Ben’s irregular newsletter mixes work and play. Unsubscribe at the bottom. Find me: LinkedIn - Twitter - Medium - Website - Podcast
It was October, and then it was May. Time flew by! On the upside, more time means more high quality news. Profile image courtesy of Playground AI in ‘Enki Bilal’ style.
1. WORK: Climate Summit 2022 wrap-up, Summit 2023 is coming!
2. EXPERIENCES: Italy, Egypt, Drums, BJJ, Coding, Portuguese, Art
3. CULTURE: Various shows
4. THOUGHTS: Art and AI
Climate Tech Summit
My previous newsletter was just before our Summit - maybe it took me a while to recover?
It went great, with 60+ fantastic speakers, 7,000 RSVPs (+62% yoy).
We also introduced our first ever virtual ‘Matchup’ event for startups and investors, which generated about 1,500 meetings (the top startup got 40 VC meetings in a single week).
The next Summit is planned on Sept 26-27. RSVP here (free).
All video sessions from 2022 and 2021 here. Most are still relevant today.
I recommend Chris Sacca, Carl-Erik Lagercrantz (founder of multiple climate unicorns), Dr. Christoph Gebald (Climeworks), Jigar Shah (DoE) and Neal Stephenson (of Snow Crash and Termination Shock fame).
Also, my own interviews with Grace Fu, Singapore’s Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, and Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang, MIT Professor and co-founder of unicorns Form Energy and Desktop Metal.
Suggestions are welcome for this year. We’ll have evergreen topics in Energy, Food/Ag, Industry, CCUS, and a few surprises.
Visited Rome for the first time. The Coliseum and the Vatican Museum were great.
It was completed in ±80 AD, apparently with the spoils of the sack of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and was active until about 400 AD. It was later used as housing, shops, cemetery, castle then abandoned.
The shows (fights, drama, etc.) were free (!) but seating was according to social rank. People would come to watch, play, eat… until the quality dropped and attendance dwindled.
The arena initially had an underground system of (human-powered) elevators and traps to bring up fighters, animals or victims, to make the shows more exciting. There were various types of gladiators with specific equipment. Most were slaves, POW, or convicts.
Many statues represent Greek or Roman gods — quite odd in a Christian place? Some inspired Michelangelo. Male figures had their privates removed/covered starting in ±1650. Paintings suffered the same treatment, including The Last Judgment. Later works restored some paintings and statues (doing their best to match the missing elements — imagine drawers full of severed appendages).
Some anachronistic characters (local nobles?) breaking the 4th wall can be seen in the fresco room dedicated to Constantine, designed by Raphael (but painted by his disciples as he died prematurely).
The piece that impressed me the most is stumbling upon a large porphyry basin. Porphyry rules.
The Sistine Chapel hosts Michelangelo’s Adam painting (done with the rest of the ceiling between 1508 and 1512). I was expecting breathtaking beauty but found the chapel too crowded — both the ceiling with paintings and the ground with visitors. Adam is also quite small and far up, and hard to observe. Is it a human brain that God rests on? Is it a woman’s silhouette behind Adam? Is this God’s behind?
I also visited Naples. The highlights were Pompeii (quite impressive, especially the casts) and Mount Vesuvius.
After COP27, I stopped by Cairo.
Chaos and energy were reminiscent of Bangkok, without the modern stuff.
The pyramids are large. How many blocks and how much energy? Khufu = 2.3 million blocks, built around 26th century BC. ±100 pyramids in Egypt, and each took 15-30 years to complete. The Khufu one might have taken over 300,000 workers. (side note: were blocks man-made from local limestone rather than cut and carried from a quarry?). I was less impressed by the Sphinx — not sure why.
The Egyptian Museum had thousands of artefacts, including animal mummies. A cottage industry of cat breeding grew then, even fakes cat mummies. The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) had a neat collection of royal mummies. I thought Tutankhamun was a key ruler, but he died at 19 from poor health (1341-1323 BC). In comparison, Ramesses II lasted a lot longer (1303–1213 BC - that’s about 90 years old!). Queen Hatshepsut (1507–1458 BC) ruled for 22 years. One question: why are male statues standing with stiff arms and clenched fists — are they holding or carrying something?
Unfortunately, the Grand Egyptian Museum was not open yet.
Saw a show of Dervishes (Sufi whirling - a mystic branch of Islam). Impressive musicians, notably the riq, cymbal and trumpet players. On the topic of music, I liked the first 5:30min of the set of the local electro artist named EL Waili (now in our Climate Summit trailer videos :)
After years in Shenzhen where things are made, I wanted to see the Suez Canal, of Ever Given fame, where things transit. The 200-km engineering project took 10 years to build and opened in 1869, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps (the former French consul to Cairo) and was nationalized in 1956 by Nasser. It now takes less than a day instead of the 9,000km or 6-14 days travel time route around Africa. Approximately 12% of global trade and 30% of container traffic cross it (±50 ships per day), about $1 trillion worth of goods per year. Sadly, I could not get very close to observe it, but still saw a queue of large ships. If you want to try your hand at steering a ship through it, CNN got you covered.
I swung by Costa Rica to visit a startup I have been in touch with for some time, in the field of renewable energy. Beautiful green country that still has a long way to go to develop. Hot springs, volcano (Poas), sloth sightings, gallo pinto (national dish).
With Italy, it has been on my bucket list for a while. I’m going next week!
Last year I took a few bass, singing and drumming lessons, and eventually kept drumming. I’m still very much a beginner but I’ve challenged myself with learning the Take Five rhythm (a tricky 5:4 - see here) and working on Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times (here is my goal). Limb independence and speed are hard work.
My coaches surprised me with a purple belt. While I feel like an impostor, I also think I achieved some basic competence, as MMA fighters rarely go beyond blue/purple level. Do I want to learn every leg lock variation and submission from a gift wrap?
Part of my travel routine is now to contact local BJJ gyms to train. It’s been fun in Cairo, London, Rome and Naples :)
This whole wave of AI innovation — ChatGPT, Dall-E and more — is just so exciting that I restarted coding a bit to play with GPT4, speech-to-text, text-to-speech, voice cloning, image generation. I already owe $50 to OpenAI in API fees, and the $20 subscription to ChatGPT+. It has become my buddy for both coding and debugging. Next stop: custom embeddings.
I have been living in Lisbon for a year, but haven’t been studying regularly. I recently experimented using ChatGPT to tutor me, and it has been quite impressive: it can keep any conversation going, knows lots of things, correct mistakes… combined with text-to-speech it’s very convincing. Let’s see where this goes!
There are quite a few drawing / painting meetup groups in Lisbon and I attended some. After much life drawing, I’m focusing on portraits now and making progress. I even 'sold’ two orders to a friend in exchange for hot meals :)
Won't You Be My Neighbor?***
I didn’t grow up watching Mr Rogers but he’s definitely a good-hearted character. This documentary looks into his life and how his show came to be, and become his mission.
A quasi-documentary on the life of the creator of the Vespa. Now I know it means ‘wasp’ in Italian.
Meeting Edward Snowden***
In 2016, French filmmaker Flore Vasseur helped Snowden meet Lawrence Lessig (founder of Creative Commons and political activist who worked on campaign finance reform) and Birgitta Jónsdóttir (former representant of the Pirate Party). Their assessment of democracy is bleak.
My Mister**** (Netflix)
My Mister (나의 아저씨) is a Korean drama about the bond formed between a structural engineer in a Korean company, and a young female temp worker with money problems. I have a personal theory that the Mister is a kind of modern Christ figure. Great acting and not graphic, as often seen in Korean dramas — very different from US ones.
My Liberation Notes*** (Netflix)
My Liberation Notes is by the same writer as My Mister (Hae-young Park) and is a kind of contemplative meditation on Korea (and the world’s) social cage. Less drama than in My Mister but still interesting.
An aging alpha media mogul and his 4 children. Great acting (especially in silences, hesitations, etc.), cinematography and fast story.
Rick & Morty Season 6*** (Prime / Adult Swim)
Your favorite obnoxious sci-fi animation. Not the best stories in this season, but still enjoyable due to quality dialogues.
Louis CK at the Dolby***
His latest show on is his website (pay per view). I don’t remember a word of it, but I enjoyed it.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel Season 5** (Prime)
Your favorite fictional female standup comic from the 50s-60s. Less interesting than previous seasons.
Emily in Paris**
Guilty as charged. In my defense for watching, I used to live in that neighborhood.
Tried and Stopped (because great things come from taking chances)
Wednesday (Netflix). I like the Addams Family universe, but I’m probably not the target audience for this high-school gothic mystery story.
Doro he Doro** (Netflix). A quite bizarre Japanese apocalyptic anime from a manga where magicians (?) experiment on the poor population, giving them animal heads and more.
Trevor Noah: I Wish You Would. I didn’t resonate with this new show.
Blockbuster. I like Randall Park but the show didn’t seem to go anywhere.
Daniel Sloss: Live Shows. A recent recommendation, but it wasn’t my style.
Sam Harris podcast with Meg Smaker***
In this episode, Sam talks with Meg Smaker, a documentary filmmaker ‘who followed a group of men trained by al-Qaeda, who are transferred from Guantanamo and sent to the world’s first rehabilitation center for “terrorists” located in Saudi Arabia’. She might be the most hard-boiled woman I have ever heard.
Among the remarkable things she shared is the idea that those men became terrorists for different reasons: (1) mission (2) economic hardship (3) peer pressure (4) adventure. It made me think that this could also apply to startup founders… I made a donation to support the project here. She was selected then canceled at Sundance and other festivals, but now managed to raise funding and get screenings.
Art and AI
Some artists and designers are up in arms against AI image generators (foreshadowing: they are the canaries in the coal mine…). What did painters fell circa 1850 when photographers were eating their lunch? A photo could be taken in a few minutes, and soon even faster, for less than $100 compared to a painting that took hours or days.
Painters gradually looked for something photos could not do, which gave birth to new artistic currents (e.g. impressionism, cubism, surrealism, etc.). It’s clear photography won in terms of scale. What should artists do today? Probably learn the latest tools.
What are the next jobs in line? Maybe therapists, teachers, and many, many more.
That’s all for now!