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:

Flash Boys, a short review

Flash Boys, a short review

If you’ve ever taken an economics class, you probably know about arbitrage: exploiting the price differences of an asset on different markets by buying low, selling high, and pocketing the difference. I recently finished reading Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys, a book that sheds light on the many faces of arbitrage in the 21st century. Flash Boys is a story about the extent to which Wall Street banks, hedge funds, and other financial institutions apply high frequency trading (HFT) techniques to gain an edge over other players in the most competitive financial markets. Continue reading...

Fascism is bad

Fascism is bad

Not sure how we got to a point where the title of this post is not taken as a fact.

Over the last few weeks there was a lot of talk about neo-nazi and fascist sympathizers coming to San Francisco to stage a big rally. Knowing that the Bay Area is very left leaning, it is very likely that the goal of the event was to incite the locals, and to get some favorable sound bites on how there is “violence on both sides,” and such. The original protest was meant to be at Crissy Field and after getting some pressure it was demoted to a news conference in Alamo Square Park. The SFPD shut it down, closing the park and putting a big fence around it, so the Patriot Prayer people ended up doing their talk in Pacifica - a small town south of San Francisco.

At the same time, several counter-protests started around the city, and when I heard there was one coming down Mission Street, I knew I had to go photograph it.

One thing that stuck out to me about this protest was that it was really a ton of small protests all joined together: anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-gentrification, anti-Islamophobia, and more. More...

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.”



Yesterday morning, instead of going straight to the office, I grabbed my camera and took photos of the skygazers around SoMa. If you were trying to see the eclipse at 2nd street and Folsom, there’s a good chance I have a photo of you craning. More...

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