The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do

Tuesday, September 26th, 2023

Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography opens with two quotes:

To anyone I’ve offended, I just want to say, I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?

— Elon Musk, Saturday Night Live, May 8, 2021

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

— Steve Jobs

Extreme success comes from mastering games and metagames

Monday, September 25th, 2023

One very abstract way to understand people’s skills, Byrne Hobart suggests, is to think about their relative ability to execute some known task versus their ability to continuously reinvent themselves and determine what they ought to be doing differently:

Warren Buffett’s career has been justifiably studied because of his extreme skill at the first, but Charlie Munger made a major contribution to Buffett’s track record by pushing him to reevaluate where he focused his energy. Buffett and Munger both did plenty of scrappy deals early in their careers, buying mediocre companies at a massive discount to their fair value and selling once that value had been reached. But it’s a lot harder to do that at scale. You can find profitable or potentially profitable companies trading at less than net cash if you’re looking at $50m market caps and below, but it’s not going to happen if your cutoff for a needle-moving investment is a $5bn or $50bn market cap instead.

Munger’s story is a good case study in skill and serendipity: he might have been a fairly successful LA-based real estate developer and lawyer with a reputation for loquacity if he hadn’t tied up with Warren Buffett. On the other hand, if Warren Buffett hadn’t gotten the message on quality businesses from Munger, perhaps he’d be an oddball Omaha fixture, a frugal guy who made millions but not billions investing in textiles, local banks, steel mills, and the like. Extreme success comes from mastering games and metagames, and in this case it was a team effort, with Munger handling the metagame and Buffett excelling at whatever the specific game happened to be.

One frustrating note about this book [Damn Right: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger] is that it just doesn’t give enough detail about Munger’s transition from someone who earned a salary and made investments on the side to full-time capitalist. It’s surprisingly hard to find details about Munger’s hedge fund in the 60s and 70s (it’s easy to find their biggest positions, but one of those positions was a closed-end fund that Munger & Co. took over in order to redirect its investments into better businesses. But which!?). And the book sadly omits this story, about how Munger would be worth multiples of what he has today if he’d bought one more small block of an obscure oil company in the 70s, which sold for 30x his cost a few years later. (This is a good case study in why you shouldn’t overrate luck: in an alternate world where Munger had bought that stock, clever people might point out that 80% of his net worth ultimately derived from one decision to call a broker back and make a trade. Whereas what probably really happened was that not making the trade meant that it took a few more years for Munger’s capital base to reach the point where it compounded closer to 15% annually than 30%.)

Why do people work for Musk?

Wednesday, September 20th, 2023

Why do people work for Musk?, Scott Alexander asks:

The book paints a pretty grim picture of working at a Musk company. Employees get handed near-impossible problems, chewed out or fired if they fail, and barely thanked at all if they succeed. Work weeks are 90+ hours. Vance says Elon sent an angry email to a marketing guy who missed an event because his wife was giving birth, telling him to “figure out where your priorities are” (Elon denies this). So why do thousands of people, including the very best and brightest who could get jobs anywhere, work for him?

The cliche answer — that they believe in the mission — is mostly true. But many employees also talked about their past jobs at Boeing or GM or wherever. They would have some cool idea, and tell it to their boss, and their boss would say they weren’t in the cool idea business and were already getting plenty of government contracts. If they pushed, they would get told to file it with the Vice President of Employee Feedback, who might hold a meeting to determine a process to summon an exploratory committee to add it to the queue of things to consider for the 2030 version of the product.

Meanwhile, if someone told Elon about a cool idea, he would think about it for fifteen seconds, give them a million dollars, and tell them to have it ready within a month — no, two weeks! — no, three days! For some people, the increased freedom and the feeling of getting to reach their full potential was worth the cost.

Only the bow-mounted parafoil passed the sniff test

Sunday, September 17th, 2023

Michael Barnard has been looking at ways to make wind energy a thing for cargo ships again for at least a decade:

Few of the them appear to make much sense in context of the shipping industry. Many appear to be motivated by romanticism rather than pragmatism.

That’s why sails are in the sexy but foolish quadrant of my sexy vs meh decarbonization assessment of maritime shipping, along with hydrofoils (which I love on tiny pleasure water craft like wing foils) and hydrogen (which is just as nonsensical as a shipping fuel as it is a trucking fuel).

The only solution I’d seen which managed to cross over at least partially into the practical quadrant was bow-mounted parafoil power assist. The reasons are pretty straightforward.

Ships are high-tech simplicity. They have big engines, they love to run in straight lines at the same speed for days or weeks at a time, small crews can run huge ships and they are optimized to fit through canals and into ports globally. They exist in a complex business model where one organization builds them, another owns them, another operates them, another registers them, another insures them, another fuels them, and yet another owns the cargo that they carry.

The firm that pays for the ship is usually different than the firm which pays for the expenses of operating the ship. That’s one of the things that gets in the way of efficiency measures that require capital expenditures. The ship’s owner has to spend that money, but typically can’t get that money back from the operators who gain the benefits from it. This is the same problem with efficiency retrofits in commercial real estate, by the way, where tenants pay for utilities but landlords pay for insulation and heat pumps.

So there are business model headwinds for wind energy on ships. But those aren’t the only challenges.

Cargo ships don’t sail majestically across the briny deeps and then lower their cargo into rowboats. They berth at complex, highly automated, highly standardized ports, with most traffic flowing through the biggest 800 ports globally. They exist within a technical ecosystem that includes a lot of technology in ports to rapidly pluck cargo out of them and put it back into them. Smaller ships sometimes have winches of their own for loading and offloading at tiny ports, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

And specific bulk cargos have specific load and offload technologies, often at separate docks. Grain can’t be taken out of ships with coal loading equipment. Ammonia can’t be pumped out by equipment that deals with gasoline. Containers aren’t lifted out with the same cranes that haul out palleted cargo typically. Ships usually moor under a complex, gigantic mechanical spider’s worth of arms and gantries.

How exactly do masts and sails fit into that world? Well, they don’t. That’s a big problem for wind-powered cargo ships. Most wind energy solutions require very big things sticking up from the ship along its length. How exactly do you berth a ship like that so containers can be plucked from it?


The next problem for wind energy and cargo ships is keels. Sailing ships need them. A sailing ship moves forward because wind is trying to push it sideways and forward, and the keel prevents it from going sideways. That enables sailing ships to go upwind, or at least not be pushed downwind. And keels are longer the bigger the sailing ship. Wind surfers get by with little dagger boards. Kite surfers get by with little fins and some creative edging. Sailing ships need really deep keels. And cargo ships have really shallow keels by comparison.

Cargo ships are designed to be pushed from the back and to have the keel and the lee side of the ship push against the water sufficiently to overcome most wind loading from upwind. They burn fuel to go upwind. They point a bit more into the wind as necessary to achieve a straight course.

Put a big set of sails on a cargo ship and a lot more force is pushing the cargo ship sideways and downwind. This has to be adjusted for, mostly with a deeper keel.

And loaded cargo ships are already problematic for a lot of ports without deep keels because they have deep drafts, the distance between waterline and lowest point of the keel. Make the keel a lot bigger, and the draft by necessity gets deeper. Retractable keels exist for sail boats, but that’s not really an option for a cargo ship.


Next up, masts for sails wouldn’t just sit on the deck, they’d pierce the deck and be mounted on the hull. And the hull needs to be structurally sound enough for this. The masts would not be small, and on normal ships, they’d be along the center line, so would take up cargo space in addition to the problem of getting in the way of loading and unloading. Retrofitting sails that actually do anything to most existing bulk cargo ships would take a lot of extra metal below decks, and a really good engineering assessment to ensure that they could even survive the strain.

Finally, at least for this piece, there’s the problem of crews. They cost money. Ships are optimized and automated to reduce the crews as much as is reasonable given various port and sailing duties. A typical bulk coal or iron ore carrier of 150,000 to 175,000 tons would have 20 to 30 crew members. Smaller ships might have eight to ten.

Sailing ships that used to carry 200 tons of cargo had 20 to 30 crew members. We are moving 750 times as much cargo a lot faster with the same number of personnel. Cargo shipping is cheap unless you add a lot of crew. And most sailing technologies are going to require at least a few more people to manage them.

I’ve assessed several sailing technologies and setups for cargo ships. Magnus effect rotors are very interesting, as the same spin that makes a baseball curve in mid-air can be used to generate forward movement in a ship with vertical cylinders, but they really get in the way of pretty much everything noted above. Fabric sails on masts are just manual effort nightmares which pleasure and competitive sailors curse as much as they delight in when they are trimmed and working beautifully. Modern rigid wing sails that grew out of battened, almost rigid windsurfer sails, built in the same manner as wind turbine blades, and used on the massive, absurdly complex, foiling America’s Cup sailboats that crash spectacularly these days, just get in the way of everything too.

Only the bow-mounted parafoil passed my sniff test. Autolaunching and furling? Check (most of the time at least). Single attachment point? Check. Out of the way of cargo loading and unloading? Check. Relatively inexpensive? Check. Most power aligned with pulling the hull in the direction it wants to go through the water? Check. Even then, they’ve been having trouble finding buyers due to the business model challenge.

But this week, the Pyxis Ocean launched in China. The big shipping firm Cargill paid to have the Mitsubishi-owned ship retrofitted by Yara Marine with a couple of first-of-a-kind 123ft (37.5m) tall, rigid, complex sails designed by Bar Technologies, which is a spinoff company of an America’s Cup team. Did I mention the complexity of the business model challenge?

Musk never changes

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

I started reading (and enjoying) Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography yesterday, so I was surprised to see that Scott Alexander already had a book review of Elon Musk up — but its subtitle clarified:

Not the new one, sorry

This isn’t the new Musk biography everyone’s talking about. This is the 2015 Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. I started reading it in July, before I knew there was a new one. It’s fine: Musk never changes. He’s always been exactly the same person he is now.


Musk has always been exactly the same person he is now, and exactly what he looks like. He is without deception, without subtlety, without unexpected depths.

The main answer to the paradox of “how does he succeed while making so many bad decisions?” is that he’s the most focused person in the world. When he decides to do something, he comes up with an absurdly optimistic timeline for how quickly it can happen if everything goes as well as the laws of physics allow. He — I think the book provides ample evidence for this — genuinely believes this timeline, or at least half-believingly wills for it to be true. Then, when things go less quickly than that, it’s like red-hot knives stabbing his brain. He gets obsessed, screams at everyone involved, puts in twenty hour days for months on end trying to try to get the project “back on track”. He comes up with absurd shortcuts nobody else would ever consider, trying to win back a few days or weeks. If a specific person stands in his way, he fires that person (if they are an employee), unleashes nonstop verbal abuse on them (if they will listen) or sues them (if they’re anyone else). The end result never quite reaches the original goal, but still happens faster than anyone except Elon thought possible. A Tesla employee described his style as demanding a car go from LA to NYC on a single charge, which is impossible, but he puts in such a strong effort that the car makes it to New Mexico.

This is the Musk Strategy For Business Success; the rest is just commentary.

If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design may seem niche, Byrne Hobart notes, but they are really general-purpose rules for managing teams:

Or at least teams that are working on problems where some parts can be quantified, some parts are unknown, and mistakes are costly; rockets are obviously an extreme case of this, but that just means there are certain things their designers learn faster and more painfully. Some of them, when generalized, can be quite fun. For example: “If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw. Engineers always wind up designing the vehicle to look like the initial artist’s concept.” This is a more concrete version of what someone might call “vision,” and since it’s more specific, it’s also easier to see why this is hard to pull off.

David Akin originally wrote his laws up to hand out to his senior design class at MIT:

1. Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.

2. To design a spacecraft right takes an infinite amount of effort. This is why it’s a good idea to design them to operate when some things are wrong .

3. Design is an iterative process. The necessary number of iterations is one more than the number you have currently done. This is true at any point in time.

4. Your best design efforts will inevitably wind up being useless in the final design. Learn to live with the disappointment.

5. (Miller’s Law) Three points determine a curve.

6. (Mar’s Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.

7. At the start of any design effort, the person who most wants to be team leader is least likely to be capable of it.

8. In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point.

9. Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.

10. When in doubt, estimate. In an emergency, guess. But be sure to go back and clean up the mess when the real numbers come along.

11. Sometimes, the fastest way to get to the end is to throw everything out and start over.

12. There is never a single right solution. There are always multiple wrong ones, though.

13. Design is based on requirements. There’s no justification for designing something one bit “better” than the requirements dictate.

14. (Edison’s Law) “Better” is the enemy of “good”.

15. (Shea’s Law) The ability to improve a design occurs primarily at the interfaces. This is also the prime location for screwing it up.

16. The previous people who did a similar analysis did not have a direct pipeline to the wisdom of the ages. There is therefore no reason to believe their analysis over yours. There is especially no reason to present their analysis as yours.

17. The fact that an analysis appears in print has no relationship to the likelihood of its being correct.

18. Past experience is excellent for providing a reality check. Too much reality can doom an otherwise worthwhile design, though.

19. The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you’ve screwed up.

20. A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately.

21. (Larrabee’s Law) Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which.

22. When in doubt, document. (Documentation requirements will reach a maximum shortly after the termination of a program.)

23. The schedule you develop will seem like a complete work of fiction up until the time your customer fires you for not meeting it.

24. It’s called a “Work Breakdown Structure” because the Work remaining will grow until you have a Breakdown, unless you enforce some Structure on it.

25. (Bowden’s Law) Following a testing failure, it’s always possible to refine the analysis to show that you really had negative margins all along.

26. (Montemerlo’s Law) Don’t do nuthin’ dumb.

27. (Varsi’s Law) Schedules only move in one direction.

28. (Ranger’s Law) There ain’t no such thing as a free launch.

29. (von Tiesenhausen’s Law of Program Management) To get an accurate estimate of final program requirements, multiply the initial time estimates by pi, and slide the decimal point on the cost estimates one place to the right.

30. (von Tiesenhausen’s Law of Engineering Design) If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw. Engineers always wind up designing the vehicle to look like the initial artist’s concept.

31. (Mo’s Law of Evolutionary Development) You can’t get to the moon by climbing successively taller trees.

32. (Atkin’s Law of Demonstrations) When the hardware is working perfectly, the really important visitors don’t show up.

33. (Patton’s Law of Program Planning) A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.

34. (Roosevelt’s Law of Task Planning) Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.

35. (de Saint-Exupery’s Law of Design) A designer knows that they have achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

36. Any run-of-the-mill engineer can design something which is elegant. A good engineer designs systems to be efficient. A great engineer designs them to be effective.

37. (Henshaw’s Law) One key to success in a mission is establishing clear lines of blame.

38. Capabilities drive requirements, regardless of what the systems engineering textbooks say.

39. Any exploration program which “just happens” to include a new launch vehicle is, de facto, a launch vehicle program.

39. (alternate formulation) The three keys to keeping a new human space program affordable and on schedule:
1) No new launch vehicles.
2) No new launch vehicles.
3) Whatever you do, don’t develop any new launch vehicles.

40. (McBryan’s Law) You can’t make it better until you make it work.

41. There’s never enough time to do it right, but somehow, there’s always enough time to do it over.

42. If there’s not a flight program, there’s no money.
If there is a flight program, there’s no time.

43. You really understand something the third time you see it (or the first time you teach it.)

44. (Lachance’s Law) “Plenty of time” becomes “not enough time” in a very short time.

45. Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, somebody dies (and there’s no partial credit because most of the analysis was right…)

When contemporaries describe Gagosian, they tend to summon carnivore analogies

Thursday, August 17th, 2023

Patrick Radden Keefe channels Tom Wolfe as he explains how Larry Gagosian reshaped the art world:

It was the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend on Further Lane, the best street in Amagansett, the best town in the Hamptons, and the art dealer Larry Gagosian was bumming around his eleven-thousand-square-foot modernist beach mansion, looking pretty relaxed for a man who, the next day, would host a party for a hundred and forty people. A pair of French bulldogs, Baby and Humphrey, waddled about, and Gagosian’s butler, Eddie, a slim man with a ponytail and an air of informal professionalism, handed him a sparkling water. Gagosian sat down on a leather sofa in the living room, his back to the ocean view, and faced a life-size Charles Ray sculpture of a male nude, in reflective steel, and a Damien Hirst grand piano (bright pink with blue butterflies) that he’d picked up at a benefit auction some years back, for four hundred and fifty thousand dollars. On a coffee table before him was a ceramic Yoshitomo Nara ashtray the size of a Frisbee, decorated with a picture of a little girl smoking and the words “too young to die.”

Gagosian is not a household name for most Americans, but among the famous and the wealthy — and particularly among the very wealthy — he is a figure of colossal repute. He is dubious of art dealers who refer to themselves as “gallerists,” which he regards as a pretentious euphemism that obscures the mercantile essence of the occupation. He has always favored a certain macho bluntness, and calls himself a dealer without apology. With nineteen galleries that bear his name, from New York to London to Athens to Hong Kong, generating more than a billion dollars in annual revenue, Gagosian may well be the biggest art dealer in the history of the world. He represents more than a hundred artists, living and dead, including many of the most celebrated and lucrative: Jenny Saville, Anselm Kiefer, Cy Twombly, Donald Judd. The business — which he owns without a partner or a shareholder or a spouse or children or anyone, really, to answer to — controls more than two hundred thousand square feet of prime real estate. All told, Gagosian has more exhibition space than most museums, and he shuttles among his outposts on his sixty-million-dollar Bombardier Global 7500 private jet. He’s been known to observe, with the satisfaction of Alexander the Great, “The sun never sets on my gallery.”


When contemporaries describe Gagosian, they tend to summon carnivore analogies: a tiger, a shark, a snake. His own publicist once described him as “a real killer.”

The languid calm that he exuded on the eve of the Amagansett party was that of a predator between meals. At seventy-eight, he remains tall and broad-shouldered, with a full head of white hair that he keeps trimmed close to the scalp, like a beaver pelt. Gagosian has blue eyes, which often flash with mirth — he has a quick, salty sense of humor — but they can just as suddenly go blank if he feels threatened or wants to be inscrutable. In conversation, these abrupt transitions from easy bonhomie to enigmatic hostility and back again can be jarring.

(Hat tip to Byrne Hobart.)

The NCAA has a “hot girl” problem

Friday, August 4th, 2023

The NCAA has a “hot girl” problem:

The [Cavinder] Twins’ attorney, Darren Heitner, calls their stratospheric rise a “blueprint” for other college athletes trying to cash in on the new, multibillion-dollar market. That market is the result of a 2021 Supreme Court ruling that led the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the 117-year-old organization that governs college sports, with roughly 1,100 member schools nationwide, to change its name, image, and likeness (or NIL) policy—enabling student athletes to cash in on their athletic prowess.

Before then, student athletes could generate enormous amounts of money for their schools—in 2019, the year before the pandemic, top-tier schools earned nearly $16 billion in media rights, tickets sales, licensing, and so forth from their athletes—while making nothing for themselves.

Thing is, the athletes now profiting are not necessarily the ones with the most athletic prowess. Or at least that’s the case when it comes to female athletes.

While the Twins are accomplished basketball players—until recently, they played for Division I University of Miami—they’re nowhere near the top of the women’s basketball totem pole. The top players in college women’s basketball—like Keishana Washington at Drexel University or Caitlin Clark at University of Iowa—score close to 30 points per game. In her final year at Miami, Haley Cavinder scored just over 12 points per game; Hanna, just under 4 points. They were good, but not WNBA good.

“If you look at the NIL girls, the first ones who were getting deals were the blonde girls,” Louis Moore, a sports historian at Grand Valley State University, told The Free Press. The Cavinder Twins, Moore said, have benefited handsomely from “their very blonde, girl-next-door looks,” posting videos of themselves in bikinis and tight-fitting dresses. Lots of their videos hint at the possibility of one twin having a boyfriend. Others wink at the male fantasy of group sex with identical sisters, featuring captions like “when he asks for blonde twins for Christmas” and “I want a girl with a twin sister.”

The Twins get their appeal. And even though they think it’s unfair that the mostly black top scorers in women’s college basketball make less than they do—including Louisiana State University’s Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson—that’s not stopping them.


Louisiana State University gymnast Olivia Dunne neatly illustrates this dynamic. Like the Twins, she’s good at her sport, but she’s not heading to the Olympics next year in Paris. And, like the Twins, she’s a button-nose blonde. No surprise, her Instagram is a hit. So is her TikTok, especially this recent video.

Dunne has racked up NIL deals totaling $3.4 million—making her the top-earning female athlete in the NCAA and No. 2 overall. As of this week, she lags behind No. 1 Bronny James, the oldest son of LeBron James who will be playing basketball for USC and is worth nearly $7 million, and she leads No. 3 Arch Manning, a quarterback phenom worth nearly $3 million who is a nephew of former NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. (Nepotism is clearly another driver of NIL success.)

The ability to fly lower means it won’t have to spend time climbing

Sunday, July 30th, 2023

Eviation, a Washington State-based startup aiming to be one of the first companies to produce electric planes for commercial use, says its electric planes due in 2027 will make air travel less costly and cleaner:

The Alice is a nine-seater aircraft with a length of around 57 feet and a wingspan of 62 feet. These dimensions put it in the ballpark of a Cessna Citation Excel or a Piaggio P.180 Avanti. “I like to say that we found the sweet spot for electric aviation with this aircraft: we have a nine-passenger plane,” Aviation CEO Gregory Davis told InsideEVs. “You can fly with a single pilot in North America, so it means that it is more cost-effective to operate than a ten-passenger plane where you need two pilots.”

Keeping this plane flying in the air requires significant research and development — and that starts with the battery. Namely, the Alice stores a 900kWh battery pack in its underbelly. “In terms of the size of the battery, it is an 8,000-pound battery,” says Davis. “That 8,000-pound battery is fairly similar to what a full fuel load on a plane that size might weigh,” Davis told InsideEVs. “It actually works out well inside the existing rules for aircraft sizing.”

The 900kWh battery pack gives the Alice a range of around 250 nautical miles (with an additional 30 minutes for reserves), meaning it’s geared strictly for short-distance travels.


We need to have a good battery life, but it doesn’t need to be a 20-year battery. What we’re actually doing is designing our battery to be a 3,000-cycle or 3,000-hour battery, and they’ll get replaced during routine maintenance. We make sure that you’re also operating in the top 10% of battery utilization.”

Interestingly, aircraft turbine engines need to be rebuilt around every 3,000 cycles, and after several rebuilds, they’ll need to be replaced entirely.


“For the aircraft, electricity that is derived from the grid is between 30 and 70% cheaper than aviation fuel, and that’s in today’s environment,” Davis told InsideEVs. Besides the fuel cost savings, electric motors providing thrust will be less maintenance intensive than a turbine engine. “The electric motors are so much less costly to maintain than a traditional turbine engine,” Davis said.

But ditching the turbines comes with an unexpected benefit. Namely, the plane won’t have to reach 30,000+ feet to achieve maximum efficiency.


The ability to fly lower also means that Alice won’t have to spend more time climbing, which is a highly energy-intensive task. Along with cutting down carbon emissions, the Alice will also reduce noise pollution, an adversary of residential communities located near airports. “One of the advantages of an electric aircraft is that it’s very quiet. It’s incredibly quiet, especially compared to a turbine aircraft,” Davis said. With the quieter flight, these planes might be allowed to fly into airports with curfews during off-hours, like John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Irvine, California.

“The idea is that with an {electric} aircraft, you can access the airport infrastructure at 2:00 in the morning to do an overnight package delivery,” Davis told InsideEVs. “That rapid point-to-point package delivery for the freight provider is {highly beneficial}. Being able to knock twelve hours off your delivery time is very valuable to freight companies.”

Would a cup of “Pee-kwod” appeal to anyone?

Friday, July 21st, 2023

When I was a kid, Starbuck was the name of a cocky fighter pilot in the original Battlestar Galactica. It was a fanciful, sci-if name, like Skywalker. Somewhere along the way I picked up that it was a real name, but it was still surprising to see a coffee-shop chain of the same name (but with a non-apostrophe s):

In 1971, our founders got together with artist Terry Heckler to define their new brand. They wanted the company’s name to suggest a sense of adventure, a connection to the Northwest and a link to the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders. Co-founder Gordon Bowker, a writer, initially proposed calling the company “Pequod,” after the ship in Herman Melville‘s classic novel “Moby-Dick.” But Terry objected – would a cup of “Pee-kwod” appeal to anyone?

The brainstorming continued. While researching names of mining camps on Mt. Rainier, one of the best known landmarks near Seattle, Terry came across “Starbo,” which eventually led the team back to where they’d started. In “Moby-Dick,” the name of the first mate on the Pequod was, you guessed it, Starbuck. A brand was born.

I somehow forgot the name of the first mate on the Pequod. It turns out Starbuck is the name of a prominent real-life whaling family.

United Airlines will fly an air taxi service between the downtown Vertiport Chicago and O’Hare

Sunday, April 23rd, 2023

In 2025, United Airlines will fly an air taxi service between the downtown Vertiport Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, using electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft it is purchasing from Archer Aviation:

The Archer Midnight eVTOL aircraft will complete the route in about 10 minutes; according to local resident and Ars Managing Editor Eric Bangeman, that journey by car can take over an hour due to road construction.


United placed an order for 200 eVTOL aircraft from Archer back in 2021 at a cost of $1 billion.


The Archer Midnight has a range of 100 miles (160 km) and a top speed of 150 mph (241 km/h).


Asked about the cost, an Archer spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times that the company hopes to make the service competitive with Uber Black, so it will be roughly $100 for the trip.

How much does a Pulitzer Prize increase weekly sales?

Tuesday, March 21st, 2023

How much does a Pulitzer Prize increase weekly sales?

The 2014 general nonfiction winner, Tom’s River by Dan Fagin, went from 10 copies to 162 copies sold (6,266 copies sold to date) on BookScan. History winner The Internal Enemy by Alan Taylor went from 27 copies to 433 copies (3,375 copies sold to date). 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri, the 2014 poetry winner, went from 11 copies to 81 copies (353 copies sold to date). Megan Marshall’s Margaret Fuller, the biography winner, out in paperback, went from 62 copies to 387 copies (5,038 copies sold to date).

Bubbles set a Schelling point for talent and capital

Friday, March 17th, 2023

Just as credit produces bubbles in financial markets, Dwarkesh Patel says, talent accelerates bubbles in technology:

During a bust, a highly leveraged hedge fund can experience a death spiral, where people react to bad financial news by calling in their loans, which forces the fund to sell its positions in a weak market, causing lenders to pull back further, and so on. Something very similar happens when you hire superstar employees. By virtue of their talent, these people have lots of options. As soon as you run into trouble and stop being the best place in the world for them to work, some of these 10x’ers will leave (remember, one of the things that makes them 10x is their ambition). And once their peers leave, the remaining A players will scatter too. The leverage you get from hiring really talented people is a huge risk during rough times, because these people have lots of other options and the ambition to pursue them.

Leverage is also a serious risk during a boom. Hedge funds like Tiger Management saw the late 90s Dot-com crash coming. But when they tried to short the tech market, some of their investors asked for their money back, which forced the fund to liquidate its short in a bullish market, which caused even more lenders and investors to pull out, causing further losses.


In The Alchemy of Finance, George Soros explains market bubbles with his theory of reflexivity. Bubbles shouldn’t exist in an efficient market, because speculators will bet against any asset whose price rises above its fundamental value. But bubbles are a common and recurring phenomenon in financial history.

Soros explains that the efficient markets hypothesis does not map onto actual markets, because it treats price simply as the output of market forces despite the fact that price also acts as an input. If a company’s stock quote increases, it will be able to raise more capital from investors, and on the basis of the money it just raised, its value will rise even further. Through this feedback loop, the prevailing bias is reinforced.

Reflexivity is at work in talent markets as well. Say that you manage to convince a few A players that your startup is extremely promising. Now, you can go to investors and say, “I’ve got the beginnings of an amazing startup — look at this awesome team I’m putting together.” And now you can hire even more 10x engineers by telling them, “Hey, we just raised our seed round on a 50 million dollar valuation. How can you not join this rocketship?”

But if this self-reinforcing cycle is not backed up by a legitimate and scalable vision which can make use of the influx of talent, then you have a bubble. Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes recruited highly credentialed biotech talent, and then advertised this team to raise billions in capital, which helped her get more clout and attention, which she used to recruit even more superstars, and so on.

Leverage tends to accelerate bubbles, because it allows people to throw more money into an already inflated asset. Similarly, extremely talented people accelerate tech bubbles. No prospect is more attractive to a 10x engineer than working with other 10x engineers, and no opportunity is more irresistible to an investor than funding a team of 10x engineers. The positive spin on this is the Byrne Hobart view, that bubbles set a Schelling point for talent and capital. A founder quality person can quit his job and start a new company in Web3 or biotech because he think he’ll get funded, and investors are willing to fund him since they expect that he will be able to recruit 10x engineers, who are comfortable making a career pivot because they find the founder’s vision exciting.

If any of of the people in this chain stop believing the hype around which their project is organized, then the hype becomes unjustified. So the con view of tech bubbles is that the entire party crashes if one person leaves early. And once the bubble starts to wobble, 10x employees will move on to the next compelling tech vision, causing the leveraged death spiral mentioned in the last section. Leveraging your company with talent increases your volatility — either you orchestrate a revolution, or you implode.

Technology, more than any other sector, seems to have this strong pattern of producing bubbles, where one hype train follows another. Perhaps this is because the smartest, most talented people go to work in tech, and just as credit produces bubbles in financial markets, talent accelerates bubbles in technology.

The idea of a joint stock company was one of Tudor England’s most brilliant and revolutionary innovations

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023

The idea of a joint stock company was one of Tudor England’s most brilliant and revolutionary innovations, William Dalrymple’s suggests, in The Anarchy:

The spark of the idea sprang from the flint of the medieval craft guilds, where merchants and manufacturers could pool their resources to undertake ventures none could afford to make individually. But the crucial difference in a joint stock company was that the latter could bring in passive investors who had the cash to subscribe to a project but were not themselves involved in the running of it. Such shares could be bought and sold by anyone, and their price could rise or fall depending on demand and the success of the venture.

Such a company would be ‘one body corporate and politick’ — that is, it would be a corporation, and so could have a legal identity and a form of corporate immortality that allowed it to transcend the deaths of individual shareholders, ‘in like manner’, wrote the legal scholar William Blackstone, ‘as the River Thames is still the same river, though the parts which compose it are changing every instance’.

Forty years earlier, in 1553, a previous generation of London merchants had begun the process of founding the world’s first chartered joint stock company: the Muscovy Company, or to give it its full and glorious title, The Mysterie and Companie of the Merchant Adventurers for the Discoverie of Regions, Dominions, Islands and Places Unknown.

Why does it feel like Amazon is making itself worse?

Monday, February 27th, 2023

Let’s say you’re a regular Amazon shopper, John Herrman suggests, in need of a spatula:

You might start your journey by typing the word “spatula” into the search box with a qualifier or two (“silicone,” “fish,” “magenta”). In response, Amazon will produce a very large list presented in a large paginated grid or, on a phone, a bottomless scroll. You have, it is implied, thousands of options within immediate reach; Amazon presents them to you in a particular but mostly unexplained order. Some of the spatulas you encounter first will carry brand names you’ve heard of before, like KitchenAid or Rubbermaid, while others will have names like IOCBYHZ, BANKKY, or KLAQQED. Some of them will appear identical to one another or even share the same product photos with different names and prices. Other listings will disclose, usually in small gray text, that they’re “sponsored.” (Of the 81 clickable, buyable products on my first page of search results for “spatula” — product listings, banners, and recommendation modules — 29, or more than a third, were some form of ad.)

Many products will be described in SEO-ese: “Silicone Spatula Turner, VOVOLY 3-Pack Spatula Set for Nonstick Cookware, BPA Free Rubber Spatulas, Heat Resistant Kitchen Utensil, No Scratch or Melting, Ideal for Egg, Cookie, Crepe, Burger, Pancake.” Most, maybe all, will be eligible for Prime.

You’ll have options! So many options that, unless you have strongly held preferences about spatula brands — unlikely, given that you just typed “spatula” into Amazon — you’re going to need some guidance. BANKKY or KLAQQED? Should you give IOCBYHZ a look or just pay extra for the Oxo? Your eyes are drawn to the only relevant, useful information on the page: star ratings. On this first page, sponsored or not, they’re all hovering between 4 and 5 stars and mostly between 4.6 and 4.9: 403 ratings, 4.7 stars; 10,845 ratings, 4.8 stars; 27 ratings, 4.7 stars; 20,069 ratings, 4.7 stars. (Stars, according to Amazon, are calculated using “machine-learned models instead of a simple average.” Not that it matters — however they’re allocated, they’re what you’re working with. Efforts to find independent reviews of Amazon-exclusive products rarely turn up high-quality content; many sites just summarize Amazon reviews in an effort to collect search traffic from Google and eventually affiliate commissions from Amazon itself.)

You read a little feedback to quell your doubts or ease your mind, then eventually, or quickly, you pluck a spatula out of the cascade. There’s a good chance, however, that it won’t actually be sold by Amazon but rather by a third-party seller that has spent months or years and many thousands of dollars hustling for search placement on the platform — its “store,” to use Amazon’s term, is where you will have technically bought this spatula. There’s an even better chance you won’t notice this before you order it. In any case, it’ll be at your door in a couple of days.

The system worked. But what system? In your short journey, you interacted with a few. There was the ’90s-retro e-commerce interface, which conceals a marketplace of literally millions of sellers, each scrapping for relevance, using Amazon as a sales channel for their own semi-independent businesses. It subjected you to the multibillion-dollar advertising network planted between Amazon users and the things they browse and buy. It was shipped to you through a sprawling, submerged logistics empire with nearly a million employees and contractors in the United States alone. You were guided almost entirely by an idiosyncratic and unreliable reputation system, initially designed to review books, that has used years of feedback from hundreds of millions of customers to help construct an alternative universe of sometimes large but often fleeting brands that have little identity or relevance outside of the platform. You found what you were looking for, sort of, through a process that didn’t feel much like shopping at all.

This is all normal in that Amazon is so dominant that it sets norms. But its essential weirdness — its drift from anything resembling shopping or informed consumption — is becoming harder for Amazon’s one-click magic trick to hide.

Interacting with Amazon, for most of its customers, broadly produces the desired, expected, and generally unrivaled result: They order all sorts of things; the prices are usually reasonable, and they don’t have to think about shipping costs; the things they order show up pretty quickly; returns are no big deal. But, at the core of that experience, something has become unignorably worse. Late last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon’s customer satisfaction had fallen sharply in a range of recent surveys, which cited COVID-related delivery interruptions but also poor search results and “low-quality” items. More products are junk. The interface itself is full of junk. The various systems on which customers depend (reviews, search results, recommendations) feel like junk. This is the state of the art of American e-commerce, a dominant force in the future of buying things. Why does it feel like Amazon is making itself worse? Maybe it’s slipping, showing its age, and settling into complacency. Or maybe — hear me out — everything is going according to plan.