Great to see this evolution of Readwise to enter the “read-later” app space. None of the options out there seem to be thriving anymore (Pocket, Instapaper, etc.), but some of us still rely on them as essential parts of our reading experience.
The Readwise team has been moving fast the last couple years with excellent additions to the product, and I can’t believe they were also working on this for most of 2021 along with the other regular updates....
Brian Potter wonders why work as taxing and seemingly-mechanically simple as brick masonry is difficult to automate:
Masonry seemed like the perfect candidate for mechanization, but a hundred years of limited success suggests there’s some aspect to it that prevents a machine from easily doing it. This makes it an interesting case study, as it helps define exactly where mechanization becomes difficult - what makes laying a brick so different than, say, hammering a nail, such that the latter is almost completely mechanized and the former...
This is a great primer on yield farming in DeFi from Nat Eliason. Seeing the insane 1000% APYs on some DeFi products, you have to wonder if it’s a Ponzi scheme (hint: sometimes it probably is). But there are plenty of legitimate and relatively reliable projects growing right now that look fascinating for the movement.
Cloudflare has such an interesting approach to building the “pipes and wires” of the internet, a...
Arnold Kling has an interesting point this week in reference to decentralized finance. He argues that for DeFi to work, we need folks that understand the moving parts on two complex fronts: crypto and the financial system. Many folks on each side don’t deeply understand the other:
Marvin Ammori understands more than I ever will about decentralized finance (DeFi). Indeed, there are thousands of young techies who understand DeFi better than I do.
But I bet that in order for DeFi to work, you need...
Byrne Hobart wrote this piece in the inaugural edition of a16z’s new publication, Future. On bubbles and their downstream effects:
Bubbles can be directly beneficial, or at least lead to positive spillover effects: The telecom bubble in the ’90s created cheap fiber, and when the world was ready for YouTube, that fiber made it more viable. Even the housing bubble had some upside: It created more housing inventory, and since the new houses were quite standardized, that made...
Antonio Garcia-Martinez interviews Austen Allred, founder of Lambda School. Lambda charges no tuition and builds its program on the ISA (income sharing agreement), in which you only pay when you get a salaried position in your field of study.
The cool thing about the incentive alignment is that we’re not going to train you to be a sociologist, because it just doesn’t work. A common critique of the ISA model is: oh, now people aren’t going to study poetry anymore. And my response to that is: yeah, we’re not a university, we’re...
Jonathan Rauch on pluralism and the necessity of disagreement in the search for truth.
His book Kindly Inquisitors was first published in 1993, but is as relevant today as ever. The book is a defense of what he calls “liberal science”, our decentralized process for knowledge discovery that relies on relentless-but-gradual error correction:
Liberal science, by its very nature, has little tolerance for fundamentalism; conversely fundamentalism is a threat to liberal science. Fundamentalism, defined by Rauch as...
Julian Lehr is onto something here. All modern organizations are plagued with a problem of managing internal documentations. We have ample tools and keep squishing the problem from one place to another: wikis, search, tasks — it’s a game of whack-a-mole to find the right version of a document. He ponders at what size it makes sense to invest in a “digital librarian”:
A friend at Stripe recently suggested – half-jokingly – that we should hire a librarian to organize all our internal data and documentation. The more I think...
Vicki Boykis on the impossibility of true breadth and depth of technical expertise:
What used to distinguish senior people from junior people was the depth of knowledge they had about any given programming language and operating system.
What distinguishes them now is breadth and, I think, the ability to discern patterns and carry them across multiple parts of a stack, multiple stacks, and multiple jobs working in multiple industries. We are all junior, now, in some part of the software stack. The real trick...
Concise summary of Robert Gordon’s book on Roots of Progress.
A solid comprehensive, step-by-step overview of how to conduct JTBD interviews.
A pointer somewhere on Twitter led to this post from the Slate Star Codex archives, discussing a paper that supposedly debunks the Fermi paradox:
A good piece giving an inside look of what life is like for a journalist inside the bubble.
I’ve missed most of the playoffs this year during this strange time for sports. It’s been impressive that the NBA could pull this off and still put together a compelling end to the season when everyone assumed that it’d be an asterisk-ridden result with players and teams lost to COVID. It’s turned out to be incredibly well executed. The finals have nearly the same energy...
Elad Gil describes the trend of continuing consumerization of enterprise software.
Part 2 in Eugene Wei’s series on TikTok. See part 1.
Venkatesh Rao’s Breaking Smart podcast is always a must-listen.
Stripe Atlas has a great batch of guides on various parts of company-building.
Some great random clippings from Morgan Housel. I’m currently reading his latest, The Psychology of Money, which is great so far.
In many markets during COVID, startups have a host of advantages over their incumbent competitors:
Consequently, growth and innovation efforts are quickly deprioritized or even fully...
On the announcement of Airtable’s latest round and $2.5b valuation (!), founder Howie Liu puts out a great piece on the latest round of changes in pursuit of their vision.
No matter how much technology has shaped our lives, the skills it takes to build software are still only available to a tiny fraction of people. When most of us face a problem that software can answer, we have to work around someone else’s...
An option is something you can do but don’t have to do. All our product ideas are exactly that: options we may exercise in some future cycle—or never.
Without a roadmap, without a stated plan, we can completely change course without paying a penalty. We don’t set any expectations internally or externally that these things are actually going to happen.
I know Basecamp is always the industry outlier with these things, but the thoughts on roadmaps are probably more true for many companies in reality than we’d all like...
Julian Lehr raises an interesting idea on taking notes: the importance of spatial context.
Antonio Garcia-Martinez’s newsletter kicks off with an interview with Paul Graham.
Matt Taibbi is always good for cutting to the chase.
Donald Trump is so unlike most people, and so especially unlike anyone raised under a conventional moral framework, that he’s perpetually...
Anton Howes looks back to the 1500s and connects Sebastian Cabot’s planned search for a Northeast Passage to China to the birth of the first joint-stock corporation.
Sharp analysis of Palantir from Byrne Hobart as it seeks a public offering. What an odd company.
Comparing what “eager” and “discerning” developers are looking for in an API.
Tom MacWright with some ideas for cleaning up ever-creeping morass of web technology:
I think this combination would bring speed back, in a huge way. You could get a page on the screen in a fraction of the time of the web. The memory consumption could be tiny. It would be incredibly accessible, by default. You could make great-looking default stylesheets and share alternative user stylesheets. With dramatically limited scope, you could port it to all kinds of devices.
And, maybe most importantly,...
Biologist Stuart Kauffman on biological functions and the “adjacent possible”:
The unexpected uses of features of organisms, or technologies, are precisely what happens in the evolution of the biosphere and econosphere, and the analog happens in cultural evolution with the uses of mores, cultural forms, regulations, traditions, in novel ways. In general, these possibles are novel functionalities, in an unbounded space of functionalities, and so are not mathematizable and derivable from...
My friend Joe Morrison’s latest is an extended rant on the commercial satellite imagery market, and a plea to that industry to rethink how they might improve their go-to-market approaches for selling to commercial businesses.
I can vouch for his account of what it’s like to work with a commercial provider first-hand. Their business models make it challenging to go direct-to-customer, even at fairly high price tags. Until they can lower the barrier to entry into the two-...
A new piece from Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen (beautifully illustrated by Maggie Appleton). Can we make reading a more engaging and interactive learning experience? This builds on previous ideas from the authors on spaced repetition.
Interesting take from one of Byrne Hobart’s recent newsletters. Contrasting a typical “full-stack” model of company-building and VC funding to a “sumo” model:
The amount of VC funding has been rising steadily, and returns are skewed by a few positive...
Jerry Brito writes about the growth of independent writing on Substack, prompted by a Mike Solana tweet:
From a technical perspective, Substack does not belong on Solana’s list next to Bitcoin and Signal. Signal is a company, but they have almost no information about their users—no names, no messages. Bitcoin is not a company, but instead a permissionless decentralized network, and “it” can’t decide who can use it or for what. Substack, on the other hand, is a centralized service that permissions who’s allowed on and...
On private emotions being thrown into the public sphere:
People escape the Dunbar world for obvious reasons: life there appears prosaic and uninspiring. They find a digital interface and, like Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, enter a new realm that glitters with infinite possibilities. Suddenly, you can flicker like a spark between the digital and the real. The exhilarating sensation is that you have been taken to a high place and shown all the kingdoms of the world: “These can be yours, if. . . .” If your video goes viral. If...
Joel Mokyr’s talk on the most recent session of The Torch of Progress series.
A recent talk from Maggie Appleton on the “building a second brain” concept.
Great example of how to do a product demo. Informal style, clearly prepared but not “scripted,” and deep care and attention to the product.
AWS is making its entrance into the low-code app platform space.
Geoff Zeiss on combining satellite imagery and spatial analysis to identify tree encroachment in utilities:
Transmission line inspections are essential in ensuring grid reliability and resilience. They are generally performed by manned helicopters often together with a ground crew. There are serious safety issues when inspections are conducted by helicopter. Data may be collected with cameras and analyzed to detect...
I didn’t realize until reading this piece that this movie was a commercial flop. $70m gross on a $76m budget. I remember seeing this several times in theaters, and many times after. This retrospective (from 2016) brought the film back to mind and makes me want to rewatch.
Google Earth led us to...
Martin Gurri is one of the best minds we have for the current moment. Make sure to subscribe to his essays on the Mercatus Center’s “The Bridge.”
The American people appear to be caught in the grip of a psychotic episode. Most of us are still sheltering in place, obsessed with the risk of viral infection, primly waiting for someone to give us permission to shake hands with our friends again. Meanwhile, online and on...
Jeff Atwood on Robert X. Cringely’s descriptions of three groups of people you need to “attack a market”:
Whether invading countries or markets, the first wave of troops to see battle are the commandos. Woz and Jobs were the commandos of the Apple II. Don Estridge and his twelve disciples were the commandos of the IBM PC. Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston were the commandos of VisiCalc.
Grouping offshore as the commandos do their work is the second wave of soldiers, the infantry. These are the people who...
Adam Elkus with a great essay on the current moment:
“Is this as bad as 1968?” is an utterly meaningless question precisely for this underlying reason. People do not invoke 1968 because of the objective similarities between 2020 and 1968. They do so because we have crossed a threshold at which basic foundations of social organization we take for granted now seem up for grabs. This is an inherently subjective determination, based on the circumstances of our present much as people in 1968 similarly judged...
Another razor sharp analysis from Gurri:
The collapse of trust in our leading institutions has exiled the 21st century to the Siberia of post-truth. I want to be clear about what this means. Reality has not changed. It’s still unyielding. Facts today are partial and contradictory—but that’s always been the case. Post-truth, as I define it, signifies a moment of sharply divergent perspectives on every subject or event, without a trusted authority in the room to settle the matter. A telling symptom is that we no...
Martin Gurri on the growing similarities between west and east coast elites:
The effect, I suspect, will be the exact opposite of the reactionary dream. In wild and seedy digital gathering-places, far from any pretense of idealism, political discussion will inevitably grow more unfettered, more divisive, more violent. The attempt to impose Victorian standards of propriety on the information sphere will end by converting it into a vicious and unending saloon brawl. No matter how revolting the web appears at present – it can always get...
A 2017 commencement address from Mihir Desai, critiquing the phenomenon of infinite optionality and lack of commitment pushed by modern universities:
I’ve lost count of the number of students who, when describing their career goals, talk about their desire to “maximize optionality.” They’re referring to financial instruments known as options that confer the right to do something rather than an obligation to do something. For this reason, options have a “Heads I win, tails I don’t lose” character—what those in finance lovingly describe as a “nonlinear payoff structure.”...
Dan Wang on American industrial production:
Learning to build again will take more than a resurgence of will, as Andreessen would have it. And the U.S. should think of bolder proposals than sensible but long-proposed tweaks to R&D policies, re-training programs and STEM education.
What the U.S. really needs to do is reconstitute its communities of engineering practice. That will require treating manufacturing work, even in low-margin goods, as fundamentally valuable. Technological sophisticates in Silicon Valley would be wise to...
We watched this a couple nights ago. It’s hard to tell how objectively good it was, but I loved the heck out of it as a decades-long fan.
I’ll have to try out this tool that Tom built for checking links. When I’ve run those SEM tools that check old links, I get sad seeing how many are redirected, 404’d, or dead.
This is an excellent walkthrough on how to make screencasts. I’ve done my own tinkering...
Benedict Evans looks at what could return to normal after coronavirus, and what else might have accelerated change that was already happening.
“Every time we get a new kind of tool, we start by making the new thing fit the existing ways that we work, but then, over time, we change the work to fit the new tool. You’re used to making your metrics dashboard in PowerPoint, and then the cloud comes along and you can make it in Google Docs and everyone always has the latest version....
I agree with most of Kling’s takes here on the role the state should play in the coronavirus crisis.
A nice comprehensive list of SaaS products for the workplace, across a ton of different categories. Great work by Pietro Invernizzi putting this database together.
Mathematician and computer scientist Stephen Wolfram wrote this epic essay on his personal productivity...
A discussion among physicians on how oncology is changing and will likely continue to evolve in the wake of the coronavirus. Testing, chemo, and other treatment steps currently considered to be standards of care will change, and things like telemedicine will change what options doctors have in working with patients.
I’ve got a set of scans and a follow up this week, so will see how Mayo Clinic has adapted their approach in response to this crisis.
I’m liking so far the process of manually typing notes in Roam from highlights in my books. Something about it feels more efficient and leaves me with more meaningful, succinct notes. This could come in handy, though, if I want to pull all highlights directly from Readwise (which I’m still loving, use it every day).
How the battlecruiser in the early 20th century gave the British a birds-eye view of their fleet before the...
Bryan wrote this post about how Fulcrum is supporting the COVID response efforts.
I speculated a bit about this sort of thing earlier this week. How might urban design change?
One of the most pressing questions that urban planners will face is the apparent tension between densification – the push towards cities becoming more concentrated, which is seen as essential to improving environmental sustainability – and disaggregation, the separating out...
Tom MacWright on chess. Reduce distraction, increase concentration
Once you have concentration, you realize that there’s another layer: rigor. It’s checking the timer, checking for threats, checking for any of a litany of potential mistakes you might be about to make, a smorgasbord of straightforward opportunities you might miss. Simple rules are easy to forget when you’re feeling the rush of an advantage. But they never become less important.
Might start giving chess a try just to see how I do. Haven’t played in years, but I’m curious.
A technical piece describing the goals for Facebook’s rewrite of the Messenger app. Interesting to see them avoiding their own React Native for this, and doing things in native iOS/Android.
A humorous post, but has a point. There’s pressure to add new tools that don’t do much but add moving parts and complexity. There’s nothing wrong with Kubernetes, but there’s a place for it (and your small team probably doesn’t need it).
Bryan put together this neat little utility for merging point data with containing polygon attributes with spatial join queries. It uses Turf.js to do the geoprocess in the browser.
Amazing photography of the Mars surface:
NASA’s Curiosity rover has captured its highest-resolution panorama yet of the Martian surface. Composed of more than 1,000 images taken during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday and carefully assembled over the ensuing months, the composite contains 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape. The rover’s...
An entertaining talk about the complexity of typography, from Marcin Wichary at Figma’s recent Config conference.
An technical piece on restoring Alan Kay’s Xerox Alto he donated to Y Combinator. Amazing piece of technology history, and inspired so many future developments in computing — graphical user interfaces, WYSIWIG text editing, bitmapped graphics, the mouse, and Ethernet for connectivity.
Xerox built about 2000 Altos...
This is a product from Loveland Technologies, with a cohesive dataset of parcel boundaries provided as an API for application builders.
More on their parcel data and how they do it here.
My goal tracking efforts pale in comparison to what Julian Lehr is doing. I might give a try to Airtable for mine, also. I’ve been in Google Sheets since mine’s pretty basic, but AT might make it more mobile-friendly for editing.
This is a physics simulator that replicates the physics of interstellar objects. You can simulate massive planetary collisions or supernovae in the Earth’s solar system, in case you want to see what would happen.
A neat catalog “map” of mathematics, with visualizations of things like prime numbers, symmetry, calculus, and more. Quanta Magazine does fantastic work.
We’ve been doing some thinking on our team about how to systematically address (and repay) technical debt. With the web of interconnected dependencies and micro packages that exists now through tools like npm and yarn, no single person can track all the versions and relationships between modules. This post proposes a “Dependency Drift” metric to quantify how far out of date a codebase is on the latest updates to its dependencies:
- Create a numeric metric that incorporates...
Bessemer maintains this page of companies they passed investing on. I like the idea of publicly acknowledging your big misses or errors as an organizational accountability tool. Some big names here like eBay, Airbnb, Google, and FedEx.
Almost a year ago I shared a link to the first version of Downlink. The main feature added here is you can create your own custom views by putting a bounding box around your area of interest. Then...
A great piece from the Atlantic’s George Packer, a transcript of his acceptance speech for the Hitchens Prize.
At a moment when democracy is under siege around the world, these scenes from our literary life sound pretty trivial. But if writers are afraid of the sound of their own voice, then honest, clear, original work is not going to flourish, and without it, the politicians and tech moguls and TV demagogues have less to worry about. It doesn’t matter if you hold impeccable views, or which side of...
Venkatesh Rao has assembled a most compelling explanation for how the internet polarization machine works:
The semantic structure of the Internet of Beefs is shaped by high-profile beefs between charismatic celebrity knights loosely affiliated with various citadel-like strongholds peopled by opt-in armies of mooks. The vast majority of the energy of the conflict lies in interchangeable mooks facing off against each other, loosely along lines indicated by the knights they follow, in innumerable battles that play out every minute across the IoB.
Almost none of these battles matter...
This 2013 piece from Dexter Filkins gives an excellent background on Qasem Soleimani, an important figure now well known after his killing a couple of weeks ago, but prior to that hardly known by anyone other than experts, even with his massive influence in the region.
I’m always intrigued by complicated simulation games. I remember a few of these “real-time” MMO games being popular in the early days of online gaming. Glad to see the genre still kicking in an era of low-attention-span gaming...
A cool analysis of methods for rendering bullet physics in games.
Maksim Stepanenko’s notes on Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History. I’ve got this one on the shelf, and these nuggets make me want to pick it up now to read.
While working on some Lego sets with the kids, I wanted to know if some...
As long as you consider linear algebra and eigenvectors “basic math”:
They’d noticed that hard-to-compute terms called “eigenvectors,” describing, in this case, the ways that neutrinos propagate through matter, were equal to combinations of terms called “eigenvalues,” which are far easier to compute. Moreover, they realized that the relationship between eigenvectors and eigenvalues — ubiquitous objects in math, physics and engineering that have been studied since the 18th century — seemed to hold more generally.