77: Visa Unplaid, Antitrust Wish, Bitcoin Lost Passwords, TikTok, Sherwin-Williams, DCF?, Samsung's New 5nm SoC, and Online Security and Privacy

"akin to domestic combat"

As with most successful racers, Yunick was a master of the grey area straddling the rules.

Perhaps his most famous exploit was his #13 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle, driven by Curtis Turner. The car was so much faster than the competition during testing that they were certain that cheating was involved; some sort of aerodynamic enhancement was strongly suspected, but the car's profile seemed to be entirely stock, as the rules required.

It was eventually discovered that Yunick had lowered and modified the roof and windows and raised the floor (to lower the body) of the production car. Since then, NASCAR required each race car's roof, hood, and trunk to fit templates representing the production car's exact profile.

Another Yunick improvisation was getting around the regulations specifying a maximum size for the fuel tank, by using 11-foot (3 meter) coils of 2-inch (5-centimeter) diameter tubing for the fuel line to add about 5 gallons (19 liters) to the car's fuel capacity.

Once, NASCAR officials came up with a list of nine items for Yunick to fix before the car would be allowed on the track. The suspicious NASCAR officials had removed the tank for inspection. Yunick started the car with no gas tank and said "Better make it ten," and drove it back to the pits. He used a basketball in the fuel tank which could be inflated when the car's fuel capacity was checked and deflated for the race.

Shminux

The inability to cut your losses is apparently as rare with non-investors as it is with investors.

Hint: I'm not thinking of anything financial here, but rather of people aligning themselves with groups or beliefs, and then following them to places where they never ever would've agreed to go to if they had been told in the beginning, but they just can't let go even when it's clearly the rational and/or moral thing to do.

Here’s practical advice: What in your life, big or small, are you basically doing or thinking because you’ve been doing it or thinking it for a while, and it just keeps going on inertia?

You know the investing saying that “any day you don’t sell something, it’s the equivalent of buying that position again”, or “if you were starting with 100% cash today, would you buy everything that’s in your portfolio now?” (in practice it’s not quite that simple, but it’s a useful thought experiment that forces reflection).

Well, same thing, but for everything else in your life and in your head.


Investing & Business

Visa Won’t Go Plaid Mode After All

A year after announcing it, Visa is dropping its $5.3 billion planned acquisition of Plaid.

Al Kelly, Visa’s chairman and chief executive, said that he believed the companies would eventually have won a legal battle because Plaid’s services complemented Visa’s. “However, it has been a full year since we first announced our intent to acquire Plaid, and protracted and complex litigation will likely take substantial time to fully resolve,” he said.

Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s top antitrust official, said the deal’s demise was good for consumers. “Plaid and other future fintech innovators are free to develop potential alternatives to Visa’s online debit services,” he said. “With more competition, consumers can expect lower prices and better services.”

I don’t know quite what I think of it. I would tend to trust Visa management that they know what they’re doing, and that the high multiple they were paying was because of big strategic value and revenue synergies, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A couple informed takes on it, from Tom Noyes and from Peter Berg.

h/t to The Dentist for pointing out Noyes and Berg’s stuff.

My Antitrust Wishlist

Here's one thing that I wish antitrust (or fear of it) would make happen:

Make it so it's super-simple, 1-click, to migrate from one music streamer to another (Spotify <-> Apple Music).

Catalogs overlap to 99.99% anyway.

Make it easy to export metadata on album library, playlists, ratings, etc. That data should be available to the user in a portable format, not held hostage inside the app to create artificial lock-in.

Last I checked, some paid apps exist to migrate playlists, but not album/song libraries or ratings. If you’re a casual music fan with 53 albums, it’s not a big deal. If you have thousands and thousands, it is.

I used to do ratings before I lost them all in a switch a few years ago…

I’d start again if I knew they were portable, because I love to do smart playlists.

My favorite variant is to create a dynamic playlist of everything I’ve rated 5 stars that I haven’t heard in a month, and play it on shuffle. I have a playlist just of jazz with 1,919 songs in it that I play through a smart filter. It’s functionally a radio station of stuff I love that I haven’t heard recently. What more can you ask?

Bitcoin’s Lost Passwords

Of the existing 18.5 million Bitcoin, around 20 percent — currently worth around $140 billion — appear to be in lost or otherwise stranded wallets, according to the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis. Wallet Recovery Services, a business that helps find lost digital keys, said it has gotten 70 requests a day from people who want help recovering their riches, three times the number of a month ago.

Bitcoin owners who are locked out of their wallets speak of endless days and nights of frustration as they have tried to access their fortunes. Many have owned the coins since Bitcoin’s early days a decade ago, when no one had confidence that the tokens would be worth anything.

“Through the years I would say I have spent hundreds of hours trying to get back into these wallets,” said Brad Yasar, an entrepreneur in Los Angeles who has a few desktop computers that contain thousands of Bitcoin he created, or mined, during the early days of the technology. While those Bitcoin are now worth hundreds of millions of dollars, he lost his passwords many years ago and has put the hard drives containing them in vacuum-sealed bags, out of sight.

Source. h/t Matt Levine

TikTok Policy Change for Under 16 Users

TikTok users aged under 16 will have their accounts automatically set to private, as the app introduces a series of measures to improve child safety.

Approved followers only can comment on videos from these accounts.

Users will also be prevented from downloading any videos created by under-16s.

TikTok said it hoped the changes would encourage young users to “actively engage in their online privacy journey”. (Source)

Watching Paint Dry Over Decades (Sherwin-Williams)

“W/ Dividends +19.6% TSR Annualized or 137,150%”

DCF (Theory vs Practice)

My feeling is that if you have to build a DCF spreadsheet to know if you want to invest in something, it's either not obvious enough, or it's too obvious and the opportunity probably isn't really there…

Interesting exercise: Look at most of the best investments of the past 5-10 years, and go do an honest DCF with only public information from the beginning of that period. How many would you have invested in?

Investing is about judgement under uncertainty, not a math quiz.

(originally posted here)


Science & Technology

Samsung’s new SoC Dumps its Own Core, Goes with ARM’s Cortex-X1

Samsung has unveiled its latest 5nm SoC to much fanfare, and it looks pretty promising. But the main thing that jumped at me is that they went with ARM’s Cortex-X1 core design instead of their own Exynos in-house designs.

Sounds like a good decision:

Unfortunately, Samsung’s own designs were never really successful, and actually brought the opposite of what the company had hoped for – instead of positive differentiation in the SoC market the usage of custom cores was actually more of a negative, bringing with them reduced performance and quite worse power efficiency compared to the Arm Cortex counterparts. While Samsung had been patient with the SARC CPU design team, too many failures in a row, particularly big blunders such as the Exynos 9810 and the Exynos 990 resulted in the termination of the project, with Samsung choosing to simply just use Arm Cortex cores.

This is good for ARM (in the process of being acquired by Nvidia), now all the cores are from the Cortex family:

The new Exynos 2100 follows a CPU configuration that had been first introduced by Qualcomm in the Snapdragon 855 in that it’s a 1+3+4 CPU design, featuring one new high-performance Cortex-X1 core clocking up to 2.8GHz, three Cortex-A78 cores up to 2.8GHz, and four Cortex-A55 cores at up to 2.2GHz.

Compared to the previous gen, Samsung claims 19% single-core improvement, 33% in multi-threaded, and 40% in GPU performance. But all this remains to be seen in real-world usage.

Samsung’s new 5nm process apparently brings “either 10% boost in clock frequencies, or a 20% drop in power at the same frequency” compared to the previous 7nm node, but don’t be mislead by the numbers, not all 5nm processes are equal:

Last year we had suspected that Samsung’s 7nm process node was anywhere between 20 and 25% less power efficient than TSMC’s latest N7P node, so essentially we’re expecting the new process to just catch up in terms of power efficiency, with newer TSMC 5nm SoCs such as the Apple A14 and the Kirin 9000 to still have a notable process node lead. (Source)

Podcast about Online Security & Privacy

I’ve been starting to go through some episodes from the archive of the OSINT Podcast, which is about techniques and information having to do with privacy, security, and “open-source intelligence”.

I’ve long been interested by cryptography (since the late 1990s — I remember when they had to print the PGP book to circumvent a ban by making it a free speech issue..) and security, and like to learn a little about tradecraft, even though I’m really just an interested observer of the space and know very little.

The show seems pretty good, not to say that I’m ready to go anywhere near as far as the host (ie. carrying my smartphone in a faraday pocket-bag), but it’s partly just interesting to learn about, and some of the things I find useful to protect myself from hacking/malware/etc.

This episode on VPNs and their downsides was good, and this one about secure messaging apps was also good.

The show’s author, along with a few other anonymous people from his orbit, put together this list of messaging apps (partial screenshot above) and went through their characteristics to show which ones were most secure.

Study: ‘Pandemic-related mental health risk among front line personnel’

I wrote a bit before about the “mental health blast radius” of the pandemic, and how it’ll no doubt echo a while after the virus is under control (edition #61, in the intro). At the epicenter of all this are the healthcare workers who have been working tirelessly, in often difficult and dangerous conditions, witnessing wartime levels of deaths and suffering for months and months…

Study led by University of Utah Health:

The mental health of frontline workers is critical to a community's ability to manage crises and disasters. This study assessed risks for mental health problems (traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, alcohol use, insomnia) in association with pandemic-related stressors in a sample of emergency and hospital personnel (N = 571).  [...]

Results showed that roughly fifteen to thirty percent of respondents screened positive for each disorder. Odds of screening positive were similar between groups for probable acute traumatic stress, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol use disorder; emergency personnel reported significantly higher rates of insufficient sleep than healthcare workers [...]

More from this write-up:

more than half of doctors, nurses, and emergency responders involved in COVID-19 care could be at risk for one or more mental health problems, including acute traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, problematic alcohol use, and insomnia. The researchers found that the risk of these mental health conditions was comparable to rates observed during natural disasters, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

“What health care workers are experiencing is akin to domestic combat,” says Andrew J. Smith, Ph.D., director of the U of U Health Occupational Trauma Program at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and the study’s corresponding author.

‘The Hacker Who Archived Parler Explains How She Did It’

Running against time before Parler went offline, ‘donk_enby’ did her best to archive it all and was able to get quite a bit, with the help of online volunteers:

donk_enby had originally intended to grab data only from the day of the Capitol takeover, but found that the poor construction and security of Parler allowed her to capture, essentially, the entire website. That ended up being 56.7 terabytes of data, which included every public post on Parler, 412 million files in all—including 150 million photos and more than 1 million videos. Each of these had embedded metadata like date, time and GPS coordinates—unlike most social media sites, Parler does not strip metadata from media its users upload, which, crucially, could be useful for law enforcement and open source investigators. (Source)

The OpSec incompetence of the people who made Parler will turn out to be helpful to find a lot more footage and photos of the insurrection at the capitol and to identify more people there, but also allow law enforcement and volunteers to go through the archives of the prior weeks and months to piece together some of the planning and threats of violence that took place in the open.

I don’t like the look of that curve…

Can’t help but think of this digital drawing called ‘Superspreader” by ‘Maxoy’:


The Arts & History

Mad Men Business Unit Added to GIF Conglomerate

I don’t know why, but making these is fun. Am I turning into some kind of GIF cat-lady?

Here they are on an IMGUR page, if you want to download them for your own use.

(Substack recompresses them a lot, so what you see above isn’t actual quality)

‘They breached the Senate chamber at 2:16, just a minute after the senators made it out.’

As I said recently, ‘history’ doesn’t have to be long ago. And we can always wonder about alternate histories, because sometimes, things are very close to going another way...

What would’ve happened if the mob had been just a little faster and entered the room where the US senators were? What if Eugene Goodman hadn’t been able to make the mob follow him away from the senate chambers to buy a little time? What if they had surrounded Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Nancy Pelosi in some hallway?

As bad as things were — policemen being beaten with fire extinguishers and American flag poles (by people wearing ‘Blue Lives Matter’ patches on their camo gear, I’m sure) — it was very close to something on another level, with the top 3 members of the chain of succession present in the same building…

“Lawmakers huddled quietly behind barricaded doors waiting for police that took hours to come.”

It took hours to come to one of the (supposedly) most secure areas in the world, in the federal capital of the most powerful country on Earth. There’s always plenty of security forces nearby. There’s going to be a 9/11-style commission on this, and it’ll be fascinating, I’m sure. Various parts of the chain of command refusing for hours to send reinforcements is a big part of this story.

Another good read on this from Zeynep Tufekci:

Fiona Hill, former official at the U.S. National Security Council: