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A Few Things: Morgan Housel on Attention, How To Be Happier, Energy Security, Scale by Geoffrey West, The End of FTX.....
November 13, 2022
I was on the road this week, so apologies for this being a little short. I am sharing this weekly email with you because I count you in the group of people I learn from and enjoy being around.
You can check out last week’s edition here: Lessons on Deep Work, Galloway on Next Gens, Geopolitics, Society of Spectacle, Coatue and Sequoia on What to Watch in AI, Charts That Stood Out.....
“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
- Warren Buffett
“It is always the secure who are humble.”
- Gilbert Keith Chesterton
“The man who while he gives thinks of what he will get in return, deserves to be deceived.”
“When you have that window of opportunity called a crisis, move as quickly as you can, get as much done as you can. There's a momentum for change that's very compelling."
- Anne Mulcahy
“Panic is a form of hubris. It comes from a feeling that one knows exactly where the world is heading. Bewilderment is more humble and therefore more clear-sighted.”
- Yuval Noah Harari
A. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:
1. Attention is something we all want. We might want it from different people—employees, students, soldiers, teammates, readers, bosses—but we all want it.
Get to the point. Share stories, not facts. Say things people feel but don't know how to say. Give timeless advice.
2. Dr Cassie Holmes is a Professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, an author and an award-winning researcher of time and happiness.
Time management in the modern world is hard. Many people don't feel like they have sufficient space to complete their to do list, let alone manifest their spare-time dreams.
Expect to learn what time habits the happiest people all have, how to truly value things experiences you want to enjoy, the relationship between time and happiness, the best techniques for an efficient schedule, how science advises you to deepen friendships, how to make tasks you don't want to do suck less…
Some techniques I picked up:
Track what makes you happy and do more of those things. Be more mindful and hence deliberate about how your time is spent.
Layer activities: Combine an activity you don’t enjoy, with one you do. For ex: folding laundry while listening to a podcast.
Think about your why, your purpose, and try to align more of your activities with your purpose.
Make time, schedule time for the long term stuff that is important to you.
When speaking to people share your vulnerabilities, go deep, break through the facade
Meghan O’Sullivan is a former deputy national security adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently a Professor at Harvard Kennedy School and a board member of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Kennedy School. She sits on the board of directors at Raytheon and the Council on Foreign relations.
Jason Bordoff is the Co-Founding Dean of the Columbia Climate School, the Founding Director of the Center on Global Energy Policy, and Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Relations at Columbia University. Jason also served as Special Assistant to President Barack Obama and Senior Director for Energy and Climate Change on the Staff of the National Security Council.
The episode focuses on energy policy and the immense challenges inherent in trying to balance national security concerns with international climate objectives. Moving to a net-zero global economy will require an unprecedented level of global cooperation. It will also lead to conflict along the way and inevitably produce winners and losers. While government investment and private sector innovation is crucial to managing this transition, conscious steps need to be taken in order to mitigate the geopolitical risks that this change will create, of which the war in Ukraine is only the latest example.
The conversation provides you with a framework for thinking about what this transition is going to look like, the challenges and opportunities that it will create along the way for governments, business, and investors, and what will be needed from all of us in order get it right.
There aren’t many books with the breadth and depth of Geoffrey West’s book Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies”.
I believe it will come to be seen to be as seminal as Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”
Geoffrey West is a British theoretical physicist and former president and distinguished professor of the Santa Fe Institute. He is one of the leading scientists working on a scientific model of cities.
Being a physicist, Prof. West wanted to see if he could up with some theories to explain biological phenomenon in animals, and then use that work to explain other network based systems like cities and companies (we will cover them next time).
Here a few questions Prof. West answers:
Why can we live for up to 120 years but not longer?
Why are shrews are mice the smallest mammals and blue whales the largest?
Why do we stop growing once we reach maturity?
Here a few ideas I walked away with:
Kleiber’s Law: When an animal doubles in size (i.e. doubles its body weight), then its number of cells also roughly doubles, but its metabolic rate only increases by about 75%, rather than 100%, as you would expect. It can be formally written as q₀ ~ M^(¾), whereby q₀ is the animal’s metabolic rate, and M the animal’s mass.
This means that a cat that is 100 times heavier than a mouse only consumes about 100^(¾) ~ 32 times the energy that the mouse consumes. In physics, this nonlinear behavior characterized by the systematic savings as size increases is referred to as sublinear scaling or economy of scale.
The figure below, showing metabolic rate as a function of body mass (plotted logarithmically), highlights this behavior.
The reason why there are no bigger mammals than blue whales and no smaller ones than shrews is embedded within the constraints of these allometric (how something changes with size) scaling laws.
Our heart pumps blood into the aorta, which then undergoes several rounds of branching into smaller vessels, eventually leading to the terminal units, our capillaries, where oxygen is exchanged with cells. The size of these terminal units is invariant across all mammals, meaning that the capillaries of a shrew are the same size as the ones of a blue whale.
However, as an organism doubles in size, its number of cells also doubles, whereas its number of terminal units only increases by about 75% due to the 3/4 scaling law. Furthermore, the average distance between terminal units scales with body mass as a power law with exponent 1/12.
To illustrate this, a blue whale is a hundred million times heavier than a shrew, but the average distance between its capillaries is only about 100,000,000^(1/12) ~ 4.6 times larger.
This puts a constraint on the maximum size of mammals as their capillaries would not be able to supply enough oxygen to the increasing number of cells, which would in turn result in hypoxia of these cells, eventually causing them to die.
Why does the human body stop growing? Growth cannot happen without a perpetual supply of energy and resources. The energy budget of the growth process in which metabolic energy is supplied is allocated between new growth and maintenance and repair. In the beginning, almost everything goes into growth.
Upon maturity, however, everything goes into repair, maintenance and replacement. To express this in the words of scaling, as an animal doubles in size, its number of cells and thus the amount of energy required for sustenance also doubles.
However, metabolic rate only increases by a factor of 2^(3/4), or 1.682, rather than the required factor of 2. So the rate at which energy is needed for maintenance increases faster than the rate at which metabolic energy can be supplied, forcing the amount of energy available for growth to systematically decrease and eventually go to zero.
It is this mismatch between the scaling of maintenance and supply that eventually results in the cessation of growth.
As far as ageing and death are concerned, all evidence seems to point toward “wear and tear”.
Similar to the flow of water through pipes or the flow of cars on highways, the flows in our biological networks also lead to wear and tear, eventually resulting in damage and decay. In organisms, this damage occurs at the cellular and intracellular levels, i.e. at the terminal units of networks where energy resources are exchanged (e.g. capillaries).
It is primarily caused by two factors: 1) wear and tear of blood vessels due to viscous drag forces of the blood, and 2) chemical damage from free radicals, which are by-products from the production of ATP (the primary energy carrier of cells) in respiratory metabolism (i.e. oxidative damage to DNA).
In other words, the very systems that sustain us are at the same time also damaging and degrading our bodies. However, within this principle lies the reason why larger animals live longer than smaller ones. Their metabolic rate is lower; at the cellular level they suffer systematically less damage at a slower rate, resulting in a correspondingly larger lifespan.
If you want to hear him discuss the space, this Mindscape podcast with Sean Carroll titled: Networks, Scaling, and the Pace of Life.
and this is a great presentation from Talks at Google:
C. The Tech and Crypto Section:
The biggest story this week in tech is the bankruptcy of the crypto exchange FTX.
This is a very big deal, and the damage will be far reaching. I believe this is a Lehman moment for crypto. What seemed like a liquidity crisis initially, now looks like fraud and potentially something even worse.
The losers are everywhere, from the VCs who invested in FTX Intl (last round $32bn) or FTX US (last round $8bn), or the millions of users and funds that custodied their crypto assets custodied at FTX.
FTX was meant to be the cleanest player in a dark market. Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) was close to regulators, a fixture in D.C. He was seen with celebrities and politicians.
The media loved him and SBF/FTX was the one of the biggest donors to the Democratic party.
Millions of people lost their life savings last week. This is a sad, sad event.
Why did it happen? To grossly oversimplify, Alameda (SBF’s hedge fund) likely hit losses in Q1/Q2, which they tried to cover with borrowing, but ran out of capacity from third party lenders, at this moment SBF used its relationship with FTX to move collateral / cash from FTX customers to shore up Alameda.
In hind sight, the red flags were everywhere. It’s shocking just how many there were.
This post from Trung Phan is one of clearest things I’ve read on it.
And this post from Haseeb Qureshi (DragonFly VC) gives a good idea of what crypto feels like today.
Bottom line: This will hurt.
2. While the media and VC’s were falling all over Sam to finance the next round, famed short seller Marc Cohodes knew he was on to a fraud from May 2022.
Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Marc about Sam Bankman-Fried, the recent bankruptcy of FTX, and the bigger story behind the alleged fraud that he and his network of enablers have perpetrated.
This one goes deep.