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Weekly Dose of Optimism #58
Inventing Sailboats, Cover Homes, AI Drones, Aalo, Incompetent Cynics
Hi friends 👋,
Happy Friday and welcome back to our 58th Weekly Dose of Optimism.
In Tuesday’s essay, Packy addressed the popular complaint that, because we no longer construct cathedrals, humans just don’t know how to build beautiful things anymore. On cue, we’re leading off this week’s Weekly Dose of Optimism with four stories on the beautiful things we humans can build.
Let’s get to it.
The Weekly Dose is brought to you by… Write of Passage
We can’t recommend Write of Passage highly enough, but we’ll try.
WoP is the writing course that Packy took back in 2019 that jumpstarted his writing career. The course is run by David Perrell, and it was started with the simple belief that when you publish your ideas online, you unleash the full power of the Internet. For Packy, it worked: he went from no audience in 2019 to over 200K subscribers and a full-time career in internet writing just a couple of years later.
Write of Passage is a five-week online experience, where you will learn to grow a meaningful, profitable presence on the Internet. Completing the course is an investment of both time and money, but for thousands of folks like Packy, it’s been the best professional decision they’ve ever made.
The next cohort of Write of Passage starts later this fall and open-enrollment starts September 12th. But prior to that, Write of Passage is offering a free workshop with Cultural Tutor. In the workshop, you’ll learn how he went from working at McDonalds to 1.5M Twitter followers all by writing online. Grow Your Audience with the Cultural Tutor in on Wednesday September 6th, but you can register now. It’s a great way to sample the Write of Passage experience, prior to committing.
Maria Gallucci for Canary Media
The Pyxis Ocean, a 750-foot-long bulk carrier, is the first vessel to deploy WindWings, which can stand up to 123 feet tall and are made from the same durable material as wind turbines. The prototype devices could potentially curb the ship’s diesel fuel consumption — and its resulting greenhouse gas emissions — by roughly one-fifth.
Not only are we capable of building beautiful things today, they also tend to be more functional. Take the newly retrofired Pyxis Ocean, a bulk carrier equipped with sail-like wind turbines that could reduce the ship’s greenhouse gas emissions by ~20%.
The maritime industry accounts for nearly 3% global CO2 emissions. And as we all experienced during the supply chain crisis, it’s also critical for maintaining our way of life. The solution to the industry’s emissions problem is not to stop shipping things, or even to ship less things. That would be disastrous. One solution is to use technology, like these “wind-wings,” to reduce the emissions per shipment.
We’re still early here — there’s approximately 50,000-60,000 cargo ships in the world and only one is currently outfitted with this technology. But proving out feasibility is important. Over time, more ships will be outfitted, we’ll develop new technologies that make the wind-wings more efficient, and then eventually, a whole new technology will drop that lowers emissions so much that the wind-wings will be obsolete.
We still know how to build beautiful, functional things.
(Ed. Note: Just getting in a “A sailboat. You invented a sailboat.” before the comments.)
Speaking of building beautiful, functional things…
The US is currently suffering a shortage of 5 million homes, and 90% of building projects end up over-budget or delayed. Most homes are still built on-site, piece by piece with stick-framing, hammers, and nails—as they have been for the last century. It’s an incredibly fragmented and inefficient building process.
Cover is flipping that process on its head, in an effort to solve the US’ housing shortage. The company uses software to design custom homes and then produces those homes right in its LA factory. The result is beautifully designed, affordable custom homes. Pre-fab has been tried (and failed) before, but Cover is taking a fresh approach that learns from those pitfalls, as seen in the video and as founder Alexis Rivas discussed on Invest Like the Best in April.
Our man Jason Carman, of Astranis and Saturday Startup Stories, covered everything you need to know about Cover in this YouTube video. We’re a big fan of Jason’s work…he’s dropping high-quality videos weekly on the types of companies we write about at Not Boring — ambitious companies, building beautiful things to solve real world challenges. And he turns them around in like a day.
Kaufmann et al for Nature
The "Swift" AI drone combines deep reinforcement learning in simulation with data collected in the physical world. This marks the first time that an autonomous mobile robot has beaten human champions in a real physical sport designed for and by humans. The key difference to previous achievements, like IBM’s Deep Blue winning against Gary Kasparov at chess in 1996 or Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo crushing the top champion Lee Sedol at Go in 2016, is that the previous feats were limited to board games or video games.
OK, IDK if I agree with the paper’s assertion that drone racing is a “real physical sport.” Honestly, if drone racing is a sport then I’m also calling myself an athlete for publishing this newsletter every week. But whether it’s a sport or not is kind of besides the point. The important thing to note is that we now have AI-powered drones capable of outperforming human drivers.
As noted, that’s a big deal for this “sport”, but the implications spread well beyond a couple of hobbyist-athletes racing drones for kicks. A company like Anduril could use high-performance AI-powered drones to keep soldiers safe on the battlefield or Amazon could use them to increase the feasibility of drone delivery.
Whether drone racing is a sport or not, it holds true that what starts out looking like a toy can often end up being the next big thing.
Eric Jorgenson for Smart Friends
This conversation is an in-depth primer on the history of nuclear energy in America and an analysis of where things are headed, with a nuclear energy practitioner. Matt Loszak is the founder and CEO of Aalo Atomics, a startup whose mission is to make nuclear microreactors that could achieve 3¢/kWh electricity.
Putting aside the ambition of the project for a second, Matt is a good example of a new breed of founder that’s become more common over the last couple of years. He touches on his journey in the pod, but a quick glance at his LinkedIn reveals that he successfully started two previous companies — a social media app and an SMB HR/payroll platform — and has now turned his attention and talents towards tackling a problem as impactful and complex as nuclear microreactors. Good Quests ftw.
If this keeps up, who knows, maybe one day we might be able to turn in these 140 characters for nuclear-powered flying cars.
h/t Ethan Mollick
Four studies showed that laypeople tend to believe in cynical individuals’ cognitive superiority. A further three studies based on the data of about 200,000 individuals from 30 countries debunked these lay beliefs as illusionary by revealing that cynical (vs. less cynical) individuals generally do worse on cognitive ability and academic competency tasks.
And oldie, but a goodie re-emerged on X this week. The the main findings of the study, which was based on a survey of 200,000 individuals, are:
People think that cynical people are smarter than other people
Cynical people are less smart than less cynical people
Less competent people embrace cynicism as a protective strategy
Taken together, it goes something like this: We think cynical people are smart, but they are not any smarter than less cynical people; in fact, less smart people adopt cynicism as a defense mechanism.
So if you encounter any unnecessary cynicism this weekend, just know where it’s coming from.
That’s all for this week. Packy is taking the week off for Labor Day, so no Tuesday essay this week, but we’ll be back in your inbox Friday.
Thanks for reading,
Dan + Packy