Links - December 30, 2017

Hello, and welcome to my last set of links of 2017. Let’s get right into it:

  • Goodbye, George Bailey: Decline of Rural Lending Crimps Small-Town Business
    Ruth Simon and Coulter Jones - The Wall Street Journal

    This is true capitalism at work. At a certain point, the demographics and economics of small towns make it impossible for private businesses to survive. This is why we have governments! Certain human processes are just not profitable, no matter how necessary they are, and we ask the government to step in and do the work to align those incentives, or to put up its own offices instead. A relevant example of this is USPS which is not meant to be a profitable business, but a useful service. Capital flowing out of these towns is inevitable - it is up to local governments to figure out how to provide the necessary services for its people. If that means these little towns should not exist, so be it.

  • Nassim Taleb’s Probabilistic Minarchism
    Adam Gurri - The Ümlaut

    And speaking of little towns, and local governments, here’s a piece on Taleb and his views on what governments should and should not do. Essentially, he advocates for small units of governemnt spurring from bottom up local knowledge. His quintessential example of this seems to be the Swiss canton system. Having just read Jane Jacobs’ amazing book on city building, I have to say I am starting to like these bottom up approaches more and more.

  • The Conservation of Coercion
    William Wilson - American Affairs Journal

    An essay on various forms of social coercion, and how societies with different levels of trust deal with civil issues. Specifically, Wilson discusses how certain societies decrease the required level of trust between individuals on their day to day life, and how this leads to trade-offs between state coercion and social coercion instead of an increase in liberty. I find the topic fascinating, and welcome any and all suggestions on what else I should read about it.

  • The Merge
    Sam Altman

    This is a neat article on humans merging with computers. Altman’s take is that this has already started happening (our phones are an extension of ourselves), and the trend is accelerating (double exponential of improving hardware and more people doing AI research). It reminded me of Minsky: “The serious problems come from having little experience with machines of such complexity that we are not yet prepared to think effectively about them.” But we’ve been augmenting ourselves for a long time. There’s a striking scene in The Name of The Rose where William explains the use for eye-glasses to other incredulous monks. The glasses quickly become a central object in the story. We’ve been augmenting our bodies with technology for centuries.

  • Competing with BigCo: 2018 Edition
    Steven Sinofsky - Learning By Shipping

    As usual, a great post by Sinofsky. Here he argues against the “end of history” idea that you can’t compete against the big platform companies. His piece focuses on Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and (perhaps strangely) Adobe, tearing apart each company’s business model and finding the opportunities a newcomer could leverage against them. Everyone’s read the book, and executives at these companies know how to defend against one’s own incentives benefitting newcomers, but there are still cracks for startups to get through.

  • The Hidden Player Spurring a Wave of Cheap Consumer Devices: Amazon
    Farhad Manjoo - The New York Times

    And to keep going with the thread on platform companies, here’s one on Amazon enabling lots of new products to come to life. The whole thing is worth reading, but the last paragraph in the article was extremely sharp: “There is this erosion of what it means to be a traditional consumer product brand,” Mr. Wingo said. “In a way, Amazon is providing all this information that replaces what you’d normally get from a brand, like reputation and trust. Amazon is becoming something like the umbrella brand, the only brand that matters.” Amazing.

  • The Amazon machine
    Benedict Evans

    It seems like Evans took Farhad Manjoo’s article (the one right above this) and ran with it, taking it an extra few steps. Two pizza teams, and shipping the org chart are not new - I thought the new insight was Evans’ third consequence “those atomised teams don’t actually need to work for Amazon.” which totally resonates with Manjoo’s argument.

  • What You Need to Know About the Future of Bitcoin Technology
    Subhan Nadeem

    This is probably the best survey I’ve read about BTC’s growing pains and the tech being developed to solve them. It doesn’t dive too deep, but will expose you to a bunch of ideas, from the Lightning Network to MimbleWimble (yes that’s a thing). I’m only bullish on crypto long term because I know the community is working hard to build solutions to these problems, even if vanilla BTC is not the one to succeed.

  • The Quest for a Stable Coin
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    I recently read the Basecoin whitepaper which is intriguing, even if a bit too utopic. Having a currency that is pegged somehow to the values in the real economy is a must if we want to transition into a non-fiat world. Paying rent, receiving a salary, or buying bread and eggs with something as volatile as BTC is a non-starter, and one of the tough problems to be solved in the space.

  • Coinbase: The Heart of the Bitcoin Frenzy
    Nathaniel Popper - The New York Times

    This feels completely outdated by now (three weeks is a long time in the cryptocurrency world!) but I decided to share it anyway. Scaling a company is hard. Scaling a company at the pace that Coinbase is doing it seems impossible. They will hiccup along for a while, but having even a tiny glimpse of how things work on the inside is quite interesting.

  • Google Maps's Moat
    Justin O'Beirne

    If you haven’t seen O’Beirne’s series, you should definitely click through. The first couple of posts he did on the topic came out while I was working in Maps, and honestly some of his points were disheartening. What Google is doing with their geo data is just amazing.

  • How 2017 Became a Turning Point for Tech Giants
    The New York Times - Farhad Manjoo

    I try not to post more than one article by the same author at a given time, but this one was too good to pass up. Ties nicely with other posts about technology and society I’ve been sharing over the past few months. I’m looking forward to what scandals the tech sector will give us in 2018.

  • What I Think We’re Talking About When We’re Talking About What We Can’t Talk About
    Hunter Walk

    A great response to Sam Altman’s Post. I don’t buy that SF is not an open minded place.

  • What Do You Call a World That Can’t Learn From Itself?
    Umair Haque

    Something strange about my experience living in the US for the past ~7 years is that the average person I meet in the US (who is FAR from the average US citizen in most respects) is convinced that the US is great, if not the best, in nearly every field. While I don’t necessarily agree with some of the arguments and examples given here, I definitely agree with the overall sentiment: people in the US have a misplaced superiority complex, and if things keep going in the direction they’re going, they’re only going to fall further behind.

  • The Peril of Taxing Elite Higher Education
    Gregory Mankiw - The New York Times

    Speaking of falling behind, here’s Mankiw making some very reasonable arguments for things that we should not be arguing. The higher education system in this country might need some reform, especially on its financing and in the administrative arms race it has triggered in the last couple of decades, but the tax scheme critiqued by Mankiw here is definitely not a solution. Disincentivizing people from going to college is not necessarily a bad idea - we might be subsidizing too much education in some areas - but if that is the goal, there are more direct ways to address it than through taxing endownments.

  • Pixar's RenderMan
    Harsh Agrawal and Leif Pedersen. - Pixar

    Whenever I see stuff like this I regret not taking any graphics courses at school. Modeling reality is very hard. I remember a few years ago learning about how Pixar did hair simulation and finding it fascinating. The Incredibles was one of the first ones in which they seriously took on the physics of moving hair, and then went all out with their physics engine for Brave. In this article they discuss surface modeling, and a new technique they’re using to speed up rendering.

  • The Prophet (podcast)
    Reply All

    Ever heard about this fake news thing? Here’s some evidence that, at least in Mexico, it goes deeper than you’d think. I wouldn’t be surprised if the exact same thing is happening in the US right now.

  • Our Town (podcast)
    This American Life

    A great analysis of labor and immigration in a little town in Alabama during the 90s, including interviews with locals, and research by several economists, who together make very solid arguments for immigration. The real issues are xenophobia and complacency. Don’t miss part two.

  • Tim O'Reilly on Technology and Work (podcast, 2015)

    I recently started re-listening to some older episodes of EconTalk, trying to see whether the talking points have changed in the past couple of years. The episode focuses on labor economics, and O’Reilly makes a few good points about changes in how we view labor and reputation today, and how that is changing. Listening to this again made me bump up his book a couple of spots for my to-do in 2018.

  • Audio samples from "Natural TTS Synthesis by Conditioning WaveNet on Mel Spectrogram Predictions"
    Jonathan Shen, Ruoming Pang, et al. - Google

    Sharing this one for the novelty. It is nearly impossible to tell which one is a human and which one is a machine, which is mind boggling.

Links - December 5th, 2017

This is another crypto heavy post with plenty of the links in some way discussing crypto assets, but bear with me: there’s other good stuff to read, too.

  • Blockchain Governance: Programming Our Future
    Fred Ehrsam - Medium

    This post is full of non-crypto/non-blockchain interesting ideas, from basic coordination and incentives, all the way to full fledged frameworks to replace democracy, like Hanson’s Futarchy (which I had never heard of before, and found super intriguing!). Framing the problem of governance as one of dispersed information in a changing environment is very Hayekian, which lines up nicely with what I’ve been reading recently. Toward the end, Ehrsam suggests players should focus on the metaprogramming of systems (ie, the decision making workflows/processes by which these systems evolve) instead of the systems themselves. I like this view.

  • Want to Really Understand What all the Hype of Cryptocurrency is About?
    Mark Suster - Both Sides of the Table

    A good intro, with both the bull and the bear cases well summarized. As usual, Suster does a good job of making complex topics available to non-technical users. This seems especially important these days.

  • Bitcoin and Fundamentals
    Stephen Cecchetti and Kermit Schoenholtz - Money and Banking

    In an otherwise boring article, Cecchetti and Schoenholtz wonder whether derivatives markets will negatively affect the valuation of crypto assets. This seems possible, and I think its a prudent point of view. Not much else is new in this post. These two have been skeptical of cryptocurrencies for a long time, and here they take the fundamentals’ “no way to do a DCF on this” side. Specifically, they argue that bitcoin looks like a bubble since “investors buy solely because they see the price rising, without any change in the discount rate, in risk tolerance, or in the projected dividend stream.” As my brother Max mentioned, this one can make the same argument against gold, or as Naval Ravikants keeps repeating “Money is the bubble that never pops.”

  • A Simple Fix for Our Massive Inequality Problem
    Matt Bruenig - The New York Times

    A spin on the basic income idea. Having a large sovereign fund that redistributes its profits seems smart at face value, especially if one believes in r > g. However, it brings up second order questions, like how to ensure such fund is properly managed, or whether those same assets could be more productive out of state’s hands. Sam Altman pushes a similar idea in American Equity, expressing the payout as “an annual share of GDP”. Intriguing, but perhaps too simple to actually work without unexpected effects.

  • Adam Smith: is democracy always better for the poor?
    Branko Milanovic - globalinequality

    I tweeted this out as an “Interesting argument from Milanovic” and he humbly corrected me, saying the argument really is Smith’s. Discussing interactions between democracy and power distribution during the colonial period, Milanovic summarizes Smith’s view: “More democratically-governed colonies (like the British) treat slaves worse because the elite which, in a system of oligarchic republicanism, controls the levels of power is reluctant to punish its own members who are particularly brutal towards slaves.” An unexpected lesson. It made me think of Roberts and Munger’s discussion about slavery, and how plantation owners argued the slaves were better off as slaves than on their own. The system must be full of perverse incentives if that is an idea put forth with a straight face.

  • How Peter Thiel and the Stanford Review Built a Silicon Valley Empire
    Andrew Granato - Stanford Politics

    This investigation of the publication Peter Thiel started while at Stanford was fascinating. Surely, there are other such clubs, at Stanford and elsewhere, with similar outsized influence in the business world. What makes the Stanford Review so interesting is the ideological aspect in this moment in history. I played a bit with the data and built a simple network visualization. As Granato mentions in a different piece, it is strange that by virtue of having been to an elite institution both him and I are just one link away from the people in this group, and of each other.

  • Abe Lincoln and Filibuster Fever
    Tom Chaffin - The New York Times

    An odd thing about coming to the US, was realizing that no one here knows about filibusters. In Costa Rica, their existence is a defining chunk of history. The Walker Affair is disproportionately important to Costa Rican identity. There’s a national memorial holiday, parks named for its heroes, and, after some revisionist history, even the main airport in San Jose got its name from it. Reading this, and listening to Nate DiMeo’s Memory Palace episode on the topic made me notice that while we learn of the incident, in Costa Rica we’re never taught about the motivation. The fact that slavery was deemed legal south of the 36°30′ parallel gave people all sorts of messed up incentives.

  • A 700-Foot Mountain of Whipped Cream (podcast)
    99% Invisible

    This guest episode was an odd but awesome mash up of radio advertisments, jingles, and their histories. I still haven’t decided, but I might have to subscribe to The Organist.

  • Sex Appeal (podcast)
    More Perfect

    Until I listened to this, I did not know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s origin story. This episode of More Perfect was especially good.

Links - November 24, 2017

This was in drafts for a while, so posting without comments.

Links - November 09, 2017

  • Tech Goes to Washington
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    If you have been following along lately, I’ve been talking a lot about tech and politics. Here, Ben Thompson summarizes last week’s hearings. He describes the controversy as “largely centered within the coastal tech-media bubble,” and I could not agree more. The real question is what average Jane and Joe in the rest of the country think about this, and those are exactly the voices that these politicians (in theory) represent. I’m convinced the hearings were useless in the grand scheme of things, but the arguments presented will be tested in other arenas in the months to come - I can’t wait to see where this ends up…

  • Can Washington Stop Big Tech Companies? Don't Bet on It
    Farhad Manjoo - The New York Times

    …Especially because government doesn’t seem to be the right answer here. Regulation of tech companies is especially hard because the zero marginal cost model in which they operate does not match the original point of antitrust. Consumer surplus might be high, but the real problems being tackled here are not simply about prices, supply, and demand. Having the government police feeds is a freedom of speech question, but we also don’t want Zuck & friends to explicitly start censoring what can and can’t be seen. Lots of stuff to think about.

  • Maybe Index Funds Will Destroy Capitalism
    Matt Levine - Bloomberg View

    There are interesting questions about centralized decision making, organization, and coordination here. For example, if the same people own all the airlines, via indexing, does competition still emerge? The answers matter, but I think we’re still pretty far from having enough concentration of capital for this to be real concern.

  • @20
    Paul Ford -

    The internet has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Ford does a little recounting of his time online, and the rise of walled gardens versus the open web.

  • Square, the Twitter Boss’s Other Company, Could Pass It in Value
    Nathaniel Popper - The New York Times

    Square is a more interesting company than Twitter. They don’t sell ads, nor nudge customers into buying things. Their product reduces friction in other companies’ transactions, which sets them apart from the rest of the pack of Silicon Valley startups. I am particularly intrested in how quiet Square (and PayPal and Stripe and others) has been about crypto. I wonder not what Chase and Goldman are planning to do with these new technologies, but what Stripe and Square have in store.

  • Fashion, Maslow and Facebook's control of social
    Benedict Evans

    I like Evans’ analogy of Facebook as a company that surfs on user behavior. As he says, “we attribute vastly too much power to a handful of product managers in Menlo Park, and vastly too little power to the billions of people who look at their phone screen and wonder which app to open.”

  • Rise of the Creative Class Worked a Little Too Well
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    In this column, Smith discusses Richard Florida’s argument that “by creating a good environment for knowledge workers […] cities could attract the human capital that would bring in businesses and ultimately re-invigorate their economies.” As Noah points out, and Florida concedes, this helped many American cities kickstart a new phase of growth, but that came together with increased inequality, and other undesired side effects. I agree with Florida that cities should “invest in things that improve the lives of their poorer residents,” but I am skeptic of Noah’s claim that the federal and state governments should get more involved. There is too much local knowledge required to solve urban ailments, but in the end, these are problems of fragmentation, and short vs. long term incentives, both of which governments are well fit to solve…

  • How to save San Francisco
    Justin Krause - Medium

    …speaking of which. Krause makes good arguments of how to fix up San Francisco. Some make sense, and some don’t. I agree with him that it’s not a problem of resource constraints. It’s an issue of political will. There’s no BART going up to Marin because of NIMBYs, not because there was no money to build it. I remember listening to a similar arugment on the YIMBY pocdast, where they discussed how the arbitrary geographic divisions in the Bay Area’s landscape makes coordination basically impossible.

  • The Line Between Aggressive and Crazy
    Colby Davis - RHS Financial

    Investing is hard. Mostly because of the uncertainty, but also because even the parts of it that seem intuitive are underneath quite complex, making us wrong more often than not. This article discusses optimal strategies for repeated bets (aka the Kelly Criterion) in the context of the stock market. Their test seems biased, given the strategy’s return over the bull market of the last ten years, but the article is interesting nonetheless.

  • Debating Where Tech Is Going to Take Finance
    Tyler Cowen and Matt Levine - Bloomberg View

    In a short conversation, Levine and Cowen discuss recent innovations in the fintech space. From blockchain, blockchain, blockchain to index funds and globalized diversification, the two bring up good examples across the spectrum. What’s interesting, and which neither Cowen nor Levine really discuss is the fact that the surplus of innovation in finance has not really gone to the consumer. Perhaps the only exception mentioned is the expansion of access to credit products, which is not necessarily a net positive.

  • La Sagrada Família (podcast)
    99% Invisible

    With everything happening in Cataluña right now, this was a timely podcast. I did not know the back story behind the cathedral, but now that I’ve learned a bit more about it I am even more excited about visiting Spain at some point in the near future.

  • Hume and Smith, and The Infidel and the Professor (podcast)
    Dennis Rasmussen and Russ Roberts - EconTalk

    If there is one thing I love (and also hate) about EconTalk, is that nearly every episode ends up with me adding a book to my list. In this case, its Rasmussen’s book on the Hume and Smith, and their role in the Scottish Englightenment. I keep thinking that I should just go back to the origin, and read the classics first - Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature and The History of England, as well as Smiths’ The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations - and then go into the modern analysis of their work, but it is nice to have your hand held as you learn these. I always thought it was odd than in 4 years of economics courses I was never asked to read any Smith. As an aside, I found Smith posthumous editorializing of Hume’s work to be fascinating.

  • Elizabeth (podcast)
    The Memory Palace

    A story of the discovery of insulin, and the strange interaction between disesases, cures, and time.

Links - October 25, 2017

  • Just own the damn robots
    Joshua Brown - The Reformed Broker

    Brown brings up Vonnegut’s Player Piano, which features a dichotomous society where “only engineers and managers have gainful employment and meaningful lives.” Connecting the novel’s dystopia to the present isn’t too hard to do. What’s interesting is Brown’s connection to retirement investing. The origins of retirement come from not being able to do your work - i.e., losing your good hand, and with it your ability to work the land. Only in the past few decades did this financial structure evolve to the 401k’s and IRAs as we know them today. What if we’re going back to the origins of the model, except not as insurance for health, but for disruption? Replacement insurance. We invest in FAANG and reap the benefits.

  • Ur-Fascism (1995)
    Umberto Eco - The New York Review of Books

    So much of this seems familiar. The “thinking as a form of emasculation” and the attacks on “modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for betraying traditional values.” Reading Eco’s memories of his childhood in Italy, and comparing them to today’s environment is frightening. In short some features of fascism as described by Eco are:

    1. Cult of tradition.
    2. Rejection of modernism.
    3. Veneration of action for action’s sake.
    4. Repudiation of criticism - disagreement is treason.
    5. Fear of difference, structured against the intruders.
    6. Appeal to a frustrated middle class, suffering from an economic crisis, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.
    7. Lack of a clear social identity. The only privilege is to be born in the same country, with identity defined by enemies within and without.
    8. Shifting rhetoric - the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.
    9. Life as permanent warfare.
    10. Aristocratic and militaristic elitism, which implies contempt for the weak. Power is based upon the weakness of the masses.
    11. Heroism as the norm, which leads to a cult of death.
    12. Disdain for women, and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits.
    13. No Individuals rights - The People conceived as a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. The Leader pretends to be their interpreter.
    14. Impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. Newspeak.

    Anyway go read Eco instead of my crappy summary.

  • Uber is charging drivers to work
    Alex Rosenblat - Medium

    Uber, like most modern companies utilizes randomized and semi-randomized experiments all the time to imporve their product. In most cases, these are externally labeled as promotions, or offers. In a strange case of these “deals,” Uber recently offered its drivers to pay a fee for the chance to get higher pay rates in the future. However, since Uber has nearly full control of the system - and specifically, the dispatch - this smells like a scammy pay to play. How can drivers trust that Uber won’t throttle their rides as they get near the break-even? This is hard to prove, unless you’re Uber. Over on HN, the discussion turned to ways that Uber could be cut up in an antitrust case. One company as the dispatch, the other handles the rest. That could work. We’ll have to wait and see what happens now that Lyft has some new air.

  • Intellectual Property for the Twenty-First-Century Economy
    Joseph E. Stiglitz, Dean Baker and Arjun Jayadev - Project Syndicate

    I recently had a conversation with my girlfriend about how IP is a system of the past that is about to change. Here, Stiglitz and friends agree with me, and say that the solution should look a bit like open source software, but don’t really give a good answer to the question at hand: how can we change international IP law to maximize welfare in the long run? I’d love to learn more about this topic.

  • When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy
    Susan Dominus - The New York Times

    We’re humans and, inevitably, we tend make examples out of innocent people when we try to solve hairy problems. I am sure there are ten psychology papers about this somewhere, most unreplicable, and most covered in some pop-science magazine with an accompanying TED talk. I am sorry for Cuddy. What she’s going through must suck. However, I am convinced that the overall movement will benefit the field, and science as a whole.

  • Our Model
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    I realize that in a way this is an ad for USV, but it is also a good explanation of how the VC business works, and its cyclical nature. I wish Fred had expanded more on how the new paradigm of cryptographic tokens and decentralized applications will change their model. I guess that’s the secret sauce, and we’ll have to wait and see.

  • After the end of the startup era
    Jon Evans - TechCrunch

    I can’t remember where I read (heard?) this argument, but I think the real issue is not so much that there is no upcoming technical revolution, but that the behemots have learned to disrupt themselves. The FAANG companies are pouring resources into areas that undermine their cash cows. Google is investing in one-shot answer voice assistants that can’t show ads. Apple is developing hardware like the Watch and the AirPods, whose goal is to distance us from our iPhones. Whatever can’t be done in-house in a reasonable timeline is solved by acquiring or copying. This hampers bottom up Clay Christensen style disruption for sure, but I am by no means as bearish as Jon Evans is in his piece. Technology never ceases to amaze us, and the paradigms keep changing. More on this topic, by Farhad Manjoo here.

  • Why You Don't Know Anybody in the Military
    Justin Fox - Bloomberg

    The demographics of the US Military are interesting, but I won’t pretend to know anything about them. The fact that there is such a strong divide on who signs up for it is a problem. Eventually, seemingly cohesive identities break. The distance is not only geographic.

  • Faster Growth Begins With a Land Tax in U.S. Cities
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    When I first read George, it just clicked. It seems beyond logical that windfalls should be taxed at a high rate, especially when said taxation is paired with a fixed market size. If you want to go back to the source, read this excerpt, but Noah’s piece is a good window into how the land lays today. Pun intended.

  • A Letter to Jamie Dimon
    Adam Ludwin -

    A lucid explanation of the technological breakthroughs of Bitcoin and other cryptographic assets. A bit long, but worthwhile. Ludwin’s main point is that this technology created a new kind of asset - one that enables decentralized applications to be financed and operated. Whether there is a real need for these DApps is still TBD, but Ludwin is (cautiosly) bullish in the long term. The Dimon thing is just clickbait, and Ludwin hedges his bets by acknowledging the frothiness in the crypto market. As an aside, Nick Tomaino’s The Slow Death of the Firm from earlier this week is even more bullish on decentralized applications, and also a good read.

  • One person's history of Twitter, from beginning to end
    Mike Monteiro - Medium

    More on the social cost of Twitter, and the kind of dynamics enabled by having social networks without strong principled moderation. It is always intriguing to read opinions that have morphed over time, and to go back to the origin story that most observers can’t tell first hand.

  • Megan McArdle on Internet Shaming and Online Mobs (podcast)

    Totally related to Monteiro’s post above. McArdle and Roberts discuss how internet communities have inherited all the bad things about small-town dynamics, but shed most of the positives. When all of history is a few clicks away, errors become much more costly. This is one of the better EconTalk episodes in recent memory.

  • Platforming the Future (podcast)
    Andreessen Horowitz

    Hearing Benedict Evans and Tim O’Reilly discuss O’Reilly’s new book was good, but a lot of it was a rehash from the previously shared EconTalk episode. About halfway through there’s an interesting discussion on optimization. We’ve created institutions that optimize for certain metrics at all cost. At the micro level, we have companies building machine learning models to drive engagement, but at the macro level we expect companies to maximize shareholder value. This is a human decision, codified into law to maximize welfare - at least in theory. Perhaps trusting the market mechanisms and the individual search for arbitrage opportunities is no longer enough. There might be other trade-offs to consider in how companies, and the market at large, are run. In a way, the market acquires a life of its own, not too differentt from a paperclip maximizer.

  • The Gun Show (podcast)
    More Perfect

    I have been enjoying More Perfect recently. It has good insights into American History, and why things are the way they are in this country. They go deep. For example, there is a whole section of this episode about how the Black Panthers played a key role in the revival of the Second Amendment, and the rights to own guns. I had no idea, and fact that even this has a racial component is says a lot about the United States. On that note, if you have any general American History book recommendations, let me know, I’d like to learn more.

Links - October 16, 2017

I read a bunch of stuff this weekend. Most of the things I read were about the interactions between tech and policy. There is a strange techno-skeptic somber mood that makes me feel weird about the future, and I am trying to read and write a lot about it to clear my thoughts.

I’m part of a generation that never knew the world before the internet. Did it always feel like we’re in a dystopia?

  • The Transaction Costs of Tokenizing Everything
    Elaine Ou - Elaine's Idle Mind

    As I’ve mentioned again and again, the value of ICOs, tokens, and cryptocurrencies is in the new economic structures they enable. In her post, Ou goes through some late 90s/early 00s history of failed protocols and ideas which are now actually possible thanks to blockchains. However, the point of her post is that the potential benefit of the introduction of blockchain comes hand in hand with an increased friction in the form of transaction costs. Whether the benefit of deploying these ideas is greater than the friction introduced remains to be seen, and that is what will make or break each of these crypto projects.

  • The Political Awakening of Silicon Valley
    Vauhini Vara - The California Sunday Magazine

    I have long held the view that governments operate with relative ignorance from what their constituents want - not because of nefarious reasons, but because humans are humans and communicating our needs and desires is individually really hard, and nearly impossible at the collective level. The Silicon Valley mindset has its blind spots, but the fixation on experimentation and short feedback-loop iteration is something that could improve policy decisions. It is good to see the top brass realize some changes need to happen outside of the market.

  • The scale of tech winners
    Benedict Evans

    Today, unlike in the past 50 years, there isn’t one big tech company at the helm directing the path of technology a-la IBM/Microsoft. Instead, incessant competition between the big four means these companies are always on their toes, and that they are always thinking of how to reinvent themselves. This is a point that Evans has been making a lot lately, and which makes me optimistic about the future of technology. However, these companies are huge, and growing bigger day by day in a way we have not experienced before. The implications of that are not clear. Pardon me the long quote, but it’s too good to pass up:

    There probably won’t be a technology that has 10x greater scale than smartphones, as mobile was 10x bigger than PCs and PCs were bigger than mainframes, simply because 5bn people will have smartphones and that’s all the (adult) people. There will be something, though, and though ’something will change, but we don’t know what’ is an unfalsifiable point, so is ‘nothing will change’, and I know which side of that argument I find more likely.

  • The real roots of early city states may rip up the textbooks
    Ben Collyer - New Scientist

    I started reading Scott’s book, Seeing Like a State, and found it super dense, but also super interesting. I need to finish it, and then also read his new book, which is covered in the article. The origins of the state, and the coercive systems that come with it are fascinating. At some point people agree that the overall benefit from these institutions is higher than any alternative, but the state machinery quickly becomes a self fulfilling prophecy - path dependence is real. Upending our understanding of how states came about could really change what we consider as possible paths forward, which is what’s most exciting about understanding them in the first place.

  • The only job a robot couldn’t do
    Daniel Carter - The Outline

    A highly dystopian article. The presentation of this gig economy company as a consumer education platform is frightening. The fact that a team of engineers is building this, consciously, makes me upset. This is not an algorithm pulling the wrong thing into a feed, or acting upon the biases in a training dataset - these are people building the infrastructure for an ominous future. Why watch Black Mirror when non-fiction reads the same?

  • Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend
    Noam Cohen - The New York Times

    The article was really good. However, it’s something that the average person outside SV does not find problematic. People think of FB/Google/Amazon/etc as benign - we use them because they’re better than alternatives. The problem is, the more we use them, the more they become irreplaceable. Network effects/economies of scale here are a strange loop. Google is good because it has all our data, it’s bad because it has all our data. There’s a lot to be worked out here. How much of it is narrative, versus actual skepticism.

  • Becoming a Steelworker Liberated Her. Then Her Job Moved to Mexico.
    Farah Stockman - The New York Times

    With in depth stories like these, it is clear that the NYT is working hard on showing more stories of Trump’s middle-America. There are many interesting topics here: identity and the meaning of work, the decreasing role of labor unions in US businesses, the politics and incentives of health care, the education system, race, gender, otherness, etc. What I was least expecting were the direct comparison between the Mexican workers and the Midwesterners - one’s perception of the other as rich with their multiple-times higher salary, and the other’s misconception of what things are like outside their geographic bubble. This is good reporting.

  • Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies
    Paul Krugman - The New York Times

    With this blog post, Krugman seems to have forgotten some of his pre-election punditry. Nevertheless, he makes a number of great arguments, backed by data and peer reviewed studies. Since most of you won’t click through, here’s the TLDR (all these are lies being fed to the American public):

    1. America is the most highly-taxed country in the world
    2. The estate tax is destroying farmers and truckers
    3. Taxation of pass-through entities is a burden on small business
    4. Cutting profits taxes really benefits workers
    5. Repatriating overseas profits will create jobs
    6. This is not a tax cut for the rich
    7. It’s a big tax cut for the middle class
    8. It won’t increase the deficit
    9. Cutting taxes will jump-start rapid growth
    10. Tax cuts will pay for themselves
  • Meet The CamperForce, Amazon's Nomadic Retiree Army
    Jessica Bruder - Wired

    I knew that Amazon employed a ton of seasonal workers, but I had no idea of the extent of the program, nor the fact that most of the laborers were retirees. Bruder does a great job in this exposé, giving us a window into the dystopian labor conditions that her protagonists endure. Most interesting is the fact that for a non-insignificant group of the population, the pangs of the financial crisis are still very much alive. I also read a review of her book in the NYT, where the reviewer pointed out a fact I kept thinking about as I read the column - this is all about old white people. A big error of omission in an otherwise great read.

  • From boiling lead and black art: An essay on the history of mathematical typography
    Eddie Smith - Practically Efficient

    Technology is also interesting sometimes, not just dismal and apocalyptic. The printing press is a good example, and Smith starts his story there, leading all the way to today’s tooling. A somewhat misleading title, as it actually covers way more than just mathematic typography.

  • The Crowbar
    Crowded Cities

    To close on a good note, here is a cool project - training crows to collect cigarette butts, with computer vision and creativity!

Links - October 14, 2017

  • What Facebook Did to American Democracy
    Alexis Madrigal - The Atlantic

    A great summary of how social media’s influence creeped into the political landscape. Madrigal’s account is more thorough than I could even imagine. Perhaps the most interesting point about his piece - one that I had not seen made this clearly elsewhere - is that the 2016 election was not so much about blind-siding, but frog-boiling.

  • Cryptocurrency Incentives and Corporate Structures
    Elad Gil

    The reason cryptocurrencies, and the technology behind them, are exciting for me is not their insane returns, but the economic and political implications of creating totally new incentive systems. Matt Levine has a good summary of how these differ from the traditional VC backed company in yesterday’s Money Stuff, but Elad Gil’s post goes much more in depth into what kinds of corporate structures are enabled by crypto.

  • Trustworthy Networking
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    The notion that Trumpism arose thanks to the 2017 equivalent of a DDoS attack, or an SQL injection on social media has been going around for a while. Here, Thompson makes a good analogy between Facebook today and Microsoft in the early 2000s, and exposes the dangers of assuming people’s good intentions on your platform.

  • Trump and Stocks: What Gives?
    Justin Fox - Bloomberg View

    A lot of people are asking themselves how is it that the market is doing so well, when the political environment and various economic indicators make it seem like it should not. Many people predicted that with Trump as president, the US economy would not do well - myself included - so what’s going on? Fox argues that a good chunk of the growth is coming from increased consumption abroad, that investors expect Trump’s business friendly policies to be good for the market, and that maybe we’re just looking at the wrong metrics. One point he doesn’t make, and which I have not seen elsewhere, is that the dollar itself is losing value (nearly 6% since election day), so the bull-market is not actually as strong as it seems.

  • When is a Dollar not a Dollar?
    Leo Polovets - Coding VC

    I initially thought this would go in another direction, i.e. money from different VC firms comes with different kinds of strings attached, giving different investment dollars different real values. However, Polovets pleasantly surprised me with a list of how changes in the various lines on your balance sheet have very different effects, and how startups could make better decisions by keeping that in mind.

  • I wanted to understand why racists hated me. So I befriended Klansmen
    Daryl Davis - The Washington Post

    Racism is about ignorance, and this story is just one more example of it. I insist that all of politics distills down to applied otherness. Once you remove otherness, and you can see, um, others, as equals, it is much easier to agree on what a government should or should not do…

  • Let Them Eat Paper Towels
    Paul Krugman - The New York Times

    …and on that note, here’s Krugman showing how the administration, and a good chunk of the population, don’t see Puerto Ricans as Americans.

  • The Athletic Brassiere (podcast)
    99% Invisible

    It is always strange to hear about how much thought and effort went into the development of products that I don’t use and totally take for granted. One of the things I like the most about Roman Mars’ podcast is that it exposes me to stories that I would never wonder about on my own.

  • Suitable for Children (podcast)
    This American Life

    More on race, history, and immigration.

  • Flood Money (podcast)
    Planet Money

    An explanation of the insane insurance system that allows people to live in flood-prone areas in Houston, and elsewhere in the US. Through the National Flood Insurance Program “one percent of homes have been responsible for more than 25 percent of the claims,” which is kind of the point of insurance - except when you stop and think that if this incentive system were not in place, people would just not live there! By insuring these homes at subsidized rates, the government is incentivizing dangerous behavior (living in a flood-prone area) out of tax payers’ pockets.

  • Tim O'Reilly on What's the Future (podcast)

    An unusual EconTalk, where the topic is a mixed bag of technocracy and an optimistic outlook of the current technological revolution.

  • The Super-Aggregators (podcast)

    In case the Stratechery post above was not enough, here’s Ben doubling down. Aggregation theory paired with politics. Towards the end of the episode there is a discussion on how, via regulation, increased transparency in the decisions made by algorithms could enable journalists and citizens to openly review the outcomes of machine learned systems, which in turn would change the behavior of the advertisers and scammers. Overall, a good way to spend an hour.

Links - September 29th, 2017

September has been a long month. Moving apartments is both mentally, and physically taxing, and the process is extremely time consuming. These have been sitting idle in the draft box way too long, so here goes:

Links - August 26, 2017

  • Death Arbitrage and Uber Battles
    Matt Levine - Bloomberg

    I have been reading a lot of Levine’s writing lately (mostly his Money Stuff series/newsletter) and this is a great example of it: a nice mix of crazy, technology, and politics, viewed through the lens of finance. “People are worried that people aren’t worried enough” and “Blockchain blockchain blockchain,” are recurring sections that have kept me coming back.

  • Coase's Spectre
    Cory Doctorow - Crooked Timber

    I have never read Cory Doctorow’s novels. He was recently in a Planet Money episode about his change of heart about copyright laws. It was really good, and I’m surprised I didn’t share it after I heard it! This post about his newest book, and the economics behind it, made me want to read his work. I have found myself enjoying fiction as much as non-fiction lately. It is harder to find books whose stories touch on issues that you’re interested in, since you’re not looking at the “business” or “science” section, but there are plenty of good things to read. In this case, it is the economics of coordination.

  • Weird Python Integers
    Kate Murphy

    This post, and it’s follow-up made rounds on the python speaking part of the internet this week. It reminded me of Adrien Guillo’s post on the internals of Python strings. The little optimizations that happen under the hood can lead to surprising and unexpected behavior, but once you learn the deterministic rules behind the nice API, it is easy to predict how things will work, and you can use that to your advantage. Now I’m trying to decide how to optimize my current project with string interning.

  • Why Is Game of Thrones' Westeros Still Poor?
    Adam Ozimek - Forbes (but actually Outline, because Forbes is impossible to read)

    "The economics of GoT" is a good genre. A long time ago I had read a similar article about its money and banking system, and turns out it was also by Ozimek. In this post, he tries to explain why there hasn’t been an industrial revolution in GoT. The TL;DR is a) there’s no cheap energy source (coal), b) scarcity of both labor and capital, c) a hierarchical closed system of science/knowledge (the Maesters). Trying to poke holes in a fantasy world with real world theories is always interesting.

  • Resource Constraints
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    Resource allocation is hard, and only gets harder with size. That’s why startups can carve themselves a niche and take over huge companies. Most projects are not worth pursuing, and not useful. Focus gets the win. Pretty related to this a16z episode on growth strategies and how to handle cash.

  • Restaurants Are the New Factories
    Derek Thompson - The Atlantic

    But coal! The Rust Belt! Our jobs!

  • ICOs and Governance
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    The human side of technology and business are much harder than the technology and the business themselves. Decision making is hard, whether you ran an ICO or raised a series A. Convincing people that you should go one way or another takes leadership. Development in system design, focusing on how to align incentives for the long term is one of the best things that will come out of the current crypto-craze.

  • A history of branch prediction from 1500000 BC to 1995
    Dan Luu

    One of those articles that make me wish I had been a CS/CE major. The things we do to make computers go fast are crazy.

  • Who You Gonna Call? (podcast)
    This American Life

    A very meta show, where two of the acts are about radio shows. The prologue was intensely sad. Go call your parents.

  • Can You Patent a Steak? (podcast)
    Planet Money

    The patent system is a mess. In this episode, the Planet Money folks try to explain what ideas are and are not patentable. Among others, they discuss beef cuts, and easily snackable variations on chicken wings from non wing parts of the chicken. I listened to this on my way to meet friends for Wing Wednesday, quite fitting.

  • John McWhorter on the Evolution of Language and Words on the Move (podcast)

    An unusual guest for this podcast, discussing culture and language instead of economics. The link, and the reason why this is interesting, is that language is a continually evolving emergent system, just like the economy. No one designed English, or Spanish, and there is no one person dictating what can and can’t be said. Sure, there are bodies like the Real Academia Española, who “oversee” a language, but they can’t stop us from inserting an emoji in the middle of our sentences, or from dropping a whole set of pronouns from normal use. I wish they had spent some time around topics of nation and identity building around language, but otherwise this is one of my favorite EconTalk episodes lately.

  • Plastic (podcast)
    Tim Hartford - 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

    We’ve all seen that scene from The Graduate. Here’s some backround info on the invention of the material. In many ways, I owe a lot of who I am to that one word: “plastics”

  • Poetry, music and identity
    Jorge Drexler -

    I have loved this song since I first heard it back in 2004-2005. Adding this whole layer of its origin story (a night out with Sabina, of all people!), and the history behind its structure, was awesome. The fact that everyone claims this metric/structure as their own, and as a defining aspect of the musical identities of their country is quite telling. Like Drexler says towards the end, “deep down, we’re all from nowhere and a little bit from everywhere.”

Links - August 10, 2017

  • The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely on Video and Voice
    Eric Bellman - The Wall Street Journal

    My experience of technology, and that of most readers of this blog, is one predicated on high speed access, tens, if not hundreds of gigabytes of storage, and last generation processors paired with large amounts of memory. How does the internet work when “fast” means you’re streaming over 2G? What do your apps store when the drive on your phone holds only a couple of gigs? How do you find content your when you’re illiterate? This article doesn’t try (and can’t!) answer these questions, but provides data and anecdotes of why they are questions worth asking.

  • Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart
    David Leonhardt - The New York Times

    That’s trickle down economics for you. Not only is the US economy growing at a slower rate, but it is also growing extremely unequally. Intuitively, these curves should have negative slopes - it is much easier to find an opportunity to grow $100 into $102 than to turn $1M into $1.02M - so what changed in this complex system that lead us to the current state? Rules over wealth and wages are diverging more and more.

  • The Fallacy of Biological Determinism
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    I have tried to avoid the discussion about the Google memo from last week, so I have read very few articles (and sadly way too many tweets) on the topic. I know I disagree with the author, and reading N think pieces won’t change that, so I’ve tried to shut it off. However, I read almost every post on Continuations, and Albert’s take seems like a sober response: we have overcome economic, historical and technological determinism, so it seems logical that even if the biological determinism implied by Damore (the memo’s author) were real, we could overcome them with… wait for it… technology!

  • GAFA's org structures as a platform for growth
    Benedict Evans

    Organizational behavior is insane. Moving thousands of people towards a common goal is hard, and I hadn’t thought about how insane this 10x personnel increase that Evans brings up is. You should listen to the related podcast, and if you haven’t read Sinofsky’s Functional versus Unit Organizations, you should probably do that first.

  • Modern American elites have come to favour inconspicuous consumption
    The Economist

    This article argues that “modern American elites recoiled from accumulating mere goods now that globalisation has made them affordable to the middle class” and are instead now spending their money inconspicously - buying experiences, and high social value items instead. I don’t know if I buy the argument, but I guess I’ll have to read the book. I have also been meaning to read Veblen for a while, but that’s a bit denser.

  • Fewer Immigrants Mean More Jobs? Not So, Economists Say
    Binyamin Appelbaum - The New York Times

    Usually I am biased when talking about economics, but this argument wouldn’t help me anyway. Letting low skill workers come in help the US, too, as they generate business and grow the pie for everyone else. It’s not a zero sum game.

  • English language and American solipsism
    Branko Milanovic - globalinequality

    Is it good for your country that everyone else speaks your language, and that the majority of the population can virtually ignore what’s going on outside its borders? I’ve always argued that it is not. Branko agrees with me. The average American is isolated in their culture. Relatedly, if they can’t find things on maps, they’re less likely to want to use diplomacy as a solution. That’s bad.

  • The Eddie Murphy Rule (Podcast)
    Planet Money

    Among other things, this made me think of the opening chapter of Flash Boys, and how the crazy floors of stock and commodity exchanges are not what they used to be. Now I want to go watch Trading Places. (Also, Roman Mars on Planet Money? More of that, please.)

  • The Stethoscope (Podcast)
    99% Invisible

    Speaking of Roman Mars… I think this episode represents well what I like so much about his podcast. A mix between a history class (who invented the Stethoscope?), a design review (how can you improve upon the original rolled up notebook?), modern culture (why do doctors wear their stethoscopes around their shoulders?), and a bunch of interesting interviews. Worth the 20 minutes.

  • City maps from tourists’ feelings
    Beñat Arregi

    Using Airbnb ratings to visualize a visitor’s experience of a city is an interesting idea. Understanding neighborhoods, and social problems (just look at the Tenderloin in the SF visualization!)

Links - August 04, 2017

  • Bitcoin Exchange Had Too Many Bitcoins
    Matt Levine - Bloomberg

    Last night my cousin asked me, “wait, so I heard bitcoin split, how does that work?” to which I replied, “it is not quite a split,” and pointed him to this article. The implications of value creation via new blockchains, and how that value affects the pre-existing base is something I had not thought about until now. It might be that inflation in the world of crypto comes from the creation of new chains. A lot of thinking to do about this. Also recommended, Levine’s follow-up “Bitcoin Forks and Unicorn Fakes”. In general, I’ve been enjoying Levine’s writing a lot lately.

  • How BuzzFeed’s Tasty Conquered Online Food
    Farhad Manjoo - The New York Times

    I absolutely hate Buzzfeed’s super optimized methods to grab my attention, and knowing that’s the goal I try to avoid their non-investigative content. However, Tasty is a great idea, and it is very well executed. I probably have burned hours of my life looking at their cooking videos, and yet not once have I tried one of their recipes (even though I cook almost every day!). There is just something about melting cheese oozing out or chocolate drizzling that makes you want to keep watching.

  • Millennials Unearth an Amazing Hack to Get Free TV: the Antenna
    Ryan Knutson - The Wall Street Journal

    I wonder how much of an actual trend this is. I haven’t paid for cable since I moved to the US, but I also have no interest in local TV, and I don’t think any of my friends do either. Yes, yes, we’re not representative, blah blah, but still. The craziest thing about this is people’s reaction to the fact that some things are free ‘No, you can’t live in America for free, what are you talking about?’ 🙄

  • This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit
    Tobias Rose-Stockwell - Medium

    The ethics of journalism, and the history of how modern journalism itself came about are interesting topics that I don’t know much about. I should work to change that. In the current historical context, it is important to understand how and why the content we consume is created. This post was a little too consparicy theory heavy for me, and yet I thought it was a worthwhile read. As I mentioned to my friend this weekend, I worry about the future of journalism. Laurene Powell Jobs buying a majority stake in the Atlantic or Bezos buying the Post kind of works in the short term, because their ideologies align with mine, and I kind of trust their intent, but tell me that the Koch brothers are buying the WSJ, and my reaction would be different. Creating incentives to keep the editorial integrity while maintaining a viable business is a tough 21st century problem.

  • In ICO utopia, there is no division of labour
    Izabella Kaminska - FT Alphaville

    A good point about governance, shareholder influence, and, in a way, democracy. If the shareholders are idiots, you end up making bad decisions. But if the shareholders are really smart but skilled in a different area, you end up making bad decisions too.

  • The Cycles of Cities
    Tim Taylor - Conversable Economist

    Urban economics and gentrification are recurring topics on this blog. This post doesn’t bring much new to the conversation, but the explanation of feedback loops and how the durability of buildings relates to the length of these feedback loops is interesting.

  • The company isn’t a family
    David Heinemeier Hansson - Signal v. Noise

    A short post on management. I like DHH’s and Basecamp’s view of people management. I don’t know how closely they follow what they preach, but they seem to assign value to the right things.

  • Fear and Loathing in Homer and Rockville (Podcast)
    This American Life

    Fighting over immigration where there is virtually none. The first act, where they talk to a skeptic who tries to educate himself by reading news online, is just amazing.

  • Breaking News (Podcast)

    Who do we trust in a world where everything is falsifiable? I am really curious about how cryptography and provable mathematics could change this. Companies like Keybase are already working on it, but it is far far from mainstream. Even technical people like myself have trouble wrapping our heads around this issue.

  • Long Distance (Podcast)
    Reply All

    The first of a two part show. Alex gets a scam phone call, and he follows it to the source.

  • Barbed Wire (Podcast)
    50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

    Tim Harford has a way of making even the most commonplace items interesting. Also recommended, the episodes on the Dynamo, the Limited Liability Company and Paper Money.

Links - July 21st, 2017

It seems like this is a post where articles are paired up in some way or another. That didn’t happen on purpose.

  • How did usury stop being a sin and become respectable finance?
    Alex Mayyasi - Aeon

    Religion’s role in the rise of finance is an interesting topic. I remember reading about it in Dimont’s God, Jews, and History 10 years ago (I should probably it read again), and being surprised by how much of a role Judaism had in the development of modern banking. This article discusses the changing views of money within Christianity, and how lending shifted from being sinful to respectable. The development of money and commerce is related to slowly expanding our circles of trust - from families, to tribes, to villages, to towns, and eventually to cities and countries. As transactions become trustless, finance becomes faceless, and lending at interest is no longer one person screwing the other one, but oil in the gears of a bigger machine.

  • Apple Prime and the iPhone Pro
    M.G. Siegler - 500ish Words

    It is interesting to think about Apple products as part of a subscription model. M.G. makes good points, none of which I can comment on.

  • Wall Street Has Begun to Think About Apple In a New Way
    Neil Cybart - Above Avalon

    And speaking of Apple and things I can’t comment on, here’s some more interesting financial analysis on the company. When I read articles like this one I wish I had paid more attention in my corporate finance classes.

  • Why Not Taxation and Representation?
    Timothy Taylor - Conversable Economist

    How would an alternative history where the American Colonies get seats in the British Parliament have played out? In Imagined Communities, Anderson repeatedly mentions that the colonial nation state emerges in the Americas partly because creole colonists are not given the same opportunities as the “actual British” or the “Actual Spanish.” A colonist could rise in the state bureaucracy up to a certain point, but never reach the highest courts. This led to an imagining of “us” against “them” where the “us” were the colonists, and the “them” was the empire. This dynamic led to rebellions, and a variety of fights for independence across the continent. Are there any examples of colonies that were granted full “part of the empire” status? I couldn’t think of any.

  • Content isn't king
    Benedict Evans

    Holding the keys to the content is not as important as it used to be. Partially, I think this has to do with the fact that the market for content has been totally flooded, an aspect that Evans does not touch at all in his article.

  • In Urban China, Cash Is Rapidly Becoming Obsolete
    Paul Mozur - The New York Times

    I would love to spend some time in China and understand how some technologies are being leapfrogged over there. The article reminded me of Charlie Warzel’s cashless Swedish adventure, which I shared when it came out last year, and is totally worth your time. Especially interesting here are the aspects of consumer lock-in to these two companies (Alibaba and Tencent) mobile payment systems, and the lock-out experienced by foreigners.

  • Alienation 101
    Brook Larmer - 1843 Magazine

    As international student who landed in the Midwest for the first time for college, this was interesting. Granted that the cultural differences between the US and China are much larger than those with Costa Rica, but I can still relate to a lot of it. It was much easier to hang out with other Latin American students, and enclose myself in the international bubble, but spending time with people from all around the world, including the US, was one of the highlights of my college experience.

  • The Cost of a Hot Economy in California: A Severe Housing Crisis
    Adam Nagourney and Conor Dougherty - The New York Times

    Last night I attended an event about the interaction between technology and housing. As you’d imagine, this is a hot topic in San Francisco. One of the panelists pointed out that unlike other countries, in the US home ownership is seen as an investment, and not as a means of shelter. From her perspective, this philosophy has led regulators to crystallize a perverse set of incentives into law, in order to preserve the value of those investments, at a huge social cost. And I totally agree. When I see all the single-family two story homes in the western side of San Francisco, or the low rise buildings neighboring the downtown area, I just get more convinced that this is a policy issue, not an innovation issue. Having an economic boom should be a good thing!

  • Should we build lots more housing in San Francisco? Three reasons people disagree
    Julia Galef

    Disagreeing over the facts, and these levels skepticism over quantitative analysis is almost laughable, but NIMBYs, and other critics of the pro-housing movement do have some good arguments. Here’s a quick summary.

  • Trump's Lucky Break on the Economy
    Justin Fox - Bloomberg View

    I have always said that who is president does not matter as much as the historical context, and who that person surrounds themselves with. The fact that things were going well when he got to power means that people shouldn’t be too unhappy (yet!) but they are. What will happen once the economy goes south?

  • The Death of a Pig (1948)
    E.B. White - The Atlantic

    Hannah made fun of me for reading this without knowing who E.B. White is. Sometimes, even she forgets that I’m not American, and that I don’t know everything about this culture. I read this essay because it strangely showed up on Hacker News. I still have not decided what I think about it.

  • The Ceremony (podcast)

    I have mixed feelings about the fact that ZCash is on Radiolab. On the one hand, it’s great to see good reporting on cryptocurrencies, and they do a pretty good job of making it accessible to laymen, but on the other hand they hide the math behind mysticism and science. It is ok to explain simplified versions of the concepts, but even the title of the episode gives it a magical connotation that I can’t come to terms with.

  • The Golden Era of Productivity, Retail, and Supply Chains (podcast)
    Marc Levinson, Hanne Tidnam, and Sonal Chokshi - a16z

    The episodes of a16z where people talk about the past are way better than those where they talk about the present or the future. “How did we get to now” says a lot more about where we are going than the latest and the shiniest.

  • Jones Iver - Alex Jones Rants as an Indie Folk Song
    Nick Lutsko

    This is funny, but it is also sad. Sad!

Links - July 2nd, 2017

  • Should Startups Care About Profitability?
    Mark Suster - Both Sides of the Table

    Dealing with the trade offs between profits and growth is one of the toughest problems in business. Suster frames his article as “profits vs. growth,” but when he compares companies under different scenarios he’s really talking about the decision of raising VC money to fuel growth, not about picking a plowback ratio. The argument put forward in the post is that the calculus of “cash in hand today” vs. “debt today plus a promise of more cash tomorrow” is not a big question in high margin businesses with “winner takes most” outcomes.

  • Getting Past the Dominance of the Nation State
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    This is one of the topics I keep bringing back in conversations with friends, and which I keep getting made fun of for. People forget that the institution of the nation state as we know it is only a couple centuries old, and that it also replaced a seemingly irreplaceable structure. Reading Imagined Communities (see my notes as I go here) has convinced me that the status quo is fragile, and while it won’t change overnight, there is pressure at both ends to revise it. We’re moving towards globalization, while cities gain prominence and develop as smaller localized units that don’t necessarily respond to “the nation”. Countries will be around for a long time, but I am certain that within my lifetime the power balance will have shifted.

  • Health Insurance and the R Word (Redistribution)
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    Lots of talk these days about insurance these days, for obvious reasons, so here’s another post by Wenger.

  • Thoughts on Insurance
    Aaron Harris - Y Combinator

    This one is less about the politics of it, but the actual mechanics. The business of insurance is one of pricing - the better you are at calculating the likelihood of whatever mishaps you are insuring against, the more money you’ll make. Harris explains the various players along the value chain, and discusses how the insurance market is structured.

  • Why libertarians should read Marx
    Chris Dillow - Stumbling and Mumbling

    Dillow lists three reasons. First, he starts with Marx’s view of economics as a historical process. Since the economy is “founded upon past injustices” and the “denial of the rights and freedom which libertarians celebrate,” the status quo can’t be regarded as legitimate by libertarians. Second, he discusses Marx’s perspective on property rights, and how they might discourage investment and innovation. Lastly, he posits that Marx’s gripe with capitalism was not that it was unfair, but that it robbed laborers from their freedom. As someone mentioned on HN a few days ago in the context of a minimum wage discussion, “When a person is desperate, ‘voluntary’ starts to lose all meaning.” I’m not a libertarian, but I should read Marx.

  • iPhone Turns Ten
    Neil Cybart - Above Avalon

    The insanity of transforming the way we interact with technology a second time. “Apple had sold approximately 180M devices since being founded in 1976 (70M Macs and 110M iPods) […] Apple is on track to sell its two billionth iPhone at some point in 2020.”

  • There Goes the Gayborhood
    Scott James - The New York Times

    Hannah has been reading a lot of books on gentrification lately, so we’ve been discussing the topic more than usual. What is the meaning of gentrification today in these neighborhoods, when the gay population were the original gentrifiers? I live a few blocks away from the Castro, so you could put me in the bad-guys bucket in this story. This is a hot-button issue, and I have no answers on what’s the right way to solve it, but I am convinced the real cause is policy, not the people moving in.

  • What can developers learn from being on call?
    Julia Evans

    On call rotations are about aligning incentives. Code that is suspected to have bugs is never merged and pushed to production on a Friday afternoon when the person writing it is on the hook to fix the error over the weekend. In my two years at Apple I have learned a lot about monitoring and logging, and one of the biggest lessons has been to write fool-proof error messages for anyone else in the team to quickly get context and all the information needed to debug without thinking too much. The post is full of other examples.

  • The Danger Of Inadvertently Praising Zygomatic Arches
    Robert Sapolsky -

    I thought I had posted articles from before, but apparently this is a first one! If you haven’t visited their website, you definitely should. Every year they post a broad question, and ask people from a wide range of scientific and technical fields to answer it. In 2013, the question was “What should we be worried about?” and Robert Sapolsky answered with “What really worries me is that it is so hard for virtually anyone to truly act as if there is no free will.” Go read his answer, and then more questions on Edge.

  • Revising the Fault Line (Podcasts)

    And if that was not enough, here’s some more Sapolsky on free will.

  • Mexico 68 (Podcast)
    99% Invisible

    Design meets history, meets civil unrest, meets politics.

  • You Should Do a Story (Podcast)
    99% Invisible

    5 stories in 1. A Standard Oil gas station in San Francisco to comply with trademark law, “desire paths” and how user experience beats designers wishes, 50-Hz vs 60-Hz electrical systems, and a whole section on local design solutions, followed by a strange story about street naming.

  • A Not-So-Simple Majority (Podcast)
    This American Life

    Another fight over public governance, funding, and what happens when we can’t agree on what the government should and should not provide. This case on public education is insane. The religious side to this story makes me especially angry.

  • Shrimp Fight Club (Podcast)
    Planet Money

    Another fight over public governance, funding, and what happens when… Wait, that’s the same description as the post right above, but here we’re talking about the federal government and funding scientific research.

  • A good walk spoiled (Podcast)
    Revisionist History Podcast

    While the episode is framed as an argument against the game of golf, it really is about the strange taxation status of country clubs in California where the game is played. The reason it is specifically about California is Prop 13, and the extremely low property taxes that these clubs pay to the State. Under the proposition, land value is reassessed whenever the majority ownership changes hands, making for a really interesting argument on the nature of ownership under equity membership schemes of the clubs.

  • 3D Packing
    Michael Fogleman

    Another fun visualization experiment by Fogleman. How many widgets can one pack in a constrained volume? Math can give you the answer.

Another Great (Podcast) Link Dump - June 2017

  • The Quiet Master of Cryptocurrency — Nick Szabo
    Tim Ferriss Podcast

    I generally can’t stand Tim Ferriss, but this is a good episode. Nick’s blog is great (if you haven’t read him, start here).

  • Extra: Henrietta Lacks

    At Northwestern, the “One Book” program tries to build community by sending incoming students a copy of a book before they arrive on campus. My year, it was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This episode gives an overview of her story, and by interviewing her family members, and some of the scientists involved in the research that her case spawned. To be honest, I started the book that summer, but never finished it. I’ll get to it some day.

  • Funky Hand Jive

    Microbiomes are interesting. It’s odd to think that so much of our life is defined by bacteria.

  • Squatters of the Lower East Side
    99% Invisible

    Planning urban development is hard, and sometimes, the unplanned spontaneous decisions of many lead us to interesting places that central planning couldn’t reach.

  • Reversing the Grid
    99% Invisible

    I had never thought about the political implications about generating electricity at home. This episode discusses “net-metering,” or the billing mechanism that allows someone with PV panels on their roof to get credit for generating more electricity than they consume. How did it come about? Some guy plugged his PV panels into his meter, and it started going backwards!

  • Speed Dating For Economists
    Planet Money

    This makes the idea of getting an economics PhD even less appealing than it already was. The fact that even the people who arguably know the most about how markets function can’t build a better matching market.

  • Spreadsheets!
    Planet Money

    It’s ridiculous to think that spreadsheets were so revolutionary only a few years ago.

  • Slot Flaw Scofflaws
    Planet Money

    Is it illegal to study how a system works, to the point that you understand it so well that you can exploit it? No, that’s the whole point of open source software. Patch the issue, give the gray hat his bounty, and move on.

  • Passports
    50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

    This series of podcasts by Tim Harford has given us strong history lessons, telling us why things are the way they are. This specific episode though, focuses more on asking whether any of it makes sense “From a certain angle, it is odd. Many countries take pride in banning employers from discriminating against among workers based on characteristics we can’t change: whether we’re male or female, young or old, gay or straight, black or white. […] But mostly our passport depends on the identity of our parents and location of our birth. And nobody chooses those.” Somehow, this seems ok in our modern mind set - it is all a game of Us & Them.

  • What Kind of Idiot Gets Phished?
    Reply All

    Lately I have been more paranoid than usual about this, and I am considering changing how I handle my password management all together, and even buying a YubiKey for personal use. This episode just backs that feeling even more.

  • Blockchain Beauty Contest

    If you think about it hard enough, everything is made up. Countries, money, companies, the constitution, everything! And, blockchains, too…

Another Great Link Dump - June 2017

Ha. And here I was thinking I’d post links more often… My stats say that while I used to read roughly 10-12 articles a day, these days I am barely hitting 5. My yearly rolling average peaked in mid-2016.

To be honest, I am not sure what to make of it.

This round-up is full of Apple stuff, so not too many comments on my end, but sharing some interesting perspectives. There’s also a ton on cryptocurrencies, because that’s the latest craze in tech, and I have also been following along.

  • A Brief History of the UUID
    Rick Branson - Segment Blog

    Identity online is hard - and I don’t mean tying your persona to social media, but actually tagging bits and bytes with other bits and bytes to identify them across machines. The self-incrementing column of integers is a mainstay of traditional databases, but what happens when scaling across machines becomes necessary? Here’s some history of how that’s been solved across the years.

  • Apple Isn't a Tech Company
    Neil Cybart - Above Avalon

    Posted without comment.

  • A Year of Google Maps & Apple Maps
    Justin O'Beirne

    Posted without comment.

  • Actually good Silicon Valley critiques?
    Noah Smith - Noahpinion

    While Noah lives in San Francisco, he’s not really a Silicon Valley insider, so seeing his reaction to Scott Alexander’s Reality Check was interesting. His take? “All in all, Silicon Valley represents one of the least objectionable, most rightfully respected institutions in America today.”

  • Tulips, Myths, and Cryptocurrencies
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    In a strange melding of worlds, Ben moves away from the usual tech talk and goes deep into the history of financial manias. Using Yuval Harari’s notion of shared myths, this post makes a clear difference between bubbles of irrationality, and bubbles of timing. I firmly believe that crypto is one of the latter.

  • Bringing back the Somali shilling
    JP Koning - Moneyness

    And if you really thought fiat is valuable, think again.

  • Blockchains are the new Linux, not the new internet
    Jon Evans - TechCrunch

    Evans with the counter-narrative: “It’s easy to envision how and why an interwoven mesh of dozens of decentralized blockchains could slowly, over a period of years and years, become a similar category of crucial infrastructure […] while ordinary people remain essentially blissfully unaware of their existence.” Ah, and nice Fred Wilson burn. I also thought the Rare Pepe story was nuts.

  • The consequences of allowing a cryptocurrency takeover, or trying to head one off
    Tony Yates - FT Alphaville (Paywall)

    What are the implications of crypto for central banking? The written-in-stone aspect of the blockchain makes monetary policy way more credible, which is a good thing, but at the same time crypto knows no borders, making adjustments by one group of users spill over to others quite easily. A more in depth look here.

  • Chicago taxi industry sliding towards collapse
    Aamer Madhani - USA Today

    The writing has been on the wall for a while - is not a surprise - but the numbers are staggering: “42% of Chicago’s taxi fleet was not operating in the month of March […] The average monthly income per active medallion has dipped from $5,276 in January 2014 to $3,206 […] medallions hit a median sales peak of $357,000 in late 2013, just before Uber arrived on the scene in Chicago. In April, one medallion sold for just $35,000.”

  • Buyer Beware
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    Initial coin offerings (ICOs) are all the rage these days. Some people will get screwed in this process, and I am staying away from buying any ERC20 tokens for a good chunk of time.

  • Options vs. cash
    Dan Luu

    A couple of years ago, right after my college graduation, I was very close to going the startup route, but ended up joining Apple instead. With hindsight, I can tell that financially the decision is a no-brainer: Cash is cash.

  • Is the United States Becoming Less of an Optimal Currency Area?
    David Beckworth - Macro Musings

    Currency areas, and defining regional economies is one of my long-time favorite topics. There is a trend in the US towards lower labor mobility, which has deep implications for the economy. Historically, if an economic shock hit a state like Oklahoma, its citizens would respond by migrating to California, where things were better. This is no longer the case. As this trend continues, the business cycles of different zones in the country may start to diverge, and at that point the monetary policy set by the Fed might stop making sense.

  • Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich
    Richard V. Reeves - The New York Times

    A note on inequality, since that’s another recurring theme here.

  • When Pixels Collide

    If you haven’t heard about Reddit’s April’s Fools experiment from earlier this year, you need to read this. Emergent behavior is awesome.

  • Alpha (A translation of Genesis 1)
    Douglas Summer Stay - Llamas And My Stegosaurus

    We’re training our computers to do some really strange things. This one translated Genesis 1 to only use words that start with the letter “A.”

The Great Link Dump of April 2017

It has been a linkless month, so here’s a brain dump.

Links - March 26, 2017

  • Why does Donald Trump demonize cities?
    Will Wilkinson - The Washington Post

    This article was awesome. The basic idea it tries to get across is that because cities are multicultural and inclusive, they are also more productive. This vision of the city as a bastion of openness and tolerance, unlike the insular rural communities that voted for Trump, is not new, but the post sparked some interesting conversation online. For example see Noah Smith’s, Ross Douthat’s and Chris Arnade’s takes.

  • The Disqus Demo Day Story
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    It is always good to hear these insider views of how companies got started. Much like Airbnb selling Obama-O’s, or Drew Houston forgetting his USB drive, these origin myths are just that, stories, but they reinforce the idea that all you need to start a startup is to solve a pain point.

  • Complexity and Strategy
    Terry Crowley - Hackernoon

    Thinking about technical complexity as a moat is interesting, especially considering the initial discussion about “the shape of the cost-functionality curve.” I definitely believe that there are increasing costs to adding functionality, or as the author says “Features interact — intentionally — and that makes the cost of implementing the N+1 feature closer to N than 1.” This is exactly why a startup can come up with a simple product and blow a big co out of the water. They don’t have to worry about how all the other pieces in the business - and in the code! - interact with each other.

  • The eigenvector of "Why we moved from language X to language Y"
    Erik Bernhardsson

    Stochastic modeling is a really cool topic, and here we see it applied to the transitions between programming languages.

  • What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?
    Neil Irwin - The New York Times

    This is another version of Noah Smith’s Beware of Thinking like an Economist. Here the argument is “there are certain problems that only sociologists can solve,” which is probably just as bad. However, the historical aspect is interesting, especially the fact that there could have been a Council of Social Advisers.

  • How the Internet Is Saving Culture, Not Killing It
    Farhad Manjoo - The New York Times

    Nothing about Farhad’s argument seems controversial to me. There are still unsolved problems in the vein of “finding a needle in a haystack” where separating signal from noise has become increasingly difficult, but the expansion of content produced by humans can only be a good thing. If we trust that willingness to pay will somehow sort out the good vs. bad content problem in the long run, we’re headed in the right direction.

  • The Problem With Facts
    Tim Harford

    Starting with the case of Big Tobbaco vs. Medicine in the 50s and 60s, and continuing with Trump and Brexit, Harford makes an argument against ignorance. Agnotology, “the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced,” is a really interesting concept that I had never heard of. The punchline is that we need to get people excited about learning, and make them curious about the world in which they live in, so that they seek out truth on their own. Not an easy endeavor.

  • Ask A Grown-Up
    This American Life

    Life somehow keeps teaching us that we have no idea what we’re doing. “Growing up” is about learning from your experiences, but there are always new mistakes to make.

  • Public key cryptography
    50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

    All new technology can be seen as a double edge sword. Luckily, crypto wasn’t killed by the US government.

  • The Russian Passenger
    Reply All

    The cyber is hard.

  • Sorry for the delayed response
    Susanna Wolff - The New Yorker

    This happens daily to me. Sorry. Not sorry.

Links - March 15, 2017

  • Voice and the uncanny valley of AI
    Benedict Evans

    Like I said last time Evans wrote about this, “voice interfaces seem to be adding more friction than they take away.” Changing people’s habits is hard. I constantly prompt my Echo by saying “Hey Siri,” and find myself thinking of ways to phrase my questions to make them intelligible by the machines. Once or twice a week I get developer emails about “What’s New With Alexa,” but after many months my Echo only acts as a gateway to Spotify, and a party trick whenever there are guests. Voice might be the new platform, but it is nowhere near.

  • What Do Economists Actually Know?
    Russ Roberts - NewCo Shift

    The issue with modeling of any kind is that there are no alternative realities to compare against. We can only measure what we see, and by definition there are no counterfactuals, nor what-ifs. Making policy decisions under this state of affairs is hard, and the only thing we can do about it is internalize this limitation, knowing that we could be very wrong. Statistical analysis is a tool, and like any other tool, it is succeptible to operator error.

  • If There Are an Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, Some Must Be Terrible Places
    Dean Zimmerman - Nautilus

    I disagree with the author’s position, but thinking of when the problem of evil meets 21st century math and science is fascinating.

  • Patagonia and The North Face: saving the world – one puffer jacket at a time
    Marisa Meltzer - The Guardian

    Good reads on the history of large well-known retailers are not usual, as most stories in the genre end up with a strong PR flavor. This article, by virtue of showing the origin stories of two seemingly rival companies at once, achieves a good balance.

  • Improving U.S. Healthcare and Coverage
    Stephen Cecchetti & Kermit Schoenholtz - Money, Banking and Financial Markets

    Americans are exceptional in their very own ways. This whole healthcare story is a fiasco, and I am amazed that the American people have allowed it to go this long.

  • White supremacism is not nationalism
    Noah Smith - Noahpinion

    I am reading Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Noah’s arguments in this blog post fit right into the framework that Anderson proposes at the beginning of his book. Nations are made up. Expect a blog post about this soon.

  • Triple Pendulum CHAOS!
    Jake VanDerPlas - Pythonic Perambulations

    When I look at demos like these, I wish I had kept learning about differential equations after sophomore year of college. Complexity is awesome, and being able to model these crazy patterns with only a few lines of code would be great.

  • Update: CRISPR

    The cutting edge of biological research gets more interesting, and more scary, the more I learn about it. Researchers are uncovering really powerful building blocks, but we have very little understanding of the complex relationships in the whole system. The ethical considerations discussed in the last part of this episode are especially worth listening to.

  • Hacking The iPhone For Fun, Profit, And Maybe Espionage
    Planet Money

    Something I will never understand is how someone can enjoy poring over low level buffer management for hours to find an overflow condition or some obscure vulnerability. Luckily some people like watching water boil with their white hats on, and do it for the greater good, too.

Links - March 13th, 2017

  • Why All Exchange Rates Are Bad
    Timothy Taylor - Conversable Economist

    The Trilemma makes it so that whatever policy a government decides to follow, it must be an active choice. Currency manipulation towards a stronger, weaker, more stable, or more volatile currency is a choice, and there is no default. Like everything else in economics, and the world we live in, it is a choice about tradeoffs, and understanding who gains and who loses (and by how much!) is the key to the issue.

  • A Big Little Idea Called Legibility
    Venkatesh Rao - Ribbonfarm

    I am currently reading several books at once, and one of them is Seeing Like a State. So far, the book has presented a bunch of ideas about the inner workings of what the author calls high modern states. In this post, Rao (who is not the author of the book) summarizes one of the most interesting ideas in the book so far: legibility, or reorganizing society to make it more understandable, and thus more governable.

  • President Trump Wants a Wall? Mexico Is It
    Eduardo Porter - The New York Times

    The average American has no clue of how immigration policy and actual immigration patterns work. Understanding how much effort other countries put into helping the US keep illegal immigrants at bay could be helpful in the current climate.

  • The Uber Conflation
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    2017 gave Uber a rough start. In an unusual post, Ben argues for a change of leadership, focusing on two questions: ‘Is Uber’s approach to regulation wrong?’ and ‘Is Uber wrong with regards to the specific issue at the center of this controversy?’

  • Brains, Bodies, Minds... and Techno-Religions
    a16z Podcast

    One of my favorite episodes of a16z ever. Touching on the subjects of nationalisim, imagined communities, religion, governments, etc, etc, etc, and how all of these are affected by the rise of technology. I had shared a related piece from Harari a few months ago, but this podcast episode is way better.

  • Crafts, Garicano, and Zingales on the Economic Future of Europe

    Having Russ Roberts and one of his guests debate on economic topics is fun. Having him and another three guests? Even better.

Links - March 12th, 2017

This post has been sitting half-baked on my draft list for far too long. In an effort to motivate myself, and to write more, I decided to post it as is and move on. My apologies to the authors of the uncommented links.

  • Manifestos and Monopolies
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    It has been interesting to see Ben apply aggregation theory to politics more and more. I agree with the views presented in this article about centralization (or lack thereof), regulation (or lack thereof), and market solutions (or lack thereof).

  • Surfing, metrics and creation: Facebook and Snap
    Benedict Evans

    Since Snap’s S1 came out a couple of weeks ago, everyone has been discussing whether moats exists or not. The fact that their whole thesis revolves around the disintegration of sustained competitive advantages is fascinating. Evans’ index fund analogy adds an interesting idea to the mix: Facebook, Instagram, and Google must reflect reality and serve billions, while Snapchat will aim to create N things, each worthwhile to M million people, such that N*M becomes significant while not overtaking the role of the index.

  • Segregation Had to Be Invented
    Alana Semuels - The Atlantic

    Not surprisingly, the past is different than we think it was. Thinking of the rise of segregation as a relatively new phenomenon is odd.

  • Hyphen-Nation
    Bayeté Ross Smith - The New York Times

    A great set of interviews. I constantly think about this topic of where identities overlap and how people view themselves vs. how they are sseen by others. More so these days. Belonging, otherness, and these social dynamics are very intriguing.

  • How did Europe become the richest part of the world?
    Joel Mokyr - Aeon
  • "Incentives" as bigotry
    Chris Dillow - Stumbling and Mumbling
  • People Actually Use Food Stamps to Buy More Food
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View
  • Clock
    50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

Links - February 16, 2017

Unintentionally, there’s a lot of money/banking/finance content in this post. At least its not all about Trump, right?

  • The Future of the Euro
    Stephen Cecchetti and Kermit Schoenholtz - Money, Banking and Financial Markets

    “Markets price risk, not hope.” In times like these, I wish I understood international finance better.

  • Money, blockchains, and social scalability
    Nick Szabo - Unenumerated

    I have previously discussed Szabo, and his view on human institutions as “trust-offloading mechanisms.” In a way, money is the ultimate trust-offloading abstraction. Until the last few years, money – American Dollars, the Euro, or the Costa Rican Colon – still relied on trusting several points of failure – states, the payments networks, the certificate authorities – and our human interactions simply assumed those costs. Bitcoin and the internet have started to changed that, and further developments in technology promise much more. This is a post I’ll probably re-read again soon.

  • Money as a Commons: Basic Income, Demurrage and Crypto Currencies
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    Something that surpised me about monetary policy rules when I studied them in college was how much their usefulness depended on people’s expectations of their usefulness. Individual agents’ beliefs on the predictability and stability of a state’s decisions about its monetary policies were the fulcrum of all the models we studied in these intermediate economics classes. Thinking about how these rules can be baked into a crypto currency, such as bitcoin’s pre-defined velocity rule, or freicoin’s holding fees, is really interesting. Like Albert, I’m excited about these experiments.

  • Snap's Apple Strategy
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    I have seen the Snap <=> Apple narrative popping up over and over across the web. Except for the “obsessive-design-focused-mission-driven-CEO” story, which I can’t really ascertain (and neither can the media!) , I haven’t really seen any good arguments to back it up. Ben comes the closest, but doesn’t quite convince me either. The Facebook <=> Microsoft analogy is much more believable, given the market conditions. I am bullish on Snapchat, and I am enjoying my spectacles (a different blog post soon?) but we’ll have to wait and see how this one plays out.

  • What We Don’t Do
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    Thinking about this on a personal level is interesting. I know what my goals for the year are, to a certain level, but what are things that I should specifically not focus on? After all, focus means “saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

  • Understanding Python Class Instantiation
    Amir Rachum

    These one-off explanations of snippets of source code are always enlightening. Coding seems like magic, until you discover that there is not magic, just layers upon layers of well thought out abstractions, each one understandable on its own, but magical as a whole.

  • Square-Mile Street Network Visualization
    Geoff Boeing

    Urban development is super interesting, and thinking of how cities work by looking at their layouts is a good exercise. I wish I had worked more with geographic data while I was in the Apple Maps team. This seems like a neat library, and the fact that it is based on networkx makes me even more curious. There might be a side project brewing here.

  • Anthony Bourdain's Moveable Feast
    Patrick Radden Keefe - The New Yorker

    My friend Dana had already recommended that I read Kitchen Confidential, but after reading this, it got bumped up a few notches on my to-do list. Parts Unknown, Bourdain’s show, is one of my go-to “half an hour to kill” shows on Netflix. It is very entertaining, and it makes an effort to show more than just the food of foreign lands. As the article describes, there is a layer of political complexity to the show that is unusual for its kind. Make half an hour to read this, and then make another one to watch an episode of the show.

  • Bitcoin, the Blockchain, and Freedom in Latin America
    Russ Roberts and Jim Epstein - EconTalk

    The confluence of artificially cheap electricity, price controls on imported goods, and hyper-inflation are making Bitcoin more and more mainstream in places like Venezuela. While the great majority of the population probably has no idea of what cryptocurrencies are, or how to use them, it is really interesting to hear about how the fringe slowly drifts.

  • Billy Bookcase
    50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

    There is a comment I especially liked here about how “…innovation in the modern economy isn’t just about snazzy new technologies, but boringly efficient systems. The Billy bookcase is not innovative in the way the iPhone is innovative. The innovations are about working within the limits of production, and logistics, finding tiny ways to shave more off the cost…” The iPhone example is coincidental, I’m sure, but I immediately went to “this is the argument against Tim Cook.” It is hard to appreciate how much of today’s Apple is dependent on the advanced supply chain operation that the company has built. Pushing atoms is also innovation.

Links - February 12th, 2017

This is a podcast heavy list. I have been reading plenty of books lately (this year I’ve already finished 4, and I’m partially through 3!), so I’ve been spending more and more time on podcast land. There are a couple of programm-y things, but everything else is sadly about Politics.

  • Government Economists Are Going to Produce Statistics Trump Doesn't Like
    Gene B. Sperling - The Atlantic

    Data are the base on which we assess the validity of any policy, and on which we can measure the success or failure of ideas. When China announces growth numbers, no one believes them. Can the US potentially get to the same situation?

  • How to Spot Visualization Lies
    Nathan Yau - Flowing Data

    Facts don’t need to be alternative to make you arrive at the wrong conclusions.

  • So You Want to Move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem? Here’s How
    Daniel Shapiro - Foreign Policy

    When I went back home, I was amazed by how many of my friends and family were convinced that having Trump in the White House was a good idea just for this. Someone with a little more experience tells us how simple the process would be.

  • This is the Republican plot to kill the US corporate income tax as we know it
    Tim Fernholz - Quartz

    The headline is a bit click-baity, but the content is good. Tax reform is not a bad idea. At face value, this variation on the VAT seems good, but to be honest I don’t understand the full implications yet. This Planet Money episode tries to explain the same idea from a different, lighter angle. If you have other good explanations on this topic, please send them my way.

  • Senior Republican statesmen propose replacing Obama’s climate policies with a carbon tax
    Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin - The Washington Post

    I am very much in favor of a carbon tax. However, there is no way that the right kind of carbon tax will be instituted given Trump and friends’ stance on the fossil fuel industry. It’s not like the Secretary of State is the ex-chariman and CEO of the world’s largest refinery business. While Rex Tillerson might have said that a carbon tax is the best possible policy, there is no reason to believe that the government will curb the industry as much as it should.

  • The Dirichlet is a Mixed Bag (of Nuts)
    Justin Bozonier - Data Bozo

    Using short code snippets, and a bag of mixed nuts as the motivating example, Bozonier explains a complex probabilty concept.

  • Buggy Software, Loyal Users: Why Bug Reporting is Key To User Retention
    Itamar Turner-Trauring - Code Without Rules

    Filing bugs sucks, every time, but few things are as satisfying as getting a message that says “this will be fixed in the next build!” and feeling like you’re helping improve a system that you actively use. Whether it is opening an issue on an open source project, or filing a Radar for a different team at Apple, the less I have to think about how to report a bug, the more likely it is that I will continue using your software, and helping you improve it.

  • George Borjas on Immigration and We Wanted Workers

    Understanding that the economy is not a zero sum game is essential when talking about immigration. Borjas and Roberts describe the short and long term implications of the demographic changes that are tied to immigration, not just on the economic side, but also in terms of culture.

  • Michael Munger on the Basic Income Guarantee

    Lately I have been coming back to the Veil of Ignorance and how morality can be defined in terms of the choices we’d make behind it. If we did not know in which part of society we’ll fall, our policy choices would be very different. This can apply at the level of a city dealing with its poor, a country dealing with its healthcare system, or the international community dealing with its refugees. The idea of a basic income guarantee is gaining more and more steam, and I think this Rawlsian exercise can help us understand why.

  • Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde on European Economic History and Macroeconomic Modeling
    Macro Musings

    I especially liked the section on why people remember hyperinflations, but not financial crises. Essentially, the argument is that hyperinflations affect anyone with savings. A financial crisis, on the other hand, can make you better off in real terms — as long as you keep your job.

  • It’s Working Out Very Nicely
    This American Life

    By far, act two was the best part of this episode. The Trump Administration’s rhetoric implies that the current vetting system for immigration into the US is leaky, and useless. The wording of the executive order is one of “taking first steps,” while “extreme vetting” suggests that the current implementation is not strong enough. Hearing the opinion of one the interviewers who actually take part in the vetting process shows how naïve the narratives coming out of the White House can be.

  • Cars and Cities, the Autonomy Edition
    a16z Podcast

    What happens to our urban environments when car culture goes away? What kind of businesses are enabled due to autonomous vehicles?

  • If Economists Controlled The Borders
    Planet Money

    More on immigration. This episode includes three interviews with three economists with very different views. First, Dean Baker, whose suggestion is that the US should open its borders for high skilled individuals, such as doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. The most interesting part of his argument is that he’d like to make it mandatory for these individuals to repatriate some of their income, and so improve their home-countries in return for the brain-drain. Next, Giovanni Peri makes an argument for an auction based system, in which companies bid for the most lucrative candidates. This is a system I’d be against. For starters, how would we control for living cost in different areas of the country? And importantly, money is not a good measure of how valuable a job is. Last, Alex Nowrasteh, whose proposal most aligns with my views: make it a free for all.

Links - January 31, 2017

The Trump Administration has been giving me lots of reasons to read on topics that I otherwise would not read about. I want to spend less time on social media trying to parse truth and facts out of the endless stream of articles, but it feels like I have to.

  • Every day, there’s an all new you
    Robert Sapolsky - SavannahNow

    The future exists, and we have a lot ahead of us. Let’s remember that.

  • Standards Persist
    Drew Bell - Track Changes

    A story of weather reports, demonstrating path dependence1000. “Choices we agree on now are going to stick around, and get baked into the foundational brick of our biggest, most critical systems. Be careful what you toss in there!”

  • Continental Rift
    Joshua Kucera - Roads & Kingdoms

    Borders, names, in-groups and out-groups, are all arbitrary, and more fluid than we generally think. Herodotus spoke of the divide between Europe, Asia, and Africa 500 years ago: “I cannot conceive why three names [Asia, Europe, and Africa] should ever have been given to a tract which is in reality one.”

  • Time to Take a Stand
    Sam Altman

    What is your red line?

  • Rules for a constitutional crisis
    Lawrence Lessig - Medium

    The Consitution, Senate, Congress, are all institutions, and institutions are just people. We don’t live in a world of self-enforcing mechanics and contracts. We live in a world where rules and expectations put in place by people are enforced by people.

  • How Donald Trump Could Build an Autocracy in the U.S.
    David Frum - The Atlantic

    We’ve seen this before around the world. Let’s use those lessons.

  • How To Get Your Green Card In America
    Sarah Matthews - BuzzFeed News

    This was originally published a full year before the election. Coming here legally is not an easy process. Even though Oman and Costa Rica are so different, I see myself, and echoes of my experience in the US in a lot of these stories.

  • I'm Loyal to Nothing Except the Dream
    Jeff Atwood - Coding Horror

    What is a nation anyway?

Links - January 22, 2017

The new year has received me with a lot of reading, but of the dead tree variety. I’m halfway with books #3 and #4 of the year by now. I guess an unexpected trip, and an even more unexpected stay in Costa Rica helped too.

  • Metaphors We Compute By
    Alvaro Videla

    Language matters. Names shape how we think. This is as important in computer science as in any other field. We talk about queues and stacks and bugs and patches, not because we like jargon, but because metaphors are the only way we can get complex ideas across quickly. Communication is the hardest thing about software engineering, and pretty much any human endeavor. Picking the right metaphors can ease our job significantly, and shed light on how others have solved the same problems in the past.

  • San Francisco Asks: Where Have All the Children Gone?
    Thomas Fuller - The New York Times

    There are a slew of insane facts in this piece. For example, San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any of the largest 100 cities in the US. The rate for San Francisco is 13%, for New York is 21%, and for Chicago, 23%, which is also the overall average across the United States. The number of dogs is roughly the same as the number of kids: 120k. There is one additional student enrolled in the public school system for every 100 apartments sold in the city. The public school system has shrunk by 40% since 1970. More than 10 private schools have opened in San Francisco since 2009. This city really makes no sense.

  • The Department of Homeland Security International Entrepreneur Rule
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    Very excited for this. Hoping to take advantage of it at some point in the future.

  • Dismissing Python Garbage Collection at Instagram
    Chenyang Wu and Min Ni - Instagram Engineering Blog

    I’ve never even thought that disabling garbage collection could be a sensible option. It’s always fun to see how people can take a deep-dive into the inner workings of their toolchain and come out with this kind of performance boost. Questioning basic assumptions can be a good idea.

  • Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours.
    The Upshot - The New York Times

    Another great data visualization project out of the NYT’s “analytical journalism” desk, this time about the relationship between education and economic mobility. Finding your school is really easy. Here’s Northwestern, for example. There are no surprises: the numbers are stark, as expected.

  • Looking for commonality among HTTP request APIs
    Brett Cannon - Tall, Snarky Canadian

    When Brett started posting a bunch of polls on how people use various Python libraries for HTTP requests, I knew he was up to something good.

  • The Sound of Silence
    Jessica Livingston

    This post has been making rounds on tech twitter, and several of the newsletters I follow shared it, too. I wholeheartedly disagree with Jessica here, which is exactly why I wanted to share this. I think Anil Dash’s response summarizes my thoughts well.

Links - January 09, 2017

  • The Ten Year Anniversary of the Apple TV
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs unveiled two products that could change the world. One did. The other one was the Apple TV. Ben reminds us that how much he’s idolized, “it’s worth remembering that even Steve Jobs hedged his bets.”

  • Grappling With My Family’s Identity in a Post-'Brexit' Europe
    Katrin Bennhold - The New York Times

    It is too easy to start listing groups which you identify with. The author talks about her family, and their identities. What does it mean for her to be European, when she’s faced with the contrast between her spouse’s Welsh-ness and her own German-ness? What does it mean to have a name, or a passport? More importantly, what will it mean in 10 years, or 20?

  • Why read old philosophy?
    Katja Grace - Meteuphoric

    I had never thought about how Philosophy is studied in such a different way than pretty much any other discipline. What does this tell us about how we should study science, or how we should teach mathematics?

  • Reserves
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    While obviously biased, Fred has good points about the importance of having experienced venture capitalists backing your company. I knew that reserves, and follow-up rounds, were an important aspect of the business, but its always good to understand the mechanics in a deeper way.

  • The Economics of Fake News
    Matthew E. Kahn - Environmental and Urban Economics

    It is easy to draw a matrix to group the cases of what might be fake news, based on the belief of its publisher and its consumer. It is a simple confusion matrix, where the only quadrant we should really worry about is the one where “the supplier knows the story is false but the demander believes the story is true.” Kahn exposes important issues about the economic environment in which a market for fake news might arise.

  • Entrepreneurship Is Intellectual Immigration
    Brad Feld - Feld Thoughts

    A quick read. The idea of moving away from your comfort zone, and perpetually moving towards new things is definitely an appealing one to most entrepreneurs.

Links - January 7, 2017

2017 is off to a busy start. After posting on books I read last year, gathering links from the year before that, and sharing photos of my last trip it is about time I curate some fresh links. Enjoy:

  • Things as authorities
    Nick Szabo - Unenumerated

    Humans have learned to defer decision making and process to “things” since time immemorial. The main goal of this is to offload brain cycles into simple rules, and ease our interactions with the world around us. Szabo brings up examples like clocks ands traffic lights, which enable coordination between humans that would require way more effort otherwise. We can also think of learned heuristics, encoded in folklore and religion, as other means of offloading. Clocks ease friction as long as we agree on their time, just like ideas of good and evil ease friction as long as we agree on their base truth. Clocks and religion are trust-offloading mechanisms.

  • Why Hayek Was not a Conservative
    David Glasner - Uneasy Money

    New ideas are not worth listening to because they are new, but shouldn’t be disregarded for that reason either. Conservatism is a stupid idea. I wonder how it came up in the first place. Definitely related to my argument on Szabo’s article above.

  • The Age of Fake Policy
    Paul Krugman - The New York Times

    The perverse effects of signaling becoming more important than reality.

  • Why Many Young Russians See a Hero in Putin
    Julia Ioffe - National Geographic

    I’d say this title is misleading. The article really is about the world views and identities built by young Russians since the break up of the Soviet Union. The author focuses especially on those in rural areas, who long for more urban lifestyles, even if that means a lower standard of living. In many ways, the story isn’t that different from that of the US.

  • World War Three, by Mistake
    Eric Schlosser - The New Yorker

    The scary story of the 1960s technology that manages the world’s nuclear arsenal. They had TDD back then, right?

  • Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People
    Maciej Cegłowski - Idle Words

    There are way more immediate ethical issues with AI than “oh noes, it’s going to kill us!”. We can keep researching and building better systems, and in fact I’d argue we should, but instead of thinking about how to regulate the companies’ ability to kill us, we should regulate their ability to collect data indefinitely, as we don’t know where it will land. I am more scared of humans than machines.

  • A Bigger Problem Than ISIS?
    Dexter Filkins - The New Yorker

    It’d be great if governments, and whoever is striving for power could care about real problems. “A dam in Mosul that’s about to fail and potentially could kill a million people” sounds like a bigger issue than “those westerners are teaching us their disgraceful customs and insulting our god!” Kinda like how gun violence in the US is a bigger problem than bombs on airplanes.

  • There is No Now
    Justin Sheehy - ACM Queue

    Time is complicated, especially in massively distributed computing systems. I’d love to understand this topic better. If you have recommendations on what else to read, please let me know.

  • Alexa: Amazon’s Operating System
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    I have had an Echo for several months now, and I still see it as a gimmick, but I understand why the strategy behind the device has so much going for it. Amazon is building a platform that makes a lot of sense, but the technology isn’t quite there yet. It’ll be interesting to see this pan out.

  • Jeremy

    I recently tweeted that about one of Gimlet’s new podcasts, Heavyweight, calling it “Curb Your Enthusiasm, podcast version”. Stories about people, told in a really fun way. This one is about young people developing their identities, and grappling with their religious beliefs. Two stories about two people who met as they were going in opposite directions 30 years ago, meeting again today.

  • The Last Bank Bailout
    Planet Money

    A story about the most recent crisis, and how Neel Kashkari, who worked at the Treasury at the time, and is now the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Fed, plans to avoid the next one. As the podcast put it, the fact that Bernie Sanders and the WSJ editorial board agree that Kashkari’s proposal is a good way to move forward means that there is some intellectually solid ground in it.

Links - December 13, 2016

  • Increasing Returns and the New World of Business (1996)
    Brian Arthur - Harvard Business Review

    Twenty years after this article was published, both academia and industry are still struggling to understand the implications of increasing returns, network effects, and zero marginal costs. It is good to take a step back, and see how a view from the past can improve our understanding of business dynamics today.

  • Building a Prison-to-School Pipeline
    Larissa MacFarquhar - The New Yorker

    If we truly believed that prisons are about reformation, and correction, our systems would be set up differently. Here’s a glimpse into the lives of a few people who made it through and turned their lives around.

  • Economists Pretend They Don't Pick Winners and Losers
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    Normative economics, and therefore normative policies, are more prevalent than we would all like to admit. In Noah’s lead example (the US opening trade with a poor country) he talks about two sides: the consumers, who get cheaper goods, and the workers, whose jobs are lost to globalization. Ultimately though, there is one more group missing in this tale, and it is presumably that of the biggest winners: the citizens of the poor country, whose economic gain from such a trade deal would disproportionately improve their standard of living. “What ought to be” is a matter of identity politics, and we ought to remember that identity can also be defined by a nation-state.

  • AI and Competition Policy
    Joshua Gans - Digitopoly

    How does pricing strategy work in a world where decisions are programmatic, and therefore can’t be viewed through the lens of traditional game theory or antitrust case law? Can you blame a supplier who “sets and forgets” his pricing scheme, and somehow ends up selling a book for $23,698,655.93 (+$3.99 shipping)? Interesting times are ahead.

  • Money and Banking
    Josh Hendrickson - The Everyday Economist

    “You might be able to teach an entire course on the microeconomics of money and banking based on the following thought experiment” might be an overblown claim, but this is definitely a good way to introduce the topic. While most people these days are aware of the “fiat-ness” of money, or its imaginary value, the money creation process is a few logical jumps away that few actually take.

  • Functional versus Unit Organizations
    Steven Sinofsky - Learning by Shipping

    A treatise on the nature of companies, organizational structures, and getting things done when there are thousands of independently moving pieces. Throughout my four years in college, I mocked the idea of a major in “learning and organizational change.” I still do, except now it’s for a different reason: even with years and years of experience, and several real products under their belt, managers can only have a sliver of the picture. People are the hard part about management.

  • As Trumplethinskin lets down his hair for tech, shame on Silicon Valley for climbing the Tower in silence
    Kara Swisher - Recode

    The leaders of our industry are not bending their knee. At least not yet. Take it from Dave Pell: <a href="">they sort of have to go.</a> The real question is what will happen after the meeting, but Swisher got an important part right: “fuckfuckfuck.”

  • This Man Will Teach You How to Cook
    Gilad Edelman - Slate

    In cooking, like in everything else, the basic skills are much more important than the recipes and the tutorials. It is a matter of learning, and of putting in the hours. After reading this, I went on a youtube binge.

  • 1213486160 has a friend: 1195725856
    Rachel By The Bay

    These past weeks I’ve been looking at a lot of hex, and a lot of bytes. Sometimes, weird patterns pop up when you least expect them to.

Links - December 07, 2016

  • What do cows want?
    Jayson Lusk

    Measuring a farm animal’s utility is an interesting exercise. Choice is not only a human problem.

  • This Is What Happens When Millions Of People Suddenly Get The Internet
    Sheera Frenkel - BuzzFeed News

    A fascinating story about figurative walls coming down. It made me think a lot about the inadequacy of the label “third world.” Coming from Costa Rica, which has the highest internet access rate in Latin America, the experiences told in this story are shocking. Widespread definitions and categorizations sometimes don’t make sense.

  • Even Trump Is a Keynesian
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    Tax cuts, and infrastructure spending are good ideas, but will he actually put them in motion?

  • The hardest problem in computer science
    Eevee (Lexy Munroe) - fuzzy notepad

    I’d wager that this is the hardest problem in all human endeavors, and not just in CS. Communication is hard, and while language helps us share our ideas, it is nearly impossible to be sure that the message we wanted to get across was properly conveyed.

  • I, Pencil
    Leonard E. Read - Library of Economics and Liberty

    The fact that anything works is crazy. Making pencils is nearly impossible, and yet, there is probably a store within a couple of blocks from you where you can get one, along with N other more complex items.

  • Swift and the Legacy of Functional Programming
    Rob Napier -

    While I am not a swift-er yet (is that a thing?) I am slowly picking up functional programming, and I find the ideas in this talk quite valuable.

  • Prop 13, or, California's Progressive Blindspot Illuminated
    Diego Aguilar-Canabal - Bay Area Metropolitan Observer

    Shared without comment.

  • Knowledge Builds Technology and Technology Builds Knowledge
    a16z Podcast

    In this interview wit Joel Mokyr, Sonal Chokshi and the a16z team bring historical perspective into today’s economic environment. Building new things is easier when you have an understanding of the past. The episode reminded me of why I should have taken Mokyr’s class at NU, instead of signing up for an awful data structures course.

  • The History Of Light
    Planet Money

    Right up there with “I, Pencil” and the story of economic complexity, we have the story of economic growth. Consider this a case study.

Links - November 20, 2016

I am actively trying to de-emphasize content about Trump, and the election, but it is tough. Expect to find traces and parallels to these themes for the next few months.

  • A Bad Carver
    Sarah Perry - Ribbonfarm

    A dose of historical perspective for these times of economic anxiety and anomie. Unbundling and specialization leads to recondensation and reformation. In cycles, humanity tends towards complexity.

  • A Country Is Not A Company (1996)
    Paul Krugman - Harvard Business Review

    This is not about Trump. This is about (macro)economics, business, and the mind-bending realization that they are inherently different. Macro versus micro, closed systems vs. open systems, zero-sum games vs. growing pies. Out of all my classes at Northwestern, International Finance was probably the most unexpectedly enlightening. This is it, in a nutshell.

  • I’m a Latino in Tech, and I Think the ‘Diversity’ Discussion Is Broken
    Eric M. Ruiz - Observer

    A piece that echoes a lot of my own thouhgts on identity, well-summarized by quoting Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan: “…a philosopher from Peru resembles a philosopher from Scotland more than a janitor from Peru.”

  • Fake News
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    Facebook is a scapegoat among the aggregators. Hacker News could be just as guilty of this same issue, but they don’t operate at scale, and are not frequented by Average Joe. People are lazy, including me, and we will read whatever confirms what we already think. Some of us just do a bigger effort than others to keep our biases at bay.

  • Who Will Command The Robot Armies?
    Maciej Cegłowski - Idle Words

    In classic Pinboard style, Cegłowski starts up high with evil armies, police, and governments, but shows how in the end individuals - in this case, technical individuals - are on the hook. Facebook, Amazon, Google, and yes, Apple, all are comprised of individuals. What do we do to make sure that our decisions remain moral?

  • You Are Still Crying Wolf
    Scott Alexander - Slate Star Codex

    The media is a shit-show. Yesterday I watched Amanda Knox (which I definitely don’t recommend), and the whole time I kept thinking of this article. Unfounded phrases get repeated over and over for views and clicks, making monsters and presidents out of thin air. Trump is bad, but I trust that things will not change that much in the short term.

  • Wind Waker Graphics Analysis
    Nathan Gorodn - Medium

    Reading about graphics and procedural generation has become a new hobby for me.

  • Language, Meaning and Machines
    agibs010 - Goldsmiths, University of London

    Honestly, I don’t remember how I found this article. I assume Twitter. Finding who to give credit for it was impossibly hard. In any case, while the whole thing was interesting, the most valuable piece was learning about Pierre Jaquet Droz and his 18th century robots.

  • A Trunk Full of Truffles
    Planet Money

    A fun look at an extremely small market, dealing only in high luxury fungi.

  • The Backlash Has Arrived

    Aggregation Theory applied to Trump.

Links - November 02, 2016

  • Uncertainty Wednesday: Limits on Explanations (Turing and Gödel)
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    Whether we like it or not, Turing and Gödel proved that there is irreducible uncertainty in the world, and when we build models and explanations, we need to keep that in mind.

  • What else are we getting wrong?
    Dan Ghica

    I agree with Ghica. We need research into whether strong, static type systems help or hurt. When do we pick which? The issue is that any empirical study would have to control for training, use case, and many other variables. The end result would be to artificially recreate industry, which is basically impossible.

  • I don't understand Python's Asyncio
    Armin Ronacher

    Me either.

  • Want More Startups? Build a Better Safety Net
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    The argument is easy, make it cheaper to take risks, and more people will take risks. Incentives.

  • An Email History of the 2001 iPod Launch
    Steven Levy - Backchannel

    15 years went by quickly. I remember my first iPod, back in 2004. Hearing a bit of what the future looked like back then is worthwhile.

  • The iPad: it’s for everyone else (2010)
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    History definitely rhymes! “…here’s the deal. Most people aren’t power users” is exactly what I’ve been thinking the past 5 days after the Mac release event. I am convinced that this generation of MBPs will sell well. Even if I am not buying one, the majority will.

  • Paint Drip People
    Kent Beck

    Don’t be a generalist, and don’t be T-shaped. Be a paint drip.

  • And Then They Came for Me...
    Mark Suster - Both Sides of The Table

    Not much needs to be said about this, but Mark Suster makes great arguments about why backing Trump is completely wrong.

  • Behind the Mask: Scenes From Nicaragua's Sandinista Revolution
    James Estrin - The New York Times

    Growing up in Costa Rica, I somewhat lived with the after-effects of the revolution. A large portion of the population in Costa Rica is from Nicaragua (somewhere between 5%-10%, according to Wikipedia) and while I have heard some stories, and learned a bit about this in school, I feel like I should make an effort and learn the history of my own “other”.

  • So Where Are We on the ‘S-curve’ for PC Devices
    a16z (podcast)

    The big question about technology today is who will be the leader for the next platform. As usual, great insights from the Andreessen Horowitz hallway.

Links - October 30, 2016

I meant to post these on Wendesday, which became Thursday, which became Friday… then Saturday. But here we are!

  • What Do Trump and Marx Have in Common?
    Jochen Bittner - The New York Times

    TL;DR, they were both “Wutbürgers,” or “Angry Citizens.” I don’t think they had much else in common. Despite the poorly chosen title, the article does a good job of recounting previous political movements driven by anger, some more constructive than others, and showing how history echoes across time, as well as geography.

  • The Great Cooling Off
    Kim-Mai Cutler - Modern Luxury, San Francisco

    Are we at the tail end of the up-cycle in San Francisco? The economic indicators make it seem like we might be. With rents flattening over the past few months, and unicorns falling from their sky-high valuations, the Bay Area might become a little less insane in the near future.

  • It’s Trump’s Party
    Paul Krugman - The New York Times

    It will be interesting to see what happens with the Republican Party after Trump. Many key players have lost their credibility, but, sadly, I don’t think that really matters.

  • Static typing will not save us from broken software
    David R. MacIver

    Writing software is a matter of trade-offs. There are costs to runtime errors, but there are also costs to over engineering. In the end, each feature, and each project ends up mixing and matching processes and strategies, but I haven’t seen types pay-off their upfront expenses yet. Someone should spend the time modeling these choices in an economic model. I am sure several companies would be willing to fund such research.

  • The secret behind Italy’s rarest pasta
    Eliot Stein - BBC

    I want to eat this. On a more serious note, I think the most interesting part of this story is how a very specific skill, which has been passed down as a secret through generations is about to be lost because of lack of interest, and indifference.

  • A Tale of Two Stagnations
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    Consider two very different options for why growth seems to have stoped: either people have stopped consuming enough to drive the economy forward, or we have stopped innovating and creating products as we used to. Each situation requires very different remedial policies, but as Smith explains, we’re not sure which of the two worlds we’re living in.

  • The stock market looks cheap
    Antonio Fatas

    One of the few things about finance that I actually enjoyed learning about in school was Gordon’s Growth Model. In his post, Fatas applies the model and plays with the equation to come up with a “Bubble Index.” While I wouldn’t bet on it, the equation makes for an interesting exercise.

  • Contempt Culture
    Aurynn Shaw - The Particular Finest

    Holding others in contempt for not working with a real language is a problem. Putting down PHP, a commonplace occurence, is as bad as mocking Java for having industrial strength. As a Python guy, I constantly get comments on when I’ll graduate to a static language. Making fun of each other’s tools of choice, and marking them as being beneath consideration is a mistake.

  • Jane Jacobs’s Theories on Urban Planning—and Democracy in America
    Nathaniel Rich - The Atlantic

    I was first exposed to Jane Jacobs through a class in college. We were assigned an excerpt of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” and it was odd how much Jacobs’ line of thought, once extranous, was so internalized into our own views that many of us didn’t understand why her writing was interesting. After learning more about her, and putting things in historical perspective, it all made much more sense.

  • Shadowed Qualities
    Startup (podcast)

    While I don’t yet know the pressures of being CEO, it is well known that depression, anxiety, and other issues are common among the startup crowd. Gotta hand it to Alex Blumberg for exposing himself as he did in this episode. It takes courage to let others into one’s life as he did.

  • The No-Brainer Economic Platform
    Planet Money (podcast)

    People do not understand second order effects, and have trouble forseeing policy implications. I keep going back to how whenever we think of economics in terms of the study of “rational agents,” we’re making a mistake. And I don’t mean it in the behavioral econ “we all have biases” way, but in the “People are dumb and don’t have full information to make rational decisions” way. Democracy is hard.

Links - October 19th, 2016

As my friend Leo would say, my lack of link-posting has been circumstantial, not intentional.

Last week found me busy, and uninspired. The weekend, on the other hand, gave me a lot to think about. I listened to the audio-book version of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and watched 13th, both of which I would highly recommend. I also attended a few LitQuake events, one of which was especially worthwhile.

For a while now, I have been saying that I want to write more, and this weekend gave me even more ideas, as it put a lot of things in perspective. The goal for the upcoming weeks is to put my thoughts down on paper.

Also, I read a bunch of interesting things about the election, but you’re probably tired of that. I am too.

In the mean time, here are links worth reading.

  • Developer hiring and the market for lemons
    Dan Luu

    A critique of Spolsky’s Finding Great Developers, based on solid microeconomics. Luu compares the software engineering labor market to Akerlof’s market for lemons. The argument against Spolsky’s model seems to be based on two ideas: first, that there is an information asymmetry for both hiring managers, as well as engineers, and second, that the proportion of dysfunctional teams is larger than Spolsky implies. The article goes into an extensive study of the market structure, and possible solutions for both managers and engineers. The main takeaway, is that job hunting and hiring for software engineers is hard.

  • The White Problem
    Quinn Norton - The Message – Medium

    An explainer on race in the US, which I can’t recommend enough. Norton’s two part post helped me re-contextualize the present via history I was unaware of (part two, here).

  • Echo, interfaces and friction
    Benedict Evans

    We are nowhere near a transparent general AI, and all the companies buidling voice interfaces know that. By now, Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant have all been positioned away from such an all-encompassing solution, pushing for ever narrower use cases. Like the AIs out of Facebook’s bot fiasco of 2016, voice interfaces seem to be adding more friction than they take away.

  • An Economics Nobel for Examining Reality
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    When people think of economics as a discipline, they tend to think of the broad themes they read about in the newspaper: interest rates, trade, unemployment, the housing market, etc, usually analyzed at the macro level. However, as Smith points out, microeconomics has slowly gained steam, developing more reliable models than macro in the last few years. Better tools, new methods, as well as data, are driving this change. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in more Nobel Prizes going to the microeconomists as of late, including this year’s winners.

  • A half-million Brazilians want to break away and form a new country
    The Washington Post

    More of the same. I still believe modern nations might be unraveling. Another case of “we don’t want to pay for them, because they are not us”.

  • The Hard Raise
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    From an anecdote of a “hard raise,” I think what Wilson makes in this post is an argument against easy money. When companies persevere against hard conditions, they come out stronger, with smarter theses, and better strategies.

  • How the Fed Turns Good News Into Bad
    Narayana Kocherlakota - Bloomberg View

    In which Kocherlakota explains so much of what’s wrong with techno-pessimism, while making a case for paying attention to second and third order effects.

  • A Great Fight of Our Times
    David Leonhardt - The New York Times

    Throughout history, not all generations get to be better off than the previous ones, and that seems to be the case of the United States today… unless things change. “The moral case for a fairer society is clear. But there is also a self-interested case.”

  • Our Need for Purpose and Recognition
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    I have been thinking a lot about Maslow’s hierarchy as of late. Luckily, I am part of the minority that gets to worry about these things.

  • A Short Primer On The Thiel Dust-Up
    Alex Wilhelm - Mattermark

    Tech Twitter blew up on YC’s face this week. It is rare for tech celebrities like David Heinemeier Hansson, Marco Arment, Thomas Ptacek, Jeff Atwood, and even Maciej Cegłowski to agree on things, but they have all come out with pitchforks after Sam Altman and Paul Graham for their defense of Peter Thiel. Even if Hillary wins, Trump has put strain on the Silicon Valley technorati.

  • Angus Deaton on Inequality, Trade, and the Robin Hood Principle
    EconTalk (Podcast)

    Not suprisingly, the idea of redistribution is not taken well by Roberts, but the underlying themes are more interesting anyway. Touching on cosmopolitanism, identity, and other recurring subjects of this blog, Deaton and Roberts discuss the state of the US’s poor, questioning whether a poor person in the south is objectively worse off than a poor person in Africa, for example.

  • The Wells Fargo Hustle
    Planet Money (Podcast)

    The stories coming out of the Wells Fargo scandal are rough. Incentives in the financial markets are turned on their heads, and it is amazing that the extensive regulation can’t handle these issues. Golden parachutes and bail-outs aside, this is insanity.

  • Half a House
    99% Invisible (Podcast)

    Necessity is the mother of invention, quite literally. This episode makes it easy to imagine what the village might look like, but after seeing the photos I think the audio doesn’t do it justice. An excellent idea, and an important example of why the US sometimes lags on the innovation side.

  • In Line
    The Memory Palace (Podcast)

    A short episode, based on a 1964 New York Times article. Nate DiMeo tells us a story we’ve all heard before, but which, sadly, must be retold over and over again.

  • Map of the Internet

    I am sharing this, even though I honestly did not read the whole thing. An 11 part epic on how the internet works. A good production, even if a bit overwhelming.

Links - October 5th, 2016

Just like last week, these were ready yesterday, but the debate talk made me push them for a day. A lot of political content, but the kind that runs deeper than the election cycle’s scandal du jour.

It might be time for me to solidify some of these thoughts, and do a write-up of my own.

  • Why's that company so big? I could do that in a weekend
    Dan Luu

    If there is one thing I have learned over the last year, it is that even small projects require huge overhead when your tolerance for error is small. Building services with acceptable uptime, reliablity, and performance is extremely complicated, if not nearly impossible. “I could do that in a weekend” is a strawman. In fact, I have come to the opposite realization… it is surprising that anything works at all, even when thousands of human hours are invested!

  • Deep-Fried Data
    Maciej Cegłowski - Idle Words

    As usual with Maciej, there are many layers to this essay. The comparisons between libraries and the internet are not new, and his railing against large companies aiding online surveilance are more than expected. Much more interesting are the questions brought up about archiving the modern web - where content is selected, joined, and rendered dynamically per user at load time, with large portions behind walls: What is the point of building a community you don’t own? What should be kept for posterity? What is a the point of a site’s snapshot without the code that makes it work? What happens when a company dies, or misses, and we go beyond simple link-rot? The conclusion is hand wavey, but the future of the internet is, as Maciej put it, contingent.

  • When world leaders thought you shouldn’t need passports or visas
    Speranta Dumitru - The Conversation

    I had never thought about the fact that passports are a recent construct. Obviously, it makes sense, but when I first read it I was baffled that they were a new necessity only a hundred years ago. In historical context, freedom of movement ties very nicely with a lot of themes I have been thinking about related to sovereignty, national identity, shared culture, and their implications. Be it due to globalization, radicalization, or you-name-it-ization, the modern nation-state may be slowly breaking down.

  • Immigration: the right's problem
    Chris Dillow - Stumbling and Mumbling

    To continue the theme of freedom of movement, let’s talk immigration policy. In short, Dillow argues that the free market right should support open immigration in much the same way they support free trade. If freedom was something that the conservatives really cared about, they could not be this inconsistent, and they surely would push for more lenient immigration laws than the left. Once again, it is a matter of boundaries, and identity: freedom for whom?

  • Trade Show
    Planet Money

    More of the same. I am on a roll, I guess. It is odd that both US presidential candidates are against trade in this election, so the Planet Money folks compressed a quarter millenium of trade history for us. While superficial, there is a good discussion of The Wealth of Nations, and who benefits from tariffs vis-a-vis open borders and other trade policies. They touch on concentrated benefits and diffuse costs, which we can see across the ladder from regional to supranational deals. I assume the bipartisan anti-trade sentiment in the US is just a blip, and that we’ll soon revert to the trend of freer trade.

  • Why Are Politicians So Obsessed With Manufacturing?
    Binyamin Appelbaum - The New York Times

    It is easier to sell people on a safe past than an unsure future. Our brain is hardwired with biases, trained by thousands of years of evolution. It can trick us on false positives and overblow our fears, or it can make us think that the past was, by its own nature, better than the future. What seems irrational is that no candidate has capitalized on this, realizing that there is a discrepancy between public discourse and the numbers. Soon, some candidate will catch the tailwind instead of falsely promising restoration.

  • The Intellectual, Yet Idiot
    Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Medium

    The more I read Taleb, the less I like him. The IYI concept is worth sharing, though, because it is pervasive, and we all fall in the trope at times. “The IYI has been wrong, historically, on [a ton of things,] but he is convinced that his current position is right.” The key to ridding one’s self of the YI part is to have an open mind, accept errors as they are revealed, and course-correct accordingly.

Links - September 28, 2016

  • Startup Cargo Cults: What They Are and How to Avoid Them
    Leo Polovets - Coding VC

    We all fall prey to cargo cults: following our biases and finding patterns where there might be none, mimicking the inessentials and hoping we get the same results. Think hard about why you do things, and trim as necessary.

  • Snapchat Spectacles and the Future of Wearables
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    There is too much Apple speculation here for me to make strong comments, but go read it. Products don’t exist in a vacuum.

  • Economics Has a Major Blind Spot
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    A clear exposition one of my gripes about economics as a discipline: Once you layer in tax, after tax, after tax, and your policies start interacting with each other, they no longer achieve the desired effects.
    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.

  • Amazon’s Newest Ambition: Competing Directly With UPS and FedEx
    Greg Bensinger and Laura Stevens - The Wall Street Journal

    Similar to the recent Bloomberg article. Amazon seems more and more serious about their last-mile effort, and the incumbents are still incredulous.

  • Trump was completely wrong about the Fed last night. But I’m glad the topic came up.
    Jared Bernstein - The Washington Post

    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.

  • Uncertainty Wednesday: Limits on Observations
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    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.

Links - September 27th, 2016

  • How Slack and Facebook Are Making Access to Information Less Democratic
    Ezra Galston - BreakingVC

    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.

  • The Falsity of False Equivalence
    Paul Krugman - The New York Times

    The fact that this is not clearer to the public at large is insane. It is a bizarre time to live.

  • A mistake is just a moment in time
    Jason Fried - Signal V. Noise

    Internalize your mistakes, correct your course, but don’t forget you messed up.

  • What San Francisco Says About America
    Thomas Fuller - The New York Times

    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.

  • The Free-Time Paradox in America
    Derek Thompson - The Atlantic
  • Spotify Is Perfecting the Art of the Playlist
    Devin Leonard - Bloomberg

    Probably one of the best features in Spotify. Pretty cool story of how it came about.

  • Snapchat Releases First Hardware Product, Spectacles
    Seth Stevenson - The Wall Street Journal

    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.

  • I Used to Be a Human Being
    Andrew Sullivan - New York Magazine

    Another piece about the perils of living attached to our screens, and taking a break from the addiction. These have become more and more common, but somehow Sullivan gives a refreshing view.

  • The MIT License, Line by Line
    Kyle E. Mitchell - /dev/lawyer

    I wish I understood licensing better, but this is a first step. Open source software is amazing. It is one of the reasons computers today are as powerful as they are.

  • Compressing and enhancing hand-written notes
    Matt Zucker

    Another cool project on image processing by Zucker. Code that solves a real problem, however tiny, is always worth reading.

Links - September 22nd, 2016

So much for making an effort to post more consistently… 🙄

Links - September 7th, 2016

  • Knowledge (2015)
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    In this post, Albert defines knowledge from a humanistic perspective. It nicely ties into a recent article I shared about nihilism. Knowledge only matters if it is worth reproducing.

  • Learning and mastering isn’t the same
    David Heinemeier Hansson - Signal V. Noise

    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.

  • Story of My Life: How Narrative Creates Personality
    Julie Beck - The Atlantic

    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.

  • When You Change the World and No One Notices
    Morgan Housel - Collaborative Fund

    Real innovation takes time. It is, however, important to remember that cycles are contracting. Innovation itself is accelerating, and that needs to go into our decision making models, too.

  • How Apple Helped Create Ireland’s Economies, Real and Fantastical
    Adam Davidson - The New Yorker

    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.

  • How Harambe Became the Perfect Meme
    Venkatesh Rao - The Atlantic

Links - September 5th, 2016

  • Labor Day: From the Job Loop to the Knowledge Loop
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    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.

  • Are We Really So Modern?
    Adam Kirsch - The New Yorker

    I should make an effort and learn more about history and philosophy. We are solving different immediate problems, but ultimately trying to answer the same basic questions as those that came before us.

  • The Pill, the Condom, and the American Dream
    Derek Thompson - The Atlantic

    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.

  • What to Make of Andreessen Horowitz’s Returns?
    Mark Suster - Both Sides of the Table

    Not often do you get a VCs view on another fund. Suster gives us some great insights in his piece.

  • How Uber Drivers Decide How Long to Work
    Noam Scheiber - The New York Times

    No data was released, but here is the original <a href””>paper</a>, in case you want to take a look.

  • Trying Not to Try
    Edward Slingerland - Nautilus

    Thinking fast and slow, from the angle of Butcher Ding and chinese philosophy. When your conscious mind lets go, the body can take over.

  • Will Amazon Kill FedEx?
    Devin Leonard - Bloomberg

    Amazon is an impressively interesting company (as an aside, the old timey look of the photos is great, too). The original bits and atoms startup, which somehow keeps innovating.

  • All about Microservices
    a16z (Podcast)

    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.

Links - August 30th, 2016

  • Big data, Google and the end of free will
    Yuval Noah Harari - The Financial Times

    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.

  • In Search of Ragu
    Roads & Kingdoms

    A cuisine’s history, and its people’s sentiments about it, can tell us a lot about culture and how it is formed over time. There is a lot of value when food becomes more than sustenance.

  • How artificial intelligence and machine learning work at Apple
    Steven Levy - Backchannel

    Another one that I can’t comment much on, but want to share.

  • I Got Scammed By A Silicon Valley Startup
    Penny Kim - Startup Grind

    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.

  • Building Better Algorithms Requires Human Judgment
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    The filter bubble, v2.

  • Hunting for great names in programming
    David Heinemeier Hansson - Signal v. Noise

    Naming things is much harder than it seems, and its implications much more widespread than one would expect. Spend more time thinking about names.

  • Types
    Gary Bernhardt

    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.

Links - August 24th, 2016

  • The Unicorn Hedge
    Dave McClure - 500 Hats

    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.

  • Programming without Programmers? Aka Software Eating Software Development?
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    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.

  • Understanding VCs
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    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.

  • Penny Auctions - How to sell a $180 tablet for $7,264
    Curious Gnu

    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.

  • Milwaukee's Divide Runs Right Through Me
    Bassey Etim - The New York Times

    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.

  • It really is the future
    Paul Biggar - CircleCI

    A follow-up on last week’s post on Docker, and the state of distributed systems on the web. This one being the non-satirical version.

  • Five Years of Tim Cook’s Apple in Charts
    Jan Dawson - Medium

    Being on the inside, I can’t say much about this, other than: I’m still bullish.

  • But What If We're Wrong
    Russ Roberts and Chuck Klosterman - EconTalk

    Lots of interesting tid bits on culture, and how our perception of the world changes over time. What will we look back in N years and think “wow, how were we so stupid”?

  • Slavery and Racism
    Russ Roberts and Michael Munger - EconTalk

    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.

  • On Average
    Roman Mars - 99% Invisible

    Had never thought about the fact that someone had to have introduced “average” into our culture. Another great episode from the 99pi team.

Links - August 22th, 2016

  • This is strictly a business decision
    Tim O'Reilly - Medium

    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.

  • Imaging, Snapchat and mobile
    Benedict Evans

    As usual, Evans gives us a lot to think about. Our phones aren’t really just phones, and our cameras aren’t really just cameras.

  • It’s The Future
    Paul Biggar - CircleCI Blog

    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.

  • All the Leaves are Brown and the Sky is Gray
    Cate Huston - Accidentally in Code

    Perspective on software engineering impact: Somehow, the industry keeps moving forward as our projects die, 1 by 1. Stay motivated, and learn from your errors.

  • The stuff we really need is getting more expensive. Other stuff is getting cheaper.
    Christopher Ingraham - The Washington Post
  • The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority
    Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Medium

    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.

  • The Night That Obama and Hillary Founded ISIS
    Liz Meriwether - New York Magazine

    The world of politics is odd.

  • Page dewarping
    Matt Zucker

    Math lets us do some really interesting things. This post presents a relatively simple model that solves a real problem for a real person.

  • Firms and Inequality
    Claudia Sahm

    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 meaning of trust in the age of Airbnb
    Tim Harford

    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.

Links - August 18th, 2016

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.

Expect more frequent updates coming back soon.

Links - July 14th, 2016

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.

Links - July 4th, 2016

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.

It might be Twitter, and the bots, but that doesn’t add up in my head.

Links - June 13th, 2016

Links - June 3rd, 2016

Links - May 31st, 2016

Links - May 27th, 2016

Hi there. It had been a while! I have read a lot less than usual lately, but here are a few things I’ve recently enjoyed.

Links - May 11th, 2016

Links - May 7th, 2016

Links - May 4th, 2016

  • The Increasing Problem With the Misinformed
    Thomas Baekdal

    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.

  • Demystifying Venture Capital Economics (Part 4)
    Andy Rachleff - Wealthfront

    While I have read (…skimmed 🙄) Mary Meeker’s report several years in a row by now, I had never consciously noticed the acceleration of adoption rates of new technologies.

  • AdBlock Plus teams up with Flattr to help readers pay publishers
    Anthony Ha - TechCrunch

    Possibly more interesting than the opt-in model championed by Blendle.

  • Inevitability in technology
    Benedict Evans

    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…

  • My path to OpenAI
    Greg Brockman

    Somehow, the dots connect in the future.

  • Type Wars
    Robert C. Martin - The Clean Code Blog

    Was not expecting Uncle Bob to finish on that note. The history of programming languages is a big question mark for me. If you have a good book/blog post to recommend on it, please send it my way.

  • Everything as a Service
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    Ben sounds more bullish in this article than in the past few, especially Exponent.

  • Apple's Numbers
    Bob Lefsetz

    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.

  • Obituaries My Mother Wrote for Me While I Was Living in San Francisco in My Twenties
    Bess Kalb - The New Yorker

    The title says it all.

Links - May 2nd, 2016

Links - April 27th, 2016

Links - April 26th, 2016

Links - April 25th, 2016

  • The Average 29 Year Old
    Derek Thompson - The Atlantic

    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.”

  • Bots won't replace apps. Better apps will replace apps.
    Dan Grover

    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.

  • Why Write in English?
    Tim Parks - The New York Review of Books

    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.

  • Minimum Viable Superorganism
    Kevin Simler - Ribbon Farm

    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.

  • Machine Learning Meets Economics, Part 2
    Nicolas Kruchten - Datacratic MLDB

    If you haven’t yet, go read Part 1.

  • Making 1 million requests with python-aiohttp
    Paweł Miech
  • The Rich Don't Work Anymore—Working Is for Poor People
    Robert Reich - Alternet

Links - April 22nd, 2016

Links - April 18th, 2016

Links - April 8th, 2016

Links - April 5th, 2016

Between researching camera lenses and teaching myself machine learning, there hasn’t been much reading lately.

Links - March 31st, 2016

I have spent a lot of time lately trying to understand, and playing around with, computer vision, deep learning, reinforcement learning, and other machine learning models. Between Stanford’s Convolutional Neural Networks for Visual Recognition course, Trask’s neural stack explanation, playing snake with Keras and creating image analogies, I have spent a lot more time than usual coding and training machine learning models after work. More accurately, I have spent hours poring over complex equations I don’t yet fully understand, and waiting for models to converge.

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.

Links - March 29th, 2016

Links - March 27th, 2016

Links - March 21st, 2016

Links - March 17th, 2016

Links - March 16th, 2016

Links - March 15th, 2016

Links - March 14th, 2016

  • Resetting the score
    Benedict Evans

    Shifts in the landscape, and analogies of history, or how innovation in warfare technology can explain the implications of the rise of the smartphone.

  • The Second Smartphone Revolution
    Fred Wilson - AVC
  • Trackers
    Jacques Mattheij

    A story of anthropomorphic cookies, scripts, and ad-blockers.

  • The Blood Harvest
    Alexis Madrigal - The Atlantic

    Our dependence on other species is not surprising. The depth of our dependence is.

  • Zoning Plays a Big Role in San Francisco's Housing Crisis, Gentrification, and Wealth Disparity
    Kriston Capps - CityLab

    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.

  • The First Micropayments Marketplace
    John Granata, Ali Fathalian, Michael Goldstein, Eli Haims, Saivann Carignan, Matt Storus, and Balaji S. Srinivasan - Medium

    In which 21, the Bitcoin company, unveils what the future of the web might look like.

  • Why Snapchat is an Important Media Company
    Mark Suster - Bothsides of the Table
  • The Obama Doctrine
    Jeffrey Goldberg - The Atlantic

    A fascinating (but, at 65+ pages, excessively long) piece on the Obama administration and its foreign policy legacy.

  • How to Code and Understand DeepMind's Neural Stack Machine
    Andrew Trask

    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.

Links - March 9th, 2016

Links - March 8th, 2016

Links - March 7th, 2016

Links - March 4th, 2016

Today I am posting from Indianapolis! I am spending the weekend here with Hannah’s family, and I got a lot of reading done on the flight here, so the article selection today is better than usual.

Links - March 3rd, 2016

Links - March 2nd, 2016

Links - March 1st, 2016

Links - February 29th, 2016

Links - February 25th, 2016

It seems like this is a good reading week for me. A ton of articles, plus about to finish two books. Can’t complain.

Links - February 24th, 2016

Links - Feb 21th, 2016

Links - February 16th, 2016

Links - February 11th, 2016

“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.

However, I’m proud to say that in the past couple of weeks I finished Why Information Grows and moved on to Cool Gray City of Love. Some thoughts on those two are coming.

Links - January 29th, 2016

Random assortment of thoughts:

  • 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.

  • A couple of weeks ago I started compiling a list of resources worth reading/watching. They are mostly programming related, but we’ll see how the list grows.

  • 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.

  • Complex systems are awesome. I have been reading about them, and so should you.

Anyway, links for the past few days:

Links - January 20th, 2016

Links - January 18th, 2016

Links - January 14th, 2016

Links - January 11th, 2016

Aaaaand, we’re back…

Links - December 22nd, 2015

Links - December 21st, 2015

Links - December 18th, 2015

Links - December 17th, 2015

Links - December 16th, 2015

Links - December 15th, 2015

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.

Mind. Blown.

Links - December 14th, 2015

Links - December 11th, 2015

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.

Links - December 1st, 2015

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?”

If you have not listened to it, you should.

Links - November 30, 2015

Took a break for thanksgiving. Read a lot. Choosing was hard. This week’s winner seems to be Noah Smith.

Links - November 20, 2015

Links - November 18, 2015

Links - November 17, 2015

Links - November 16, 2015

Links - November 13, 2015

Links - November 10, 2015

Links - November 09, 2015

Links - November 05, 2015

Links - November 04, 2015

Links - November 03, 2015

Links - November 02, 2015

Links - October 29, 2015

Links - October 28, 2015

Several comments today:

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.

Lastly, Politico’s website is kind of annoying, but their article about transportation-oriented development in Evanston was super interesting.

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.”

Guess so.

Links - October 27, 2015

Links - October 26, 2015

Links - October 23, 2015

Links - October 22, 2015

Links - October 21, 2015

Links - October 20, 2015

Links - October 19, 2015

Links - October 15, 2015

Links - October 14, 2015

Links - October 13th, 2015

It’s not that there were no interesting things to read on the internet this past week, its that I was lazy and have not posted them.

Here’s another catchup post.

Links - October 7th, 2015

Links - October 5th, 2015

Links - October 1st, 2015

Links - September 30th, 2015

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.

Links - September 29th, 2015

Links - September 28th, 2015

My apoligies for the lack of links on Friday. Hopefully today’s set makes up for that.

Links - September 24th, 2015

Links - September 23rd, 2015

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.

Links - September 22nd, 2015

Links - September 21st, 2015

I can’t recommend Gopnik’s article enough. It is a really interesting read about history, faith, and human life. If you read any online article today, this should be it.

Links - September 18th, 2015

Links - September 17th, 2015

I started a new book this week, which means my time has shifted from online consumption to staring at dead trees. More on that soon.

Links - September 16th, 2015

Links - September 15th, 2015

Links - September 14th, 2015

Links - September 11th, 2015

Links - September 10th, 2015

Links - September 9th, 2015

Links - September 8th, 2015

Links - September 7th, 2015

I spent most of last week moving to my new apartment in San Francisco, which meant I had no time to post links.

Here’s a big list to make up for a lost week:

Links - August 31, 2015

Links - August 28, 2015

Links - August 27, 2015

Links - August 26, 2015

Links - August 25, 2015

Links - August 24, 2015

Links - August 20, 2015

Links - August 19, 2015

Links - August 18, 2015

Links - August 17, 2015

Links - August 16, 2015

Links - August 15, 2015

Links - August 12, 2015

Links - August 11, 2015

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