRK. In 2021, only 20% of the stolen funds were Bitcoin, whereas 22% were either ERC-20 tokens or altcoins. And for the first time ever, Ether accounted for a majority of the funds stolen at 58%. (Source)
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🧪🔬 & 💻
Netherlands Filling Up
In his piece about the proposal of expanding the size of Manhattan by adding land in the New York Harbor (details here), friend-of-the-show and Extra-Deluxe supporter (💚💚💚💚💚 🥃 ) Byrne Hobart posted this great animated GIF showing the Netherlands filling-in and expanding over the centuries. Great stuff.
Machine-Learning Robot Apocalypse
Canada approves some medical uses for psychedelics
Health Canada’s Special Access Programme (SAP) will allow physicians to request patient access to illegal psychoactive substances, like MDMA and psilocybin, for psychedelic-assisted therapy. Decisions will remain on a case-by-case basis, and will be reserved for serious treatment-resistant or life-threatening conditions, in instances where other therapies have failed, are unsuitable or are not available in Canada. (Source)
It’s only a small step forward, but hopefully the first of many, as it has become increasingly clear over the past many years that there’s way more potential harm from restricting research and controlled access to these molecules than in allowing it.
h/t my friend JPV (✍️)
But is 48x lower statistically significant?
And if they didn’t adjust by age, this number is probably low, because older people tend to be more vaccinated, and the unvaccinated skews younger…
We’re so lucky that our vaccines are incredibly effective — how many more deaths worldwide if they had only protected from severe outcomes by 50% or whatever?
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🎨 & 📜
Visual special-effects artists try to recreate 30-year-old shot from Terminator 2 using modern tools
What’s interesting with this one isn’t the end-result of the two teams trying to do it with two different approaches, but the process of getting there. A fun one.
Interview: Ryan Holiday, on writing, the stoics, etc
I really enjoyed this interview by friend-of-the-show Shane Parrish (🇨🇦):
The irony of success is that there are infinitely more distractions from that success. And as you get more successful the higher the price or bribe attached to those things is.
This is such a good point. You see this especially clearly with musicians, but I think it can happen to anyone.
You find a certain groove that makes you successful, and that very success yanks you out of your carefully cultivated routine and throws lots of distractions and siren calls at you…
There’s what happened, and then there’s what made it to ‘History’…
Franklin Roosevelt looked around the room and chuckled when his presidential library opened in 1941. A reporter asked why he was so cheerful. “I’m thinking of all the historians who will come here thinking they’ll find the answers to their questions,” he said.
Everything we know about history is limited to what’s been written down, shared publicly, or spoken into a camera. The stuff that’s been kept secret, in someone’s head, taken to the grave, must be – I don’t know – 1,000 times as large and more interesting.
Good writing, as usual, by Morgan Housel.