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)

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)