Tech: Links for 3rd December, 2019

  1. “Both Starship and Starlink are transformative technology being built before our very eyes, here, in our lifetimes. If I live long enough my grandchildren will be more flabbergasted that I’m older than Starlink than that I’m older than cell phones (museum pieces) or the public internet itself.”
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    A fascinating write-up on Starlink: its economics, its pricing, its upsides, its downsides, and the underlying strategy. A very long read, and I’ll admit I didn’t get all of it – but rewarding nonetheless.
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  2. “To finish this post, I’m going to revisit its starting point. Starship is still seen by many in the space media community as a slightly overgrown version of any other rocket, with reusability tacked on. This is an error of analogy. Starship fundamentally changes our relationship with space.Starship is a devastatingly powerful space access and logistical transport mechanism that will instantly crush the relevance of every other rocket ever built.””
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    And so also for Starship.
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  3. “…the venture capital pouring into astrology apps will create a fortune telling system that works, because humans are predictable. As people follow the advice, the apps’ predictive powers will increase, creating an ever-tighter electronic leash. But they’ll be hugely popular – because if you sprinkle magic on top, you can sell people anything.”
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    Speaking of stars
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  4. “But using models is inherently tricky. We can never be certain that our model behaves enough like the thing we are actually trying to understand to draw conclusions about it. Nor can we be sure that our model is similar enough in the ways that really matter. So it can be hard to know that the evidence we collect from the model is truly evidence about the thing we want to know about.”
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    Evidence and proofs are very tricky to think about.
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  5. “This requires more ingenuity than you might think—wires have never been perfectly transparent carriers of data; they have always degraded the information put into them. In general, this gets worse as the wire gets longer, and so as the early telegraph networks spanned greater distances, the people building them had to edge away from the seat-of-the-pants engineering practices that, applied in another field, gave us so many boiler explosions, and toward the more scientific approach that is the standard of practice today.”
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    The very first link above includes a link to this gem of an essay by Neal Stephenson. Written in 1996, it still is a great read!

Tech: Links for 26th November, 2019

  1. “Basecamp says Basecamp Personal is designed “specifically for freelancers, students, families, and personal projects,” and with it, you can make spaces for up to three projects, work on these projects with up to 20 users, and store up to one gigabyte of data in those projects. The new tier seems to put Basecamp in direct competition with free tiers from other project management tools like Asana and Trello, as well as workplace chat software like Slack and Microsoft Teams.”
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    Basecamp launches a new, free tier of its project management software – and it is certainly worth signing up.
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  2. “The bus ticket theory is similar to Carlyle’s famous definition of genius as an infinite capacity for taking pains. But there are two differences. The bus ticket theory makes it clear that the source of this infinite capacity for taking pains is not infinite diligence, as Carlyle seems to have meant, but the sort of infinite interest that collectors have. It also adds an important qualification: an infinite capacity for taking pains about something that matters.”
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    Lots to  unpack in this latest essay by Paul Graham.
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  3. “As Kristal’s business grew, she needed help with all this unboxing and re-boxing, so she started looking for a prep center. There were about 15 at the time, she says, mostly in New Hampshire, Oregon, and Delaware, which have no sales tax. That way, sellers can enter the address of their prep center when they buy from Target’s website and pad their margins by a couple percent. Montana has no sales tax either, Kristal mused, and there wasn’t a single center in the online directory. Sensing an opportunity, she decided to give prepping a try. She chose a name — Selltec — and put it up on the directory, too.”
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    Who ever gets bored learning more about Amazon? Heard of a town called Roundup?
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  4. “These newfangled warehouses have come up in Bhiwandi — known for its century-old power looms industry which still exists in the interiors of the city — only in the last five years or so. Here, online retail companies such as Amazon, Flipkart, Nykaa, Pepperfry, Grofers and Bigbasket, among others, store their goods in what the industry calls fulfilment centres or FCs. When a customer places an order on one of these online platforms, the item ordered is packed in these FCs, sorted according to the delivery location and dispatched in a delivery vehicle for its final destination. Third-party logistics companies (called 3PLs) such as DHL, Blue Dart, DTDC, Safexpress — the entities that deliver these goods to the customers’ doorsteps — also have their own FCs here. Like a local train on a busy Mumbai station, a delivery truck enters and exits these centres every 30 seconds.”
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    Meanwhile, in Bhiwandi
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  5. “But Musk says he knows what went wrong, and explained things on Twitter. Right before the metal ball test, von Holzhausen smacked the door with a sledgehammer on stage to prove its durability (and unlike the glass, it was fine), and Musk says this impact “cracked base of glass,” which is why the windows subsequently smashed when hit by the ball.”
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    Ah ok then.

Etc: Links for 11th October, 2019

  1. Celebtrating Rafa Nadal. That this piece is written 14(!) years after Nadal won his first Grand Slam is beyond remarkable. I am, for the record (and will forever be) a Federer acolyte, but I gave up on the who-is-better battle long, long ago. I am just grateful to be a tennis fan alive in this era.
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    “”Under different circumstances, his performance would have been more than good enough to win the tournament. He had the bad luck of facing Nadal, one of the sport’s greatest champions, on a night when Nadal simply refused to lose.”
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  2. A useful list for lazy weekends: the signature film of every city. The excerpt below is about Washington D.C. Pair this recommendation with an app called JustWatch, which is worth it’s proverbial weight in gold.
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    “If you want to get a sense of a city in a movie, following around a couple of reporters for a major paper is a damn good way to evoke the mood of the metropolis. Watching Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein relentlessly prowl the streets and restaurants and parking garages of the nation’s capital in pursuit of a truth that will ultimately bring down the President of the United States is as D.C., and American, as it gets. Honorable mention: Ashby’s “Being There,” Friedkin’s “The Exorcist”, Brooks’ “Broadcast News,” the Coens’ “Burn After Reading,” Schumacher’s “D.C. Cab” and countless others.”
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  3. Humanity is a kind of ‘biological boot loader’ for AI, says Elon Musk.
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    “People don’t realize we are already a cyborg. Because we are so well integrated with our phones and our computers. The phone is almost like an extension of yourself. If you forget your phone, it’s like a missing limb. But the bandwidth, the communication bandwidth to the phone is very low, especially input. So in fact, input bandwidth to computers has actually gone down, because typing with two thumbs, as opposed to 10 fingers, is a big reduction in bandwidth.”
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  4. The 100 Best Albums of the 21st Century. I am not qualified to pass opinion, but my commute is, as they say, sorted.
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  5. A book recommendation via MR. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. I have purchased it, but haven’t read it yet. Probably (and hopefully) on the Thailand trip.

Etc: Links for 27th September, 2019

  1. Inside the lives of food delivery riders.
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  2. “Michael Shermer, who advances the case for moral behaviour determined by science and reason in The Moral Arc, argues that the arc of our moral universe is expanding and over history, “we have been steadily—albeit at times haltingly—expanding the moral sphere to include more members of our species (and now even other species) as legitimate participants in the moral community.” ”
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    I look forward to this day. I have a six year old daughter.
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  3. Do you like bananas?
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  4. Speaking of which, I enjoyed listening to this podcast a couple of years ago. Vikram Doctor on bananas.
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  5. “Musk’s believers argue that the details of his ventures don’t matter: It’s the grand vision that counts. “The guy has a will to make stuff happen that is extraordinary,” says someone who worked closely with Musk. “He willed Tesla to happen. And in willing a reality into existence, he might not stick to the facts.” But in the case of SolarCity, Musk’s penchant for making promises he can’t deliver on turned out to matter a great deal—and could even pose a threat to his entire empire.”
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    An update on Mr. Musk and his endeavors.

Tech:Links for 18th June, 2019

  1. “”I did my first valuation of Tesla in 2013, and undershot the mark, partly because I saw its potential market as luxury cars (smaller), and partly because I under estimated how much it would be able to extract in production from the Fremont plant. Over time, I have compensated for both mistakes, giving Tesla access to a bigger (albeit, still upscale) market and more growth, while reinvesting less than the typical auto company. In spite of these adjustments, I have consistently come up with valuations well below the price, finding the stock to be valued at about half its price only a year ago. This year marks a turning point, as I find Tesla to be under valued, albeit by only a small fraction. Even in the midst of my most negative posts on Tesla, I confessed that I like the company (though not Elon Musk’s antics as CEO and financial choices) and that I would one day own the stock. That day may be here, as I put in a limit buy order at $180/share, knowing fully well that, if I do end up as a shareholder, this company will test my patience and sanity.”
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    The forever excellent Aswath Damodaran on his latest valuation of Tesla, and now he even has skin in the game. If you want to understand how to value a company, you can’t do better than Prof. Damodaran, and if you want to begin with a particularly challenging, but inevitably interesting company, you can’t do better than Tesla. For both of these reasons, worth reading in some detail.
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  2. “Since it began operations in 2010, Uber has grown to the point where it now collects over $45 billion in gross passenger revenue, and it has seized a major share of the urban car service market. But the widespread belief that it is a highly innovative and successful company has no basis in economic reality.An examination of Uber’s economics suggests that it has no hope of ever earning sustainable urban car service profits in competitive markets. Its costs are simply much higher than the market is willing to pay, as its nine years of massive losses indicate. Uber not only lacks powerful competitive advantages, but it is actually less efficient than the competitors it has been driving out of business.”
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    Speaking of tech and automobile companies, this article is an extremely bearish take on Uber – with fairly convincing reasons to boot. A very long, but ultimately very convincing (and depressing) read. The party ought to end soon.
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  3. “Uber also has a very limited ‘network’ effect, because drivers can and do jump to whatever platform offers them the best terms – indeed most Uber drivers use all available platforms, and they accept rides from the platform offering them the highest rates – and customers can do the same (most customers have multiple ride-hailing apps on the phones, and can easily choose the cheapest). This means that even if Uber survives, it will likely always remain an extremely low margin business.”
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    Another take on the same issue – I don’t necessarily agree with all the economic arguments made in the piece – for example, I think the cost of owning a car as opposed to hiring one for a drive is under-emphasized – but the broader conclusion is all but inevitable.
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  4. “The Tesla position would presumably be that the addition of LIDAR would not have materially avoided the car accident and loss of lives, but this is going to be tough to showcase since in theory any use of LIDAR is going to incrementally improve the safety odds, assuming it is used wisely, and so it’s another part of the uphill climb by Tesla to avoid getting summarily dinged for their lack of LIDAR.They also cannot make the argument that they did not know about LIDAR or were somehow unaware of it, which is quite obviously not the case, including that their self-offered anti-LIDAR rhetoric acting as their own admission that they knew about LIDAR and made a deliberate decision to intentionally exclude it.”
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    Read this article to get a sense of what LIDAR is, and why it is important (or not) in the world of autonomous driving – but also read this article to get a sense of how cost-benefit arguments work in the real world, along with a great way to understand opportunity costs.
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  5. “Americans associate electric cars with the luxury of Tesla, the unrivaled conveyance of choice for the Sand Hill Road set. But these newly assembled vehicles, part of a family of SUVs called the Tang that retails from about 240,000 yuan ($35,700), are aimed squarely at middle-class drivers in the world’s largest electric vehicle market, China. Their manufacturer, BYD Co., is in turn the No. 1 producer of plug-in vehicles globally, attracting a tiny fraction of the attention of Elon Musk’s company while powering, to a significant extent, a transition to electrified mobility that’s moving faster in China than in any other country. Founded in Shenzhen in the mid-1990s as a manufacturer of batteries for brick-size cellphones and digital cameras, BYD now has about a quarter-million employees and sells as many as 30,000 pure EVs or plug-in hybrids in China every month, most of them anything but status symbols. Its cheapest model, the e1, starts at 60,000 yuan ($8,950) after subsidies.”
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    Uber, Tesla, sure. But have you heard of BYD? Or put another way, China had to come up sooner or later.

Links for 29th May, 2019

  1. “And so India will continue to grow at her sluggish pace; socialism will continue to thrive; Air India will continue to fly; and Modi will continue to waste a fifth of our yearly budget on PSUs. Modi always knew that the secret to winning elections is socialism. What he has learnt now is the secret to running India. It is to gamble.”
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    I have posted this link not because I agree with the conclusion (I don’t), but because I share the sense of pessimism when it comes to matters pertaining to economic reforms, or the lack of them. India needs me, and the author, to be completely wrong about our pessimism.
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  2. “Zahran Hashim, 33, radical preacher and alleged ringleader, found little acceptance in his hometown Kattankudy, in eastern Batticaloa. Mosques in the predominantly Muslim town rejected him outright. Their members even complained to authorities, before he went absconding in 2017 after a clash with a fellow priest who challenged his interpretation of Islam.But soon, a team of young Muslim men — and one woman — from other, mostly Sinhala-majority, areas eagerly joined him on his Easter mission to carry out a suicide attack on churches and high-end hotels in and around Colombo and Batticaloa. All nine bombers were in their 20s and 30s.”
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    A mostly depressing, but also revealing, portrait of the nine people who perpetrated the terror attacks in Sri Lanka recently.
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  3. “There are striking parallels between the philosophies of Trump and NIMBY urbanists. Trump asserts that America is “full” and so wants to restrict the flow of immigrants. The urbanists, who tend to be Democratic and highly educated, assert that their cities are too crowded and so want to restrict the supply of housing. The cultural valence of the two views is quite different, but the practical implications have a lot in common — namely, a harder set of conditions for potential low-skilled migrants to the U.S.”
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    As he so often does, Professor Cowen reminds us why studying economics is entirely worth our time. In this case, he explains why NIMBYism, and high minimum wages are at least as anti-immigration as are, well, walls.
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  4. “Our goal is to defeat the snail in a race.”
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    Possibly the shortest extract I have put up ever, but it is hard to improve on that sentence. For once, I won’t speak about what the link is about. Try guessing what it might be about before clicking here!
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  5. “What’s happening here is much more complicated than an imagined zero-sum game between the defenders of books and library futurists. The decline in the use of print books at universities relates to the kinds of books we read for scholarly pursuits rather than pure pleasure, the rise of ebooks and digital articles, and the changing environment of research. And it runs contrary to the experience of public libraries and bookstores, where print continues to thrive.”
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    The Atlantic on substitutes and complements. On books actually, but read this article to understand how to think about the implications of thinking about complements and substitutes

Video for 17th March, 2019