Brian Willis

The Allbirds IPO

I’ll start this by saying that I’ve bought the shoes, and they’re decent. If you’re looking for comfortable shoes and can stomach the price tag, Allbirds are worth trying.

Now with that out of the way…

From the Allbirds S-1 filing:

We have incurred significant net losses since inception and anticipate that we will continue to incur losses for the foreseeable future.

We incurred net losses of $14.5 million and $25.9 million in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and we had an accumulated deficit of $113.1 million as of June 30, 2021. We expect to continue to incur significant losses in the future. We will need to generate and sustain increased revenue levels in future periods to achieve profitability, and even if we achieve profitability, we may not be able to maintain or increase our level of profitability.

It takes a special kind of psychopathy to say “we have never made a profit, we have no plans to make a profit, now give us two billion dollars please”.

It’s an even more damning indictment of the current state of the market that they got their two billion dollars and then some.

The asset price bubble that we’re living through right now will pop eventually—presumably when printing money starts causing more problems than it solves. When that happens, we’ll find the public markets full of these dud companies, and the venture capitalists that pumped-and-dumped them will have taken their profits and left retail investors to absorb the losses.

Investing in Happiness

If you’ve not yet been acquainted with Ben Felix’s brand of information-dense videos then you’re in for a treat with this one. This is what you get when you take an unusually focused person and have them try and solve happiness. He talks quickly—make liberal use of the pause button and take notes as you go.

The University of Minnesota Got Themselves Banned From Contributing to the Linux Kernel

The short version of this story is that two researchers at the University of Minnesota thought it would be a fun idea to contribute “hypocrite commits” (i.e. bug fixes that deliberately include security holes) to the Linux kernel to see if the kernel maintainers would spot what they had done and reject the commits. They did this without the consent of the university’s Institutional Review Board (which they have since gone on to obtain retroatively), and without permission from anyone on the kernel team.

Needless to say, the kernel maintaners didn’t appreciate being treated like lab rats, and responded by banning the entire university from making contributions to the kernel, and—because why just burn the crops when you can salt the earth too—they then began the process of reverting all previous commits made by anyone with an email address.

It’s worth noting that the researchers in question did prevent these hypocrite commits from making it into the production kernel, and at the core of their research is a concerning idea about the nature of security in Free and Open Source software projects. They have also appologised, though the sincerity seems questionable given the University of Minnesota’s general unwillingness to take preventative actions to stop this happening again.

I’ve written before about the ambivalence toward ethics that exists in the software industry. It’s frustrating to see this sort of thing keep happening. Progress is not being made here, and it desperately needs to be. I’m with the kernel maintainers on this one. There’s a time and a place for deception in scientific research, and this wasn’t one of those times.

For a more complete overview of the whole mess, this article at The Verge by Monica Chin provides a good run-down, and this comment thread at Hacker News makes for interesting reading.

How t0st Cut GTA Online Loading Times by 70%

The pseudonymous hacker t0st took it upon themselves to investigate what was taking so damn long during GTA’s famously lengthy loading times, and the results are not good:

It’s parsing something. Parsing what? Untangling the disassembly would take forever so I decided to dump some samples from the running process using x64dbg. Some debug-stepping later it turns out it’s… JSON! They’re parsing JSON. A whopping 10 megabytes worth of JSON with some 63k item entries.

It’s fascinating to see the whole investigation laid out like this so plainly. I’ve never been involved in a disassembly project like this, so it’s a lot of fun to look behind the curtain and see how the professionals do it. It’s also remarkable that this whole thing was pulled off with no access to the original source code, but instead by using the obfusticated assembly that’s shipped to customers.

We're in an Asset Price Bubble Again Aren't We?

“I see a stock going up, and I buy it, and I just watch it until it stops going up, and then I sell it”.

Genius. I wonder why no one else tried that.