2021-08-16 4 min read


Notes, 2021-08-16.

Neal Stephenson first introduced the concept “Metaverse” in his 1992 book Snow Crash, but the word has recently bubbled up as Facebook started using it to describe its ambitions. In a barely-veiled shot-across-the-bow, Niantic (creator of Pokemon Go) CEO John Hanke published a blog post questioning the uncritical embrace of the metaverse. I take Hanke’s piece with a grain of salt since it primarily serves to promote Lightship, Niantic’s own developer platform—but I agree with the irony of a company using metaverse optimistically to describe its goals.

Snow Crash’s satirical, speculative science fiction extrapolated powerful tech corporations beyond a mundane collapse of public institutions and into absurdity. The mundanity of its dystopia made it impactful: we arrive at absurdity through a series of individually reasonable, incremental technology-driven social changes rather than a grand conspiracy or single-minded supervillain.

This all came to mind as I wrote the Distribution & Logistics section of this week’s issue, which ended up comprising a series of stories that simultaneously read as “yea, I see why they did this” and “this feels disproportionately impactful for how much thought actually went into it.”

To avoid any confusion: I work in tech, I believe in the inevitability of tech and its potential for massively positive impact, and I don’t advocate for a return to monke—I just hope we reflect on what we lose along with what we gain as we build our metaverse.

-Kane Hsieh

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~22% of opens) was a quick video showing a clever way to get inside corner measurements using a tape measure. This week, the Members' reading group is starting The Big Score, Michael S Malone's history of pre-internet Silicon Valley.

Planning & Strategy.

Making & Manufacturing.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • In case you’ve ever wondered: no, you cannot recycle a bowling ball—and the 1,200 balls that show up at NYC’s recycling plants annually are a big headache. I had also naively assumed bowling balls were homogenous balls of material, but of course—like all human endeavors—bowling balls have some pretty incredible optimizations, from asymmetrical cores to microscopic surface texturing.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • As app- and gig-based logistics take up more of the market in Indonesia, companies are broadening monitoring and control over their contractors through apps. This has led to a grey market of tuyul—apps for delivery drivers designed to confound corporate apps.
  • After 20 years, the US military left Bagram—its largest military base in Afghanistan [ed.: obviously a lot has happened in Afghanistan over the past 48 hours]. Also being left behind: a thriving Pokemon Go metaverse built by soldiers over half a decade. This line in particular struck me as equal parts absurd and heartbreaking: “Screenshots of Bagram after the troops left show low-level Pokemon, normally easily defeated, stuck guarding locations, perhaps indefinitely... a lowly Aron has defended a memorial to a fallen service member for about two weeks.” In related (but much darker) situations, soldiers using fitness app Strava revealed the locations of secret military bases three years ago, while just this year soldiers using Quizlet and Chegg to study revealed nuclear secrets.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.


  • A malaphor merges metaphors, for example “we’ll burn that bridge when we get there.”
  • E-Prime refers to a controversial version of English that excludes the verb “to be,” with the intent of reducing absolute statements and increasing open-mindedness; did you notice this entire issue uses E-Prime? It ended up taking much longer as a result, and I now appreciate the criticisms leveled at E-Prime’s kludgy-ness with identity, predication, and abstraction. My takeaway here: E-Prime can helpfully guide writing and thought, but feels tedious to use dogmatically.

Taking a break from my usual pictures of tools with something that really fascinated me: Fasciation or Cresting occurs when the growing tip of a plant elongates with growth, resulting in odd looking plants like this pineapple.

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