87: Billionaire Regrets, Apple Car, Andy 'Buffalo Wings' Jassy, AWS' Next CEO, Robert Smith (Not The Cure), TSMC, SolarWinds, and Google's 250tbps Undersea Cable

"Build a mine where the lithium is? Hmm"

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

—John Kenneth Galbraith

Where all men think alike, no one thinks very much.

—Walter Lippmann

Internet access is pretty magical.

The story about Google’s new undersea cable in this edition reminded me just how much work goes into building the physical internet and making it better and better every year. Let’s have a moment of appreciation for the thousands of hard-working and smart people that designed and built all this.

If you’re curious and want to learn more, the book ‘Tubes’ by Andrew Blum is a good read. It also doubles as an ad for Equinix.

💎 🤲 ⃗ 👜 💩 I wonder if any of the billionaires and influencers who encouraged hundreds of thousands (likely millions) of retail investors with no investment experienced to pile on around $300/share in GME will feel any twinge of regret for doing it...

I guess they were happy to get the attention, the extra appearances on CNBC and the likes and RTs on Twitter for being "on the side of the people"... It was entertainment for them for a few weeks, maybe they even threw some of the cash from behind their couch cushions at it (a few hundred Ks), unlike the middle-class people who remortgaged the house because “everybody knew it was going to the moon and couldn’t fail because the shorts had to buy the shares at any price if we just HODL, even the billionaire geniuses on TV and Twitter think it’s a great idea!”.

So all ends well for them, I suppose ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

👨‍🔬 🔬 Substack’s R&D dollars at work. Look at this1.

📺 Fear and anger are the strongest emotions.

Cynics/pessimists sound smarter than optimists/earnest people.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk about the media's business model.


Investing & Business

Andy ‘Buffalo Wings’ Jassy

Paul Cheesbrough, who’s CTO at FOX and a big AWS customer, wrote an interesting piece about Andy Jassy when it was announced that he was going to be CEO of the whole enchilada (I can’t tell if that expression is cool, or so uncool that it kinda works anyway). Some highlights:

AWS has been a technology partner that we work closely with at FOX, and one that I’ve personally worked with for the past 15 years. Andy has been on the front line of that operation from the very beginning, out there with customers selling S3 storage, then EC2 compute services, and then ultimately crafting a roadmap of infrastructure and platform offerings that enable you to build or run every type of business imaginable. [...]

Jeff Bezos is renowned as being obsessed with the consumer, and Andy has the same obsession with his enterprise customers. He’ll get hands on in deals, and he’ll ensure that his team exceed expectations - making himself available at any time and checking in regularly with the customer to get updates. [...] a big part of AWS’s success (in the early days, but it still exists now) was due to the customer centric culture that pervaded from Andy downward into every part of the team.

It’s also worth noting that many of AWS’s major customers were consumer business too, so he knows more than most on that front and has a peripheral vision that goes beyond Amazon itself. [...]

It would have been much easier to have grown AWS through a wild spree of acquisitions. Slack, Snowflake, Segment, Salesforce (and many other companies beginning with S ) are all names that have been thrown around in the press as potential targets. But when you speak to Andy, he’s incredibly focused and disciplined. He wants to create platforms, products and services for the builders not necessarily for the end users or consumers – much more IaaS and PaaS than SaaS [...]

He’s also hesitant in competing with his customers – why buy companies that alienate you with the rest of that competitive set (who may well be existing or potential AWS customers)? [...] It takes serious discipline to take the harder road when you’ve got such access to capital inside a company like Amazon. [...]

In a company where technical and engineering talent is integral to the business, Andy can hold his own. From chipsets through to network protocols and complex data stacks – he can go toe to toe [...]

You can read the whole thing here.

Also, the New York Times bringing us the important investigative journalism:

I gotta admit, I didn’t expect that last one…

The Next CEO of AWS?

Now that Jassy’s going to be wearing the admiral cap for the whole fleet, who’s going to be captain of AWS? (wtf is wrong with me with these metaphors)

Some interesting speculation:

Jassy's most likely successor: Matt Garman, the current leader of AWS' sales organization and a 14-year veteran of the company. [...]

member of Amazon's S-Team, the influential council of advisers that Bezos assembled over the years and that Jassy is likely to maintain. [...]

Prior to being named as vice president of sales and marketing, Garman ran arguably the most important division at the company: AWS Compute Services. That division includes the flagship EC2 virtual compute service, which Garman worked on as both a product manager and an executive for more than six years [...]

Charlie Bell and Peter DeSantis are the other members of AWS who are also part of the S-Team [...]

Bell has been an engineer at Amazon since well before the creation of AWS, and he played a fundamental role in building the technical infrastructure that underpinned the company's rise to the top of the cloud computing market. People familiar with the company see Bell as an engineer's engineer, however, and aren't sure he'd want an operational role at this stage in his career.

DeSantis also played an instrumental role in building the sprawling network of AWS data centers around the world, and has been part of two significant hardware innovations in recent years: the Nitro system, a combination of hardware and software that underlies the EC2 computing services, and Graviton, a custom-designed Arm server processor that is turning heads thanks to its strong performance at aggressive prices.

Source. h/t Jamie Murray

Vista Equity: ‘How Billionaire Robert Smith Avoided Indictment in Multimillion-Dollar Tax Case’

Robert Smith, and I don’t mean from The Cure:

U.S. prosecutors and Internal Revenue Service agents spent four years piercing the veil of secrecy that billionaire money manager Robert F. Smith wove to hide more than $200 million in income. [...]

But rather than expose a man worth about $7 billion to a possible prison term and potentially force him to give up control of his private equity firm, Vista Equity Partners, [Bill] Barr signed off on a non-prosecution agreement. It required Smith to admit he had committed crimes, pay $139 million and cooperate against a close business associate indicted in the largest tax-evasion case in U.S. history—Texas software mogul Robert T. Brockman. [...]

In the end, Barr intervened to settle the dispute [...] Smith’s team would get what they wanted: a stay-out-of-jail card.

It would take weeks to negotiate the details of the agreement, which allowed Smith, 58, to remain at the helm of a firm that manages more than $73 billion for public pension funds and other wealthy investors. He’s free to carry on with a lifestyle that has included homes in France, New York City, Colorado, California wine country, Austin, Texas, and North Palm Beach, Florida. And he can keep playing starring roles at institutions such as Cornell University, which named an engineering school after him in 2016, and Carnegie Hall, where he became chairman that year. (Source)

Apple Car Rumors

Been keeping an eye on the Apple Car rumors, though I haven’t wasted too much energy on them because — well — they’re probably mostly clickbait crap based on not much (but hey, it gets the pageviews!).

And if there’s one thing Apple 𝕙𝕒𝕥𝕖𝕤, its suppliers who keep blabbing to the media and leaking things. So Hyundai-Kia certainly isn’t helping its chances if there’s another manufacturer that is neck-and-neck with them for that contract and they have been keeping their mouths shut.

Anyway, this part of the most recent rumor had me raise the proverbial eyebrow:

The first Apple Cars will not be designed to have a driver,” said one source with knowledge of the current plan. “These will be autonomous, electric vehicles designed to operate without a driver and focused on the last mile.”  That could mean Apple cars, at least initially, could focus on package food delivery operations and firms incorporating robotaxis.

I’m of two minds about the whole “designed to operate without a driver” part.

Autonomy is definitely the future, but the “when” is a big question, and unless Apple’s roadmap has launch planned only many years in the future, that seems like a big gamble, both on the maturity of the tech, and the regulatory challenges in the zillion jurisdictions around the world.

It does feel Apple-like to not be the first to work on something, but to be the one to crack how to do it well (ie. multi-touch screens, on-screen keyboards, etc). But autonomy isn’t quite in their sweet spot for innovation, so it’s a bit hard to imagine going straight to the no-steering-wheel vision.

Apple’s niche (if something that big can be called a niche) is affordable-premium. They don’t do low-end, they don’t focus on getting as much unit volume as possible; they focus on getting the slice of people who want quality, are ready to pay for it, and will be loyal if you deliver consistently because most others are so hit & miss.

So that other part of the rumor about robotaxis and package delivery just doesn’t make sense to me. That’s just not Apple’s thing. In fact, it sounds more like Amazon (and they’re actually doing it via Zoox, as I wrote about in edition #65).

Instead, I’d expect the Apple Car to compete for similar parts of the market as Tesla.

I just don’t know if they’ll stick to the Model S/X upper part, or if they’ll go down to Model 3/Y levels. But I think that their design, manufacturing, software, and human-interface chops would be useful in designing a sedan or crossover that could be quite interesting. Time will tell…

In the meantime: 🤨

Interview: Mike ‘NonGAAP’

This episode was victim of an audio SNAFU, but they were able to salvage the audio and fix a lot of it in post. And I’m glad, because it’s really good.

One of the best interviews by Bill Booster (🙃) so far, and that means something, because he’s had some bangers.

Half of it is about corporate governance, and half is about life philosophy and doing your own thing. That’s a good ratio for me.

Interview: Tim Culpan, a Crash Course on TSMC

I enjoyed this interview of Tim Culpan by Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal. A good non-technical introduction to TSMC, its history, the special spot it currently occupies in the world (both geo-politically and on the diagram of almost any supply chain):

Paraphrasing a bit: "Even if China took over Taiwan and controlled TSMC's factories, they wouldn't know what to do with them without TSMC's engineers." (in other words, it’s not just about the machines, it’s about the techniques and expertise that has been built-up inside the brains of thousands of very specialized engineers)

Drill Where the Oil Is

That oil metaphor is aging fast lately… Build a mine where the lithium is? Hmm


Science & Technology

‘5 of the biggest reasons we fail to make effective decisions’

There’s a good thread by Shane Parrish about “5 of the biggest reasons we fail to make good decisions”, and I recommend the whole thing (I like the format, with the alternating principles and warning signs/practical advice), but I wanted to focus on this part:

Warning signs you’re about to do unintentionally something stupid: You’re tired. You’re emotional, in a rush, distracted, operating in a group, or working with an authority figure.

So true. We tend to think only about the thing we're thinking of, and not about what's doing the actual thinking — us — and the state its in.

Details on SolarWinds Hack Keep Trickling Out

The hackers had accessed at least one of the company’s Office 365 accounts by December 2019, and then leapfrogged to other Office 365 accounts used by the company, Sudhakar Ramakrishna said in an interview Tuesday. “Some email accounts were compromised. That led them to compromise other email accounts and as a result our broader [Office] 365 environment was compromised,” he said. [...]

Investigators are trying to determine how widespread the damage has been. So far only several dozen victims have been identified, but the attack could have ultimately affected close to 18,000 of the company’s customers. (Source)

That would mean that entry was 8-9 months before detection. Yikes.

Wikipedia:

Throughout this time, the White House lacked a cybersecurity coordinator, Trump having eliminated the post itself in 2018. [...] Also at that time, the DHS, which manages CISA, lacked a Senate-confirmed Secretary, Deputy Secretary, General Counsel, Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis, and Undersecretary for Management; and Trump had recently forced out the Deputy Director of CISA. Numerous federal cybersecurity recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office and others had not been implemented

But hey, I’m sure that had no impact on the country’s overall security posture (even if not in this specific case, maybe others that haven’t even been discovered yet, or have, but haven’t made the media).

Pandemic: ‘Good News In Α Terrible Time’

Pretty good overview of all the positive developments regarding the COVID19 situation:

h/t Eddy Elfenbein

Google’s New 250tbps Sub-Sea Cable Between US and France

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean between Virginia Beach in the U.S. and Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez on the French Atlantic coast [...]

Dunant is the first long-haul subsea cable to feature a 12 fiber pair space-division multiplexing (SDM) design, and will deliver record-breaking capacity of 250 terabits per second (Tbps) across the ocean—enough to transmit the entire digitized Library of Congress three times every second. [...]

While previous subsea cable technologies relied on a dedicated set of pump lasers to amplify each fiber pair, the SDM technology used in Dunant allows pump lasers and associated optical components to be shared among multiple fiber pairs. This ‘pump sharing’ technology enables more fibers within the cable while also providing higher system availability. (Source)

In the voice of Doc Brown:

250 terabits per second! GREAT SCOTT!!!

The Arts & History

Collapsed in Sunbeams

First I ever heard of Arlo Parks was this tweet by Seyi Taylor. No idea if she’s popular or not or what the reviews are like, but I listened, and really enjoy the album.

Pretty much firing on all cylinders (haha).

Great vocals, arrangements, musicianship, production. Haven’t really got into lyrics so far, so can’t comment on that… But if you’re looking for something new, give this a spin (another anachronistic expression — I guess “make your software CODEC parse this album’s 0s and 1s” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same).

Oh, and if you want to quickly get into it, you can skip the first track, it’s more an intro than a song…

Twitter Musical Encounter of the Third Kind

Staying on the topic of music, here’s exhibit #345,345 (what? numbers aren’t made-up just because they repeat and are ascending keys on the keyboard!) showing that Twitter is pretty amazing.

I wrote a tweet sharing a song that I liked and mentioned “Man that's a good track, but I don't even know how to describe it...”

I didn’t tag the musician (didn’t think to), didn’t write his name or album name or anything in the tweet, it’s all in a graphic (so he’s not just searching around for keywords), yet a few hours later, the musician replies to me:

Here’s Abdurrahman Tarikci’s website where you can listen and buy his stuff.

You can listen to the specific track I was talking about here:

But the rest of that album is quite good too.

It would really tickle me if he became famous in our little corner of the financial/tech world

1

Footnotes! Amazing! (but too bad you can’t click on the number down here to go back up automatically… oh wait, you can only click them on the website version, in the email you have to scroll down. I guess email HTML doesn’t include these types of anchor tags)

Damn, I feel I could really overuse this feature if I’m not careful, and make the experience worse for the reader by having them bounce back and forth… I’ll try to use these sparingly, but if I get out-of-control and go full Matt Levine, ping me and I’ll try to cut back.