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Superkül wins Designer of the Year for 2020

Designlines Magazine is out with its annual “Designer of the Year” issue and this year’s winner for best overall designer is Superkül — the award-winning architecture firm behind Junction House. Pictured above are Andrea D’Elia, Meg Graham and the team. (The JH project team spends a lot of time in the boardroom that you see in this picture.)

Other winners for this year include Omar Gandhi, Paolo Ferrari, and LGA Architectural Partners. They were awarded best restaurant, best product, and best public space, respectively. If you aren’t familiar with the work of these four firms, I would encourage you to check them all out. They are truly some of the best in the city. Congrats everyone.

If you’d like to buy a copy of Designlines, you can do that here. We will also make copies available at our temporary Junction House showroom, which is located at 2843 Dundas St W.

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The Attention Diet

I read the first few sentences of this article and immediately thought to myself, “Yup, this is the world we now live in. Attention spans are dwindling.” And since Monday was back to work for many of us, I figured it was timely.

The piece is about Mark Manson’s new book called, Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope. In it, he talks about anxiety, depression, intolerance, and the attentional challenges that are, arguably, a result of today’s modern economy.

His proposed solution is something he calls the Attention Diet. Similar to how it’s important not to eat bad things, it’s important, in today’s information economy, not to consume bad things. And like junk food, there’s a lot of junk information fighting for our attention. I like the parallel.

Here are the 3 steps to the Attention Diet:

  1. Correctly identify nutritious information and relationships.
  2. Cut out the junk information and relationships.
  3. Cultivate habits of deeper focus and a longer attention span.

Put even more succinctly, it’s about filtering for quality in a world of endless information. Here’s an interesting line from Mark: “Because in a world with infinite information and opportunity, you don’t grow by knowing or doing moreyou grow by the ability to correctly focus on less.

Related post: The value of saying no.

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The Florida homestead exemption

I was at a family dinner over the weekend and the topic of the Florida homestead exemption came up. The Florida Constitution bestows a number of advantages upon homeowners (provided the home is that person’s primary residence). And like all rules, it impacts behaviors.

For one, your primary residence is largely protected from creditors, meaning a sale generally can’t be forced in order to pay back what you might owe. If you’re out there in the world “betting the farm,” this might be a way to protect yourself.

There are also a number of property tax benefits. You can reduce your assessed value by certain specified amounts, and any increases are (I think) capped at the lesser of 3% or the rate of inflation. (Related post: California’s Proposition 13.)

As we’ve talked about before on the blog, this second exemption likely creates a disincentive for longtime homeowners to sell/move, as even a lateral move would result in possibly much higher taxes. So why move unless you really have to?

The counter argument is that it helps fixed income retirees not get squeezed by rising taxes (and that’s an important consideration in Florida). But it also means that first-time/younger buyers end up shouldering more of the property tax burden — at least initially.

If any of you have strong opinions about the Florida homestead exemption, I would be interested in hearing from you in the comment section below. I am not a lawyer or a tax expert. So please don’t consider this post as any sort of advice.

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Software eats real estate

At the beginning of this year, a16z announced that they co-led a $175 million investment in the real estate company Loft. Based in São Paulo, Loft is doing in Brazil what Opendoor is doing in the US. They are bringing more liquidity to the residential real estate marketplace, and it turns out that the need for this is even greater in Brazil. That has apparently made Loft one of the fastest growing real estate companies in the world today. Here are some interesting facts about residential real estate in São Paulo. And here is a talk by Alex Rampell (general partner at a16z) on how software is going to eat the real estate world.

Market power in tech

Benedict Evan’s latest post on Microsoft, IBM, and anti-trust is excellent. In it he argues (reminds us) that market power during one generation of tech, doesn’t necessarily guarantee market power in the next. And that anti-trust intervention isn’t actually responsible for Microsoft missing out on, among other things, mobile. The rules of engagement simply changed. The PC is now a smartphone accessory.

Here is an excerpt:

The tech industry loves to talk about ‘moats’ around a business – some mechanic of the product or market that forms a fundamental structural barrier to competition, so that just having a better product isn‘t enough to break in. But there are several ways that a moat can stop working. Sometimes the King orders you to fill in the moat and knock down the walls. This is the deus ex machina of state intervention – of anti-trust investigations and trials. But sometimes the river changes course, or the harbour silts up, or someone opens a new pass over the mountains, or the trade routes move, and the castle is still there and still impregnable but slowly stops being important. This is what happened to IBM and Microsoft. The competition isn’t another mainframe company or another PC operating system – it’s something that solves the same underlying user needs in very different ways, or creates new ones that matter more. The web didn’t bridge Microsoft’s moat – it went around, and made it irrelevant. Of course, this isn’t limited to tech – railway and ocean liner companies didn’t make the jump into airlines either. But those companies had a run of a century – IBM and Microsoft each only got 20 years.

For the full post, click here.

The re-allocation of capital (and predictions for this decade)

I have stayed at two hotels over the last month where I did not need to interact with a human as part of the check in process. And in one of those two instances I didn’t even need to interact with a computer at the hotel.

My room key was issued to me through an app and I used that (and Bluetooth) to open my hotel room door (after the app, of course, notified me that my room was ready).

This is prediction #2 in Fred Wilson’s annual roundup of what is going to happen next in the world. Automation is reducing the costs associated with operating many businesses. Who is going to be the beneficiary of this consumer surplus?

The other prediction that should interest most of you — because the impacts would be widespread — is this one here regarding climate change:

The looming climate crisis will be to this century what the two world wars were to the previous one. It will require countries and institutions to re-allocate capital from other endeavors to fight against a warming planet. This is the decade we will begin to see this re-allocation of capital. We will see carbon taxed like the vice that it is in most countries around the world this decade, including in the US. We will see real estate values collapse in some of the most affected regions and we will see real estate values increase in regions that benefit from the warming climate. We will see massive capital investments made in protecting critical regions and infrastructure. We will see nuclear power make a resurgence around the world, particularly smaller reactors that are easier to build and safer to operate. We will see installed solar power worldwide go from ~650GW currently to over 20,000GW by the end of this decade. All of these things and many more will cause the capital markets to focus on and fund the climate issue to the detriment of many other sectors.

For the rest of Fred’s predictions, click here. These are always great reads.

Happy New Year, everyone

Happy New Year from Miami. (This post is bring written on my phone.)

A number of people have asked me if I will be making any resolutions this year. I’m not really a fan of making resolutions, per se. If you really want to do something — such as, oh I don’t know, go to the gym more often — I think you should just go and do it and not kid yourself that January 1 is the appropriate day in which to start.

That said, this time of year can be useful for annual planning. It’s easy to get preoccupied with executing throughout the year. Execution is everything. But it’s also valuable to use this “idle time” to think about your own personal and professional roadmap. What have I been doing? Where do I want to go? And should I make tweaks to the former to optimize for the latter?

I have been doing exactly that over this last week and I have made a number of changes to where I plan to invest my time, energy, and money in 2020. So I am excited for the year (and decade) ahead. Maybe some of you have been doing the same and feel similarly.

As always, thank you for reading over the last year. Next year will be year seven of this daily blog. It’s hard to imagine that it’s been that long already. I made a decision to start writing publicly and it clearly stuck. For what it’s worth, that decision didn’t happen on the first of January.

Welcome to 2020.

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Reading about adversarial interoperability

I just finished reading a few articles (here’s one and here’s another by Cory Doctorow) on something called “adversarial interoperability.” This is relevant because it is being put forward as the thing that’s needed to solve big tech — as opposed to, say, just trying to break up big tech into small tech, which is what some policy makers think we should do.

Interoperability is, quite simply, the ability for different products and/or services to work together. It’s the USB charger in your hotel room nightstand that empowers you to charge your phone. (Relevant post: Project connected home.) But, of course, there are different types of interoperability, ranging from cooperative to adversarial.

Adversarial interoperability is when two products and/or services work together to the extreme chagrin of one of the companies. Usually that company is blatantly trying to stop it from happening so as to further strengthen their market dominance.

The argument being put forward is that this adversarial relationship is fundamental to tech and fundamental to innovation. It allows new ideas to emerge. And so the real problem at hand is that big tech has gotten so big that it has managed to largely quash this varietal of interoperability. The result is less innovation and the persistence of big tech.

For a proper reading list on this topic, click here.

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Are car tunnels the solution to traffic congestion?

Elon Musk recently posted this Twitter survey asking if we, the people, would like “super safe, Earthquake-proof tunnels under [our] cities to solve traffic.” It was leading in that the “no” response was, “No, I like traffic.” And it was initially vague in that it wasn’t clear how these tunnels would be used. Though, most of us could probably guess. Elon later added in the thread that these road tunnels would be for zero emission vehicles only and they would be limited to EVs (from all auto companies, not just Tesla). Finally, Elon stated that these tunnels are not intended to replace other solutions, such as light rail, rather to supplement them.

At the time of writing this post, nearly 1.5 million people had responded to the survey and about 67% of them said “definitely” to Earthquake-proof tunnels. Elon’s reaction: “Stop whining, subway Stalinists, the people have spoken.” Notwithstanding the majority, this is a divisive topic and the reactions are mixed. City planner Brent Toderian responded by saying that this “solution” would merely result in more cars, more driving, and more emissions. Steve Jurvetson, on the other hand, argued that this would be the cheapest way to add lanes and prepare for the inevitable EV-only future. (Steve sits on Tesla’s board and recently launched a venture fund that, among other things, invests in sustainable mobility.)

The crux of this divide is a view about how cities should work. And it often becomes like dogma. Is it optimal for us to all be driving around in individual vehicles — EV or not? Will autonomous vehicles actually help solve the traffic problem? Or is building on the backbone of mass transit the only way to properly design a big and efficient city? Whether it’s lip service or not, Elon seems to acknowledge that both cars and transit are important, and that both can work together to supplement each other.

What is clear to me is that cities, at the scale of say Tokyo, wouldn’t function nearly as efficiently if it weren’t for their extensive fixed rail networks. At the same time, there are many cities (or portions of cities) that do not have the prerequisite population and employment densities to support this same level of transit investment. And that has created a strong pull away from transit (and active transport such as cycling) toward private vehicles. Sprawling cities signal to people that they should probably be driving. This is one of the reasons why land use should never be separated from mobility discussions.

How autonomous vehicles change all of this remains to be seen. Though I do think it will make cars less private and more public transit-like. Studies show that most of us are pretty good at coming up with incremental improvements to the things we already know and understand. i.e. This is how I would make this car better. But we’re far worse at coming up with and predicting tectonic shifts in the landscape. And autonomy is probably one of those shifts. But as long as our built form remains heterogeneous, I am inclined to believe that a mixture of mobility solutions will be needed. Maybe that means car tunnels. Or maybe it doesn’t.

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash