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Weekend Briefing No. 495
A Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society.
Welcome to the weekend. Here’s my August playlist. It features James By, Van Morrison, Tom Petty, Nickle Creek, The National and more. Enjoy!
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75 – Starbucks has reached the point in the year where it is pretty much a cold beverage company, with the third quarter of this year seeing the company hit 75 percent of all beverage sales being of the cold variety.
85,300,000 – Blink-182’s North American tour just wrapped with $85.3 million gross on 564,000 tickets.
40 – Jason Belmonte, an enormously successful Australian bowler with 15 PBA majors, has revolutionized the sport by using two hands to toss the ball. Now, 40 percent of entrants in youth tournaments are bowling two-handed.
Does Your Home Make You Miserable
If you think about it, houses are incredibly vulnerable: to the elements, to their age, to negligence, to animals and kids and pests and water and mold. They are complicated and secretive; the people who originally designed, built, and modified them are often not the people currently dealing with them. Houses aren’t just money pits when it comes to everyday maintenance. Homeownership is always shadowed by the specter of resale value. For every modification, necessary or cosmetic, the questions dance around you: Is this good for resale? Am I making it “too much” house for the neighborhood? What would a real estate agent say? How do I balance what I actually want with what ten thousand prospective buyers would actually want? Culture Study (11 minutes)
What do you think? Is home ownership worth it?
Superconductors Are So Hot Right Now
This week there was a huge scientific break through in superconductors. Superconductors are materials with zero electrical resistance. Normally, when energy moves between sources (an outlet to a phone battery), or over distance (through wires and power lines) there is loss of energy. Some estimates of that loss between generation and end user are 66%!! The problem is so far all of our superconductors only work at insanely cold temperatures. Those are complex and expensive to maintain, so superconductors have only been used very rarely in special circumstances to date. Here are just a few of the potential impacts: 1) Nuclear fusion gets cheaper, easier, more efficient. 2) Quantum computers, at a personal desktop scale. 3) Giant railguns to shoot cargo into space very cheaply. 4) Brain-Machine Interfaces (like Neuralink) much more plausible. 5) Hoverboards. Eric Jorgenson (8 minutes)
Billionaires Wanted It, Everyday Investors Got It
When incredibly valuable assets come up for sale, it's typically the wealthiest people that end up taking home an amazing investment. But one platform is taking on the billionaires at their own game, buying and securitizing some of history’s most prized blue-chip artworks for its investors. Its investors have realized annualized net returns of 17.8%, 21.5%, 35% and more from these opportunities. It's called Masterworks. Their nearly $1 billion collection includes works by greats like Banksy, Picasso, and Basquiat, all of which are collectively owned by everyday investors. When Masterworks sells a painting – like the 15 it's already sold – investors reap their portion of the net proceeds. Offerings can sell out in minutes, but Weekend Briefing readers can skip the waitlist. Masterworks (Sponsored)
NASA is partnering with the US Department of Defense to launch a nuclear-powered rocket engine into space as early as 2027. The US space agency will invest about $300 million in the project to develop a next-generation propulsion system for in-space transportation. Traditional chemical propulsion is great for blasting rockets off the surface of the Earth, but such machines are terribly inefficient for moving around the Solar System. They don't sip fuel; they guzzle it. To go as far as Mars would require a huge amount of propellant and liquid oxidizer and take at least six months. For humans to truly become a spacefaring species, there needs to be a better way. The basic idea is straightforward: A nuclear reactor rapidly heats up a propellant, probably liquid hydrogen, and then this gas expands and is passed out a nozzle, creating thrust. But engineering all of this for in-space propulsion is challenging, and then there is the regulatory difficulty of building a nuclear reactor and safely launching it into space. arstechnica (5 minutes)
Behind the Scenes at Twitter
This post from Esther Crawford is the most even-handed and insightful view I’ve seen on Twitter 1.0 (before Elon) and Twitter 2.0 (after Elon). Here are some of her thoughts: 1) A high performance culture pulls everyone up, but the opposite weighs everyone down. Twitter 1.0 often felt like a place that kept squandering its own potential, which was sad and frustrating to see. 2) In person Elon is oddly charming and he’s genuinely funny. He also has personality quirks like telling the same stories and jokes over and over. The challenge is his personality and demeanor can turn on a dime going from excited to angry. Since it was hard to read what mood he might be in and what his reaction would be to any given thing, people quickly became afraid of being called into meetings or having to share negative news with him. 3) She quickly learned that product and business decisions were nearly always the result of him following his gut instinct, and he didn’t seem compelled to seek out or rely on a lot of data or expertise to inform it. That was particularly frustrating for me since I believed I had useful institutional knowledge that could help him make better decisions. 4) His focus on speed is incredible and he’s obviously not afraid of blowing things up, but now the real measure will be how it get reconstructed and if enough people want the new everything app he is building. 5) Twitter moved at the speed of molasses and suffered from bureaucracy but now X is run by a mercurial leader whose instinct is driven by the unique and undoubtedly weird experience of being the biggest voice on the platform. In the end, she’s neither a fangirl nor a hater — she’s an optimistic pragmatist. @esthercrawford (14 minutes)
Miners and Climbers
A funny thing happened in Ouray Colorado, the Mecca of US Ice climbing. In much of the American West, recreation and extraction are often at odds. But last year in Ouray, a group of ice climbers and silver miners shook hands on a deal that could set a unique example for finding community-based solutions to the West’s water crisis. As part of the deal, the mine freely gave away millions of gallons of water to the City of Ouray, expressly to be used in building recreational ice flows. With more water — and therefore more ice — the park becomes safer for climbers, who can spread out and avoid tangling ropes or kicking down icicles on one another. Meanwhile, the city no longer has to worry about strains to its own water supply. And local business owners don’t have to worry about shortening seasons and the potential demise of their biggest winter revenue driver. The deal was a win-win. Reasons To Be Cheerful (6 minutes)
A Quiet Life
When the notable figures dies there are obituaries and retrospectives discussing their influence. The quiet lives, though, pass on soundlessly in the background. And yet those are the lives that have real influence on us. They’re the lives that have made us, that keep the world turning. They’re taking out the trash before we notice and walking up the road to see if the mail’s come. They’re showing us how to lay out the biscuit dough at just the right thickness. They took our sons up on the tractor on spring afternoons. They helped the neighbor with the busted sink. They jumped in the river to pull an 18-month-old out. They slipped money into their nephew’s pocket when he hadn’t a penny to his name but was too ashamed to admit it. They did the laundry. They swept the floor. They played in the yard like a kid. They ate a pack of saltines and climbed into bed night after night until there were no more nights. All around us are these lives — heads down and arms open — that ignore the siren call of flashy American individualism, of bright lights and center stage. I’m fine right here is the response from the edge of the room, and that contentment is downright subversive. Bitter Southerner (7 minutes)
Should We Work Together?
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 flat, 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 one-on-one call with me.
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The moment when you feel like giving up is right before your breakthrough. -Victoria Arlen