Weekend Briefing No. 438
Weekend Briefing - A Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society.
Welcome to the weekend. Welcome to July. Please enjoy my July playlist.
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132—The energy consumption of Bitcoin has collapsed pretty much overnight, down from 204 terawatt-hours per year as of June 11 to an estimated 132 terawatt-hours per year as of June 23. Although that’s a major drop, it’s still about one year’s worth of the annual energy use in Argentina.
37—The sport of pickleball, a variation on tennis that uses a table tennis ball on a conventionally sized court, has exploded in popularity in the past several years. In fact, 4.8 million people are playing the sport as of 2021, up 37% since 2019.
35—MIT Tech Review releases its annual list of the top 35 innovators in the science and tech space under 35 years old.
What programs are effective in lifting people out of extreme poverty? One approach that’s becoming more popular is direct cash transfers. Another approach is a combo of assets and training and cash. For example, you can offer people livestock plus training on how to make money off that livestock, plus a bit of cash to sustain them while they get things up and running. This premise became the bedrock of what BRAC called the “ultra-poor graduation program,” which aims to “graduate” recipients out of extreme poverty. Nowadays, when studies come out showing positive results for graduation programs, there’s a tendency to think that this particular combination—cash plus assets plus training—does work better than simply giving cash. Studies in South Sudan and Uganda seem to indicate that both graduation and cash increased consumption, but only the graduation group saw a significant increase in assets, a sign of more durable wealth. Although the cash group shifted a bit from agriculture to other types of work, they didn’t set up their own lasting businesses that may have been higher-paying. The authors speculate that without training and mentorship, beneficiaries of cash transfers alone struggled to make productive investments, maintain them and derive sustained value from them. Vox (17 minutes)
More than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored and their online chats are censored. Even their future is under surveillance. The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government—not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness. A few examples: (1) Three people with a criminal record check into the same hotel in southeast China. An automated system is designed to alert the police. (2) A man with a history of political protest buys a train ticket to Beijing. The system could flag the activity as suspicious and tell the police to investigate. (3) A woman with mental illness in Fujian leaves her home. A camera installed by her house records her movements so the police can track her. New York Times (16 minutes)
Quality Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
Quince’s founders had successful careers in retail and manufacturing. They knew the process of making quality products but became disillusioned by inflated pricing, and complex, wasteful supply chains. They started to wonder: could quality be more accessible? They set about simplifying the D2C model, focusing on quality products at the best value. Soon, their $50 cashmere sweater was flying off the shelves. Items that were seemingly unattainable were now within reach: European linen bedding for $130, washable silk blouses for $60, leather jackets for $150. They don’t do huge, wasteful production runs because they only make what they know will sell. (It’s not uncommon for restocks to sell out the same day.) They don’t follow trends because they believe in upgraded, timeless essentials. They don’t compromise on fair manufacturing and sustainable sourcing because—why should you? Quince (Sponsored)
Scale, Speed, Freedom
When building a company, all founders need to clearly prioritize the following three values: (1) Scale, (2) Speed and (3) Freedom. In reflecting on his journey of starting a few companies, Nathan Baschez realized that he wanted to build whatever weird creative thing I dreamed up (freedom), he wanted it to change the world (scale) and he wanted to raise venture capital for it (speed). If he had been willing to adapt his first company into more of a pure creation technology platform and focus less on in-house content creation (sacrificing some freedom), then it could have worked. If I had been willing to fund it out of revenue, perhaps even taking consulting gigs to pay the bills, (sacrificing speed) then it could have worked. If he had been willing to make it hyper focused on one particular audience or market segment (sacrificing scale), then it could have worked. But he was 26 then, and he didn’t want to make any sacrifices. I didn’t realize I had to. So the company died. Every (10 minutes)
Cement from Algae
Every year, about two gigatons (2,000,000,000,000 Kg) of CO2 is released into our environment due to the production and usage of cement. According to a report from the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA), cement ranks third among the top 10 biggest sources of industrial pollution. Surprisingly, a team of researchers claims that we can put a full stop to this cement-driven carbon emission overnight by replacing traditional cement with their new microalgae-based biogenic (a substance made using living organisms) cement. A team of researchers have developed a unique carbon-neutral method to biologically grow limestone, a key element in cement. This new material can drastically reduce the environmental pollution caused due to construction activities around the globe. Interesting Engineering (6 minutes)
North Korea has built a thriving sector of their economy predicated on state-sponsored hacking of crypto and, in March alone, stole $615 million in digital currency. However, the crypto crash has caused serious fiscal problems for Pyongyang, which uses the stolen crypto to fund their nuclear weapons program. Analysts estimate crypto losses have cost North Korea $620 million this year, based on unrealized gains, with one analysis finding that funds from 49 of their hacks decreased in value from $170 million to $65 million. Kim "Diamond Hands" Jong-Un has funded his $640 million-per-year nuclear program based largely on such hacks, which provide a crucial source of income for a country with a GDP of $27.4 billion. Reuters (6 minutes)
The sleep debt collectors are coming. They want you to know that there is no such thing as forgiveness, only a shifting expectation of how and when you’re going to pay them back. As most every human has discovered, a couple nights of bad sleep is often followed by grogginess, difficulty concentrating, irritability, mood swings and sleepiness. For years, it was thought that these effects, accompanied by cognitive impairments like lousy performances on short-term memory tests, could be primarily attributed to a chemical called adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits electrical impulses in the brain. Spikes of adenosine had been consistently observed in sleep-deprived rats and humans. Adenosine levels can be quickly righted after a few nights of good sleep, however. This gave rise to a scientific consensus that sleep debt could be forgiven with a couple of quality snoozes—as reflected in casual statements like “I’ll catch up on sleep” or “I’ll be more awake tomorrow.” But a recent study contends that the folk concept of sleep as something that can be saved up and paid off is bunk. The review, which canvassed the last couple of decades of research on long term neural effects of sleep deprivation in both animals and humans, points to mounting evidence that getting too little sleep most likely leads to long-lasting brain damage and increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. New York Times (8 minutes)
Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. In June, 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson was driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he had just served 15 months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett's intention was to pick up his 8-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California where they could start their lives anew. But when the warden drove away, Emmett discovered that two friends from the work farm hid in the trunk of the warden's car. Together, they hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett's future, one that would take them all on a fateful journey in the opposite direction—to the City of New York. Buy Now
Most Read Last Week
Fulfilled Life—Here are the secrets to a fulfilling life.
Peter Thiel—What shapes Peter Thiel’s, the PayPal founder, investor and consummate contrarian, worldview? This article by David Perell is a long form dive into that question.
Siblings—As adults age even more, sibling relationships tend to become warmer and less conflicted. But do these relationships matter much in later life? Apparently yes.
The Weekend Briefing is a Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society by Kyle Westaway—Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by Van Peng. Interested in sponsoring the Weekend Briefing? We’re all booked up for 2022, but click here to be the first to know when we open up more spots for 2023.
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