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Weekend Briefing No. 280
Welcome to the weekend. I’ve just wrapped up two weeks of traveling across Utah – hitting Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Arches National Park. If you’re interested in seeing some photos from the trip, follow me on Instagram.
10 MM – All the partners in Libra - Visa, MC, PayPal, etc. - are each paying $10 million for the privilege of running a node aka unlimited access to your user data.
22 – A marijuana plant requires 22 liters of water per day during growing season, and now that marijuana is legal we can estimate that to grow all this legal substance takes something on the order of 3 billion liters of water per square kilometer of greenhouse-grown plants.
20 – A new study found that those who spent two to three hours in nature in a given week were about 20 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives than those who spent no time at all.
Warning… I’m going to start this story with a name drop. I got to hang out with one of my heroes Alex Honnold this week. It was great to discuss his climbing, but I was more so excited to hear about a new partnership that his foundation just announced. Rivian, the once secretive company that made its public debut in November with an electric pickup truck and SUV, plans to give its batteries a second life and put them to work in a solar microgrid project in Puerto Rico. The automaker is teaming up with The Honnold Foundation, on the microgrid project. The microgrid project will be set up in Adjuntas, a city of about 20,000 people in midwestern Puerto Rico that was severely impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Casa Pueblo, an environmental watchdog based in Adjuntas that has been looking for ways to set up affordable sources of community power, is also a partner in the project. Rivian is providing 135 kilowatt-hour battery packs from its development vehicles to support the microgrid. Earlier this year, battery engineers from Rivian and The Honnold Foundation visited Casa Pueblo and met with community leaders to design a site-specific system that will power many of the businesses located in the Adjuntas town square. The downtown solar microgrid project will serve two purposes. It will give residents access to electricity for core business if the primary source of power is gone. The microgrid will also be used daily to offset the high cost of energy in Puerto Rico, which is twice the national average of the U.S. TechCrunch (6 minutes)
In camps around the world, refugees live crammed in tents, makeshift shelters, or metal dwellings. They are restricted by laws that make work and movement outside the camps impossible. Even in well-planned camps such as Azraq in Jordan’s desert, the starkness of life without jobs or a sense of belonging sends refugees back to Syria or forces them to try to earn money in dangerous, under-the-table arrangements. In Uganda, under one of the world’s most progressive policies, those who’ve fled civil war in South Sudan can live, farm, and work freely. Bidibidi, with a quarter million people living in its many villages in northern Uganda, is the second largest refugee settlement in the world. Bidibidi’s future is discussed at the highest levels of government and the international community. The goal: To build a livable city out of a refugee camp, one that might endure even if the refugees can return home someday. National Geographic (16 minutes)
Negative Income Tax
One should always be wary of simple solutions to complex problems, and universal basic income is no exception. The fact that this answer to automation and globalization has been met with such enthusiasm indicates a breakdown not in the economic system, but in democratic politics and civic life. Besides, a more sensible policy is already on offer: a negative income tax, or what is sometimes called “guaranteed basic income.” Rather than giving everyone $1,000 per month, a guaranteed-income program would offer transfers only to individuals whose monthly income is below $1,000, thereby coming in at a mere fraction of a UBI’s cost. Project Syndicate (8 minutes)
A recent report on digital news found: (1) Around the world, the proportion paying for any online news has increased only slightly, with this growth being limited to a few Nordic countries. Even in countries where people pay in higher numbers, most only do so for one title. (2) Social communication is becoming more private with people continuing to turn away from Facebook. WhatsApp is becoming the primary social communication tool for news in many countries in the Global South including Brazil (53% usage for news), Malaysia (50%) and South Africa (49%). (3) Concern around misinformation is high in many countries despite efforts by platforms and publishers to build public confidence. (4) Trust in news in general is down by 2 percentage points to 42%, and less than half (49%) trust the news that they themselves use. Reuters Institute (26 minutes)
Mobile Internet Usage
As the share of Americans who say they own a smartphone has increased dramatically over the past decade – from 35% in 2011 to 81% in 2019 – a new Pew Research Center survey finds that the way many people choose to go online is markedly different than in previous years. Today, 37% of U.S. adults say they mostly use a smartphone when accessing the internet. This share has nearly doubled since 2013, when the Center last asked this question. At that point, 19% of Americans named their smartphone as their primary device for going online. Younger adults are especially likely to reach for their phones when going online. Fully 58% of 18-to 29-year-olds say they mostly go online through a smartphone, up from 41% in 2013. Some 17% of U.S. adults are “smartphone-only internet users” – meaning they report owning a smartphone but do not have a traditional high-speed internet connection where they live. This share has roughly doubled since 2013, when 8% of adults fell into this category. Pew Research (12 minutes)
Technology of Ambition
What the most ambitious people choose to do with their lives has a profound impact on society, the economy and culture. It’s changing, fast. It seems that building technology startups will become the ‘default’ career path for the world’s most ambitious people. Digital technology is the most recent in a series of ‘technologies of ambition’ that have enabled ambitious people to maximize their impact over the last millennium or so. (However, 1,000 years ago the startup founders would be training to be monks and priests, not from piety, but from naked ambition.) Each new ‘technology of ambition’ leads to new institutions that amplify the ambitions of people drawn to the technology. New institutions will be needed to channel, focus and amplify this new ambition. Entrepreneur First (11 minutes)
Realistic Personal Finance Advice
Here is some realistic personal finance advice: (1) Accepting that living below your means requires suppressing your ego to below your income. Spending above a certain level of basic needs/leisure is mostly ego and social climbing. So savings is just a diversion from boosting the appearance of your status today for more productive use tomorrow. (2) A spouse who sees eye-to-eye on spending. (3) Avoiding trouble to begin with. No one gets out of debt faster than the person who avoided it to begin with. (4) Utilize low-status, high-efficiency services. The biggest are community college for GE credits, in-state tuition, and public libraries. (5) Pick a career that may not be your passion but pays a decent wage. People who tell you to follow your passion are already rich. This is less about money and more about freedom. A low-income passion job may breed resentment as you age, have kids, mortgages and all kinds of higher bills that become burdens large enough to suffocate the joy you get from working in your passion. But a job you merely like that pays a decent income – provided you live below your means a save a chunk of that income – can eventually offer a level of financial flexibility that lets you pursue passions as hobbies, purely for their pleasure. Collaborative Fund (8 minutes)
Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold. On June 3rd, 2017, Alex Honnold became the first person to free solo Yosemite's El Capitan―to scale the wall without rope, a partner, or any protective gear―completing what was described as "the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport" (National Geographic) and "one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever" (New York Times). Already one of the most famous adventure athletes in the world, Honnold has now been hailed as "the greatest climber of all time" (Vertical magazine). Alone on the Wall recounts the most astonishing achievements of Honnold’s extraordinary life and career, brimming with lessons on living fearlessly, taking risks, and maintaining focus even in the face of extreme danger. Now Honnold tells, for the first time and in his own words, the story of his 3 hours and 56 minutes on the sheer face of El Cap, which Outside called "the moon landing of free soloing…a generation-defining climb. Badass and beyond words…one of the pinnacle sporting moments of all time." Amazon
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So many people condemn me for risk taking, but I find it sort of hypocritical because everybody takes risks. Even the absence of activity could be viewed as a risk. If you sit on the sofa for your entire life, you're running a higher risk of getting heart disease and cancer. -Alex Honnold