81: My Thoughts on Mood-Tracking, Amazon's Vaccine Prime, Google's Deal with France, Brooklyn Investor, WCM, InterPlanetary File System, and X-Wing Trench Run

"No one's first, and you're next"

You leap into the abyss, but find
It only goes up to your knees

—Nick Cave, Babe, You Turn Me On

(You can take it as just a cool word-picture, but I also think it’s a good metaphor for anxiety.

I’m lucky to not suffer from it much myself, but a lot of people close to me do, and my understanding is that there’s often a lot of “pre-living” things in your head, how they could go wrong, over and over…

Those things mostly never happen, but the simulation of bad things still has a psychological cost, and so the ‘subjective life’ lived can be worse than the ‘objective life’ that an outside observer would see.

In other words, it often feels like jumping in the abyss, and you find out it wasn’t that bad after all, but by then you’ve moved on to worrying about the next thing…).

Mood-tracking in 2020:

For fun, I’ve been using a mood-tracking app for a while (the one I use is called Daylio, but I’m sure there are many others). At the end of each day, you quickly rank how the day was on a scale of 1 to 5, and you can also tag activities you did (work, family time, walk in nature, lack of sleep, headache, meditation, fasting, alcohol, saw friends, saw extended family, exercised, etc).

You can then graph which things as correlated with better days and worse days, etc. It’s interesting.

The graph above shows my whole year. Everybody’s different and has different set points, but I’d say that my normal mood is probably about 4.25 out of 5, with pretty low variance. It’s pure luck that I’m a generally happy person, and I really feel for people with a low set-point, or with very volatile moods.

My disposition (optimistic & stable) clearly seems like a benefit for investing, another thing I feel fortunate about.

During most other years, there would be a lot fewer orange and yellow dots, as 2020 was a particularly tough year, for obvious reasons.

cf. You can see what January and February looked like before the pandemic. July and August also were more like normal life than the rest of the year for me.

March was my worst month of the year (mix of pandemic + moving to a new house + market crash and general uncertainty). But even that was mostly just 3/5. I’ve only had 5 days that qualified as 2/5 for the year, and zero 1/5.

Also: There’s a 4-day streak of 5-star days in late July just as I started this newsletter. Clearly it was a fun project to start!

Overall, I can’t say doing this changed my life, but it’s nice to have.

Tracking what I eat, exercise, and sleep have had bigger effects (can you tell I like to keep track of things?). But mood-tracking doesn’t take much effort and it’ll be interesting to see long-term trends — and maybe notice things that I’d miss without the visual reminder, because my memory can be like an old convenience store security system, where you overwrite the old tapes as new ones come in

🔋 So if everybody is going full on EV in the coming years, with countries announcing bans on internal combustion engine cars in coming decades, every big car manufacturer releasing big plans to transition their lineups, and dozens of startups riding Tesla’s wake-waves to raise mountains of cash to in-theory develop and build EVs…

…where are all the battery gigafactories? Did I just miss the press releases? I know there are some, but is it enough? Shouldn’t we be seeing tons of big new plants being built everywhere, either by the battery-makers alone or as JVs with automakers, or maybe even have some automakers and/or big tier 1 suppliers deciding to vertically integrate into batteries the way that they currently make engines or transmissions, to try to replace businesses that will run-off over time?

Maybe it’s been happening and I’ve just missed it..?


Investing & Business

Vaccine Prime: Amazon Offering to Help Feds

Letter from Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, to the White House:

Amazon stands ready to assist you in reaching your goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of your administration. As the nation’s second largest employer, Amazon has over 800,000 employees in the United States, most of whom are essential workers who cannot work from home [...]

We have an agreement in place with a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to administer vaccines on-site at our Amazon facilities. We are prepared to move quickly once vaccines are available. Additionally, we are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination efforts. Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against Covid-19, and we stand ready to assist you in this effort. (Source)

Your move, Walmart.

*Bezos laugh*

‘Google agrees to pay French publishers for news’

Google said it would negotiate individual licenses with members of the alliance that cover related rights and open access to a new mobile service from Google called News Showcase.

Newspapers would be remunerated based on contributions to political and general information, daily volume of publications and monthly internet audience, Google said. (Source)

So Google will pay them to send them readers?

Good deal for a publisher, if you can get it...

I remember many times in the past when publishers complained about their “content” being used on Google/Google News, and then Google said “ok, fine, we’ll remove you” and then they quickly came begging back because their pageviews took a dive and CAC went up.

I guess the difference this time is the publishers got their lobbyists together and got laws passed that force Google to pay them without having the ability of just stopping linking to their stuff… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I am worried about the unintended consequences of the new incentives in place, though.

“remunerated based on contributions to political and general information, daily volume of publications and monthly internet audience” — that sounds like whatever metrics they use as proxies will now become the new guiding star, and so if it’s pageviews, you can get more inflammatory clickbait, if it’s daily volume of articles, you’ll get a flood of filler, etc.

If you’re going to do this model, I wish they’d really think things through, build mechanisms for course-correction over time, and somehow incentivize for quality…

There’s also the angle of it being an attack on the open web, where anyone can link to anyone else and I can use excerpts and snippets of things under fair use without needing permission or payment.

Update: As I wrote this, Google threatened to pull its search out of Australia because of a similar situation…

Brooklyn Investor Resurfaces

One of the blogs that inspired me to start this project. I’ve always liked the conversational writing style and the thinking-things-through-as-I-write approach.

BI’s pattern for many years has been long periods of silence followed by a few posts, so hopefully this new one is the first in a new wave:

Some highlights (but really, you should read the whole thing):

If you look around, and especially in the Covid world, you realize how the world is built around old technologies and capabilities. As Buffett says, if you were to rebuild something today knowing what we know now, and having the technology that we do now, would you build it the same way? (He actually asked if you would create the same company today from scratch, but close enough) Of course not. Think about that for a second, and you will see how much of what is in this world is obsolete. [...]

People who try to forecast the markets with flimsy models using very few data points is like a guy trying to run a casino with one or two slot machines, and wondering why he is getting killed. [...]

People constantly worry about 20-30% corrections. I don't worry about those at all, and I assume we will have a lot of those over even the next 3-5 years. I don't care about things like that too much. [...] In some places, yes, valuations are silly, but who cares? If you owned, say, BRK in 1999, who cares what the market valued Pets.com at? Just don't buy Pets.com!

Loony After All: ‘Alphabet cancels Loon, project to beam internet to earth from balloons’

Seems like SpaceX lowering the cost of going to space is making connecting remote parts of the world via satellites a lot more viable than it seemed when balloons were considered…

Blog post about the project being shut down. It’s always tempting to make fun of these things, but I’m glad someone tried. High-risk, high-reward projects that seem kind of crazy should be tried more often.

High Quality Classifieds, WCM Edition

I like this section of the listing, you can kind of get an idea of how their culture is from it:

Requirements:

  • Undergraduate degree from an Ivy league school – just kidding, that will be used against you.

  • At least five years of work experience. As one of our friends always says, “WCM should never be anyone’s first job.”

  • Strong writing and communication skills. You’ll fail in our team-based environment if you can’t communicate effectively, regardless of how good your ideas are.

  • A strong investment background in technology, privates, and China will get our attention.

  • Once the world gets back to normal, you’ll be expected to travel globally, but who doesn’t love doing that?  

  • The ability to think different and not just be another “information gatherer.”

  • A demonstrated track record of improving as an investor and an ability to communicate that journey.

h/t Minion Capital


Science & Technology

Amazon Echo Flex Silicon Teardown

The Electronupdate blog has a multi-part teardown of the Amazon Echo Flex (not the cylinder or puck you’re probably thinking of, this is the one that looks like carbon-monoxide detector that you plug in the wall). I was particularly intrigued by part 3 where the silicon was uncapped.

Here’s some highlights:

The Amazon echo Flex's primary controller is a Mediatek MT8516B, highlighted in red.

This part has quad ARM A35 CPU cores and a rich set of peripherals enable what would have been considered a state-of-the-art computer just a few years ago. [...]

The cost adder for wifi is probably around 35 cents (yes, cents). An additional 20 milli-pennies for two external resistors and a free antenna (it's just a trace on the circuit board) is the actual enabler of 'the internet of things'.

The engineering that went into this block was probably in the hundreds of thousands of person-hours and involved some pretty rare engineering skills. However for a company like Mediatek it's likely they purchased the "IP" and then had only a much more simple step of integrating it into the design which is like a cut-and-paste operation... an activity which requires only a few hours.. Such is the nature of engineering... always building on previous achievements and then adding that last-little-bit of new engineering to create a new product. [...]

In ~1997 this level of compute power would have been enough to get on the TOPS500 list of the fastest computers our civilization is capable of creating.... now something that consumes only 54 sq mm of silicon that gets put into a $15.00 gadget.

Its this amazing arc of progress which is fundamentally changing society.

IPFS Support in Brave Browser

First, extra points for cool name: IPFS stands for InterPlanetary File System.

a protocol and peer-to-peer network for storing and sharing data in a distributed file system. IPFS uses content-addressing to uniquely identify each file in a global namespace connecting all computing devices

IPFS allows users to not only receive but host content, in a similar manner to BitTorrent. As opposed to a centrally located server, IPFS is built around a decentralized system of user-operators who hold a portion of the overall data, creating a resilient system of file storage and sharing. Any user in the network can serve a file by its content address, and other peers in the network can find and request that content from any node who has it using a distributed hash table (DHT).

It’s a very cool system from a security/privacy point of view, kind of like a bastard child of BitTorrent, the Tor routing network, and *hand waving* something having to do with blockchain.

Of course, there’s always the theory, and the practice (“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they’re not”).

So it’s really cool that they can host copies of Wikipedia in ways that can’t easily be censored in countries that try to control access to information.

It’s less cool that they’ll will probably also be used by bad people to do bad things. But for the good aspects of free speech to flourish, things have to be open enough enough for both the good and bad (and before you go there, there’s a difference between the general ideal of free speech and the American 1st amendment; the ideal of free speech was never a protection against consequences to your speech, especially if it’s otherwise criminal, like inciting violence and other criminal activities… Or even just having people think you suck and not want to associate with you, but that’s a different rabbit hole).

Anyway, the Brave browser (Chromium-based) seems to be one of the first to support the protocol (along with Opera for Android, I think). It’s also interesting that Cloudflare has been running IPFS gateways for a few years.

I doubt this will replace the current web-hosting model anytime soon because the nature of the model probably means that performance/latency is pretty bad, but with censorship-avoidance what matters most is access, not speed.

Consumer Reports’ Security Planner Step-by-Step Guide

Speaking of privacy and security, this guide by Consumer Reports is pretty good.

You start by picking which kinds of devices you’d like to secure, your use cases, what problems you’ve been having if any (do you just want to prevent future problems, or did you just get a ransomware attack?), etc, and then it hand-holds you into beefing up your security by doing things like turning on 2-factor authentication, changing DNS, securing web-connected baby monitors and gaming consoles, etc.


The Arts & History

X-Wing Trench Run, LEGO Edition

You can see videos of the thing in action (the floor and wall move on belts) here and here.

Credit to Joachim Klang, who apparently writes books about LEGOs (riches in niches?).

"No one's first, and you're next"

I realize that sharing lyrics you like is basically about on part with a teenager sharing poetry that they wrote or someone telling you about this really weird dream they had, but hey, I never said I was cool.

(Being cool is overrated anyway. Staying cool requires so much maintenance effort, especially to make it look effortless. Being uncool is where it’s at for us lazy folks.)

One thing I look for in lyrics is just a word sequence + delivery that creates an emotion or somehow resonates with me. It doesn’t have to tell a story or make sense or be funny or clever, as long as it strikes a chord somewhere inside of me.

For example, when Thom Yorke sings “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon” or “Breathe, keep breathing/I can't do this alone”, I feel exactly what he means.

In that genre of, I guess, evocative-if-not-specific lyric-writing, another writer that I quite like is Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse (Pitchfork did a good 45-min documentary about the making of their second album, ‘The Lonesome Crowded West’ in 2013).

Here’s a few lines that I like from many different songs. They may not mean anything to you, especially without the musical context, but if you’re intrigued, it’s easy to find the song titles by Googling the lyrics:

"the clouds just hung around
Like black Cadillacs outside a funeral"

"It honestly was beautifully bold
Like trying to save an ice cube from the cold"

"We were certainly uncertain
At least I'm pretty sure I am"

“Well the universe is shaped exactly like the earth
If you go straight long enough you'll end up where you were”

“Well, died sayin' something, but didn't mean it
Everyone's life ends, but no one ever completes it”

“The stars are projectors, yeah
Projectin' our minds down to this planet Earth
Everyone wants a double feature”

“While we're on the subject
Could we change the subject now?
Looking towards the future
We were begging for the past”

“Walking with ghosts in the national parks
Coyotes tiptoe in the snow after dark”

“There was this tortoise, its shell was covered with jewels
And had been since time began
It knew the world through all its histories
And the universe and its mysteries
One day it came across a man
The two were talking
The tortoise offered to tell him
About the future and how the universe ran
Oh, the man killed the tortoise, took his shell
And with a song on his lips walked off again”

¯\_(ツ)_/¯