In the real world, no agent -however rational- can make optimal choices, as they don’t have nearly full information. To make things worse, solutions proposed at a given time might alter the underlying reality before they even go into effect, and no longer work as expected! By the time they are in place, policies are hard to change (this week’s EconTalk touched on that topic) and we deal with it by adding more crap on top. Living in a complex society does not by definition require the levels of complexity of modern legislation.
If the political system in the US is hard, and confusing, the Fed is probably one of the most misunderstood. Even having taken several courses on the topic, understanding the intended effects of central banking, and monetary policy, is tough. Bernstein makes a good case for the importance about better understanding it.
Another good one in Albert’s series on uncertainty, easter egg included. “All observation necessarily entails compression of reality,” further compression from our tool’s resolution limits, and even more from measurement error. Regardless of how good your observations are, they will always be uncertain. Moreover, observations themselves can change the underlying state of reality. Not only in the uncertainty principle quantum sense, but also in the user research sense, for example.
There are clear tensions regarding how information is stored and accessed on the internet. In the OSS world, there is a loud group that constantly complains about the IRC => Slack trend, for example. Whether the fringe is becoming more or less accessible, I don’t know, I have not tried to hang out there, but there is an overwhelming feeling of the walls closing in on themselves.
I lived in Chicago for 4 years, and I never saw levels of poverty and homelessness as intense as I see in San Francisco. However, both cities have poverty. Both cities have homelessness. In Chicago it is a matter of “out of sight, out of mind”, while in SF you see it day in and day out. Market Street and the Magnificent Mile are a stark contrast, but both cases require society to provide solutions. This article is missing a call to action.
A glimpse into the future of media/advertising, an interesting personal story, and a product I’d love to try. The back story of how this story got leaked by Business Insider, and the WSJ ended up being whipped into releasing it early says a lot about journalism in the 21st century, too. A lot to unpack.
Slowly, one abstraction at a time, software engineering has become more and more accessible. The advent of Ruby on Rails marked the beginning of a wave that lowered the barriers to entry for programming, particularly web development, for thousand of engineers. I am one of them. Now it is time to put in the hours and master the craft.
We contain multitudes. Our idea of the “self” is just an aggregate of layers of all previous actions and states of mind, wrapped in a narrative that also changes over time. It’d be an interesting exercise to try and model this computationally, somehow.
The events that are developing in the EU right now are potentially more important to the future of global culture than most people realize. Whatever conclusion comes from this case might define sovereignty and jurisdiction across national and supranational borders. As Tim Cook posits in his letter, “at its root, the Commission’s case is not about how much Apple pays in taxes. It is about which government collects the money,” and that is the actually interesting question here.
What is the point of work? What should people spend their time on, and why? Wenger argues that we are about to enter a post-capital and post-labor world. I still haven’t decided if I should read his book now, as a draft, or when it is published in a few months.
In a complex world, second order effects tend to be more important in aggregate than one would expect. Increased access to birth control results in better care for the kids who are born, and eventually a better society.
No data was released, but here is the original <a href”http://static1.squarespace.com/static/56500157e4b0cb706005352d/t/56da1114e707ebbe8e963ffc/1457131797556/IncomeTargetingFeb16.pdf”>paper</a>, in case you want to take a look.
Starting a career in software engineering during the days of AWS and Heroku gives me a strange vantage point. The story of how Netflix switched their whole infrastructure would not be half as impressive if I didn’t understand the role of culture in organizational change. The fact is that “this is how we do things around here” can make or break you. This episode talks about the architecture that underlie the modern web stack.
Harari discusses the jump from religion, to humanism, and now Dataism: Letting go of “religion” and “feelings” to guide our choices, and allowing computers to make decisions for you. As much as “knowing thyself” is great advice, making good decisions also requires knowing the rest of the world. No matter how much you know yourself, there will be unknown unknowns about the people and things you interact with. Computers might be able to help us there.</br>A specific case I’ve thought deeply about is “choosing what content to consume,” which applies to books, articles, podcasts, MOOCs, etc. Objectively, there is some optimal solution to this question, and Harari’s Dataism probably has a better answer than humanism, regardless of how uncomfortable that thought makes you feel.</br>The idea is powerful, and we can similarly extrapolate to other questions.
Lately I have been bringing up Maslow’s hierarchy over and over. I am one of the few lucky people in the world who (like you, probably, since you’re reading this) get to only worry about the very top of this pyramid. Food, shelter, health - all these are non-thoughts for me. My concerns are much less important. In the context of this article, I have been spending many hours considering how to be happier at work, and spend my time to maximize my learning and my future opportunities. Even in the tech bubble that I live in, things can be much worse, and it is sobering to remember that.
Different languages have different ways of constraining and enabling programmers. Any language provides us with trade-offs. For a long time, I have thought of types as an added layer of complexity, which makes them unappealing. However, unit tests and documentation are also extra complexity, and I am more than happy to pay the cost for those. Perhaps its time to make the jump and get into static typing.
As software seeps into our daily lives, everything becomes “tech”. I don’t like that word, it is too broad, and somewhat meaningless. A truck is technology. So is a self-driving truck, but the latter does much more by leveraging software. Every “traditional” company in some capacity uses “tech”, and as time goes on more and more firms depend on software for their daily operations. This is at the root of the reality that McClure describes. AirBnB is considered a “tech” company, but it should be compared against Hilton and Marriott, not against Google and Apple. That’s their actual competition. The hedge is real, and it is only a symptom of the overall trend towards a fully software enabled industry.
Software engineering, and the tools required for it, have evolved significantly over time. Barriers to entry have been lowered, making programming accessible for “normal” people, both in terms of monetary costs as well as in the amount of effort required to get started and build something significant. For better or for worse, modern programming languages are english-like enough that they can be grokked by children. Writing machine or assembly language can be seen as an esoteric exercise by today’s standards. On the shoulders of giants, we’ve climbed up several levels on the ladder of abstraction, and as Wenger implies, this is not stopping any time soon.
The “PR angle” Fred talks about is true of the blogs of VCs, startups, programmers, journalists, and pretty much any other piece of content on the web, even including this curated set of links. We should cast wide nets, and get information from every possible source before making decisions. Remember other people are driven by incentives just as much as ourselves.
Whether penny auctions can be classified as gambling or not, they could be a source of really interesting decision theory/behavioral economics research. If you know of any studies particularly worth looking at, please send them my way.
Over the last few weeks, I started watching The Wire. The longer I live in this country, the more I understand the tensions around race and class rooted in years and years of history. I want to spend more time reading about this, and exploring the narratives of the various sides. Building empathy is hard work.
The fact that two white economics professors at prestigious universities talk about this in public is already a big win. Not knowing the history of slavery in the US, this was quite interesting. The “us vs. them” framing, coupled with the Rawlsian ideas towards the end, was the most persuasive part. Incentives strike again.
Incentives rule all our decisions. If the mandate of fiduciary duty is to “maximize shareholder value,” that is what any board will do. Whether the “business decision” was correct or not is a question of short-term vs. long-term thinking, discount rates, and how much the company values its employees. When labor is interchangable, this is not a surprising decision. If the well-being of the employees were somehow baked in into the pricing model, there could be a different outcome.
Overengineering is a real problem. I need to learn more about this new dev-ops world, and play with Docker et al, but the fact is that to get started, a monolith running on Heroku is more than enough. Scaling will be harder? Yes, but you might actually get something done and sell to real users. Good enough is good enough. Once again, short-term vs. long term incentives.
A draft of a chapter of Taleb’s upcoming book. He argues that asymmetrical rules lead to minorities dictating choices when there are large benefits to a concentrated minority and small diffuse costs among the majority. All his examples are negative, but its not hard to think of how this same effect can affect us positively.
An analysis on the future of work, and labor compensation. I am not surprised that gains are concentrated in a set of firms, the real question, as Claudia points out, is “is rising worker segregation a sign of reduced competition, greater economic rents, or is it telling us about a change in the nature of production?” My guess? The latter.
The fact that we can walk into a store and exchange a piece of paper for a loaf of bread is a sign of trust. Our economies, and our lives, are all based on trust, and Tim’s article explains how important this is in an age where “reputation” becomes currency. Reminded me a lot of Seabright’s Company of Strangers.
Hello there old friends. It has been forever since my last post, and I apologize for that. Here is a mixed bag of technology, management, and politics pieces. My interests haven’t changed, hopefully yours haven’t either.
I like to think of myself as a much more fox-ey than hedgehog-ey person, and I think success comes from getting a fox to surround themselves with hedgehogs. This is true in the AI context, as well as many others. “To think about tech now is to think about many things.”
It is always interesting to see how others do things. Especially interesting is the migration from python/node to Java/Go, and the heavy usage of OSS projects. I agree that having less languages is good, however, this might be a bit quixotic.
One of the most intriguing aspects of bitcoin is what kind of effects a constant, predictable, and stable money supply would cause in our financial systems. Coming from the Bank of England, this post holds more water than the usual cryptocurrency wonk posts.
Exceptionalism is not just an American problem. The only way I was able to get around the paywall was to click on the link from Facebook Messenger, which adds a referrer to the HTTP request. Let me know if you find another workaround.
As you can tell from the articles below, I’ve read a lot about consciousness lately. In general, I like the topic a lot, but I was actually trying to find an article on the subject from a couple of years ago that I remember being really good. Sadly, I didn’t find it, but it did take me down the rabbit hole of the Internet, and I found all of the consciousness related posts below, so hopefully you will enjoy those.
Living in San Francisco, and having just attended Pride, this seemed very fitting. A really interesting story, which made me think a lot about how what is socially and culturally acceptable changes over time and space.
I listened to this several weeks ago, but just noticed I hadn’t posted it. Mostly recommending it for Act 1, which deals with a really hard story. Especially interesting due to the herd mentality of “we do this because it is the way we’ve always done it,” which I hate so much. Other people’s decisions can change our lives forever. Sometimes unknowingly, and for all the wrong reasons.
I haven’t read much lately. I checked my stats today (yes, I keep track of how many articles I read) and my rolling one week daily average is about to hit 1 article read per day. That is scary, because I don’t know what is consuming my time in place of my usual online reading.
The evolution of programming languages depends not only on what new languages allow you to do, but what they don’t. Taking away an engineer’s ability to do X also removes a concern from the picture. Thinking about less things at once means you can focus more on what’s left.
Great analogy between natural science vs. religion and natural science vs. social science. As Noah points out, the idea of the “God of the Gaps” fits in quite well. I have long been a fan of Paul Davies and his take on the classic fight. Noah gives a good explanation for why they are, in a way, the same.
Understanding that developing markets are fundamentally different beasts, and not just waiting for copies of what has already been done, is both challenging, and exciting. Makes me wonder what I could do if I went back home.
An analysis of how disabilities were seen in medieval Europe, and how those map onto the GoT world. Particularly interesting was the discussion on how mortality and disability can happen to anyone, which is unusual in literature.Spoliers ahead.
Through an analogy between learning CS, and how to play musical instruments, the author explains the value of reinventing the wheel: cloning other people’s projects allows you to learn useful patterns as you go. Start by mimicking, and continue adding your own features. The important part is putting your fingers to work. For example, I got my start with Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial, and modified it bit by bit to fit my needs. One of the best pieces I have read on how to “level up” as a software engineer.
Culture is fascinating, but also really subjective, making it hard to quantify, or analyze. To make it worse, it is turtles all the way down: culture matters at the company, division, group, team and individual basis, and the larger the company the more culture solidifies as a “thing” that makes that company what it is.
It takes guts to describe your company as the “…most popular way to buy, sell, and use bitcoin” or, more humbly, a “bitcoin wallet and platform” and then come out and say that something else is better, and possibly more sustainable, than BTC. Smells like a soft pivot to cryptocurrencies in general could be coming.
The legal field is not very technologically enabled. As Casetext’s Jake Heller points out, “We’ve all seen this story. Whether it’s restaurants or encyclopedias, this is going to be replaced by an open knowledge solution.” The question is, which of all these services will win the market (full disclosure, my girlfriend works at Casetext, and I think they are doing great work at making legal data easily available).
The article talks about topics beyond management, but spends a good chunk of time discussing why projects with many moving pieces, many stakeholders, and many contributors are hard to do right. Mostly, because people are hard to understand. If you understand people, you’ll be a better engineer, better designer, and better manager.
As Marco says, “…the last thing we all need is for the ‘data’ economy to destroy another medium.” Implied, but not mentioned in the article, is the discoverability problem of podcasts. Finding 10 shows that you generally like is easy. Finding the best episode of those 10 shows is impossible.
Good analysis of why the US can’t play the isolation game going forward. Even if you don’t care about politics, and you should, it is worth your time just for the amazing list of books that Suster recommends.
While I understand the point of regulation, Opternative delivers exactly what it advertises: refractive eye exams. The incumbents are just using regulation to push their interests and avoid getting pushed out of the market. But, obviously, I am biased. I used to work there.
Extreme clarity on the future of journalism, media, and strategies for companies in the space to respond to change. TL;DR: create better content or disappear. The arguments fit perfectly with Aggregation Theory, and while the article is a bit too focused on politics, the analysis could apply to any other news covered by the media, from the Tech Bubble, to ISIS, or Millenials. Long, but worthwhile.</br>I have been reading Baekdal for years. I can’t even remember how I ran into his blog, but it must have been 7 or 8 years ago, and I am glad I did.
Evans has a knack for finding great analogies from history. In most cases, path dependence, network effects, consumer lock in, and feedback loops matter more than any one decision. I wonder if we can systematically figure out the decisions that matter more…
Yet another bear case for Apple pinned on the cult of personality for Steve Jobs. While I disagree with the overall message, the writing is really good, and Lefsetz does have a point on the strategy of innovation, viz. Christensen’s disruptive innovation.
Most of modern economics is based on the idea that people make decisions with a clear understanding of the consequences. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether we’re talking of switching to a new job, moving to a different state, picking an insurance plan or making a donation, there are always economic consequences that people don’t understand. The complexity of our world, some of it designed, some of it emergent, makes rational decision-making almost impossible. These Uber employees were definitely not aware of how big of an issue this policy would be years after they joined the company. (For more on the topic, take a look at Zach Holman’s post.)
I don’t buy the bot craze. The technology is not there yet, and as the author well describes, the user experience feels just like calling a bank, or a telco, and being greeted by a distorted digital voice asking how one can be helped. Some day.
I have been on the other side of the table of many interviews since I started working at Apple. It is unbelievably hard to gauge the skills of a front-end engineer, even more so when more than half the people involved in the interview process do back-end work day to day.
To be honest, I haven’t finished reading this, but it was profusely recommended by randos on HN and coworkers alike. The preferred stack, and the JS framework du jour might have changed since then, but the basics are still the same. This essay tries to explain distributed systems fundamentals from “the log” up.
Last time Suster recommended a movie, Supermensch, I wasn’t sold, but watched anyway. It was awesome, and now I want to watch this one too. VCs should do more movie/book/etc reviews. After all, a deep understanding of culture can give you an edge to make better bets than others. I am sure it has helped Upfront Ventures get where they are.
In this short and data-centric piece, Thompson makes the argument that since most mainstream media is based in large cities, “…well-educated journalists in these dense cities wind up with a skewed impression of the world” and they feed us their biases. “An irony of digital media is that the Internet distributes journalism, but it concentrates journalists.”
Everyone talks about “bots”, but “bots” are not new. Grover makes a great analogy between early iOS skeumorphism and the metaphors of “conversational UI” that have leaked into these new user experiences. He goes on to argue that the notification systems in modern operating systems are broken, which I fully agree with, and suggests the rise of meta-platforms like WeChat and Facebook Messenger as the path forward.
A few months ago, an article titled Teach Yourself Italian was published in the New Yorker. In it, the author (Jhumpa Lahiri) discusses her journey from the United States to Italy, and her discovery of how language affected her identity as she wrote a book in a language that wasn’t her own. Parks discusses Lahiri’s work, compares her to other authors that went through similar transitions, and ultimately explains why he still writes in his mother tongue, even after years of living abroad.
Perhaps a bit too paranoid, discussing conspiracy theories more than it should, but interesting nonetheless. Simler explains the economics behind the social structures that align our incentives to work together toward common goals.
I will steal a comment from Hacker News, because it was that good of an explanation of why this article, as interesting of a read as it is, says nothing: “To say that the technology is best when it’s ripe for replacement could just be flipped around. Technological advances happen when they happen and whatever gets replaced was the best we could do before then.”
Politicians in the San Francisco Bay Area are getting pulled in every direction, this NYT article tries to explain some of the complexities involved. In a strange coincidence, this article came out roughly a week after I read Kim-Mai’s article, linked above.
A clear economic analysis of the housing market in San Francisco, its history, its distortions, and its intricacies. Zac makes good arguments, proposes attainable solutions, and brings examples of other cities arount the U.S. that have solved similar housing crises before.
While the city officials’ skepticism is understandable, their stubbornness to work with a capable person due to his background is not. Two very unexpected things I learned from this piece: 1) San Francisco’s homeless population has been around 6000 for over 25 years. 2) between nonprofits and city departments, $241M/year are spent on supporting San Francisco’s homeless population. That is, roughly $40k per person.
As usual, Thoma asks the right questions. I am particularly interested in the “how is the social interest is defined?” aspect of his article. When companies, and identities, span across the world, our definitions of society change too.
As the source name implies, this is not about San Francisco, but Los Angeles. “…we can’t solve society’s mobility problems by trying to ensure that everyone gets a $250,000 car. We don’t need subsidized Lamborghinis, we need Honda Civics.”
Even if you are not a computer scientist, you should read the intro to reinforcement learning linked below. With some understanding of economic modeling, and a bit of effort, you’ll get the basics of how a system like AlphaGo works. Machine, or otherwise, learning is fun.
I was born and raised in an extremely tight knit community. With time, we have drifted apart, and I continue to distance myself from it, both in terms of my day-to-day experiences, as well as my expectations from the future. This article’s ideas ring very true: those who stayed back home are probably happier than me.
An extremely bullish case from a former Amazon bear. Ben’s writing is usually great, but this one takes the prize for clarity: connecting the dots from Bezos’ famous letter to shareholders in 1997 to the beginnings of AWS in 2006, to today. A must read.
An interesting account of incentives at work. Nobel prize winners, and other already well-known scientist, do not care about the prestige of the important journals, so they get to publish directly. Young, unknown, scientists on the other hand, are stuck with the old, considerably inferior, publishing system to prove their worth.
On one hand, the article makes good use of historical data to make a clear point: SaaS has been hit hard by the markets, both public and private. On the other hand, the URL makes good use of pirate jokes.
This story was recently reported by RadioLab and Note to Self in podcast form. It is crazy. As in, “we should be worried”, crazy. Whether you are a podcast person and listened to those episodes, or not, you should give this article a read.
New wealth flowing into a city, plus old wealth’s “build new things in other places” attitude leads to gentrification. We’re not in a bubble, but in a bifurcation, and SF has no relief valve to rely on. Only new city policies could change that.
Academic papers tend to utilize terse language and jargon to precisely describe processes and outcomes, but these “precise” explanations end up being impenetrable walls for the uninitiated. Thankfully, there are bloggers like Trask, Olah, Karpathy, and others who lower the bar to understanding the intricacies of academic machine learning. I am still trying to get through this one. Trask definitely made the task accessible. The DeepMind researchers, on the other hand, did not.
I remember these events from when I was a kid, and it really interesting to see them exposed here again, a decade later, when I can actually understand them and their implications. I wonder what kind of data is available today, in Costa Rica and elsewhere, just waiting to be analyzed to uncover other schemes like these.
By definition you expect to pay more for insurance than you expect get out of it. Yet, people pay for it. Wenger explains how this is not a contradiction: “Without risk aversion insurance math fundamentally would not add up.”
Here, Szabo argues that conditions around book publishing and distribution makes for little variety, and unnecessarily long documents. He calls it the “trouble with books”, and poses the internet as the solution. The “trouble with the internet” is noise. Publishers and editors used to be trusted gatekeepers, ensuring a certain level of quality. There is too much content to consume from the Internet firehose. How do we deal with content quality assurance and curation in the internet era? How do we pick what we read?
Making good decisions upfront, and investing in improving the software development process (via testing, CI/CD, etc.) is costly, but pays off over time. This is especially important as the organization grows. Building software is easier when you’re not afraid of breaking it.
In an unusual article, Ben relates the current political environment to his own Aggregation Theory. Quoting one of Clay Shirky’s tweetstorms, he explains how technology continuously changes the political landscape, and what this means going forward in an After Web world.
Languages, both artificial and natural, define how you think. Since I speak three natural languages, and I am trying to learn a fourth, it is somewhat strange how fixated I am on refining one, and only one, programming language. This article might have some clues as to why.
It would be amazing if DHH could back this up with more than a sample of n=1. How much of their success is the monolith, and how much is the culture, process, and care that Basecamp has refined over the years?
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much.” ― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
As I said in my last post: attention is a zero sum game. I checked how much I have been reading online lately and I’m way below average (Yes, I keep stats on this. Yes, I know its nerdy). According to data from the past 2.5 years, I read about 10 articles per day (avg. 10.02, median 9) but in the last three weeks I’ve been floating between 5-7 per day. I think it will be impossible to keep up the usual 10-12 while maintaining my book reading goal and my new (bad?) habit of scrolling through Twitter a couple of times a day.
I was sad to hear that Marvin Minsky passed away this week. I was exposed to his work by chance, as I picked up Society of Mind at a used book sale in Chicago during the summer I read GEB, and became obsessed with the seminal ideas of AI and consciousness. His book definitely helped me shape my views on intelligence.
My resource list prompted my friend Leon to introduce me to Buster Benson’s Codex Vitae which is an awesome idea. I might do something similar in the future.
Attention is a zero sum game. I have started using Twitter which is fun (follow me! @avyfain), but is super time consuming. Its hard to come to terms with the fact that the stream is infinite while time is not. Between that, and my new goal of reading 3 books per month, blogs and news have taken the back seat.
I have not actually read Feinstein’s whole paper, but the abstract makes it seem like an amazing read:
In this paper we study the financial repercussions of the destruction of two fully armed and operational moon-sized battle stations (“Death Stars”) in a 4-year period and the dissolution of the galactic government in Star Wars. The emphasis of this work is to calibrate and simulate a model of the banking and financial systems within the galaxy. Along these lines, we measure the level of systemic risk that may have been generated by the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the second Death Star. We conclude by finding the economic resources the Rebel Alliance would need to have in reserve in order to prevent a financial crisis from gripping the galaxy through an optimally allocated banking bailout.
Well, I finished the first season of Startup, and then, I got bored… Take note Alex Blumberg! The reasons why I was enjoying it so much were the SV outsider tone, the feeling of surprise when lingo had to be explained, and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that I listened to a whole season of Reply All before I started with StartUp. To me, Gimlet is just a more interesting business to learn about than Dating Ring (sorry matchmaker aficionados).
Now, since I always NeedMoreContent™, I started a class on coursera and it has been awesome to learn about the low level pieces that make up a computer. It’s been less than a week since I started, and I am already halfway through week 4 of the course. The class is aimed at people with 0 engineering background, and I would definitely recommend it if you are interested in computing.
I have been listening to Startup the past couple of days, so I have not been reading that much lately. It provides a view of the tech and startup world from an outsider’s perspective, and when discussing concepts that I take as general knowledge it constantly makes me think “Wait, most people don’t know that?”
First, if you are reading the AVC posts, make sure to read them together. I think the analogy is flawed, but the underlying idea of “collecting the economic surplus of a revolution” is spot on.
Second, I’d like to thank my friend Yoav for pointing out Sapiens. I had skipped the EconTalk episode until he called it the best book he’s ever read. I trust his recommendations, even though he doesn’t trust mine.
Having lived there for a good chunk of my life, I can tell first hand that Evanston doesn’t feel like a suburb. In fact, when discussing this article, I said “Evanston is actually part of the city, it is basically Chicago” and the response I got was “the fact that you think so means that the policy was successful.”
Today I discovered an amazing LinkedIn feature that I did not know existed. It is called “Connections In The News”.
With the subject “News about Aaron Dallek” sitting in my inbox, LinkedIn’s email really intrigued me. Clicking through took me to a New York Times article about Opternative, the startup where I used to work, and where Aaron is CEO. Quite simply, LinkedIn parsed Aaron’s name from the piece, and notified me that one of my contacts was mentioned in it. How the software distinguishes between various people named John Smith, or whether it tries at all, is unclear to me, but the feature provided me with a pleasant surprise.
I am amazed by the fact that Caltrain ridership tracks the Nasdaq. This is the kind of relationship that I would never think about on my own, but once I read it, it clicked and makes perfect sense. I wonder if similar correlations can be found for other cities and their public transit.