Surprise, you're in Costa Rica now! January 23, 2017
I had to arrange a last minute trip home to renew my visa in order to go to a different trip later this year. Now I am stuck here for a few days. Hopefully I won’t have enough time to do another set of Costa Rica photos, but who knows. More...
Wolfram's automata, a simple implementation with Python January 23, 2017
Complexity science is one of my favorite topics, ever. Wolfram’s elementary cellular automata are a great way to understand it, and writing code to generate them is very simple. Continue reading...
Links - January 22, 2017
The new year has received me with a lot of reading, but of the dead tree variety. I’m halfway with books #3 and #4 of the year by now. I guess an unexpected trip, and an even more unexpected stay in Costa Rica helped too.
- Metaphors We Compute By Alvaro Videla
Language matters. Names shape how we think. This is as important in computer science as in any other field. We talk about queues and stacks and bugs and patches, not because we like jargon, but because metaphors are the only way we can get complex ideas across quickly. Communication is the hardest thing about software engineering, and pretty much any human endeavor. Picking the right metaphors can ease our job significantly, and shed light on how others have solved the same problems in the past.
- San Francisco Asks: Where Have All the Children Gone? Thomas Fuller - The New York Times
There are a slew of insane facts in this piece. For example, San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any of the largest 100 cities in the US. The rate for San Francisco is 13%, for New York is 21%, and for Chicago, 23%, which is also the overall average across the United States. The number of dogs is roughly the same as the number of kids: 120k. There is one additional student enrolled in the public school system for every 100 apartments sold in the city. The public school system has shrunk by 40% since 1970. More than 10 private schools have opened in San Francisco since 2009. This city really makes no sense.
- The Department of Homeland Security International Entrepreneur Rule Fred Wilson - AVC
Very excited for this. Hoping to take advantage of it at some point in the future.
- Dismissing Python Garbage Collection at Instagram Chenyang Wu and Min Ni - Instagram Engineering Blog
I’ve never even thought that disabling garbage collection could be a sensible option. It’s always fun to see how people can take a deep-dive into the inner workings of their toolchain and come out with this kind of performance boost. Questioning basic assumptions can be a good idea.
- Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours. The Upshot - The New York Times
Another great data visualization project out of the NYT’s “analytical journalism” desk, this time about the relationship between education and economic mobility. Finding your school is really easy. Here’s Northwestern, for example. There are no surprises: the numbers are stark, as expected.
- Looking for commonality among HTTP request APIs Brett Cannon - Tall, Snarky Canadian
When Brett started posting a bunch of polls on how people use various Python libraries for HTTP requests, I knew he was up to something good.
- The Sound of Silence Jessica Livingston
This post has been making rounds on tech twitter, and several of the newsletters I follow shared it, too. I wholeheartedly disagree with Jessica here, which is exactly why I wanted to share this. I think Anil Dash’s response summarizes my thoughts well.
Links - January 09, 2017
- The Ten Year Anniversary of the Apple TV Ben Thompson - Stratechery
Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs unveiled two products that could change the world. One did. The other one was the Apple TV. Ben reminds us that how much he’s idolized, “it’s worth remembering that even Steve Jobs hedged his bets.”
- Grappling With My Family’s Identity in a Post-'Brexit' Europe Katrin Bennhold - The New York Times
It is too easy to start listing groups which you identify with. The author talks about her family, and their identities. What does it mean for her to be European, when she’s faced with the contrast between her spouse’s Welsh-ness and her own German-ness? What does it mean to have a name, or a passport? More importantly, what will it mean in 10 years, or 20?
- Why read old philosophy? Katja Grace - Meteuphoric
I had never thought about how Philosophy is studied in such a different way than pretty much any other discipline. What does this tell us about how we should study science, or how we should teach mathematics?
- Reserves Fred Wilson - AVC
While obviously biased, Fred has good points about the importance of having experienced venture capitalists backing your company. I knew that reserves, and follow-up rounds, were an important aspect of the business, but its always good to understand the mechanics in a deeper way.
- The Economics of Fake News Matthew E. Kahn - Environmental and Urban Economics
It is easy to draw a matrix to group the cases of what might be fake news, based on the belief of its publisher and its consumer. It is a simple confusion matrix, where the only quadrant we should really worry about is the one where “the supplier knows the story is false but the demander believes the story is true.” Kahn exposes important issues about the economic environment in which a market for fake news might arise.
- Entrepreneurship Is Intellectual Immigration Brad Feld - Feld Thoughts
A quick read. The idea of moving away from your comfort zone, and perpetually moving towards new things is definitely an appealing one to most entrepreneurs.
Links - January 7, 2017
2017 is off to a busy start. After posting on books I read last year, gathering links from the year before that, and sharing photos of my last trip it is about time I curate some fresh links. Enjoy:
- Things as authorities Nick Szabo - Unenumerated
Humans have learned to defer decision making and process to “things” since time immemorial. The main goal of this is to offload brain cycles into simple rules, and ease our interactions with the world around us. Szabo brings up examples like clocks ands traffic lights, which enable coordination between humans that would require way more effort otherwise. We can also think of learned heuristics, encoded in folklore and religion, as other means of offloading. Clocks ease friction as long as we agree on their time, just like ideas of good and evil ease friction as long as we agree on their base truth. Clocks and religion are trust-offloading mechanisms.
- Why Hayek Was not a Conservative David Glasner - Uneasy Money
New ideas are not worth listening to because they are new, but shouldn’t be disregarded for that reason either. Conservatism is a stupid idea. I wonder how it came up in the first place. Definitely related to my argument on Szabo’s article above.
- The Age of Fake Policy Paul Krugman - The New York Times
The perverse effects of signaling becoming more important than reality.
- Why Many Young Russians See a Hero in Putin Julia Ioffe - National Geographic
I’d say this title is misleading. The article really is about the world views and identities built by young Russians since the break up of the Soviet Union. The author focuses especially on those in rural areas, who long for more urban lifestyles, even if that means a lower standard of living. In many ways, the story isn’t that different from that of the US.
- World War Three, by Mistake Eric Schlosser - The New Yorker
The scary story of the 1960s technology that manages the world’s nuclear arsenal. They had TDD back then, right?
- Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People Maciej Cegłowski - Idle Words
There are way more immediate ethical issues with AI than “oh noes, it’s going to kill us!”. We can keep researching and building better systems, and in fact I’d argue we should, but instead of thinking about how to regulate the companies’ ability to kill us, we should regulate their ability to collect data indefinitely, as we don’t know where it will land. I am more scared of humans than machines.
- A Bigger Problem Than ISIS? Dexter Filkins - The New Yorker
It’d be great if governments, and whoever is striving for power could care about real problems. “A dam in Mosul that’s about to fail and potentially could kill a million people” sounds like a bigger issue than “those westerners are teaching us their disgraceful customs and insulting our god!” Kinda like how gun violence in the US is a bigger problem than bombs on airplanes.
- There is No Now Justin Sheehy - ACM Queue
Time is complicated, especially in massively distributed computing systems. I’d love to understand this topic better. If you have recommendations on what else to read, please let me know.
- Alexa: Amazon’s Operating System Ben Thompson - Stratechery
I have had an Echo for several months now, and I still see it as a gimmick, but I understand why the strategy behind the device has so much going for it. Amazon is building a platform that makes a lot of sense, but the technology isn’t quite there yet. It’ll be interesting to see this pan out.
- Jeremy Heavyweight
I recently tweeted that about one of Gimlet’s new podcasts, Heavyweight, calling it “Curb Your Enthusiasm, podcast version”. Stories about people, told in a really fun way. This one is about young people developing their identities, and grappling with their religious beliefs. Two stories about two people who met as they were going in opposite directions 30 years ago, meeting again today.
- The Last Bank Bailout Planet Money
A story about the most recent crisis, and how Neel Kashkari, who worked at the Treasury at the time, and is now the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Fed, plans to avoid the next one. As the podcast put it, the fact that Bernie Sanders and the WSJ editorial board agree that Kashkari’s proposal is a good way to move forward means that there is some intellectually solid ground in it.