Discover more from Liberty’s Highlights
368: Twitter Drama, John Carmack vs Meta R&D, Amazon + SWAT, California Solar, and The Bear
"a company isn’t a country"
Any person who wants to govern the world is by definition the wrong person to do it. –Greg Iles
🌊🎨🤖 I have generated a series of digital paintings of lighthouses using Stable Diffusion (1.5).
I’ve set my phone lock screen to auto-shuffle through my favorite 50. I love that vibe.
It must be the contrast between the dynamic sea and the rectilinear and static towers, the romantic notion of the lone old man with a beard living there…
I’ve been trying to think of other objects/buildings/landscapes/etc that would also work as a series 🤔, but for some reason, I can’t think of many other things that look as good as lighthouses.
I’ve done a few cabins in the woods at night, with a warm glow coming from the windows, and they’re very nice. Maybe I’ll post a few at some point. But I still prefer the lighthouses.
🛀 I wonder which AI company will be the first one to call a large language model GLaDOS. I’m looking at you, Emad!
📙🎁📬 ‘Thank you’ to everyone who entered the book giveaway for a chance to win 1 of 15 copies of the excellent Claude Shannon biography ‘A Mind at Play’ signed by Jimmy Soni!
In order to stay in tune with the Zeitgeist, I had ChatGPT select the winners:
I matched those with names/emails I had in a spreadsheet.
If you’ve won, you should’ve received an email from me yesterday asking you for your mailing address. I’m only missing 4 addresses. If you participated, check your spam folder just in case!
And if you haven’t heard it yet, I recommend the podcast we did on the book, it was a fun one:
😐 🗓️ Everybody else is better than I am at planning ahead.
This is probably the time when I should be doing a “2022 retrospective”, or in Spotify lingo, a “2022 Wrapped”.
But I don’t know. What do I think of 2022..? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
You were there… You know!
I’m more interested in 2023.
GPT-4 is on the horizon. I expect Stability.AI to surprise us again. I think Midjourney is doing really interesting things too, clearly they are excellent at tuning their model for pleasing aesthetics — how far can that go?
2023 may be The Year of AI (for real — we had a moment in 2022, but I think it’s just the beginning).
How is Europe’s energy situation going to evolve? Will Ukrainians finally get to live in peace and fully liberate their population from foreign invaders? How will China deal with the long-delayed-but-unavoidable COVID waves? How will the de-coupling of supply chains continue to evolve? Inflation? Animal spirits? Semiconductors? Taiwan?
But mostly, it’ll be unforeseen stuff that I can’t even put on a list of things to watch out for because I have no idea it’s coming!
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The Plato anecdote at the top is neat. I also like the Nvidia part about the size of AI models and the evolution of the training hardware. There’s an Andrew Huberman Q&A. And you gotta see Walter Hill’s Batman!
My fave part of this one is probably about how the military thinks about analog semiconductors even after 40 years. The big about emergent AI capabilities is 🤯. And Wes Anderson’s Batman is just *chef’s kiss*
If you click the links above, you can see the intros for free and there’s a link to get a 7-day free trial of the paid version. What have you got to lose?
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🐦 Do I even want to comment on what’s happening at Twitter? 🤔
I think enough has been said about the main plot line of the latest episode of Twitter Drama, so I’ll just point out a seemingly small detail that I think is important:
If Musk limits voting on his “important policy decisions” to Twitter Blue users, as he said he would, he’s taking an already very biased sample and making it even more biased. Twitter polls are very dependent on distribution — ie. Who creates the vote and who follows that person, and then the randomness of which sub-Reddit or giant account picks it up to boost turnout for some group of people who are all aligned on issue XYZ.
If you further limit it to those paying for Twitter Blue, you get an even smaller subset of people who are even less representative. I get that Musk is trying to both incentivize more people to pay and may think that the opinion of “power users” matters more, but even if that’s the case, this doesn’t fix the fundamental problem of governing by polling.
Voting is not a great way to surface the “best ideas” from a group. The primary purpose of voting is to maintain legitimacy of the regime in the minds of the losing cadre; you get their “buy in” because they were part of the “process” It’s not a tool for collective sense-making; it’s a tool for popular control. Always has been, always will. If, somehow, some general sense of “the collective will of the people” can emerge from a voting process, it’s a nice side benefit.
In other words, democracy is great because it’s an alternative to systems where the losing side is made to feel like it needs to gain power through violence.
But a company isn’t a country, and all the best-run companies are most definitely not democracies. Even the line that Musk keeps quoting doesn’t say what he seems to think it says (*cue Princess Bride reference*).
Here’s the full ancient proverb:
Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.
Which translates to:
And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.
A big problem with votes is that they are very low-information.
“Should I do XYZ, yes or no?”
Well, is it possible that more than 1 bit of information is required to make a good decision..? Maybe the people would prefer something in between, or maybe they want to voice disagreement with something without necessarily wanting to go as far as “yes”, or as little as “no”, etc.
Shades of gray, nuance!
I think most people just wanted Twitter to be a platform where everyone could find something interesting. For it to be fairer and less heavy-handed with moderation, to fight bots and spam effectively, to release new features at a cadence higher than zero to eventually match other platforms (ie. better DMs, extended tweets to replace awkward threads, etc).
If Musk had just focused on delivering that, users would consider it a great success.
🥽 Ur-Engineer John Carmack is fully out of Meta, shares frustration on R&D efforts ✉️🔥🧯👩🚒🚒
I have a soft spot for John Carmack because he’s central to the creation of Doom, the cornerstone game for my formative early teen years.
I played it with my friends all night in my parents’ basement (they brought their computers and we connected via wires, like animals — but the 🍕 made up for it), I created my own maps, I obsessed over ways to get better at deathmatch, new mods, etc.
So anyway, since then, Carmack has had a long career developing game engines, rockets, and VR hardware and software at Occulus. But after largely stepping back from Meta in 2019 to focus on AGI work, he fully exited the company a few days ago and the goodbye letter he wrote leaked, so he decided to post the whole thing himself.
I think it’s worth a read:
This is the end of my decade in VR.
I have mixed feelings.
Quest 2 is almost exactly what I wanted to see from the beginning – mobile hardware, inside out tracking, optional PC streaming, 4k (ish) screen, cost effective. Despite all the complaints I have about our software, millions of people are still getting value out of it. We have a good product. It is successful, and successful products make the world a better place. It all could have happened a bit faster and been going better if different decisions had been made, but we built something pretty close to The Right Thing.
Classic sandwich format. Good news first, then talk about the problems, then close with some more positive stuff.
The blunt engineer has learned a few things during his time in management! 🥪
The issue is our efficiency.
Some will ask why I care how the progress is happening, as long as it is happening?
If I am trying to sway others, I would say that an org that has only known inefficiency is ill prepared for the inevitable competition and/or belt tightening, but really, it is the more personal pain of seeing a 5% GPU utilization number in production. I am offended by it.
[edit: I was being overly poetic here, as several people have missed the intention. As a systems optimization person, I care deeply about efficiency. When you work hard at optimization for most of your life, seeing something that is grossly inefficient hurts your soul. I was likening observing our organization's performance to seeing a tragically low number on a profiling tool.]
He’s such a nerd that the way he thinks about the potential vs actual useful work of the organization as GPU usage! Love it.
We have a ridiculous amount of people and resources, but we constantly self-sabotage and squander effort. There is no way to sugar coat this; I think our organization is operating at half the effectiveness that would make me happy. Some may scoff and contend we are doing just fine, but others will laugh and say “Half? Ha! I’m at quarter efficiency!”
The more you learn about business, the more you realize that the ‘mythical man month’ and Parkinson’s Law ("work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.") rule everything.
It’s a lot harder to get *good output* out of a system than it is to gather the resources needed as input (money, engineers, hardware).
As Steve Jobs would say: Real artists ship.
If all this work isn’t resulting in great products that rapidly get better through iteration, then the power is not being transferred to the wheels, or the vehicle may not even be pointed in the right direction at all…
It has been a struggle for me. I have a voice at the highest levels here, so it feels like I should be able to move things, but I’m evidently not persuasive enough. A good fraction of the things I complain about eventually turn my way after a year or two passes and evidence piles up, but I have never been able to kill stupid things before they cause damage, or set a direction and have a team actually stick to it. I think my influence at the margins has been positive, but it has never been a prime mover.
This was admittedly self-inflicted – I could have moved to Menlo Park after the Oculus acquisition and tried to wage battles with generations of leadership, but I was busy programming, and I assumed I would hate it, be bad at it, and probably lose anyway.
Fatalism about bureaucracy seems to be ever more common with smart people who have to deal with large companies for extended periods of time.
Enough complaining. I wearied of the fight and have my own startup to run, but the fight is still winnable! VR can bring value to most of the people in the world, and no company is better positioned to do it than Meta. Maybe it actually is possible to get there by just plowing ahead with current practices, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
Make better decisions and fill your products with “Give a Damn”!
Glad he spoke up about all this. The only way that problems get fixed (or at least mitigated) is when we first recognize their existence and don’t sweep them under the rug because it’s more comfortable to just keep going as things have been going…
☀️🔌🏠 ‘California pulls the plug on rooftop solar’
California is 50% of the residential solar market in the US.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) unanimously voted to approve Net Energy Metering 3.0 (NEM), slashing payments for excess solar production sent to the grid by 75%.
CPUC voted cut the average export rate in California from $0.30 per kWh to $0.08 per kWh, making the cuts effective on April 15, 2023. [...]
Currently, average net metering rates range from $0.23 per kWh to $0.35 per kWh, and the new proposed decision cuts those rates to an average of $0.05 per kWh to $0.08 per kWh.
After this change, It’ll be necessary to invest more upfront and get batteries to get the most out of rooftop solar, which would change the return on investment periods from an estimated average of 4.5 years to somewhere between 6.5 and 14.5 years (!).
This is probably fairer, since there’s no such thing as a free lunch and the people getting paid so much above market rate were getting a wealth transfer from others who had to pay higher rates — on average, it was wealthier people with solar panels on their roofs getting money from poorer people who didn’t.
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🏴☠️ ‘Amazon Ring Cameras Used in Nationwide ‘Swatting’ Spree’ 🚔👮🏻♂️👮🏻♂️👮🏻♂️👮🏻♂️
Security matters because there are people like this out there, risking innocent people’s lives for giggles and social media likes:
Two people who hacked Yahoo! email accounts to gain access to Ring home security cameras have been charged over a weeklong “swatting” spree that involved placing bogus emergency calls and live-streaming the armed police responses on social media
If you’re not familiar with “swatting”, it’s when someone calls the police and falsely reports that there are heavily armed and very dangerous people at a certain address doing very dangerous things, prompting the police to send the SWAT team. They go in expecting trouble so they can be rather quick on the trigger.
Because they tend to burst in, the oblivious people who live there may think it’s a home invasion and react to defend themselves (there’s probably not much time to think, it’s fight or flight), which can get them wounded or killed… You reach for the TV remote but they think you’re reaching for a gun, etc.
There have been multiple deaths from this.
The series of swatting incidents prompted the FBI to issue a public service announcement in late 2020 urging users of smarthome security cameras to use unique passwords with two-factor authentication. [...]
The pair allegedly gained access to 12 Ring home security cameras in nine states in November 2020 and placed fake emergency calls to local law enforcement agencies
In one instance, a hoax call was made to police in West Covina, California, with the caller pretending to be a minor reporting her parents were drinking and shooting guns in the home. Nelson allegedly accessed the Ring camera and used it to taunt and threaten the responding police officers, prosecutors said.
As more and more things get connected — IoT and all that — we seriously need to get better at security.
☀️😎 New solar cell efficiency record: Tandem solar cell achieves 32.5% efficiency! 🟥 🟦
You can get higher efficiencies with very expensive multi-junction cells, especially if you use lenses that increase the light’s intensity like a magnifying glass would, but they’re not practical for much except some exotic uses (like in space)…
This new record is for a non-concentrated cell:
The current world record of tandem solar cells consisting of a silicon bottom cell and a perovskite top cell is once again at HZB. The new tandem solar cell converts 32.5 % of the incident solar radiation into electrical energy. [...]
While the top cell can utilise blue light components, the bottom cell converts the red and near-infrared components of the spectrum. Different thin layers help to optimally utilise the light and minimise electrical losses [...]
"At 32.5 percent, the solar cell efficiency of the HZB tandems is now in ranges previously only achieved by expensive III/V semiconductors. The NREL graph clearly shows how spectacular the last two increases from EPFL and HZB really are." (Source)
Great to see this progress.
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🐻 ‘The Bear’ (2022, FX) 🍳🥪🧑🏻🍳
My wife & I watched the first two episodes of 'The Bear' (2022, FX).
I wasn't sure after the pilot, but the second one hooked me.
Good writing, good characters. It starts very chaotic, but it's a purposeful effect to quickly get you up to speed. Then it breathes more.
It reminds me a bit of the kitchen parts of 'Treme', but with a Chicago/Italian vibe rather than New Orleans.
It has good music, nice long lens shots across tiny kitchen spaces. A well-made show so far.
And because it’s a small world, someone on Twitter sent me photos of the shoot, because it’s taking place in a real restaurant across the street from their office!