• The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world. [Malthus]
  • For the next few decades people will face an unending series of state and local government tax hikes, fee increases and benefit cuts, making them poorer individually, and public service cuts, making them worse off collectively. In my first post in this series, I noted that nationwide Americans had yet to begin paying that price, since rock bottom interest rates had reduced the burden of past debts and an unwillingness to pay up had limited the current burden of public employee pensions. [Larry Littlefield]
  • From a distance, Disney Hall looks like the Rock of Gibraltar. Up close the titanium panels are ill-fitting in spots, and being only an eighth of an inch thick, have visible gaps which make clear what you are seeing is not structural, but the shiniest of shiny facades. Not cheap, exactly, but Vegas-y. [Up In the Valley]
  • Taschen, however, operates an awesome shop with books that you wouldn't have seen even if Amazon hadn't killed your local bookstore. A large-format Hockney celebration and a book of Ferrari photos encased in a mock Ferrari engine ($30,000 complete with exhaust pipe stand, but sold out; the $6,000 engine-cover-only version remains available). Don't forget the white gloves. [Phil G]
  • If you add together the current market value of the Brazilian real, the Iranian rial, and the Russian ruble – all starting with "r" and all questionable currencies – you arrive at something well over $2 trillion. As custody problems for holding cryptocurrencies are solved – and big and powerful financial intermediaries are working on it – why can't the market value of bitcoin rival any one of those or even all three together? If that happens, I'll never find a stock with a rate of return close to what bitcoin would provide. So if you make it a 1-2% position, the worst that can happen is you lose every penny. The best that can happen is you get an astronomical rate of return. The risk/reward is better than anything else I can find. [Horizon Kinetics]
  • I've started reading Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich. She's an interesting writer. Years ago she pointed out that Playboy magazine was promoting what was at the time an essentially gay lifestyle: life in the city, avoid marriage, swap out sex partners on a regular basis, be able to spend one's entire income, appreciate art, food, wine, etc. Therefore they needed to have pictures of naked women to remind readers that this wasn’t a lifestyle reserved for homosexual men. [Phil G]
  • Chilean cartographers are still grappling with the problem of representing something very long and thin in a user friendly format. [Travels in a Thin Country]
  • More than a few years ago, when BMW was in the process of reinventing Rolls-Royce from whole cloth, one British auto-wag suggested that the best way to repair the slightly tattered prestige of the Spirit of Ecstasy would be to purchase every rusted out, saggy-suspension Silver Shadow crawling around the low-income areas of the world and send them en masse to the crusher. He had a solid point. It's hard to convince people to spend a quarter-million dollars on your brand when there is a broken-down example of said brand blocking traffic on the road out of London. [Road and Track]
  • Reciprocating engines are exhausted. They have hundreds of parts jerking to and fro, and they cannot be made more powerful without becoming too complicated. The engine of the future must produce 2,000 hp with one moving part: a spinning turbine and compressor. [link]
  • I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that fact that the Electric Singularity is probably going to arrive within the next 30 years or so, at which point owning a gasoline-powered car will become a difficult and expensive pastime for a relatively small number of high-net-worth people. Overnight, the collector market will collapse to a blue-chips-only situation. The Red Barchetta that your uncle puts in his country place will be a '77 Turbo Carrera or a '13 997.2 GT3. It won't be a fried-egg car. [Road and Track]
  • Democracy is for a local polity voting on the roads or another water tank or police car. It is absurd and childish to think the universal franchise will deliver valid or successful outcomes at the national level on existential and ontological issues. That's what the country's founding was for. After that, it should just be the net tax-payors voting on the annual budget. Adult freeholders are as good a proxy as any. [Anti-Gnostic]
  • In March 1915, the Kiplings had visited Bath and he re-read the works of Jane Austen there. He wrote to a friend that "the more I read the more I admire and respect and do reverence... When she looks straight at a man or a woman she is greater than those who were alive with her - by a whole head… with a more delicate hand and a keener scalpel." [link]
  • The Keweenaw Peninsula is the upper peninsula of the Upper Peninsula. It's the state's northernmost region, a landscape of small mountains, dense woods, wild berries, winding trails, icy beaches and hundreds of inches of snowfall each winter spawned by Lake Superior. The Keweenaw was a remote backwoods populated by Chippewa Indians until Michigan's first state geologist published a report in 1841 describing the massive copper deposits beneath the ground there. That spawned a land rush by speculators, investors and entrepreneurs who established dozens of mining companies in the region, followed by tens of thousands of immigrants from Finland, Cornwall and other parts of Europe who flooded the region to work in the mines. [link]
  • Picture this... you're at a photography show or a gallery, and you see a print that takes your breath away. You look at the delicate highlights, perfectly rendered mid tones and deep blacks and think, "Man, what a great print. If I only knew what kind of (pick one: camera, lens, film, paper, developer, toner) he used, my pictures would look just as good." You are now looking for a magic bullet. Magic bullets are things that turn a mediocre photographer into a great one with a minimal amount of effort. They often take the form of some highly recommended piece of equipment, or some chemical brew with magical properties. It seems so easy... all you have to do is buy the right thing, and your pictures can look like the ones in the gallery. It's an insidious addiction. You're driven by a desire to improve, so it seems as if the effort and expense is justified. You get distracted, thinking that you need to BUY something to fix your pictures, when you probably need to LEARN something. When the latest toy doesn't work out, you move on to the next. [Large Format Photography]
  • I was in London for a conference for a few days in late October. The city was lovely, an unexpectedly nice place to wander. I came in with low expectations, expecting a drab, grey metropolis congested with traffic and filled with suited financiers scurrying from place to place. What I found was an agglomeration of charming urban villages, each with their own specific flavor. They were pedestrian-friendly, spotted with parks, and draped with trees, and the people-watching was great. [DZ]
  • As of the end of 2017, about 45 percent (up from 37 percent in 2015) of all print sales and 83 percent of all ebook sales happen through Amazon channels. There are few alternatives with meaningful mind- or market share, especially among digital books. [Wired/Craig Mod]
  • Tesla combines elements of every major securities fraud over the past century; along with the frenetic energy of a penny-stock promoter lurching between publicity stunts, desperate to raise enough capital to make next month’s payroll. At the same time, Elon Musk is giving you real-time Twitter updates on the increasingly reckless schemes of his failing stock-promote. For a guy like me, who's made my career out of studying financial history; knowing that this will be the largest corporate collapse for many decades to come, and watching in real-time, is just irresistible—especially as the end is imminent. [AiC]
  • I succeeded in watching some nice gains evaporate and become a 16% loss before selling my Tidewater. I am bearish on shale oil. The numbers don't work. However, easy credit has allowed the shale guys to rapidly expand production during 2018 and I think natural gas is a better way to play the coming decline of shale oil in the US. Therefore, I booked my Tidewater—particularly as the recovery in offshore drilling is postponed by at least a year and possibly more. [AiC]
  • But for all Tesla compares itself to Apple, it has take a totally different approach. Like most manufacturers, it designs its products (which it is pretty good at). It also manufactures them (which it is not so good at). But unlike other auto makers it also owns its own sales and service network (instead of third party dealers) and it is not very good at this and this activity consumes a lot of capital. Also unlike other auto makers, it also is building out its own fueling network, something GM and Ford can rely on Exxon for. AND, Elon Musk at various times has said we would in-source building of car carrier trailers, car transportation trucking firms, and body shops. I have argued for years that one of the things that Tesla fanboys love about Tesla -- that it is so integrated vertically -- is an Achilles heel because it greatly increases the capital it needs to grow, takes it into low-margin business segments, and forces it to do highly-technical functions like auto manufacturing it does not have the skills for. If Tesla really were like Apple, it would have developed a 3rd party dealer network, it would have partnered with someone else to do the charging stations (as VW has) and it would have farmed out the actual manufacturing to an auto-equivalent of Apple's Foxcon (maybe Kia?) [Coyote Blog]
  • Tesla was looking for manufacturing locations for solar panels and cars. This is in an era when few even consider anywhere in the US a viable long-term option, but Tesla selected New York state and southern California. I can tell you from sad personal experience that both these places are among the most expensive and hardest places to do business in the country. Seriously, in SoCal Tesla took over a facility that Toyota couldn't make work. These make absolutely no sense as long-term locations for manufacturing, but Tesla came here none-the-less in part for big fat subsidies and in part to ingratiate two powerful sets of state governments (in addition to subsidies, California reciprocated by giving Tesla a special sweetheart deal upping its zero emission vehicle credits). [Coyote Blog]
  • Elon Musk is not the smartest guy in the world. He is clearly a genius at marketing and brand building. He has a creative mind -- I have said before he would have been fabulous at coming up with each issue's cover story for Popular Mechanics. A mile-long freight blimp! Trains that run in underground vacuum tubes! A colony on Mars! But he suffers, I think, from the same lack of self-awareness many people develop when they are expert or successful in one thing -- they assume they will automatically be equally as brilliant and successful in other things. Musk creates fanciful ideas that are exciting and might work technically, but will never ever pencil out as profitable business (e.g. Boring company, Hyperloop). Musk is not good at managing operations or manufacturing. He does not seem like a very good planner, which should be a must in a business with long lead times and billions in capex. He has brought too much of the "fake it before you make it" culture from the web world, where the stakes attached to unsuccessfully faking it are so much lower than they are in, say, the car business. This natural tendency to overestimate one's abilities is just made worse by all the fan attention that constantly tells him he is the real Tony Stark and the Smartest Man on Earth. [Coyote Blog]