A year and a half worth of LinksJune 14, 2020
It's been a while since the last one of these, so here I am, dropping ~200 links on you, hoping that at least one or two seem interesting. It's a very non-exhaustive list of interesting stuff I've read/listened to since early 2019, but I tried to focus on evergreen content.
Much of the stuff below had been stored in drafts of a links post for over a year, but some of it I actually collected in the past couple of days by going through my tweets, conversations with friends, and my Pocket feed. Putting this together involved a lot of scrolling. I was honestly surprised by how much content from the NYT I had bookmarked, as well as how little science and programming related articles I had kept in my list.
To make navigation easier, I've roughly categorized things below, although there is a lot of overlap between the topics.
Anyway, enjoy, and let me know which ones I missed!
- Cities - San Francisco
- Data Visualization
- Politics - China
- Politics - Progress
- TV, Film, Music, Media
- Tiler Nuno Faria - GitHub
Many years ago, I was really into the idea of pixel art, sometimes even building things out of lego. I found this project while trying to help one of my coworkers with his own crafts project.
- A 20th-Century Master Scam (1999) Peter Landesman - The New York Times
If I recall correctly, this was the piece my friends and I discussed on our last Article Club ever. It touches on human creativity and skill, the value of unique objects, and how humans can assign and retract their ideas of what is or is not valuable in an instant.
- The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture (2018) Margaret Talbot - The New Yorker
- The Secret Lives of Color (Podcast) Roman Mars, Emmett Fitzgerald - 99% Invisible
I didn’t really appreciate the meaning of different colors in history until listening to this.
- Opportunity vs. Livability in America—What Kind of City Do You Live In? Benedict Fritz
An essay built around a 2x2 that describes the dynamics of cities.
- When Historic Preservation Hurts Cities Binyamin Appelbaum - The New York Times
In this piece, Appelbaum quotes Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who observed that “preservation is not the enemy of modernity but actually one of its inventions… The whole idea of modernization raises, whether latently or overtly, the issue of what to keep.” We might be keeping too much.
- America's Cities Could House Everyone if They Chose To Binyamin Appelbaum - The New York Times
Living in SF means constantly seeing the suffering of the homeless. Their hardship is the consequence of policy decisions. I don’t like living in a society that finds this acceptable. As Applebaum says, we can “end homelessness instead of subsidizing mansions.” Policy is a decision.
- A Nobel-Winning Economist Goes to Burning Man Emily Badger - The New York Times
A few months ago I went to the Oakland Museum of California to see their exhibit, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” I kept thinking of Romer running around talking to people about charter cities.
- Dead Cars (Podcast) Delaney Hall, Anna Rose MacArthur - 99% Invisible
Getting cars to remote areas is hard. Getting them out of there is even harder.
- Built On Sand (Podcast) Roman Mars - 99% Invisible
Concrete and timber are expensive, and have an understated environmental and geopolitical impact in our lives, but our world is built on those two materials. In this episode, the 99pi crew explores the evolution of building materials over time. At first, I expected this episode would be about reclaiming land from bodies of water, places like San Francisco’s Financial District, or the Northwestern Lakefill in Evanston but in a way, land is a building material too, so at least I was directionally correct.
- Palaces For The People (Podcast) Roman Mars, Emmett Fitzgerald - 99% Invisible
Libraries, parks, and other shared spaces are extremely important as tools for community building. Growing up, I didn’t really have access to this kind of space, being limited by my environment into mostly private contexts. Figuring out how we can invest in building more shared infrastructure, and agreeing on what needs it should cover is a noble endeavor.
- Uptown Squirrel (Podcast) Roman Mars, Kaitlyn Schwalje - 99% Invisible
Squirrels are everywhere. You’re telling me that’s by design? We literally brought them into the city?
- Cities, Planning, and Order Without Design (Podcast) Alain Bertaud and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
An episode on emergent order in cities, and how by setting up the framework within which we live and socialize, urban planners can do a lot to shape the way cities change. I have added Bertaud’s book to my stack, and have heard great things from my urban-planner sister in law about his work, so I’m excited to dig deeper.
- Dollar Stores Vs Lettuce (Podcast) Noel King, Sarah Gonzalez - Planet Money
One of the instances where imperfect markets lead to surprisingly bad outcomes. Dollar stores are ubiquitous in the rural US, and have more market power than the average local grocery store. Selling fresh produce is expensive, especially compared to the kind of high margin non-perishable items that a dollar store can carry. Since people try to save a buck, they end up buying all the low-margin items at local stores, and the high margin ones at the dollar store chains, which eventually leads the local grocers to close shop. This is an adjacent problem to that of food deserts, but perhaps even more perverse.
Cities - San Francisco
- San Francisco, Hostage to the Homeless Heather Mac Donald - City Journal
A fairly conservative perspective on San Francisco’s policy decisions regarding the homeless population, and the drug problems in the city. I broadly disagree with many of the views espoused here, which makes it an interesting read.
- San Francisco's Decline: Failed Government Policies and Cultural Paralysis Michael Gibson - National Review
The city I live in, San Francisco, is an amazing place where there’s seemingly boundless capital sloshing around, tons of smart people who are motivated to solve the world’s problems, and a total and complete lack of political will to do anything about the most immediate issues. Reading about the self-inflicted wounds of this city is painful.
- Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco? Alexis Madrigal - The Atlantic
Lots of interesting data is available on the internet if you have the patience to figure out how to join two separate streams. Here’s a data scientist who decided to join publically available home sales data with scraped data from LinkedIn and other job sites. His data is incomplete, very biased, and it leads to the unsurprising result that the people who share their employment information on the internet and buy homes in SF tend to work in tech. That doesn’t make the data any less interesting.
- A 17-Mile Hike to Unite San Francisco Nellie Bowles - The New York Times
It’s worth walking through, you should give it a shot. If I did it, so can you.
- Model City (Podcast) Roman Mars - 99% Invisible
In which the 99pi crew describes the construction of a huge model of San Francisco that was created back in the 30s as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) effort to put people to work. I’d love to see this exhibited somewhere.
- Gears Bartosz Ciechanowski
An explorable on the mechanics of gears and how simple machines work.
- An Interactive Introduction to Fourier Transforms Jez Swanson
Somehow, I made it through a BS in engineering without learning the math behind Fourier transforms. This visualization explains them really well, and shows how you can use them to decompose very complex shapes.
- The Deep Sea Neal Agarwal
This is one of the first infinite scrolling visualizations I’ve run into, although the genre has become more popular since. Worth checking out.
- How to make that crazy Fox News y axis chart with ggplot2 and scales Peter Ellis - Free Range Statistics
Lying with data is easy without going to these lengths. I don’t even understand what they were trying to highlight with this odd transformation.
- The Infinite Monkey Theorem Experiment Russell Goldenberg and Amber Thomas - The Pudding
You’ve heard of it before - an army of monkeys hitting keys at random for a long enough amount of time will almost surely type out your favorite masterpiece. Here’s the proof, as a live experiment of increasing complexity.
- On Time Everytime Tulp Interactive
A cool data visualization that tries to explain how travel infrastructure distorts our perceptions of geography. I thought about this a lot after getting my bicycle in San Francisco, and considerably expanding my effective radius.
- Kinky Labor Supply and the Attention Tax Andrew Kortina and Namrata Patel.
- Money Out of Nowhere: How Internet Marketplaces Unlock Economic Wealth Bill Gurley - Above the Crowd
Gurley is well known for his thesis around marketplaces. While many of the companies listed on this post are constantly critiqued for their extractive practices, in the end the people who sell their labor or their products on those platforms are better off because those platforms exist. I don’t buy the “level playing field” point, but it surely is more level than it used to be.
- Democrats Must Decide If Work Is Requirement for Social Benefits Noah Smith - Bloomberg View
This piece seems a lot more relevant now in corona-days where people can’t work anyway. Arguably, if people truly derived value and utility from their jobs in the shape of the identity they can form around it, the fact that work and benefits are decoupled should strictly make people better off, no?
- Terminal Deflation Is Coming Trevor Jackson - Foreign Policy
This piece argues that massive deflation is coming, and that mainstream macro doesn’t know how to deal with it. Who are the fringe thinkers who have been focusing on it while everyone else’s attention was on the opposite problem? I’d like to read what they’re saying.
- Transcending capitalism: three different ways? Branko Milanovic - Global Inequality
What comes after capitalism? Milanovic puts forth three possible models that can help us think through this question. First, he shares an idea from John Roemer’s “What is socialism today”, which uses concepts from game theory to argue that as societies get richer less individuals behave in narrowly profit-motivated ways, instead opting for more solidaristic behaviors based on some higher ideal that leads to cooperation. Next, he brings up Thomas Piketty’s [Capital and Ideology], which argues we should have a two tier system, where companies beyond a certain threshold would trigger a workers shareholding arrangement that severely limits the stake any one person can have, while distributing a significant portion of the value to workers. This system would still allow for small and medium enterprises, maintaining incentives for innovation and value creation in a chiefly capitalist environment, while simultaneously altering the power relations between labor and capital. Lastly, Milanovic brings up his own view, one which is less ideological, and more an extrapolation of the relative scarcity of capital decreasing over time. In a world with a glut of capital, individuals can become entrepreneurs by borrowing said capital at very attractive rates without giving up control to capital owners. This last idea has a lot more Silicon Valley idealism than I’d usually expect from a generally left-leaning Marxist blogger, but I can see it.
- Ricardo, Marx, and interpersonal inequality Branko Milanovic - Global Inequality
A short note on why and how Ricardo’s and Marx’s models over-simplified inequality. In short, the societies they lived in were very different from ours.
- ZIRP explains the world Ranjan Roy - Margins
Zero interest environments are a weird historical edge case that explains the reality we live in. Roy makes an analogy with the “theory of everything” in the physics world, claiming that living near the zero-lower-bound explains a lot of what’s happening in the world today.
- Is Economic Growth a Moral Imperative? Tyler Cowen - Mercatus Center
On how the time horizons we pick completely changes the outcome of moral questions was really good.
- Examining an MMT model in detail Noah Smith - Noahpinion
Last year, a lot of people were talking about modern monetary theory (MMT). Now, it seems like they have gotten a bit quieter. In this post, Noah digs around the literature, and brings in viewpoints from both proponents and critiquers. I am not persuaded yet, but to be honest I have not yet put in the time to understand these models well enough.
- Magic Wands Go Brrr Stephen Pimentel - The American Mind
The fact that something can be explained as a shared illusion or a social construct doesn’t mean that it is meaningless, or that it doesn’t have consequences in the real world. Money is a social technology that serves a real function, helping people coordinate via the price system. Financial crises are as “real” as outages caused by pesky software bugs are “real,” they’re both immaterial, and both can wreak havoc in the real world.
- Don't Feel Sorry for the Airlines Tim Wu - The New York Times
We don’t need United/American/etc. We need functioning air transportation infrastructure, regardless of the brand, or who runs it. If you let the companies fail and they have to do a fire sale on the assets, would no one jump in and take their place?
- Digital currency areas Markus K Brunnermeier, Harold James, Jean-Pierre Landau - Vox EU
I’ve been interested in the idea of optimal currency areas since taking a money and banking class in college and learning about Robert Mundell’s work. Thinking of how the concept translates to a world that expands beyond physicality is fascinating, particularly thinking about it within the context of crypto.
- Crony Capitalism (Podcast) Michael Munger and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
Capitalism is not inherently amoral, but the incentive structures that arise from capital accumulation can lead people to make decisions that are better for themselves while not better for anyone else. Therefore, we can’t depend on good people doing the right thing, and instead we need to bake those incentives against cronyism and regulatory capture into the market structures themselves. Munger and Roberts are not short on ideas of how to do that.
- Extreme Economies (Podcast) Richard Davies and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
From prisons and refugee camps, to secluded forests and huge cities, Davies describes how examples of economic ideas can arise in their purest forms in extreme locations.
- Economics, Culture, and Aquinas and the Market (Podcast) Russ Roberts and Mary Hirschfeld - Econtalk
A conversation that challenges the basic monotonicity assumption in economics that “more is always better,” and uses the ideas of Aquinas’ ethical framework to help us understand the ways in which we make decisions to improve our welfare.
- The COVID-19 Pandemic (Podcast) Tyler Cowen and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
This episode from what seems to be ages ago, at the beginning of the COVID crisis, discusses the potential political and economic impact that the pandemic could have on our society. Roberts and Cowen have a wide ranging conversation on the possible outcomes of the policies that were being considered at the time.
- Why The Price of Coke Didn't Change For 70 years (Podcast) David Kestenbaum - Planet Money
"…in a way, nickel Coke died because we went off the gold standard."
- Economics, Sexism, Data (Podcast) Sally Helm - Planet Money
Unsurprisingly, the field is biased against women.
- 13,000 Economists. 1 Question. (Podcast) Planet Money
At the American Economic Association’s annual conference, the Planet Money folks go around asking “What’s the most useful idea in economics?” In short Lisa Cook said opportunity cost, Betsey Stevenson said thinking at the margin, Emily Oster went with comparative advantage, Scott Cunningham said causal inference and David Autor explained the lump of labor fallacy.
- What's A Penny Worth? (Podcast) David Kestenbaum, Robert Smith, Jacob Goldstein, Zoe Chace - Planet Money
Nothing. Let’s get rid of it.
- The Division Problem (Podcast) Sally Herships, Kenny Malone - Planet Money
How we divide our limited resources, and who pays for them is not just an accounting problem, but an everyday reality. The examples here are pretty trivial, but ultimately this is the question that underlies most of our political disagreements.
- 'An Eviction Notice': Chaos After Colleges Tell Students to Stay Away Anemona Hartocollis - The New York Times
I am surprised that a few months after this, we still haven’t heard much about it. As an international student, I remember how stressful it was to figure out when and how I’d leave my dorm on breaks, juggling the dorm closure time, my finals, and whatever flights were available. I can’t imagine having to do it on the fly, without a clear path forward, and without a clear signal that upon leaving I could come back at some point.
- Froebel's Gifts (Podcast) Kurt Kohlstedt - 99% Invisible
On the origins of kindergarten, and the early influences that led us to modern “buidling” toys like LEGO and Construx.
- Books and Learning (Podcast) Andy Matuschak and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
I am very interested in how knowledge will evolve as our tools for managing and understanding it keeps expanding. Books are a tool from centuries ago, and the way we interact with them doesn’t really correspond to the ways in which most people learn. Yes, today we have mind-mapping tools, and interactive explorables, and hyperlinked encyclopedias, but
- A New Way To Pay For College (Podcast) Kenny Malone, Jacob Goldstein - Planet Money
Income sharing agreements (ISAs) are becoming more common. There are some serious ethical issues behind them, but superficially I think I prefer them to the current debt-based system. We should really focus instead on fixing the credentialing problem, and on finding a way to decouple education and learning from the “college experience” that is central to young people’s identity in the US.
- Sound and Health: Hospitals (Podcast) Roman Mars - 99% Invisible
I listened to this episode while spending a lot of time taking care of my dad at the hospital last year. The different kinds of beeps and boops that were maddening at first ended up just being background noise after weeks in the ICU. Someone should fix this.
- The Kirkbride Plan (Podcast) Roman Mars, Delaney Hall, Joe Rosenberg - 99% Invisible
Health and architecture are deeply connected to each other. I listened to this around the same time that I read fragments of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, so it really resonated.
- the Case for Being a Medical Conservative (Podcast) Adam Cifu and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
The word conservative does a lot of work in this title - perhaps skeptical, or humble would be closer to my taste - but ultimately the argument made is one of “we don’t understand the complexity of the human body as much as we wish we did.” I listened to this episode after my dad had been in the hospital dealing with a lung condition for several months. It was strange to listen to this while being up close with a very real threat to his health, and having doubted every single decision we made along with his doctors.
- Free Market Health Care (Podcast) Keith Smith and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
Smith is a surgeon in Oklahoma who runs a medical center that does not take insurance. Instead, his clinic posts all its prices online as a way to correct for price distortions that arise from over-regulation and lack of competition in the healthcare market. At the current prices we’re all poor.
- Medical Nihilism (Podcast) Russ Roberts and Jacob Stegenga - Econtalk
This one is controversial. Most medical treatments fail to achieve their goals, but are still provided as people hope they will be the lucky ones who do get the desired effects. This has a cost on society, but more importantly it has a cost on the patients, who might have been better off without the treatment, whether directly because of unintended consequences of a procedure or indirectly because of the financial impact of their decision on their futures. Anything where cost-benefit analysis is applied to human life is extremely hard to discuss, but Stegenga brings up all sorts of good examples from pharma, surgery, and medicine more generally. Even if you’re not persuaded, and I am not sure that I fully am, these are the kinds of questions people should be asking themselves more often.
- What happened in the 2010s Fred Wilson - AVC
I’m used to seeing the yearly AVC round-ups, of what happened in the last twelve months. Taking the broader view of what are the trends from the last decade. In short Fred highlights: The emergence of the big four web/mobile monopolies, the massive capital flows into startups chasing the “capital as a moat” model, ML becoming table stakes, subscriptions becoming a viable business model via tech platforms, Silicon Valley’s position in tech/startups started weakening, crypto showed up, the effects of tech in society deepened, the rich got richer, and China emerged as a tech superpower and a global superpower. Don’t miss out on the predictions
- Learning China's Forbidden History, So They Can Censor It Li Yuan - The New York Times
An awful story about the Chinese Ministry of Truth, housing the memory hole industry. Just thinking about this makes me shudder.
- The Case for Keeping San Francisco's Disputed George Washington Murals Roberta Smith - The New York Times
Especially relevant today. We can paint over murals, or destroy statues, but that teaches the wrong lesson. Today, a majority can believe A was a bad guy, for doing X. At some point in the past, people thought otherwise, and they thought that A was great for Y, perhaps even despite X! Much like we changed our minds, generations to come likely will as well. The problem, in my view, lies in believing we are at the end of history, the most enlightened we’ll ever be, and that the ideas we hold dear today are the non plus ultra. If we destroy the historical artifacts, whether that is monuments, books, pieces of art, newspaper articles, or murals down the memory hole, there’s no going back.
- The Chicago Boys, Part I (Podcast) Noel King, Jasmine Garsd - Planet Money
The story of Chile in the second half of the XX century is wild. It is likely one of the worst cases of US meddling in other countries’ business and really screwing it up. In the 70s, the policy ideas of Milton Friedman’s pupils became tightly coupled with Augusto Pinochet’s coup, and the violent and corrupt government he led. Do not miss part two
- A Clockwork Miracle (Podcast) Jad Abumrad with Robert Krulwich - Radiolab
I am fascinated by the history of automata. This episode talks about how the King of Spain commissioned a clockmaker to make a bot to pray for him, in order to save his son. The mix of religion and technology makes for a good episode.
- A New Americanism: Why a Nation Needs a National Story Jill Lepore
What does it mean to be American? All stories to bind together millions of people as one discrete unit are just that, stories. I’m currently reading Lepore’s These Truths and I’m learning a lot about the history of the early days of the US, and how those early experiences connect to things that are happening today. I very much recommend the book, but if you want a taste this essay is a good starting point, and if you want a taste of a taste, there’s also a really good interview on the EconTalk podcast.
- Designing for the In-Between Jenny Odell - Medium
This was a recommendation from my friend Alvaro Videla on the liminal space of our identities, biology, art, etc. This essay pushes the reader to consider the arbitrariness of the categories and taxonomies in which we organize ourselves and the world around us. It’s about ecological thinking, and an argument in favor of nuance over clear cut definitions.
- Does Who You Are at 7 Determine Who You Are at 63? Gideon Lewis-Kraus - New York Times
Following the life of a bunch of kids from 1964 through the present, seeing them become young adults, start families, leave jobs, find love, live, and die, must have been a wild ride for Michael Apted. Compared to his 50-year long documentary, this is merely a short vignette into his life and that of his subjects. I want to watch this now.
- How Italians Became 'White' Brent Staples - The New York Times
White, Black, Jewish, American, Italian, Costa Rican you pick it… it’s all made up, and that doesn’t mean it’s any less real, or that it doesn’t have an impact in how we live our lives.
- What Does It Mean to 'Look Like Me'? Kwame Anthony Appiah - The New York Times
In his book, Cosmopolitanism, Appiah uses the analogy of a broken mirror, each shard of which reflects one part of a complex truth from its own particular angle. Most of us think that our little shard of mirror reflects the whole. Appiah then takes the metaphor further - it’s not a single mirror, but instead “lots of mirrors, lots of moral truths.” Similarly, I think his view of our identities is one where we each see ourselves as a bit of a mirror, reflecting back what society tells us about ourselves. Representation matters, if anything, because it allows us to adapt and move our mirrors to new angles.
- Dignity (Podcast) Chris Arnade and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
During the months leading up to the 2016 elections, Arnade, his photography, and the stories he collected, made the rounds on Twitter. He had a lot of conversations with people he saw as different from himself, a distinction he described as the front row and the back row kids. It is hard to imagine that others might not want the same things we want in life, and that people can value things differently, but that is ultimately what a free society is based on. Arnade tries to bring “the other side,” and their lives, to “this side.”
- Tribe (Podcast) Sebastian Junger and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
Everyone wants to belong. What people want is to be wanted, needed. Our social norms and our culture have pushed us to think that we are isolated individuals, but that’s not the case. Describing his time following a platoon of soldiers as a journalist in Afghanistan, and bringing in examples from history, Junger explains one of the most defining conflicts of our postmodern inner lives.
- The Other Latif (Podcast) Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Sarah Qari, and Suzie Lechtenberg - Radiolab
This is one of the wildest and most interesting stories I’ve listened to in a while. While scrolling on social media one day, Latif, one of the producers on Radiolab, discovers that he shares his name with Abdul Latif Nasser, detainee 244 at Guantanamo Bay. Obviously, he wants to know about his namesake, and goes to investigate.
- We Come From Small Places (Podcast) Neil Drumming, Imani Brown, Marlon Bishop, Nadia Reiman, Ira Glass, Jessica Lussenhop - This American Life
Large events like the Labor Day Carnival and the West Indian American Day Parade in New York bind people together, and give them a way to share their culture and show parts of their identity that are usually hidden day-to-day. This episode covers a few of their stories, as well as the view of the same crowds from the outside.
- The Profit Motive Fred Wilson - AVC
There’s a difference between generating value and generating profits. Value isn’t self-sustaining. Profits keep businesses alive, and the world running around us.
- Average Stock Market Returns Aren't Average (2014) Alex Tabarrok - Marginal Revolution
A counter-intuitive result about time diversification and the dollar cost averaging strategies that most passive investors use these days.
- All Things Business and Investing (Podcast) Bill Gurley and Patrick O'Shaughnessey - Invest Like the Best
Any conversation with Gurley is worth listening to. Here he covers a lot of his personal story, as well as the theses behind his fund and his way of thinking about his specialty - market based businesses.
- The Tech Imperative (Podcast) Josh Wolfe and Patrick O'Shaughnessey - Invest Like the Best
A conversation about technology, investing and how Wolfe’s VC firm, Lux, makes decisions.
- This Word Does Not Exist Thomas Dimson
This website competes with my Word Of The Day thread. It uses GPT-2 to generate words and their definitions. Some feel remarkably plausible
- Slaying the Snark: what nonsense verse tells us about reality Sam Dresser - Aeon
An essay on Lewis Carroll’s worldplay, and what it means to make sense of language when reality isn’t as clear as it seems.
- How Chinese Sci-Fi Conquered America Alexandra Alter - New York Times
An in depth profile of one of the foremost translators of Chinese science fiction, and one of the authors he worked with. The story describes Ken Liu’s experience translating Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem, and the political minefields that the translator had to traverse to convey the underlying message of the original work to a group of readers that would otherwise have no access to the stories. While I read the book, and enjoyed it, not knowing Chinese history makes it really hard to grasp the nuance and the references as explained in this article, but, honestly, from my perception of how Chinese censorship works I’d be surprised if translating books like this one wasn’t a massive effort.
- Programming as translation Alvaro Videla - The Increment
Programming is about language, and much more about communicating to others, including our future selves, than about communicating with the machines that run our code. We translate our ideas into abstractions, taxonomies, and hierarchies, but those don’t necessarily map well onto the real world. There are always edge cases.
- Fraktur (Podcast) Roman Mars, Kevin Caners, Joe Rosenberg. - 99% Invisible
A font can be a fundamental part of a language. Here’s a little bit of history about wha tyou might recognize as “the Nazi font.”
- This equation will change how you see the world (the logistic map) Veritasium, Youtube
Math is awesome. I first learned of bifurcation diagrams in 2012, but even when you understand a concept well a simple visualization can be mind-bending.
- Loops (Podcast) Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich - Radiolab
A bunch of different stories in this episode, but I can’t not include a Radiolab episode that discusses Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.
- The Car Bundle Alex Danco
I do not own a car. In this post, Danco explains how cars actually solve many different jobs, all bundled into a single product (he lists commuting, shopping, kids, and recreation, but I’m sure there are more). As more of those jobs are unbundled (i.e., you can shop online, or work from home, or live in a dense city) the overall value of the car bundle diminishes. Danco explores ways in which the bundle could be expanded to other areas, and for the industry to reinvent itself.
- Being a Noob Paul Graham
One of the most important realizations of my life is that no one actually knows what they’re doing. Here’s Paul Graham’s take on that, with some evolutionary biology on why we convince ourselves that we do.
- How to get my attention Visakan Veerasamy
It was a nice surprise to see my short interaction with Visa featured on his blog. It’s remarkable that people from half a world apart can make such a connection in a matter of a few minutes.
- We're a Niche, We Just Didn't Know Anna Gat - The I.I.
Recently I’ve been more online than usual, and I’m already a very online person. The fact that there exist wide reaching forums like Twitter and small groups like Anna’s Interintellect, where I can go have in-depth conversations about topics that I care about with other “friendly nerds,” has made my life better.
- How Amazon Has Transformed the Hasidic Economy Joseph Berger - The New York Times
Female empowerment, people stuck in the 1600s, and the unintended consequences of technology.
- The Anthropocene Reviewed (Podcast) John Green, Roman Mars, Chris Berube - 99% Invisible
A guest episode on 99pi from a show that unravels the modern compression of all our knowledge of goods and services into five-star scales.
- Invisible Women (Podcast) Roman Mars - 99% Invisible
Whether you are trying to create a product or to provide public services, having voices from a representative sample of users matters a lot. It is surprising that people don’t understand this.
- Leadership, Confidence, and Humility (Podcast) David Deppner and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
I was there that night when David asked his question, and had a long great conversation with him, but we didn’t exchange contact info. Having him unexpectedly show up on Econtalk was the best way I could ask to reconnect. I’m excited that however little might have stuck with David from our conversation, the experiences I shared maybe informed bits of this discussion.
- Mastery, Specialization, and Range (Podcast) David Epstein and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Should we try to be foxes or hedgehogs? In which situations is one better than the other? I have been thinking about this question for a while, and I’m pretty convinced that, largely, generalists have the upper hand figuring out the places worth going to in today’s interconnected environment, but we wouldn’t know how to get there without deeply specialized colleagues.
- Tech, Media, and Culture (Podcast) Eugene Wei and Patrick O'Shaughnessey - Invest Like the Best
A conversation that builds on Wei’s piece on invisible asymptotes, an essay about personal development, exponential growth, and big tech companies.
- The Modal American (Podcast) Planet Money
Using data from ACS to figure out what the most common kind of person is in the US based on some basic demographics. It made me wonder if the data had household composition, since running this kind of analysis on the modal household might be even more revealing of the “standard experience” than running the analysis on individuals.
- Feral Hogs (Podcast) Reply All
You all saw the 30-50 feral hogs tweet. This episode provides an explanation.
- The Theme That Shall Not Be Named (Podcast) Ira Glass, Kelefa Sanneh, Gary Shteyngart - This American Life
A fun episode about the devil, heavy metal, and other Satanic topics.
- Heres Looking At You Kid (Podcast) This American Life
The adult world from a kid’s perspective, and a kid’s world as seen by the adults.
- Thoughts on Man's Purpose in Life (1977) Adm. Hyman G. Rickover - GovLeaders.org
It’s odd to think of a military guy as an intellectual. In my head, military == tunnel vision, little room for dissent, but this speech spews creativity, defiance, and lots of wisdom.
- Terra Nullius Cory Doctorow - Locus Online
A piece about originality and innovation, and the natural moral tension between the idea of ownership, private property, and “the common good.” Since I first read this over a year ago I have found myself sharing it more and more.
- The Case for Professors of Stupidity Brian Gallagher - Nautilus
Don’t teach people how to be stupid, but instead, much like we study the source of intelligence we should study the ways in which people make wrong decisions. Behavioral psychology is probably as close as we get.
- Let There Be Light Switches Dan Hill - Reading Design
Everyday objects, and how they build a shared language, and a shared context, sometimes across cultures. What happens when we remove those objects, and instead hide their physicality in voice interfaces?
- 'Eugenics is possible' is not the same as 'eugenics is good' Tom Chivers - UnHerd
After reading Selfish Gene, this ability to decouple what is from what ought to be was one of the things I appreciated the most from Dawkins.
- Honest Income (Podcast) Daniel Klein and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
This might be one of my favorite episodes in a while. I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about what to do with my time, and how I can do my best to bring good things into the world. Obviously, that hinges on what we define as “good” and “better.” Framing the discussion through the lens of classical economics, as well as film, and their everyday experiences, Klein and Roberts discuss the ways in which commerce and capital can help us guide us. Learning to see the world is not a zero sum game helps, and understanding that self-interest does not mean strict individualism does, too.
- The Life You Can Save (Podcast) Peter Singer and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
Singer is famous for his thought experiment of the drowning child. This conversation takes that utilitarian idea and expands on it into the effective altruism movement, and more generally into the question of how we can maximize our impact for the betterment of society.
- War is a Racket (1933) General Smedley D. Butler
We’ve always been at war with Eastasia. There’s money to be made.
- The Economist as Scapegoat Russ Roberts
A lot of people blame the state of the world on the free market ideology pushed by Hayek, Friedman, and in the second half of the XX century. In this essay, Roberts digs deep into the macro trends, to make a clear case on the absurdity of that claim.
- The American Cloud Venkatesh Rao - Aeon
On the oddness of looking behind the curtain, and staring at the commercial pantomimes of our connection and disconnection.
- A poor, Trump-voting Florida town opened a government grocery store to end its food desert, but it's "not socialism" Cory Doctorow - Boing Boing
When people jump through hoops to explain that what they don’t want is the label, not the thing.
- Revolution Number 9. Why the world is in uproar right now Branko Milanovic - Global Inequality
A prescient piece on the increasingly common protests worldwide, their local nature, and the strange global echoes they produce.
- Formal and actual similarities between climate change and global inequality, and suboptimality of the nation-state Branko Milanovic - Global Inequality
If you’re here, you’ve probably heard me rant about why nation-states are generally the wrong sized unit. Branko explains it better than I could.
- The Road From Serfdom Danielle Allen - The Atlantic
The future of any state depends on who is seen as a legitimate member and who is not. The United States stop making sense if a significant group of people can’t agree on who is part of the union.
- Open States, Lots of Guns. America Is Paying a Heavy Price for Freedom. Charlie Warzel - The New York Times
A sad view on how the US’s view on freedom undermines itself. Deaths from firearms, from road accidents, and yes, from corona, are often preventable. Whether we like it or not, the state has a choice over how much it’ll do to prevent them in the shape of public health. Social norms have changed in some places, but not others. Much like Charlie, I’m afraid that we’ll just get used to people dying as the frogs continue boiling.
- I Shouldn't Have to Publish This in The New York Times Cory Doctorow - The New York Times
On walled gardens, platforms, censorship, and free speech.
- I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked. David Brooks - The New York Times
There’s good capitalism and bad capitalism. Let’s get more of the former.
- We Need a New Capitalism Marc Benioff - The New York Times
In this op-ed, the CEO of Salesforce argues that “leaders need to embrace a broader vision of their responsibilities by looking beyond shareholder return and also measuring their stakeholder return.” What he fails to explain is that this only works if we can agree on what’s “good,” and that most people can’t agree on that
- Donald Trump Doesn't Want Authority Ross Douthat - The New York Times
While Orban and Bolsonaro capitalized on the COVID crisis to enforce their position as authoritarian leaders in their countries, Trump dropped the ball. That’s probably a good thing.
- The Three Languages of Politics, Revisited (Podcast) Arnold Kling and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
Kling sets up a model of political thought with three axes: the progressive, seeing everything in terms of oppressor versus oppressed, conservatives who see things on an axis of civilization versus barbarism, and, libertarians, for whom it’s liberty versus coercion.
- The Revolt of the Public (Podcast) Martin Gurri and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
Gurri wrote his book a few years ago, before the current wave of protests worldwide and before Trump. He writes about the ways in which technology enabled the destabilization of authority by weakening gatekeepers, and his extrapolations from 2014 seem fairly prescient today.
- The Future of Politics (Podcast) Patrick O'Shaughnessy and Peter Zeihan - Invest Like the Best
A conversation about geopolitics, and how the US slowly is retreating from its role as a world power that polices world trade, and what that implies. He’s a bit more bearish than me on China, and places a lot of emphasis on the value of energy independence in the short term which I’m not sure I buy into at all, but this is a pretty interesting conversation nevertheless.
Politics - China
- Chinese Cancel Culture Elaine Ou
China and the US are not that different after all. Centralized cancel culture, backed by state violence, definitely sounds worse though.
- The NBA-China Disaster Is a Stress Test for Capitalism Derek Thompson - The Atlantic
If we disagree on what’s good and what’s bad, “stakeholder return” will always point to conflicting objectives. At some point, CEOs, coaches, leaders and stakeholders need to pick values, and stick to them. Historically, sports are one of the few spaces that are generally seen as politically neutral, even though they are nowhere close to that. There’s money in sports, and in global markets, there’s politics in money, therefore money and politics in sports.
- Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims Austin Ramzy and Chris Buckley - The New York Times
This is damning. I grew up saying never again, and yet, here we are.
- Stuck In China's Panopticon (Podcast) Planet Money
I am afraid of the Chinese model for many reasons. This story of a young Uighur heading home to see his family and finding many of his close ones detained in the “re-education camps” is terrifying. When things that are not illegal are incriminating, and the rules of the game are on purpose murky and unclear, people can’t live freely. I don’t wish that upon anyone.
- Umbrellas Up (Podcast) This American Life
The stories about unrest in Hong Kong seem really distant now, a few months into COVID. Back when the protests there were starting, this episode helped me understand some of the background, and gave the protesters’ pleas a lot more depth.
Politics - Progress
- Build institutions, not apps Mark Lutter
A response to Andreessen’s piece below. Recently I’ve been reading a lot of critiques of the lack of involvement of technologists in politics. This is one of the better ones. Institution is a squishy word. Companies are institutions. They establish a set of conventions and a social context within which a product is developed. Cities and states are institutions, formed by smaller institutions. The technique of how to run a high growth startup that pumps out code does not translate into running a government, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be shared.
- Inheritance, marriage and swindle: the three ways to the top Branko Milanovic - Global Inequality
In which Branko lines up historical economic indices with the lives of characters of famous novels to explain how their personal economic situations change in the books. The examples given are from the US and England and France. Can you think of works of literature from XX Latin America that have this kind of info about their character’s income or wealth? Would love to see what that looks like.
- A Builder Manifesto Jason Crawford - Roots Of Progress
I wonder if the appreciation for progress, and the understanding of what life without it would look like, is something that ties back into education. How do you make it so that people seek out this knowledge instead of making it a coercive mandate? Like, we could push for legislation that makes progress studies part of the history or civics curriculum, but that is a chicken and egg problem. Turning progress into a dogmatic religion seems like the wrong way out though.
- The plight of the poor Jason Crawford - Roots of Progress
Using the right framing, we’re all poor. We can change that. Short and simple.
- Organizational metabolism and the for-profit advantage Jason Crawford - Roots of Progress
A more philosophical viewpoint on the topic discussed in Fred Wilson’s piece on the profit motive I shared above. Here, Crawford argues that we should think about companies and organizations as living organisms, and to consider the feedback loops that keep them running - their metabolic processes. The fact that profits are a simple feedback loop we can exploit doesn’t mean that everything should be for profit, but as he points out, money aligns interests and keeps people honest.
- Living and working in a worsening world Jon Evans - Techcrunch
Progress is not inevitable. Evans makes a pretty broad and hand-wavy point, which is unusual for him, but I have the same question: where are the optimists? What are the good trends that will come out of this moment?
- We Need a New Science of Progress Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen - The Atlantic
“The goal is to treat, not merely to understand” is both an amazing and a scary ideal. The fact that their view of what a “successful treatment” is aligns with mine helps, but in a way this smells like meta-scientism. Nevertheless, I’m excited to watch what Cowen and Collison come up with as they push this movement forward. The salvo is that they are prescribing experimentation, not just solutions.
- It's Time to Build Marc Andreessen - a16z
I found myself nodding along with Andreessen through much of this. In my view, the main issue is summarized when he says “The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture.” We need to decide how to decide what to keep and what not to, because that meta-game is what’s ultimately holding us back.
- Code is a Palimpsest Alvaro Videla
I had to look up the word (and it became a Word of the Day). Palimpsests are objects that are written on more than once, with the earlier writing not fully erased, often legible. Code evolves incrementally, one bug at a time, one new feature at a time, usually at the hands of multiple people. Any real piece of software has a lot of history embedded in it’s source.
- How to read source code, a warning, or advice Alvaro Videla
Another creative merger between software and literature in the tradition of Pierre Menard, Inventor of LISP from Alvaro.
- Getting Started Testing: pytest edition Ned Batchelder
If you’re writing Python, having good tests matters a lot more than if you’re coding in a statically typed language like Java or Go. The language constrains you less, and it’s easy to shoot yourself in the foot. You’re already testing anyway, but doing it manually. Here, Ned provides a really good end to end overview of how to structure your code to make testing easier, and how to think about testing more generally as you develop your codebase.
- The Danger of Simplicity asthasr
Our rules should constrain us, because the more decisions we can make the more likely it is that we will shoot ourselves in the foot. Often, the way people think about this problem is naive.”The rhetoric around [simplicity] is tautological: ‘Do the simple thing.’ ‘Which one is that?’ ‘The simple one, isn’t it obvious?’” If it were, this blog post would not exist
- Pure CSS Landscape - An Evening in Southwold Ben Evans - CodePen
The kinds of things people can do with CSS are amazing. I can barely center a div.
- Blurhash Dag Ågren, et al - GitHub
A pretty creative way to build placeholder images. I might try to build this into my website at some point.
- Bit Flip (Podcast) Jad Abumrad with Robert Krulwich - Radiolab
At the scale at which my code operates, I’m sure some of my stuff has been at some point affected by a bit flip. I wish I could blame my errors on this, but really it’s just that coding is hard, even when you don’t have to account for solar flares.
- Adam Pisces and the $2 Coke (Podcast) Damiano Marchetti, PJ Vogt, Alex Goldman - Reply All
Careful how you set up your integration tests. You might end up on a podcast.
- The Roman Mars Mazda Virus (Podcast) PJ Vogt, Alex Goldman, Roman Mars - Reply All / 99% Invisible
What is this, a crossover episode? This was one of the most interesting mysteries I’ve heard the Reply All guys solve, and the fact that Roman Mars was in the mix made it all the better. The worst part is that I thought I knew it was a dumb encoding thing all along, but… just listen!
- Life, Machinery, and the Restless Clock (Podcast) Jessica Riskin and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
At any given point in history, it seems like humans try to explain life and consciousness by comparing it to whatever is the most complex thing we understand at the time. Descartes used to think the brain was a hydraulic pump, during the Industrial Revolution people thought of the steam engine, and today the metaphor it’s a computer. What is it that makes live things, well, alive? Riskin’s book discusses the analogies that we’ve used to explain this idea as a way to navigate the history of science, and the history of our thought about ourselves.
- Man Against Horse (Podcast) Heather Radke, Matt Kielty - Radiolab
Can people run faster than horses? Millions of years ago, people had to run fast to be able to get food in the savannah. So probably we should be able to, right?
- The Beauty Puzzle (Podcast) Robert Krulwich, Bethel Habte - Radiolab
A different way of looking at evolution. The classic view is that, in most species, males do funky things to show the females they’d be a good mate. What if instead, species just develop an aesthetic taste for certain traits? What if instead of fitness signals, evolution relies on something that’s more like art?
- We Need A Massive Surveillance Program Maciej Cegłowski - Idle Words
I don’t know how Maciej is always so persuasive. I’m afraid of the ratcheting once we’re past this, but this is gold. The data is already being collected, so why not use it to empower healthcare workers instead of selling skin cream?
- Attorney General Barr and Encryption Bruce Schneier - Schneier on Security
Since we are now all running on the same operating systems with the same applications, there isn’t a two-tiered arrangement where the public and government officials are running different software. That means that the government slowly has to come to terms with the fact that we can’t have both security and backdoor surveillance. Schneier seems uncharacteristically optimistic about where the debate is moving.
- We're Banning Facial Recognition. We're Missing the Point. Bruce Schneier - The New York Times
It’s not just our faces. It’s how we walk, how we type, and more. Regulation must define detailed specifics of what is accepted and what is not, but more importantly it needs to strike a balance between what we know exists today and what is coming down the pipe.
- The Landlord Wants Facial Recognition in Its Rent-Stabilized Buildings. Why? Ginia Bellafante - The New York Times
I heard about this story after seeing Cory Doctorow speak at Berkeley. I hate the idea of a two tier system like this, and I understand why the building owners would think it’s a good idea, but it goes against the spirit of section 8 and the rent-control regulations in big cities. To a much lesser degree I live this situation, as I am a near-market rate tenant in a really old building in San Francisco. Every once in a while, one of my neighbors asks me to email our landlord, to ask him to fix small issues that he’d ignore if they came from someone who’s been living here for decades, and who pays a fraction of what I pay.
- Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel - The New York Times
A frightening article. This data is being collected in so many different places, by so many decentralized players that it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.
- Surveillance Capitalism (Podcast) Shoshana Zuboff and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
Inspired by this episode, I decided to read the book, which was tough to get through, but definitely felt impactful, and important. check out my full review of the book here.
TV, Film, Music, Media
- How Spotify & Discover Weekly Earns Me $400 / Month Steve Benjamins
A cherry-picked case of someone who’s been able to monetize his art thanks to the discoverability provided by Spotify. The gatekeepers are still there, it’s just that now they are algorithmic.
- Spotify Unwrapped: How we brought you a decade of data Bindia Kalra, Catie Edwards and Zoe Tiet - Spotify Labs
A couple of interesting points from this Spotify story:
1) they have raw data on our listening histories going back to 2010, not just old aggregates.
2) their 2018 data set represents 1/5 of the data of the decade
- I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain Martin Scorsese - The New York Times
I still haven’t watched The Irishman, and I know that to some extent this op-ed was a PR move, but I can’t agree more with Scorsese. I generally hate superhero movies, rehashed romcoms, or stale military shootouts. Part of why I hate them is based on their complete predictability.
- Will cable TV be invaded by commercials? (1981) Sandra Salmans - The New York Times
I’ve always found it odd that people in the US talk about “cable TV” as if it means anything different from “TV.” That distinction may have meant something 40 years ago. Why does the language carry it on? Cable vs broadcast are not substantially different. They have different selections, but the same experience.
- A Battle for My Life Emilia Clarke - The New Yorker
I did not know of Clarke’s condition until reading this article, having seen a full series with her as one of the stars. It’s a touching story about perseverance and trauma, intertwined with the development of one of the most popular series of the last few years and the actress behind so many of its key moments.
- Classic Cartoon Sound Effects! (Podcast) James Introcaso - 99% Invisible
When I was in first grade, my school’s music teacher taught me a lot about classical music and composers, but we also spent a lot of timing watching movies. One of the things that I remember most vividly is being shown what those films were like without their soundtrack, realizing how flat they fell, and how much detail was added by virtue of simple sounds on top of the songs that had been picked for a specific purpose. This episode made me think of him.
- Weeding is Fundamental (Podcast) Roman Mars, Piers Gelly, Avery Trufelman - 99% Invisible
The process by which public libraries decide which books are to be kept longer and which should make room for new ones is fascinating.
- The Future of Audio (Podcast) Daniel Ek and Patrick O'Shaughnessey - Invest Like the Best
Spotify is a business that I do not understand well, but I am a very loyal customer. I’ve been paying for their premium service for many years, and hearing about how the company runs on the inside was fascinating.
- An interview with Ricky Gervais (Podcast) Sam Harris and Ricky Gervais - Making Sense
One of my favorite comedians going on Harris’ show to discuss political correctness, cancel culture, censorship, fame, and just life in general sounds great. The episode beat my expectations.
- Writers Writing, Readers Reading, Creators Creating (Podcast) Chris Best, Robert Cottrell, Andrew Chen, and Sonal Chokshi - a16z Podcast
A lot of this episode resonated with me, and how I choose what to read or listen to. I’m excited about the viability of ideas that play with the “negative interest rates of the attention economy.”
- A Podcast About Podcasting (Podcast) Nick Quah, Connie Chan, and Sonal Chokshi - a16z Podcast
Listening to Sonal and co. talk about the evolution of podcasts, and the practical problems yet to be solved (tooling for creators, search, analytics, discoverability, biz models, etc) makes me curious and excited about the future. So many interesting pieces of the business model puzzle that still need to be figured out!
- Tech in 2020: Standing on the shoulders of giants Benedict Evans
The two most important questions raised by this deck are about decentralization. What happens when regulation is no longer local? What happens when there is no individual to answer to your regulation?
- Facebook Discovers That The World is Flat Elaine Ou
In which Elaine lifts the veil on the ulterior motives behind making the move to work from home permanent. There’s money to be saved.
- Extracting iOS' Passcode Blacklist Maximilian Golla
Using a lego robot, and a camera to brute-force the iOS passcode blacklist. I never would have thought of attacking the problem this way!
- Location And Work Fred Wilson - AVC
In which Fred compares the change brought about by COVID to our urban centers to that of white flight in the 50s and 60s. “Will cities remain attractive for the quality of life they offer[…]? Or will the suburbs stand to gain? Or will more idyllic locations […] become the location of choice? Or will 2nd and 3rd tier cities become more attractive?” This thought is stuck in my head now.
- Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem Frank Pasquale - American Affairs
An in-depth piece on tech and centralization. The Hamiltonian/Jeffersonian axis had been popping up in a lot of places, and reading pieces like this one, at the intersection of tech, economics, and history, is what ultimately made me want to learn more US history.
- The Social Media Triangle Albert Wenger - Continuations
I’m a big fan of Albert’s idea of fully interoperable APIs as a way out of the curation/moderation/editorializing problems in social media. There’s something to it, I’m just not really sure how you build this out. Where’s the business model?
- Adversarial Interoperability: Reviving an Elegant Weapon From a More Civilized Age to Slay Today's Monopolies Cory Doctorow - Electronic Frontier Foundation
I read this, as well as Cory’s less formal blog post after his conversation on the YC Podcast. If there’s one thing I’m excited about of the new decentralized crypto-backed promise it is how many of these new interoperable services it will enable.
- The fundamental problem with Silicon Valley’s favorite growth strategy Tim O’Reilly - Quartz
After reading O’Reilly’s book, WTF, I am pretty sure that his argument is not “blitzscaling is good” nor “blitzscaling is bad” but instead “we shouldn’t aim to build this kind of company.” Growth for the sake of growth, and profits for the sake of shareholders are not tenets of capitalism set in stone. Leaders can decide to make their companies true to a mission, and true to a predefined set of values, and invest their resources accordingly.
- Zero Trust Information Ben Thompson - Stratechery
The internet as a whole is built around a protocol where no one trusts each other by default. Instead of having a centralized system to tell us what is or is not worth trusting, there is a (mostly) decentralized system that allows each participant to verify the source of the data they’re receiving. This kind of decentralization means that good and bad things alike are out there, and no one can remove it at the source. Here, Thompson makes an analogy between misinformation on social media and packets being routed on the internet - it’s not just access to misinformation that has increased, but access to really high quality viewpoints, too. The verification is on us.
- The End Of The Beginning Ben Thompson - Stratechery
The rate at which entrepreneurs are starting “pure tech” companies is decreasing, but that doesn’t mean that tech stops being interesting. Instead, technology will continue to shape our lives, in ever more nuanced ways.
- The Quiet Revolution of Animal Crossing Ian Bogost - The Atlantic
I played a lot of Animal Crossing back when the original title came out for the Nintendo GameCube. My video game career has pretty much ground to a halt since then, but I can understand the pleasure of having an avatar who lives in a much simpler environment, with little risks and an escapist outlook. I wish I’d found something that cathartic early in the quarantine.
- Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage Ranjan Roy - The Margins
A funny and pretty ridiculous write up on the strategies that Doordash and other food-delivery startups employ to build up and then shape their demand. It’s pretty interesting to think of the kind of schemes they could come up with to dynamically alter the market they’re in - all via pricing.
- An exclusive look at an original iPhone prototype Tom Warren - The Verge
It must have been wild to work on the hardware teams behind the first generation iPhones. I’m looking forward to hearing more stories and seeing more artifacts as the original devices become history, and people feel more comfortable sharing their insider views.
- The Clever Cryptography Behind Apple's 'Find My' Feature Andy Greenberg - Wired
So far this feature has turned out to be less interesting than I expected it to be given the initial excitement, but to be fair I also have not lost any of my devices in the last year.
- The Automat (Podcast) Roman Mars, Avery Trufelman - 99% Invisible
Having services “without humans” is not a new story. This episode is a mix of history and modernity about restaurants hiding the people running them behind a one way mirror. Honestly, I am not going to miss Eatsa.
- Artificial Intelligence, Humanity, and the Big Nine (Podcast) Amy Webb and Russ Roberts - Econtalk
One of the questions that I think will define the next few decades is which countries can keep the flywheel of software and machine learning spinning. Regulation can slow down progress, but can guide technologists to solutions that are more widely agreeable. I am afraid that the US, and the West more generally, is much more constrained by its worldview and social norms than, say, China, and by extension will be slower to arrive at that technology. Three out of the nine companies discussed in Webb’s book are in China. If her vision of “technology warping humanity” becomes real, I truly hope it is technology whose values I agree with. Wishful thinking much?
- Digital Capitalism (Podcast) Sam Harris and Douglas Rushkoff - Making Sense
I heard Rushkoff give a talk about his book Team Human at City Lights a few weeks before he went on Making Sense. Some of his arguments err on the too simplistic side, but I do agree with his broader message of highlighting the connection between people and that the decisions we make individually affect us collectively.
- An interview with Jack Dorsey (Podcast) Sam Harris and Jack Dorsey - Making Sense
This was published in the beginning of 2019, when the conversation about kicking Trump off of Twitter was starting to heat up. While that discussion is interesting, I preferred the broader questions Harris had about social media and Twitter’s role in disseminating information. The part of the conversation about meditation was less interesting than expected.
- Will We Destroy The Future (Podcast) Sam Harris and Nick Bostrom - Making Sense
A conversation on existential risk. Bostrom is the proponent of the vulnerable world hypothesis, which states that there is some level of technological development at which civilization almost certainly gets devastated by default. In his view, it is very likely that humans can create technology that’s so powerful that it can destroy the world. You can think of nuclear war, genetic engineering gone awry, or in a much more present-day kind of scenario, our world gets so connected that a pandemic wipes us out easily. This and more in a very interesting conversation.
- Blockchain Gang (Podcast) Planet Money
You put nerds in prison and they will make the inmates start their own blockchain with pen, paper, and… mackerel cans?
- The Phoebus Cartel (Podcast) Ramtin Arablouei, Rund Abdelfatah, Sally Helm - Planet Money
Planned obsolescence is not a new thing.
- Cat Scam (Podcast) Stacey Vanek Smith - Planet Money
The internet makes for all kinds of arbitrage business schemes, from dropshipping, to middlemanning, and more. This episode explains a specific case involving Amazon and eBay and cat toys.
- Right to be Forgotten (Podcast) Molly Webster, Bethel Habte - Radiolab
Perhaps, not all content should remain available forever.
- The Founder (Podcast) PJ Vogt - Reply All
Open source encryption tech, early internet days, and an international crime ring? What’s not to like?
- Dark Pattern (Podcast) Reply All
A deep dive into the insane world of TurboTax and the strategies that enable them to keep squeezing money out of the public while offering the “free option” required by regulation. This is one of the most absurd cases of regulatory capture in the US today.
- Pulse Check on Consumer Tech Trends 2019, CES and Beyond (Podcast) Benedict Evans and Steven Sinofsky - a16z Podcast
It’s interesting to hear about how CES works, and the sourcing process for some of these hardware products. By now we should start to see the trends discussed by Evans and Sinofsky in this episode, a year and a half later.
- Inside Apple Software Design (Podcast) Ken Kocienda and Frank Chen - a16z Podcast
Even though I have been working at Apple for 5 years, I don’t feel very exposed to this kind of thinking. The cycle of client development permeates everything in the company, and we all run on the yearly release of new features with the next OSs. However, my role leading a software engineering team building analytics tools means that the stuff that Kocienda proposes goes completely against the principles our team pushes for. It often feels like we swim upstream, but the symbiosis works out.
- Voting, Security, and Governance in Blockchains (Podcast) Phil Daian and Ali Yahya - a16z Podcast
A lot of our decision making processes are based on the idea of voting occurring in a single snapshot, whether that is for boardrooms or national elections. What kinds of structures can emerge once we remove a few constraints?
Whoa, you made it to the end!
Photo: Lands End, San Francisco, California, by me. Previously posted on Q1 Hikes.
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