Weekend Briefing No. 383

Welcome to the weekend.

This week, my wife and I were reflecting on how grateful we are for the scientists who labored in obscurity for many years on mRNA. It was their work that created the vaccine that is bringing the world back from the brink. This Thursday, The Daily’s podcast was profiling one such scientist (which I’ve included below). If any of you worked on mRNA or any part of the supply chain to bring the vaccine to the world, thank you so much! You are a hero.

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Prime Numbers

148,000,000—Tuesday, law enforcement agencies announced that, following police raids in 16 countries, more than 800 suspects have been arrested, with 32 tons of drugs, 250 firearms, 55 luxury cars, and $148 million in cash and crypto seized. The FBI recruited the creator of ANoM, a messaging app explicitly for crime, and gave out phones to 300 gangs. By 2019, the FBI cataloged 20 million messages from 11.8K devices, with 9K active users.

1,000—Wanting to help others who might need a boost, Krystal and Patrick  Duhaney tucked cash into diaper boxes and under formula lids (never breaking any seals or tampering with the product), hiding $1K in three Targets near their home. Krystal said it was important that “other parents who may be feeling alone know someone out there cares about them.”

9.01—The wholesale price of live 1.25-pound lobsters in New England was $9.01 per pound on May 1, which was up $2.70 per pound compared to May 1, 2020.

Laboring in Obscurity

I love stories about true believers who labor in obscurity, then make a meaningful impact on the world. This podcast is such a story. When she was at graduate school in the 1970s, Dr. Katalin Kariko learned about something that would become a career-defining obsession: messenger ribonucleuc acid, or mRNA. RNA was a newly discovered molecule, a genetic script that carried DNA instructions to each cell’s protein-making machinery. Dr. Kariko believed in the potential of mRNA, but for decades she ran up against institutional roadblocks. Then, the coronavirus hit, and her obsession would help shield millions from a once-in-a-century pandemic. Check out a conversation with Dr. Kariko about her journey. The Daily (36 minutes)

Feedback Loop

Do you have a story about laboring in obscurity on something you truly believed in? Tell us your story here.  

Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy

There was a golden era when young urban professionals were living kings and queens on the Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy, which is what I like to call the period from roughly 2012 through early 2020, when many of the daily activities of big-city 20- and 30-somethings were quietly underwritten by Silicon Valley venture capitalists. For years, these subsidies allowed us to live Balenciaga lifestyles on Banana Republic budgets. These companies’ investors didn’t set out to bankroll our decadence. They were just trying to get traction for their startups, all of which needed to attract customers quickly to establish a dominant market position, elbow out competitors and justify their soaring valuations. So they flooded these companies with cash, which often got passed on to users in the form of artificially low prices and generous incentives. Now, users are noticing that for the first time—whether because of disappearing subsidies or merely an end-of-pandemic demand surge—their luxurious habits actually carry luxury price tags. Some of these companies have been tightening their belts for years. But the pandemic seems to have emptied what was left of the bargain bin. The average Uber and Lyft ride costs 40 percent more than it did a year ago, according to Rakuten Intelligence, and food delivery apps like DoorDash and Grubhub have been steadily increasing their fees over the past year. The average daily rate of an Airbnb rental increased 35 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same quarter the year before, according to the company’s financial filings. New York Times (9 minutes)

Mind’s Eye

Researchers at Kyoto University have leveraged breakthroughs in deep learning and generative networks to create digital photographs from what a person visualizes, transforming these images at up to 99% accuracy. The system works for both physical objects that a person is looking at and ones they’re imagining. Currently, the images are low resolution, and the subject needs to be inside an MRI machine for the system to work. But it points to an amazing possibility—as the tech improves and brain reading hardware gets better, computers will be able to scan our brains and transform our mental images into actual photos we can save and share. And this could arrive within a decade. OneZero (9 minutes)

What Is Ethereum?

Ethereum is so many things at once, all of which feed off of each other. Ethereum, the blockchain, is a world computer, the backbone of a decentralized internet (web3) and the settlement layer for web3. Its cryptocurrency, Ether (ETH), is a bunch of things, too: (1) Internet money. (2) Ownership of the Ethereum network. (3) The most commonly used token in the Great Online Game. (4) Yield-generating. (5) A Store of Value (SoV). (5) A bet on more on-chain activity, or the web3 future. Because Ethereum is so much at once, it’s hard to understand. This post is an attempt to help Ethereum be understood. To a group like us, people interested in technology businesses, finance, and strategy, it’s much more fascinating than bitcoin, but that comes with a tradeoff. It’s much harder to grok than bitcoin. Because of that, it hasn’t gotten the mainstream or institutional attention that bitcoin has. Not Boring (25 minutes)

Bitcoin in El Salvador

Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s laser-eyed president, is turning up the heat on his country’s fast-evolving bitcoin fling. Literally. Less than 14 hours after securing approval for a bill to make bitcoin legal tender in the Central American nation, Bukele says he has directed El Salvador’s geothermal company, LaGeo, to let power-hungry bitcoin miners plug into his country’s volcanic resources. Connecting bitcoin mining operations with state-run geothermal plants could be a lucrative tie-up. “I’ve just instructed the president of @LaGeoSV (our state-owned geothermal electric company) to put up a plan to offer facilities for #Bitcoin mining with very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy from our volcanos,” the 39-year old president tweeted Wednesday. He further pledged: “This is going to evolve fast!” That may be the understatement of the year. El Salvador has already crowned bitcoin legal tender and pledged to spend up to $150 million buying its citizens’ unwanted coins. Both moves are unprecedented. And they’ve both happened since last Saturday. Coindesk (6 minutes)

Bitcoin and Crime

On Monday, the Justice Department announced it traced 63.7 of the 75 bitcoins—some $2.3 million of the $4.3 million—that Colonial Pipeline paid to hackers as the ransomware attack shut down the company’s computer systems, prompting fuel shortages and a spike in gasoline prices. One oft-repeated criticism of bitcoin is that it’s used for criminal activity because it’s anonymous. That’s not true. It’s a pseudonymous system, but it’s not anonymous. Bitcoin is incredibly traceable. While the digital currency can be created, moved and stored outside of the purview of any government or financial institution, each payment is recorded in a permanent fixed ledger called the blockchain. That means every single bitcoin transaction is out in the open for the entire world to see, unlike, say—cash. The bitcoin ledger can be viewed by anyone who is plugged into the blockchain. With some clever triangulation, it’s often possible to figure out who owns what wallet. I hope that the takeaway from this story is that bitcoin will debunk the myth (which seems to be taking hold by Boomer Senators in Washington seeking to regulate bitcoin) that bitcoin is the criminal payment of choice. New York Times (7 minutes)

Clear Thinking

Clarifying your thinking is a process: one that’s necessarily incremental, iterative and imperfect. There’s no such thing as a perfectly clear statement. Clarification comes from setting out your thinking, step by step, in as straightforward and explicit a manner as possible—and then stepping back, revisiting the result and seeking to redress its limitations. (1) First of all: pause. It’s only by slowing down and attending carefully to your own thoughts that you can hope to embark upon a process of clarification. (2) What’s on your mind? Once you’ve worked out what deserves your attention, try to spell out why you believe it to be true or important. This entails reconstructing your reasoning systematically. Set it out in numbered sequence, being sure to ask of each claim: why should a reasonable person accept this and what does (and doesn’t) follow once it’s been accepted. (3) Don’t be seduced by oversimplifications or too tidy a formulation of complex issues. It’s important to be as clear as possible about the tensions, ambivalences and ambiguities you’re grappling with. Addressing complex ideas lucidly isn’t the same as pretending they’re simple. (4) Be explicit about relevant assumptions your reasoning relies on. These will invariably include some claims you believe to be fundamental. Be aware that two perfectly reasonable lines of argument based upon different fundamental assumptions could lead to very different conclusions.(5) Engage charitably and rigorously with perspectives other than your own, and don’t assume dishonesty or bad faith in others without good reason. (6) To idealize, a constructive exchange of views is one in which you first ensure you’ve stated someone else’s position in a manner they agree is fair—and only set about addressing your differences once you’ve done this. Psyche (12 minutes)

Bookshelf

Dune by Frank Herbert. Frank Herbert’s classic masterpiece is a triumph of the imagination and one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for. When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Wasp Architecture—Mario Cucinella Architects and Wasp, Italy’s leading 3D printing company, have completed the first house to be 3D-printed from raw earth.

June playlist—Here are some fresh tunes for you this month.

Konza—A story of the promised “city of the future” in Kenya.

Feedback Loop—Your responses to last week’s question: What do you think? Is the current form of capitalism working? If not, what would be better?

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway—Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by Pawel Czerwinski.

Should We Work Together?

This newsletter is my passion project. I hope it helps you gain deeper insight and equips you to create meaningful impact in the world. Many readers have asked about how we can work together. In case you’re interested, I run a law firm for startups. We try to keep things simple by offering transparent flat fees. We structure our engagements in two ways: (1) Per-project flat fee engagements—No billable hour means no surprise legal bills. (2) General Counsel—A simple monthly fee for all your day-to-day legal needs. It was recently recognized as one of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas. If you’re interested, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a call.

Weekend Wisdom

Toil is no source of shame; idleness is shame.Hesiod

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