Millions & Billions & Trillions

Dumb, Diamonds, Dents, Duels, and Disney

Well, this week has felt like a year. And the past two weeks more like a decade. The past month… So much going on — macro-wise, micro-wise, everything in between. COVID-19. Elections. Stock markets crashing, then un-crashing. RIP Good Times 2.0?

With all that in mind, it was sort of fun to see this rather incredible gaffe making the rounds last night on Twitter. Yes, this is MSNBC showcasing a tweet, which showcases some incredibly bad math skills. But given how much coverage this situation continues to get today, it’s pretty clear this goes far beyond a silly math mistake. Let’s break it down.

This is a major cable news channel building a segment around a tweet. Okay, they do that all the time now. But presumably, they have fact-checkers to make sure they don’t put up just totally false information (yes, yes insert “fake news!” joke here). It would seem that no one did that here, perhaps because the person who tweeted it was verified? Maybe because they were a journalist? Maybe because the guest on the show who wanted to reference it was a member of The New York Times’ editorial board?

It’s hard to say.

Still, it sure looks like no one did any homework here, let alone any math. And so when host Brian Williams broke down the tweet line-by-line, he thought nothing of the glaring error he was highlighting out loud. It was Anchorman-worthy. Nor did guest Mara Gay. She had the best line, “it’s true.”

It sure looks like they had a point they wanted to make about Mike Bloomberg’s attempt to “buy the election” and found a compelling tweet to drive home the point. The fact that the tweet lacked the critical facts was secondary, at best.

If anything, you almost have to feel bad for the original tweeter, Mekita Rivas, now. Yes, it was a dumb error, but we all say stupid stuff on Twitter every day. Most such inanity is not presented as the centerpiece of a cable news show. But here it was because there was a narrative that was to be built and scaffolding was required. The fact that the scaffolding was a wet noodle here only mattered after the collapse of the structure.

This is all just so perfectly 2020. Bad math. Factual errors. Obvious bias. Blind repetition. A lack of accountability. The failure of not one, not two, but three different journalists from quite a few different media entities. Twitter dunking. Twitter memes. Twitter itself being the source of all of this. It goes on and on and on and on.

But hey, at least Mike Bloomberg has $327 — checks math — trillion dollars now? I saw it on MSNBC, which had on someone from the NYT reading it from Twitter.


Diamonds: Vessels of Deep Time

Such a good, long read by Ed Caesar about Eira Thomas and her Lucara diamond factory. It’s hard to know what to excerpt, there’s so much. Here’s the bit about the discovery of the Sewelô diamond:

The diamond was not only enormous but unusually shaped: it had both large, flat planes and jagged sections where the stone looked as if it had been smashed by a hammer. The whole thing was covered in a black carbon rind. It was impossible to see any of its interior, except through a few translucent spots. For a moment, Metseyabeng was the only person who knew about the existence of the world’s largest rough diamond. He was struck dumb. Then he alerted a colleague, who called out, “Teemane e tona tona! ”—“Very big diamond!” A supervisor arrived to verify the find. Normally, sorters who discover a valuable stone continue to work as usual. But Metseyabeng asked his boss for a ten-minute break, to compose himself.


He talked about the sensual pleasures of handling the diamond: its heaviness; the smoothness of its planes; how it slipped off his glove. But he also foresaw a problem in describing the stone. It looked to him somewhat like a computer mouse or a piece of obsidian. Certainly, it was not a glassy, limpid diamond from a fairy tale. It would not photograph well. But the raw fact of the discovery was urgent. It was seventeen hundred and sixty carats, unwashed—about twelve and a half ounces, the weight of a can of soup. After a cleaning, it weighed seventeen hundred and fifty-eight carats. No diamond that large had been discovered in more than a century.

As to the “true” value of diamonds:

Diamonds have little innate value, and De Beers saw that it was necessary to imbue them with mystique. In the late nineteen-thirties, when global interest in diamond jewelry was low, De Beers hired the Philadelphia advertising agency N. W. Ayer & Son to reinvigorate the allure of diamonds in the biggest market, the United States. A campaign sent the message to aspirant middle-class men that the only proper jewel to give one’s fiancée was a diamond. Prospective grooms were urged to learn the “four ‘C’s” that determine a diamond’s value: color, clarity, carat, and cut.


Even so, diamond prices seem bafflingly high. Compare diamonds with an element like rhodium. Rhodium, which has a silvery sheen, has manifold uses in metallurgy, forms a key component in catalytic converters, and is considered the most expensive precious metal. An ounce costs about ten thousand dollars. A clear, internally flawless rough diamond of the same weight—a hundred and forty-two carats—would cost a jeweller about six million dollars. The Ayer copywriters worked dark magic.

And yet:

I was not expecting to be moved by a rock. The diamond was so large that I could not wrap my fingers around it. In most photographs, the color of its rind appears black, but in person it looked more silvery. The stone was cold—at least, until all of us had handled it, after which it felt as warm as a pebble in sunlight. It sometimes sparkled. Its planes were smooth, like marble. I now understood why Ketshidile Tlhomelang had spoken to me about its sensual pleasures. The diamond also prompted unusual thoughts. Because of its dark rind, the stone seemed to carry its prehistoric past with it, in a way that clearer diamonds do not. It was a reminder that the Sewelô was created before the planet’s atmosphere contained oxygen, when the only life-forms were single-celled organisms. In one sense, I realized, diamonds are baubles—somewhat vulgar totems of wealth. In another sense, they are vessels of deep time unlike anything else that can be found near the surface of the earth.

What a great way to put it. And be sure to read the parts about the high amount of stress that comes with finding and handling and cutting and selling the diamonds. Also, just a couple weeks later

Laurene Powell Jobs Is Putting Her Own Dent in the Universe

An interesting interview by David Gelles with Powell Jobs, now the 35th richest person in the world. On that topic:

“I’m not interested in legacy wealth buildings, and my children know that,” she added. “Steve wasn’t interested in that. If I live long enough, it ends with me.”

Speaking of Jobs:

One profound learning I took from him was that we don’t have to accept the world that we’re born into as something that is fixed and impermeable. When you zoom in, it’s just atoms just like us. And they move all the time. And through energy and force of will and intention and focus, we can actually change it. Move it.

People love to quote him saying, “Put a dent in the universe.” But that’s too flippant. It’s too cavalier. He was thinking of it as “We are able, each of us, to manipulate the circumstances.” I think about it as looking at the design of the structures and systems that govern our society, and changing those structures. Because those structures, when they’re elegantly designed, should be frictionless for people. They shouldn’t require you to make huge course corrections that impede your ability to live a productive and fulfilling life.

I love the putting a dent in the ‘putting a dent in the universe’ trope.

Amazon Gets Into the Original Content Game — Again — with IMDb TV

I’ve long had a hard time figuring out what exactly Amazon is trying to do with IMDb TV — its streaming service that is not Prime TV. Why does it exist? At first, I figured it was just that one would be free and ad-supported while the other would be a part of the premium Prime bundle. But it’s not that simple as Tim Peterson breaks down:

Whereas Prime Video’s shows like “Fleabag” and “The Man in the High Castle” mirror the edgier programming on subscription-based services like HBO and Netflix, IMDb TV’s shows are meant to be more family-and advertiser-friendly fare, akin to the shows that air on broadcast and cable TV networks, according to the entertainment execs.

“They’re the kinds of shows you might see on TNT or a modern broadcast network or the show ‘The Middle’ [which aired on ABC],” said a third entertainment exec, who described the shows that IMDb TV is in the market for as “family viewing.”

So it’s as much about demographic catering and bucketing as anything else. Which seems decidedly old school — Netflix doesn’t do this beyond having a “kids” section of their app — but perhaps it makes some sense. After all, it’s clearly what Disney has both long done and continues to do.

See also: Hillary Duff wanting the Lizzie McGuire reboot to be on Disney-owned Hulu versus Disney-owned Disney+ so it won’t have to adhere to a PG rating.


  • A great profile of Fort Point Beer (disclosure: I’m a small personal investor in the company), which the San Francisco Chronicle dubs the city’s “new hometown brewery”, and specifically their KSA, the Kolsch-style ale.

  • Here’s a fascinating look into the Mormon Church’s secretive but apparently massive — $100B — investment fund.

  • Speaking of enormous wealth funds, Norway’s — $1.1T, yes trillionapparently made a 19.9% return on investment last year. For context, that’s “$34,000 for each of Norway’s 5.3 million people. The overall value of the fund is now equivalent to about $207,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.”

  • It’s not trillions, but Tony Romo is apparently going to make $17 million a year to talk about football for CBS. Which is more than he made playing football in all but his last three years.

  • Meanwhile, Signal has apparently figured out a way to make stickers encrypted:

    Take stickers, one of the simpler recent Signal upgrades. On a less secure platform, that sort of integration is fairly straightforward. For Signal, it required designing a system where every sticker "pack" is encrypted with a "pack key." That key is itself encrypted and shared from one user to another when someone wants to install new stickers on their phone, so that Signal's server can never see decrypted stickers or even identify the Signal user who created or sent them.

  • In a different social topic near and dear to my heart, here’s an early profile of Byte, the new short video service from the co-founder of Vine.

  • Steven Spielberg is not directing Indiana Jones 5?! This is awful news, unless you’ve recently seen Indiana Jones 4. But seriously, James Mangold sounds like the perfect choice.

  • ↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B, A, Start — if this makes any sense to you — Contra! — you’ll be sad to know the creator of the cheat code passed away.

  • If, like me, you’re wondering why the hell there have been so many Democratic Presidential Debates, it’s not for our democracy — these debates are ridiculous yelling matches and dunk attempts — it’s because ratings.

  • Have you tried Tot, a new super lightweight scratchpad for macOS and iOS yet? If not, you should, it’s pretty great. Beyond being super simple, it syncs insanely fast across devices. Bear is great except when it comes to that. It’s not their fault, it’s iCloud Drive’s fault. But Tot figured out some voodoo to get around it.

500ish Words

A Cook in Disney’s Kitchen

Bob Chapek isn’t Tim Cook. And Bob Iger isn’t Steve Jobs. But…

The Remote Work Stress Test

With an emphasis on *stress* in our trying times