Category: What I’m Reading

  • The “Large Vision Model” (LVM) Era is Upon Us

    Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ll know the tech industry has been rocked by the rapid advance in performance by large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT. By adapting self-supervised learning methods, LLMs “learn” to sound like a human being by learning how to fill in gaps in language and, by doing so, become remarkably adept at solving not just language problems but understanding & creativity.

    Interestingly, the same is happening in imaging, as models largely trained to fill in “gaps” in images are becoming amazingly adept. A friend of mine, Pearse Keane’s group at University College of London, for instance, just published a model trained using self-supervised learning methods on ophthalmological images which is capable of not only diagnosing diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma relatively accurately, but relatively good at predicting cardiovascular events and Parkinson’s.

    At a talk, Andrew Ng captured it well, by pointing out the parallels between the advances in language modeling that happened after the seminal Transformer paper and what is happening in the “large vision model” world with this great illustration.

    From Andrew Ng (Image credit: EETimes)

  • I want your market and you to pay for it

    I have followed TSMC very closely since I started my career in the semiconductor industry. A brilliant combination of bold business bet (by founder Morris Chang), industry tailwinds (with the rise of fabless semiconductor model), forward-thinking from the Taiwanese government (who helped launch TSMC), and technological progress, it’s been fascinating to see the company enter the public consciousness.

    In hearing about TSMC’s investment in the very aptly-named ESMC (European Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), I can’t help but think this is another brilliant TSMC-esque play. TSMC gets:

    • Guarantee outsized market share in leading edge semiconductor technology in Europe
    • Paid for in part by some of their largest customers (Infineon, Bosch, and NXP) who will likely commit / guarantee some of their volumes to fill this new manufacturing facility
    • AND (likely) additional subsidies / policy support from the European Union government (who increasingly doesn’t want to be left out of advanced chip manufacturing given Asia’s current dominance and the US’s Inflation Reduction Act push)

    TSMC has managed to turn what could have been a disaster for them (growing nationalism in semiconductor manufacturing) into a subsidized, volume-committed factory.

  • The cable bundle of the future

    Charter and Disney recently made peace over the recent ESPN carriage fee dispute.

    Three things are happening in video delivery world that are colliding here:

    1. People are “cutting the cord” as they become less dependent on cable for high quality content (due to things like YouTube and Netflix)
    2. Because you’ve lost the “cable bundle” economics (where cable subscribers would cross-subsidize each other’s viewing — you pay because you really want ESPN & I pay because I really want HBO and, as a result, we both end up paying less for more content), video streaming services like Disney+ inevitably increase prices & introduce ad models to cover their (very high) cost (of content production). This naturally means new bundles will emerge as consumers look to find ways to pay less for more content.
    3. High speed internet today is largely subsidized by the investments from cable industry to deliver video. If ‘cord cutting’ (as in canceling cable) continues, then eventually the cost of high speed internet will go up as it becomes the “main event” for the company’s financials. Given (2), I think this likely means “cable companies” will increasingly become “bundled internet + streaming service” companies soon.

    All this is ironically not that different from the original cable bundle, only this time we have a few new logos (i.e. Netflix) and a little more price transparency since you can see what the unsubsidized streaming video service cost (i.e. Disney+, Hulu, etc.) would be outside of the bundle.

  • Yummy AND durable 🍅

    One reason much of the modern produce we buy tastes so bland is because our agricultural system has bred modern varieties for ship-ability and the ability of produce to be picked by machine, rather than flavor.

    While this has expanded the access to produce (both geographically but also in terms of cost due to the ability to use automation), it’s meant that consumers often have to choose between shelf life and good taste.

    But, advances in plant genetics could change that. If we could understand the genes that are responsible for durability, that could inform how we breed or gene-edit varieties that can combine desirable taste attributes with durability.

    Researchers in China published a paper in Nature Plants identifying the gene (fs8.1) responsible for making roma tomatoes elongated and crush-resistant enough to be machine-harvestable and even demonstrated that it would work in alternative varieties without changing their taste.

    Both the paper and the Science article on it are worth checking out.

  • UAW Strike vs. the Detroit Three EV Transition

    Bloomberg had a great article over the weekend about the events leading up to the (partial) UAW strike against the Detroit Three (GM, Ford, and Stellantis [fka Chrysler]).

    I’m not surprised (nor should anyone) by the strike. New UAW management, years-long grievances, and tight labor market favoring workers means a strike was almost certainly always going to be the first move by the UAW.

    The bigger question is what this will do to the Detroit Three’s electrification push. The UAW’s challenge here (as it has been since the 80s) is that the Detroit Three are in a weak and uncertain position as it relates to foreign auto makers and new EV giants like Tesla. While the Inflation Reduction Act may give US auto makers the US EV market, going into a technology transition with a large labor cost & agility disadvantage is a surefire way to (continue to) cede the much larger global market which, in the end, hurts all of the US auto industry (not to mention the Biden administration’s hopes that this creates new jobs and centers green manufacturing in the US).

    How Auto Executives Misread the UAW Ahead of Historic Strike
    David Welch, Keith Naughton, Gabrielle Coppola, and Josh Eidelson | Bloomberg News

  • Hopelessness in China’s Youth

    This article in the Economist paints a dismal picture of the state of life for the youth in China: youth unemployment so high the government has stopped reporting on it (as if that was going to change anything…), housing and childcare costs so high that young people have given up on having traditional families, a government and state-run media that actively scolds them for being soft and pampered, and the best and brightest fleeing to Singapore…

    How’s that “Chinese dream 中國夢” going?

  • Smart Home Manifesto

    This is an older piece (written in 2016) but remarkable in how well it resonates even 7 years later.

    Given that I have a home server and opinions on Matter/Thread, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have many smart home gadgets in my house. And while I’ve made many purchasing and configuration choices in the spirit of this manifesto, it still boggles my mind that I still fall short of the seamless vision the writer (Paulus Schoutsen, founder of Home Assistant) lays out.

    portable speaker on brown wooden table
    Photo by Mati Mango on

    Perfect Home Automation
    Paulus Schoutsen | Home Assistant Blog

  • Psychedelics in the Clinic

    When I first heard about the use of psychedelics (like ketamine and psilocybin) for treatment of mental illness, I was skeptical. It just seemed too ripe for abuse.

    But, there is a growing body of credible academic work suggesting that psychedelics when dosed properly and used in conjunction with therapy / other drugs can be a gamechanger — especially for treatment-resistant depression and suicidality — and that is incredibly exciting.

    At the same time, as a former telemedicine startup operator, this makes me more alarmed by the numerous companies working to commercialize these. In the bid for venture-style growth, it’s all too easy to lose track of the “when dosed properly and used in conjunction with therapy / other drugs” part.

    In any event, this article from Medicine at Michigan is a good overview of the recent research highlights in the field and why so many clinicians and scientists are excited.

    Serious about psychedelics
    Katie Whitney | Medicine at Michigan

  • Hawaiian Electric having a PG&E Moment

    The fires in Maui have had a devastating human toll (111 dead, 1000 missing as of this writing). It is not surprising that it’s raising some questions about the role of Hawaii’s utility (Hawaiian Electric/HECO) played in the disaster.

    While it will take time to sort out the investigation and the class action lawsuit, it’s clear that investors and Hawaiian Electric management are scrambling, with the WSJ reporting that Hawaiian Electric is now talking to restructuring advisors to explore their next steps, in a crisis that very much parallels the series of wildfires that were ultimately blamed on Northern California utility PG&E and resulted in bankruptcy proceedings.

    Utilities now face three simultaneous problems (arguably of their own making):

    • climate change escalating the risks of catastrophic wildfires and storms
    • utilities across the country having aging energy infrastructure
    • homeownership patterns, disaster insurance coverage & premiums, and utility risk management plans built for a pre-climate-change risk environment

    The smart ones will be proactively overhauling their processes and infrastructure to cope with this. The less smart ones will potentially be dragged kicking and screaming into this world in much the same way that PG&E and Hawaiian Electric currently are.

  • Why Thread is Matter’s biggest problem right now

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… Adoption of a technology is being impeded by too many standards. The solution? A new standard, of course, and before you know it, we now have another new standard to deal with.

    The smart home industry needs to figure out how to properly embrace Thread (and Matter). It (or something like it) will be necessary for broader smart home / Internet of Things adoption.

    Why Thread is Matter’s biggest problem right now
    Jennifer Pattison Tuohy | The Verge

  • The next big thing on ESPN is… Microsoft Excel

    As a former “Excel monkey”, I am extremely tickled by the fact that what used to be analyst bravado about Excel skills (being able to create big spreadsheet models without touching the mouse was a big thing) is now a sport with viewers.

    But it’s a testament to how powerful and versatile spreadsheets are. And how many people know what it is.

    The joke in SaaS is that every SaaS product is basically competing with Excel. Well, apparently, Excel’s competing with e-sports and games now too!

  • Flow Batteries Resurgent?

    I’ve been pitched by numerous flow battery companies in my days as a deeptech/climatetech investor. The promise of the technology has always been:

    • Long cycle life (the number of charge-discharge cycles you can do before the performance degrades)
    • Easy to scale: you want 2x the storage? Just get 2x the electrolyte!
    • Low fire risk: most flow batteries use water-based electrolytes which won’t ignite in the air (the way the lithium in lithium-ion batteries do)

    Despite compelling benefits, this category never achieved the level of success or scale as lithium-ion did. This was due in part to a variety of technological limitations (poor energy density, lower cycle efficiency, concerns around the amount of Vanadium-containing electrolyte “lying around” in a system, etc). But, the main cause was the breath-taking progress lithium-ion batteries have made in cost, energy density, and safety driven first by consumer electronics demand and then by electric vehicle demand.

    This C&EN article covers the renewed optimism the flow battery world is experiencing as market interest in the technology revitalizes.

    My hot-take🔥: while technological improvements play a part, once again, what is driving the flow battery market is what’s happening in lithium-ion world. There simply is too much demand for energy storage and growing uncertainty about the ability of lithium-ion to handle it in the face of the conflict between the West and China (the leading supplier of lithium ion batteries) and supply chain concerns about critical minerals for lithium ion batteries (like nickel and cobalt). Grid storage players have to look elsewhere. (Electric vehicle companies would probably like to but do not have the option!)

    Considering the importance of grid energy storage in electrifying our world and onboarding new renewable generation, I think having and seeing more options is a good thing. So I, too, am optimistic here 👍🏻

    Note: this is the first in a (hopefully ongoing) series of posts called “What I’m Reading” where I’ll share & comment on an interesting article I’ve come across!