The Great Link Dump of April 2017

It has been a linkless month, so here’s a brain dump.

Links - March 26, 2017

  • Why does Donald Trump demonize cities?
    Will Wilkinson - The Washington Post

    This article was awesome. The basic idea it tries to get across is that because cities are multicultural and inclusive, they are also more productive. This vision of the city as a bastion of openness and tolerance, unlike the insular rural communities that voted for Trump, is not new, but the post sparked some interesting conversation online. For example see Noah Smith’s, Ross Douthat’s and Chris Arnade’s takes.

  • The Disqus Demo Day Story
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    It is always good to hear these insider views of how companies got started. Much like Airbnb selling Obama-O’s, or Drew Houston forgetting his USB drive, these origin myths are just that, stories, but they reinforce the idea that all you need to start a startup is to solve a pain point.

  • Complexity and Strategy
    Terry Crowley - Hackernoon

    Thinking about technical complexity as a moat is interesting, especially considering the initial discussion about “the shape of the cost-functionality curve.” I definitely believe that there are increasing costs to adding functionality, or as the author says “Features interact — intentionally — and that makes the cost of implementing the N+1 feature closer to N than 1.” This is exactly why a startup can come up with a simple product and blow a big co out of the water. They don’t have to worry about how all the other pieces in the business - and in the code! - interact with each other.

  • The eigenvector of "Why we moved from language X to language Y"
    Erik Bernhardsson

    Stochastic modeling is a really cool topic, and here we see it applied to the transitions between programming languages.

  • What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?
    Neil Irwin - The New York Times

    This is another version of Noah Smith’s Beware of Thinking like an Economist. Here the argument is “there are certain problems that only sociologists can solve,” which is probably just as bad. However, the historical aspect is interesting, especially the fact that there could have been a Council of Social Advisers.

  • How the Internet Is Saving Culture, Not Killing It
    Farhad Manjoo - The New York Times

    Nothing about Farhad’s argument seems controversial to me. There are still unsolved problems in the vein of “finding a needle in a haystack” where separating signal from noise has become increasingly difficult, but the expansion of content produced by humans can only be a good thing. If we trust that willingness to pay will somehow sort out the good vs. bad content problem in the long run, we’re headed in the right direction.

  • The Problem With Facts
    Tim Harford

    Starting with the case of Big Tobbaco vs. Medicine in the 50s and 60s, and continuing with Trump and Brexit, Harford makes an argument against ignorance. Agnotology, “the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced,” is a really interesting concept that I had never heard of. The punchline is that we need to get people excited about learning, and make them curious about the world in which they live in, so that they seek out truth on their own. Not an easy endeavor.

  • Ask A Grown-Up
    This American Life

    Life somehow keeps teaching us that we have no idea what we’re doing. “Growing up” is about learning from your experiences, but there are always new mistakes to make.

  • Public key cryptography
    50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

    All new technology can be seen as a double edge sword. Luckily, crypto wasn’t killed by the US government.

  • The Russian Passenger
    Reply All

    The cyber is hard.

  • Sorry for the delayed response
    Susanna Wolff - The New Yorker

    This happens daily to me. Sorry. Not sorry.

Links - March 15, 2017

  • Voice and the uncanny valley of AI
    Benedict Evans

    Like I said last time Evans wrote about this, “voice interfaces seem to be adding more friction than they take away.” Changing people’s habits is hard. I constantly prompt my Echo by saying “Hey Siri,” and find myself thinking of ways to phrase my questions to make them intelligible by the machines. Once or twice a week I get developer emails about “What’s New With Alexa,” but after many months my Echo only acts as a gateway to Spotify, and a party trick whenever there are guests. Voice might be the new platform, but it is nowhere near.

  • What Do Economists Actually Know?
    Russ Roberts - NewCo Shift

    The issue with modeling of any kind is that there are no alternative realities to compare against. We can only measure what we see, and by definition there are no counterfactuals, nor what-ifs. Making policy decisions under this state of affairs is hard, and the only thing we can do about it is internalize this limitation, knowing that we could be very wrong. Statistical analysis is a tool, and like any other tool, it is succeptible to operator error.

  • If There Are an Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, Some Must Be Terrible Places
    Dean Zimmerman - Nautilus

    I disagree with the author’s position, but thinking of when the problem of evil meets 21st century math and science is fascinating.

  • Patagonia and The North Face: saving the world – one puffer jacket at a time
    Marisa Meltzer - The Guardian

    Good reads on the history of large well-known retailers are not usual, as most stories in the genre end up with a strong PR flavor. This article, by virtue of showing the origin stories of two seemingly rival companies at once, achieves a good balance.

  • Improving U.S. Healthcare and Coverage
    Stephen Cecchetti and Kermit Schoenholtz - Money, Banking and Financial Markets

    Americans are exceptional in their very own ways. This whole healthcare story is a fiasco, and I am amazed that the American people have allowed it to go this long.

  • White supremacism is not nationalism
    Noah Smith - Noahpinion

    I am reading Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Noah’s arguments in this blog post fit right into the framework that Anderson proposes at the beginning of his book. Nations are made up. Expect a blog post about this soon.

  • Triple Pendulum CHAOS!
    Jake VanDerPlas - Pythonic Perambulations

    When I look at demos like these, I wish I had kept learning about differential equations after sophomore year of college. Complexity is awesome, and being able to model these crazy patterns with only a few lines of code would be great.

  • Update: CRISPR

    The cutting edge of biological research gets more interesting, and more scary, the more I learn about it. Researchers are uncovering really powerful building blocks, but we have very little understanding of the complex relationships in the whole system. The ethical considerations discussed in the last part of this episode are especially worth listening to.

  • Hacking The iPhone For Fun, Profit, And Maybe Espionage
    Planet Money

    Something I will never understand is how someone can enjoy poring over low level buffer management for hours to find an overflow condition or some obscure vulnerability. Luckily some people like watching water boil with their white hats on, and do it for the greater good, too.



Well, here’s a random set of stuff. Costa Rica, San Francisco, and México. More...

Links - March 13th, 2017

  • Why All Exchange Rates Are Bad
    Timothy Taylor - Conversable Economist

    The Trilemma makes it so that whatever policy a government decides to follow, it must be an active choice. Currency manipulation towards a stronger, weaker, more stable, or more volatile currency is a choice, and there is no default. Like everything else in economics, and the world we live in, it is a choice about tradeoffs, and understanding who gains and who loses (and by how much!) is the key to the issue.

  • A Big Little Idea Called Legibility
    Venkatesh Rao - Ribbonfarm

    I am currently reading several books at once, and one of them is Seeing Like a State. So far, the book has presented a bunch of ideas about the inner workings of what the author calls high modern states. In this post, Rao (who is not the author of the book) summarizes one of the most interesting ideas in the book so far: legibility, or reorganizing society to make it more understandable, and thus more governable.

  • President Trump Wants a Wall? Mexico Is It
    Eduardo Porter - The New York Times

    The average American has no clue of how immigration policy and actual immigration patterns work. Understanding how much effort other countries put into helping the US keep illegal immigrants at bay could be helpful in the current climate.

  • The Uber Conflation
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    2017 gave Uber a rough start. In an unusual post, Ben argues for a change of leadership, focusing on two questions: ‘Is Uber’s approach to regulation wrong?’ and ‘Is Uber wrong with regards to the specific issue at the center of this controversy?’

  • Brains, Bodies, Minds... and Techno-Religions
    a16z Podcast

    One of my favorite episodes of a16z ever. Touching on the subjects of nationalisim, imagined communities, religion, governments, etc, etc, etc, and how all of these are affected by the rise of technology. I had shared a related piece from Harari a few months ago, but this podcast episode is way better.

  • Crafts, Garicano, and Zingales on the Economic Future of Europe

    Having Russ Roberts and one of his guests debate on economic topics is fun. Having him and another three guests? Even better.

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