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#56 | Fly or Fight, Licorice, Climate Fiction, Nocebo and French Cakes
Ben’s irregular newsletter mixes work and play. Unsubscribe at the bottom / Sign up here Find me: Twitter - LinkedIn - Medium - Website - Podcast
Disease, war, climate change… which other plagues await? And we’re barely in March. Here are my — much lighter — updates.
1. WORK: Health Tech List, Next Climate Summit
2. EXPERIENCES: Fly or Fight
3. CULTURE: Licorice Pizza, The House, Hip-Hop, Climate Fiction
4. COVID LIFE: Nocebo, Policies, Facilitating antibodies?
5. THOUGHTS: French Cakes, Jevons Paradox, Asymmetrical Opportunities, TED Comedy
SOSV Human Health 100
Aside from climate tech investments, SOSV is also very active in health technologies and we just published the SOSV Human Health 100. Notable categories include Mental Health, Remote Diagnostics & Monitoring, Women’s Health, and many more. SOSV operates at — according to Po Bronson, GP and Managing Director of our biology program IndieBio — the “Shibuya Crossing of hardware, genetics, and frontier markets.”
Next Climate Tech Summit
Our next summit: October 25-26, 2022. You’re welcome to RSVP early and suggest speakers, topics or other ideas!
After the Flight
I tried indoor skydiving and liked it better than actual skydiving. Air is blown from the ground, and an instructor guides you up and down and around. Each flight was only one minute but the sensations are quite something. If you train enough you can fly solo. They’re already in a bunch of countries.
After the Fight
I didn’t do it as a white belt, so I joined my first BJJ competition as a blue belt. A few takeaways:
The run-up to the event was much more stressful than the actual fights, where there is no time to worry.
I was called 30 minutes early for the first one, before I had time to warm up. Fortunately, my opponent had the same issue. Still, going from 0 to 11 in a few seconds was draining. The intensity was many times higher than usual sparring.
Prep is physical, mental and technical. While I was quite ok physically and technically, I was not mentally prepared enough. I won the first fight but lost the second on minor things. My opponent found a way to block my game, and I think was more motivated to win...
One friend showed up 1.5kg too heavy for his weight class. He spent 3 hours running, rope-skipping and sweating as much as he could, he also borrowed a lighter uniform, went commando, and even chewed gum to spit saliva (!). Eventually he made the cut and won his first match with a nice triangle choke (I saved myself the trouble of cutting weight for this first time).
I don’t play much video games or board games, but tried this one, first as a board game, then online on Board Game Arena, which offers a faithful online version as a subscription alongside many other games. This strategy game is quite well balanced between skill and luck, and offers various ways to win as you build your underwater kingdom. It is also quite quick to play and the artwork is spectacular, which doesn’t hurt.
Movies & Documentaries
Paul Thomas Anderson is back — I loved his Magnolia and liked Punch Drunk Love and Boogie Nights. I went in not knowing anything about the movie and was very pleasantly surprised by both Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman (son of Philip Seymour Hoffman). The story is partially true, inspired by Gary Goetzman's early years. Great fun!
The House**** (Netflix)
If like me you’re into stop motion animation — which courageously uses sets and thousands of photographs to animate a world (e.g. Wallace & Gromitt, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Isle of Dogs, etc.) — you might enjoy this disturbingly delightful one. The story revolves around a house, over different time periods. Note: not suitable for young children.
The Wolf’s Call*** (Netflix)
An underwater thriller involving Russia, France and submarines. A very timely watch though the movie came out in 2019.
Promises (in French)***
A popular mayor has to decide whether to continue her political career or try a Hail Mary to fix a derelict housing project. Great acting.
The Snow Panther (in French)**
In this documentary, a wildlife photographer goes to Tibet to shoot an elusive snow panther. Mostly, he waits in silence in the cold, marveling at whatever the harsh nature throws at him. A contemplative experience.
Heart of Oak**
Can you make a feature film about a tree? Yes if you include its birds, squirrel, rodents, odd insects seen via micro-cameras, stop motion mushrooms, and some CG. Side trivia: the movie is co-directed by Michel Seydoux, a producer from a wealthy French cinema family, who tried in the 70’s to produce Dune with Alejandro Jodorowsky (before David Lynch). He ended up producing Jodo’s amazing surrealist biopic The Dance of Reality about 40 years later.
I enjoyed the director’s previous animation movies Summer Wars (metaverse fans should watch it) and Wolf Children (it deals with a single mom of special children, it’s very good but not suitable below 10 or 12yo probably), so I got curious about his remake of the Beauty and the Beast story, in cyberspace. Despite a few emotional moments and some impressive visuals, the story and characters felt a bit underdeveloped. A brave attempt but I was hoping for more innovative ideas.
Mirai, My Little Sister**
Also from the Wolf Children director. The title translation didn’t capture the original one: Mirai also means ‘future’ in Japanese and the original title is closer to The Future Mirai (Mirai no Mirai). I watched it without knowing anything about it. It turned out to be a story about the jealousy of a little boy as a baby sister joins the family. The topic was a worthwhile exploration and the movie is pretty good.
This documentary on the opioid epidemic is pretty riveting. I am glad that two of SOSV’s portfolio startups work on non-opioid painkillers (one using a neuromodulation device - more details here).
Jeen-Yuhs** (Netflix mini-series)
A documentary-ish about the making of Kanye West, from his early beginnings. What I took away is that his mom had been a constant support and confidence boost, but also that Ye put in tremendous amounts of work - first in producing songs for others, then into his own tracks, but also in finding resources to shoot videos, promote his work, and more. I saw many parallels with the startup world.
The Defiant Ones*** (Netflix mini-series)
It was hip-hop documentary season for me. This other one focuses on Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and how they built the headphone brand Beats. Again, two hard working creative types, who also grew their business acumen (‘Not sneakers, speakers!’). Beats ended up being acquired by Apple for $3.2 billion, making Dre arguably the first ‘hip-hop billionaire’. Iovine’s eye for production and collaborations was also interesting to learn about (and likely inspired Ye above).
Seven Seeds** (Netflix mini-series)
Continuing my exploration of ‘climate fiction’, this short Japanese animation series takes place in the future, after a catastrophe that lead the oceans to submerge most of the world. A few selected young people — some with unique skills — were kept frozen until the environment became suitable again. No technology in this show, which is rather about the value of cooperation.
Eden* (Netflix mini-series)
Yet another cli-fi animation series. Humans have disappeared from Earth due to a combination of environmental issues. Only robots remain, when a pod opens revealing a baby girl. Probably good for younger children but a bit boring for grown-ups.
Sci-fi author Neil Stephenson is famous for Snow Crash, an early cyberpunk / metaverse novel, that many might have dusted off with the recent buzz on the topic. Stephenson’s new book is a ‘climate fiction’: climate change has made the Earth less hospitable, the oceans are rising, and (SPOILER) someone might have a solution that doesn’t require a vote and might not please everyone. The author also includes a few technologies that have become widespread (cultured meat, augmented reality, etc.). An enjoyable read so far.
4. Covid Life
Note: I am not a doctor, an epidemiologist or Joe Rogan. Below are observations and interrogations that arose from information I came across or researched.
The Nocebo Effect
The opposite of the famous placebo effect: a harmless substance or treatment that has harms due to the psychological condition of the patient. Apparently many adverse reactions to Covid vaccines could be ascribed to the nocebo effect. Unfortunately, those effects are just as real!
Pick Your Policy
The policy response to Covid continues to vary enormously:
On one end, China puts cities into full lockdown as soon as they find cases (there is still a 3 weeks mandatory quarantine to enter the country).
On the other end, Denmark and Norway lifted most remaining measures, judging that Covid was ‘No longer a socially critical disease’.
Sweden, who had controversially decided on a ‘no lockdown’ policy, ended up with comparable results with European countries that took more draconian measures (a higher death ratio than other Nordics, but similar to Germany, and half the US ratio).
Israel, where most people are double vaccinated now has widespread infections. A preliminary study there with quadruple vaccinated hospital staff showed that the Pfizer was ineffective in blocking Omicron.
Apparently it is well known that people vaccinated against Dengue get worse symptoms than first-time unvaccinated people, a phenomenon knows as antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). It seems that the same phenomenon could be at play with Covid vaccines.
Overall, it looks like there are still many aspects of this that are not well understood…
How the Grinch Stole French Cakes
I watched a shocking documentary about French cake shops (in French). It said that many stores were simply getting cakes delivered from wholesalers (which had large catalogs and could even customize cakes). Less labor, better margins, but deceptive as this means that many cake shops are just resellers of products you could probably buy in the supermarket next door (they might have the same supplier!).
How is this possible? Because while a ‘Boulangerie’ has to bake their own bread and can’t sell frozen products (the fine is 300,000 euros and/or up to 2 years in jail), there is no regulation against calling a shop a ‘Patisserie’ in this situation. I was still in a bit of disbelief when, just a day later, I saw a lady welcome an unmarked delivery van at a patisserie I know. She even said a warm ‘that’s the best part of my day!’ to the guy offloading racks of cakes.
Dan Pink wrote a new book called ‘The Power of Regrets”, which my friend B. summarized to me saying that there are 4 types of regrets:
Foundation regrets (study more, save more…),
Boldness regrets (crazy trip, courage, etc.),
Moral regrets (ethics),
Connection regrets (stay in touch, say goodbye…)
The key is to figure out if a situation matters enough to fall into an important category. And if it doesn’t, no need to fret. There is a longer interview here.
What would happen if energy was much cheaper? One potential answer, according to the Jevons Paradox (improving the efficiency of the use of a resource leading to increased usage) is that we might just use more of it. This is the term I was looking for when looking into how better fertilizers caused the world’s population to grow even larger, instead of feeding better a smaller number. Complementing with policies might work, maybe?
In the wake of an angel investment becoming a unicorn, I have been thinking about other types of investment opportunities. I call them asymmetrical because they have limited downside and potential high upside. For instance:
Some startups, though the most interesting ones are often either hard to access, not obvious, high risk, or drowned in an ocean of opportunities (e.g. did you know the humble meeting booking app Calendly is now a $3B company?),
Early crypto or NFTs
Some stocks when Covid was first spotted outside China,
Maybe Urkaine-related stocks today. Energy? Critical materials? Defense?
One challenge is also to time the opportunity, and stomach the potential ups and downs. I recently listened to a Tim Ferriss interview of Morgan Housel, author of The Psychology of Money, who said something that stuck with me: the drops are the fees (material or psychological) you pay for the longer term opportunity. This was quite a zen idea in the middle of the current stock market turmoil.
If you combine the evolution of the Overton window (acceptable topics) and ‘Netflix specials’, it might start to feel like standup comedy shows are looking more and more like TED talks, with their social message and production value. Fortunately, it is still possible to find old school comedy in clubs — like I saw recently in Lisbon. I find those shows a great way to plug into the local culture and taboos, and I’ve now seen shows in US, Ireland, Singapore, Malaysia, China, India, Australia, France, Germany and more. I did not always laugh, I always learned something. As Jerry Seinfeld shares in this very thoughtful interview with Tim Ferriss, it is a difficult craft.
And since you read all the way to here, a little treat:
When I first saw Bill Burr, I found him loud and angry (he is), but he’s still become one of my favorites. His story about a gorilla learning sign language is magnificent (note: the gorilla is real). Burr also has several shows on Netflix. Ali Wong also has a new Netflix special with good observations and solid delivery.
On this note, see you next time!