Links - July 31, 2018
- A la recherche of the roots of US inequality "exceptionalism" Branko Milanovic - globalinequality
People in the US love to talk about how different they are from the rest of the world. It’s inequality is truly exceptional among countries with developed economies, and seems fully self inflicted. As Milanovic notes, given the political environment in this contry, the solution must be multifaceted, with small changes on many dimensions - taxation, education, welfare, healthcare - which will be much easier to swallow individually than a single big change would.
- Why Your Startup Doesn't Invest Sufficiently in its Differentiators Tomasz Tunguz
Customers generally drive you to features they have seen elsewhere, not to new original ideas. Focus on the differentiation, and is more likely your company will succeed.
- How to Combat China’s Rise in Tech: Federal Spending, Not Tariffs Farhad Manjoo - The New York Times
For all the talk going around about conservatives becoming Keynesians, it’s strange how government spending keeps sliding down. It’s easy to forget how much influence military spending had on Silicon Valley’s success, and how we’re still riding the momentum of previous waves of investment. Innovation isn’t free. It must come about from an empowered, educated citizenry, and the government can take part in that. As Manjoo explains, “every key component in a smartphone, from the battery to GPS, is based on research first done for the American government.” It’s time to fund more of these experiments.
- Information Wants to be Siloed Jon Evans - Techcrunch
What’s most illogical about the stance that Evans rails against here (policies around data that the gov makes inaccessible “for our security”) is that much of this data could be compiled from observation by the public. “X could lead to terrorism” is one of the worst possible arguments against X, ∀X.
- Investing Outside The Bay Area Semil Shah - Haystack.vc
The startup market in San Francisco feels less overheated than it was 2-3 years ago, but investors are already hedging theirs bets. The housing crisis is a real issue, and the fact is that lots of people who would like to be here just can’t. Without people, there’s less talent, and with less talent there are less companies. SF might have killed the goose that laid golden eggs.
- Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage David Foster Wallace - Harper's Magazine
This was a recommendation from Jon Evans from a very long time ago. I finally got around to it, and it is as good as advertised. It discusses hegemony through language, how we assign authority to individuals and institutions via standardized language, and more. This is a 20k word essay about the dictionary, and how language shapes our thoughts. I enjoyed it so much that decided to buy DFW’s Consider The Lobster and read more of his essays. Reading it in perspective 15+ years after it was written, in our Orwellian political environment made it extra interesting.
- Faust: Stream Processing for Python Ask Solem, Vineet Goel - Robinhood Engineering
I didn’t know that Solem, the creator of Celery, is now working at Robinhood, but having used it for a bunch of things while in college, and then again at my last gig, I’m looking forward to testing out his code. From their docs, “Faust provides both stream processing and event processing, sharing similarity with tools such as Kafka Streams” and it runs modern python (3.6+ only) with RocksDB and uvloop under the hood. This is a project I’m very excited to try out.
- Value is Dead, Long Live Value, with Modest Proposal Patrick O'Shaughnessy - Invest Like the Best (Podcast)
By far, the most interesting aspect of this podcast was around the 1hr mark on why mega-corp moving into your niche business is not necessarily a problem, followed by a fascinating discussion of M&A vs buybacks. I had never thought about M&A in that way, but it is interesting to hear the public markets side of the coin after reading so many positive comments about acquisitions from people like Elad Gil and Marc Andreesen about the early startup stage M&A.
- Yes In My Backyard Planet Money (Podcast)
San Francisco is a mess. Things could be different.
- Dutee Radiolab (Podcast)
On a recent article club, we discussed how people of different ages competed on different levels when we we’re kids - think your middle school’s basketball team, which wasn’t playing against high schoolers - and how those cutoffs are somewhat arbitrary. After all, a kid born right after the cutoff will still have an advantage over those kids who were born right before the next cutoff. The last such age-based differentiator happens when people apply to college (which was the context of our conversation), after which these boundaries disappear and competition becomes a free for all. This episode discusses a similar topic, not on age, but on gender, where the divide is a lot less clear.
- Alberto Alesina on Immigration and Redistribution EconTalk (Podcast)
This was an episode where the research presented little suprise in directionality, but disappointed me with the magnitudes. Alesina and his team study people’s attitude towards immigrants, focusing on legal immigrants only, and the findings are in many ways obvious. On average, people dislike immigrants (suprise!) and assume they are taking away jobs or free-riding on the local welfare programs. On average, people in the US are much more optimistic than they should be about whether a poor person can bootstrap their way out of poverty, while Europeans are much more pessimistic than they should be. What was suprising though, was how far off people’s guesses were against what the metrics really are. People vastly overestimate how many immigrants there are, how many of them are illegal, and how much they take from the welfare systems. This was a somewhat depressing but quite worthwhile conversation to listen to.
- The Bad Show Radiolab (Podcast)
This episode has three different parts. They’re all good, but I’m mostly recommending it due to the second one, a conversation about Fritz Haber, questioning whether our good actions can outweigh our bad ones.
- Evolving Floorplans Joel Simon
I’ve previously shared some of Simon’s work on generative corals. I totally should have looked at his previous work, too. These floorplans are not very efficient, but with the correct set of constraints could lead to better designs that a human would not come up with on their own.
- Here's How America Uses Its Land Dave Merrill and Lauren Leatherby - Bloomberg
An awesome data visualization of land use across the US. Breaking up the country into quarter million acre squares lets us say a lot about how the US really works, and what people value here.
Like what you see? Sign up below: