San Francisco Hellscapes

San Francisco Hellscapes

In previous years, when fire season came around I took photos of the city skyline, complained about the raining ash, and marveled at how fires hundreds of miles away can impact our daily lives so much. Unfortunately, this is something I’m used to now, but yesterday was different. The air quality has been much worse than it was yesterday, even in recent weeks, but the sheer mindfuck of seeing the whole city shrouded in orange from dawn to dusk made it a truly surreal day.

I took most of the photos below around 1PM. There’s minimal postprocessing, and the little color correction that I did was to get the white balance closer to reality, instead of the reddish tones that the camera applied to the photos. If anything, these look a bit over exposed, brighter than reality. We’ve worked hard on making our cameras capture light to seem realistic under normal conditions, so it’s easy to forget technology does not actually capture reality. It’s hard to get this right. The map is not the territory. More...

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay

The first weekend after I got back to the US, Amol and Annabelle invited us to drive down to Monterey with them. Because of the fires, and because of COVID, we weren’t sure the trip was going to work out, but it did, and I took a ton of photos. More...

The Making of a Manager, a short review

The Making of a Manager, a short review

A few months ago, as the prospect of replacing my individual contributor (IC) hat with that of an engineering manager started to become real, I did what anyone who knows me would expect me to do: I dug up management books from my to-read list, and asked friends for recommendations of what to read first. Opinions varied, but Julie Zhuo’s The Making of a Manager kept popping up as a practical one to start with. Continue reading...

Links - July 22, 2020

  • Restoring Discourse (Won’t Be Easy)
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    The set of topics that can be openly discussed online these days is shrinking. That is a problem. I couldn’t agree more with Albert’s position here: “we need to be willing to explore new and more fundamental solutions rather than trying to patch the existing systems. […] patching our Industrial Age systems won’t do.”

  • What the Post-Trump Right Will Look Like
    Tyler Cowen - Bloomberg

    Whether Trump wins or not, there is a big question mark on what the future of the Republican Party looks like. Saying that the left, China, and the internet, will have a defining impact into the repositioning of the party is fairly obvious, but while Cowen makes general comments about culture, and calls out a couple of intellectuals, it’s telling that there isn’t a single politician named in this article.

  • The Real White Fragility
    Ross Douthat - The New York Times

    On the hedonic treadmill of meritocracy, meaningless education, and unintended consequences of human systems. In short, Douthat asks what if “in the course of relaxing the demands of whiteness you could, just coincidentally, make your own family’s position a little bit more secure?” I am not sure I agree that this is the main driver of the movement, and I surely hope that people are driven by morality, but it is an interesting line of thought nevertheless. Incentives are important, and this is an argument that makes heavy use of them.

  • The State Isn’t Going Crazy; It’s Going State
    Michael Munger - American Institute for Economic Research

    We have rules, and the rules must be followed no matter what.

  • How Steven Pinker Became a Target Over His Tweets
    Michael Powell - The New York Times

    I totally agree with Pinker’s point: “I have a mind-set that the world is a complex place we are trying to understand,” he said. “There is an inherent value to free speech, because no one knows the solution to problems a priori.”

  • Narrative Collapse
    L. M. Sacasas - The Convivial Society

    A fairly abstract essay about how our ability to build narratives breaks down when our lives revolve around an ever growing knowledge base. Its incompleteness implies deficiency in our understanding of the world. Narratives hide this lack, or at least allowed most of us to ignore the inadequacy until now. “Narratives seek closure (the story must end). The Database is open-ended (it assimilates new data indefinitely). The Database resists the Narrative impulse to control and stabilize meaning.”

  • The Purpose of Technology
    Balaji Srinivasan

    An odd case of Balaji going Marxist. I can’t really reconcile the fact that I agree with the premise but disagree with the conclusion. If value comes from humans crystallizing our time into objects (very much in line with Marx), and technologies are tools to improve the rate at which we transform time into value, then it follows that all resources are ultimately denominated in time we spend creating them, and that more time means more value. If that’s the case, and time is the ultimate source of value, “creating more time,” or lengthening lives, is surely the ultimate purpose of technology… and yet, I don’t agree that the purpose of technology is immortality. In part, because I think the value of life comes from the fact that it’s finite, and that experiences are almost by definition not repeatable, special in their uniqueness. The logic is sound, but something is off.

  • In Latin America, the Pandemic Threatens Equality Like Never Before
    Julie Turkewitz and Sofía Villamil - The New York Times

    The problem is not inequality per se, but poverty. It is a real problem without the pandemic. This is a set of really sad stories.

  • There’s no going back to the pre-pandemic economy. Congress should respond accordingly.
    Steve Case - The Washington Post

    The pandemic accelerates everything. This article made me think of Tim O’Reilly and his commentary about the gig economy, and how the problem we’re facing is not the gig economy itself, but instead the fact that the social and legal frameworks in which it operates depends on people having full time jobs and their health insurance tied to their work, etc. If most of the money being invested is going to old businesses, and those businesses are not going to create new jobs, is that really the best way to invest that capital? Probably not.

  • Against anti-anti-anti-price gouging
    Michael Giberson - Knowledge Problem

    A confusing article, as you can tell from the title. Yeah, it’s about masks. Price-gouging is when prices rise “too much” during emergencies. Being anti-price-gouging means that you want price ceilings. Anti-anti-price gouging likely means you are an economist responding to the anti-price-gougers, holding the standard efficient markets view that higher prices lead to increased supply, which ultimately drive the prices down. Anti-anti-anti-price gouging is the response to that article. Anti-anti-anti-anti-price gouging is this. It “feels wrong” is a bad answer.

  • More on CBDCs, AML, and anonymity in electronic cash
    Jerry Brito - Sometimes Right

    AML is a necessity of institutions handling cash, not of cash itself. "How do you have a system where transactions or individual holdings below a certain threshold are as anonymous as cash, but above that threshold they are traceable?"

  • On Trouser Pockets
    Sam Bleckley

    Everything has to be invented, including pockets. Let’s get better ones.

  • The Physical Traits that Define Men and Women in Literature
    Erin Davis, illustrations by Liana Sposto -

    Take a bunch of famous books, shred them into pieces using NLP, and analyze how they describe the characters. The result? Really obvious relationships between how authors treat characters of different genders. This is a cool data visualization project, and the hand drawn charts and images make it unique.

  • Behold, Vermont From Above
    Caleb Kenna - The New York Times

    This photography set is amazing. I have never been to Vermont, but now I want to go there, with a drone.

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