300: Payments Industry, Bill Gurley, Samsung 3nm, TikTok, US Rail, Coal, Geothermal Breakthrough?, Video Games Characters, and My Thoughts on Top Gun
"I feel like I’m a bottleneck at the center of it all. "
🎧 🗣🗣🎙On Wednesday, I recorded a 1.5-hour podcast with my friend MBI (💎🐕).
We nerded-out on the payments industry.
We touched briefly on Visa and Mastercard, but most of it is about PayPal, Stripe, Adyen, Square/Block, Amazon Buy with Prime, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Global Payments, Fiserv, etc.
I still need to edit the audio and write the shownotes, but expect it relatively soon. It’ll first be released to paid supporters (💚 🥃) as a thank you for the support, and a few days later it’ll be released to everyone.
In the meantime you can listen to our first podcast together:
🚢 ⚓️ I’m getting closer to launching a Discord community (if you’re not familiar, Discord is a bit like Slack — it’s free, works on mobile, desktop, etc).
But first, I want to share my thinking on it.
Over the past two years, the thing that has most impressed and delighted me is the quality of readers here. You’re smart, curious, always looking to improve, you’re generous with your time and knowledge, helping me and others, passing along great sources of information and entertainment. You’re analysts, technologists, scientists, artists, craftspeople, medical professionals, etc — such a deep pool of talent.
Truly wonderful stuff!
I feel like I’m a bottleneck at the center of it all.
I’ve tried many ways to get you to find each other and have direct conversations, maybe even develop friendships.
I tried encouraging the use of the comments section on the site, but it’s not working as well as I want. There’s just too much friction built-in at the structural level. Most people read in their email inbox and never even see the comments section — and even when they do, each edition has its own separate comments, so it’s very hard to have *ongoing conversations* because everything resets each time.
I want to create a non-transient space for me and supporters (💚 🥃) to meet and chat. I want to keep it simple and friendly, not one of those Discord servers with 27 different sub-channels and complex rules.
Just a general chat, a channel to introduce yourself, and a channel where you can share *your* highlights with the rest of the group — stuff you’re finding interesting, links and analysis are welcome! I’m sure I’ll get lots of ideas there for the newsletter, so expect to see a bunch of hat tips for those who post there.
And once in a while, we’ll probably do some voice and/or video chats (totally optional).
It’s not quite ready, but it’s coming. I hope you’ll join me there, I think it’ll grow into a great group!
💚 🥃 If you are not a paid supporter yet, I hope this is the edition that makes you go:
“Hey, I think I want to support what he’s doing here.”
Thank you for that!
Liberty’s Highlights is reader-supported. To support my work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. 📡 🛰
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🏦 💰 Liberty Capital 💳 💴
Bill Gurley’s ‘Runnin' Down a Dream’ Presentation (Professional research!)
You’ve probably seen this one, it really made the rounds a few years ago. But I think it’s worth bumping up in case you missed it. I don’t agree with all of it, but there’s lots of wisdom in it.
h/t friend-of-the-show and OG supporter (💚 🥃 🎩) Nick Ellis
TikTok is speed-running the social-media growth story
If those reports prove accurate, Tiktok will have broken the $10bn a year mark in just its sixth full year — a milestone that took Facebook more than a decade. YouTube took 14 years. Snapchat and Twitter? They're both barely halfway to that milestone.
Samsung begins 3nm chip production 🇰🇷
Compared to 5nm process, the first-generation 3nm process can reduce power consumption by up to 45%, improve performance by 23% and reduce area by 16% compared to 5nm, while the second-generation 3nm process is to reduce power consumption by up to 50%, improve performance by 30% and reduce area by 35%.
What an achievement for humanity that we’re even able to do this. Truly magical.
The abacus is about to make a comeback in Russia 🧮
Speaking of chips…
Global exports of semiconductors to Russia have plummeted by 90% since the United States and allies slapped export controls on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Wednesday.
Raimondo, speaking at an annual Commerce Department conference, also doubled down on threats to “shut down” China’s top chipmaker SMIC if it is found to be supplying chips to Russia. (Source)
🚂 The rail system in the US is congested 📦📦📦📦
We hear a lot about supply chain problems when it comes to ports, global supply chains, missing semiconductors, etc. But the rail system in the US isn’t doing too great these days either:
Some retailers are waiting weeks to move cargo by train out of Southern California’s ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, while others are giving up on the railroads and shifting shipments of furniture, apparel and other consumer goods to trucks for long inland journeys on highways.
The backups stretch to major freight hubs including the key transit point at Chicago, freight executives say, where containers have been piling up at rail yards. The congestion has led BNSF Railway Co., a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and one of the main rail operators connecting the U.S. West Coast to inland points, to limit the number of boxes the railroad will carry out of the Southern California port complex. [...]
About 29,000 boxes were being held in container yards at the Port of Los Angeles this month awaiting pickup by rail, more than triple the usual number, according to Gene Seroka, the port’s executive director.
It’s a cascade of issues:
The congestion in intermodal operations, which combine truck and rail transport for longer freight hauls, is adding to delays in getting goods to distribution centers and stores. It also adds to headaches for retailers coping with inventories that are mismatched to shifting consumer buying patterns and raises shipping expenses at a time when transportation costs are contributing to decades-high U.S. inflation. [...]
Transportation and logistics executives say shortages of warehouse workers and truck drivers as well as of the steel trailers needed to haul containers between rail yards and warehouses are contributing to the delays. (Source)
Is it infrastructure week yet? The country’s circulatory system could use some de-bottlenecking (a stent here and there)...
Coal will account for 85% of U.S. electric generating capacity retirements in 2022
Operators have scheduled 14.9 gigawatts (GW) of electric generating capacity to retire in the United States during 2022, according to our latest inventory of electric generators. The majority of the scheduled retirements are coal-fired power plants (85%), followed by natural gas (8%) and nuclear (5%).
Coal. After substantial retirements of U.S. coal-fired electric generating capacity from 2015 to 2020 that averaged 11.0 GW a year, coal capacity retirements slowed to 4.6 GW in 2021. However, we expect retirement of coal-fired generators to increase again this year; 12.6 GW of coal capacity is scheduled to retire in 2022, or 6% of the coal-fired generating capacity that was operating at the end of 2021.
Nuclear. At 0.8 GW, nuclear capacity retirements represent 5% of expected retirements in 2022 and less than 1% of the operating U.S. nuclear fleet. The retiring nuclear capacity comes from one plant, the Palisades nuclear power facility in Michigan. The retirement of Palisades is a result of historically low natural gas prices, limited growth in electricity demand, and increasing competition from renewable energy.
This was written in January 2022, so the last section about low natural gas prices isn’t quite accurate anymore, but the Palisades nuclear power plant was nonetheless closed in May.
🧪🔬 Liberty Labs 🧬 🔭
Could this rock-melting gyrotron tech make geothermal energy take off?
If this kind of tech proves itself out in the next few years, I may have to start talking a lot more about geothermal energy in the future 🤔
We really need more *clean baseload* power, and hydro can only expand so much, nuclear is getting more traction but it’s still hard to get moving full steam ahead, and most batteries should ideally go to electrify transportation, not to the grid to be combined with intermittent renewables.
So adding practical, cost-effective geothermal to the mix would be great.
Especially if you can dig deep enough to get at the heat pretty much anywhere — what’s to stop you from drilling on the site of a decommissioned coal plant and repurposing (with some modifications) the existing turbines and transmission lines to generate electricity with heat coming from underground rather than by burning black rocks.
Video game character modeling progress over time 🎮
I remember seeing this image years ago, showing the progress in vieo game character modeling.
By now, there’s no doubt a bunch of heads that could extend it on the right and make the one above look pretty dated (the hair, the waxy skin).
I wonder how long it’ll take to cross the uncanny valley fully and have truly photo-realistic games that are very hard to tell apart from films (first on static images, which we’re getting close to, and then later in movement) 🤔
🎨 🎭 Liberty Studio 👩🎨 🎥
🏈🏍🐔 My thoughts on Top Gun: Maverick 🔥
The way I like to put it is:
This is the best Star Wars film since the original trilogy.
It has pretty much everything that made these types of big-screen films thrilling, and the care and attention put into making it feel as real as possible shows.
It’s truly a passion project for director Joseph Kosinski, Cruise, and all involved.
I did my best to avoid spoilers before seeing it, but I think there’s one thing that would’ve made me appreciate it even more if I had known:
A lot of what you see isn’t CGI, it’s shot in real F-18s thanks to special new digital IMAX cameras that can fit in the planes (they crammed 6 cameras in the cockpit — the actor was sitting in the backseat and pretending to pilot, and the real pilot sitting in front wore the same helmet so that when you see them from behind it looks like the same person).
Cruise himself is a pilot, and designed a boot camp for the actors before the aerial shooting…
*** spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick ***
*** spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick ***
*** spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick ***
Before watching this, I re-watched the original Top Gun from 1986, so it was quite fresh to memory and all the references, homages, and callbacks to it in the new one probably landed better because of that. The title card, the shot-for-shot intro sequence…
Overall, I think this is a much superior film to the original in almost every aspect.
There’s plenty of cheese and glorification of the military, but it’s not too over the top, and they keep it primarily a human story. I like the young pilots, the actors do a good job and there are plenty of charming and funny moments.
Rooster worked, even though the prodigal son with the love/hate dynamic was a bit expected — in the end, the film is well executed and has heart 🧡, and that’s what wins the day.
That scene in the snow when the Hind heavy gunship attack helicopter turns around almost has the feel of a horror film, very well done.
Trivia: ‘The World War II P-51 Mustang seen in this movie is actually Tom Cruise's own airplane.’
Behind-the-scenes videos that give a sense of how it was filmed: