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307: Volkswagen aims at Tesla in Batteries, Amazon Private Label, Volaris as Mini-Constellation, Metaverse, Stripe, Solar Efficiency Record, Geothermal, and Taste
"Appreciation is a form of taste. Creation is another."
The only completely consistent people are dead.
🏃♂️👟 I want to give you an update on my experience running with minimalist, “barefoot-style” shoes. In my case, it’s the Xero HFS, but I almost went with the Vivo Primus Lite III (and not just because I’m a Les Claypool fan…🦫).
I started running in late May, and I’ve done about 20 runs so far, mostly in the Xeros.
I can notice a fairly steady improvement so far. I know that a plateau is coming at some point, but I figure I may as well enjoy the easy gains while they last…
The shoes were such an improvement, it reminded me of when I went from cooking meat in thin teflon-coated pans to heavy cast iron. There’s no going back to the ol’ foot coffins ⚰️⚰️👣 (still the best framing for non-minimalist shoes that I’ve seen — now *that* is good use of metaphor!).
Whenever I put on my old shoes — New Balance 990v4 which I loved, btw — they feel like high-heels that are way too stiff and thick. They deaden sensation and prevent natural foot movements, a bit like if I was wearing stiff oven mitts on my hands going through the day.
On a related note: I think something about my mindset on exercise may also be changing 🤔
I don’t know if it’s the running or just a slow burn realization that is culminating now, but I think my motivation is switching from ‘avoiding negatives’ like ‘I have to exercise to reduce my odds of getting sick’ to something more positive like ‘I want to be in the best shape of my life’.
That may sound ambitious if you don’t know that I’ve never been in super-great shape — I’m not naturally inclined to sports and exercise the way some people are — but I can still remember a time when I got in pretty good shape years ago because I had debilitating RSI problems and one of the potential cures was to exercise and get in good shape (spoiler: That’s not what cured my RSI — I gotta write about that at some point…). I want to beat that!
📊🥧 Why pie charts can be problematic:
h/t Max Roser
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Volkswagen creates integrated battery PowerCo following Tesla’s model
Looks like the term ‘gigafactory’ is now generic 🤔
The new chapter in VW’s history will be handled by a new company - PowerCo. It has been set up by the VW to purely focus on the battery business, the new company will be responsible for the entire value chain - from sourcing materials to selling finished products. [...]
The new company plans to invest €20 billion within the next eight years in developing the [six] new factories and their surrounding areas; it will employ at least 20,000 people across Europe. PowerCo plans to open factories in North America as well. [...]
PowerCo follows Tesla with full vertical integration of value chain, machinery and equipment to the factories. The company has already plans in place for manufacturing of storage systems for the energy grid industry.
Stationary batteries for the grid too, eh?
Not necessarily a bad idea per se, but I continue to think that battery supply should in priority go to the electrification of transportation, and grid baseload should be handled by nuclear power + hydro where available (+ someday deep geothermal & fusion).
I know I’m a broken record on this, but it’s math:
If you try to clean up the whole grid using mostly renewables, you end up with a GINORMOUS need for batteries *at the same time* as you have GINORMOUS battery demand for EVs.
It doesn’t make sense to split supply between these two things when we have nuclear power which is clean and safe and could be made much cheaper if only we removed some madness from the process.
PowerCo will use the prismatic unified cell architecture in its batteries which allows for use of different cell chemistries. The cells will be manufactured from 2025 with the factory planned capacity to be 40 GWh which is enough to supply 500,000 electric vehicles. By 2030 PowerCo plans to have all six European factories up and running with a combined capacity of 240 GWh. (Source)
This sounds like a lot until you remember that they’re talking about 500k EVs by 2025 when Tesla is already producing at a run rate of over 1 million/year. The legacy automakers will really have to give it some throttle (I won’t say “step on the gas” because it’s not quite appropriate here)…
Interview: Matthew Ball, Metaverse & Gaming & Atlantic Canada 🎮👾
Really enjoyed this one, prob my fave interview of Matt (👨🚒) that I’ve heard:
They even mention Deadwood! 🤠
Volaris & ✨ Constellation Software ✨
Volaris, the original group within Constellation, released a mid-year update and so far they’ve done 14 in 8 different countries. Very impressive, and if we assume that they keep that run rate for the year, that’s about as many as CSI as a whole did in 2015 and more than in 2014.
The multi-year process to decentralize capital deployment and teach more people in the organization how to do M&A certainly seems to be paying off, at least when we look at the number of deals and at the ROICs (so far).
This is no easy feat when you consider that most acquisitions destroy value and that most companies will only do a few over decades. Truly a core skill here.
If you’re not too familiar with the company, this podcast may be a good starting point:
Amazon pares down private-label items 🚚 📦📦📦
The controversy surrounding Amazon’s store brand items is a bit mystifying to me.
“Oh, they compete with other sellers!” Like Walmart, Costco, and Target, you mean? “But they have data on sales!” Like Walmart, Costco, and Target, you mean? “But they can decide to more prominently display their own brands right next to competitors’ stuff!” Like Walmart, Costco, and Target, you mean? "But they copy the things that sell well!" Like Walmart, Costco, and Target, you mean?
I don’t know, I tend to think that competition is good for the consumer and helps keep prices down and innovation up, but I can understand why sellers would prefer to have less of it, and journalists who are pre-disposed to be negative on Amazon because it gets pageviews will run with that.
Amazon’s private-label business, with 243,000 products across 45 different house brands as of 2020, has been a source of controversy because it competes with other sellers on its platform. The decision to scale back the house brands resulted partly from disappointing sales for many of the items, the people said. It also came as the retail-and-technology giant has faced criticism in recent years from lawmakers and others that it sometimes gives advantages to its own brands at the expense of products sold by other vendors on its site. (Source)
Maybe the regulatory pressure is what is making them cull the herd, but it could also be that they went through a huge wave of experimentation and “let’s throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” and now the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction and they’re focusing more on profitability and what is getting traction.
If the other big retailers were less limited by shelf space and were ready to invest as much as Amazon (AMZN 0.00%↑) on growth, they probably also would have much broader lines of private-label things.
I dunno, maybe I’m missing something ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
💳 Stripe marks down its valuation by 28% to $74bn 📉
Stripe told employees in an email Friday that the internal share price was about $29, compared with $40 in the most previous internal valuation, known as a 409A valuation, the people said. The move lowered the implied valuation of those shares to $74 billion
I know it’s a good company, but when Adyen shares are down 50-60% and Square/Block shares are down almost 80%, I’m not sure if that’s a realistic number.
I guess we’ll see what Mr. Market says if they try to IPO any time soon…
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☀️ 39.5%: New solar panel efficiency record (for single sun)
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) created a solar cell with a record 39.5% efficiency under 1-sun global illumination. This is the highest efficiency solar cell of any type, measured using standard 1-sun conditions.
This “1-sun” thing may sound weird at first — no, they aren’t talking about the binary suns of Tatooine! — it just means that they didn’t concentrate sunlight from a larger area through a lens 🔍
The purple line at the very top of the chart is for 143x “suns”, which you can imagine leads to incredibly high temperatures and can’t be sustained.
These record-breaking cells are *very* expensive but may make sense for some space applications like satellites or space probes 🛰 where the total cost is very high and you need as much power as possible into the smallest, lighter package you can design.
Solar geeks can go read the paper here. I understand very little of it, but I’m glad to see that progress marches on.
Don’t overlook geothermal 🌎 🕳 🔥 🥵
It’s often the thing you don’t expect…
While wind and solar have been getting a lot of attention in the past decade, geothermal isn’t sexy and hasn’t really been on most people’s radars (I’m not talking about ground source heat pumps, but rather the geothermal that taps into the vast quantities of heat present deep underground).
We’re getting a lot of energy from the sun, which is a giant fusion reactor, but there’s another nuclear power source beneath our feet that could provide limitless clean energy if we could only unlock it.
All we need to do it learn to drill deep holes cheaply enough (it doesn’t sound too bad when you put it like that):
Advocates call geothermal the “sun beneath our feet,” so much so that it’s a cliché. Yet that description is no exaggeration. The Earth’s molten core is roughly as hot as the surface of the sun — due in part to the continual decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements — and will generate heat for about as long as our local yellow star does.
And that’s just the core. There’s some 40 times as much crustal thermal energy than the energy of the planet’s combined reserves of uranium, seawater uranium, lithium, thorium, and fossil fuels. Extracting “just 0.1 percent of the heat content of Earth could supply humanity’s total energy needs for 2 million years,” according to the US government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy.
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Thoughts on Taste 👅 🧐 👩🎨 𝄞
I like this essay on taste (not tasting food, but having taste).
Appreciation is a form of taste. Creation is another. They are often intertwined, but don’t have to be. Someone could have impeccable taste in art, without producing any themselves. Those who create tasteful things are almost always deep appreciators, though [...]
You probably already have an intuitive sense of the people in your life who have great taste in something. They’re the people you always go to for restaurant or movie or gear recommendations. [...]
Though taste may appear effortless, you can’t have taste by mistake. It requires intention, focus, and care. Taste is a commitment to a state of attention. It’s a process of peeling back layer after layer, turning over rock after rock. [...]
Taste comes in lanes. To quote Susan Sontag again, “There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion — and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly. It's rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and taste in ideas.” [...]
There’s also a difference between expensive and tasteful. If rich people often have good taste it’s because they grew up around nice things, and many of them acquired an intolerance for not nice things as a result. That’s a good recipe for taste, but it’s not sufficient and it’s definitely not a guarantee.
My artist friends have excellent taste, and they are certainly not the richest group of people I know. One hypothesis is that creating forces taste upon its maker. Creators must master self-expression and craft if they’re going to make something truly compelling.
I truly believe that developing your taste in whatever you care about should be a conscious pursuit for more people, rather than assume the ‘fixed mindset’ that it’s something that some people are just born with, or lucky to have, and that maybe you’ll get there too by accident along the way.
If you apply a ‘deliberate practice’ mindset to it, you can improve from whatever starting point you had. It’s not about comparing yourself to others, but rather to your past self (👨🌾).