Links - July 2nd, 2017

  • Should Startups Care About Profitability?
    Mark Suster - Both Sides of the Table

    Dealing with the trade offs between profits and growth is one of the toughest problems in business. Suster frames his article as “profits vs. growth,” but when he compares companies under different scenarios he’s really talking about the decision of raising VC money to fuel growth, not about picking a plowback ratio. The argument put forward in the post is that the calculus of “cash in hand today” vs. “debt today plus a promise of more cash tomorrow” is not a big question in high margin businesses with “winner takes most” outcomes.

  • Getting Past the Dominance of the Nation State
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    This is one of the topics I keep bringing back in conversations with friends, and which I keep getting made fun of for. People forget that the institution of the nation state as we know it is only a couple centuries old, and that it also replaced a seemingly irreplaceable structure. Reading Imagined Communities (see my notes as I go here) has convinced me that the status quo is fragile, and while it won’t change overnight, there is pressure at both ends to revise it. We’re moving towards globalization, while cities gain prominence and develop as smaller localized units that don’t necessarily respond to “the nation”. Countries will be around for a long time, but I am certain that within my lifetime the power balance will have shifted.

  • Health Insurance and the R Word (Redistribution)
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    Lots of talk these days about insurance these days, for obvious reasons, so here’s another post by Wenger.

  • Thoughts on Insurance
    Aaron Harris - Y Combinator

    This one is less about the politics of it, but the actual mechanics. The business of insurance is one of pricing - the better you are at calculating the likelihood of whatever mishaps you are insuring against, the more money you’ll make. Harris explains the various players along the value chain, and discusses how the insurance market is structured.

  • Why libertarians should read Marx
    Chris Dillow - Stumbling and Mumbling

    Dillow lists three reasons. First, he starts with Marx’s view of economics as a historical process. Since the economy is “founded upon past injustices” and the “denial of the rights and freedom which libertarians celebrate,” the status quo can’t be regarded as legitimate by libertarians. Second, he discusses Marx’s perspective on property rights, and how they might discourage investment and innovation. Lastly, he posits that Marx’s gripe with capitalism was not that it was unfair, but that it robbed laborers from their freedom. As someone mentioned on HN a few days ago in the context of a minimum wage discussion, “When a person is desperate, ‘voluntary’ starts to lose all meaning.” I’m not a libertarian, but I should read Marx.

  • iPhone Turns Ten
    Neil Cybart - Above Avalon

    The insanity of transforming the way we interact with technology a second time. “Apple had sold approximately 180M devices since being founded in 1976 (70M Macs and 110M iPods) […] Apple is on track to sell its two billionth iPhone at some point in 2020.”

  • There Goes the Gayborhood
    Scott James - The New York Times

    Hannah has been reading a lot of books on gentrification lately, so we’ve been discussing the topic more than usual. What is the meaning of gentrification today in these neighborhoods, when the gay population were the original gentrifiers? I live a few blocks away from the Castro, so you could put me in the bad-guys bucket in this story. This is a hot-button issue, and I have no answers on what’s the right way to solve it, but I am convinced the real cause is policy, not the people moving in.

  • What can developers learn from being on call?
    Julia Evans

    On call rotations are about aligning incentives. Code that is suspected to have bugs is never merged and pushed to production on a Friday afternoon when the person writing it is on the hook to fix the error over the weekend. In my two years at Apple I have learned a lot about monitoring and logging, and one of the biggest lessons has been to write fool-proof error messages for anyone else in the team to quickly get context and all the information needed to debug without thinking too much. The post is full of other examples.

  • The Danger Of Inadvertently Praising Zygomatic Arches
    Robert Sapolsky -

    I thought I had posted articles from before, but apparently this is a first one! If you haven’t visited their website, you definitely should. Every year they post a broad question, and ask people from a wide range of scientific and technical fields to answer it. In 2013, the question was “What should we be worried about?” and Robert Sapolsky answered with “What really worries me is that it is so hard for virtually anyone to truly act as if there is no free will.” Go read his answer, and then more questions on Edge.

  • Revising the Fault Line (Podcasts)

    And if that was not enough, here’s some more Sapolsky on free will.

  • Mexico 68 (Podcast)
    99% Invisible

    Design meets history, meets civil unrest, meets politics.

  • You Should Do a Story (Podcast)
    99% Invisible

    5 stories in 1. A Standard Oil gas station in San Francisco to comply with trademark law, “desire paths” and how user experience beats designers wishes, 50-Hz vs 60-Hz electrical systems, and a whole section on local design solutions, followed by a strange story about street naming.

  • A Not-So-Simple Majority (Podcast)
    This American Life

    Another fight over public governance, funding, and what happens when we can’t agree on what the government should and should not provide. This case on public education is insane. The religious side to this story makes me especially angry.

  • Shrimp Fight Club (Podcast)
    Planet Money

    Another fight over public governance, funding, and what happens when… Wait, that’s the same description as the post right above, but here we’re talking about the federal government and funding scientific research.

  • A good walk spoiled (Podcast)
    Revisionist History Podcast

    While the episode is framed as an argument against the game of golf, it really is about the strange taxation status of country clubs in California where the game is played. The reason it is specifically about California is Prop 13, and the extremely low property taxes that these clubs pay to the State. Under the proposition, land value is reassessed whenever the majority ownership changes hands, making for a really interesting argument on the nature of ownership under equity membership schemes of the clubs.

  • 3D Packing
    Michael Fogleman

    Another fun visualization experiment by Fogleman. How many widgets can one pack in a constrained volume? Math can give you the answer.

Why I gave up on giving up Twitter

Why I gave up on giving up Twitter

As some of you might have noticed, my Twitter account has been mostly dormant for the last month or two. This was an experiment; an attempt to regain some of my dead time and be as productive as I used to be. I had done something similar once before - in 2013, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and regained hours of my life. It’s been four years and I have not looked back. I figured Twitter could not be too different. Continue reading...

Pride '17

Pride '17

This year, my Pride weekend was very similar to last year’s. Saturday at Dolores, Sunday at the Civic Center Plaza. However, it was colder, and people seemed to be in a different mood. It was much tamer, and there were fewer naked weirdos, but there were other weirdos, like me, asking strangers for their portraits.

Sometimes, I am sad that these people will never see the photos I took of them. More...

Back in Chicago

Back in Chicago

There are always good reasons to keep going back to Chicago. This time, it was for Hannah’s cousin’s wedding. More...

Another Great (Podcast) Link Dump - June 2017

  • The Quiet Master of Cryptocurrency — Nick Szabo
    Tim Ferriss Podcast

    I generally can’t stand Tim Ferriss, but this is a good episode. Nick’s blog is great (if you haven’t read him, start here).

  • Extra: Henrietta Lacks

    At Northwestern, the “One Book” program tries to build community by sending incoming students a copy of a book before they arrive on campus. My year, it was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This episode gives an overview of her story, and by interviewing her family members, and some of the scientists involved in the research that her case spawned. To be honest, I started the book that summer, but never finished it. I’ll get to it some day.

  • Funky Hand Jive

    Microbiomes are interesting. It’s odd to think that so much of our life is defined by bacteria.

  • Squatters of the Lower East Side
    99% Invisible

    Planning urban development is hard, and sometimes, the unplanned spontaneous decisions of many lead us to interesting places that central planning couldn’t reach.

  • Reversing the Grid
    99% Invisible

    I had never thought about the political implications about generating electricity at home. This episode discusses “net-metering,” or the billing mechanism that allows someone with PV panels on their roof to get credit for generating more electricity than they consume. How did it come about? Some guy plugged his PV panels into his meter, and it started going backwards!

  • Speed Dating For Economists
    Planet Money

    This makes the idea of getting an economics PhD even less appealing than it already was. The fact that even the people who arguably know the most about how markets function can’t build a better matching market.

  • Spreadsheets!
    Planet Money

    It’s ridiculous to think that spreadsheets were so revolutionary only a few years ago.

  • Slot Flaw Scofflaws
    Planet Money

    Is it illegal to study how a system works, to the point that you understand it so well that you can exploit it? No, that’s the whole point of open source software. Patch the issue, give the gray hat his bounty, and move on.

  • Passports
    50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

    This series of podcasts by Tim Harford has given us strong history lessons, telling us why things are the way they are. This specific episode though, focuses more on asking whether any of it makes sense “From a certain angle, it is odd. Many countries take pride in banning employers from discriminating against among workers based on characteristics we can’t change: whether we’re male or female, young or old, gay or straight, black or white. […] But mostly our passport depends on the identity of our parents and location of our birth. And nobody chooses those.” Somehow, this seems ok in our modern mind set - it is all a game of Us & Them.

  • What Kind of Idiot Gets Phished?
    Reply All

    Lately I have been more paranoid than usual about this, and I am considering changing how I handle my password management all together, and even buying a YubiKey for personal use. This episode just backs that feeling even more.

  • Blockchain Beauty Contest

    If you think about it hard enough, everything is made up. Countries, money, companies, the constitution, everything! And, blockchains, too…

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