53: Amazon Pharmacy, Shopify + AliPay, Twitter's New Head of Security, Airbnb S-1, S&P and Moody's, Atreides, and the ARM stuff never ends...

"maybe someone did slip something in my green tea"

"Like all commodities, pessimism and optimism are both most useful when in short supply. " -Joey Levin, IAC letter April 6

If I tweet something that makes people joke that I’m on drugs, I guess I have to post it here…

But seriously, I enjoy trying to look at things that I see every day with fresh eyes. It makes life more fun, and it keeps your imagination-muscles from atrophying (who wants to grow up to be this guy?).

To me, it’s fun to think about faraway power plants when I turn on a light switch or wonder how much turbulence the side mirrors on a car cause or whether the steel air ducts in the floors of my house have a notable impact on wifi signal strength in a particular spot.

It doesn’t mean that I go down every rabbit hole and spend much time on each of these thoughts, but just having them is most of the value. Having good questions is a pre-requisite to good answers. In fact, I’d guess it’s usually the rate-limiter there.

There’s so much that we stop thinking about or questioning just because it’s around us all the time, but everything is pretty magical (ok, now I do sound on drugs) when you think about it a bit longer or from a different angle.

Or maybe someone did slip something in my green tea ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

✪ I’ve been writing three editions a week since July 20 (I read Balaji Srinivasan’s post about starting a newsletter on July 17, and thought, hmm, why not?). The weird thing is, the schedule is accidental. I initially thought I’d do Tue & Thu, but I figured that at first, I’d do three for a week or two to go up the learning curve faster and get my legs under me.

I just kinda stuck with it. On days when I’m not publishing, I look forward to the next publication day, which I guess is a sign that I’m still having fun with this project.

✾ I've said it before and I'll say it again, true luxury is having soft-close kitchen cabinet doors.

Investing & Business

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Amazon Pharmacy

When I saw that CVS and Walgreens went down 8-9% on this announcement, I was reminded of Modest Proposal’s first interview with Patrick O’Shaughnessy (memory’s a bit fuzzy; at the time was it Facebook coming out with their dating thing and Match selling off? Or was it grocery chains falling on the Whole Foods acquisition? — there were so many of these)…

Amazon Pharmacy, a new store on Amazon, allows customers to complete an entire pharmacy transaction on their desktop or mobile device through the Amazon App. Using a secure pharmacy profile, customers can add their insurance information, manage prescriptions, and choose payment options before checking out. Prime members receive unlimited, free two-day delivery on orders from Amazon Pharmacy included with their membership


Also new today, Prime members can access savings on medications at Amazon Pharmacy when paying without insurance, as well as at over 50,000 other participating pharmacies nationwide. The Amazon Prime prescription savings benefit saves members up to 80% off generic and 40% off brand name medications when paying without insurance.


Seems like the Prime membership just got a lot more valuable to millions of people… You may even say that for many, it would be irresponsible not to be a member.

*maniacal Bezos laughter*

Gavin Baker: New Atreides Marching Orders

I respect Gavin Baker’s thinking a lot, so I sometimes have a peek at his portfolio (it’s not as naughty as it sounds).

I find it cool that he can both talk about the benefits of Nvidia’s Ampere architecture and how Taiwan is the Arrakis of semiconductor fabbing, and about the second and third order effects of the pandemic on a certain class of omni-channel retailers. Versatility FTW.

Last month, Baker wrote about his thesis that ‘category leading brick and mortar retailers are likely the biggest long term Covid beneficiaries’, and last quarter he put his money where his mouth is (where is keyboard is?), as it looks like his biggest position (other than SPY puts) is American Eagle Outfitters (9.62% of the portfolio, or at least, the 13F part of the portfolio).

Also started ˜5% positions in Fiserv, Uber, Snap. Increased Disney, Intel (he wrote about it here)… Decreased Square, PAR, Tesla, Roku, Nvidia… This looks like positioning for the next phase of the pandemic and after.

Shopify + AliPay

we’re announcing a partnership with Alipay [...] The new payment gateway will allow Shopify merchants to seamlessly accept payments through Alipay from more than one billion annual active users in China alone — and, in the future, hundreds of millions more across Asia. [...]

through the Alipay payment gateway, Shopify merchants will reduce friction for consumers looking to make purchases with their preferred payment method (Source)

They keep clearing the brush that is in between their merchants and their customers (is that a good analogy? brush? I guess what it lacks in quality it makes up in originality).

Twitter Launches Disappearing Tweets (“Fleets”)

Fleets are for sharing momentary thoughts – they help start conversations and only stick around for 24 hours. [...]

You can Fleet text, reactions to Tweets, photos or videos and customize your Fleets with various background and text options. To share a Tweet in a Fleet tap the “Share” icon at the bottom of the Tweet and then tap, “Share in Fleet.” (Source)


As Jamie Catherwood pointed out, they should’ve called them “Chirps”.

Twitter Hires OG Hacker ‘Mugde’ to be Head of Security

Blue bird special this week, two Twitter items. This is pretty cool:

Peiter Zatko, widely known by his hacker handle Mudge, to the new position of head of security, giving him a broad mandate to recommend changes in structure and practices. Zatko answers to CEO Jack Dorsey [...]

Zatko said he will examine “information security, site integrity, physical security, platform integrity -- which starts to touch on abuse and manipulation of the platform -- and engineering.”

Zatko most recently oversaw security at the electronic payments unicorn Stripe. Before that, he worked on special projects at Google and oversaw handing out grants for projects on cybersecurity at the Pentagon’s famed Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA).

The dude is overkill for Twitter, but hey, as a heavy Twitter user, I won’t complain.

Zatko's colorful career began in the 1990s, when he simultaneously conducted classified work for a government contractor and was among the leaders of Cult of the Dead Cow, a hacking group notorious for releasing Windows hacking tools in order to goad Microsoft into improving security.


This is how OG Zatko is:

Mudge was responsible for early research into a type of security vulnerability known as the buffer overflow. In 1995 he published "How to Write Buffer Overflows", one of the first papers on the topic.

He published some of the first security advisories and research demonstrating early vulnerabilities in Unix such as code injection, side-channel attacks, and information leaks, and was a leader in the full disclosure movement. He was the initial author of security tools L0phtCrack, AntiSniff, and l0phtwatch.

Mudge was one of the first people from the hacker community to reach out and build relationships with government and industry. (Source)

Airbnb S-1: Let’s Switch Over to Byrne, With the Weather…

So another domino is falling in the IPO… line of dominos? Where am I going with this?

Anyway, Airbnb’s S-1 is out. I don’t care enough about the company and don’t have the bandwidth to check it out myself, but Byrne Hobart is both smarter than I am and a better writer, so I’ll direct you to his free newsletter edition on the company:

Scuttleblurb: S&P Global & Moody’s

I know a lot of you like these companies because, well, they’re great companies. David Kim just published a post about both here (subscription required):

He previously did a post on Moody’s in 2017.

You may also be interested by this interview I did with David.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time…

Science & Technology

The Difference 35 Years Make, ARM Edition

You thought I was done with Apple’s new M1 ARM chip? This is the Groundhog Day of topics (and by that I mean ‘really good’ and ‘you can return to it over and over again and it’s never boring’, of course)…

Computer history buff Ken Shirriff has a great thread comparing the first ARM chip that came out in 1985 (worth nothing again that Apple was one of the co-founders of ARM) with the latest and greatest, Apple’s own in-house M1:

The ARM1 on the left has 25,000 transistors.

The Apple M1 on the right has 16 billion.

Don’t miss the caption on the image above. The whole chip on the left would fit inside the tiny red circle at that scale if it was fabbed with the M1’s transistor-size.

But transistor count isn’t the only difference:

The ARM1 processor ran at 6 megahertz, while the M1 runs at 3.2 gigahertz, over 500 times faster. While the ARM1 was a single processor, the M1 has 4 high-performance CPU cores, 4 efficiency CPU cores, a 16-core neural engine, and 8-core GPU.

When you zoom out and look at the way the chips are packaged, you get this:

The ARM1 had an 84-pin package, 30mm wide. The M1 package is smaller at ~21mm wide, and has DRAM modules on it. Compare the yellow ceramic disc decoupling capacitors on the ARM1 board with the tiny 0402 capacitors surrounding the M1 die. (Photo shows packages at same scale.)


There’s the Nice Logic, and then There’s the Ugly Atoms…

Amazon Alexa Moving from GPUs to Custom ‘Inferentia’ Chips

Today, we are announcing that the Amazon Alexa team has migrated the vast majority of their GPU-based machine learning inference workloads to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Inf1 instances, powered by AWS Inferentia. This resulted in 25% lower end-to-end latency, and 30% lower cost compared to GPU-based instances for Alexa’s text-to-speech workloads. The lower latency allows Alexa engineers to innovate with more complex algorithms and to improve the overall Alexa experience for our customers. [...] customers have connected more than 100 million devices to Alexa.

These Inferentia chips (you can think of them as similar to Google’s better-known TPUs — it’s always good branding in electronics to have a 3-letter acronym with a ‘U’ at the end…) are replacing Nvidia GPUs for the inference.

The compute-intensive training of the ML models will very likely still happen on Nvidia hardware, though.

AWS built AWS Inferentia chips from the ground up to provide the lowest-cost machine learning (ML) inference in the cloud. They power the Inf1 instances that we launched at AWS re:Invent 2019. Inf1 instances provide up to 30% higher throughput and up to 45% lower cost per inference compared to GPU-based G4 instances, which were, before Inf1, the lowest-cost instances in the cloud for ML inference.

I’d guess that these comparisons are to Nvidia’s last generation, the Volta, and not the Ampere. I’d be curious to see how they compare to that.

Here’s the juicy geeky bits:

Each AWS Inferentia chip contains four NeuronCores. Each NeuronCore implements a high-performance systolic array matrix multiply engine, which massively speeds up typical deep learning operations such as convolution and transformers. NeuronCores are also equipped with a large on-chip cache, which helps cut down on external memory accesses, dramatically reducing latency and increasing throughput.

AWS Inferentia can be used natively from popular machine-learning frameworks like TensorFlow, PyTorch, and MXNet, with AWS Neuron. AWS Neuron is a software development kit (SDK) for running machine learning inference using AWS Inferentia chips. It consists of a compiler, run-time, and profiling tools that enable you to run high-performance and low latency inference. (Source)

‘Experts Worry Unreal Engine 5 Will Deplete the World’s Supply of Triangles’

Ok, mea culpa on this one, I wanted to put it in edition #52, but I forgot, so I’m putting it here. The context was this Unreal 5 demo on the Playstation 5 video:

Epic Games revealed their upcoming Unreal Engine 5 today, a program with such staggering capability that experts are worried it will deplete the world’s supply of triangles within the next console generation. [...]

“The first areas hit were places with dense vegetation like the Amazon Rainforest,” explained Blackwell. “Without sufficient vertices, we saw entire swaths of the forest replaced with low-poly versions. It was ugly.” [...]

If we don’t act we’ll be lucky if the earth looks like the original Star Fox after this.”

Source. h/t to Matthew Ball for surfacing it

Jeff Bezos, Arnold Ventures, & others Fund Methane Detection Satellite

This is pretty cool. More of these low-hanging fruits need to be picked. John Arnold (I wrote about a good interview he did with Peter Attia in edition #22) writes:

Thrilled that Jeff Bezos has joined us and more than 20 others to fully fund @EnvDefenseFund's MethaneSat, a satellite that will locate and measure sources of methane pollution globally. Though it dissipates faster, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon.

Addressing methane is the fastest, most effective way to slow global warming. MethaneSat, when launched in '22, will be particularly useful in identifying inadvertent leaks from oil and gas facilities. As most leaks can be inexpensively fixed, the cost-benefit impact is huge.

Here’s the website of the MethaneSat project for more details.

According to this post, Bezos donated $791 million to 16 organizations in this round of grants from his Bezos Earth Fund (with $10bn of funding so far). More details about the other donations here.

The Arts & History

‘Gaming since 1978 - Atari VCS to PS5 / Xbox Series X’

Is this technology, is this arts, is this history?

¿Por qué no los tres? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


2009 German 2€ Commemorative Coin

The coin commemorates the evolution of trade relationships, ranging from prehistoric bartering (indicated by the intentionally "primitive" design of the motif) to the single currency of the economic and monetary union as the final stage [The lady doth protest too much, methinks. -Lib] in Europe's long history of trade and economic integration. The general public in the euro area voted on the coin motif in an online survey. It was designed by Georgios Stamatopoulos, who works as a sculptor at the Bank of Greece. [...]

Issue volume: 30 million (in Germany). (Source)

I wasn’t sure when I first saw it, but it’s growing on me.

So many of the artifacts designed by humans are neat and symmetrical, it’s kind of cool to have something so messy come out of the bureaucracy.

Via Reddit