Links - October 30, 2016

I meant to post these on Wendesday, which became Thursday, which became Friday… then Saturday. But here we are!

  • What Do Trump and Marx Have in Common?
    Jochen Bittner - The New York Times

    TL;DR, they were both “Wutbürgers,” or “Angry Citizens.” I don’t think they had much else in common. Despite the poorly chosen title, the article does a good job of recounting previous political movements driven by anger, some more constructive than others, and showing how history echoes across time, as well as geography.

  • The Great Cooling Off
    Kim-Mai Cutler - Modern Luxury, San Francisco

    Are we at the tail end of the up-cycle in San Francisco? The economic indicators make it seem like we might be. With rents flattening over the past few months, and unicorns falling from their sky-high valuations, the Bay Area might become a little less insane in the near future.

  • It’s Trump’s Party
    Paul Krugman - The New York Times

    It will be interesting to see what happens with the Republican Party after Trump. Many key players have lost their credibility, but, sadly, I don’t think that really matters.

  • Static typing will not save us from broken software
    David R. MacIver

    Writing software is a matter of trade-offs. There are costs to runtime errors, but there are also costs to over engineering. In the end, each feature, and each project ends up mixing and matching processes and strategies, but I haven’t seen types pay-off their upfront expenses yet. Someone should spend the time modeling these choices in an economic model. I am sure several companies would be willing to fund such research.

  • The secret behind Italy’s rarest pasta
    Eliot Stein - BBC

    I want to eat this. On a more serious note, I think the most interesting part of this story is how a very specific skill, which has been passed down as a secret through generations is about to be lost because of lack of interest, and indifference.

  • A Tale of Two Stagnations
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    Consider two very different options for why growth seems to have stoped: either people have stopped consuming enough to drive the economy forward, or we have stopped innovating and creating products as we used to. Each situation requires very different remedial policies, but as Smith explains, we’re not sure which of the two worlds we’re living in.

  • The stock market looks cheap
    Antonio Fatas

    One of the few things about finance that I actually enjoyed learning about in school was Gordon’s Growth Model. In his post, Fatas applies the model and plays with the equation to come up with a “Bubble Index.” While I wouldn’t bet on it, the equation makes for an interesting exercise.

  • Contempt Culture
    Aurynn Shaw - The Particular Finest

    Holding others in contempt for not working with a real language is a problem. Putting down PHP, a commonplace occurence, is as bad as mocking Java for having industrial strength. As a Python guy, I constantly get comments on when I’ll graduate to a static language. Making fun of each other’s tools of choice, and marking them as being beneath consideration is a mistake.

  • Jane Jacobs’s Theories on Urban Planning—and Democracy in America
    Nathaniel Rich - The Atlantic

    I was first exposed to Jane Jacobs through a class in college. We were assigned an excerpt of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” and it was odd how much Jacobs’ line of thought, once extranous, was so internalized into our own views that many of us didn’t understand why her writing was interesting. After learning more about her, and putting things in historical perspective, it all made much more sense.

  • Shadowed Qualities
    Startup (podcast)

    While I don’t yet know the pressures of being CEO, it is well known that depression, anxiety, and other issues are common among the startup crowd. Gotta hand it to Alex Blumberg for exposing himself as he did in this episode. It takes courage to let others into one’s life as he did.

  • The No-Brainer Economic Platform
    Planet Money (podcast)

    People do not understand second order effects, and have trouble forseeing policy implications. I keep going back to how whenever we think of economics in terms of the study of “rational agents,” we’re making a mistake. And I don’t mean it in the behavioral econ “we all have biases” way, but in the “People are dumb and don’t have full information to make rational decisions” way. Democracy is hard.



I spent this past weekend in New York. Each time I have visited the city, I have come back with more respect for it. I’d love to have more time to explore it in the future. More...

Links - October 19th, 2016

As my friend Leo would say, my lack of link-posting has been circumstantial, not intentional.

Last week found me busy, and uninspired. The weekend, on the other hand, gave me a lot to think about. I listened to the audio-book version of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and watched 13th, both of which I would highly recommend. I also attended a few LitQuake events, one of which was especially worthwhile.

For a while now, I have been saying that I want to write more, and this weekend gave me even more ideas, as it put a lot of things in perspective. The goal for the upcoming weeks is to put my thoughts down on paper.

Also, I read a bunch of interesting things about the election, but you’re probably tired of that. I am too.

In the mean time, here are links worth reading.

  • Developer hiring and the market for lemons
    Dan Luu

    A critique of Spolsky’s Finding Great Developers, based on solid microeconomics. Luu compares the software engineering labor market to Akerlof’s market for lemons. The argument against Spolsky’s model seems to be based on two ideas: first, that there is an information asymmetry for both hiring managers, as well as engineers, and second, that the proportion of dysfunctional teams is larger than Spolsky implies. The article goes into an extensive study of the market structure, and possible solutions for both managers and engineers. The main takeaway, is that job hunting and hiring for software engineers is hard.

  • The White Problem
    Quinn Norton - The Message – Medium

    An explainer on race in the US, which I can’t recommend enough. Norton’s two part post helped me re-contextualize the present via history I was unaware of (part two, here).

  • Echo, interfaces and friction
    Benedict Evans

    We are nowhere near a transparent general AI, and all the companies buidling voice interfaces know that. By now, Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant have all been positioned away from such an all-encompassing solution, pushing for ever narrower use cases. Like the AIs out of Facebook’s bot fiasco of 2016, voice interfaces seem to be adding more friction than they take away.

  • An Economics Nobel for Examining Reality
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    When people think of economics as a discipline, they tend to think of the broad themes they read about in the newspaper: interest rates, trade, unemployment, the housing market, etc, usually analyzed at the macro level. However, as Smith points out, microeconomics has slowly gained steam, developing more reliable models than macro in the last few years. Better tools, new methods, as well as data, are driving this change. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in more Nobel Prizes going to the microeconomists as of late, including this year’s winners.

  • A half-million Brazilians want to break away and form a new country
    The Washington Post

    More of the same. I still believe modern nations might be unraveling. Another case of “we don’t want to pay for them, because they are not us”.

  • The Hard Raise
    Fred Wilson - AVC

    From an anecdote of a “hard raise,” I think what Wilson makes in this post is an argument against easy money. When companies persevere against hard conditions, they come out stronger, with smarter theses, and better strategies.

  • How the Fed Turns Good News Into Bad
    Narayana Kocherlakota - Bloomberg View

    In which Kocherlakota explains so much of what’s wrong with techno-pessimism, while making a case for paying attention to second and third order effects.

  • A Great Fight of Our Times
    David Leonhardt - The New York Times

    Throughout history, not all generations get to be better off than the previous ones, and that seems to be the case of the United States today… unless things change. “The moral case for a fairer society is clear. But there is also a self-interested case.”

  • Our Need for Purpose and Recognition
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    I have been thinking a lot about Maslow’s hierarchy as of late. Luckily, I am part of the minority that gets to worry about these things.

  • A Short Primer On The Thiel Dust-Up
    Alex Wilhelm - Mattermark

    Tech Twitter blew up on YC’s face this week. It is rare for tech celebrities like David Heinemeier Hansson, Marco Arment, Thomas Ptacek, Jeff Atwood, and even Maciej Cegłowski to agree on things, but they have all come out with pitchforks after Sam Altman and Paul Graham for their defense of Peter Thiel. Even if Hillary wins, Trump has put strain on the Silicon Valley technorati.

  • Angus Deaton on Inequality, Trade, and the Robin Hood Principle
    EconTalk (Podcast)

    Not suprisingly, the idea of redistribution is not taken well by Roberts, but the underlying themes are more interesting anyway. Touching on cosmopolitanism, identity, and other recurring subjects of this blog, Deaton and Roberts discuss the state of the US’s poor, questioning whether a poor person in the south is objectively worse off than a poor person in Africa, for example.

  • The Wells Fargo Hustle
    Planet Money (Podcast)

    The stories coming out of the Wells Fargo scandal are rough. Incentives in the financial markets are turned on their heads, and it is amazing that the extensive regulation can’t handle these issues. Golden parachutes and bail-outs aside, this is insanity.

  • Half a House
    99% Invisible (Podcast)

    Necessity is the mother of invention, quite literally. This episode makes it easy to imagine what the village might look like, but after seeing the photos I think the audio doesn’t do it justice. An excellent idea, and an important example of why the US sometimes lags on the innovation side.

  • In Line
    The Memory Palace (Podcast)

    A short episode, based on a 1964 New York Times article. Nate DiMeo tells us a story we’ve all heard before, but which, sadly, must be retold over and over again.

  • Map of the Internet

    I am sharing this, even though I honestly did not read the whole thing. An 11 part epic on how the internet works. A good production, even if a bit overwhelming.

Links - October 5th, 2016

Just like last week, these were ready yesterday, but the debate talk made me push them for a day. A lot of political content, but the kind that runs deeper than the election cycle’s scandal du jour.

It might be time for me to solidify some of these thoughts, and do a write-up of my own.

  • Why's that company so big? I could do that in a weekend
    Dan Luu

    If there is one thing I have learned over the last year, it is that even small projects require huge overhead when your tolerance for error is small. Building services with acceptable uptime, reliablity, and performance is extremely complicated, if not nearly impossible. “I could do that in a weekend” is a strawman. In fact, I have come to the opposite realization… it is surprising that anything works at all, even when thousands of human hours are invested!

  • Deep-Fried Data
    Maciej Cegłowski - Idle Words

    As usual with Maciej, there are many layers to this essay. The comparisons between libraries and the internet are not new, and his railing against large companies aiding online surveilance are more than expected. Much more interesting are the questions brought up about archiving the modern web - where content is selected, joined, and rendered dynamically per user at load time, with large portions behind walls: What is the point of building a community you don’t own? What should be kept for posterity? What is a the point of a site’s snapshot without the code that makes it work? What happens when a company dies, or misses, and we go beyond simple link-rot? The conclusion is hand wavey, but the future of the internet is, as Maciej put it, contingent.

  • When world leaders thought you shouldn’t need passports or visas
    Speranta Dumitru - The Conversation

    I had never thought about the fact that passports are a recent construct. Obviously, it makes sense, but when I first read it I was baffled that they were a new necessity only a hundred years ago. In historical context, freedom of movement ties very nicely with a lot of themes I have been thinking about related to sovereignty, national identity, shared culture, and their implications. Be it due to globalization, radicalization, or you-name-it-ization, the modern nation-state may be slowly breaking down.

  • Immigration: the right's problem
    Chris Dillow - Stumbling and Mumbling

    To continue the theme of freedom of movement, let’s talk immigration policy. In short, Dillow argues that the free market right should support open immigration in much the same way they support free trade. If freedom was something that the conservatives really cared about, they could not be this inconsistent, and they surely would push for more lenient immigration laws than the left. Once again, it is a matter of boundaries, and identity: freedom for whom?

  • Trade Show
    Planet Money

    More of the same. I am on a roll, I guess. It is odd that both US presidential candidates are against trade in this election, so the Planet Money folks compressed a quarter millenium of trade history for us. While superficial, there is a good discussion of The Wealth of Nations, and who benefits from tariffs vis-a-vis open borders and other trade policies. They touch on concentrated benefits and diffuse costs, which we can see across the ladder from regional to supranational deals. I assume the bipartisan anti-trade sentiment in the US is just a blip, and that we’ll soon revert to the trend of freer trade.

  • Why Are Politicians So Obsessed With Manufacturing?
    Binyamin Appelbaum - The New York Times

    It is easier to sell people on a safe past than an unsure future. Our brain is hardwired with biases, trained by thousands of years of evolution. It can trick us on false positives and overblow our fears, or it can make us think that the past was, by its own nature, better than the future. What seems irrational is that no candidate has capitalized on this, realizing that there is a discrepancy between public discourse and the numbers. Soon, some candidate will catch the tailwind instead of falsely promising restoration.

  • The Intellectual, Yet Idiot
    Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Medium

    The more I read Taleb, the less I like him. The IYI concept is worth sharing, though, because it is pervasive, and we all fall in the trope at times. “The IYI has been wrong, historically, on [a ton of things,] but he is convinced that his current position is right.” The key to ridding one’s self of the YI part is to have an open mind, accept errors as they are revealed, and course-correct accordingly.

Links - September 28, 2016

  • Startup Cargo Cults: What They Are and How to Avoid Them
    Leo Polovets - Coding VC

    We all fall prey to cargo cults: following our biases and finding patterns where there might be none, mimicking the inessentials and hoping we get the same results. Think hard about why you do things, and trim as necessary.

  • Snapchat Spectacles and the Future of Wearables
    Ben Thompson - Stratechery

    There is too much Apple speculation here for me to make strong comments, but go read it. Products don’t exist in a vacuum.

  • Economics Has a Major Blind Spot
    Noah Smith - Bloomberg View

    A clear exposition one of my gripes about economics as a discipline: Once you layer in tax, after tax, after tax, and your policies start interacting with each other, they no longer achieve the desired effects.
    In the real world, no agent -however rational- can make optimal choices, as they don’t have nearly full information. To make things worse, solutions proposed at a given time might alter the underlying reality before they even go into effect, and no longer work as expected! By the time they are in place, policies are hard to change (this week’s EconTalk touched on that topic) and we deal with it by adding more crap on top. Living in a complex society does not by definition require the levels of complexity of modern legislation.

  • Amazon’s Newest Ambition: Competing Directly With UPS and FedEx
    Greg Bensinger and Laura Stevens - The Wall Street Journal

    Similar to the recent Bloomberg article. Amazon seems more and more serious about their last-mile effort, and the incumbents are still incredulous.

  • Trump was completely wrong about the Fed last night. But I’m glad the topic came up.
    Jared Bernstein - The Washington Post

    If the political system in the US is hard, and confusing, the Fed is probably one of the most misunderstood. Even having taken several courses on the topic, understanding the intended effects of central banking, and monetary policy, is tough. Bernstein makes a good case for the importance about better understanding it.

  • Uncertainty Wednesday: Limits on Observations
    Albert Wenger - Continuations

    Another good one in Albert’s series on uncertainty, easter egg included. “All observation necessarily entails compression of reality,” further compression from our tool’s resolution limits, and even more from measurement error. Regardless of how good your observations are, they will always be uncertain. Moreover, observations themselves can change the underlying state of reality. Not only in the uncertainty principle quantum sense, but also in the user research sense, for example.

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