95: Facebook & Australia, Heico, American Tower, Inside AMD, Automotive Semiconductors Shortage, B-52s Never Die, Munger's Magnum Opus, Amazon, and AI Visual Search

"the Air Force has been hit hard by the GPU shortage"

Complex adaptive systems generally have properties and features that are difficult to predict by examining the individual agents. Phil Anderson, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize, captured this idea in the pithy phrase, “more is different.”

In a nutshell, the micro-macro problem says that it is very difficult to understand a system by examining only its parts. If you want to understand the colony, study the colony. If you want to understand the ants, study the ants.

-Michael Mauboussin, A Long Look at Short-Termism (2014)

🏭 It's possible to both like and dislike various aspects of a company, sometimes things that are very entangled.

Nobody has to go all-in and cheerlead for companies like they're sports teams...

This is very difficult to do for many people who apparently have very binary minds...

If I criticize something about Google or Apple, some will assume I don’t like these companies. Conversely, if I praise something about them, some will assume I like everything about them.

How could that possibly true? How could life be that simple? How could a model of reality that is so extreme (because that’s what this is) be anywhere close to the very messy and nuanced world that we see all around us?

And of course, I’m not just talking about companies here…

(inspired by this Tweet by Gavin Baker)

🛀 One of the most astonishing traits of humans in general is our ability to get used to things pretty quickly (including getting used to this fact about ourselves, which is probably why we don't think much about it).

It used to be Nobel-worthy that we figured out the shape of DNA (that iconic double-helix first discovered by Watson and Cricks), then it was worldwide news that we sequenced the human genome for the first time (at a cost of about $5bn, adjusted for inflation)...

Today, we're sequencing alls kind of stuff every day, routinely, bacteria, viruses, people, animals, mushrooms whatever. Sequencers go Brrrrr...

We're living in sci-fi land, with our touchscreen supercomputers connecting wirelessly to global positioning satellites and a worldwide fiber-optics network… from our pockets! And it all seems so.... normal.

Anti-climaxes keep us hungry for more, I suppose, so it's not necessarily a flaw. But this kind of rapid adjustment back to our neutral subjective set-point is kind of weird when you think about it.

🎭 I wrote about this a bit in the past, but I want to reiterate, because I think it’s a nice thing: Let's not underestimate how good TikTok is as an outlet for the poets and artsy kids out there.

There was nothing this powerful for them before.

Sure they could have uploaded their short videos to Youtube or shared with friends on Snapchat, but there’s no way that I would’ve found most of the things I’ve seen on TikTok, or that most of the talented ones would’ve reached even a fraction of the audience that they reach (which is an inspiration to others to try it, and so on — it’s both fueling the demand side and the supply side).

Here’s the one I’ll share today (it’s not her song — this is the original, also great — but I think she elevates it, which is another cool aspect of the remix/iteration/back & forth sub-culture there).

This one is also really good, in a totally different style. Or this ‘motivational’ one.

Update: After I wrote the above, Eugene Wei published a new essay on TikTok (even the title is clever: ‘American Idle’).

I haven’t read it yet, but Wei’s brand for quality is strong enough with me that I can auto-link and I’ll just come back to it later if I want to share specific highlights or add my own thoughts.

🖥 I have an irrational desire to buy an M1 ARM iMac to replace my 2019 iMac 5k (6-core, 32gb RAM, 1TB SSD — so not too slow by any means).

I'm usually pretty good at resisting shiny new things until I actually need them, but I feel like I will probably lose this battle when the ARM iMacs come out... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I feel like it's one of these step changes that happen once every 10-15 years, and it's worth making an exception this time, because even if my current iMac isn't holding me back in any way, I know that as a silicon/computer geek, I'll get a lot of joy out of the M1x and the new iMac design (I can’t believe they’ll keep the 2012 design for this transition).

My wishlist for the new design, apart from the ARM SoC, is: better screen (tiny bezels, brighter, wider dynamic ranger, wider angles, the usual stuff), at least one biometric option (two would be even better — FaceID + TouchID on the keyboard), better speakers and microphones (they upgraded the Macbook Pro audio recently and that was a big improvement), that kind of stuff.

😢 Can you write a story that has an emotional impact in 6 words? Yes.

Investing & Business

Facebook Makes a Deal with Australia

Just when things were starting to get interesting in Australia with Facebook taking its toys and going home, they reached some sort of fairly opaque deal:

Facebook announced Tuesday that it would lift a ban on Australians viewing and sharing news on its platform after it struck a deal with the government on proposed legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism. [...]

“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Facebook regional managing director William Easton said. (Source)

It’s kind of hard to read the official reporting on this story because, well, the media reporting on it have such a conflict of interest. It’s like a civil lawsuit where the person who sued just happens to be a court reporter who’s also writing stories about the case.

This applies more broadly to big tech coverage by the media; an old industry that used to have incredibly lucrative local and regional monopolies for decades is getting disrupted by the internet. News at 6.

Back to Oz: Whether some kind of tax should be levied on these companies, or whether the government of a country should subsidize the media is a debate worth having, though here too things are over-simplified — there’s a big difference between that money going to fact-finding efforts and investigative journalism, and just in the general coffers of a news organization that also do all kind of light BS punditry, celebrity gossip, and partisan horse-race politics with very little societal utility.

Anyway, where was I.

Oh yeah, there are real issues here that could be discussed. But this isn’t what happened. Australia threatened to basically break the internet (paying for links?) and the business model of a couple large tech companies (Google would’ve needed to warn third parties of algorithm changes and explain how they would be impacted weeks in advance?) unless they wrote big recurring cheques to their good friend Rupert Murdoch, without whom politicians have a really hard time getting elected in Australia.

That kind of stuff makes me go like the little red guy with the fire coming out of his head in Inside Out.

Also: Considering that the social network where news actually matters is Twitter, I’m surprised they haven’t been extorted^H^H^H^H legislated yet. I guess they don’t have as much money, so they’re not as tempted a target… yet. But that day will come.

Singular Leverage — Bundling & Unbundling

Packy McCormick has a good piece on the passion economy/creator economy and all that jazz. Highlights that stood out to me:

I think that the Passion Economy broadly will continue to expand beyond media and entertainment and that we’ll see more and more companies -- some small, some big; some permanent, some temporary -- that do all of the things that companies do today, with one person.

The quip about two ways to make money, bundling and unbundling, seems to be starting to apply to corporations themselves.

The idea is to get people together to do things they can’t do on their own. But what if our tools become so powerful that we can do it on our own (or in much smaller groups — how many employees did Whatsapp have when it sold for $19bn? How many would they need at that stage of their growth if that had been today?).

because of global demand from companies that have accepted that remote is here to stay, the salary for top Nigerian engineers has increased by 2-3x in the past month.

The reason that the Creator Economy is a thing in the first place is simple: people like people. [...]

At the same price and quality, we would much rather buy a loaf of bread from the baker next door than from the multinational conglomerate. We’d (I hope!) rather get business analysis from our favorite Substack writer than from an article by a faceless person in Harvard Business Review. We support companies whose CEOs we know, trust, and are inspired by more than those led by faceless and generic professional CEOs. [...]

As the costs to launch full-scale businesses come down, supported by new software and crypto tools, individuals with influence will amass increasing power.

While the idea of a trillion-dollar public Solo Corporation seems crazy from where we sit today, it’s inevitable. Genies don’t go back in bottles. [...]

Most likely, we’ll see a trillion-plus dollar public company with two-or-three full time partners before we see the public Solo Corporation. A team comprised of a technical genius, a brilliant designer, and a master storyteller would be a hard thing to beat.

Overviews: Heico and American Tower

A couple of good write-ups by ABG, giving you the 101 on these companies (and more in the archives, check it out):

You can also follow the author on Twitter at YoungHamilton.

Automotive Semiconductors Shortage

Friend of the show Mule has a good free post on the SNAFU semi-shortage, and how it especially impacts the automotive industry, as well as what the future may look like there, as semi content keeps growing. Check it out:

Former AMD Engineer Shares his Experience

I was looking through my note file of ideas for this newsletter (I’ve got hundreds of things I never got around to writing about, for space or time reasons), and found this interesting one from July 20, 2020 (the exact day I started the NL):

‘Top Amazon exec Jeff Blackburn leaving’

Sounds like he’s going to pop up somewhere else soon: “I’m not retiring and will have news on what’s next for me soon.”

Blackburn had been viewed previously as a potential successor to Bezos, but now that it’s going to be Jassy, looks like it’s time to pack up the gear and move on to the next adventure…

I’m mostly posting this because of this dad joke:

“The ‘too many Jeff’s’ bug that’s been bothering many of you for two decades has been fixed!” he wrote. “Over the years, we’ve always had multiple Jeff’s on s-team—Jeff Wilke, Jeff B, myself, and for a time Jeff Holden.  It’s actually how I became “jblack” to many of you and to employees across Amazon.  Wilke’s retirement meant one less Jeff, and today, I’m taking it down to just the original.” (Source)

Munger’s Magnum Opus

Friend of the show Shane Parrish now has the distinguished honor of being one of the official emplacements (“place” sounds much fancier in French, doesn’t it?) where you can get a full transcript of Charlie Munger’s magnum opus, the revised version of a speech he gave on the psychology of human misjudgment (hosted with permission from both Munger and Peter Kaufman):

Here’s an observation on Munger fandom, but first I must make a scotch detour:

In the scotch world, there’s what they call the “snob sandwich”. Maybe the expression exists somewhere else, but it’s the only place I’ve heard it.

The concept is simple: There are certain whiskies that are liked by both beginners and experts, but that most people in the middle will be snobbish about because they think they know better. It’s kind of a “U” shaped curve, or imagine a sandwich where there’s fans on both sides (the bread), and snobs in the middle.

I think Munger is a bit like that for many investors. At first, everybody worships Buffett. And then they learn about Munger, and he’s the lesser-known, more caustic, more eclectic version, so he’s in many ways cooler.

But then over time, many get tired of everybody constantly quoting Buffett and Munger (I wrote about “Why Your Mentors Seem Less Impressive Over Time” a few years ago — I need to revise that at some point…) and so they start to see this as a proxy for being kind of a n00b. They’re usually also learning about all these other great investors that are more “underground” than WEB and Munger, so there’s some of that hipster vibe too.

And then, in a lot of cases, after you’ve been doing and thinking about all this stuff for long enough, you come back to a real appreciation of Buffett and Munger and realize just how far ahead of everyone they’ve been for so long.

That’s my view anyway, maybe I’m misreading the situation ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Science & Technology

B-52s Never Die

So essential is the B-52 to the Air Force’s long-term plans that 76 of them will fly until at least 2050. By then, the youngest will be nearly 90 years old. Some generals say the plane might live to celebrate its centennial. [...]

In the 1960s, a dozen B-52s loaded with nuclear weapons were kept on continuous airborne alert, their bellies painted glossy white to reflect the heat of a potential nuclear blast, under a mission code-named “Chrome Dome.” [...]

Stealthy B-2 “Spirit” bombers the Air Force developed used cutting-edge technology, but the program was slashed to 21 aircraft from an original 132 when tensions with Moscow eased and budgets tightened, pushing the cost of each copy above $2 billion. [...]

The B-52s had another advantage: They had been bought and paid for, at an original cost of a little more than $6 million apiece.

You can’t even buy a Learjet for that these days,” said Alan Williams, a former B-52 radar navigator (Source)

h/t Lawrence Hamtil

And totally unrelated: here’s a cool photo I like (and don’t you think the shadows in the mountains at the top kind of look like a side video of a F16?):

If you’re wondering why planes are so angular and made of triangles now, instead of the curvy/slippery shapes of the past, it’s because the Air Force has been hit hard by the GPU shortage, so they've had to reduce the polygon count on their planes in recent times.


Go Spend Some Time In Nature, I’ll Write You a Prescription

Spending time in the woods—a practice the Japanese call “forest bathing”—is strongly linked to lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones and decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue. [...]

Time in a forest is linked to decreased inflammation, which has been implicated in chronic disease.

“People are deciding whether or not this type of coffee bean or that type is better for you, when there is such an obvious health tool at your disposal. You literally just walk outside.” [...]

A study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports in 2019 found the 20,000 participants were significantly more likely to report good health and well-being when they spent 120 minutes or more in nature a week. The good vibe peaked at 200 to 300 minutes a week. Anything less than two hours didn’t make a difference. (Source)

h/t Jorge P.

The Arts & History

Visual Search Engine (Deep-Learning! AI! ML! Buzzwords!)

Same Energy is a visual search engine. You can use it to find beautiful art, photography, decoration ideas, or anything else.

We believe that image search should be visual, using only a minimum of words. And we believe it should integrate a rich visual understanding, capturing the artistic style and overall mood of an image, not just the objects in it.

How does it work? I’m glad you asked:

Same Energy's core search uses deep learning. The most similar published work is CLIP by OpenAI.

The default feeds available on the home page are algorithmically curated: a seed of 5-20 images are selected by hand, then our system builds the feed by scanning millions of images in our index to find good matches for the seed images.

Some results are weird, but some are really good. This is a promising avenue of research.

You can try it for yourself here.

Here’s a few cool monochrome motifs I found while aimlessly clicking around. Is it ok to like motifs, or is that weird? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Looking at these, the word of the day is: Rotational symmetry.