52 things I learned in 2023


Brevard, NC. My favorite place I visited in 2023.

I borrowed this concept from Tom Whitwell as a way of cultivating a habit of curiosity. You can read his 2023 version here.

My 2023 highlights: I joined Macro Oceans full time, launched a low carbon cosmetics ingredient (if you want to see it in a consumer product, check this out) and built Recap Roswell, an AI-based summarizer of our local city council meetings.

Here are 52 things I learned along the way:

  1. Koala fingerprints are so near identical to human fingerprints that they can interfere with criminal investigations. Live Science
  2. Mortality from heart attacks goes up 15-20% on the days of marathons. Anupam Jena
  3. The US military uses dolphins and seals to help protect the nuclear stockpile. Palmer Lucky
  4. The first revolution of 1848, the Sicilian Revolution, began with a single person putting up flyers for a revolutionary committee that didn’t exist. Christopher Clark
  5. Bees play. Scientific American
  6. 63% of American 25 year olds were married in 1980. Pew Research
  7. The natural rate of background radiation at the US capitol is above the acceptable threshold for a nuclear power plant. Jack Devanney
  8. Only 1 of the 270 jobs in the 1950 census has been eliminated: the elevator operator. Ethan Mollick
  9. Labelling sesame as an allergen has increased rather than decreased its usage. Alex Stapp
  10. The second leading market for Guinness beer is Nigeria. The UK is first. Ireland comes in third. CNN
  11. More than half of US military enlistees have a family member with military service. Atlantic Council
  12. Every thoroughbred horse alive today descended from one of three stallions. 3 Quarks Daily
  13. The amount of time an average college educated mother spends with her children has doubled since 1965. The Economist via Sarah Constantin
Serius est quam cogitas (It's later than you think)
— One of the sundial mottos from Wikipedia that has stuck with me this year.
  1. The most common noun in the English language is time. Dr. Dean Buonomano
  2. The cinnamon you use is a cheap substitute. USA Today
  3. As a share of the occupation, there are twice as many female fighter pilots as there are male kindergarten teachers. Richard Reeves
  4. More than 5 million children were homeschooled in the US in 2021, up from 13,000 in 1973. George Mack
  5. Randomly buying Lego sets provides better returns than most VC firms. Will Manidis
  6. The current mortality rate for the opioid crisis in the US and Canada is worse than the peak of the HIV/AIDs epidemic. The Conversation Bonus: Overdoses are the leading cause of death for people under 45 in the US. George Mack
  7. The dodo was a species of pigeon. Wikipedia
  8. Squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and watermelons are all from the same plant family. Matthew Perkins
  9. How Cocomelon gets made: A child sits in front of a TV watching an episode; an adult stands nearby doing household tasks; if the child’s’ attention drifts from the at any point, they go back and amp up the interestingness. Maryanne Wolf
  10. American cheese was invented in Switzerland. Discovered via the Kroger online grocery app and confirmed via Thrillist. Aside: The food facts from the Kroger App are the most surprising thing about the 2023 list. They’re great! If the Kroger App team is out there, well done!
  11. A brand new ladder fire truck costs just under $1.5m ($1,449,853 to be precise). The Atlanta Journal Constitution
  12. Most of the placebo effect is just reversion to the mean. Jonatan Pallesen
  13. Charles III is the largest landowner in the world, followed by the Catholic Church and the Inuit People of Nunavut. Madison Trust

A square watermelon. Putting this on my shopping list for when I visit Japan.

  1. Square (or cube) watermelons are a thing. The Kroger App confirmed via Wikipedia
  2. Since 2012, 130,000 Indians gained access to electricity every single day. Hannah Ritchie
  3. Obesity rates in the United States haven’t gone down 2 years in a row in the past 50 years. James van Geelen Bonus: If the average passenger weight falls by 10 pounds, United Airlines would save $80 million per year. Sheila Kahyaoglu.
  4. Robert Oppenheimer learned Dutch in just 6 weeks. Los Alamos National Laboratory
  5. The original meaning of filibuster: to lead an unauthorized military expedition in a foreign country. Ryan McEntush
  6. 1 million more horses served in World War II than World War I. The Rest Is History
  7. Experiencing abusive leadership from a coach at any point shifts the trajectory of an NBA player permanently downward. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
  8. There are more pet dogs (~83 million) than children (~72 million) living in the United States. American Veterinary Association
  9. The shipping industry generated as much profit between 2020 and 2022 as it had in the previous 6 decades. Adam Tooze
  10. HIV cases in Sydney, Australia are down 88% to just 11 cases per year. Tyler Cowen
  11. Switzerland, which is landlocked, has 14 ocean going vessels in its navy. SwissInfo.ch
  12. The only accounts we have of a crucifixion performed by the Romans are the four Gospels. Tom Holland
  13. Almost all truffle flavoring is fake. Taste Atlas

The Just City by Jo Walton, my favorite book in 2023.

  1. If grade inflation at Harvard continues at its current pace, the average student in 2028 will have a GPA higher than 4.0. The Crimson
  2. The typical couple takes 3.25 years to go from meeting to engagement. Squawk on the Street.
  3. Orthodox Jews account for just 0.2% of the US population, but 18% of altruistic kidney donations. Mosaic Magazine
  4. China’s population is expected to decline 46% by 2100. Pew Research.
  5. Venetian glass from the 15th century has been found as far away as Alaska. Smithsonian Magazine
  6. 100% of civilian deaths on the US mainland during World War II came from balloon attacks. ChinaTalk
  7. The Chimp-Pig hypothesis. Maybe not true, but definitely interesting. Uri Bram
  8. Newborn babies are slightly more likely to be males than females (105 to 100). Our World in Data
  9. The 16 hottest days in recorded global history all happened this summer. Zeke Hausfather
  10. There was an American Winston Churchill, who was also a successful politician and author; he met the British Winston in 1900. Robert Cottrell
  11. Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both applied for the patent for the telephone on the same day. Noahpinion
  12. The total urban population in Europe didn’t surpass the peak of Roman Empire for 1600 years. Rafael Guthmann
  13. Only one of Albert Einstein’s papers went through peer review. Adam Mastroianni
Do not complain beneath the stars about the lack of bright spots in your life
— Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

Prior lists: 2022, 2021

Right now, I am thinking a lot about:

  • How to use seaweed in every day products
  • Real world applications of LLMs
  • Ecosystems, and how to build them
  • Trust, and how to foster more of it

If you think we’d have an interesting conversation about these topics or something else all together, reach out (jdilla.xyz@gmail.com) or book a meeting.

OpenAI bet


Sam Altman will be back as CEO of OpenAI within 60 days of today.

How to configure your CustomGPT to send emails


Have you ever been deep in a ChatGPT conversation and wanted to email a piece of it to yourself to remember later? Or wanted to share part of a conversation with a friend?

Now with CustomGPTs, you can configure your GPT to send emails on your behalf using SendGrid for free. Here’s how you can do it.

First, some things to be aware of

  1. It is possible to spam people with this. Don’t do that! Also, SendGrid has spam prevention systems in place and pretty soon your email will end up in people’s spam folders never to be seen again. Also, life is too short. Put that energy into something productive.
  2. If after setting this up, you make your CustomGPT public, people will be able to send emails using your email address paid for by you. This is probably not what you want!

To do this you’ll need: * A free SendGrid account (you can sign up here). * An email address you want to use * Access to CustomGPTs

Get set up with SendGrid

  1. You’ll need to verify your email address with SendGrid, which you can do here: https://app.sendgrid.com/settings/sender_auth. It’s pretty self explanatory and they have good docs.
  2. Create a SendGrid API key and hold onto it, you’ll need it in a second. You can do that here: https://app.sendgrid.com/settings/api_keys

Note: SendGrid is free for up to 100 emails a month, beyond that you’ll need to pay.

Create a CustomGPT

  1. Go to create a CustomGPT(https://chat.openai.com/gpts/editor)
  2. Go to the configure tab
  3. Go to add actions
  4. Import the json file: You can place this link in the import schema field or copy and paste from this github file into the OpenAI action schema.
  5. Add your API key to the authentication field with auth type Bearer. Save your action.
  6. In the Instructions field for your CustomGPT, instruct your CustomGPT on how to use the email action. It’s super important that you tell it to only use your verified email address, otherwise you’ll get errors from the SendGrid API, but I also give it a sender name to make things appear a little nicer in my inbox. When you’re done, save the CustomGPT.

My instructions

When using the api.sendgrid.com action to send emails, always use the email address <TheEmailAddressYouVerifiedAbove@example.com> no matter what. The best sender name to use is Name you Prefer to be called.

Send an email

  1. Start using ChatGPT as you normally would. When you want to email something, prompt it to do so.
  2. You’ll get a dialog making sure you’re okay with CustomGPT taking this action. Make sure to press “Allow”. You should see a confirmation message and your email will get sent. In practice, it is a little bulky, but it will get smoother with time.

Things to try next

I haven’t tried this yet, but I suspect I’ll be able to configure the bot with multiple accounts. So I’ll be able to say email so and so from my work email or email my wife from my personal email.

If you get a chance to use this, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it. Drop me an email at jdilla.xyz@gmail.com from your next CustomGPT chat!

Visuals for those who find that easier to follow

Important places in the SendGrid UI


CustomGPT action json import


CustomGPT action authentication configuration


CustomGPT instructions


Making skincare products from seaweed



When Matthew and I were beginning to look at starting Macro Oceans, one of the things that got me interested in the opportunity was the mystery of it: if seaweed is so chemically rich and so easy to grow, why isn't it used for more things?

As we dug deeper into this question, I became convinced that there aren't fundamental reasons why seaweed can't be used for more things; instead, someone had to come along and make it happen.

While there have been many setbacks, false starts, and complexities over the past three years, I haven't seen anything that has changed my mind about this. Seaweed does have natural assets and it should be used for more things.

Today we announced the launch of our first product, Hydrating Marine Polysaccharides, which is our first contribution making this happen.

Hydrating Marine Polysaccharides is a bio active cosmetic ingredient, which means it's the thing that makes a skincare or haircare product make your skin feel better or hair look better. It has proven hydrating properties and a true clean beauty profile: zero waste, fully traceable to the farm in Alaska where it was grown. I'm excited to build on this in 2024!

Some personal reflections

  • This is my first cosmetic ingredient. I've launched more software products than I can count, but it was fun try this in a new domain. I was surprised at how much transferred!
  • In particular, cosmetic ingredients reminds me of developer products. The formulator is hiring your ingredient to do a job. This job is functional, but it's also a part of the marketing story for the product.
  • An added complexity is the brand / incubator / manufacturer relationship. Manufacturers purchase the ingredients, but brands ultimately own the formulas.
  • I'm really proud of how fast the Macro Oceans team moved to make this launch happen; we had our first planning meetings about this product in March and did our first manufacturing runs in August.

Loving kindness


Orthodox Jews, although they comprise about 0.2 percent of U.S. population, account for some 18 percent of so-called altruistic kidney donations (i.e., those where a living donor gives an organ to a recipient he or she doesn’t know).

From Mosaic Magazine