Books read in 2018 February 14, 2019
This is the third time that I re-cap every book I read in the preceding year. I guess this makes it a tradition. Like last year, I did not write as I read, so a lot of the nuance and the detail that I would have liked to include in this post was lost to some unreachable corner of my brain. Hopefully that part doesn’t become a tradition. Continue reading...
Hawaii November 25, 2018
A few weeks ago, Hannah had to go to Hawaii for work, and asked if I wanted to tag along. The tickets were cheap, so I said why not! I had low expectations, beacuse how much better could the beaches be than the ones I grew up going to in Costa Rica? I’d say they are different enough, and cool in orthogonal directions - the cultural and historical context are totally different. More...
Links - November 1st, 2018 (Podcast edition)
I guess this is what happens when I don’t share what I’ve been listening to in over two months. Don’t miss out on the counterpart post, which is just links to some of the best articles I’ve read recently.
- How I Got Into College This American Life (Podcast)
Michael Lewis tells an amazing about immigration, education, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and how they shape who we are in very unexpected ways. Just listen.
- Let Me Count the Ways This American Life (Podcast)
Sharing this one mostly because I’m pissed off about the dumb position that the US is taking on immigration, and the small but effective ways in which the government is curtailing immigration accross the board through its bureaucracy. These changes to the rules are affecting good people, like those who try to follow the rules to enter the US legally, many of whom I know personally, and depending on the luck of the draw might also include me in a few months. 🎉
- Post No Evil Radiolab (Podcast)
This episode makes a great point about privilege being geographically bound, which is a recurring topic for me. We can’t agree on values globally, as we don’t all have the same preferences/views. We can’t expect FB (or other companies!) to police that. We can’t make FB, Twitter, or any other company the arbiters of morality globally with a single set of rules. A company can pick what to censor according to one set of beliefs, to be applied equally, or it can respect local belief systems. Since that’s a choice, A company can’t be neutral.
- Building Something People Want to Buy Patrick O'Shaughnessy and Andy Rachleff - Invest Like the Best (Podcast)
This another one of those older episodes I decided to go back and revisit. The stories of Benchmark and Wealthfront are interesting on their own, but Rachleff’s experiences running both are also full of great advice for entrepreneurs.
- What You Learn About Business After 12,000 Deals Reviewed, 1,500 Deep Dives, 125 Site Visits, and 7 Portfolio Companies Patrick O'Shaughnessy and Brent Beshore - Invest Like the Best (Podcast)
This interview is packed with lots of interesting tidbits about businesses that I am not exposed to, from property management to pet crematoria (yup you read that right). The strategies behind these companies are interesting in and of themselves, but thinking about them in aggregate as part of a fund and ensuring, for example, that there are enough cyclical and counter cyclical businesses in the mix made the conversation for me.
- The Bitcoin Standard Patrick O'Shaughnessy and Saifedean Ammous - Invest Like the Best (Podcast)
Ammous is an engaging thinker, and the ideas he pushes are compelling. Hearing economists discuss bitcoin and cryptocurrency from a historical perspective is always more interesting to me than the usual everything is awesome techno-utopic stories pushed by engineers and entrepreneurs. Thinking of crypto from the point of view of monetary policy throughout history is way more interesting than thinking about what role blockchains play right now.
- Crowdsourcing Predictive Models Patrick O'Shaughnessy and Richard Craib - Invest Like the Best (Podcast)
I’ve talked about Numerai here in the past, and on my other non-podcast post this week I shared their most recent product. Craib is on to something, and this conversation with Patrick is a great showcase of why what they’re trying to build makes sense in the long run.
- Crypto Security Tokens Ted Seides and Stephen McKeon - Capital Allocators (Podcast)
I had never heard of McKeon until this podcast came around, and honestly crypto is only a small part of why this episode is worth listening to. His background in the wine industry gives him a unique perspective about business in general, and his time working on the heavily regulated space of drone startups makes for interesting parallels with the inevitably upcoming round of regulation about to hit the cryptocurrency world. I especially enjoyed his analogies, which make concepts such as thin vs. thick markets especially accessible.
- Seeing the Lux Ted Seides, Josh Wolfe - Capital Allocators (Podcast)
Wolfe is one of my favorite Twitter follows. He’s super insightful - seeing the world through the lens of complex sytems can help us understand the networked relationships between people and companies, and this conversation is full of such examples.
- Venezuela's Fugitive Money Traders Planet Money (Podcast)
You probably know, but the political situation in Venezuela is a disaster, and its hyperinflated financial system is an important part of it.
- Big Government Cheese Planet Money (Podcast)
Policymaking is not about good intentions. The government tried to help dairy farmers, and in the process not only did it distort the dairy products market for years, but it also sunk a ton of cash into non-fungible assets - cheese!
- The Central (Bankers') Question Planet Money (Podcast)
The Zero Lower Bound, revisited.
- Moneyland Planet Money (Podcast)
Strange loopholes around taxation and cross-border exploits are getting more and more common. This is not just the case for huge corporations. Rich people are well incentivized hide vast wealth in assets around the world, but setting up shell companies like matryoshka dolls to hide cash is no longer necessary. Buying real estate in top markets, or leaving valuable art in tax-free ports works just as well. This problem is only going to get worse and worse over time, as access to these tax havens becomes more available.
- Modern Monetary Theory Planet Money (Podcast)
Note that this episode was heavily criticized by many people online for its simplified economic explanations, but as an introduction to MMT, it’s probably a good one. In essence, the MMT crowd reminds us that money is just numbers on a spreadsheet, and makes the leap to saying that the government could just spend money by changing its balance sheet - no need to tax to bring in money first. I don’t understand this well enough, so if you have pointers, I’d very much appreciate them.
- New Jersey Wine Planet Money (Podcast)
Certain products are all about perception. Luxury items tend to fall in that category, and good wine is right up there, too. The fact that I was half way through watching The Sopranos when I listened to this didn’t help.
- The Crime Machine Reply All (Podcast)
This episode of Reply All had me thinking about The Wire the whole time. This is a story about policing, urban development, history, and organizational behavior. How do we incentivize the police to do what it is meant to do (keep us safe!) without also pushing for racist and corrupt behavior? That’s the question that this conversation tries to answer. Don’t miss Part II.
- Rob Heavyweight (Podcast)
I’m glad Heavyweight is back. I won’t spoil this, just listen.
- The Mystery of the Kibbutz Russ Roberts and Ran Abramitsky - Econtalk (Podcast)
The internet is wonderful. I had a question about a topic which I knew about, but mostly anecdotally: the kibbutz. I wanted depth, and asked Russ if he could supply it. He asked me to suggest an expert worth interviewing. I researched a bit and found Abramitsky. Weeks later, my questions were answered, even if there wasn’t much in the episode that I didn’t already know. The success of the kibbutz was related to being small homogeneous units of very motivated people, and its eventual fall came with time, as the motivated people were gone, and other opportunities appeared for their kids and grandkids. The discussion on how the Israeli kibbutz was voluntary (exit was an option!) and comparing it to the coercive Russian kolkhoz was what made this episode most valuable. That’s where my questions had initially come up, and what I learned most about. I had my gap year in Israel when kibbutzim were no longer central, so I didn’t get the kibbutz experience. By now, I don’t think young people can have that experience, but there’s a lot to learn from the experiment. This episode makes the kibbutz ideas accessible to everyone. Thank you for that Ran and Russ!
- The Seven Kinds of Atheism Russ Roberts and John Gray - Econtalk (Podcast)
Religion is always a weird topic for me. Listening to people who have thought about it much more than me is always interesting.
- Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet Union, and In the First Circle Russ Roberts and Kevin McKenna - Econtalk (Podcast)
For the past couple of months, Russ had been pushing his listeners to read Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle, and offered to host a book club through his podcast. This is the first of a few episodes on the book, discussing the historical context of the novel. These other two older episodes, one on Bukharin and one on Trotsky were super helpful in my quest to understand Solzhenitsyn. I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, and hope to write a full blog post on it soon.
- Worker Compensation, Co-determination, and Market Power Russ Roberts and Noah Smith - Econtalk (Podcast)
Hearing Noah and Russ discuss all these topics was wonderful. The conversation about co-determination was not as interesting as the discussion around labor, incentives, and metric measurement. The point about temp agencies reminded me of last year’s NYT piece comparing the bleak job prospects of a janitor at Apple today vs. a janitor at Kodak in the 80s, as well as the discussion about company goals/profit maximization in Tim O’Reilly’s WTF. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for a conversation like the one they alluded to, where each of them presents some indicator to make an argument and the other one has a chance to critique it.
- Cruelty Russ Roberts and Paul Bloom - Econtalk (Podcast)
Having taken Bloom’s class on Coursera earlier this year, I found this conversation a good recap of some of his arguments, which added to a few new ideas made for a great listen. The discussion about Westworld (a show that I’ve never seen) and how people behave with each other versus how they behave with robots or other beings that they believe to be non-human was super interesting.
- The Virtue of Nationalism Russ Roberts and Yoram Hazony - Econtalk (Podcast)
A conversation worth listening to given our current political environment around the world. I am fascinated with nation states lately, and Hazony believes they’re not going anywhere. He’s against the idea of more global government, and thinks that we should double down on the nation-state. In a way, his arugments mimic what Taleb says at the beginning of Antifragile about Switzerland and its canton system - you want to have multiple sets of policies running in parallel as a way to let the best outcomes rise out of trial and error across the board. With little research to back it up, I think that’s the correct approach, but that the modern nation-state is too large for such trial and error to be productive. Another book to add to the to-read list.
- The House that Came in the Mail 99% Invisible
An entertaining story of how the designers at Sears shaped the future of tens of thousands of families with these mail-to-order houses. These are still sprinkled all over the US, and people don’t even know about it. The past was weird, and every once in a while it peeks back at us and laughs.
- The Worst Way to Start a City 99% Invisible
This episode tells the story of a literal land grab. I am happy that 99PI is doing more of these urban origin stories lately.
- The Case Study of Dollar General and Surviving (Thriving!) Retail Cal Turner Jr., Jeff Jordan, and Hanne Tidnam - Andreessen Horowitz (Podcast)
This was one of the most enlightening episodes a16z has put out in a while. In part, due to the fact that I know absolutely nothing about Dollar General and their target market, making the stories fascinating, but also because of how little expectations I had from it. Definitely worth a listen.
- Seeing into the Future — Making Decisions, Telling Stories Steven Johnson, Chris Dixon, and Sonal Chokshi - Andreessen Horowitz (Podcast)
And yet another a16z conversation that ends up making me add a book to my to read list. Johnson’s new book discusses decision making, and tries to list techniques that can help us make the best decisions in the long term. Our tools go beyond simple pro/con lists, as they should. It made me think of the first finance class I ever took, where we discussed decision trees (notice, not to be confused with in decision trees in the ML world) as a way to make structured decisions, considering all possible scenarios. I probably should use tools like these more often. Maybe reading the book will push me in the right direction.
- Technological Trends, Financial Capital, and the Dynamics of Disruption Fred Wilson and Chris Dixon - Andreessen Horowitz (Podcast)
To be honest, I had extremely high expectations from this conversation, given that Dixon and Wilson are two of the most forward thinking people in the tech space. The conversation makes interesting parallels between in-game economies and crypto, as well as the 90s boom and the token markets today.