7: Microsoft + TikTok, Henry Singleton, and a Last Dance

"Now imagine what language models will be able to do in 5 or 10 years…"

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.” —Robert Cialdini

After falling off the mindfulness meditation wagon for close to a year, I’ve decided to get back in the practice.

I’m mentioning it here mostly because telling you increases the odds that it’ll stick (as public commitments do). It’s a cliché by now that all the “successful” people talk about meditation in interviews and such, but not all clichés are bad.

If you want to follow along, I’m re-starting Sam Harris’ guided course from the beginning. It’ll only take you 10 mins a day, so “I don’t have time” can’t be a real excuse (it was mine for a while — but it wasn’t the real reason).

Investing & Business

-More Smoke on a Nvidia <-> ARM Deal


The two parties aim to reach a deal in the next few weeks, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Nvidia is the only suitor in concrete discussions with SoftBank, according to the people.

A deal for Arm could be the largest ever in the semiconductor industry, which has been consolidating in recent years as companies seek to diversify and add scale. But any deal with Nvidia, which is a customer of Arm, would likely trigger regulatory scrutiny as well as a wave of opposition from other users. [...]

Other Arm licensees, such as Qualcomm Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp., could demand assurances that a new owner would continue providing equal access to Arm’s instruction set.

There’s a possible scenario where the ARM architecture keeps taking share from x86 and eventually supplants it in most places, including the data-center.

Nvidia has clearly been focusing more of its attention to the data-center in recent years, and they must clearly see the long-term strategic value of ARM. Not only could they do some interesting at the engineering and product level, but they may also be positioning themselves to be a a supplier of “compute” more generally, with a broad set of offerings for all kinds of use cases.

The main challenger to ARM may be RISC-V, an open source ISA, further down the road, but for now, it’s definitely the ascendent architecture.

As for how ARM operates, it sells different types of licenses that are more-or-less expensive and thus more-or-less restrictive. A few companies, like Apple and Qualcomm, have architecture licenses that allows them to basically do whatever they want with the instruction set when it comes to making their own (this old slide gives a good idea, though details may have changed since it was published):

-Microsoft in Talks to Buy TikTok (?!)

Because anything is possible in 2020:

Microsoft is in talks to acquire TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions, as President Trump said on Friday that he was considering taking steps that would effectively ban the app from the United States.

It’s unclear how advanced the talks between Microsoft and TikTok are, but any deal could help alter TikTok’s ownership, said the person with knowledge of the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese internet company that is valued at $100 billion. That has raised scrutiny of the app, with Trump administration officials saying that they have been concerned that TikTok poses a threat to national security. (Source)

With the caveat that it doesn’t sound too likely yet… It always depends on the price and the execution after a purchase, but it’s not a crazy idea. Most of Microsoft has been about the enterprise lately, with the most notable exception of the gaming business and some consumer hardware and software, but if TikTok turns out to be the next Instagram, it could be quite a coup to grab it in a forced sale.

I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a bidding war or an IPO, though. It’s a hot company right now, a low price is probably not in the cards… So the outcome will entirely depend on whether this is the next Instagram or the next Snap (not a bad business, but wouldn’t move the needle at Microsoft).

The latest is that negotiations may be on hold while Bytedance and Microsoft figure out what the White House will do, after having talked about a ban. We’ll see…

Update: On Sunday night this statement by Microsoft came out:

Microsoft to continue discussions on potential TikTok purchase in the United States

Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J. Trump, Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States.

Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.

Microsoft will move quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks, and in any event completing these discussions no later than September 15, 2020. [...]

purchase of the TikTok service in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and would result in Microsoft owning and operating TikTok in these markets. Microsoft may invite other American investors to participate on a minority basis in this purchase.

So they basically have to beg the president to let them do it, and he’s probably mad at the company because some blamed his poor Tulsa rally attendance on a TikTok prank… Talk about M&A manoeuvres you don’t learn in business school.

Reuters has reported:

President Donald Trump only agreed to allow Microsoft to negotiate the acquisition of popular short-video app TikTok if it could secure a deal in 45 days, three people familiar with the matter said on Sunday. [...]

Trump had dismissed the idea of a sale to Microsoft on Friday. But following a discussion between Trump and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the Redwood, Washington-based company said in a statement on Sunday that it would continue negotiations to acquire TikTok from ByteDance, and that it aimed to reach a deal by Sept. 15.

By the time you read this, there may be other developments (here’s a link to a Google News search on the topic).

-Software Supply Chain Attacks

Security expert Bruce Schneier wrote about a report by The Atlantic Council that looks at security issues in the software supply chain. It’s pretty interesting, here’s a summary:

  1. Deep Impact from State Actors: There were at least 27 different state attacks against the software supply chain [...]

  2. Abusing Trust in Code Signing: These attacks undermine public key cryptography and certificates used to ensure the integrity of code. [...]

  3. Hijacking Software Updates:27% of these attacks targeted software updates to insert malicious code against sometimes millions of targets. [...]

  4. Poisoning Open-Source Code: These incidents saw attackers either modify open-source code by gaining account access or post their own packages with names similar to common examples. [...]

  5. Targeting App Stores: 22% of these attacks targeted app stores like the Google Play Store, Apple's App Store, and other third-party app hubs to spread malware to mobile devices. Some attacks even targeted developer tools ­ meaning every app later built using that tool was potentially compromised. [...]

You can read the whole thing here.


-Henry Singleton Owned 2.4% of Apple at IPO

Via Dividend Growth Investor, this image reminded me (I think I knew at some point, but had forgotten…) that Henry Singleton owned a large chunk of Apple at IPO.

I’m sure financial historians will still uncovers new ways in which he was brilliant for many decades to come… There’s got to be plenty of things that he invested in with his personal money that were never made public. I wish there was a good biography of him (I have ‘Distant Force’, and it’s definitely not that).

-iPhone Pricing Over Time

Science & Technology

-Google Previews TPU v4, Breaks Six MLPerf AI Benchmark Records

Google set performance records in six out of eight MLPerf benchmarks using a new training supercomputer composed of 4096 Tensor Processing Units (TPU) v3 chips, which are AI accelerator application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), and hundreds of CPU host machines, all connected via an ultra-fast, ultra-large-scale custom interconnect.

To get an idea of progress:

Four of the eight models were trained from scratch in under 30 seconds. To put that in perspective, consider that in 2015, it took more than three weeks to train one of these models on the most advanced hardware accelerator available. Google’s latest TPU supercomputer can train the same model almost five orders of magnitude faster just five years later.

Of course, a lot of the performance came from scaling up the number of nodes, but that presents its own challenges too.

What’s most interesting to me, though, is the preview of the TPU v4:


Google’s fourth-generation TPU ASIC offers more than double the matrix multiplication TFLOPs of TPU v3, a significant boost in memory bandwidth, and advances in interconnect technology. [...] The results demonstrate an average improvement of 2.7 times over TPU v3 performance at a similar scale in the last MLPerf Training competition.

More here.

-Amazon’s Kuiper Constellation of 3,200 Satellites Approved by FCC

This is just cool:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on July 30 approved Amazon’s request to operate a constellation of roughly 3,200 internet satellites in low Earth orbit.

The FCC said Amazon has until July 30, 2026, to launch at least 50% of its satellites in order to maintain its authorization, and until July 30, 2029, to orbit the full constellation. [...]

The company said it anticipates deploying Kuiper satellites in five waves, starting service once the first, comprising 578 satellites, is in orbit.

Amazon’s Ka-band system is “designed to increase the availability of high-speed broadband service to consumers, government, and businesses,” the FCC said.

As a condition of its approval, Amazon is required to submit an updated debris mitigation plan to the FCC once its spacecraft design is finalized. The company plans to operate Kuiper in three layers, one at 590 kilometers, another at 610 kilometers and a third at 630 kilometers.


-Qualcomm Quick Charge 5

Some technologies aren’t that sexy to write press releases about, but they actually make a difference in people’s daily lives, and are worth a lot more than features that demo well on stage but that nobody ever actually uses. Here’s a good one by Qualcomm:

The world’s first commercially viable fast charging platform to support more than 100W charging power in a smartphone, Quick Charge 5 is engineered to allow users to charge devices from 0 to 50 percent battery power in just five minutes [...]

Quick Charge 5 is 70 percent more efficient than Quick Charge 4 and offers 10 times the power delivery of Quick Charge 1 (Source)

-You Think You’re Under Pressure?

It's somewhat of a tradition that oceanographers have. One deep station per cruise is unofficially designated as a cup cast, where all the scientists on board decorate cups and tie them to the CTD. Now, styrofoam is mainly air, and as the pressure increases with depth, the air gets forced out of the foam and the cup reduces in size. This particular cast was to a depth 2,700m (8,900 feet, or about 1.8 miles). You can see from the picture below how much the cups shrink - they were both the same size before the cast! Just to give you an idea of the pressures involves, at the bottom of the cast, there is the equivalent pressure of 270 atmospheres, or over 4,000 pounds on each square inch! (Source, via Massimo)

-Stalker Tracks Location of Victim from Reflection in Eyes

Having everyone carry high-quality, high-resolution cameras at all time mostly has benefits, but there are some unintended security implications too:

Posting a photo to social media could’ve cost Japanese pop star Ena Matsuoka her life.

On September 1, obsessed stalker Hibiki Sato attacked Matsuoka outside her home, dragging her to a dark corner to sexually assault her, according to an Asia One report — and, in a creepy digital twist, he found her by analyzing a reflection in her eye in a selfie.

Following his subsequent arrest, Sato told authorities he identified a bus stop and other scenery in the eye reflection, then used Google Maps to match it to a real-world location.

He said he was even able to estimate the floor the pop star lived on by analyzing the windows in her photos and noting the angle at which sunlight hit her eyes.

If it reminds you of Blade Runner, you’re not alone. Here’s the ‘enhance’ scene.

The Arts

-The Last Dance

I finally watched 'The Last Dance' (2020, saw it on Netflix).

I know everyone who cares about the NBA has already seen it, so I'm going to write to those who, like me, don't follow sports: It's a great documentary series worth seeing. One of the best I've ever seen. Lots of life lessons, lots of powerful moments, I learned lots of things I didn’t know, and it's a good inside look at what it takes to be a champion as an individual, and champions as a team.

-Writing Tool based on GPT-3

You may need to click through to see the video. Watch to the end to see the “handwritten” tool at work.

Now imagine what language models will be able to do in 5 or 10 years…

-Music for a Film With a ‘Big bear in it’ (Star Wars)