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304: The Automation Paradox, Starlink Maritime, Multiple Lives of EV Batteries, Disney and Comcast's Hulu Dilemma, Andrew Huberman, and the US Navy
"What happens when the automated process fails"
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Creative people should notice and cultivate the state in which they excel.
Crafting the conditions that promote excellence may not feel like important work, but it leads to important work.
Perfect the process.
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The Automation Paradox 🤖 🫀🥼
The more automated something becomes, the fewer reps humans get at doing that thing, and their skills risk atrophying over time. You then have fewer experienced practitioners that can teach young students, etc…
What happens when the automated process fails or isn’t available for some reason?
The situation is summed up as the “ automation paradox”: The more advanced and reliable the automated system, the more crucial the contributions of the human operator. That’s because the system will inevitably encounter unexpected circumstances that fall outside its design parameters or will fail in some way. In those rare but critical moments, the operator must detect the failure and take over, quickly bringing the very human faculties of creativity and problem solving to bear on a tricky situation.
Airline pilots became familiar with this issue as autopilot became ubiquitous, and the promise of self-driving cars is bringing this conversation to the general public. Surgical robots have quite limited autonomy at this point, so the surgical profession should learn from these examples and act now, changing the human-machine relationship to both preserve surgical skill and avert tragic crashes in the OR.
⚡️🔌 🚙 🔋♻️ The second & third lives of EV batteries
When I first got interested in electric cars, close to 20 years ago, one of the common arguments of anti-EV people (who were adamant that these things would never catch on) was that, sure, oil was bad, but making batteries was also bad.
Bad = bad, checkmate. 🙄
It’s true that making batteries requires mining materials and a bunch of energy-intensive manufacturing — as does manufacturing the hundreds of parts that go into an internal combustion drivetrain — but to understand the situation requires a bit more than word-thinking about it.
Here’s where things get interesting:
Cradle-to-grave life-cycle analysis shows that most of the impact of a vehicle comes from the fuel that it uses over its lifetime, not manufacturing (the numbers I remember were in the range of 80% of the impact).
So right there, EVs have a big advantage because they are much more efficient than internal combustion engines (ICE). It gets complex if you want to look at the whole lifecycle of each (ie. the energy used to find, extract, refine, and transport oil, on top of the impact of burning the oil itself in an engine that may have a thermal efficiency in the 20-40% range, vs the power grid + batteries + electric motor), but generally EVs are significantly more efficient, and they can be powered by clean sources and should get cleaner over time as the grid gets cleaned up, while ICEs tend to get worse over time as they wear out and are rarely maintained perfectly.
BUT that’s just the start!
At the end of the vehicle’s useful life an ICE’s drivetrain may be largely recycled to get the steel back, but a battery pack can then have a second useful life:
Wind and solar plants are increasingly being coupled with lithium-ion batteries to store excess power for times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. As these are the same type of batteries as those used in electric cars, auto makers say repurposing them could aid the expansion of renewable energy [...]
There are currently 10 million EVs on the world’s roads, a figure that is expected to rise to 300 million by 2030, the IEA says. That will create a valuable market for retired batteries: Roughly 1.7 million will be available for reuse in 2030 [...]
they remain useful for grid storage until their capacity drops to around 60%, potentially giving them another 10 to 15 years of service [...]
The combined capacity of retired batteries will climb from 10.4 gigawatt hours last year to 107.5 gigawatt hours by 2030 (Source)
So even after providing use for the life of the car, these batteries could help add storage to the grid for another decade+…
BUT that’s not all!
These battery packs can then be recycled at the very end of their lives, and the materials like cobalt, lithium, nickel, whatever, can be used to make more batteries! Unlike oil, their value isn’t destroyed by use.
If we think a bit further out, this means that while we’re replacing the existing fleet of ICE vehicles with EVs, we need to mine a lot of new materials to make new batteries, but over time, as we approach a stable state, more and more of the raw materials will come from recycling old batteries rather than from virgin ores.
SpaceX Starlink goes to oil rigs, merchant ships, and yachts 📡 🛰🛰🛰🛰🛰🛰
Starlink’s latest expansion is seaward:
The maritime edition offers “High-speed, low-latency internet with up to 350 Mbps download while at sea” for $5,000 per month and $10,000 in hardware. That may sound like a lot, but it’s cheaper than the alternatives.
The terminals are similar in operations to the land-based ones, except that — according to Musk — they are “dual, high performance terminals, which are important for maintaining the connection in choppy seas & heavy storms” and “ruggedized for relentless salt spray & extreme winds & storms in deep ocean”.
Details here. If you own an oil rig or mega-yacht, this may be for you.
📺 What’s going to happen to Hulu? 🤔
The weirdest of the ‘good’ streamers is definitely Hulu (I mean, there are definitely weirder ones, but they aren’t really relevant…).
Owned 66% by Disney and 33% by Comcast, it finds itself having an identity crisis now that Disney is putting pretty much all its chips on the D+ horse.
[Brian] Roberts and then-Disney CEO Bob Iger struck a deal to temporarily save Disney billions after splurging on Fox while taking operational control of Hulu. Comcast agreed to hold its stake in Hulu until January 2024. Then, Comcast can force Disney to buy its 33% of Hulu at a minimum total valuation of $27.5 billion. The price tag could be higher depending on fair market value of Hulu in 2024 as determined by an independent third party. [...]
Disney is on the hook to pay billions of dollars for an asset that now seems like an awkward fit. There’s little evidence investors care about Hulu’s quarterly results. In fact, the better Hulu performs, the more Disney will have to pay Comcast to buy the rest of it in 2024. (Source)
The better Hulu does, the more Disney will have to pay, yet any investments that Disney could make into Hulu could probably be made into Disney+ now that it has been broadened with Fox’s content…
It’ll be interesting to watch how they figure that one out. Will Hulu be sold? Spun-off? Maybe Malone is interested..?
What’s going on at the ECB? 🤔
I’m a total macro tourist, but this is striking:
Charlie Bilello writes:
Eurozone inflation has moved up to 8.6%, its highest level ever.
Meanwhile, the ECB is still holding interest rates at negative levels.
This is perhaps the greatest disconnect between easy monetary policy and unabating rising prices that the world has ever seen.
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Interview: Prof. Andrew Huberman (neurobiology and neuroscience) 🕵️♂️🧠
I’ve greatly enjoyed this wide-ranging conversation hosted by Chris Williamson:
Huberman’s own podcast is a great source of information, I highly recommend it. Along with Petter Attia’s podcast, it may be one of the highest signal-to-noise sources when it comes to scientific/medical/health stuff.
⚓️ The coolest thing about the US Navy isn’t even Top Gun
The US Navy has been building nuclear reactors for 70 years as part of its Naval Reactors program. It’s built over 200 nuclear-powered ships and 500 reactor cores, meaning the US Navy has more experience building nuclear reactors than anyone in the world (or second most, if you count the former Soviet Union’s experience building nuclear ships.) Unlike civilian power stations, US naval nuclear-powered ships are frequently (though not always) delivered on-time and on-budget.
It’s not the same as land-based large plants, but it’s still very impressive and shows we could do much better with power gen if we had the will, standardization, reps, and better regulation.
Here’s what happened in France (🇫🇷) when these factors were combined (via the Messmer Plan — “on 6 March 1974, Prime Minister Pierre Messmer announced a huge nuclear power program aimed at generating all of France's electricity from nuclear power” based on standardized plants):
Here was France’s mix in 2019:
Generation mix: nuclear 399 TWh (70%); hydro 61.6 TWh (11%); natural gas 39.3 TWh (7%); wind 34.7 TWh (6%); solar 12.2 TWh (2%); biofuels & waste 11.3 TWh (2%); coal 5.9 TWh (1%); oil 5.9 TWh (1%).
They are also Europe’s biggest electricity exporter, principally to the UK and Italy (“Over the last decade France has exported up to 70 TWh net each year”).
Whatever was possible 50 years ago with much much much worse technology *should* be possible today. What gets in the way are human factors, not technical ones.
While it seems impossible when you’re in the middle of a bad phase, human factors can change and things can reverse in very non-linear ways.
For example, the US was rapidly losing the capability to put payloads into space (🚀) for decades, and then that rapidly reversed (thank you SpaceX). I hope something similar will happen with other large-scale projects that have the potential to improve our civilization (not just nuclear power, but plenty of other things).
☢️ Nuclear Power Beat: South Korea, Germany, and Netherlands Edition 🇰🇷 🇩🇪 🇳🇱
First, some encouraging news out of South Korea:
South Korea will build four more nuclear reactors by 2030, and extend the life of 10 older units, as the new government backs atomic power as a key tool to zero out emissions.
Atomic energy will provide more than 30% of the nation’s electricity generation by the end of the decade, up from 27.4% last year
This is a reversal:
Under former President Moon Jae-in’s administration, decarbonization policies were set out along with plans to phase out nuclear energy, a policy that Yoon’s office in April said could see electricity costs jump fivefold by 2050. The construction of the Shin Hanul No. 3 and 4 reactors, which were scrapped under the previous government, will be resumed, the energy ministry said.
Meanwhile in Europe, a reminder that we live in a very inter-connected world, and that the decisions made in, say, Germany, can affect the Dutch (because countries export and import energy):
The Netherlands has asked Germany to consider keeping its nuclear power plants open, but admitted the chances of that happening are slim. [...]
Power prices have soared after Russia reduced natural gas supplies to many countries in retaliation for sanctions triggered by its invasion of Ukraine.
European states are rushing to reduce their dependence on Moscow’s energy, and the Netherlands plans to stop importing Russian gas this year.
And of course, who’s winning because of all this?
Dutch officials have removed limits on coal-fired power plants to improve energy security, joining other European countries in turning to the heavily-polluting fossil fuel. Germany, France and Belgium could also delay maintenance on some of their power plants until next year or 2024
But worse than that, the German SPD and Greens just voted against keeping the last 3 nuclear power plants open longer, so even more coal will be burned.
[this is a machine translation of the original German article:]
The CDU and CSU had proposed that the federal government could continue to run the three remaining German nuclear power plants in addition to coal-fired power plants by means of a legal ordinance. The FDP had recently also campaigned for this - but the Free Democrats could not prevail in the coalition against the SPD and the Greens.
We live in a world where the German “Greens” are effectively pro-coal and pro-gas and de facto helping Putin 🤦♀️
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Real Top Gun instructors and fighter jet pilots reactions to Top Gun: Mavericks
It’s the first I hear of this podcast, seems worth exploring some more!
This one is a fun discussion by people who did in real-life most of the things depicted in the movie. I found the part where they share their thoughts about whether we’re at the cusp of getting rid of human pilots in fighter planes very interesting.
The podcast also has a few more episodes on the making of the film, including an interview with the Navy officer who was the liason with the Hollywood people and made everything happen: