The Listening Room, or habits to unlearn September 23, 2018
I’m not sure how I found Magritte in the first place, but as a teenager, his Son of Man became my avatar on every online platform where I spent afternoons and evenings during the mid-aughts. I pondered endlessly on his playful compositions, full of contradictions, false premises, and recursive repetitive themes. The motifs in Magritte’s art — paintings within paintings, windows confounding what was inside with what was outside, ambiguous and impossible light sources — invite us to question the automatic assumptions we make about what is in front of our eyes, the nature of reality, and what the objects we interact with on our daily lives actually represent. Images are treacherous, etc, etc. Continue reading...
Boston, 2018 September 8, 2018
After a long time without visiting, I finally got to spend some time in Boston this past weekend with Max and Einat. We decided not to plan much, which turned out to be a great decision. More...
Origin Stories September 8, 2018
Boston holds a special place in my life. When I was starting my senior year of high school, and my brother Max was applying for business school, he was invited to MIT for an interview at Sloan and thought it was a good idea for me to tag along on his visit. I did, and that trip was the trigger that made me consider going to college in the US. Continue reading...
Outside Lands, 2018 August 15, 2018
Another year in San Francisco, another Outside Lands. After a few years in SF, I’ve been to several of these festivals, and honestly this year I was less excited than for previous ones. We had purchased the early bird tickets, and were a bit disappointed when the lineup came out. However, being less excited about the concerts meant that we’d spend less time going back and forth in the park, and that we’d be less stressed about what concerts we’d miss because something else had overlapped. As the day got closer, I started looking forward to it more, and once we were at the festival I was glad we had bought the tickets. Continue reading...
Links - August 15, 2018
- Monetary Policy as a Jobs Guarantee Joshua R. Hendrickson - Mercatus Center, George Mason University
This brief explaining and expanding on some of David Glasner’s and Earl Thompson’s ideas on a labor standard is fascinating. If you’re interested in how money and central banking work, you should take a look. Hendrickson argues that instead of having the Fed aim for stable prices and full employment by managing interest rates tied to fiat, we build a set of policies that mix the ideas of the gold standard and the job guarantee that has gained some popularity recently. Essentially, instead of having the dollar trade for a fixed quantity of gold, the Fed would define the dollar as a fixed quantity of labor. This would tie the price level to changes in the real market, outsource monetary policy to the market, and provide the equivalent of a job guarantee to the citizenry. Obviously there are problems with this, such as fungibility (ie, not all hours of labor are equal) but this can be solved with some kind of indexing solution. I’m intrigued, so if you have anything else to read on this topic, I’d love to hear about it.
- Who do you trust? Jon Evans - TechCrunch
When so much of our lives is mediated by giant corporations like Apple, Amazon, and Google, how do we deal with our data? Sure, it is behind a password in the cloud, but someone at whichever storage provider you pick has the keys to some of your data, and most if not all your metadata. This is one of the reasons I like working at Apple - I believe in our commitment to privacy, even if it is just a ploy for market differentiation. Ultimately, this means that I trust Apple, and that the engineers who work on these products are doing the right thing. I could also trust Satoshi, or Vitalik, or Linus’ Law but ultimately, I have to trust someone, and hope that they’ve done their homework.
- The Stock Market Is Shrinking. That's a Problem for Everyone. Jeff Sommer - The New York Times
This is a topic I’ve discussed before here, but it’s nice to have some data to back up the story.
- Growing up Jobs Lisa Brennan-Jobs - Vanity Fair
People idolize Steve Jobs, and at Apple he is still brought up often. I read this article around the same time that I was reading DFW’s Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky, where he wrote that “to make someone an icon is to make him an abstraction, and abstractions are incapable of vital communication with living people.” Writing this must have been really tough for Brennan-Jobs, knowing how public it’d be. It is good to remember Jobs’ (very) flawed human side.
- As Google Maps Renames Neighborhoods, Residents Fume Jack Nicas - The New York Times
I’ve talked about this before, too. Google is pushing SoMa as “The East Cut” on their maps now. I literally spend half my waking hours in this neighborhood and the only times I’ve heard it in conversation were either (a) people making fun of Google, or (b) referring to the uniforms that cleanup crews wear, emblazoned with “The East Cut,” which ends up leading to (a). There is a very Orwellian aspect to this story, and to how the digital world can reshape the physical world.
- San Francisco, You'll Miss Your Tech Bros If They Flee Noah Smith - Bloomberg
I’m biased, so not much to say here, other than my full agreement with Noah. This broken city would just finish breaking if the tech industry collapsed.
- How Econ Numbers Can Lead You (and Me) Astray Noah Smith - Bloomberg
Another one by Noah. It is very unusual for pundits to go back and revise their commentary, and to retract the data they’ve used to back up their claims. This one deserves applause.
- History of the Naturalization of Kurt Gödel (1971) Oskar Morgenstern
An amazing intimate story involving Morgenstern, Einstein, and of course Gödel, on his naturalization to become a US citizen in 1947. I won’t spoil it.
- How I gained commit access to Homebrew in 30 minutes Eric Holmes - Medium
One of the most fundamental tools for modern software development had a major security hole, and as usual the issue was a human one, not a technical one.
- Sanctimonious Econ Critics Robin Hanson - Overcoming Bias
A critique of Morty Shapiro and Gary Saul Morson’s book on the intersection of economics and the humanities. I took their joint class at Northwestern a few years ago, and also thought it was lacking. The reading list was wonderful. It exposed me to many ideas/authors I did not know about, but their debates were disappointing. I hear a lot more Morson than Morty coming through in Hanson’s arguments. Maybe some day I’ll read their book.
- Selling Fred Wilson - AVC
The strategy described here makes a lot more sense when talking about high risk assets like venture and crypto, and like most of these rules of thumb it must be suboptimal, but I’ve been thinking about taking this approach for future investments. Dividing assets in three separate chunks to diversify away risk, and still remain exposed to the original theses, seems like a good idea.
- A Generation Grows Up in China Without Google, Facebook or Twitter Li Yuan - The New York Times
I wonder if Chinese newspapers write about the generation of Americans growing up without WeChat and Baidu. Probably not. Cultural relativism is a recurring theme in my life, and this is one of the most glaring examples I’ve seen recently.
- STARKs, Part I: Proofs with Polynomials Vitalik Buterin
The kinds of things that mathematics allow us to do are pretty insane. I spent a few hours trying to wrap my head around the ideas that Vitalik explains in this series, but a lot of it went over my head. Made me want to go back and learn higher level math.
- Voice Assistants Still Can't Understand Bilingual Users Ximena N. Larkin - New York Magazine
This piece complains that Siri, Alexa, and the rest of the AI assistant pack can’t handle multiple languages. I fundamentally disagree with some of Larkin’s points. It’s a problem I experience often myself as a native Spanish speaker trying to communicate with these standard written english bots, so I totally understand where she’s coming from. However, not even addressing the speech to text part (which is what’s really broken with the accents), there just aren’t as many NLP tools/corpora/tagged datasets in other languages as there are in English. This is in part a historical/path dependence problem, and in part just economics. Can’t go much deeper than that, sadly.
- Google's censored Chinese search engine: a catalogue of ethical violations? Catherine Flick - The Conversation
Another one I probably can’t say much about. I am worried about the progress of technology and where this kind of censorship might take us, though.
- Americans Own Less Stuff, and That’s Reason to Be Nervous Tyler Cowen - Bloomberg View
Our views about ownership, and how radically they have changed in the last 15-20 years is a topic I’ve been reading a lot about recently. Cowen describes a symptom, and says it should cause us worry. His explanation of why this is a problem is flawed though. As a HN commenter mentions: “The problem isn’t that we own less stuff, it’s that the ownership is replaced by a dependency on a handful of corporations which we have no ability to influence or appeal to. The substitution of individual ownership for a communal one in which individuals retain a stake - a real community, or at a larger scale, a democracy - is not inherently bad. The problem with our recent trend is that we aren’t getting communal ownership in return; we’re getting nothing but convenience. […] You’re renting from a centralized company which outsources the generation of actual value to others, and pays them as little as possible. You aren’t shifting your dependence from yourself to a community, but from yourself to a company that wants nothing more than to make money.” A book I read earlier this year, Doctorow’s Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, discusses this topic in depth, and I’m hoping to write more about it in the future.
- The Basics of Growth - User Acquisition Andrew Chen, Jeff Jordan, and Sonal Chokshi - Andreessen Horowitz (Podcast)
A really good refresher on metrics and growth. They don’t say much new, but give a great overview. Don’t miss part two on engagement and retention. Listening to these made me wish I worked on a product where the metrics tracked translated to dollars.
- Frank Dikotter on Mao's Great Famine EconTalk (Podcast)
Most people don’t know much about the millions of people who died in China during Mao’s era of collectivization. In this conversation, Dikotter explains some of its history, and explains the many ways in which its policies failed. It reminded me a lot of reading Seeing Like a State, and made me wonder about the relative success of the kibbutz, the analogous Israeli collective farm. I did a bit of research, and probably will not only add Dikotter’s book to my to-do list, but also this one on the Israeli experiment. The problem with listening to EconTalk is that it makes me want to understand the world more, and I can only do that by reading more. Guess that’s a good kind of problem to have.
- The Postal Illuminati Planet Money (Podcast)
It’s odd when ideas that sound like conspiracy theories are actually true. Turns out that there is a transnational scheme to subsidize the last-mile shipping of stuff that has moved across borders. This contributes to the skewed cost distribution of last-mile delivery, and affects local businesses where transportation cost represents a significant portion of the price of an item. This seems like a pretty messed up set of incentives waiting to explode in our faces.