The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Understanding the Global Chip Shortages

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An excellent write-up Jan-Peter Kleinhans & Julia Hess for Stiftung Neue Varanwortung:

What customers and markets are currently experiencing as “the semiconductor shortage” is, in fact, multiple shortages happening concurrently in different process steps and supplier markets based on a multitude of dynamics and dependencies. The interplay between the underlying dynamics, such as high market entry barriers, high geographic concentration, high fab utilization and long manufacturing cycles, is the reason why skyrocketing demand and external shocks, from natural disasters and human error to COVID-19-related lock-downs, disrupted the value chain since 2020. Consequently, none of the shortages in semiconductor manufacturing can be explained by one reason alone. Most importantly, some of the underlying dynamics are unlikely to change in the future because they are rooted in fundamental characteristics of semiconductor manufacturing.

You can get the full PDF here. Well worth the 30 page read.

Steve Jobs Introduces the App Store

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Hard to believe it’s been 14 years since that day. Today the AppStore generates 85.1 Billion+ revenue a year. Apple changed the entire software landscape - overnight the idea of buying physical software disappeard and gave us the term “There’s an App for that.”

Nikon Discontinues D500

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Nikon discontinues the mighty D500. Arguably the Nikon D500 was them greatest APSC camera of all time. The show stopper feature (besides image quality) was its ability to shoot at 10 frames per second with a massive buffer. Combined with the incredible write speeds of XQD cards, it was exceedingly rare to ever have to wait for the camera to clear the buffer.

Nikon released the D500 in January of 2016 and supported it with firmware updates until 2020 with its upgrade to support CFExpress cards. 5 years is a long time for a product to reign uncontested in the market. Canon basically threw in the towel after the 7D Mk II and never bother to release a true competitor.

And what does this mean for the future? My bet is that Nikon is readying a mirrorless replacement for the D500. An APSC mirrorless camera with 24 mega-pixels and the Z9 AF system, priced at $2500.

I were Canon or Sony - I would be very worried.

Using AI to Discover Monopoly Strategies

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In the video above, game-playing AI bots are pitted against each other in an attempt to find the best strategy for Monopoly.

The Bank of Starbucks

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As part of their rewards program, millions of Starbucks customers have preloaded money onto Starbucks cards, essentially loaning the company more than $1 billion at 0% interest.

Starbucks has around $1.6 billion in stored value card liabilities outstanding. This represents the sum of all physical gift cards held in customer’s wallets as well as the digital value of electronic balances held in the Starbucks Mobile App.* It amounts to ~6% of all of the company’s liabilities.

This is a pretty incredible number. Stored value card liabilities are the money that you, oh loyal Starbucks customer, use to buy coffee. What you might not realize is that these balances simultaneously function as a loan to Starbucks. Starbucks doesn’t pay any interest on balances held in the Starbucks app or gift cards. You, the loyal customer, are providing the company with free debt.

I wonder what Starbucks makes on their coffee - I am willing to bet that its a loss leader. Even at $5.00 dollars a cup.

How We Broke the Supply Chain

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Davind Dayeb and Rakeen Mabud sums it up in The American Prospect:

You could read hundreds of stories about this phenomenon, about the stress of longshoremen and supply chain managers and government officials, the consequences for consumers and small businesses and retailers, and superficial attempts at explaining why we got here. Many will tell you that the pandemic changed consumption patterns, favoring physical goods over services as barhopping and travel shut down. Some will blame fiscal-relief programs, large deficits, and loose monetary policies for making inflation worse. Nearly all will frame the matter as a momentary kink in the global logistics leviathan, which is bound to work itself out. Anyway, everyone got their Christmas gifts this year, so maybe it was overblown to begin with.

Almost none of these stories will explain how these shortages and price hikes were also brought to life through bad public policy coupled with decades of corporate greed. We spent a half-century allowing business executives and financiers to take control of our supply chains, enabled by leaders in both parties. They all hailed the transformation, cheering the advances of globalization, the efficient network that would free us from want. Motivated by greed and dismissive of the public interest, they didn’t mention that their invention was supremely ill-equipped to handle inevitable supply bottlenecks. And the pandemic exposed this hidden risk, like a domino bringing down a system primed to topple.

CGI Is Ruining Movies

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Erik Hoel in take on modern cinema’s over reliance on CGI:

The problem is easiest to catch in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. There it is tempting to make use of the full horrors of graphics and post-production processing. It’s undeniable that remakes, from An American Werewolf in London to The Thing to the A Nightmare on Elm Street, have vastly inferior CGI effects compared to the original practical ones. Indeed, this over-reliance on CGI has ruined some of the best genre series. Consider Peter Jackson’s decline from The Lord of the Rings to The Hobbit trilogy. Or The Matrix’s sequels, which eschewed the original’s acrobatic stunt wire-work and practical fight scenes for the digital realm (a cosmic irony if there ever were one). The old original Star Wars trilogy comes to us as dispatches from a gritty world—it is a tighter world, yes, the shots are necessarily smaller, more closely-framed, but it all feels more viscerally real. Ever since the release of the Star Wars prequels in the 1990s, the actors stand apart from digital ghosts they can’t see.

[..]

Trends in cinematography are like fashion or architecture: almost impossible to see while you’re in them. We are always blind to our own age. Yet our era is dated very easily by the incredible unreality of its films, the fantasy of the whole thing, its emphasis on post-production and unreal colors and textures. It’s all just one long high-budget computer game cutscene. Your brain knows the difference, unconsciously, implicitly. And while we may have become accustomed to the digital slop we’re fed, the eyes of the future will pick it out, photon by photon, and judge.

Its going to be really sad when we re-visit these movies a decade or two from now and they will all look so terrible. Star Wars: A New Hope still holds up - Stars Wars: The Force Awakens already looks silly in comparison (I am just referring to the visuals - not the lack of plot).

Neil Young vs Spotify vs Joe Rogan

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Neil Young on why he left Spotify:

When I left Spotify, I felt better.

I support free speech. I have never been in favor of censorship. Private companies have the right to choose what they profit from, just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information. I am happy and proud to stand in solidarity with the front line health care workers who risk their lives every day to help others.

As an unexpected bonus, I sound better everywhere else.

Neil Young’s main point here is exactly right: free speech works both ways. Joe Rogan has every right to say what he wants and Spotify has every right to associate with who ever they want. But Young has a right not to want to be with a services that associates with Rogan and the state that publicly.

I am glad that Neil Young is taking a principled stand on what he believes is right. And for any of you who think this is some kind of publicity stunt, he has done this all through his life. Genuine virtue, not mere virtue signaling.

They’re Getting the Crash They Deserve

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Jessica Wildefire writes:

There’s not enough.

There’s not enough truck drivers. There’s not enough nurses. There’s not enough doctors. There’s not enough teachers.

There’s not enough baristas.

There’s not enough servers, or cashiers, or cooks. There’s nobody to froth your latte to perfection, or make your bed at the fancy hotel, or bring you peanuts and soda on your first-class flight to wherever, or watch your kid while you’re sacrificing the best years of your life.

Here’s the worst part:

There never will be, ever again.

Essential workers ran the economy. We did everything. In return, we got nothing. No raises. No bonuses. No minimum wage laws. No childcare support. No sick leave. When the pandemic dragged on, we were forced back into dangerous workplaces for one reason:

We had to protect the bubble.

We endured sickness and death to keep the fake economy going, to keep stock prices high. We took risks our billionaire overlords never would. Essential workers got sick with Covid, and they were fired.

Fired.

They were fired because they ran out of personal leave. In other words, they stayed sick for too long. Their medical bills got too expensive. So they were terminated. When they died, they left their families with staggering medical debt. If they survived, they had to find new jobs while managing the severe, lingering symptoms of a deadly disease.

There’s going to be a lot of theories when the economy collapses. (It’s already happening.) Here’s the simplest one:

We treated workers like crap.

So they quit.

I am sick and tired of business owners, CEOs and politicians (and I mean specifically Republicans) who are claiming workers are lazy. They just don’t want to work.

No workers want to be treated like human beings and respected for what they do for society. And in a long time, they are finally demanding it.

Rick Rubin - the Guru

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I am not a listener of Hip Hop - but Rick Rubin is the GOAT of music producers. He has produced the likes of Slayer, Danzig, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Green Day, Adele just to name a few.

The Book of Boba Fett From an Indidenous Person

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Interesting thoughts on the Book of Boba Fett and its portrayal of the Tuskans by an indigenous person.

We Need Generalists

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Eric Colson in Harvard Business review writes:

But the goal of data science is not to execute. Rather, the goal is to learn and develop profound new business capabilities. Algorithmic products and services like recommendations systems, client engagement bandits, style preference classification, size matching, fashion design systems, logistics optimizers, seasonal trend detection, and more can’t be designed up-front. They need to be learned. There are no blueprints to follow; these are novel capabilities with inherent uncertainty. Coefficients, models, model types, hyper parameters, all the elements you’ll need must be learned through experimentation, trial and error, and iteration. With pins, the learning and design are done up-front, before you make it. With data science, you learn as you go, not before you go.

[…]

In order to encourage learning and iteration, data science roles need to be made more general, with broad responsibilities agnostic to technical function. That is, organize the data scientists such that they are optimized to learn. This means hiring “full stack data scientists”—generalists—that can perform diverse functions: from conception to modeling to implementation to measurement. It’s important to note that I am not suggesting that hiring full-stack data scientists results in fewer people overall. Rather, I am merely suggesting that when organized differently, their incentives are better aligned with learning vs. efficiency gains. For example, say you have a team of three creating three business capabilities. In the pin factory, each specialist will be one-third devoted to each capability, since no one else can do their job. In the full-stack, each generalist is completely devoted to a business capability, increasing scale and learning.

I completely agree. In fact, I think the term “data scientist” is vastly over used and badly specified. I have worked with a lot of data scientists. They have all been incredibly intelligent group of people who can deep dive into data. But they are not necessarily capable of retrieving, manipulating, and organizing data into optimal streams for processing.

I think a “data science generalist” is going to be hard to find, but pairing data scientist(s) with a generalist developer would lead to an optimal pairing.

The History for Retro Game Consoles

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Gustavo Pezzi goes down memory lane of past great consoles from the perspective of a programmer:

It is always useful to look at the past to understand the current state of affairs. This article is a brief overview of the history of game consoles from a programmer’s perspective. Let’s understand the limitations and the driving forces that helped shape the technologies we use today in modern game development.

Good stuff - I still believe that the pinnacle of game development happened towards the later part of the 8-bit generation and the 16-bit generation. The technology was sophisticated enough to provide an engaging experience yet limited enough to force the developers to be creative.

Big Data Knows Everything

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Justin Sherman for Wired on our current state of digital privacy:

Companies like Acxiom, LexisNexis, and others argue that there’s nothing to worry about collecting and sharing Americans’ sensitive data, as long as their names and a few other identifiers aren’t attached. After all, their reasoning goes, this “anonymized” data can’t be linked to individuals, and is therefore harmless.

[…]

The irony that data brokers claim that their “anonymized” data is risk-free is absurd: Their entire business model and marketing pitch rests on the premise that they can intimately and highly selectively track, understand, and microtarget individual people. the data brokerage circus.

This argument isn’t just flawed; it’s also a distraction. Not only do these companies usually know your name anyway, but data simply does not need to have a name or social security number attached to cause harm. Predatory loan companies and health insurance providers can buy access to advertising networks and exploit vulnerable populations without first needing those people’s names. Foreign governments can run disinformation and propaganda campaigns on social media platforms, leveraging those companies’ intimate data on their users, without needing to see who those individuals are. Programmers don’t need names in a data set to create artificial intelligence tools that can’t accurately identify female individuals’ and Black individuals’ faces or tell police to patrol already heavily policed neighborhoods of color.

The issue is that the genie is out of the bottle and too much of the tech economy is based on the selling of sensitive data.

Since we can’t stop it, I propose that there should be a collective charge on all companies that traffic on sensitive data. The profits should be distribute back to the general public. After all, if they are going to use our data to make profit - effectively making us the product - we should be compensated.

Its not like there isn’t a precedent for this - the state of Alaska does something similar to this with the oil industry:

The Alaska Permanent Fund (APF) is a constitutionally established permanent fund managed by a state-owned corporation, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation (APFC).[1] It was established in Alaska in 1976[2] by Article 9, Section 15 of the Alaska State Constitution[3] under Governor Jay Hammond and Attorney General Avrum Gross. From February 1976 until April 1980, the Department of Revenue Treasury Division managed the state’s Permanent Fund assets, until, in 1980, the Alaska State Legislature created the APFC.[4]

As of 2019, the fund was worth approximately $64 billion that has been funded by oil revenues and has paid out an average of approximately $1,600 annually per resident (adjusted to 2019 dollars).[5] The main use for the fund’s revenue has been to payout the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), which many authors portray as the only example of a Basic Income in practice.[6][7]

It’s time we demand companies that traffic and profit off our private data to compensate us - the creators of their product.

Average Person Explains Cryptocurrency

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Its real to people who want it to be real.

The US dollar has value because it is backed by the largest, most stable economy in the world that is defended by the largest military the world has ever known. Cryptocurrency has value because people want it to have value.

If you still believe in cryptocurrency - sorry but you are an idiot.

John Madden Dies at 85

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From the Associated Press:

Madden gained fame in a decade long stint as the coach of the renegade Oakland Raiders, making it to seven AFC title games and winning the Super Bowl following the 1976 season. He compiled a 103-32-7 regular-season record, and his .759 winning percentage is the best among NFL coaches with more than 100 games.

But it was his work after prematurely retiring as coach at age 42 that made Madden truly a household name. He educated a football nation with his use of the telestrator on broadcasts; entertained millions with his interjections of “Boom!” and “Doink!” throughout games; was an omnipresent pitchman selling restaurants, hardware stores and beer; became the face of “Madden NFL Football,” one of the most successful sports video games of all-time; and was a best-selling author.

Most of all, he was the preeminent television sports analyst for most of his three decades calling games, winning an unprecedented 16 Emmy Awards for outstanding sports analyst/personality, and covering 11 Super Bowls for four networks from 1979-2009.

Madden will to me always be the voice of football. His everyman demeanor really made the intracies of the game understandable to the audience. Not to mention the countless hours I spent playing the football game series that bears his name.

It Was Obvious

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Once they were there, and he had called them there, I think it was only going to go one way.

Anyone with a pulse knew what was going to happen. The real question is who willfully ignored what was obvious, and why?

𝙰𝚖𝚊𝚗𝚙𝚘𝚞𝚛 - Robert Palnt and Alison Krauss Interview

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An excellent interview as always by Christiane Amanpour with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Two masters of their craft collaborating to make amazing music.

The Great Worker Revolt

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Ed Zitron on the impending worker revolt in the US:

The whole great resignation conversation we’ve been having continues to miss the obvious problem - that so much of our current capitalism is dependent on people being willing to accept bad wages and bad working conditions. 64% of retail workers don’t get paid a living wage, despite how important retail sales are to the economy, and as Omicron grows within the states during the biggest shopping season of the year, they’re at risk, which is why 685,000 retail workers quit in September.

What I am sloppily constructing here is a series of events that leads to a massive worker revolt - a reckoning like we have never seen in modern society. America’s response to the pandemic has always been half-measures - insufficient stimulus, insufficient PPE, insufficient testing, insufficient safety standards, insufficient everything, all of which most directly hit the people that had to leave the house - retail workers, restaurant workers, hospitality workers, nurses, and so on.

As I’ve said before, this was a time when corporations could’ve proved to their workers that they mattered - that the danger they put themselves was appreciated - and treated them with dignity, by which I mean more money and better working conditions. Instead, members of the government spread a lie that they weren’t working because of increased unemployment benefits, and companies proceeded to do just about anything other than pay them more.

]..]

America runs on the backs of poorly paid-and-treated workers, with several of the top 10 companies in America relying heavily on these kinds of poorly-paid customer-facing roles. And yet they seem incapable of accepting their hand in the deaths of these workers, or at least said acceptance doesn’t extend to paying them an actual living wage - $16.40 an hour, by the way, is not close to what a living wage is in most states.

This entire transaction of bad pay for awful work has worked for so long because these companies know that many of these workers don’t have a choice. Except the additional variable of crazed, violent customers and an invisible, murderous virus is enough to make these jobs untenable. It’s grotesque to say, but so many companies calculated pay and conditions for workers based on how little dignity their workers had, and now that calculation is going to bite them on the ass hard enough to make sitting impossible.

Exactly - for the first time workers have real power. Let us hope that the silver lining in all of this misery is that we come out on the other side with real labor reforms and a new found respect for the ‘everyday’ American.

Earth Is Getting a Black Box

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When an aeroplane crashes, it's left to investigators to sift through the wreckage to recover the black box.

It's hoped the recorded contents can be used to help others avoid the same fate.

And so it is with Earth's Black Box: a 10-metre-by-4-metre-by-3-metre steel monolith that's intended to be built on a remote outcrop on Tasmania's west coast.

Chosen for its geopolitical and geological stability, ahead of other candidates like Malta, Norway and Qatar, the idea is that the Tasmanian site can cradle the black box for the benefit of a future civilisation, should catastrophic climate change cause the downfall of ours.

If that sounds unhinged, it's worth remembering that we're currently on track for as much as 2.7C of warming this century.

Ask any climate scientist what happens when warming breaches 2C, and they'll almost invariably tell you it's not worth thinking about.

Plenty of past civilizations and empires have collapsed in the face of less.

Could this be a future generation’s or visiting alien’s monolith?