"The clock, not the steam machine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age." —Lewis Mumford, 1934
April 11, 2021
Hi everyone—I’m so glad to have you here. What a week.
Do you know how the problem of longitude was solved?
Until the mid-1700’s, sailors had no way to accurately calculate their longitude out at sea. Finding latitude, or how far north-south you are, was well known and you had two options: use the sun (with the help of shadows) at noon during the day, or the North Star (Polaris) at night. For the latter, you measure the angle between the user’s line of sight and the horizon using a sextant.
Lines of latitude run like the rungs of a ladder up and down the earth’s surface, which means as the earth spins they don’t change. So it was essentially a geometry problem.
But on a spinning sphere, the north-south lines of longitude are constantly spinning with it at a rate of 15 degrees each hour. So the longitude problem proved trickier for a awhile mostly because astronomers and scientists were approaching it as a geometry problem, invoking more stars and constellations, instead of what it really was: a time problem.
The problem of longitude was ultimately solved by a self-taught clockmaker named John Harrison who said you just need a clock good enough so that you always know the time back in London. A one-hour difference with local time is equivalent to 15 degrees of longitude.
This was a problem in itself though because the most accurate clocks back then used pendulums, which don’t play well with the constant swaying and rocking onboard a ship. So Harrison invented a portable clock powered by a coiled up spring instead, combined with interconnected circular balances that would be unaffected by the motion of a ship. He managed to maintain an accuracy of one second in a month, far better than any clocks of the time.
Stars like the sun and Polaris are fixed constants, around which you can anchor a calculation. Lines of latitude were fixed too. But finding longitude was a problem because it didn’t have a constant until Harrison provided one. Without an agreed-upon constant you can’t calculate much of anything. (Even trains didn’t work until Greenwich Mean Time was established as the baseline.)
Which brings me to the point: our entire financial system has no constant.
Right now the US government is undergoing what can only be described as a rolling stimulus strategy for the foreseeable future. The Fed (a collection of unelected, private bankers) is creating trillions of dollars of new money out of thin air with a few keystrokes and putting it directly into circulation. This has never been done before in history. We have no idea what will happen next, but it’s usually the people who can least afford the negative repercussions of government policy who ultimately pay for it.
I’ve touched on this before, briefly tracing the sordid history of how the dollar was made global reserve currency before eventually eliminating its gold backing and then artificially guaranteeing demand for it by forcing countries to use only dollars to buy oil, but the issue runs a lot deeper than monetary policy. Time is the constant we need to focus on to improve not just monetary policy but own own lives.
Time is the currency of life. The time cost of making or accomplishing anything takes the form of what we call money. If you spend 8 hours of your own energy working a job, you’re exchanging your time for money. You can then trade that money for someone else’s time, whether a good they spend time making or service they spend time doing. Or you can keep your time to spend in the future, which we call saving.
Money is just time credits. This is why so many people are focused on retirement: they want to finally cash in all their time credits. What you have in the bank—money—is your stored energy you spent time making. Money is tokenized time. So when the government debases it and makes it worth less, you should definitely take it personally. They’re stealing your time.
Maybe now it should come as no surprise that Bitcoin, the monetary network and store of value technology launched in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, is actually a time protocol.
Bitcoin miners spend energy to power computers that solve a computational guessing game as quickly as possible in competition with other miners.
This “proof of work” competition is what verifies the legitimacy of all new transactions made on the Bitcoin network, cementing them into a single “block” before adding it to the ongoing chain. The winning miner then announces the new block of transactions to the entire network.
The winning miner’s reward is bitcoin tokens.
Here’s the thing: new blocks get added to the network at a constant rate of ~10 minutes. How? There is an automatic difficulty adjustment built into the protocol that makes the problem that miners are solving more easy or difficult depending on how many are participating. Every time a mining rig is shut down, the bitcoin protocol increases the incentive for other miners to stay online by making the problem easier. (The other constant is 21 million: the total number of bitcoins that will ever be mined.)
"When you first study a field, it seems like you have to memorize a zillion things.
You don't. What you need is to identify the 3 to 12 core principles that govern the field. All thought you had to memorize are simply various combinations of the core principles." —John Reed
Without some kind of enforced discipline no system can continue forever.
If you want to really solve a problem, find a constant and use it to establish agreement through consensus, then work out the variables from there.
And if you can’t find a constant, get a self-taught clockmaker to invent one.
Until next time 🤙,
“The whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence: The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy.” —Henry Hazlitt
💸 Secretary Janet Yellen’s tweetstorm revealed continued desire to create artificial stability ("as we pursue a stronger world economy, we must also pay attention to existing financial stability risks and new risks that may arise."), further suggesting that the global fiat economy isn’t really a free market anymore.
👩⚖️ The Supreme Court sided with Google against Oracle in a long-running copyright dispute over the software used in the Android the mobile OS. [CNN] The case concerned ~12,000 lines of code copied from the Java API developed by Sun Microsystems, which Oracle acquired in 2010. This verdict is seen as a landmark re: what types of computer code are protected under American copyright law.
👂 Live audio is becoming a thing. Clubhouse provided the format, and now everyone is trying to copy it: Discord just launched Stage Channels [TechCrunch], and Spotify recently acquired live audio app Locker Room with plans for a new experience. [The Verge]
₿💱 In its pre-IPO earnings report, Coinbase (ticker: $COIN) announced the addition of 13 million users in Q1 alone, totaling 56 million users (this makes Coinbase larger than Robinhood, CashApp, and Venmo) They have collected $1.8 billion in revenue so far this year. [CNBC] Bloomberg predicts $400,000 Bitcoin price in 2021 in their latest report [Bloomberg]; State Street, the second-oldest bank in America with 3.1T AUM, is planning to build a crypto trading platform launched via a bank-led consortium. [Coindesk] China created its own digital currency, a first for a major economy [WSJ]; Fidelity, Square, and Coinbase launch Bitcoin trade group, to lobby policy makers and serve the industry’s voice in championing digital currencies [WSJ]; Grayscale filed to convert GBTC to an ETF [Blockworks]; Bitcoin investment firm NYDIG secured another $100 million from backers that include Starr Insurance, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and other P&C insurers. [The Block]
From The Tweetbox 🐦
“Thinking in "systems" gives you a massive edge in world where the existing system is being upended by technology.” [Tweet]
“Some people cynically compare universities to hedge funds but here's the thing—hedge funds are at least accountable to their investors.” [Tweet]
“Traditional finance can no longer put their fingers in their ears and yell that “Bitcoin isn’t real” when you have a public company pulling in ~$2B in revenue every quarter” [Thread]
“Tally up all your appliances, travel, internet usage, gadgets, electric lighting, takeout deliveries etc. before you form an opinion about whether or not something is a waste of energy.” [Tweet]
“The Fourth Turning is upon us. Expect everything to change. I get the feeling the next 10 years will be nothing like the last 30 years and the asymmetric risks are now skewed to the upside and not downside, but downside risks are not eliminated, of course...” [Thread]
“My friends and family in Turkey saw their savings drop 15% last week. Inflation may be an abstract concept in the states, but it is painfully real for people in other parts of the world.” [Thread]
For The Pros 😎
A curated list of 20+ tools for user testing. (Link available to Pro subscribers)
An anti-growth growth strategy that works, (Link available to Pro subscribers)
How one couple used no-code tools to pivot from a travel business. (Link available to Pro subscribers)
How personal leverage can help you accomplish the superhuman. (Link available to Pro subscribers)
How to build a low-stress, one-person SaaS company. (Link available to Pro subscribers)
A list of companies offering compensation in Bitcoin. (Link available to Pro subscribers)
Worth A Read 📃
Technical as encryption can be, it is really about something at the very core of how we live our lives today: Should people be able to have a private conversation when they are not together in person?
Which leads to a question: what sort of a business is this? Credit Suisse has over 1.6 million individual clients, over 100,000 corporate clients and tens of thousands of institutional clients. Yet a single client can blow through the profits made from all the others.
It’s not the first time it’s happened.
Never split 50/50. Either be the minority holder because you trust the other person to take the lead and believe in them, or be the majority holder who drives the business. (via Marcus Lemonis)
In software engineering, you should probably optimize for speed even when you don't have to. “It's one of the easiest/best ways to prioritize subtraction and parsimony in the solution space.”
People are more likely to take action on a goal when something has occurred that resets the clock. It's called the Fresh Start Effect. It's the reason that keywords like "weight loss" go up significantly in search volume every January.
The Tough Tomato Principle: we make tools so they accommodate the world; until the world remolds itself so it accommodates our tools.
Pods & Schools 🐬🐠
📚The Value of Everything: Making & Taking in the Global Economy, by Mariana Mazzucato (2017)
“Governments and central banks were quietly admitting something they were still reluctant to announce publicly: the extraordinary power of private-sector banks lending to determine the pace of money creation, and therefore economic growth.”
🔊 Bitcoin & Gaming, on the Sneakers to the Metaverse podcast
“… just thinking about the nature of reality and this thing that’s called ‘money’ and the ways in which money structures reality in many ways. When you look at gaming, and you look at people who are into Bitcoin: what’s the family resemblance between gaming culture and Bitcoin?”
Tools of the Trade ⚒
Products I use to make money
Swan. I recently became an official Swan partner because I love them so much. So if you're like me and just want an easy, automated way to buy bitcoin on the regular with the lowest fees in the game, head to https://swanbitcoin.com/Mulvey. You even get $10 for free ✨
StockCharts. I easily make back the small monthly subscription fee with the superpowers it gives me.
Nothing in this email is intended to serve as financial advice. Do your own research.