What I Read This Week: 2022-46
Just because I haven’t written anything in the past 23 weeks doesn’t mean that I haven’t been reading either! Dumping all of them at once:
Making energy too cheap to meter by Benjamin Reinhardt
Sustainability means perpetual scarcity — in our ability to explore, build, and create. It means a fixed pie, and the conflicts that inevitably erupt from it. You may believe that there is an inherent moral valence to energy use or being closer to a state of nature. If that’s the case, we must respectfully part ways. But for everybody else, consider that a renewed trend of exponential energy can both solve problems of the past and enable so many possibilities for human flourishing.
I want unbounded possibilities for humanity. That is why I am an ergophile.
How I write by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
If you consider writing a creative endeavor, then avoid practicing it in mundane matters as it may both dull your vitality and make it feel like drudgery, work. I find it painful to write outside of my books (or mathematical papers)—and immensely pleasurable to write in book form. So I limit my emails to one or two laconic (but sometimes incomprehensible) sentences, postcard like; the same with social media posts that are not exceprts from books. There is still such a contraption called a telephone. Likewise, I don’t read letters and emails longer than a postcard. Writing must have some solemnity. Reading and writing, in the past, were the province of the sacred.
The value of in-house expertise by Dan Luu
“Buying” can and often does reduce the amount of expertise necessary, but it often doesn’t remove the need for expertise.
Thoughts on layoffs and making points through writing by Matt Basta
First, in my parting notes I said that if there’s anything that has persisted as a great attribute of Stripe in my time at the company, it’s that the caliber of people is exceptionally high. The success or failure of Stripe has little to do with who they’ve made part of the team and much more to do with their ability to organize and lead those folks to collectively do the right things. Patrick admitted as much in his letter, but it’s worth saying explicitly: nothing about this past week has been a failure of ICs.
How to communicate effectively as a developer by Karl Sutt
In both cases, the example on the left is what I call “low-resolution writing”. There is very little context, too much reliance on pronouns and unclear references. The writing is not empathic—the reader has to spend extra energy to work out what is being said.
What “Work” Looks Like by Jim Nielsen
The funny thing is, sitting alone thinking doesn’t “look” like work. Even more so if it’s away from your computer. However, my own process for brainstorming and ideating often looks like this: (1) Load my brain with all the context of a problem. (2) Step away from the computer and go live — do the dishes, go for a run, vacuum the carpet. […]
Your Career Is Just One-Eighth of Your Life by Derek Thompson
2. Explore, then exploit.
Last year, the benefits of role-switching crystallized when I read a paper by the Northwestern University economist Dashun Wang. In a deep analysis of the careers of scientists and artists, he found that their “hot streaks” tended to be periods of focused and narrow work following a spell of broader experimentation. This is sometimes called the “explore-exploit” sequence. The idea is that many successful people are like good oil scouts: They spend a lot of time searching for their space, and then they drill deep when they find the right niche.
I don’t want to copy the entire article so I’ll cut the excerpt here, but it’s that good. Also reminds me of Conviction and Being “Hot & Cold” section of John Collison in conversation with Stanley Druckenmiller.
Review of Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” by George Orwell
Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. […] Perhaps later on they [people] will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
The Philosophy of Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
[…] when Queen Elizabeth came here and President Eisenhower bought her a hot dog I’m sure he felt confident that she couldn’t have had delivered to Buckingham Palace a better hot dog than that one he bought for her for maybe twenty cents at the ballpark. Because there is no better hot dog than a ballpark hot dog. Not for a dollar, not for ten dollars, not for a hundred thousand dollars could she get a better hot dog. She could get one for twenty cents and so could anybody else.
Not sure if the same can be said for services—such as healthcare, education, and so on—but I appreciate the sentiment.
The Case for Bad Coffee by Keith Pandolfi
[…] Cheap coffee is one of America’s most unsung comfort foods. It’s as warming and familiar as a homemade lasagna or a 6-hour stew. It tastes of midnight diners and Tom Waits songs; ice cream and cigarettes with a dash of Swiss Miss. It makes me remember the best cup of coffee I ever had. Even though there was never just one best cup: there were hundreds.
On the use of a life by Colin Percival
First, to dispense with the philosophical argument: Yes, this is my life, and yes, I’m free to use—or waste—it however I please; but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking if this is how my time could be best spent. That applies doubly if the question is not merely about the choices I made but is rather a broader question: Is our society structured in a way which encourages people to make less than the greatest contribution they could?