57: You Need This, Liberty Day, Everbridge's Product Design, AWS Outage & IoT, US Broadband Speed +91% in 2020, and Dave Chappelle + Netflix

"The conversation has flipped instantly"

I am still learning.

—Motto of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

So nobody’s going to read this because of Thanksgiving in the U.S...?

Well, to the brave email completionists who are still here, I’ve got a tip to remove a paper-cut from your life:

If you spend any time in front of a desktop computer, here’s my attempt to convince you to get an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS).

These things are basically a big battery and a power strip mashed together (for consumer grade models — it can also be a giant heavy box if you need enterprise-level juice).

You plug your computer into it, and if there’s ever a power failure or a power surge, this thing handles it and just keeps chugging along in the same way a laptop doesn’t turn off if there’s a power failure (because it’s always going through the battery even when plugged-in).

No more lost work, no more jarring moment when the screen goes dark and you wonder if everything’s going to be there when you reboot. The peace-of-mind alone is worth the price.

And the thing is, the price isn’t that bad. The one I have is the CyberPower CP685AVRG AVR UPS System 685VA/390W (they name these things so poetically, don’t they?), and it’s like $62 USD.

I’ve never got anywhere close to running out of juice during a power failure on my iMac 27” 5K, though that thing is fairly power-efficient. If you have a big honking gaming PC, you can buy bigger ones for a little more money.

Trust me, it’s worth it. Once you go UPS, you can’t go back to plugging directly in the wall like an animal.

Here’s recommendations for the best models from Wirecutter.

❂ The quotes that I put at the top of the intro come from a document that I started a long time ago — maybe 15 years? — where I write down interesting stuff I stumble upon. I never thought it would be useful for anything, except re-reading once in a while, to provoke a thought or a smile (ideally both).

I think it’s fun that I get to share some of them here. I try to avoid the best-known ones that are in all the book chapter-headers and annual letters that make up the shared-culture of the Fintwit crowd.

But at 3-per-week, someday I’ll run out of material. I hope you get some enjoyment out of them while they last. I may have to find a new schtick…

Business & Investing

‘COVID-19 sparks permanent shifts in cybersecurity’

Is this business, is this tech? I’ll put it here because the biz section is a bit light in this edition (Thanksgiving slowdown).

Remote work has caused chief information security officers to shift spending priorities toward identity access management, endpoint and cloud security. COVID-19 has been a benefactor for next-generation security companies that participate in these sectors. Notably, we believe tactical responses to the coronavirus have resulted in productivity improvements that will create permanent change in the way organizations defend themselves against cyberthreats. [...]

The chart below shows one of our favorite views in a two-dimensional graph. On the Y axis we show Net Score, which measures spending velocity by looking at the net percentage of customers spending more versus less money in the ETR survey. The X axis measures Market Share or pervasiveness in the survey.

Note: We left Microsoft out of this view because they are so dominant in the data set that it makes it hard to compare the others. We’ll talk about Microsoft later

Elastic has taken the top spot, just barely edging out Okta, which took over from CrowdStrike in the last survey. [...] CrowdStrike has come off its Net Score highs. We’re not so concerned because it’s dramatically increasing its presence on the X axis each survey…

More here.

Removes Excuses for Customers Not to Buy

Here’s an example from Everbridge. One of the things they do is population alerts/mass notification for governments, like when there’s a hurricane and the government wants to make everybody’s phones beep and display a warning message.

There was competition between two approaches in that market, the exact details aren’t important (cell broadcast vs location-based SMS), but the end result was that governments were kind of paralyzed because nobody wants to pick the wrong thing, because this is the kind of stuff that if it doesn’t work, it’s hard to sweep under the rug and will cost politicians votes.

What did Everbridge, who had bet on the location-based SMS approach, do?

The governments don't want to make the wrong choice. So what we did was we acquired one-to-many [tech through M&A], and we put it together in a hybrid platform, which combines the best location-based SMS, the best cell broadcast [...] you don't really have to choose between option A and option B anymore. We've derisked the choice and said, you just buy the platform, and then you can do whatever combination you want.

Sometimes you have to see the dilemma through your customer’s eyes, and cut through the gordian knot for them.

Interview: Nick Kokonas (co-founder of Alinea, Next, and The Aviary, co-founder and CEO of Tock)

This was really great. It reminded me of that really great episode of ‘Chef’s Table’ on Netflix (season 2, episode 1) about all the work that took place behind the scenes to prepare the re-opening of the world-renowned restaurant Alinea.

Nick stood out in the episode, and it was a pleasure to hear from him again (kudos to Patrick, he’s finding really good guests for his Founder’s series).

I particularly liked his insight about two words he told his team to not use in interviews about the restaurant (‘avant-garde’ and ‘science’) and two to use (‘fun’ and ‘delicious’). Or how when he built Tock — his software company for the restaurant industry — "we didn't bring restaurant people to our office, we put our people in restaurants... All our engineers worked in restaurants".

It may seem like the kind of things anybody could think about, but here’s the thing: they don't. And insights like these may have been the difference between success and failure (or a smaller success — it’s always very non-linear).

Powerful insights don't have to be complex to be valuable. They just have to be right on something that matters.

This is a lesson that is reinforced over and over again as I listen to smart people. It’s like Kurt Cobain’s guitar riffs: Easy to play, but hard to come up with.

Interview: Liberty Day a.k.a. Malone & Maffei Festival

I enjoyed this interview of Zack Silver by Andrew Walker.

Good overview of the recent Liberty Day aka Malone & Maffei Festival (slides here), and many of the various companies this implies.

Also segment on Curiositystream ($CURI) in the second half, a business I wasn't familiar with that basically focuses on doing documentaries-as-a-Service.

I like Andrew’s interviews, because he’s not just a good interviewer, he’s also clearly a good investor, so there’s plenty of value coming from both sides of the table, and he tends to be good at injecting some devil’s advocate POV in the discussions.

Technology & Science

‘Welcome to the future’

So AWS had some issues this week. A good reminder that the Internet of Things (IoT) needs to be thoughtfully designed in ways that fail gracefully and maintains basic functionality even without a way to get online… You never want it to perform worse than the ‘dumb’ stuff it replaces.

Shower Thought: Space Heaters that Help Science

Y'know those tiny electric space heaters (the 1500W ones running on 120v)?

I wish they had stacks of old CPUs that cost nothing anymore (3-4 generations back) and connected to wifi, and that to generate heat, they ran Folding@home or some other distributed computing science.

I know it won’t happen on any scale because there just isn’t the contingent to push for it, but it would be cool.

Btw, I wrote my thoughts on how winter is "distributed computing" season for me in the Science & Tech section of edition #47, with recommendations of projects that you can donate idle CPU cycles to, if you want to join the club.

And yes, I’m aware that crypto miners are a thing. I just wish I could heat my room with something more useful than crunching hashes all day. Plus, the goal of the miners is to make money, but after the price of the hardware, electricity, and then how they fall behind in compute speed after not that long, it seems to rarely be worth the trouble. The value of the science is more durable.

Fair Internet Report 2020: U.S. Broadband Having a Good Year (+91%)

Some highlights from a recent report on global broadband speeds:

  • US broadband speeds increased 91% from 2019-2020, nearly doubling YoY, as measured by annual speed test medians

  • US average broadband speeds overtook western EU countries like the UK, France, and Germany for the first time in 5 years

  • Broadband speeds in the EU overall rose 57% from 2019–2020, 34% lower than the 91% performance increase in the US

Impressive YoY increase for the US. Some of that appears to be catching up because of recent stagnation, but it’s still significant:

median US internet speeds in 2020 doubled to 33.16mbps, up from 17.34mbps in 2019. Covering the five years of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, this is the largest speed increase seen in the US, with speeds staying essentially the same in 2016 and 2017 (8.91mbps and 9.08mbps respectively), and 2018 recording a median speed of 12.83mbps.

Europe is still doing well in absolute numbers:

While US internet speeds are improving, they fall in the same 30-ish mbps bracket as the UK, Germany, Poland, and France, at the bottom half of our EU speed rankings. While Italy's median speed - 12.71mbps - is an improvement on its 2019 speed of 8.94mbps, this is still barely 40% of the US median. Denmark tops out the chart with a median speed of 123.96mbps, followed by Switzerland with 110.77mbps.

Here’s a ranking showing how the US currently ranks vs European nations:

More details and country-by-country comparisons here.

‘Apple Silicon M1: Black. Magic. Fuckery.’

It’s been a couple editions without anything on ARM chips (see edition #50 for many of my thoughts)… Did you miss it?

I’ll just link to a piece that is basically itself a bunch of highlights and aggregation of other sources. You basically get the idea just from the title:

The part about memory management, where they quote Apple engineer David Smith about how they optimized for a very frequent operation, and compare the approach from iOS to Android (which is less RAM efficient), is particularly interesting:

Apple Silicon is designed to be a bespoke fit for it …. retaining and releasing NSObjects is so common on MacOS (and iOS), that making it 5 times faster on Apple Silicon than on Intel has profound implications on everything from performance to battery life.

Broadly speaking, this is a significant reason why M1 Macs are more efficient with less RAM than Intel Macs. This, in a nutshell, helps explain why iPhones run rings around even flagship Android phones, even though iPhones have significantly less RAM. iOS software uses reference counting for memory management, running on silicon optimized to make reference counting as efficient as possible; Android software uses garbage collection for memory management, a technique that requires more RAM to achieve equivalent performance. [...]

The memory bandwidth on the new Macs is impressive. Benchmarks peg it at around 60GB/sec–about 3x faster than a 16” MBP. Since the M1 CPU only has 16GB of RAM, it can replace the entire contents of RAM 4 times every second. Think about that…

Ok, one last highlight:

The conversation has flipped instantly: it’s no longer “why would you take a gamble on Apple’s new, unproven processor” but “how will competitors like Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm respond?

For years, Intel and AMD have been playing a chess match, sniping back and forth with improvements in CPU performance, battery life, and onboard graphics. Apple appears to be playing an entirely different game on an entirely different level. [...]

the M1 is just the starting point. It’s Apple’s first-generation processor, designed to replace the chips in Apple’s weakest, cheapest laptops and desktops

This last point is important. We haven’t seen anything yet when it comes to performance. Wait until they update the iMac Pro and the Mac Pro with whatever M1x or M2 they have cooked up for those.

History & The Arts

Good Guy Netflix, Dave Chappelle Edition

Dave tells his story:

People think I made a lot of money from ‘Chappelle’s Show. When I left that show, I never got paid. They didn’t have to pay me because I signed the contract. But is that right? I found out that these people were streaming my work and they never had to ask me or they never have to tell me. Perfectly legal because I signed the contract. But is that right? I didn’t think so either.

That’s why I like working for Netflix. I like working for Netflix because when all those bad things happened to me, that company didn’t even exist. And when I found out they were streaming ‘Chappelle’s Show,’ I was furious. How could they not know?

So you know what I did? I called them and I told them that this makes me feel bad. And you want to know what they did? They agreed that they would take it off their platform just so I could feel better. That’s why I fuck with Netflix. Because they paid me my money, they do what they say they’re going to do, and they went above and beyond what you could expect from a businessman. They did something just because they thought that I might think that they were wrong.

h/t Pitts

‘If James Brown wrote Creep by Radiohead’

I love the bassist. The sandals with socks are a nice touch. He and the keyboard player feel music the way I try, try and try to feel it as much as I can. You gotta have some fun in life, dammit!

The band is called Scary Pockets (“a funk band that releases weekly music videos, in pursuit of the funk. Scary Pockets is Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte, with the help and support from a rotating roster of the best session musicians in the LA area.”)

If you want more (how greedy of you!), this funky cover of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac is also pretty sweet (that 360-degree camera shot at 1:25min in is really cool).

More? Who do you think you are?

And last but not least, a funk cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah!

Yes, all the section titles are inverted in this edition. I just wanted to see if anyone would notice ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Be honest, had you noticed before reading this note? Leave a comment or reply to the email to let me know… Curious how many people even notice this note, tbh