Links - August 26, 2017

  • Death Arbitrage and Uber Battles
    Matt Levine - Bloomberg

    I have been reading a lot of Levine’s writing lately (mostly his Money Stuff series/newsletter) and this is a great example of it: a nice mix of crazy, technology, and politics, viewed through the lens of finance. “People are worried that people aren’t worried enough” and “Blockchain blockchain blockchain,” are recurring sections that have kept me coming back.

  • Coase's Spectre
    Cory Doctorow - Crooked Timber

    I have never read Cory Doctorow’s novels. He was recently in a Planet Money episode about his change of heart about copyright laws. It was really good, and I’m surprised I didn’t share it after I heard it! This post about his newest book, and the economics behind it, made me want to read his work. I have found myself enjoying fiction as much as non-fiction lately. It is harder to find books whose stories touch on issues that you’re interested in, since you’re not looking at the “business” or “science” section, but there are plenty of good things to read. In this case, it is the economics of coordination.

  • Weird Python Integers
    Kate Murphy

    This post, and it’s follow-up made rounds on the python speaking part of the internet this week. It reminded me of Adrien Guillo’s post on the internals of Python strings. The little optimizations that happen under the hood can lead to surprising and unexpected behavior, but once you learn the deterministic rules behind the nice API, it is easy to predict how things will work, and you can use that to your advantage. Now I’m trying to decide how to optimize my current project with string interning.

  • Why Is Game of Thrones' Westeros Still Poor?
    Adam Ozimek - Forbes (but actually Outline, because Forbes is impossible to read)

    "The economics of GoT" is a good genre. A long time ago I had read a similar article about its money and banking system, and turns out it was also by Ozimek. In this post, he tries to explain why there hasn’t been an industrial revolution in GoT. The TL;DR is a) there’s no cheap energy source (coal), b) scarcity of both labor and capital, c) a hierarchical closed system of science/knowledge (the Maesters). Trying to poke holes in a fantasy world with real world theories is always interesting.

  • Resource Constraints
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    Resource allocation is hard, and only gets harder with size. That’s why startups can carve themselves a niche and take over huge companies. Most projects are not worth pursuing, and not useful. Focus gets the win. Pretty related to this a16z episode on growth strategies and how to handle cash.

  • Restaurants Are the New Factories
    Derek Thompson - The Atlantic

    But coal! The Rust Belt! Our jobs!

  • ICOs and Governance
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    The human side of technology and business are much harder than the technology and the business themselves. Decision making is hard, whether you ran an ICO or raised a series A. Convincing people that you should go one way or another takes leadership. Development in system design, focusing on how to align incentives for the long term is one of the best things that will come out of the current crypto-craze.

  • A history of branch prediction from 1500000 BC to 1995
    Dan Luu

    One of those articles that make me wish I had been a CS/CE major. The things we do to make computers go fast are crazy.

  • Who You Gonna Call? (podcast)
    This American Life

    A very meta show, where two of the acts are about radio shows. The prologue was intensely sad. Go call your parents.

  • Can You Patent a Steak? (podcast)
    Planet Money

    The patent system is a mess. In this episode, the Planet Money folks try to explain what ideas are and are not patentable. Among others, they discuss beef cuts, and easily snackable variations on chicken wings from non wing parts of the chicken. I listened to this on my way to meet friends for Wing Wednesday, quite fitting.

  • John McWhorter on the Evolution of Language and Words on the Move (podcast)

    An unusual guest for this podcast, discussing culture and language instead of economics. The link, and the reason why this is interesting, is that language is a continually evolving emergent system, just like the economy. No one designed English, or Spanish, and there is no one person dictating what can and can’t be said. Sure, there are bodies like the Real Academia Española, who “oversee” a language, but they can’t stop us from inserting an emoji in the middle of our sentences, or from dropping a whole set of pronouns from normal use. I wish they had spent some time around topics of nation and identity building around language, but otherwise this is one of my favorite EconTalk episodes lately.

  • Plastic (podcast)
    Tim Hartford - 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

    We’ve all seen that scene from The Graduate. Here’s some backround info on the invention of the material. In many ways, I owe a lot of who I am to that one word: “plastics”

  • Poetry, music and identity
    Jorge Drexler -

    I have loved this song since I first heard it back in 2004-2005. Adding this whole layer of its origin story (a night out with Sabina, of all people!), and the history behind its structure, was awesome. The fact that everyone claims this metric/structure as their own, and as a defining aspect of the musical identities of their country is quite telling. Like Drexler says towards the end, “deep down, we’re all from nowhere and a little bit from everywhere.”



Yesterday morning, instead of going straight to the office, I grabbed my camera and took photos of the skygazers around SoMa. If you were trying to see the eclipse at 2nd street and Folsom, there’s a good chance I have a photo of you craning. More...

Half-Baked: Index Investing and Divesting

A while back, I started thinking about putting some savings in a broad-based index fund, and I compared various brokerage providers. I was surprised to learn about one of Wealthfront’s features, which other players did not offer: direct indexing. Continue reading...

Outside Lands, again (again)

Outside Lands, again (again)

Outside Lands has become one of those San Francisco events that I look forward to all year for the opportunity to take portraits. Thousands of happy people pour into Golden Gate park for a weekend of music and fun. It is kind of crazy that this is my fourth time there.

Somehow, I took 1300 photos over the weekend, so curating and editing them was an impossible task. If you know I took your photo, and you can’t see it here, reach out and I’ll send you a copy.

You might have seen my 2015 and 2016 sets already, but if not, I definitely recommend it after you’re done with these! More...

Links - August 10, 2017

  • The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely on Video and Voice
    Eric Bellman - The Wall Street Journal

    My experience of technology, and that of most readers of this blog, is one predicated on high speed access, tens, if not hundreds of gigabytes of storage, and last generation processors paired with large amounts of memory. How does the internet work when “fast” means you’re streaming over 2G? What do your apps store when the drive on your phone holds only a couple of gigs? How do you find content your when you’re illiterate? This article doesn’t try (and can’t!) answer these questions, but provides data and anecdotes of why they are questions worth asking.

  • Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart
    David Leonhardt - The New York Times

    That’s trickle down economics for you. Not only is the US economy growing at a slower rate, but it is also growing extremely unequally. Intuitively, these curves should have negative slopes - it is much easier to find an opportunity to grow $100 into $102 than to turn $1M into $1.02M - so what changed in this complex system that lead us to the current state? Rules over wealth and wages are diverging more and more.

  • The Fallacy of Biological Determinism
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    I have tried to avoid the discussion about the Google memo from last week, so I have read very few articles (and sadly way too many tweets) on the topic. I know I disagree with the author, and reading N think pieces won’t change that, so I’ve tried to shut it off. However, I read almost every post on Continuations, and Albert’s take seems like a sober response: we have overcome economic, historical and technological determinism, so it seems logical that even if the biological determinism implied by Damore (the memo’s author) were real, we could overcome them with… wait for it… technology!

  • GAFA's org structures as a platform for growth
    Benedict Evans

    Organizational behavior is insane. Moving thousands of people towards a common goal is hard, and I hadn’t thought about how insane this 10x personnel increase that Evans brings up is. You should listen to the related podcast, and if you haven’t read Sinofsky’s Functional versus Unit Organizations, you should probably do that first.

  • Modern American elites have come to favour inconspicuous consumption
    The Economist

    This article argues that “modern American elites recoiled from accumulating mere goods now that globalisation has made them affordable to the middle class” and are instead now spending their money inconspicously - buying experiences, and high social value items instead. I don’t know if I buy the argument, but I guess I’ll have to read the book. I have also been meaning to read Veblen for a while, but that’s a bit denser.

  • Fewer Immigrants Mean More Jobs? Not So, Economists Say
    Binyamin Appelbaum - The New York Times

    Usually I am biased when talking about economics, but this argument wouldn’t help me anyway. Letting low skill workers come in help the US, too, as they generate business and grow the pie for everyone else. It’s not a zero sum game.

  • English language and American solipsism
    Branko Milanovic - globalinequality

    Is it good for your country that everyone else speaks your language, and that the majority of the population can virtually ignore what’s going on outside its borders? I’ve always argued that it is not. Branko agrees with me. The average American is isolated in their culture. Relatedly, if they can’t find things on maps, they’re less likely to want to use diplomacy as a solution. That’s bad.

  • The Eddie Murphy Rule (Podcast)
    Planet Money

    Among other things, this made me think of the opening chapter of Flash Boys, and how the crazy floors of stock and commodity exchanges are not what they used to be. Now I want to go watch Trading Places. (Also, Roman Mars on Planet Money? More of that, please.)

  • The Stethoscope (Podcast)
    99% Invisible

    Speaking of Roman Mars… I think this episode represents well what I like so much about his podcast. A mix between a history class (who invented the Stethoscope?), a design review (how can you improve upon the original rolled up notebook?), modern culture (why do doctors wear their stethoscopes around their shoulders?), and a bunch of interesting interviews. Worth the 20 minutes.

  • City maps from tourists’ feelings
    Beñat Arregi

    Using Airbnb ratings to visualize a visitor’s experience of a city is an interesting idea. Understanding neighborhoods, and social problems (just look at the Tenderloin in the SF visualization!)

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