Learning in Public: 2/21/2021
Interesting bits and bytes
Thank you to Greg Hochmuth for recommending this book. Go read it, you will laugh, you will cry, you will be disgusted and you will learn lots.
Private label products are one of the keys of Trader Joe’s success. They started the private label craze that many have tried to copy. TJs invents food to fit within the current zeitgeist — interesting to see how they had/have such a specific customer in mind (college educated people, with international travel experience or longings).
Discontinuous products - Supermarkets traditionally focus on providing predictability above all else — so they wouldn’t/don’t carry products that cannot reliably be available. Trader Joe’s found this loop hole and went through it — seeking out discontinuous products. Why? Often those products provided a significantly better margin on an actually superior product — example: extra large eggs.
Everything we buy traveled on a truck.
Trucking industry preys on new recruits — working them for incredibly low wages (sub 1 dollar per mile) and often trapping them in the debt of a new truck. Is there an opportunity to build a trucking company that treats people right, pays decent, and gets better performance from employees? I hear driving for Walmart is actually one of the best trucking jobs out there - decent consistent pay, not away from home for significant periods, not overworked and respected at the pick-up and delivery locations.
The pipeline and process that delivers the illusion of healthy, organic, fair trade Whole Foods (or any other grocery store) is filled with very very ugly sub-systems. We blissfully ignore the real human and environmental costs of creating the endless supply and selection at a low price. We all should learn about this and ideally find a new approach to food. Based on the book, I’d suggest never eating shrimp again. As a generalizable lesson I see over and over: always know your supplier, your supplier’s supplier — maybe all the way up the stack to the source.
Theme: Custom hardware solutions becomes normal
u/eyer1951 built a car parking sensor — watch the lights indicating proximity as they pull into the spot (near the end of the gif or click here). This is both amazingly creative and surprisingly accessible to anyone with a couple hundred bucks and the time to put it together. 5 years from now we will all be able to buy custom solutions like this as people build their own solution, and share them. Yes today Tindie.com exists to sell DIY hardware but there isn’t enough finish to most of the projects for them to go mass market. I’m saying in 5 years, custom hardware solutions like this parking assist will be instantly productized such that they can be printed, assembled and delivered in a couple weeks to anyone that wants one. In comparison, today, a hobbyist could clone the shared details and get a working version in probably a couple months — even if it came with a Tindie purchase link.
Here, this person designed and built a system to build flipdots at a drastically lower cost than attempting to buy one — like for signage at an Airport or Bus terminal. If you click into the details below this is incredibly impressive hardware. Also a great video in the link…
Theme: Reorganize cities/suburbs/life around robots
Previously I’ve written about how cities and suburbs organized around the car. Well, I think we’re starting to see a reorganization around the self-driving car:
Walmart: breaking ground to scale local fulfillment centers — yes today they are for cars driven by people, but it will be just as easy, if not more efficient to load a robocar.
Cruise’s significant progress (click the tweet to see the whole thread):
1. Integrating software + hardware development wins again
2. Supply chain attack against software dependencies
There is a company to be built to just solve this problem (yes it is relatively easy to solve but it is boring, annoying work (undifferentiated lifting).
Every startup you read about can be attacked this way — as protecting against it is the opposite of move fast and break things.
3. That yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive
What great framing. The yawn means you’ve changed the world.
4. The patterns that we establish won’t necessarily be the same as the ones we had before [COVID]
David Sumpter about his recent book, ‘The ten equations that rule the world.’ One of those equations, the ‘reward equation’ models how ants communicate using pheromones, and our own brains keep track of rewards using dopamine.
About 4 and a half minutes into the podcast Tim asks a fascinating question: the reward equation includes a decay or ‘forgetting’ parameter, so what happens if you disrupt established solutions for long enough that their hold is broken? For example, the complete disruption to our established routines that Covid has caused over the last year? The answer for ants, if you disrupt all of the pheromone trails around their nest, is that they converge on a new solution in the environment, but it won’t necessarily look the same as the one they had before the disruption. (If you’re interested in the amazing problem-solving skills of ants and how we can learn from them in computer science, I covered ‘Ant algorithms for discrete optimization’ in a previous edition of The Morning Paper). It’s highly likely that the same thing will happen to us when we can eventually return to normal – the patterns that we establish won’t necessarily be the same as the ones we had before the series of lockdowns began.
2 Bits of FUN
Deep fryers with live fish at the bottom:
Seems that all fryers should use this technology.
Interview with person who produced Steve Jobs’ keynotes: