303: Cloudflare, China & Solar Power, Shopify, Apple Security, Payments, Meta Translation AI, Manufacturing Migration, Eye Health 101, and Top Gun (again)
"If we could fully decode spider DNA"
You are only as young as the last time you changed your mind.
🚨 🎧🎙 💳 🏦 🏧 💵 I just released a new podcast with my friend MBI (💎🐕) about the payments industry (centered mostly on PayPal, Adyen, Square, and Stripe, but also touching a bunch of others like Apple Pay, Amazon Buy with Prime, Google Pay, Checkout, etc.):
It’s available first to supporters as a thank you (become one if you aren’t already! it’s quick and inexpensive). It’ll be released to everyone else at a later date.
🧬 🧠 There’s something that still blows my mind when I think about how information gets *physically* encoded inside of living things.
There are physical structures in my brain for everything I know.
When a bird builds a nest or a spider creates a web, there are physical structures in their brains that guide them, and since they are acting from instinct, this same information has to be encoded in their DNA.
If we could fully decode spider DNA, we’d find sections about how to make webs… 🕸
We tend to consider thinking as “software”, but our brains are not like CPUs where every atom is fixed and the software gets loaded up from a separate source.
When we learn new things, we literally change the physical structure of our brains, create new connections, lose old ones, ions and electrical potentials are flowing in and out…
Storage and compute are combined in meatware. 🥩
🏋️♂️💪 I’ve long been a fan of this diagram by Nigel Holmes, illustrating Carol Dweck’s work on Fixed vs Growth mindset:
I try to teach my kids about these concepts. I think it’s a big asset to see the world through this lens at a young age, and I wish I had more clearly understood that earlier in my life.
💚 🥃 I'm thinking of it kind of like we're sitting in a pub somewhere, and I'm talking about various things that interest me or that I've learned about recently.
If you like it, once in a while, you send me a scotch to keep me talking and show appreciation. That’s what becoming a paid supporter is. All very casual & civilized. And a jolly g'day to you too, mate.
Liberty’s Highlights is reader-supported. To support my work, consider becoming a paid supporter. Thanks! 🥷
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Business & Investing
Cloudflare: ‘Tracing the shift from centralized clouds to edge networks’ ⛅️
Dan Cahana has a nice overview of where Cloudflare NET came from and where they’re going, at least on the edge computing side of the business (they’re also going full steam into security with various Zero Trust networking products and services under the Cloudflare One umbrella).
A lot of this may sound familiar if you’ve been reading my Cloudflare coverage, but Dan adds some specific examples of companies building stuff on Workers. Good stuff.
🇨🇳 🔒☀️ China is getting a lock on solar power
China’s share in the manufacturing stages for solar, from the production of polysilicon to the panels themselves, exceeds 80 per cent, and in some stages could reach as high as 95 per cent by 2025.
Putting all your eggs in the same basket, and having that basket in a totalitarian country isn’t exactly the safest way to make omelettes…
The risks of a solar panel supply chain concentrated in China “is not only a geopolitical issue. It can be a fire in major facilities. It can be floods. Disruption of [the solar PV supply chain] has huge implications for our clean energy transition and energy security,” Birol said. (Source)
I get that power laws rule everything, and that the lowest cost producer that gets the most scale ends up having a hard-to-compete-with price advantage — and that’s even before thinking about how much the Chinese government can subsidize industries that it decides are strategic or abominably use slave labor…
Manufacturing moving out of China 🧑🏻🏭🔩
Speaking of China, it looks like a lot of multinationals are at least talking about shrinking their supply chains and moving factories, either to the US, or to more friendly places.
The construction of new manufacturing facilities in the US has soared 116% over the past year, dwarfing the 10% gain on all building projects combined, according to Dodge Construction Network.
There are massive chip factories going up in Phoenix: Intel is building two just outside the city; Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing is constructing one in it. And aluminum and steel plants that are being erected all across the south: in Bay Minette, Alabama (Novelis); in Osceola, Arkansas (US Steel); and in Brandenburg, Kentucky (Nucor). Up near Buffalo, all this new semiconductor and steel output is fueling orders for air compressors that will be cranked out at an Ingersoll Rand plant that had been shuttered for years. [...]
More than 90% of those surveyed said they either were in the process of moving production out of China or had plans to do so. And about 80% said they were considering bringing some of it back to the US. (Mexico has also become a popular choice.) (Source)
These numbers seem a bit high to me. 🤔 We’ll see what ultimately happens, but there is a shift there for sure.
🎧 Interview: Kenneth Stanley, author of ‘Greatness Cannot be Planned’ 🧭 🗺 🔬👩🔬
Another really interesting interview by Patrick O’Shaughnessy (☘️):
I really resonate with the central thesis of what it takes to foster innovation and discovery (as opposed to iterating or refining existing things, which can be done with clear roadmaps and committees).
The idea of ‘stepping stones’ is a good model — keep looking for the ones that are already available to you, and the new ones that will pop up from time to time. Use them to try to pursue interesting things without constraining possibilities too early.
It reminds me a bit of Henry Singleton’s reply to a journalist about his strategy:
My only plan is to keep coming to work. … I like to steer the boat each day rather than plan ahead way into the future.
Or Albert Einstein’s quote:
If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?
The idea that so many research dollars are allocated by writing grant proposals that have to know in advance exactly what they’re looking for, and then committees of experts are going to decide what gets to be investigated and what “isn’t worth looking into” is just… sad.
Obviously, that system still works, but it’s clear that it could be optimized much further, and we’d all benefit from more innovation and discovery. 🧪
I’m also reminded of Steven Johnson’s excellent book ‘Where Good Ideas Come from’, which also looks at the conditions in which innovation thrive (liquid networks!).
🛒 ‘Shopify delays compensation overhaul, lays off 50’ 🇨🇦
In early April, Shopify told its employees their compensation packages would be changing this summer, giving them the flexibility to decide how much of their salary is paid in stock and how much in cash. It was part of an internal strategy designed to mitigate dissatisfaction among some employees, who have seen the overall value of their compensation packages decrease this year because Shopify’s stock has fallen more than 70 per cent from its peak in late 2021. [...]
But now, those ambitious changes – which were to take effect this month – have been quietly pushed back to at least September, according to two senior officials at Shopify. [...]
The changes have already caused problems at the company. At least 50 people have been laid off since April, partly because their compensation packages were out of line with those of certain colleagues under the new plan, the two sources said in separate interviews. The 50 represent less than 1 per cent of the more than 10,000 employees at the company.
“their compensation packages were out of line with those of certain colleagues under the new plan”
I have no idea what that means ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Dozens of job offers have also been delayed while the company adjusts its salary framework, the sources said. That means some new hires have been put in a state of limbo as they await their start date, and a number of prospective employees have yet to receive written offers with salary figures beyond those discussed with Shopify recruiters. (Source)
Friend-of-the-show Weng posted this chart of Shopify job postings:
EU parliament votes to label nuclear power and natural gas “green” for investment purposes 🇪🇺 ☢️ 🏭
The new rules will add gas and nuclear power plants to the EU "taxonomy" rulebook from 2023, enabling investors to label and market investments in them as green.
Out of 639 lawmakers present, 328 opposed a motion that sought to block the EU gas and nuclear proposals. (Source)
It never made sense to lump nuclear with coal, so I’m glad that’s moving in the right direction and I hope that similar mislabelling based on ideology rather than facts will also be corrected elsewhere in the world.
Natural gas is another matter, but real-life isn’t binary.
Replacing coal with gas is certainly a step in the right direction even if compared to nuclear and hydro it can’t be called “green”. And as we’re seeing lately, being dependent on the dictator next door for gas supply certainly has big downsides…
The bottom line seems to be that the cost of capital for nuclear could go down because of this, which is a very good thing.
Science & Technology
👁👁 Eye Health 101 👀
This is a super-interesting one by Peter Attia, I learned so much:
The state of the art on cataract surgery where they can implant a new lens that can correct for near and far sightedness and astigmatism is *really impressive*, but I think what made me update my views the most are the comments about how myopia is so impacted by the environment of kids as they grow up.
I always kind of assumed that wearing glasses was largely genetic, just bad luck, something you couldn’t do much about. 👓
I thought that the “don’t sit so close to the TV, you’ll ruin your eyes” stuff had been debunked as old tales, etc.
But it turns out (IT TURNS OUT!) that lack of daylight and spending a lot of time focused on near activities as a kid can impact how our eyes grow and increase the likelihood of having to wear glasses by *multiple-folds*. We’re not talking a few percent…
I think this knowledge will change how I raise my kids, to hopefully increase their chances of not needing glasses (or if they do, still have better vision than they otherwise would).
I really recommend listening to this one — I think most of us know very little about our eyes, yet they’re probably our most important sensory apparatus, with little pieces of our brains 🧠 poking out of our skulls to peer at the photons that are out there…
Apple introduces high-security “lockdown” mode for iPhones, iPads, and Macs 🖥💻📱🔒🔑
Interesting timing. On the same day that I published some tips on how to lockdown your iPhone in 2 seconds at the press of two buttons in case you have to hand it over to law enforcement or some untrusted party (see the intro of edition #302), Apple AAPL announced a new high-security “lockdown” mode for its 3 main operating systems:
Lockdown Mode offers an extreme, optional level of security for the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.
Turning on Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura further hardens device defenses and strictly limits certain functionalities, sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware.
They’re not stopping there — and they really, really don’t like NSO group and “mercenary spyware”:
Apple will continue to strengthen Lockdown Mode and add new protections to it over time. To invite feedback and collaboration from the security research community, Apple has also established a new category within the Apple Security Bounty program to reward researchers who find Lockdown Mode bypasses and help improve its protections. Bounties are doubled for qualifying findings in Lockdown Mode, up to a maximum of $2,000,000 — the highest maximum bounty payout in the industry.
Apple is also making a $10 million grant, in addition to any damages awarded from the lawsuit filed against NSO Group, to support organizations that investigate, expose, and prevent highly targeted cyberattacks, including those created by private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware.
Ha! If they win the lawsuit, the money will go into further countering them. What a great FU to NSO Group. More details on how lockdown works here.
‘Meta open sources early-stage AI translation tool that works across 200 languages’ 📝 ↔️📝
While most machine translation models handle only a handful of languages, Meta’s model is all-encapsulating: it’s a single system able to translate in more than 40,000 different directions between 200 different languages. But Meta is also interested in including “low-resource languages” in the model — languages with fewer than 1 million publicly-available translated sentence-pairs. These include many African and Indian languages not usually supported by commercial machine translation tools.
The Arts & History
1986 Top Gun special effects 🎥 ☁️🛩 ☁️☁️
Are we still all obsessed with Top Gun or is the cycle that fast nowadays that it’s already passé?
Anyway, I don’t care, here’s a neat little behind-the-scenes look at how they did some of the special effects in the original 1986 Top Gun.
There is this neat video about Top Gun: Maverick (2022) that reveals they built a *full-scale* mockup of the Darkstar hypersonic plane for the movie *with help from Lockheed Martin’s SkunkWorks engineers* 🤯
They even claim that the full-size mockup may have fooled China’s spy satellites (but who knows if that’s true?).