Sunday, July 3rd, 2022
While working on things that aren’t prestigious doesn’t guarantee you’re on the right track, it at least guarantees you’re not on the most common type of wrong one.
Paul Graham, What I Worked On
Wednesday, June 29th, 2022
In The Atlantic, a beautifully—if overly politely—written piece on family estrangement, the sting is in the head; no doubt to get it past the young
censors editors, the author has expunged all mention of religion and therefore duty from his discussion, save in this first line, which encompasses all that follows: “Sometimes my work feels more like ministry than therapy.” Author Joshua Coleman is a practicing therapist and prolific author. Looking around, his fee per webinar on the topic is $25. And he’s also a tv composer!
Anyhoo, the plot thickens, and my suspicions are correct: while he squeezed them out of the text body, he shoehorned in his convictions at the very edges as frames; look at this 1-star Amazon review of his book by one Acer Girl:
He fails to recognise how the nuclear family itself is being redefined and gay/lesbian parents are becoming more accepted, so it is rather inevitable that people will start to place less emphasis and importance on blood ties alone – so I really don’t understand the alarmism he tries to create around this. Above all, what I found really demoralising is his attack on one of the founding principles of western civilisation – autonomy and individual liberty. People’s right to live their lives in whatever way they wish and to associate and disassociate with whomever they wish. He claims this right should be policed.
And the final piece in the puzzle: he himself has been cut off by his own daughter! Estrangement is an underly-noted fault-line in the post-religious West; whether to honor or cast off the 5th commandment to honor one’s father and one’s mother — that has become a question.
Thursday, June 16th, 2022
So Marc Andreessen’s interview with Tyler Cowen is making some waves because he seemed unable to justify Web3 (see tweets from Ian Bremmer, and, more predictably caustically, Nassim Nicholas Taleb). Personally I think Andreesse ha’s made the case better elsewhere, for instance, saying that if the internet had originally had a money layer then we’d never have had spam. But for me, as the developer of a new RSS reader, I was more interested in Tyler’s question about RSS:
Tyler Cowen: Do you still use an RSS reader?
Mark Andreessen: I do. This is actually an exciting moment on that topic for those of us who love these things. I use Feedly, which I like a great deal. It’s a guy. The guy who does it is a guy who used to work for us, a wonderful guy. I think it’s a great product and the inheritor of the now-lost Google Reader, the ruthlessly executed Google Reader.
This is talking about books, but Substack — one of our companies — has a new reader. It’s primarily for reading Substack. It basically is recreating, in my view, the best of what Google Reader had. That’s the other one that is getting a lot of use right now. I use both of those.
TC: Why does RSS at least seem to be so much less important than before?
MA: RSS is one of those things. I would say this gets into a broader, overarching, huge debate-fight happening in the tech industry right now. Internet got built on two models, which are diametrically opposed.
So Marc Andreessen uses Feedly and Substack! I wonder why both. I also want to know which reader TC uses — I seem to recall him saying that he does use one. The man seems to reply to hoi polloi — maybe I’ll ask him.
Incidentally I was surprised that this was not one of the better Conversations with Tyler. It didn’t really warm up into a good actual converation. For instance, I’d have thought MA would have asked TC, the world’s most renowned information omnivore, which RSS reader he uses. MA came across as a bit robotic, whereas I hadn’t gotten that impression from him before.
Thursday, April 14th, 2022
Jonathan Haidt is wise enough to note that it is mainly America, not necessary the rest of the world, that has gone particularly mental the past decade. Haidt blames social media. But the word “marriage” does not occur even once in the article, despite the decade having seen same-sex marriage transformed from oxymoronic absurdity to self-evident cudgel. If a human institution so deep — deeper than the nationstate, than monotheism, even than history itself — can be so decidedly upended, then what chance has anything else of standing, the collective subconscious must wonder.
Tuesday, March 8th, 2022
Exercise is upstream of everything.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022
For our study, we followed almost 1 million U.S. Army soldiers for nearly five years. We first asked them to rate their well-being — their happiness, if you will — along with their optimism, and then tracked which soldiers later received awards based on their job performance … We saw four times as many awards earned by the initially happiest soldiers (upper quartile) compared with those who were unhappiest initially (lower quartile) — a huge difference in performance between those groups.
Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022
Reading comprehension is reduced when reading from an electronigc device, this study reports.
A decline in reading comprehension on a smartphone may be caused, at least in part, by reduced sighing and increased prefrontal activity compared to that on a paper medium.
These days my favorite way to read is to broadcast my phone’s Kindle app onto the TV via Apple TV, viewing from a distancem which probably mitigates most of the problems discussed in this article.
Sunday, January 23rd, 2022
Just a reminder of Walter Russell Mead’s wise words from 2012 regarding anti-Semitism:
The rise of anti-Semitism is a sign of widespread social and cultural failure. It is a leading indicator of a loss of faith in liberal values and of a diminished capacity to understand the modern world and to thrive in it. Societies that tolerate anti-Semitism take a fateful step toward the loss of both freedom and prosperity.
Monday, January 3rd, 2022
Nice, Tasshin writes on Risk:
As I play RISK, I watch myself flip back and forth between means-ends thinking and conditions-consequences thinking. If I lose, I can without fail look back and see that I got trapped in means-ends thinking. If I stay in a conditions-consequences mindset, though, I will almost inevitably win the game.
Saturday, January 1st, 2022
It’s embarrassing but I’ve never really gotten the hang of the service, so I’m glad HN surfaced Tasshin & Brian Hall’s A Guide to Twitter.
Monday, December 13th, 2021
I do get assigned to projects I am not excited about, but my job is to figure out what it is about that project that is exciting.
Joe Rohde, Imagineer, The Imagineering Story, s01e06
Thursday, December 2nd, 2021
My Israel, Our Generation
Never have I come across a book quite like Einat Wilf’s 2007 My Israel, Our Generation in that I think it could only be produced by an Israeli.
She speaks to the fellow citizens of her generation presumptuously and familiarly like we are sitting around a living room; and she has her finger firmly on their — our, as I am one of the cohort — strengths and weaknesses, articulating the dynamic between the personal and the national at a particular moment in history. I hope writers in other nations might be inspired to produce something similar for their national generation.
No need for me to reiterate here Wilf’s intellectual pedigree — it’s always in her bio. I was led to this book after I watched her give a remote talk recently as she wrapped up a year at Georgetown and was just bowled over both by her positions and by her cogency, how she spoke answering questions in just the same manner as she gave her presentation, with the same steady unhesitating pace and fulsome complete sentences. Not to mention that I am in utter agreement with her every point on every matter. In fact I went and reread my recent Arab Insanity Eroding to see how she stated similar conclusions better.
But foreign policy is not the subject of this book, rather, it’s an exploration of the mindset of the 3rd generation of Israelis, where they feel lost and abandoned by their predecessors the 1st and 2nd generations, the builders and the fighters. I think by the end of the book she has subtly provided a role for we the 3rd: critique, with a view to ideational battle-tested consolidation (interestingly, I don’t think for a moment she looks to the Biblical patriarchs to see the respective roles of the first, second and third generations in founding a nation).
Since this outing she has not written much of book length, and I think my next read will be what appears to pick up where she left off: Mike Prashker’s A Place for Us All, written a decade later, which seems to explore the consolidating part.
Wednesday, December 1st, 2021
Well goodness me, what a delight: Blank on Blank is short audio clips from celebrity interviews with animations, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Neil Young.
Sunday, October 31st, 2021
Finally, someone comes out and clearly states the most important truths about UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson — that he wins and will be in power a long time.
Eccentric, optimistic and fundamentally humane, he personifies the very best British ideals, and that’s why the public loves him.
Saturday, October 30th, 2021
A nice and curt summary of the emotions a programmer has.
Thursday, October 7th, 2021
From the bubbling, dexterous mind of Venkatesh Rao we have two rich essays posted within two days: “Storytelling — Cringe and the Banality of Shadows” and “Remystifying Supply Chains: Supply chains are TV for matter”.
The supply chain crisis is in some ways more unprecedented than Covid itself, given that containerized supply chains, and the world of distributed, networked, computationally coordinated production they enabled, are only a few decades old.
This is the first crisis of this magnitude to hit them.
To find a comparable crisis in history you have to go back to World War 2, with U boats sinking transatlantic shipping. And that was in an era when global trade was less than a third of today’s levels if I’m not mistaken (as a fraction of GDP) and still in the ancient mode of breakbulk shipping.
Angry divides over cultural and identity-group issues often mask—in fact may be deliberately used to mask—unanimity at the top of the system when it comes to condoning or participating in corruption.
Sarah Chayes, Everybody Knows: Corruption in America
Wednesday, October 6th, 2021
Criminalizing the criminalization of politics is akin to the wonder performed by Aeschylus’ Eumenides, which turned revenge into law—high statesmanship.
Angelo Codevilla, The Ruling Class
Thursday, September 30th, 2021
More Stanford student bikers are observed wearing masks than helmets. OK now it’s just a pandemic of idiocy.
Also today I noted a pic of Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid stepping out of an aircraft at Bahrain’s airport. He was alone on the middle steps, his aides up top at the aircraft doors, the welcoming committee on the tarmac, yet he was masked. Covid theater undermines our public confidence in following sensible guidelines when they are actually sensible and salutary.
Sometimes you come across an essay you intended to write and somebody’s more or less done it for you, in this case an attempt to philosophize on the concept of work by Jonathan Malesic in the University of Virginia’s Hedgehog Review.
A few nights ago I considered for the first time the direct semantic connection between the troublesome English term “happy” and the less fraught “happening”; happily, there seems to be a connection between them that’s not mere happenstance. And here this essay begins to explicate that thought:
The Crow [a Native American tribe who live on the northern plains] built their culture around hunting buffalo and “counting coups”—an activity that encompasses both feats of bravery in war and recitations of stories about those feats. Once white settlers killed off the buffalo and placed the Crow under the US government’s jurisdiction in the 1880s, the basis for Crow culture was gone. “After this nothing happened,” the Crow chief Plenty Coups told a white historian decades later.
Tuesday, September 28th, 2021
Anne Helen Petersen writes about Revenge procrastinatory bedtime — I’m guilty myself of practicing it and have noticed it lately, so it’s good to see the phenom labeled and articulated:
It’s illogical and annoying and only makes things worse. But it’s also what our souls do when we refuse to nourish them. They sabotage our most perfect intentions for sleep, because sleep is not the same as leisure. Don’t get me wrong; sleep is great. It can be deeply restorative. But it also requires us to be, well, unconscious.
Sunday, September 26th, 2021
It’s tough living in a place where everyone think it’s ok to be an asshole.
Gavriel Peretz [on Israel]
Friday, September 24th, 2021
It’s the greatest gig in the world, being alive; you get to eat at Denny’s, wear a hat, whatever you wanna do.
Monday, August 2nd, 2021
Scuzzball extraordinaire Piers Corbyn is caught on camera accepting a bribe from a bogus AstraZeneca investor with a request to focus his very righteous ire on Pfizer and Moderna. Awesome!
Sunday, August 1st, 2021
A great topic, covered well: in Wired, Clive Thompson surveys the problem with productivity software:
To-do lists are, in the American imagination, a curiously moral type of software. Nobody opens Google Docs or PowerPoint thinking “This will make me a better person.” But with to-do apps, that ambition is front and center.
Tuesday, July 27th, 2021
Tuesday, July 20th, 2021
I wanted a way in Apple Mail to list all emails from VIPs to which I’ve not yet replied. After googling, I found a nice solution at MakeUseOf: “4 Mac Mail Productivity Tips All Professionals Must Know” (2019).
So I made a Smart Mailbox “VIP Unreplied” with all the following rules:
- Sender is VIP
- Message was not replied to
does not containdonotreply
- Message is not in mailbox “Already Replied”
And in the “Already Replied” Smart Mailbox:
- Message has flag: Green
This second one because sometimes a message is handled in some other way than a reply or doesn’t need one.
Sunday, July 18th, 2021
This top-draw (The New Republic) essay on James Bond and Ian Fleming is ostensibly disparaging about its subject, but author Scott Bradfield’s sheer depth of knowledge marks him a fan. Another clue: although it’s a book review of The World Is Not Enough: A Biography of Ian Fleming by Oliver Buckton, in the entire piece Buckton’s name is mentioned just once! This guy Bradfield’s clearly been chomping at the bit to write something Bondy.
Friday, July 9th, 2021
Michael Pollan writes just wonderfully of his coffee withdrawal.
In this new normal, the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep. That reconsolidation of self took much longer than usual, and never quite felt complete.
So much more to quote here; he takes a little meander into intellectual history before returning, now a bit further along in time, to his own predilection. Then on to the science.
Wednesday, July 7th, 2021
The Guardian posts an excerpt from Gillian Tett’s Anthro-Vision. Regarding working from home, a senior trader at JP Morgan observed:
The really big problem was incidental information exchange. “The bit that’s very hard to replicate is the information you didn’t know you needed,” observed Charles Bristow, a senior trader at JP Morgan. “[It’s] where you hear some noise from a desk a corridor away, or you hear a word that triggers a thought. If you’re working from home, you don’t know that you need that information.” Working from home also made it hard to teach younger bankers how to think and behave; physical experiences were crucial for conveying the habits of finance or being an apprentice.
Thursday, July 1st, 2021
Michael Allen Smith of INeedCoffee.com goes without drinking his beloved bean for a whole month:
For a good chunk of the month, I was extremely sad. It was like a death in the family. It was during the depths of this period that I realized that I had been using coffee as a way to avoid feeling down. And I had been doing that multiple times a day for two decades.
Tuesday, June 29th, 2021
Chaos Monkeys: Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine
Antonio Garcia Martinez
As author Antonio García Martínez battles away as an eager newcomer at Facebook, his account jolts one awake to the somewhat forgotten power of literature: we are reminded that what will survive these times will likely not be the mammoth trillion dollar company but instead this book.
And shame on Apple, caving to those who campaigned to have Martinez fired recently from his new job there because of some gross and silly yet heartfelt generalization in the book of San Francisco womenfolk; such philistine snowflakes do little more than buttress his point, as well as forcing our author to remain up on these more commanding if perhaps less remunerative cultural heights.
Sunday, June 13th, 2021
Good Risk advice dressed up as systems thinking [via Hacker News].
A few further points. First, the dynamic of the game becomes more stark once players are eliminated; in the 3-man game is it better to be strongest, weakest or in the middle? More tactically, in the 2-man game I think it’s decisively better to abandon Australia because your defensive army is likely to be blocked and at this point you need all your offense.
Patton neglects feints, such as pretending to leave the game and letting the rather dumb AI take over your turn; as a bot, players tend to consider you less a threat and leave you alone, often to the point of weakening each other tremendously, figuring they’ll deal with the dumb bot later. A more complex feint is mimic being a newbie who does not know the principles Patton describes, though honestly I’ve not tried this and it seems difficult to pull off, as you do lose real armies being stupid, and as soon as you start behaving sensibly you may appear even more formidable; the trick here then would be to play dumb until the very end.
Perhaps more importantly is to keep in mind the pathetic fallacy, to remember that when behaving judiciously and prudently in dealing with the strongest player, relying on the self-interest of others to do so as well, they may not get it, and behave stupidly and weaken themselves against someone else, enabling the strongest player to then sweep to victory.
Friday, June 11th, 2021
Via Hacker News, and in the grand spirit of Charlie Munger’s edict to “Invert, always invert,” this is Julio Merino on “Always be Quitting”.
So what does it mean to always be quitting? It means “making yourself replaceable”; “deprecating yourself”; “automating yourself out of your job” … The key lies in NOT being indispensable … Paradoxically, by being disposable, you free yourself. You make it easier for yourself to grow into a higher-level role and you make it easier for yourself to change the projects you work on.
Wednesday, June 9th, 2021
I wouldn’t want to work on anything I didn’t want to take over my life.
Paul Graham, A Project of One’s Own
Saturday, June 5th, 2021
We are so used to saying “The internet changed everything” that we have forgotten it changed everything.
Peggy Noonan, What Drives Conspiracism
Monday, May 24th, 2021
The fact that there are landscapes of mind this vast lurking on the other side of a mushroom is simply preposterous.
Monday, May 17th, 2021
What are we to do with how loathsome we find our public selves? Meghan O’Gieblyn writes:
Like many people who become writers, I believed the page offered a way out, a loophole in the world knot. It was only there, with work and deliberation, that the soul became flesh and I could speak in a voice I recognized as my own.
Wednesday, May 12th, 2021
Every scientific or technological revolution tears down yet another anthropocentric conceit.
Venkatesh Rao, Superhistory, Not Superintelligence
Thursday, May 6th, 2021
Top 20 racing cheats by Preston Lerner at Hagerty, a reminder that rules are made to be… stretched.
Friday, April 23rd, 2021
There is no correlation — in fact, probably an inverse correlation — between how badly you behave and how much money you make.
Paul Graham, Billionaires Build
Thursday, April 22nd, 2021
Thursday, April 15th, 2021
Craig Mod reveals the consolations of we the web-literate as he tinkers with his servers. Plus the man walks and writes rather well and is probably tall to boot.
Friday, April 2nd, 2021
It’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.
Paul Graham, The Top Idea in Your Mind
Sunday, January 24th, 2021
Upending the conventional wisdom that happiness does not increase beyond an annual household income of $75,000, this study, using random ongoing smartphone check-ins, demonstrates a continued increase in well-being as income rises.
Monday, December 21st, 2020
High Output Management
Andrew S. Grove
In his careful, cogent and memorable take on effective management, Silicon Valley founding father Andy Grove places a surprising emphasis on meetings; he has the temerity to take issue with — or at least, refine — Peter Drucker’s admonition that they’re a waste of time. Grove’s issue: meetings are the very medium of management; his refinement: that there are actually two major types of meeting, routine and ad hoc, and it’s where there’s a profusion of the latter that something’s amiss.
This erstwhile CEO of Intel notes that while most management books are targeted either at the very top or the very bottom — at the CEO or at those who directly manage frontline workers — the majority of managers manage other managers, and it’s for them he mostly writes, the middle managers.
The book has the authority of someone eager to share lessons from his own extensive experience — indeed he seems to have always worked with one eye towards gaining such knowledge, in no small part because being able to convey what one knows ensures that one actually understands it; that is, managers should also write and teach.
Grove defines the aim of management as increasing the productivity of subordinates, which can be achieved in only two ways: by improving their skills and by improving their motivation. Skills are improved by training, which the manager should undertake himself, considering it not busywork but an opportunity to solidify his own understanding and role-model corporate behavior. Motivation meanwhile is improved best via one-on-one performance reviews. These measures for corporate success are bracingly clear and specific — both the reasoning behind them and how to undertake them.
A refugee from Nazi Europe, Grove may be a legend yet the book is suffused with a democratic humility, a great American sense that success can be approached by all as an engineering problem. A book among books.
PS — A high testament: I actually remembered all these points without reopening High Output Management. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.
Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
Ross Douthat in his typical perfect way essays on American childbearing in the really nice magazine Plough.
Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
There’s a big difference between nothing and almost nothing, when it’s multiplied by the area under the sun.
Paul Graham, General & Surprising
Thursday, August 20th, 2020
The iPhone matters more than anything … it is the foundation of modern life.
Ben Johnson, “Apple, Epic, and the App Store”
Saturday, August 15th, 2020
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Jordan Peterson has huge charisma, period, and his recent travails serve to render him even more human. His efforts to ground our current unmoored times (the chaos referred to in the title) in the fertile garden of our intellectual and spiritual heritage (the curative order) are the work of the angels.
The first of his 12 Rules for Life is Nietzschian, an evolutionary biological backgrounder for the maxim to fake it till you make it. The second is Rousseauian: we must love ourselves with amour de soi rather than amour-propre. But the whole thing — and particularly this second rule — is peppered with discussion of founts fundamental to me — Genesis, Taoism, Jung — so that the book feels like it fell out of my own mind, albeit a more disciplined, erudite, deeper version.
Either because of this over-familiarity or because the book is in fact junk food, I cannot remember anything of it as I revisit a few weeks later to write this. Is Peterson merely an Alain de Botton of the Right, a popularizer / informal codifier of what every self-respecting Westerner already knows? Either I need to pick up the book and start again, or perhaps stop reading everything else and get back to the Bible, Plato and Aristotle.