Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 8/2/18

Geoff Boeing analyzes the street orientation of 50 cities in picture form – The layout of most American cities are planned top-down in grid form, which is less the case around the world, especially in old cities. (600 words)

“The Bad Show” – Radiolab – A re-released episode from their archives. I remember hearing this a couple years back and being really struck by it. Learning about the different variations in Milgram’s experiments was interesting, and hearing the tragic, ironic story of Fritz Haber was what led to me reading a book about Haber and the co-discoverer of the Haber-Bosch process. Haber and Bosch discovered a nitrogen fixation process that allowed the creation of synthetic fertilizer, a process that saved billions by providing the means to grow vast amounts of food. Haber was an extremely patriotic German who helped the Germans launch poisonous gas during WWI to try and win the war. He was also a Jew, and when Hitler rose to power and prohibited Jews from holding government positions, he objected. The ultimate irony, was that Zyklon B, the gas used to kills Jews in WWII was created by tweaking a chemical that Haber worked on. (69 min.)

Ben Thompson on Facebook’s recent stock crash – He points out that Facebook as a company is still growing very rapidly and that it wasn’t the slowing growth that contributed most to Facebook’s stock price dip, but the guidance that Facebook’s expenses will be growing faster than its revenues. However, the moats that Facebook has around their business makes Thompson skeptical that Facebook is anywhere close to collapsing, and he believes the company will continue thriving in the future. (3,700 words)

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 7/26/18

Christopher Balding on his nine-year teaching experience in China – I’m a Chinese immigrant who left at the age of 6, so I didn’t really get the chance to learn about the culture and views of the people in the mainland. It’s funny to me that the distinctive things Balding points out about Chinese people are the things I dislike most about them: cutting in lines, valuing money above all else, and openly pointing and talking about foreigners in Chinese. Balding also contrasts the political climate of China and the U.S. with proper, much-needed perspective. (4,550 words)

Econtalk episode with Michael Matheson Miller on his documentary Poverty Inc. – Russ and Michael talk about the harms that poverty-fighting NGOs can inflict on the countries they’re purporting to help. For example, NGOs give away things for free, which crowds out local businesses and causes the locals to depend on receiving those products for free. In a country like the U.S., if we were given free things, like free rice, those rice farmers could do something else, But, in undeveloped economies, farming rice might be the only task available to them, and crowding them out would simply cause their unemployment. Interesting discussion that illustrates how charitable giving, even those with the best of intentions, can go awry. (69 min.)

“Housing Costs Reduce the Return to Education” – The return on education has increased, but most of the jobs of college graduates are in big cities where rent is spiraling out of control (like NYC & SF). The richest cities should allow much more housing to be built, but unfortunately that probably will never happen. (300 words)

Fantastic Radiolab episode on Dutee Chand – Dutee, a female Indian track athlete, was breaking national records until she was banned from the sport. A test found she had extremely high levels of testosterone and therefore declared that she was now a man. The effects on her personal life are also in the episode. The vile history of how gender was determined for the Olympics is also interspersed in the story. Ultimately, the episode shows the arbitrariness with which we determine gender in sport. (36 min.)

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 7/19/18

Latest Hardcore History “Supernova in the East I” – Every episode of Hardcore History is a must-listen for me (though I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t gone back and purchased the old ones to listen to). This episode chronicles the lead-up to WWII in Japan. Dan Carlin goes over how the Japanese government co-opted its cultural history to make its citizens extreme (“just like us, only more so” is how Carlin put it I believe). Japan industrialized and caught up to the first world powers in a very short time, and the fervent zeal of its citizens is why. That cultural indoctrination is why some Japanese soldiers were still fighting as if WWII never ended up to the 1970s. (271 min.)

Tyler Cowen interviews Vitalik Buterin – Must-listen; self-explanatory. (52 min.) Transcript here (8,550 words)

Scott Alexander on fundamental value differences – “But ‘remember, liberals and conservatives have fundamental value differences, so they are two tribes that can’t coexist’ is the wrong message. ‘Remember, everyone has weak and malleable value differences with everyone else, and maybe a few more fundamental ones though it’s hard to tell, and neither type necessarily line up with tribes at all, so they had damn better learn to coexist,’ is more like it.” In other words, most fundamental value differences aren’t actually so. (3,300 words)

“Are ethical asymmetries from property rights?” – KatjaGrace lists interesting ethical asymmetries that we have and proposes that they arose from our conception of property rights (at least that was my interpretation). However, I think that gets the causality backwards. Instead, I think we first had the conception of “do no evil.” From there, our ethical asymmetries and our conception of property rights arose. (800 words)

Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 7/12/18

Our ever-shifting expectations – Alex Tabarrok describes a new study in which our conception of blueness changes as the number of blue dots change. As a result, our conception of sexism and racism will also change, which is mostly good since we’ll grow less racist and sexist over time, but also can be bad since it can feel as if we’re not making progress. No doubt another way of explaining the backlash in our current political environment. (900 words)

David Sims on HBO’s new strategy – HBO is trying to become more like Netflix, by cranking out a ton of content. Inevitably, this will lower the quality of its shows. If I’m interpreting Sim’s view correctly, then he and I agree that HBO is making a big mistake. What distinguished HBO from all other networks, including Netflix is its superior content. HBO has more high-quality, prestige shows than anybody else, the key reason for its continued success. Diluting the quality to produce more quantity will make it like any other network. Trying to become like Netflix is the wrong strategy for HBO; excuse the tautology, but nobody is better at being Netflix than Netflix. (1,000 words)

“Melatonin: Much More Than You Wanted to Know” by Scott Alexander – 0.3mg is the optimal dose based on countless studies, meaning that the dosage of melatonin you take is probably too high. Anything up to 1 mg is probably still okay. Also, the melatonin cycle of teenagers is shifted later, so they sleep later and wake up later, which is why every sleep scientists recommend schools start later, to no avail. (4,650 words)

Ed Yong on future pandemics – The U.S. is the most prepared country in the world, but even its preparations are not extensive enough, especially if a disease like the 1918 influenza breaks out. Supply chains will be severely constrained when an epidemic breaks out, creating a shortage of medical equipment. Helping poor countries is probably the best way to fight zoonotic diseases, since that is where the diseases originate. Yong also notes that Trump has not yet had to deal with an epidemic and worries that Trump’s behavior will exacerbate the situation. (9,000 words)


Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 7/5/18

Exposé on how the Stanford Prison Experiment was a sham (7,300 words) – Ben Blum details the facts contrary to Zimbardo’s narrative: prison guards were encouraged to act “tough” instead of organically developing those tendencies; prisoners were not permitted to quit the experiment, meaning they were actual prisoners; the famous video of a prisoner breaking down was just an act; and on top of all that, before the experiment even began, Zimbardo had a result in mind for the “experiment” that he wanted to use for his own political agenda.

Gene Fama, a founding father of the efficient market hypothesis and Richard Thaler, a founding father of behavioral economics, in conversation. What more do you need? (2200 words)

Ben Evans dispels misconceptions about artificial intelligence and talks about the right and wrong ways to think about what machine learning can deliver. (2300 words)



Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 6/28/18

Morgan Housel on how long tails drive everything, not just VC returns (1,150 words) – Although Disney had hundreds of hours of film by 1938, the only one that mattered financially was Snow White. The gain in the S&P 500 is driven by a smaller percentage of companies. The reason Berkshire Hathaway was so much better than its competitors was because of just a few investments. And of course, “reading this means you belong to the only species out of 8.7 million on this planet that can read. And our planet is the only one out of 100 billion in our galaxy that we know has life. So just reading this article is the result of the longest tail you can imagine.”

Castration through the ages (1,900 words) – Eunuchs were taller and stronger than normal men on average. Castration is obviously viewed as a punishment nowadays, but there were times in history when people volunteered for it.

Tyler Cowen on immigration (800 words) – “The higher a migrant’s chance of being able to remain in the U.S., and of being treated humanely along the way, the more migrants will come and the greater the risks they will take to get here. Unfortunately, that will mean higher death rates and also more risk to children. Many EU nations offer subsidies to help asylum-seekers to resettle, for instance, but that also encourages more people to attempt the journey; by one estimate, in the last quarter century more than 33,000 migrants and refugees have died trying to reach Europe.” In other words, immigration is hard. Tyler’s prescription? “So my grand immigration bargain looks like this: much more legal immigration, safe routes of transit, better enforcement at the border and restricted asylum rights. Right now, that seems far away. In the meantime, the problems will fester.”

The decline of NYC (13,500 words) – Kevin Baker laments how NYC has changed for the worse; his complaints are applicable in one way or another to all large American cities, and probably all large cities in the world. The cost of living in NYC has increased much faster than the wages earned by the lower and middle classes, making it more and more unaffordable. Homelessness is a bigger problem now more than ever, and the lower and middle classes are subsidizing the ultra-wealthy because of how tax revenues are deployed. Many of the new luxury apartments that are built are vacant or purchased by foreign billionaires who use the apartments either as an investment or a store of value.

Camille Baker’s Nautilus piece on how different cultures view and interpret smiles (3,150 words)


Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest 6/21/18

Ben Thompson on electric scooters – American cities are designed for cars, not bikes and scooters. If we could magically change most cities from being car-centric cities to bike-and-scooter-centric cities, we’d be much better off, but getting from here to there is immensely, maybe impossibly, difficult. Ben also covers Uber’s mistake in entering the race for autonomous vehicles and how scooters and bikes give the company a second chance to get its strategy right.

Why do males exist? Asks Robin Hanson – Plants are hermaphrodites, so they benefit from having two parents for gene diversity while ensuring that each member contributes equally. Why animals can’t do the same isn’t clear, and competing for mates isn’t an answer since plants also compete for mates.

John Cochrane uses air ambulances as an example to show why cross-subsidies are so bad – Consumers that can afford air ambulances pay more so that poor consumers have the opportunity to pay less; this is how things should be, but the way we get that to happen is inefficient. Instead of cross subsidies, Cochrane says that we should instead tax the rich to help the poor pay. Currently the regulations from the cross subsidies limit supply, causing exorbitant prices that wouldn’t exist in a competitive market with more suppliers.

Scott Alexander on arbitrary deploring – Scott pushes back on Bryan Caplan’s assertion that we deplore people disproportionately; in Caplan’s examples, we seem to be punishing disproportionately because we are enforcing norms, norms that we as a society agree must be adhered to.