Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 10/4/18

Scott Alexander steelmans NIMBYs (4,900 words) – Scott is a great writer which is why I think all of his blog posts are must read, but I felt there were many holes in his argument. Luckily, he is also willing to provide a platform for those who disagree with the position he took in a follow-up comments article (3,000 words). The commenters that most reflected what I was thinking were Gwern (trillions of additional economic growth created doesn’t sound so bad) and DS (NYC has severe housing restriction as well so it’s not a good comparison; a better one would be Seoul).

David A. Kaplan on the Supreme Court – The title on the Longreads website is deceiving, since the article doesn’t explain how the Supreme Court got to be the way that it is. Instead, it goes over the secrecy and excesses of the court. Interesting nonetheless. The court that was all but irrelevant when the Constitution is now all powerful and carries itself accordingly (not in a good way). (5,000 words)

Every Frame a Painting – I’ve been living under a rock and just discovered this YouTube channel 2 years after its last video. My god is it amazing. Having discovered it right after seeing Seven Samurai this past weekend, I found the video on Kurosawa especially great. As someone who didn’t go to film school, I miss a lot of the technical details, which is why these videos are so engrossing. My favorites so far are the Marvel Soundtrack, Jackie Chan, Texting, and Snowpiercer videos. If you like this channel, I also recommend the Lessons from the Screenplay channel.

Bill Simmons interviews Matt Damon – The stories Damon tells are riveting. I don’t watch celebrity interviews, so I hadn’t heard any of these stories. (108 min.)

 

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 9/27/18

Articles:

Ben Thompson on the departure of Instagram’s founders – Many news publications are blaming Zuckerberg for their departures, but Ben Thompson illustrates why Instagram’s founders leaving was inevitable. Prior to it being acquired by Facebook, Instagram had an extremely compelling product, but no monetization engine. Enter Facebook. Facebook had been thinking of ways to monetize its product from the beginning and could integrate Instagram seamlessly into its ad ecosystem. On top of that, Facebook could provide Instagram with the infrastructure to scale exponentially without hiccups. Thompson provides Snapchat as a contrast to Instagram. Snapchat also has a compelling product, but is floundering without a great way to monetize, and potential new users are staying with the Facebook-Instagram behemoth instead. Instagram’s acquisition was great for both Facebook and Instagram, a perfect win-win acquisition: Instagram’s founders could focus on the product while Facebook provided the infrastructure for it to scale and monetize seamlessly; Facebook gained a company that lets it reach a different consumer segment at, what appears in hindsight, a big discount. (2,400 words)

Nikita’s “software disenchantment” – I wish I could properly understand Nikita’s rant. Unfortunately, without a programming background I can’t. His premise makes sense to me. Hardware is magnitudes stronger than it was a decade ago, yet websites, computers, and phones take forever to load or boot up. Why? Because of bloat. Commenters replied that software is a relatively new industry and that this issue will be fixed over time. As someone who wonders why everything takes so long to load still, yet has no background in this area, I hope so. (2,800 words)

An Army officer on tequila’s role in Mexican relationships – A reminder that there are many different types of sipping liquors besides whisky. Tequila is one such example, so when dining in Mexico for business or government trips, don’t shoot it like you would with your buddies. (1,400 words)

Podcasts:

Dan Carlin on the USS Indianapolis – All of Dan Carlin’s stuff is must-listen and this is no exception. I didn’t know about the USS Indianapolis before listening to this and the whole thing was engrossing; I’ll make sure to read the book Carlin uses eventually. For those who don’t know, the USS Indianapolis was the ship that delivered the parts of the first nuclear bomb in WWII. It got sunk by a Japanese torpedo after delivering the parts and its crew was stuck in the middle of the ocean in shark-infested waters for days. They didn’t get discovered immediately because the mission was top-secret, among other reasons. It’s a story about humans being pushed to the edge and in many cases over the edge of human limits. (53 min.)

Russ Roberts interviews Rodney Brooks – Great interview on artificial intelligence. I was most fascinated with their discussion about Isaac Newton. Brooks talked about Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote about a sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic and then used Newton as an example. If we showed Newton, one of history’s greatest minds, an iPhone and all of its capabilities, he would have no conception of its limits. The iPhone can play videos and map the world, has access to Google which gives us the world’s knowledge, plays music, video chats with other people, etc. Faced with this, Newton would think it was capable of anything. One example of the iPhone’s limits that Brooks gives is that it needs to be charged. Yet, as he points out, Newton would never have anticipated that limitation based on everything he just saw the iPhone do. In some ways, our understanding of AI is like Newton’s understanding of the iPhone. The technology is so far beyond our current conception of what is possible that we can’t understand its limitations. The two also discuss a lot of other cool interesting stuff that I’ll leave for you to discover. (65 min.)

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 9/20/18

Scott Alexander on causes – We used to think complex traits like intelligence were caused by one gene (an intelligence gene). However, the more we learn about genetics, the more genes we believe cause intelligence, from one to a few to dozens to now thousands. Scott says this applies to depression, psychiatry, and science more broadly, which I completely agree with. I’d argue that it applies to disciplines outside of science as well. For example, many historians will get angry when others attribute a single cause to WWI or the fall of the Roman Empire, as these earth-shattering historical events tend to have at least a few, if not many causes. (1,700 words)

Alex Tabarrok on the STEM gender gap – There’s a gender-equality paradox which is that the countries with the highest levels of gender equality (Finland, Norway, Sweden, etc.) have the lowest ratio of women to men in STEM education. There are traditionally two explanations for this paradox: 1. countries with the highest levels of gender equality are the richest countries with a welfare state that allows everyone to pursue what they actually want, and females are less interested in STEM or 2. males have greater variability so there are more of them at the top but also at the bottom. This post provides an alternate explanation. Women are better than men on average in STEM, but they’re even better on average in the humanities. Therefore, women will go into the fields where they have a larger gap in ability, leaving men STEM fields. In economic terms, men have a comparative advantage in STEM because they’re less bad in STEM than in the humanities. (1,000 words)

Esquire profile of Robert Caro – I could read profiles of Robert Caro all day. He has spent over 40 years on his Lyndon Johnson series which is far longer than I’ve even been alive. I like reading about the pivotal moments in the lives of ultra-successful people because it reminds me of the role chance plays in everyone’s life. It’s utterly crazy to think someone like Robert Caro might not have gotten published. (7,100 words)

Two articles on the Sam Harris-Ezra Klein feud here and here – As a fan of both Sam Harris and Ezra Klein, the feud didn’t make much sense to me. I still feel both people could’ve been more charitable to the other, but these two analyses on the feud better helped me understand it. The one sentence summary would be that in the argument, Sam Harris was a decoupler (separate the history of racism from discussion of scientific facts) while Ezra Klein was a contextualizer (the history of “science” to promote racism and racism in general means that discussion of scientific facts cannot be separated from a discussion of racism and politics in general). (3,100 and 7,900 words respectively)

 

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 8/30/18

Matthew Ball of REDEF does deep dive of Netflix and its strategy – The link is to part 3 of the series, which is my favorite, but all 4 parts are fantastic. Part 4, which covers the term “Original Series” was a close second for me; it describes how Netflix has a very loose definition of “Original Series” and how they use the term in their marketing and public statements, which can ultimately be worth billions to its market cap. Anyways, Part 3 covers Netflix’s long-term strategy: replace TV entirely. The end-state, if it succeeds, will be 250-400 million subscribers who each pay much more than they’re paying now (at least twice the current price). Netflix already has enormous pricing power, but it’s under-pricing its product in order to grow its subscription base. Interesting times in the media industry! (3,000 words)

Jobs in our automated future – Jacobian of LessWrong writes about how jobs won’t disappear even if automated in the future using his recent airlines experience as an anecdote. The experience of dealing with incompetent airlines’ customer service employees is so commonplace, yet so frustrating when you’re going through it. Jacobian points out that many jobs in the airlines industry have already been automated away, yet those people still have their jobs. Why? So that we can vent our frustrations out on a human. (2,300 words)

 

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 8/23/18

Robert Caro Gothamist interview & Robert Caro NYRBooks interview – I read The Power Broker last year and loved it. It’s both a biography of Robert Moses and a treatise on power. Reading these interviews makes me want to read Caro’s LBJ series, which I’ve kept on putting off. Caro asking questions about digital journalism was fun to read, and I never knew that The Power Broker was originally supposed to be 50% longer; man, I would love to read that finished copy. (5,100 & 2,800 words respectively)

Ben Thompson on monetizing “stories” – Snapchat’s growth is slowing down which is extremely worrisome to investors. Why? Because of the success of Instagram stories. Instagram copied stories so well that their growth actually started accelerating. But, this success presents a crossroads for Facebook since Stories doesn’t monetize as well as the News Feed. Regardless, Facebook, via Instagram, managed to avoid getting disrupted and losing users this time around, so it’s an ultimate success. (3,000 words)

New Yorker profile of Elliott Management and its founder, Paul Singer – This article reminds me of Billions, when Axe and other billionaires are described as being a nation, which is probably an apt description considering Singer has purchased the debt of many nations and took them to court repeatedly to force those countries to pay their debt in full. The piece is centered on Elliott Management’s investment in Athenahealth, and how the former tore manipulated Jonathan Bush, the latter’s CEO, like a puppet. The use of former spies to obtain private information and the character assassination by dredging up any story from Bush’s past were particularly scary. (10,000 words)

Elizabeth Kolbert on ultra-wealthy philanthropists – America’s wealthiest people are pouring their wealth into foundations, but Kolbert argues that this isn’t an unmitigated good. Foundations being tax-deductible is a huge problem because the foundations are unilaterally controlled by their billionaire founders while costing the government billions in unearned tax revenue. I’m personally skeptical about the government using those funds efficiently, but it is still a problem that the ultra-wealthy are able to save billions in taxes by donating to a foundation that they have total control over, especially since these foundations are more and more becoming symbols of status and mechanisms of power. (3,000 words)

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 8/16/18

Peter Thiel interview – Must read interview of Peter Thiel. It’s always really interesting to read his unorthodox views. He talks about herd mentality, how his support of Donald Trump was his least contrarian decision and much more. (5,500 words)

LRB’s review of Ben Rhodes”s memoir – The review focuses on the difference between how Obama and Rhodes view things. Rhodes, aghast at his support of the Iraq War, was seeking redemption in Obama. At times, he struggled with Obama responding to situations differently than he would have preferred. Obama was very laid-back and hesitant to rush into things (many Democrats today still want Obama to do more than he is willing), whereas Rhodes felt that Obama should’ve acted more decisively. The contrast between their outlooks of the world was fascinating to read. (7,000 words)

Richard C. Bush’s analysis of U.S.-China relations – Bush compares and contrasts Trump and Xi Jinping, provides a brief history of China’s relations with the West, and provides a few scenarios for how the future between the two countries will unfold. (7,400 words)

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 8/9/18

Yuval Noah Harari book extract – He makes the point that there has never been a point in history when there wasn’t fake news, but makes the distinction that just because all sides tell lies at some point doesn’t mean that the sides are equally false. He also creates a dichotomy between power and truth which I found interesting. (3,300 words)

Barry Ritholtz on New York’s Uber/Lyft bill – New York City is proposing to limit the number of Uber and Lyft cars in the city for a year. Barry points out their logical errors, and his piece is filled with many basic economic and statistical lessons. The ride-hailing apps have allowed consumers to obtain a ride for a fairer price at an opportune time (try hailing a cab in the rain before these apps), and with less racial discrimination. The bill cites 6 taxi suicides is a base attempt to use tragedy to manipulate public opinion. But, as Barry points out, the rate of suicide of taxi drivers, however tragic, is in line with the general suicide rate. (850 words)

Study finds “polygenic score” that can explain 11% of the variation in level of educational attainment, higher than the 7% explained by household income – Studying the genetics behind education is a highly sensitive topic that evoke concerns about eugenics, so the authors of the study make sure to note that they do not make any policy or practical advice from this study and that any advice from it would be premature. Regardless, the study is still interesting since we all agree on the importance of household income in educational attainment, yet according to the study, it explains less than genetic variation. Of course, much more research is needed, and I echo the sentiments of the researchers. (1,300 words)

The sex of the researcher giving mice injections of Ketamine affected the response of the mice – Mice were affected by the sex of the researcher by detecting the researcher’s scent. Ketamine only acted as an antidepressant for mice when injected by male researchers. Whether this has an effect for other experiments is to be determined. (800 words)