308: Two Year Anniversary, Discord Community, Shopify + Youtube, Billionaire Phones, AWS Graviton $, Time Travel, Solar Jobs, and Facebook AI
Has it been 24 months already? 730 days? 17520 hours?
Two years! 🎂 🥳 🍾
Has it been 24 months already? 730 days? 17,520 hours?
What am I doing here? What are you doing here? 👨🏻✈️🚢
So what’s the plan, captain?
Well, I’m trying to curate stuff I find valuable/interesting/entertaining. ‘Highlights’ is my catch-all term, but there’s a rationale behind it.
What I want to be for you is a 𝕔𝕦𝕣𝕒𝕥𝕠𝕣.
You’re busy, you’re probably specialized in a field — it’s the dominant strategy to get ahead in life — so you don’t necessarily have time to jump from field to field and follow countless random rabbit holes just in case they turn out to be interesting (and even if you do, they’re probably not all the same as mine!).
I happen to be wired on the more generalist end of the spectrum, so I’m happy to do that stuff and report on what I find here. It’s a win-win arrangement because we both get to do what we love, and our lives are (hopefully) augmented by this relationship 💚 🥃
But why does my attempt at curation matter in this world where every app at your fingertips opens up a firehose of algorithmically tailored information?
I was listening to a podcast by Cal Newport where he talked about how the best way to consume information is to find human-curated sources that you trust instead of algorithms.
I agree because:
Human curators can have taste and filter for quality, interestingness, and usefulness… They can have a good BS detector based on life experience, can put things into context and point out nuances, etc. They learn new things and can share the journey. Curators are opinionated: I don’t expect you to agree with me on everything, and that’s a good thing because it forces some exploration of topics and ideas that you may not naturally be initially drawn to.
Algorithms tend to be more like mirrors, and over time they show you more of what you already agree with. They optimize for retention, time-spent-on-platform, emotional reactivity (with anger and fear being the strongest emotions), number of ads seen/clicked, etc. Algorithms often have the opposite of a BS detector: They amplify the most controversial stuff and overlook the “boring” settled science…
While I can’t provide an endless scroll tweaked by machine-learning models to provide a steady-but-just-unpredictable-enough flow of dopamine hits (because variable rewards are most addictive), hopefully we can learn and have fun together in a way that is better for our brains than mindless doom scrolling.
Happy 2nd anniversary to me and you, because we’re in this together — without you, my going clickety-clack on a keyboard up here in Canada doesn’t result in photons hitting your retinas and making my words appear into your brain as if by telepathy.
🤔 ⌨️ 💻 👀 🧠💭🗣
The process is a lot less magical if I’m just writing a personal diary, so thank you for being here, and doubleplus-thanks if you’re a paid supporter! 💚 🥃
Grand Opening of Liberty Labs 🧪🔬🧬 🔭 (on Discord)!
I’ve created a new thing, and now’s the right time to unveil it.
It’s a little community space just for us on Discord. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a bit like Slack, you can do group or 1-on-1 text chats (under your real name or a pseudonym), with the capability to do voice/video chats too (but don’t worry, it’s all optional — you can lurk if you want). The app is free, works on all platforms, and on mobile & desktop.
Readers will be able to chat with me, but most importantly, get to know each other.
I have so many amazing readers — friendly, curious, and knowledgeable, with expertise in all kinds of fields like finance, software, medicine, manufacturing, the arts, sales, engineering, fitness, etc — and I feel like with the right place to meet without me as the bottleneck, many would become friends and add a ton of value to each others’ lives.
To be clear, I’m not saying this is a way to reach me 24/7 — I’m not making any promises! some days I’ll be in there a lot, some days not at all — but I think it could be kind of the equivalent of those fun ongoing group chats with my friends on iMessage/Whatsapp/etc. No pressure and makes your day better!
It’s all very simple, there’s only 3 main channels:
General-🗣⚓️💚 🥃 (where we can talk about whatever)
Introductions-👋 (where you can introduce yourself and learn about the background of others)
Your Highlights-🌟 (where you can share interesting stuff you find, a kind of crowd-sourced version of this newsletter)
That’s it. Let’s break the parasocial fourth wall (*cue GIF of Kool-Aid man busting through a wall), I hope you’ll join me — and others — to make this a conversation!
👉 How to join the Discord 👇
Paid supporters will get an email from me with instructions soon (super easy, just follow an invite link). If you’re a supporter and somehow don’t get an invite, you can always email me by replying to any newsletter edition or send me a direct message on Twitter, and I’ll send you one.
If you aren’t a paid supporter yet, when you become one you’ll also be able to join us there.
💚 🥃 Thank you for two years of support! Can’t do it without you!
Liberty’s Highlights is reader-supported. To support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber. This will also give you access to the ‘Liberty Labs’ Discord. 🚢
🏦 💰 Liberty Capital 💳 💴
Chances are you’re using a billionaire’s phone! 💰📱
You can buy basically the best phone available for $1,000. If you had $100,000 to spend there isn't anything that is really any better. Same for computers. We don't hear about the insane consumer tech of the ultra rich because everything is available at mass market prices.
He then points to a quote by Andy Warhol:
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
In Europe the royalty and the aristocracy used to eat a lot better than the peasants—they weren’t eating the same things at all. It was either partridge or porridge, and each class stuck to its own food. But when Queen Elizabeth came here and President Eisenhower bought her a hot dog I’m sure he felt confident that she couldn’t have had delivered to Buckingham Palace a better hot dog than that one he bought for her for maybe twenty cents at the ballpark. Because there is no better hot dog than a ballpark hot dog. Not for a dollar, not for ten dollars, not for a hundred thousand dollars could she get a better hot dog. She could get one for twenty cents and so could anybody else.
To me that seems very true, and fairly new in a historical context. What else would qualify a couple of hundred years ago? (to be clear, the point isn’t that there’s no difference between the rich and the middle-class — it’s that *everything* used to be very different, and now many things aren’t)
This reminded me of something John Gruber (🍎) wrote about a few years ago when a company called Vertu tried to sell “luxury” smartphones.
They were gem-encrusted, leather-wrapped, and sold for $6,000 (back in 2012), but as actual phones, they were *way inferior* to an entry-level iPhone that could be had for $199 with a contract at the time.
I think a similar thing has happened with music too: Rewind time enough, and only the fairly wealthy could have access to music on-demand, with the very best orchestras and virtuosos.
Today, anyone can listen to recordings of basically any artist at high-fidelity any time they want, and live shows have become more about “the experience” than about access to the music itself (which is usually inferior to a studio recording anyway, with exceptions).
The story I’ve relayed, perhaps only on podcasts. Back in 2008 or 2009 or so, I was leaving a nice restaurant in Austin during SXSW, and Michael Dell was in the lobby waiting to be seated. He was on his phone, some Windows phone thing.
I thought, first, “Holy sht, there’s Michael Dell!” Then, “Holy sht, I have a much better phone than Michael Dell and he’s a fking billionaire.”
And then third: “And the best phone Michael Dell *could* buy is the exact same one that I have in my pocket.”
🕰 Finance as Time Travel 💸👦🏻↔👴🏻💰
I love how friend-of-the-show and Extra-Deluxe supporter Byrne Hobart (💚💚💚💚💚 🥃) puts it:
One fun way to conceptualize finance is that it's a form of time-travel. A mortgage is just a way to collect some of the next thirty years of your income, bundle it up, and use it to buy a house today. The price of a risky biotech stock is the blended result of two futures, the common one where they fail and the rare one where they succeed. This is quite socially useful; the present expected value of X happening in the future can be transported to the present, where it can fund investments that make X more likely to happen.
Yes, yes! Temporal reflexivity, shrödinger’s investments, and back-to-the-future time loops all rolled up into seemingly boring GAAP filings.
The business of AWS’ Custom ARM chips (Graviton 3) 🧨🔥
Revenue from Graviton servers, which launched in late 2018, was on pace to exceed $5 billion on an annual basis as of last fall, said the person with direct knowledge of the figures. That means Graviton servers could represent more than 10% of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud revenue in 2022 if their growth continues. EC2 revenue made up roughly half of the $62 billion in revenue AWS generated last year, this person said. (Amazon hasn't disclosed EC2 or Graviton revenue.) [...]
Since April, when Databricks launched a trial of its software running on AWS cloud servers powered by the secondgeneration Graviton chip, Databricks customers have seen a performance increase of 20% to 40% compared to servers powered by other chips, while their cloud costs have decreased 20% to 40%, said CEO Ali Ghodsi in a recent interview [...] “It’s basically a free lunch” for AWS customers, Ghodsi said. “We heard loud and clear from our customers that they wanted to run on these Graviton machines.”
Similarly to how Apple’s AAPL acquisition of P.A. Semi led to their current silicon differentiation, Amazon’s AMZN acquisition of Annapurna Labs back in 2015 appears to be a home run.
Though to be fair, a lot of value came from the acquirers too — their own existing teams and further hiring and investments that they made post-acquisition that the smaller companies may not have been able to make independently, etc.
Graviton has become so popular with some customers that in some locations, AWS has run out of cloud servers to rent to them.
That’s a high-quality problem to have!
As I’ve covered in the past, competitors are also embracing ARM, but so far they are relying on third-party chips:
While Microsoft, Google and Oracle have announced plans to develop their own Arm-based chips, both currently offer pre-release versions of Arm-based cloud servers through partnerships with Ampere Computing, a chip startuplleed by former Intel executive Renée James. Google last week released a preview version of its first Amperebased cloud server andssaiid it expects to release the server widely to customers later this year.
👷♀️☀️👷♂️ How good are “solar jobs”? 💰💸
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about “green jobs”, and I’m sure you have too.
For a long time, that sounded great to me — why not? If we’re going to upgrade the power grid and various industries, that’s bound to create lots of new kinds of jobs.
But the quality of jobs varies a lot, whatever color you attach to it…
Temp agencies are as common in the solar industry as they are in construction. Many workers are needed to install a solar field, but much fewer are needed once it's up and running. [...]
An itinerant low-wage workforce that chases solar installation projects from state to state for meager wages has proliferated around the country as the U.S. increasingly transitions to green energy. People down on their luck uproot their lives and travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to solar panel installation projects in the remotest parts of the country. Many of these projects are utility-scale, meaning they provide energy to utility companies, who then use it to power the grid.
Between 2010 and 2020, the number of workers in the solar industry more than doubled from 93,000 to 231,000 people, according to the most recent National Solar Jobs Census report. In 2019, solar panel installer was the third fastest growing job in the United States.
These are mostly installer jobs, as the panels are made elsewhere (*cough* China *cough*).
For each project, Shade has had to negotiate with a recruiter on the phone over his hourly wages and a daily housing stipend, known as a per diem. In the solar industry, it's common to have two workers doing the same job for vastly different pay and living stipends [...] Shade said he’s been paid anywhere from $16 to $25 an hour to operate heavy equipment, but has had no luck finding a full-time job in the industry with benefits. (Source)
Someone’s crap job is someone else’s dream job, and I think it’s great that these exist vs not existing at all.
But I can’t help but imagine if a different path had been taken 🤔
For example (just a totally random example, of course), building nuclear power plants creates lots and lots of construction jobs that stick around for many years, because these are large, complex projects that require high levels of skill and precision.
But once these plants are operational, thousands of high-paying skilled jobs (engineers, technicians, maintenance, security, researchers) stick around the area for 30-40-50 years+, providing stable employment and boosting the local economy in a way that can be built upon, unlike the boomtown dynamics of big solar/wind projects that don’t leave many long-term good jobs behind once the construction phase is over.
📺 Shopify partners with Youtube 📦
This makes a lot of sense:
The partnership, which builds on an existing one with Google, will allow merchants to integrate their online stores with YouTube [...]
Merchants can tag and pin products during live streams, show a curated list of products in a product shelf below on-demand videos and add a store tab under their YouTube channel to feature their products.
Shopify, which has also partnered with TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, said it saw orders placed through such partner integrations quadruple in the first quarter of the year.
I wonder how the deal is structured on Youtube’s side. They have a lot of bargaining leverage, so what are they getting out of this? 🤔 SHOP GOOG
🗽 Immigration in the U.S. 🇺🇸
🧪🔬 Liberty Labs 🧬 🔭
Overview of Fusion Research field, Private and Public 👩🔬☢️🛠
Nice to see a lot of very different approaches being tried.
After OpenAI’s DALL-E and Google’s Imagen, here’s Facebook’s Make-A-Scene 🖼 🎨🤖
I think you know the concept by now, so I won’t go into the basics…
What’s interesting about this one is that you don’t just have a text prompt to generate the image, you can also draw a rough composition and the AI will fill in the details. See here:
Nvidia NVDA has something similar called Canvas:
ARM keeps colonizing the data-center, Google launches new Tau instances ☁️☁️☁️
Following AWS’ Graviton and Azure’s Altra-based offerings, Google is joining the ARM party with a ‘preview’ of its new servers:
Powered by Ampere Altra Arm-based processors, T2A VMs deliver exceptional single-threaded performance at a compelling price. Tau T2A VMs come in multiple predefined VM shapes, with up to 48 vCPUs per VM, and 4GB of memory per vCPU. They offer up to 32 Gbps networking bandwidth and a wide range of network attached storage options
Interview: Jason Crawford, what is progress and how do we keep it going? 🚀👩🔬🧫
I enjoyed this interview by James Pethokoukis:
Here’s a highlight:
First off, stuff is underrated. People like to dismiss it as if material comforts don't matter. They matter a lot. And I think people just take the current level of affluence for granted and they don't think about how life could be way better. You know, people in 1800 if you could ask them, they would probably say they were fairly satisfied with their lives as well. They had no idea what was possible.
But you're right that it's not just about stuff. I mentioned choice and opportunity. Think about the ability that the average person has (at least the average person in a reasonably wealthy country) to live where they want, to have the kind of job that they want instead of having to be a farmer or just having to accept the trade that their father had, the ability to marry whom they want when they want, to have children or not and how many children to have and when to have them, the ability to go on vacation.
There are a lot of these things that we take for granted now that people did not always have. So it's not just about a full belly and a roof over your head and a warm bed to sleep in at night. Those are great things. And, again, they're underrated. But it's also about romance and knowledge and exploration and excitement and adventure and self-actualization, and self-expression—all of those very human values, which are psychological values. Those are also supported and enabled by material progress.
A-10 Pilot anecdote about flying without special earplugs
‘I realized the severity of my error as soon as I ran the engines up to full at the edge of the runway, ready for takeoff. What followed was one of the most miserable and painful experiences of my life. It was a close second to the time I had to fly in full chemical warfare gear. I don’t think the drinking tube is supposed to stick up your nose like that.
‘Imagine yourself at the biggest heavy metal concert in the world. In the front row. With your head strapped to the speaker. For an hour and a half.’
‘I was sure I would be completely deaf by the time I landed.
🤖 That sounds like a lot 🤔
If you had a drop of water for each floating-point multiplication used to train PaLM, Google's new 540B parameter language model, it would just about fill the Pacific Ocean
🎨 🎭 Liberty Studio 👩🎨 🎥
Early digital special effects, morphing, etc 🎥 🎬 🍿
I really enjoyed this episode with an ol’ school Industrial Light & Magic special-fx artist, who was among the very first to do morphings (pre-CGI), worked on Terminator 2 and Willow, etc.
Shows how far we’ve come, and how much problem-solving and pure invention was involved with early digital special effects!