Weekly Digest 9/27/18


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)


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.)

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