Weekend Briefing No. 447

Weekend Briefing No. 447

Welcome to the weekend.

I hope you’re enjoying your Labor Day weekend. Cheers!

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Prime Numbers

200K—Two astrophotographers have just dropped what they call “the most ridiculously detailed picture” of the Moon—the result of a painstaking, neck-craning effort roughly two years and over 200K frames in the making.

43%—There are 43% of U.S. adults who believe a civil war is at least somewhat likely within the next decade.

20K—French tax officials used artificial intelligence to spot 20K undeclared swimming pools and collect an extra $10 million in revenue.

Tower of Assumptions

Effective altruism (EA) is a philosophy / community / movement focused on maximizing the good you can do through your career, projects and donations. There’s a lot of commentary. The movement isn’t above criticism, and lots of people have criticized them. It’s helpful to think of it as a tower of assumptions. If you destroy the foundation, the whole tower falls. But if you destroy the top floor, all the other floors are still standing: Here is the tower of assumptions for EA: (1) Foundational assumption: We should help other people. Some ways of helping are better than others. (2) Less basic assumptions: We should donate 10% of our income. Your dollars have more impact in the developing world than the developed world (bed nets versus alumni donations). (3) Cause prioritization: The most effective causes are global health, animal welfare and preventing major risks like pandemics, nuclear war and bad artificial intelligence. (4) Institutional credibility: EA leaders and institutions are worth following. (5) Specific projects: A specific project is worth contributing to. Astral Codex Ten (8 minutes)


Is it possible to pursue economic growth in a way that doesn’t make things worse for the planet and its inhabitants? Can we decouple growth from greenhouse gas emissions, the decline in biodiversity and the destruction of habitats? The prophets of decoupling belong to a motley but expanding crew of green-growthers. The green-growthers’ pitch is an appeal to the magic of innovation and technology. Self-described “techno-optimists” are vocal proponents of market-based climate policy (like carbon taxes and tradable permit schemes), “innovation economies” and “net-zero” pledges: corporate and government commitments to large-scale projects that would supposedly allow us to continue business basically as usual while offsetting emissions with carbon capture and storage, tree-planting, and other carbon-sequestration programs. Until the green-growthers can point to something, anything, that demonstrates their faith has helped realize a meaningful structural shift—not just toward compostable take-out packaging or shopping malls with charging stations in the car park but in the global economy as a whole—it is up to them to make the case, not their critics. London Review of Books (18 minutes)

“Powell Pivot” Protection

The Fed has officially killed the myth of the “soft landing” to combat inflation—completely wiping out August’s gains for the S&P, Nasdaq and Dow Jones. Expecting more pain ahead, savvy investors are protecting themselves by looking outside the market. One place they’re turning is contemporary art, an asset class that’s outpaced the S&P by 164% over the last 25 years. In fact, demand is so high that Deloitte expects the art market to grow nearly 60% in just three short years. Masterworks is the smartest way for everyday investors to get in on the action. Despite COVID-19, historic inflation and the beginning of a recession, Masterworks’ last six exits achieved an eye-popping average net return of 27.9%. Interested in joining more than 500K users investing in multi-million dollar paintings by names like Banksy, Basquiat and Warhol? You can skip the waiting list using this referral link. Masterworks (Sponsored)

Steam Power

Star Scientific, an Australian startup, says it has developed a patented technology using a catalyst that can turn hydrogen and oxygen into superheated steam capable of driving a power-station turbine. Wearing high-vis jackets and safety goggles, its Chief Technology Officer Steve Heaton and another member of the team demonstrated an experimental model that looks like a French coffee press. Bottled hydrogen and oxygen are fed into a glass cylinder containing the secret catalyst, which quickly turns orange as it heats up to around 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 Fahrenheit). If the technology can scale up, it could ultimately allow power plant operators that burn coal to retrofit generators to run on green hydrogen without having to construct a completely new plant. Bloomberg (6 minutes)

Scott v. Amundsen

One of my favorite, and dare I say most underrated, podcasts is Cautionary Tales. It tells stories of awful human error, tragic catastrophes, daring heists and hilarious fiascos. On this episode, Malcolm Gladwell joins the host Tim Harford to discuss the recent three-part tale about the race to reach the South Pole between Scott and Amundsen, which is worth a listen as well. There’s talk of imperial decline; the power of the underdog; startups v. incumbents; venture capital; why getting everything you want is actually a handicap; and limes—lots and lots of limes. I hope you enjoy it. Cautionary Tales (25 minutes)

Systems Thinking

Results, the long-lasting ones, need a solid foundation. Systems that deliver consistently are always better than short-term wins. In almost all areas of life, the temptation to jump to tactics, hacks and shortcuts is very high. Many people fall for it. They look for quick fixes for most problems and end up starting all over again in the future. Hacks and fast track results don’t last. Quick wins don’t always work. And, sometimes, they can be difficult to repeat. A better way to solve problems and make consistent progress is to build a workable or healthy system for the many areas of your life. For example, if you want to invest, you don’t aim for one quick win. You invest a percentage of your income every month. Keep adding to your diversified portfolio to leverage compound interest to put your money to work. Personal Growth (4 minutes)

Five Questions

Here are five questions that lead to great conversations: (1) What’s your story? By opening up a conversation in this manner, you’ve given them access to speak from their hearts and share their life’s journeys, dreams and goals. (2) What makes you smile when you get up in the morning? Watch the other person’s wheels turn as she reflects on something for which she’s excited or deeply grateful. (3) What is that one book that has influenced you the most? The brilliance behind this question is not the question itself, but the invitation for follow-up questions because of the book’s impact on that person’s life, marriage, career or business. (4) What absolutely excites you right now? Whatever it is, think of all the places the conversation will lead and the possibilities of connecting the dots with the other person when it’s your turn to shine. (5) What’s the most important thing I should know about you? Create a space to discover what makes the other person tick—unique or maybe frustrated—so you can offer encouragement or make a difference in his or her life. Inc. (7 minutes)

Move Fast. Don’t Break Things.

Hi! I’m Kyle. This newsletter is my passion project. When I’m not writing, I run a law firm that helps startups move fast without breaking things. Most founders want a trusted legal partner, but they hate surprise legal bills. At Westaway, we take care of your startup’s legal needs for a fixed, monthly fee so you can control your costs and focus on scaling your business. 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

No one ever became wise by chance. –Seneca

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